The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the lightsummer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came throughthe open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicateperfume of the pink-flowering thorn.
From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he waslying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord HenryWotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colouredblossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able tobear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and thenthe fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the longtussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window,producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think ofthose pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium ofan art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense ofswiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering theirway through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonousinsistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine,seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of Londonwas like the bourdon note of a distant organ.
In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood thefull-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty,and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artisthimself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years agocaused, at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so manystrange conjectures.
As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had soskilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across hisface, and seemed about to linger there. But he suddenly started up,and closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though hesought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which hefeared he might awake.
"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," saidLord Henry languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to theGrosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar. Whenever I havegone there, there have been either so many people that I have not beenable to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures thatI have not been able to see the people, which was worse. The Grosvenoris really the only place."
"I don't think I shall send it anywhere," he answered, tossing his headback in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him atOxford. "No, I won't send it anywhere."
Lord Henry elevated his eyebrows and looked at him in amazement throughthe thin blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorlsfrom his heavy, opium-tainted cigarette. "Not send it anywhere? Mydear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd chaps you paintersare! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon asyou 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 youfar above all the young men in England, and make the old men quitejealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion."
"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibitit. 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 youwere so vain; and I really can't see any resemblance between you, withyour rugged strong face and your coal-black hair, and this youngAdonis, 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 anintellectual expression and all that. But beauty, real beauty, endswhere an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a modeof exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment onesits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or somethinghorrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions.How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. Butthen in the Church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at theage 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, butwhose picture really fascinates me, never thinks. I feel quite sure ofthat. He is some brainless beautiful creature who should be alwayshere in winter when we have no flowers to look at, and always here insummer when we want something to chill our intelligence. Don't flatteryourself, Basil: you are not in the least like him."
"You don't understand me, Harry," answered the artist. "Of course I amnot like him. I know that perfectly well. Indeed, I should be sorryto look like him. You shrug your shoulders? I am telling you thetruth. There is a fatality about all physical and intellectualdistinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history thefaltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one'sfellows. 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 nothingof victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. Theylive as we all should live—undisturbed, indifferent, and withoutdisquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive itfrom alien hands. Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as theyare—my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks—weshall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly."
"Dorian Gray? Is that his name?" asked Lord Henry, walking across thestudio 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 theirnames to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them. I havegrown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can makemodern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing isdelightful if one only hides it. When I leave town now I never tell mypeople where I am going. If I did, I would lose all my pleasure. Itis a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a greatdeal of romance into one's life. I suppose you think me awfullyfoolish about it?"
"Not at all," answered Lord Henry, "not at all, my dear Basil. Youseem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is thatit makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. Inever 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 godown to the Duke's—we tell each other the most absurd stories with themost 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 sometimeswish she would; but she merely laughs at me."
"I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry," said BasilHallward, strolling towards the door that led into the garden. "Ibelieve that you are really a very good husband, but that you arethoroughly ashamed of your own virtues. You are an extraordinaryfellow. 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 thegarden together and ensconced themselves on a long bamboo seat thatstood in the shade of a tall laurel bush. The sunlight slipped overthe polished leaves. In the grass, white daisies were tremulous.
After a pause, Lord Henry pulled out his watch. "I am afraid I must begoing, Basil," he murmured, "and before I go, I insist on youranswering 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 youwon'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 ofyourself in it. Now, that is childish."
"Harry," said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, "everyportrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, notof the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It isnot he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, onthe coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibitthis picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret ofmy own soul."
Lord Henry laughed. "And what is that?" he asked.
"I will tell you," said Hallward; but an expression of perplexity cameover 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 willhardly believe it."
Lord Henry smiled, and leaning down, plucked a pink-petalled daisy fromthe grass and examined it. "I am quite sure I shall understand it," hereplied, gazing intently at the little golden, white-feathered disk,"and as for believing things, I can believe anything, provided that itis quite incredible."
The wind shook some blossoms from the trees, and the heavylilac-blooms, with their clustering stars, moved to and fro in thelanguid air. A grasshopper began to chirrup by the wall, and like ablue thread a long thin dragon-fly floated past on its brown gauzewings. Lord Henry felt as if he could hear Basil Hallward's heartbeating, and wondered what was coming.
"The story is simply this," said the painter after some time. "Twomonths ago I went to a crush at Lady Brandon's. You know we poorartists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just toremind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and awhite tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gaina reputation for being civilized. Well, after I had been in the roomabout ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed dowagers and tediousacademicians, I suddenly became conscious that some one was looking atme. 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 sensationof terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it todo so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very artitself. I did not want any external influence in my life. You knowyourself, Harry, how independent I am by nature. I have always been myown 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 totell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I hada strange feeling that fate had in store for me exquisite joys andexquisite sorrows. I grew afraid and turned to quit the room. It wasnot conscience that made me do so: it was a sort of cowardice. I takeno 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 usedto be very proud—I certainly struggled to the door. There, of course,I stumbled against Lady Brandon. 'You are not going to run away sosoon, Mr. Hallward?' she screamed out. You know her curiously shrillvoice?"
"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, andpeople with stars and garters, and elderly ladies with gigantic tiarasand parrot noses. She spoke of me as her dearest friend. I had onlymet her once before, but she took it into her head to lionize me. Ibelieve some picture of mine had made a great success at the time, atleast had been chattered about in the penny newspapers, which is thenineteenth-century standard of immortality. Suddenly I found myselfface to face with the young man whose personality had so strangelystirred 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 sureof that. Dorian told me so afterwards. He, too, felt that we weredestined to know each other."
"And how did Lady Brandon describe this wonderful young man?" asked hiscompanion. "I know she goes in for giving a rapid precis of all herguests. I remember her bringing me up to a truculent and red-faced oldgentleman covered all over with orders and ribbons, and hissing into myear, in a tragic whisper which must have been perfectly audible toeverybody in the room, the most astounding details. I simply fled. Ilike to find out people for myself. But Lady Brandon treats her guestsexactly as an auctioneer treats his goods. She either explains thementirely away, or tells one everything about them except what one wantsto know."
"Poor Lady Brandon! You are hard on her, Harry!" said Hallwardlistlessly.
"My dear fellow, she tried to found a salon, and only succeeded inopening a restaurant. How could I admire her? But tell me, what didshe say about Mr. Dorian Gray?"
"Oh, something like, 'Charming boy—poor dear mother and I absolutelyinseparable. Quite forget what he does—afraid he—doesn't doanything—oh, yes, plays the piano—or is it the violin, dear Mr.Gray?' Neither of us could help laughing, and we became friends atonce."
"Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is farthe 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 likeevery one; that is to say, you are indifferent to every one."
"How horribly unjust of you!" cried Lord Henry, tilting his hat backand looking up at the little clouds that, like ravelled skeins ofglossy white silk, were drifting across the hollowed turquoise of thesummer sky. "Yes; horribly unjust of you. I make a great differencebetween people. I choose my friends for their good looks, myacquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their goodintellects. 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 someintellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. Is thatvery vain of me? I think it is rather vain."
"I should think it was, Harry. But according to your category I mustbe 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 myrelations. I suppose it comes from the fact that none of us can standother people having the same faults as ourselves. I quite sympathizewith the rage of the English democracy against what they call the vicesof the upper orders. The masses feel that drunkenness, stupidity, andimmorality should be their own special property, and that if any one ofus makes an ass of himself, he is poaching on their preserves. Whenpoor Southwark got into the divorce court, their indignation was quitemagnificent. And yet I don't suppose that ten per cent of theproletariat live correctly."
"I don't agree with a single word that you have said, and, what ismore, Harry, I feel sure you don't either."
Lord Henry stroked his pointed brown beard and tapped the toe of hispatent-leather boot with a tasselled ebony cane. "How English you areBasil! That is the second time you have made that observation. If oneputs forward an idea to a true Englishman—always a rash thing todo—he never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong.The only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believesit oneself. Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to dowith the sincerity of the man who expresses it. Indeed, theprobabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purelyintellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be colouredby either his wants, his desires, or his prejudices. However, I don'tpropose to discuss politics, sociology, or metaphysics with you. Ilike persons better than principles, and I like persons with noprinciples better than anything else in the world. Tell me more aboutMr. Dorian Gray. How often do you see him?"
"Every day. I couldn't be happy if I didn't see him every day. He isabsolutely necessary to me."
"How extraordinary! I thought you would never care for anything butyour art."
"He is all my art to me now," said the painter gravely. "I sometimesthink, Harry, that there are only two eras of any importance in theworld'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 ofAntinous was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray willsome day be to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw fromhim, sketch from him. Of course, I have done all that. But he is muchmore to me than a model or a sitter. I won't tell you that I amdissatisfied with what I have done of him, or that his beauty is suchthat 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 goodwork, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way—I wonderwill you understand me?—his personality has suggested to me anentirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I seethings differently, I think of them differently. I can now recreatelife in a way that was hidden from me before. 'A dream of form in daysof thought'—who is it who says that? I forget; but it is what DorianGray has been to me. The merely visible presence of this lad—for heseems to me little more than a lad, though he is really overtwenty—his merely visible presence—ah! I wonder can you realize allthat that means? Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a freshschool, a school that is to have in it all the passion of the romanticspirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek. The harmony ofsoul and body—how much that is! We in our madness have separated thetwo, and have invented a realism that is vulgar, an ideality that isvoid. Harry! if you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me! You rememberthat landscape of mine, for which Agnew offered me such a huge pricebut which I would not part with? It is one of the best things I haveever done. And why is it so? Because, while I was painting it, DorianGray sat beside me. Some subtle influence passed from him to me, andfor the first time in my life I saw in the plain woodland the wonder Ihad 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. Aftersome time he came back. "Harry," he said, "Dorian Gray is to me simplya motive in art. You might see nothing in him. I see everything inhim. He is never more present in my work than when no image of him isthere. He is a suggestion, as I have said, of a new manner. I findhim in the curves of certain lines, in the loveliness and subtleties ofcertain 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 ofall this curious artistic idolatry, of which, of course, I have nevercared to speak to him. He knows nothing about it. He shall never knowanything about it. But the world might guess it, and I will not baremy soul to their shallow prying eyes. My heart shall never be putunder 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 passionis for publication. Nowadays a broken heart will run to many editions."
"I hate them for it," cried Hallward. "An artist should createbeautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them. Welive in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form ofautobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty. Some day Iwill show the world what it is; and for that reason the world shallnever see my portrait of Dorian Gray."
"I think you are wrong, Basil, but I won't argue with you. It is onlythe intellectually lost who ever argue. Tell me, is Dorian Gray veryfond of you?"
The painter considered for a few moments. "He likes me," he answeredafter a pause; "I know he likes me. Of course I flatter himdreadfully. I find a strange pleasure in saying things to him that Iknow I shall be sorry for having said. As a rule, he is charming tome, and we sit in the studio and talk of a thousand things. Now andthen, however, he is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a realdelight in giving me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given awaymy whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to putin his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for asummer'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 thinkof, but there is no doubt that genius lasts longer than beauty. Thataccounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educateourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to havesomething that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish andfacts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughlywell-informed man—that is the modern ideal. And the mind of thethoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like abric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced aboveits proper value. I think you will tire first, all the same. Some dayyou will look at your friend, and he will seem to you to be a littleout of drawing, or you won't like his tone of colour, or something.You will bitterly reproach him in your own heart, and seriously thinkthat he has behaved very badly to you. The next time he calls, youwill be perfectly cold and indifferent. It will be a great pity, forit will alter you. What you have told me is quite a romance, a romanceof art one might call it, and the worst of having a romance of any kindis that it leaves one so unromantic."
"Harry, don't talk like that. As long as I live, the personality ofDorian Gray will dominate me. You can't feel what I feel. You changetoo often."
"Ah, my dear Basil, that is exactly why I can feel it. Those who arefaithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless whoknow love's tragedies." And Lord Henry struck a light on a daintysilver case and began to smoke a cigarette with a self-conscious andsatisfied air, as if he had summed up the world in a phrase. There wasa rustle of chirruping sparrows in the green lacquer leaves of the ivy,and the blue cloud-shadows chased themselves across the grass likeswallows. How pleasant it was in the garden! And how delightful otherpeople's emotions were!—much more delightful than their ideas, itseemed to him. One's own soul, and the passions of one'sfriends—those were the fascinating things in life. He pictured tohimself with silent amusement the tedious luncheon that he had missedby staying so long with Basil Hallward. Had he gone to his aunt's, hewould have been sure to have met Lord Goodbody there, and the wholeconversation would have been about the feeding of the poor and thenecessity for model lodging-houses. Each class would have preached theimportance of those virtues, for whose exercise there was no necessityin their own lives. The rich would have spoken on the value of thrift,and the idle grown eloquent over the dignity of labour. It wascharming to have escaped all that! As he thought of his aunt, an ideaseemed 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. Shetold me she had discovered a wonderful young man who was going to helpher in the East End, and that his name was Dorian Gray. I am bound tostate that she never told me he was good-looking. Women have noappreciation of good looks; at least, good women have not. She saidthat he was very earnest and had a beautiful nature. I at oncepictured to myself a creature with spectacles and lank hair, horriblyfreckled, and tramping about on huge feet. I wish I had known it wasyour friend."
"I am very glad you didn't, Harry."
"I don't want you to meet him."
"You don't want me to meet him?"
"Mr. Dorian Gray is in the studio, sir," said the butler, coming intothe 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." Theman bowed and went up the walk.
Then he looked at Lord Henry. "Dorian Gray is my dearest friend," hesaid. "He has a simple and a beautiful nature. Your aunt was quiteright in what she said of him. Don't spoil him. Don't try toinfluence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, andhas many marvellous people in it. Don't take away from me the oneperson who gives to my art whatever charm it possesses: my life as anartist depends on him. Mind, Harry, I trust you." He spoke veryslowly, and the words seemed wrung out of him almost against his will.
"What nonsense you talk!" said Lord Henry, smiling, and taking Hallwardby the arm, he almost led him into the house.