For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence ofthis book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he neversought to free himself from it. He procured from Paris no less thannine large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound indifferent colours, so that they might suit his various moods and thechanging fancies of a nature over which he seemed, at times, to havealmost entirely lost control. The hero, the wonderful young Parisianin whom the romantic and the scientific temperaments were so strangelyblended, became to him a kind of prefiguring type of himself. And,indeed, the whole book seemed to him to contain the story of his ownlife, written before he had lived it.
In one point he was more fortunate than the novel's fantastic hero. Henever knew—never, indeed, had any cause to know—that somewhatgrotesque dread of mirrors, and polished metal surfaces, and stillwater which came upon the young Parisian so early in his life, and wasoccasioned by the sudden decay of a beau that had once, apparently,been so remarkable. It was with an almost cruel joy—and perhaps innearly every joy, as certainly in every pleasure, cruelty has itsplace—that he used to read the latter part of the book, with itsreally tragic, if somewhat overemphasized, account of the sorrow anddespair of one who had himself lost what in others, and the world, hehad most dearly valued.
For the wonderful beauty that had so fascinated Basil Hallward, andmany others besides him, seemed never to leave him. Even those who hadheard the most evil things against him—and from time to time strangerumours about his mode of life crept through London and became thechatter of the clubs—could not believe anything to his dishonour whenthey saw him. He had always the look of one who had kept himselfunspotted from the world. Men who talked grossly became silent whenDorian Gray entered the room. There was something in the purity of hisface that rebuked them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them thememory of the innocence that they had tarnished. They wondered how oneso charming and graceful as he was could have escaped the stain of anage that was at once sordid and sensual.
Often, on returning home from one of those mysterious and prolongedabsences that gave rise to such strange conjecture among those who werehis friends, or thought that they were so, he himself would creepupstairs to the locked room, open the door with the key that never lefthim now, and stand, with a mirror, in front of the portrait that BasilHallward had painted of him, looking now at the evil and aging face onthe canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back at himfrom the polished glass. The very sharpness of the contrast used toquicken his sense of pleasure. He grew more and more enamoured of hisown beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul.He would examine with minute care, and sometimes with a monstrous andterrible delight, the hideous lines that seared the wrinkling foreheador crawled around the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometimes whichwere the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age. He wouldplace 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 owndelicately scented chamber, or in the sordid room of the littleill-famed tavern near the docks which, under an assumed name and indisguise, it was his habit to frequent, he would think of the ruin hehad brought upon his soul with a pity that was all the more poignantbecause it was purely selfish. But moments such as these were rare.That curiosity about life which Lord Henry had first stirred in him, asthey sat together in the garden of their friend, seemed to increasewith gratification. The more he knew, the more he desired to know. Hehad mad hungers that grew more ravenous as he fed them.
Yet he was not really reckless, at any rate in his relations tosociety. Once or twice every month during the winter, and on eachWednesday evening while the season lasted, he would throw open to theworld his beautiful house and have the most celebrated musicians of theday to charm his guests with the wonders of their art. His littledinners, in the settling of which Lord Henry always assisted him, werenoted as much for the careful selection and placing of those invited,as for the exquisite taste shown in the decoration of the table, withits subtle symphonic arrangements of exotic flowers, and embroideredcloths, 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 oftendreamed in Eton or Oxford days, a type that was to combine something ofthe real culture of the scholar with all the grace and distinction andperfect manner of a citizen of the world. To them he seemed to be ofthe company of those whom Dante describes as having sought to "makethemselves perfect by the worship of beauty." Like Gautier, he was onefor whom "the visible world existed."
And, certainly, to him life itself was the first, the greatest, of thearts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation.Fashion, by which what is really fantastic becomes for a momentuniversal, and dandyism, which, in its own way, is an attempt to assertthe absolute modernity of beauty, had, of course, their fascination forhim. His mode of dressing, and the particular styles that from time totime he affected, had their marked influence on the young exquisites ofthe Mayfair balls and Pall Mall club windows, who copied him ineverything that he did, and tried to reproduce the accidental charm ofhis graceful, though to him only half-serious, fopperies.
For, while he was but too ready to accept the position that was almostimmediately offered to him on his coming of age, and found, indeed, asubtle pleasure in the thought that he might really become to theLondon of his own day what to imperial Neronian Rome the author of theSatyricon once had been, yet in his inmost heart he desired to besomething more than a mere arbiter elegantiarum, to be consulted on thewearing of a jewel, or the knotting of a necktie, or the conduct of acane. He sought to elaborate some new scheme of life that would haveits reasoned philosophy and its ordered principles, and find in thespiritualizing of the senses its highest realization.
The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, beendecried, men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions andsensations that seem stronger than themselves, and that they areconscious of sharing with the less highly organized forms of existence.But it appeared to Dorian Gray that the true nature of the senses hadnever been understood, and that they had remained savage and animalmerely because the world had sought to starve them into submission orto kill them by pain, instead of aiming at making them elements of anew spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty was to be thedominant characteristic. As he looked back upon man moving throughhistory, he was haunted by a feeling of loss. So much had beensurrendered! and to such little purpose! There had been mad wilfulrejections, monstrous forms of self-torture and self-denial, whoseorigin was fear and whose result was a degradation infinitely moreterrible than that fancied degradation from which, in their ignorance,they had sought to escape; Nature, in her wonderful irony, driving outthe anchorite to feed with the wild animals of the desert and giving tothe hermit the beasts of the field as his companions.
Yes: there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new Hedonismthat was to recreate life and to save it from that harsh uncomelypuritanism that is having, in our own day, its curious revival. It wasto have its service of the intellect, certainly, yet it was never toaccept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of anymode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be experienceitself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they mightbe. Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of the vulgarprofligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But it was toteach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that isitself but a moment.
There are few of us who have not sometimes wakened before dawn, eitherafter one of those dreamless nights that make us almost enamoured ofdeath, or one of those nights of horror and misshapen joy, when throughthe chambers of the brain sweep phantoms more terrible than realityitself, and instinct with that vivid life that lurks in all grotesques,and that lends to Gothic art its enduring vitality, this art being, onemight fancy, especially the art of those whose minds have been troubledwith the malady of reverie. Gradually white fingers creep through thecurtains, and they appear to tremble. In black fantastic shapes, dumbshadows crawl into the corners of the room and crouch there. Outside,there is the stirring of birds among the leaves, or the sound of mengoing forth to their work, or the sigh and sob of the wind coming downfrom the hills and wandering round the silent house, as though itfeared to wake the sleepers and yet must needs call forth sleep fromher purple cave. Veil after veil of thin dusky gauze is lifted, and bydegrees the forms and colours of things are restored to them, and wewatch the dawn remaking the world in its antique pattern. The wanmirrors get back their mimic life. The flameless tapers stand where wehad left them, and beside them lies the half-cut book that we had beenstudying, or the wired flower that we had worn at the ball, or theletter 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 nightcomes back the real life that we had known. We have to resume it wherewe had left off, and there steals over us a terrible sense of thenecessity for the continuance of energy in the same wearisome round ofstereotyped habits, or a wild longing, it may be, that our eyelidsmight open some morning upon a world that had been refashioned anew inthe darkness for our pleasure, a world in which things would have freshshapes and colours, and be changed, or have other secrets, a world inwhich the past would have little or no place, or survive, at any rate,in no conscious form of obligation or regret, the remembrance even ofjoy having its bitterness and the memories of pleasure their pain.
It was the creation of such worlds as these that seemed to Dorian Grayto be the true object, or amongst the true objects, of life; and in hissearch for sensations that would be at once new and delightful, andpossess that element of strangeness that is so essential to romance, hewould often adopt certain modes of thought that he knew to be reallyalien to his nature, abandon himself to their subtle influences, andthen, having, as it were, caught their colour and satisfied hisintellectual curiosity, leave them with that curious indifference thatis not incompatible with a real ardour of temperament, and that,indeed, according to certain modern psychologists, is often a conditionof it.
It was rumoured of him once that he was about to join the RomanCatholic communion, and certainly the Roman ritual had always a greatattraction for him. The daily sacrifice, more awful really than allthe sacrifices of the antique world, stirred him as much by its superbrejection of the evidence of the senses as by the primitive simplicityof its elements and the eternal pathos of the human tragedy that itsought to symbolize. He loved to kneel down on the cold marblepavement and watch the priest, in his stiff flowered dalmatic, slowlyand with white hands moving aside the veil of the tabernacle, orraising aloft the jewelled, lantern-shaped monstrance with that pallidwafer that at times, one would fain think, is indeed the "paniscaelestis," the bread of angels, or, robed in the garments of thePassion of Christ, breaking the Host into the chalice and smiting hisbreast for his sins. The fuming censers that the grave boys, in theirlace and scarlet, tossed into the air like great gilt flowers had theirsubtle fascination for him. As he passed out, he used to look withwonder at the black confessionals and long to sit in the dim shadow ofone of them and listen to men and women whispering through the worngrating the true story of their lives.
But he never fell into the error of arresting his intellectualdevelopment by any formal acceptance of creed or system, or ofmistaking, for a house in which to live, an inn that is but suitablefor the sojourn of a night, or for a few hours of a night in whichthere are no stars and the moon is in travail. Mysticism, with itsmarvellous power of making common things strange to us, and the subtleantinomianism that always seems to accompany it, moved him for aseason; and for a season he inclined to the materialistic doctrines ofthe Darwinismus movement in Germany, and found a curious pleasure intracing the thoughts and passions of men to some pearly cell in thebrain, or some white nerve in the body, delighting in the conception ofthe absolute dependence of the spirit on certain physical conditions,morbid or healthy, normal or diseased. Yet, as has been said of himbefore, no theory of life seemed to him to be of any importancecompared with life itself. He felt keenly conscious of how barren allintellectual speculation is when separated from action and experiment.He knew that the senses, no less than the soul, have their spiritualmysteries to reveal.
And so he would now study perfumes and the secrets of theirmanufacture, distilling heavily scented oils and burning odorous gumsfrom the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that had notits counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to discover theirtrue relations, wondering what there was in frankincense that made onemystical, and in ambergris that stirred one's passions, and in violetsthat woke the memory of dead romances, and in musk that troubled thebrain, and in champak that stained the imagination; and seeking oftento elaborate a real psychology of perfumes, and to estimate the severalinfluences of sweet-smelling roots and scented, pollen-laden flowers;of aromatic balms and of dark and fragrant woods; of spikenard, thatsickens; of hovenia, that makes men mad; and of aloes, that are said tobe able to expel melancholy from the soul.
At another time he devoted himself entirely to music, and in a longlatticed room, with a vermilion-and-gold ceiling and walls ofolive-green lacquer, he used to give curious concerts in which madgipsies tore wild music from little zithers, or grave, yellow-shawledTunisians plucked at the strained strings of monstrous lutes, whilegrinning Negroes beat monotonously upon copper drums and, crouchingupon scarlet mats, slim turbaned Indians blew through long pipes ofreed or brass and charmed—or feigned to charm—great hooded snakes andhorrible horned adders. The harsh intervals and shrill discords ofbarbaric music stirred him at times when Schubert's grace, and Chopin'sbeautiful sorrows, and the mighty harmonies of Beethoven himself, fellunheeded on his ear. He collected together from all parts of the worldthe strangest instruments that could be found, either in the tombs ofdead nations or among the few savage tribes that have survived contactwith Western civilizations, and loved to touch and try them. He hadthe mysterious juruparis of the Rio Negro Indians, that women are notallowed to look at and that even youths may not see till they have beensubjected to fasting and scourging, and the earthen jars of thePeruvians that have the shrill cries of birds, and flutes of humanbones such as Alfonso de Ovalle heard in Chile, and the sonorous greenjaspers that are found near Cuzco and give forth a note of singularsweetness. He had painted gourds filled with pebbles that rattled whenthey were shaken; the long clarin of the Mexicans, into which theperformer does not blow, but through which he inhales the air; theharsh ture of the Amazon tribes, that is sounded by the sentinels whosit all day long in high trees, and can be heard, it is said, at adistance of three leagues; the teponaztli, that has two vibratingtongues of wood and is beaten with sticks that are smeared with anelastic gum obtained from the milky juice of plants; the yotl-bells ofthe Aztecs, that are hung in clusters like grapes; and a hugecylindrical drum, covered with the skins of great serpents, like theone that Bernal Diaz saw when he went with Cortes into the Mexicantemple, and of whose doleful sound he has left us so vivid adescription. The fantastic character of these instruments fascinatedhim, and he felt a curious delight in the thought that art, likeNature, has her monsters, things of bestial shape and with hideousvoices. Yet, after some time, he wearied of them, and would sit in hisbox at the opera, either alone or with Lord Henry, listening in raptpleasure to "Tannhauser" and seeing in the prelude to that great workof art a presentation of the tragedy of his own soul.
On one occasion he took up the study of jewels, and appeared at acostume ball as Anne de Joyeuse, Admiral of France, in a dress coveredwith five hundred and sixty pearls. This taste enthralled him foryears, and, indeed, may be said never to have left him. He would oftenspend a whole day settling and resettling in their cases the variousstones that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl thatturns red by lamplight, the cymophane with its wirelike line of silver,the pistachio-coloured peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes,carbuncles of fiery scarlet with tremulous, four-rayed stars, flame-redcinnamon-stones, orange and violet spinels, and amethysts with theiralternate layers of ruby and sapphire. He loved the red gold of thesunstone, and the moonstone's pearly whiteness, and the broken rainbowof the milky opal. He procured from Amsterdam three emeralds ofextraordinary size and richness of colour, and had a turquoise de lavieille roche that was the envy of all the connoisseurs.
He discovered wonderful stories, also, about jewels. In Alphonso'sClericalis Disciplina a serpent was mentioned with eyes of realjacinth, and in the romantic history of Alexander, the Conqueror ofEmathia was said to have found in the vale of Jordan snakes "withcollars of real emeralds growing on their backs." There was a gem inthe brain of the dragon, Philostratus told us, and "by the exhibitionof golden letters and a scarlet robe" the monster could be thrown intoa magical sleep and slain. According to the great alchemist, Pierre deBoniface, the diamond rendered a man invisible, and the agate of Indiamade him eloquent. The cornelian appeased anger, and the hyacinthprovoked sleep, and the amethyst drove away the fumes of wine. Thegarnet cast out demons, and the hydropicus deprived the moon of hercolour. 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 anewly killed toad, that was a certain antidote against poison. Thebezoar, that was found in the heart of the Arabian deer, was a charmthat could cure the plague. In the nests of Arabian birds was theaspilates, that, according to Democritus, kept the wearer from anydanger 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 thePriest were "made of sardius, with the horn of the horned snakeinwrought, so that no man might bring poison within." Over the gablewere "two golden apples, in which were two carbuncles," so that thegold might shine by day and the carbuncles by night. In Lodge'sstrange romance 'A Margarite of America', it was stated that in thechamber of the queen one could behold "all the chaste ladies of theworld, inchased out of silver, looking through fair mirrours ofchrysolites, carbuncles, sapphires, and greene emeraults." Marco Polohad seen the inhabitants of Zipangu place rose-coloured pearls in themouths of the dead. A sea-monster had been enamoured of the pearl thatthe diver brought to King Perozes, and had slain the thief, and mournedfor seven moons over its loss. When the Huns lured the king into thegreat pit, he flung it away—Procopius tells the story—nor was it everfound again, though the Emperor Anastasius offered five hundred-weightof gold pieces for it. The King of Malabar had shown to a certainVenetian a rosary of three hundred and four pearls, one for every godthat he worshipped.
When the Duke de Valentinois, son of Alexander VI, visited Louis XII ofFrance, his horse was loaded with gold leaves, according to Brantome,and his cap had double rows of rubies that threw out a great light.Charles of England had ridden in stirrups hung with four hundred andtwenty-one diamonds. Richard II had a coat, valued at thirty thousandmarks, which was covered with balas rubies. Hall described Henry VIII,on his way to the Tower previous to his coronation, as wearing "ajacket of raised gold, the placard embroidered with diamonds and otherrich stones, and a great bauderike about his neck of large balasses."The favourites of James I wore ear-rings of emeralds set in goldfiligrane. Edward II gave to Piers Gaveston a suit of red-gold armourstudded with jacinths, a collar of gold roses set withturquoise-stones, and a skull-cap parseme with pearls. Henry II worejewelled gloves reaching to the elbow, and had a hawk-glove sewn withtwelve rubies and fifty-two great orients. The ducal hat of Charlesthe Rash, the last Duke of Burgundy of his race, was hung withpear-shaped pearls and studded with sapphires.
How exquisite life had once been! How gorgeous in its pomp anddecoration! Even to read of the luxury of the dead was wonderful.
Then he turned his attention to embroideries and to the tapestries thatperformed the office of frescoes in the chill rooms of the northernnations of Europe. As he investigated the subject—and he always hadan extraordinary faculty of becoming absolutely absorbed for the momentin whatever he took up—he was almost saddened by the reflection of theruin that time brought on beautiful and wonderful things. He, at anyrate, had escaped that. Summer followed summer, and the yellowjonquils bloomed and died many times, and nights of horror repeated thestory of their shame, but he was unchanged. No winter marred his faceor stained his flowerlike bloom. How different it was with materialthings! Where had they passed to? Where was the great crocus-colouredrobe, on which the gods fought against the giants, that had been workedby brown girls for the pleasure of Athena? Where the huge velariumthat Nero had stretched across the Colosseum at Rome, that Titan sailof purple on which was represented the starry sky, and Apollo driving achariot drawn by white, gilt-reined steeds? He longed to see thecurious table-napkins wrought for the Priest of the Sun, on which weredisplayed all the dainties and viands that could be wanted for a feast;the mortuary cloth of King Chilperic, with its three hundred goldenbees; the fantastic robes that excited the indignation of the Bishop ofPontus and were figured with "lions, panthers, bears, dogs, forests,rocks, hunters—all, in fact, that a painter can copy from nature"; andthe coat that Charles of Orleans once wore, on the sleeves of whichwere embroidered the verses of a song beginning "Madame, je suis toutjoyeux," the musical accompaniment of the words being wrought in goldthread, and each note, of square shape in those days, formed with fourpearls. He read of the room that was prepared at the palace at Rheimsfor the use of Queen Joan of Burgundy and was decorated with "thirteenhundred and twenty-one parrots, made in broidery, and blazoned with theking's arms, and five hundred and sixty-one butterflies, whose wingswere similarly ornamented with the arms of the queen, the whole workedin gold." Catherine de Medicis had a mourning-bed made for her ofblack velvet powdered with crescents and suns. Its curtains were ofdamask, with leafy wreaths and garlands, figured upon a gold and silverground, and fringed along the edges with broideries of pearls, and itstood in a room hung with rows of the queen's devices in cut blackvelvet upon cloth of silver. Louis XIV had gold embroidered caryatidesfifteen feet high in his apartment. The state bed of Sobieski, King ofPoland, was made of Smyrna gold brocade embroidered in turquoises withverses from the Koran. Its supports were of silver gilt, beautifullychased, and profusely set with enamelled and jewelled medallions. Ithad been taken from the Turkish camp before Vienna, and the standard ofMohammed had stood beneath the tremulous gilt of its canopy.
And so, for a whole year, he sought to accumulate the most exquisitespecimens that he could find of textile and embroidered work, gettingthe dainty Delhi muslins, finely wrought with gold-thread palmates andstitched over with iridescent beetles' wings; the Dacca gauzes, thatfrom 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 fairblue silks and wrought with fleurs-de-lis, birds and images; veils oflacis worked in Hungary point; Sicilian brocades and stiff Spanishvelvets; 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 indeedhe had for everything connected with the service of the Church. In thelong cedar chests that lined the west gallery of his house, he hadstored away many rare and beautiful specimens of what is really theraiment of the Bride of Christ, who must wear purple and jewels andfine linen that she may hide the pallid macerated body that is worn bythe suffering that she seeks for and wounded by self-inflicted pain.He possessed a gorgeous cope of crimson silk and gold-thread damask,figured with a repeating pattern of golden pomegranates set insix-petalled formal blossoms, beyond which on either side was thepine-apple device wrought in seed-pearls. The orphreys were dividedinto panels representing scenes from the life of the Virgin, and thecoronation of the Virgin was figured in coloured silks upon the hood.This was Italian work of the fifteenth century. Another cope was ofgreen velvet, embroidered with heart-shaped groups of acanthus-leaves,from which spread long-stemmed white blossoms, the details of whichwere picked out with silver thread and coloured crystals. The morsebore a seraph's head in gold-thread raised work. The orphreys werewoven in a diaper of red and gold silk, and were starred withmedallions of many saints and martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian.He had chasubles, also, of amber-coloured silk, and blue silk and goldbrocade, and yellow silk damask and cloth of gold, figured withrepresentations of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, andembroidered with lions and peacocks and other emblems; dalmatics ofwhite satin and pink silk damask, decorated with tulips and dolphinsand fleurs-de-lis; altar frontals of crimson velvet and blue linen; andmany corporals, chalice-veils, and sudaria. In the mystic offices towhich such things were put, there was something that quickened hisimagination.
For these treasures, and everything that he collected in his lovelyhouse, were to be to him means of forgetfulness, modes by which hecould escape, for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at timesto be almost too great to be borne. Upon the walls of the lonelylocked room where he had spent so much of his boyhood, he had hung withhis own hands the terrible portrait whose changing features showed himthe real degradation of his life, and in front of it had draped thepurple-and-gold pall 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 absorption in mere existence.Then, suddenly, some night he would creep out of the house, go down todreadful 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 thepicture, sometimes loathing it and himself, but filled, at othertimes, with that pride of individualism that is half thefascination of sin, and smiling with secret pleasure at the misshapenshadow 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, andgave up the villa that he had shared at Trouville with Lord Henry, aswell as the little white walled-in house at Algiers where they had morethan once spent the winter. He hated to be separated from the picturethat was such a part of his life, and was also afraid that during hisabsence some one might gain access to the room, in spite of theelaborate bars that he had caused to be placed upon the door.
He was quite conscious that this would tell them nothing. It was truethat the portrait still preserved, under all the foulness and uglinessof the face, its marked likeness to himself; but what could they learnfrom that? He would laugh at any one who tried to taunt him. He hadnot painted it. What was it to him how vile and full of shame itlooked? Even if he told them, would they believe it?
Yet he was afraid. Sometimes when he was down at his great house inNottinghamshire, entertaining the fashionable young men of his own rankwho were his chief companions, and astounding the county by the wantonluxury and gorgeous splendour of his mode of life, he would suddenlyleave his guests and rush back to town to see that the door had notbeen tampered with and that the picture was still there. What if itshould be stolen? The mere thought made him cold with horror. Surelythe world would know his secret then. Perhaps the world alreadysuspected it.
For, while he fascinated many, there were not a few who distrusted him.He was very nearly blackballed at a West End club of which his birthand social position fully entitled him to become a member, and it wassaid that on one occasion, when he was brought by a friend into thesmoking-room of the Churchill, the Duke of Berwick and anothergentleman got up in a marked manner and went out. Curious storiesbecame current about him after he had passed his twenty-fifth year. Itwas rumoured that he had been seen brawling with foreign sailors in alow den in the distant parts of Whitechapel, and that he consorted withthieves and coiners and knew the mysteries of their trade. Hisextraordinary absences became notorious, and, when he used to reappearagain in society, men would whisper to each other in corners, or passhim with a sneer, or look at him with cold searching eyes, as thoughthey 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, hischarming boyish smile, and the infinite grace of that wonderful youththat seemed never to leave him, were in themselves a sufficient answerto the calumnies, for so they termed them, that were circulated abouthim. It was remarked, however, that some of those who had been mostintimate with him appeared, after a time, to shun him. Women who hadwildly adored him, and for his sake had braved all social censure andset convention at defiance, were seen to grow pallid with shame orhorror if Dorian Gray entered the room.
Yet these whispered scandals only increased in the eyes of many hisstrange and dangerous charm. His great wealth was a certain element ofsecurity. Society—civilized society, at least—is never very ready tobelieve anything to the detriment of those who are both rich andfascinating. It feels instinctively that manners are of moreimportance than morals, and, in its opinion, the highest respectabilityis of much less value than the possession of a good chef. And, afterall, it is a very poor consolation to be told that the man who hasgiven one a bad dinner, or poor wine, is irreproachable in his privatelife. Even the cardinal virtues cannot atone for half-cold entrees, asLord Henry remarked once, in a discussion on the subject, and there ispossibly a good deal to be said for his view. For the canons of goodsociety are, or should be, the same as the canons of art. Form isabsolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony,as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character ofa romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightfulto us. Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It ismerely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.
Such, at any rate, was Dorian Gray's opinion. He used to wonder at theshallow psychology of those who conceive the ego in man as a thingsimple, permanent, reliable, and of one essence. To him, man was abeing with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex multiformcreature that bore within itself strange legacies of thought andpassion, and whose very flesh was tainted with the monstrous maladiesof the dead. He loved to stroll through the gaunt cold picture-galleryof his country house and look at the various portraits of those whoseblood flowed in his veins. Here was Philip Herbert, described byFrancis Osborne, in his Memoires on the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth andKing James, as one who was "caressed by the Court for his handsomeface, which kept him not long company." Was it young Herbert's lifethat he sometimes led? Had some strange poisonous germ crept from bodyto body till it had reached his own? Was it some dim sense of thatruined grace that had made him so suddenly, and almost without cause,give utterance, in Basil Hallward's studio, to the mad prayer that hadso changed his life? Here, in gold-embroidered red doublet, jewelledsurcoat, and gilt-edged ruff and wristbands, stood Sir Anthony Sherard,with his silver-and-black armour piled at his feet. What had thisman's legacy been? Had the lover of Giovanna of Naples bequeathed himsome inheritance of sin and shame? Were his own actions merely thedreams that the dead man had not dared to realize? Here, from thefading canvas, smiled Lady Elizabeth Devereux, in her gauze hood, pearlstomacher, and pink slashed sleeves. A flower was in her right hand,and her left clasped an enamelled collar of white and damask roses. Ona table by her side lay a mandolin and an apple. There were largegreen rosettes upon her little pointed shoes. He knew her life, andthe strange stories that were told about her lovers. Had he somethingof her temperament in him? These oval, heavy-lidded eyes seemed tolook curiously at him. What of George Willoughby, with his powderedhair and fantastic patches? How evil he looked! The face wassaturnine and swarthy, and the sensual lips seemed to be twisted withdisdain. Delicate lace ruffles fell over the lean yellow hands thatwere so overladen with rings. He had been a macaroni of the eighteenthcentury, and the friend, in his youth, of Lord Ferrars. What of thesecond Lord Beckenham, the companion of the Prince Regent in hiswildest days, and one of the witnesses at the secret marriage with Mrs.Fitzherbert? How proud and handsome he was, with his chestnut curlsand insolent pose! What passions had he bequeathed? The world hadlooked upon him as infamous. He had led the orgies at Carlton House.The star of the Garter glittered upon his breast. Beside him hung theportrait of his wife, a pallid, thin-lipped woman in black. Her blood,also, stirred within him. How curious it all seemed! And his motherwith her Lady Hamilton face and her moist, wine-dashed lips—he knewwhat he had got from her. He had got from her his beauty, and hispassion for the beauty of others. She laughed at him in her looseBacchante dress. There were vine leaves in her hair. The purplespilled from the cup she was holding. The carnations of the paintinghad withered, but the eyes were still wonderful in their depth andbrilliancy of colour. They seemed to follow him wherever he went.
Yet one had ancestors in literature as well as in one's own race,nearer perhaps in type and temperament, many of them, and certainlywith an influence of which one was more absolutely conscious. Therewere times when it appeared to Dorian Gray that the whole of historywas merely the record of his own life, not as he had lived it in actand circumstance, but as his imagination had created it for him, as ithad been in his brain and in his passions. He felt that he had knownthem all, those strange terrible figures that had passed across thestage of the world and made sin so marvellous and evil so full ofsubtlety. It seemed to him that in some mysterious way their lives hadbeen his own.
The hero of the wonderful novel that had so influenced his life hadhimself known this curious fancy. In the seventh chapter he tells how,crowned with laurel, lest lightning might strike him, he had sat, asTiberius, in a garden at Capri, reading the shameful books ofElephantis, while dwarfs and peacocks strutted round him and theflute-player mocked the swinger of the censer; and, as Caligula, hadcaroused with the green-shirted jockeys in their stables and supped inan ivory manger with a jewel-frontleted horse; and, as Domitian, hadwandered through a corridor lined with marble mirrors, looking roundwith haggard eyes for the reflection of the dagger that was to end hisdays, and sick with that ennui, that terrible taedium vitae, that comeson those to whom life denies nothing; and had peered through a clearemerald at the red shambles of the circus and then, in a litter ofpearl and purple drawn by silver-shod mules, been carried through theStreet of Pomegranates to a House of Gold and heard men cry on NeroCaesar as he passed by; and, as Elagabalus, had painted his face withcolours, and plied the distaff among the women, and brought the Moonfrom Carthage and given her in mystic marriage to the Sun.
Over and over again Dorian used to read this fantastic chapter, and thetwo chapters immediately following, in which, as in some curioustapestries or cunningly wrought enamels, were pictured the awful andbeautiful forms of those whom vice and blood and weariness had mademonstrous or mad: Filippo, Duke of Milan, who slew his wife andpainted her lips with a scarlet poison that her lover might suck deathfrom the dead thing he fondled; Pietro Barbi, the Venetian, known asPaul the Second, who sought in his vanity to assume the title ofFormosus, and whose tiara, valued at two hundred thousand florins, wasbought at the price of a terrible sin; Gian Maria Visconti, who usedhounds to chase living men and whose murdered body was covered withroses by a harlot who had loved him; the Borgia on his white horse,with Fratricide riding beside him and his mantle stained with the bloodof Perotto; Pietro Riario, the young Cardinal Archbishop of Florence,child and minion of Sixtus IV, whose beauty was equalled only by hisdebauchery, and who received Leonora of Aragon in a pavilion of whiteand crimson silk, filled with nymphs and centaurs, and gilded a boythat he might serve at the feast as Ganymede or Hylas; Ezzelin, whosemelancholy could be cured only by the spectacle of death, and who had apassion for red blood, as other men have for red wine—the son of theFiend, as was reported, and one who had cheated his father at dice whengambling with him for his own soul; Giambattista Cibo, who in mockerytook the name of Innocent and into whose torpid veins the blood ofthree lads was infused by a Jewish doctor; Sigismondo Malatesta, thelover of Isotta and the lord of Rimini, whose effigy was burned at Romeas the enemy of God and man, who strangled Polyssena with a napkin, andgave poison to Ginevra d'Este in a cup of emerald, and in honour of ashameful passion built a pagan church for Christian worship; CharlesVI, who had so wildly adored his brother's wife that a leper had warnedhim of the insanity that was coming on him, and who, when his brain hadsickened and grown strange, could only be soothed by Saracen cardspainted with the images of love and death and madness; and, in histrimmed jerkin and jewelled cap and acanthuslike curls, GrifonettoBaglioni, who slew Astorre with his bride, and Simonetto with his page,and whose comeliness was such that, as he lay dying in the yellowpiazza 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 ofstrange manners of poisoning—poisoning by a helmet and a lightedtorch, by an embroidered glove and a jewelled fan, by a gilded pomanderand by an amber chain. Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book. Therewere moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which hecould realize his conception of the beautiful.