Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, and George SylvesterViereck
From Walter Pater’s essay on Johann Joachim Winckelmann in The Renaissance (1873)
It could no longer be solved, as in Phryne ascending naked out of the water, by perfection of bodily form, or any joyful union with the external world: the shadows had grown too long, the light too solemn, for that. It could hardly be solved, as in Pericles or Pheidias, by the direct exercise of any single talent: amid the manifold claims of our modern intellectual life, that could only have ended in a thin, one-sided growth. Goethe's Hellenism was of another order, the Allgemeinheit and Heiterkeit, the completeness and serenity, of a watchful, exigent intellectualism. Im Ganzen, Guten, Wahren, resolut zu leben: — is Goethe's description of his own higher life; and what is meant by life in the whole — im Ganzen? It means the life of one for whom, over and over again, what was once precious has become indifferent. Every one who aims at the life of culture is met by many forms of it, arising out [228/229] of the intense, laborious, one-sided development of some special talent. They are the brightest enthusiasms the world has to show: and it is not their part to weigh the claims which this or that alien form of genius makes upon them. But the proper instinct of self-culture cares not so much to reap all that those various forms of genius can give, as to find in them its own strength. The demand of the intellect is to feel itself alive. It must see into the laws, the operation, the intellectual reward of every divided form of culture; but only that it may measure the relation between itself and them. It struggles with those forms till its secret is won from each, and then lets each fall back into its place, in the supreme, artistic view of life. With a kind of passionate coldness, such natures rejoice to be away from and past their former selves, and above all, they are jealous of that abandonment to one special gift which really limits their capabilities. It would have been easy for Goethe, with the gift of a sensuous nature, to let it overgrow him. It comes easily and naturally, perhaps, to certain "other-worldly" natures to be even as the Schöne Seele, that ideal of gentle pietism, in Wilhelm Meister: but to the large vision of Goethe, this seemed to be a phase of life that a man might feel all round, and leave behind him. Again, it is easy to indulge the commonplace metaphysical instinct. But a taste for metaphysics may be one of those things which we must renounce, if we mean to mould our lives to artistic perfection. Philosophy serves culture, not by the fancied gift of absolute or transcendental knowledge, but by suggesting questions which help one to detect the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic contrasts of life.
But Goethe's culture did not remain "behind the veil": it ever emerged in the practical functions of art, in actual production. For him the problem came to be: — Can the blitheness and universality of the antique ideal be communicated to artistic productions, which shall contain the fulness of the experience of the modern world? We have seen that the development of the various forms of art has corresponded to the development of the thoughts of man concerning humanity, to the growing revelation of the mind to itself. Sculpture corresponds to the unperplexed, emphatic outlines of Hellenic humanism; painting to the mystic depth and intricacy of the middle age; music and poetry have their fortune in the modern world.
Let us understand by poetry all literary production which attains the power of giving pleasure by its form, as distinct from its matter. Only in this varied literary form can art command that width, variety, delicacy of resources, which will enable it to deal with the conditions of modern life. What modern art has to do in the service of culture is so to rearrange the details of modern life, so to reflect it, that it may satisfy the spirit. And what does the spirit need in the face of modern life? The sense of freedom. That naïve, rough sense of freedom, which supposes man's will to be limited, if at all, only by a will stronger than his, he can never have again. The attempt to represent it in art would have so little verisimilitude that it would be flat and uninteresting. The chief factor in the thoughts of the modern mind concerning itself is the intricacy, the universality of natural law, even in the moral order. For us, necessity is not, as of old, a sort of mythological personage without us, with whom we can do warfare. It is rather a magic web woven through and through us, like that magnetic system of which modern science speaks, penetrating us with a network, subtler than our subtlest nerves, yet bearing in it the central forces of the world. Can art represent men and women in these bewildering toils so as to give the spirit at least an equivalent for the sense of freedom? Certainly, in Goethe's romances, and even more in the romances of Victor Hugo, we have high examples of modern art dealing thus with modern life, regarding that life as the modern mind must regard it, yet reflecting upon it blitheness and repose. Natural laws we shall never modify, embarrass us as they may; but there is still something in the nobler or less noble attitude with which we watch their fatal combinations. In those romances of Goethe and Victor Hugo, in some excellent work done after them, this entanglement, this network of law, becomes the tragic situation, in which certain groups of noble men and women work out for themselves a supreme Dénouement. Who, if he saw through all, would fret against the chain of circumstance which endows one at the end with those great experiences?
[Pater excluded his “Conclusion” from the second edition of The Renaissance, since, he said “I conceived it might possibly mislead some of those young men into whose hands it might fall.” The “Conclusion” famously ends thus:]
Well! we are all condamnes, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve--les hommes sont tous condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among "the children of this world," in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art's sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake.
from The Introdction to Jack Saul's Recollections of a Mary-Ann (1881)
The writer of these notes was walking through Leicester Square one sunny afternoon last November, when his attention was particularly taken by an effeminate, but very good-looking young fellow, who was walking in front of him, looking in shop-windows from time to time, and now and then looking round as if to attract my attention.
Dressed in tight-fitting clothes, which set off his Adonis-like figure to the best advantage, especially about what snobs call the fork of his trousers, where evidently he was favoured by nature by a very extraordinary development of the male appendages; he had small and elegant feet, set off by pretty patent leather boots, a fresh looking beardless face, with almost feminine features, auburn hair, and sparkling blue eyes, which spoke as plainly as possible to my senses, and told me that the handsome youth must indeed be one of the "Mary-Ann's" of London, who I had heard were often to be seen sauntering in the neighbourhood of Regent Street, or the Haymarket, on fine afternoons or evenings.
Presently the object of my curiosity almost halted and stood facing the writer as he took off his hat, and wiped his face with a beautiful white silk handkerchief.
That lump in his trousers had quite a fascinating effect upon me. Was it natural or made up by some artificial means? If real, what a size when excited; how I should like to handle such a manly jewel, etc. All this ran through my mind, and determined me to make his acquaintance, in order to unravel the real and naked truth; also, if possible, to glean what I could of his antecedents and mode of life, which I felt sure must be extraordinarily interesting.
When he moved on again I noticed that he turned down a little side street, and was looking in a picture shop. I followed him, and first making some observations about the scanty drapery on some of the actresses and other beauties whose photographs were exposed for sale, I asked him if he would take a glass of wine.
He appeared to comprehend that there was business in my proposal, but seemed very diffident about drinking in any public place.
"Well," I said, "would you mind if we take a cab to my chambers—I live in the Cornwall Mansions, close to Baker Street Station—have a cigar and a chat with me, as I see you are evidently a fast young chap, and can put me up to a thing or two?"
"All right. Put your thing up, I suppose you mean. Why do you seem so afraid to say what you want?" he replied with a most meaning look.
"I'm not at all delicate; but wish to keep myself out of trouble. Who can tell who hears you out in the streets?" I said, hailing a cab. "I don't like to be seen speaking to a young fellow in the street. We shall be all right in my own rooms."
It was just about my dinner hour when we reached my place, so I rang the bell, and ordered my old housekeeper to lay the table for two, and both of us did ample justice to a good rumpsteak and oyster sauce, topped up with a couple of bottles of champagne of an extra sec brand.
As soon as the cloth was removed, we settled ourselves comfortably over[Pg 12] the fire with brandy and cigars, for it was a sharp, frosty day out.
"My boy, I hope you enjoyed your dinner?" I said, mixing a couple of good warm glasses of brandy hot, "but you have not favoured me with your name. Mine you could have seen by the little plate on my door, is Mr. Cambon."
"Saul, Jack Saul, sir, of Lisle Street, Leicester Square, and ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time.
From the original magazine publication of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Removed from the published book:
Basil Hallward to Dorian Gray:
Don’t speak. Wait till you hear what I have to say. It is quite true I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman. I suppose I never had time. Perhaps, as Harry says, a really ‘grande passion‘ is the privilege of those who have nothing to do, and that is the use of the idle classes in a country. Well, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly. I was jealous of everyone to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When I was away from you, you were still present in my art. It was all wrong and foolish. It is all wrong and foolish still. Of course I never let you know anything about this. It would have been impossible. You would not have understood it; I did not understand it myself. One day I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you. It was to have been my masterpiece. It is my masterpiece. But, as I worked at it, every flake and film of color seemed to me to reveal my secret. I grew afraid that the world could know of my idolatry. I felt, Dorian, that I had told too much. Then it was that I resolved never to allow the picture to be exhibited. You were a little annoyed; but then you did not realize all that it meant to me.
George Silvester Viereck's "Children Of Lilith
to François Villon
NOW tell me, Villon, where is he,
Young Sporus, lord of Nero's lyre,
Who marked with languid ecstasy
The seven hills grow red with fire?
And he whose madness choked the hall
With roses and made night of day?
Rome's rulers for an interval,
Its boyish Cæsars, where are they?
Where is that city by the Nile,
Reared by an emperor's bronze distress
When the enamoured crocodile
Clawed the Bithynian's loveliness?
The argent pool whose listening trees
Heard Echo's voice die far away?
Narcissus, Hylas, Charmides,
O brother Villon, where are they?
Say where the Young Disciple roved
When the Messiah's blood was spilt?
None knows: for he whom Jesus loved
Was not the rock on which He built.
And tell me where is Gaveston,
The second Edward's dear dismay?
And Shakespeare's love, and Jonathan,
O brother Villon, where are they?
Made— for what end? —by God's great hand,
Frail enigmatic shapes, they dwell
In some phantastic borderland,
But on the hitherside of hell!
Children of Lilith, each a sprite,
Yet wrought like us of Adam's clay,
And when they haunt us in the night
What, brother Villon, shall we say?
[Viereck’s note: The division of the world into two sexes, according to modern psychology, is as arbitrary as it is misleading. Male and female elements are curiously mixed in the same individuals. Besides those in whom masculine and feminine characteristics predominate mentally and physically, there are also, to quote the noted neurologist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld of Berlin, individuals who, spiritually at least, constitute, what may be termed, a "transitional sex."
If we re-read history in the light of our new-gained knowledge, we shall make startling discoveries. In "Aiander" and "Aiogyne" (see Nineveh) I have depicted the Eternal Man and the Eternal Woman. Here I trace the third, transitional sex, through the alleys of time.
As Villon has sung a ballad of dead ladies, I dedicate to him this ballad of dead lads.]