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But no other member of the club, except Le Gallienne, who
wore a loose tie, and Symons, who had an inverness cape that was quite new
and almost fashionable, would have shown himself for the world in any
costume but "that of an English gentleman." "One should be quite
unnoticeable," Johnson explained to me. Those who conformed most carefully
to the fashion in their clothes, generally departed furthest from it in
their handwriting, which was small, neat, and studied, one poet--which, I
forget--having founded his upon the handwriting of George Herbert. Dowson
and Symons I was to know better in later years when Symons became a very
dear friend, and I never got behind John Davidson's Scottish roughness and
exasperation, though I saw much of him, but from the first I devoted
myself to Lionel Johnson. He and Horne and Image and one or two others,
shared a man-servant and an old house in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square,
typical figures of transition, doing as an achievement of learning and of
exquisite taste what their predecessors did in careless abundance. All
were Pre-Raphaelite, and sometimes one might meet in the rooms of one or
other a ragged figure, as of some fallen dynasty, Simeon Solomon the
Pre-Raphaelite painter, once the friend of Rossetti and of Swinburne, but
fresh now from some low public house. Condemned to a long term of
imprisonment for a criminal offence, he had sunk into drunkenness and
misery. Introduced one night, however, to some man who mistook him, in the
dim candle light, for another Solomon, a successful academic painter and
R.A., he started to his feet in a rage with, "Sir, do you dare to mistake
me for that mountebank?" Though not one had hearkened to the feeblest
caw, or been spattered by the smallest dropping from any Huxley, Tyndall,
Carolus Duran, Bastien-Lepage bundle of old twigs I began by suspecting
them of lukewarmness, and even backsliding, and I owe it to that suspicion
that I never became intimate with Horne, who lived to become the greatest
English authority upon Italian life in the fourteenth century and to write
the one standard work on Botticelli. Connoisseur in several arts, he had
designed a little church in the manner of Inigo Jones for a burial ground
near the Marble Arch. Though I now think his little church a masterpiece,
its style was more than a century too late to hit my fancy, at two or
three and twenty; and I accused him of leaning towards that eighteenth
century

"That taught a school
Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit
Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit,
Their verses tallied."

Another fanaticism delayed my friendship with two men, who are now my
friends and in certain matters my chief instructors. Somebody, probably
Lionel Johnson, brought me to the studio of Charles Ricketts and Charles
Shannon, certainly heirs of the great generation, and the first thing I
saw was a Shannon picture of a lady and child, arrayed in lace silk and
satin, suggesting that hated century. My eyes were full of some more
mythological mother and child and I would have none of it and I told
Shannon that he had not painted a mother and child, but elegant people
expecting visitors and I thought that a great reproach. Somebody writing
in _The Germ_ had said that a picture of a pheasant and an apple was
merely a picture of something to eat and I was so angry with the
indifference to subject, which was the commonplace of all art criticism
since Bastien-Lepage, that I could at times see nothing else but subject.
I thought that, though it might not matter to the man himself whether he
loved a white woman or a black, a female pickpocket or a regular
communicant of the Church of England, if only he loved strongly, it
certainly did matter to his relations and even under some circumstances to
his whole neighbourhood. Sometimes indeed, like some father in Molière, I
ignored the lover's feelings altogether and even refused to admit that a
trace of the devil, perhaps a trace of colour, may lend piquancy,
especially if the connection be not permanent.

Among these men, of whom so many of the greatest talents were to live such
passionate lives and die such tragic deaths, one serene man, T. W.
Rolleston, seemed always out of place; it was I brought him there,
intending to set him to some work in Ireland later on. I have known young
Dublin working men slip out of their workshop to see the second Thomas
Davis passing by, and even remember a conspiracy, by some three or four,
to make him "the leader of the Irish race at home and abroad," and all
because he had regular features; and when all is said Alexander the Great
and Alcibiades were personable men, and the Founder of the Christian
religion was the only man who was neither a little too tall nor a little
too short, but exactly six feet high. We in Ireland thought as do the
plays and ballads, not understanding that, from the first moment wherein
nature foresaw the birth of Bastien-Lepage, she has only granted great
creative power to men whose faces are contorted with extravagance or
curiosity, or dulled with some protecting stupidity.

I had now met all those who were to make the 'nineties of the last century
tragic in the history of literature, but as yet we were all seemingly
equal, whether in talent or in luck, and scarce even personalties to one
another. I remember saying one night at the Cheshire Cheese, when more
poets than usual had come, "None of us can say who will succeed, or even
who has or has not talent. The only thing certain about us is that we are
too many."


XVIII

I have described what image--always opposite to the natural self or the
natural world--Wilde, Henley, Morris, copied or tried to copy, but I have
not said if I found an image for myself. I know very little about myself
and much less of that anti-self: probably the woman who cooks my dinner or
the woman who sweeps out my study knows more than I. It is perhaps because
nature made me a gregarious man, going hither and thither looking for
conversation, and ready to deny from fear or favour his dearest
conviction, that I love proud and lonely things. When I was a child and
went daily to the sexton's daughter for writing lessons, I found one poem
in her School Reader that delighted me beyond all others: a fragment of
some metrical translation from Aristophanes wherein the birds sing scorn
upon mankind. In later years my mind gave itself to gregarious Shelley's
dream of a young man, his hair blanched with sorrow, studying philosophy
in some lonely tower, or of his old man, master of all human knowledge,
hidden from human sight in some shell-strewn cavern on the Mediterranean
shore. One passage above all ran perpetually in my ears--

"Some feign that he is Enoch: others dream
He was pre-Adamite, and has survived
Cycles of generation and of ruin.
The sage, in truth, by dreadful abstinence,
And conquering penance of the mutinous flesh,
Deep contemplation and unwearied study,
In years outstretched beyond the date of man,
May have attained to sovereignty and science
Over those strong and secret things and thoughts
Which others fear and know not.
_Mahmud._ I would talk
With this old Jew.
_Hassan._ Thy will is even now
Made known to him where he dwells in a sea-cavern
'Mid the Demonesi, less accessible
Than thou or God! He who would question him
Must sail alone at sunset where the stream
Of ocean sleeps around those foamless isles,
When the young moon is westering as now,
And evening airs wander upon the wave;
And, when the pines of that bee-pasturing isle,
Green Erebinthus, quench the fiery shadow
Of his gilt prow within the sapphire water,
Then must the lonely helmsman cry aloud
'Ahasuerus!' and the caverns round
Will answer 'Ahasuerus!' If his prayer
Be granted, a faint meteor will arise,
Lighting him over Marmora; and a wind
Will rush out of the sighing pine-forest,
And with the wind a storm of harmony
Unutterably sweet, and pilot him
Through the soft twilight to the Bosphorus:
Thence, at the hour and place and circumstance
Fit for the matter of their conference,
The Jew appears. Few dare, and few who dare
Win the desired communion."

Already in Dublin, I had been attracted to the Theosophists because they
had affirmed the real existence of the Jew, or of his like, and, apart
from whatever might have been imagined by Huxley, Tyndall, Carolus Duran,
and Bastien-Lepage, I saw nothing against his reality. Presently having
heard that Madame Blavatsky had arrived from France, or from India, I
thought it time to look the matter up. Certainly if wisdom existed
anywhere in the world it must be in some such lonely mind admitting no
duty to us, communing with God only, conceding nothing from fear or
favour. Have not all peoples, while bound together in a single mind and
taste, believed that such men existed and paid them that honour, or paid
it to their mere shadow, which they have refused to philanthropists and to
men of learning.


XIX

I found Madame Blavatsky in a little house at Norwood, with but, as she
said, three followers left--the Society of Psychical Research had just
reported on her Indian phenomena--and as one of the three followers sat in
an outer room to keep out undesirable visitors, I was kept a long time
kicking my heels. Presently I was admitted and found an old woman in a
plain loose dark dress: a sort of old Irish peasant woman with an air of
humour and audacious power. I was still kept waiting, for she was deep in
conversation with a woman visitor. I strayed through folding doors into
the next room and stood, in sheer idleness of mind, looking at a cuckoo
clock. It was certainly stopped, for the weights were off and lying upon
the ground, and yet, as I stood there the cuckoo came out and cuckooed at
me. I interrupted Madame Blavatsky to say, "Your clock has hooted me."
"It oftens hoots at a stranger," she replied. "Is there a spirit in it?" I
said. "I do not know," she said, "I should have to be alone to know what
is in it." I went back to the clock and began examining it and heard her
say: "Do not break my clock." I wondered if there was some hidden
mechanism and I should have been put out, I suppose, had I found any,
though Henley had said to me, "Of course she gets up fraudulent miracles,
but a person of genius has to do something; Sarah Bernhardt sleeps in her
coffin." Presently the visitor went away and Madame Blavatsky explained
that she was a propagandist for women's rights who had called to find out
"why men were so bad." "What explanation did you give her?" I said.



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