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Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6

I suppose you have heard the news, Basil?" said Lord Henry
that evening as Hallward was shown into a little private room
at the Bristol where dinner had been laid for three.

"No, Harry," answered the artist, giving his hat and coat to
the bowing waiter. "What is it? Nothing about politics, I hope!
They don't interest me. There is hardly a single person in the House
of Commons worth painting, though many of them would be the better
for a little whitewashing."

"Dorian Gray is engaged to be married," said Lord Henry,
watching him as he spoke.

Hallward started and then frowned. "Dorian engaged to be married!"
he cried. "Impossible!"

"It is perfectly true."

"To whom?"

"To some little actress or other."

"I can't believe it. Dorian is far too sensible."

"Dorian is far too wise not to do foolish things now and then,
my dear Basil."

"Marriage is hardly a thing that one can do now and then, Harry."

"Except in America," rejoined Lord Henry languidly. "But I
didn't say he was married. I said he was engaged to be married.
There is a great difference. I have a distinct remembrance of
being married, but I have no recollection at all of being engaged.
I am inclined to think that I never was engaged."

"But think of Dorian's birth, and position, and wealth.
It would be absurd for him to marry so much beneath him."

"If you want to make him marry this girl, tell him that, Basil. He is
sure to do it, then. Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing,
it is always from the noblest motives."

"I hope the girl is good, Harry. I don't want to see Dorian tied to some
vile creature, who might degrade his nature and ruin his intellect."

"Oh, she is better than good--she is beautiful," murmured Lord Henry,
sipping a glass of vermouth and orange-bitters. "Dorian says she
is beautiful, and he is not often wrong about things of that kind.
Your portrait of him has quickened his appreciation of the personal
appearance of other people. It has had that excellent effect,
amongst others. We are to see her to-night, if that boy doesn't forget
his appointment."

"Are you serious?"

"Quite serious, Basil. I should be miserable if I thought I
should ever be more serious than I am at the present moment."

"But do you approve of it, Harry?" asked the painter,
walking up and down the room and biting his lip. "You can't
approve of it, possibly. It is some silly infatuation."

"I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd
attitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world
to air our moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common
people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.
If a personality fascinates me, whatever mode of expression that
personality selects is absolutely delightful to me. Dorian Gray
falls in love with a beautiful girl who acts Juliet, and proposes
to marry her. Why not? If he wedded Messalina, he would be none
the less interesting. You know I am not a champion of marriage.
The real drawback to marriage is that it makes one unselfish.
And unselfish people are colourless. They lack individuality.
Still, there are certain temperaments that marriage makes more complex.
They retain their egotism, and add to it many other egos.
They are forced to have more than one life. They become more
highly organized, and to be highly organized is, I should fancy,
the object of man's existence. Besides, every experience
is of value, and whatever one may say against marriage,
it is certainly an experience. I hope that Dorian Gray will
make this girl his wife, passionately adore her for six months,
and then suddenly become fascinated by some one else. He would be a
wonderful study."

"You don't mean a single word of all that, Harry; you know you don't. If
Dorian Gray's life were spoiled, no one would be sorrier than yourself.
You are much better than you pretend to be."

Lord Henry laughed. "The reason we all like to think
so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves.
The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are
generous because we credit our neighbour with the possession
of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us.
We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account,
and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that
he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have said.
I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled life,
no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.
If you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it.
As for marriage, of course that would be silly, but there are other
and more interesting bonds between men and women. I will certainly
encourage them. They have the charm of being fashionable.
But here is Dorian himself. He will tell you more than
I can."

"My dear Harry, my dear Basil, you must both congratulate me!"
said the lad, throwing off his evening cape with its satin-lined
wings and shaking each of his friends by the hand in turn.
"I have never been so happy. Of course, it is sudden--
all really delightful things are. And yet it seems to me
to be the one thing I have been looking for all my life."
He was flushed with excitement and pleasure, and looked
extraordinarily handsome.

"I hope you will always be very happy, Dorian," said Hallward, "but I
don't quite forgive you for not having let me know of your engagement.
You let Harry know."

"And I don't forgive you for being late for dinner," broke in Lord Henry,
putting his hand on the lad's shoulder and smiling as he spoke.
"Come, let us sit down and try what the new chef here is like, and then you
will tell us how it all came about."

"There is really not much to tell," cried Dorian as they took their
seats at the small round table. "What happened was simply this.
After I left you yesterday evening, Harry, I dressed, had some
dinner at that little Italian restaurant in Rupert Street you
introduced me to, and went down at eight o'clock to the theatre.
Sibyl was playing Rosalind. Of course, the scenery was dreadful
and the Orlando absurd. But Sibyl! You should have seen her!
When she came on in her boy's clothes, she was perfectly wonderful.
She wore a moss-coloured velvet jerkin with cinnamon sleeves,
slim, brown, cross-gartered hose, a dainty little green cap with a hawk's
feather caught in a jewel, and a hooded cloak lined with dull red.
She had never seemed to me more exquisite. She had all the delicate
grace of that Tanagra figurine that you have in your studio, Basil.
Her hair clustered round her face like dark leaves round a pale rose.
As for her acting--well, you shall see her to-night. She is simply
a born artist. I sat in the dingy box absolutely enthralled.
I forgot that I was in London and in the nineteenth century.
I was away with my love in a forest that no man had ever seen.
After the performance was over, I went behind and spoke to her.
As we were sitting together, suddenly there came into her eyes a look
that I had never seen there before. My lips moved towards hers.
We kissed each other. I can't describe to you what I felt at that moment.
It seemed to me that all my life had been narrowed to one perfect
point of rose-coloured joy. She trembled all over and shook
like a white narcissus. Then she flung herself on her knees
and kissed my hands. I feel that I should not tell you all this,
but I can't help it. Of course, our engagement is a dead secret.
She has not even told her own mother. I don't know what my guardians
will say. Lord Radley is sure to be furious. I don't care.
I shall be of age in less than a year, and then I can do what I like.
I have been right, Basil, haven't I, to take my love out of poetry
and to find my wife in Shakespeare's plays? Lips that Shakespeare
taught to speak have whispered their secret in my ear.
I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet on the
mouth."

"Yes, Dorian, I suppose you were right," said Hallward slowly.

"Have you seen her to-day?" asked Lord Henry.

Dorian Gray shook his head. "I left her in the forest of Arden;
I shall find her in an orchard in Verona."

Lord Henry sipped his champagne in a meditative manner.
"At what particular point did you mention the word marriage, Dorian?
And what did she say in answer? Perhaps you forgot all about it."

"My dear Harry, I did not treat it as a business transaction,
and I did not make any formal proposal. I told her that I
loved her, and she said she was not worthy to be my wife.
Not worthy! Why, the whole world is nothing to me compared
with her."

"Women are wonderfully practical," murmured Lord Henry,
"much more practical than we are. In situations of that kind
we often forget to say anything about marriage, and they always
remind us."

Hallward laid his hand upon his arm. "Don't, Harry.
You have annoyed Dorian. He is not like other men.
He would never bring misery upon any one. His nature is too fine
for that."

Lord Henry looked across the table. "Dorian is never annoyed with me,"
be answered. "I asked the question for the best reason possible,
for the only reason, indeed, that excuses one for asking any question--
simple curiosity. I have a theory that it is always the women who
propose to us, and not we who propose to the women. Except, of course,
in middle-class life. But then the middle classes are not modern."

Dorian Gray laughed, and tossed his head. "You are quite
incorrigible, Harry; but I don't mind. It is impossible to be angry
with you. When you see Sibyl Vane, you will feel that the man
who could wrong her would be a beast, a beast without a heart.
I cannot understand how any one can wish to shame the thing
he loves. I love Sibyl Vane. I want to place her on a pedestal
of gold and to see the world worship the woman who is mine.
What is marriage? An irrevocable vow. You mock at it for that.
Ah! don't mock. It is an irrevocable vow that I want to take.
Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good.
When I am with her, I regret all that you have taught me.
I become different from what you have known me to be.
I am changed, and the mere touch of Sibyl Vane's hand makes
me forget you and all your wrong, fascinating, poisonous,
delightful theories."

"And those are ... ?" asked Lord Henry, helping himself to some salad.

"Oh, your theories about life, your theories about love,
your theories about pleasure. All your theories, in fact, Harry."

"Pleasure is the only thing worth having a theory about,"
he answered in his slow melodious voice. "But I am afraid
I cannot claim my theory as my own. It belongs to Nature,
not to me. Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval.
When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good,
we are not always happy."

"Ah! but what do you mean by good?" cried Basil Hallward.

"Yes," echoed Dorian, leaning back in his chair and looking at Lord
Henry over the heavy clusters of purple-lipped irises that stood
in the centre of the table, "what do you mean by good, Harry?"

"To be good is to be in harmony with one's self," he replied,
touching the thin stem of his glass with his pale, fine-pointed fingers.
"Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others.
One's own life--that is the important thing. As for the lives
of one's neighbours, if one wishes to be a prig or a Puritan,
one can flaunt one's moral views about them, but they are not
one's concern. Besides, individualism has really the higher aim.
Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one's age.
I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is
a form of the grossest immorality."

"But, surely, if one lives merely for one's self, Harry, one pays
a terrible price for doing so?" suggested the painter.

"Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays. I should
fancy that the real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford
nothing but self-denial. Beautiful sins, like beautiful things,
are the privilege of the rich."

"One has to pay in other ways but money."

"What sort of ways, Basil?"

"Oh! I should fancy in remorse, in suffering, in . . . well,
in the consciousness of degradation."

Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders. "My dear fellow, mediaeval art
is charming, but mediaeval emotions are out of date. One can use
them in fiction, of course. But then the only things that one can
use in fiction are the things that one has ceased to use in fact.
Believe me, no civilized man ever regrets a pleasure, and no uncivilized
man ever knows what a pleasure is."

"I know what pleasure is," cried Dorian Gray. "It is to adore some one."

"That is certainly better than being adored," he answered,
toying with some fruits. "Being adored is a nuisance.
Women treat us just as humanity treats its gods.
They worship us, and are always bothering us to do something
for them."

"I should have said that whatever they ask for they had first given to us,"
murmured the lad gravely. "They create love in our natures. They have a
right to demand it back."

"That is quite true, Dorian," cried Hallward.

"Nothing is ever quite true," said Lord Henry.

"This is," interrupted Dorian. "You must admit, Harry, that women
give to men the very gold of their lives."

"Possibly," he sighed, "but they invariably want it back in such
very small change. That is the worry. Women, as some witty
Frenchman once put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces
and always prevent us from carrying them out."

"Harry, you are dreadful! I don't know why I like you so much."

"You will always like me, Dorian," he replied. "Will you have some coffee,
you fellows? Waiter, bring coffee, and fine-champagne, and some cigarettes.
No, don't mind the cigarettes--I have some. Basil, I can't allow you to
smoke cigars. You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type
of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied.
What more can one want? Yes, Dorian, you will always be fond of me.
I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit."

"What nonsense you talk, Harry!" cried the lad, taking a light from
a fire-breathing silver dragon that the waiter had placed on the table.
"Let us go down to the theatre. When Sibyl comes on the stage you will
have a new ideal of life. She will represent something to you that you
have never known."

"I have known everything," said Lord Henry, with a tired
look in his eyes, "but I am always ready for a new emotion.
I am afraid, however, that, for me at any rate, there is
no such thing. Still, your wonderful girl may thrill me.
I love acting. It is so much more real than life. Let us go.
Dorian, you will come with me. I am so sorry, Basil, but there
is only room for two in the brougham. You must follow us in
a hansom."

They got up and put on their coats, sipping their coffee standing.
The painter was silent and preoccupied. There was a gloom over him.
He could not bear this marriage, and yet it seemed to him
to be better than many other things that might have happened.
After a few minutes, they all passed downstairs. He drove off by himself,
as had been arranged, and watched the flashing lights of the little
brougham in front of him. A strange sense of loss came over him.
He felt that Dorian Gray would never again be to him all that he had
been in the past. Life had come between them.... His eyes darkened,
and the crowded flaring streets became blurred to his eyes.
When the cab drew up at the theatre, it seemed to him that he had grown
years older.

Oscar Wilde

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