Monday, 27 June 2011

Dorian Gray - Vanitas

J.D. Godward: Athenais

‘There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray.

All influence is immoral,—immoral from the scientific
point of view.’
‘Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own
soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with
his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His
sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He
becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a
part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is
self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly,—that
is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of
themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of
all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self. Of course
they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the
beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked.
Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really
had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals,
the terror of God, which is the secret of religion,—these
are the two things that govern us. And yet—‘
‘Just turn your head a little more to the right, Dorian,
like a good boy,’ said Hallward, deep in his work, and
conscious only that a look had come into the lad’s face
that he had never seen there before.
‘And yet,’ continued Lord Henry, in his low, musical
voice, and with that graceful wave of the hand that was
always so characteristic of him, and that he had even in his
Eton days, ‘I believe that if one man were to live his life
out fully and completely, were to give form to every
feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every
dream,—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh
impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of
mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal,— to
something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be.
But the bravest man among us is afraid of himself. The
mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the selfdenial
that mars our lives. We are punished for our
refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in
the mind, and poisons us. The body sins once, and has
done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification.
Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure,
or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a
temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows
sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself,
with desire for what its monstrous laws have made
monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great
events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the
brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world
take place also. You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your
rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have
had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have
filled you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams
whose mere memory might stain your cheek with
‘Let us go and sit in the shade,’ said Lord Henry.
‘Parker has brought out the drinks, and if you stay any
longer in this glare you will be quite spoiled, and Basil will
never paint you again. You really must not let yourself
become sunburnt. It would be very unbecoming to you.’
‘What does it matter?’ cried Dorian, laughing, as he sat
down on the seat at the end of the garden.
‘It should matter everything to you, Mr. Gray.’
‘Because you have now the most marvellous youth, and
youth is the one thing worth having.’
‘I don’t feel that, Lord Henry.’
‘No, you don’t feel it now. Some day, when you are
old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your
forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with
its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly.
Now, wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it
always be so?
‘You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr. Gray.
Don’t frown. You have. And Beauty is a form of
Genius,—is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no
explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like
sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of
that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned.
It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of
those who have it. You smile? Ah! when you have lost it
you won’t smile.
‘People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial.
That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as
Thought. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is
only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the
‘Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But
what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only
a few years in which really to live. When your youth goes,
your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly
discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to
content yourself with those mean triumphs that the
memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats.
Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something
dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your
lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollowcheeked,
and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly.
‘Realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander
the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to
improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to
the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar, which are the
aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful
life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always
searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.
‘A new hedonism,—that is what our century wants.
You might be its visible symbol. With your personality
there is nothing you could not do. The world belongs to
you for a season.
‘The moment I met you I saw that you were quite
unconscious of what you really are, what you really might
be. There was so much about you that charmed me that I
felt I must tell you something about yourself. I thought
how tragic it would be if you were wasted. For there is
such a little time that your youth will last,—such a little
‘The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom
again. The laburnum will be as golden next June as it is
now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis,
and year after year the green night of its leaves will have its
purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse
of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our
limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous
puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which
we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations
that we did not dare to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is
absolutely nothing in the world but youth!