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Chapter 3

  • At half-past twelve next day Lord Henry Wotton strolled from Curzon Stree_ver to the Albany to call on his uncle, Lord Fermor, a genial if somewha_ough-mannered old bachelor, whom the outside world called selfish because i_erived no particular benefit from him, but who was considered generous b_ociety as he fed the people who amused him. His father had been ou_mbassador at Madrid when Isabella was young and Prim unthought of, but ha_etired from the diplomatic service in a capricious moment of annoyance on no_eing offered the Embassy at Paris, a post to which he considered that he wa_ully entitled by reason of his birth, his indolence, the good English of hi_ispatches, and his inordinate passion for pleasure. The son, who had been hi_ather's secretary, had resigned along with his chief, somewhat foolishly a_as thought at the time, and on succeeding some months later to the title, ha_et himself to the serious study of the great aristocratic art of doin_bsolutely nothing. He had two large town houses, but preferred to live i_hambers as it was less trouble, and took most of his meals at his club. H_aid some attention to the management of his collieries in the Midlan_ounties, excusing himself for this taint of industry on the ground that th_ne advantage of having coal was that it enabled a gentleman to afford th_ecency of burning wood on his own hearth. In politics he was a Tory, excep_hen the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them fo_eing a pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and _error to most of his relations, whom he bullied in turn. Only England coul_ave produced him, and he always said that the country was going to the dogs.
  • His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for hi_rejudices.
  • When Lord Henry entered the room, he found his uncle sitting in a roug_hooting-coat, smoking a cheroot and grumbling over The Times. "Well, Harry,"
  • said the old gentleman, "what brings you out so early? I thought you dandie_ever got up till two, and were not visible till five."
  • "Pure family affection, I assure you, Uncle George. I want to get somethin_ut of you."
  • "Money, I suppose," said Lord Fermor, making a wry face. "Well, sit down an_ell me all about it. Young people, nowadays, imagine that money i_verything."
  • "Yes," murmured Lord Henry, settling his button-hole in his coat; "and whe_hey grow older they know it. But I don't want money. It is only people wh_ay their bills who want that, Uncle George, and I never pay mine. Credit i_he capital of a younger son, and one lives charmingly upon it. Besides, _lways deal with Dartmoor's tradesmen, and consequently they never bother me.
  • What I want is information: not useful information, of course; useles_nformation."
  • "Well, I can tell you anything that is in an English Blue Book, Harry, although those fellows nowadays write a lot of nonsense. When I was in th_iplomatic, things were much better. But I hear they let them in now b_xamination. What can you expect? Examinations, sir, are pure humbug fro_eginning to end. If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he i_ot a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him."
  • "Mr. Dorian Gray does not belong to Blue Books, Uncle George," said Lord Henr_anguidly.
  • "Mr. Dorian Gray? Who is he?" asked Lord Fermor, knitting his bushy whit_yebrows.
  • "That is what I have come to learn, Uncle George. Or rather, I know who he is.
  • He is the last Lord Kelso's grandson. His mother was a Devereux, Lady Margare_evereaux. I want you to tell me about his mother. What was she like? Whom di_he marry? You have known nearly everybody in your time, so you might hav_nown her. I am very much interested in Mr. Gray at present. I have only jus_et him."
  • "Kelso's grandson!" echoed the old gentleman. "Kelso's grandson! … Of course… . I knew his mother intimately. I believe I was at her christening. She was a_xtraordinarily beautiful girl, Margaret Devereux, and made all the me_rantic by running away with a penniless young fellow— a mere nobody, sir, _ubaltern in a foot regiment, or something of that kind. Certainly. I remembe_he whole thing as if it happened yesterday. The poor chap was killed in _uel at Spa a few months after the marriage. There was an ugly story about it.
  • They said Kelso got some rascally adventurer, some Belgian brute, to insul_is son-in-law in public—paid him, sir, to do it, paid him— and that th_ellow spitted his man as if he had been a pigeon. The thing was hushed up, but, egad, Kelso ate his chop alone at the club for some time afterwards. H_rought his daughter back with him, I was told, and she never spoke to hi_gain. Oh, yes; it was a bad business. The girl died, too, died within a year.
  • So she left a son, did she? I had forgotten that. What sort of boy is he? I_e is like his mother, he must be a good-looking chap."
  • "He is very good-looking," assented Lord Henry.
  • "I hope he will fall into proper hands," continued the old man. "He shoul_ave a pot of money waiting for him if Kelso did the right thing by him. Hi_other had money, too. All the Selby property came to her, through he_randfather. Her grandfather hated Kelso, thought him a mean dog. He was, too.
  • Came to Madrid once when I was there. Egad, I was ashamed of him. The Quee_sed to ask me about the English noble who was always quarrelling with th_abmen about their fares. They made quite a story of it. I didn't dare show m_ace at Court for a month. I hope he treated his grandson better than he di_he jarvies."
  • "I don't know," answered Lord Henry. "I fancy that the boy will be well off.
  • He is not of age yet. He has Selby, I know. He told me so. And … his mothe_as very beautiful?"
  • "Margaret Devereux was one of the loveliest creatures I ever saw, Harry. Wha_n earth induced her to behave as she did, I never could understand. She coul_ave married anybody she chose. Carlington was mad after her. She wa_omantic, though. All the women of that family were. The men were a poor lot, but, egad! the women were wonderful. Carlington went on his knees to her. Tol_e so himself. She laughed at him, and there wasn't a girl in London at th_ime who wasn't after him. And by the way, Harry, talking about sill_arriages, what is this humbug your father tells me about Dartmoor wanting t_arry an American? Ain't English girls good enough for him?"
  • "It is rather fashionable to marry Americans just now, Uncle George."
  • "I'll back English women against the world, Harry," said Lord Fermor, strikin_he table with his fist.
  • "The betting is on the Americans."
  • "They don't last, I am told," muttered his uncle.
  • "A long engagement exhausts them, but they are capital at a steeplechase. The_ake things flying. I don't think Dartmoor has a chance."
  • "Who are her people?" grumbled the old gentleman. "Has she got any?"
  • Lord Henry shook his head. "American girls are as clever at concealing thei_arents, as English women are at concealing their past," he said, rising t_o.
  • "They are pork-packers, I suppose?"
  • "I hope so, Uncle George, for Dartmoor's sake. I am told that pork-packing i_he most lucrative profession in America, after politics."
  • "Is she pretty?"
  • "She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secre_f their charm."
  • "Why can't these American women stay in their own country? They are alway_elling us that it is the paradise for women."
  • "It is. That is the reason why, like Eve, they are so excessively anxious t_et out of it," said Lord Henry. "Good-bye, Uncle George. I shall be late fo_unch, if I stop any longer. Thanks for giving me the information I wanted. _lways like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my ol_nes."
  • "Where are you lunching, Harry?"
  • "At Aunt Agatha's. I have asked myself and Mr. Gray. He is her lates_rotege."
  • "Humph! tell your Aunt Agatha, Harry, not to bother me any more with he_harity appeals. I am sick of them. Why, the good woman thinks that I hav_othing to do but to write cheques for her silly fads."
  • "All right, Uncle George, I'll tell her, but it won't have any effect.
  • Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishin_haracteristic."
  • The old gentleman growled approvingly and rang the bell for his servant. Lor_enry passed up the low arcade into Burlington Street and turned his steps i_he direction of Berkeley Square.
  • So that was the story of Dorian Gray's parentage. Crudely as it had been tol_o him, it had yet stirred him by its suggestion of a strange, almost moder_omance. A beautiful woman risking everything for a mad passion. A few wil_eeks of happiness cut short by a hideous, treacherous crime. Months o_oiceless agony, and then a child born in pain. The mother snatched away b_eath, the boy left to solitude and the tyranny of an old and loveless man.
  • Yes; it was an interesting background. It posed the lad, made him mor_erfect, as it were. Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there wa_omething tragic. Worlds had to be in travail, that the meanest flower migh_low… . And how charming he had been at dinner the night before, as wit_tartled eyes and lips parted in frightened pleasure he had sat opposite t_im at the club, the red candleshades staining to a richer rose the wakenin_onder of his face. Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin.
  • He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow… . There was somethin_erribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was lik_t. To project one's soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there fo_ moment; to hear one's own intellectual views echoed back to one with all th_dded music of passion and youth; to convey one's temperament into another a_hough it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there was a real joy i_hat—perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited an_ulgar as our own, an age grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly commo_n its aims… . He was a marvellous type, too, this lad, whom by so curious _hance he had met in Basil's studio, or could be fashioned into a marvellou_ype, at any rate. Grace was his, and the white purity of boyhood, and beaut_uch as old Greek marbles kept for us. There was nothing that one could not d_ith him. He could be made a Titan or a toy. What a pity it was that suc_eauty was destined to fade! … And Basil? From a psychological point of view, how interesting he was! The new manner in art, the fresh mode of looking a_ife, suggested so strangely by the merely visible presence of one who wa_nconscious of it all; the silent spirit that dwelt in dim woodland, an_alked unseen in open field, suddenly showing herself, Dryadlike and no_fraid, because in his soul who sought for her there had been wakened tha_onderful vision to which alone are wonderful things revealed; the mere shape_nd patterns of things becoming, as it were, refined, and gaining a kind o_ymbolical value, as though they were themselves patterns of some other an_ore perfect form whose shadow they made real: how strange it all was! H_emembered something like it in history. Was it not Plato, that artist i_hought, who had first analyzed it? Was it not Buonarotti who had carved it i_he coloured marbles of a sonnet-sequence? But in our own century it wa_trange… . Yes; he would try to be to Dorian Gray what, without knowing it, the lad was to the painter who had fashioned the wonderful portrait. He woul_eek to dominate him—had already, indeed, half done so. He would make tha_onderful spirit his own. There was something fascinating in this son of lov_nd death.
  • Suddenly he stopped and glanced up at the houses. He found that he had passe_is aunt's some distance, and, smiling to himself, turned back. When h_ntered the somewhat sombre hall, the butler told him that they had gone in t_unch. He gave one of the footmen his hat and stick and passed into th_ining-room.
  • "Late as usual, Harry," cried his aunt, shaking her head at him.
  • He invented a facile excuse, and having taken the vacant seat next to her, looked round to see who was there. Dorian bowed to him shyly from the end o_he table, a flush of pleasure stealing into his cheek. Opposite was th_uchess of Harley, a lady of admirable good-nature and good temper, much like_y every one who knew her, and of those ample architectural proportions tha_n women who are not duchesses are described by contemporary historians a_toutness. Next to her sat, on her right, Sir Thomas Burdon, a Radical membe_f Parliament, who followed his leader in public life and in private lif_ollowed the best cooks, dining with the Tories and thinking with th_iberals, in accordance with a wise and well-known rule. The post on her lef_as occupied by Mr. Erskine of Treadley, an old gentleman of considerabl_harm and culture, who had fallen, however, into bad habits of silence, having, as he explained once to Lady Agatha, said everything that he had t_ay before he was thirty. His own neighbour was Mrs. Vandeleur, one of hi_unt's oldest friends, a perfect saint amongst women, but so dreadfully dowd_hat she reminded one of a badly bound hymn-book. Fortunately for him she ha_n the other side Lord Faudel, a most intelligent middle-aged mediocrity, a_ald as a ministerial statement in the House of Commons, with whom she wa_onversing in that intensely earnest manner which is the one unpardonabl_rror, as he remarked once himself, that all really good people fall into, an_rom which none of them ever quite escape.
  • "We are talking about poor Dartmoor, Lord Henry," cried the duchess, noddin_leasantly to him across the table. "Do you think he will really marry thi_ascinating young person?"
  • "I believe she has made up her mind to propose to him, Duchess."
  • "How dreadful!" exclaimed Lady Agatha. "Really, some one should interfere."
  • "I am told, on excellent authority, that her father keeps an American dry- goods store," said Sir Thomas Burdon, looking supercilious.
  • "My uncle has already suggested pork-packing Sir Thomas."
  • "Dry-goods! What are American dry-goods?" asked the duchess, raising her larg_ands in wonder and accentuating the verb.
  • "American novels," answered Lord Henry, helping himself to some quail.
  • The duchess looked puzzled.
  • "Don't mind him, my dear," whispered Lady Agatha. "He never means anythin_hat he says."
  • "When America was discovered," said the Radical member— and he began to giv_ome wearisome facts. Like all people who try to exhaust a subject, h_xhausted his listeners. The duchess sighed and exercised her privilege o_nterruption. "I wish to goodness it never had been discovered at all!" sh_xclaimed. "Really, our girls have no chance nowadays. It is most unfair."
  • "Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered," said Mr. Erskine; "_yself would say that it had merely been detected."
  • "Oh! but I have seen specimens of the inhabitants," answered the duches_aguely. "I must confess that most of them are extremely pretty. And the_ress well, too. They get all their dresses in Paris. I wish I could afford t_o the same."
  • "They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris," chuckled Sir Thomas, who had a large wardrobe of Humour's cast-off clothes.
  • "Really! And where do bad Americans go to when they die?" inquired th_uchess.
  • "They go to America," murmured Lord Henry.
  • Sir Thomas frowned. "I am afraid that your nephew is prejudiced against tha_reat country," he said to Lady Agatha. "I have travelled all over it in car_rovided by the directors, who, in such matters, are extremely civil. I assur_ou that it is an education to visit it."
  • "But must we really see Chicago in order to be educated?" asked Mr. Erskin_laintively. "I don't feel up to the journey."
  • Sir Thomas waved his hand. "Mr. Erskine of Treadley has the world on hi_helves. We practical men like to see things, not to read about them. Th_mericans are an extremely interesting people. They are absolutely reasonable.
  • I think that is their distinguishing characteristic. Yes, Mr. Erskine, a_bsolutely reasonable people. I assure you there is no nonsense about th_mericans."
  • "How dreadful!" cried Lord Henry. "I can stand brute force, but brute reaso_s quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hittin_elow the intellect."
  • "I do not understand you," said Sir Thomas, growing rather red.
  • "I do, Lord Henry," murmured Mr. Erskine, with a smile.
  • "Paradoxes are all very well in their way… ." rejoined the baronet.
  • "Was that a paradox?" asked Mr. Erskine. "I did not think so. Perhaps it was.
  • Well, the way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test reality we must see i_n the tight rope. When the verities become acrobats, we can judge them."
  • "Dear me!" said Lady Agatha, "how you men argue! I am sure I never can mak_ut what you are talking about. Oh! Harry, I am quite vexed with you. Why d_ou try to persuade our nice Mr. Dorian Gray to give up the East End? I assur_ou he would be quite invaluable. They would love his playing."
  • "I want him to play to me," cried Lord Henry, smiling, and he looked down th_able and caught a bright answering glance.
  • "But they are so unhappy in Whitechapel," continued Lady Agatha.
  • "I can sympathize with everything except suffering," said Lord Henry, shrugging his shoulders. "I cannot sympathize with that. It is too ugly, to_orrible, too distressing. There is something terribly morbid in the moder_ympathy with pain. One should sympathize with the colour, the beauty, the jo_f life. The less said about life's sores, the better."
  • "Still, the East End is a very important problem," remarked Sir Thomas with _rave shake of the head.
  • "Quite so," answered the young lord. "It is the problem of slavery, and we tr_o solve it by amusing the slaves."
  • The politician looked at him keenly. "What change do you propose, then?" h_sked.
  • Lord Henry laughed. "I don't desire to change anything in England except th_eather," he answered. "I am quite content with philosophic contemplation.
  • But, as the nineteenth century has gone bankrupt through an over-expenditur_f sympathy, I would suggest that we should appeal to science to put u_traight. The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray, and th_dvantage of science is that it is not emotional."
  • "But we have such grave responsibilities," ventured Mrs. Vandeleur timidly.
  • "Terribly grave," echoed Lady Agatha.
  • Lord Henry looked over at Mr. Erskine. "Humanity takes itself too seriously.
  • It is the world's original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, histor_ould have been different."
  • "You are really very comforting," warbled the duchess. "I have always fel_ather guilty when I came to see your dear aunt, for I take no interest at al_n the East End. For the future I shall be able to look her in the fac_ithout a blush."
  • "A blush is very becoming, Duchess," remarked Lord Henry.
  • "Only when one is young," she answered. "When an old woman like mysel_lushes, it is a very bad sign. Ah! Lord Henry, I wish you would tell me ho_o become young again."
  • He thought for a moment. "Can you remember any great error that you committe_n your early days, Duchess?" he asked, looking at her across the table.
  • "A great many, I fear," she cried.
  • "Then commit them over again," he said gravely. "To get back one's youth, on_as merely to repeat one's follies."
  • "A delightful theory!" she exclaimed. "I must put it into practice."
  • "A dangerous theory!" came from Sir Thomas's tight lips. Lady Agatha shook he_ead, but could not help being amused. Mr. Erskine listened.
  • "Yes," he continued, "that is one of the great secrets of life. Nowadays mos_eople die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is to_ate that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."
  • A laugh ran round the table.
  • He played with the idea and grew wilful; tossed it into the air an_ransformed it; let it escape and recaptured it; made it iridescent with fanc_nd winged it with paradox. The praise of folly, as he went on, soared into _hilosophy, and philosophy herself became young, and catching the mad music o_leasure, wearing, one might fancy, her wine-stained robe and wreath of ivy, danced like a Bacchante over the hills of life, and mocked the slow Silenu_or being sober. Facts fled before her like frightened forest things. He_hite feet trod the huge press at which wise Omar sits, till the seethin_rape-juice rose round her bare limbs in waves of purple bubbles, or crawle_n red foam over the vat's black, dripping, sloping sides. It was a_xtraordinary improvisation. He felt that the eyes of Dorian Gray were fixe_n him, and the consciousness that amongst his audience there was one whos_emperament he wished to fascinate seemed to give his wit keenness and to len_olour to his imagination. He was brilliant, fantastic, irresponsible. H_harmed his listeners out of themselves, and they followed his pipe, laughing.
  • Dorian Gray never took his gaze off him, but sat like one under a spell, smiles chasing each other over his lips and wonder growing grave in hi_arkening eyes.
  • At last, liveried in the costume of the age, reality entered the room in th_hape of a servant to tell the duchess that her carriage was waiting. Sh_rung her hands in mock despair. "How annoying!" she cried. "I must go. I hav_o call for my husband at the club, to take him to some absurd meeting a_illis's Rooms, where he is going to be in the chair. If I am late he is sur_o be furious, and I couldn't have a scene in this bonnet. It is far to_ragile. A harsh word would ruin it. No, I must go, dear Agatha. Good-bye, Lord Henry, you are quite delightful and dreadfully demoralizing. I am sure _on't know what to say about your views. You must come and dine with us som_ight. Tuesday? Are you disengaged Tuesday?"
  • "For you I would throw over anybody, Duchess," said Lord Henry with a bow.
  • "Ah! that is very nice, and very wrong of you," she cried; "so mind you come"; and she swept out of the room, followed by Lady Agatha and the other ladies.
  • When Lord Henry had sat down again, Mr. Erskine moved round, and taking _hair close to him, placed his hand upon his arm.
  • "You talk books away," he said; "why don't you write one?"
  • "I am too fond of reading books to care to write them, Mr. Erskine. I shoul_ike to write a novel certainly, a novel that would be as lovely as a Persia_arpet and as unreal. But there is no literary public in England for anythin_xcept newspapers, primers, and encyclopaedias. Of all people in the world th_nglish have the least sense of the beauty of literature."
  • "I fear you are right," answered Mr. Erskine. "I myself used to have literar_mbitions, but I gave them up long ago. And now, my dear young friend, if yo_ill allow me to call you so, may I ask if you really meant all that you sai_o us at lunch?"
  • "I quite forget what I said," smiled Lord Henry. "Was it all very bad?"
  • "Very bad indeed. In fact I consider you extremely dangerous, and if anythin_appens to our good duchess, we shall all look on you as being primaril_esponsible. But I should like to talk to you about life. The generation int_hich I was born was tedious. Some day, when you are tired of London, com_own to Treadley and expound to me your philosophy of pleasure over som_dmirable Burgundy I am fortunate enough to possess."
  • "I shall be charmed. A visit to Treadley would be a great privilege. It has _erfect host, and a perfect library."
  • "You will complete it," answered the old gentleman with a courteous bow. "An_ow I must bid good-bye to your excellent aunt. I am due at the Athenaeum. I_s the hour when we sleep there."
  • "All of you, Mr. Erskine?"
  • "Forty of us, in forty arm-chairs. We are practising for an English Academy o_etters."
  • Lord Henry laughed and rose. "I am going to the park," he cried.
  • As he was passing out of the door, Dorian Gray touched him on the arm. "Let m_ome with you," he murmured.
  • "But I thought you had promised Basil Hallward to go and see him," answere_ord Henry.
  • "I would sooner come with you; yes, I feel I must come with you. Do let me.
  • And you will promise to talk to me all the time? No one talks so wonderfull_s you do."
  • "Ah! I have talked quite enough for to-day," said Lord Henry, smiling. "All _ant now is to look at life. You may come and look at it with me, if you car_o."