The Picture of Dorian Gray
At half-past twelve next day Lord Henry Wotton strolled from Curzon Street over to the
Albany to call on his uncle, Lord Fermor, a genial if somewhat rough-mannered old bachelor, whom the outside world called selfish because
it derived no particular benefit from him, but who was considered generous
by Society as he fed the people who amused him.
His father had been our ambassador at Madrid when Isabella was young and Prim unthought of, but
had retired from the diplomatic service in a capricious moment of
annoyance on not being offered the Embassy at Paris, a post to which he
considered that he was fully entitled by reason of his birth, his
indolence, the good English of his dispatches, and his inordinate passion for pleasure. The son, who had been his father's secretary, had
resigned along with his chief, somewhat foolishly as was thought at the
time, and on succeeding some months later to the title, had set himself to
the serious study of the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely
He had two large town houses, but preferred to live in chambers
as it was less trouble, and took most of his meals at his club. He paid some attention to the
management of his collieries in the Midland counties, excusing himself for
this taint of industry on the ground that the one advantage of having coal
was that it enabled a gentleman to afford the decency of burning wood on his own hearth. In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories
were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a
pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a
terror to most of his relations, whom he bullied in turn.
Only England could have 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 His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices. When Lord Henry entered the room, he found his
uncle sitting in a rough shooting-coat, smoking a cheroot and grumbling
over The Times.
said the old gentleman,
"what brings you
out so early? I thought you dandies never got up till two, and were not visible till five."
"Pure family affection, I assure you, Uncle
George. I want to get something out of you."
"Money, I suppose,"
said Lord Fermor, making a wry face.
"Well, sit down and tell me all about it. Young people, nowadays, imagine that money is
murmured Lord Henry, settling his button-hole in his coat;
"and when they grow older they know it. But I don't want money. It is only people who
pay their bills who want that, Uncle George, and I never pay mine. Credit
is the capital of a younger son, and one lives charmingly upon it."
"Besides, I always deal with Dartmoor's tradesmen, and consequently they never bother me. What I want is information: not useful information, of
course; useless information."
"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 the Diplomatic, things were much better. But I
hear they let them in now by examination. What can you expect?"
"Examinations, sir, are pure humbug from beginning to end. If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him."
"Mr. Dorian Gray does not belong to Blue Books, Uncle George,"
said Lord Henry languidly.
Gray? Who is he?"
asked Lord Fermor, knitting his bushy
"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
Margaret Devereaux. I want you to tell me about his mother. What was she
like? Whom did she marry? You have known nearly everybody in your time,
so you might have known her. I am very much interested in Mr. Gray at
present. I have only just met him."
"Kelso's grandson! "
echoed the old
"Kelso's grandson! ... Of course.... I knew his mother
intimately. I believe I was at her christening. She was an
extraordinarily beautiful girl, Margaret Devereux, and made all the men
frantic by running away with a penniless young fellow-- a mere nobody,
sir, a subaltern in a foot regiment, or something of that
"Certainly. I remember the whole thing as if it happened yesterday. The
poor chap was killed in a duel 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 insult his son-in-law in public--paid
him, sir, to do it, paid him-- and that the fellow 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. He brought his daughter
back with him, I was told, and she never spoke to him again. 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? If he 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 should have a lot of money waiting for him if
Kelso did the right thing by him. His mother had money, too. All the
Selby property came to her, through her grandfather. 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 Queen used to ask me about the
English noble who was always quarrelling with the cabmen about their
fares. They made quite a story of it. I didn't dare show my face at Court
for a month. I hope he treated his grandson better than
he did the jarvies."
"I don't know,"
answered Lord Henry.
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 mother was very
"Margaret Devereux was one of the loveliest creatures I ever saw, Harry.
What on earth induced her to behave as she did, I never could understand.
She could have married anybody she chose. Carlington was mad after her.
She was romantic, 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. Told me so himself. She laughed at him, and there wasn't a
girl in London at the time who wasn't after him. And by the way, Harry,
talking about silly marriages, what is this humbug your father tells me
about Dartmoor wanting to marry 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,
said Lord Fermor, striking the table with his fist.
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. They take things flying. I don't think
Dartmoor has a chance."
"Who are her people?"
grumbled the old
"Has she got any?"
Lord Henry shook his head.
are as clever at concealing their parents, as English women are at
concealing their past,"
he said, rising to go.
pork-packers, I suppose?"
"I hope so, Uncle George, for Dartmoor's
sake. I am told that pork-packing is the most lucrative profession in
America, after politics."
"Is she pretty?"
"She behaves as
if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the
secret of their charm."
"Why can't these American women stay in their own country? They are always telling us that it is the paradise for women."
"It is. That is the reason why, like Eve, they are so
excessively anxious to get out of it,"
said Lord Henry.
George. I shall be late for lunch, if I stop any longer. Thanks for
giving me the information I wanted. I always like to know everything
about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones."
"Where are you lunching,
"At Aunt Agatha's. I have asked myself and Mr. Gray. He
is her latest protege."
"Humph! tell your Aunt Agatha, Harry, not
to bother me any more with her charity appeals. I am sick of them. Why,
the good woman thinks that I have nothing 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 distinguishing
The old gentleman growled approvingly and
rang the bell for his servant. Lord Henry passed up the low arcade into
Burlington Street and turned his steps in the direction
of Berkeley Square.
So that was the story of Dorian Gray's parentage. Crudely as it had been told to him, it had yet stirred him by
its suggestion of a strange, almost modern romance. A beautiful woman
risking everything for a mad passion. A few wild weeks of happiness cut
short by a hideous, treacherous crime.
Months of voiceless agony, and then a child born
in pain. The mother snatched away by death, 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 more perfect, as it were.
Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic. Worlds had to be in travail, that the meanest flower might blow. . . And how charming he had been at dinner the night before, as with startled eyes and lips parted in frightened pleasure he had sat opposite to him at the club, the red candleshades staining to a richer rose the wakening wonder 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
something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it. To project one's soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one's own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one's temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there was a real joy in that -- perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as our own, an age grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly common in its aims. . .
He was a marvellous type, too, this lad, whom by so curious a chance he had met in Basil's studio, or could be fashioned into a marvellous type, at any rate. Grace was his, and the white purity
of boyhood, and beauty such as old Greek marbles kept for us. There was nothing that one could not do with him. He could be made
a Titan or a toy.
What a pity it was that such beauty 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 at life, suggested so strangely by the merely visible presence of one who was unconscious of it all; the silent spirit that dwelt in dim woodland, and walked unseen in open field, suddenly showing herself, Dryadlike and not afraid, because in his soul who sought for her there had been wakened that wonderful vision to
which alone are wonderful things revealed; the mere shapes and
patterns of things becoming, as it were, refined, and gaining a kind of symbolical value, as though they were themselves patterns of some other and more perfect form whose shadow they made real: how strange it all was! He remembered something like it in history. Was it not Plato, that artist in thought, who had first analyzed it?
Was it not Buonarotti who had carved it in the coloured marbles of a sonnet-sequence? But in our own century it was strange. . . . 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 would seek to dominate him--had already, indeed, half done so. He would make that wonderful spirit his own. There was something fascinating in this son of love and death.
Suddenly he stopped and glanced up at the houses. He found that he had passed his aunt's some distance, and, smiling to himself, turned back. When he entered the somewhat sombre hall, the butler told him that they had gone in to lunch. He gave one of the footmen his hat and stick and passed into the dining-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 of the table, a flush of pleasure stealing into his cheek.
Opposite was the Duchess of Harley, a lady of
admirable good-nature and good temper, much liked by every one who knew
her, and of those ample architectural proportions that in women who are
not duchesses are described by contemporary historians as
Next to her sat, on her right, Sir Thomas Burdon, a Radical member of Parliament, who followed his leader in public life and in private life followed the best cooks, dining with the Tories and thinking with the Liberals, in accordance with a wise and well-known rule.
The post on her left was occupied by Mr. Erskine of Treadley, an old gentleman of considerable charm and culture, who had fallen, however, into bad habits of silence, having, as he explained once to Lady Agatha, said everything that he had to say before he was thirty.
His own neighbour was Mrs. Vandeleur, one of his aunt's oldest friends, a perfect saint amongst women, but so dreadfully dowdy that she reminded one of a badly bound hymn-book.
Fortunately for him she had on the other side
Lord Faudel, a most intelligent middle-aged mediocrity, as bald as a
ministerial statement in the House of Commons, with whom she was
conversing in that intensely earnest manner which is the one unpardonable
error, as he remarked once himself, that all really good people fall into,
and from which none of them ever quite escape.
"We are talking about
poor Dartmoor, Lord Henry,"
cried the duchess, nodding pleasantly to him across the table.
"Do you think he will really marry this fascinating
"I believe she has made up her mind to propose to
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
"My has already suggested pork-packing Sir Thomas."
"Dry-goods! What are American dry-goods?"
asked the duchess,
raising her large hands in wonder and accentuating the
answered Lord Henry, helping himself to some quail. The duchess
"Don't mind him, my dear,"
"He never means anything that he says."
said the Radical member-- and he began to give some wearisome facts.
Like all people who try to exhaust
a subject, he exhausted his listeners.
The duchess sighed and exercised her privilege of interruption.
"I wish to
goodness it never had been discovered at all!"
our girls have no chance nowadays. It is most
"Perhaps, after all, America never has
said Mr. Erskine;
"I myself would say that it had merely been detected."
"Oh! but I have seen specimens of the
answered the duchess vaguely.
"I must confess that most of
them are extremely pretty. And they dress well, too. They get all their
dresses in Paris. I wish I could afford to do the
"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.
where do bad Americans go to when they die?"
inquired the duchess.
"They go to America,"
murmured Lord Henry.
Sir Thomas frowned.
"I am afraid that your nephew is prejudiced against that great country,"
he said to Lady Agatha.
"I have travelled all over it in cars provided by
the directors, who, in such matters, are extremely civil. I assure you
that it is an education to visit it."
"But must we really see
Chicago in order to be educated?"
asked Mr. Erskine plaintively.
"I don't feel up to the journey."
Sir Thomas waved his hand.
of Treadley has the world on his shelves. We practical men like to see
things, not to read about them. The Americans are an extremely
interesting people. They are absolutely reasonable. I think that is their
distinguishing characteristic. Yes, Mr. Erskine, an absolutely reasonable
people. I assure you there is no nonsense about the
cried Lord Henry.
stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is
something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the
not understand you,"
said Sir Thomas, growing rather red.
murmured Mr. Erskine, with a smile.
all very well in their way. . ."
"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 it on the tight rope. When the verities become acrobats, we can judge them."
said Lady Agatha,
"how you men
argue! I am sure I never can make out what you are talking about. Oh!
Harry, I am quite vexed with you. Why do you try to persuade our nice Mr.
Dorian Gray to give up the East End? I assure you he would be quite
invaluable. They would love his playing."
"I want him to play to
cried Lord Henry, smiling, and he looked down the table and caught a
bright answering glance.
"But they are so unhappy in
continued Lady Agatha.
"I can sympathize with everything except
said Lord Henry, shrugging his shoulders.
sympathize with that. It is too ugly, too horrible, too distressing.
There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain. One
should sympathize with the colour, the beauty, the joy of life. The less
said about life's sores, the better."
"Still, the East End is a very important
remarked Sir Thomas with a grave shake of the head.
answered the young lord.
"It is the problem of slavery, and
we try to solve it by amusing the slaves."
The politician looked
at him keenly.
"What change do you propose, then?"
Lord Henry laughed.
"I don't desire to change anything in England except
"I am quite content with philosophic
contemplation. But, as the nineteenth century has gone bankrupt through
an over-expenditure of sympathy, I would suggest that we should appeal to
science to put us straight."
"The advantage of the emotions is that they lead
us astray, and the advantage of science is that it is not emotional."
"But we have such grave responsibilities,"
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, history
would have been different."
"You are really very comforting,"
"I have always felt rather guilty when I came to see your dear
aunt, for I take no interest at all in the East End. For the future I
shall be able to look her in the face without a
"A blush is very
remarked Lord Henry.
"Only when one is
"When an old woman like myself blushes, it is a
very bad sign. Ah! Lord Henry, I wish you would tell me how to become young again."
He thought for a moment.
remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?"
he asked, looking at her across the table.
"A great many, I fear,"
"Then commit them over again,"
he said gravely.
back one's youth, one has merely to repeat one's follies."
"I must put it into
"A dangerous theory!"
came from Sir
Thomas's tight lips. Lady Agatha shook her head, but could not help being
amused. Mr. Erskine listened.
"that is one of the
great secrets of life. Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping
common sense, and discover when it is too late 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 and
transformed it; let it escape and recaptured it; made it iridescent with
fancy and winged it with paradox.
The praise of folly, as he went on,
soared into a philosophy, and philosophy herself became young, and
catching the mad music of pleasure, 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 Silenus for being sober. Facts fled before her like frightened
forest things. Her white feet trod the huge press at which wise Omar sits,
till the seething grape-juice rose round her bare limbs in waves of purple
bubbles, or crawled in red foam over the vat's black, dripping, sloping sides.
It was an extraordinary improvisation. He felt
that the eyes of Dorian Gray were fixed on him, and the consciousness that
amongst his audience there was one whose temperament he wished to
fascinate seemed to give his wit keenness and to lend colour to his
imagination. He was brilliant, fantastic, irresponsible.
He charmed 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 his darkening eyes.
At last, liveried in the costume of the age,
reality entered the room in the shape of a servant to tell the duchess
that her carriage was waiting. She wrung her hands in mock despair.
"I must go. I have to call for my husband at the
club, to take him to some absurd meeting at Willis's Rooms, where he is
going to be in the chair."
"If I am late he is sure to be furious, and I
couldn't have a scene in this bonnet. It is far too fragile. 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 I don't know
what to say about your views. You must come and dine with us some night.
Tuesday? Are you disengaged Tuesday?"
"For you I would throw over anybody,
said Lord Henry with a bow.
"Ah! that is very nice, and
very wrong of you,"
"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 a chair close to him,
placed his hand upon his arm.
"You talk books away,"
"why don't you write one?"
"I am too fond of reading books to care to
write them, Mr. Erskine. I should like to write a novel certainly, a novel
that would be as lovely as a Persian carpet and as unreal. But there is
no literary public in England for anything except newspapers, primers, and
encyclopaedias. Of all people in the world the English have the least
sense of the beauty of literature."
"I fear you are right,"
answered Mr. Erskine.
"I myself used to have literary ambitions, but I gave them up long ago.
And now, my dear young friend, if you will allow me to call you so, may I
ask if you really meant all that you said to us at
"I quite forget what I
smiled Lord Henry.
"Was it all very bad?"
" Very bad
indeed. In fact I consider you extremely dangerous, and if anything
happens to our good duchess, we shall all look on you as being primarily
responsible. But I should like to talk to you about
The generation into
which I was born was tedious. Some day, when you are tired of London, come
down to Treadley and expound to me your philosophy of pleasure over some
admirable Burgundy I am fortunate enough to possess."
"I shall be charmed. A
visit to Treadley would be a great privilege. It has a perfect host, and a
"You will complete it,"
answered the old
gentleman with a courteous bow.
"And now I must bid good-bye to your excellent aunt. I am due at the Athenaeum. It is 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 of
Lord Henry laughed and rose.
"I am going to the park,"
he was passing out of the door, Dorian Gray touched him on the arm.
me come with you,"
"But I thought you had promised
Basil Hallward to go and see him,"
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
wonderfully as you do. Ah! I have talked quite enough for
said Lord Henry, smiling.
"All I want now is to look at life.
You may come and look at it with me, if you care to."
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