Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
PHILIP walked down the Boulevard du Montparnasse. It was not at all like the Paris he had seen in the spring during his visit to do the accounts of the Hotel St. Georges--he thought already of that part of his life with a shudder--but reminded him of what he thought a provincial town must be. There was an easy-going air about it, and a sunny spaciousness which invited the mind to day-dreaming. The trimness of the trees, the vivid whiteness of the houses, the breadth, were very agreeable; and he felt himself already thoroughly at home. He sauntered along, staring at the people; there seemed an elegance about the most ordinary, workmen with their broad red sashes and their wide trousers, little soldiers in dingy, charming uniforms. He came presently to the Avenue de l'Observatoire, and he gave a sigh of pleasure at the magnificent, yet so graceful, vista. He came to the gardens of the Luxembourg: children were playing, nurses with long ribbons walked slowly two by two, busy men passed through with satchels under their arms, youths strangely dressed. The scene was formal and dainty; nature was arranged and ordered, but so exquisitely, that nature unordered and unarranged seemed barbaric. Philip was enchanted. It excited him to stand on that spot of which he had read so much; it was classic ground to him; and he felt the awe and the delight which some old don might feel when for the first time he looked on the smiling plain of Sparta.
As he wandered he chanced to see Miss Price sitting by herself on a bench. He hesitated, for he did not at that moment want to see anyone, and her uncouth way seemed out of place amid the happiness he felt around him; but he had divined her sensitiveness to affront, and since she had seen him thought it would be polite to speak to her.
"What are you doing here?" she said, as he came up.
"Enjoying myself. Aren't you?"
"Oh, I come here every day from four to five. I don't think one does any good if one works straight through."
"May I sit down for a minute?" he said.
"If you want to."
"That doesn't sound very cordial," he laughed.
"I'm not much of a one for saying pretty things."
Philip, a little disconcerted, was silent as he lit a cigarette.
"Did Clutton say anything about my work?" she asked suddenly.
"No, I don't think he did," said Philip.
"He's no good, you know. He thinks he's a genius, but he isn't. He's too lazy, for one thing. Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains. The only thing is to peg away. If one only makes up one's mind badly enough to do a thing one can't help doing it."
She spoke with a passionate strenuousness which was rather striking. She wore a sailor hat of black straw, a white blouse which was not quite clean, and a brown skirt. She had no gloves on, and her hands wanted washing. She was so unattractive that Philip wished he had not begun to talk to her. He could not make out whether she wanted him to stay or go.
"I'll do anything I can for you," she said all at once, without reference to anything that had gone before. "I know how hard it is."
"Thank you very much," said Philip, then in a moment: "Won't you come and have tea with me somewhere?"
She looked at him quickly and flushed. When she reddened her pasty skin acquired a curiously mottled look, like strawberries and cream that had gone bad.
"No, thanks. What d'you think I want tea for? I've only just had lunch."
"I thought it would pass the time," said Philip.
"If you find it long you needn't bother about me, you know. I don't mind being left alone."
At that moment two men passed, in brown velveteens, enormous trousers, and basque caps. They were young, but both wore beards.
"I say, are those art-students?" said Philip. "They might have stepped out of the Vie de Boheme."
"They're Americans," said Miss Price scornfully. "Frenchmen haven't worn things like that for thirty years, but the Americans from the Far West buy those clothes and have themselves photographed the day after they arrive in Paris. That's about as near to art as they ever get. But it doesn't matter to them, they've all got money."
Philip liked the daring picturesqueness of the Americans' costume; he thought it showed the romantic spirit. Miss Price asked him the time. "I must be getting along to the studio," she said. "Are you going to the sketch classes?"
Philip did not know anything about them, and she told him that from five to six every evening a model sat, from whom anyone who liked could go and draw at the cost of fifty centimes. They had a different model every day, and it was very good practice.
"I don't suppose you're good enough yet for that. You'd better wait a bit."
"I don't see why I shouldn't try. I haven't got anything else to do."
They got up and walked to the studio. Philip could not tell from her manner whether Miss Price wished him to walk with her or preferred to walk alone. He remained from sheer embarrassment, not knowing how to leave her; but she would not talk; she answered his questions in an ungracious manner.
A man was standing at the studio door with a large dish into which each person as he went in dropped his half franc. The studio was much fuller than it had been in the morning, and there was not the preponderance of English and Americans; nor were women there in so large a proportion. Philip felt the assemblage was more the sort of thing he had expected. It was very warm, and the air quickly grew fetid. It was an old man who sat this time, with a vast gray beard, and Philip tried to put into practice the little he had learned in the morning; but he made a poor job of it; he realised that he could not draw nearly as well as he thought. He glanced enviously at one or two sketches of men who sat near him, and wondered whether he would ever be able to use the charcoal with that mastery. The hour passed quickly. Not wishing to press himself upon Miss Price he sat down at some distance from her, and at the end, as he passed her on his way out, she asked him brusquely how he had got on.
"Not very well," he smiled.
"If you'd condescended to come and sit near me I could have given you some hints. I suppose you thought yourself too grand."
"No, it wasn't that. I was afraid you'd think me a nuisance."
"When I do that I'll tell you sharp enough."
Philip saw that in her uncouth way she was offering him help.
"Well, tomorrow I'll just force myself upon you."
"I don't mind," she answered.
Philip went out and wondered what he should do with himself till dinner. He was eager to do something characteristic. Absinthe! of course it was indicated, and so, sauntering towards the station, he seated himself outside a cafe and ordered it. He drank with nausea and satisfaction. He found the taste disgusting, but the moral effect magnificent; he felt every inch an art-student; and since he drank on an empty stomach his spirits presently grew very high. He watched the crowds, and felt all men were his brothers. He was happy. When he reached Gravier's the table at which Clutton sat was full, but as soon as he saw Philip limping along he called out to him. They made room. The dinner was frugal, a plate of soup, a dish of meat, fruit, cheese, and half a bottle of wine; but Philip paid no attention to what he ate. He took note of the men at the table. Flanagan was there again: he was an American, a short, snub-nosed youth with a jolly face and a laughing mouth. He wore a Norfolk jacket of bold pattern, a blue stock round his neck, and a tweed cap of fantastic shape. At that time impressionism reigned in the Latin Quarter, but its victory over the older schools was still recent; and Carolus-Duran, Bouguereau, and their like were set up against Manet, Monet, and Degas. To appreciate these was still a sign of grace. Whistler was an influence strong with the English and his compatriots, and the discerning collected Japanese prints. The old masters were tested by new standards. The esteem in which Raphael had been for centuries held was a matter of derision to wise young men. They offered to give all his works for Velasquez' head of Philip IV in the National Gallery. Philip found that a discussion on art was raging. Lawson, whom he had met at luncheon, sat opposite to him. He was a thin youth with a freckled face and red hair. He had very bright green eyes. As Philip sat down he fixed them on him and remarked suddenly:
"Raphael was only tolerable when he painted other people's pictures. When he painted Peruginos or Pinturichios he was charming; when he painted Raphaels he was," with a scornful shrug, "Raphael."
Lawson spoke so aggressively that Philip was taken aback, but he was not obliged to answer because Flanagan broke in impatiently.
"Oh, to hell with art!" he cried. "Let's get ginny."
"You were ginny last night, Flanagan," said Lawson.
"Nothing to what I mean to be tonight," he answered. "Fancy being in Pa-ris and thinking of nothing but art all the time." He spoke with a broad Western accent. "My, it is good to be alive." He gathered himself together and then banged his fist on the table. "To hell with art, I say."
"You not only say it, but you say it with tiresome iteration," said Clutton severely.
There was another American at the table. He was dressed like those fine fellows whom Philip had seen that afternoon in the Luxembourg. He had a handsome face, thin, ascetic, with dark eyes; he wore his fantastic garb with the dashing air of a buccaneer. He had a vast quantity of dark hair which fell constantly over his eyes, and his most frequent gesture was to throw back his head dramatically to get some long wisp out of the way. He began to talk of the Olympia by Manet, which then hung in the Luxembourg.
"I stood in front of it for an hour today, and I tell you it's not a good picture."
Lawson put down his knife and fork. His green eyes flashed fire, he gasped with rage; but he could be seen imposing calm upon himself.
"It's very interesting to hear the mind of the untutored savage," he said. "Will you tell us why it isn't a good picture?"
Before the American could answer someone else broke in vehemently.
"D'you mean to say you can look at the painting of that flesh and say it's not good?"
"I don't say that. I think the right breast is very well painted."
"The right breast be damned," shouted Lawson. "The whole thing's a miracle of painting."
He began to describe in detail the beauties of the picture, but at this table at Gravier's they who spoke at length spoke for their own edification. No one listened to him. The American interrupted angrily.
"You don't mean to say you think the head's good?"
Lawson, white with passion now, began to defend the head; but Clutton, who had been sitting in silence with a look on his face of good-humoured scorn, broke in.
"Give him the head. We don't want the head. It doesn't affect the picture."
"All right, I'll give you the head," cried Lawson. "Take the head and be damned to you."
"What about the black line?" cried the American, triumphantly pushing back a wisp of hair which nearly fell in his soup. "You don't see a black line round objects in nature."
"Oh, God, send down fire from heaven to consume the blasphemer," said Lawson. "What has nature got to do with it? No one knows what's in nature and what isn't! The world sees nature through the eyes of the artist. Why, for centuries it saw horses jumping a fence with all their legs extended, and by Heaven, sir, they were extended. It saw shadows black until Monet discovered they were coloured, and by Heaven, sir, they were black. If we choose to surround objects with a black line, the world will see the black line, and there will be a black line; and if we paint grass red and cows blue, it'll see them red and blue, and, by Heaven, they will be red and blue."
"To hell with art," murmured Flanagan. "I want to get ginny."
Lawson took no notice of the interruption.
"Now look here, when Olympia was shown at the Salon, Zola--amid the jeers of the Philistines and the hisses of the pompiers, the academicians, and the public, Zola said: `I look forward to the day when Manet's picture will hang in the Louvre opposite the Odalisque of Ingres, and it will not be the Odalisque which will gain by comparison.' It'll be there. Every day I see the time grow nearer. In ten years the Olympia will be in the Louvre."
"Never," shouted the American, using both hands now with a sudden desperate attempt to get his hair once for all out of the way. "In ten years that picture will be dead. It's only a fashion of the moment. No picture can live that hasn't got something which that picture misses by a million miles."
"And what is that?"
"Great art can't exist without a moral element."
"Oh God!" cried Lawson furiously. "I knew it was that. He wants morality." He joined his hands and held them towards heaven in supplication. "Oh, Christopher Columbus, Christopher Columbus, what did you do when you discovered America?"
But before he could add another word, Clutton rapped with the handle of his knife imperiously on the table.
"Gentlemen," he said in a stern voice, and his huge nose positively wrinkled with passion, "a name has been mentioned which I never thought to hear again in decent society. Freedom of speech is all very well, but we must observe the limits of common propriety. You may talk of Bouguereau if you will: there is a cheerful disgustingness in the sound which excites laughter; but let us not sully our chaste lips with the names of J. Ruskin, G. F. Watts, or E. B. Jones."
"Who was Ruskin anyway?" asked Flanagan.
"He was one of the Great Victorians. He was a master of English style."
"Ruskin's style--a thing of shreds and purple patches," said Lawson. "Besides, damn the Great Victorians. Whenever I open a paper and see Death of a Great Victorian, I thank Heaven there's one more of them gone. Their only talent was longevity, and no artist should be allowed to live after he's forty; by then a man has done his best work, all he does after that is repetition. Don't you think it was the greatest luck in the world for them that Keats, Shelley, Bonnington, and Byron died early? What a genius we should think Swinburne if he had perished on the day the first series of Poems and Ballads was published!"
The suggestion pleased, for no one at the table was more than twenty-four, and they threw themselves upon it with gusto. They were unanimous for once. They elaborated. Someone proposed a vast bonfire made out of the works of the Forty Academicians into which the Great Victorians might be hurled on their fortieth birthday. The idea was received with acclamation. Carlyle and Ruskin, Tennyson, Browning, G. F. Watts, E. B. Jones, Dickens, Thackeray, they were hurried into the flames; Mr. Gladstone, John Bright, and Cobden; there was a moment's discussion about George Meredith, but Matthew Arnold and Emerson were given up cheerfully. At last came Walter Pater.
"Not Walter Pater," murmured Philip.
Lawson stared at him for a moment with his green eyes and then nodded.
"You're quite right, Walter Pater is the only justification for Mona Lisa. D'you know Cronshaw? He used to know Pater."
"Who's Cronshaw?" asked Philip.
"Cronshaw's a poet. He lives here. Let's go to the Lilas."
La Closerie des Lilas was a cafe to which they often went in the evening after dinner, and here Cronshaw was invariably to be found between the hours of nine at night and two in the morning. But Flanagan had had enough of intellectual conversation for one evening, and when Lawson made his suggestion, turned to Philip.
"Oh gee, let's go where there are girls," he said. "Come to the Gaite Montparnasse, and we'll get ginny."
"I'd rather go and see Cronshaw and keep sober," laughed Philip.