"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
"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
"It is perfectly true."
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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,"
he 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
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
"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
"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.