Hestia now interrupted Alcibiades with the question whether all the
women in nebulous Britannia were as grotesque as those that he had
Alcibiades smiled and said:
“Not all of them, but all at times. Women must necessarily adapt
themselves to the nature of their men, as clerks do to that of their
patrons, or soldiers to that of their generals and officers. The
Englishman buys his liberty at the expense of much human capital;
which cannot but make him eccentric and grotesque. The women attune
themselves to him, although no foreigner has a clearer nor a more
depreciative idea of Englishmen’s angularity than have English women.
As women they do not, as a rule, care for liberty at all, and hence
consider the sacrifices made by men for liberty as superfluous and
uncalled-for. A woman wants in all things the human note, which the
average Englishman hates. Hence the surprising power of Continental men
over English women. A hundred picked Greeks from Athens, Sicyon and
Syracuse could bring half of all English women to book–for Cytherea.
How could it be otherwise? The animated, passionate, direct talk of a
Greek is something so novel to an English woman that she is as it were
hypnotised by it. She thinks it is she and her personality that has
given her Continental admirer that _verve_ of expression which she has
never before experienced in the men of her circle. This alone is such
flattery to her that she loses her head.
“If one resolutely goes on scraping off the man-made chalk from the
manners and actions of English women, one is frequently rewarded
with the pleasure of arriving at last at the woman behind the chalk.
This is more especially the case in women of the higher classes. The
only time in England I felt something of that painful bliss that
mortals call love, was in the case of a lady friend of mine who, under
mountains of London clay, hid away a passionate, loving woman. She
was tall and luxuriously built. Her hands were of perfect shape and
condignly continued by lovely arms, that attached themselves into
majestic shoulders with the ease of a rivulet entering a lake by a
graceful curve. Over her shoulders the minaret of her neck stood
watch. In charming contrast to the _legato cantabile_ of her body was
the _staccato_ of her mind. Her words pecked at things like birds.
Sometimes there appeared amongst the latter an ugly vulture or two; but
there were more colibris and magpies. I had met her for months before
I surmised that there was something behind that London clay. But when
the moment came and the bells began sobbing in her minaret, then I knew
that here was a heart aglow with true passion and with the dawn of hope
divine. Like all women that do truly love, she would not believe me
that I sincerely felt what I said. Doubt is to women what danger is to
men: it sharpens the delight of love. She never became really tender;
ay, she was amazed and moved to tears at my being so. Her heart was
uneducated; it was _gauche_ at the game of love.
* * * * *
“Amongst the persons dressed in female attire I also met a number of
beings whom, but for my long stay at Sparta, I should hardly have
recognised as women. A French friend of mine remarked of them: ‘_Ce ne
sont pas des femmes, ce sont des Américaines_.’ The species is very
much in evidence in London. They reminded me violently of the Spartan
women. They are handsome, if more striking than beautiful. I noticed
that in contrast to European women, American females gain in years what
they lose in dress at night. They look older when undressed. They have
excellent teeth, and execrable hands; they jump well, but walk badly.
Their great speciality is their voice, which is strident, top-nasal,
_falsetto_, disheartening. The most beautiful amongst them is murdered
by her voice. It is as if out of the most perfect mouth, set in the
most charming face, an ugly rat would jump at one. That voice, the
English say, comes from the climate of America. (This I do not believe
at all; for I have noticed that in England everything is ascribed to
the climate, as to the thing most talked about by the people. Climate
and weather are the most popular subjects in England; the one that is
never out of fashion.) As a matter of fact it comes from the total lack
of emotionality in the Americans; just as amongst musical instruments
the more emotional ones, like the ‘cello, have more pectoral tonality,
whereas the fife, for instance, having no deep emotions at all to
express, is high and thin toned.
“Nothing seemed to me more interesting than the way in which the
American female reminded me of the Spartans and the Amazons.
Could anything be more striking than the coincidence between two
conversations, one of which I had, far over two thousand years ago,
with the Queen of an Amazonian tribe in Thracia, and the other with
the wife of an American flour dealer settled in London? When I called
on Thamyris in her tent, one of her first questions was as to the
latest dramatic piece by Sophocles. I at once saw that the Queen
wanted to impress her _entourage_ with her great literary abilities. I
gave her some news about Sophocles, whereupon she turned round to her
one-breasted she-warriors and said with a superior smile:
“‘You must know that Sophocles is the latest star in Athenian comedy.’
“She mixed you up, O Sophocles, with Aristophanes. With the American
flour dealer’s wife my experience was as follows: He had made my
acquaintance in a bar-room, and invited me to his house. On the way
there he said to me:
“‘My missus is quite a linguist. She talks French like two natives. Do
talk to her French.’
“When we arrived at the house and entered the drawing-room, a rather
handsome woman rose from an arm-chair, and stepping up to me said
something that sounded like ‘_Monsieur, je suis ravie de faire votre
connaissance_’; I thanked her, also in French, when suddenly she bowed
over me and whispered in American fifes:
“‘Don’t continue, that’s all I know.’
“When I left, the husband accompanied me to the door. Before I took
leave, he twinkled with his right eye, and asked me with a knowing
look, ‘Well, sir, what do you think of the linguistic range of my
“I did not quite know what to reply. At last I said: ‘Like a true
soldier she fights on the borderland.’
“One of the strangest things to note in London society is the
fascination exercised by American women on Englishmen. Many of the
really intelligent men among the English are practically lost as
soon as the American woman begins playing with the little lasso of
thin ropes which she carries about her in the shape of an acquired
brightness and a studied vivacity. The most glaring defects of those
women do not seem to exist for the average Englishman. He takes her
loud brightness for French _esprit_ dished up to him in intelligible
English. Her total lack of self-restraint and modesty he takes for a
charming _abandon_. The real fact is that he is afraid of her. She
may have many a bump: she certainly has not that of reverence. Her
irreverent mind makes light of the _grandezza_ of Englishmen, and thus
cows him by his fear of making himself ridiculous.
“The first American woman (–_sit venia verbo_, as you would say, O
Cicero–) I met in London was one married to an English lord. She was
tall, well-built, with rich arms and hips, an expressive head, very
fond of the arts, more especially of music. Even her head, which was
a trifle square, indicated that. When she learnt that I really was the
famous Alcibiades, her excitement knew no bounds. She was good enough
to explain it to me:
“‘Just fancy that! Alcibiades! (They pronounce my name Elkibidees.) I
am simply charmed! I have so far every year introduced some new and
striking personage into drawing-rooms, in order to stun the natives of
this obsolete island. I have brought into fashion one-legged dancers;
three-legged calves; single-minded thought-readers; illusionists;
disillusionists; disemotionists; dancers classical, mediæval, and
hyper-modern; French lectures on the isle of Lesbos, after a series of
discourses on the calves of the legs of Greek goddesses in marble; not
to forget my unique course of lectures given at the drawing-room of the
dearest of all duchesses, on the history of _décolletage_.
“‘This year, to be quite frank with you, Mr Elkibidees, I meant to
arrange in the magnificent drawing-room of an Oriental English lady,
the uniquest and at the same time the boldest exhibition ever offered
to the dear nerves of any class of women. I cannot quite tell you what
it was going to be. I can only faintly indicate that it was to be a
collection of all the oldest as well as latest inventions securing the
tranquillity of enjoying just one child in the family. This, I have no
doubt, would have been the greatest sensation of the season.
“‘The city of Manchester and the town of Leeds would have publicly
protested against so “immoral” an exhibition. Of course their
councillors would have done so after careful study of the things
exhibited. Three bishops would have threatened to preach publicly in
Hyde Park; while five archdeacons would have volunteered to be the
honorary secretaries of so interesting an exhibition.
“‘I communicated the idea to Father Bowan, a virulent Jesuit, who
in the creepiest of _capucinades_, delivered on most Sundays during
the season, gives us the most delightful shivers of repentance, and
likewise many an inkling of charming vice of which we did not know
anything before we learned it from his pure lips. He was delighted.
“Do, my lady, do do it. I am just a little short of horrors, and your
exhibition will give me excellent material for at least four Sundays.
I hope you have not forgotten to illustrate by wax figures certain
methods, far more efficient than any instrument can be, and most
completely enumerated and described in the works of members of our
holy Order, such as Suarez, Sanchez, Escobar, and others. Should you
not have these works, I will send you an accurate abridgment of their
principal statements of facts.”
“‘When I heard the Rev. Father talk like that, I could scarcely control
myself with enthusiasm in anticipating the huge sensation my exhibition
was sure to make. It would have been the best fed, the best clad, and
the most enlightened sensation ever made in England since the battle of
Hastings. I really thought that nothing greater could be imagined.
“‘And yet, when I now come to think what a draw you will be, Mr Elki,
if properly taken in hand, duly advertised, adroitly paragraphed,
constantly interviewed, and occasionally leadered,–when I think of
all that, I cannot but think that I shall have in you the greatest
catch that has ever been in any country under any sun. In fact, I have
my plan quite ready.
“‘I will announce a big reception, “to meet” you. Some ladies will,
by request, arrive in Greek dress. The public orator of one of the
great Universities will address you in Greek, and you will reply in
the same language. Then three of the prettiest daughters of earls and
marquesses will dance the dance of the Graces, after which there will
be a dramatic piece made by Hall Caine and Shaw, each of them writing
alternate pages, the subject of which will be the Thirty Years’ War, in
which you excelled so much.’
“I interrupted her,” said Alcibiades, “remarking that the Thirty Years’
War was two thousand years after my time; my war was the Peloponnesian
“‘Very well,’ she exclaimed, ‘the Peloponnesian War. I do not care
which. Hall Caine will praise everything in connection with war, in his
best _Daily Nail_ style. He is, you know, our leading light. He always
wants to indulge in great thoughts, and would do so too, but for the
awkward fact that he cannot find any.
“‘Shaw, on the other hand, will cry down in choicest Gaelic all the
glories of war. It will be the biggest fun out.
“‘And then, _entre nous_, could you not bring with you a Lais, a Phryne
or two, in their original costumes as they allured all you naughty
Greeks in times bygone? It would be charmingly revolting. When I dimly
represent to myself how the young eagles of society will tremble with
pleasure at the thought of adding to their lists of conquests, in pink
and white, a Corinthian or Athenian _demi-mondaine_ of two thousand
years ago, I feel that I am a Personality.
“‘If I could offer such an unheard-of opportunity I should get first
leaders in the _Manchester Guardian_ and mild rebukes, full of secret
zest, in the godly _Guardian_; let alone other noble papers read by the
goody-goody ones. The _Record_ would send me a testimonial signed by
the leading higher critics. I should be the heroine of the day and of
the night.'”
The gods and heroes encouraged Alcibiades by their gay laughter to tell
them all that happened at the “At Home” of his American lady friend,
and he continued as follows:
“When the evening of the Greek _soirée_ came, I went to the
drawing-room in company with Phryne and Lais, who were most charmingly
dressed as flute-girls. When we entered the large room we saw a vast
assembly of women and men, mostly dressed in the preposterous fashion
of the little ones. The women looked like zoological specimens, some
resembling Brazilian butterflies, others reptiles, others again snakes
or birds of prey. The upper part of their bodies was uncovered,
no matter whether the rest of the body had gone through countless
campaigns enlivened by numerous capitulations, or whether it had just
expanded into the buds of rosy spring. The men looked like the clowns
in our farces. They wore a costume that no Greek slave would have
donned. It was all black and all of the same cut. Instead of looking
enterprising, they all looked like undertakers. Each of them made
a nervous attempt to appear as inoffensive, and as self-effacing as
possible; just like undertakers entering the house where a person had
“When we entered the room the whole assembly rose and cried:
‘Cairo–Cairo!’ (they were told to cry _Chaire_–but in vain). I
could distinctly hear remarks such as these: ‘How weird!’–‘Is it not
uncanny?’–‘It makes me feel creepy!’ After a few minutes there was
a deep silence, and an elderly gentleman came up through the middle
of the room and, bowing first to us and then to the people assembled,
stepped up to the platform and began a speech in a strange language,
which I vaguely remembered having heard before.
“Phryne suddenly began to giggle, and so irresistible was her laughter
that both Lais and I could not but join her, especially when in words
broken by continuous laughter she told us:
“‘The old gent pretends to speak Athenian Greek!’
“It was indeed too absurd for words. There was especially that vulgar
sound _i_ constantly recurring where we never dreamt of using such a
sound; and our beautiful _ypsilon_ (γ) he pronounced like the English
_u_, which is like serving champagne in soup-plates. When he stumbled
over an _ou_, he pronounced it with a sound to which dentists are
better accustomed than any Athenian ever was, and our deep and manly
_ch_ (χ) he castrated down to a lisping _k_. I remember Carians in
Asia Minor who talked like that. Our noble and incomparable language,
orchestral, picturesque, sculptural, became like the Palace of Minos
which they are excavating at present: in its magnificent halls, eaten
by weather and worm, one sees only poor labourers and here and there a
directing mind.
“I imagined that the good man meant by his speech to welcome me back
into the world, and so when my turn to answer him came, I got up and,
leaning partly on Phryne and partly on Lais, who stood near me, I
replied as follows, after speaking for a little while in Attic, in the
language of the country:
“‘It is indeed with no ordinary satisfaction that I beg to thank
you, O Sophist, and you here present for the pleasant reception that
you have given us. My lot has on the whole not been altogether bad.
Your studious men, it is true, affect to condemn me, my policy,
and my private life. Perhaps they will allow me to remark that the
irregularity of my past morals is a matter of temptations. Diogenes
used to tell us that one of my sternest historian-critics in Syracuse
left his wife, children and house on being for once tempted by the
chamber-maid of one of my passing caprices; and the historians of your
race who so gravely decry a Madame de Montespan would, did Madame only
smile at them, incontinently fall into a fit of hopeless moral collapse.
“‘But if your men write against me, irrespective of what they really
feel about me, I am sure your women take a much more lenient view of
the case.’
“(Discreet applause.)
“‘They feel that ambition did not eat up all the forces of my soul, and
that in worshipping Ares (Mars), I never forgot the cult of Aphrodite
(Venus) either. We Hellenes ventured to be humans, and that is why now
we have become demi-gods. You, my friends, do not even venture to be
humans, and that is why you remain the little ones.
“‘I notice in the northern countries of Europe men do not, or to a
very small degree care for women. Perhaps that is the reason why the
Roman Catholic idea of the Holy Virgin has had no lasting hold on these
“‘I have seen,’ continued Alcibiades, ‘too many faces, masks, and
pretences to be much impressed by the apparent indifference of the
northerner to the charms of women. It never meant more than either an
unavowed inclination towards his own sex, or sheer boorishness. Even we
Hellenes had very much to suffer from our political and social neglect
of women outside emancipated ones. The Romans acted much more wisely in
that respect; while the nation of our hostess has practically become
what we called a _gynæcocracy_ or women’s rule, where man is socially
what our Greek women used to be: relegated to the background. I hear,
this is the privilege of Englishmen. I understand. When I was young I
learnt but too much about that privilege.
“‘But if I should be asked for advice I would tell your men to take
your women much more seriously. I know that Englishmen are much more
grave than serious; yet with regard to women they ought to be much more
intent on considering them in everything their mates, and in several
things their superiors. Of course, this is an unmilitary nation; and
such nations will always remain boors in Sunday dress.
“‘One of your great writers who, being outside the academic clique,
has always been maligned by the officials, has written a beautiful
essay on the influence of women. Poor Buckle–he treated the problem
as a schoolroom paper. He came to the result that women encourage the
deductive mode of thinking. However, women are more seductive than
deductive, and their real influence is to charm the young, to warm the
mature, and not to alarm the old.
“‘I, being now above the changes of time, I only, contemplate their
charm. And what greater potentialities of charm could one wish for
than those that your women possess? If those magnificently cut and
superbly coloured eyes learned to be expressive; if the muscles of
those fine cheeks knew how to move with speedier grace; if that purely
outlined mouth were more animated–what possibilities of fascination,
like so many fairies, might rise over the dispassionate surface of
those silent lakes! As they are, their several organs are positively
hostile, or coldly indifferent to one another. The forehead, instead
of being the ever-changing capital of the human column, setting off
their beautiful hair, as ivory sets off gold; the shoulders, the seat
of human grace, instead of giving to the head the pedestal of the
Charites; and the arms and hands, instead of giving by their movements
the proper lilt and cadence to everything said or done;–all these
hate one another respectively. The arms do not converse with the face;
theirs is like other conversations: after a few remarks on the weather
all communication stops. So sullen is the antipathy of the arms, that
as a rule they hide on the back, as if begrudging the face or the bust
their company. It is in that way that English women who might be as
beautiful and charming as the maidens of Thebes or of Tanagra, have
made themselves into walking Caryatides, whom we invariably represented
as doing a slavish labour, with their arms on their backs, and with a
heavy load on their heads.
“‘Remove the arms, O women of England, from your badly swung back
and bring them into play in front of your well-shaped bust and your
beautiful faces! Let the consciousness of your power electrify your
looks, your dimples, and your gait; and when from musing Graces you
will have changed into graceful Muses, your men too will be much
superior to what they used to be.
“‘See how little your influence is, as your language clearly indicates.
Is not your language the only idiom in Europe that has completely
dropped that fine shade of sweet intimacy which the use of _thou_ and
_thy_ is giving to the other languages? Is not a new world of tenderest
internal joy permeating the French, German or Italian woman who for
the first time dares to _tutoyer_ her lover? You women of England, the
natural priestesses of all warmth and intimacy, you have suffered all
that to decay.
“‘To your men we Hellenes say: “Imitate us!” To you women, we do not
say so. We ask you to exceed us, to go beyond us, and then alone
when women will be what we Hellenic men were, that is, specimens of
all-round humanity, then indeed you too will rise to the higher status,
and the golden age will again fill the world with light and happiness!’
“After that speech of mine,” continued Alcibiades, “there was much
applause. I mingled with the public, and was at once interpellated by
one of the American ladies present:
“‘Most interesting speech,’ she said. ‘What I especially liked were
your remarks about thou-ing. And what I want to know most is whether
Caryatides were thou-ing one another?’
“I was a little perplexed, and all that I could answer was: ‘Their
dimples did,’ and this seemed to satisfy my American lady marvellously
“Another lady asked me how many Muses we had, and on hearing that their
number was nine, she was highly astonished. ‘Only nine? Why in London
there are mews in every second street. How strange!’
“A third lady asked me what I meant by shoulders being a pedestal. Her
shoulders, she was sure, were no pedestals, and she would not allow
anyone to stand on them. She added, that she was aware of my having
said that the shoulders were the pedestal of the Charites, but with her
best intention she could not allow even charity to be extended to her
shoulders. I smiled consent.
“A fourth lady, whose name was Valley, but who was a mountain of
otherwise rosy flesh, asked me what I had meant by maidens of Podagra?
She was sure that young maids never suffered from that ugly disease. I
told her that I really meant Chiragra. This satisfied her marvellously
“During that time Phryne and Lais were the heroines of the evening,
lionised by women, and courted by men. The women asked them all sorts
of questions and seemed extraordinarily eager to be instructed. One of
them, a brilliant duchess–(who had three secretaries providing her
with the latest information about everything, the first preparing all
the catch-words from A to G, the second from H to N, and the third from
O to Z)–asked Phryne whether she would not permit her to convince
herself of the accuracy of the estimate in which Hyperides held the
exquisite form of Phryne’s bosom. (A middle-class woman thereupon asked
Mr Gox, M.P., what Hyperides meant. Mr Gox told her it was the Greek
for Rufus, son of Abraham.) Phryne volunteered to do so at once, and
the women disappeared in a special room, from where very soon cries
of amazement could be heard. The pure beauty of Phryne enchanted the
women. The sensation was immense, ay immensest.
“The representative of the _Daily Nail_ offered first £2000, then
£3000, finally £5000 for permission to kodak Phryne.
“The _Bad Times_ at once prepared a folio edition of _The Engravers’
Engravings_, payable in 263 instalments, or preferably at once.
“The _Daily Marconigraph_ started a public discussion in its columns:
‘Shall the lower part of the upper anatomy of the female trunk be
“The excitement became so universal that Mr Gigerl See at once convened
a national meeting for the erection of ten new statues to Shakespeare;
and General Booth ordered an absolute fast of 105 hours’ duration.
“All the directors of music halls, the next day, stormed Hotel Ritz
where Phryne had a suite of six lovely rooms, and offered impossible
prices for a performance of five minutes. Phryne, after consulting me,
consented to appear at the Palace Theatre, in the immortal scene when,
in presence of the entire population of Athens, she descended into the
sea. Half of the proceeds were to be given to a fund for poor women in
childbed. Endless advertisements soon filled every available space on
London’s walls, parks, newspapers, ‘buses, railways, and shops. Tickets
sold at tenfold their original prices.
“At last the evening came. In the first two rows there were practically
nothing but clergymen. The following rows were filled with lawyers,
M.P.’s and University professors. In the boxes one could see all the
aristocracy of the country. When Phryne’s turn came, the orchestra
played Wagner’s ‘Pilgrim’s Chorus,’ toward the end of which the curtain
rolled up, and the scene represented the Piræus with apparently
countless people, all in Greek dress. When the expectation was at its
height, Phryne appeared clad only with the veil of her perfect beauty,
and descended into the sea. Before she entered the water she said her
prayers to Aphrodite, and then slowly went into the waves.
“Everyone in the audience had come to the theatre expecting to be
badly shocked. To their utmost astonishment they found that there
was not only nothing shocking in the scene, but even much to fill
the people with awe. Like all the barbarians, the little ones deem
nudity a shocking sight. What shocked them that night was the fact
that they were not shocked. They felt for a moment that many of their
notions and views must be radically wrong, and that was the only shock
they received. Phryne triumphed over Londoners, as she did over the
“My American lady friend was in raptures. The incredible sensation her
Elki and his Athenian women had caused in _blasé_ London society made
her the centre of all social centres for a fortnight. She received
innumerable letters from innumerable people. The greatest writers
that the world has ever seen, such as Miss Cora Morelli, wrote to her
saying, that:
“‘She had from her infancy onward taken a deep interest in Alcibiades
and his time, and that now, having actually seen him, she would
forthwith publish a novel under the attractive title of “The Mighty
Elki,” let alone another novel, full of the most delightful shivers,
called “Phry, the Pagan.”‘
“Mr Hall Caine, in a thundering article, fulminated against the row
made over Phryne, and solemnly declared that the charms of his Manxman
were incomparably greater. One day Mr Caine called on me. He implored
me to become a Christian, and assured me that the shortest way to that
effect would be to attend a performance of his piece of that name. I
thanked him for his kind offer, but politely declined it. Whereupon Mr
Caine remained musing, until at last he surprised me with the question:
‘Mr Alcib, you are the man to solve the problem of my life. Do you not
think I bear a remarkable resemblance to Lord Bacon?’
“I answered that I could discern no resemblance between him and the
witty Chancellor, but that I was bound to confess that there was a
striking resemblance between him and Shakespeare.
“Mr Caine smiled a superior smile. ‘I wonder,’ he said, ‘you are not
aware of the fact that Shakespeare was written by Lord Bacon.’
“‘Very strange–very strange,’ I replied. ‘We in Olympus think that
Shakespeare was written by the victory over the Armada, and published
by Elizabeth and Co.’
“‘Do you really think such stuff in Olympus?’ exclaimed Mr Caine;
‘then I do not wonder that I have never been invited to that place.
What has the Armada to do with _Hamlet_ or _King Lear_? You might just
as well say that my novels were written by our victory at Colenso and
Spion Kop. It is revoltingly absurd. A book is a book and not shrapnel
or bombs. Sir, I am ashamed of you; the purple of red indignation
rises swellingly into my distended physiognomy, and my thought-fraught
forehead sinks under the ignominy of such life-bereft incoherences!’
“I advised Mr Caine to drink Perrier; he thanked me profusely, and
assured me that he had always done so. He evidently mixed it up
with the Pierian sources of literature which, I learn, provide the
innumerable papers of the Associated Press with the necessary water
under the name of Perrier.
* * * * *
“In my honour my American lady friend gave, a few days later, a
concert. The little ones call a concert a series of instrumental and
vocal pieces played for sheer amusement, and without any relation to
poetry, dance, or religion. I have these three to four hundred years
accustomed myself to their music, which is thoroughly different from
ours, being polyphonous, whereas ours was never so. Dionysus, who
presides at their music, has often told us that he introduced it into
the modern world in order to show his exceeding power even in times
when the men and women have lamentably fallen from the height of our
Grecian culture. Our music was essentially Apollinic; that of the
moderns is Dionysiac. You remember, O Zeus, that even Apollo was moved
when three of the moderns had the honour to perform before him. Even he
praised Mozart, Chopin, and some pieces of Weber. You need not blush,
Frédéric, and you might help me to entertain and charm our holy circle
by playing us one of your compositions in which beauty of form is
married in tender love to truth of feeling.”
Thereupon, at a sign of Zeus, Milo of Crotona, the Olympian victor
of all victors, carried a piano on his mighty back, and put it down
gently in one of the mystic barks. Chopin, bowing to the gods, and more
particularly to Juno and Diana, sat down to the instrument and played
the second and the third movement of his E minor _Concerto_. Round
him waved the three Graces, while Dionysus laid an ivy wreath on his
blessed head. Even the gods were moved, and when Frédéric had ended,
they applauded him with passionate admiration.
“I wish, O Chopin,” continued Alcibiades, “I had known you in my
mortal time. What Terpander and Thaletas, the great musicians, did for
Sparta, you might have helped me to do for Athens. It was not to be.
The thought saddens me still. More than Sophocles and Aristophanes
or Socrates, your incomparable music would have helped to keep the
_Kosmos_ of Athens in due proportions.”
A short pause ensued, and all looked with timidity on Zeus’ immovable
“But let us drop these sorrowful reminiscences and return to the London
concert given by my American hostess.
“She had engaged the best-known artists. For the solo songs she engaged
a woman who had to be carried into the room in a motor chair, and was
not allowed to stand up, before three architects had examined the
solidity of the floor. Her range was from the deep _p_ to the high
_l_. She sang baritone, and soprano at the same time, and what her
tone wanted in width her _taille_ amply replaced. She sang nothing but
Wagner, whose music, it would appear, is written for two-ton women
only. No smaller tonnage need apply. While she sang, three dozen
violins executed the tremolos of five hundred whimpering children,
while forty counter-basses gave, every three minutes, a terrible grunt
in _x_ minor. There were also fifteen fifes, and twenty-one different
kinds of brass instruments, some of which had necks much longer than
that of the oldest giraffe. The music was decidedly sensual and
nerve-irritating. It was full of chords, both accords and discords,
and what little melody there was in it was kneaded out into a tapeworm
of prodigious length and such hydralike vitality, that no matter how
frequently the strings throttled off its head, it yet constantly
recurred bulging out a new head.
“The men present liked the singer; the women adored the music. It gave
them all sorts of shivers, and although they did not understand it at
all, they yet felt that here was a new shiver. Or as one of them, the
bright Mrs Blazing, remarked: ‘_Quel artiste que ce M. Wagner!_ He has
translated into music the grating noise of a comb on silk, the creaking
of a rusty key in an old lock, and the strident rasp of a skidding
sleigh or motor on hard-frozen snow.’
“The next artist was a Belgian violinist. For reasons that you alone,
O Zeus, could tell us, the Belgians are credited with a special gift
for pulling strings in general, and those of the violin in particular.
Being a nation midway between the Germans and the French, they are
believed to possess much of German musical talent and something of
French elegance. This would easily make them good ‘cello players.
But not satisfied with the ‘cello, in which they have excelled more
than one nation, they must needs be great violinists too. However,
the violin, while not at all the king of instruments, is yet the most
vindictive and jealous amongst them. It is like the Lorelei: it allures
hundreds, only to dash their bones against the rock of Failure. It
wants the delicacy of a woman and the strength of a man. It requires
the soul of spring and the heart of summer to play it well.
“A Belgian is _eo ipso_ debarred from reaching the height of
violin-playing; just as a Chinaman, with his over-specialised mind,
can never well play the orchestral piano. A Belgian heart is moving
in a colourless and slouching _andante_; the violin moves in a
profoundly agitated _adagio_ or _allegro_. The violin is the instrument
of luckless nations, such as were formerly the Italians, the Poles,
and the Hungarians who gave us Paganini, Wienavski and Joachim. The
Belgians have nearly always enjoyed the _embonpoint_ of fat prosperity.
‘_Leur jeu bedonne_,’ as Mrs Blazing would say.
“The Belgian played your _Chaconne_ in D minor, O Bach.”
At these words of Alcibiades all the thinkers and poets present rose
from their seats and bowed to John Sebastian, who stood near Strabo
and Aristotle, being exceedingly fond of geographical lore. Even the
gods applauded and Polyhymnia allowed him to kiss her hands.
“You remember, O John Sebastian, when I met you near Lützen at one of
your solitary walks and you spoke to me of your _Chaconne_. I listened
with rapt attention and told you that your composition, which you
then played to me on a violin which the old inn-keeper lent you and
which had just arrived from Steiner in Tyrol, rendered as perfectly
as possible the sentiments I had felt when for the first time in my
life I went to the Oracle at Dodona, where the winds rush through the
high oak-trees with a fierce power such as can be heard in no other
spot in Europe. I re-imagined my awe-struck meditations in the holy
grove; I heard the stormy music of Zeus’ winds in Zeus’ trees; I again
felt all through me the soul-moving chorus of the priests which ends
in a jubilating mood, and finally I left with deep regret at having
to re-enter my life of stress after having spent a day in sacred and
mystic seclusion.

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“When the Belgian artist played it, I listened in vain for Dodona. What
I heard was the rustling of silken tones through the wood of the chairs
and tables at the Carlton. Where was the Oracle? Where the chorus of
the priests? Where their jubilation? The only thing that I found were
my regrets. But the public was charmed. It is imperative to admire the
_Chaconne_, chiefly because it is played Violin _solo_. Mrs Blazing
explained the matter to me with her wonted rapidity of mind: ‘Why
wonder at our admiration of the _Chaconne_? Do we not say: “_Chacun à
son goût_?”‘
“The next artist was a pianist, whose name sounded like Pianowolsky
or Forterewsky. He was of course a Pole. The English have long found
out that -welsky or -ewsky goes with the name of a great pianist, as
the pedal goes with the piano. It was for this reason that Liszt, the
Orpheus of the last century, never had any success in England. He ought
to have called himself Franzescowitch Lisztobulszky, and then, no
doubt, he would have scored heavily. Rubinstein had indeed much success
in England, but it is patent that most English took his official name
as a mere abbreviation of Ruben Ishnajewich Stonehammercrushowsky.
The English taste in music is remarkable; it is somewhat like their
taste in fruit. They prefer hothouse grapes to natural ones. In the
same way they prefer the piano music of Mendelmeier, called Bartholdy,
to that of Stephen Heller or Volkmann. What they more particularly
like are the ‘Songs without Words’ of that composer, which in reality
are _Words without Songs_. His piano music is nothing but congealed
respectability, or frozen _shockingitis_.”
Aristoxenus, interrupting Alcibiades, exclaimed: “Do not, O son of
Clinias, forget the man’s marvellous compositions for the violin as
well as for the orchestra. Diana frequently commands his _Midsummer
Night’s Dream_ when she dwells with her nymphs in the mystic forest
near Farnham Common, where Bartholdy composed it under the trees of
“You are quite right, O master of all Harmony, and I want to speak
only of his piano music. The pianist at the concert had a very fine
profile and beautiful hair. This helped him very much in a country
where the sense of stylishness is exceedingly acute. A coachman must
have a broad back; a pianist, a fine profile; a violinist, long legs;
a ‘cellist, beautiful hands; and a lady singer, a vast promontory.
Once these indispensable qualities are given, his or her music is
practically a matter of indifference.
“The pianist then performing played well, as long as he played _forte_
and _staccato_; but he had neither a _legato_ nor, what was fatal, a
_piano_, let alone a _pianissimo_. Fortunately his sense of rhythm was
very well developed; otherwise he did not rise above a first prizeman
of a conservatory.
“He played a transcription or two by Liszt. This the English condemn;
it appears unlegitimate to them. To please them, one must play one
of the last sonatas of Beethoven, preferably those composed after
his death, that is, those that the man wrote when he had long lost
the power of moulding his ideas in the cast of a sonata, and when
his vitality had been ebbing away for years. A transcription stands
to the original as does an engraving of an oil-colour picture or a
statue to its original. Most people will enjoy a fine engraving of
the _Transfiguration_ or of Our Lady of Milo much more readily than
they would the original; just as I now know that you gave us, O Zeus,
great artists like Scopas, Praxiteles, Lionardo, or Domenichino,
because we could not bear, nor comprehend the sight of the originals
of their divine art, as long as we still move in our mortal coil. The
transcription of some of the ideas of Mozart’s _Don Juan_ by Liszt is
the best and most illuminating commentary on that incomparable opera.
“More interesting than the play were the remarks which I overheard
from among the public. The men dwelt exclusively on the big sums of
money the pianist made by his 1526 recitals in 2000 towns of the
United States. The profits they credited him with ranged from £15,000
to £100,000. A Viennese banker present drily remarked that he wished
he could play the difference between the real and the imagined profits
of the virtuoso on a fine Erard piano. The women made quite different
remarks. Said one:
“‘Herr Pianoforterewsky has been painted by royalty.’
“‘Is that so?’ said her neighbour. ‘What an interesting face! I wish I
could procure a photo of the picture.’
“‘Do you know,’ said a third, ‘that Herr Pinaforewsky practises
twenty-three hours a day? I know it on the best authority; his tuner
told me so.’
“‘Which tuner? Herr Pinacothekowsky, my dear, has three tuners: one for
the high notes, the second for the middle ones, and the third for the
low notes.’
“‘How interesting! But suppose one of the tuners falls ill. What does
he do then?’
“‘Why, it’s simple enough. In that case he only plays pieces requiring
two of the three ranges of notes.’
“‘How intensely interesting! But pray, if you do not take it amiss, my
dear, I learnt that Herr Pedalewsky has only two tuners: one for the
black keys, the other for the white ones.’
“‘My dear, that was so in bygone times when he played sometimes a whole
concert on the black keys alone, being 231 variations on Chopin’s
_Etude_ on the black keys. But it made such a sad impression that some
nasty critics said his piano was in mourning black; other critics said
that he was paid to do so by Mr Jay of Regent Street.’
“‘How excruciatingly interesting! Do you know, my dear, I was told
that Herr Polonorusky plays practically all the time, and even when
he travels he carries with him a dumb piano on which he practises
“‘How touching! I have heard that too, and believed it, until that
atrocious man who writes for the _Bad Times_ destroyed all my
illusions. He said that if Herr Pantyrewsky did that, he would for ever
spoil his touch. Just fancy that! It is not the touch, but the pose of
that languid, Chopinesque profile over a dumb piano in a rattling car
that was so interesting. And now that horrid journalist spoils it all.
Nay, he added that the whole story was deliberately invented by the
artist’s manager.’
“‘How distressingly interesting! You know, my dear, I will not believe
the story about the manager. I know too much about the wonderful
pianist. I have learnt at Marienbad that he had ten teachers at a time,
one for each of his fingers, and that for five years he lived in a tiny
village in Bavaria, because, don’t you see, it was so central for the
ten different cities where his teachers lived. For the thumb he rushed
off to Frankfort on the Maine. There is no town like Frankfort for the
study of the thumb. That’s why they make such excellent sausages there
which resemble a thumb to perfection. For the index he went to Rome.
And so forth and so on. It is most marvellous.’
“All during that time,” Alcibiades continued, “the pianist was playing
the moonlight sonata of Beethoven. At the end of the piece, the ladies
who had carried on the lively conversation applauded wildly. ‘Was
it not marvellous?’ said one to the other. ‘Oh–delightful!’ was the
“So ended the concert. On leaving my seat I met Mrs Blazing.
“‘_O mon cher_,’ she said, ‘why do all these women pretend to enjoy
music? They very well know that not one of them cares for it in the
least. I frankly admit that music to me is the anarchy of air, the
French Revolution of sounds, acoustic bankruptcy. All our lives we have
been taught to suppress our emotions, and to consider it ungenteel
to express them in any way whatever. We were told that we must hide
and suppress them–which we have done so successfully that after some
time we resemble to a nicety the famous safe of Madame Humbert. And
then, in flagrant contradiction to all this genteel education, we are
supposed to accept with joy the moanings, cries, sobs, sighs, and other
unsuppressed emotions of some middle-class Dutchman or Teuton dished up
to us in the form of a sonata. It is too absurd for words.
“‘If that lower-middle-class Dutchman Beethoven (or as my Cynthia
calls him: “_Bête au vent_”) wants to exhale his moral distress and
sentimental indigestion, let him do so by all means, but in a lonely
room. Why does he interfere with the even tenor of our well-varnished
life? If my charming Japanese china figures, or my pretty girls and
shepherds in _vieux Saxe_ suddenly began to roar out their sentiments,
I should have them destroyed or sold without any further ado. Why
should I accept such roarings from an ugly, beer-drinking, unmannered
Teuton? Why, I ask you?’
“‘Music is the art of poor nations and poor classes. Outside a few
Jews, no great musician came from among the rich classes; and Jews
are socially impoverished. I can understand the attraction of ditties
nursed in the music halls. They fan one with a gentle breeze of
light tones, and here and there tickle a nerve or two. But what on
earth shall we do with such _plesiosauri_ as the monsters they call
symphonies, in which fifty or sixty instruments go amuck in fifty
different ways? The flute tries to serpentine round the bassoon in
order to instil in it drops of deadly poison; the violins gallop
recklessly _à la_ Mazeppa against and over the violas and ‘celli, while
the brass darts forth glowing bombs falling with cruelty into the
finest flower-beds of oboes and harps. It is simply the hoax of the
century. Would you at Athens ever have endured such a pandemonium?’
“‘You are quite right, _ma très charmante dame_,’ I said, ‘we never
had such music and we should have little cared for it. Our way of
making symphonies was to write epics, crowded with persons, divine and
human, and with events and incidents of all colours and shades. The
Continental nations have lost the epic creativeness proper, and must
therefore write epics in sound. Just as your languages do not allow you
to write very strictly metred poetry such as we have written without
impairing the fire and glamour of poetry, and the only way left for you
of imitating the severe metres of Archilochus, Alcæus or Sappho is in
the form of musical canons, fugues, or other counterpointed music. It
seems to me that you English have not done much by way of music epics,
because, like ourselves, you were busily engaged in writing epics of
quite a different kind: the epic of your Empire. The nations that have
written musical epics, did do so at a time when these were the only
epics they could write,–the symphony of Empire being refused them.’
“‘I see,’ said Mrs Blazing. ‘You mean to say that our Mozarts and
Beethovens are Lord Chatham, Clive, Nelson and Wellington?’
“‘In a manner, yes. Few nations, if any, can excel both in arts and in
Empire-making, and had you English been able to hold in your imperial
power considerable parts of Europe, say, of France, Germany or Spain,
you would never have had either Walter Scott or Byron, Shelley or
Tennyson. For the efforts required to conquer and hold European
territory would have taxed all your strength so severely that no
resources would have been left for conquests in the realm of the arts
and literature.
“‘This is why the Romans, who conquered, not coloured races, but the
mightiest white nations, could never write either great epics or great
dramas. They wrote only one epic, one drama of first and to this day
unparalleled magnitude: the Roman Empire. I meant to do a similar thing
for Athens, but I failed. I now know why. My real enemies were not in
the camp of my political adversaries, but in the theatre of Dionysus
and in the schools of the philosophers. Do not, therefore, _ma chère
amie_, begrudge the Germans their great musicians. They are really very
great, and not even your greatest minds surpass, perhaps do not even
equal them. Your consolation may be in this, that the Germans too will
soon cease writing music worth the hearing. They now want to write
quite different epics. And no nation can write two sorts of epics at a
“‘I am so glad to hear you say so,’ said Mrs Blazing. ‘It relieves me
of a _corvée_ that I hitherto considered to be a patriotic duty. I
mean, I will henceforth never attend the representations of the new
school of _soi-disant_ English music. Inwardly I never liked it; it
always appeared to me like an Englishwoman who tries to imitate the
_grâce_ and _verve_ of a Parisian woman, with all her easy gestures,
vivacious conversation, and delicate coquetry. It will not do.
“‘We English women do not shine in movement; our sphere is repose. We
may be troublesome, but never _troublante_.
“‘Even so is English academic music. And I now see why it must be so.
It is not in us, because another force takes its place. Like all people
we like to shine in that wherein we are most deficient, and the other
day I was present at a scene that could hardly be more painful. At the
house of a rich and highly distinguished city man I met the famous Sir
Somebody Hangar, the composer. The question arose who was the greatest
musician? Thereupon Sir Somebody, looking up to the beautiful ceiling
of the room, exclaimed dreamily: “Music is of _very_ recent origin….”
One of the gentlemen present then asked Sir Somebody whether he had
ever heard the reply given to that question by the great Gounod? Sir
Somebody contemptuously uttered: “Gounod? It is not worth hearing.” I
was indignant, and pointedly asked the gentleman to tell us Gounod’s
reply. The gentleman, looking at Sir Somebody with a curious smile,
“‘Gounod, on being asked who in his opinion was the greatest musician,
said: “When I was a boy of twenty, I said: _moi_. Ten years later I
said: _moi et Mozart_. Again ten years later I said: _Mozart et moi_.
And now I say: _Mozart_.”‘
“This reply,” said Alcibiades, “has Attic perfume in it. Having
suffered so much, as I have, at the hands of musicians in my time, when
dramatic writers were as much musicians as dramatists, I have in my
Olympian leisure carefully inquired into the real causes of the rise of
modern music.
“‘You said a few moments ago, _ma très spirituelle dame_, that
music is the art of poor classes. There is this much truth in that,
that modern music has indeed been almost entirely in the hands of
middle-class people. This being so, everything depends on the nature
and dispositions of the middle class in a given country. In England,
for instance, the middle class is totally different from that of
France or that of South Germany, the home of German music. The English
middle class is cold, dry, _gaffeur_ to the extreme, afflicted with a
veritable rage for outward respectability, unsufferably formalist, and
deeply convinced of its social inferiority. In such a class nothing
remotely resembling German or French music can ever possibly arise.
Such a class furnishes excellent business men, and reliable sergeants
to the officers of imperial work. But music can no more grow out of it
than can a rose out of a poker.
“‘This middle class is the result of British Imperialism, and this is
how Imperialism has prevented and will, as long as it lasts, always
prevent the rise of really fine music in the higher sense of the term.
This is also why we Hellenes never achieved greater results in music.
Like the English, or the Americans, we never had a real _bourgeoisie_,
or the only possible foster-earth of great music. However,
_bourgeoisie_ is only a historic phenomenon, one that is destined to
disappear, and with it will disappear all music. Mr Richard Strauss is
singing its dirge.'”
When Alcibiades had finished his entertaining tale of women and
music in England, the gods and heroes congratulated him warmly, and
Zeus ordered that, under the direction of Mozart, all the nymphs and
goddesses of the forests and seas shall sing one of the motets of Bach.
This they did, and all Venice was filled with the magic songs, which
were as pure as those produced by the nymph Echo in the Baptistry at
Pisa. All the palaces and the churches of Venice seemed to listen with
melancholy pleasure, and St Mark’s hesitated to sound the hour lest the
spell should be broken. When the motet was ended, the gods and heroes
rose and disappeared in the heavens.