In Black & White


Title Page
Under the Hill

The Art of the Hoarding
Letters to his Critics
   Pall Mall Budget
   Daily Chronicle
   St. Paul’s
Table Talk
Lines upon Pictures
   St Rose of Lima

The Three Musicians
The Ballad of a Barber
Ave Atque Vale
The Celestial Lover
The Ivory Piece
Prospectus for Volpone

Appendix : Juvenilia
The Valiant
A Ride in an Omnibus
The Confession Album
The Courts of Love
Dante in Exile
Written in Uncertainty
The Morte Darthur

Enoch Soames

Under the Hill
Under the Hill

Chapter VII
The Third Tableau of Das Rheingold
The Third Tableau of Das Rheingold

How Tannhäuser awakened and took his morning ablutions in the Venusberg

It is always delightful to wake up in a new bedroom. The fresh wall-paper, the strange pictures, the positions of doors and windows—imperfectly grasped the night before—are revealed with all the charm of surprise when we open our eyes the next morning.
     It was about eight o’clock when Tannhäuser awoke, stretched himself deliciously in his great plumed four-post bed, murmured “What a pretty room!” and freshened the frilled silk pillows behind him. He lay back in his bed and nursed his waking thoughts, and stared at the curious patterned canopy above him. He was very pleased with the room, which certainly was chic and fascinating, and recalled the voluptuous interiors of the elegant amorous Baudouin.
     He thought of the Romaunt de la Rose, beautiful, but all too brief.
     Of the Claude in Lady Delaware’s collection. [see note]
     Of a wonderful pair of blonde trousers he would get Madame Belleville to make for him.
     Of Saint Rose, the well known Peruvian virgin; how she vowed herself to perpetual virginity when she was four years old;[see note] how she was beloved by Mary, who, from the pale fresco in the Church of Saint Dominic, would stretch out her arms to embrace her; how she built a little oratory at the end of the garden and prayed and sang hymns in it till all the beetles, spiders, snails and creeping things came round to listen; how she promised to marry Ferdinand de Flores, and on the bridal morning perfumed herself and painted her lips, and put on her wedding frock, and decked her hair with roses, and went up to a little hill not far without the walls of Lima; how she knelt there some moments calling tenderly upon Our Lady’s name, and how Saint Mary descended and kissed Rose upon the forehead and carried her swiftly into heaven.
     He thought of the splendid opening of Racine’s Britannicus.
     Of a strange pamphlet he had found in Venus’s library, called A Plea for the Domestication of the Unicorn.
     Of the Bacchanals of Sporion.
     Of love, and of a hundred other things.
     Through the slim parting of the long flowered window curtains, he caught a peep of the sun-lit lawns outside, the silver fountains, the bright flowers, the gardeners at work, and beneath the shady trees some early breakfasters, dressed for a day’s hunting in the distant wooded valleys.
     “How sweet it all is,” exclaimed the Chevalier, yawning with infinite content; “and what delightful pictures,” he continued, wandering with his eyes from print to print that hung upon the rose-striped walls. Within the delicate curved frames lived the corrupt and gracious creatures of Dorat and his school; slim children in masque and domino smiling horribly, exquisite letchers leaning over the shoulders of smooth doll-like girls and doing nothing in particular, terrible little Pierrots posing as mulierasts or pointing at something outside the picture, and unearthly fops and huge birdlike women mingling in some rococo room lighted mysteriously by the flicker of a dying fire that throws great shadows upon wall and ceiling. One of the prints showing how an old marquis practised the five-finger exercise, while in front of him his mistress offered her warm fesses to a panting poodle, made the Chevalier stroke himself a little.
     Tannhäuser had taken some books to bed with him. One was the witty, extravagant Tuesday and Josephine, another was the score of The Rheingold. Making a pulpit of his knees he propped up the opera before him and turned over the pages with a loving hand, and found it delicious to attack Wagner’s brilliant comedy with the cool head of the morning.[see note]
     Once more he was ravished with the beauty and wit of the opening scene; the mystery of its prelude that seems to come up from the very mud of the Rhine, and to be as ancient, the abominable primitive wantonness of the music, the talk and movements of the Rhine-maidens, the black, hateful sounds in Alberich’s love-making, and the flowing melody of the river of legends.
     But it was the third tableau that he applauded most that morning; the scene where Loge, like some flamboyant primeval Scapin, practises his cunning upon Alberich. The feverish insistent ringing of the hammers at the forge, the dry staccato restlessness of Mime; the ceaseless coming and going of the troupe of Nibelungs, drawn hither and thither like a flock of terror-stricken and infernal sheep; Alberich’s savage activity and metamorphoses; and Loge’s rapid, flaming, tongue-like movements, make the tableau the least reposeful, most troubled and confusing thing in the whole range of opera. How the Chevalier rejoiced in the extravagant monstrous poetry, the heated melodrama, and splendid agitation of it all!
     At eleven o’clock Tannhäuser got up and slipped off his dainty night-dress, and postured elegantly before a long mirror, making much of himself.
     Now he would bend forward, now lie upon the floor, now stand upright, and now rest upon one leg and let the other hang loosely till he looked as if he might have been drawn by some early Italian master. Anon he would lie upon the floor with his back to the glass, and glance amorously over his shoulder. Then with a white silk sash he draped himself in a hundred charming ways. So engrossed was he with his mirrored shape that he had not noticed the entrance of a troop of serving boys, who stood admiringly but respectfully at a distance, ready to receive his waking orders. As soon as the Chevalier observed them he smiled sweetly, and bade them prepare his bath.
     The bathroom was the largest and perhaps the most beautiful apartment in his splendid suite. The well-known engraving by Lorette that forms the frontispiece to Millevoye’s Architecture du XVIIIme Siècle will give you a better idea than any words of mine of the construction and decoration of the room. Only, in Lorette’s engraving, the bath sunk into the middle of the floor is a little too small.
     Tannhäuser stood for a moment, like Narcissus, gazing at his reflection in the still, scented water, and then just ruffling its smooth surface with one foot, stepped elegantly into the cool basin, and swam round it twice very gracefully.
     “Won’t you join me?” he said, turning to those beautiful boys who stood ready with warm towels and perfume. In a moment they were free of their light morning dress, and jumped into the water and joined hands, and surrounded the Chevalier with a laughing chain.
     “Splash me a little,” he cried, and the boys teased him with water and quite excited him. He chased the prettiest of them and bit his fesses, and kissed him upon the perineum till the dear fellow banded like a carmelite, and its little bald top-knot looked like a great pink pearl under the water. As the boy seemed anxious to take up the active attitude, Tannhäuser graciously descended to the passive—a generous trait that won him the complete affections of his valets de bain, or pretty fish, as he liked to call them, because they loved to swim between his legs.
     However, it is not so much at the very bath itself as in the drying and delicious frictions that a bather finds his chiefest pleasures. Venus had appointed her most tried attendants to wait upon Tannhäuser, and he was more than satisfied with the skill that they displayed in the performance of those quasi-amorous functions. The delicate attention they paid his loving parts aroused feelings within him that almost amounted to gratitude; and when the rites were ended, any touch of home-sickness he might have felt was utterly dispelled.
     After he had rested a little, and sipped his chocolate, he wandered into the dressing-room. Daucourt, his valet de chambre, Chenille, the perruquier and barber, and two charming young dressers, were awaiting him and ready with suggestions for the morning toilet. The shaving over, Daucourt commanded his underlings to step forward with the suite of suits from which he proposed Tannhäuser should make a choice. The final selection was a happy one. A dear little coat of pigeon-rose silk that hung loosely about his hips, and showed off the jut of his behind to perfection; trousers of black lace in flounces, falling—almost like a petticoat—as far as the knee; and a delicate chemise of white muslin, spangled with gold and profusely pleated.
     The two dressers, under Daucourt’s direction, did their work superbly, beautifully, leisurely, with an exquisite deference for the nude, and a really sensitive appreciation of the Chevalier’s scrumptious torso.

* The chef d’œuvre, it seems to me, of an adorable and impeccable master, who more than any other landscape-painter puts us out of conceit with our cities, and makes us forget the country can be graceless and dull and tiresome. That he should ever have been compared unfavourably with Turner—the Wiertz of landscape-painting—seems almost incredible. Corot is Claude’s only worthy rival, but he does not eclipse or supplant the earlier master. A painting of Corot’s is like an exquisite lyric poem, full of love and truth; whilst one of Claude’s recalls some noble eclogue glowing with rich concentrated thought.

** It is a thousand pities that concerts should only be given either in the afternoon, when you are torpid, or in the evening when you are nervous. Surely you should assist at üne music as you assist at the Mass—before noon—when your brain and heart are not too troubled and tired with the secular in¤uences of the growing day.