Harper's Weekly 05/28/1870


The pride of life is one of the leading notes
of the “fast novel.” Death may, with impar-
tial heel, kick at the turreted palaces of kings
and the hovel of the pauper; but the pride of
life which informs the pen of our fast novelists
condescends to treat of princely state alone. No
man is fit to be a hero unless he can throw mo-
ney about like water. It is not necessary that
it should be his own money; indeed, it is better
that it should not be—otherwise he would, per-
haps, be too respectable for a hero. When, im-
mersed in an inextricable state of debt, he goes
down to shoot at one of his many places, he does
so, we are informed, in a half-Bohemian, half-
bivouac fashion; and his guests, all of them
enormous swells of the period, are expected to
be good enough to rough it. They arrive at a
dim picturesque old house, with oak-paneled
rooms, stained-glass windows, antiques, paint-
ings, and china of fabulous value all around.
They find a perfect cook, perfect wines, and per-
fect cigars; a grand piano in the Elizabethan
drawing-room, the clash of billiard-balls under
the painted arches of the chapel entrance, and
whist-tables in the little garden-room that looks
through oriel windows on to the terraces and the
shady cedars. When out shooting, these gen-
tlemen, who are “roughing it,” toss the dogs
foie gras and truffles, and drink delicate Bur-
gundies to their perfumed cigarettes. When the
hero flies from his debts and his difficulties, he
betakes himself from the low white shore to his
yacht. There, on a velvet-cushioned bench, lie
the newest novels, just out. By its side is a
splendid goblet, in which lumps of ice float in
golden wine. Silky nectarines and purple grapes
lie lazily together on his plate. In the mirrored
cabin a choice dinner awaits him. When he
returns to town, we find him ensconced in rooms
decorated with imperial blue, filled with things
of great antiquity and beauty—ivory, bronze,
marble, china, enamel, all gleaming out of the
prevailing hue of deep azure; chambers, in a
word, summed up as containing as many treas-
ures in them as Christie's itself on a view-day.
When he gives a dinner at the little box inhab-
ited by his Anonyma, all the male guests have
half-guinea rose-buds in their coats, the dining-
room is one sheet of light, a miniature sun in
the blue arc of the ceiling sheds down its rays, the
atmosphere is scented with pastilles, the table is
ablaze with gold and silver, and the hangings of
the walls are azure satin, silver-starred. Anon-
yma herself is dressed in flame-colored robes,
and she seems to be literally on fire with the su-
perb rubies that glitter all over her. She wears
boots that cost thirty guineas a pair, with silver-
gilt heels that go “click-clack” like a cavalry-
man's. But the golden tazze, costly china, ex-
quisite pictures, Oriental stuffs, silks, satins, and
furs, malachite vases, jasper tables, ivory-bound
books, with monograms in turquoises and pearls
on the cover, which are to be seen in the dining-
room of the hero's nameless protgéée, sink into
insignificance when compared with the contents
of her drawing-room. This glows with ten times
more light, ten times more color, ten times more
brilliancy, and is one mass of scintillating gold,
silver, and amber—not a large room, but small
and bijou, “intensely” luminous, and very cost-
ly. When he goes to the theatre and tosses a
bouquet on to the stage, it contains a big sap-
phire, or is clasped by a jeweled holder. Else-
where in the gorgeous pages of our fast in-
structor we meet with girls enfolded in a glitter
of green and silver, with huge gold serpentine
coils upon their arms, who lean over a boat's
side and meditate—not upon the elusive smile
of the sunlit waters, but upon the flavors of new
sauces, and the strong old wines princes send to
them, and of Oriental burnouses, all interwoven
with pearls and turquoises, which Oriental em-
bassadors give them for the asking. Even the
artists of our fast novels have odorous cedar-
lined studios, in which the smoke of choice cigars
curls round antiques and bric-à-brac, and sherry
and seltzer perpetually hiss in long fairy-like
glasses of Venice.

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