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 windowsimperfectly grasped the night beforeare revealed
with all the charm of surprise when we open our eyes the next morning.
It was about eight oclock 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 Delawares collection.
Of a wonderful pair of blonde trousers
he would get Madame Belleville to make for him.
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 Ladys 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 Racines
Of a strange pamphlet he had found in Venuss
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 days 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
Wagners brilliant comedy with the cool head of the morning.[see
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 Alberichs
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; Alberichs savage activity and metamorphoses; and Loges
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 oclock 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 Millevoyes
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 Lorettes 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.
Wont 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 passivea 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
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, fallingalmost like a petticoatas
far as the knee; and a delicate chemise of white muslin, spangled
with gold and profusely pleated.
The two dressers, under Daucourts
direction, did their work superbly, beautifully, leisurely, with
an exquisite deference for the nude, and a really sensitive appreciation
of the Chevaliers scrumptious torso.
* The chef duvre, 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 Turnerthe
Wiertz of landscape-paintingseems almost incredible. Corot
is Claudes only worthy rival, but he does not eclipse or supplant
the earlier master. A painting of Corots is like an exquisite
lyric poem, full of love and truth; whilst one of Claudes
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 Massbefore noonwhen
your brain and heart are not too troubled and tired with the secular
in¤uences of the growing day.