by Wesley Sipsmith
A tenet of modern thought is the treatment of mode, or fashion, as more important than simple honesty. Let us consider the passage of one person’s life. We shall name them Mesley Sanskrit. They may, hypothetically, have been born in Richmond-Upon-Thames in a not-too-recent year, an upbringing at odds with a short-lived foray into Kensington, and an even more ill-fated expedition past Beauchamp Place. The well-educated sons and daughters of London society are exceptionally canny when it comes to deciphering the precise streets and avenues you were weaned on, and they can be harsh in their judgements. While such snobbery, or l’esprit prétentieuse, can be damaging to the openness we should aspire towards, this fixation on the authentic cuts through the venereal mists of obscurity emitted by the Gregorian Square Gasworks – or, more accurately, the aforementioned sons and daughters of the City. Yes, dear reader, I am referring of course to our fixation on artifice at the cost of authenticity. Those of you familiar with my intimacy with the radical Oak Tree Set, the decadent dinners of the Cruickshank Society, and the fops and dandies known in some circles as the Snowball Club, may see this proposition as anachronistic. Let me be Croesian in my clarity: I have lived a life in the service of artifice and as such, I, more than anyone, can see the necessity of authenticity. This is no condemnation of that lifestyle, but rather a defence of the honest and kind.
Returning to our fictional friend, Mesley Sanskrit, who may be put off by the insincerity he, or she, experienced in the drawing rooms of the Capital. For example, that wonderful shop where he (or she!) obtains that vermillion silken hatband may be judged, purely hypothetically, as belonging to a previous season of textile fashion. And this judgement may (remember this is but a thought experiment!) make him (or her!) break down in gorgeous, dew-like tears on the stairs of Paternoster House. Those cold-hearted men will simply follow the arbitrary regulations parroted by Oscar and Aubrey, and cruelly exclude our kind Mesley from Ernest’s recent dinner for the celebration of the Astell Street Epicureans. Obviously, it is pretentious artifice that is the rotten root of such scenarios. These men hide behind journals and fake names and believe this sets them above other people, when the only eyes they are successfully covering are those set in their own gilded skulls. Flowery language, violent death, and exotic snakemeats are the standards they bear, and drive a flugelhorn between them and the common man, such as you or I.
Pater recalls that wonderful little passage from Rousseau, I believe that it is in the sixth book of the Confessions, where he comes out on top of his own conceptions of art. This evokes Victor Hugo’s belief that we are all condamnes —les hommes sont tous condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, Pater believes, spend it in the pursuit of beauty. This he can muse over with Ernest and all of them tonight, and I hope it brings him some comfort. The sensibilities of our dear Mesley, however, so cruelly damaged by this bullish belief, suggest the best course of action may be one of honesty, virtue and inclusion – virtues sorely lacking from the canny dividers we see promenading the King’s Road. There is something to be said for the truth, but alas I do not know what it may be. If you believe you do, please send me your thesis: I have a lot of free time at the moment.
Wesley Sipsmith, co-editor of the Half Mast Gazette