8. The Ghost Of Art

by Charles Dickens

The effect of these words, slowly uttered in the thunder-storm at midnight, was appalling in the last degree. More dead than alive, I surveyed him in silence.

‘The German taste came up,’ said he, ‘and threw me out of bread. I am ready for the taste now.’

He made his beard a little jagged with his hands, folded his arms, and said,

‘Severity!’

I shuddered. It was so severe.

He made his beard flowing on his breast, and, leaning both hands on the staff of a carpet-broom which Mrs. Parkins had left among my books, said:

‘Benevolence.’

I stood transfixed. The change of sentiment was entirely in the beard. The man might have left his face alone, or had no face.

The beard did everything.

He lay down, on his back, on my table, and with that action of his head threw up his beard at the chin.

‘That’s death!’ said he.

He got off my table and, looking up at the ceiling, cocked his beard a little awry; at the same time making it stick out before him.

‘Adoration, or a vow of vengeance,’ he observed.

He turned his profile to me, making his upper lip very bulky with the upper part of his beard.

‘Romantic character,’ said he.

He looked sideways out of his beard, as if it were an ivy-bush. ‘Jealousy,’ said he. He gave it an ingenious twist in the air, and informed me that he was carousing. He made it shaggy with his fingers — and it was Despair; lank — and it was avarice: tossed it all kinds of ways — and it was rage. The beard did everything.

‘I am the Ghost of Art,’ said he. ‘Two bob a-day now, and more when it’s longer! Hair’s the true expression. There is no other.

I SAID I’D GROW IT, AND I’VE GROWN IT, AND IT SHALL HAUNT YOU!’

He may have tumbled down-stairs in the dark, but he never walked down or ran down. I looked over the banisters, and I was alone with the thunder.

Need I add more of my terrific fate? IT HAS haunted me ever since. It glares upon me from the walls of the Royal Academy, (except when MACLISE subdues it to his genius,) it fills my soul with terror at the British Institution, it lures young artists on to their destruction. Go where I will, the Ghost of Art, eternally working the passions in hair, and expressing everything by beard, pursues me. The prediction is accomplished, and the victim has no rest.

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