As if to prove how entirely, though so many hands paltered with her legend, Helen is Homer’s alone, there remains no great or typical work of Greek art which represents her beauty, and the breasts from which were modelled cups of gold for the service of the gods. We have only paintings on vases, or work on gems, which, though graceful, is conventional and might represent any other heroine, Polyxena, or Eriphyle. No Helen from the hands of Phidias or Scopas has survived to our time, and the grass may be growing in Therapnae over the shattered remains of her only statue.
As Stesichorus fabled that only an eidolon of Helen went to Troy, so, except in the “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” we meet but shadows of her loveliness, phantasms woven out of clouds, and the light of setting suns.
To dream over literary projects, Balzac says, is like “smoking enchanted cigarettes,” but when we try to tackle our projects, to make them real, the enchantment disappears. We have to till the soil, to sow the seed, to gather the leaves, and then the cigarettes must be manufactured, while there may be no market for them after all. Probably most people have enjoyed the fragrance of these enchanted cigarettes, and have brooded over much which they will never put on paper. Here are some of “the ashes of the weeds of my delight”—memories of romances whereof no single line is written, or is likely to be written.
Of my earliest novel I remember but little. I know there had been a wreck, and that the villain, who was believed to be drowned, came home and made himself disagreeable. I know that the heroine’s mouth was not “too large for regular beauty.” In that respect she was original. All heroines are “muckle-mou’d,” I know not why. It is expected of them. I know she was melancholy and merry; it would not surprise me to learn that she drowned herself from a canoe. But the villain never descended to crime, the first lover would not fall in love, the heroine’s own affections were provokingly disengaged, and the whole affair came to a dead stop for want of a plot. Perhaps, considering modern canons of fiction, this might have been a very successful novel. It was entirely devoid of incident or interest, and, consequently, was a good deal like real life, as real life appears to many cultivated authors. On the other hand, all the characters were flippant. This would never have done, and I do not regret novel No. I., which had not even a name.
The second story had a plot, quantities of plot, nothing but plot. It was to have been written in collaboration with a very great novelist, who, as far as we went, confined himself to making objections. This novel was stopped (not that my friend would ever have gone on) by “Called Back,” which anticipated part of the idea. The story was entitled “Where is Rose?” and the motto was—