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The Picture of Dorian Gray, Page 3

Oscar Wilde


  [...22] One afternoon, a month later, Dorian Gray was reclining in aluxurious arm-chair, in the little library of Lord Henry's house inCurzon Street. It was, in its way, a very charming room, with its highpanelled wainscoting of olive-stained oak, its cream-colored frieze andceiling of raised plaster-work, and its brick-dust felt carpet strewnwith long-fringed silk Persian rugs. On a tiny satinwood table stood astatuette by Clodion, and beside it lay a copy of "Les Cent Nouvelles,"bound for Margaret of Valois by Clovis Eve, and powdered with the giltdaisies that the queen had selected for her device. Some large bluechina jars, filled with parrot-tulips, were ranged on the mantel-shelf,and through the small leaded panes of the window streamed theapricot-colored light of a summer's day in London.

  Lord Henry had not come in yet. He was always late on principle, hisprinciple being that punctuality is the thief of time. So the lad waslooking rather sulky, as with listless fingers he turned over the pagesof an elaborately-illustrated edition of "Manon Lescaut" that he hadfound in one of the bookcases. The formal monotonous ticking of theLouis Quatorze clock annoyed him. Once or twice he thought of goingaway.

  At last he heard a light step outside, and the door opened. "How lateyou are, Harry!" he murmured.

  "I am afraid it is not Harry, Mr. Gray," said a woman's voice.

  He glanced quickly round, and rose to his feet. "I beg your pardon. Ithought--"

  "You thought it was my husband. It is only his wife. You must let meintroduce myself. I know you quite well by your photographs. I thinkmy husband has got twenty-seven of them."

  [23] "Not twenty-seven, Lady Henry?"

  "Well, twenty-six, then. And I saw you with him the other night at theOpera." She laughed nervously, as she spoke, and watched him with hervague forget-me-not eyes. She was a curious woman, whose dressesalways looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in atempest. She was always in love with somebody, and, as her passion wasnever returned, she had kept all her illusions. She tried to lookpicturesque, but only succeeded in being untidy. Her name wasVictoria, and she had a perfect mania for going to church.

  "That was at 'Lohengrin,' Lady Henry, I think?"

  "Yes; it was at dear 'Lohengrin.' I like Wagner's music better thanany other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time,without people hearing what one says. That is a great advantage: don'tyou think so, Mr. Gray?"

  The same nervous staccato laugh broke from her thin lips, and herfingers began to play with a long paper-knife.

  Dorian smiled, and shook his head: "I am afraid I don't think so, LadyHenry. I never talk during music,--at least during good music. If onehears bad music, it is one's duty to drown it by conversation."

  "Ah! that is one of Harry's views, isn't it, Mr. Gray? But you mustnot think I don't like good music. I adore it, but I am afraid of it.It makes me too romantic. I have simply worshipped pianists,--two at atime, sometimes. I don't know what it is about them. Perhaps it isthat they are foreigners. They all are, aren't they? Even those thatare born in England become foreigners after a time, don't they? It isso clever of them, and such a compliment to art. Makes it quitecosmopolitan, doesn't it? You have never been to any of my parties,have you, Mr. Gray? You must come. I can't afford orchids, but Ispare no expense in foreigners. They make one's rooms look sopicturesque. But here is Harry!--Harry, I came in to look for you, toask you something,--I forget what it was,--and I found Mr. Gray here.We have had such a pleasant chat about music. We have quite the sameviews. No; I think our views are quite different. But he has beenmost pleasant. I am so glad I've seen him."

  "I am charmed, my love, quite charmed," said Lord Henry, elevating hisdark crescent-shaped eyebrows and looking at them both with an amusedsmile.--"So sorry I am late, Dorian. I went to look after a piece ofold brocade in Wardour Street, and had to bargain for hours for it.Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

  "I am afraid I must be going," exclaimed Lady Henry, after an awkwardsilence, with her silly sudden laugh. "I have promised to drive withthe duchess.--Good-by, Mr. Gray.--Good-by, Harry. You are dining out,I suppose? So am I. Perhaps I shall see you at Lady Thornbury's."

  "I dare say, my dear," said Lord Henry, shutting the door behind her,as she flitted out of the room, looking like a bird-of-paradise thathad been out in the rain, and leaving a faint odor of patchouli behindher. Then he shook hands with Dorian Gray, lit a cigarette, and flunghimself down on the sofa.

  [24] "Never marry a woman with straw-colored hair, Dorian," he said,after a few puffs.

  "Why, Harry?"

  "Because they are so sentimental."

  "But I like sentimental people."

  "Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women,because they are curious: both are disappointed."

  "I don't think I am likely to marry, Harry. I am too much in love.That is one of your aphorisms. I am putting it into practice, as I doeverything you say."

  "Whom are you in love with?" said Lord Henry, looking at him with acurious smile.

  "With an actress," said Dorian Gray, blushing.

  Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders. "That is a rather common-placedebut," he murmured.

  "You would not say so if you saw her, Harry."

  "Who is she?"

  "Her name is Sibyl Vane."

  "Never heard of her."

  "No one has. People will some day, however. She is a genius."

  "My dear boy, no woman is a genius: women are a decorative sex. Theynever have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. They representthe triumph of matter over mind, just as we men represent the triumphof mind over morals. There are only two kinds of women, the plain andthe colored. The plain women are very useful. If you want to gain areputation for respectability, you have merely to take them down tosupper. The other women are very charming. They commit one mistake,however. They paint in order to try to look young. Our grandmotherspainted in order to try to talk brilliantly. Rouge and esprit used togo together. That has all gone out now. As long as a woman can lookten years younger than her own daughter, she is perfectly satisfied.As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talkingto, and two of these can't be admitted into decent society. However,tell me about your genius. How long have you known her?"

  "About three weeks. Not so much. About two weeks and two days."

  "How did you come across her?"

  "I will tell you, Harry; but you mustn't be unsympathetic about it.After all, it never would have happened if I had not met you. Youfilled me with a wild desire to know everything about life. For daysafter I met you, something seemed to throb in my veins. As I loungedin the Park, or strolled down Piccadilly, I used to look at every onewho passed me, and wonder with a mad curiosity what sort of lives theyled. Some of them fascinated me. Others filled me with terror. Therewas an exquisite poison in the air. I had a passion for sensations.

  "One evening about seven o'clock I determined to go out in search ofsome adventure. I felt that this gray, monstrous London of ours, withits myriads of people, its splendid sinners, and its sordid sins, as[25] you once said, must have something in store for me. I fancied athousand things.

  "The mere danger gave me a sense of delight. I remembered what you hadsaid to me on that wonderful night when we first dined together, aboutthe search for beauty being the poisonous secret of life. I don't knowwhat I expected, but I went out, and wandered eastward, soon losing myway in a labyrinth of grimy streets and black, grassless squares.About half-past eight I passed by a little third-rate theatre, withgreat flaring gas-jets and gaudy play-bills. A hideous Jew, in themost amazing waistcoat I ever beheld in my life, was standing at theentrance, smoking a vile cigar. He had greasy ringlets, and anenormous diamond blazed in the centre of a soiled shirt. ''Ave a box,my lord?' he said, when he saw me, and he took off his hat with an actof gorgeous servility. There was something about him, Harry, th
atamused me. He was such a monster. You will laugh at me, I know, but Ireally went in and paid a whole guinea for the stage-box. To thepresent day I can't make out why I did so; and yet if I hadn't!--mydear Harry, if I hadn't, I would have missed the greatest romance of mylife. I see you are laughing. It is horrid of you!"

  "I am not laughing, Dorian; at least I am not laughing at you. But youshould not say the greatest romance of your life. You should say thefirst romance of your life. You will always be loved, and you willalways be in love with love. There are exquisite things in store foryou. This is merely the beginning."

  "Do you think my nature so shallow?" cried Dorian Gray, angrily.

  "No; I think your nature so deep."

  "How do you mean?"

  "My dear boy, people who only love once in their lives are reallyshallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, Icall either the lethargy of custom or the lack of imagination.Faithlessness is to the emotional life what consistency is to theintellectual life,--simply a confession of failure. But I don't wantto interrupt you. Go on with your story."

  "Well, I found myself seated in a horrid little private box, with avulgar drop-scene staring me in the face. I looked out behind thecurtain, and surveyed the house. It was a tawdry affair, all Cupidsand cornucopias, like a third-rate wedding-cake. The gallery and pitwere fairly full, but the two rows of dingy stalls were quite empty,and there was hardly a person in what I suppose they called thedress-circle. Women went about with oranges and ginger-beer, and therewas a terrible consumption of nuts going on."

  "It must have been just like the palmy days of the British Drama."

  "Just like, I should fancy, and very horrid. I began to wonder what onearth I should do, when I caught sight of the play-bill. What do youthink the play was, Harry?"

  "I should think 'The Idiot Boy, or Dumb but Innocent.' Our fathersused to like that sort of piece, I believe. The longer I live, Dorian,the more keenly I feel that whatever was good enough for our fathers isnot good enough for us. In art, as in politics, les grand peres onttoujours tort."

  [26] "This play was good enough for us, Harry. It was 'Romeo andJuliet.' I must admit I was rather annoyed at the idea of seeingShakespeare done in such a wretched hole of a place. Still, I feltinterested, in a sort of way. At any rate, I determined to wait forthe first act. There was a dreadful orchestra, presided over by ayoung Jew who sat at a cracked piano, that nearly drove me away, but atlast the drop-scene was drawn up, and the play began. Romeo was astout elderly gentleman, with corked eyebrows, a husky tragedy voice,and a figure like a beer-barrel. Mercutio was almost as bad. He wasplayed by the low-comedian, who had introduced gags of his own and wason most familiar terms with the pit. They were as grotesque as thescenery, and that looked as if it had come out of a pantomime of fiftyyears ago. But Juliet! Harry, imagine a girl, hardly seventeen yearsof age, with a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaitedcoils of dark-brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion, lipsthat were like the petals of a rose. She was the loveliest thing I hadever seen in my life. You said to me once that pathos left youunmoved, but that beauty, mere beauty, could fill your eyes with tears.I tell you, Harry, I could hardly see this girl for the mist of tearsthat came across me. And her voice,--I never heard such a voice. Itwas very low at first, with deep mellow notes, that seemed to fallsingly upon one's ear. Then it became a little louder, and soundedlike a flute or a distant hautbois. In the garden-scene it had all thetremulous ecstasy that one hears just before dawn when nightingales aresinging. There were moments, later on, when it had the wild passion ofviolins. You know how a voice can stir one. Your voice and the voiceof Sibyl Vane are two things that I shall never forget. When I closemy eyes, I hear them, and each of them says something different. Idon't know which to follow. Why should I not love her? Harry, I dolove her. She is everything to me in life. Night after night I go tosee her play. One evening she is Rosalind, and the next evening she isImogen. I have seen her die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, suckingthe poison from her lover's lips. I have watched her wandering throughthe forest of Arden, disguised as a pretty boy in hose and doublet anddainty cap. She has been mad, and has come into the presence of aguilty king, and given him rue to wear, and bitter herbs to taste of.She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have crushed herreed-like throat. I have seen her in every age and in every costume.Ordinary women never appeal to one's imagination. They are limited totheir century. No glamour ever transfigures them. One knows theirminds as easily as one knows their bonnets. One can always find them.There is no mystery in one of them. They ride in the Park in themorning, and chatter at tea-parties in the afternoon. They have theirstereotyped smile, and their fashionable manner. They are quiteobvious. But an actress! How different an actress is! Why didn't youtell me that the only thing worth loving is an actress?"

  "Because I have loved so many of them, Dorian."

  "Oh, yes, horrid people with dyed hair and painted faces."

  "Don't run down dyed hair and painted faces. There is an extraordinarycharm in them, sometimes."

  [27] "I wish now I had not told you about Sibyl Vane."

  "You could not have helped telling me, Dorian. All through your lifeyou will tell me everything you do."

  "Yes, Harry, I believe that is true. I cannot help telling you things.You have a curious influence over me. If I ever did a crime, I wouldcome and confide it to you. You would understand me."

  "People like you--the wilful sunbeams of life--don't commit crimes,Dorian. But I am much obliged for the compliment, all the same. Andnow tell me,--reach me the matches, like a good boy: thanks,--tell me,what are your relations with Sibyl Vane?"

  Dorian Gray leaped to his feet, with flushed cheeks and burning eyes."Harry, Sibyl Vane is sacred!"

  "It is only the sacred things that are worth touching, Dorian," saidLord Henry, with a strange touch of pathos in his voice. "But whyshould you be annoyed? I suppose she will be yours some day. When oneis in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one alwaysends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls romance. Youknow her, at any rate, I suppose?"

  "Of course I know her. On the first night I was at the theatre, thehorrid old Jew came round to the box after the performance was over,and offered to bring me behind the scenes and introduce me to her. Iwas furious with him, and told him that Juliet had been dead forhundreds of years, and that her body was lying in a marble tomb inVerona. I think, from his blank look of amazement, that he thought Ihad taken too much champagne, or something."

  "I am not surprised."

  "I was not surprised either. Then he asked me if I wrote for any ofthe newspapers. I told him I never even read them. He seemed terriblydisappointed at that, and confided to me that all the dramatic criticswere in a conspiracy against him, and that they were all to be bought."

  "I believe he was quite right there. But, on the other hand, most ofthem are not at all expensive."

  "Well, he seemed to think they were beyond his means. By this time thelights were being put out in the theatre, and I had to go. He wantedme to try some cigars which he strongly recommended. I declined. Thenext night, of course, I arrived at the theatre again. When he saw mehe made me a low bow, and assured me that I was a patron of art. Hewas a most offensive brute, though he had an extraordinary passion forShakespeare. He told me once, with an air of pride, that his threebankruptcies were entirely due to the poet, whom he insisted on calling'The Bard.' He seemed to think it a distinction."

  "It was a distinction, my dear Dorian,--a great distinction. But whendid you first speak to Miss Sibyl Vane?"

  "The third night. She had been playing Rosalind. I could not helpgoing round. I had thrown her some flowers, and she had looked at me;at least I fancied that she had. The old Jew was persistent. Heseemed determined to bring me behind, so I consented. It was curiousmy not wanting to know her, wasn't it?"

bsp; [28] "No; I don't think so."

  "My dear Harry, why?"

  "I will tell you some other time. Now I want to know about the girl."

  "Sibyl? Oh, she was so shy, and so gentle. There is something of achild about her. Her eyes opened wide in exquisite wonder when I toldher what I thought of her performance, and she seemed quite unconsciousof her power. I think we were both rather nervous. The old Jew stoodgrinning at the door-way of the dusty greenroom, making elaboratespeeches about us both, while we stood looking at each other likechildren. He would insist on calling me 'My Lord,' so I had to assureSibyl that I was not anything of the kind. She said quite simply tome, 'You look more like a prince.'"

  "Upon my word, Dorian, Miss Sibyl knows how to pay compliments."

  "You don't understand her, Harry. She regarded me merely as a personin a play. She knows nothing of life. She lives with her mother, afaded tired woman who played Lady Capulet in a sort of magentadressing-wrapper on the first night, and who looks as if she had seenbetter days."

  "I know that look. It always depresses me."

  "The Jew wanted to tell me her history, but I said it did not interestme."

  "You were quite right. There is always something infinitely mean aboutother people's tragedies."

  "Sibyl is the only thing I care about. What is it to me where she camefrom? From her little head to her little feet, she is absolutely andentirely divine. I go to see her act every night of my life, and everynight she is more marvellous."

  "That is the reason, I suppose, that you will never dine with me now. Ithought you must have some curious romance on hand. You have; but itis not quite what I expected."

  "My dear Harry, we either lunch or sup together every day, and I havebeen to the Opera with you several times."

  "You always come dreadfully late."

  "Well, I can't help going to see Sibyl play, even if it is only for anact. I get hungry for her presence; and when I think of the wonderfulsoul that is hidden away in that little ivory body, I am filled withawe."

  "You can dine with me to-night, Dorian, can't you?"

  He shook his head. "To-night she is Imogen," he answered, "andtomorrow night she will be Juliet."

  "When is she Sibyl Vane?"


  "I congratulate you."

  "How horrid you are! She is all the great heroines of the world inone. She is more than an individual. You laugh, but I tell you shehas genius. I love her, and I must make her love me. You, who knowall the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me! Iwant to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the [29] worldto hear our laughter, and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion tostir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain. MyGod, Harry, how I worship her!" He was walking up and down the room ashe spoke. Hectic spots of red burned on his cheeks. He was terriblyexcited.

  Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure. How differenthe was now from the shy, frightened boy he had met in Basil Hallward'sstudio! His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms ofscarlet flame. Out of its secret hiding-place had crept his Soul, andDesire had come to meet it on the way.

  "And what do you propose to do?" said Lord Henry, at last.

  "I want you and Basil to come with me some night and see her act. Ihave not the slightest fear of the result. You won't be able to refuseto recognize her genius. Then we must get her out of the Jew's hands.She is bound to him for three years--at least for two years and eightmonths--from the present time. I will have to pay him something, ofcourse. When all that is settled, I will take a West-End theatre andbring her out properly. She will make the world as mad as she has mademe."

  "Impossible, my dear boy!"

  "Yes, she will. She has not merely art, consummate art-instinct, inher, but she has personality also; and you have often told me that itis personalities, not principles, that move the age."

  "Well, what night shall we go?"

  "Let me see. To-day is Tuesday. Let us fix to-morrow. She playsJuliet to-morrow."

  "All right. The Bristol at eight o'clock; and I will get Basil."

  "Not eight, Harry, please. Half-past six. We must be there before thecurtain rises. You must see her in the first act, where she meetsRomeo."

  "Half-past six! What an hour! It will be like having a meat-tea.However, just as you wish. Shall you see Basil between this and then?Or shall I write to him?"

  "Dear Basil! I have not laid eyes on him for a week. It is ratherhorrid of me, as he has sent me my portrait in the most wonderfulframe, designed by himself, and, though I am a little jealous of it forbeing a whole month younger than I am, I must admit that I delight init. Perhaps you had better write to him. I don't want to see himalone. He says things that annoy me."

  Lord Henry smiled. "He gives you good advice, I suppose. People arevery fond of giving away what they need most themselves."

  "You don't mean to say that Basil has got any passion or any romance inhim?"

  "I don't know whether he has any passion, but he certainly hasromance," said Lord Henry, with an amused look in his eyes. "Has henever let you know that?"

  "Never. I must ask him about it. I am rather surprised to hear it. Heis the best of fellows, but he seems to me to be just a bit of aPhilistine. Since I have known you, Harry, I have discovered that."

  "Basil, my dear boy, puts everything that is charming in him into [30]his work. The consequence is that he has nothing left for life but hisprejudices, his principles, and his common sense. The only artists Ihave ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists. Goodartists give everything to their art, and consequently are perfectlyuninteresting in themselves. A great poet, a really great poet, is themost unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutelyfascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque theylook. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnetsmakes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannotwrite. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize."

  "I wonder is that really so, Harry?" said Dorian Gray, putting someperfume on his handkerchief out of a large gold-topped bottle thatstood on the table. "It must be, if you say so. And now I must beoff. Imogen is waiting for me. Don't forget about to-morrow.Good-by."

  As he left the room, Lord Henry's heavy eyelids drooped, and he beganto think. Certainly few people had ever interested him so much asDorian Gray, and yet the lad's mad adoration of some one else causedhim not the slightest pang of annoyance or jealousy. He was pleased byit. It made him a more interesting study. He had been alwaysenthralled by the methods of science, but the ordinary subject-matterof science had seemed to him trivial and of no import. And so he hadbegun by vivisecting himself, as he had ended by vivisecting others.Human life,--that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating.There was nothing else of any value, compared to it. It was true thatas one watched life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, onecould not wear over one's face a mask of glass, or keep the sulphurousfumes from troubling the brain and making the imagination turbid withmonstrous fancies and misshapen dreams. There were poisons so subtlethat to know their properties one had to sicken of them. There weremaladies so strange that one had to pass through them if one sought tounderstand their nature. And, yet, what a great reward one received!How wonderful the whole world became to one! To note the curious hardlogic of passion, and the emotional colored life of the intellect,--toobserve where they met, and where they separated, at what point theybecame one, and at what point they were at discord,--there was adelight in that! What matter what the cost was? One could never paytoo high a price for any sensation.

  He was conscious--and the thought brought a gleam of pleasure into hisbrown agate eyes--that it was through certain words of his, musicalwords said with musical utterance, that Dorian Gray's soul had turnedto this white girl and bowed in worship before her. To a large extent,the lad was his own creation.
He had made him premature. That wassomething. Ordinary people waited till life disclosed to them itssecrets, but to the few, to the elect, the mysteries of life wererevealed before the veil was drawn away. Sometimes this was the effectof art, and chiefly of the art of literature, which dealt immediatelywith the passions and the intellect. But now and then a complexpersonality took the place and assumed the office of art, was indeed,in its [31] way, a real work of art, Life having its elaboratemasterpieces, just as poetry has, or sculpture, or painting.

  Yes, the lad was premature. He was gathering his harvest while it wasyet spring. The pulse and passion of youth were in him, but he wasbecoming self-conscious. It was delightful to watch him. With hisbeautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to wonder at.It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end. He was likeone of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seemto be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one's sense of beauty,and whose wounds are like red roses.

  Soul and body, body and soul--how mysterious they were! There wasanimalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality.The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who couldsay where the fleshly impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began?How shallow were the arbitrary definitions of ordinary psychologists!And yet how difficult to decide between the claims of the variousschools! Was the soul a shadow seated in the house of sin? Or was thebody really in the soul, as Giordano Bruno thought? The separation ofspirit from matter was a mystery, and the union of spirit with matterwas a mystery also.

  He began to wonder whether we should ever make psychology so absolute ascience that each little spring of life would be revealed to us. As itwas, we always misunderstood ourselves, and rarely understood others.Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name we gave toour mistakes. Men had, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of warning,had claimed for it a certain moral efficacy in the formation ofcharacter, had praised it as something that taught us what to followand showed us what to avoid. But there was no motive power inexperience. It was as little of an active cause as conscience itself.All that it really demonstrated was that our future would be the sameas our past, and that the sin we had done once, and with loathing, wewould do many times, and with joy.

  It was clear to him that the experimental method was the only method bywhich one could arrive at any scientific analysis of the passions; andcertainly Dorian Gray was a subject made to his hand, and seemed topromise rich and fruitful results. His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vanewas a psychological phenomenon of no small interest. There was nodoubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desirefor new experiences; yet it was not a simple but rather a very complexpassion. What there was in it of the purely sensuous instinct ofboyhood had been transformed by the workings of the imagination,changed into something that seemed to the boy himself to be remote fromsense, and was for that very reason all the more dangerous. It was thepassions about whose origin we deceived ourselves that tyrannized moststrongly over us. Our weakest motives were those of whose nature wewere conscious. It often happened that when we thought we wereexperimenting on others we were really experimenting on ourselves.

  While Lord Henry sat dreaming on these things, a knock came to thedoor, and his valet entered, and reminded him it was time to dress [32]for dinner. He got up and looked out into the street. The sunset hadsmitten into scarlet gold the upper windows of the houses opposite.The panes glowed like plates of heated metal. The sky above was like afaded rose. He thought of Dorian Gray's young fiery-colored life, andwondered how it was all going to end.

  When he arrived home, about half-past twelve o'clock, he saw a telegramlying on the hall-table. He opened it and found it was from Dorian.It was to tell him that he was engaged to be married to Sibyl Vane.