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Title: Prophets of Dissent : Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy
Author: Heller, Otto, 1863-1941
Language: English
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  in English

  Prophets of Dissent: Essays
  on Maeterlinck, Strindberg,
  Nietzsche and Tolstoy

  Otto Heller

  Professor of Modern European Literature
  in Washington University (St. Louis)

  Is there a thing in this world that can be separated from
  the inconceivable?

  Maeterlinck, "Our Eternity"

  New York
  Alfred A Knopf



  staunchest of friends


The collocation of authors so widely at variance in their moral and
artistic aims as are those assembled in this little book may be defended
by the safe and simple argument that all of these authors have exerted,
each in his own way, an influence of singular range and potency. By
fairly general consent they are the foremost literary expositors of
important modern tendencies. It is, therefore, of no consequence whether
or not their ways of thinking fit into our particular frame of mind;
what really matters is that in this small group of writers more clearly
perhaps than in any other similarly restricted group the basic issues of
the modern struggle for social transformation appear to be clearly and
sharply joined. That in viewing them as indicators of contrarious ideal
currents due allowance must be made for peculiarities of temperament,
both individual and racial, and, correspondingly, for the purely
"personal equation" in their spiritual attitudes, does not detract to
any material degree from their generic significance.

In any case, there are those of us who in the vortical change of the
social order through which we are whirling, feel a desire to orient
ourselves through an objective interest in letters among the embattled
purposes and policies which are now gripped in a final test of strength.
In a crisis that makes the very foundations of civilization quake, and
at a moment when the salvation of human liberty seems to depend upon the
success of a united stand of all the modern forces of life against the
destructive impact of the most primitive and savage of all the
instincts, would it not be absurdly pedantic for a critical student of
literature to resort to any artificial selection and co-ordination of
his material in order to please the prudes and the pedagogues? And is it
not natural to seek that material among the largest literary apparitions
of the age?

It is my opinion, then, that the four great authors discussed in the
following pages stand, respectively, for the determining strains in a
great upsetting movement, and that in the aggregate they bring to view
the composite mental and moral impulsion of the times. Through such
forceful articulations of current movements the more percipient class of
readers have for a long time been enabled to foresense, in a manner, the
colossal reconstruction of society which needs must follow this
monstrous, but presumably final, clash between the irreconcilable
elements in the contrasted principles of right and might, the masses and
the monarchs.

However, the gathering together of Maeterlinck, Nietzsche, Strindberg,
and Tolstoy under the hospitality of a common book-cover permits of a
supplementary explanation on the ground of a certain fundamental
likeness far stronger than their only too obvious diversities. They are,
one and all, radicals in thought, and, with differing strength of
intention, reformers of society, inasmuch as their speculations and
aspirations are relevant to practical problems of living. And yet what
gives them such a durable hold on our attention is not their particular
apostolate, but the fact that their artistic impulses ascend from the
subliminal regions of the inner life, and that their work somehow brings
one into touch with the hidden springs of human action and human fate.
This means, in effect, that all of them are mystics by original cast of
mind and that notwithstanding any difference, however apparently
violent, of views and theories, they follow the same introspective path
towards the recognition and interpretation of the law of life. From
widely separated ethical premises they thus arrive at an essentially
uniform appraisal of personal happiness as a function of living.

To those readers who are not disposed to grant the validity of the
explanations I have offered, perhaps equality of rank in artistic
importance may seem a sufficient criterion for the association of
authors, and, apart from all sociologic and philosophic considerations,
they may be willing to accept my somewhat arbitrary selection on this
single count.

    O. H.

April, 1918.



    I Maurice Maeterlinck: a study in Mysticism         3

   II August Strindberg: a study in Eccentricity       71

  III Friedrich Nietzsche: a study in Exaltation      109

   IV Leo Tolstoy: a study in Revivalism              161



Under the terrific atmospheric pressure that has been torturing the
civilization of the entire world since the outbreak of the greatest of
wars, contemporary literature of the major cast appears to have gone
into decline. Even the comparatively few writers recognized as
possessing talents of the first magnitude have given way to that
pressure and have shrunk to minor size, so that it may be seriously
questioned, to say the least, whether during the past forty months or so
a single literary work of outstanding and sustained grandeur has been
achieved anywhere. That the effect of the universal embattlement upon
the art of letters should be, in the main, extremely depressing, is
quite natural; but the conspicuous loss of breadth and poise in writers
of the first order seems less in accordance with necessity,--at least
one might expect a very superior author to rise above that necessity. In
any case it is very surprising that it should be a Belgian whose
literary personality is almost unique in having remained exempt from the
general abridgment of spiritual stature.

It is true that Maurice Maeterlinck, the most eminent literary figure in
his sadly stricken country and of unsurpassed standing among the
contemporary masters of French letters, has, since the great
catastrophe, won no new laurels as a dramatist; and that in the other
field cultivated by him, that of the essay, his productiveness has been
anything but prolific. But in his case one is inclined to interpret
reticence as an eloquent proof of a singularly heroic firmness of
character at a time when on both sides of the great divide which now
separates the peoples, the cosmopolitan trend of human advance has come
to a temporary halt, and the nations have relapsed from their
laboriously attained degree of world-citizenship into the homelier, but
more immediately virtuous, state of traditional patriotism.

It is a military necessity as well as a birthright of human nature that
at a time like the present the patriot is excused from any pharisaical
profession of loving his enemy. Before the war, Maeterlinck's writings
were animated by humanitarian sympathies of the broadest catholicity. He
even had a peculiar affection for the Germans, because doubtless he
perceived the existence of a strong kinship between certain essential
traits in his spiritual composition and the fundamental tendencies of
German philosophy and art. But when Belgium was lawlessly invaded, her
ancient towns heinously destroyed, her soil laid waste and drenched with
the blood of her people, Maeterlinck, as a son of Belgium, learned to
hate the Germans to the utmost of a wise and temperate man's capacity
for hatred, and in his war papers collected in _Les Débris de la
Guerre_, (1916),(1) which ring with the passionate impulse of the
patriot, his outraged sense of justice prevails over the disciplined
self-command of the stoic.

  (1) "The Wrack of the Storm," 1916.

He refuses to acquiesce in the lenient discrimination between the guilty
Government of Germany and her innocent population: "It is not true that
in this gigantic crime there are innocent and guilty, or degrees of
guilt. They stand on one level, all those who have taken part in it....
It is, very simply, the German, from one end of his country to the
other, who stands revealed as a beast of prey which the firm will of our
planet finally repudiates. We have here no wretched slaves dragged along
by a tyrant king who alone is responsible. Nations have the government
which they deserve, or rather, the government which they have is truly
no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality
and mentality of the nation.... No nation can be deceived that does not
wish to be deceived; and it is not intelligence that Germany lacks....
No nation permits herself to be coerced to the one crime that man cannot
pardon. It is of her own accord that she hastens towards it; her chief
has no need to persuade, it is she who urges him on."(2)

  (2) "The Wrack of the Storm," pp. 16-18.

Such a condemnatory tirade against the despoilers of his fair homeland
was normally to be expected from a man of Maeterlinck's depth of
feeling. The unexpected thing that happened not long after was that the
impulsive promptings of justice and patriotism put themselves into
harmony with the guiding principles of his entire moral evolution. The
integrity of his philosophy of life, the sterling honesty of his
teachings, were thus loyally sealed with the very blood of his
heart.--"Before closing this book," he says in the Epilogue,(3) "I wish
to weigh for the last time in my conscience the words of hatred and
malediction which it has made me speak in spite of myself." And then,
true prophet that he is, he speaks forth as a voice from the future,
admonishing men to prepare for the time when the war is over. What saner
advice could at this critical time be given the stay-at-homes than that
they should follow the example of the men who return from the trenches?
"They detest the enemy," says he, "but they do not hate the man. They
recognize in him a brother in misfortune who, like themselves, is
submitting to duties and laws which, like themselves, he too believes
lofty and necessary." On the other hand, too, not many have sensed as
deeply as has Maeterlinck the grandeur to which humanity has risen
through the immeasurable pathos of the war. "Setting aside the
unpardonable aggression and the inexpiable violation of the treaties,
this war, despite its insanity, has come near to being a bloody but
magnificent proof of greatness, heroism, and the spirit of sacrifice."
And from his profound anguish over the fate of his beloved Belgium this
consolation is wrung: "If it be true, as I believe, that humanity is
worth just as much as the sum total of latent heroism which it contains,
then we may declare that humanity was never stronger nor more exemplary
than now and that it is at this moment reaching one of its highest
points and capable of braving everything and hoping everything. And it
is for this reason that, despite our present sadness, we are entitled to
congratulate ourselves and to rejoice." Altogether, Maeterlinck's
thoughts and actions throughout this yet unfinished mighty fate-drama of
history challenge the highest respect for the clarity of his intellect
and the profoundness of his humanity.

  (3) In the English translation this is the chapter preceding the last
  one and is headed "When the War Is Over," p. 293 ff.; it is separately
  published in _The Forum_ for July, 1916.

The appalling disaster that has befallen the Belgian people is sure to
stamp their national character with indelible marks; so that it is safe
to predict that never again will the type of civilization which before
the war reigned in the basins of the Meuse and the Scheldt reëstablish
itself in its full peculiarity and distinctiveness which was the result
of a unique coagency of Germanic and Romanic ingredients of culture. Yet
in the amalgam of the two heterogeneous elements a certain competitive
antithesis had survived, and manifested itself, in the individual as in
the national life at large, in a number of unreconciled temperamental
contrasts, and in the fundamental unlikeness exhibited in the material
and the spiritual activities. Witness the contrast between the bustling
aggressiveness in the province of practical affairs and the metaphysical
drift of modern Flemish art. To any one familiar with the visible
materialism of the population in its external mode of living it may have
seemed strange to notice how sedulously a numerous set among the younger
artists of the land were facing away from their concrete environment, as
though to their over-sensitive nervous system it were irremediably
offensive. The vigorous solidity of Constantin Meunier, the great
plastic interpreter of the "Black Country" of Belgium, found but few
wholehearted imitators among the sculptors, while among the painters
that robust terrestrialism of which the work of a Rubens or Teniers and
their countless disciples was the artistic upshot, was almost totally
relinquished, and linear firmness and colorful vitality yielded the day
to pallid, discarnately decorative artistry even, in a measure, in the
"applied art" products of a Henri van de Velde.

It is in the field of literature, naturally enough, that the contrast is
resolved and integrated into a characteristic unity. Very recently
Professor A. J. Carnoy has definitely pointed out(4) the striking
commixture of the realistic and imaginative elements in the work of the
Flemish symbolists. "The vision of the Flemings"--quoting from his own
_précis_ of his paper--"is very concrete, very exact in all details and
gives a durable, real, and almost corporeal presence to the creations of
the imagination. All these traits are exhibited in the reveries of the
Flemish mystics, ancient and modern. One finds them also no less plainly
in the poetic work of Belgian writers of the last generation:
Maeterlinck, Verhaeren, Rodenbach, Van Lerberghe, Le Roy, Elskamp, etc."

  (4) In a paper read by title before the Modern Language Association of
  America at Yale University, December 29, 1917.

If we take into account this composite attitude of the Flemish mind we
shall be less surprised at the remarkable evolution of a
poet-philosopher whose creations seem at first blush to bear no
resemblance to the outward complexion of his own age; who seems as far
removed temperamentally from his locality and time as were his lineal
spiritual ancestors: the Dutchman Ruysbroeck, the Scandinavian
Swedenborg, the German Novalis, and the American Emerson--and who in the
zenith of his career stands forth as an ardent advocate of practical
action while at the same time a firm believer in the transcendental.

Maeterlinck's romantic antipathy towards the main drift of the age was a
phenomenon which at the dawn of our century could be observed in a great
number of superior intelligences. Those fugitives from the dun and
sordid materialism of the day were likely to choose between two avenues
of escape, according to their greater or lesser inner ruggedness. The
more aggressive type would engage in multiform warfare for the
reconstruction of life on sounder principles; whereas the more
meditative professed a real or affected indifference to practical things
and eschewed any participation in the world's struggle for progress. And
of the quiescent rather than the insurgent variety of the romantic
temper Maurice Maeterlinck was the foremost exponent.

The "romantic longing" seems to have come into the world in the company
of the Christian religion with which it shares its partly outspoken,
partly implied repugnance for the battle of life. Romantic periods occur
in the history of civilization whenever a sufficiently influential set
of artistically minded persons have persuaded themselves that, in quite
a literal sense of the colloquial phrase, they "have no use" for the
world; a discovery which would still be true were it stated obversely.
The romantic world-view, thus fundamentally oriented by world-contempt,
entails, at least in theory, the repudiation of all earthly
joys--notably the joy of working--and the renouncement of all worldly
ambition; it scorns the cooperative, social disposition, invites the
soul to a progressive withdrawal into the inner ego, and ends in
complete surrender to one sole aspiration: the search of the higher
vision, the vision, that is, of things beyond their tangible reality. To
such mystical constructions of the inner eye a certain group of German
writers who flourished in the beginning of the nineteenth century and
were known as the Romantics, darkly groped their way out of the
confining realities of their own time. The most modern spell of
romanticism, the one through which our own generation was but yesterday
passing, measures its difference from any previous romantic era by the
difference between earlier states of culture and our own. Life with us
is conspicuously more assertive and aggressive in its social than in its
individual expressions, which was by no means always so, and unless the
romantic predisposition adapted itself to this important change it could
not relate itself at all intimately to our interests. Our study of
Maeterlinck should help us, therefore, to discover possibly in the new
romantic tendency some practical and vital bearings.

We find that in the new romanticism esthetic and philosophical impulses
are inextricably mixed. Hence the new movement is also playing an
indispensable rôle in the modern re-foundation of art. For while acting
as a wholesome offset to the so-called naturalism, in its firm refusal
to limit inner life to the superficial realities, it at the same time
combines with naturalism into a complete recoiling, both of the
intellect and the emotions, from any commonplace, or pusillanimous, or
mechanical practices of artistry. This latter-day romanticism, moreover,
notwithstanding its sky-aspiring outstretch, is akin to naturalism in
that, after all, it keeps its roots firmly grounded in the earth; that
is to say, it seeks for its ulterior sanctions not in realms high beyond
the self; rather it looks within for the "blue flower" of contentedness.
Already to the romantics of old the mystic road to happiness was not
unknown. It is, for instance, pointed by Novalis: "Inward leads the
mysterious way. Within us or nowhere lies eternity with its worlds;
within us or nowhere are the past and the future." Viewed separately
from other elements of romanticism, this passion for retreating within
the central ego is commonly referred to as mysticism; it has a strong
hold on many among the moderns, and Maurice Maeterlinck to be properly
understood has to be understood as the poet _par excellence_ of modern
mysticism. By virtue of this special office he deals mainly in concepts
of the transcendental, which puzzles the ordinary person accustomed to
perceive only material and ephemeral realities. Maeterlinck holds that
nothing matters that is not eternal and that what keeps us from enjoying
the treasures of the universe is the hereditary resignation with which
we tarry in the gloomy prison of our senses. "In reality, we live only
from soul to soul, and we are gods who do not know each other."(5) It
follows from this metaphysical foundation of his art that instead of the
grosser terminology suitable to plain realities, Maeterlinck must depend
upon a code of subtle messages in order to establish between himself and
his audience a line of spiritual communication. This makes it somewhat
difficult for people of cruder endowment to appreciate his meaning, a
grievance from which in the beginning many of them sought redress in
facile scoffing. Obtuse minds are prone to claim a right to fathom the
profound meanings of genius with the same ease with which they expect to
catch the meaning of a bill of fare or the daily stock market report.

  (5) Maeterlinck, "On Emerson."

                   *       *       *       *       *

It must be confessed, however, that even those to whom Maeterlinck's
sphere of thought is not so utterly sealed, enter it with a sense of
mixed perplexity and apprehension. They feel themselves helplessly
conducted through a world situated beyond the confines of their normal
consciousness, and in this strange world everything that comes to pass
appears at first extremely impracticable and unreal. The action seems
"wholly dissevered from common sense and ordinary uses;" the figures
behave otherwise than humans; the dialogue is "poised on the edge of a
precipice of bathos." It is clear that works so far out of the common
have to be approached from the poet's own point of view. "Let the reader
move his standpoint one inch nearer the popular standpoint," thus we are
warned by Mr. G. K. Chesterton, "and his attitude towards the poet will
be harsh, hostile, unconquerable mirth." There are some works that can
be appreciated for their good story, even if we fail to realize the
author's moral attitude, let alone to grasp the deeper content of his
work. "But if we take a play by Maeterlinck we shall find that unless we
grasp the particular fairy thread of thought the poet rather lazily
flings to us, we cannot grasp anything whatever. Except from one extreme
poetic point of view, the thing is not a play; it is not a bad play, it
is a mass of clotted nonsense. One whole act describes the lovers going
to look for a ring in a distant cave when they both know they have
dropped it down the well. Seen from some secret window on some special
side of the soul's turret, this might convey a sense of faerie futility
in our human life. But it is quite obvious that unless it called forth
that one kind of sympathy, it would call forth nothing but laughter. In
the same play, the husband chases his wife with a drawn sword, the wife
remarking at intervals, 'I am not gay.' Now there may really be an idea
in this; the idea of human misfortune coming most cruelly upon the
opportunism of innocence; that the lonely human heart says, like a child
at a party, 'I am not enjoying myself as I thought I should.' But it is
plain that unless one thinks of this idea, and of this idea only, the
expression is not in the least unsuccessful pathos,--it is very broad
and highly successful farce!"

And so the atmosphere of Maeterlinck's plays is impregnated throughout
with oppressive mysteries, and until the key of these mysteries is found
there is very little meaning to the plays. Moreover, these mysteries, be
they never so stern and awe-inspiring, are irresistibly alluring. The
reason is, they are our own mysteries that have somehow escaped our
grasp, and that we fain would recapture, because there dwells in every
human breast a vague assent to the immortal truth of Goethe's assertion:
"The thrill of awe is man's best heritage."(6)

  (6) "_Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil._"

The imaginative equipment of Maeterlinck's dramaturgy is rather limited
and, on its face value, trite. In particular are his dramatis personae
creatures by no means calculated to overawe by some extraordinary
weirdness or power. And yet we feel ourselves touched by an elemental
dread and by an overwhelming sense of our human impotence in the
presence of these figures who, without seeming supernatural, are
certainly not of common flesh and blood; they impress us as surpassingly
strange mainly because somehow they are instinct with a life
fundamentally more real than the superficial reality we know. For they
are the mediums and oracles of the fateful powers that stir human beings
into action.

The poet of mysticism, then, delves into the mystic sources of our
deeds, and makes us stand reverent with him before the unknowable forces
by which we are controlled. Naturally he is obliged to shape his visions
in dim outline. His aim is to shadow forth that which no naked eye can
see, and it may be said in passing that he attains this aim with a
mastery and completeness incomparably beyond the dubious skill displayed
more recently by the grotesque gropings of the so-called futurist
school. Perhaps one true secret of the perturbing strangeness of
Maeterlinck's figures lies in the fact that the basic principle of their
life, the one thoroughly vital element in them, if it does not sound too
paradoxical to say so, is the idea of death. Maeterlinck's mood and
temper are fully in keeping with the religious dogma that life is but a
short dream--with Goethe he believes that "all things transitory but as
symbols are sent," and apparently concurs in the creed voiced by one of
Arthur Schnitzler's characters,--that death is the only subject in life
worthy of being pondered by the serious mind. "From our death onwards,"
so he puts it somewhere, "the adventure of the universe becomes our own

                   *       *       *       *       *

It will be useful to have a bit of personal information concerning our
author. He started his active career as a barrister; not by any means
auspiciously, it seems, for already in his twenty-seventh year he laid
the toga aside. Experience had convinced him that in the forum there
were no laurels for him to pluck. The specific qualities that make for
success at the bar were conspicuously lacking in his make-up. Far from
being eloquent, he has at all times been noted for an unparalleled
proficiency in the art of self-defensive silence. He shuns banal
conversation and the sterile distractions of promiscuous social
intercourse, dreads the hubbub of the city, and has an intense dislike
for travel, to which he resorts only as a last means of escape from
interviewers, reporters, and admirers. Maeterlinck, it is seen, is
anything but _multorum vir hominum_. In order to preserve intact his
love of humanity, he finds it expedient to live for the most part by
himself, away from the throng "whose very plaudits give the heart a
pang;" his fame has always been a source of annoyance to him. The only
company he covets is that of the contemplative thinkers of bygone
days,--the mystics, gnostics, cabalists, neo-Platonists. Swedenborg and
Plotinus are perhaps his greatest favorites. That the war has produced a
mighty agitation in the habitual calm of the great Belgian
poet-philosopher goes without saying. His love of justice no less than
his love of his country aroused every red corpuscle in his virile
personality to violent resentment against the invader. Since the war
broke out, however, he has published nothing besides a number of
ringingly eloquent and singularly pathetic articles and appeals,--so
that the character portrait derived from the body of his work has not at
this time lost its application to his personality.

In cast of mind, Maeterlinck is sombrously meditative, and he has been
wise in framing his outer existence so that it would accord with his
habitual detachment. The greater part of his time used to be divided
between his charming retreat at _Quatre Chemins_, near Grasse, and the
grand old abbey of St. Wandrille in Normandy, which he managed to snatch
in the very nick of time from the tightening clutch of a manufacturing
concern. With the temperament of a hermit, he has been, nevertheless, a
keen observer of life, though one preferring to watch the motley
spectacle from the aristocratic privacy of his box, sheltered, as it
were, from prying curiosity. Well on in middle age, he is still an
enthusiastic out-of-doors man,--gardener, naturalist, pedestrian,
wheelman, and motorist, and commands an extraordinary amount of special
knowledge in a variety of sports and sciences. In "The Double Garden" he
discusses the automobile with the authority of an expert watt-man and
mechanician. In one of his other books he evinces an extraordinary
erudition in all matters pertaining to the higher education of dogs; and
his work on "The Life of the Bee" passes him beyond question with high
rank among "thirty-third degree" apiculturists.

One of the characteristics that seem to separate his books, especially
those of the earlier period, from the literary tendencies of his age, is
their surprising inattention to present social struggles. His
metaphysical bias makes him dwell almost exclusively, and with great
moral and logical consistency, on aspects of life that are slightly
considered by the majority of men yet which he regards as ulteriorly of
sole importance.

When men like Maeterlinck are encountered in the world of practical
affairs, they are bound to impress us as odd, because of this inversion
of the ordinary policies of behavior. But before classing them as
"cranks," we might well ask ourselves whether their appraisal of the
component values of life does not, after all, correspond better to their
true relativity than does our own habitual evaluation. With the average
social being, the transcendental bearing of a proposition is synonymous
with its practical unimportance. But in his essay on "The Invisible
Goodness" Maeterlinck quite properly raises the question: "Is visible
life alone of consequence, and are we made up only of things that can be
grasped and handled like pebbles in the road?"

Throughout his career Maeterlinck reveals himself in the double aspect
of poet and philosopher. In the first period his philosophy, as has
already been amply hinted, is characterized chiefly by aversion from the
externalities of life, and by that tense introversion of the mind which
forms the mystic's main avenue to the goal of knowledge. But if, in
order to find the key to his tragedies and puppet plays, we go to the
thirteen essays representing the earlier trend of his philosophy and
issued in 1896 under the collective title, "The Treasure of the Humble,"
we discover easily that his cast of mysticism is very different from
that of his philosophic predecessors and teachers in the fourteenth and
nineteenth centuries, in particular from the devotional mysticism of the
"Admirable" John Ruysbroeck, and Friedrich von Hardenberg-Novalis.
Maeterlinck does not strive after the so-called "spiritual espousals,"
expounded by the "doctor ecstaticus," Ruysbroeck, in his celebrated
treatise where Christ is symbolized as the divine groom and Human Nature
as the bride glowing with desire for union with God. Maeterlinck feels
too modernly to make use of that ancient sensuous imagery. The main
thesis of his mystical belief is that there are divine forces dormant in
human nature; how to arouse and release them, constitutes the paramount
problem of human life. His doctrine is that a life not thus energized by
its own latent divineness is, and must remain, humdrum and worthless. It
will at once be noticed that such a doctrine harmonizes thoroughly with
the romantic aspiration. Both mystic and romantic teach that, in the
last resort, the battlefield of our fate lies not out in the wide world
but that it is enclosed in the inner self, within the unknown quantity
which we designate as our soul. The visible life, according to this
modern prophet of mysticism, obeys the invisible; happiness and
unhappiness flow exclusively from the inner sources.

Maeterlinck's speculations, despite their medieval provenience, have a
practical orientation. He firmly believes that it is within the ability
of mankind to raise some of the veils that cover life's central secret.
In unison with some other charitable students of society, he holds to
the faith that a more highly spiritualized era is dawning, and from the
observed indications he prognosticates a wider awakening of the
sleepbound soul of man. And certainly some of the social manifestations
that appeared with cumulative force during the constructive period
before the war were calculated to justify that faith. The revival of
interest in the metaphysical powers of man which expressed itself almost
epidemically through such widely divergent cults as Theosophy and
Christian Science, was indubitable proof of spiritual yearnings in the
broader masses of the people. And it had a practical counterpart in
civic tendencies and reforms that evidenced a great agitation of the
social conscience. And even to-day, when the great majority feel that
the universal embroilment has caused civilized man to fall from his
laboriously achieved level, this sage in his lofty solitude feels the
redeeming spiritual connotation of our great calamity. "Humanity was
ready to rise above itself, to surpass all that it had hitherto
accomplished. It has surpassed it.... Never before had nations been seen
that were able as a whole to understand that the happiness of each of
those who live in this time of trial is of no consequence compared with
the honor of those who live no more or the happiness of those who are
not yet alive. We stand on heights that had not been attained before."

But even for those many who find themselves unable to build very large
hopes on the spiritual uplift of mankind through disaster, Maeterlinck's
philosophy is a wholesome tonic. In the essay on "The Life Profound" in
"The Treasure of the Humble," we are told: "Every man must find for
himself in the low and unavoidable reality of common life his special
possibility of a higher existence." The injunction, trite though it
sound, articulates a moral very far from philistine. For it urges the
pursuit of the transcendental self through those feelings which another
very great idealist, Friedrich Schiller, describes in magnificent
metaphor as

    ... "der dunklen Gefühle Gewalt,
    die im Herzen wunderbar schliefen."

In the labyrinth of the subliminal consciousness there lurks, however, a
great danger for the seeker after the hidden treasures: the paralyzing
effect of fatalism upon the normal energies. Maeterlinck was seriously
threatened by this danger during his earlier period. How he eventually
contrived his liberation from the clutch of fatalism is not made
entirely clear by the progress of his thought. At all events, an era of
greater intellectual freedom, which ultimately was to create him the
undisputed captain of his soul and master of his fate, was soon to
arrive for him. It is heralded by another book of essays: "Wisdom and
Destiny." But, as has been stated, we may in his case hardly hope to
trace the precise route traveled by the mind between the points of
departure and arrival.

                   *       *       *       *       *

So closely are the vital convictions in this truthful writer linked with
the artistic traits of his work that without some grasp of his
metaphysics even the technical peculiarities of his plays cannot be
fully appreciated. To the mystic temper of mind, all life is secretly
pregnant with great meaning, so that none of its phenomena can be deemed
inconsequential. Thus, while Maeterlinck is a poet greatly preoccupied
with spiritual matters yet nothing to him is more wonderful and worthy
of attention than the bare facts and processes of living. Real life,
just like the theatre which purports to represent it, manipulates a
multiform assortment of stage effects, now coarse and obvious and
claptrap, now refined and esoteric, to suit the diversified taste and
capacity of the patrons. To the cultured esthetic sense the tragical
tendency carries more meaning than the catastrophic finale; our author
accordingly scorns, and perhaps inordinately, whatsoever may appear as
merely adventitious in the action of plays. "What can be told," he
exclaims, "by beings who are possessed of a fixed idea and have no time
to live because they have to kill off a rival or a mistress?" The
internalized action in his plays is all of one piece with the profound
philosophical conviction that the inner life alone matters; that
consequently the small and unnoticed events are more worthy of attention
than the sensational, cataclysmic moments. "Why wait ye," he asks in
that wonderful rhapsody on "Silence"(7) "for Heaven to open at the
strike of the thunderbolt? Ye should attend upon the blessed hours when
it silently opens--and it is incessantly opening."

  (7) "The Treasure of the Humble."

His purpose, then, is to reveal the working of hidden forces in their
intricate and inseparable connection with external events; and in order
that the _vie intérieure_ might have the right of way, drama in his
practice emancipates itself very far from the traditional realistic
methods. "Poetry," he maintains, "has no other purpose than to keep open
the great roads that lead from the visible to the invisible." To be
sure, this definition postulates, rather audaciously, a widespread
spiritual susceptibility. But in Maeterlinck's optimistic anthropology
no human being is spiritually so deadened as to be forever out of all
communication with the things that are divine and infinite. He fully
realizes, withal, that for the great mass of men there exists no
intellectual approach to the truly significant problems of life. It is
rather through our emotional capacity that our spiritual experience
brings us into touch with the final verities. Anyway, the poet of
mysticism appeals from the _impasse_ of pure reasoning to the voice of
the inner oracles. But how to detect in the deepest recesses of the soul
the echoes of universal life and give outward resonance to their faint
reverberations? That is the artistic, and largely technical, side of the

Obvious it is that if the beholder's collaboration in the difficult
enterprise is to be secured, his imagination has to be stirred to a
super-normal degree. Once a dramatist has succeeded in stimulating the
imaginative activity, he can dispense with a mass of descriptive detail.
But he must comply with two irremissible technical demands. In the first
place, the "_vie intérieure_" calls forth a _dialogue intérieur_; an
esoteric language, I would say, contrived predominantly for the
"expressional" functions of speech, as differenced from its
"impressional" purposes. Under Swedenborg's fanciful theory of
"correspondences" the literal meaning of a word is merely a sort of
protective husk for its secret spiritual kernel. It is this inner,
essential meaning that Maeterlinck's dialogue attempts to set free. By a
fairly simple and consistent code of intimations the underlying meaning
of the colloquy is laid bare and a basis created for a more fundamental
understanding of the dramatic transactions. Maeterlinck going, at first,
to undue lengths in this endeavor, exposed the diction of his dramas to
much cheap ridicule. The extravagant use of repetition, in particular,
made him a mark for facile burlesque. The words of the Queen in
_Princesse Maleine_: "_Mais ne répetez pas toujours ce que l'on dit_,"
were sarcastically turned against the poet himself.

As a result of the extreme simplicity of his dialogue, Maeterlinck was
reproached with having invented the "monosyllabic theatre," the "theatre
without words," and with having perpetrated a surrogate sort of drama, a
hybrid between libretto and pantomime.

The fact, however, is, his characters speak a language which, far from
being absurd, as it was at first thought to be by many of his readers,
is instinct with life and quite true to life--to life, that is, as made
articulate in the intense privacy of dreams, or hallucinations, or
moments of excessive emotional perturbation.

The other principal requisite for the attainment of the inner dramatic
vitalness in drama is a pervasive atmospheric mood, a sustained
_Stimmung_. This, in the case of Maeterlinck, is brought about by the
combined employment of familiar and original artistic devices.

The grave and melancholy mood that so deeply impregnates the work of
Maeterlinck is tinged in the earlier stage, as has been pointed out,
with the sombre coloring of fatalism. In the first few books, in
particular, there hovers a brooding sense of terror and an undefinable
feeling of desolation. Through _Serres Chaudes_ ("Hot Houses"), his
first published book, (1889), there runs a tenor of weariness, of ideal
yearnings overshadowed by the hopelessness of circumstances. Even in
this collection of poems, where so much less necessity exists for a
unity of mood than in the plays, Maeterlinck's predilection for scenic
effects suggestive of weirdness and superstitious fear became apparent
in the recurrent choice of sombre scenic motifs: oppressive nocturnal
silence,--a stagnant sheet of water,--moonlight filtered through green
windows, etc. The diction, too, through the incessant use of terms like
_morne_, _las_, _pâle_, _désire_, _ennui_, _tiède_, _indolent_,
_malade_, exhales as it were a lazy resignation. Temporarily, then, the
fatalistic strain is uppermost both in the philosophy and the poetry of
the rising young author; and to make matters worse, his is the fatalism
of pessimistic despair: Fate is forsworn against man. The objective
point of life is death. We constantly receive warnings from within, but
the voices are not unequivocal and emphatic enough to save us from

Probing the abysses of his subliminal self, the mystic may sense, along
with the diviner promptings of the heart, the lurking demons that
undermine happiness,--"the malignant powers,"--again quoting
Schiller--"whom no man's craft can make familiar"--that element in human
nature which in truth makes man "his own worst enemy." It is a search
which at this stage of his development Maeterlinck, as a mystic, cannot
bring himself to relinquish, even though, pessimistically, he
anticipates that which he most dreads to find; in this way, fatalism and
pessimism act as insuperable barriers against his artistic
self-assertion. His fixed frame of mind confines him to the
representation of but one elemental instinct, namely, that of fear. The
rustic in the German fairy tale who sallied forth to learn how to
shudder,--_gruseln_,--would have mastered the art to his complete
satisfaction if favored with a performance or two of such plays as
"Princess Maleine," "The Intruder," or "The Sightless." Perhaps no other
dramatist has ever commanded a similarly well-equipped arsenal of
thrills and terrible foreshadowings. The commonest objects are fraught
with ominous forebodings: a white gown lying on a _prie-dieu_, a curtain
suddenly set swaying by a puff of air, the melancholy soughing of a
clump of trees,--the simplest articles of daily use are converted into
awful symbols that make us shiver by their whisperings of impending

Nor in the earlier products of Maeterlinck are the cruder practices of
melodrama scorned or spared,--the crash and flash of thunder and
lightning, the clang of bells and clatter of chains, the livid light and
ghastly shadows, the howling hurricane, the ominous croaking of ravens
amid nocturnal solitude, trees illumined by the fiery eyes of owls, bats
whirring portentously through the gloom,--so many harbingers of dread
and death. And the prophetic import of these tokens and their sort is
reinforced by repeated assertions from the persons in the action that
never before has anything like this been known to occur. To such a
fearsome state are we wrought up by all this uncanny apparatus that at
the critical moment a well calculated knock at the door is sufficient to
make our flesh creep and our hair stand on end.

Thus, the _vie intérieure_ would seem to prerequire for its
externalization a completely furnished chamber of horrors. And when it
is added that the scene of the action is by preference a lonely
churchyard or a haunted old mansion, a crypt, a cavern, a silent forest
or a solitary tower, it is easy to understand why plays like "Princess
Maleine" could be classed by superficial and unfriendly critics with the
gruesome ebullitions of that fantastic quasi-literary occupation to
which we owe a well known variety of "water-front" drama and, in
fiction, the "shilling shocker." Their immeasurably greater
psychological refinement could not save them later on from condemnation
at the hands of their own maker. And yet they are not without very great
artistic merits. Octave Mirbeau, in his habitual enthusiasm for the
out-of-the-ordinary, hailed Maeterlinck, on the strength of "Princess
Maleine," as the Belgian Shakespeare, evidently because Maeterlinck
derived some of his motifs from "Hamlet": mainly the churchyard scene,
and Prince Hjalmar's defiance of the queen, as well as his general want
of decision. As a matter of fact, Maeterlinck has profoundly studied,
not Shakespeare alone, but the minor Elizabethans as well. He has made
an admirable translation of "Macbeth." Early in his career he even
translated one of John Ford's Plays, "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," one of
the coarsest works ever written for the stage, but to which he was
attracted by the intrinsic human interest that far outweighs its
offensiveness. As for any real kinship of Maeterlinck with Shakespeare,
the resemblance between the two is slight. They differ philosophically
in the fundamental frame of mind, ethically in the outlook upon life,
dramaturgically in the value attached to external action, and
humanly,--much to the disadvantage of the Belgian,--in their sense of
humor. For unfortunately it has to be confessed that this supreme gift
of the gods has been very sparingly dispensed to Maeterlinck.
Altogether, whether or no he is to be counted among the disciples of
Shakespeare, his works show no great dependence on the master. With far
better reason might he be called a debtor to Germanic folklore,
especially in its fantastic elements.

A German fairy world it is to which we are transported by Maeterlinck's
first dramatic attempt, "Princess Maleine," (1889), a play refashioned
after Grimm's tale of the Maid Maleen; only that in the play all the
principals come to a harrowing end and that in it an esoteric meaning
lies concealed underneath the primitive plot. The action, symbolically
interpreted, illustrates the fatalist's doctrine that man is nothing but
a toy in the hands of dark and dangerous powers. Practical wisdom does
not help us to discern the working of these powers until it is too late.
Neither can we divine their presence, for the prophetic apprehension of
the future resides not in the expert and proficient, but rather in the
helpless or decrepit,--the blind, the feeble-minded, and the stricken in
years, or again in young children and in dumb animals. Take the scene in
"Princess Maleine" where the murderers, having invaded the chamber, lie
there in wait, with bated breath. In the corridor outside, people are
unconcernedly passing to and fro, while the only creatures who,
intuitively, sense the danger, are the little Prince and a dog that
keeps anxiously scraping at the door.

In _L'Intruse_ ("The Intruder"), (1890), a one-act play on a theme which
is collaterally developed later on in _Les Aveugles_ ("The Sightless"),
and in _L'Intérieur_ ("Home"), the arriving disaster that cannot be shut
out by bolts or bars announces itself only to the clairvoyant sense of a
blind old man. The household gathered around the table is placidly
waiting for the doctor. Only the blind grandfather is anxious and
heavy-laden because he alone knows that Death is entering the house, he
alone can feel his daughter's life withering away under the breath of
the King of Terror: the sightless have a keener sensitiveness than the
seeing for what is screened from the physical eye.

It would hardly be possible to name within the whole range of dramatic
literature another work so thoroughly pervaded with the chilling horror
of approaching calamity. The talk at the table is of the most
commonplace,--that the door will not shut properly, and they must send
for the carpenter to-morrow. But from the mechanism of the environment
there comes cumulative and incremental warning that something
extraordinary and fatal is about to happen. The wind rises, the trees
shiver, the nightingales break off their singing, the fishes in the pond
grow restive, the dogs cower in fear,--an unseen Presence walks through
the garden. Then the clanging of a scythe is heard. A cold current of
air rushes into the room. Nearer and nearer come the steps. The
grandfather insists that a stranger has seated himself in the midst of
the family. The lamp goes out. The bell strikes midnight. The old man is
sure that somebody is rising from the table. Then suddenly the baby
whose voice has never been heard starts crying. Through an inner door
steps a deaconess silently crossing herself: the mother of the house is

These incidents in themselves are not necessarily miraculous. There are
none of them but might be accounted for on perfectly natural grounds. In
fact, very plausible explanations do offer themselves for the weirdest
things that come to pass. So, especially, it was a real, ordinary mower
that chanced to whet his scythe; yet the apparition of the Old Reaper in
person could not cause the chilling consternation produced by this
trivial circumstance coming as it does as the climax of a succession of
commonplace happenings exaggerated and distorted by a fear-haunted
imagination. To produce an effect like that upon an audience whose
credulity refuses to be put to any undue strain is a victorious proof of
prime artistic ability.

_Les Aveugles_ ("The Sightless"), (1891), is pitched in the same
psychological key. The atmosphere is surcharged with unearthly
apprehension. A dreary twilight--in the midst of a thick forest--on a
lonely island; twelve blind people fretting about the absence of their
guardian. He is gone to find a way out of the woods--what can have
become of him? From moment to moment the deserted, helpless band grows
more fearstricken. The slightest sound becomes the carrier of evil
forebodings: the rustling of the foliage, the flapping of a bird's
wings, the swelling roar of the nearby sea in its dash against the
shore. The bell strikes twelve--they wonder is it noon or night? Then
questions, eager and calamitous, pass in whispers among them: Has the
leader lost his way? Will he never come back? Has the dam burst apart
and will they all be swallowed by the ocean? The pathos is greatly
heightened by an extremely delicate yet sure individuation of the
figures, as when at the mention of Heaven those not sightless from birth
raise their countenance to the sky. And where in the meanwhile is the
lost leader? He is seated right in their midst, but smitten by death.
They learn it at last through the actions of the dog; besides whom--in
striking parallel to "Princess Maleine"--the only other creature able to
see is a little child. The horror-stricken unfortunates realize that
they can never get home, and that they must perish in the woods.

In _Les Sept Princesses_ ("The Seven Princesses"), (1891), although it
is one of Maeterlinck's minor achievements, some of the qualities that
are common to all his work become peculiarly manifest. This is
particularly true of the skill shown in conveying the feeling of the
story by means of suitable scenic devices. Most of his plays depend to a
considerable degree for their dark and heavy nimbus of unreality upon a
studied combination of paraphernalia in themselves neither numerous nor
far-sought. In fact, the resulting scenic repertory, too, is markedly
limited: a weird forest, a deserted castle with marble staircase and
dreamy moonlit terrace, a tower with vaulted dungeons, a dismal corridor
flanked by impenetrable chambers, a lighted interior viewed from the
garden, a landscape bodefully crêped with twilight--the list nearly
exhausts his store of "sets."

The works mentioned so far are hardly more than able exercises
preparatory for the ampler and more finished products which were to
succeed them. Yet they represent signal steps in the evolution of a new
dramatic style, designed, as has already been intimated, to give
palpable form to emotional data descried in moments anterior not only to
articulation but even to consciousness itself; and for this reason, the
plane of the dramatic action lies deep below the surface of life, down
in the inner tabernacle where the mystic looks for the hidden destinies.
In his style, Maeterlinck had gradually developed an unprecedented
capacity for bringing to light the secret agencies of fate. A portion of
the instructed public had already learned to listen in his writings for
the finer reverberations that swing in the wake of the uttered phrase,
to heed the slightest hints and allusions in the text, to overlook no
glance or gesture that might betray the mind of the acting characters.
It is true that art to be great must be plain, but that does not mean
that the sole test of great art is the response of the simple and

In Maeterlinck's first masterpiece, _Pélléas et Mélisande_, (1892), the
motives again are drawn up from the lower regions of consciousness; once
more the plot is born of a gloomy fancy, and the darkling mood hovering
over scene and action attests the persistence of fatalism in the poet.
The theory of old King Arkel, the spokesman of the author's personal
philosophy, is that one should not seek to be active; one should ever
wait on the threshold of Fate. Even the younger people in the play are
infected by the morbid doctrine of an inevitable necessity for all
things that happen to them: "We do not go where we would go. We do not
do that which we would do." Perhaps, however, these beliefs are here
enounced for the last time with the author's assent or acquiescence.

In artistic merit "Pélléas and Mélisande" marks a nearer approach to
mastery, once the integral peculiarities of the form and method have
been granted. Despite a noticeable lack of force, directness, and
plasticity in the characterization, the _vie intérieure_ is most
convincingly expressed. In one of the finest scenes of the play we see
the principals at night gazing out upon a measureless expanse of water
dotted with scattered lights. The atmosphere is permeated with a
reticent yearning of love. The two young creatures, gentle, shy, their
souls tinged with melancholy, are drawn towards one another by an
ineluctable mutual attraction. Yet, though their hearts are filled to
overflowing, not a word of affection is uttered. Their love reveals
itself to us even as to themselves, without a loud and jarring
declaration, through its very speechlessness, as it were. The situation
well bears out the _roi sage_ in _Alladine et Palomides_: "There is a
moment when souls touch one another and know everything without a need
of our opening the lips." There are still other scenes in this play so
tense with emotion that words would be intrusive and dissonant. There is
that lovely picture of Mélisande at the window; Pélléas cannot reach up
to her hand, but is satisfied to feel her loosened hair about his face.
It is a question whether even that immortal love duet in "Romeo and
Juliet" casts a poetic spell more enchanting than this. At another
moment in the drama, we behold the lovers in Maeterlinck's beloved
half-light, softly weeping as they stare with speechless rapture into
the flames. And not until the final parting does any word of love pass
their lips. In another part of the play Goland, Mélisande's aging
husband, who suspects his young stepbrother, Pélléas, of loving
Mélisande, conducts him to an underground chamber. We are not told why
he has brought him there, and why he has led him to the brink of the
pitfall from which there mounts a smell of death. If it be a heinous
deed he is brooding, why does he pause in its execution? His terrible
struggle does not reveal itself through speech, yet it is eloquently
expressed in the wildness of his looks, the trembling of his voice, and
the sudden anguished outcry: "Pélléas! Pélléas!"

Evidently Maeterlinck completely achieves the very purpose to which the
so-called Futurists think they must sacrifice all traditional
conceptions of Art; and achieves it without any brutal stripping and
skinning of the poetic subject, without the hideous exhibition of its
_disjecta membra_, and above all, without that implied disqualification
for the higher artistic mission which alone could induce a man to limit
his service to the dishing-up of chunks and collops, "cubic" or

In recognition of a certain tendency towards mannerism that lay in his
technique, Maeterlinck, in a spirit of self-persiflage, labeled the book
of one-act plays which he next published, (1894), _Trois Petits Drames
pour Marionettes_ ("Three Little Puppet Plays"). They are entitled,
severally: _Alladine et Palomides_, _Intérieur_, and _La Mort de
Tintagiles_. While in motifs and materials as well as in the principal
points of style these playlets present a sort of epitome of his artistic
progression up to date, they also display some new and significant
qualities. Of the three the first named is most replete with suggestive
symbolism and at the same time most remindful of the older plays,
especially of "Pélléas and Mélisande." King Ablamore is in character and
demeanor clearly a counterpart of King Arkel. To be sure he makes a
temporary stand against the might of Fate, but his resistance is meek
and futile, and his wisdom culminates in the same old fatalistic
formula: "_Je sais qu'on ne fait pas ce que l'on voudrait faire._"

_L'Intérieur_ ("Home") handles a theme almost identical with that of
_L'Intruse_: Life and Death separated only by a thin pane of glass,--the
sudden advent of affliction from a cloudless sky. In this little tragedy
a family scene, enacted in "dumb show," is watched from the outside. The
play is without suspense in the customary use of the term, since after
the first whispered conversation between the bringers of the fateful
tidings the audience is fully aware of the whole story:--the daughter of
the house, for whose return the little group is waiting, has been found
dead in the river. The quiescent mood is sustained to the end; no great
outburst of lamentation; the curtain drops the instant the news has been
conveyed. But the poignancy of the tragic strain is only enhanced by the
repression of an exciting climax.

"The Death of Tintagiles" repeats in a still more harrowing form the
fearful predicament of a helpless child treated with so much dramatic
tension in Maeterlinck's first tragedy. Again, as in "Princess Maleine,"
the action of this dramolet attains its high point in a scene where
murderous treachery is about to spring the trap set for an innocent
young prince. Intuitively he senses the approach of death, and in vain
beats his little fists against the door that imprisons him. The
situation is rendered more piteous even than in the earlier treatment of
the motif, because the door which bars his escape also prevents his
faithful sister Ygraine from coming to the rescue.

We have observed in all the plays so far a marked simplicity of
construction. _Aglavaine et Selysette_, (1896), denotes a still further
simplification. Here the scenic apparatus is reduced to the very
minimum, and the psychological premises are correspondingly plain. The
story presents a "triangular" love entanglement strangely free from the
sensual ingredient; two women dream of sharing, in all purity, one
lover--and the dream ends for one of them in heroic self-sacrifice
brought to secure the happiness of the rival. However, more noteworthy
than the structure of the plot is the fact that the philosophic current
flowing through it has perceptibly altered its habitual direction. The
spiritual tendency is felt to be turning in its course, and even though
fatalism still holds the rule, with slowly relaxing grip, yet a changed
ethical outlook is manifest. Also, this play for the first time
proclaims, though in no vociferous manner, the duty of the individual
toward himself, the duty so emphatically proclaimed by two of
Maeterlinck's greatest teachers, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henrik Ibsen.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The inner philosophic conflict was but of short duration. In 1898 _La
Sagesse et La Destinée_ ("Wisdom and Destiny") saw the light. The
metaphor might be taken in a meaning higher and more precise than the
customary, for, coming to this book from those that preceded is indeed
like emerging from some dark and dismal cave into the warm and cheering
light of the sun. "Wisdom and Destiny" is a collection of essays and
aphorisms which stands to this second phase of Maeterlinck's dramaturgy
in a relation closely analogous to that existing between "The Treasure
of the Humble" and the works heretofore surveyed. Without amounting to a
wholesale recantation of the idea that is central in the earlier set of
essays, the message of the newer set is of a very different kind. The
author of "Wisdom and Destiny" has not changed his view touching the
superiority of the intuitional function over the intellectual. The
significant difference between the old belief and the new consists
simply in this: the latent force of life is no longer imagined as an
antagonistic agency; rather it is conceived as a benign energy that
makes for a serene acceptance of the world that is. Of this turn in the
outlook, the philosophic affirmation of life and the consent of the will
to subserve the business of living are the salutary concomitants.
Wisdom, in expanding, has burst the prison of fatalism and given freedom
to vision. The world, beheld in the light of this emancipation, is not
to be shunned by the wise man. Let Fortune bring what she will, he can
strip his afflictions of their terrors by transmuting them into higher
knowledge. Therefore, pain and suffering need not be feared and shirked;
they may even be hailed with satisfaction, for, as is paradoxically
suggested in _Aglavaine et Selysette_, they help man "_être heureux en
devenant plus triste_,"--to be happy in becoming sadder. The poet, who
till now had clung to the conviction that there can be no happy fate,
that all our destinies are guided by unlucky stars, now on the contrary
persuades us to consider how even calamity may be refined in the medium
of wisdom in such fashion as to become an asset of life, and warns us
against recoiling in spirit from any reverse of our fortunes. He holds
that blows and sorrows cannot undo the sage. Fate has no weapons save
those we supply, and "wise is he for whom even the evil must feed the
pyre of love." In fine, Fate obeys him who dares to command it. After
all, then, man has a right to appoint himself the captain of his soul,
the master of his fate.

Yet, for all that, the author of "Wisdom and Destiny" should not be
regarded as the partizan and apologist of sadness for the sake of
wisdom. If sorrow be a rich mine of satisfaction, joy is by far the
richer mine. This new outlook becomes more and more optimistic because
of the increasing faculty of such a philosophy to extract from the mixed
offerings of life a more near-at-hand happiness than sufferings can
possibly afford; not perchance that perpetual grinning merriment over
the comicality of the passing spectacle which with so many passes for a
"sense of humor," but rather a calm and serious realization of what is
lastingly beautiful, good, and true. A person's attainment of this
beatitude imposes on him the clear duty of helping others to rise to a
similar exalted level of existence. And this duty Maeterlinck seeks to
discharge by proclaiming in jubilant accents the concrete reality of
happiness. _L'Oiseau Bleu_ ("The Blue Bird"), above all other works,
illustrates the fact that human lives suffer not so much for the lack of
happiness as for the want of being clearly conscious of the happiness
they possess. It is seen that the seed of optimism in "The Treasure of
the Humble" has sprouted and spread out, and at last triumphantly shot
forth through the overlaying fatalism. The newly converted, hence all
the more thoroughgoing, optimist, believing that counsel and consolation
can come only from those who trust in the regenerative power of hope,
throws himself into a mental attitude akin to that of the Christian
Scientist, and confidently proceeds to cure the ills of human kind by a
categorical denial of their existence. Or perhaps it would be more just
to say of Maeterlinck's latter-day outlook, the serenity of which even
the frightful experience of the present time has failed to destroy, that
instead of peremptorily negating evil, he merely denies its supremacy.
All about him he perceives in the midst of the worst wrongs and evils
many fertile germs of righteousness; vice itself seems to distil its own

Together with Maeterlinck's optimistic strain, his individualism gains
an unexpected emphasis. "Before one exists for others, one must exist
for one's self. The egoism of a strong and clear-sighted soul is of a
more beneficent effect than all the devotion of a blind and feeble
soul." Here we have a promulgation identical in gist with Emerson's
unqualified declaration of moral independence when he says: "Whoso would
be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms
must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be
goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature."(8)

  (8) "Self-Reliance."

His attitude of countenancing the positive joys of living causes
Maeterlinck in his later career to reverse his former judgment, and to
inveigh, much in the manner of Nietzsche, against the "parasitical
virtues." "Certain notions about resignation and self-sacrifice sap the
finest moral forces of mankind more thoroughly than do great vices and
even crimes. The alleged triumphs over the flesh are in most cases only
complete defeats of life." When to such rebellious sentiments is joined
an explicit warning against the seductions and intimidations held out by
the official religions--their sugar plums and dog whips, as Maeterlinck
puts it--one can only wonder how his writings escaped as long as they
did the attention of the authorities that swing the power of imprimatur
and anathema.

Maeterlinck may not be classed unreservedly as a radical individualist.
For whereas a philosophy like that of Nietzsche takes no account of the
"much-too-many," who according to that great fantasist do not interest
anybody except the statistician and the devil, Maeterlinck realizes the
supreme importance of the great mass as the ordained transmitters of
civilization. The gulf between aristocratic subjectivism, devoted
single-mindedly to the ruthless enforcement of self-interest, and, on
the other hand, a self-forgetful social enthusiasm, is bridged in
Maeterlinck by an extremely strong instinct for justice and, moreover,
by his firm belief--at least for the time being--that the same strong
instinct exists universally as a specific trait of human nature. By such
a philosophy Justice, then, is discerned not as a supra-natural
function, but as a function of human nature as distinguished from nature
at large. The restriction is made necessary by our knowledge of the
observable operations of nature. In particular would the principle of
heredity seem to argue against the reign of justice in the
administration of human destinies, inasmuch as we find ourselves quite
unable to recognize in the apportionment of pleasure and pain anything
like a due ratio of merit. And yet Maeterlinck realizes that perhaps
nature measures life with a larger standard than the individual's short
span of existence, and warns us in his essay on "Justice" not to indulge
our self-conceit in a specious emulation of ways that are utterly beyond
our comprehension. After all, then, our poet-philosopher succeeds _foro
conscientiæ_ in reconciling his cult of self with devotion to the common
interest. Morality, in that essay, is defined as the co-ordination of
personal desire to the task assigned by nature to the race. And is it
not true that a contrary, that is, ascetic concept of morality reduces
itself to absurdity through its antagonism to that primal human instinct
that makes for the continuity of life?

                   *       *       *       *       *

From the compromise effected between two fairly opposite ethical
principles, there emerges in the works of this period something akin to
a socialistic tendency. It is organically related to the mystical
prepossession of the author's manner of thinking. Maeterlinck gratefully
acknowledges that by the search-light of science the uppermost layers of
darkness have been dispelled; but realizes also that the deep-seated
central enigma still remains in darkness: as much as ever are the
primordial causes sealed against a glimpse of finite knowledge. We have
changed the names, not the problems. Instead of God, Providence, or
Fate, we say Nature, Selection, and Heredity. But in reality do we know
more concerning Life than did our ancestors?

What, then, questions the persevering pursuer of the final verities,
shall we do in order that we may press nearer to Truth? May we not
perchance steep our souls in light that flows from another source than
science? And what purer light is there to illumine us than the halo
surrounding a contented worker performing his task, not under coercion,
but from a voluntary, or it may be instinctive, submission to the law of
life? If such subordination of self constitutes the basis of rational
living, we shall do well to study its workings on a lowlier and less
complicated plane than the human; for instance, in the behavior of the
creature that is proverbial for its unflagging industry. For this
industry is not motivated by immediate or selfish wants; it springs from
instinctive self-dedication to the common cause. Some people expected
from _La Vie des Abeilles_ ("The Life of the Bee"), (1901), much
brand-new information about matters of apiculture. But in spite of his
twenty-five years' experience, Maeterlinck had no startling discoveries
to convey to his fellow-hivers. His book on bees is not primarily the
result of a specialist's investigations but a poetical record of the
observations made by a mind at once romantic and philosophical and
strongly attracted to the study of this particular form of community
life, because by its organization on a miniature scale it spreads before
the student of society a synoptic view of human affairs.

Of the great change that had by now taken place in his conception of
life, Maeterlinck was fully cognizant, and made no concealment of it. In
the essay on "Justice" he says, with reference to his earlier dramas:
"The motive of these little plays was the fear of the Unknown by which
we are constantly surrounded," and passes on to describe his religious
temper as a sort of compound of the Christian idea of God with the
antique idea of Fate, immersed in the profound gloom of hopeless
mystery. "The Unknown took chiefly the aspect of a power, itself but
blindly groping in the dark, yet disposing with inexorable unfeelingness
of the fates of men."

Evidently those same plays are passed once more in self-critical review
in _Ardiane et Barbe-Bleue_ ("Ardiane and Blue-Beard"), (1899),
notwithstanding the fact that the author disclaims any philosophic
purpose and presents his work as a mere libretto. We cannot regard it as
purely accidental that of Blue-Beard's terror-stricken wives,
four,--Selysette, Mélisande, Ygraine, Alladine,--bear the names of
earlier heroines, and, besides, that each of these retains with the name
also the character of her namesake. The symbolism is too transparent.
The child-wives of the cruel knight, forever in a state of trembling
fear, are too passive to extricate themselves from their fate, whereas
Ardiane succeeds instantly in breaking her captivity, because she has
the spirit and strength to shatter the window and let in the light and
air. The contrast between her resolute personality and those five inert
bundles of misery undoubtedly connotes the difference between the
author's paralyzing fatalism in the past and his present dynamic

A like contrast between dejection and resilience would be brought to
light by a comparison of the twelve lyric poems, _Douze Chansons_,
(1897), with the _Serres Chaudes_. The mood is still greatly subdued;
the new poetry is by no means free from sadness and a strain of
resignation. But the half-stifled despair that cries out from the older
book returns no dissonant echo in the new.

Even his dramatic technique comes under the sway of Maeterlinck's
altered view of the world. The far freer use of exciting and eventful
action testifies to increased elasticity and force. This is a marked
feature of _Soeur Beatrice_ ("Sister Beatrice"), (1900), a miracle play
founded on the old story about the recreant nun who, broken from sin and
misery, returns to the cloister and finds that during the many years of
her absence her part and person have been carried out by the Holy Virgin

Equally, the three other dramas of this epoch--_Aglavaine et Selysette_,
_Monna Vanna_, and _Joyzelle_--are highly available for scenic
enactment. Of the three, _Monna Vanna_, (1902), in particular is
conspicuous for a wholly unexpected aptitude of characterization, and
for the unsurpassed intensity of its situations, which in this isolated
case are not cast in a single mood as in the other plays, but are
individually distinct and full of dramatic progress, whereas everywhere
else the action moves rather sluggishly.

"Monna Vanna" is one of the most brilliantly actable plays of modern
times, despite its improbability. A certain incongruity between the
realistic and the romantic aspects in the behavior of the principals is
saved from offensiveness by a disposition on the part of the spectator
to refer it, unhistorically, to the provenience of the story. But as a
matter of fact the actors are not fifteenth century Renaissance men and
women at all, but mystics, modern mystics at that, both in their
reasoning and their morality. It is under a cryptical soul-compulsion
that Giovanna goes forth to the unknown condottiere prepared to lay down
her honor for the salvation of her people, and that her husband at last
conquers his repugnance to her going. Prinzivalle, Guido, Marco, are
mystics even to a higher degree than Vanna.

The poignant actualism of "Monna Vanna" lies, however, in the author's
frank sympathy with a distinctively modern zest for freedom. The
situation between husband and wife is reminiscent of "A Doll's House" in
the greedily possessive quality of Guido's affection, with which quality
his tyrannous unbelief in Prinzivalle's magnanimity fully accords. But
Maeterlinck here goes a step beyond Ibsen. In her married life with
Guido, Vanna was meekly contented, "at least as happy as one can be when
one has renounced the vague and extravagant dreams which seem beyond
human life." When the crisis arrives she realizes that "it is never too
late for one who has found a love that can fill a life." Her final
rebellion is sanctioned by the author, who unmistakably endorses the
venerable Marco's profession of faith that life is always in the right.

"Joyzelle," (1903), inferior to "Monna Vanna" dramaturgically, and in
form the most distinctly fantastic of all Maeterlinck's productions, is
still farther removed from the fatalistic atmosphere. This play sounds,
as the author himself has stated, "the triumph of will and love over
destiny or fatality," as against the converse lesson of _Monna Vanna_.
The idea is symbolically expressed in the temptations of Lanceor and in
the liberation of Joyzelle and her lover from the power of Merlin and
his familiar, Arielle, who impersonates the secret forces of the heart.

_Aglavaine et Selysette_, _Monna Vanna_, and _Joyzelle_ mark by still
another sign the advent of a new phase in Maeterlinck's evolution;
namely, by the characterization of the heroines. Previously, the women
in his plays were hardly individualized and none of them can be said to
possess a physiognomy strictly her own. Maeterlinck had returned with
great partiality again and again to the same type of woman: languid and
listless, without stamina and strength, yet at the same time full of
deep feeling, and capable of unending devotion--pathetic incorporeal
figures feeling their way along without the light of self-consciousness,
like some pre-raphaelite species of somnambulists. In the new plays, on
the contrary, women of a courageous and venturesome spirit and with a
self-possessive assurance are portrayed by preference and with
unmistakable approval.

As the technique in the more recent creations of Maeterlinck, so the
diction, too, accommodates itself to altered tendencies. Whereas
formerly the colloquy was abrupt and fragmentary, it is now couched in
cadenced, flowing language, which, nevertheless, preserves the old-time
simplicity. The poet himself has criticized his former dialogue. He said
it made those figures seem like deaf people walking in their sleep, whom
somebody is endeavoring to arouse from a heavy dream.

                   *       *       *       *       *

For the limited purpose of this sketch it is not needful to enter into a
detailed discussion of Maeterlinck's latest productions, since such
lines as they add to his philosophical and artistic physiognomy have
been traced beforehand. His literary output for the last dozen years or
so is embodied in six or seven volumes: about two years to a book seems
to be his normal ratio of achievement, the same as was so regularly
observed by Henrik Ibsen, and one that seems rather suitable for an
author whose reserve, dictated by a profound artistic and moral
conscience, like his actual performance, calls for admiration and
gratitude. During the war he has written, or at least published, very
little. It is fairly safe to assume that the emotional experience of
this harrowing period will control his future philosophy as its most
potent factor; equally safe is it to predict, on the strength of his
published utterances, that his comprehensive humanity, that has been put
to such a severe test, will pass unscathed through the ordeal.

Of the last group of Maeterlinck's works only two are dramas, namely,
"The Blue Bird," (1909), and "Mary Magdalene," (1910). The baffling
symbolism of "The Blue Bird" has not stood in the way of a tremendous
international stage success; the fact is due much less to the simple
line of thought that runs through the puzzle than to the exuberant fancy
that gave rise to it and its splendid scenical elaboration. Probably Mr.
Henry Rose is right, in his helpful analysis of "The Blue Bird," in
venturing the assertion that "by those who are familiar with
Swedenborg's teaching 'The Blue Bird' must be recognized as to a very
large extent written on lines which are in accordance with what is known
as the Science of Correspondences--a very important part of Swedenborg's
teachings." But the understanding of this symbolism in its fullness
offers very great difficulties. That a definite and consistent meaning
underlies all its features will be rather felt than comprehended by the
great majority who surely cannot be expected to go to the trouble first
of familiarizing themselves with Maeterlinck's alleged code of symbols
and then of applying it meticulously to the interpretation of his plays.

"Mary Magdalene," judged from the dramatic point of view, is a quite
impressive tragedy, yet a full and sufficient treatment of the very
suggestive scriptural legend it is not. The converted courtezan is
characterized too abstractly. Instead of presenting herself as a woman
consumed with blazing sensuality but in whom the erotic fire is
transmuted into religious passion, she affects us like an enacted
commentary upon such a most extraordinary experience.

Finally, there are several volumes of essays, to some of which reference
has already been made.(9) _Le Temple Enseveli_ ("The Buried Temple"),
(1902), consists of six disquisitions, all dealing with metaphysical
subjects: Justice, The Evolution of Mystery, The Reign of Matter, The
Past, Chance, The Future. _Le Double Jardin_ ("The Double Garden"),
(1904), is much more miscellaneous in its makeup. These are its
heterogeneous subjects: The Death of a Little Dog, Monte Carlo, A Ride
in a Motor Car, Dueling, The Angry Temper of the Bees, Universal
Suffrage, The Modern Drama, The Sources of Spring, Death and the Crown
(a discussion upon the fatal illness of Edward VII), a View of Rome,
Field Flowers, Chrysanthemums, Old-fashioned Flowers, Sincerity, The
Portrait of Woman, and Olive Branches (a survey of certain now, alas,
obsolete ethical movements of that day). _L'Intelligence des Fleurs_ (in
the translation it is named "Life and Flowers," in an enlarged issue
"The Measure of the Hours," both 1907), takes up, besides the theme of
the general caption, the manufacture of perfumes, the various
instruments for measuring time, the psychology of accident, social duty,
war, prize-fighting, and "King Lear." In 1912, three essays on Emerson,
Novalis, and Ruysbroeck appeared collectively, in English, under the
title "On Emerson and Other Essays." These originally prefaced certain
works of those writers translated by Maeterlinck in his earlier years.

  (9) Considerable liberty has been taken by Maeterlinck in the grouping
  and naming of his essay upon their republication in the several
  collections. The confusion caused thereby is greatly increased by the
  deviation of some of the translated editions from the original volumes
  as to the sequence of articles, the individual and collective titles,
  and even the contents themselves.

Maeterlinck's most recent publications are _La Mort_ (published in
English in a considerably extended collection under the title "Our
Eternity"), (1913), "The Unknown Guest," (1914), and _Les Débris de la
Guerre_ ("The Wrack of the Storm"), (1916).(10) The two first named,
having for their central subject Death and the great concomitant problem
of the life beyond, show that the author has become greatly interested
in psychical research; he even goes so far as to affirm his belief in
precognition. In these essays, Theosophy and Spiritism and kindred
occult theories are carefully analyzed, yet ingenious as are the
author's speculations, they leave anything like a solution of the
perplexing riddles far afield. On the whole he inclines to a telepathic
explanation of the psychical phenomena, yet thinks they may be due to
the strivings of the cosmic intelligence after fresh outlets, and
believes that a careful and persistent investigation of these phenomena
may open up hitherto undreamt of realms of reality. In general, we find
him on many points less assertive than he was in the beginning and
inclined to a general retrenchment of the dogmatic element in his
philosophic attitude. A significant passage in "The Buried Treasure"
teaches us not to deplore the loss of fixed beliefs. "One should never
look back with regret to those hours when a great belief abandons us. A
faith that becomes extinct, a means that fails, a dominant idea that no
longer dominates us because we think it is our turn to dominate
it--these things prove that we are living, that we are progressing, that
we are using up a great many things because we are not standing still."
Of the gloomy fatalism of his literary beginnings hardly a trace is to
be found in the Maeterlinck of to-day. His war-book, "The Wrack of the
Storm," breathes a calm optimism in the face of untold disaster. The
will of man is put above the power of fate. "Is it possible that
fatality--by which I mean what perhaps for a moment was the
unacknowledged desire of the planet--shall not regain the upper hand? At
the stage which man has reached, I hope and believe so.... Everything
seems to tell us that man is approaching the day whereon, seizing the
most glorious opportunity that has ever presented itself since he
acquired a consciousness, he will at last learn that he is able, when he
pleases, to control his whole fate in this world."(11) His faith in
humanity is built on the heroic virtues displayed in this war. "To-day,
not only do we know that these virtues exist: we have taught the world
that they are always triumphant, that nothing is lost while faith is
left, while honor is intact, while love continues, while the soul does
not surrender." ... Death itself is now threatened with extinction by
our heroic race: "The more it exercises its ravages, the more it
increases the intensity of that which it cannot touch; the more it
pursues its phantom victories, the better does it prove to us that man
will end by conquering death."

  (10) "The Light Beyond" (1917) is not a new work at all, but merely a
  combination of parts from "Our Eternity" and "The Wrack of the Storm."

  (11) "The Wrack of the Storm," p. 144 f.

In the concluding chapter of "Our Eternity," the romantic modification
of Maeterlinck's mysticism is made patent in his confession regarding
the problem of Knowledge: "I have added nothing to what was already
known. I have simply tried to separate what may be true from that which
is assuredly not true.... Perhaps through our quest for that
undiscoverable Truth we shall have accustomed our eyes to pierce the
terror of the last hour by looking it full in the face.... We need have
no hope that any one will utter on this earth the word that shall put an
end to our uncertainties. It is very probable, on the contrary, that no
one in this world, nor perhaps in the next, will discover the great
secret of the universe. And ... it is most fortunate that it should be
so. We have not only to resign ourselves to living in the
incomprehensible, but to rejoice that we cannot get out of it. If there
were no more insoluble questions ... infinity would not be infinite; and
then we should have forever to curse the fate that placed us in a
universe proportionate to our intelligence. The unknown and the
unknowable are necessary and will perhaps always be necessary to our
happiness. In any case, I would not wish my worst enemy, were his
understanding a thousandfold loftier and a thousandfold mightier than
mine, to be condemned eternally to inhabit a world of which he had
surprised an essential secret...."(12)

  (12) Quoted from the excellent translation by A. T. de Mattos.

So the final word of Maeterlinck's philosophy, after a lifetime of
ardent search, clears up none of the tantalizing secrets of our
existence. And yet somehow it bears a message that is full of
consolation. The value of human life lies in the perpetual movement
towards a receding goal. Whoever can identify himself with such a
philosophy and accept its great practical lesson, that we shall never
reach Knowledge but acquire wisdom in the pursuit, should be able to
envisage the veiled countenance of Truth without despair, and even to
face with some courage the eternal problem of our being, its reason and
its destination.



One cannot speak of August Strindberg with much _gusto_. The most
broadminded critic will find himself under necessity to disapprove of
him as a man and to condemn so many features of his production that
almost one might question his fitness as a subject of literary
discussion. Nevertheless, his importance is beyond dispute and quite
above the consideration of personal like or dislike, whether we view him
in his creative capacity,--as an intellectual and ethical spokesman of
his time,--or in his human character,--as a typical case of certain
mental and moral maladies which somehow during his time were more or
less epidemic throughout the lettered world. We have it on excellent
authority that at his début in the literary theatre he made the stage
quake with the elemental power of his personality. Gigantic rebels like
Ibsen, Bjoernson, Nietzsche, and Tolstoy, we are told, dwindled to
normal proportions beside his titanic stature. He aimed to conquer and
convert the whole world by his fanatical protest against the rotten
civilization of his time. The attempt proved an utter failure. He never
could grow into a world-figure, because he lacked the courage as well as
the cosmopolitan adaptability needed for intellectual expatriation.
Hence, in great contrast to Ibsen, he remained to Europe at large the
uncouth Scandinavian, while in the eyes of Scandinavia he was
specifically the Swede; and his country-men, even though they
acknowledged him their premier poet, treated him, because of his
eccentricity, as a national gazing-stock rather than as a genuine
national asset. Yet for all that, he ranks as the foremost writer of his
country and one of the representative men of the age. His poetic genius
is admitted by practically all the critics, while the greatest among
them, George Brandes, pronounces him in addition an unsurpassed master
in the command of his mother tongue. But his position as a writer is by
no means limited to his own little country. For his works have been
translated into all civilized languages, and if the circulation of
literary products is a safe indication of their influence, then several
of Strindberg's books at least must be credited with having done
something toward shaping the thought of our time upon some of its
leading issues. In any case, the large and durable interest shown his
productions marks Strindberg as a literary phenomenon of sufficient
consequence to deserve some study.

Readers of Strindberg who seek to discover the reason why criticism
should have devoted so much attention to an author regarded almost
universally with strong disapproval and aversion, will find that reason
most probably in the extreme subjectiveness that dominates everything he
has written; personal confession, novels, stories, and plays alike share
this equality, and even in his historical dramas the figures, despite
the minute accuracy of their delineation, are moved by the author's
passion, not their own. Rarely, if ever, has a writer of eminence
demonstrated a similar incapacity to reproduce the thoughts and feelings
of other people. It has been rightly declared that all his leading
characters are merely the outward projections of his own sentiments and
ideas,--that at bottom he, August Strindberg, is the sole protagonist in
all his dramaturgy and fiction.

Strindberg was a man with an omnivorous intellectual curiosity, and he
commanded a vast store of knowledge in the fields of history, science,
and languages. His "History of the Swedish People" is recognized by
competent judges as a very brilliant and scholarly performance. Before
he was launched in his literary career, and while still obscurely
employed as minor assistant at a library, he earned distinction as a
student of the Chinese language, and one product of his research work in
that field was even deemed worthy of being read before the _Académie des
Inscriptions et Belles Lettres_. In Geology, Chemistry, Botany, he was
equally productive. But the taint of eccentricity in his mental fibre
prevented his imposing scientific accomplishments from maintaining him
in a state of intellectual equilibrium. He laid as much store by things
of which he had a mere smattering as by those on which he was an
authority, and his resultant unsteadiness caused him to oscillate
between opposite scientific enthusiasms even as his self-contradictory
personal character involved him in abrupt changes of position, and made
him jump from one extreme of behavior to the other.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Strindberg first attracted public notice by the appearance in 1879 of a
novel named "The Red Room." Its effect upon a country characterized by
so keen an observer as George Brandes as perhaps the most conservative
in Europe resembled the excitement caused by Schiller's "The Robbers"
almost precisely one hundred years before. It stirred up enough dust to
change, though not to cleanse, the musty atmosphere of Philistia. For
here was instantly recognized the challenge of a radical spirit uprisen
in full and ruthless rebellion against each and every time-hallowed
usage and tradition. The recollection of that hot-spur agitator bent
with every particle of his strength to rouse the world up from its
lethargy by his stentorian "J'accuse" and to pass sentence upon it by
sheer tremendous vociferation, is almost entirely obliterated to-day by
the remembrance of quite another Strindberg:--the erstwhile stormy
idealist changed into a leering cynic; a repulsive embodiment of
negation, a grimacing Mephistopheles who denies life and light or
anything that he cannot comprehend, and to whom the face of the earth
appears forever covered with darkness and filth and death and
corruption. Indeed this final depictment of August Strindberg, whether
or no it be accurately true to life, is a terrible example of what life
can make of a man, or a man of his life, if he is neither light enough
to be borne by the current of his time, nor strong enough to set his
face against the tide and breast it.

The question is, naturally, was Strindberg sincere in the fanatical
insurgency of his earlier period, or was his attitude merely a
theatrical pose and his social enthusiasm a ranting declamation? In
either case, there opens up this other question: Have we reason to doubt
the sincerity of the mental changes that were yet to follow,--the
genuineness of his pessimism, occultism, and, in the final stage, of his
religious conversion? His unexampled hardihood in reversing his opinions
and going dead against his convictions could be illustrated in nearly
every sphere of thought. At one time a glowing admirer of Rousseau and
loudly professing his gospel of nature, he forsook this allegiance, and
chose as his new idol Rousseau's very antipode, Voltaire. For many years
he was a democrat of the purest water, identified himself with the
proletarian cause, and acted as the fiery champion of the poor
labor-driven masses against their oppressors; but one fine day, no
matter whether it came about directly through his contact with Nietzsche
or otherwise, he repudiated socialism, scornfully denouncing it as a
tattered remnant of his cast-off Christianity, and arrayed himself on
the side of the elect, or self-elect, against the "common herd," the
"much-too-many." License for the best to govern the rest, became
temporarily his battle-cry; and his political ideal suggested nothing
less completely absurd than a republic presided over by an oligarchy of
autocrats. His unsurpassed reputation as an anti-feminist would hardly
prepare us to find his earlier works fairly aglow with sympathy for the
woman cause. He held at one time, as did Tolstoy, that art and poetry
have a detrimental effect upon the natural character; for which reason
the peasant is a more normal being than the lettered man. Especially was
he set against the drama, on the ground that it throws the public mind
into confusion by its failure to differentiate sharply between the
author's own opinions and those of the characters. Literature, he held,
should pattern itself after a serious newspaper: it should seek to
influence, not entertain. Not only did he drop this pedantic restriction
of literature in the end, but in his own practice he had always defied
it, because, despite his fierce campaign against art, he could not
overcome the force of his artistic impulses. And so in other provinces
of thought, too, he reversed his judgment with a temerity and swiftness
that greatly offended the feelings and perplexed the intelligence of his
followers for the time being and justified the question whether
Strindberg had any principles at all. In politics he was by quick turns
Anarchist and Socialist, Radical and Conservative, Republican and
Aristocrat, Communist and Egoist; in religion, Pietist, Protestant,
Deist, Atheist, Occultist, and Roman Catholic. And yet unquestionably he
was honest. To blame him merely because he changed his views, and be it
never so radically, would be blaming a man for exercising his right to
develop. In any man of influence, an unalterable permanency of opinion
would be even more objectionable than a frequent shift of his point of
view. In recent times the presumable length of a person's intellectual
usefulness has been a live subject of discussion which has resulted in
some legislation of very questionable wisdom, for instance the setting
of an arbitrary age limit for the active service of high-grade teachers.
In actual experience men are too old to teach, or through any other
function to move the minds of younger people in a forward direction,
whenever they have lost the ability to change their own mind. Yet at all
events, an eminent author's right of self-reversal must not be exercised
at random; he should refrain from the propagation of new opinions that
have not ripened within himself. Which is the same as saying that he
should stick to his old opinions until he finds himself inwardly
compelled to abandon them. But as a matter of fact, a man like
Strindberg, propelled by an unbridled imagination, alert with romantic
tendencies, nervously overstrung, kept constantly under a strain by his
morbidly sensitive temperament,--and whose brain is consequently a
seething chaos of conflicting ideas, is never put to the necessity of
changing his mind; his mind keeps changing itself.

It must be as difficult for the literary historian to do Strindberg full
justice as it was for the great eccentric himself; when in taking stock,
as it were, of his mental equipment, during one of his protracted
periods of despondency, he summed himself up in the following
picturesque simile: "A monstrous conglomeration, changing its forms
according to the observer's point of view and possessing no more reality
than the rainbow that is visible to the eyes and yet does not exist."
His evolution may be tracked, however, in the detailed autobiography in
which he undertook, by a rigorous application of Hippolyte Taine's
well-known theory and method, to account for his temperamental
peculiarities on the basis of heredity and the milieu and to describe
the gradual transformation of his character through education and the
external pressure of contemporary intellectual movements. This
remarkable work is like a picture book of ideals undermined, hollowed,
and shattered; a perverse compound of cynicism and passion, it is
unspeakably loathsome to the sense of beauty and yet, in the last
artistic reckoning, not without great beauty of its own. It divides the
story of Strindberg's life into these consecutive parts: The Son of the
Servant; The Author; The Evolution of a Soul; The Confession of a Fool;
Inferno; Legends; The Rupture; Alone. The very titles signalize the
brutal frankness, or, shall we say, terrible sincerity of a tale that
rummages without piety among the most sacred privacies, and drags forth
from intimate nooks and corners sorrow and squalor and shame enough to
have wrecked a dozen average existences. There is no mistaking or
evading the challenge hurled by this story: See me as I am, stripped of
conventional lies and pretensions! Look upon my naked soul, covered with
scars and open sores. Behold me in my spasms of love and hate, now in
demoniacal transports, now prostrate with anguish! And if you want to
know how I came to be what I am, consider my ancestry, my bringing up,
my social environment, and be sure also to pocket your own due share of
the blame for my destruction!--Certainly Strindberg's autobiography is
not to be recommended as a graduation gift for convent-bred young
ladies, or as a soothing diversion for convalescents, but if accepted in
a proper sense, it will be found absorbing, informative, and even

Strindberg never forgave his father for having married below his
station. He felt that the good blood of the Strindbergs,--respectable
merchants and ministers and country gentlemen,--was worsened by the
proletarian strain imported into it through a working girl named
Eleonore Ulrike Norling, the mother of August Strindberg and his eleven
brothers and sisters. During August's childhood the family lived in
extremely straitened circumstances. When a dozen people live cooped up
in three rooms, some of them are more than likely to have the joy of
youth crushed out of them and crowded from the premises. Here was the
first evil that darkened Strindberg's life: he simply was cheated out of
his childhood.

School was no happier place for him than home. His inordinate pride,
only sharpened by the consciousness of his parents' poverty which
bordered on pauperism, threw him into a state of perpetual rebellion
against comrades and teachers. And all this time his inner life was
tossed hither and thither by a general intellectual and emotional
restlessness due to an insatiable craving for knowledge. At fifteen
years of age he had reached a full conviction on the irredeemable
evilness of life; and concluded, in a moment of religious exaltation, to
dedicate his own earthly existence to the vicarious expiation of
universal sin through the mortification of the flesh. Then, of a sudden,
he became a voracious reader of rationalistic literature, and turned
atheist with almost inconceivable dispatch, but soon was forced back by
remorse into the pietistic frame of mind,--only to pass through another
reaction immediately after. At this time he claims that earthly life is
a punishment or a probation; but that it lies in man's power to make it
endurable by freeing himself from the social restraints. He has become a
convert to the fantastic doctrine of Jean Jacques Rousseau, that man is
good by nature but has been depraved by civilization. Now in his
earliest twenties, he embraces communism with all its implications,--free
love, state parenthood, public ownership of utilities, equal
division of the fruits of labor, and so forth,--as the sole
and sure means of salvation for humanity.

In the "Swiss Stories," subtitled "Utopias in Reality,"(13) Strindberg
demonstrated to his own satisfaction the smooth and practical workings
of that doctrine. It was difficult for him to understand why the major
part of the world seemed so hesitant about adopting so tempting and
equitable a scheme of living. Yet, for his own person, too, he soon
disavowed socialism, because under a socialistic régime the individual
would be liable to have his ideas put into uniform, and the remotest
threat of interference with his freedom of thought was something this
fanatical apostle of liberty could not brook.

  (13) The stories deal among other things with the harmonious communal
  life in Godin's _Phalanstère_. Strindberg wrote two descriptions of
  it, one before, the other after visiting the colony.

In the preface to the "Utopias," he had referred to himself as "a
convinced socialist, like all sensible people"; whereas now he writes:
"Idealism and Socialism are two maladies born of laziness." Having thus
scientifically diagnosed the disease and prescribed the one true
specific for it, namely--how simple!--the total abolition of the
industries, he resumes the preaching of Rousseauism in its simon-pure
form, orders every man to be his maid-of-all-work and jack-of-all-trades,
puts the world on a vegetarian diet, and then wonders why
the socialists denounce and revile him as a turncoat and an

                   *       *       *       *       *

The biography throws an especially vivid light on Strindberg's relation
to one of the most important factors of socialism, to wit, the question
of woman's rights. His position on this issue is merely a phase of that
extreme and practically isolated position in regard to woman in general
that has more than any other single element determined the feeling of
the public towards him and by consequence fixed his place in
contemporary literature. That this should be so is hardly unfair,
because no other element has entered so deeply into the structure and
fibre of his thought and feeling.

Strindberg, as has been stated, was not from the outset, or perchance
constitutionally, an anti-feminist. In "The Red Room" he preaches
equality of the sexes even in marriage. The thesis of the book is that
man and woman are not antagonistic phenomena of life, rather they are
modifications of the same phenomenon, made for mutual completion; hence,
they can only fulfill their natural destiny through close coöperative
comradeship. But there were two facts that prevented Strindberg from
proceeding farther along this line of thought. One was his incorrigible
propensity to contradiction, the other his excessive subjectiveness
which kept him busy building up theories on the basis of personal
experience. The prodigious feminist movement launched in Scandinavia by
Ibsen and Bjoernson was very repugnant to him, because he felt, not
without some just reason, that the movement was for a great many people
little more than a fad. So long as art and literature are influenced by
fashion, so long there will be and should be revolts against the vogue.
Moreover, Strindberg felt that the movement was being carried too far.
He was prepared to accompany Ibsen some distance on the way of reform,
but refused to subscribe to his verdict that the whole blame for our
crying social maladjustments rests with the unwillingness of men to
allot any rights whatsoever to women.

Strindberg's play, "Sir Bengt's Wife," printed in 1882, but of much
earlier origin, is interpreted by Brandes as a symbolical portrayal of
feminine life in Scandinavia during the author's early manhood. The
leading feminine figure, a creature wholly incapable of understanding or
appreciating the nobler traits in man, is nevertheless treated with
sympathy, on the whole. She is represented,--like Selma Bratsberg in
Ibsen's "The League of Youth," and Nora Helmer, in "A Doll's House,"--as
the typical and normal victim of a partial and unfair training. Her
faults of judgment and errors of temper are due to the fact so
forcefully descanted upon by Selma, that women are not permitted to
share the interests and anxieties of their husbands. We are expressly
informed by Strindberg that this drama was intended, in the first place,
as an attack upon the romantic proclivities of feminine education; in
the second, as an illustration of the power of love to subdue the will;
in the third, as a defense of the thesis that woman's love is of a
higher quality than man's; and lastly, as a vindication of the right of
woman to be her own master. Again, in "Married" he answers the query,
Shall women vote? distinctly in the affirmative, although here the fixed
idea about the congenital discordance between the sexes, and the
identification of love with a struggle for supremacy, has already seized
hold of him.

To repeat, there was at first nothing absolutely preposterous about
Strindberg's position in regard to the woman movement. On the contrary,
his view might have been endorsed as a not altogether unwholesome
corrective for the ruling fashion of dealing with the issue by the
advocacy of extremes. But by force of his supervening personal grievance
against the sex, Strindberg's anti-feminism became in the long run the
fixed pole about which gravitated his entire system of social and
ethical thought. His campaign against feminism, which otherwise could
have served a good purpose by curbing wild militancy, was defeated by
its own exaggerations. Granting that feminists had gone too far in the
denunciation of male brutality and despotism, Strindberg went still
farther in the opposite direction, when he deliberately set out to lay
bare the character of woman by dissecting some of her most diabolical
incarnations. As has already been said, he was utterly incapable of
objective thinking, and under the sting of his miseries in love and
marriage, dislike of woman turned into hatred and hatred into frenzy.
Henceforth, the entire spectacle of life presented itself to his
distorted vision as a perpetual state of war between the sexes: on the
one side he saw the male, strong of mind and heart, but in the
generosity of strength guileless and over-trustful; on the other side,
the female, weak of body and intellect, but shrewd enough to exploit her
frailness by linking iniquity to impotence and contriving by her
treacherous cunning to enslave her natural superior:--it is the story of
Samson and Delilah made universal in its application. Love is shown up
as the trap in which man is caught to be shorn of his power. The case
against woman is classically drawn up in "The Father," one of the
strangest and at the same time most powerful tragedies of Strindberg.
The principals of the plot stand for the typical character difference
between the sexes as Strindberg sees it; the man being kind-hearted,
good-natured, and aspiring, whereas the woman, setting an example for
all his succeeding portraits of women, is cunning, though unintelligent
and coarse-grained, soulless, yet insanely ambitious and covetous of
power. In glaring contrast to the situation made so familiar by Ibsen,
we here see the man struggling away from the clutches of a woman who
declares frankly that she has never looked at a man without feeling
conscious of her superiority over him. In this play the man, a person of
ideals and real ability, who is none other than Strindberg himself in
one of his matrimonial predicaments, fails to extricate himself from the
snare, and ends--both literally and figuratively--by being put into the

Without classing Strindberg as one of the great world dramatists, it
would be narrow-minded, after experiencing the gripping effect of some
of his plays, to deny them due recognition, for indeed they would be
remarkable for their perspicacity and penetration, even if they were
devoid of any value besides. They contain the keenest analyses ever made
of the vicious side of feminine character, obtained by specializing, as
it were, on the more particularly feminine traits of human depravity.
Assuredly the procedure is onesided, but the delineation of a single
side of life is beyond peradventure a legitimate artistic enterprise as
long as it is not palmed upon us as an accurate and complete picture.
Unfortunately, Strindberg's abnormal vision falsifies the things he
looks at, and, being steeped in his insuperable prejudice, his pictures
of life, in spite of the partial veracity they possess, never rise above
the level of caricatures.

He was incompetent to pass judgment upon an individual woman separately;
to him all women were alike, and that means, all unmitigatedly bad! To
the objection raised by one of the characters in "The Father": "Oh,
there are so many kinds of women," the author's mouthpiece makes this
clinching answer: "Modern investigation has pronounced that there is
only one kind."

The autobiography of Strindberg is largely inspired by his unreasoning
hatred of women; the result, in the main, of his three unfortunate
ventures into the uncongenial field of matrimony. In its first part, the
account of his life is not without some traces of healthy humor, but as
the story progresses, his entire philosophy of life becomes more and
more aberrant under the increasing pressure of that obsession. He gets
beside himself at the mere mention of anything feminine, and blindly
hits away, let his bludgeon land where it will; logic, common sense, and
common decency go to the floor before his vehement and brutal assault.
Every woman is a born liar and traitor. Her sole aim in life is to
thrive parasitically upon the revenue of her favors. Since marriage and
prostitution cannot provide a living for all, the oversupply now clamor
for admission to the work-mart; but they are incompetent and lazy, and
inveterate shirkers of responsibility. With triumphant malice he points
to the perfidious readiness of woman to perform her tasks by proxy, that
is, to delegate them to hired substitutes: her children are tended and
taught by governesses and teachers; her garments are made by dressmakers
and seamstresses; the duties of her household she unloads on
servants,--and from selfish considerations of vanity, comfort, and love
of pleasure, she withdraws even from the primary maternal obligation and
lets her young be nourished at the breast of a stranger. Strindberg in
his rage never stops to think that the deputies in these cases,--cooks
and housemaids and nurses and so forth,--themselves belong to the female
sex, by which fact the impeachment is in large part invalidated.

The play bearing the satirical title "Comrades" makes a special
application of the theory about the pre-established antagonism of the
sexes. In a situation similar to that in "The Father," husband and wife
are shown in a yet sharper antithesis of character: a man of sterling
character and ability foiled by a woman in all respects his inferior,
yet imperiously determined to dominate him. At first she seems to
succeed in her ambition, and in the same measure as she assumes a more
and more mannish demeanor, the husband's behavior grows more and more
effeminate. But the contest leads to results opposite to those in "The
Father." Here, the man, once he is brought to a full realization of his
plight, arouses himself from his apathy, reasserts his manhood, and, in
the ensuing fight for supremacy, routs the usurper and comes into his
own. The steps by which he passes through revolt from subjection to
self-liberation, are cleverly signaled by his outward transformation, as
he abandons the womanish style of dressing imposed on him by his wife's
whim and indignantly flings into a corner the feminine costume which she
would make him wear at the ball.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Leaving aside, then, all question as to their artistic value,
Strindberg's dramas are deserving of attention as experiments in a
fairly unexplored field of analytic psychology. They are the first
literary creations of any great importance begotten by such bitter
hatred of woman. The anti-feminism of Strindberg's predecessors, not
excepting that arch-misogynist, Arthur Schopenhauer himself, sprang from
contempt, not from abhorrence and abject fear. In Strindberg, misogyny
turns into downright gynophobia. To him, woman is not an object of
disdain, but the cruel and merciless persecutor of man. In order to
disclose the most dangerous traits of the feminine soul, Strindberg
dissects it by a method that corresponds closely to Ibsen's astonishing
demonstration of masculine viciousness. The wide-spread dislike for
Strindberg's dramas is due, in equal parts, to the detestableness of his
male characters, and to the optimistic disbelief of the general public
in the reality of womanhood as he represents it. Strindberg's
portraiture of the sex appears as a monstrous slander, principally
because no other painter has ever placed the model into the same
disadvantageous light, and the authenticity of his pictures is rendered
suspicious by their abnormal family resemblance. He was obsessed with
the petrifying vision of a uniform cruel selfishness staring out of
every woman's face: countess, courtezan, or kitchen maid, all are cast
in the same gorgon mold.

Strindberg's aversion towards women was probably kindled into action, as
has already been intimated, by his disgust at the sudden irruption of
woman worship into literature; but, as has also been made clear, only
the disillusionments and grievances of his private experience hardened
that aversion into implacable hatred. At first he simply declined to
ally himself with the feminist cult, because the women he knew seemed
unworthy of being worshipped,--little vain dolls, frivolous coquettes,
and pedants given to domestic tyranny, of such the bulk was made up.
Under the maddening spur of his personal misfortunes, his feeling passed
from weariness to detestation, from detestation to a bitter mixture of
fear and furious hate. He conceived it as his supreme mission and
central purpose in life to unmask the demon with the angel's face, to
tear the drapings from the idol and expose to view the hideous ogress
that feeds on the souls of men. Woman, in Strindberg's works, is a bogy,
constructed out of the vilest ingredients that enter into the
composition of human nature, with a kind of convulsive life infused by a
remnant of great artistic power. And this grewsome fabric of a diseased
imagination, like Frankenstein's monster, wreaks vengeance on its maker.
His own mordant desire for her is the lash that drives him irresistibly
to his destruction.

It requires no profound psychologic insight to divine in this odious
chimera the deplorable abortion of a fine ideal. The distortion of truth
emanates in Strindberg's work, as it does in any significant satire or
caricature, from indignation over the contrast between a lofty
conception and a disappointing reality. What, after all, can be the
mission of this hard-featured gallery of females,--peevish, sullen,
impudent, grasping, violent, lecherous, malignant, and vindictive,--if
it is not to mark pravity and debasement with a stigma in the name of a
pure and noble womanhood?

                   *       *       *       *       *

It should not be left unmentioned that we owe to August Strindberg some
works of great perfection fairly free from the black obsession and with
a constructive and consistently idealistic tendency: splendid
descriptions of a quaint people and their habitat, tinged with a fine
sense of humor, as in "The Hemsoe-Dwellers"; charming studies of
landscape and of floral and animal life, in the "Portraits of Flowers
and Animals"; the colossal work on the Swedish People, once before
referred to, a history conceived and executed in a thoroughly modern
scientific spirit; two volumes of "Swedish Fortunes and Adventures";
most of his historic dramas also are of superior order. But these works
lie outside the scope of the more specific discussion of Strindberg as a
mystic and an eccentric to which this sketch is devoted. We may conclude
by briefly considering the final phases of Strindberg's checkered
intellectual career, and by summing up his general significance for the

It will be recalled that during the middle period of his life, (in
1888), Strindberg came into personal touch with Nietzsche. The effect of
the latter's sensational philosophy is clearly perceptible in the works
of that period, notably in "Tschandala" and "By the Open Sea."
Evidently, Nietzsche, at first, was very congenial to him. For both men
were extremely aristocratic in their instincts. For a while, Strindberg
endorsed unqualifiedly the heterodox ethics of the towering paranoiac.
For one thing, that philosophy supplied fresh food and fuel to his
burning rage against womankind, and that was enough to bribe him into
swallowing, for the time being, the entire substance of Nietzsche's
fantastic doctrine. He took the same ground as Nietzsche, that the race
had deteriorated in consequence of its sentimentality, namely through
the systematic protection of physical and mental inferiority and
unchecked procreation of weaklings. He seconded Nietzsche's motion that
society should exterminate its parasites, instead of pampering them.
Mankind can only be reinvigorated if the strong and healthy are helped
to come into their own. The dreams of the pacifists are fatal to the
pragmatic virtues and to the virility of the race. The greatest need is
an aggressive campaign for the moral and intellectual sanitation of the
world. So let the brain rule over the heart,--and so forth in the same

Very soon, however, Strindberg passed out of the sphere of Nietzsche's
influence. The alienation was due as much to his general instability as
to the disparity between his pessimistic temper and the joyous
exaltation of Zarathustra-ism. His striking reversion to orthodoxy was
by no means illogical. Between pessimism and faith there exists a
relation that is not very far to seek. When a person has forfeited his
peace of soul and cannot find grace before his own conscience, he might
clutch as a last hope the promise of vicarious redemption. Extending the
significance of his own personal experience to everything within his
horizon, and erecting a dogmatic system upon this tenuous
generalisation, Strindberg reached the conviction that the purpose of
living is to suffer, a conviction that threw his philosophy well into
line with the religious and ethical ideas of the middle age. Yet even at
this juncture his cynicism did not desert him, as witness this comment
of his: "Religion must be a punishment, because nobody gets religion who
does not have a bad conscience." This avowal preceded his saltatory
approach to Roman Catholicism.

In the later volumes of his autobiography he minutely describes the
successive crises through which he passed in his agonizing search for
certitude and salvation before his spirit found rest in the idea of
Destiny which formerly to him was synonymous with Fate and now became
synonymous with Providence. "Inferno" pictures his existence as a
protracted and unbroken nightmare. He turned determinist, then fatalist,
then mystic. The most trifling incidents of his daily life were spelt
out according to Swedenborg's "Science of Correspondences" and thereby
assumed a deep and terrifying significance. In the most trivial events,
such as the opening or shutting of a door, or the curve etched by a
raindrop on a dusty pane of glass, he perceived intimations from the
occult power that directed his life. Into the most ordinary occurrence
of the day he read a divine order, or threat, or chastisement. He was
tormented by terrible dreams and visions; in the guise of ferocious
beasts, his own sins agonized his flesh. And in the midst of all these
tortures he studied and practised the occult arts: magic, astrology,
necromancy, alchemy; he concocted gold by hermetical science! To all
appearances utterly deranged, he was still lucid enough at intervals to
carry on chemical, botanical, and physiological experiments of
legitimate worth. Then his reason cleared up once again and put a sudden
end to an episode which he has described in these words: "To go in quest
of God and to find the devil,--that is what happened to me."

He took leave of Swedenborg as he had taken leave of Nietzsche, yet
retained much gratitude for him; the great Scandinavian seer had brought
him back to God, so he averred, even though the conversion was effected
by picturings of horror.

"Legends," the further continuation of his self-history, shows him
vividly at his closest contact with the Catholic Church. But the most
satisfactory portion of the autobiography from a human point of view,
and from a literary point perhaps altogether the best thing Strindberg
has done, is the closing book of the series, entitled "Alone." He wrote
it at the age of fifty, during a period of comparative tranquillity of
mind, and that fact is manifested by the composure and moderation of its
style. Now at last his storm-tossed soul seems to have found a haven. He
accepts his destiny, and resigns himself to believing, since knowledge
is barred.

But even this state of serenity harbored no permanent peace; it
signified merely a temporary suspension of those terrific internal

In Strindberg's case, religious conversion is not an edifying, but on
the contrary a morbid and saddening spectacle; it is equal to a
declaration of complete spiritual bankruptcy. He turns to the church
after finding all other pathways to God blocked. His type of
Christianity does not hang together with the labors and struggles of his
secular life. A break with his past can be denied to no man; least of
all to a leader of men. Only, if he has deserted the old road, he should
be able to lead in the new; he must have a new message if he sees fit to
cancel the old. Strindberg, however, has nothing to offer at the end. He
stands before us timorous and shrinking, the accuser of his fellows
turned self-accuser, a beggar stretching forth empty, trembling hands
imploring forgiveness of his sins and the salvation of his soul through
gracious mediation. His moral asseverations are either blank truisms, or
intellectual aberrations. Strindberg has added nothing to the stock of
human understanding. A preacher, of course, is not in duty bound to
generate original thought. Indeed if such were to be exacted, our
pulpits would soon be as sparsely peopled as already are the pews.
Ministers who are wondering hard why so many people stay away from
church might well stop to consider whether the reason is not that a
large portion of mankind has already secured, theoretically, a religious
or ethical basis of life more or less identical with the one which
churches content themselves with offering. The greatest religious
teacher of modern times, Leo Tolstoy, was not by any means a bringer of
new truths. The true secret of the tremendous power which nevertheless
he wielded over the souls of men was that he extended the practical
application of what he believed. If, therefore, we look for a lesson in
Strindberg's life as recited by himself, we shall not find it in his
religious conversion.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Taken in its entirety, his voluminous yet fragmentary life history is
one of the most painful human documents on record. One can hardly peruse
it without asking: Was Strindberg insane? It is a question which he
often put to himself when remorse and self-reproach gnawed at his
conscience and when he fancied himself scorned and persecuted by all his
former friends. "Why are you so hated?" he asks himself in one of his
dialogues, and this is his answer: "I could not endure to see mankind
suffer, and so I said and wrote: 'Free yourselves, I shall help.' And so
I said to the poor: 'Do not let the rich suck your blood.' And to woman:
'Do not let man oppress you.' And to the children: 'Do not obey your
parents if they are unjust.' The consequences,--well, they are quite
incomprehensible; for of a sudden I had both sides against me, rich and
poor, men and women, parents and children; add to that sickness and
poverty, disgraceful pauperism, my divorce, lawsuits, exile, loneliness,
and now, to top the climax,--do you believe that I am insane?" From his
ultra-subjective point of view, the explanation here given of the total
collapse of his fortunes is fairly accurate, at least in the essential
aspects. Still, many great men have been pursued by a similar conflux of
calamities. Overwhelming misfortunes are the surest test of manhood. How
high a person bears up his head under the blows of fate is the best gage
of his stature. But Strindberg, in spite of his colossal physique, was
not cast in the heroic mold. The breakdown of his fortunes caused him to
turn traitor to himself, to recant and destroy his intellectual past.

Whether he was actually insane is a question for psychiaters to settle;
normal he certainly was not. In medical opinion his modes of reacting to
the obstructions and difficulties of the daily life were conclusively
symptomatic of neurasthenia. Certain obsessive ideas and idiosyncracies
of his, closely bordering upon phobia, would seem to indicate grave
psychic disorder. His temper and his world-view were indicative of
hypochondria: he perceived only the hostile, never the friendly, aspects
of events, people, and phenomena. Dejectedly he declares: "There is
falseness even in the calm air and the sunshine, and I feel that
happiness has no place in my lot."

Destiny had assembled within him all the doubts and pangs of the modern
soul, but had neglected to counterpoise them with positive and
constructive convictions; so that when his small store of hopes and
prospects was exhausted, he broke down from sheer hollowness of heart.
He died a recluse, a penitent, and a renegade to all his past ideas and

Evidently, with his large assortment of defects both of character and of
intellect, Strindberg could not be classed as one of the great
constructive minds of our period. Viewed in his social importance, he
will interest future students of morals chiefly as an agitator, a
polemist, and in a fashion, too, as a prophet; by his uniquely
aggressive veracity, he rendered a measure of valuable service to his

But viewed as a creative writer, both of drama and fiction, he has an
incontestable claim to our lasting attention. His work shows artistic
ability, even though it rarely attains to greatness and is frequently
marred by the bizarre qualities of his style. Presumably his will be a
permanent place in the history of literature, principally because of the
extraordinary subjective animation of his work. And perhaps in times
less depressed than ours its gloominess may act as a valuable antidote
upon the popular prejudice against being serious. His artistic
profession of faith certainly should save him from wholesale
condemnation. He says in one of his prefaces: "Some people have accused
my tragedy of being too sad, as though one desired a merry tragedy.
People clamor for Enjoyment as though Enjoyment consisted in being
foolish. I find enjoyment in the powerful and terrible struggles of
life; and the capability of experiencing something, of learning
something, gives me pleasure."

The keynote to his literary productions is the cry of the agony of
being. Every line of his works is written in the shadow of the sorrow of
living. In them, all that is most dismal and terrifying and therefore
most tragical, becomes articulate. They are propelled by an abysmal
pessimism, and because of this fact, since pessimism is one of the
mightiest inspiring forces in literature, August Strindberg, its
foremost spokesman, deserves to be read and understood.



In these embattled times it is perfectly natural to expect from any
discourse on Nietzsche's philosophy first of all a statement concerning
the relation of that troublesome genius to the origins of the war; and
this demand prompts a few candid words on that aspect of the subject at
the start.

For more than three years the public has been persistently taught by the
press to think of Friedrich Nietzsche mainly as the powerful promoter of
a systematic national movement of the German people for the conquest of
the world. But there is strong and definite internal evidence in the
writings of Nietzsche against the assumption that he intentionally
aroused a spirit of war or aimed in any way at the world-wide
preponderance of Germany's type of civilization. Nietzsche had a
temperamental loathing for everything that is brutal, a loathing which
was greatly intensified by his personal contact with the horrors of war
while serving as a military nurse in the campaign of 1870. If there were
still any one senseless enough to plead the erstwhile popular cause of
Pan-Germanism, he would be likely to find more support for his argument
in the writings of the de-gallicized Frenchman, Count Joseph Arthur
Gobineau, or of the germanized Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain,
than in those of the "hermit of Maria-Sils," who does not even suggest,
let alone advocate, German world-predominance in a single line of all
his writings. To couple Friedrich Nietzsche with Heinrich von Treitschke
as the latter's fellow herald of German ascendancy is truly
preposterous. Treitschke himself was bitterly and irreconcilably set
against the creator of Zarathustra,(14) in whom ever since
"Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen" he had divined "the good European,"--which
to the author of the _Deutsche Geschichte_ meant the bad Prussian, and
by consequence the bad German.

  (14) As is convincingly pointed out in a footnote of J. A. Cramb's
  "Germany and England."

As a consummate individualist and by the same token a cosmopolite to the
full, Nietzsche was the last remove from national, or strictly speaking
even from racial, jingoism. Even the imputation of ordinary patriotic
sentiments would have been resented by him as an insult, for such
sentiments were to him a sure symptom of that gregarious disposition
which was so utterly abhorrent to his feelings. In his German
citizenhood he took no pride whatsoever. On every occasion that offered
he vented in mordant terms his contempt for the country of his birth,
boastfully proclaiming his own derivation from alien stock. He bemoaned
his fate of having to write for Germans; averring that people who drank
beer and smoked pipes were hopelessly incapable of understanding him. Of
this extravagance in denouncing his countrymen the following account by
one of his keenest American interpreters gives a fair idea. "No epithet
was too outrageous, no charge was too farfetched, no manipulation or
interpretation of evidence was too daring to enter into his ferocious
indictment. He accused the Germans of stupidity, superstitiousness, and
silliness; of a chronic weakness of dodging issues, a fatuous
'barn-yard' and 'green-pasture' contentment, of yielding supinely to the
commands and exactions of a clumsy and unintelligent government; of
degrading education to the low level of mere cramming and examination
passing; of a congenital inability to understand and absorb the culture
of other peoples, and particularly the culture of the French; of a
boorish bumptiousness, and an ignorant, ostrichlike complacency; of a
systematic hostility to men of genius, whether in art, science, or
philosophy; of a slavish devotion to the two great European narcotics,
alcohol and Christianity; of a profound beeriness, a spiritual
dyspepsia, a puerile mysticism, an old-womanish pettiness, and an
ineradicable liking for the obscure, evolving, crepuscular, damp, and
shrouded."(15) It certainly requires a violent twist of logic to hold
this catalogue of invectives responsible for the transformation of a
sluggish and indolent bourgeoisie into a "Volk in Waffen" unified by an
indomitable and truculent rapacity.

  (15) H. L. Mencken, "The Mailed Fist and Its Prophet." _Atlantic
  Monthly_, November, 1914.

Neither should Nietzsche's general condemnation of mild and tender
forbearance--on the ground that it blocks the purpose of nature--be
interpreted as a call to universal militancy. By his ruling it is only
supermen that are privileged to carry their will through. But undeniably
he does teach that the world belongs to the strong. They may grab it at
any temporary loss to the common run of humanity and, if need be, with
sanguinary force, since their will is, ulteriorly, identical with the
cosmic purpose.

Of course this is preaching war of some sort, but Nietzsche was not in
favor of war on ethnic or ethical grounds, like that fanatical
militarist, General von Bernhardi, whom the great mass of his countrymen
in the time before the war would have bluntly rejected as their
spokesman. Anyway, Nietzsche did not mean to encourage Germany to
subjugate the rest of the world. He even deprecated her victory in the
bloody contest of 1870, because he thought that it had brought on a form
of material prosperity of which internal decay and the collapse of
intellectual and spiritual ideals were the unfortunate concomitants. At
the same time, the universal decrepitude prevented the despiser of his
own people from conceiving a decided preference for some other country.
He held that all European nations were progressing in the wrong
direction,--the deadweight of exaggerated and misshapen materialism
dragged them back and down. English life he deemed almost irredeemably
clogged by utilitarianism. Even France, the only modern commonwealth
credited by Nietzsche with an indigenous culture, was governed by what
he stigmatizes as the life philosophy of the shopkeeper. Nietzsche is
destitute of national ideals. In fact he never thinks in terms of
politics. He aims to be "a good European, not a good German." In his
aversion to the extant order of society he never for a moment advocates,
like Rousseau or Tolstoy, a breach with civilization. Cataclysmic
changes through anarchy, revolution, and war were repugnant to his
ideals of culture. For two thousand years the races of Europe had toiled
to humanize themselves, school their character, equip their minds,
refine their tastes. Could any sane reformer have calmly contemplated
the possible engulfment in another Saturnian age of the gains purchased
by that enormous expenditure of human labor? According to Nietzsche's
conviction, the new dispensation could not be entered in a book of blank
pages. A higher civilization could only be reared upon a lower. So it
seems that he is quite wrongly accused of having been an "accessory
before the deed," in any literal or legal sense, to the stupendous
international struggle witnessed to-day. And we may pass on to consider
in what other way he was a vital factor of modern social development.
For whatever we may think of the political value of his teachings, it is
impossible to deny their arousing and inspiriting effect upon the
intellectual, moral, and artistic faculties of his epoch and ours.

                   *       *       *       *       *

It should be clearly understood that the significance of Nietzsche for
our age is not to be explained by any weighty discovery in the realm of
knowledge. Nietzsche's merit consists not in any unriddling of the
universe by a metaphysical key to its secrets, but rather in the
diffusion of a new intellectual light elucidating human consciousness in
regard to the purpose and the end of existence. Nietzsche has no
objective truths to teach, indeed he acknowledges no truth other than
subjective. Nor does he put any faith in bare logic, but on the contrary
pronounces it one of mankind's greatest misfortunes. His argumentation
is not sustained and progressive, but desultory, impressionistic, and
freely repetitional; slashing aphorism is its most effective tool. And
so, in the sense of the schools, he is not a philosopher at all; quite
the contrary, an implacable enemy of the _métier_. And yet the formative
and directive influence of his vaticinations, enunciated with tremendous
spiritual heat and lofty gesture, has been very great. His conception of
life has acted upon the generation as a moral intoxicant of truly
incalculable strength.

Withal his published work, amounting to eighteen volumes, though
flagrantly irrational, yet does contain a perfectly coherent doctrine.
Only, it is a doctrine to whose core mere peripheric groping will never
negotiate the approach. Its essence must be caught by flashlike seizure
and cannot be conveyed except to minds of more than the average
imaginative sensibility. For its central ideas relate to the remotest
ultimates, and its dominant prepossession, the _Overman_, is, in the
final reckoning, the creature of a Utopian fancy. To be more precise,
Nietzsche extorts from the Darwinian theory of selection a set of
amazing connotations by means of the simultaneous shift from the
biological to the poetic sphere of thought and from the averagely
socialized to an uncompromisingly self-centred attitude of mind. This
doubly eccentric position is rendered feasible for him by a whole-souled
indifference to exact science and an intense contempt for the practical
adjustments of life. He is, first and last, an imaginative schemer,
whose visions are engendered by inner exuberance; the propelling power
of his philosophy being an intense temperamental enthusiasm at one and
the same time lyrically sensitive and dramatically impassioned. It is
these qualities of soul that made his utterance ring with the force of a
high moral challenge. All the same, he was not any more original in his
ethics than in his theory of knowledge. In this field also his receptive
mind threw itself wide open to the flow of older influences which it
encountered. The religion of personal advantage had had many a prophet
before Nietzsche. Among the older writers, Machiavelli was its
weightiest champion. In Germany, Nietzsche's immediate predecessor was
"Max Stirner,"(16) and as regards foreign thinkers, Nietzsche declared
as late as 1888 that to no other writer of his own century did he feel
himself so closely allied by the ties of congeniality as to Ralph Waldo

  (16) His real name was Kaspar Schmidt; he lived from 1806-1856.

The most superficial acquaintance with these writers shows that
Nietzsche is held responsible for certain revolutionary notions of which
he by no means was the originator. Of the connection of his doctrine
with the maxims of "The Prince" and of "The Ego and His Own" (_Der
Einzige und sein Eigentum_)(17) nothing further need be said than that
to them Nietzsche owes, directly or indirectly, the principle of
"non-morality." However, he does not employ the same strictly
intellectual methods. They were logicians rather than moralists, and
their ruler-man is in the main a construction of cold reasoning, while
the ruler-man of Nietzsche is the vision of a genius whose eye looks
down a much longer perspective than is accorded to ordinary mortals.
That a far greater affinity of temper should have existed between
Nietzsche and Emerson than between him and the two classic
non-moralists, must bring surprise to the many who have never recognized
the Concord Sage as an exponent of unfettered individualism. Yet in fact
Emerson goes to such an extreme of individualism that the only thing
that has saved his memory from anathema is that he has not many readers
in his after-times, and these few do not always venture to understand
him. And Emerson, though in a different way from Nietzsche's, was also a
rhapsodist. In his poetry, where he articulates his meaning with far
greater unrestraint than in his prose, we find without any difficulty
full corroboration of his spiritual kinship with Nietzsche. For
instance, where may we turn in the works of the latter for a stronger
statement of the case of Power versus Pity than is contained in "The
World Soul"?

    "He serveth the servant,
     The brave he loves amain,
     He kills the cripple and the sick,
     And straight begins again;
     For gods delight in gods,
     And thrust the weak aside,--
     To him who scorns their charities
     Their arms fly open wide."

From such a world-view what moral could proceed more logically than that
of Zarathustra: "And him whom ye do not teach to fly, teach--how to fall

  (17) By Machiavelli and Stirner, respectively.

But after all, the intellectual origin of Nietzsche's ideas matters but
little. Wheresoever they were derived from, he made them strikingly his
own by raising them to the splendid elevation of his thought. And if
nevertheless he has failed to take high rank and standing among the
sages of the schools, this shortage in his professional prestige is more
than counterbalanced by the wide reach of his influence among the laity.
What might the re-classification, or perchance even the
re-interpretation, of known facts about life have signified beside
Nietzsche's lofty apprehension of the sacredness of life itself? For
whatever may be the social menace of his reasoning, his commanding
proclamation to an expectant age of the doctrine that Progress means
infinite growth towards ideals of perfection has resulted in a singular
reanimation of the individual sense of dignity, served as a potent
remedy of social dry-rot, and furthered our gradual emergence from the
impenetrable darkness of ancestral traditions.

In seeking an adequate explanation of his power over modern minds we
readily surmise that his philosophy draws much of its vitality from the
system of science that underlies it. And yet while it is true enough
that Nietzsche's fundamental thesis is an offshoot of the Darwinian
theory, the violent individualism which is the driving principle of his
entire philosophy is rather opposed to the general orientation of
Darwinism, since that is social. Not to the author of the "Descent of
Man" directly is the modern ethical glorification of egoism indebted for
its measure of scientific sanction, but to one of his heterodox
disciples, namely to the bio-philosopher W. H. Rolph, who in a volume
named "Biologic Problems," with the subtitle, "An Essay in Rational
Ethics,"(18) deals definitely with the problem of evolution in its
dynamical bearings. The question is raised, Why do the extant types of
life ascend toward higher goals, and, on reaching them, progress toward
still higher goals, to the end of time? Under the reason as explained by
Darwin, should not evolution stop at a definite stage, namely, when the
object of the competitive struggle for existence has been fully
attained? Self-preservation naturally ceases to act as an incentive to
further progress, so soon as the weaker contestants are beaten off the
field and the survival of the fittest is abundantly secured. From there
on we have to look farther for an adequate causation of the ascent of
species. Unless we assume the existence of an absolutistic teleological
tendency to perfection, we are logically bound to connect upward
development with favorable external conditions. By substituting for the
Darwinian "struggle for existence" a new formula: "struggle for
surplus," Rolph advances a new fruitful hypothesis. In all creatures the
acquisitive cravings exceed the limit of actual necessity. Under
Darwin's interpretation of nature, the struggle between individuals of
the same species would give way to pacific equilibrium as soon as the
bare subsistence were no longer in question. Yet we know that the
struggle is unending. The creature appetites are not appeased by a
normal sufficiency; on the contrary, "_l'appetit vient en mangeant_";
the possessive instinct, if not quite insatiable, is at least
coextensive with its opportunities for gratification. Whether or not it
be true--as Carlyle claims--that, after all, the fundamental question
between any two human beings is, "Can I kill thee, or canst thou kill
me?"--at any rate in civilized human society the contest is not waged
merely for the naked existence, but mainly for life's increments in the
form of comforts, pleasures, luxuries, and the accumulation of power and
influence; and the excess of acquisition over immediate need goes as a
residuum into the structure of civilization. In plain words, then,
social progress is pushed on by individual greed and ambition. At this
point Rolph rests the case, without entering into the moral implicates
of the subject, which would seem to obtrude themselves upon the

  (18) _Biologische Probleme, zugleich als Versuch einer rationellen
  Ethik._ Leipzig, 1882.

Now to a believer in progressive evolution with a strong ethical bent
such a theory brings home man's ulterior responsibility for the
betterment of life, and therefore acts as a call to his supreme duty of
preparing the ground for the arrival of a higher order of beings. The
argument seems simple and clinching. Living nature through a long file
of species and genera has at last worked up to the _homo sapiens_ who as
yet does not even approach the perfection of his own type. Is it a
legitimate ambition of the race to mark time on the stand which it has
reached and to entrench itself impregnably in its present mediocrity?
Nietzsche did not shrink from any of the inferential conclusions
logically to be drawn from the biologic argument. If growth is in the
purpose of nature, then once we have accepted our chief office in life,
it becomes our task to pave the way for a higher genus of man. And the
only force that makes with directness for that object is the Will to
Power. To foreshadow the resultant human type, Nietzsche resurrected
from Goethe's vocabulary the convenient word _Übermensch_--"Overman."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Any one regarding existence in the light of a stern and perpetual combat
is of necessity driven at last to the alternative between making the
best of life and making an end of it; he must either seek lasting
deliverance from the evil of living or endeavor to wrest from the world
by any means at his command the greatest sum of its gratifications. It
is serviceable to describe the two frames of mind respectively as the
optimistic and the pessimistic. But it would perhaps be hasty to
conclude that the first of these attitudes necessarily betokens the
greater strength of character.

Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy sprang from pessimism, yet issued in an
optimism of unheard-of exaltation; carrying, however, to the end its
plainly visible birthmarks. He started out as an enthusiastic disciple
of Arthur Schopenhauer; unquestionably the adherence was fixed by his
own deep-seated contempt for the complacency of the plebs. But he was
bound soon to part company with the grandmaster of pessimism, because he
discovered the root of the philosophy of renunciation in that same
detestable debility of the will which he deemed responsible for the
bovine lassitude of the masses; both pessimism and philistinism came
from a lack of vitality, and were symptoms of racial degeneracy. But
before Nietzsche finally rejected Schopenhauer and gave his shocking
counterblast to the undermining action of pessimism, he succumbed
temporarily to the spell of another gigantic personality. We are not
concerned with Richard Wagner's musical influence upon Nietzsche, who
was himself a musician of no mean ability; what is to the point here is
the prime principle of Wagner's art theory. The key to the Wagnerian
theory is found, also, in Schopenhauer's philosophy. Wagner starts from
the pessimistic thesis that at the bottom of the well of life lies
nothing but suffering,--hence living is utterly undesirable. In one of
his letters to Franz Liszt he names as the duplex root of his creative
genius the longing for love and the yearning for death. On another
occasion, he confesses his own emotional nihilism in the following
summary of _Tristan und Isolde_: "_Sehnsucht, Sehnsucht, unstillbares,
ewig neu sich gebärendes Verlangen--Schmachten und Dursten; einzige
Erlösung: Tod, Sterben, Untergehen,--Nichtmehrerwachen._"(19) But from
the boundless ocean of sorrow there is a refuge. It was Wagner's
fundamental dogma that through the illusions of art the individual is
enabled to rise above the hopelessness of the realities into a new
cosmos replete with supreme satisfactions. Man's mundane salvation
therefore depends upon the ministrations of art and his own artistic
sensitiveness. The glorification of genius is a natural corollary of
such a belief.

  (19) "Longing, longing, unquenchable desire, reproducing itself
  forever anew--thirst and drought; sole deliverance: death,
  dissolution, extinction,--and no awaking."

Nietzsche in one of his earliest works examines Wagner's theory and
amplifies it by a rather casuistic interpretation of the evolution of
art. After raising the question, How did the Greeks contrive to dignify
and ennoble their national existence? he points, by way of an
illustrative answer, not perchance to the Periclean era, but to a far
more primitive epoch of Hellenic culture, when a total oblivion of the
actual world and a transport into the realm of imagination was
universally possible. He explains the trance as the effect of
intoxication,--primarily in the current literal sense of the word. Such
was the significance of the cult of Dionysos. "Through singing and
dancing," claims Nietzsche, "man manifests himself as member of a higher
community. Walking and talking he has unlearned, and is in a fair way to
dance up into the air." That this supposititious Dionysiac phase of
Hellenic culture was in turn succeeded by more rational stages, in which
the impulsive flow of life was curbed and dammed in by operations of the
intellect, is not permitted by Nietzsche to invalidate the argument. By
his arbitrary reading of ancient history he was, at first, disposed to
look to the forthcoming _Universal-Kunstwerk_(20) as the complete
expression of a new religious spirit and as the adequate lever of a
general uplift of mankind to a state of bliss. But the typical disparity
between Wagner and Nietzsche was bound to alienate them. Wagner, despite
all appearance to the contrary, is inherently democratic in his
convictions,--his earlier political vicissitudes amply confirm this
view,--and fastens his hope for the elevation of humanity through art
upon the sort of genius in whom latent popular forces might combine to a
new summit. Nietzsche on the other hand represents the extreme
aristocratic type, both in respect of thought and of sentiment. "I do
not wish to be confounded with and mistaken for these preachers of
equality," says he. "For within _me_ justice saith: men are not equal."
His ideal is a hero of coercive personality, dwelling aloft in solitude,
despotically bending the gregarious instincts of the common crowd to his
own higher purposes by the dominating force of his Will to Might.

  (20) Work of all arts.

The concept of the Overman rests, as has been shown, upon a fairly solid
substructure of plausibility, since at the bottom of the author's
reasoning lies the notion that mankind is destined to outgrow its
current status; the thought of a humanity risen to new and wondrous
heights of power over nature is not necessarily unscientific for being
supremely imaginative. The Overman, however, cannot be produced ready
made, by any instantaneous process; he must be slowly and persistently
willed into being, through love of the new ideal which he is to embody:
"All great Love," speaketh Zarathustra, "seeketh to create what it
loveth. _Myself_ I sacrifice into my love, and _my neighbor_ as myself,
thus runneth the speech of all creators." Only the fixed conjoint
purpose of many generations of aspiring men will be able to create the
Overman. "Could you create a God?--Then be silent concerning all gods!
But ye could very well create Beyond-man. Not yourselves perhaps, my
brethren! But ye could create yourselves into fathers and fore-fathers
of Beyond-man; and let this be your best creating. But all creators are

Nietzsche's startlingly heterodox code of ethics coheres organically
with the Overman hypothesis, and so understood is certain to lose some
of its aspect of absurdity. The racial will, as we have seen, must be
taught to aim at the Overman. But the volitional faculty of the
generation, according to Nietzsche, is so debilitated as to be utterly
inadequate to its office. Hence, advisedly to stimulate and strengthen
the enfeebled will power of his fellow men is the most imperative and
immediate task of the radical reformer. Once the power of willing, as
such, shall have been,--regardless of the worthiness of its
object,--brought back to active life, it will be feasible to give the
Will to Might a direction towards objects of the highest moral grandeur.

Unfortunately for the race as a whole, the throng is ineligible for
partnership in the auspicious scheme of co-operative procreation: which
fact necessitates a segregative method of breeding. The Overman can only
be evolved by an ancestry of master-men, who must be secured to the race
by a rigid application of eugenic standards, particularly in the matter
of mating. Of marriage, Nietzsche has this definition: "Marriage, so
call I the will of two to create one who is more than they who created
him." For the bracing of the weakened will-force of the human breed it
is absolutely essential that master-men, the potential progenitors of
the superman, be left unhampered to the impulse of "living themselves
out" (_sich auszuleben_),--an opportunity of which under the regnant
code of morals they are inconsiderately deprived. Since, then, existing
dictates and conventions are a serious hindrance to the requisite
autonomy of the master-man, their abolishment might be well. Yet on the
other hand, it is convenient that the _Vielzuviele_, the
"much-too-many," i. e. the despised generality of people, should
continue to be governed and controlled by strict rules and regulations,
so that the will of the master-folk might the more expeditiously be
wrought. Would it not, then, be an efficacious compromise to keep the
canon of morality in force for the general run, but suspend it for the
special benefit of master-men, prospective or full-fledged? From the
history of the race Nietzsche draws a warrant for the distinction. His
contention is that masters and slaves have never lived up to a single
code of conduct. Have not civilizations risen and fallen according as
they were shaped by this or that class of nations? History also teaches
what disastrous consequences follow the loss of caste. In the case of
the Jewish people, the domineering type or morals gave way to the
servile as a result of the Babylonian captivity. So long as the Jews
were strong, they extolled all manifestations of strength and energy.
The collapse of their own strength turned them into apologists of the
so-called "virtues" of humility, long-suffering, forgiveness,--until,
according to the Judæo-Christian code of ethics, being good came to mean
being weak. So races may justly be classified into masters and slaves,
and history proves that to the strong goes the empire. The ambitions of
a nation are a sure criterion of its worth.

    "I walk through these folk and keep mine eyes open. They have become
    _smaller_ and are becoming ever smaller. _And the reason of that is
    their doctrine of happiness and virtue._

    For they are modest even in their virtue; for they are desirous of
    ease. But with ease only modest virtue is compatible.

    True, in their fashion they learn how to stride and to stride
    forward. That I call their _hobbling_. Thereby they become an
    offense unto every one who is in a hurry.

    And many a one strideth on and in doing so looketh backward, with a
    stiffened neck. I rejoice to run against the stomachs of such.

    Foot and eyes shall not lie, nor reproach each other for lying. But
    there is much lying among small folk.

    Some of them _will_, but most of them _are willed_ merely. Some of
    them are genuine, but most of them are bad actors.

    There are unconscious actors among them, and involuntary actors. The
    genuine are always rare, especially genuine actors.

    Here is little of man; therefore women try to make themselves manly.
    For only he who is enough of a man will save the woman in woman.

    And this hypocrisy I found to be worst among them, that even those
    who command feign the virtues of those who serve.

    'I serve, thou servest, we serve.' Thus the hypocrisy of the rulers
    prayeth. And, alas, if the highest lord be merely the highest

    Alas! the curiosity of mine eye strayed even unto their hypocrisies,
    and well I divined all their fly-happiness and their humming round
    window panes in the sunshine.

    So much kindness, so much weakness see I. So much justice and
    sympathy, so much weakness.

    Round, honest, and kind are they towards each other, as grains of
    sand are round, honest, and kind unto grains of sand.

    Modestly to embrace a small happiness--they call 'submission'! And
    therewith they modestly look sideways after a new small happiness.

    At bottom they desire plainly one thing most of all: to be hurt by
    nobody. Thus they oblige all and do well unto them.

    But this is _cowardice_; although it be called 'virtue.'

    And if once they speak harshly, these small folk,--I hear therein
    merely their hoarseness. For every draught of air maketh them

    Prudent are they; their virtues have prudent fingers. But they are
    lacking in clenched fists; their fingers know not how to hide
    themselves behind fists.

    For them virtue is what maketh modest and tame. Thereby they have
    made the wolf a dog and man himself man's best domestic animal.

    'We put our chair in the midst'--thus saith their simpering unto
    me--'exactly as far from dying gladiators as from happy swine.'

    This is mediocrity; although it be called moderation."(21)

  (21) "Thus Spake Zarathustra," pp. 243-245.

The only law acknowledged by him who would be a master is the bidding of
his own will. He makes short work of every other law. Whatever clogs the
flight of his indomitable ambition must be ruthlessly swept aside.
Obviously, the enactment of this law that would render the individual
supreme and absolute would strike the death-knell for all established
forms and institutions of the social body. But such is quite within
Nietzsche's intention. They are noxious agencies, ingeniously devised
for the enslavement of the will, and the most pernicious among them is
the Christian religion, because of the alleged divine sanction conferred
by it upon subserviency. Christianity would thwart the supreme will of
nature by curbing that lust for domination which the laws of nature as
revealed by science sanction, nay prescribe. Nietzsche's ideas on this
subject are loudly and over-loudly voiced in _Der Antichrist_ ("The
Anti-Christ"), written in September 1888 as the first part of a planned
treatise in four instalments, entitled _Der Wille zur Macht. Versuch
einer Umwertung aller Werte_. ("The Will to Power. An Attempted
Transvaluation of All Values".)

                   *       *       *       *       *

The master-man's will, then, is his only law. That is the essence of
_Herrenmoral_. And so the question arises, Whence shall the conscience
of the ruler-man derive its distinctions between the Right and the
Wrong? The arch-iconoclast brusquely stifles this naïve query beforehand
by assuring us that such distinctions in their accepted sense do not
exist for personages of that grander stamp. Heedless of the
time-hallowed concepts that all men share in common, he enjoins
mastermen to take their position uncompromisingly outside the confining
area of conventions, in the moral independence that dwells "beyond good
and evil." Good and Evil are mere denotations, devoid of any real
significance. Right and Wrong are not ideals immutable through the ages,
nor even the same at any time in all states of society. They are vague
and general notions, varying more or less with the practical exigencies
under which they were conceived. What was right for my great-grandfather
is not _ipso facto_ right for myself. Hence, the older and better
established a law, the more inapposite is it apt to be to the living
demands. Why should the ruler-man bow down to outworn statutes or
stultify his self-dependent moral sense before the artificial and
stupidly uniform moral relics of the dead past? Good is whatever
conduces to the increase of my power,--evil is whatever tends to
diminish it! Only the weakling and the hypocrite will disagree.

Unmistakably this is a straightout application of the "pragmatic"
criterion of truth. Nietzsche's unconfessed and cautious imitators, who
call themselves pragmatists, are not bold enough to follow their own
logic from the cognitive sphere to the moral. They stop short of the
natural conclusion to which their own premises lead. Morality is
necessarily predicated upon specific notions of truth. So if Truth is an
alterable and shifting concept, must not morality likewise be variable?
The pragmatist might just as well come out at once into the broad light
and frankly say: "Laws do not interest me in the abstract, or for the
sake of their general beneficence; they interest me only in so far as
they affect me. Therefore I will make, interpret, and abolish them to
suit myself."

To Nietzsche the "quest of truth" is a palpable evasion. Truth is merely
a means for the enhancement of my subjective satisfaction. It makes not
a whit of difference whether an opinion or a judgment satisfies this or
that scholastic definition. I call true and good that which furthers my
welfare and intensifies my joy in living; and,--to vindicate my
self-gratification as a form, indeed the highest, of "social
service,"--the desirable thing is that which matters for the improvement
of the human stock and thereby speeds the advent of the Superman. "Oh,"
exclaims Zarathustra, "that ye would understand my word: Be sure to do
whatever ye like,--but first of all be such as _can will_! Be sure to
love your neighbor as yourself,--but first of all be such as _love
themselves_,--as love themselves with great love, with contempt. Thus
speaketh Zarathustra, the ungodly."

By way of throwing some light upon this phase of Nietzsche's moral
philosophy, it may be added that ever since 1876 he was an assiduous
student of Herbert Spencer, with whose theory of social evolution he was
first made acquainted by his friend, Paul Rée, who in two works of his
own, "Psychologic Observations," (1875), and "On the Origin of Moral
Sentiments," (1877), had elaborated upon the Spencerian theory about the
genealogy of morals.

The best known among all of Nietzsche's works, _Also Sprach Zarathustra_
("Thus Spake Zarathustra"), is the Magna Charta of the new moral
emancipation. It was composed during a sojourn in southern climes
between 1883 and 1885, during the convalescence from a nervous collapse,
when after a long and critical depression his spirit was recovering its
accustomed resilience. Nietzsche wrote his _magnum opus_ in solitude, in
the mountains and by the sea. His mind always was at its best in
settings of vast proportions, and in this particular work there breathes
an exaltation that has scarcely its equal in the world's literature.
Style and diction in their supreme elation suit the lofty fervor of the
sentiment. From the feelings, as a fact, this great rhapsody flows, and
to the feelings it makes its appeal; its extreme fascination must be
lost upon those who only know how to "listen to reason." The wondrous
plastic beauty of the language, along with the high emotional pitch of
its message, render "Zarathustra" a priceless poetic monument; indeed
its practical effect in chastening and rejuvenating German literary
diction can hardly be overestimated. Its value as a philosophic document
is much slighter. It is not even organized on severely logical lines. On
the contrary, the four component parts are but brilliant variations upon
a single generic theme, each in a different clef, but harmoniously
united by the incremental ecstasy of the movement. The composition is
free from monotony, for down to each separate aphorism every part of it
has its special lyric nuance. The whole purports to convey in the form
of discourse the prophetic message of Zarathustra, the hermit sage, an
idealized self-portrayal of the author.

In the first book the tone is calm and temperate. Zarathustra exhorts
and instructs his disciples, rails at his adversaries, and discloses his
superiority over them. In the soliloquies and dialogues of the second
book he reveals himself more fully and freely as the Superman. The third
book contains the meditations and rhapsodies of Zarathustra now dwelling
wholly apart from men, his mind solely occupied with thought about the
Eternal Return of the Present. In the fourth book he is found in the
company of a few chosen spirits whom he seeks to imbue with his
perfected doctrine. In this final section of the work the deep lyric
current is already on the ebb; it is largely supplanted by irony,
satire, sarcasm, even buffoonery, all of which are resorted to for the
pitiless excoriation of our type of humanity, deemed decrepit by the
Sage. The author's intention to present in a concluding fifth division
the dying Zarathustra pronouncing his benedictions upon life in the act
of quitting it was not to bear fruit.

"Zarathustra"--Nietzsche's terrific assault upon the fortifications of
our social structure--is too easily mistaken by facile cavilers for the
ravings of an unsound and desperate mind. To a narrow and superficial
reading, it exhibits itself as a wholesale repudiation of all moral
responsibility and a maniacal attempt to subvert human civilization for
the exclusive benefit of the "glorious blonde brute, rampant with greed
for victory and spoil." Yet those who care to look more deeply will
detect beneath this chimerical contempt of conventional regulations no
want of a highminded philanthropic purpose, provided they have the
vision necessary to comprehend a love of man oriented by such extremely
distant perspectives. At all events they will discover that in this
rebellious propaganda an advancing line of life is firmly traced out.
The indolent and thoughtless may indeed be horrified by the appalling
dangers of the gospel according to Zarathustra. But in reality there is
no great cause for alarm. Society may amply rely upon its agencies, even
in these stupendous times of universal war, for protection from any
disastrous organic dislocations incited by the teachings of Zarathustra,
at least so far as the immediate future is concerned--in which alone
society appears to be interested. Moreover, our apprehensions are
appeased by the sober reflection that by its plain unfeasibleness the
whole supersocial scheme of Nietzsche is reduced to colossal absurdity.
Its limitless audacity defeats any formulation of its "war aims." For
what compels an ambitious imagination to arrest itself at the goal of
the superman? Why should it not run on beyond that first terminal? In
one of Mr. G. K. Chesterton's labored extravaganzas a grotesque sort of
super-overman _in spe_ succeeds in going beyond unreason when he
contrives this lucid self-definition: "I have gone where God has never
dared to go. I am above the silly supermen as they are above mere men.
Where I walk in the Heavens, no man has walked before me, and I am alone
in a garden." It is enough to make one gasp and then perhaps luckily
recall Goethe's consoling thought that under the care of Providence the
trees will not grow into the heavens. ("_Es ist dafür gesorgt, dass die
Bäume nicht in den Himmel wachsen._") As matter of fact, the ideas
promulgated in _Also Sprach Zarathustra_ need inspire no fear of their
winning the human race from its venerable idols, despite the fact that
the pull of natural laws and of elemental appetites seems to be on their
side. The only effect to be expected of such a philosophy is that it
will act as an antidote for moral inertia which inevitably goes with the
flock-instinct and the lazy reliance on the accustomed order of things.

Nietzsche's ethics are not easy to valuate, since none of their
standards are derived from the orthodox canon. His being a truly
personalized form of morality, his principles are strictly cognate to
his temperament. To his professed ideals there attaches a definite
theory of society. And since his philosophy is consistent in its
sincerity, its message is withheld from the man-in-the-street, deemed
unworthy of notice, and delivered only to the _élite_ that shall beget
the superman. To Nietzsche the good of the greatest number is no valid
consideration. The great stupid mass exists only for the sake of an
oligarchy by whom it is duly exploited under nature's decree that the
strong shall prey upon the weak. Let, then, this favored set further the
design of nature by systematically encouraging the elevation of their
own type.

                   *       *       *       *       *

We have sought to dispel the fiction about the shaping influence of
Nietzsche upon the thought and conduct of his nation, and have accounted
for the miscarriage of his ethics by their fantastic impracticability.
Yet it has been shown also that he fostered in an unmistakable fashion
the class-consciousness of the aristocrat, born or self-appointed. To
that extent his influence was certainly malign. Yet doubtless he did
perform a service to our age. The specific nature of this service,
stated in the fewest words, is that to his great divinatory gift are we
indebted for an unprecedented strengthening of our hold upon reality. In
order to make this point clear we have to revert once more to
Nietzsche's transient intellectual relation to pessimism.

We have seen that the illusionism of Schopenhauer and more particularly
of Wagner exerted a strong attraction on his high-strung artistic

Nevertheless a certain realistic counter-drift to the ultra-romantic
tendency of Wagner's theory caused him in the long run to reject the
faith in the power of Art to save man from evil. Almost abruptly, his
personal affection for the "Master," to whom in his eventual mental
eclipse he still referred tenderly at lucid moments, changed to bitter
hostility. Henceforth he classes the glorification of Art as one of the
three most despicable attitudes of life: Philistinism, Pietism, and
Estheticism, all of which have their origin in _cowardice_, represent
three branches of the ignominious road of escape from the terrors of
living. In three extended diatribes Nietzsche denounces Wagner as the
archetype of modern decadence; the most violent attack of all is
delivered against the point of juncture in which Wagner's art gospel and
the Christian religion culminate: the promise of redemption through
pity. To Nietzsche's way of thinking pity is merely the coward's
acknowledgment of his weakness. For only insomuch as a man is devoid of
fortitude in bearing his own sufferings is he unable to contemplate with
equanimity the sufferings of his fellow creatures. Since religion
enjoins compassion with all forms of human misery, we should make war
upon religion. And for the reason that Wagner's crowning achievement,
his _Parsifal_, is a veritable sublimation of Mercy, there can be no
truce between its creator and the giver of the counsel: "Be hard!"
Perhaps this notorious advice is after all not as ominous as it sounds.
It merely expresses rather abruptly Nietzsche's confidence in the value
of self-control as a means of discipline. If you have learned calmly to
see others suffer, you are yourself able to endure distress with manful
composure. "Therefore I wash the hand which helped the sufferer;
therefore I even wipe my soul." But, unfortunately, such is the frailty
of human nature that it is only one step from indifference about the
sufferings of others to an inclination to exploit them or even to
inflict pain upon one's neighbors for the sake of personal gain of one
sort or another.

    Why so hard? said once the charcoal unto the diamond, are we not
    near relations?

    Why so soft? O my brethren, thus I ask you. Are ye not my brethren?

    Why so soft, so unresisting, and yielding? Why is there so much
    disavowal and abnegation in your hearts? Why is there so little fate
    in your looks?

    And if ye are not willing to be fates, and inexorable, how could ye
    conquer with me someday?

    And if your hardness would not glance, and cut, and chip into
    pieces--how could ye create with me some day?

    For all creators are hard. And it must seem blessedness unto you to
    press your hand upon millenniums as upon wax,--

    Blessedness to write upon the will of millenniums as upon
    brass,--harder than brass, nobler than brass. The noblest only is
    perfectly hard.

    This new table, O my brethren, I put over you: Become hard!(22)

  (22) "Thus Spake Zarathustra," p. 399, sec. 29.

The repudiation of Wagner leaves a tremendous void in Nietzsche's soul
by depriving his enthusiasm of its foremost concrete object. He loses
his faith in idealism. When illusions can bring a man like Wagner to
such an odious outlook upon life, they must be obnoxious in themselves;
and so, after being subjected to pitiless analysis, they are disowned
and turned into ridicule. And now, the pendulum of his zeal having swung
from one emotional extreme to the other, the great rhapsodist finds
himself temporarily destitute of an adequate theme. However, his fervor
does not long remain in abeyance, and soon it is absorbed in a new
object. Great as is the move it is logical enough. Since illusions are
only a hindrance to the fuller grasp of life which behooves all free
spirits, Nietzsche energetically turns from self-deception to its
opposite, self-realization. In this new spiritual endeavor he relies far
more on intuition than on scientific and metaphysical speculation. From
his own stand he is certainly justified in doing this. Experimentation
and ratiocination at the best are apt to disassociate individual
realities from their complex setting and then proceed to palm them off
as illustrations of life, when in truth they are lifeless, artificially
preserved specimens.

    "Encheiresin naturae nennt's die Chemie,
     Spottet ihrer selbst und weiss nicht wie."(23)

Nietzsche's realism, by contrast, goes to the very quick of nature,
grasps all the gifts of life, and from the continuous flood of phenomena
extracts a rich, full-flavored essence. It is from a sense of gratitude
for this boon that he becomes an idolatrous worshiper of experience,
"_der grosse Jasager_,"--the great sayer of Yes,--and the most
stimulating optimist of all ages. To Nietzsche reality is alive as
perhaps never to man before. He plunges down to the very heart of
things, absorbs their vital qualities and meanings, and having himself
learned to draw supreme satisfaction from the most ordinary facts and
events, he makes the common marvelous to others, which, as was said by
James Russell Lowell, is a true test of genius. No wonder that
deification of reality becomes the dominant _motif_ in his philosophy.
But again that onesided aristocratic strain perverts his ethics. To
drain the intoxicating cup at the feast of life, such is the divine
privilege not of the common run of mortals but only of the elect. They
must not let this or that petty and artificial convention, nor yet this
or that moral command or prohibition, restrain them from the exercise of
that higher sense of living, but must fully abandon themselves to its
joys. "Since man came into existence he hath had too little joy. That
alone, my brethren, is our original sin."(24) The "much-too-many" are
doomed to inanity by their lack of appetite at the banquet of life:

    Such folk sit down unto dinner and bring nothing with them, not even
    a good hunger. And now they backbite: "All is vanity!"

    But to eat well and drink well, O my brethren, is, verily, no vain
    art! Break, break the tables of those who are never joyful!(25)

  (23) Goethe's _Faust_, II, ll. 1940-1. Bayard Taylor translates:
  _Encheiresin naturae_, this Chemistry names, nor knows how herself she
  banters and blames!

  (24) "Thus Spake Zarathustra," p. 120.

  (25) _Ibid._, p. 296, sec. 13.

The Will to Live holds man's one chance of this-worldly bliss, and
supersedes any care for the remote felicities of any problematic future
state. Yet the Nietzschean cult of life is not to be understood by any
means as a banal devotion to the pleasurable side of life alone. The
true disciple finds in every event, be it happy or adverse, exalting or
crushing, the factors of supreme spiritual satisfaction: joy and pain
are equally implied in experience, the Will to Live encompasses jointly
the capacity to enjoy and to suffer. It may even be paradoxically said
that since man owes some of his greatest and most beautiful achievements
to sorrow, it must be a joy and a blessing to suffer. The unmistakable
sign of heroism is _amor fati_, a fierce delight in one's destiny, hold
what it may.

Consequently, the precursor of the superman will be possessed, along
with his great sensibility to pleasure, of a capacious aptitude for
suffering. "Ye would perchance abolish suffering," exclaims Nietzsche,
"and we,--it seems that we would rather have it even greater and worse
than it has ever been. The discipline of suffering,--tragical
suffering,--know ye not that only this discipline has heretofore brought
about every elevation of man?" "Spirit is that life which cutteth into
life. By one's own pain one's own knowledge increaseth;--knew ye that
before? And the happiness of the spirit is this: to be anointed and
consecrated by tears as a sacrificial animal;--knew ye that before?" And
if, then, the tragical pain inherent in life be no argument against
Joyfulness, the zest of living can be obscured by nothing save the fear
of total extinction. To the disciple of Nietzsche, by whom every moment
of his existence is realized as a priceless gift, the thought of his
irrevocable separation from all things is unbearable. "'Was this life?'
I shall say to Death. 'Well, then, once more!'" And--to paraphrase
Nietzsche's own simile--the insatiable witness of the great
tragi-comedy, spectator and participant at once, being loath to leave
the theatre, and eager for a repetition of the performance, shouts his
endless _encore_, praying fervently that in the constant repetition of
the performance not a single detail of the action be omitted. The
yearning for the endlessness not of life at large, not of life on any
terms, but of _this my life_ with its ineffable wealth of rapturous
moments, works up the extreme optimism of Nietzsche to its stupendous _a
priori_ notion of infinity, expressed in the name _die ewige Wiederkehr_
("Eternal Recurrence"). It is a staggeringly imaginative concept, formed
apart from any evidential grounds, and yet fortified with a fair amount
of logical armament. The universe is imagined as endless in time,
although its material contents are not equally conceived as limitless.
Since, consequently, there must be a limit to the possible variety in
the arrangement and sequence of the sum total of data, even as in the
case of a kaleidoscope, the possibility of variegations is not infinite.
The particular co-ordination of things in the universe, say at this
particular moment, is bound to recur again and again in the passing of
the eons. But under the nexus of cause and effect the resurgence of the
past from the ocean of time is not accidental nor is the configuration
of things haphazard, as is true in the case of the kaleidoscope; rather,
history, in the most inclusive acceptation of the term, is predestined
to repeat itself; this happens through the perpetual progressive
resurrection of its particles. It is then to be assumed that any aspect
which the world has ever presented must have existed innumerable
millions of times before, and must recur with eternal periodicity. That
the deterministic strain in this tremendous _Vorstellung_ of a cyclic
rhythm throbbing in the universe entangles its author's fanatical belief
in evolution in a rather serious self-contradiction, does not detract
from its spiritual lure, nor from its wide suggestiveness, however
incapable it may be of scientific demonstration.

From unfathomed depths of feeling wells up the pæan of the prophet of
the life intense.

    O Mensch! Gib Acht!
    Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
    Ich schlief, ich schlief--,
    Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht:--
    Die Welt ist tief,
    Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
    Tief ist ihr Weh--,
    Lust--tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
    Weh spricht: Vergeh!
    Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit--
    Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!(26)


      O man! Lose not sight!
      What saith the deep midnight?
      "I lay in sleep, in sleep;
      From deep dream I woke to light.
      The world is deep,
      And deeper than ever day though! it might.
      Deep is its woe,--
      And deeper still than woe--delight."
      Saith woe: "Pass, go!
      Eternity's sought by all delight,--
      Eternity deep--by all delight.

  "Thus Spake Zarathustra," The Drunken Song, p. 174.--The translation
  but faintly suggests the poetic appeal of the original.

A timid heart may indeed recoil from the iron necessity of reliving _ad
infinitum_ its woeful terrestrial fate. But the prospect can hold no
terror for the heroic soul by whose fiat all items of experience have
assumed important meanings and values. He who has cast in his lot with
Destiny in spontaneous submission to all its designs, cannot but revere
and cherish his own fate as an integral part of the grand unalterable
fatality of things.

                   *       *       *       *       *

If this crude presentment of Friedrich Nietzsche's doctrine has not
entirely failed of its purpose, the _leitmotifs_ of that doctrine will
have been readily referred by the reader to their origin; they can be
subsumed under that temperamental category which is more or less
accurately defined as the _romantic_. Glorification of violent
passion,--quest of innermost mysteries,--boundless expansion of
self-consciousness,--visions of a future of transcendent magnificence,
and notwithstanding an ardent worship of reality a quixotically
impracticable detachment from the concrete basis of civic life,--these
outstanding characteristics of the Nietzschean philosophy give
unmistakable proof of a central, driving, romantic inspiration:
Nietzsche shifts the essence and principle of being to a new center of
gravity, by substituting the Future for the Present and relying on the
untrammeled expansion of spontaneous forces which upon closer
examination are found to be without definite aim or practical goal.

For this reason, critically to animadvert upon Nietzsche as a social
reformer would be utterly out of place; he is simply too much of a poet
to be taken seriously as a statesman or politician. The weakness of his
philosophy before the forum of Logic has been referred to before.
Nothing can be easier than to prove the incompatibility of some of his
theorems. How, for instance, can the absolute determinism of the belief
in Cyclic Recurrence be reconciled with the power vested in superman to
deflect by his autonomous will the straight course of history? Or, to
touch upon a more practical social aspect of his teaching,--if in the
order of nature all men are unequal, how can we ever bring about the
right selection of leaders, how indeed can we expect to secure the due
ascendancy of character and intellect over the gregarious grossness of
the demos?

Again, it is easy enough to controvert Nietzsche almost at any pass by
demonstrating his unphilosophic onesidedness. Were Nietzsche not
stubbornly onesided, he would surely have conceded--as any sane-minded
person must concede in these times of suffering and sacrifice--that
charity, self-abnegation, and self-immolation might be viewed, not as
conclusive proofs of degeneracy, but on the contrary as signs of growth
towards perfection. Besides, philosophers of the _métier_ are sure to
object to the haziness of Nietzsche's idea of Vitality which in truth is
oriented, as is his philosophy in general, less by thought than by

Notwithstanding his obvious connection with significant contemporaneous
currents, the author of "Zarathustra" is altogether too much _sui
generis_ to be amenable to any crude and rigid classification. He may
plausibly be labelled an anarchist, yet no definition of anarchism will
wholly take him in. Anarchism stands for the demolition of the extant
social apparatus of restraint. Its battle is for the free determination
of personal happiness. Nietzsche's prime concern, contrarily, is with
internal self-liberation from the obsessive desire for personal
happiness in any accepted connotation of the term; such happiness to him
does not constitute the chief object of life.

The cardinal point of Nietzsche's doctrine is missed by those who,
arguing retrospectively, expound the gist of his philosophy as an
incitation to barbarism. Nothing can be more remote from his intentions
than the transformation of society into a horde of ferocious brutes. His
impeachment of mercy, notwithstanding an appearance of reckless impiety,
is in the last analysis no more and no less than an expedient in the
truly romantic pursuit of a new ideal of Love. Compassion, in his
opinion, hampers the progress towards forms of living that shall be
pregnant with a new and superior type of perfection. And in justice to
Nietzsche it should be borne in mind that among the various
manifestations of that human failing there is none he scorns so deeply
as cowardly and petty commiseration of self. It also deserves to be
emphasized that he nowhere endorses selfishness when exercised for small
or sordid objects. "I love the brave. But it is not enough to be a
swordsman, one must also know against whom to use the sword. And often
there is more bravery in one's keeping quiet and going past, in order to
spare one's self for a worthier enemy: Ye shall have only enemies who
are to be hated, but not enemies who are to be despised."(27) Despotism
must justify itself by great and worthy ends. And no man must be
permitted to be hard towards others who lacks the strength of being even
harder towards himself.

  (27) "Thus Spake Zarathustra," p. 304.

At all events it must serve a better purpose to appraise the practical
importance of Nietzsche's speculations than blankly to denounce their
immoralism. Nietzsche, it has to be repeated, was not on the whole a
creator of new ideas. His extraordinary influence in the recent past is
not due to any supreme originality or fertility of mind; it is
predominantly due to his eagle-winged imagination. In him the emotional
urge of utterance was, accordingly, incomparably more potent than the
purely intellectual force of opinion: in fact the texture of his
philosophy is woven of sensations rather than of ideas, hence its
decidedly ethical trend.

The latent value of Nietzsche's ethics in their application to specific
social problems it would be extremely difficult to determine. Their
successful application to general world problems, if it were possible,
would mean the ruin of the only form of civilization that signifies to
us. His philosophy, if swallowed in the whole, poisons; in large
potations, intoxicates; but in reasonable doses, strengthens and
stimulates. Such danger as it harbors has no relation to grossness. His
call to the Joy of Living and Doing is no encouragement of vulgar
hedonism, but a challenge to persevering effort. He urges the supreme
importance of vigor of body and mind and force of will. "O my brethren,
I consecrate you to be, and show unto you the way unto a new nobility.
Ye shall become procreators and breeders and sowers of the future.--Not
whence ye come be your honor in future, but whither ye go! Your will,
and your foot that longeth to get beyond yourselves, be that your new

  (28) "Thus Spake Zarathustra," p. 294.

It would be a withering mistake to advocate the translation of
Nietzsche's poetic dreams into the prose of reality. Unquestionably his
Utopia if it were to be carried into practice would doom to utter
extinction the world it is devised to regenerate. But it is generally
acknowledged that "prophets have a right to be unreasonable," and so, if
we would square ourselves with Friedrich Nietzsche in a spirit of
fairness, we ought not to forget that the daring champion of reckless
unrestraint is likewise the inspired apostle of action, power,
enthusiasm, and aspiration, in fine, a prophet of Vitality and a
messenger of Hope.



In the intellectual record of our times it is one of the oddest events
that the most impressive preacher who has taken the ear of civilized
mankind in this generation raised up his voice in a region which in
respect of its political, religious, and economic status was until
recently, by fairly common consent, ruled off the map of Europe. The
greatest humanitarian of his century sprang up in a land chiefly
characterized in the general judgment of the outside world by the
reactionism of its government and the stolid ignorance of its populace.
A country still teeming with analphabeticians and proverbial for its
dense medievalism gave to the world a writer who by the great quality of
his art and the lofty spiritualism of his teaching was able not only to
obtain a wide hearing throughout all civilized countries, but to become
a distinct factor in the moral evolution of the age. The stupefying
events that have recently revolutionized the Russian state have given
the world an inkling of the secrets of the Slavic type of temperament,
so mystifying in its commixture of simplicity and strength on the one
hand with grossness and stupidity, and on the other hand with the
highest spirituality and idealism. For such people as in these
infuriated times still keep up some objective and judicious interest in
products of the literary art, the volcanic upheaval in the social life
of Russia has probably thrown some of Tolstoy's less palpable figures
into a greater plastic relief. Tolstoy's own character, too, has become
more tangible in its curious composition. The close analogy between his
personal theories and the dominant impulses of his race has now been
made patent. We are better able to understand the people of whom he
wrote because we have come to know better the people for whom he wrote.

The emphasis of Tolstoy's popular appeal was unquestionably enhanced by
certain eccentricities of his doctrine, and still more by his
picturesque efforts to conform his mode of life, by way of necessary
example, to his professed theory of social elevation. The personality of
Tolstoy, like the character of the Russian people, is many-sided, and
since its aspects are not marked off by convenient lines of division,
but are, rather, commingled in the great and varied mass of his literary
achievements, it is not easy to make a definitive forecast of his
historic position. Tentatively, however, the current critical estimate
may be summed up in this: as a creative writer, in particular of novels
and short stories, he stood matchless among the realists, and the
verdict pronounced at one time by William Dean Howells when he referred
to Tolstoy as "the only living writer of perfect fiction" is not likely
to be overruled by posterity. Nor will competent judges gainsay his
supreme importance as a critic and moral revivalist of society, even
though they may be seriously disposed to question whether his principles
of conduct constitute in their aggregate a canon of much practical worth
for the needs of the western world. As a philosopher or an original
thinker, however, he will hardly maintain the place accorded him by the
less discerning among his multitudinous followers, for in his persistent
attempt to find a new way of understanding life he must be said to have
signally failed. Wisdom in him was hampered by Utopian fancies; his
dogmas derive from idiosyncrasies and lead into absurdities. Then, too,
most of his tenets are easily traced to their sources: in his vagaries
as well as in his noblest and soundest aspirations he was merely
continuing work which others had prepared.

                   *       *       *       *       *

An objective survey of Tolstoy's work in realistic fiction, in which he
ranked supreme, should start with the admission that he was by no means
the first arrival among the Russians in that field. Nicholas Gogol,
Fedor Dostoievsky, and Ivan Turgenieff had the priority by a small
margin. Of these three powerful novelists, Dostoievsky (1821-1881) has
probably had an even stronger influence upon modern letters than has
Tolstoy himself. He was one of the earliest writers of romance to show
the younger generation how to found fiction upon deeper psychologic
knowledge. His greatest proficiency lay, as is apt to be the case with
writers of a realistic bent, in dealing with the darkest side of life.
The wretched and outcast portion of humanity yielded to his skill its
most congenial material. His novels--"Poor Folk," (1846), "Memoirs from
a Dead House," (1862), "Raskolnikoff," (1866), "The Idiot," (1868), "The
Karamasoffs," (1879)--take the reader into company such as had
heretofore not gained open entrance to polite literature: criminals,
defectives, paupers, and prostitutes. Yet he did not dwell upon the
wretchedness of that submerged section of humanity from any perverse
delight in what is hideous or for the satisfaction of readers afflicted
with morbid curiosity, but from a compelling sense of pity and brotherly
love. His works are an appeal to charity. In them, the imperdible grace
of the soul shines through the ugliest outward disguise to win a glance
from the habitual indifference of fortune's _enfants gâtés_. Dostoievsky
preceded Tolstoy in frankly enlisting his talents in the service of his
outcast brethren. With the same ideal of the writer's mission held in
steady view, Tolstoy turned his attention from the start, and then more
and more as his work advanced, to the pitiable condition of the lower
orders of society. It must not be forgotten in this connection that his
career was synchronous with the growth of a social revolution which,
having reached its full force in these days, is making Russia over for
better or for worse, and whose wellsprings Tolstoy helps us to fathom.

                   *       *       *       *       *

For the general grouping of his writings it is convenient to follow
Tolstoy's own division of his life. His dreamy poetical childhood was
succeeded by three clearly distinct stages: first, a score of years
filled up with self-indulgent worldliness; next, a nearly equal length
of time devoted to artistic ambition, earnest meditation, and helpful
social work; last, by a more gradual transition, the ascetic period,
covering a long stretch of years given up to religious illumination and
to the strenuous advocacy of the Simple Life.

The remarkable spiritual evolution of this great man was apparently
governed far more by inborn tendencies than by the workings of
experience. Of Tolstoy in his childhood, youth, middle age, and
senescence we gain trustworthy impressions from numerous
autobiographical documents, but here we shall have to forego anything
more than a passing reference to the essential facts of his career. He
was descended from an aristocratic family of German stock but domiciled
in Russia since the fourteenth century. The year of his birth was 1828,
the same as Ibsen's. In youth he was bashful, eccentric, and amazingly
ill-favored. The last-named of these handicaps he outgrew but late in
life, still later did he get over his bashfulness, and his eccentricity
never left him. His penchant for the infraction of custom nearly put a
premature stop to his career when in his urchin days he once threw
himself from a window in an improvised experiment in aerial navigation.
At the age of fourteen he was much taken up with subtile speculations
about the most ancient and vexing of human problems: the future life,
and the immortality of the soul. Entering the university at fifteen, he
devoted himself in the beginning to the study of oriental languages, but
later on his interest shifted to the law. At sixteen he was already
imbued with the doctrines of Jean Jacques Rousseau that were to play
such an important rôle in guiding his conduct. In 1846 he passed out of
the university without a degree, carrying away nothing but a lasting
regret over his wasted time. He went directly to his ancestral estates,
with the idealistic intention to make the most of the opportunity
afforded him by the patriarchal relationship that existed in Russia
between the landholder and the _adscripti glebae_ and to improve the
condition of his seven hundred dependents. His efforts, however, were
foredoomed to failure, partly through his lack of experience, partly
also through a certain want of sincerity or tenacity of purpose. The
experiment in social education having abruptly come to its end, the
disillusionized reformer threw himself headlong into the diversions and
dissipations of the capital city. In his "Confession" he refers to that
chapter of his existence as made up wholly of sensuality and
worldliness. He was inordinately proud of his noble birth,--at college
his inchoate apostleship of the universal brotherhood of man did not
shield him from a general dislike on account of his arrogance,--and he
cultivated the most exclusive social circles of Moscow. He freely
indulged the love of sports that was to cling through life and keep him
strong and supple even in very old age. (Up to a short time before his
death he still rode horseback and perhaps none of the renunciations
exacted by his principles came so hard as that of giving up his favorite
pastime of hunting.) But he also fell into the evil ways of gilded
youth, soon achieving notoriety as a toper, gambler, and _courreur des
femmes_. After a while his brother, who was a person of steadier habits
and who had great influence over him, persuaded him to quit his
profligate mode of living and to join him at his military post. Under
the bracing effect of the change, the young man's moral energies quickly
revived. In the wilds of the Caucasus he at once grew freer and cleaner;
his deep affection for the half-civilized land endeared him both to the
Cossack natives and the Russian soldiers. He entered the army at
twenty-three, and from November, 1853, up to the fall of Sebastopol in
the summer of 1855, served in the Crimean campaign. He entered the
famous fortress in November, 1854, and was among the last of its
defenders. The indelible impressions made upon his mind by the heroism
of his comrades, the awful scenes and the appalling suffering he had to
witness, were responsible then and later for descriptions as harrowing
and as stirring as any that the war literature of our own day has

In the Crimea he made his début as a writer. Among the tales of his
martial period the most popular and perhaps the most excellent is the
one called "The Cossacks." Turgenieff pronounced it the best short story
ever written in Russian, and it is surely no undue exaggeration to say
of Tolstoy's novelettes in general that in point of technical mastery
they are unsurpassed.

Sick at heart over the unending bloodshed in the Caucasus the young
officer made his way back to Petrograd, and here, lionized in the salons
doubly, fur his feats at arms and in letters, he seems to have returned,
within more temperate limits, to his former style of living. At any
rate, in his own judgment the ensuing three years were utterly wasted.
The mental inanity and moral corruption all about him swelled his sense
of superiority and self-righteousness. The glaring humbug and hypocrisy
that permeated his social environment was, however, more than he could
long endure.

Having resigned his officer's commission he went abroad in 1857, to
Switzerland, Germany, and France. The studies and observations made in
these travels sealed his resolution to settle down for good on his
domain and to consecrate his life to the welfare of his peasants. But a
survey of the situation found upon his return made him realize that
nothing could be done for the "muzhik" without systematic education:
therefore, in order to prepare himself for efficacious work as a
teacher, he spent some further time abroad for special study, in 1859.
After that, the educational labor was taken up in full earnest. The lord
of the land became the schoolmaster of his subjects, reenforcing the
effect of _viva voce_ teaching by means of a periodical published
expressly for their moral uplift. This work he continued for about three
years, his hopes of success now rising, now falling, when in a fit of
despondency he again abandoned his philanthropic efforts. About this
time, 1862, he married Sophia Andreyevna Behrs, the daughter of a Moscow
physician. With characteristic honesty he forced his private diary on
his fiancée, who was only eighteen, so that she might know the full
truth about his pre-conjugal course of living.

About the Countess Tolstoy much has been said in praise and blame. Let
her record speak for itself. Of her union with the great novelist
thirteen children were born, of whom nine reached an adult age. The
mother nursed and tended them all, with her own hands made their
clothes, and until they grew to the age of ten supplied to them the
place of a schoolmistress. It must not be inferred from this that her
horizon did not extend beyond nursery and kitchen, for during the
earlier years she acted also as her husband's invaluable amanuensis.
Before the days of the typewriter his voluminous manuscripts were all
copied by her hand, and recopied and revised--in the case of "War and
Peace" this happened no less than seven times, and the novel runs to
sixteen hundred close-printed pages!--and under her supervision his
numerous works were not only printed but also published and circulated.
Moreover, she managed his properties, landed, personal, and literary, to
the incalculable advantage of the family fortune. This end, to be sure,
she accomplished by conservative and reliable methods of business; for
while of his literary genius she was the greatest admirer, she never was
in full accord with his communistic notions. And the highest proof of
all her extraordinary _Tüchtigkeit_ and devotion is that by her common
sense and tact she was enabled to function for a lifetime as a sort of
buffer between her husband's world-removed dreamland existence and the
rigid and frigid reality of facts.

Thus Tolstoy's energies were left to go undivided into literary
production; its amount, as a result, was enormous. If all his writings
were to be collected, including the unpublished manuscripts now reposing
in the Rumyantzoff Museum, which are said to be about equal in quantity
to the published works, and if to this collection were added his
innumerable letters, most of which are of very great interest, the
complete set of Tolstoy's works would run to considerably more than one
hundred volumes. To discuss all of Tolstoy's writings, or even to
mention all, is here quite out of the question. All those, however, that
seem vital for the purpose of a just estimate and characterization will
be touched upon.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The literary fame of Tolstoy was abundantly secured already in the
earlier part of his life by his numerous short stories and sketches. The
three remarkable pen pictures of the siege of Sebastopol, and tales such
as "The Cossacks," "Two Hussars," "Polikushka," "The Snow-Storm," "The
Encounter," "The Invasion," "The Captive in the Caucasus," "Lucerne,"
"Albert," and many others, revealed together with an exceptional depth
of insight an extraordinary plastic ability and skill of motivation; in
fact they deserve to be set as permanent examples before the eyes of
every aspiring author. In their characters and their setting they
present true and racy pictures of a portentous epoch, intimate studies
of the human soul that are full of charm and fascination,
notwithstanding their tragic sadness of outlook. Manifestly this author
was a prose poet of such marvelous power that he could abstain
consistently from the use of sweeping color, overwrought sentiment, and
high rhetorical invective.

At this season Tolstoy, while he refrained from following any of the
approved literary models, was paying much attention to the artistic
refinement of his style. There was to be a time when he would abjure all
considerations of artistry on the ground that by them the ethical issue
in a narration is beclouded. But it would be truer to say conversely
that in his own later works, since "Anna Karenina," the clarity of the
artistic design was dimmed by the obtrusive didactic purpose.
Fortunately the artistic interest was not yet wholly subordinated to the
religious urge while the three great novels were in course of
composition: "War and Peace," (1864-69), "Anna Karenina," (first part,
1873; published complete in 1877), and "Resurrection," (1899). To the
first of these is usually accorded the highest place among all of
Tolstoy's works; it is by this work that he takes his position as the
chief epic poet of modern times. "War and Peace" is indeed an epic
rather than a novel in the ordinary meaning. Playing against the
background of tremendous historical transactions, the narrative sustains
the epic character not only in the hugeness of its dimensions, but
equally in the qualities of its technique. There is very little comment
by the author upon the events, and merely a touch of subjective irony
here and there. The story is straightforwardly told as it was lived out
by its characters. Tolstoy has not the self-complacency to thrust in the
odds and ends of his personal philosophy, as is done so annoyingly even
by a writer of George Meredith's consequence, nor does he ever treat his
readers with the almost simian impertinence so successfully affected by
a Bernard Shaw. If "War and Peace" has any faults, they are the faults
of its virtues, and spring mainly from an unmeasured prodigality of the
creative gift. As a result of Tolstoy's excessive range of vision, the
orderly progress of events in that great novel is broken up somewhat by
the profusion of shapes that monopolize the attention one at a time much
as individual spots in a landscape do under the sweeping glare of the
search-light. Yet although in the externalization of this crowding
multitude of figures no necessary detail is lacking, the grand movement
as a whole is not swamped by the details. The entire story is governed
by the conception of events as an emanation of the cosmic will, not
merely as the consequence of impulses proceeding from a few puissant
geniuses of the Napoleonic order.

It is quite in accord with such a view of history that the machinery of
this voluminous epopee is not set in motion by a single conspicuous
protagonist. As a matter of fact, it is somewhat baffling to try to name
the principals in the story, since in artistic importance all the
figures are on an equal footing before their maker; possibly the fact
that Tolstoy's ethical theory embodied the most persistent protest ever
raised against the inequality of social estates proved not insignificant
for his manner of characterization. Ethical justice, however, is carried
to an artistic fault, for the feelings and reactions of human nature in
so many diverse individuals lead to an intricacy and subtlety of
motivation which obscures the organic causes through overzeal in making
them patent. Anyway, Tolstoy authenticates himself in this novel as a
past master of realism, particularly in his utterly convincing
depictment of Russian soldier life. And as a painter of the battlefield
he ranks, allowing for the difference of the medium, with Vasili
Verestschagin at his best. It may be said in passing that these two
Russian pacifists, by their gruesome exposition of the horrors of war,
aroused more sentiment against warfare than did all the spectacular and
expensive peace conferences inaugurated by the crowned but hollow head
of their nation, and the splendid declamations of the possessors of, or
aspirants for, the late Mr. Nobel's forty-thousand dollar prize.

Like all true realists, Tolstoy took great pains to inform himself even
about the minutiæ of his subjects, but he never failed, as did in large
measure Zola in _La Débâcle_, to infuse emotional meaning into the
static monotony of facts and figures. In his strong attachment for his
own human creatures he is more nearly akin to the idealizing or
sentimentalizing type of realists, like Daudet, Kipling, Hauptmann, than
to the downright matter-of-fact naturalists such as Zola or Gorki. But
to classify him at all would be wrong and futile, since he was never
leagued with literary creeds and cliques and always stood aloof from the
heated theoretical controversies of his time even after he had hurled
his great inclusive challenge to art.

"War and Peace" was written in Tolstoy's happiest epoch, at a time,
comparatively speaking, of spiritual calm. He had now reached some
satisfying convictions in his religious speculations, and felt that his
personal life was moving up in the right direction. His moral change is
made plain in the contrast between two figures of the story, Prince
Andrey and Peter Bezukhoff: the ambitious worldling and the honest
seeker after the right way.

In his second great novel, "Anna Karenina," the undercurrent of the
author's own moral experience has a distinctly greater carrying power.
It is through the earnest idealist, Levine, that Tolstoy has recorded
his own aspirations. Characteristically, he does not make Levine the
central figure.

"Anna Karenina" is undoubtedly far from "pleasant" reading, since it is
the tragical recital of an adulterous love. But the situation, with its
appalling consequence of sorrow, is seized in its fullest psychological
depth and by this means saved from being in any way offensive. The
relation between the principals is viewed as by no means an ordinary
liaison. Anna and Vronsky are serious-minded, honorable persons, who
have struggled conscientiously against their mutual enchantment, but are
swept out of their own moral orbits by the resistless force of Fate.
This fatalistic element in the tragedy is variously emphasized; so at
the beginning of the story, where Anna, in her emotional confusion still
half-ignorant of her infatuation, suddenly realizes her love for
Vronsky; or in the scene at the horse races where he meets with an
accident. Throughout the narrative the psychological argumentation is
beyond criticism. Witness the description of Anna's husband, a sort of
cousin-in-kind of Ibsen's Thorvald Helmer, reflecting on his future
course after his wife's confession of her unfaithfulness. Or that other
episode, perhaps the greatest of them all, when Anna, at the point of
death, joins together the hands of her husband and her lover. Or,
finally, the picture of Anna as she deserts her home leaving her son
behind in voluntary expiation of her wrong-doing, an act, by the way,
that betrays a nicety of conscience far too subtle for the Rhadamantine
inquisitors who demand to know why, if Anna would atone to Karenin, does
she go with Vronsky? How perfectly true to life, subsequently, is the
rapid _dégringolade_ of this passion under the gnawing curse of the
homeless, workless, purposeless existence which little by little
disunites the lovers! Only the end may be somewhat open to doubt, with
its metastasis of the heroine's character,--unless indeed we consider
the sweeping change accounted for by the theory of duplex personality.
She herself believes that there are two quite different women alive in
her, the one steadfastly loyal to her obligations, the other blindly
driven into sin by the demon of her uncontrollable temperament.

In the power of analysis, "Anna Karenina" is beyond doubt Tolstoy's
masterpiece, and yet in its many discursive passages it already
foreshadows the disintegration of his art, or more precisely, its
ultimate capitulation to moral propagandism. For it was while at work
upon this great novel that the old perplexities returned to bewilder his
soul. In the tumultuous agitation of his conscience, the crucial and
fundamental questions, Why Do We Live? and How Should We Live? could
nevermore be silenced. Now a definitive attitude toward life is forming;
to it all the later works bear a vital relation. And so, in regard to
their moral outlook, Tolstoy's books may fitly be divided into those
written before and those written since his "conversion." "Anna Karenina"
happens to be on the dividing line.

He was a man well past fifty, of enviable social position, in prosperous
circumstances, widely celebrated for his art, highly respected for his
character, and in his domestic life blessed with every reason for
contentment. Yet all the gifts of fortune sank into insignificance
before that vexing, unanswered Why? In the face of a paralyzing
universal aimlessness, there could be to him no abiding sense of life in
his personal enjoyments and desires. The burden of life became still
less endurable face to face with the existence of evil and with the
wretchedness of our social arrangements. With so much toil and trouble,
squalor, ignorance, crime, and every conceivable kind of bodily and
mental suffering all about me, why should I be privileged to live in
luxury and idleness? This ever recurring question would not permit him
to enjoy his possessions without self-reproach. To think of thousands of
fellowmen lacking the very necessaries, made affluence and its
concomitant ways of living odious to him. We know that in 1884, or
thereabouts, he radically changed his views and modes of life so as to
bring them into conformity with the laws of the Gospel. But before this
conversion, in the despairing anguish that attacked him after the
completion of "Anna Karenina," he was frequently tempted to suicide.
Although the thought of death was very terrible to him then and at all
times, still he would rather perish than live on in a world made heinous
and hateful by the iniquity of men. Then it was that he searched for a
reason why the vast proportion of humanity endure life, nay enjoy it,
and why self-destruction is condemned by the general opinion, and this
in spite of the fact that for most mortals existence is even harder than
it could have been for him, since he at least was shielded from material
want and lived amid loving souls. The answer he found in the end seemed
to lead by a straight road out of the wilderness of doubt and despair.
The great majority, so he ascertained, are able to bear the burden of
life because they heed the ancient injunction: "_ora et labora_"; they
_work_ and they _believe_. Might he not sweeten his lot after the same
prescription? Being of a delicate spiritual sensibility, he had long
realized that people of the idle class were for the most part inwardly
indifferent to religion and in their actions defiant of its spirit. In
the upper strata of society religious thought, where it exists, is
largely adulterated or weakened; sophisticated by education, doctored by
science, thinned out with worldly ambitions and with practical needs and
considerations. The faith that supports life is found only among simple
folk. For faith, to deserve the name, must be absolute, uncritical,
unreasoning. Starting from these convictions as a basis, Tolstoy
resolutely undertook _to learn to believe_; a determination which led
him, as it has led other ardent religionists, so far astray from
ecclesiastical paths that in due course of time he was unavoidably
excommunicated from his church. His convictions made him a vehement
antagonist of churchdom because of its stiffness of creed and laxness of
practice. For his own part he soon arrived at a full and absolute
acceptance of the Christian faith in what he considered to be its
primitive and essential form. In "Walk Ye in the Light," (1893), the
reversion of a confirmed worldling to this original conception of
Christianity gives the story of the writer's own change of heart.

To the period under discussion belongs Tolstoy's drama, "The Power of
Darkness," (1886).(29) It is a piece of matchless realism, probably the
first unmixedly naturalistic play ever wrought out. It is brutally,
terribly true to life, and that to life at its worst, both in respect of
the plot and the actors, who are individualized down to the minutest
characteristics of utterance and gesture. Withal it is a species of
modern morality, replete with a reformatory purpose that reflects deeply
the author's tensely didactic state of mind. His instructional zeal is
heightened by intimate knowledge of the Russian peasant, on his good
side as well as on his bad. Some of his short stories are crass pictures
of the muzhik's bestial degradation, veritable pattern cards of human
and inhuman vices. In other stories, again, the deep-seated piety of the
muzhik, and his patriarchal simplicity of heart are portrayed. As
instance, the story of "Two Old Men," (1885), who are pledged to attain
the Holy Land: the one performs his vow to the letter, the other, much
the godlier of the two, is kept from his goal by a work of practical
charity. In another story a muzhik is falsely accused of murder and
accepts his undeserved punishment in a devout spirit of non-resistance.
In a third, a poor cobbler who intuitively walks in the light is deemed
worthy of a visit from Christ.

  (29) The only tragedy brought out during his life time.

In "The Power of Darkness," the darkest traits of peasant life prevail,
yet the frightful picture is somehow Christianized, as it were, so that
even the miscreant Nikita, in spite of his monstrous crimes, is sure of
our profound compassion. We are gripped at the very heartstrings by that
great confession scene where he stutters out his budget of malefactions,
forced by his awakened conscience and urged on by his old father: "Speak
out, my child, speak it off your soul, then you will feel easier."

"The Power of Darkness" was given its counterpart in the satirical
comedy, "Fruits of Culture," (1889). The wickedness of refined society
is more mercilessly excoriated than low-lived infamy. But artistically
considered the peasant tragedy is far superior to the "society play."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Tolstoy was a pessimist both by temperament and philosophical
persuasion. This is made manifest among other things by the prominent
place which the idea of Death occupies in his writings. His feelings are
expressed with striking simplicity by one of the principal characters in
"War and Peace": "One must often think of death, so that it may lose its
terrors for us, cease to be an enemy, and become on the contrary a
friend that delivers us from this life of miseries." Still, in Tolstoy's
stories, death, as a rule, is a haunting spectre. This conception comes
to the fore even long after his conversion in a story like "Master and
Man." Throughout his literary activity it has an obsessive hold on his
mind. Even the shadowing of the animal mind by the ubiquitous spectre
gives rise to a story: "Cholstomjer, The Story of a Horse," (1861), and
in one of the earlier tales even the death of a tree is pictured. Death
is most terrifying when, denuded of its heroic embellishments in battle
pieces such as "The Death of a Soldier" ("Sebastopol") or the
description of Prince Andrey's death in "War and Peace," it is exposed
in all its bare and grim loathsomeness. Such happens in the short novel
published in 1886 under the name of "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch,"--in
point of literary merit one of Tolstoy's greatest performances. It is a
plain tale about a middle-aged man of the official class, happy in an
unreflecting sort of way in the jog-trot of his work and domestic
arrangements. Suddenly his fate is turned,--by a trite mishap resulting
in a long, hopeless sickness. His people at first give him the most
anxious care, but as the illness drags on their devotion gradually
abates, the patient is neglected, and soon almost no thought is given to
him. In the monotonous agony of his prostration, the sufferer slowly
comes to realize that he is dying, while his household has gone back to
its habitual ways mindless of him, as though he were already dead, or
had never lived. All through this lengthened crucifixion he still clings
to life, and it is only when the family, gathering about him shortly
before the release, can but ill conceal their impatience for the end,
that Ivan at last accepts his fate: "I will no longer let them suffer--I
will die; I will deliver them and myself." So he dies, and the world
pursues its course unaltered,--in which consists the after-sting of this
poignant tragedy.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Between the years 1879 and 1886 Tolstoy published the main portion of
what may be regarded as his spiritual autobiography, namely, "The
Confession," (1879, with a supplement in 1882), "The Union and
Translation of the Four Gospels," (1881-2), "What Do I Believe?" (also
translated under the title "My Religion," 1884) and "What Then Must We
Do?" (1886). He was now well on the way to the logical ultimates of his
ethical ideas, and in the revulsion from artistic ambitions so plainly
foreshown in a treatise in 1887: "What is True Art?" he repudiated
unequivocally all his earlier work so far as it sprang from any motives
other than those of moral teaching. Without a clear appreciation of
these facts a just estimate of "The Kreutzer Sonata" (1889) is

The central character of the book is a commonplace, rather well-meaning
fellow who has been tried for the murder of his wife, slain by him in a
fit of insensate jealousy, and has been acquitted because of the
extenuating circumstances in the case. The object of the story is to lay
bare the causes of his crime. Tolstoy's ascetic proclivity had long
since set him thinking about sex problems in general and in particular
upon the ethics of marriage. And by this time he had arrived at the
conclusion that the demoralized state of our society is chiefly due to
polygamy and polyandrism; corroboration of his uncompromising views on
the need of social purity he finds in the evangelist Matthew, v:27-28,
where the difference between the old command and its new, far more
rigorous, interpretation is bluntly stated: "Ye have heard that it was
said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto
you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed
adultery with her already in his heart."

Now Tolstoy thinks that society, far from concurring in the scriptural
condemnation of lewdness, caters systematically to the appetites of the
voluptuary. If Tolstoy is right in his diagnosis, then the euphemistic
term "social evil" has far wider reaches of meaning than those to which
it is customarily applied. With the head person in "The Kreutzer
Sonata," Tolstoy regards society as no better than a _maison de
tolérance_ conducted on a very comprehensive scale. Women are reared
with the main object of alluring men through charms and accomplishments;
the arts of the hairdresser, the dressmaker, and milliner, as well as
the exertions of governesses, music masters, and linguists all converge
toward the same aim: to impart the power of attracting men. Between the
woman of the world and the professional courtezan the main difference in
the light of this view lies in the length of the service. Pozdnicheff
accordingly divides femininity into long term and short term
prostitutes, which rather fantastic classification Tolstoy follows up
intrepidly to its last logical consequence.

The main idea of "The Kreutzer Sonata," as stated in the postscript, is
that sexless life is best. A recommendation of celibacy as mankind's
highest ideal to be logical should involve a wish for the disappearance
of human life from the globe. A world-view of such pessimistic sort
prevents itself from the forfeiture of all bonds with humanity only by
its concomitant reasoning that a race for whom it were better not to be
is the very one that will struggle desperately against its _summum
bonum_. Since race suicide, then, is a hopeless desideratum, the
reformer must turn to more practicable methods if he would at least
alleviate the worst of our social maladjustments. Idleness is the mother
of all mischief, because it superinduces sensual self-indulgence.
Therefore we must suppress anything that makes for leisure and pleasure.
At this point we grasp the meaning of Tolstoy's vehement recoil from
art. It is, to a great extent, the strong-willed resistance of a highly
impressionable puritan against the enticements of beauty,--their
distracting and disquieting effect, and principally their power of
sensuous suggestion.

The last extensive work published by Tolstoy was "Resurrection," (1889).
In artistic merit it is not on a level with "War and Peace" and "Anna
Karenina," nor can this be wondered at, considering the opinion about
the value of art that had meanwhile ripened in the author.

"Resurrection" was written primarily for a constructive moral purpose,
yet the subject matter was such as to secrete, unintendedly, a corrosive
criticism of social and religious cant. The satirical connotation of the
novel could not have been more grimly brought home than through this
fact, that the hero by his unswerving allegiance to Christian principles
of conduct greatly shocks, at first, our sense of the proprieties,
instead of eliciting our enthusiastic admiration. In spite of our
highest moral notions Prince Nekhludoff, like that humbler follower of
the voice of conscience in Gerhart Hauptmann's novel, impresses us as a
"Fool in Christ." The story, itself, leads by degrees from the
under-world of crime and punishment to a great spiritual elevation.
Maslowa, a drunken street-walker, having been tried on a charge of
murder, is wrongfully sentenced to transportation for life, because--the
jury is tired out and the judge in a hurry to visit his mistress. Prince
Nekhludoff, sitting on that jury, recognizes in the victim of justice a
girl whose downfall he himself had caused. He is seized by penitence and
resolves to follow the convict to Siberia, share her sufferings,
dedicate his life to her redemption. She has sunk so low that his hope
of reforming her falters, yet true to his resolution he offers to marry
her. Although the offer is rejected, yet the suggestion of a new life
which it brings begins to work a change in the woman. In the progress of
the story her better nature gradually gains sway until a thorough moral
revolution is completed.

"Resurrection" derives its special value from its clear demonstration of
those rules of conduct to which the author was straining with every
moral fiber to conform his own life. From his ethical speculations and
social experiments are projected figures like that of Maria Paulovna, a
rich and beautiful woman who prefers to live like a common workingwoman
and is drawn by her social conscience into the revolutionary vortex. In
this figure, and more definitely still in the political convict
Simonson, banished because of his educational work among the common
people, Tolstoy studies for the first time the so-called "intellectual"
type of revolutionist. His view of the "intellectuals" is sympathetic,
on the whole. They believe that evil springs from ignorance. Their
agitation issues from the highest principles, and they are capable of
any self-sacrifice for the general weal. Still Tolstoy, as a thoroughly
anti-political reformer, deprecates their organized movement.

Altogether, he repudiated the systems of social reconstruction that go
by the name of socialism, because he relied for the regeneration of
society wholly and solely upon individual self-elevation. In an
essential respect he was nevertheless a socialist, inasmuch as he strove
for the ideal of universal equality. His social philosophy, bound up
inseparably with his personal religious evolution, is laid down in a
vast number of essays, letters, sketches, tracts, didactic tales, and
perhaps most comprehensively in those autobiographical documents already
mentioned. Sociologically the most important of these is a book on the
problem of property, entitled, "What Then Must We Do?" (1886), which
expounds the passage in Luke iii:10, 11: "And the people asked him,
saying, What shall we do then? He answered and saith unto them, He that
hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath
meat, let him do likewise." Not long before that, he had thought of
devoting himself entirely to charitable work, but practical experiments
at Moscow demonstrated to him the futility of almsgiving. Speaking on
that point to his English biographer, Aylmer Maude,(30) he remarked:
"All such activity, if people attribute importance to it, is worthless."
When his interviewer insisted that the destitute have to be provided for
somehow and that the Count himself was in the habit of giving money to
beggars, the latter replied: "Yes, but I do not imagine that I am doing
good! I only do it for myself, because I know that I have no right to be
well off while they are in misery." It is worth mention in passing that
during the famine of 1891-2 this determined opponent of organized
charity, in noble inconsistency with his theories, led in the
dispensation of relief to the starving population of Middle Russia.

  (30) "The Life of Tolstoy," Later Years, p. 643 f.

But in "What Then Must We Do?" he treats the usual organized dabbling in
charity as utterly preposterous: "Give away all you have or else you can
do no good." ... "If I give away a hundred thousand and still withhold
five hundred thousand, I am far from acting in the spirit of charity,
and remain a factor of social injustice and evil. At the sight of the
freezing and hungering I must still feel responsible for their plight,
and feel that since we should live in conditions where that evil can be
abstained from, it is impossible for me in the position in which I
deliberately place myself to be anything other than a source of general

It was chiefly due to the influence of two peasants, named Sutayeff and
Bondareff, that Tolstoy decided by a path of religious reasoning to
abandon "parasitical existence,"--that is, to sacrifice all prerogatives
of his wealth and station and to share the life of the lowly. He
reasoned as follows: "Since I am to blame for the existence of social
wrong, I can lessen my blame only by making myself like unto those that
labor and are heavy-laden." Economically, Tolstoy reasons from this
fallacy: If all men do not participate equitably in the menial work that
has to be performed in the world, it follows that a disproportionate
burden of work falls upon the shoulders of the more defenseless portion
of humanity. Whether this undue amount of labor be exacted in the form
of chattel slavery, or, which is scarcely less objectionable, in the
form of the virtual slavery imposed by modern industrial conditions,
makes no material difference. The evil conditions are bound to continue
so long as the instincts that make for idleness prevail over the
co-operative impulses. The only remedy lies in the simplification of
life in the upper strata of the social body, overwork in the laboring
classes being the direct result of the excessive demands for the
pleasures and luxuries of life in the upper classes.

To Bondareff in particular Tolstoy confessedly owes the conviction that
the best preventive for immorality is physical labor, for which reason
the lower classes are less widely removed from grace than the upper.
Bondareff maintained on scriptural grounds that everybody should employ
at least a part of his time in working the land. This view Tolstoy
shared definitely after 1884. Not only did he devote a regular part of
his day to agricultural labor; he learned, in addition, shoemaking and
carpentry, meaning to demonstrate by his example that it is feasible to
return to those patriarchal conditions under which the necessities of
life were produced by the consumer himself. From this time forth he
modelled his habits more and more upon those of the common rustic. He
adopted peasant apparel and became extremely frugal in his diet.
Although by natural taste he was no scorner of the pleasures of the
table, he now eliminated one luxury after another. About this time he
also turned strict vegetarian, then gave up the use of wine and spirits,
and ultimately even tobacco, of which he had been very fond, was made to
go the way of flesh. He practiced this self-abnegation in obedience to
the Law of Life which he interpreted as a stringent renunciation of
physical satisfactions and personal happiness. Nor did he shirk the
ultimate conclusion to which his premises led: if the Law of Life
imposes the suppression of all natural desires and appetites and
commands the voluntary sacrifice of every form of property and power, it
must be clear that life itself is devoid of sense and utterly
undesirable. And so it is expressly stated in his "Thoughts."(31)

  (31) No. 434.

                   *       *       *       *       *

To what extent Tolstoy was a true Christian believer may best be
gathered from his own writings, "What Do I Believe?" (1884), "On Life,"
(1887), and "The Kingdom of God is within You," (1893). Although at the
age of seventeen he had ceased to be orthodox, there can be no question
whatever that throughout his whole life religion remained the deepest
source of his inspiration. By the early eighties he had emerged from
that acute scepticism that well-nigh cost him life and reason, and had,
outwardly at least, made his peace with the church, attending services
regularly, and observing the feasts and the fasts; here again in
imitating the muzhik in his religious practices he strove apparently to
attain also to the muzhik's actual gift of credulity. But in this
endeavor his superior culture proved an impediment to him, and his
widening doctrinal divergence from the established church finally drew
upon his head, in 1891, the official curse of the Holy Synod. And yet a
leading religious journal was right, shortly after his death, in this
comment upon the religious meaning of his life: "If Christians
everywhere should put their religious beliefs into practice with the
simplicity and sincerity of Tolstoy, the entire religious, moral, and
social life of the world would be revolutionized in a month." The
orthodox church expelled him from its communion because of his
radicalism; but in his case radicalism meant indeed the going to the
roots of Christian religion, to the original foundations of its
doctrines. In the teachings of the _primitive_ church there presented
itself to Tolstoy a dumfoundingly simple code for the attainment of
moral perfection. Hence arose his opposition to the _established_ church
which seemed to have strayed so widely from its own fundamentals.

Since Tolstoy's life aimed at the progressive exercise of
self-sacrifice, his religious belief could be no gospel of joy. In fact,
his is a sad, gray, ascetic religion, wholly devoid of poetry and
emotional uplift. He did not learn to believe in the divinity of Christ
nor in the existence of a God in any definite sense personal, and it is
not even clear whether he believed in an after-life. And yet he did not
wrongfully call himself a Christian, for the mainspring of his faith and
his labor was the message of Christ delivered to his disciples in the
Sermon on the Mount. This, for Tolstoy, contained all the philosophy and
the theology of which the modern world stands in need, since in the
precept of non-resistance is joined forever the issue between the Law
and the Gospel: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an
eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not
evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the
other also."

And farther on: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love
thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you. Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and
pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you." ...

In this commandment Tolstoy found warrant for unswerving forbearance
toward every species of private and corporate aggression. Offenders
against individuals or the commonwealth deserve nothing but pity.
Prisons should be abolished and criminals never punished. Tolstoy went
so far as to declare that even if he saw his own wife or daughters being
assaulted, he would abstain from using force in their defense. The
infliction of the death penalty was to him the most odious of crimes. No
life, either human or animal, should be wilfully destroyed.

The doctrine of non-resistance removes every conceivable excuse for war
between the nations. A people is as much bound as is an individual by
the injunction: "Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to
him the other also." War is not to be justified on patriotic grounds,
for patriotism, far from being a virtue, is an enlarged and unduly
glorified form of selfishness. Consistently with his convictions,
Tolstoy put forth his strength not for the glory of his nation but for
the solidarity of mankind.

The cornerstones of Tolstoy's religion, then, were these three articles
of faith. First, True Faith gives Life. Second, Man must live by labor.
Third, Evil must never be resisted by means of evil.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Outside of the sphere of religious thought it is inaccurate to speak of
a specific Tolstoyan philosophy, and it is impossible for the student to
subscribe unconditionally to the hackneyed formula of the books that
Tolstoy "will be remembered as perhaps the most profound influence of
his day on human thought." Yet the statement might be made measurably
true if it were modified in accordance with the important reservation
made earlier in this sketch. In the field of thought he was not an
original explorer. He was great only as the promulgator, not as the
inventor, of ideas. His work has not enriched the wisdom of man by a
single new thought, nor was he a systematizer and expounder of thought
or a philosopher. In fact he possessed slight familiarity with
philosophical literature. Among the older metaphysicians his principal
guide was Spinoza, and in more modern speculative science he did not
advance beyond Schopenhauer. To the latter he was not altogether unlike
in his mental temper. At least he showed himself indubitably a pessimist
in his works by placing in fullest relief the bad side of the social
state. We perceive the pessimistic disposition also through his personal
behavior, seeing how he desponded under the discords of life, how easily
he lost courage whenever he undertook to cope with practical problems,
and how sedulously he avoided the contact with temptations. It was only
by an almost total withdrawal from the world, and by that entire relief
from its daily and ordinary affairs which he owed to the devotion of his
wife that Tolstoy was enabled during his later years to look upon the
world less despairingly.

Like his theology, so, too, his civic and economic creed was marked by
the utmost and altogether too primitive simplicity. Political questions
were of slight interest to him, unless they touched upon his vital
principles. If, therefore, we turn from his very definite position in
matters of individual conduct to his political views, we shall find that
he was wanting in a program of practical changes. His only positive
contribution to economic discussion was a persistent advocacy of
agrarian reform. Under the influence of Henry George he became an
eloquent pleader for the single tax and the nationalization of the land.
This question he discussed in numerous places, with especial force and
clearness in a long article entitled "A Great Iniquity."(32) He takes
the view that the mission of the State, if it have any at all, can only
consist in guaranteeing the rights of every one of its denizens, but
that in actual fact the State protects only the rights of the
propertied. Intelligent and right-minded citizens must not conspire with
the State to ride rough-shod over the helpless majority. Keenly alive to
the unalterable tendency of organized power to abridge the rights of
individuals and to dominate both their material and spiritual existence,
Tolstoy fell into the opposite extreme and would have abolished with a
clean sweep all factors of social control, including the right of
property and the powers of government, and transformed society into a
community of equals and brothers, relying for its peace and well-being
upon a universal love of liberty and justice.

  (32) Printed in the (London) _Times_ of September 10, 1905.

By his disbelief in authority, the rejection of the socialists' schemes
of reconstruction, his mistrust of fixed institutions and reliance on
individual right-mindedness for the maintenance of the common good,
Tolstoy in the sphere of civic thought separated himself from the
political socialists by the whole diameter of initial principle: he
might not unjustly be classified, therefore, as an anarchist, if this
definition were neither too narrow nor too wide. The Christian
Socialists might claim him, because he aspires ardently to ideals
essentially Christian in their nature, and there is surely truth in the
thesis that "every thinker who understands and earnestly accepts the
teaching of the Master is at heart a socialist." At the same time,
Christianity and Socialism do not travel the whole way together. For a
religion that enjoins patience and submission can hardly be conducive to
the full flowering of Socialism. And Tolstoy's attitude towards the
church differs radically from that of the Christian Socialists. On the
whole one had best abstain from classifying men of genius.

The base of Tolstoy's social creed was the non-recognition of private
property. The effect of the present system is to maintain the inequality
of men and thereby to excite envy and stir up hatred among them. Eager
to set a personal example and precedent, Tolstoy rendered himself
nominally penniless by making all his property, real and personal, over
to his wife and children. Likewise he abdicated his copyrights. Thus he
reduced himself to legal pauperism with a completeness of success that
cannot but stir with envy the bosom of any philanthropist who shares Mr.
Andrew Carnegie's conviction that to die rich is to die disgraced.

Tolstoy's detractors have cast a plausible suspicion upon his sincerity.
They pointed out among other things that his relinquishment of pecuniary
profit in his books was apparent, not real. Since Russia has no
copyright conventions with other countries, it was merely making a
virtue of necessity to authorize freely the translation of his works
into foreign languages. As for the Russian editions of his writings, it
is said that in so far as the heavy hand of the censor did not prevent,
the Countess, as her husband's financial agent, managed quite skilfully
to exploit them.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Altogether, did Tolstoy practice what he professed? Inconsistency
between principles and conduct is a not uncommon frailty of genius, as
is notoriously illustrated by Tolstoy's real spiritual progenitor, Jean
Jacques Rousseau.

Now there are many discreditable stories in circulation about the muzhik
lord of Yasnaya Polyana. He urged upon others the gospel commands: "Lay
not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" and: "Take what ye have and
give to the poor," and for his own part lived, according to report, in
sumptuous surroundings. He went ostentatiously on pilgrimages to holy
places, barefooted but with an expert pedicure attending him. He dressed
in a coarse peasant blouse, but underneath it wore fine silk and linen.
He was a vegetarian of the strictest observance, yet so much of an
epicure that his taste for unseasonable dainties strained the domestic
resources. He preached simplicity, and according to rumor dined off
priceless plate; taught the equality of men, and was served by lackies
in livery. He abstained from alcohol and tobacco, but consumed six cups
of strong coffee at a sitting. Finally, he extolled the sexless life and
was the father of thirteen children. It was even murmured that
notwithstanding his professed affection for the muzhik and his incessant
proclamation of universal equality, the peasantry of Yasnaya Polyana was
the most wretchedly-treated to be found in the whole province and that
the extortionate landlordism of the Tolstoys was notorious throughout
the empire.

Much of this, to be sure, is idle gossip, unworthy of serious attention.
Nevertheless, there is evidence enough to show that Tolstoy's insistence
upon a literal acceptance of earlier Christian doctrines led him into
unavoidable inconsistencies and shamed him into a tragical sense of

Unquestionably Tolstoy lived very simply and laboriously for a man of
great rank, means, and fame, but his life was neither hard nor cramped.
Having had no personal experience of garret and hovel, he could have no
first-hand practical knowledge of the sting of poverty, nor could he
obtain hardship artificially by imposing upon himself a mild imitation
of physical discomfort. For the true test of penury is not the suffering
of to-day but the oppressive dread of to-morrow. His ostensible muzhik
existence, wanting in none of the essentials of civilization, was a
romance that bore to the real squalid pauperism of rural Russia about
the same relation that the bucolic make-belief of Boucher's or Watteau's
swains and shepherdesses bore to the unperfumed truth of a sheep-farm or
a hog-sty. As time passed, and the sage turned his thoughts to a more
rigid enforcement of his renunciations, it was no easy task for a
devoted wife to provide comfort for him without shaking him too rudely
out of his fond illusion that he was enduring privations.

After all, then, his practice did not tally with his theory; and this
consciousness of living contrary to his own teachings was a constant
source of unhappiness which no moral quibbles of his friends could

Yet no man could be farther from being a hypocrite. If at last he broke
down under a burden of conscience, it was a burden imposed by the
reality of human nature which makes it impossible for any man to live up
to intentions of such rigor as Tolstoy's. From the start he realized
that he did not conform his practice entirely to his teachings, and as
he grew old he was resolved that having failed to harmonize his life
with his beliefs he would at least corroborate his sincerity by his
manner of dying. Even in this, however, he was to be thwarted. In his
dramatic ending, still plainly remembered, we feel a grim consistency
with the lifelong defeat of his will to suffer.

Early in 1910 a student by the name of Manzos addressed a rebuke to
Tolstoy for simulating the habits of the poor, denouncing his mode of
life as a form of mummery. He challenged the sage to forsake his
comforts and the affections of his family, and to go forth and beg his
way from place to place. "Do this," entreated the young fanatic, "and
you will be the first true man after Christ." With his typical
large-heartedness, Tolstoy accepted the reproof and said in the course
of his long reply:(33) ... "The fact that I am living with wife and
daughter in terrible and shameful conditions of luxury when poverty
surrounds me on all sides, torments me ever more and more, and there is
not a day when I am not thinking of following your advice. I thank you
very, very much for your letter." As a matter of fact, he had more than
once before made ready to put his convictions to a fiery proof by a
final sacrifice,--leaving his home and spending his remaining days in
utter solitude. But when he finally proceeded to carry out this ascetic
intention and actually set out on a journey to some vague and lonely
destination, he was foiled in his purpose. If ever Tolstoy's behavior
irresistibly provoked misrepresentation of his motives it was by this
somewhat theatrical hegira. The fugitive left Yasnaya Polyana, not
alone, but with his two favorite companions, his daughter Alexandra and
a young Hungarian physician who for some time had occupied the post of
private secretary to him. After paying a farewell visit to his sister, a
nun cloistered in Shamardin, he made a start for the Trans-Caucasus. His
idea was to go somewhere near the Tolstoy colony at the Black Sea. But
in an early stage of the journey, a part of which was made in an
ordinary third-class railway compartment, the old man was overcome by
illness and fatigue. He was moved to a trackman's hut at the station of
Astopovo, not farther than eighty miles from his home, and
here,--surrounded by his hastily summoned family and tenderly nursed for
five days,--he expired. Thus he was denied the summit of martyrdom to
which he had aspired,--a lonely death, unminded of men.

  (33) February 17, 1910.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Even a summary review like this of Tolstoy's life and labors cannot be
concluded without some consideration of his final attitude toward the
esthetic embodiment of civilization. The development of his philosophy
of self-abnegation had led irresistibly, as we have seen, to the
condemnation of all self-regarding instincts. Among these, Art appeared
to him as one of the most insidious. He warned against the cultivation
of the beautiful on the ground that it results in the suppression and
destruction of the moral sense. Already in 1883 it was known that he had
made up his mind to abandon his artistic aspirations out of loyalty to
his moral theory, and would henceforth dedicate his talents exclusively
to the propagation of humanitarian views. In vain did the dean of
Russian letters, Turgenieff, appeal to him with a death-bed message: "My
friend, great writer of the Russians, return to literary work! Heed my
prayer." Tolstoy stood firm in his determination. Nevertheless, his
genius refused to be throttled by his conscience; he could not paralyze
his artistic powers; he could merely bend them to his moral aims.

As a logical corollary to his opposition to art for art's sake, Tolstoy
cast from him all his own writings antedating "Confession,"--and
denounced all of them as empty manifestations of worldly conceit. His
authorship of that immortal novel, "War and Peace," filled him with
shame and remorse. His views on Art are plainly and forcibly expounded
in the famous treatise on "What is Art?" and in the one on
"Shakespeare." In both he maintains that Art, no matter of what sort,
should serve the sole purpose of bringing men nearer to each other in
the common purpose of right living. Hence, no art work is legitimate
without a pervasive moral design. The only true touchstone of an art
work is the uplifting strength that proceeds from it. Therefore, a
painting like the "Angelus," or a poem like "The Man with the Hoe" would
transcend in worth the creations of a Michael Angelo or a Heinrich Heine
even as the merits of Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Goethe are outmatched
in Tolstoy's judgment by those of Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and
George Eliot. By the force of this naïve reasoning and his theoretical
antipathy toward true art, he was led to see in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" the
veritable acme of literary perfection, for the reason that this book
wielded such an enormous and noble influence upon the most vital
question of its day. He strongly discountenanced the literary practice
of revamping ancient themes, believing with Ibsen that modern writers
should impart their ideas through the medium of modern life. Yet at the
same time he was up in arms against the self-styled "moderns"! They took
their incentives from science, and this Tolstoy decried, because science
did not fulfill its mission of teaching people how rightly to live. In
this whole matter he reasoned doggedly from fixed ideas, no matter to
what ultimates the argument would carry him. For instance, he did not
stick at branding Shakespeare as an utter barbarian, and to explain the
reverence for such "disgusting" plays as "King Lear" as a crass
demonstration of imitative hypocrisy.

Art in general is a practice aiming at the production of the beautiful.
But what is "beautiful"? asked Tolstoy. The current definitions he
pronounced wrong because they were formulated from the standpoint of the
pleasure-seeker. Such at least has been the case since the Renaissance.
From that time forward, Art, like all cults of pleasure, has been evil.
To the pleasure-seeker, the beautiful is that which is enjoyable; hence
he appraises works of art according to their ability to procure
enjoyment. In Tolstoy's opinion this is no less absurd than if we were
to estimate the nutritive value of food-stuffs by the pleasure
accompanying their consumption. So he baldly declares that we must
abolish beauty as a criterion of art, or conversely, must establish
truth as the single standard of beauty. "The heroine of my stories whom
I strive to represent in all her beauty, who was ever beautiful, is so,
and will remain so, is Truth."

His views on art have a certain analogy with two modern schools,--much
against his will, since he strenuously disavows and deprecates
everything modern; they make us think on the one hand of the
"naturalists," inasmuch as like them Tolstoy eschews all intentional
graces of style and diction: and on the other hand of the
"impressionists," with whom he seems united by his fundamental
definition of art, namely that it is the expression of a dominant
emotion calculated to reproduce itself in the reader or beholder.
Lacking, however, a deep and catholic understanding for art, Tolstoy, in
contrast with the modern impressionists, would restrict artists to the
expression of a single type of sentiments, those that reside in the
sphere of religious consciousness. To him art, as properly conceived and
practiced, must be ancillary to religion, and its proper gauge is the
measure of its agreement with accepted moral teachings. Remembering,
then, the primitive form of belief to which Tolstoy contrived to attain,
we find ourselves face to face with a theory of art which sets up as the
final arbiter the man "unspoiled by culture," and he, in Tolstoy's
judgment, is the Russian muzhik.

                   *       *       *       *       *

This course of reasoning on art is in itself sufficient to show the
impossibility for any modern mind of giving sweeping assent to Tolstoy's
teachings. And a like difficulty would be experienced if we tried to
follow him in his meditations on any other major interest of life.
Seeking with a tremendous earnestness of conscience to reduce the
bewildering tangle of human affairs to elementary simplicity, he
enmeshed himself in a new network of contradictions. The effect was
disastrous for the best part of his teaching; his own extremism stamped
as a hopeless fantast a man incontestably gifted by nature, as few men
have been in history, with the cardinal virtues of a sage, a reformer,
and a missionary of social justice. Because of this extremism, his voice
was doomed to remain that of one crying in the wilderness.

The world could not do better than to accept Tolstoy's fundamental
prescriptions: simplicity of living, application to work, and
concentration upon moral culture. But to apply his radical scheme to
existing conditions would amount to a self-stultification of the race,
for it would entail the unpardonably sinful sacrifice of some of the
finest and most hard-won achievements of human progress. For our
quotidian difficulties his example promises no solution. The great mass
of us are not privileged to test our individual schemes of redemption in
the leisured security of an ideal experiment station; not for every man
is there a Yasnaya Polyana, and the Sophia Andreyevnas are thinly sown
in the matrimonial market.

But even though Tolstoyism will not serve as a means of solving the
great social problems, it supplies a helpful method of social criticism.
And its value goes far beyond that: the force of his influence was too
great not to have strengthened enormously the moral conscience of the
world; he has played, and will continue to play, a leading part in the
establishing and safeguarding of democracy. After all, we do not have to
separate meticulously what is true in Tolstoy's teaching from what is
false in order to acknowledge him as a Voice of his epoch. For as Lord
Morley puts the matter in the case of Jean Jacques Rousseau: "There are
some teachers whose distinction is neither correct thought, nor an eye
for the exigencies of practical organization, but simply depth and
fervor of the moral sentiment, bringing with it the indefinable gift of
touching many hearts with love of virtue and the things of the spirit."

  [ Transcriber's Note:

    The following is a list of corrections made to the original.
    The first line is the original line, the second the corrected one.

  sublimal regions of the inner life, and that their work somehow brings
  subliminal regions of the inner life, and that their work somehow brings

  in the writings of the de-gallisized Frenchman, Count Joseph Arthur
  in the writings of the de-gallicized Frenchman, Count Joseph Arthur

  the same time, the universal decreptitude prevented the despiser of his
  the same time, the universal decrepitude prevented the despiser of his

  artistic design was dimmed by the obstrusive didactic purpose.
  artistic design was dimmed by the obtrusive didactic purpose.


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