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Title: Egoists - A Book of Supermen
Author: Huneker, James
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Henry Beyle-Stendhal--Redrawn by Edwin B. Child
from a crayon portrait.]



"Leb' Ich, wenn andere leben?"--Goethe

The studies gathered here first appeared in _Scribner's
Magazine_, the _Atlantic Monthly_, the _North American
Review_, the _New York Times_, and the _New York Sun_.


       I. A Sentimental Education: Henry Beyle-Stendhal
      II. The Baudelaire Legend
     III. The Real Flaubert
      IV. Anatole France
       V. The Pessimists' Progress: J.-K. Huysmans
      VI. The Evolution of an Egoist: Maurice Barrès
     VII. Phases of Nietzsche

            I. The Will to Suffer
           II. Nietzsche's Apostasy
          III. Antichrist?

    VIII. Mystics

            I. Ernest Hello
           II. "Mad Naked Blake"
          III. Francis Poictevin
           IV. The Road to Damascus
            V. From an Ivory Tower

      IX. Ibsen
       X. Max Stirner





The fanciful notion that psychical delicacy is accompanied by a
corresponding physical exterior should have received a death-blow
in the presence of Henry Beyle, better known as Stendhal. Chopin,
Shelley, Byron and Cardinal Newman did not in personal appearance
contradict their verse, prose and music; but Stendhal, possessing an
exquisite sensibility, was, as Hector Berlioz cruelly wrote in his
Memoirs: "A little pot-bellied man with a spiteful smile, who tried to
look grave." Sainte-Beuve is more explicit. "Physically his figure,
though not short, soon grew thick-set and heavy, his neck short and
full-blooded. His fleshy face was framed in dark curly hair and
whiskers, which before his death were assisted by art. His forehead
was fine: the nose turned up, and somewhat Calmuck in shape. His lower
lip, which projected a little, betrayed his tendency to scoff. His eyes
were rather small but very bright, deeply set in their cavities, and
pleasing when he smiled. His hands, of which he was proud, were small
and daintily shaped. In the last years of his life he grew heavy and
apoplectic. But he always took great pains to conceal the symptoms of
physical decay even from his own friends."

Henri Monnier, who caricatured him, apparently in a gross manner,
denied that he had departed far from his model. Some one said that
Stendhal looked like an apothecary--Homais, presumably, or M.
Prudhomme. His maternal grandfather, Doctor Gagnon, assured him when
a youth that he was ugly, but he consolingly added that no one would
reproach him for his ugliness. The piercing and brilliant eye that
like a mountain lake could be both still and stormy, his eloquent and
ironical mouth, pugnacious bearing, Celtic profile, big shoulders, and
well-modelled leg made an ensemble, if not alluring, at least striking.
No man with a face capable of a hundred shades of expression can be
ugly. Furthermore, Stendhal was a charming _causeur_, bold, copious,
witty. With his conversation, he drolly remarked, he paid his way into
society. And this demigod or monster, as he was alternately named by
his admirers and enemies, could be the most impassioned of lovers. His
life long he was in love; Prosper Mérimée declares he never encountered
such furious devotion to love. It was his master passion. Not Napoleon,
not his personal ambitions, not even Italy, were such factors in
Stendhal's life as his attachments. His career was a sentimental
education. This ugly man with the undistinguished features was a
haughty cavalier, an intellectual Don Juan, a tender, sighing swain, a
sensualist, and ever lyric where the feminine was concerned. But once
seated, pen in hand, the wise, worldly cynic was again master. "My head
is a magic-lantern," he said. And his literary style is on the surface
as unattractive as were the features of the man; the inner ear for the
rhythms and sonorities of prose was missing. That is the first paradox
in the Beyle-Stendhal case.

Few writers in the nineteenth century were more neglected; yet, what
a chain of great critics his work begot. Commencing with Goethe in
1818, who, after reading Rome, Naples, and Florence, wrote that the
Frenchman attracted and repulsed him, interested and annoyed him, but
it was impossible to separate himself from the book until its last
page. What makes the opinion remarkable is that Goethe calmly noted
Stendhal's plagiarism of his own Italian Journey. About 1831 Goethe
was given Le Rouge et le Noir and told Eckermann of its worth in warm
terms. After Goethe another world-hero praised Stendhal's La Chartreuse
de Parme: Balzac literally exploded a bouquet of pyrotechnics, calling
the novel a masterpiece of observation, and extolling the Waterloo
picture. Sainte-Beuve was more cautious. He dubbed Stendhal a "romantic
hussar," and said that he was devoid of invention; a literary Uhlan,
for men of letters, not for the public. Shortly after his sudden
death, M. Bussière wrote in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_ of Stendhal's
"clandestine celebrity." Taine's trumpet-call in 1857 proclaimed him
as the great psychologue of his century. And later, in his English
Literature, Taine wrote: "His talents and ideas were premature,
his admirable divinations not understood. Under the exterior of a
conversationalist and a man of the world Stendhal explained the most
esoteric mechanisms--a scientist who noted, decomposed, deduced;
he first marked the fundamental causes of nationality, climate,
temperament; he was the naturalist who classified and weighed forces
and taught us to open our eyes." Taine was deeply influenced by
Stendhal; read carefully his Italian Pilgrimage, and afterward Thomas
Graindorge. He so persistently preached Stendhalism--_beylisme_, as its
author preferred to term his vagrant philosophy--that Sainte-Beuve
reproved him. Melchior de Vogüé said that Stendhal's heart had been
fabricated under the Directory and from the same wood as Barras and
Talleyrand. Brunetière saw in him the perfect expression of romantic
and anti-social individualism. Caro spoke of his "serious blague,"
while Victor Hugo found him "somniferous." But Mérimée, though openly
disavowing discipleship, acknowledged privately the abiding impression
made upon him by the companionship of Beyle. 'Much of Mérimée is
Stendhal better composed, better written.

About 1880 Zola, searching a literary pedigree for his newly-born
Naturalism, pitched upon Stendhal to head the movement. The first
Romantic--he employed the term Romanticism before the rest--the first
literary Impressionist, the initiator of Individualism, Stendhal forged
many formulas, was a matrix of _genres_, literary and psychologic. Paul
Bourget's Essays in Contemporary Psychology definitely placed Beyle in
the niche he now occupies. This was in 1883. Since then the swelling
chorus headed by Tolstoy, Georg Brandes, and the amiable fanatics who
exhumed at Grenoble his posthumous work, have given to the study of
Stendhal fresh life. We see how much Nietzsche owed to Stendhal; see
in Dostoïevsky's Raskolnikow-Crime and Punishment--a Russian Julien
Sorel; note that Bourget, from Le Disciple to Sensations d'Italie,
is compounded of his forerunner, the dilettante and cosmopolitan who
wrote Promenades dans Rome and Lamiel. What would Maurice Barrès and
his "culte du Moi" have been without Stendhal--who employed before him
the famous phrase "deracination"? Amiel, sick-willed thinker, did not
alone invent: "A landscape is a state of soul"; Stendhal had spoken of
a landscape not alone sufficing; it needs a moral or historic interest.
Before Schopenhauer he described Beauty as a promise of happiness; and
he invented the romance of the petty European Principality. Meredith
followed him, as Robert Louis Stevenson in his Prince Otto patterned
after Meredith. The painter-novelist Fromentin mellowed Stendhal's
procedure; and dare we conceive of Meredith or Henry James composing
their work without having had a complete cognizance of Beyle-Stendhal?
The Egoist is _beylisme_ of a superior artistry; while in America Henry
B. Fuller shows sympathy for Beyle in his Chevalier Pensieri-Vani and
its sequel. Surely the Prorege of Arcopia had read the Chartreuse.
And with Edith Wharton the Stendhal touch is not absent. In England,
after the dull essay by Hayward (prefixed to E. P. Robbin's excellent
translation of Chartreuse), Maurice Hewlett contributed an eloquent
introduction to a new edition of the Chartreuse and calls him "a man
cloaked in ice and fire." Anna Hampton Brewster was possibly the first
American essayist to introduce to us Stendhal in her St. Martin's
Summer. Saintsbury, Dowden, Benjamin Wells, Count Lützow have since
written of him; and in Germany the Stendhal cult is growing, thanks to
Arthur Schurig, L. Spach, and Friedrick von Oppeln-Bronikowski.

It has been mistaken criticism to range Beyle as only a "literary"
man. He despised the profession of literature, remarking that he wrote
as one smokes a cigar. His diaries and letters, the testimony of
his biographer, Colomb, and his friend Mérimée, betray this pose--a
greater poser and _mystificateur_ it would be difficult to find. He
laboured like a slave over his material, and if he affected to take
the Civil Code as his model of style it nettled him, nevertheless,
when anyone decried his prose. His friend Jacquemont spoke of his
detestable style of a grocer; Balzac called him to account for his
carelessness. Flattered, astounded, as was Stendhal by the panegyric
of Balzac, his letter of thanks shows that the reproof cut deeply. He
abused Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël, and George Sand for their highly
coloured imagery and flowing manner. He even jeered at Balzac, saying
that if he--Beyle--had written "It snows in my heart," or some such
romantic figure, Balzac would then have praised his style.

Thanks to the labours of Casimir Stryienski and his colleagues,
we may study the different drafts Stendhal made of his novels. He
seldom improved by recasting. The truth is that his dry, naked
method of narration, despite its clumsiness, despite the absence of
plan, is excellently adapted to the expression of his ideas. He is a
psychologue. He deals with soul-stuff. An eighteenth-century man in
his general ideas and feelings, he followed the seventeenth century
and Montesquieu; he derives from Montaigne and Chamfort, and his
philosophy is coloured by a study of Condillac, Hobbes, Helvétius,
Cabanis, Destutt Tracy, and Machiavelli. He is a descendant of Diderot
and the Encyclopædists, a _philosophe_ of the salons, a _petit maître_,
a materialist for whom nothing exists but his ideas and sensations.
A French epicurean, his pendulum swings between love and war--the
adoration of energy and the adoration of pleasure. What complicates
his problem is the mixture of warrior and psychologist. That the man
who followed Napoleon through several of his campaigns, serving
successfully as a practical commissary and fighter, should have been
an adorer of women, was less strange than that he should have proved
to be the possessor of such vibrating sensibility. Jules Lemaitre sees
him as "a grand man of action paralysed little by little because of
his incomparable analysis." Yet he never betrayed unreadiness when
confronted by peril. He read Voltaire and Plato during the burning
of Moscow--which he described as a beautiful spectacle--and he never
failed to present himself before his kinsman and patron, Marshal Daru,
with a clean-shaved face, even when the Grand Army was a mass of

"You are a man of heart," said Daru, Frenchman in that phrase. When
Napoleon demanded five millions of francs from a German province,
Stendhal--who adopted this pen-name from the archæologist Winckelmann's
birthplace, a Prussian town--raised seven millions and was in
consequence execrated by the people. Napoleon asked on receiving the
money the name of the agent, adding, "_c'est bien!_" We are constrained
to believe Mérimée's assertion that Stendhal was the soul of honour,
and incapable of baseness, after this proof. At a time when plunder was
the order of the day's doings, the poor young aide-de-camp could have
pocketed with ease at least a million of the excess tax. He did not do
this, nor did he, in his letters or memoirs, betray any remorse for his

Sainte-Beuve said that Beyle was the dupe of his fear of being duped.
This was confirmed by Mérimée in the concise little study prefixed
to the Correspondence. It is doubtful if these two men were drawn to
each other save by a certain contemptuous way of viewing mankind.
Stendhal was the more sentimental of the pair; he frequently reproached
Mérimée for his cold heart. He had also a greater sense of humour.
That each distrusted the other is not to be denied. Augustin Filon,
in his _brochure_ on Mérimée, said that "the influence exercised by
Stendhal on Mérimée during the decisive years in which his literary
eclecticism was formed, was considerable, even more than Mérimée
himself was aware." But the author of Carmen was a much finer artist.
The Danish critic, Georg Brandes, has described Beyle's relation to
Balzac as "that of the reflective to the observant mind; of the thinker
in art to the seer. We see into the hearts of Balzac's characters,
into the 'dark-red mill of passion' which is the motive force of their
action; Beyle's characters receive their impulse from the head, the
'open light-and-sound chamber'; the reason being that Beyle was a
logician, and Balzac a man of an effusively rich animal nature. Beyle
stands to Victor Hugo in much the same position as Leonardo da Vinci
to Michaelangelo. Hugo's plastic imagination creates a supernaturally
colossal and muscular humanity fixed in an eternal attitude of struggle
and suffering; Beyle's mysterious, complicated, refined intellect
produces a small series of male and female portraits, which exercise
an almost magic fascination on us with their far-away, enigmatic
expressions, and their sweet, wicked smile. Beyle is the metaphysician
among the French authors of his day, as Leonardo was the metaphysician
among the great painters of the Renaissance."

According to Bourget, Beyle's advent into letters marked the "tragic
dawn of pessimism." But is it precise to call him a pessimist? He was
of too vigorous a temper, too healthy in body, to be classed with the
decadents. His was the soul of a sixteenth-century Italian, one who had
read and practised the cheerful scepticism of Montaigne. As he served
bravely when a soldier, so, stout and subtle in after life, he waged
war with the blue devils--his chief foe. Disease weakened his physique,
weakened his mentality, yet he fought life to its dull end. He was
pursued by the secret police, and this led him to all sorts of comical
disguises and pseudonyms. And to the last he experienced a childish
delight in the invention of odd names for himself.

Félix Fénéon, in speaking of Arthur Rimbaud, asserted that his work
was, perhaps, "outside of literature." This, with some modification,
may be said of Beyle. His stories are always interesting; they may
ramble and halt, digress and wander into strange places; but the
psychologic vision of the writer never weakens. His chief concern is
the mind or soul of his characters. He hitches his kite to earth, yet
there is the paper air-ship floating above you, lending a touch of the
ideal to his most matter-of-fact tales. He uses both the microscope
and scalpel. He writes, as has been too often said, indifferently; his
formal sense is nearly _nil_; much of his art criticism mere gossip;
he has little feeling for colour; yet he describes a soul and its
manifold movements in precise terms, and while he is at furthest remove
from symbolism, he often has an irritating spiritual suggestiveness.
The analogue here to plastic art--he, the least plastic of writers--is
unescapable. Stendhal, whatever else he may be, is an incomparable
etcher of character. His acid phrases "bite" his arbitrary lines
deeply; the sharp contrasts of black and white enable him to portray,
without the fiery-hued rhetoric of either Chateaubriand or Hugo,
the finest split shades of thought and emotion. Never colour, only
_nuance_--and the slash and sweep of a drastic imagination.

He was an inveterate illusionist in all that concerned himself; even
with himself he was not always sincere--and he usually wrote of
himself. His many books are a masquerade behind which one discerns the
posture of the mocker, the sensibility of a reversed idealist, and the
spirit of a bitter analyst. This sensibility must not be confounded
with the _sensibilité_ of a Maurice de Guérin. Rather it is the morbid
sensitiveness of a Swift combined with an unusual receptivity to
sentimental and artistic impressions. Professor Walter Raleigh thus,
describes the sensibility of those times: "The sensibility that came
into vogue during the eighteenth century was of a finer grain than
its modern counterpart. It studied delicacy, and sought a cultivated
enjoyment in evanescent shades of feeling, and the fantasies of
unsubstantial grief." Vanity ruled in Stendhal. Who shall say how much
his unyielding spirit suffered because of his poverty, his enormous
ambitions? His motto might have been: Blessed are the proud of spirit,
for they shall inherit the Kingdom of Earth. He wrote in 1819: "I have
had three passions in my life. Ambition--1800-1811; love for a woman
who deceived me, 1811-1818; and in 1818 a new passion." But then he
was ever on the verge of a new passion, ever deceived--at least he
believed himself to be--and he, the fearless theoretician of passion,
often was, he has admitted, in practice the timid amateur. He planned
the attack upon a woman's heart as a general plans the taking of an
enemy's citadel. He wrote L'Amour for himself. He defined the rules of
the game, but shivered when he saw the battle-field. Magnificent he was
in precept, though not always in action. He was for this reason never
_blasé_, despite continual grumblings over his _ennui_. In his later
years at Cività Vecchia he yearned for companionship like a girl, and,
a despiser of Paris and the Parisians, he suffered from the nostalgia
of the boulevard. He adored Milan and the Milanese, yet Italy finally
proved too much for his nerves; _J'ai tant vu le soleil_, he confessed.
Contradictory and fantastic, he hated all authority. Mérimée puts
down to the account of the sour old abbé Raillane, who taught him,
the distaste he entertained for the Church of Rome. Yet he enjoyed
its æsthetic side. He was its admirer his life long, notwithstanding
his gibes and irreligious jests, just as he was a Frenchman by reason
of his capacity for reaction under depressing circumstances. But how
account for his monstrous hatred for his father? The elder Beyle was
penurious and as hard as flint. He nearly starved his son, for whom he
had no affection. Henry could not see him salute his mother without
loathing him. She read Dante in the original, and her son assured
himself that there was Italian blood on her side of the house. The
youth's hatred, too, of his aunt Séraphie almost became a mania. It
has possibly enriched fiction by the portrait of Gina of the resilient
temperament, the delicious Duchess of Sanseverina. All that she is, his
aunt Séraphie was not, and with characteristic perversity he makes her
enamoured of her nephew Fabrice del Dongo. Did he not say that parents
are our first enemies when we enter the world?

His criticisms of music and painting are chiefly interesting for what
they tell us of his temperament. He called himself "observer of the
human heart," and was taken by a cautious listener for a police spy.
He seldom signed the same name twice to his letters. He delighted to
boast of various avocations; little wonder the Milanese police drove
him out of the city. He said that to be a good philosopher one must be
_sec_, and without illusions. Perspicacious, romantic, delicate in his
attitude toward women, he could be rough, violent, and suspicious. He
scandalised George Sand, delighted Alfred de Musset; Madame Lamartine
refused to receive him in her drawing-room at Rome. His intercourse
with Byron was pleasant. He disliked Walter Scott and called him
a hypocrite--possibly because there is no freedom in his love
descriptions. Lord Byron in a long letter expostulated with Stendhal,
defending his good friend, Scott; but Stendhal never quite believed in
the poet's sincerity--indeed, suspecting himself, he suspected other
men's motives. He had stage-fright when he first met Byron--whom he
worshipped. A tremulous soul his, in a rude envelope. At Venice he
might have made the acquaintance of young Arthur Schopenhauer and
Leopardi, but he was too much interested in the place to care for new

He said that without passion there is neither virtue nor vice. (Taine
made a variation on this theme.) A dagger-thrust is a dignified gesture
when prompted by passion. After the Napoleonic disaster, Stendhal had
lost all his hopes of referment; he kept his temper admirably, though
occasionally calling his old chief bad names. It was a period of the
flat, stale, platitudinous, and bourgeois. "In the nineteenth century
one must be either a monster or a sheep," wrote Beyle to Byron. A
patriot is either a dolt or a rogue! My country is where there are most
people like me--Cosmopolis! The only excuse for God is that he does
not exist! Verse was invented to aid the memory! A volume of maxims,
witty and immoral, might be gathered from the writings of Stendhal
that would equal Rivarol and Rochefoucauld. "I require three or four
cubic feet of new ideas per day, as a steamboat requires coal," he
told Romain Colomb. What energy, what lassitude this man possessed! He
spoke English--though he wrote it imperfectly--and Italian; the latter
excellently because of his long residence in Italy.

Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil, described Stendhal as "that
remarkable man who, with a Napoleonic _tempo_, traversed _his_ Europe,
in fact several centuries of the European soul, as a surveyor and
discoverer thereof. It has required two generations to overtake him
one way or other; to divine long afterward some of the riddles that
perplexed and enraptured him--this strange Epicurean and man of
interrogation, the last great psychologist of France." He also spoke of
him as "Stendhal, who has, perhaps, had the most profound eyes and ears
of any Frenchman of this century."

Stendhal said that Shakespeare knew the human heart better than Racine;
yet despite his English preferences, Stendhal is a psychologist of the
_Racinien_ school. When an English company of players went to Paris in
1822, Stendhal defended them by pen and in person. He was chagrined
that his fellow-countrymen should hiss Othello or The School for
Scandal. He despised _chauvinisme_, he the ideal globe-trotter. And
he was contradictory enough to have understood Tennyson's "That man's
the best cosmopolite who loves his native country best." He scornfully
remarked that in 1819 Parisian literary logic could be summed up thus:
"This man does not agree with me, therefore he is a fool; he criticises
my book, he is my enemy; therefore a thief, an assassin, a brigand, and
forger." Narrow-mindedness must never be imputed to Stendhal. Nor was
he a modest man--modesty that virtue of the mediocre.

How much Tolstoy thought of the Frenchman may be found in his
declaration that all he knew about war he learned first from Stendhal.
"I will speak of him only as the author of the Chartreuse de Parme and
Le Rouge et le Noir. These are two great, inimitable works of art.
I am indebted for much to Stendhal. He taught me to understand war.
Read once more in the Chartreuse de Parme his account of the battle
of Waterloo. Who before him had so described war--that is, as it is
in reality?" In 1854 they said Balzac and Hugo; in 1886, Balzac and
Stendhal. Some day it may be Stendhal and Tolstoy. The Russian with
his slow, patient amassing of little facts but follows Stendhal's
chaplet of anecdotes. The latter said that the novel should be a
mirror that moves along the highway; a novel, he writes elsewhere, is
like a bow--the violin which gives out the sound is the soul of the
reader. And Goncourt assimilated this method with surprising results.
Stendhal first etched the soul of the new Superman, the exalted young
man and woman--Julien Sorel and Matilde de la Môle. They are both
immoralists. Exceptional souls, in real life they might have seen the
inside of a prison. Stendhal is the original of the one; the other is
the source of latter-day feminine souls in revolt, the souls of Ibsen
and Strindberg. Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Marivaux he has
remoulded--Valmont is a prototype of Julien Sorel.

J. J. Weiss has said that profound immorality is probably an attribute
common to all great observers of human nature. It would require a
devil's advocate of unusual acuity to prove Stendhal a moral man or
writer. His philosophy is materialistic. He wrote for the "happy
few" and longed for a hundred readers, and wished his readers to be
those amiable, unhappy souls who are neither moral nor hypocritical.
His egoism brought him no surcease from boredom. His diaries and
letters and memoirs, so rich in general ideas, are valuable for the
student of human nature. The publication of his correspondence was
a revelation--a very sincere, human Stendhal came into view. His
cosmopolitanism is unaffected; his chapters are mosaics of facts and
sensations; his manner of narrative is, as Bourget says, a method of
discovery as well as of exposition. His heroes and heroines delve into
their motives, note their ideas and sensations. With a few exceptions,
modern romancers, novelists, psychologists of fiction seem shallow
after Stendhal. Taine confesses to reading Le Rouge et le Noir between
thirty and forty times. Stendhal disliked America; to him all things
democratic were abhorrent. He loathed the mass, upheld the class; an
individualist and aristocrat like Ibsen, he would not recognize the
doctrine of equality. The French Revolution was useful only because
it evolved a strong man--Napoleon. America, being democratic, would
therefore never produce art, tragedy, music, or romantic love.

It is the fate of some men to exist only as a source of inspiration
for their fellow-artists. Shelley is the poet's poet, Meredith the
novelist's novelist, and Stendhal a storehouse for psychologues.
His virile spirit, in these times of vapid socialistic theories,
is a sparkling and sinister pool wherein all may dip and be
refreshed--perhaps poisoned. He is not orthodox as thinker or artist;
but it is a truism that the wicked of a century ago may be the saints
of to-morrow. To read him is to increase one's wisdom; he is dangerous
only to fools. Like Schopenhauer and Ibsen, he did not flatter his
public; now he has his own public. And nothing would have amused this
charming and cynical man more than the knowledge of his canonisation
in the church of world literature. He gayly predicted that he would be
understood about 1880-1900; but his impertinent shadow projects far
into the twentieth century. Will he be read in 1935? he has asked. Why
not? A monument is to be erected to him in Paris. Rodin has designed
the medallion portrait.


The labours, during the past twenty years, of Casimir Stryienski,
François de Nion, L. Bélugon, Arthur Chuquet, Henry Cordier, Pierre
Brun, Ricciotto Canudo, Octave Uzanne, Hugues Rebell--to quote the
names of a few devoted Stendhalians--have enabled us to decipher
Stendhal's troubled life. M. Stryienski unearthed at Grenoble a mass
of manuscript, journals, tales, half-finished novels, and they have
been published. Was there any reason to doubt the existence of a
Stendhal Club after the appearance of those two interesting books,
Soirées du Stendhal Club, by Stryienski? The compact little study in
the series, Les Grands Ecrivains Français, by Edouard Rod, and Colomb's
biographical notice at the head of Armance, and Stryienski's Etude
Biographique are the principal references for Stendhal students. And
this, too, despite the evident lack of sympathy in the case of M. Rod.
It is a minute, painstaking _étude_, containing much fair criticism;
fervent Stendhalians need to be reminded of their master's defects
and of the danger of self-dupery. If Stendhal were alive, he would be
the first to mock at his disciples' enthusiasm--the enthusiasm of the
_parvenu_, as he puts it. (He ill concealed his own in the presence of
pictorial master-pieces or the ballets of Viganò.) Rod, after admitting
the wide influence of Stendhal upon the generations that followed him,
patronisingly concludes by a quotation: "Les petits livres ont leurs
destinées." What, then, does he call great, if Le Rouge et le Noir and
La Chartreuse de Parme are "little books"?

Marie-Henry Beyle was born at Grenoble, Dauphiny, January 23, 1783. He
died at Paris, March 23, 1842, stricken on the Rue Neuve des Capucines
by apoplexy. Colomb had his dying friend carried to his lodgings. He
was buried in Montmartre Cemetery, followed there by Mérimée, Colomb,
and one other. Upon his monument is an epitaph composed a short time
before he died. It is in Italian and reads: Arrigo Beyle, Milanese.
_Scrisse, Amò, Visse_. Ann. 59. M.2. Mori 2. 23 Marzo. MDCCCXLII.
(Harry Beyle, Milanese. Wrote, Loved, Lived. 59 years and 2 months. He
died at 2 A.M. on the 23rd of March, 1842.) This bit of mystification
was quite in line with Beyle's career. As he was baptised the English
Henry, he preferred to be known in death as the Milanese Harry. Pierre
Brun says that there was a transposition in the order of _Scrisse, Amò,
Visse_; it should read the reverse. The sculptor David d'Angers made a
medallion of the writer in 1825. It is reproduced in the Rod monograph,
and his son designed another for the tomb. This singular epitaph of a
singular man did not escape the eyes of his enemies. Charles Monselet
called him a renegade to his family and country; which is uncritical
tomfoolery. Stendhal was a citizen of the world--and to the last a
Frenchman. And not one of his cavilling contemporaries risked his life
with such unconcern as did this same Beyle in the Napoleonic campaigns.
Mérimée has drawn for us the best portrait of Stendhal, Colomb, his
earliest companion, wrote the most gossipy life. Stryienski, however,
has demonstrated that Colomb attenuated, even erased many expressions
of Stendhal's, and that he also attempted to portray his hero in
fairer colours. But deep-dyed Stendhalians will not have their master
transformed into a tame cat of the Parisian salons. His wickedness is
his chief attraction, they think. An oft-quoted saying of Stendhal's
has been, Stryienski shows, tampered with: "A party of eight or ten
agreeable persons," said Stendhal, "where the conversation is gay and
anecdotic, and where weak punch is handed around at half past twelve,
is the place where I enjoy myself the most. There, in my element, I
infinitely prefer hearing others talk to talking myself. I readily sink
back into the silence of happiness; and if I talk, it is only to pay my
ticket of admission." What Stendhal wrote was this: "Un salon de huit
ou dix personnes dont toutes les femmes ont eu les amants," etc. The
touch is unmistakable.

Henry was educated at the Ecole Centrale of Grenoble. When he was
ten years of age, Louis XVI was executed, and the precocious boy,
to annoy his father, displayed undisguised glee at the news. He
served the mass, an altar-boy at the Convent of the Propagation, and
revealed unpleasant traits of character. His father he called by a
shocking name, but the death of his mother, when he was seven, he
never forgot. He loved her in true Stendhalian style. His maiden aunt
Séraphie ruled the house of the elder Beyle, and Henry's two sisters,
Pauline--the favourite of her brother--and Zenaïde, most tyrannically.
His young existence was a cruel battle with his elders, excepting his
worthy grandfather, Doctor Gagnon, an _esprit fort_ of the approved
eighteenth-century variety. On his book-shelves Henry found Voltaire,
Rousseau, d'Holbach, and eagerly absorbed them. A great-aunt taught
him that the pride of the Spaniard was the best quality of a man.
When he heard of his aunt's death, he threw himself on his knees and
passionately thanked the God in whom he had never believed. His father,
Chérubin-Joseph Beyle, was chevalier of the Legion of Honor and his
family of old though not noble stock. Its sympathies were aristocratic,
royalist, while Henry--certainly not a radical in politics--loved to
annoy his father by his Jacobin opinions. He in turn was ridiculed
by the Dauphinois when he called himself de Stendhal. Not a lovable
boy, certainly, and, it is said, scarcely a moral one. At school they
nick-named him "la Tour ambulante," because of his thick-set figure. He
preferred mathematics to all other studies, as he contemplated entering
l'Ecole Polytechnique. November 10, 1799, found him in Paris with
letters for his cousins Daru. They proved friendly. He was afterward,
through the influence of Pierre Daru, minister of war, made lieutenant
of cavalry, commissary and auditor of the Council of State. He served
in the Italian campaign, following Napoleon through the Saint Bernard
pass two days later. Aide-de-camp of General Michaud, he displayed
_sang-froid_ under fire. He was present at Jena and Wagram, and asked,
during a day of fierce fighting, "Is that all?" War and love only
provoked from this nonchalant person the same question. He was always
disappointed by reality; and, as Rod adds, "Is that all?" might be
the _leit motiv_ of his life. Forced by sickness to retire to Vienna,
he was at the top-notch of his life in Paris and Milan, 1810-1812. He
left a brilliant position to rejoin the Emperor in Russia. In 1830
he was nominated consul at Trieste; but Metternich objected because
of Stendhal's reputation as a political intrigant in Milan, ten
years earlier--a reputation he never deserved. He was sent to Cività
Vecchia, where he led a dull existence, punctuated by trips to Rome,
and, at long intervals, to Paris. From 1814 to 1820 he lived in Milan,
and in love, a friend of Manzoni, Silvio Pellico, Monti. The police
drove him back to Paris, and he says it was the deadliest blow to his
happiness. For a decade he remained here, leading the life of a man
around town, a sublimated gossip, dilettante, surface idler; withal, a
hard worker. A sybarite on an inadequate income, he was ever the man of
action. Embroiled in feminine intrigues, sanguine, clairvoyant, and
a sentimentalist, he seldom contemplated marriage. Once, at Cività
Vecchia, a young woman of bourgeois extraction tempted him by her large
_dot_; but inquiries made at Grenoble killed his chances. Indeed, he
was not the stuff from which the ideal husband is moulded. He did
not entertain a high opinion of matrimony. He said that the Germans
had a mania for marriage, an institution which is servitude for men.
On a trip down the Rhône, in 1833, he met George Sand and Alfred de
Musset going to Italy--to that Venice which was the poet's Waterloo
and Pagello's victory. Stendhal behaved so madly, so boisterously,
and uttered such paradoxes that he offended Madame Dudevant-Sand, who
openly expressed her distaste for him, though admiring his brilliancy.
De Musset had a pretty talent for sketching and drew Stendhal dancing
at the inn before a servant. It is full of verve. He also wrote some
verse about the French consul at Cività Vecchia:

    "Où Stendhal, cet esprit charmant,
         Remplissait si dévotement
         Sa sinécure."

Sinecure it was, though _ennui_ ruled; but he had his memories, and
Rome was not far away. In 1832, while at San Pietro in Montorio,
he bethought himself of his age. Fifty years would soon arrive. He
determined to write his memoirs. And we have the Vie de Henri Brulard,
Souvenirs d'Egotisme, and the Journal (1801-1814). In their numerous
pages--for he was an indefatigable graphomaniac--may be found the
thousand and one experiences in love, war, diplomacy that made up his
life. His boasted impassibility, like Flaubert's, does not survive the
test of these letters and intimate confessions. Mérimée, too, wrote
to Jenny Dacquin without his accustomed mask. Stendhal is the most
personal of writers; each novel is Henry Beyle in various situations,
making various and familiar gestures.

His presence was welcome in a dozen salons of Paris. He preferred,
however, a box at la Scala, listening to Rossini or watching a Viganò
ballet, near his beloved Angela. But after seven years Milan was
closed to him, and as he was known in a restricted circle at Paris
as a writer of power, originality, and as an authority on music and
painting, he returned there in 1821. He frequented the salon of Destutt
de Tracy, whose ideology and philosophic writings he admired. There he
saw General Lafayette and wrote maliciously of this hero, who, though
seventy-five, was in love with a Portuguese girl of nineteen. The same
desire to startle that animated Baudelaire kept Beyle in hot water. He
was a visitor at the home of Madame Cabanis, of M. Cuvier, of Madame
Ancelot, Baron Gérard, and Castellane, and on Sundays, at the salon of
Etienne Délacluze, the art critic of the _Débats_, and a daily visitor
at Madame Pasta's. He disliked, in his emphatic style, Victor Cousin,
Thiers, and his host Délacluze. For Beyle to dislike a man was to
announce the fact to the four winds of heaven, and he usually did so
with a brace of bon-mots that set all Paris laughing. Naturally, his
enemies retaliated. Some disagreeable things were said of him, though
none quite so sharp as the remark made by a certain Madame Céline: "Ah!
I see M. Beyle is wearing a new coat. Madame Pasta must have had a
benefit." This witticism was believed, because of the long friendship
between the Italian _cantatrice_ and the young Frenchman. He occupied a
small apartment in the same building, though it is said the attachment
was platonic.

In 1800 he met, at Milan, Signora Angela Pietragrua. He loved her.
Eleven years later, when he returned to Italy, this love was revived.
He burst into tears when he saw her again. _Quello è il chinese!_
explained the massive Angela to her father. Even that lovetap did not
disconcert the furnace-like affection of Henry. This Angela made him
miserable by her coquetries. The feminine characters in his novels
and tales are drawn from life. His essay on Love is a _centaine_
of experiences crystallised into maxims and epigrams. This man of
too expansive heart, who confessed to trepidation in the presence
of a woman he loved, displayed surprising delicacy. Where he could
not respect, he could not love. His sensibility was easily hurt; he
abhorred the absence of taste. Love was for him a mixture of moonshine,
_esprit_, and physical beauty. A very human man, Henry Beyle, though
he never viewed woman exactly from the same angle as did Dante; or,
perhaps, his many Beatrices proved geese.

Stryienski relates that, on their return from Italy in 1860, Napoleon
III and the Empress Eugénie visited Grenoble and, in the municipal
library, saw a portrait of Stendhal. "But that is M. Beyle, is it
not?" cried the Empress. "How comes his portrait here?" "He was born
at Grenoble," responded Gariel, the librarian. She remembered him,
this amusing mature friend of her girlhood. The daughters of Madame de
Montijo, Eugénie and Paca, met Beyle through Mérimée, who was intimate
with their mother. The two girls liked him; he spun for them his best
yarns, he initiated them into new games; in a word, he was a welcome
guest in the household, and there are two letters in the possession of
Auguste Cordier, one addressed to Beyle by E. Guzman y Palafox dated
December, 1839, when the future Empress of the French was thirteen;
the other from her sister Paca, both affectionate and of a charm. The
episode was a pleasant one in the life of Beyle.

Mérimée also arranged a meeting between Victor Hugo and Beyle in
1829 or 1830. Sainte-Beuve was present, and in a letter to Albert
Collignon, published in _Vie littéraire_, 1874, he writes of the pair
as two savage cats, their hair bristling, both on the defensive. Hugo
knew that Beyle was an enemy of poetry, of the lyric, of the "ideal."
The ice was not broken during the evening. Beyle had an antipathy
for Hugo, Hugo thoroughly disliked Beyle. And if we had the choice
to-day between talking with Hugo or Beyle, is there any doubt as to the
selection?--Beyle the _raconteur_ of his day. He was too clear-sighted
to harbour any illusions concerning literary folk. Praise from one's
colleagues is a brevet of resemblance, he has written. Doesn't this
sound like old Dr. Johnson's "The reciprocal civility of authors is one
of the most risible scenes in the farce of life"?


Prosper Mérimée has told us that his friend and master, Henry
Stendhal-Beyle, was wedded to the old-fashioned theory: a man should
not be in a woman's company longer than five minutes without making
love; granting, of course, that the woman is pretty and pleasing.
This idea Stendhal had imbibed when a soldier in the Napoleonic
campaign. It was hussar tactics of the First Empire. "Attack, attack,
attack," he cries. His book De l'Amour practically sets forth the
theory; but like most theoreticians, Stendhal was timid in action.
He was a sentimentalist--he the pretended cynic and _blasé_ man of
the world. Mérimée acknowledges that much of his own and Stendhal's
impassibility was pure posing. Nevertheless, with the exceptions of
Goethe and Byron, no writer of eminence in the last century enjoyed
such a sentimental education as Stendhal. At Weimar the passionate
pilgrim may see a small plaque which contains portraits of the women
beloved by Goethe--omitting Frederike Brion. True to the compass of
Teutonic sentimentality, Goethe's mother heads the list. Then follow
the names of Cornelia, Kätchen Schönkopf, Lotte Buff, Lili Schönemann,
Corona Schröter, Frau von Stein, Christiane Vulpius--later Frau von
Goethe--Bettina von Arnim, Minna Herzlieb, and Marianne v. Willemer;
with their respective birth and death dates. Several other names
might have been added, notably that of the Polish _pianiste_ Goethe
encountered at Marienbad. The collection is fair-sized, even for a poet
who lived as long as Goethe and one who reproached Balzac with digging
from a woman's heart each of his novels. To both Goethe and Stendhal
the epigram of George Meredith might be applied: "Men may have rounded
Seraglio Point. They have not yet doubled Cape Turk."

The wonder is that thus far no devoted Stendhalian has prepared a
similar _carton_ with the names and pictures of their master's--dare
we say?--victims. Stendhal loved many women, and like Goethe his
first love was his mother. For him she was the most precious image
of all, and he was jealous of his father. This was at the age of
seven; but the precocity of the boy and his exaggerated sensibility
must be remembered--which later brought him so much unhappiness
and so little joy. A casual examination of the list of his loves,
reciprocated or spurned, would make a companion to that of Weimar.
Their names are Mélanie Guilbert-Louason, Angela Pietragrua, Mlle.
Beretter, the Countess Palffy, Menta, Elisa, Livia B., Madame Azur,
Mina de Grisheim, Mme. Jules, and _la petite_ P. The number he loved
without consolation was still larger. Despite his hussar manœuvres,
Stendhal was easily rebuffed. It is odd that Goethe's and Stendhal's
fair ones, upon whom they poured poems and novels, did not die--that
is, immediately--on being deserted. Goethe relieved the pain of many
partings by writing a poem or a play and seeking fresh faces. Stendhal
did the same--substituting a novel or a study or innumerable letters
for poems and plays. He believed that one nail drove out another;
which is very soothing to masculine vanity. But did any woman break
her heart because of his fickleness? Frau von Stein of all the women
loved by Goethe probably took his defection seriously. She didn't kill
herself, however. He wounded many a heart, yet the majority of his
loves married, and apparently happily. Stendhal, ugly as he was, slew
his hundreds; they recovered after he had passed on to fresh conquests;
a fact that he, with his accustomed sincerity, did not fail to note.
Yet this same gallant was among the few in the early years of the
nineteenth century to declare for the enfranchisement, physical and
spiritual, of woman. He was a _féministe_. But, in reality, his theory
of love resembled that of the writer who said that "it was simple and
brief, like a pressure of the hand between sympathetic persons, or a
gay luncheon between two friends of which a pleasant memory remains, if
not also a gentle gratitude toward the companion." I quote from memory.

It was at Rome that he first resolved to tell the story of his life.
In the dust he traced the initials of the beloved ones. In his book he
omitted no details. His motto was: _la vérité toute nue_. If he has not
spared himself, he has not spared others. What can the critics, who
recently blamed George Moore for his plain speech in his memoirs, say
to Stendhal's journals and La Vie de Henri Brulard? Many of the names
were at first given with initials or asterisks; Mérimée burned the
letters Stendhal sent him, and regretted the act. But the Stendhalians,
the young enthusiasts of the Stendhal Club, have supplied the missing
names--those of men and women who have been dead half a century and

De l'Amour, Stendhal's remarkable study of the love-passion, is
marred by the attempt to imprison a sentiment behind the bars of a
mathematical formula. He had inherited from his study of Condillac,
Helvétius, Tracy, Chamfort the desire for a rigid schematology, for
geometrical demonstration. The word "logic" was always on the tip of
his tongue, and he probably would have come to blows with Professor
Jowett for his dictum, uttered at the close of a lecture: "Logic is
neither an art nor a science, but a dodge." Love for Stendhal was
without a Beyond. It was a matter of the senses entirely. The soul
counted for little, manners for much. A sentimental epicurean, he
is the artistic descendant of Benjamin Constant's Adolphe, both by
tradition and temperament. Stendhal fell into the mistake of the
metaphysician in setting up numerous categorical traps to snare his
subject. They are artificial, and yet bear a resemblance to certain
Schopenhauerian theories. Both men practised what they did not preach.
"Beauty is a promise of happiness," wrote Stendhal, and it was so
effective that Baudelaire rewrote it with a slight variation. The
"crystallisation" formula of Stendhal occurred to him while down in a
salt mine near Salzburg. He saw an elm twig covered with sparkling salt
crystals, and he used it as an image to express the love that discerns
in the beloved one all perfections. There are several crystallisations
during the course of "true love." His book is more autobiographical
than scientific; that the writer gleaned the facts from his own
heart-experiences adds to the value and veracity of the work. As a
catechism for lovers, it is unique; and it was so well received that
from 1822 to 1833 there were exactly seventeen copies sold. But it
has been plundered by other writers without acknowledgment. Stendhal
and Schopenhauer could have shaken hands on the score of their
unpopularity--and about 1880 on their sudden recrudescence.

With all his display of worldly wisdom Stendhal really loved but three
times in his life; this statement may shock some of his disciples
who see in him a second Casanova, but a study of his life will prove
it. He had gone to Paris with the established conviction that he must
become a Don Juan. That was--comical or shocking as it may sound--his
projected profession. Experience soon showed him other aspects. He
was too refined, too tender-hearted, to indulge in the conventional
dissipations of adolescent mankind. The lunar ray of sentiment was in
his brain; if he couldn't idealise a woman, he would leave her. It was
his misfortune, the lady's fortune--whoever she might have been--and
the world's good luck that he never was married. As a husband he would
have been a glorious failure. Mélanie Guilbert-Louason was an actress
in Paris, who, after keeping him on tenter-hooks of jealousy, accepted
his addresses. He couldn't marry her, because the allowance made by
his father did not suffice for himself; besides, she had a daughter
by a former marriage. He confesses that lack of money was the chief
reason for his timidity with women; a millionaire, he might have been
a conquering and detestable hero. Like Frédéric Moreau in L'Education
Sentimentale, Stendhal always feared interruption from a stronger
suitor, and his fears were usually verified. But he went with Guilbert
to Marseilles, where she was acting, and to support himself took a
position in a commercial house. That for him meant a grand passion; he
loathed business. She married a Russian, Baskow by name. Stendhal was
inconsolable for weeks. How he would have applauded the ironical cry
of Jules Laforgue's Hamlet: "Stability! stability! thy name is Woman."
Although he passed his days embroidering upon the canvas of the Eternal
Masculine portraits of the secular sex, Stendhal first said, denying a
certain French king, that women never vary.

He fell into abysmal depths of love with Angela Pietragrua at Milan.
He was a dashing soldier, and if Angela deceived him he was youthful
enough to stand the shock. Eleven years later he revisited Milan
and wept when he saw Angela again. He often wept copiously, a relic
possibly of eighteenth-century sensibilities. Angela did not weep.
She, however, was sufficiently touched to start a fresh affair with
her faithful Frenchman. He did not always enjoy smooth sailing. There
were a dozen women that either scorned him or else remained unconscious
of his sentiments. One memory remained with him to the last--recall
his cry of loneliness to Romain Colomb when languishing as a French
consul at Cività Vecchia: "I am perishing for want of love!" He thought
doubtless of Métilde, wife of General Dembowsky, who from 1818 to 1824
(let us not concern ourselves if these dates coincide with or overlap
other love-affairs; Stendhal was very versatile) neither encouraged
nor discouraged at Milan the ardent exile. So infatuated was he that
he neglected his chances with the actress Viganò, and also with the
Countess Kassera. Madame Dembowsky, who afterward did not prove so
cruel to the conspirator Ugo Foscolo, allowed Stendhal the inestimable
privilege of kissing her hand. He sighed like a schoolboy and trailed
after the heartless one from Milan to Florence, from Florence to Rome.
The gossip that he was the lover in Paris of the singer Pasta caused
the Dembowsky to deny him hope. He was sincerely attached to her. Had
she said "Kill yourself," he would have done so. Yes, such a romantic
he was. She was born Viscontini and separated from a brutal soldier
of a husband. Her cousin, Madame Traversi, was an obstacle in this
unhappy passion of Stendhal's. She hated him. Métilde died at the
age of thirty-eight, in 1825. Because of her he had replied to Mile.
Viganò--when she asked him: "Beyle, they say that you are in love with
me!" "They are fooling you." For this he was never forgiven. It is
a characteristic note of Stendhalian frankness--Stendhal, who never
deceived anyone but himself. Here is a brace of his amiable sayings on
the subject of Woman:--

"La fidélité des femmes dans le mariage, lorsqu'il n'y a pas d'amour,
est probablement une chose contre nature."

"La seule chose que je voie à blâmer dans la pudeur, c'est de conduire
à l'habitude de mentir."


A promenader of souls and cities, Stendhal was a letter-writer of
formidable patience; his published correspondence is enormous. How
enormous may be seen in the three volumes published at Paris by Charles
Bosse, the pages of which number 1,386. These letters begin in 1800,
when Stendhal was a precocious youth of seventeen, and end 1842, a few
days before his death. There are more than 700 of them, and he must
have written more--probably several thousand; for we know that Mérimée
destroyed nearly all his correspondence with Stendhal, and we read of
300 written to a Milanese lady--his one grand, because unsuccessful,
passion. But a few of these are included, the remainder doubtless
having been burned for prudence' sake. The earliest edition of the
Stendhal letters appeared in 1855, edited by Prosper Mérimée, with an
introduction by the author of Carmen. The present edition is edited by
two devoted Stendhalians, Ad. Paupe and P. A. Cheramy. It comprises
all the earlier correspondence, the letters printed in the Souvenirs
d'Egotisme (1892), some letters never before published, Lettres Intimes
(1892), and letters published in the first series of Soirées du
Stendhal Club (1905). There are also letters from the archives of the
Ministers of the Interior, of War, and of Foreign Affairs--altogether a
complete collection, though ugly in appearance, resembling a volume of
Congressional reports, but valuable to the Stendhal student.

For the first time the names of his correspondents appear in full.
Mérimée suppressed most of them or gave only the initials. We learn
who these correspondents were, and there is a general key for the
deciphering of the curious names Stendhal bestowed upon them--he was
a wag and a mystifier in this respect. His own signature was seldom
twice alike. A list is given and reaches the number of one hundred and
seventy-nine pseudonyms. Maurice Barrès has written a gentle preface
rather in the air, which he entitled: Stendhal's Sentiment of Honour.
One passage is worthy of quotation. Barrès asserts that Stendhal never
asked whether a sentiment or an act was useful or fecund, but whether
it testified to a thrilling energy. Since the pragmatists are claiming
the Frenchman as one of their own, this statement may prove revelatory.

The first volume is devoted to his years of apprenticeship (1800-1806)
and his active life (1808-1814). The majority of the letters are
addressed to his sister, Pauline Beyle, at Grenoble, a sympathetic
soul. With the gravity of a young, green philosopher, he addresses to
her homilies by the yard. Sixty instructing twenty! He tells her what
to read, principally the eighteenth century philosophers: Rousseau,
Voltaire, Helvétius, Tracy, Locke--amusing and highly moral reading
for a lass--and he never wearies of praising Shakespeare. "I am a
Romantic," he says elsewhere; "that is, I prefer Shakespeare to
Racine, Byron to Boileau." This worldly-wise youth must have bored his
sister. She understood him, however, and as her life at home with a
disagreeable and avaricious father was not happy, her correspondence
with brother Henry must have been a consolation. He does not scruple to
call his father hard names, and recommends his sister not to marry for
love but for a comfortable home. She actually did both. Edouard Mounier
is another correspondent; also Félix Faure, born in Stendhal's city,
Grenoble. We learn much of the Napoleonic campaigns in which Stendhal
served, particularly of the burning of Moscow and the disastrous
retreat of the French army. Related by an eye-witness whose style is
concise, whose power of observation is extraordinary, these letters
possess historic value.

All Paris and Milan are in the second volume, The Man of the World and
the Dilettante (1815-1830); while The Public Functionary and Novelist
are the themes of volume three (1830-1842). The friends with whom
Stendhal corresponded were Guizot, Thiers, Balzac, Byron, Walter Scott,
Sainte-Beuve, and many distinguished noblemen and men of affairs. He
had friends in London, Thomas Moore and Sutton-Sharp among the rest;
and he visited England several times. Baron Mareste and Romain Colomb
were confidants. Stendhal, with an irony that never deserted him, wrote
obituary notices of himself because Jules Janin had jestingly remarked
that when Stendhal died he would furnish plenty of good material for
the necrologists. The articles in guise of letters sent to M. Stritch
of the _German Review_, London, are tedious reading; besides, there are
too many of them.

As a man whose ears and eyes were very close to the whirring of
contemporary events, his descriptions of Napoleon and Byron are
peculiarly interesting. At first Napoleon had been a demi-god, then he
was reviled because with the Corsican's downfall he lost his chances
for the future. He had witnessed the coronation and did not forget
that Talma had given the young Bonaparte free tickets to the Comédie
Française; also that Pope Pius VII. pronounced Latin Italian fashion,
thus: _Spiritous sanctous_. As the Emperor passed by on horseback,
cheered by the mobs, "he smiled his smile of the theatre, in which one
shows the teeth, but with eyes that smile not." Stendhal tells us that
the Emperor had forehead and nose in an unbroken line, a common trait
in certain parts of France, he adds.

He first encountered Byron in the year 1812, at Milan. It was in
a box of the Scala. He was overcome by the beauty of the poet, by
his graciousness. Here we see Stendhal, no longer a soldier or a
cynic, but a man of sensibility, almost a hero-worshipper. Byron was
agreeable. They met often. When Byron's physician and secretary,
Polidori, was arrested by the Milan secret police, Stendhal relates
that the Englishman's rage was appalling. Byron resembled Napoleon,
declared Stendhal, in his marble wrath. Another time the French author
advised Byron, who lived at a distance from the opera house, to take
a carriage, as after midnight walking was dangerous in Milan. Coldly
though politely Byron asked for some indication of his route and then,
during a painful silence, he left poor Stendhal staring after him as he
hobbled away in the darkness. Such human touches are worth more than
the letters in which the literature of the day is discussed.

Ten years later, from Genoa (1823), Byron wrote Stendhal, whom he
apparently liked, thanking him for a notice he had read of himself in
the latter's book, Rome, Naples, et Florence. Supreme master of the
anecdote, these letters may serve as an introduction to Stendhal's
works, though we wish for more of the tender epistles. However, in
The Diary, the Journal and the Life of Henri Brulard, one may find
copious and frank confessions of Stendhal's love-life. So little of
the literary man was in him that at the close of his career, when he
had received the Legion of Honor, he was indignant because this was
bestowed upon him not in his capacity of public functionary but as a
man of letters. Adolphe Paupe, the editor of this bulky correspondence
--and who knows how much more material there may be in the Grenoble
archives!--fittingly closes his brief introduction with a quotation
from a writer the antipodes of Stendhal, the parabolic Barbey
d'Aurevilly, who, after calling the correspondence "adorable," adds
that it possesses the unheard-of charm of Stendhal's other books, a
charm which is inexhaustible. Notwithstanding this eloquence, I prefer
the old edition compiled by Mérimée. There is such a thing as too much
Stendhal, although every scrap of his writing may be sacred to his

I am glad, therefore, to note in the second series of the Soirées du
Stendhal Club, that the principal Stendhalian--or Beyliste, as some
name themselves--Casimir Stryienski, shows a disposition to mock at the
antics of over-heated Stendhalians. M. Stryienski, who has been called
by Paul Bourget "the man of affairs of the Beyliste family," dislikes
the idea of a Stendhal cult and wonders how the ironic and humorous
Beyle would have treated the worshippers who wish to make of him a
mystic god--which is the proper critical attitude. Beyle-Stendhal would
have been the first man to overthrow any altar erected to his worship.
The second series, collated by Stryienski and Paul Arbelet, is hardly
as novel as the first. The most important article is devoted to the
question whether Stendhal dedicated to Napoleon his History of Painting
(mostly borrowed from Lanzi's book). The 1817 dedication is enigmatic;
it might have meant Napoleon, or Louis XVIII., or the Czar Alexander
of Russia. M. Arbelet holds to the latter, as Stendhal was so poor
that he hoped for a position as preceptor in Russia and thought by the
ambiguity of his dedication to catch the favourable eye of the Czar.
Napoleon was at Saint Helena and a hateful king was on the throne of
France. Let all three be duped, said to himself the merry Stendhal.
That is Arbelet's theory. When in 1854 a new edition of the history
appeared, it was headed by a touching, almost tearful dedication to the
exile at Saint Helena! Stendhal's executor, Romain Colomb, had found
it among the papers of the dead author, and as Napoleon was dead he
published it. Evidently Stendhal had written several, and for politic
reasons had selected the misleading one of the 1817 edition. Recall
Beethoven's magnificent rage when he tore into pieces the dedicatory
page of his Eroica Symphony, on hearing that his hero, Napoleon, had
crowned himself Emperor. Quite Stendhalian this, Machiavellian, and
also time-serving. No doubt he smiled his wicked smile--with tongue
in cheek--at the trick, and no doubt his true disciples applaud it.
He was the Superman of his day, one who bothered little with moral
obligations. His favourite device was a line of verse from an old
opera bouffe: "_Vengo adesso di Cosmopoli_"; and what has a true
cosmopolitan, a promenader of cities and prober of souls, in common
with such a bourgeois virtue as truth-telling? If, as Metchnikoff
asserts, a man is no older than his arteries, then a thinker is only
as old as his curiosity. Beyle was ever curious, impertinently so--the
Paul Pry of psychologists.


His cult grows apace, and like all cults will be overdone. First
France, then Italy, and now Germany has succumbed to the novels,
memoirs, and delightful gossiping books of travel written by the
Frenchman from Grenoble. But what a literary and artistic gold-mine
his letters, papers, manuscripts of unfinished novels have proved to
men like Casimir Stryienski and the rest. Even in 1909 the Stendhal
excavators are busy with their pickers and stealers. Literary Paris
becomes enthusiastic when a new batch of correspondence is unearthed
at Grenoble or elsewhere. Recently a _cahier_--incomplete to be
sure, but indubitably Stendhal's--was found and printed. It was a
section of the famous journal exhumed in the library of Grenoble by
Stryienski during 1888. Published in the _Mercure de France_, it bore
the title of Fin du Tour d'Italie en 1811. It consists of brief, almost
breathless notes upon Naples, its music, customs, streets, inhabitants.
References to Ancona, to the author's second sojourn in Milan, and
to his numerous lady-loves--each one of whom he lashed himself into
believing unique--are therein. He placed Mozart and Cimarosa above all
other composers, and Shakespeare above Racine. Naturally the man who
loved Mozart was bound to adore Raphael and Correggio. Lombard and
Florentine masters he rated higher than the Dutch. Indeed, he abhorred
Rembrandt and Rubens almost as much as William Blake abhorred them,
though not for the same reason. Despite his perverse and whimsical
spirit, Stendhal was, in the larger sense, all of a piece. His likes
and dislikes in art are so many witnesses to the unity of his character.

Maurice Barrès relates that at the age of twenty he was in Rome,
where he met in the Villa Medici its director, M. Hébert, the painter
(died 1908), who promptly asked the young Frenchman: "Do you admire
Stendhal?" and proceeded to explain that the writer of La Chartreuse de
Parme was his cousin, and once consul at Cività Vecchia, although he
spent most of his time in Rome. Stendhal's Promenades had offended the
Pope, so these visits were really stolen ones. Bored to death in the
stuffy little town where he represented the French Government, Stendhal
had been reproved more than once for the dilatory performance of his
duties. Hébert, after warning Barrès not to study him too deeply,
described him as an old gentleman of exceeding but capricious _esprit_.
He roamed among the picture galleries, exclaiming joyously before some
old Greek marble or knitting his brows in the Sistine Chapel. Raphael
was more to his taste than Michaelangelo, as might have been expected
from one who went wild over the ballets Viganò. Another anecdote is one
that reveals the malicious, almost simian trickiness of Beyle-Stendhal.
An English lady, a traveller bent on taking notes for a book about
Paris, was shown around the city by Stendhal. Seriously, and with
his usual courtesy, he gave her an enormous amount of misinformation,
misnaming public buildings, churches, the Louvre, its pictures, and
nicknaming well-known personages. All this with the hope that she
would reproduce it in print. Not very _spirituel_, this performance
of M. Beyle. He was an admirer of English folk and their literature,
and corresponded in a grotesque sort of English with several prominent
men and women in London. We find him writing a congratulatory letter
to Thomas Moore on his Lalla Rookh, complacently remarking that the
ingrained Hebraism of English character and literature made the
production of such an exotic poem all the more wonderful. Though he
could praise the gew-gaws and tinsel of Moore's mock Orientalism, he
openly despised the limpidity of Lamartine's elegiac verse and the
rhythmic illuminated thunder of Victor Hugo.

It is not generally known that Stendhal's friend and disciple, Prosper
Mérimée, left an anonymous book, of which there are not many examples,
though it has been partially reprinted. It is entitled "H. B. [Henry
Beyle], par un des quarante, avec un frontispice stupéfiant dessiné
et gravé. Eleutheropolis, l'an 1864 du mensonge Nazaréen." Now, there
is a "stupefying" drawing, a project for a statue, by Félicien Rops,
the etcher. It depicts the new world-city of Eleutheropolis--a
Paris raised to the seventh heaven of cosmopolitanism--with Stendhal
set in its midst. Rops was evidently contented to take the little
pot-bellied caricature of Henri Monnier, which Monnier declared was
not exaggerated, and put it on a pedestal. In his familiar and amusing
manner the illustrator shows us multitudes from every quarter of the
globe travelling by every known method of conveyance. The idea of
teeming nationalities is evoked. All sorts and conditions of men and
women are hurrying to pay their homage to Stendhal, who, hat in hand,
stomach advancing, legs absurdly curving, umbrella under his arm,
and his ironical lips compressed, contemplates with his accustomed
imperturbability these ardent idolators. He seems to say: "I predicted
that I should be understood about 1880."

But if this cartoon of Rops is amusing, the contents of Mérimée's book
are equally so, both amusing and blasphemous. Stendhal and Mérimée got
on fairly well together. Mérimée tells what he thought of Stendhal.
There are shocking passages and witty. An atheist, more because of
political reasons than religious, Stendhal relates a story about the
death of God from heart disease. Since that time the cosmical machine,
he asserted, has been in the hands of his son, an inexperienced youth
who, not being an engineer, reversed the levers; hence the disorder in
matters mundane.

To prove how out of tune was Stendhal with his times, we have only
to read his definitions of romanticism and classicism in his Racine
et Shakespeare. He wrote: "Romanticism is the art of presenting to
people literary works which in the actual state of their habitudes
and beliefs are capable of giving the greatest possible pleasure;
classicism, on the contrary, is the art of presenting literature which
gave the greatest possible pleasure to their great-grandfathers." He
also proclaimed as a corollary to this that every dead classic had
at one time been a live romantic. Yet he was far from sympathising,
both romantic and realist as he was, with the 1830 romantic movement.
Nor did he suspect its potential historical significance; or his own
possible significance, despite his clairvoyant prediction. He disliked
Hugo, ignored Berlioz, and had no opinion at all on the genius of
Delacroix. The painters of 1830, that we knew half a century later as
the Barbizon school, he never mentions. We may imagine him abusing the
impressionists in his choleric vein. His appreciations of art, while
sound--who dare flout Raphael and Correggio?--are narrow. The immense
claims made continually by the Stendhalians for their master are
balked by evidences of a provincial spirit. Yes; he, the first of the
cosmopolitans, the indefatigable globe-trotter, keenest of observers
of the human heart, man without a country--he has said, "My country is
where there are most people like me"--was often as blindly prejudiced
as a dweller in an obscure hamlet. And doesn't this epigram contradict
his idea of the proud, lonely man of genius? It may seem to; in reality
he was not like a Nietzschian, but a sociable, pleasure-loving man,
seldom putting to the test his theories of individualism. He always
sought the human quality; the passions of humanity were the prime
things of existence for him. A landscape, no matter how lovely, must
have a human or a historic interest. The fiercest assassin in the
Trastevere district was at least a man of action and not a sheep.
"Without passion there is neither virtue nor vice," he preached.
Therefore he greatly lauded Benvenuto Cellini. He loathed democracy
and a democratic form of government. Brains, not votes, should rule a
nation. He sneered at America as being hopelessly utilitarian.

In the preface to his History of Italian Painting he quoted Alfieri:
"My only reason for writing was that my gloomy age afforded me no other
occupation." From Cività Vecchia he wrote: "It's awful: women here
have only one idea, a new Parisian hat. No poetry here or tolerable
company--except with prisoners; with whom, as French Consul, I cannot
possibly seek friendship." To kill the ennui of his existence he either
slipped into Rome for a week or else wrote reams of "copy," most of
which he never saw in print. Among certain intellectual circles in
Paris he was known and applauded as a man of taste, a dilettante of
the seven arts, though his lack of original invention occasionally got
him into scrapes. Stendhal might have echoed Molière's "Je prends mon
bien où je le trouve"; but he would not have forgotten to remind the
dramatic poet that the very witticism was borrowed from Cyrano.

Stryienski's Soirées du Stendhal Club actually presents for the
delectation of the Stendhalians parallel columns from Lanzi and
Stendhal--so proud are the true believers of the fold that even such
evidences of plagiarism do not disconcert them. The cribbing occurs in
the general reflections devoted to the Renaissance. It is as plain as
a pikestaff. Notwithstanding, we can read Stendhal with more interest
than the original. His lively spirit adorns Lanzi's laborious pages.

Beyle's joke about the "reversed engines of Christianity," quoted by
Mérimée, and his implacable dislike of the Jesuits (as may be seen in
his masterpiece, Le Rouge et le Noir--in those days the Yellow Peril
was the Jesuits), did not dull his perception of what the papacy had
done for art in Italy. He nearly approaches eloquence in his Philosophy
of Art (which Taine appreciated and profited by) when writing of the
popes of the Renaissance. He does not fail to note the vivifying and
reforming influence of the Church at this period upon the brutality
and lusts of the nobility and upon poets and painters. Adoring Raphael
as much as he did Napoleon and Byron, he declared that Raphael
failed in _chiaroscuro_ and vaunted the superiority of Correggio in
this particular. But he did not deign to mention Rembrandt. Nothing
Germanic or Northern pleased him. He was a Latin among Latins, and
his passion for Italy and the Italians was not assumed. He had asked
of his executor that he be buried in the little Protestant cemetery
at Rome. Then he changed his mind and ordered that the cemetery of
Andilly, near Montmorency, be his last resting-place. But the fates,
that burn into ashes the fairest fruits of man's ambitions, dropped
Stendhal's remains in the cemetery of Montmartre, Paris, where still
stands the prosaic tomb with its falsification of the writer's birth.
His epitaph he doubtless discovered when fabricating his life of Haydn.
In the composer's case it runs: "Veni, scripsi, vixi." And when we
consider the fact that his happiest years were in Milan, that there
lived the object of his deepest affection, Angela Pietragrua, this
inscription was as sincere as the majority of such marble ingenuities
in post-mortem politeness.

With all his critical limitations, Stendhal never gave vent to such
ineptitudes as Tolstoy regarding Shakespeare. The Russian, who has
spent the latter half of his life bewailing the earlier and more
brilliant part, would have been abhorrent to the Frenchman, who died as
he had lived, impenitent. Stendhal was a man, not a purveyor of words,
or a maker of images. Not poetic, yet he did not fail to value Dante
and Angelo. Virile, cynical, sensual, the greatest master of psychology
of his age, he believed in action rather than thought. Literature he
pretended to detest. Not a spinner of cobwebs, he left no definite
system; it remained for Taine to gather together the loose strands of
his sane, strong ideas and formulate them. He saw the world clearly,
without sentiment--he, the most sentimental of men--and he had a horror
of German mole-hill metaphysics. The eighteenth century with its hard
logic, its deification of Reason, its picturesque atheism, enlisted
Beyle's sympathies. Socialism was for him anathema.

Love and art were his watchwords. His love of art was on a sound basis.
Joyous, charming music like Mozart's, Rossini's, Cimarosa's, appealed
to him; and Correggio, with his sensuous colouring and voluptuous
design, was his favourite painter. He was complex, but he was not
morbid. The artistic progenitor of a long line of analysts, supermen,
criminals, and æsthetic ninnies, he probably would have disclaimed the
entire crowd, including the faithful Stendhalians, because the latter
have so widely departed from his canons of simplicity and sunniness in

But Stendhal left the soul out of his scheme of life; never did he
knock at the gate of her dwelling-place. Believing with Napoleon
that because the surgeon's scalpel did not lay bare any trace of the
soul, there was none, Stendhal practically denied her existence. For
this reason his windows do not open upon eternity. They command fair,
charming prospects. Has he not written: "J'ai recherché avec une
sensibilité exquise la vue des beaux paysages.... Les paysages étaient
comme un archet qui jouait sur mon âme"? He meant his nerves, not his
soul. Spiritual overtones are not sounded in his work. A materialist
(a singularly unhappy home and maladroit education are to blame for
much of his errors in after life), he was, at least, no hypocrite. He
loved beautiful art, women, landscapes, brave feats. He confesses, in
a letter to Colomb, dated November 25, 1817, to planning a History of
Energy in Italy (both Taine and Barrès later transposed the theme to
France with varying results). A tissue of contradictions, he somehow or
other emerges from the mists and artistic embroilments of the earlier
half of the last century a robust, soldierly, yet curious, subtle
and enigmatic figure. It is best to employ in describing him his own
favourite definition--he was "different." And has he not said that
difference engenders hatred?


In his brilliant and much-abused book, A Rebours, the late J.-K.
Huysmans describes the antics of a feeble-brained young nobleman who,
having saturated himself with Baedeker's London, the novels of Dickens,
English roast beef and ale, came to the comical conclusion that he
might be disappointed if he crossed the Channel, so after a few hours
spent within the hospitable walls of a Parisian English bar he gathered
up his plaids, traps, walking-stick, and calmly returned to his home
near the French capital. He had travelled to England in an easy-chair,
as mentioned by Goldsmith--better after all than not travelling at all.
Circumstances condemn many of us to this mode of motion, which comes
well within the definition of our great-grandfathers, who called it The
Pleasures of the Imagination.

But there are, luckily for them, many who are not compelled to assist
at this intellectual Barmecide's feast. They go and they come, and no
man says them nay. Whether they see as much as those who voyaged in the
more leisurely manner of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
is open to doubt. Europe or Asia through a car-window is only a series
of rapidly dissolving slides, pictures that live for brief seconds.
Modern travel is impressionistic. Nature viewed through a nebulous
blur. Our grandfathers, if they didn't go as far as their descendants,
contrived to see more, to see a lot of delightful little things, note
a myriad of minute traits of the country through which they paced at
such a snail's gait. Nowadays we hurriedly glance at the names of
railroad stations. The ideal method of locomotion is really that of the
pedestrian--shanks'-mare ought to be popular. Vernon Lee spoke thus of
our hero: "'Tis the mode of travelling that constituted the delight and
matured the genius of Stendhal, king of cosmopolitans and grand master
of the psychologic novel."

It is interesting to turn back and flutter the pages of that
perennially delightful book, Promenades dans Rome. Italy may truthfully
be said to have been engraved upon the author's heart. Under the
heading Manner of Travelling From Paris to Rome, dated March 25, 1828,
he tells his readers, few but fit, how he made that wonderful trip.

One of the best ways, writes Stendhal, is to take a post-chaise,
or a _calèche_, light and made in Vienna. Carry little baggage. It
only means vexation at the various custom-houses, bother with the
police--who treat all travellers as spies or suspected persons--and
it will surely attract bandits. Besides, prices are instantly doubled
when a post-chaise arrives. There is the mail-coach. It rolls along
comfortably. In its capacious interior one may sleep, watch the
scenery, converse, or read. You can go to Béfort or Basel if you desire
to pass the north of la Suisse, or to Pontarlier or Ferney, if desirous
of reaching the Simplon. You may take the mail to Lyons or Grenoble,
and pass by Mont Cenis; or until Draguignan if you wish to escape the
mountains and enter Italy by the beautiful highway, the work of M. de
Chabral. You arrive at Nice and pass on to Genoa. This is the ideal
route for scenery.

But, continues Stendhal, the most expeditious and the interesting
way, the one he usually took, begins with a forty-eight hour ride in
the diligence as far as Béfort; a carriage for which you pay a dozen
francs will conduct you to Basel. Once there you may take a diligence
for Lucerne--that singular and dangerous lake, the theatre of William
Tell's exploits, remarks Stendhal impressively (they believed in the
Tell legend, those innocent times)--and attain Altdorf. Here Tell and
the apple will arouse your imagination. Then Italy may be entered by
Saint Gothard, Bellinzona, Como, and Milan. _Via_ the Simplon was
more to the taste of our writer. He often took the diligence, which
at Basel went to Bern; arriving in the Rhône valley by way of Louèche
and Tourtemagne, he would find his baggage, which had gone around by
Lausanne, Saint Maurice, and Sion. He tells us that the conductor of
the excellent diligence plying between Lausanne and Domo d'Ossola was a
superior man; a glimpse of his calm Swiss features drives away all fear
of danger. For ten years three times a week this conductor has passed
the Simplon. He did not encounter avalanches. Anyhow, the Simplon route
is less dangerous than Mont Cenis; there are fewer precipices and the
edge of the road is bordered by trees; if the horses ran away the
coach would not be overturned into the abyss. And since the opening of
the Simplon route, Stendhal gravely notes, only forty travellers have
perished, nine of them unhappy Italian soldiers returning from Russia.
Are not these details of a savoury simplicity, like the faded odour of
sandal-wood which meets your nostrils when you open some old secretary
of your grandparents?

Kept by a man from Lyons was a fine inn on the Simplon route in those
days. Stendhal never failed to record where could be found good
wines, cooking, and clean sheets. He usually paid twelve francs for a
carriage to Domo d'Ossola, Lac Majeur (Lago Maggiore) _vis-à-vis_ to
the Borromean Islands. Four hours in a boat to Sesto Calende, and five
hours in a fast coach--behold, Milan! Or you can reach Milan _via_
Varese. Milan to Mantua in the regular diligence. Thence to Bologna by
a carriage, there the mail-coach. You go to Rome by the superb routes
of Ancona and Loreto. You must pay thirty or thirty-five francs on the
coach between Milan and Bologna. Stendhal assures us that he often
found good company in the carriages that traverse the distance from
Bologna to Florence. It took two days to cover twenty leagues and cost
twenty francs. From Florence to Rome he consumed four or five days,
going by Perugia in preference to Siena. Once he travelled in company
with three priests, of whom he was suspicious until the ice was broken;
then with joyous anecdotes they passed the time, and he is surprised to
find these clerical men, who said their prayers openly three times a
day without being embarrassed by the presence of strangers, were very
human, very companionable. With his accustomed naïve expression of
pleasure, he writes that they saved him considerable annoyance at the

And to-day, eighty years later, we take a train _de luxe_ at Paris
and in thirty hours we are in the Eternal City. It is swifter, more
comfortable, and safer, our way of travelling, than Stendhal's, but
that we see as much as he did we greatly doubt. The motor-car is an
improvement on the mail-coach and the express train; you may, if you
will, travel leisurely and privately from Paris to Rome. Or, why not
hire a stout little carriage and go through Tuscany in an old-fashioned
manner as did the Chevalier de Pensieri-Vani! Few may hope to store as
many memories as Stendhal, yet we should see more than the occupants of
railroad drawing-rooms that whiz by us on the road to Rome.


Even in our days of hasty production the numerous books of Stendhal
provoke respectful consideration. What leisure they had in the first
half of the last century! What patience was shown by the industrious
man who worked to ward off _ennui_! He must have written twenty-five
volumes. In 1906 the _Mercure de France_ printed nineteen newly
discovered letters to his London friend, Sutton Sharpe (Beyle visited
London occasionally; he corresponded with Thomas Moore the poet, and
once he spent an evening at a club in the company of the humourist
Theodore Hook). But the titles of many of his books suffice; the
majority of them are negligible. Who wishes to read his lives of
Rossini, Haydn, Mozart, Metastasio? His life of Napoleon, posthumously
published in 1876, is of more interest; Beyle had seen his subject
in the flesh and blood. His Racine et Shakespeare is worth while for
the Stendhalian; none but the fanatical kind would care to read the
History of Painting in Italy. There is the Correspondence, capital
diversion, ringing with Stendhalian wit and prejudice; and Promenades
dans Rome is a classic; not inferior are Mémoires d'un Touriste, or
Rome, Naples, et Florence. Indeed, the influence of the Promenades has
been pronounced. His three finished novels are Armance, Le Rouge et
le Noir--which does not derive its title from the gambling game, but
opposes the sword and the soutane, red and black--and La Chartreuse de
Parme. The short stories show him at his best, his form being enforced
to concision, his style suiting the brief passionate recitals of
love, crime, intrigue, and adventure--for the most part, old Italian
anecdotes recast; as the Italian tales of Hewlett are influenced by
Stendhal. L'Abbesse de Castro could hardly have been better done by
Mérimée. In the same volume are Les Cenci, Vittoria Accoramboni,
Vanina Vanini, and La Duchesse de Palliano, all replete with dramatic
excitement and charged with Italian atmosphere. San Francesca a Ripa is
a thrilling tale; so are the stories contained in Nouvelles Inédites,
Féder (le Mari d'Argent), Le Juif (Filippo Ebreo)--the latter Balzac
might have signed; and the unfinished novel, Le Chasseur Vert, which
was at first given three other titles: Leuwen, l'Orange de Malte, Les
Bois de Prémol. It promised to be a rival to Le Rouge et le Noir.
Lucien Leuwen, the young cavalry officer, is Stendhal himself, and he
is, like Julien Sorel, the first progenitor of a long line in French
fiction; disillusioned youths who, after the electric storms caused
by the Napoleonic apparition, end in the sultry dilettantism of Jean,
duc d'Esseintes of Huysmans' A Rebours and in the pages of Maurice
Barrès. From Beyle to Huysmans is not such a remote modulation as might
be imagined. Nor are those sick souls, Goncourt, Charles Demailly
and Coriolis, without the taint of _beylisme_. Lucien Leuwen is a
highly organized young man who goes to a small provincial town where
his happiness, his one love-affair, is wrecked by the malice of his
companions. There is a sincerer strain in the book than in some of its

Armance, Stendhal's first attempt at fiction, is unpleasant; the theme
is an impossible one--pathology obtrudes its ugly head. Yet, Armance
de Zohilhoff is a creature who interests; she was sketched from life,
Stendhal tells us, a companion to a lady of left-handed rank. She is an
unhappy girl and her marriage to a _babilan_, Octave de Malivert, is a
tragedy. Lamiel, a posthumous novel, published by Casimir Stryienski in
1888, contains an _avant-propos_ by Stendhal dated from Cività Vecchia,
May 25, 1840. (His prefaces are masterpieces of sly humour and ironical
malice.) It is a very disagreeable fiction--Lamiel is the criminal
woman with all the stigmata described by Lombroso in his Female
Delinquent. She is wonderfully portrayed with her cruelty, coldness,
and ferocity. She, too, like her creator, exclaimed, "Is that all?"
after her first bought experience in love. She becomes attached to a
scoundrel from the galleys, and sets fire to a palace to avenge his
death. She is burned to cinders. A hunchback doctor, Sansfin by name,
might have stepped from a page of Le Sage.

The Stendhal heroines betray their paternity. Madame de Renal, who
sacrifices all for Julien Sorel, is the softest-hearted, most womanly
of his characters. She is of the same sweet, maternal type as Madame
Arnoux in Flaubert's L'Education Sentimentale, though more impulsive.
Her love passages with Julien are the most original in French
fiction. Mathilde de la Môle, pedant, frigid, perverse, snobbish,
has nevertheless fighting blood in her veins. Lamiel is a caricature
of her. What could be more evocative of Salome than her kneeling
before Julien's severed head? Clelia Conti in the Chartreuse is like
the conventional heroine of Italian romance. She is too sentimental,
too prudish with her vow and its sophistical evasion. The queen of
Stendhal women is Gina, _la duchesse_ Sanseverina. She makes one of the
immortal quartet in nineteenth-century fiction--the other three being
Valérie Marneffe, Emma Bovary, and Anna Karénina. Perhaps if Madame
de Chasteller in Le Chasseur Vert had been a finished portrait, she
might have ranked after Gina in interest. That lovable lady, with the
morals of a _grande dame_ out of the Italian Renaissance, will never
die. She embodies all the energy, tantalizing charm, and paradox of
Beyle. And a more vital woman has not swept through literature since
the Elizabethans. At one time he dreamed of conquering the theatre.
Adolphe Brisson saw the _ébauches_ for several plays; at least fifteen
scenarios or the beginnings of them have been found in his literary
remains. Nothing came of his efforts to become a second Molière.

Zola places Le Rouge et le Noir above La Chartreuse de Parme; so does
Rod. The first novel is more sombre, more tragic; it contains masterly
characterisations, but it is depressing and in spots duller than the
Chartreuse. Its author was too absorbed in his own ego to become a
master-historian of manners. Yet what a book is the Chartreuse for a
long day. What etched landscapes are in it--notably the descriptions
of Lake Como! What evocations of enchanting summer afternoons in
Italy floating down the mirror-like stream under a blue sky, with the
entrancing Duchess! The episodes of Parmesan court intrigue are models
of observation and irony. Beyle's pen was never more delightful, it
drips honey and gall. He is master of dramatic situations; witness the
great scene in which the old Duke, Count Mosca, and Gina participate.
At the close you hear the whirring of the theatre curtain. Count
Mosca, it is said, was a portrait of Metternich; rather it was
Stendhal's friend, Count de Saurau. In sooth, he is also very much like
Stendhal--Stendhal humbly awaiting orders from the woman he loves.
That Mosca was a tremendous scoundrel we need not doubt; yet, like
Metternich and Bismarck, he could be cynical enough to play the game
honestly. Despite the rusty melodramatic machinery of the book, its
passionate silhouettes, its Pellico prisons, its noble bandit, its
poisons, its hair-breadth escapes, duels and assassinations--these we
must accept as the slag of Beyle's genius--there is ore rich enough in
it to compensate us for the _longueurs_.

Of his disquisition, De l'Amour, with its famous theory of
"crystallisation," much could be written. Not founded on a basic
physiological truth as is Schopenhauer's doctrine of love, Beyle's is
wider in scope. It deals more with manners than fundamentals. It is
a manual of tactics in the art of love by a superior strategist. His
knowledge of woman on the social side, at least, is unparalleled. His
definitions and classifications are keener, deeper than Michelet's or
Balzac's. "Femmes! femmes! vous êtes bien toujours les mêmes," he cries
in a letter to a fair correspondent. It is a quotidian truth that few
before him had the courage or clairvoyancy to enunciate. Crowded with
crisp epigrams and worldly philosophy, this book on Love may be studied
without exhausting its wisdom and machiavellianism.

Stendhal as an art or musical critic cannot be taken seriously, though
he says some illuminating things; embedded in platitudes may be
found shrewd _aperçus_ and flashes of insight; but the trail of the
"gifted amateur" is over them all. At a time when Beethoven was in the
ascendant, when Berlioz--who hailed from the environs of Grenoble--was
in the throes of the "new music," when Bach had been rediscovered,
Beyle prattles of Cimarosa. He provoked Berlioz with his praise of
Rossini--"les plus irritantes stupidités sur la musique, dont il
croyait avoir le secret," wrote Berlioz of the Rossini biography.
Lavoix went further: "Ecrivain d'esprit ... fanfaron d'ignorance en
musique." Poor Stendhal! He had no _flair_ for the various artistic
movements about him, although he had unwittingly originated several.
He praised Goethe and Schiller, yet never mentioned Bach, Beethoven,
Chopin; music for him meant operatic music, some other "divine
adventure" to fill in the background of conversation. Conversation!
In that art he was virtuoso. To dine alone was a crime in his eyes. A
_gourmet_, he cared more for talk than eating. He could not make up his
mind about Weber's Freischütz, and Meyerbeer he did not very much like;
"he is said to be the first pianist of Europe," he wrote; at the time,
Liszt and Thalberg were disputing the kingdom of the keyboard. It was
Stendhal, so the story goes, who once annoyed Liszt at a _musicale_ in
Rome by exclaiming in his most elliptical style: "Mon cher Liszt, pray
give us your _usual_ improvisation this evening!"

As a plagiarist Stendhal was a success. He "adapted" from Goethe,
translated entire pages from the _Edinburgh Review_, and the
material of his history of Painting in Italy he pilfered from Lanzi.
More barefaced still was his wholesale appropriation of Carpani's
Haydine, which he coolly made over into French as a life of Haydn.
The Italian author protested in a Paduan journal, _Giornale dell'
Italiana Letteratura_, calling Stendhal by his absurd pen-name:
"M. Louis-Alexander-César Bombet, _soi-disant_ Français auteur des
Haydine." The original book appeared in 1812 at Milan. Stendhal
published his plagiarism at Paris, 1814, but asserted that it had been
written in 1808. He did not stop at mere piracy, for in 1816 and in an
open letter to the _Constitutionnel_ he fabricated a brother for the
aforesaid Bombet and wrote an indignant denial of the facts. He spoke
of César Bombet as an invalid incapable of defending his good name.
The life of Mozart is a very free adaptation from Schlichtegroll's.
When Shakespeare, Handel, and Richard Wagner plundered, they plundered
magnificently; in comparison, Stendhal's stealings are absurd.

Irritating as are his inconsistencies, his prankishness, his bombastic
affectations, and pretensions to a superior immorality, Stendhal's
is nevertheless an enduring figure in French literature. His power
is now felt in Germany, where it is augmented by Nietzsche's
popularity--Nietzsche, who, after Mérimée, was Stendhal's greatest
pupil. Pascal had his "abyss," Stendhal had his fear of _ennui_--it
was almost pathologic, this obsession of boredom. One side of his
many-sided nature was akin to Pepys, a French Pepys, who chronicled
immortal small-beer. However, it is his heart's history that will make
this protean old faun eternally youthful. As a prose artist he does
not count for much. But in the current of his swift, clear narrative
and under the spell of his dry magic and peptonized concision we do
not miss the peacock graces and coloured splendours of Flaubert or
Chateaubriand. Stendhal delivers himself of a story rapidly; he is all
sinew. And he is the most seductive spiller of souls since Saint-Simon.




For the sentimental no greater foe exists than the iconoclast who
dissipates literary legends. And he is abroad nowadays. Those golden
times when they gossipped of De Quincey's enormous opium consumption,
of the gin absorbed by gentle Charles Lamb, of Coleridge's dark ways,
Byron's escapades, and Shelley's atheism--alas! into what faded limbo
have they vanished. Poe, too, Poe whom we saw in fancy reeling from
Richmond to Baltimore, Baltimore to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to New
York. Those familiar fascinating anecdotes have gone the way of all
such jerry-built spooks. We now know Poe to have been a man suffering
at the time of his death from cerebral lesion, a man who drank at
intervals and but little. Dr. Guerrier of Paris has exploded a darling
superstition about De Quincey's opium-eating. He has demonstrated that
no man could have lived so long--De Quincey was nearly seventy-five
at his death--and worked so hard, if he had consumed twelve thousand
drops of laudanum as often as he said he did. Furthermore, the
English essayist's description of the drug's effects is inexact. He
was seldom sleepy--a sure sign, asserts Dr. Guerrier, that he was
not altogether enslaved by the drug habit. Sprightly in old age, his
powers of labour were prolonged until past three-score and ten. His
imagination needed little opium to produce the famous Confessions.
Even Gautier's revolutionary red waistcoat worn at the _première_ of
Hernani was, according to Gautier, a pink doublet. And Rousseau has
been white-washed. So they are disappearing, those literary legends,
until, disheartened, we cry out: Spare us our dear, old-fashioned,
disreputable men of genius!

But the legend of Charles Baudelaire is seemingly indestructible. This
French poet himself has suffered more from the friendly malignant
biographer and Parisian chroniclers than did Poe. Who shall keep the
curs out of the cemetery? asked Baudelaire after he had read Griswold
on Poe. A few years later his own cemetery was invaded and the world
was put in possession of the Baudelaire legend; that legend of the
atrabilious, irritable poet, dandy, maniac, his hair dyed green,
spouting blasphemies; that grim, despairing image of a Diabolic, a
libertine, saint, and drunkard. Maxime du Camp was much to blame for
the promulgation of these tales--witness his Souvenirs Littéraires.
However, it may be confessed that part of the Baudelaire legend was
created by Charles Baudelaire. In the history of literature it is
difficult to parallel such a deliberate piece of self-stultification.
Not Villon, who preceded him, not Verlaine, who imitated him, drew
for the astonishment or disedification of the world like unflattering
portraits. Mystifier as he was, he must have suffered at times from
acute cortical irritation. And, notwithstanding his desperate effort to
realize Poe's idea, he only proved Poe correct, who had said that no
man can bare his heart quite naked; there will be always something held
back, something false too ostentatiously thrust forward. The grimace,
the attitude, the pomp of rhetoric are so many buffers between the soul
of man and the sharp reality of published confessions. Baudelaire was
no more exception to this rule than St. Augustine, Bunyan, Rousseau, or
Huysmans; though he was as frank as any of them, as we may see in the
recently printed diary, Mon cœur mis à nu (Posthumous Works, Société
du Mercure de France); and in the Journal, Fusées, Letters, and other
fragments exhumed by devoted Baudelarians.

To smash legends, Eugène Crépet's biographical study, first printed in
1887, has been republished with new notes by his son, Jacques Crépet.
This is an exceedingly valuable contribution to Baudelaire lore; a
dispassionate life, however, has yet to be written, a noble task for
some young poet who will disentangle the conflicting lies originated
by Baudelaire--that tragic comedian--from the truth and thus save him
from himself. The new Crépet volume is really but a series of notes;
there are some letters addressed to the poet by the distinguished men
of his day, supplementing the rather disappointing volume of Letters,
1841-1866, published in 1908. There are also documents in the legal
prosecution of Baudelaire, with memories of him by Charles Asselineau,
Léon Cladel, Camille Lemonnier, and others.

In November, 1850, Maxime du Camp and Gustave Flaubert found themselves
at the French Ambassador's, Constantinople. The two friends had taken
a trip in the Orient which later bore fruit in Salammbô. General
Aupick, the representative of the French Government, received the
young men cordially; they were presented to his wife, Madame Aupick.
She was the mother of Charles Baudelaire, and inquired of Du Camp,
rather anxiously: "My son has talent, has he not?" Unhappy because her
second marriage, a brilliant one, had set her son against her, the poor
woman welcomed from such a source confirmation of her eccentric boy's
gifts. Du Camp tells the much-discussed story of a quarrel between the
youthful Charles and his stepfather, a quarrel that began at table.
There were guests present. After some words Charles bounded at the
General's throat and sought to strangle him. He was promptly boxed on
the ears and succumbed to a nervous spasm. A delightful anecdote, one
that fills with joy psychiatrists in search of a theory of genius and
degeneration. Charles was given some money and put on board a ship
sailing to East India. He became a cattle-dealer in the British army,
and returned to France years afterward with a _Vénus noire_, to whom
he addressed extravagant poems! All this according to Du Camp. Here
is another tale, a comical one. Baudelaire visited Du Camp in Paris,
and his hair was violently green. Du Camp said nothing. Angered by
this indifference, Baudelaire asked: "You find nothing abnormal about
me?" "No," was the answer. "But my hair--it is green!" "That is not
singular, _mon cher_ Baudelaire; every one has hair more or less green
in Paris." Disappointed in not creating a sensation, Baudelaire went to
a café, gulped down two large bottles of Burgundy, and asked the waiter
to remove the water, as water was a disagreeable sight for him; then
he went away in a rage. It is a pity to doubt this green hair legend;
presently a man of genius will not be able to enjoy an epileptic fit
in peace--as does a banker or a beggar. We are told that St. Paul,
Mahomet, Handel, Napoleon, Flaubert, Dostoïevsky were epileptoids; yet
we do not encounter men of this rare kind among the inmates of asylums.
Even Baudelaire had his sane moments.

The joke of the green hair has been disposed of by Crépet. Baudelaire's
hair thinning after an illness, he had his head shaved and painted
with salve of a green hue, hoping thereby to escape baldness. At
the time when he had embarked for Calcutta (May, 1841), he was not
seventeen, but twenty, years of age. Du Camp said he was seventeen when
he attacked General Aupick. The dinner could not have taken place at
Lyons because the Aupick family had left that city six years before the
date given by Du Camp. Charles was provided with five thousand francs
for his expenses, instead of twenty--Du Camp's version--and he never
was a beef-drover in the British army, for a good reason--he never
reached India. Instead, he disembarked at the Isle of Bourbon, and
after a short stay was seized by homesickness and returned to France,
being absent about ten months. But, like Flaubert, on his return home
Baudelaire was seized with the nostalgia of the East; out there he had
yearned for Paris. Jules Claretie recalls Baudelaire saying to him with
a grimace: "I love Wagner; but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung
up by his tail outside of a window, and trying to stick to the panes of
glass with its claws. There is an odd grating on the glass which I find
at the same time: strange, irritating, and singularly harmonious." Is
it necessary to add that Baudelaire, notorious in Paris for his love
of cats, dedicating poems to cats, would never have perpetrated such
revolting cruelty?

Another misconception, a critical one, is the case of Poe and
Baudelaire. The young Frenchman first became infatuated with Poe's
writings in 1846 or 1847--he gives these two dates, though several
stories of Poe had been translated into French as early as 1841 or
1842; L'Orang-Outang was the first, which we know as The Murders in
the Rue Morgue; Madame Meunier also adapted several Poe stories for
the reviews. Baudelaire's labours as a translator lasted over ten
years. That he assimilated Poe, that he idolized Poe, is a commonplace
of literary gossip. But that Poe had overwhelming influence in the
formation of his poetic genius is not the truth. Yet we find such an
acute critic as the late Edmund Clarence Stedman writing, "Poe's chief
influence upon Baudelaire's own production relates to poetry." It is
precisely the reverse. Poe's influence affected Baudelaire's prose,
notably in the disjointed confessions, Mon cœur mis à nu, which
recall the American writer's Marginalia. The bulk of the poetry in Les
Fleurs de Mal was written before Baudelaire had read Poe, though not
published in book form until 1857. But in 1855 some of the poems saw
the light in the _Revue des deux Mondes_, while many of them had been
put forth a decade or fifteen years before as fugitive verse in various
magazines. Stedman was not the first to make this mistake. In Bayard
Taylor's The Echo Club we find on page 24 this criticism: "There was a
congenital twist about Poe.. .. Baudelaire and Swinburne after him have
been trying to surpass him by increasing the dose; but his muse is the
natural Pythia, inheriting her convulsions, while they eat all sorts
of insane roots to produce theirs." This must have been written about
1872, and after reading it one would fancy Poe and Baudelaire were
rhapsodic wrigglers on the poetic tripod, whereas their poetry is often
reserved, even glacial. Baudelaire, like Poe, sometimes "built his
nests with the birds of Night," and that was enough to condemn the work
of both men with critics of the didactic school.

Once, when Baudelaire heard that an American man-of-letters (?) was in
Paris, he secured an introduction and called. Eagerly inquiring after
Poe, he learned that he was not considered a genteel person in America.
Baudelaire withdrew, muttering maledictions. Enthusiastic poet!
Charming literary person! But the American, whoever he was, represented
public opinion at the time. To-day criticisms of Poe are vitiated by
the desire to make him an angel. It is to be doubted whether without
his barren environment and hard fortunes we should have had Poe at all.
He had to dig down deeper into the pit of his personality to reach
the central core of his music. But every ardent young soul entering
"literature" begins by a vindication of Poe's character. Poe was a man,
and he is now a classic. He was a half-charlatan as was Baudelaire.
In both the sublime and the sickly were never far asunder. The pair
loved to mystify, to play pranks on their contemporaries. Both were
implacable pessimists. Both were educated in affluence, and both had to
face unprepared the hardships of life. The hastiest comparison of their
poetic work will show that their only common ideal was the worship of
an exotic beauty. Their artistic methods of expression were totally
dissimilar. Baudelaire, like Poe, had a harp-like temperament which
vibrated in the presence of strange subjects. Above all he was obsessed
by sex. Woman, as angel of destruction, is the keynote of his poems.
Poe was almost sexless. His aerial creatures never footed the dusty
highways of the world. His lovely lines, "Helen, thy beauty is to me,"
could never have been written by Baudelaire; while Poe would never have
pardoned the "fulgurant" grandeur, the Beethoven-like harmonies, the
Dantesque horrors of that "deep wide music of lost souls" in "Femmes

    Descendez, descendez, lamentables victimes.

Or this, which might serve as a text for one of John Martin's vast
sinister mezzotints:

    J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un théâtre banal
    Qu'enflammait l'orchestre sonore,
    Une fée allumer dans un ciel infernal
    Une miraculeuse aurore;

    J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un théâtre banal
    Un être, qui n'était que lumière, or et gaze,
    Terrasser l'énorme Satan;
    Mais mon cœur que jamais ne visite l'extase,
    Est un théâtre où l'on attend
    Toujours, toujours en vain l'Etre aux ailes de gaze.

Professor Saintsbury thus sums up the differences between Poe and
Baudelaire: "Both authors--Poe and De Quincey--fell short of Baudelaire
himself as regards depth and fulness of passion, but both have
a superficial likeness to him in eccentricity of temperament and
affection for a certain peculiar mixture of grotesque and horror."
Poe is without passion, except a passion for the _macabre_; for what
Huysmans calls "The October of the sensations"; whereas, there is a
gulf of despair and terror and humanity in Baudelaire which shakes
your nerves yet stimulates the imagination. However, profounder as a
poet, he was no match for Poe in what might be termed intellectual
prestidigitation. The mathematical Poe, the Poe of the ingenious
detective tales, tales extraordinary, the Poe of the swift flights
into the cosmical blue, the Poe the prophet and mystic--in these the
American was more versatile than his French translator. That Baudelaire
said, "Evil, be thou my good," is doubtless true. He proved all things
and found them vanity. He is the poet of original sin, a worshipper
of Satan for the sake of paradox; his Litanies to Satan ring childish
to us--in his heart he was a believer. His was "an infinite reverse
aspiration," and mixed up with his pose was a disgust for vice, for
life itself. He was the last of the Romanticists; Sainte-Beuve called
him the Kamtschatka of Romanticism; its remotest hyperborean peak.
Romanticism is dead to-day, as dead as Naturalism; but Baudelaire is
alive, and is read. His glistening phosphorescent trail is over French
poetry and he is the begetter of a school:--Verlaine, Villiers de
l'Isle Adam, Carducci, Arthur Rimbaud, Jules Laforgue, Verhaeren, and
many of the youthful crew. He affected Swinburne, and in Huysmans, who
was not a poet, his splenetic spirit lives. Baudelaire's motto might be
the opposite of Browning's lines: "The Devil is in heaven. All's wrong
with the world."

When Goethe said of Hugo and the Romanticists that they all came
from Chateaubriand, he should have substituted the name of Rousseau
--"Romanticism, it is Rousseau," exclaims Pierre Lasserre. But there is
more of Byron and Petrus Borel--a forgotten mad poet--in Baudelaire;
though, for a brief period, in 1848, he became a Rousseau reactionary,
sported the workingman's blouse, shaved his head, shouldered a musket,
went to the barricades, wrote inflammatory editorials calling the
proletarian "Brother!" (oh, Baudelaire!) and, as the Goncourts recorded
in their diary, had the head of a maniac. How seriously we may take
this swing of the pendulum is to be noted in a speech of the poet's at
the time of the Revolution: "Come," he said, "let us go shoot General
Aupick!" It was his stepfather that he thought of, not the eternal
principles of Liberty. This may be a false anecdote; many were foisted
upon Baudelaire. For example, his exclamations at cafés or in public
places, such as: "Have you ever eaten a baby? I find it pleasing to
the palate!" or, "The night I killed my father!" Naturally people
stared and Baudelaire was happy--he had startled the bourgeois. The
cannibalistic idea he may have borrowed from Swift's amusing pamphlet,
for this French poet knew English literature.

Gautier compares the poems to a certain tale of Hawthorne's in which
there is a garden of poisoned flowers. But Hawthorne worked in his
laboratory of evil wearing mask and gloves; he never descended into the
mud and sin of the street. Baudelaire ruined his health, smudged his
soul, yet remained withal, as Anatole France says, "a divine poet." How
childish, yet how touching is his resolution--he wrote in his diary
of prayer's dynamic force--when he was penniless, in debt, threatened
with imprisonment, sick, nauseated with sin: "To make every morning
my prayer to God, the reservoir of all force, and all justice; to my
father, to Mariette, and to Poe as intercessors." (Evidently, Maurice
Barrès encountered here his theory of Intercessors.) Baudelaire loved
the memory of his father as much as Stendhal hated his. His mother he
became reconciled with after the death of General Aupick, in 1857. He
felt in 1862 that his own intellectual eclipse was approaching, for
he wrote: "I have cultivated my hysteria with joy and terror. To-day
imbecility's wing fanned me as it passed." The sense of the vertiginous
gulf was abiding with him; read his poem, "Pascal avait son gouffre."

In preferring the Baudelaire translations of Poe to the original--and
they give the impression of being original works--Stedman agreed with
Asselineau that the French is more concise than the English. The
prose of Poe and Baudelaire is clear, sober, rhythmic; Baudelaire's
is more lapidary, finer in contour, richer coloured, more supple,
though without the "honey and tiger's blood" of Barbey d'Aurevilly's.
Baudelaire's soul was patiently built up as a fabulous bird might
build its nest--bits of straw, the sobbing of women, clay, cascades
of black stars, rags, leaves, rotten wood, corroding dreams, a spray
of roses, a sparkle of pebble, a gleam of blue sky, arabesques of
incense and verdigris, despairing hearts and music and the abomination
of desolation for ground-tones. But this soul-nest is also a cemetery
of the seven sorrows. He loved the clouds .... _les nuages ...
là bas_ ... It was _là bas_ with him even in the tortures of his
wretched love-life. Corruption and death were ever floating in his
consciousness. He was like Flaubert, who saw everywhere the hidden
skeleton. Félicien Rops has best interpreted Baudelaire: the etcher
and poet were closely knit spirits. Rodin, too, is a Baudelarian. If
there could be such an anomaly as a native wood-note evil, it would
be the lyric and astringent voice of this poet. His sensibility was
both catholic and morbid, though he could be frigid in the face of the
most disconcerting misfortunes. He was a man for whom the visible word
existed; if Gautier was pagan, Baudelaire was a strayed spirit from
mediæval days. The spirit ruled, and, as Paul Bourget said, "he saw
God." A Manichean in his worship of evil, he nevertheless abased his
soul: "Oh! Lord God! Give me the force and courage to contemplate my
heart and my body without disgust," he prays: But as some one remarked
to Rochefoucauld, "Where you end, Christianity begins."

Baudelaire built his ivory tower on the borders of a poetic Maremma,
which every miasma of the spirit pervaded, every marsh-light and
glow-worm inhabited. Like Wagner, Baudelaire painted in his sultry
music the profundities of abysms, the vastness of space. He painted,
too, the great nocturnal silences of the soul.

_Pacem summam tenent!_ He never reached peace on the heights. Let us
admit that souls of his kind are encased in sick frames; their steel
is too shrewd for the scabbard; yet the enigma for us is none the less
unfathomable. Existence for such natures is a sort of muffled delirium.
To affiliate him with Poe, De Quincey, Hoffmann, James Thomson,
Coleridge, and the rest of the sombre choir does not explain him; he
is, perhaps, nearer Donne and Villon than any of the others--strains
of the metaphysical and sinister and supersubtle are to be discovered
in him. The disharmony of brain and body, the spiritual bi-location,
are only too easy to diagnose; but the remedy? _Hypocrite lecteur--mon
semblable--mon frère!_ When the subtlety, force, grandeur, of his
poetic production be considered, together with its disquieting,
nervous, vibrating qualities, it is not surprising that Victor Hugo
wrote to the poet: "You invest the heaven of art with we know not what
deadly rays; you create a new shudder." Hugo could have said that he
turned Art into an Inferno. Baudelaire is the evil archangel of poetry.
In his heaven of fire, glass, and ebony he is the blazing Lucifer.
"A glorious devil, large in heart and brain, that did love beauty
only...." sang Tennyson.


As long ago as 1869 and in our "barbarous gas-lit country," as
Baudelaire named the land of Poe, an unsigned review appeared in which
this poet was described as "unique and as interesting as Hamlet. He is
that rare and unknown being, a genuine poet--a poet in the midst of
things that have disordered his spirit--a poet excessively developed
in his taste for and by beauty ... very responsive to the ideal, very
greedy of sensation." A better description of Baudelaire does not
exist. The Hamlet-motive, particularly, is one that sounded throughout
the disordered symphony of the poet's life.

He was, later, revealed to American readers by Henry James. This was in
1878, when appeared the first edition of French Poets and Novelists.
Previous to that there had been some desultory discussion, a few
essays in the magazines, and in 1875 a sympathetic paper by Professor
James Albert Harrison of the University of Virginia. But Mr. James
had the ear of a cultured public. He denounced the Frenchman for his
reprehensible taste, though he did not mention his beautiful verse or
his originality in the matter of criticism. Baudelaire, in his eyes,
was not only immoral, but he had, with the approbation of Sainte-Beuve,
introduced Poe as a great man to the French nation. (See Baudelaire's
letter to Sainte-Beuve in the newly published Letters, 1841-1866.)
Perhaps Mr. Dick Minim and his projected Academy of Criticism might
make clear these devious problems.

The Etudes Critiques of Edmond Schérer were collected in 1863. In
them we find this unhappy, uncritical judgment: "Baudelaire, lui, n'a
rien, ni le cœur, ni l'esprit, ni l'idée, ni le mot, ni la raison,
ni la fantaisie, ni la verve, ni même la facture ... son unique titre
c'est d'avoir contribué à créer l'esthétique de la débauche." It is
not our intention to dilate upon the injustice of this criticism. It
is Baudelaire the critic of æsthetics in whom we are interested. Yet
I cannot forbear saying that if all the negations of Schérer had been
transformed into affirmations, only justice would have been accorded
Baudelaire, who was not alone a poet, the most original of his century,
but also a critic of the first rank, one who welcomed Richard Wagner
when Paris hooted him and his fellow composer, Hector Berlioz, played
the rôle of the envious; one who fought for Edouard Manet, Leconte
de Lisle, Gustave Flaubert, Eugène Delacroix; fought with pen for
the modern etchers, illustrators, Meryon, Daumier, Félicien Rops,
Gavarni, and Constantin Guys. He literally identified himself with
De Quincey and Poe, translating them so wonderfully well that some
unpatriotic critics like the French better than the originals. So much
was Baudelaire absorbed in Poe that a writer of his times asserted the
translator would meet the same fate as the American poet. A singular,
vigorous spirit is Baudelaire's, whose poetry with its "icy ecstasy"
is profound and harmonic, whose criticism is penetrated by a catholic
quality, who anticipated modern critics in his abhorrence of schools
and environments, preferring to isolate the man and study him uniquely.
He would have subscribed to Swinburne's generous pronouncement: "I have
never been able to see what should attract man to the profession of
criticism but the noble pleasure of praising." The Frenchman has said
that it would be impossible for a critic to become a poet; and it is
impossible for a poet not to contain a critic.

Théophile Gautier's study prefixed to the definitive edition of Les
Fleurs du Mal is not only the most sympathetic exposition of Baudelaire
as man and genius, but it is also the high-water mark of Gautier's
gifts as an essayist. We learn therein how the young Charles, an
incorrigible dandy, came to visit Hôtel Pimodan about 1844. In this
Hôtel Pimodan a dilettante, Ferdinand Boissard, held high revel. His
fantastically decorated apartments were frequented by the painters,
poets, sculptors, romancers, of the day--that is, carefully selected
ones such as Liszt, George Sand, Mérimée, and others whose verve
or genius gave them the privilege of saying Open Sesame! to this
cave of forty Supermen. Balzac has in his Peau de Chagrin pictured
the same sort of scenes that were supposed to occur weekly at the
Pimodan. Gautier eloquently describes the meeting of these kindred
artistic souls, where the beautiful Jewess Maryx, who had posed for Ary
Scheffer's Mignon and for Paul Delaroche's La Gloire, met the superb
Mme. Sabatier, the only woman that Baudelaire loved, and the original
of that extraordinary group of Clésinger's--the sculptor and son-in-law
of George Sand--la Femme au Serpent, a Salammbô _à la mode_ in marble.
Hasheesh was eaten, so Gautier writes, by Boissard and by Baudelaire.
As for the creator of Mademoiselle Maupin, he was too robust for such
nonsense. He had to work for his living at journalism, and he died
in harness an irreproachable father, while the unhappy Baudelaire,
the inheritor of an intense, unstable temperament, soon devoured his
patrimony of 75,000 francs and for the remaining years of his life was
between the devil of his dusky Jenny Duval and the deep sea of debt.

It was at these Pimodan gatherings, which were no doubt much less
wicked than the participants would have us believe, that Baudelaire
encountered Emile Deroy, a painter of skill, who made his portrait, and
encouraged the fashionable young fellow to continue his art studies. We
have seen an album containing sketches by the poet. They betray talent
of about the same order as Thackeray's, with a superadded note of the
horrific--that favourite epithet of the early Poe critics. Baudelaire
admired Thackeray, and when the Englishman praised the illustrations
of Guys, he was delighted. Deroy taught his pupil the commonplaces
of a painter's technique; also how to compose a palette--a rather
meaningless phrase nowadays. At least he did not write of the arts
without some technical experience. Delacroix took up his enthusiastic
disciple, and when the Salons of Baudelaire appeared in 1845, 1846,
1855, and 1859, the praise and blame they evoked were testimonies to
the training and knowledge of their author. A new spirit had been born.

The names of Diderot and Baudelaire were coupled. Neither academic nor
spouting the jargon of the usual critic, the Salons of Baudelaire are
the production of a humanist. Some would put them above Diderot's. Mr.
Saintsbury, after Mr. Swinburne the warmest advocate of Baudelaire
among the English, thinks that the French poet in his picture criticism
observed too little and imagined too much. "In other words," he adds,
"to read a criticism of Baudelaire's without the title affixed is by
no means a sure method of recognizing the picture afterward." Now,
word-painting was the very thing that Baudelaire avoided. It was his
friend Gautier, with the plastic style, who attempted the well-nigh
impossible feat of competing in his verbal descriptions with the
certitudes of canvas and marble. And if he with his verbal imagination
did not entirely succeed, how could a less adept manipulator of the
vocabulary? We do not agree with Mr. Saintsbury. No one can imagine
too much when the imagination is that of a poet. Baudelaire divined
the work of the artist and set it down scrupulously in prose of
rectitude. He did not paint pictures in prose. He did not divagate.
He did not overburden his pages with technical terms. But the spirit
he did disengage in a few swift phrases. The polemics of historical
schools were a cross for him to bear, and he bore all his learning
lightly. Like a true critic, he judged more by form than theme. There
are no types; there is only life, he had cried before Jules Laforgue.
He was ever for art-for-art, yet, having breadth of comprehension
and a Heine-like capacity for seeing both sides of his own nature
and its idiosyncrasies, he could write: "The puerile utopia of the
school of art for art, in excluding morality, and often even passion,
was necessarily sterile. All literature which refuses to advance
fraternally between science and philosophy is a homicidal and a
suicidal literature."

Baudelaire, then, was no less sound a critic of the plastic arts than
of music and literature. Like his friend Flaubert, he had a horror of
democracy, of the démocratisation of the arts, of all the sentimental
fuss and fuddle of a pseudo-humanitarianism. During the 1848 agitation
the former dandy of 1840 put on a blouse and spoke of barricades.
These things were in the air. Wagner rang the alarm-bells during the
Dresden uprising. Chopin wrote for the pianoforte a revolutionary
étude. Brave lads! Poets and musicians fight their battles best in the
region of the ideal. Baudelaire's little attack of the equality-measles
soon vanished. He lectured his brother poets and artists on the folly
and injustice of abusing or despising the bourgeois (being a man of
paradoxes, he dedicated a volume of his Salons to the bourgeois), but
he would not have contradicted Mr. George Moore for declaring that "in
art the democrat is always reactionary. In 1830 the democrats were
against Victor Hugo and Delacroix." And Les Fleurs du Mal, that book of
opals, blood, and evil swamp-flowers, can never be savoured by the mob.

In his Souvenirs de Jeunesse, Champfleury speaks of the promenades in
the Louvre he enjoyed in company with Baudelaire. Bronzino was one of
the latter's preferences. He was also attracted to El Greco--not an
unnatural admiration, considering the sombre extravagance of his own
genius. Goya he has written of in exalted phrases. Velasquez was his
touchstone. Being of a perverse nature, his nerves ruined by abuse of
drink and drugs, the landscapes of his imagination or those by his
friend Rousseau were more beautiful than Nature herself. The country,
he declared, was odious. Like Whistler, whom he often met--see the
Hommage à Delacroix by Fantin-Latour, with its portraits of Whistler,
Baudelaire, Manet, Bracquemond the etcher, Legros, Delacroix, Cordier,
Duranty the critic, and De Balleroy--he could not help showing his
aversion to "foolish sunsets." In a word, Baudelaire, into whose brain
had entered too much moonlight, was the father of a lunar school of
poetry, criticism and fiction. His Samuel Cramer, in La Fanfarlo,
is the literary progenitor of Jean, Due d'Esseintes, of Huysmans's
A Rebours. Huysmans modelled at first himself on Baudelaire. His Le
Drageoir aux Epices is a continuation of Petits Poèmes en Prose. And
to Baudelaire's account must be laid much artificial morbid writing.
Despite his pursuit of perfection in form, his influence has been
too often baneful to impressionable artists in embryo. A lover of
Gallic Byronism, and high-priest of the Satanic school, there was no
extravagance, absurd or terrible, that he did not commit, from etching
a four-part fugue on ice to skating hymns in honour of Lucifer. In
his criticism alone was he the sane, logical Frenchman. And while he
did not live to see the success of the Impressionist group, he would
have surely acclaimed their theories and practice. Was he not an
impressionist himself?

As Richard Wagner was his god in music, so Delacroix quite overflowed
his æsthetic consciousness. Read Volume II. of his collected works,
Curiosités Esthétiques, which contains his Salons; also his essay,
De l'Essence du Rire (worthy to be placed side by side with George
Meredith's essay on Comedy). Caricaturists, French and foreign, are
considered in two chapters at the close of the volume. Baudelaire
was as conscientious as Gautier. He toiled around miles of mediocre
canvas, saying an encouraging word to the less talented, boiling
over with holy indignation, glacial irony, before the rash usurpers
occupying the seats of the mighty, and pouncing on new genius with
promptitude. Upon Delacroix he lavished the largesse of his admiration.
He smiled at the platitudes of Horace Vernef, and only shook his head
over the Schnetzes and other artisans of the day. He welcomed William
Hausoullier, now so little known. He praised Devéria, Chasseriau--who
waited years before he came into his own; his preferred landscapists
were Corot, Rousseau and Troyon. He impolitely spoke of Ary Scheffer
and the "apes of sentiment"; while his discussions of Hogarth,
Cruikshank, Pinelli and Breughel proclaim his versatility of vision. In
his essay Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne he was the first among critics
to recognize the peculiar quality named "modernity," that nervous,
naked vibration which informs the novels of Goncourt, Flaubert's
L'Education Sentimentale, and the pictures of Manet, Monet, Degas and
Raffaelli with their evocations of a new, nervous Paris. It is in his
Volume III., entitled, L'Art Romantique, that so many things dear to
the new century were then subjects of furious quarrels. This book
contains much just and brilliant writing. It was easy for Nietzsche to
praise Wagner in Germany in 1876, but dangerous at Paris in 1861 to
declare war on Wagner's critics. This Baudelaire did.

The relations of Baudelaire and Edouard Manet were exceedingly cordial.
In a letter to Théophile Thoré, the art critic (Letters, p. 361), we
find Baudelaire defending his friend from the accusation that his
pictures were _pastiches_ of Goya. He wrote: "Manet has never seen
Goya, never El Greco; he was never in the Pourtalés Gallery." Which may
have been true at the time, 1864, but Manet visited Madrid and spent
much time studying Velasquez and abusing Spanish cookery. (Consider,
too, Goya's Balcony with Girls and Manet's famous Balcony.) Raging
at the charge of imitation, Baudelaire said in this same epistle:
"They accuse even me of imitating Edgar Poe.... Do you know why I
so patiently translated Poe? _Because he resembled me._" The poet
italicised these words. With stupefaction, therefore, he admired the
mysterious coincidences of Manet's work with that of Goya and El Greco.

He took Manet seriously. He wrote to him in a paternal and severe tone.
Recall his reproof when urging the painter to exhibit his work. "You
complain about attacks, but are you the first to endure them? Have you
more genius than Chateaubriand and Wagner? They were not killed by
derision. And in order not to make you too proud I must tell you that
they are models, each in his way, and in a very rich world, while _you
are only the first in the decrepitude of your art._" (Letters, p. 436.)

Would Baudelaire recall these prophetic words if he were able to
revisit the glimpses of the Champs Elysées at the autumn Salons? What
would he think of Cézanne? Odilon Redon he would understand, for he is
the transposer of Baudelairianism to terms of design and colour. And
perhaps the poet whose verse is saturated with tropical hues--he, when
young, sailed in southern seas--might appreciate the monstrous debauch
of form and colour in the Tahitian canvases of Paul Gauguin.

Baudelaire's preoccupation with pictorial themes may be noted in his
verse. He is _par excellence_ the poet of æsthetics. To Daumier he
inscribed a poem; and to the sculptor Ernest Christophe, to Delacroix
(Sur Le Tasse en Prison), to Manet, to Guys (Rêve Parisien), to an
unknown master (Une Martyre); and Watteau, a Watteau à rebours, is
seen in Un Voyage à Cy there; while in Les Phares this poet of ideal,
spleen, music, and perfume shows his adoration for Rubens, Leonardo da
Vinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, Puget, Goya, Delacroix--"Delacroix,
lac de sang hanté des mauvais anges." And what could be more exquisite
than his quatrain to Lola de Valence, a poetic inscription for the
picture of Edouard Manet, with its last line as vaporous, as subtle as
Verlaine: Le charme inattendu d'un bijou rose et noir! Heine called
himself the last of the Romantics. The first of the "Moderns" and the
last of the Romantics was the many-sided Charles Baudelaire.


He was born at Paris April 9, 1821 (Flaubert's birth year), and not
April 21st as Gautier has it. His father was Joseph Francis Baudelaire,
or Beaudelaire, who occupied a government position. A cultivated art
lover, his taste was apparent in the home he made for his second wife,
Caroline Archimbaut-Dufays, an orphan and the daughter of a military
officer. There was a considerable difference in the years of this pair;
the mother was twenty-seven, the father sixty-two, at the birth of
their only child. By his first marriage the elder Baudelaire had one
son, Claude, who, like his half-brother Charles, died of paralysis,
though a steady man of business. That great neurosis, called Commerce,
has its mental wrecks, too, but no one pays attention; only when the
poet falls by the wayside is the chase begun by neurologists and other
soul-hunters seeking for victims. After the death of Baudelaire's
father, the widow, within a year, married the handsome, ambitious
Aupick, then _chef de bataillon_, lieutenant-colonel, decorated with
the Legion of Honour, and later general and ambassador to Madrid,
Constantinople, and London. Charles was a nervous, frail youth, but
unlike most children of genius, he was a scholar and won brilliant
honours at school. His step-father was proud of him. From the Royal
College of Lyons, Charles went to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris,
but was expelled in 1839. Troubles soon began at home for him. He
was irascible, vain, very precocious, and given to dissipation. He
quarrelled with General Aupick, and disdained his mother. But she was
to blame, she has confessed; she had quite forgotten the boy in the
flush of her second love. He could not forget, or forgive what he
called her infidelity to the memory of his father. Hamlet-like, he was
inconsolable. The good bishop of Montpellier, who knew the family, said
that Charles was a little crazy--second marriages usually bring woe in
their train. "When a mother has such a son, she doesn't remarry," said
the young poet. Charles signed himself Baudelaire-Dufays, or sometimes,
Dufais. He wrote in his journal: "My ancestors, idiots or maniacs ...
all victims of terrible passions"; which was one of his exaggerations.
His grand-father on the paternal side was a Champenois peasant, his
mother's family presumably Norman, but not much is known of her
forbears. Charles believed himself lost from the time his half-brother
was stricken. He also believed that his instability of temperament--and
he studied his "case" as would a surgeon--was the result of his
parents' disparity in years.

After his return from the East, where he did not learn English, as has
been said--his mother taught him as a boy to converse in and write
the language--he came into his little inheritance, about fifteen
thousand dollars. Two years later he was so heavily in debt that his
family asked for a guardian on the ground of incompetency. He had
been swindled, being young and green. How had he squandered his money?
Not exactly on opera-glasses, like Gérard de Nerval, but on clothes,
pictures, furniture, books. The remnant was set aside to pay his debts.
Charles would be both poet and dandy. He dressed expensively but
soberly, in the English fashion; his linen dazzling, the prevailing
hue of his habiliments black. In height he was medium, his eyes brown,
searching, luminous, the eye of a nyctalops, "eyes like ravens'";
nostrils palpitating, cleft chin, mouth expressive, sensual, the jaw
strong and square. His hair was black, curly, and glossy, his forehead
high, square, white. In the Deroy portrait he wears a beard; he is
there, what Catulle Mendès nicknamed him: His Excellence, Monseigneur
Brummel! Later he was the elegiac Satan, the author of L'Imitation de
N. S. le Diable; or the Baudelaire of George Moore: "the clean-shaven
face of the mock priest, the slow cold eyes and the sharp cunning
sneer of the cynical libertine who will be tempted that he may better
know the worthlessness of temptation." In the heyday of his blood he
was perverse and deliberate. Let us credit him with contradicting the
Byronic notion that _ennui_ could be best cured by dissipation; in sin
Baudelaire found the saddest of all tasks. Mendès laughs at the legend
of Baudelaire's violence, of his being given to explosive phrases.
Despite Gautier's stories about the Hôtel Pimodan and its club of
hasheesh-eaters, M. Mendès denies that Baudelaire was a victim of the
hemp. What the majority of mankind does not know concerning the habits
of literary workers is this prime fact: men who work hard, writing
verse--and there is no mental toil comparable to it--cannot drink, or
indulge in opium, without the inevitable collapse. The old-fashioned
ideas of "inspiration," spontaneity, easy improvisation, the sudden
bolt from heaven, are delusions still hugged by the world. To be told
that Chopin filed at his music for years, that Beethoven in his smithy
forged his thunderbolts, that Manet toiled like a labourer on the
dock, that Baudelaire was a mechanic in his devotion to poetic work,
that Gautier was a hard-working journalist, is a disillusion for the
sentimental. Minerva springing full-fledged from Jupiter's skull to the
desk of the poet is a pretty fancy; but Balzac and Flaubert did not
encourage this fancy. Work literally killed Poe, as it killed Jules
de Goncourt, Flaubert, and Daudet. Maupassant went insane because
he would work and he would play the same day. Baudelaire worked and
worried. His debts haunted him his life long. His constitution was
flawed--Sainte-Beuve told him that he had worn out his nerves--from the
start, he was _détraqué_; but that his entire life was one huge debauch
is a nightmare of the moral police in some white cotton night-cap

His period of mental production was not brief or barren. He was a
student. Du Camp's charge that he was an ignorant man is disproved by
the variety and quality of his published work. His range of sympathies
was large. His mistake, in the eyes of his colleagues, was to write
so well about the seven arts. Versatility is seldom given its real
name--which is protracted labour. Baudelaire was one of the elect, an
aristocrat, who dealt with the quintessence of art; his delicate air of
a bishop, his exquisite manners, his modulated voice, aroused unusual
interest and admiration. He was a humanist of distinction; he has left
a hymn to Saint Francis in the Latin of the decadence. Baudelaire, like
Chopin, made more poignant the phrase, raised to a higher intensity the
expressiveness of art.

Women played a commanding rôle in his life. They always do with any
poet worthy of the name, though few have been so frank in acknowledging
this as Baudelaire. Yet he was in love more with Woman than the
individual. The legend of the beautiful creature he brought from the
East resolves itself into the dismal affair with Jeanne Duval. He met
her in Paris, after he had been in the East. She sang at a café-concert
in Paris. She was more brown than black. She was not handsome, not
intelligent, not good; yet he idealized her, for she was the source of
half his inspiration. To her were addressed those marvellous evocations
of the Orient, of perfume, tresses, delicious mornings on strange
far-away seas and "superb Byzant" domes that devils built. Baudelaire
is the poet of perfumes; he is also the patron saint of _ennui_. No one
has so chanted the praise of odours. His soul swims on perfume as do
other souls on music, he has sung. As he grew older he seemed to hunt
for more acrid odours; he often presents an elaborately chased vase
the carving of which transports us, but from which the head is quickly
averted. Jeanne, whom he never loved, no matter what may be said, was
a sorceress. But she was impossible; she robbed, betrayed him; he left
her a dozen times only to return. He was a capital draughtsman with a
strong nervous line and made many pen-and-ink drawings of her. They are
not prepossessing. In her rapid decline, she was not allowed to want;
Madame Aupick paying her expenses in the hospital. A sordid history.
She was a veritable flower of evil for Baudelaire. Yet poetry, like
music, would be colourless, scentless, if it sounded no dissonances.
Fancy art reduced to the beatific and banal chord of C major!

He fell in love with the celebrated Madame Sabatier, a reigning beauty,
at whose salon artistic Paris assembled. She had been christened by
Gautier _Madame la Présidente_, and her sumptuous beauty was portrayed
by Ricard in his La Femme au Chien. She returned Baudelaire's love.
They soon parted. Again a riddle that the published letters hardly
solve. One letter, however, does show that Baudelaire had tried to be
faithful, and failed. He could not extort from his exhausted soul the
sentiment; but he put its music on paper. His most seductive lyrics
were addressed to Madame Sabatier: "A la très chère, à la très-belle,"
a hymn saturated with love. Music, spleen, perfumes--"colour, sound,
perfumes call to each other as deep to deep; perfumes like the flesh
of children, soft as hautboys, green like the meadows"--criminals,
outcasts, the charm of childhood, the horrors of love, pride, and
rebellion, Eastern landscapes, cats, soothing and false; cats, the
true companions of lonely poets; haunted clocks, shivering dusks, and
gloomier dawns--Paris in a hundred phases--these and many other themes
this strange-souled poet, this "Dante, pacer of the shore," of Paris
has celebrated in finely wrought verse and profound phrases. In a
single line he contrives atmosphere; the very shape of his sentence,
the ring of the syllables, arouses the deepest emotion. A master of
harmonic undertones is Baudelaire. His successors have excelled him in
making their music more fluid, more singing, more vapourous--all young
French poets pass through their Baudelarian green-sickness--but he
alone knows the secrets of moulding those metallic, free sonnets, which
have the resistance of bronze; and of the despairing music that flames
from the mouths of lost souls trembling on the wharves of hell. He is
the supreme master of irony and troubled voluptuousness.

Baudelaire is a masculine poet. He carved rather than sang; the plastic
arts spoke to his soul. A lover and maker of images. Like Poe, his
emotions transformed themselves into ideas. Bourget classified him as
mystic, libertine, and analyst. He was born with a wound in his soul,
to use the phrase of Père Lacordaire. (Curiously enough, he actually
contemplated, in 1861, becoming a candidate for Lacordaire's vacant
seat in the French Academy. Sainte-Beuve dissuaded him from this
folly.) Recall Baudelaire's prayer: "Thou, O Lord, my God, grant me
the grace to produce some fine lines which will prove to myself that
I am not the last of men, that I am not inferior to those I contemn."
Individualist, egoist, anarchist, his only thought was of letters.
Jules Laforgue thus described Baudelaire: "Cat, Hindoo, Yankee,
Episcopal, alchemist." Yes, an alchemist who suffocated in the fumes
he created. He was of Gothic imagination, and could have said with
Rolla: _Je suis venu trop tard dans un monde trop vieux._ He had an
unassuaged thirst for the absolute. The human soul was his stage, he
its interpreting orchestra.

In 1857 The Flowers of Evil was published by the devoted
Poulet-Malassis, who afterward went into bankruptcy--a warning to
publishers with a taste for fine literature. The titles contemplated
were Limbes, or Lesbiennes. Hippolyte Babou suggested the one we know.
These poems were suppressed on account of six, and poet and publisher
summoned. As the municipal government had made a particular ass of
itself in the prosecution of Gustave Flaubert and his Madame Bovary,
the Baudelaire matter was disposed of in haste. He was condemned to
a fine of three hundred francs, a fine which was never paid, as the
objectionable poems were removed. They were printed in the Belgian
edition, and may be read in the new volume of Œuvres Posthumes.

Baudelaire was infuriated over the judgment, for he knew that his book
was dramatic in expression. He had expected, like Flaubert, to emerge
from the trial with flying colours; to be classed as one who wrote
objectionable literature was a shock. "Flaubert had the Empress back
of him," he complained; which was true; the Empress Eugénie, also the
Princess Mathilde. But he worked as ever and put forth those polished
intaglios called Poems in Prose, for the form of which he had taken a
hint from Aloys Bertrand's Gaspard de la Nuit. He filled this form with
a new content; not alone pictures, but moods, are to be found in these
miniatures. Pity is their keynote, a tenderness for the abject and
lowly, a revelation of sensibility that surprised those critics who had
discerned in Baudelaire only a sculptor of evil. In one of his poems
he described a landscape of metal, of marble and water; a babel of
staircases and arcades, a palace of infinity, surrounded by the silence
of eternity. This depressing yet magical dream was utilised by Huysmans
in his A Rebours. But in the tiny landscapes of the Prose Poems there
is nothing rigid or artificial. Indeed, the poet's deliberate attitude
of artificiality is dropped. He is human. Not that the deep fundamental
note of humanity is ever absent in his poems; the eternal diapason
is there even when least overheard. Baudelaire is more human than
Poe. His range of sympathy is wider. In this he transcends him as a
poet, though his subject-matter often issues from the very dregs of
life. Brother to pitiable wanderers, there is, nevertheless, no trace
of cant, no "Russian pity" _à la_ Dostoïevsky, no humanitarian or
socialistic rhapsodies in his work. Baudelaire is an egoist. He hated
the sentimental sapping of altruism. His prose-poem, Crowds, with its
"bath of multitude," may have been suggested by Poe; but in Charles
Lamb we find the idea: "Are there no solitudes out of caves and the
desert? or, cannot the heart, in the midst of crowds, feel frightfully

His best critical work is the Richard Wagner and Tannhäuser, a more
significant essay than Nietzsche's Richard Wagner in Bayreuth;
Baudelaire's polemic appeared at a more critical period in Wagner's
career. Wagner sent a brief, hearty letter of thanks to the critic
and made his acquaintance. To Wagner Baudelaire introduced a young
Wagnerian, Villiers de l'Isle Adam. This Wagner letter is included
in the volume of Crépet; but there are no letters published from
Baudelaire to Franz Liszt, though they were friends. In Weimar I saw
at the Liszt house several from Baudelaire which should have been
included in the Letters. The poet understood Liszt and his reforms as
he understood Wagner's. The German composer admired the French poet,
and his Kundry, of the sultry second act, Parsifal, has a Baudelairian
hue, especially in the temptation scene.

The end was at hand. Baudelaire had been steadily, rather, unsteadily,
going downhill; a desperate figure, a dandy in shabby attire. He went
out only after dark, he haunted the exterior boulevards, associated
with birds of nocturnal plumage. He drank without thirst, ate without
hunger, as he has said. A woeful decadence for this aristocrat of
life and letters. Most sorrowful of sinners, his morose delectation
scourged his nerves and extorted the darkest music from his lyre. He
fled to Brussels, there to rehabilitate his dwindling fortunes. He
gave a few lectures, and met Rops, Lemonnier, drank to forget, and
forgot to work. He abused Brussels, Belgium, its people. A country
where the trees are black, the flowers without odour, and where there
is no conversation. He, the brilliant _causeur_, the chief _blaguer_
of a circle in which young James McNeill Whistler was reduced to the
rôle of a listener--this most _spirituel_ among artists found himself
a failure in the Belgian capital. It may not be amiss to remind
ourselves that Baudelaire was the creator of most of the paradoxes
attributed, not only to Whistler, but to an entire school--if one may
employ such a phrase. The frozen imperturbability of the poet, his
cutting enunciation, his power of blasphemy, his hatred of Nature, his
love of the artificial, have been copied by the æsthetic blades of
our day. He it was who first taunted Nature with being an imitator of
art, with being always the same. Oh, the imitative sunsets! Oh, the
quotidian eating and drinking! And as pessimist, too, he led the mode.
Baudelaire, like Flaubert, grasped the murky torch of pessimism once
held by Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, and Sénancour. Doubtless all
this stemmed from Byronism. To-day it is all as stale as Byronism.

His health failed rapidly, and he didn't have money enough to pay for
doctor's prescriptions; he owed for the room in his hotel. At Namur,
where he was visiting the father-in-law of Félicien Rops (March, 1866),
he suffered from an attack of paralysis. He was removed to Brussels.
His mother, who lived at Honfleur, in mourning for her husband, came
to his aid. Taken to France, he was placed in a sanatorium. Aphasia
set in. He could only ejaculate a mild oath, and when he caught sight
of himself in the mirror he would bow pleasantly as if to a stranger.
His friends rallied, and they were among the most distinguished
people in Paris, the _élite_ of souls. Ladies visited him, one or two
playing Wagner on the piano--which must have added a fresh _nuance_ to
death--and they brought him flowers. He expressed his love for flowers
and music to the last. He could not bear the sight of his mother; she
revived in him some painful memories, but that passed, and he clamoured
for her when she was absent. If anyone mentioned the names of Wagner or
Manet, he smiled. Madame Sabatier came; so did the Manets. And with a
fixed stare, as if peering through some invisible window opening upon
eternity, he died, August 31, 1867, aged forty-six.

Barbey d'Aurevilly, himself a Satanist and dandy (oh, those comical old
attitudes of literature!), had prophesied that the author of Fleurs du
Mal would either blow out his brains or prostrate himself at the foot
of the cross. (Later he said the same of Huysmans.) Baudelaire had the
latter course forced upon him by fate after he had attempted spiritual
suicide for how many years? (He once tried actual suicide, but the
slight cut in his throat looked so ugly that he went no farther.) His
soul had been a battle-field for the powers of good and evil. That at
the end he brought the wreck of both soul and body to his God is not a
subject of comment. He was an extraordinary poet with a bad conscience,
who lived miserably and was buried with honours. Then it was that his
worth was discovered (funeral orations over a genius are a species of
public staircase wit). His reputation waxes with the years. He is an
exotic gem in the crown of French poetry. Of him Swinburne has chanted
Ave Atque Vale:

    Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,
    Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?



    Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
    And did he stop and speak to you....


It was some time in the late spring or early summer of 1879. I was
going through the Chaussée d'Antin when a huge man, a terrific old
man, passed me. His long straggling gray hair hung low. His red face
was that of a soldier or a sheik, and was divided by drooping white
moustaches. A trumpet was his voice, and he gesticulated freely
to the friend who accompanied him. I did not look at him with any
particular interest until some one behind me--if he be dead now may
he be eternally blest!--exclaimed: "C'est Flaubert!" Then I stared;
for though I had not read Madame Bovary I adored the verbal music of
Salammbô, secretly believing, however, that it had been written by
Melchior, one of the three Wise Kings who journeyed under the beckoning
star of Bethlehem--how else account for its planturous Asiatic prose,
for its evocations of a vanished past? But I knew the name of
Flaubert, that magic collocation of letters, and I gazed at him. He
returned my glance from prominent eyeballs, the colour of the pupil a
bit of faded blue sky. He did not smile. He was too tender-hearted,
despite his appreciation of the absurd. Besides, he knew, He, too, had
been young and foolish. He, too, had worn a velvet coat and a comical
cap, and had dreamed. I must have been a ridiculous spectacle. My hair
was longer than my technique. I was studying Chopin or lunar rainbows
then--I have forgotten which--and fancied that to be an artist one
must dress like a cross between a brigand and a studio model. But I
was happy. Perhaps Flaubert knew this, for he resisted the temptation
to smile. And then he passed from my view. To be frank, I was not very
much impressed, because earlier in the day I had seen Paul de Cassagnac
and that famous duellist was romantic-looking, which the old Colossus
of Croisset was not. When I returned to the Batignolles I told the
_concièrge_ of my day's outing.

"Ah!" he remarked, "M. Flaubert! M. Paul de Cassagnac!--a great man,
Monsieur P-paul!" He stuttered a little. Now I only remember "M.
Flaubert," with his eyes like a bit of faded blue sky. Was it a dream?
Was it Flaubert? Did some stranger cruelly deceive me? But I'll never
relinquish the memory of my glorious mirage.

Where was he going, Gustave Flaubert, on that sunny afternoon? It was
at the time when Jules Ferry appointed him an assistant-librarian at
the Mazarine; _hors cadre_, a sinecure, a veiled pension with 3,000
francs a year; a charity, as the great writer bitterly complained. He
was poor. He had given up, without a murmur, his entire fortune to his
niece, then Madame Caroline Commainville, and through the influence
of Turgenev and a few others this position had been created for him.
He had no duties, yet he insisted on arriving at his post as early as
half-past seven in the morning. He planned later that the government
should be reimbursed for its outlay. His brother, Dr. Achille Flaubert,
of Rouen, gave him a similar allowance, so the unhappy man had enough
to live upon. Perhaps he was going to the Gare Saint-Lazare to take a
train for Croisset; perhaps he was starting for Ancient Corinth--I
thought--to see once more his Salammbô veiled by the sacred Zaïmph; or
he might have been on the point of departing for Taprobana, the Ceylon
of the antique world; that island whose very name he repeated with the
same pleasure as did the old woman the blessed name of "Mesopotamia."

[Illustration: Fac-simile of an unpublished Flaubert letter.]

Taprobana! Taprobana! would cry Gustave Flaubert, to the despair of
his friends. He was a man in love with beautiful sounds. He filled
his books with them and with beautiful pictures. You must go to
Beethoven or Liszt for a like variety in rhythms; the Flaubertian
prose rhythms change in every sentence, like a landscape alternately
swept by sunlight or shadowed by clouds. They vary with the moods
and movements of the characters. They are music for ear and eye. And
they can never be translated. He is poet, painter, and composer,
and he is the most artistic of novelists. If his work is deficient in
sentiment; if he fails to strike the chords of pity of Dostoïevsky,
Turgenev, and Tolstoy; if he lacks the teeming variety of Balzac, he
is superior to them all as an artist. Because of his stern theories of
art, he renounced the facile victories of sentimentalism. He does not
invite his readers to smile or weep with him. He is not a manipulator
of marionettes. And he can compress in a page more than Balzac in a
volume. In part he derives from Chateaubriand, Gautier, and Hugo, and
he was a lover of Rabelais, Shakespeare, and Montaigne. His psychology
is simple; he believed that character should express itself by action.
His landscapes in the Dutch, "tight," miniature style, or the large,
luminous, "loose" manner of Hobbema; or again full of the silver
repose of Claude and the dark romantic beauty of Rousseau--witness
the forest of Fontainebleau in Sentimental Education--are ravishing.
He has painted interiors incomparably--this novel is filled with
them: balls, café-life, political meetings, receptions, ladies in
their drawing-rooms, Meissonier-like virtuosity in details or the
bourgeois elegance of Alfred Stevens. As a portraitist Flaubert recalls
Velasquez, Rembrandt, or Hals, and not a little of the _diablerie_ to
be found in the Flemish masters of grotesque. Emma Bovary is the most
perfectly finished portrait in fiction and Frédéric Moreau is nearly
as lifelike--the eternal middle-class Young Man. Madame Arnoux,
chiefly rendered by marvellous evasions, is in the clear-obscure of
Rembrandt. Homais stands alone, a subject the delineation of which
Swift would have envied. And Rosannette Bron--the truest record of her
class ever depicted, and during the same decade that saw the odious
sentimental and false Camille. Or Salome in Hérodias, that vision,
cruel, feline, exquisite, which lesser writers have sought vainly to
imitate. (Gustave Moreau alone transposed her to paint--Moreau, too,
was a cenobite of art.) Or Félicité in Trois Contes. Or the perpetual
journalist, Hussonet, the swaggering politician, Regimbart, Pellerin,
the dilettante painter, the socialist, Sénecal, and Arnoux, the
immortal charlatan. Whatever subject Flaubert attacked, a masterpiece
emerged. He left few books; each represents the pinnacle of its
_genre_: Bovary, Salammbô, Sentimental Education, Hérodias, Bouvard
and Pécuchet--this last-named an epitome of human stupidity. Not an
original philosophic intellect, nevertheless a philosophy has been
drawn from Flaubert's work by the brilliant French philosopher Jules
Gaultier, who defines _Bovaryisme_ as that tendency in mankind to
appear other than it is; a tendency which is an important factor in
our mental and social evolution. Without illusions mankind would take
to the trees, the abode, we are told, of our prehistoric arboreal
ancestors. Nevertheless, Emma Bovary as a philosophic symbol would have
greatly astonished Gustave Flaubert.


"Since Goethe," might be a capital title for an essay on the epics
that were written after the death of the noblest German of them
all. The list would be small. In France there are only the rather
barren rhetorical exercise of Edgar Quinet's Ahasvérus, the surging
insurrectionary poems of Hugo, and the faultlessly frigid performance
of Leconte de Lisle. But a work of such heroic power and proportions as
Faust there is not, except Flaubert's Temptation of Saint Antony, which
is so impregnated by the Faustian spirit--though poles apart from
the German poem in its development--that, when we hear the youthful
Gustave was a passionate admirer and student of Goethe, even addressing
a long poem in alexandrines to his memory, we are not surprised. The
real Flaubert is only beginning to be revealed. His four volumes of
correspondence, his single volume of letters addressed to George Sand,
and the recently published letters to his niece Caroline--now Madame
Franklin Grout of Antibes--have shown us a very different Flaubert
from the legend chiefly created by Maxime du Camp. Dr. Félix Dumesnil,
in his remarkable study, has told us of the Rouen master's neurasthenia
and has utterly disproved Du Camp's malicious yarns about epilepsy.
Above all, Flaubert's devotion to Goethe and the recent publication of
the first version of his Saint Antony have presented a novel picture
of his personality. We now know that, striving to become impersonal
in art, he is personal and present in every page he ever wrote;
furthermore that, despite his incessant clamours and complaints, he, in
reality, loved his galley-like, self-imposed labours.

The Temptation of Saint Antony is the only modern poem of epical
largeness that may be classed with Brand or Zarathustra. It recalls
at times the Second Part of Faust in its sweep and grandeur, in its
grandiose visions; but though it is superior in verbal beauty it
falls short of Goethe in its presentation of the problems of human
will. Faust is a man who wills; Antony is static, not dynamic; the
one is tempted by the Devil and succumbs, but does not lose his soul;
Flaubert's hermit resists the Devil at his subtlest, yet we do not feel
that his soul is as much worth the saving as Faust's. Ideas are the
heroes in Flaubert's prose epic. Saint Antony is a metaphysical drama,
not a human one like Faust; nevertheless, to Faust alone may we compare

Flaubert was born at Rouen, December 12, 1821, where he died May 18,
1880. That he practically passed his years at Croisset, his mother's
home, below Rouen facing the Seine, and in his study toiling like
a titan over his books, should be recorded in every text-book of
literature. For he is the patron-saint of all true literary men. He
had a comfortable income. He thought, talked, lived literature. His
friends Du Camp, Louis Bouilhet, Turgenev, Taine, Baudelaire, Zola,
the Goncourts, Daudet, Renan, Maupassant, Henry James, have testified
to his absorption in his art. It is almost touching in these times when
a man goes into the writing business as if vending tripe, to recall
the example of Flaubert for whom art was more sacred than religion.
Naturally, he has been proved by the madhouse doctors to have been half
cracked. Perhaps he was not as sane as a stockbroker, but it takes all
sorts to make a world and a writer of Flaubert's rank should not be
weighed in the same scales with, say, a successful politician.

He was endowed with a nervous temperament, though up to his
twenty-second year he was as handsome and as free from sickness as a
god. He was very tall and his eyes were sea-green. A nervous crisis
supervened and at wide intervals returned. It was almost fatal for
Gustave. He became pessimistic and afraid of life. However, the talk
of his habitual truculent pessimism has been exaggerated. Naturally
optimistic, with a powerful constitution and a stout heart, he worked
like the Trojan he was. His pessimism came with the years during his
boyhood--Byronic literary spleen was in the air. He was a grumbler
and rather overdid the peevish pose. As Zola asked: "What if he had
been forced to earn his living by writing?" But, even in his blackest
moods, he was glad to see his friends at Croisset, glad to go up to
Paris for recreation. His letters, so free, fluent, explosive, give
us the true Flaubert who childishly roared yet was so hearty, so
friendly, so loving to his mother, niece, and intimates. His heredity
was puzzling. His father was, like Baudelaire's grandfather, of
Champenois stock; bourgeois, steady, a renowned surgeon. From him
Gustave inherited his taste for all that pertained to medicine and
science. Recall his escapades as a boy when he would peep for hours
into the dissecting-room of the Rouen hospital. Such matters fascinated
him. He knew more about the theory and practice of medicine than
many professional men. An air of mortality exhales from his pages.
He is in Madame Bovary the keen soul-surgeon. His love of a quiet,
sober existence came to him from his father. He clung to one house
for nearly a half century. He has said that one must live like a
bourgeois and think like an artist; to be ascetic in life and violent
in art--that was a Flaubert maxim. "I live only in my ideas," he
wrote. But from the mother's side, a Norman and aristocrat she was, he
inherited his love of art, his disdain for philistines, his adventurous
disposition--transposed because of his malady to the cerebral region,
to his imagination. He boasted Canadian blood, "red skin," he called
it, but that was merely a mystification. The dissonance of temperament
made itself felt early. He was the man of Goethe with two spirits
struggling within him. Dual in temperament, he swung from an almost
barbaric Romanticism to a cruel analysis of life that made him the
pontiff of the Realistic school. He hated realism, yet an inner
force set him to the disagreeable task of writing Madame Bovary and
Sentimental Education--the latter, with its daylight atmosphere, the
supreme exemplar of realism in fiction. So was it with his interior
life. He was a mystic who no longer believed. These dislocations of
his personality he combated all his life, and his books show with what
success. "Flaubert," wrote Turgenev, his closest friend, to George
Sand, "has tenacity without energy, just as he has self-love without
vanity." But what tenacity!

Touching on the question of epilepsy, a careful reading of Dumesnil
convinces anyone, but the neurologist with a fixed idea, that Flaubert
was not a sufferer from genuine epilepsy. Not that there is any
reason why epilepsy and genius should be divorced; we know in many
cases the contrary is the reverse. Take the case of Dostoïevsky--his
epilepsy was one of the most fruitful of motives in his stories.
Nearly all his heroes and heroines are attainted. (Read The Idiot or
the Karamsoff Brothers.) But Flaubert's epilepsy was arranged for
him by Du Camp, who thought that by calling him an epilept in his
untrustworthy Memoirs he would belittle Flaubert. And he did, for in
his time the now celebrated--and discredited--theory of genius and
its correlation with the falling-sickness had not been propounded.
Flaubert had hystero-neurasthenia. He was rheumatic, asthmatic,
predisposed to arterio-sclerosis and apoplexy. He died of an apoplectic
stroke. His early nervous fits were without the _aura_ of epilepsy;
he did not froth at the mouth nor were there muscular contractions;
not even at his death. Dr. Tourneaux, who hastened to aid him in the
absence of his regular physician, Dr. Fortin, denied the rumours of
epilepsy that were so gaily spread by that sublime old gossip, Edmond
de Goncourt, also by Zola and Du Camp. The contraction of Flaubert's
hands was caused by the rigidity of death; most conclusive of all
evidence against the epileptic theory is the fact that during his
occasional fits Gustave never lost consciousness. Nor did he suffer
from any attacks before he had attained his majority, whereas epilepsy
usually begins at an early age. He studied with intense zeal his malady
and in a dozen letters refers to it, tickets its symptoms, tells of
plans to escape the crises, and altogether, has furnished students
of pathology many examples of nerve-exhaustion and its mitigation.
His first attacks began at Pont-Audemar, in 1843. In 1849 he had a
fresh attack. His trip to the Orient relieved him. He was a Viking, a
full-blooded man, who scorned sensible hygiene; he took no exercise
beyond a walk in the morning, a walk in the evening on his terrace,
and in summer an occasional swim in the Seine. He ate copiously, was
moderate in drinking, smoked fifteen or twenty pipes a day, abused
black coffee, and for months at a stretch worked fifteen hours out of
the twenty-four at his desk. He warned his disciple, Guy de Maupassant,
against too much boating as being destructive of mental productivity.
After Nietzsche read this he wrote: "Sedentary application is the
very sin against the Holy Ghost. Only thoughts won by walking are
valuable." In 1870 another crisis was brought on by protracted labours
over the revision of the definitive version of the Saint Antony. His
travels in Normandy, in the East, his visits to London (1851) and
to Righi-Kaltbad, together with sojourns in Paris--where he had a
little apartment--make up the itinerary of his fifty-eight years. Is
it any wonder that he died of apoplexy, stricken at his desk, he of a
violently sanguine temperament, bull-necked, and the blood always in
his face?

Maurice Spronck, who took too seriously the saying of Flaubert--a lover
of extravagant paradox--thinks the writer had a cerebral lesion, which
he called _audition colorée_. It is a malady peculiar to imaginative
natures, which transposes tone to colour, or odour to sound. As this
"malady" may be found in poets from the dawn of creation, "coloured
audition" must be a necessary quality of art. Flaubert took pains to
exaggerate his speech when in company with the Goncourts. He suspected
their diary-keeping weakness and he humoured it by telling fibs about
his work. "I have finished my book, the cadence of the last paragraph
has been found. Now I shall write it." Aghast were the brothers at
the idea of an author beginning his book backward. Flaubert boasted
that the colour of Salammbô was purple. Sentimental Education (a
bad title, as Turgenev wrote him; Withered Fruits, his first title,
would have been better) was gray, and Madame Bovary was for him like
the colouring of certain mouldy wood-vermin. The Goncourts solemnly
swallowed all this, as did M. Spronck. Which moved Anatole France to
exclaim: "Oh these young clinicians!"

But what is all this when compared with the magnificent idiocy of Du
Camp, who asserted that if Flaubert had not suffered from epilepsy
_he would have become a genius! Hénaurme!_ as the man who made such
masterpieces as Madame Bovary, Sentimental Education, Temptation of
Saint Antony, the Three Tales, Bouvard et Pécuchet, had a comical
habit of exclaiming. Enormous, too, was Guy de Maupassant's manner
of avenging his master's memory. In the final edition--eight volumes
long--Maupassant, with the unerring eye of hatred, affixed an
introduction to Bouvard et Pécuchet. Therein he printed Maxime du
Camp's letters to Flaubert during the period when Madame Bovary was
appearing in the _Revue de Paris_. Du Camp was one of its editors.
He urged Flaubert to cut the novel--the concision of which is so
admirable, the organic quality of which is absolute. Worse still
remains. If Flaubert couldn't perform the operation himself, then the
aforesaid Du Camp would hire some experienced hack to do it for the
sensitive author; wounded vanity Du Camp believed to be the cause of
indignant remonstrances. They eliminated the scene of the agricultural
fair and the operation on the hostler's foot--one scene as marvellous
as a _genre_ painting by Teniers with its study of the old farm
servant, and psychologically more profound; the other necessary to
the development of the story. Thus Madame Bovary was slaughtered
serially by a man ignorant of art, that Madame Bovary which is one of
the glories of French literature, as Mr. James truly says. Flaubert
scribbled on Du Camp's letters another of his favourite expletives,
_Gigantesque!_ Flaubert never forgave him, but they were apparently
reconciled years later. Du Camp went into the Academy; Flaubert refused
to consider a candidacy, though Victor Hugo--wittily nicknamed by Jules
Laforgue "Aristides the Just"--urged him to do so. Even the mighty
Balzac was too avid of glory and gold for Flaubert, to whom art and its
consolations were all-sufficing.


Bouvard et Pécuchet was never finished. Its increasing demands killed
Flaubert. In his desk were found many cahiers of notes taken to
illustrate the fatuity of mankind, its stupidity, its _bêtise_. He was
as pitiless as Swift or Schopenhauer in his contempt for low ideals
and vulgar pretensions, for the very bourgeois from whom he sprung. In
the collection we find this gem of wisdom uttered by Louis Napoleon in
1865: "The richness of a country depends on its general prosperity." To
it should be included the Homais-like dictum of Maxime du Camp that
if Flaubert had not been an epilept he would have been a genius! Or,
the following hospital criticism; Flaubert was denied creative ability!
Who has denied it to him? Homais alone in his supreme asininity should
be a beacon-light of warning for any one of these inept critics.
Flaubert once wrote: "I am reading books on hygiene; how comical they
are! What impertinence these physicians have! What asses for the
most part they are!" And he, the son of a celebrated surgeon and the
brother of another, a medical student himself, might have made Homais a
psychiatrist instead of a druggist, if he had lived longer.

Du Camp--who, clever and witty as well as inexact and reckless in
statement, was a man given to envies and literary jealousies--never got
over Flaubert's startling success with Madame Bovary. He once wrote
a fanciful epitaph for Louise Colet, a French woman of mediocrity,
the "Muse" of Flaubert, a general trouble-breeder and a recipient
of Flaubert's correspondence. The Colet had embroiled herself with
De Musset and published a spiteful romance in which poor Flaubert
was the villain. This the Du Camp inscription: "Here lies the woman
who compromised Victor Cousin, made Alfred de Musset ridiculous,
calumniated Gustave Flaubert, and tried to assassinate Alphonse Karr:
Requiescat in pace." A like epitaph suggests itself for Maxime du Camp:
_Hic jacet_ the man who slandered Baudelaire, traduced his loving
friend Gustave Flaubert, and was snuffed out of critical existence by
Guy de Maupassant.

The massive-shouldered Hercules, Flaubert, a Hercules spinning prose
for his exacting Dejanira of art, was called unintelligent by Anatole
France. He had not, it is true, the subtle critical brain and thorough
scholarship of M. France; yet Flaubert was learned. Brunetière
even taxed him with an excess of erudition. But his multitudinous
conversation, his lack of logic, his rather gross sense of humour, are
not to be found in his work. Without that work, without Salammbô, for
example, should we have had the pleasure, thrice-distilled, of reading
Anatole France's Thaïs? (See a single instance in the definitive
edition Temptation, page 115, the episode of the Gymnosophist.) All
revivals of the antique world are unsatisfactory at best, whether
Chateaubriand's Martyrs, or the unsubstantial lath and plaster of
Bulwer's Last Days of Pompeii, or the flabbiness and fustian of Quo
Vadis. The most perfect attempt is Salammbô, an opera in words, and its
battlements of purple prose were riddled by Sainte-Beuve, by Froehner,
and lately by Maurice Pézard--who has proved to his own satisfaction
that Flaubert was sadly amiss in his Punic archæology. Well, who cares
if he was incorrect in details? His partially successful reconstruction
of an epoch is admitted, though the human element is somewhat
obliterated. Flaubert was bound to be more Carthaginian than Carthage.

After the scandal caused by the prosecution of Madame Bovary Flaubert
was afraid to publish his 1856, second version of Saint Antony. He had
been advised by the sapient Du Camp to cast the manuscript into the
fire, after a reading before Bouilhet and Du Camp lasting thirty-three
hours. He refused. This was in September, 1849. Du Camp declares that
he asked him to essay "the Delaunay affair" meaning the Delamarre
story. This Flaubert did, and the result was the priceless history
of Charles and Emma Bovary. D'Aurevilly attacked the book viciously;
Baudelaire defended it. Later Turgenev wrote to Flaubert: "After all
you are Flaubert!" George Sand was a motherly consoler. Their letters
are delightful. She did not quite understand the bluff, naïve Gustave,
she who composed so flowingly, and could turn on or off her prose
like the tap of a kitchen hydrant (the simile is her own). How could
she fathom the tormented desire of her friend for perfection, for the
blending of idea and image, for the eternal pursuit of the right word,
the shapely sentence, the cadenced _coda_ of a paragraph? And of the
larger demands of style, of the subtle tone of a page, a chapter, a
book, why should this fluent and graceful writer, called George Sand,
concern herself with such superfluities! It was always _O altitudo_ in
art with Flaubert--the most copious, careless of correspondents. He had
set for himself an impossible standard of perfection and an ideal of
impersonality neither of which he realized. But there is no outward
sign of conflict in his work; all trace of the labour bestowed upon his
paragraphs is absent. His style is simple, direct, large, above all,
clear, the clarity of classic prose.

His declaiming aloud his sentences has been adduced to prove his
absence of sanity. Beethoven, too, was pronounced crazy by his various
landladies because he sang and howled in his voice of a composer his
compositions in the making. Flaubert was the possessor of an accurate
musical ear; not without justice did Coppée call him the "Beethoven
of French prose." His sense of rhythm was acute; he carried it so
far that he would sacrifice grammar to rhythmic flow. He tested his
sentences aloud. Once in his apartment, Rue Murillo, overlooking Parc
Monceau, he rehearsed a page of a new book for hours. Belated coachmen,
noting the open windows, hearing an outrageous vocal noise, concluded
that a musical soiree was in progress. Gradually the street filled on
either side with carriages in search of passengers. But the guests
never emerged from the house. In the early morning the lights were
extinguished and the oaths of the disappointed ones must have been
heard by Flaubert.

He would annotate three hundred volumes for a page of facts. His
bump of scrupulousness was large. In twenty pages he sometimes saved
three or four from destruction. He did not become, however, as
captious as Balzac in the handling of proofs. A martyr of style, he
was not altogether an enameller in precious stones, not a patient
mosaic-maker, superimposing here and there a precious verbal jewel.
First, the image, and then its appropriate garb; sometimes image and
phrase were born simultaneously, as was the case with Richard Wagner.
These extraordinary things may happen to men of genius, who are neither
opium-eaters nor lunatics. The idea that Flaubert was ever addicted to
drugs--beyond the quinine with which his good father dosed him after
the fashion of those days--is ridiculous. The gorgeous visions of Saint
Antony are the results of stupendous preparatory studies, a stupendous
power of fantasy, and a stupendous concentration. Opium superinduces
visions, but not the power and faculty of attention to record them in
terms of literature for forty years. George Saintsbury has pronounced
Saint Antony the most perfect specimen of dream literature extant. And
because of its precision in details, its architectonic, its deep-hued
waking hallucinations.

Flaubert was a very nervous man, "as hysterical as an old woman," said
Dr. Hardy of the hospital Saint-Louis, but neither mad nor epileptic.
His mental development was not arrested in his youth, as asserted by
Du Camp; he had arranged his life from the time he decided to become
a writer. He was one with the exotic painter, Gustave Moreau, in his
abhorrence of the mob. He was a poet who wrote a perfect prose, not
prose-poetry. Enamoured of the antique, of the Orient, of mystical
subjects, he spent a lifetime in the elaboration of his beloved
themes. That he was obsessed by them is merely to say that he was the
possessor of mental energy and artistic gifts. He was not happy. He
never brought his interior and exterior lives into complete harmony. An
unparalleled observer, an imaginative genius, he was a child outside
the realm of art. Soft of heart, he raised his niece as a daughter;
a loving son, he would console himself after his mother's death by
looking at the dresses she once wore. Flaubert a sentimentalist! He
outlived his family and his friends, save a few; death was never far
away from his thoughts; he would weep over his souvenirs. At Croisset I
have talked with the faithful Colange, whose card reads: "E. Colange,
ex-cook of Gustave Flaubert!" The affection of the novelist for cats
and dogs, he told me, was marked. The study pavilion is to-day a
Flaubert Memorial. The parent house is gone, and in 1901 there was
a distillery on the grounds, which is now a printing establishment.
Flaubert cherished the notion that Pascal had once stopped in the old
Croisset homestead; that Abbé Prévost had written Manon Lescaut within
its walls. He had many such old-fashioned and darling _tics_, and he is
to be envied them.

Since Madame Bovary French fiction, for the most part, has been
Flaubert with variations. His influence is still incalculable. François
Coppée wrote: "By the extent and the magnificence of his prose, Gustave
Flaubert equals Bossuet and Chateaubriand. He is destined to become a
great classic. And several centuries hence--everything perishes--when
the French language shall have become only a dead language, candidates
for the bachelor's degree will be able to obtain it only by expounding
(along with the famous exordium, He Who Reigns in the Heavens, etc.,
or The Departure of the Swallows, of René) the portrait of Catharine
le Roux, the farm servant, in Madame Bovary, or the episode of the
Crucified Lions in Salammbô."


With the critical taste that uncovers bare the bones of the dead I have
no concern, nor shall I enter the way which would lead me into the
dusty region of professional ethics. Every portrait painter from Titian
to John Sargent, from Velasquez to Zuloaga, has had a model. Novelists
are no less honest when they build their characters upon human beings
they have known and studied, whether their name be Fielding or Balzac
or Flaubert.

The curiosity which seeks to unveil the anonymity of a novelist's
personages may not be exactly laudable; it is yet excusable. I am
reminded of its existence by a certain Parisian journalist who, acting
upon information that appeared in the pages of a well-known French
literary review, went to Normandy in search of the real Emma Bovary.
Once called wicked, the novel has been pronounced as moral as a
Sunday-school tract. Thackeray admired its style, but deplored, with
his accustomed streak of sentimentalism, the cold-blooded analysis
which hunted Emma to an ignominious grave. Yet the author of Vanity
Fair did not hesitate to pursue through many chapters his mercurial
Rebecca Sharp.

The story of Emma Bovary would hardly attract, if published in the
daily news columns, much attention nowadays. A good-looking young
provincial woman tires of her honest, slow-going husband. She reads
silly novels, as do thousands of silly married girls to-day. Emma lived
in a little town not far from Rouen. Flaubert named it Yonville. We
read that Emma flirted with a country squire who in order to escape
eloping with the romantic goose suddenly disappeared. She consoled
herself with a young law student, but when he tired of her the
consequences were lamentable. Harassed by debt, Emma took poison. Her
stupid husband, a hard-working district doctor, was aghast at her death
and puzzled by the ruin which followed fast at its heels. He found it
all out, even the love-letters of the squire. He died suddenly.

A sordid tale, but perfectly told and remarkable not only for the
fidelity of the landscapes, the chaste restraint of the style, but
also because there are half a dozen marvellously executed characters,
several of which have entered into the living current of French speech.
Homais, the vainglorious, yet human and likable Homais, is a synonym
for pedantic bragging mediocrity. He is a druggist. He would have
made an ideal politician. He stands for a shallow "modernity" but is
more superstitious than a mediæval sexton. Flaubert's novel left an
indelible mark in French fiction and philosophy. Even Balzac did not
create a Homais.

Now comes the curious part of the story. It was the transcription
of a real occurrence. Flaubert did not invent it. In a town near
Rouen named Ry there was once a young physician, Louis Delamarre. He
originally hailed from Catenay, where his father practised medicine.
In the novel Ry is called Yonville. Delamarre paid his addresses to
Delphine Couturier, who in 1843 was twenty-three years of age. She was
comely, had a bright though superficial mind, spoke in a pretentious
manner, and over-dressed. From her father she inherited her vanity
and the desire to appear as occupying a more exalted position than
she did. The elder Couturier owned a farm, though heavily mortgaged,
at Vieux-Château. He was a close-fisted Norman anxious to marry off
his daughters--Emma had a sister. He objected to the advances of the
youthful physician, chiefly because he saw no great match for his girl.
Herein the tale diverges from life.

But love laughs at farmers as well as locksmiths, and by a ruse worthy
of Paul de Kock, Delphine, by feigning maternity, got the parental
permission. She soon regretted her marriage. The husband, Louis, was
prosaic. He earned the daily bread and butter of the household, and
even economised so that his pretty wife could buy fallals and foolish
books. She hired a servant and had her day at home--Fridays. No one
visited her. She was only an unimportant spouse of a poverty-stricken
country doctor. At Saint-Germain des Essours there still lives an
octogenarian peasant woman once the domestic of the Delamarres-Bovarys.
She said, when asked to describe her mistress: "Heavens, but she was
pretty. Face, figure, hair, all were beautiful."

In Ry there was a druggist named Jouanne. He is the original Homais.
Delphine's, or rather Emma Bovary's, first admirer was a law clerk,
Louis Bottet. He is described as a small, impatient, alert old man
at the time of his death. The faithless Rodolphe--what a name for
sentimental melodrama--was really a proprietor named Campion. He lost
his farm and revenue after Emma's death and went to America to make
his fortune. Unsuccessful, he returned to Paris, and about 1852 shot
himself on the boulevard. Who may deny, after this, that truth is
stranger than Flaubert's fiction?

The good, sensible old Abbé Boumisien, who advised Emma Bovary, when
she came to him for spiritual consolation, to consult her doctor
husband, was, in reality, an Abbé Lafortune. The irony of events is
set forth in sinister relief by the epitaph which the real Emma's
husband had carved on her tomb: "She was a good mother, a good wife."
Gossips of Ry aver that after the truth came to Dr. Delamarre he took
a slow poison. But this seems turning the screw a trifle too far. Mme.
Delamarre, or Emma Bovary, was buried in the graveyard of the only
church at Ry. To-day the tomb is no longer in existence. She died March
6, 1848. The inhabitants still show the church,--the porch of which
was too narrow to allow the passage of unlucky Emma's coffin--the
house of her husband, and the apothecary shop of M. Homais. The latter
survived for many years the unhappy heroine, who stole the poison that
killed her from his stock. A delightful touch of Homais-like humour was
displayed--one that exonerated Flaubert from the charge of exaggeration
in portraying Homais--when the novel appeared. The characters were at
once recognized, both in Rouen and Ry. This druggist, Jouanne-Homais,
was flattered at the lengthy study of himself, of course missing its
relentless ironic strokes. He regretted openly that the author had not
consulted him; for, said he, "I could have given him many points about
which he knew nothing." The epitaph which the real Homais composed for
the tomb of his wife--surely you can never forget her after reading the
novel--is magnificent in its bombast. Flaubert knew his man.

The distinguished writer is a sober narrator of facts. His is not a
domain of delicate thrills. His women are neither doves nor devils.
He does not paint those acrobats of the soul so dear to psychological
fiction. Despite his pretended impassibility, he is tender-hearted;
the pity he felt for his characters is not effusively expressed. But
the larger rhythms of humanity are ever present. If he had been hard of
heart, he would have related the Bovary tale as it happened in life.
Charles Bovary finds the love-letters and meets Rodolphe. Nothing
happens. The real Charles never knew of the real Emma's treachery.
Madame d'Epinay was not far amiss when she wrote: "The profession of
woman is very hard."


No less a masterpiece than Don Quixote has been cited in critical
comparison with Madame Bovary. Flaubert was called the Cervantes who
had ridiculed from the field the Romantic School. This irritated him,
for he never posed as a realist; indeed, he confessed that he had
intended to mock the Realistic School--then headed by Champfleury--in
his Bovary. The very name of this book would arouse a storm of abuse
from him. He knew that he had more than one book in him, he believed
better books; the indifference of the public to Sentimental Education
and the Temptation he never understood. Much astonishment was
expressed, after the appearance of Bovary, that such a mature work of
art should have been the author's first. But Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms
did not permit their juvenile efforts to see the light; the same
was the case with Flaubert. In 1835--he was fourteen at the time--he
wrote Mort du Duc de Guise; in 1836 another historical study. Short
stories in the style of Hoffmann, with thrilling titles, such as Rage
et Impuissance, Le Rêve d'Enfer (1837), and a psychologic effort,
Agonies (dedicated to Alfred le Poittevin--as are both versions of
the Temptation; Alfred's sister later became the mother of Guy de
Maupassant): all these exercises, as is a Dance of Death, are still in
manuscript. But in 1839 a scenario of a mystery bearing the cryptic
title of Smarh was written; and this with Novembre, and a study of
Rabelais, and Nuit de Don Juan, have been published in the definitive
edition; with a record of travels in Normandy. The Memoirs of a Madman
appeared a few years ago in a Parisian magazine. It was a youthful
effort. There is also in the collection of Madame Grout a 300-page
manuscript (1843-1845) named L'Education Sentimentale--vaguely inspired
by Wilhelm Meister--which has nothing in common with his novel of the
same name published in 1869.

Flaubert's taste in the matter of titles was lamentable. He made a
scenario for a tale called Spiral, and he often asserted that he
hankered to write in marmoreal prose the Combat of Thermopylae;
he meditated, too, a novel the scene and characters laid in the
Second Empire, and dilated upon the beauty of a portrait executed in
microscopic detail of that immortal character, M. le Préfet. We might
have had a second Homais if he had made this project a reality. He told
Turgenev that he had another idea, a sort of modern Matron of Ephesus
--in the Temptation there is an episode that suggests the Ephesus.
He did not lack invention and he was an extremely rapid writer--but
his artistic conscience was morbidly sensitive. It pained him to see
Zola throwing his better self to the dogs in his noisy, inartistic
novels--in which, he said, was neither poetry nor art. And he wrote
this opinion to Zola, who promptly called him an idiot. In that correct
but colourless book of Faguet's on Flaubert, the critic makes note
of all the novelist's grammatical errors and reaches the conclusion
that he was a stylist unique, but not careful in his grammar. Now,
while this is piffling pedantry, the facts are in Faguet's favour;
Faguet, who holds the critical scales nicely, as he always does,
though listlessly. But in the handling of such a robust, red-blooded
subject as Flaubert the college professor was hardly a wise selection.
The Faguet study is clear and painstaking but not sympathetic. Mr.
James has praised it, possibly because Faguet agrees with him as to
the psychology of Sentimental Education. Not a study, Faguet's, for
Flaubertians, who see the faults of their Saint Polycarp--his favourite
self-appellation--and love him for his all-too-human imperfections.

In 1845 Flaubert, on a visit to Italy, stopped at Genoa. There, in the
Palace Balbi-Senarega--and not at the Doria, as Du Camp wrote, with
his accustomed carelessness--the young Frenchman saw an old picture by
Breughel (probably by Pieter the Younger, surnamed Hell-Breughel) that
represents a temptation of Saint Antony. It is hardly a masterpiece,
this Breughel, and is dingy in colour. But Flaubert, who loved the
grotesque, procured an engraving of this picture and it hung in his
study at Croisset until the day of his death. It was the spring-board
of his own Temptation. The germ may be found in his mystery, Smarh,
with its Demon and metaphysical colouring. Breughel set into motion the
mental machinery of the Temptation that never stopped whirring until
1874. The first _brouillon_ of the Temptation was begun May 24, 1848,
and finished September 12, 1849. It numbered 540 pages of manuscript.
Set aside for Bovary, Flaubert took up the draft again and made the
second version in 1856. When he had done with it, the manuscript was
reduced to 193 pages. Not satisfied, he returned to the work in 1872,
and when ready for publication in 1874 the number of pages were 136.
He even then cut, from ten chapters, three. Last year the French
world read the second version of 1856 and was astonished to find it
so different from the definitive one of 1874. The critical sobriety
and courage of Flaubert were vindicated. In 1849, reading to Bouilhet
and Du Camp, he had been advised to burn the stuff; instead he boiled
it down for the 1856 version. To Turgenev he had submitted the 1872
draft, and thus it came that this wonderful coloured-panorama of
philosophy, this Gulliver-like travelling amid the master ideas of the
antique and the early Christian worlds, was published.

All the youthful romantic Flaubert--the "spouter" of blazing phrases,
the lover of jewelled words, of monstrous and picturesque ideas and
situations--is in the first turbulent version of the Temptation. In
the later version he is more critical and historical. Flaubert had
grown intellectually as his emotions had cooled with the years. The
first Temptation is romantic and religious; the 1874 version cooler
and more sceptical. Dramatic, arranged more theatrically than the
first, the author's affection for mysticism, the East, and the classic
world shows more in this version. Psychologic gradations of character
and events are clearer in the second version. I cannot agree with
Louis Bertrand, who edited the 1856 version, that it is superior in
interest to the 1874 version. It is a novelty, but Flaubert was never
so much the surgeon as when he operated upon his own manuscript. He
often hesitated, he always suffered, and he never flinched when his
mind was finally satisfied. Faguet calls the Temptation an abstract
pessimistic novel. He also complains that the philosophic ideas are not
novel; a new philosophy would be a veritable phoenix. Why should they
be? Flaubert does not enunciate a new philosophy. He is the artist
who shows us apocalyptic visions of all philosophies, all schools,
ethical systems, cultures, religions. The gods from every land defile
by and are each in turn swept away by the relentless Button-Moulder,
Oblivion. There was a talking and amusing pig in the first version;
he is not present in the second--possibly because Flaubert discovered
that it was not Saint Antony of Egypt, but Saint Antony of Padua, who
had a pig. (Rops has remembered the animal in his etching of Flaubert's
Antony.) The Antony of 1856 has a more modern soul; the second reveals
the determinism of Flaubert. He is phlegmatic, almost stupid, a supine
Faust incapable of self-irony. Everything revolves about him--the
multi-coloured splendours of Alexandria, of the Queen of Sheba; Satan,
Death and Luxury, Hilarion, Simon Magus and Apollonius of Tyana tempt
him; upon his ears fall the enchanting phrases of the eternal dialogue
between Sphinx and Chimera--we dream of the Songs of Solomon when
reading: "Je cherche des parfums nouveaux, des fleurs plus larges, des
plaisirs inéprouvés"; the speech of the Chimera. Flaubert knew the Old
Testament rhythms and beauty of phrase; witness this speech of Death's:
"et on fait la guerre avec de la musique, des panaches, des drapeaux,
des harnais d'or...." You seem to overhear the golden trumpets of

The demon retires baffled at the end of the first version. He is
diabolic and not a little theatrical. The Devil of 1874 is more
artful. He shows Antony the Cosmos, but he is not the victor in the
duel. The new Antony studies the protean forms of life and at the
end is ravished by the sight of protoplasm. "O bliss!" he cries, and
longs to be transformed into every species of energy, "to be matter."
Then the dawn comes up like the uplifted curtains of a tabernacle
--Flaubert's image--and in the very disc of the sun shines the face
of Jesus Christ. "Antony makes the sign of the cross and resumes his
prayers." Thus ends the 1874 edition, ends a book of irony, dreams,
and sumptuous landscapes. A sense of the nothingness of human thought,
human endeavour, assails the reader, for he has traversed all the
metaphysical and religious ideas of the ages, has viewed all the
gods, idols, demi-gods, ghosts, heresies, and heresiarchs; Jupiter on
his throne and the early warring Christian sects vanish into smoke,
crumble into the gulf of _Néant_. A vivid episode was omitted in the
definitive version. At the close of the gods' procession the Saviour
appears. He is old, white-haired, and weary from the burden of the
cross and the sins of mankind. Some mock him; He is reproached by
kings for propounding the equality of the poor; but by the majority
He is unrecognised; and, spurned, the Son of Man falls into the dust
of life. A poignant page, the spirit of which may be recognised in
some latter-day French pictures and in the eloquent phrases of Jehan
Rictus. M. Bertrand has pointed out that the 1849 version of the
Temptation contains colour and imagery similar to the Légendes des
Siècles, though written ten years before Hugo's poem. The Temptation
of Saint Antony was neither a popular nor a critical success in 1874.
France realises that in Flaubert's prose epic she has a masterpiece of
intellectual power, profound irony, and unsurpassed beauty. The reader
is alternately reminded of the Apocalypse, of Dante's grim visions, and
of the second Faust.

[Illustration: Corrected proof page of Madame Bovary,
produced from the original manuscript.]

Almost numberless are the studies of Flaubert's method in composing
his books. A small library could be filled by books about his style.
We have seen the reproductions of the various drafts that he made in
the description of Emma Bovary's visit to Rouen. Armand Weil, with
a patience that is itself Flaubertian, has shown us the variations
in the manuscript of Salammbô (see, _Revue Universitaire_, April 15,
1902). Yet, compared with Balzac's spider-haunted, scribbled-over
proofs, Flaubert's seem virginal of corrections. The one reproduced
here is from two pages of original manuscript that I was lucky enough
to secure at Paris in 1903. They contain instructions to the printer,
as may be seen, and demonstrate Flaubert's sharp eye; in every instance
his changes are an improvement. One of the arguments in favour of the
last version of the Temptation is its shrinkage in bulk from the 1856
manuscript. The letter, hitherto unpublished--for it will not be found
in the six volumes of the Correspondence--is possibly addressed to
his niece, Caroline Hamard. Unusual for Flaubert is the absence of
any date; he was scrupulous in giving hour, day, month, and year,
in his letters. The princess referred to is the Princess Mathilde
Bonaparte-Demidoff, the patron of artists and literary men, an admirer
of Flaubert's. He often dined with her at Saint-Gratien. Madame Pasca
the actress was also a friend and visited Croisset when he fractured
his leg. He had a genius for friendships with both women and men. His
mother, often telling him that his devotion to style had dried up his
natural affections, admitted that he had a bigger heart than head. And,
after all, this motherly estimate gives us the measure of the real




In the first part of that great, human Book, dear to all good
Pantagruelists, is this picture: "From the Tower Anatole to the
Messembrine were faire spacious galleries, all coloured over and
painted with the ancient prowesses, histories and descriptions of the
world." The Tower Anatole is part of the architecture of the Abbey
of Thélème, in common with the other towers named, Artick, Calaer,
Hesperia, and Caiere.

For lovers of the exquisite and whimsical artist, Anatole France, a
comparison to Rabelais may not appear strained. Anatole, the man, has
written much that contains, as did the gracious Tower Anatole, "faire
spacious galleries ... painted with ancient ... histories." He has
in his veins some infusion of the literary blood of that "bon gros
libertin," Rabelais, a figure in French literature who refuses to be
budged from his commanding position, notwithstanding the combined
prestige of Pascal, Voltaire, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Hugo, and
Balzac. And the gentle Anatole has a pinch of Rabelais's _esprit
gaulois_, which may be found in both Balzac and Maupassant.

To call France a sceptic is to state a common-place. But he is so
many other things that he bewilders. The spiritual stepson of Renan,
a partial inheritor of his gifts of irony and pity, and a continuator
of the elder master's diverse and undulating style, France displays
affinities to Heine, Aristophanes, Charles Lamb, Epicurus, Sterne, and
Voltaire. The "glue of unanimity"--to use an expression of the old
pedantic Budæus--has united the widely disparate qualities of his
personality. His outlook upon life is the outlook of Anatole France.
His vast learning is worn with an air almost mocking. After the bricks
and mortar of the realists, after the lyric pessimism of the morally
and politically disillusioned generation following the Franco-German
war, his genius comes in the nature of a consoling apparition. Like his
own Dr. Trublet, in Histoire Comique, he can say: "_Je tiens boutique
de mensonges. Je soulage, je console. Peut-il consoler et soulager sans
mentir?_" And he does deceive us with the resources of his art, with
the waving of his lithe wand which transforms whales into weasels,
mosques into cathedrals.

Perhaps too much stress has been set upon his irony. Ironic he is with
a sinuosity that yields only to Renan. It is irony rather in the shape
of the idea, than in its presentation; atmospheric is it rather than
surface antithesis, or the witty inversion of a moral order; he is a
man of sentiment, Shandeàn sentiment as it is at times. But the note we
always hear, if distantly reverberant, is the note of pity. To be all
irony is to mask one's humanity; and to accuse Anatole France of the
lack of humanity is to convict oneself of critical colour-blindness.
His writings abound in sympathetic overtones. His pity is without
Olympian condescension. He is a most lovable man in the presence of the
eternal spectacle of human stupidity and guile. It is not alone that he
pardons, but also that he seeks to comprehend. Not emulating the cold
surgeon's eye of a Flaubert, it is with the kindly vision of a priest
he studies the maladies of our soul. In him there is an ecclesiastical
_fond_. He forgives because he understands. And after his tenderest
benediction he sometimes smiles; it may be a smile of irony; yet it is
seldom cruel. He is an adroit determinist, yet sets no store by the
logical faculties. Man is not a reasoning animal, he says, and human
reason is often a mirage.

But to label him with sentimentalism _à la russe_--the Russian pity
that stems from Dickens--would shock him into an outburst. Conceive
him, then, as a man to whom all emotional extravagance is foreign; as
a detester of rhetoric, of declamation, of the phrase facile; as a
thinker who assembles within the temple of his creations every extreme
in thought, manners, sentiment, and belief, yet contrives to fuse this
chaos by the force of his sober style. His is a style more linear than
coloured, more for the eye than the ear; a style so pellucid that one
views it suspiciously--it may conceal in its clear, profound depths
strange secrets, as does some mountain lake in the shine of the sun.
Even the simplest art may have its veils.

In the matter of clarity, Anatole France is the equal of Renan and John
Henry Newman, and if this same clarity was at one time a conventional
quality of French prose, it is rarer in these days. Never syncopated,
moving at a moderate _tempo_, smooth in his transitions, replete with
sensitive rejections, crystalline in his diction, a lover and a master
of large luminous words, limpid and delicate and felicitous, the very
marrow of the man is in his unique style. Few writers swim so easily
under such a heavy burden of erudition. A loving student of books, his
knowledge is precise, his range wide in many literatures. He is a true
humanist. He loves learning for itself, loves words, treasures them,
fondles them, burnishes them anew to their old meanings--though he
has never tarried in the half-way house of epigram. But, over all, his
love of humanity sheds a steady glow. Without marked dramatic sense,
he nevertheless surprises mankind at its minute daily acts. And these
he renders for us as candidly "as snow in the sunshine"; as the old
Dutch painters stir our nerves by a simple shaft of light passing
through a half-open door, upon an old woman polishing her spectacles.
M. France sees and notes many gestures, inutile or tragic, notes them
with the enthralling simplicity of a complicated artist. He deals with
ideas so vitally that they become human; yet his characters are never
abstractions, nor serve as pallid allegories; they are all alive, from
Sylvestre Bonnard to the group that meets to chat in the Foro Romano of
Sur la Pierre Blanche. He can depict a cat or a dog with fidelity; his
dog Riquet bids fair to live in French literature. He is an interpreter
of life, not after the manner of the novelist, but of life viewed
through the temperament of a tolerant poet and philosopher.

This modern thinker, who has shed the despotism of the positivist
dogma, boasts the soul of a chameleon. He understands, he loves,
Christianity with a knowledge and a fervour that surprise until one
measures the depth of his affection for the antique world. To further
confuse our perceptions, he exhibits a sympathy for Hebraic lore that
can only be set down to a remote lineage. He has rifled the Talmud for
its forgotten stories; he delights in juxtaposing the cultured Greek
and the strenuous Paul; he adores the contrast of Mary Magdalen with
the pampered Roman matron. Add to this a familiarity with the proceeds
of latter-day science, astronomy in particular, with the scholastic
speculation of the Renaissance, mediæval piety, and the Pyrrhonism
of a boulevard philosopher. So commingled are these contradictory
elements, so many angles are there exposed to numerous cultures, so
many surfaces avid for impressions, that we end in admiring the
exercise of a magic which blends into a happy synthesis such a variety
of moral dissonances, such moral preciosity. It is magic--though there
are moments when we regard the operation as intellectual legerdemain
of a superior kind. We suspect dupery. But the humour of France is
not the least of his miraculous solvents; it is his humour that often
transforms a doubtful campaign into a radiant victory. We see him, the
protagonist of his own psychical drama, dancing on a tight rope in the
airiest manner, capering deliciously in the void, and quite like a
prestidigitator bidding us doubt the existence of his rope.

His life long, Renan, despite his famous phrase, "the mania of
certitude," was pursued by the idea of an absolute. He cried for
proofs. To Berthelot he wrote: "I am eager for mathematics." It
promised finality. As he aged, he was contented to seek an atmosphere
of moral feeling; though he declared that "the real is a vast outrage
on the ideal." He tremulously participated in the ritual of social
life, and in the worship of the unknown god. He at last felt that
Nature abhorred an absolute; that Being was ever a Becoming; that
religion and philosophy are the result of a partial misunderstanding.
All is relative, and the soul of man must ever feed upon chimeras! The
Breton harp of Renan became sadly unstrung amid the shallow thunders of
agnostic Paris.

But France, his eyes quite open and smiling, gayly Pagan Anatole, does
not demand proofs. He rejoices in a philosophic indifference, he
has the gift of paradox. To Renan's plea for the rigid realities of
mathematics, he might ask, with Ibsen, whether two and two do not make
five on the planet Jupiter! To Montaigne's "What Know I?" he opposes
Rabelais's "Do What Thou Wilt!" And then he adorns the wheel of Ixion
with garlands.

He believes in the belief of God. He swears by the gods of all times
and climes. His is the cosmical soul. A man who unites in his tales
something of the Mimes of Herondas, La Bruyère's Characters, and the
Lucian Dialogues, with faint flavours of Racine and La Fontaine, may be
pardoned his polygraphic faiths. With Baudelaire he knows the tremours
of the believing atheist; with Baudelaire he would restrain any show
of irreverence before an idol, be it wooden or bronze. It might be the
unknown god!--as Baudelaire once cried.

This pleasing chromatism in beliefs, a belief in all and none, is not a
new phenomenon. The classical world of thought has several matches for
Anatole France, from the followers of Aristippus to the Sophists. But
there is a specific note of individuality, a _roulade_ quite Anatolian
in the Frenchman's writings. No one but this accomplished Parisian
sceptic could have framed The Opinions of Jérôme Coignard and his
wholly delightful scheme for a Bureau of Vanity; "man is an animal with
a musket," he declares; Sylvestre Bonnard and M. Bergeret are new with
a dynamic novelty.

As Walter Pater was accused of a silky dilettanteism, so France, as
much a Cyrenaic as the English writer, was nevertheless forced to step
down from his ivory tower to the dusty streets and there demonstrate
his sincerity by battling for his convictions. After the imbecile
Dreyfus affair had rolled away, there was little talk in Paris of
Anatole France, Epicurean. He was saluted with every variety of abuse,
but this amateur of fine sensations had forever settled the charge of
morose aloofness, of voluptuous cynicism. (Though to-day he is regarded
with a certain suspicion by all camps.) At a similar point where the
endurance of Ernest Renan had failed him, Anatole France proved his
own faith. Renan during the black days of the Commune retired to
Versailles, there to meditate upon the shamelessness of the brute,
Caliban, with his lowest instincts unleashed. But France believes in
the people, he has said that the future belongs to Caliban, and he
would scout his master's conception of the Tyrant-Sage, a conception
that Nietzsche partially transposed later to the ecstatic key of the
Superman. M. France would probably advocate the head-chopping of such
wise monster-despots. An aristocrat by culture and fastidiousness, he
is without an _arrière-pensée_ of the snobbery of the intellect, of the
cerebral exaltation displayed by Hugo, Baudelaire, and the Goncourts.

When France published his early verse--his début was as a poet and
Parnassian poet--Catulle Mendès divined the man. He wrote, "I can
never think of Anatole France ... without fancying I see a young
Alexandrian poet of the second century, a Christian, doubtless, who is
more than half Jew, above all a neoplatonist, and further a pure theist
deeply imbued with the teachings of Basilides and Valentinus, and
the Perfumes of the Orphic poems of some recent rhetorician, in whom
subtlety was pushed to mysticism and philosophy to the threshold of the

Some critics have accused him of not being able to build a book. He
knows the rhythms of poems, but he "does not know" the harmony of
essences, said the late Bernard Lazare; he is an excellent Parnassian
but a mediocre philosopher: he is a charming _raconteur_, but he
cannot compose a book. Precise in details, diffuse in ensembles, clear
and confused, neat and ambiguous, continued M. Lazare, he searches
his object in concentric circles. Furthermore, he has the soul of a
Greek in the decadence, and the voice of a Sistine Chapel singer--pure
and irresolute. To all this admission may be made without fear of
decomposing the picture which France has set up before us of his own
personality--a picture, however, he does not himself hesitate to efface
from the canvas whenever his perversity prompts. He is all that his
critic asserts and much more. It is this moral eclecticism, this jumble
of opposites, this violent contrast of traits, and these apparently
irreconcilable elements of his character, which appal, interest, yet
make him so human. But his art never swerves; it records invariably
the fluctuations of his spirit, a spirit at once desultory, savant, and
subtle, records all in a style, concrete and clairvoyant.

His books are not so much novels as chronicles of designedly simple
structure; his essays are confessions; his confessions, a blending of
the naïve and the corrupt, for there are corroding properties in these
novel persuasive disenchantments. Upon the robust of faith Anatole
France makes no more impression than do Augustine, Saint Teresa, the
Imitation of Christ, or the Provincial Letters. Such _nuances_ of
scepticism as his are for those who love the comedies of belief and
disbelief. Not possessing the Huysmans intensity of temperament, France
will never be betrayed into such affirmations; Huysmans, who dropped
like a ripe plum into the basket of the ecclesiastical fruit-gatherer.
France will never lose his balance in the fumes of a personal
conversion. Of Plato himself he would ask: "What is Truth?" and if
Pilate posed the same question, France would reply by handing him his
Jardin d'Epicure--a veritable breviary of scepticism. In Socrates he
would discover a congenial companion; yet he might mischievously allude
to Montaigne "concerning cats," or quote Aristotle on the form of hats.
A wilful child of philosophy and _belles-lettres_, he may be always
expected to say the startling.

Be humble! he exhorts. Be without intellectual pride! for the days of
man, who is naught but a bit of animated pottery, are brief, and he
vanishes like a spark. Thus Job--Anatole. Be humble! Even virtue may
be unduly praised: "Since it is overcoming which constitutes merit, we
must recognise that it is concupiscence which makes saints. Without
it there is no repentance, and it is repentance which makes saints."
To become a saint one must have been first a sinner. He quotes, as
an example, the conduct of the blessed Pelagia, who accomplished her
pilgrimage to Rome by rather unconventional means. Here, too, we
recognise the amiable casuistry of Anatole--Voltaire. And there is
something of Baudelaire and Barbey d'Aurevilly's piety of imagination
with impiety of thought, in France's pronouncement. He is a Chrysostom
reversed; from his golden mouth issue spiritual blasphemies.

Mr. Henry James has said that the province of art is "all life, all
feeling, all observation, all vision." According to this rubric,
France is a profound artist. He plays with the appearances of life,
occasionally lifting the edge of the curtain to curdle the blood of
his spectators by the sight of Buddha's shadow in some grim cavern
beyond. He has the Gallic tact of adorning the blank spaces of theory
and the ugly spots of reality. A student of Kant in his denial of the
objective, we can never picture him as following Königsberg's sage
in his admiration of the starry heavens and the moral law. Both are
relative, would be the report of the Frenchman. But, if he is sceptical
about things tangible, he is apt to dash off at a tangent and proclaim
the existence of that "school of drums kept by the angels," which the
hallucinated Arthur Rimbaud heard and beheld. His method of surprising
life, despite his ingenuous manner, is sometimes as oblique as that of
Jules Laforgue. And, in the words of Pater, his is "one of the happiest
temperaments coming to an understanding with the most depressing of

For faith he yearns. He humbles himself beneath the humblest. He
excels in picturing the splendours of the simple soul; yet faith has
not anointed his intellect with its chrism. He admires the golden
filigree of the ciborium; its spiritual essence escapes him. He stands
at the portals of Paradise; there he lingers. He stoops to some rare
and richly coloured feather. He eloquently vaunts its fabulous beauty,
but he will not listen to the whirring of the wings from which it has
fallen. Pagan in his irony, his pity wholly Christian, Anatole France
has in him something of Petronius and not a little of Saint Francis.


Born to the literary life, one of the elect whose career is at once
a beacon of hope and despair for the less gifted or less fortunate,
Anatole François Thibault first saw the heart of Paris in the year
1844. The son of a bookseller, Noël France Thibault, his childhood was
spent in and around his father's book-shop, No. 9 du quai Voltaire,
and his juvenile memories are clustered about books. There are many
faithful pictures of old libraries and book-worms in his novels. He has
a moiety of that Oriental blood which is said to have tinctured the
blood of Montaigne, Charles Lamb, and Cardinal Newman. The delightful
Livre de Mon Ami gives his readers many glimpses of his early days.
Told with incomparable naïveté and verve, we feel in its pages the
charm of the writer's personality. A portrait of the youthful Anatole
reveals his excessive sensibility. His head was large, the brow was
too broad for the feminine chin, though the long nose and firm mouth
contradict the possible weakness in the lower part of the face. It
was in the eyes, however, that the future of the child might have
been discerned--they were lustrous, beautiful in shape, with the
fulness that argued eloquence and imagination. He was, he tells us,
a strange boy, whose chief ambition was to be a saint, a second St.
Simon Stylites, and, later, the author of a history of France in fifty
volumes. Fascinating are the chapters devoted to Pierre and Suzanne in
this memoir. His tenderness of touch and power of evoking the fairies
of childhood are to be seen in Abeille. The further development of the
boy may be followed in Pierre Nozière. In college life, he was not a
shining figure, like many another budding genius. He loved Virgil and
Sophocles, and his professors of the Stanislas College averred that
he was too much given to day-dreaming and preoccupied with matters
not set forth in the curriculum, to benefit by their instruction.
But he had wise parents--he has paid them admirable tributes of his
love--who gave him his own way. After some further study in L'Ecole
des Chartes, he launched himself into literature through the medium
of a little essay, La Légende de Sainte Radégonde, reine de France.
This was in 1859. Followed nine years later a study of Alfred de
Vigny, and in 1873 Les Poëmes dorées attracted the attention of the
Parnassian group then under the austere leadership of Leconte de Lisle.
Les Noces Corinthiennes established for him a solid reputation with
such men as Catulle Mendès, Xavier de Ricard, and De Lisle. For this
last-named poet young France exhibited a certain disrespect--the elder
was irritable, jealous of his dignity, and exacted absolute obedience
from his neophytes; unluckily a species of animosity arose between the
pair. When, in 1874, he accepted a post in the Library of the Senate,
Leconte de Lisle made his displeasure so heavily felt that France
soon resigned. But he had his revenge in an article which appeared
in _Le Temps_, and one that put the pompous academician into a fury.
Catulle Mendès sang the praises of the early France poems: "Les Noces
Corinthiennes alone would have sufficed to place him in the first rank,
and to preserve his name from the shipwreck of oblivion," declared M.

In 1881, with The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard he won the attention of
the reading world, a crown from the Academy, and the honour of being
translated into a half-dozen languages. From that time he became an
important figure in literary Paris, while his reputation was further
fortified by his criticisms of books--vagrom criticism, yet charged
with charm and learning. He followed Jules Claretie on _Le Temps_,
and there he wrote for five years (1886-1891) the _critiques_, which
appeared later in four volumes, entitled La Vie Littéraire. Georg
Brandes had said that, in the strict sense of the word, M. France is
not a great critic. But Anatole France has said this before him. He
despises pretentious official criticism, the criticism that distributes
good and bad marks to authors in a pedagogic fashion. He may not be so
"objective" as his one-time adversary, Ferdinand Brunetière, but he is
certainly more convincing.

The quarrel, a famous one in its day, seems rather faded in our days
of critical indifference. After his clever formula, that there is no
such thing as objective criticism, that all criticism but records the
adventures of one's soul among the masterpieces, France was attacked
by Brunetière--of whom the ever-acute Mr. James once remarked that
his "intelligence has not kept pace with his learning." Those critical
watchwords, "subjective" and "objective," are things of yester-year,
and one hopes, forever. But in this instance there was much ink spilt,
witty on the part of France, deadly earnest from the pen of Brunetière.
The former annihilated his adversary by the mode metaphysical. He
demonstrated that in the matter of judgment we are prisoners of our
ideas, and he also formed a school that has hardly done him justice,
for every impressionistic value is not necessarily valid. It is easy
to send one's soul boating among masterpieces and call the result
"criticism"; the danger lies in the contingency that one may not boast
the power of artistic navigation possessed by Anatole France, a master
steersman in the deeps and shallows of literature.

His own critical contributions are notable. Studies of Chateaubriand,
Flaubert, Renan, Balzac, Zola, Pascal, Villiers de l'Isle Adam,
Barbey d'Aurevilly, Rabelais, Hamlet, Baudelaire, George Sand, Paul
Verlaine--a masterpiece of intuition and sympathy this last--and many
others, vivify and adorn all they touch. A critic such as Sainte-Beuve,
or Taine, or Brandes, France is not; but he exercises an unfailing
spell in everything he signs. His "august vagabondage"--the phrase is
Mr. Whibley's--through the land of letters has proved a boon to all

In 1897 he was received at the Académie Française, as the successor
of Ferdinand de Lesseps. His addresses at the tombs of Zola and Renan
are matters of history. As a public speaker, France has not the fiery
eloquence of Jean Jaurès or Laurent Tailhade, but he displays a cool
magnetism all his own. And he is absolutely fearless.

It is not through lack of technique that the structure of the France
novels is so simple, his tales plotless, in the ordinary meaning of
the word. Elaborate formal architecture he does not affect. The novel
in the hands of Balzac, Flaubert, Goncourt, and Zola would seem to
have reached its apogee as a canvas upon which to paint a picture of
manners. In the sociological novel, the old theatrical climaxes are
absent, the old recipes for cooking character find no place. Even the
love motive is not paramount. The genesis of this form may be found in
Balzac, in whom all the modern fiction is rooted. Certain premonitions
of the _genre_ are also encountered in L'Education Sentimentale of
Flaubert, with its wide gray horizons, its vague murmurs of the
immemorial mobs of vast cities, its presentation of undistinguished men
and women. Truly democratic fiction, by a master who hated democracy
with creative results.

Anatole France, Maurice Barrès, Edouard Estaunie, Rosny (the brothers
Bex), René Bazin, Bertrand, and the astonishing Paul Adam are in
the van of this new movement of fiction with ideas, endeavouring to
exorcise the "demon of staleness." French fiction in the last decade
of the past century saw the death of the naturalistic school. Paris
had become a thrice-told tale, signifying the wearisome "triangle"
and the chronicling of flat beer. Something new had to be evolved.
Lo! the sociological novel, which discarded the familiar machinery of
fiction, rather than miss the new spirit. It is unnecessary to add that
in America the fiction of ideas has not been, thus far, of prosperous
growth; indeed, it is viewed with suspicion.

Loosely stated, the fiction of Anatole France may be divided into
three kinds: fantastic, philosophic, and realistic. This arbitrary
grouping need not be taken literally; in any one of his tales we may
encounter all three qualities. For example, there is much that is
fantastic, philosophic, real, in that moving and wholly human narrative
of Sylvestre Bonnard. France's familiarity with cabalistic and exotic
literatures, his deep love and comprehension of the Latin and Greek
classics, his knowledge of mediæval legends and learning, coupled with
his command of supple speech, enable him to project upon a ground-plan
of simple narrative extraordinary variations.

The full flowering of France's knowledge and imagination in things
patristic and archæologic is to be seen in Thaïs, a masterpiece of
colour and construction. Thaïs is that courtesan of Alexandrin,
renowned for her beauty, wit, and wickedness, who was converted by the
holy Paphnutius, saint and hermit of the Thebaïd. How the devil finally
dislodges from the heart of Paphnutius its accumulation of virtue, is
told in an incomparable manner. If Flaubert was pleased by the first
offering of his pupil, Guy de Maupassant, (Boule de Suif), what would
he not have said after reading Thaïs? The ending of the wretched monk,
following his spiritual victories as a holy man perched on a pillar--a
memory of the author's youthful dream--is lamentable. He loves Thaïs,
who dies; and thenceforth he is condemned to wander, a vampire in this
world, a devil in the next. A monument of erudition, thick with pages
of jewelled prose, Thaïs is a book to be savoured slowly and never
forgotten. It is the direct parent of Pierre Loüys's Aphrodite, and
later evocations of the antique world.

Of great emotional intensity is Histoire Comique (1903). It is a study
of the histrionic temperament, and full of the major miseries and
petty triumphs of stage life. It also contains a startling incident,
the suicide of a lovelorn actor. The conclusion is violent and morbid.
The nature of the average actress has never been etched with such
acrid precision. There are various tableaux of behind and before the
footlights; a rehearsal, an actor's funeral, and the life of the
greenroom. Set forth in his most disinterested style, M. France shows
us that he can handle with ease so-called "objective" fiction. His
Doctor Trublet is a new France incarnation, wonderful and kindly old
consoler that he is. He is attached as house physician to the Odéon,
and to him the comedians come for advice. He ministers to them body and
soul. His discourse is Socratic. He has wit and wisdom. And he displays
the motives of the heroine so that we seem to gaze through an open
window. As vital as Sylvestre Bonnard, as Bergeret, Trublet is truly an
avatar of Anatole France. Histoire Comique! The title is a rare jest
aimed at mundane and bohemian vanity.

Passing Jocaste et le Chat maigre, and Le Puits de Sainte-Claire, we
come to L'Etui de Nacre, a volume of tales published in 1892. This
book may be selected as typical of a certain side of its author, a
side in which his fantasy and historic sense meet on equal terms. The
most celebrated is Le Procurateur de Judée, who is none other than
Pontius Pilate, old, disillusioned of public ambition, and grumbling,
as do many retired public officers, at the ingratitude of governments
and princes. To his friend he confesses finally, after his memory
has been vainly prompted, that he has no recollection of Jesus, a
certain anarchistic prophet of Judea, condemned by him to death. His
final phrases give us, as in the flare of lightning, the withering,
double-edged irony of the author. He has quite forgotten the tremendous
events that occurred in Jerusalem; forgotten, too, is Jesus. Not all
the stories that follow, not the pious records of Sainte Euphrosine, of
Sainte Oliverie et Liberetta, of Amyeus and Celestin, of Scolastica,
can rob the reader of this first cruel impression. In Balthasar the
narratives are of a superior quality. Nothing could be better, for
example, than the recital of the Ethiopian king who sought the love
of Balkis, Queen of Sheba, was accepted, after proofs of his bravery,
and then quietly forgotten. He studies the secrets of the spheres,
and when Balkis, repenting of her behaviour, seeks Balthasar anew, it
is too late. He has discovered the star of Bethlehem which leads him
straightway to the crib in company with Gaspar and Melchior, there to
worship the King of Kings. Powerful, too, in its fantastic evocation is
La Fille de Lilith, which relates the adventure of a modern Parisian
with a deathless daughter of Adam's first wife, Lilith, so named in the
Talmud. Laeta Acilia tells us one of France's best anecdotes about a
Roman matron residing at Marseilles during the reign of Tiberius. She
encounters Mary Magdalen, who almost converts the woman by a promise
of children, long desired. The conclusion is touching. It discloses
admirably the psychology of the two women. L'Oeuf Rouge is a tale
of Cæsarian madness, and the bizarre Le Réséda du Curé is so simply
related that we are disarmed by the style.

A graceful collection is that called Clio, illustrated in the highly
decorative manner of Mucha. Possibly the first is the best, a story
of Homer. Some confess a preference for a Gaulish recital of the
times when Cæsar went to Britain. Napoleon, too, is in the list.
An interesting discussion of Napoleon and the Napoleonic legend is
in a full-fledged novel, The Red Lily. "Napoleon," says one of its
characters, "was violent and frivolous; therefore profoundly human....
He desired with singular force, all that most men esteem and desire. He
had the illusions which he gave to the people. He believed in glory.
He retained always the infantile gravity which finds pleasure in
playing with swords and drums, and the sort of innocence which makes
good military men. It is this vulgar grandeur which makes heroes, and
Napoleon is the perfect hero. His brain never surpassed his hand--that
hand, small and beautiful, which crumpled the world.... Napoleon lacked
interior life.... He lived from the outside." In the art of attenuating
great reputations Anatole France has had few superiors.

This novel displeased his many admirers, who pretend to see in it the
influence of Paul Bourget. Yet it is a memorable book. Paul Verlaine is
depicted in it with freshness, that poet Paul, and his childish soul so
ironically, yet so lovingly distilled by his critic. There are glimpses
of Florence, of Paris; the study of an English girl-poet will arouse
pleasant memories of a lady well known to Italian, Parisian, and London
art life. And there is the sculptor, Jacques Dechartres, who may be a
mask, among many others of M. France. But Chouiette-Verlaine is the
lode-stone of the novel.

Where the ingenuity and mental flexibility, not to say historical
mimicry, of France are seen at their supreme, is in La Rôtisserie de la
Reine Pédauque. Jacques Tournebroche, or Turnspit, is an assistant in
the cook-shop of his father, in old Paris. He is of a studious mind,
and becomes the pupil of the Abbé Jérôme Coignard, "who despises men
with tenderness," a figure that might have stepped out of Rabelais,
though baked and tempered in the refining fires of M. France's
imagination. Such a man! Such an ecclesiastic! He adores his maker and
admires His manifold creations, especially wine, women, and song. He
has more than his share of human weakness, and yet you wonder why he
has not been canonised for his adorable traits. He is a glutton and a
wine-bibber, a susceptible heart, a pious and deeply versed man. Nor
must the rascally friar be forgotten, surely a memory of Rabelais's
Friar Jhon. There are scenes in this chronicle that would have made
envious the elder Dumas; scenes of swashbuckling, feasting, and
bloodshed. There is an astrologer who has about him the atmosphere of
the black art with its imps and salamanders, and an ancient Jew who
is the Hebraic law personified. So lifelike is Jérôme Coignard that
a book of his opinions was bound to follow. His whilom pupil Jacques
is supposed to be its editor. Le Jardin d'Epicure and Sur la Pierre
Blanche (1905) are an excuse for the opinions of M. France on many
topics--religion, politics, science, and social life.

Not-withstanding their loose construction, they are never inchoate.
That the ideas put forth may astound by their perversity, their
novelty, their nihilism, their note of cosmic pessimism, is not to
be denied. Our earth, "a miserable small star," is a drop of mud
swimming in space, its inhabitants mere specks, whose doings are not
of importance in the larger curves of the universe's destiny. Every
illustration, geological, astronomical, and mathematical, is brought to
bear upon this thesis--the littleness of man and the uselessness of his
existence. But France loves this harassed animal, man, and never fails
to show his love. Interspersed with moralising are recitals of rare
beauty, Gallion and Par la Porte de Corne ou par la Porte d'Ivoire.
Here the classic scholar, that is the base of France's temperament,
fairly shines.

In the four volumes of Histoire Contemporaine we meet a new Anatole
France, one who has deserted his old attitude of Parnassian
impassibility for a suave anarchism, one who enters the arena of
contemporaneous life bent on slaughter, though his weapon is the
keen blade, never the rude battle-axe of polemics. It is his first
venture in the fiction of sociology; properly speaking, it is the
psychology of the masses, not exactly as Paul Adam handles it in his
striking and tempestuous Les Lions (a book Balzacian in its fury of
execution), but with the graver temper of the philosopher. He paints
for us a provincial university town with its intrigues, religious,
political, and social. The first of the series is L'Orme du Mail;
follow Le Mannequin d'Osier, L'Anneau d'Améthyste, and Monsieur
Bergeret à Paris (1901). The loop that ensnares this quartet of novels
is the simple motive of ecclesiastical ambition. Not since Ferdinand
Fabre's L'Abbé Tigrane has French literature had such portraits of
the priesthood; Zola's ecclesiastics are ill-natured caricatures. The
Cardinal Archbishop, Abbé Lataigne, and the lifelike Abbé Guitrel,
with the silent, though none the less desperate, fight for the vacant
bishopric of Turcoing--these are the three men who with Bergeret carry
the story on their shoulders. About them circle the entire diocese
and the tepid life of a university town. Yet anything further from
melodramatic machinations cannot be imagined. Even the clerics of
Balzac seem exaggerated in comparison. The protagonist is a professor,
a master of conference of the University Faculty, a worthy man and
earnest, though by no means of an exalted talent. He has the misfortune
of being married to a worldly woman who does not attempt to understand
him, much less to love him. She deceives him. The discovery of this
deceit is an episode the most curious in fiction. It would be diverting
if it were not painful. It reveals in Bergeret the preponderance of
the man of thought over the man of action. His pupil and false friend
is a classical scholar, therefore the affair might have been worse!
And he is given the scholar's excuse as a plea for forgiveness! But
hesitating as appears Bergeret, he utilises his wife's treachery as a
springboard from which to fly his miserable household. Henceforth, with
his devoted sister and daughter, he philosophises at ease and becomes
a Dreyfusard. His dog Riquet is the recipient of his deepest thoughts.
His monologues in the presence of this animal are the best in the book.

There are many characters in this serene and bitter tragi-comedy. A
contempt, almost monastic, peeps out in the treatment of his women.
They are often detestable. They behave as if an empire was at stake,
though it is only a conspiracy whereby Abbé Guitrel is made Bishop
of Turcoing. France always displays more pity for the frankly sinful
woman than for the frivolous woman of fashion. There is also a subplot,
the effort of a young Hebrew snob, Bonmont by name (Guttenberg,
originally), to get into the exclusive hunting set of the Duc de Brécé.
This hunt-button wins for the diplomatic Abbé Guitrel his coveted see.
M. France is unequalled in his portrayal of the modern French-Hebrew
millionaire, the Wallsteins and Bonmonts. He draws them without
_parti-pris_. His prefect, the easy-going, cynical Worms-Clavelin,
with his secret contempt of Jews and Gentiles alike, and his wife who
collects ecclesiastical bric-à-brac, are executed by a great painter
of character. He exposes with merciless impartiality a mob of men
and women in high life. But his aristocrats are no better than his
ecclesiastics or bankers. There is a comic Orléanist conspiracy. There
are happenings that set your hair on end, and a cynicism at times which
forces one to regret that the author left his study to mingle with the
world. Nor is the strain relieved when poor Bergeret goes to Paris;
there he is enmeshed by the Dreyfus party. There he comes upon stormy
days, though high ideals never desert him. He is as placid in the face
of contemptuous epithets and opprobrious newspaper attacks as he was
calm when stones were hurled at his windows in the provinces. A man
obsessed by general ideas, he is lovable and never a bore, though M.
Faguet and several other critics have cried him stupid. In the "fire
of the footlights" M. Bergeret pales. For the drama M. France has no
particular voice, though he has written several charming playlets. Even
the superior acting of Guitry could not make of Crainquibille much more
than a touching episode.

There is enough characterisation and incident in Histoire Contemporaine
to ballast a half-dozen novelists with material. And there are
treasures of humour and pathos. The success of the series has been
awe-inspiring; indeed, awe-inspiring is the success of all the France
books, and at a time when Parisian prophets of woe are lamenting the
decline of literature. Nevertheless, here is a man who writes like an
artist, whose work, web and woof, is literature, whose themes, with few
exceptions, are not of the popular kind, whose politics are violently
opposed to current superstition, whose very form is hybrid; yet he
sells, and has sold, in the hundreds of thousands. Literature cannot be
called moribund in the face of such a result. His is a case that sets
one speculating without undue emphasis upon a certain superiority of
French taste over English in the matter of fiction.

The Life of Jeanne d'Arc (1908), a work of scholarship and mixed
prejudices, does not, I am forced to admit, unduly interest me. Whether
the astonishing statements set forth therein are true is a question
that may concern Mr. Lang, but hardly the lovers of the real Anatole.
The Isle of Penguins (1908) gave him back to us in all his original

An art, ironical, easy, fugitive, divinely untrammelled, divinely
artificial, which, like a pure flame, blazes forth in an unclouded
heaven ... _la gay a scienza_; light feet; wit; fire; grace; the dance
of the stars; the tremor of southern light; the smooth sea--these
Nietzschean phrases might serve as an epigraph for the work of that
apostle of innocence and experience, Anatole France.




    "Ah! Seigneur, donnez-moi la force et le courage
    De contempler mon cœur et mon corps sans dégoût."


Joris-Karl Huysmans has been called mystic, naturalist, critic,
aristocrat of the intellect; he was all these, a mandarin of letters
and a pessimist besides--no matter what other qualities persist
throughout his work, pessimism is never absent; his firmament is
clotted with black stars. He had a mediæval monk's contempt for
existence, contempt for the mangy flock of mediocrity; yet his genius
drove him to describe its crass ugliness in phrases of incomparable
and enamelled prose. It is something of a paradox that this man of
picturesque piety should have lived to be the accredited interpreter,
the distiller of its quintessence, of that elusive quality,
"modernity." The "intensest vision of the modern world," as Havelock
Ellis puts it, Huysmans unites to the endowment of a painter the power
of a rare psychologist, superimposed upon a lycanthropic nature. A
collective title for his books might be borrowed from Zola: My Hatreds.
He hated life and its eternal _bêtise_. His theme, with variations,
is a strangling Ennui. With those devoted sons of Mother Church,
Charles Baudelaire, Barbey D'Aurevilly, Villiers de l'Isle Adam, and
Paul Verlaine, eccentric sons whose actions so often dismayed their
fellow worshippers of less genius, Huysmans has been affiliated. He
was not a poet or, indeed, a man of overwhelming imagination. But he
had the verbal imagination. He did not possess the novelist's talent.
His was not the flamboyant genius of Barbey, nor had he the fantastic
invention of Villiers. He seems closer to Baudelaire, rather by reason
of his ironic, critical temperament than because of his creative gifts.
Baudelaire's oriflamme, embroidered with preciously devised letters of
gold, reads: Spleen and Ideal; upon the emblematic banner of Huysmans
this motto is Spleen. His work at times seems like a prolongation in
prose of Baudelaire's. And by reason of his exacerbated temper he
became the most personal writer of his generation. He belonged to no
school, and avoided, after his beginnings, all literary groups.

He is recording-secretary of the petty miseries and ironies of the
life about him. Over ugliness he becomes almost lyric. "The world
is a forest of differences." His pen, when he depicts an attack of
dyspepsia or neuralgia, or the nervous distaste of a hypochondriac
for meeting people, is like the triple sting of a hornet. He is
the prose singer of neurasthenia, a Hamlet doubting his digestion,
a Schopenhauer of the cook-shops. When he paints the _nuance_ of
rage and disgust that assails a middle-aged man at the sight of a
burnt mutton-chop, his phrases are unforgettable. The tragedy of
the gastric juices he has limned with a fulness of expression that
almost lifts pathology to the dignity of art. A descendant of Flemish
painters, sculptors, architects (Huysmans of Mechlin, the Antwerp-born
painter of the seventeenth century, is said to be a forebear), he
inherited their powers of envisaging exterior life; those painters
for whom flowers, vegetable markets, butcher-shops, tiny gentle Dutch
landscapes, gray skies, skies of rutilant flames, and homely details
were surfaces to be passionately and faithfully rendered. This vision
he has interpreted with pen instead of brush. He is a virtuoso of the
phrase. He is a performer on the single string of self. He knows the
sultry enharmonics of passion. He never improvises, he observes. All
is willed and conscious, the cold-fire scrutiny of a trained eye,
one keen to note the ignoble or any deviation from the normal. His
pages are often sterile and smell of the lamp, but he has the candour
of his chimera. Well has Remy de Gourmont called him an eye. In his
prose, he sacrifices rhythmic variety and tone to colour. His rhythms
are massive, his colour at times a furious fanfare of scarlet. Every
word, like a note in a musical score, has its value and position. He
intoxicates because of his marvellous speech, but he seldom charms.
It is a sort of sinister verbal magic that steals upon one as this
ancient mariner from the lower moral deeps of Paris fixes you with his
glittering eye, and in his strangely modulated language tells tales of
blasphemy and fish-wives' tales of a half-forgotten river below the bed
of the Seine, of dull cafés and dreary suburbs, of bored men and stupid
women, of sordid, opulent souls, souls spongy and voluptuous, mean
lives and meaner alleys--such an epic of ennui, mediocrity, bizarre
sins, and neurotic, superstitious creatures was never given the world
until Huysmans wrote Les Sœurs Vatard and A Rebours. Entire vanished
districts of Paris may be reconstructed from his chapters. Zola
declared, when Guy de Maupassant and Huysmans appeared side by side in
Les Soirées de Médan, that the latter was the realist.

The unity of form and substance in Huysmans is a distinguishing trait.
He had early mastered literary technique, and the handling of his
themes varies but little. There are, however, two or three typical
varieties of description which may be quoted as illustrations of his
etched and jewel-like prose. A cow hangs outside a butcher-shop:

As in a hothouse, a marvellous vegetation flourished in the carcass.
Veins shot out on every side like the trails of bindweed; dishevelled
branch-work extended itself along the body, an efflorescence of
entrails unfurled their violent-tinted corollas, and big clusters of
fat stood out, a sharp white, against the red medley of quivering flesh.

Surely a subject for Snyders or Jan Steen.

Léon Bloy somewhere describes Huysmans's treatment of the French
language as "dragging his images by the heels or the hair up and down
the worm-eaten staircase of terrified syntax." Huysmans, in A Rebours,
had called M. Bloy "an enraged pamphleteer whose style was at once
exasperated and precious." And can magnificence of phrase in evoking a
picture go further than the following which shows us Gustave Moreau's

In the perverse odour of perfumes, in the overheated atmosphere of
this church, Salome, her left arm extended in a gesture of command,
her bent right arm holding on the level of the face a great lotus,
advances slowly to the sound of a guitar, thrummed by a woman who
crouches on the floor. With collected, almost anguished countenance,
she begins the lascivious dance that should waken the sleeping senses
of the aged Herod; her breasts undulate, become rigid at the contact of
the whirling necklets; diamonds sparkle on the dead whiteness of her
skin, her bracelets, girdles, rings, shoot sparks; on her triumphal
robes sewn with pearls, flowered with silver, sheeted with gold, the
jewelled breast-plate, whose every stitch is a precious stone, bursts
into flame, scatters in snakes of fire, swarms on the ivory-toned,
tea-rose flesh, like splendid insects with dazzling wings, marbled with
carmine, dotted with morning gold, diapered with steel blue, streaked
with peacock green.

Gautier,--who was for Huysmans only a prodigious reflector--Flaubert,
Goncourt, could not have excelled this verbal painting, this bronze and
baroque prose, which is both precise and of a splendour. Huysmans can
describe a herring as would a great master of sumptuous still-life:

Thy garment is the palette of setting suns, the rust of old copper,
the brown gilt of Cordovan leather, the sandal and saffron tints of
the autumn foliage. When I contemplate thy coat of mail I think of
Rembrandt's pictures. I see again his superb heads, his sunny flesh,
his gleaming jewels on black velvet. I see again his rays of light in
the night, his trailing gold in the shade, the dawning of suns through
dark arches.

Or this invocation when Huysmans had begun to experience that shifting
of moral emotion which we call his "conversion"--he was a Roman
Catholic born, therefore was not converted; he but reverted to his
early faith:

Take pity, O Lord, on the Christian who doubts, on the sceptic who
desires to believe, on the convict of life who embarks alone, in the
night, beneath a sky no longer lit by the consoling beacons of ancient

His method is not the recital of events, but the description of a
situation; a scene, not a narration, but large tableaux. Action there
is little; he is more static than dynamic. His characters, like
Goncourt's, suffer from paralysis of the will, from hyperæsthesia.
The soul in its primordial darkness interests him, and he describes
it with the same penetrating prose as he does the carcass of an
animal. He is a luminous mystic who speaks in terms of extravagant
naturalism. A physiologist of the soul, at times his soul dwelt in
a boulevard. His violent, vivid style so excellent in setting forth
coloured sensations is equally admirable in the construction of
metaphors which make concrete the abstract. There is the element of
the grotesque, of the old, ribald Fleming, in Huysmans, though without
a trace of hearty Flemish humour. He once said that the memory of the
inventor of card-playing ought to be blessed, the game kept closed
the mouths of imbeciles. Nor is the pepper of sophistry absent. He
sculptures his ideas. He is both morose and fulgurating. He squanders
his emotions with polychromatic resignation unlike a Saint Augustine
or a Newman; yet we are not deeply moved by his soul-experiences. It
is not vibrating sincerity that we miss; it would be wrong to question
his return to Catholicism. He is more convincing than Tolstoy; for
one thing, there was no dissonance between his daily life and his
writings, after the publication of En Route. Lucid as is his manner,
clairvoyant as the exposition of his soul at the feet of God, there
is, nevertheless, an absence of unction, of tenderness, which repels.
Sympathy and tenderness are _bourgeois_ virtues for Huysmans. Too
complicated to admire, even recognise, the sane or the simple, he
remained the morbid carper after he entered La Trappe and Solesmes.
As an oblate, his fastidiousness was wounded by the minor annoyances
of a severe regimen; his stomach always ailed him. Perhaps to his weak
digestion and a neuralgic tendency we owe the bitterness and pessimism
of his art. He was not a normal man. He loathed the inevitable
discords of life with a startling intensity. The venomous salt of his
wit he sprinkles over the raw turpitude of men and women. Woman for
him was not of the planetary sex, but either a stupid or a vicious
creature; sometimes both. Impassible as he was, he could be shocked
into a species of sub-acid eloquence if the theme were the inutility
of mankind. No Hebraic prophet ever launched such poignant phrases of
disgust and horror at the world and its works. His favourite reading
was in the mystics, à Kempis, Saint Theresa, St. John of the Cross, and
the Flemish Ruysbroeck.

In a new edition of A Rebours he has told us that he was not pious as
a youth, having been educated not at a religious school. A Rebours
came out in 1884, and it was in July, 1892, at the age of forty-four,
that he went to La Trappe de Notre-Dame d'lgny, situated near Fismes,
and the Aisne and Marne. He confessed that he could not discover,
during the eight intervening years, why he swerved to the Church of
Rome. Diminution of vital energy was not the chief reason for his
reversion. The operations of divine grace in Huysmans's case may be
dated back to A Rebours. The modulation by the way of art was not a
difficult one. And he had the good taste of giving us his experiences
in the guise of art. It is the history of a conversion, though he is,
without doubt, the Durtal of the books. The final explosion of grace
after years of unconscious mining, the definite illumination on some
unknown Road to Damascus, took place between the appearance of Là Bas
and En Route. We are spared the _technique_ of faith reawakened. It had
become part of his cerebral tissue. We are shown a Durtal, believer;
also a Durtal profoundly disgusted with the oily, rancid food of La
Trappe, and with the faces of some of his companions, and a Durtal who
puffs surreptitious cigarettes. At Lourdes, in his last book, he is the
same Durtal-Huysmans, grumbling at the odours of unwashed bodies, at
the perspiring crowds, at the ignorance and cupidity of the shrine's
guardians. A pessimist to the end. And for that reason he has often
outraged the sensibilities of his coreligionists, who questioned his
sincerity after such an exclamation as: "How like a rind of lard I
must look!" uttered when he carried a dripping candle in a religious
procession. But through the dreary mists of doubtings and black fogs of
unfaith the lamp of the Church, a shining point, drew to it from his
chilly ecstasies this hedonist. Like Taine and Nietzsche, he craved for
some haven of refuge to escape the whirring wings of Wotan's ravens.
And in the pale woven air he saw the cross of Christ.

Leslie Stephen wrote of Pascal: "Eminent critics have puzzled
themselves as to whether Pascal was a sceptic or a genuine believer,
having, I suppose, convinced themselves, by some process not obvious
to me, that there is an incompatibility between the two characters."
Huysmans may have been both sceptic and believer, but the dry fervour
of the later books betrays a man who willingly humiliates and
depreciates the intellect for the greater glory of God. Abbé Mugnier
says that his sincerity is itself the form of his talent. His portrait
of Simon the swineherd in En Route is mortifying to humans with proud
stomachs; Huysmans penetrates the husks and filth and sees only a
God-intoxicated soul. Here is, indeed, the "treasure of the humble."
At first, religion with Durtal was æsthetic, the beauty of Gothic
architecture, the pyx that ardently shines, the bells that boom, the
odours of frankincense that rolled through the nave of some old vast
cathedral with flame-coloured windows. In L'Oblat the feeling has
widened and deepened. The walls of life have fallen asunder, the soul
glows in the twilight of the subliminal self, glows with a spiritual
phosphorescence. Huysmans is nearer, though not face to face with, God.
The object of his prayer is the Virgin Mary; to the hem of her robe he
clings like a frightened child at its mother's dress. All this may have
been auto-suggestion, or the result of the "will to believe," according
to the formula of Professor William James, yet it was satisfying to
Huysmans, whose life was singularly lonely.

He was born on February 5, 1848, in Paris, and died in that city on
May 12, 1907. Christened Charles-Marie-George, he signed his books
Joris-Karl. He was educated at the Lyceum Saint-Louis. His family
originally resided at Breda, Holland. His father was lithographer and
painter. His mother was of Burgundian stock and boasted a sculptor
in her ancestral line. Huysmans came fairly by his love of art. He
contemplated the profession of law; but, at the age of twenty, he
entered the Ministry of the Interior, where he remained until 1897,
a model, unassuming official, fond of first editions, posters, rare
prints, and a few intimates. He went then to live at Ligugé, but
returned to Paris after the expulsion of the Benedictines. He was
elected first president of the Academy Goncourt, April 7, 1900. He was
nominated chevalier of the Legion of Honour, and given the rosette
of officer by Briand, though Huysmans begged that he should have no
military honours at his funeral. It was for his excellent work as a
civil servant that he was decorated, and not as a man of letters. At
the time of his death, his reputation had suffered an eclipse; he was
distrusted both by Catholics and free-thinkers. But he never wavered.
Attacked by a cancerous malady, he suffered the atrocious martyrdom
of his favourite Saint Lydwine. Léon Daudet, François Coppée, and
Lucien Descaves were his unwearying attendants. At the last, he could
still read the prayers for the dying. He was buried in his Benedictine
habit. But what an artist perished in the making of an amateur monk!

"His face," said an English friend, "with the sensitive, luminous
eyes, reminded one of Baudelaire's portrait, the face of a resigned
and benevolent Mephistopheles who has discovered the absurdity of the
divine order, but has no wish to make improper use of his discovery.
He gave me the impression of a cat, courteous, perfectly polite, most
amiable, but all nerves, ready to shoot out his claws at the least
word." (Huysmans, like Baudelaire, was fond of cats). When I saw him
five years ago in Paris, I was struck by the essentially Semitic
contour of his head--some legacy of remote ancestors from the far-away


As a critic of painting Huysmans revealed himself the possessor of
a temperament that was positively ferocious in the presence of an
unsympathetic canvas. His vocabulary and peculiar gift of invective
were then exercised with astounding verbal if not critical results.
Singularly narrow in his judgments for a man of his general culture,
his intensity of vision concentrated itself upon a few painters
and etchers; during the latter part of his life only religious art
interested him, as had the exotic and monstrous in earlier years. And
even in the former sphere he restricted his admiration, rather say
idolatry, to a few men; he sought for character, an ascetic type of
character, the lean and meagre Saviours and saints of the Flemish
primitives arousing in him a fire almost fanatical. Between a Roger Van
der Weyden and a Giorgione there would be little doubt as to Huysmans's
choice; the golden colour-music of the great Venetian harmonist would
have reached deaf ears. His Flemish ancestry told in his æsthetic
tastes. He once said that he preferred a Leipsic man to a Marseilles
man, "the big, phlegmatic, taciturn Germans to the gesticulating and
rhetorical people of the south."

Huysmans never betrayed the slightest interest in doctrines of
equality; for him, as for Baudelaire, socialism, the education of the
masses, or democratic prophylactics were hateful. The virus of the
"exceptional soul" was in his veins. Nothing was more horrible to
him than the idea of universal religion, universal speech, universal
government, with their concomitant universal monotony. The world is
ugly enough without the ugliness of universal sameness. Variety alone
makes this globe bearable. He did not believe in art for the multitude,
and the tableau of a billion humans bellowing to the moon the hymn of
universal brotherhood made him shiver--as well it might. Tolstoy and
his semi-idiotic mujik, to whom Beethoven was impossible, aroused in
Huysmans righteous indignation. Art is for those who have the brains
and patience to understand it. It is not a free port of entry for poet
and philistine alike. To it, though many are called, few are chosen. So
is it with religion. That marvellous specimen of psychology, En Route,
gave more offence to Roman Catholics than it did to sectarians of other
faiths. Huysmans was a mystic, and to his temperament, as taut as a
finely attuned fiddle, the easy-going methods of the average worshipper
were absolutely blasphemous. So he could write in En Route: "And
he--Durtal--called to mind orators petted like tenors, Monsabré, Didon,
those Coquelins of the Church, and, lower yet than those products of
the Catholic training school, that bellicose booby the Abbé d'Hulst."
That same abbé lived to see the writer repentant and, himself, not only
to forgive, but to write eulogistic words of the man who had abused him.

L'Art Moderne was published between covers in 1883. It deals with
the official salons of 1879, 1880-81 and the exposition of the
Independents, 1880-81. The appendix, 1882, contains thumbnail sketches
of Caillebotte, whose bequest to the Luxembourg of impressionistic
paintings, including Manet's Olympe, stirred all artistic and
inartistic Paris; Gauguin, Mlle. Morisot, Guillaumin, Renoir, Pissaro,
Sisley, Claude Monet, "the marine painter _par excellence_"; Manet,
Roll, Redon, all men then fighting the stream of popular and academic
disfavour. Since Charles Baudelaire's Salons, no volume on the current
Paris exhibitions has appeared of such solid knowledge and literary
power as Huysmans's. Admitting his marked prejudices, his numerous
dogmatic utterances, there is nevertheless an attractive artistic
quality backed up by the writer's stubborn convictions that persuade
where the more liberal and brilliant Théophile Gautier never does.
"Théo," who said that if he pitched his sentences in the air they
always fell on their feet, like a cat, leaned heavily on his verbal
magic. But even in that particular he is no match for Huysmans, who,
boasting the blood of Fleming painters, sculptors, and architects, uses
his pen as an artist his brush. Take another bit from his study of
Moreau's Salome:

"A throne, like the high altar of a cathedral, rose beneath innumerable
arches springing from columns, thick-set as Roman pillars, enamelled
with varicoloured bricks, set with mosaics, encrusted with lapis-lazuli
and sardonyx in a palace like the basilica of an architecture at once
Mussulman and Byzantine. In the centre of the tabernacle surmounting
the altars, fronted with rows of circular steps, sat the Tetrarch
Herod, the tiara on his head, his legs pressed together, his hands on
his knees. His face was yellow, parchmentlike, annulated with wrinkles,
withered by age; his long beard floated like a cloud on the jewelled
stars that constellated the robe of netted gold across his breast.
Around this statue, motionless, frozen in the sacred pose of a Hindu
god, perfumes burned, throwing out clouds of vapour, pierced, as by
the phosphorescent eyes of animals, by the fire of precious stones set
in the sides of the throne; then the vapour mounted, unrolling itself
beneath arches where the blue smoke mingled with the powdered gold
of great sun-rays fallen from the dome."... And of Salome he writes:
"In the work of Gustave Moreau, conceived on no Scriptural data, Des
Esseintes saw at last the realisation of the strange, superhuman
Salome that he had dreamed. She was no more the mere dancing girl ...
she had become the symbolic deity of indestructible Lust, the goddess
of immortal Hysteria; the monstrous, indifferent, irresponsible,
insensible Beast, poisoning like Helen of old all that go near her, all
that look upon her, all that she touches."

Not only is there an evocation of material splendour in the above
passages taken from A Rebours, but a note of cenobitic contempt for
woman's beauty, which sounds throughout the books of Huysmans. It may
be heard at its deepest in his study of Félicien Rops, the Belgian
etcher and painter, who interpreted Baudelaire's _femmes damnées_.
Rops, too, regarded woman in the light of a destroyer, a being banned
by the early fathers of the Church, the matrix of sin. Huysmans's
incomparable study of Rops--whose great powers have never been fully
recognized because of his erotic and diabolic subjects--may be found in
his Certains (1889).

In his description of the Independent exposition (1880) to which
Degas, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, Forain, and others sent
canvases, Huysmans drifts into literary criticism; he saw analogies
between the paintings of the realists, impressionists, and the modern
men of fiction, Flaubert, Goncourt, Zola. "Have not," he asks, "the
Goncourts fixed in a style deliberate and personal, the most ephemeral
of sensations, the most fugacious of _nuances_?" So, too, have Manet,
Monet, Pissaro, Raffaelli. Nor does he hesitate to make the avowal,
still incomprehensible for those who are deceived by the prodigious
blaring of critical trumpets, that Baudelaire is a true poet of genius;
and that the _chef d'œuvre_ of fiction is Flaubert's L'Education
Sentimentale. Naturally Edgar Degas is the only psychological
interpreter of latter-day life. There is also a careful analysis
of Manet's masterpiece, the Bar at the Folies-Bergères. Huysmans
recognised Manet's indebtedness to Goya.

Certains is a valuable volume. Therein are Puvis de Chavannes, Gustave
Moreau, Degas, Bartholomé, Raffaelli, Stevens, Tissot, Wagner--the
painter, not the composer; Huysmans admits but one form in music, the
Plain Chant--Cézanne, Chéret, Whistler--which true to the tradition
of Parisian carelessness is spelled "Wisthler," as Liszt years before
was called "Litz"--Rops, Jan Luyken, Millet, Goya, Turner, Bianchi,
and other men. He gives to Millet his just meed of praise, no more--he
views him as a designer rather than as a great painter. We get Huysmans
in his quintessence. Scattered through his novels--if one may dare to
ascribe this title to such an amorphous form--there are eloquent and
burning pages devoted to various painters, but not with the amplitude
and cool science displayed in his studies of Degas, Moreau, Rops, The
Monster in Art--a monstrous subject masterfully handled--and Whistler.
He literally discovered Degas, and in future books on rhetoric surely
Huysmans's descriptions of Degas's old workwomen sponging their creased
backs cannot be excluded without doing violence to the expressive
powers of the French language. His eye mirrored the most minute
details--in that he was Dutch-Flemish; the same merciless scrutiny
is pursued in the life of the soul--he was Flemish and Spanish:
Ruysbroeck and St. John of the Cross, mystics both, with an amazing
sense of the realistic.

Without a spacious imagination, Huysmans was a man of the subtlest
sensibilities. There is a wealth of critical divination in his studies
of Moreau and Whistler. Twenty or thirty years ago it was not so easy
to range these two enigmas. Huysmans did so, and, in company with Degas
and Rops, placed them so definitely that critics have paraphrased his
ideas ever since. Baudelaire had recognised the glacial genius of
Rops; Huysmans definitely consecrated it in Certains. For Huysmans the
theme of love aroused his mordant wit--Flaubert, Goncourt, Baudelaire
were all summoned at one time or another in their respective careers
to answer the charge of poisoning public morals! And what malicious
commentaries were drawn and etched by the versatile Rops.

Extraordinary as are Rops's delineations of Satan, the prose of
Huysmans is not less graphic in interpreting the etched plate. In
De Tout (1901) there is, literally, a little about everything. Not
only are several unknown quarters of Paris sketched with a surprising
freshness, but Huysmans goes far afield for his themes. He studies
sleeping-cars and the sleepy city Bruges, the aquarium at Berlin--"most
fastidious and most ugly"--the Gobelins, Quentin Matsys at Antwerp;
but whether in illustrating with his pen the mobs at Lourdes or the
intimate habits of a Parisian café, he never fails to achieve the exact
phrase that illuminates. Nor is it all crass realism. His eye, the eye
of a visionary as well as of a painter, penetrates to the marrow of the

A Rebours is the history of a decadent soul in search of an earthly
paradise. His palace of art is near Paris, and in it the Duc des
Esseintes assembles all that is rare, perverse, beautiful, morbid, and
crazy in modern art and literature. A Rebours is in reality a very
precious work of criticism by a distinguished critical temperament,
written in a prose jewelled and shining, sharp as a Damascene dagger.
This French writer's admiration for Moreau has been mentioned. Luyken
comes in for his share; the bizarre Luyken of Amsterdam (1649-1712).
Odilon Redon, the lithographer and illustrator of Poe, is lauded by Des
Esseintes. Redon's work is not lacking in subtlety, and it is sometimes
disagreeable; possibly the latter quality is aimed at by the painter.
Redon certainly had in Poe a congenial subject; in Baudelaire also, for
he has accomplished some shivering plates commemorating Fleurs du Mal.

Not such intractable reading as L'Oblat, withal difficult enough,
is The Cathedral, which abounds in glorious chapters devoted to
ecclesiastical painting, sculpture, and architecture. "It"--the
Cathedral--"was as slender and colourless as Roger Van der Weyden's
Virgins, who are so fragile, so ethereal, that they might blow away
were they not held down to earth by the weight of their brocades
and trains," is a passage in this storehouse of curious liturgical
learning. Matsys, Memling, Dierck Bouts, Van der Weyden, painted great
religious pictures because they possessed a naïve faith. Nowadays your
painter has no faith; better, then, stick like Degas to ballet-girls
and not soil canvas with profane burlesques. Always extreme, Huysmans
jumped from the worldly audacities of Manet to the rebellious Christ
of Grünewald. Van Eyck touched him where Van Dyck did not. He
disliked the "supersensual and sublimated Virgins of Cologne," and
pronounced Botticelli's Virgins masquerading Venuses. The Van der
Weyden triptych of the Nativity in the old museum, Berlin, filled him
with raptures, pious and æsthetic. The "theatrical crucifixions, the
fleshly coarseness of Rubens" are naught when compared to the early
Flemings. His pages on Rembrandt are admirable reading, "Rembrandt,
who had the soul of a Judaising Protestant ... with his serious but
fervid wit, his genius for concentration, for getting a spot of the
essence of sunlight into the heart of darkness ... has accomplished
great results; and in his Biblical scenes has spoken a language which
no one before him had attempted to lisp." As Huysmans loathed the
rancid and voluptuous "sacred" music of Gounod and other comic-opera
writers of masses and hymns in the Church, so he abominated the modern
"sacred" painters. James Tissot and Munkacsy come in for a critical
flagellation. What could be more dazzling than his account of a certain
stained-glass window in his beloved Cathedral at Chartres:

"Up there high in the air, as they might be Salamanders, human beings,
with faces ablaze and robes on fire, dwelt in a firmament of glory;
but these conflagrations were enclosed and limited by an incombustible
frame of darker glass which set off the youthful and radiant joy of
the flames by the contrast of melancholy, the suggestion of the more
serious and aged aspect presented by gloomy colouring. The bugle-cry
of red, the limpid confidence of white, the repeated hallelujahs of
yellow, the virginal glory of blue, all the quivering crucible of glass
was dimmed as it neared this border dyed with rusty red, the tawny
hues of sauces, the harsh purples of sandstone, bottle green, tinder
brown, fuliginous blacks, and ashy grays." Not even Arthur Rimbaud,
in his half-jesting sonnet on the "Vowels," indulged in such daring
colour symbolism as Huysmans. For a specimen of his most fulgurating
style read his Camïeu in Red, in a little volume edited by Mr. Howells
entitled Pastels in Prose, and translated by Stuart Merrill.

"To be rich, very rich, and found in Paris in face of the triumphal
ambulance, the Luxembourg, a public museum of contemporary painting!"
he cries in one of his essays. He was the critic of Modernity, as
Degas is its painter, Goncourt its exponent in fiction, Paul Bourget
its psychologist. He lashes himself into a fine rage over the enormous
prices paid some years ago by New York millionaires for the work of
such artists as Bouguereau, Dubufe, Gérôme, Constant, Rosa Bonheur,
Knaus, Meissonier. The Christ before Pilate, sold for 600,000 francs,
sets him fulminating against its painter. "Cet indigent décor brossé
par le Brésilien de la piété, par le rastaquouère de la peinture, par

Joris-Karl Huysmans should have been a painter; his indubitable gift
for form and colour were by some trick of nature or circumstance
transposed to literature. So he brought to the criticism of pictures an
eye abnormal in its keenness, and to this was superadded an abnormal
power of expression.

After reading his Three Primitives you may be tempted to visit Colmar,
where hang in the museum several paintings by Mathias Grünewald, who is
the chief theme of the French writer's book. Colmar is not difficult
to reach if you are in Paris, or pass through Strasburg. It is a town
of over 35,000 inhabitants, the capital of Upper Alsace and about
forty miles from Strasburg. There are several admirable specimens of
the Rhenish school there, Van Eyck and Martin Schongauer (born 1450
in Colmar), the great engraver. His statue by Bartholdi is in the
town, and, as Huysmans rather delicately puts it, is an "emetic for
the eyes." He always wrote what he thought, and notwithstanding the
odour of sanctity in which he departed this life, his name and his
books are still anathema to many of his fellow Catholics. But as to the
quality of this last study there can be no mistake. It is masterly,
revealing the various Huysmanses we admire: the mystic, the realist,
the penetrating critic of art, and the magnificent tamer of language.
Hallucinated by his phrases, you see cathedrals arise from the mist
and swim so close to you that you discern every detail before the
vision vanishes; or some cruel and bloody canvas of the semi-demoniacal
Grünewald, on which a hideous Christ is crucified, surrounded by
scowling faces. The swiftness in executing the verbal portrait allows
you no time to wonder over the method; the evocation is complete, and
afterward you realise the magic of Huysmans.

In his Là Bas he described the Grünewald Crucifixion, once in the
Cassel Museum, now at Carlsruhe. A tragic realism invests this work of
Grünewald, who is otherwise a very unequal painter. Huysmans puzzled
over the Bavarian, who was probably born at Aschaffenburg. Sundvart,
Waagen, Goutzwiller, and Passavant have written of him. He was born
about 1450 and died about 1530. He lived his later years in Mayence,
lonely and misanthropic. Every one speaks of Dürer, the Cranachs,
Schongauer, Holbein, but even during his lifetime Grünewald was not
famous. To-day he is esteemed by those for whom the German and Belgian
Primitives mean more than all Italian art. There is a bitterness, a
pessimism, a delight in torture for the sake of torture in Grünewald's
treatment of sacred subjects that must have shocked his more easy-going
contemporaries. Huysmans, as is his wont, does not spare us in his
recital of the horrors of that Colmar Crucifixion. For me the one now
at Carlsruhe suffices. It causes a shudder, and some echo of the agony
of the Passion permeates that solemn scene. Grünewald must have been a
painter of fierce and exalted temperament. His Christs are ugly--the
ugliness symbolical of the sins of the world;--this doctrine was upheld
by Tertullian and Cyprian, Cyril and St. Justin.

And the cadaverous flesh tones! Such is his fidelity, a fidelity
almost pathologic, that two such eminent men as Charcot and Richet
testified, after study, to the too painful verity of this early
German's brushwork. He depicted with shocking realism the malady known
as St. Anthony's Fire, and a still more pathological interpretation
by Huysmans follows. But he warmly praises the fainting mother,
one of the noble figures in German art. We allude now to the Colmar
Crucifixion, with its curious introduction of St. John the Baptist in
Golgotha, and the dark landscape through which runs a gloomy river.
Fainting Mary, the mother of Christ, is upheld by the disciple John.
There is a mysterious figure of a girl, an ugly but sorrowful face, and
the lamb bearing the cross is at the foot of the cross. Audacious is
the entire composition. It wounds the soul, and that is what Grünewald
wished. His harsh nature saw in the crucifixion not a pious symbol but
the death of a god, an unjust death. So he fulminates upon his canvas
his hatred of the outrage. How tender he can be we see in this Virgin.

On the back of this polyptique are a Resurrection and Annunciation.
The latter is bad. The former is a dynamic picture representing Christ
in a vast aureole arising to the sky, His guards tumbled over at the
side of the tomb. There is an explosion of luminosity. Christ's face
is radiant; He displays his palms upward, pierced by the nails. The
floating aerial effect and the draperies are wonderfully handled. The
museum wherein hang these works was formerly a convent of nuns, founded
in 1232, and in 1849 turned into a museum. Huysmans rages, of course,
over the change.

He finds among the Grünewalds at Colmar--there are nine in all--a St.
Anthony bearded, that reminds him of a Father Hecker born in Holland.
What a simile, made by a man who probably never saw the American
priest, except pictured!

He visits Frankfort-on-the-Main, and afterward, characteristically
pouring his vials of wrath upon this New Jerusalem, he visits the
Staedel Museum and goes into ecstasies over that lovely head of a young
woman called the Florentine, by an unknown master. Though he admires
the Van der Weyden, the Bouts, and the Virgin of Van Eyck, he really
has eyes only for this exquisite, vicious androgynous creature and
for the Virgin by the Master of Flémalle. After a vivid description
of the Florentine Cybele he inquires into her artistic paternity,
waving aside the suggestion that one of the Venezianos painted her.
But which one? There are over eleven, according to Lanzi. Huysmans
will not allow Botticelli's name to be mentioned, though he discerns
certain Botticellian qualities. But he has never forgiven Botticelli
for painting the Virgin looking like the Venus, and he hates the
paganism of the Renaissance with an early Christian fervour. (Fancy the
later Joris-Karl Huysmans and the early Walter Pater in a discussion
about the Renaissance.) Huysmans himself was a Primitive. Much that he
wrote would have been understood in the Middle Ages. The old Adam in
this Fleming, however, comes to the surface as he conjectures the name
of the enigmatic heroine. Is it that Giulia Farnese, called "Giulia
la bella"--_puritas impuritatis_--who became the favourite of Pope
Alexander VI.? If it is--and then Huysmans writes some pages of perfect
prose which suggest joyful depravity, as depraved as the people he
paints with such marvellous colour and precision. It is a peep behind
the scenes of a pagan Christian Rome.

The Master of Flémalle, whose Virgin he describes at the close of this
volume, was the Jacques Daret born in the early years of the fifteenth
century, a fellow student of Roger van der Weyden under Campin at
Tournay. We confess that, while we enjoy the verbal rhapsodies of the
author, we were not carried away by this stately Virgin and Child by
Daret, though there are many Darets that once passed as the work of
Roger van der Weyden. It has not the sweet melancholy, this picture,
of Hans Memlinc's Madonnas, and the Van Eyck in the same gallery,
as well as the Van der Weyden, are both worth a trip across Europe
to gaze upon. However, on the note of a rapt devotion Huysmans ends
his book. The first edition, illustrated, was published in 1905, by
Vanier-Messein. But there is a new (1908) edition, published by Plon,
at Paris, and called Trois Eglises et Trois Primitifs. This latter is
not illustrated. The three churches discussed are Notre Dame de Paris
and its symbolism, Saint Germain-l'Auxerrois, and Saint Merry.

Poor, unhappy, suffering Huysmans! He trod the Road to Damascus on foot
and not in a pleasant motor-car like several of his successors. The
intimate side of the man, so hidden by him, is now being revealed to us
by his friends. Recently, in the _Revue de Paris_, Mme. Myriam Harry,
the writer of The Conquest of Jerusalem, tells us of her friendship
with Huysmans, with a rather sentimental anecdote about his weeping
over a dead love. When she met him he was already attainted with
the malady which tortured him to the end. A lifetime sufferer from
neuralgia and dyspepsia, he was half blind for a few months before
his death. He touchingly alludes to his illness as both a punishment
and a reparation for things he wrote in his Lourdes. In a letter
dated January 5, 1907, he avows that nothing is more dangerous than
to celebrate sorrow; all his books celebrate the physical miseries of
life, the sorrows of the soul. Humbly this great writer admits that he
must pay for the pages of that cruel book, the life of Sainte-Lydwine.
The disease he so often described came to him at last and slew him.


To traverse the books of Huysmans is a true pessimistic progress; from
Le Drageoir aux Epices (1874) to Les Foules de Lourdes (1906), the
note, at times shrill, often profound, is never one of dulcification.
The first book, a veritable little box of spices, was modelled on
Baudelaire's Poèmes en Prose, but revealed to the acute critic a new
personal shade. Its plainness is Gallic. That amusing, ironic sketch,
L'Extase, gives us a key-note to the writer's disillusioned soul.
Marthe (1876) caused a sensation. It was speedily suppressed. La
Fille Elise and Nana the public could endure; but the cold-blooded
delineation of vice in this first novel was too much for the Parisian,
who likes a display of sentiment or sympathy in the treatment of
unsavoury themes. Now, sympathy for sin or suffering is missing in
Huysmans. Slow veils of pity never descend upon his sufferers. Like
a surgeon who will show you a "beautiful disease," a "classic case,"
he exposed the life of the wretched Marthe, and, while he called a
cat a cat, he forgot that certain truths are unfit for polite ears
accustomed to the rotten-ripe Dumas _fils_, or the thrice-brutal Zola.
It was in Marthe that Huysmans proclaimed his adherence to naturalism
in these memorable words: "I write what I see, what I feel, and what I
have experienced, and I write it as well as I can: that is all." This
rubric he adhered to his life long, despite his change of spiritual
base. He also said that there are writers who have talent, and others
who have not talent. All schools, groups, cliques, whether romantic or
naturalistic or decadent, need not count.

It was 1880 before Huysmans was again heard from, this time in
collaboration with Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Henry Céard, Léon Hennique,
and Paul Alexis. Les Soirées de Médan was the inappropriate title of
a book of interesting tales. Huysmans's contribution, Sac au Dos, is
a story of the Franco-Prussian war that would have pleased Stendhal
by its sardonic humour. The hero never reaches the front, but spends
his time in hospitals, and the nearest he gets to the glory of war
is a chronic stomach-ache. The variations on this ignoble motive
showed the malice of Huysmans. War is not hell, he says in effect, but
dysentery is; how often a petty ailing has unmade a heroic soul. Yet in
the Brussels edition of this story there was published the following
verse--the author seldom wrote poetry; he was hardly a poet, but as
indicating certain religious preoccupations it is worth repeating:

    "O croix qui veux l'austère, ô chair qui veux le doux,
    O monde, ô évangile, immortels adversaires,
    Les plus grands ennemis sont plus d'accord que vous,
    Et les pôles du ciel ne sont pas plus contraires.
    On monte dans le ciel par un chemin de pleurs,
    Mais, que leur amertume a de douceurs divines!
    On descend aux enfers par un chemin de fleurs,
    Mais hélas! que ces fleurs nous préparent d'épines!
    La fleur qui, dans un jour, sèche et s'épanouit,
    Les bulles d'air et d'eau qu'un petit souffle casse,
    Une ombre qui paraît et qui s'évanouit
    Nous représentent bien comme le monde passe."

Naturally, in the face of Maupassant's brilliant Boule de Suif,
Huysmans's sly attack on patriotism was overlooked. Croquis Parisiens
(1880) contains specimens of Huysmans's astounding virtuosity.
No one before has ever described sundry aspects of Paris with
such verisimilitude--that Paris he said was, because of the
Americans, fast becoming a "sinister Chicago." Balls, cafés, bars,
omnibus-conductors, washerwomen, chestnut-sellers, hairdressers,
remote landscapes and corners of the city, cabarets, la Bièvre,
the underground river, with prose paraphrases of music, perfumes,
flowers--Huysmans astonishes by his prodigality of epithet and justness
of observation. What Manet, Pissaro, Raffaelli, Forain, were doing
with oil and pastel and pencil, he accomplished with his pen. A Vau
l'Eau followed in 1882. It is considered the typical Huysmans tale,
and some see in Jean Folantin its unhappy hero, obsessed by the desire
for a juicy beefsteak, the prototype of Durtal. Folantin is a poor
employee in the Ministry who must exist on his annual salary of fifteen
hundred francs. He haunts cheap restaurants, lives in cheap lodgings,
is seedy and sour, with the nerves of a voluptuary. His sense of smell
makes his life a nightmare. The sordid recital would be comical but
that it is so villainously real. It is an Odyssey of a dyspeptic.
Dickens would have set us laughing over the woes of this Folantin,
or Dostoïevsky would have made us weep--as he did in Poor Folk. But
Huysmans has no time for tears or laughter; he must register his truth,
and at the end an odor of stale cheese exhales from the printed page.
Wretched Monsieur Folantin. Of the official life so clearly presented
in some of Maupassant's tales, we get little; Huysmans is too much
preoccupied with Folantin's stomach troubles. In the same volume,
though published first in 1887, is Un Dilemme, which is a pitiful
tale of a girl abandoned. Huysmans, while he came under the influence
of L'Education Sentimentale, seems to have taken as a _leit motiv_
the idiotic antics of Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet. This pair of
mediocre maniacs were his models for mankind at large. Les Sœurs
Vatard (1879), praised so warmly by Zola in The Experimental Novel,
is not a novel, but kaleidoscopic Parisian pictures of intimate low
life, executed with consummate finish, and closeness to fact. The two
sisters Vatard, Céline and Désirée, with their love affairs, fill a
large volume. There are minute descriptions of proletarian interiors,
sewing-shops full of perspiring girls, railroad-yards, locomotives, and
a gingerbread fair. The men are impudent scamps, bullies, _souteneurs_,
the women either weak or vulgar. Veracity there often is and an air
of reality--though these swaggerers and simpletons are silhouettes,
not half as vital as Zola's Lise or Goncourt's Germinie Lacerteux. But
atmosphere, _toujours_ atmosphere--of that Huysmans is the compeller.
Not a disagreeable scene, smell, or sound does he spare his readers.
And how many _genre_ pictures he paints for us in this book.

We reach _bourgeois_ life with En Ménage (1881). André and Cyprien the
novelist and painter are not so individual as, say, old _père_ Vatard
in the preceding story. They but serve as stalking horses for Huysmans
to show the stupid miseries of the married state; that whether a man
is or is not married he will regret it. Love is the supreme poison of
life. André is deceived by his wife, Cyprien lives lawlessly. Neither
one is contented. The novel is careful in workmanship; it is like
Goncourt and Flaubert, both gray and masterful. But it leaves a bad
taste in the mouth. Like the early Christian fathers, Huysmans had a
conception of Woman, "the eternal feminine of the eternal simpleton,"
which is hardly ennobling. The painter Cyprien is said to be a portrait
of the author.

A Rebours appeared at the psychologic moment. Decadence was in the
air. Either you were a decadent or violently opposed to the movement.
Verlaine had consecrated the word--hardly an expressive one. The
depraved young Jean, Duke of Esseintes, greedy of exotic sensations,
who figures as the hero of this gorgeous prose mosaic, is said to be
the portrait of a Parisian poet, and a fashionable dilettante of art
painted by Whistler. But there is more of Huysmans--the exquisite
literary critic that is Huysmans--in the work. If, as Henry James
remarks: "When you have no taste you have no discretion--which is
the conscience of taste," then Huysmans must be acclaimed a man of
unexampled tact. His handling of a well-nigh impossible theme, his
"technical heroism," above all, his soul-searching tactics in that
wonderful Chapter VII, when Des Esseintes, suffering from the malady
of the infinite, proceeds to examine his conscience and portrays for
us the most fluctuating shades of belief and feeling--his touch here
is sure, and casuistically immoral, as "all art is immoral for the
inartistic." The chief value of the book for future generations of
critics lies in Chapters XII and XIV. Huysmans's literary and artistic
preferences are catalogued with delicacy and erudition. More Byzantine
than Byzance, A Rebours is a storehouse of art treasures, and it was
once the battle-field of the literary élite. It is a history of the
artistic decadent, the man of disdainful inquietudes who searches for
an earthly artificial paradise. The mouth orchestra which, by the
aid of various liquors, gives to the tongue sensations analogous to
music; the flowers and perfume concerts, the mechanical landscape,
the mock sea--all these are mystifications. Huysmans the _farceur_,
the Jules Verne of æsthetics, is enjoying himself. His liquor
symphony he borrowed from La Chimie du Goût by Polycarpe Poncelet;
from Zola, perhaps, his concert of flowers. As for the originality
of these diversions, we may turn to Goethe and find in his Triumph
der Empfindsamkeit the mechanical landscape of the Prince, who can
enjoy sunlight or moonlight at will. He has also a doll to whom he
sighs, rhapsodises, and passes in its silent company hours of rapture.
Villiers de l'Isle Adam evidently read Goethe: see his Eve of the
Future. All of which shows the folly of certain critics who recognise
in Huysmans the prime exemplar of the decadent--that much misunderstood
word. But how about Goethe? A Rebours, notwithstanding Huysmans's
later pilgrimage to Canossa, he never excelled. It is his most personal
achievement. It also contains the most beautiful writing of this
Paganini of prose.

En Rade (1887) did not attract much attention. It is not dull; on
the contrary, it is very Huysmansish. But it is not a subject that
enthralls. Jacques Maries and his wife have lost their money. They go
into the country to live cheaply. The author's detestation of nature
was apparently the motive for writing the book. There are fantastic
dreams worthy of H. G. Wells, and realistic descriptions of a calf's
birth and a cat's agony; the last two named prove the one-time disciple
of Zola had not lost his vision; the truth is, Zola's method is
melodramatic, romantic, vague, when compared to Huysmans's implacable
manner of etching petty facts.

But in Là-Bas he takes a leap across the ditch of naturalism and
reaches another, if not more delectable, territory. This was in 1891.
A new manifesto must be made--the Goncourts had printed a bookful.
Symbolism, not naturalism, is now the shibboleth. Huysmans declares

      It is essential to preserve the veracity of the document,
      the precision of detail, the fibrous and nervous language
      of Realism, but it is equally essential to become the
      well-digger of the soul, and not to attempt to explain
      what is mysterious by mental maladies.... It is essential,
      in a word, to follow the great toad so deeply dug out
      by Zola, but it is also necessary to trace a parallel
      pathway in the air, another road by which we may reach the
      Beyond, to achieve thus a Spiritual naturalism.

And by a curious, a bizarre route Durtal, the everlasting Durtal,
sought to achieve spiritually--a spirituality _à rebours_, for it was
by devil-worship and the study of Gilles de Rais of ill-fame, that
he reached his goal. We also study church bells, _incubi_, satanism,
demons, witches, sacrileges of a _raffiné_ sort; indeed, an enormous
amount of occult lumber is dumped into the book, which is indigestible
on that account. Diabolic lore _à la_ Jules Dubois and other modern
magi is profuse. That wicked lady, who is far from credible, Madame
Chantelouve, flits through various chapters. Her final disappearance,
one hopes "below"--like the devils in the pantomime--is received by
Durtal and the reader with a sigh of relief. She is quite the vilest
character in French fiction, and, as Stendhal would say, her only
excuse is that she never existed. The Black Mass is painted by an
artist adroit in the manipulation of the sombre and magnificent.

Là-Bas proved a prophetic weather-vane. En Route in 1895 did not
astonish those who had been studying the spiritual fluctuations of
Huysmans. Behold the miracle! He is a believing Christian. Wisely the
antecedent causes were tacitly avoided. "I believe," said Durtal,
simply. Of superior interest is his struggle up the ladder to
perfection. This painful feat is slowly accomplished in La Cathédrale
(1898), L'Oblat (1903), and Lourdes (1906). And it must be confessed
that the more pious grew Huysmans the less artist he--as might have
been expected. What is his art to a man who is concerned not with the
things of this world? He never lost his acerbity, or his faculty for
the phrase magical, though his sense of proportion gradually vanished.
Luckily, he is not saccharine like the majority of writers on religious
topics. Ferdinand Brunetière complained that Flaubert was unbearably
erudite in his three short stories--echoing what Sainte-Beuve had said
of Salammbô years before. What must he have thought of that astonishing
Cathedral, with its chapters on the symbolism of architecture,
sculpture, gems, flowers (Sir Thomas Browne and his quincunxes are
fairly beaten from the field), vestments, sacred vessels of the
altar, and a multitude of mysterious things, hieroglyphics, and dark
liturgical riddles? There are ravishing pages, though none so solemn
and moving as the description of the _De profundis_ and _Dies iræ_ in
En Route.

It may prove profitable for the student after reading La Cathédrale to
take up Walter Pater's unfinished story, Gaston De Latour, and read
the description therein of the Chartres Cathedral. There are pages of
exquisitely felt prose, but Huysmans sees more and tells what he sees
in less musical though more lapidary phrases.

For anyone except the trailer after strange souls The Oblate is an
affliction. Madame Bavoil, with her _notre ami_, is a chattering
nuisance, withal a worthy creature. Durtal is always in the dumps. He
speaks much of interior peace, but he gives the impression of a man
sitting painfully amidst spiritual brambles. Perhaps he felt that for
him after his Golgotha are the sweet-singing flames of Purgatory. We
are not sorry when he returns to Paris. As for the book on Lourdes, it
is like an open wound. A whiff from the operating-room of a hospital
comes to you. We are edified by the childlike faith with which Huysmans
accepts the report of cures that would stagger the most perfervid
Christian Scientist. His Saint-Lydwine is hard reading, written by a
man whose mysticism was a matter of rigid definition, a thing to be
weighed and felt and verbally proved. Fleming-like, he is less melodist
than harmonist--and such acrid harmonies, polyphonic variations, and
fuguelike flights to the other side of good and evil.

George Moore was the first English critic to recognise Huysmans. He
wrote that "a page of Huysmans is as a dose of opium, a glass of
exquisite and powerful liquor." Frankly, it was his conversion that
focussed upon Huysmans so much attention. No one may remain isolated
in his century. He has never been a favourite with the larger Parisian
public; rather, a curiosity, a spiritual ogre turned saint. And the
saintship has been hotly disputed. Abbé Mugnier and Dom A. du Bourg,
the prior of Sainte-Marie, since his death, have written eloquently
about his conversion, his life as an oblate, and his edifying death.
Huysmans refused anæsthetics because he wished to suffer for his life
of sin, above all suffer for his early writings. Need it be added that,
like Tolstoy, he repudiated absolutely his first books? Huysmans Intime
is the title of the recollections of both Dom du Bourg and Henry Céard.
His literary executors destroyed many manuscripts. He left his money
principally to charities.

Huysmans was not a man possessing what are so vaguely denominated
"general ideas." He was never interested in the chess-play of
metaphysics, politics, or science. He was a specialist, one who
had ransacked libraries for curious details, despoiled perfumers'
catalogues for their odourous vocables, pored over technical
dictionaries for odd-coloured words, and studied cook-books for savoury
terms. His gamut of sensations began at the violet ray. He was a
perverse aristocrat who descended to the gutter there to analyse the
various stratifications of filth; when he returned to his ivory cell,
he had discovered, not humanity, but an anodyne, the love of God.
Thenceforth, he was interested in one thing--the saving of the soul of
Joris-Karl Huysmans, and being a marvellous verbal artist, his recital
of the event startled us, fascinated us. Renan once wrote of Amiel: "He
speaks of sin, of salvation, of redemption and conversion, as if these
things were realities." Let us rather imitate Sainte-Beuve, who said:
"You may not cease to be a sceptic after reading Pascal, but you must
cease to treat believers with contempt." And this injunction is not
difficult to obey in the case of Huysmans, for whom the things derided
by Renan were the profoundest realities of his troubled life.




Once upon a time a youth, slim, dark, and delicate, lived in a tower.
This tower was composed of ivory--the youth sat within its walls,
tapestried by most subtle art, and studied his soul. As in a mirror, a
fantastic mirror of opal and gold, he searched his soul and noted its
faintest music, its strangest modulations, its transmutation of joy
into melancholy; he saw its grace and its corruption. These matters he
registered in his "little mirrors of sincerity." And he was happy in an
ivory tower and far away from the world, with its rumours of dulness,
feeble crimes, and flat triumphs. After some years the young man
wearied of the mirror, with his spotted soul cruelly pictured therein;
wearied of the tower of ivory and its alien solitudes; so he opened its
carved doors and went into the woods, where he found a deep pool of
water. It was very small, very clear, and reflected his face, reflected
on its quivering surface his unstable soul. But soon other images of
the world appeared above the pool: men's faces and women's, and the
shapes of earth and sky. Then Narcissus, who was young, whose soul was
sensitive, forgot the ivory tower and the magic pool, and merged his
own soul into the soul of his people.

Maurice Barrès is the name of the youth, and he is now a member of the
Académie Française. His evolution from the Ivory tower of Egoism to the
broad meadows of life is not an insoluble enigma; his books and his
active career offer many revelations of a fascinating, though often
baffling, personality. His passionate curiosity in all that concerns
the moral nature of his fellow man lends to his work its own touch of
universality; otherwise it would not be untrue to say that the one
Barrès passion is love of his native land. "France" is engraved on his
heart; France and not the name of a woman. This may be regarded as a
grave shortcoming by the sex.


Paul Bourget has said of him: "Among the young people who have
entered literature since 1880 Maurice Barrès is certainly the most
celebrated.... One must see other than a decadent or a dilettante in
this analyst ... the most original who has appeared since Baudelaire."
Bourget said much more about the young writer, then in his twenties,
who in 1887 startled Paris with a curious, morbid, ironical, witty
book, a production neither fiction nor fact. This book was called Sous
l'Œil des Barbares. It made a sensation. He was born on the 22nd
of September, 1862, at Charmes-sur-Moselle (Vosges), and received a
classical education at the Nancy (old capital of Lorraine) Lyceum.
Of good family--among his ancestors he could boast some military
men--he early absorbed a love for his native province, a love that
later was to become a species of soil-worship. His health not strong
at any time, and nervous of temperament, he nevertheless moved on
Paris, for the inevitable siege of which all romantic readers of Balzac
dream during their school-days. "_A nous deux!_" muttered Rastignac,
shaking his fist at the city spread below him. _A nous deux!_ exclaim
countless youngsters ever since. Maurice, however, was not that sort of
Romantic. He meant to conquer Paris, but in a unique way; he detested
melodrama. He removed to the capital in 1882. His first literary
efforts had appeared in the _Journal de la Meurthe et des Vosges_; he
could see as a boy the Vosges Mountains; and Alsace, not far away,
was in the clutches of the hated enemy. In Paris he wrote for several
minor reviews, met distinguished men like Leconte de Lisle, Rodenbach,
Valade, Rollinat; and his Parisian début was in _La Jeune France_, with
a short story entitled Le Chemin de l'institut (April, 1882). Ernest
Gaubert, who has given us these details, says that, despite Leconte
de Lisle's hearty support, Mme. Adam refused an essay of Barrès as
unworthy of the _Nouvelle Revue_. In 1884 appeared a mad little review,
_Les Taches d'Encre_, irregular in publication. Despite its literary
quality, the young editor displayed some knowledge of the tactics of
"new" journalism. When Morin was assassinated by Mme. Clovis Hugues,
sandwich men paraded the boulevards carrying on their boards this
inscription: "Morin reads no longer _Les Taches d'Encre!_" Perseverance
such as this should have been rewarded; but little _Ink-spots_ quickly
disappeared. Barrès founded a new review in 1886, _Les Chroniques_,
in company with some brilliant men. Jules Claretie about this time
remarked, "Make a note of the name of Maurice Barrès. I prophesy
that it will become famous." Barrès had discovered that Rastignac's
pugnacious methods were obsolete in the battle with Paris, though
there was no folly he would be incapable of committing if he only
could attract attention--even to walking the boulevards in the guise
of primeval man. Far removed as his exquisite art now is from this
blustering desire for publicity, this threat, uttered in jest or not,
is significant. Maurice Barrès has since stripped his soul bare for the
world's ire or edification.

Wonder-children do not always pursue their natural vocation. Pascal
was miraculously endowed as a mathematician; he ended a master
of French prose, a hallucinated, wretched man. Franz Liszt was a
prodigy, but aspired to the glory of Beethoven. Raphael was a painting
prodigy, and luckily died so young that he had not time to change
his profession. Swinburne wrote faultless verse as a youth. He is a
_prosateur_ to-day. Maurice Barrès was born a metaphysician; he has
the metaphysical faculty as some men a fiddle hand. He might say with
Prosper Mérimée, "Metaphysic pleases me because it is never-ending."
But not as Kant, Condillac, or William James--to name men of widely
disparate systems--did the precocious thinker plan objectively. The
proper study of Maurice Barrès was Maurice Barrès, and he vivisected
his Ego as calmly as a surgeon trepanning a living skull. He boldly
proclaimed the _culte du moi_, proclaimed his disdain for the
barbarians who impinged upon his _I_. To study and note the fleeting
shapes of his soul--in his case a protean psyche--was the one thing
worth doing in a life of mediocrity. And this new variation of the
eternal hatred for the _bourgeois_ contained no menaces levelled at any
class, no groans of disgust _à la_ Huysmans. Imperturbable, with an icy
indifference, Barrès pursued his fastidious way. What we hate we fight,
what we despise we avoid. Barrès merely despised the other Egos around
him, and entering his ivory tower he bolted the door; but on reaching
the roof did not fail to sound his horn announcing to an eager world
that the miracle had come to pass--Maurice Barrès was discovered by
Maurice Barrès.

Egoism as a religion is hardly a new thing. It began with the first
sentient male human. It has since preserved the species, discovered
the "inferiority" of women, made civilisation, and founded the fine
arts. Any attempt to displace the Ego in the social system has only
resulted in inverting the social pyramid. Love our neighbour as ourself
is trouble-breeding; but we must first love ourself as a precaution
that our neighbour will not suffer both in body and in mind. The
interrogation posed on the horizon of our consciousness, regarding
the perfectibility of mankind, is best answered by a definition of
socialism as that religion which proves all men to be equally stupid.
Do not let us confound the ideas of progress and perfectibility. Since
man first realised himself as man, first said, I am I, there has been
no progress. No art has progressed. Science is a perpetual rediscovery.
And what modern thinker has taught anything new?

Life is a circle. We are imprisoned, in the cage of our personality.
Each human creates his own picture of the world, re-creates it each
day. These are the commonplaces of metaphysics; Schopenhauer has
presented some of them to us in tempting garb.

Compare the definitions of Man made by Pascal and Cabanis. Man, said
Pascal, is but a reed, the feeblest of created things; yet a reed which
thinks. Man, declared the materialistic Cabanis, is a digestive tube--a
statement that provoked the melodious indignation of Lacordaire.
What am I? asks Barrès; _je suis un instant d'une chose immortelle_.
And this instant of an immortal thing has buried within it something
eternal of which the individual has only the usufruct. (Goncourt
wrote, "What is life? The usufruct of an aggregation of molecules.")
Before him Sénancour in Obermann--the reveries of a sick, hermetic
soul--studied his malady, but offered no prophylactic. Amiel was so
lymphatic of will that he doubted his own doubts, doubted all but
his dreams. He, too, had fed at Hegel's ideologic banquet, where the
verbal viands snared the souls of guests. But Barrès was too sprightly
a spirit to remain a mystagogue. Diverse and contradictory as are his
several souls, he did not utterly succumb to the spirit of analysis.
Whether he was poison-proof or not to the venom that slew the peace
of the unhappy Amiel (that bonze of mysticism), the young Lorrainer
never lacked elasticity or spontaneity, never ceased to react after
his protracted plunges into the dark pools of his subliminal self. And
his volitional powers were not paralysed. Possessing a sensibility as
delicate and vibrating as Benjamin Constant, he has had the courage to
study its fevers, its disorders, its subtleties. He knew that there
were many young men like him, not only in France, but throughout the
world, highly organised, with less bone and sinew than nerves--exposed
nerves; egoistic souls, weak of will. We are sick, this generation of
young men, exclaimed Barrès; sick from the lying assurances of science,
sick from the false promises of politicians. There must be a remedy.
One among ms must immolate himself, study the malady, seek its cure. I,
Maurice Barrès, shall be the mirror reflecting the fleeting changes of
my environment, social and psychical. I repudiate the transcendental
indifference of Renan; I will weigh my sensations as in a scale; I
shall not fear to proclaim the result. Amiel, a Protestant Hamlet (as
Bourget so finely says), believes that every landscape is a state of
soul. My soul is full of landscapes. Therein all may enter and find
their true selves.

All this, and much more, Barrès sang in his fluid, swift, and supple
prose, without a vestige of the dogmatic. He did not write either to
prove or to convince, only to describe his interior life. He did not
believe, neither did he despair. There is a spiritual malice in his
egoism that removes it far from the windy cosmos of Walt Whitman or
the vitriolic vanity of D'Annunzio. In his fugue-like flights down the
corridor of his metaphysics, he never neglects to drop some poetic
rose, some precious pearl of sentiment. His little book, true spiritual
memoirs, aroused both wrath and laughter. The wits set to work. He was
called a dandy of psychology, nicknamed _Mlle. Renan_, pronounced a
psychical harlequin, a masquerader of the emotions; he was told that,
like Chateaubriand, he wore his heart in a sling. Anatole France, while
recognising the eloquent art of this young man, spoke of the "perverse
idealist" which is Maurice Barrès. His philosophy was pronounced a
perverted pyrrhonism, the quintessence of self-worship. A _Vita Nuova_
of egoism had been born.

But the dandy did not falter. He has said that one never conquers the
intellectual suffrages of those who precede us in life; he made his
appeal to young France. And what was the balm in Gilead offered by
this new doctor of metaphysics? None but a Frenchman at the end of the
last century could have conceived the Barrèsian plan of soul-saving.
In Baudelaire, Barbey d'Aurevilly, and Villiers de l'Isle Adam, the
union of Roman Catholic mysticism and blasphemy has proved to many
a stumbling-stone. These poets were believers, yet Manicheans; they
worshipped at two shrines; evil was their greater good. Barrès plucked
several leaves from their breviaries. He proposed to school his soul
by a rigid adherence to the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius
Loyola. With the mechanism of this Catholic moralist he would train
his Ego, cure it of its spiritual dryness--that malady so feared by
St. Theresa--and arouse it from its apathy. He would deliver us from a
Renan-ridden school.

This scholastic fervour urged Barrès to reinstate man in the centre of
the universe, a position from which he had been routed by science. It
was a pious, mediæval idea. He did not, however, assert the bankruptcy
of science, but the bankruptcy of pessimism. His book is metaphysical
autobiography, a Gallic transposition of Goethe's Wahrheit und
Dichtung. We may now see that his concentrated egoism had definite aims
and was not the conceit of a callow Romantic.

Barrès imbibed from the Parnassian poetic group his artistic
remoteness. His ivory tower is a borrowed phrase made by Sainte-Beuve
about De Vigny. But his mercurial soul could not be imprisoned long by
frigid theories of impeccable art--of art for art's sake. _My soul!_
that alone is worth studying, cried Maurice. John Henry Newman said the
same in a different and more modest dialectic. The voice of the French
youth is shriller, it is sometimes in falsetto; yet there is no denying
its fundamental sincerity of pitch. And he has the trick of light
verbal fence beloved of his race. He is the comedian among moralists.
His is neither the frozen eclecticism of Victor Cousin, nor the rigid
determinism of Taine. Yet he is a partial descendant of the Renan he
flouts, and of Taine--above all, of Stendhal and Voltaire. In his early
days if one had christened him _Mlle. Stendhal_, there would have been
less to retract. Plus a delicious style, he is a masked, slightly
feminine variation of the great mystifier who wrote La Chartreuse
de Parme, leaving out the Chartreuse. At times the preoccupation of
Barrès with the moral law approaches the borderland of the abnormal.
Like Jules Laforgue, his intelligence and his sensibility are closely
wedded. He is a sentimental ironist with a taste for self-mockery, a
Heine-like humour. He had a sense of humour, even when he wore the
_panache_ of General Boulanger, and opposed the Dreyfus proceedings. It
may rescue from the critical executioner who follows in the footsteps
of all thinkers, many of his pages.

A dilettante, an amateur--yes! But so was Goethe in his Olympus,
so Stendhal in his Cosmopolis. He elected at first to view the
spectacle of life, to study it from afar, and by the _tempo_ of his
own sensibility. Not the tonic egoism of Thoreau this; it has served
its turn nevertheless in France. Afferent, centripetal, and other
forbidding terms, have been bestowed upon his system; while for the
majority this word egoism has a meaning that implies our most selfish
instincts. If, however, interposes Bourget, you consider the word as
a formula, then the angle of view is altered; if Barrès had said in
one jet, "Nothing is more precious for a man than to guard intact his
convictions, his passions, his ideal, his individuality," those who
misjudged this courageous apostle of egoism, this fervent prober of the
human soul, might have modified their opinions--and would probably have
passed him by. It was the enigmatic message, the strained symbolism,
of which Barrès delivered himself, that puzzled both critics and
public. Robert Schumann once propounded a question concerning the
Chopin Scherzo: "How is gravity to clothe itself if jest goes about in
dark veils?" Now Barrès, who is far from being a spiritual _blagueur_,
suggests this puzzle of Schumann. His employment, without a _nuance_
of mockery, of the devotional machinery so marvellously devised by
that captain of souls, Ignatius Loyola, was rather disquieting,
notwithstanding its very practical application to the daily needs
of the spirit. Ernest Hello, transported by such a spectacle, may
not have been far astray when he wrote of the nineteenth century as
"having desire without light, curiosity without wisdom, seeking God by
strange ways, ways traced by the hands of men; offering rash incense
upon the high places to an unknown God, who is the God of darkness."
Ernest Renan was evidently aimed at, but the bolt easily wings that
metaphysical bird of gay plumage, Maurice Barrès.


He has published over a dozen volumes and numerous brochures, political
and "psychothérapie," many addresses, and one comedy, Une Journée
Parlementaire. He calls his books metaphysical fiction, the adventures
of a contemplative young man's mind. Paul Bourget is the psychologist
pure and complex; Barrès has--rather, had--such a contempt for action
on the "earthly plane," that at the head of each chapter of his
"idealogies" he prefixed a _résumé_, a concordance of the events that
were supposed to take place, leaving us free to savour the prose,
enjoy the fine-spun formal texture, and marvel at the contrapuntal
involutions of the hero's intellect. Naturally a reader, hungry for
facts, must perish of famine in this rarefied æsthetic desert, the
background of which is occasionally diversified by a sensuality
that may be dainty, yet is disturbing because of its disinterested
portrayment. The Eternal Feminine is not unsung in the Barrès novels.
Woman for his imagination is a creature exquisitely fashioned,
hardly an odalisque, nor yet the symbol of depravity we encounter in
Huysmans. She is a "phantom of delight"; but that she has a soul we
beg to doubt. Barrès almost endowed her with one in the case of his
Bérénice; and Bérénice died very young. A young man, with various
names, traverses these pages. Like the Durtal, or Des Esseintes, or
Folantin, of Huysmans, who is always Huysmans, the hero of Barrès is
always Barrès. In the first of the trilogy--of which A Free Man and
The Garden of Bérénice are the other two--we find Philippe escaping
through seclusion and revery the barbarians, his adversaries. The
Adversary--portentous title for the stranger who grazes our sensitive
epidermis--is the being who impedes or misleads a spirit in search of
itself. If he deflects us from our destiny, he is the enemy. It may be
well to recall at this juncture Stendhal, who avowed that our first
enemies are our parents, an idea many an insurgent boy has asserted
when his father was not present.

Seek peace and happiness with the conviction that they are never to be
found; felicity must be in the experiment, not in the result. Be ardent
and sceptical. Here Philippe touches hands with the lulling Cyrenaicism
of Walter Pater. And Barrès might have sat for one of Pater's imaginary
portraits. But it is too pretty to last, such a dream as this, in a
world wherein work and sorrow rule. He is not an ascetic, Philippe.
He eats rare beefsteaks, smokes black Havanas, clothes himself in
easy-fitting garments, and analyses with cordial sincerity his
multi-coloured soul. (And oh! the colours of it; oh! its fluctuating
forms!) The young person invades his privacy--a solitary in Paris is an
incredible concept. Together they make journeys "conducted by the sun."
She is dreamlike until we read, "Cependant elle le suivait de loin,
délicate et de hanches merveilleuses"--which delicious and dislocated
phrase is admired by lovers of Goncourt syntax, but must be shocking to
the old-fashioned who prefer the classic line and balance of Bossuet.

Nothing happens. Everything happens. Philippe makes the stations
of the cross of earthly disillusionment. He weighs love, he weighs
literature--"all these books are but pigeon-holes in which I classify
my ideas concerning myself, their titles serve only as the labels of
the different portions of my appetite." Irony is his ivory tower, his
refuge from the banalities of his contemporaries. Henceforth he will
enjoy his Ego. It sounds at moments like Bunthorne transposed to a more
intense tonality.

But even beefsteaks, cigars, wine, and philosophy pall. He craves a
mind that will echo his, craves a mental duo, in which the clash of
character and opposition of temperaments will evoke pleasing cerebral
music. In this dissatisfaction with his solitude we may detect the
first rift in the lute of his egoism. He finds an old friend, Simon
by name, and after some preliminary sentimental philandering at the
seashore, in the company of two young ladies, the pair agree to lead
a monastic life. To Lorraine they retire and draft a code of diurnal
obligations. "We are never so happy as when in exaltation," and "The
pleasure of exaltation is greatly enhanced by the analysis of it."
Their souls are fortified and engineered by the stern practices of
Loyola. The woman idea occasionally penetrates to their cells. It
distracts them--"woman, who has always possessed the annoying art of
making imbeciles loquacious." Notwithstanding these wraiths of feminine
fancy, Philippe finds himself almost cheerful. His despondent moods
have vanished. He quarrels, of course, with Simon, who is dry, an
_esprit fort_.

The Intercessors now appear, the intellectual saints who act as
intermediaries between impressionable, bruised natures and the
Infinite. They are the near neighbours of God, for they are the men
who have experienced an unusual number of sensations. Philippe admits
that his temperament oscillates between languor and ecstasy. Benjamin
Constant and Sainte-Beuve are the two "Saints" of Sensibility who aid
the youths in their self-analysis; rather a startling devolution from
the Imitation of Christ and Ignatius Loyola. Tiring, finally, of this
sterile analysis, and discovering that the neurasthenic Simon is not a
companion-soul, Philippe, very illogically yet very naturally, resolves
that he must bathe himself in new sensations, and proceeds to Venice.
We accompany him willingly, for this poet who handles prose as Chopin
the pianoforte, tells us of his soul in Venice, and we are soothed when
he speaks of the art of John Bellini, of Titian, Veronese, above all of
Tiepolo, "who was too much a sceptic to be bitter.... His conceptions
have that lassitude which follows pleasure, a lassitude preferred by
epicureans to pleasure itself." Graceful, melancholy Tiepolo. This
Venetian episode is rare reading.

The last of the trilogy is The Garden of Bérénice. It is the best
of the three in human interest, and its melancholy-sweet landscapes
exhale a charm that is nearly new in French literature; something
analogous may be found in Slavic music, or in the _Intimiste_ school
of painting. Several of these landscapes are redolent of Watteau:
tender, doleful, sensuous, their twilights filled with vague figures,
languidly joying in the mood of the moment. The impressionism which
permeates this book is a veritable lustration for those weary of
commonplace modern fiction. Not since has Barrès excelled this idyl
of the little Bérénice and her slowly awakening consciousness to
beauty, aroused by an old, half-forgotten museum in meridional France.
At Arles, encompassed by the memory of a dead man, she loves her
donkey, her symbolic ducks, and Philippe, who divines her adolescent
sorrow, her yearning spirit, her unfulfilled dreams. Her garden upon
the immemorial and paludian plains of Arles is threaded by silver
waters, illuminated by copper sunsets, their tones reverberating from
her robes. Something of Maeterlinck's stammering, girlish, questioning
Mélisande is in Bérénice. Maeterlinckian, too, is the statement that
"For an accomplished spirit there is but one dialogue--that between
our two Egos, the momentary Ego we are, and the ideal Ego toward which
we strive." Bérénice would marry Philippe. We hold our breath, hoping
that his tyrant Ego may relax, and that, off guard, he may snatch with
fearful joy the chance to gain this childlike creature. Alas! there is
a certain M. Martin, who is Philippe's political adversary--Philippe
is a candidate for the legislature; he is become practical; in the
heat of his philosophic egoism he finds that if a generous negation is
good waiting ground, wealth and the participation in political affairs
is a better one. M. Martin covets the hand of Bérénice. He repels
her because he is an engineer, a man of positive, practical spirit,
who would drain the marshes in Bérénice's garden of their beautiful
miasmas, and build healthy houses for happy people. To Philippe he is
the "adversary" who despises the contemplative life. "He had a habit
of saying, 'Do you take me for a dreamer?' as one should say, 'Do you
take me for an idiot?'" Philippe, nevertheless, more solicitous of his
Ego than of his affections, advises Bérénice to marry M. Martin. This
she does, and dies like a flower in a cellar. She is a lovely memory
for our young idealist, who in voluptuous accents rhapsodises about
her as did Sterne over his dead donkey. Sensibility, all this, to the
very ultima Thule of egoism. Then, Philippe obtains the concession of
a suburban hippodrome. Poor Bérénice! _Pauvre Petite_--_Secousse_! The
name of this book was to have been _Qualis artifex pereo_! And there is
a fitting Neronic tang to its cruel and sentimental episodes that would
have justified the title. But for Barrès, it has a Goethian quality;
"all is true, nothing exact."

In 1892 was published The Enemy of Law, a book of violent anarchical
impulse and lyric disorder. It is still Philippe, though under another
name, André, who approves of a bomb launched by the hand of an
anarchist, and because of the printed expression of his sympathy he is
sent to prison for a few months. A Free Man, he endures his punishment
philosophically, winning the friendship of a young Frenchwoman, an
_exaltee_, and also of a little Russian princess, a silhouette of Marie
Bashkirtseff, and an unmistakable blood-relative of Stendhal's Lamiel.
After his liberation André makes sentimental pilgrimages with one or
the other, finally with both of his friends, to Germany and elsewhere.
A shaggy dog, Velu, figures largely in these pages, and we are treated
to some disquisitions on canine psychology. Nor are the sketches of
Saint-Simon, Fourier, Karl Marx, Ferdinand Lassalle, and Ludwig of
Bavaria, the Wagnerian idealist, particularly novel. They but reveal
the nascent social sympathies of Barrès, who was at the law-despising
period of his development. His little princess has a touch of Bérénice,
coupled with a Calmuck disregard of the _convenances_; she loves
the "warm smell of stables" and does not fear worldly criticism of
her conduct; the trio vanish in a too Gallic, too rose-coloured
perspective. A volume of protest, The Enemy of Law served its turn,
though here the phrase--clear, alert, suave--of his earlier books is
transformed to a style charged with flame and acid. The moral appears
to be dangerous, as well as diverting--develop your instincts to the
uttermost, give satisfaction to your sensibility; then must you attain
the perfection of your Ego, and therefore will not attenuate the purity
of your race. The Russian princess, we are assured, carried with her
the ideas of antique morality.

In the second trilogy--Du Sang, de la Volupté, et de la Mort; Amori
et Dolori Sacrum; and Les Amitiés Françaises--we begin an itinerary
which embraces parts of Italy, Spain, Germany, France, particularly
Lorraine. Barrès must be ranked among those travellers of acute
vision and æsthetic culture who in their wanderings disengage the
soul of a city, of a country. France, from Count de Caylus and the
Abbé Barthélémy (Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis) to Stendhal, Taine, and
Bourget, has given birth to many distinguished examples. The first of
the new group, Blood, Pleasure, and Death--a sensational title for a
work so rich and consoling in substance--is a collection of essays and
tales. The same young man describes his æsthetic and moral impressions
before the masterpieces of Angelo and Vinci, or the tombs, cathedrals,
and palaces of Italy and Spain. Cordova is visited, the gardens of
Lombardy, Ravenna, Parma--Stendhal's beloved city--Siena, Pisa; there
are love episodes in diaphanous keys. Barrès, ever magnanimous in his
critical judgments, pays tribute to the memory of his dead friends,
Jules Tellier and Marie Bashkirtseff. He understood her soul, though
afterward cooled when he discovered the reality of the Bashkirtseff
legend. (He speaks of the house in which she died as 6 Rue de Prony;
Marie died at 30 Rue Ampère.) In the succeeding volume, consecrated
to love and sorrow, the soul of Venice, the soul of a dead city, is
woven with souvenirs of Goethe, Byron, Chateaubriand, Musset, George
Sand, Taine, Léopold Robert the painter-suicide, Théophile Gautier,
and Richard Wagner. The magic of these prose-dreams is not that of an
artist merely revelling in description; Pierre Loti, for instance,
writes with no philosophy but that of the disenchanted; he is a more
luscious Sénancour; D'Annunzio has made of Venice a golden monument
to his gigantic pride as poet. Not so Barrès. The image of death and
decay, the recollections of the imperial and mighty past aroused by his
pen are as so many chords in his egoistic philosophy: Venice guarded
its Ego from the barbarians; from the dead we learn the secret of
life. The note of revolt which sounded so drastically in The Enemy of
Law is absent here; in that story Barrès, mindful of Auguste Comte
and Ibsen, asserted that the dead poisoned the living. The motive of
reverence for the soil, for the past, the motive of traditionalism,
is beginning to be overheard. In French Friendships, he takes his
little son Philippe to Joan of Arc's country and enforces the lesson
of patriotism. In his Le Voyage de Sparte, the same spirit is present.
He is the man from Lorraine at Corinth, Eleusis, or Athens, humble
and solicitous for the soul of his race, eager to extract a moral
benefit from the past. He studies the Antigone of Sophocles, the Helen
of Goethe. He also praises his master, the classical scholar, Louis
Ménard. Barrès has, in a period when France seems bent on burning its
historical ships, destroying precious relics of its past, blown the
trumpet of alarm; not the destructive blast of Nietzsche, but one that
calls "Spare our dead!" Little wonder Bourget pronounced him the most
efficacious servitor, at the present hour, of France the eternal. Force
and spiritual fecundity Barrès demands of himself; force and spiritual
fecundity he demands from France. And, like the vague insistent
thrumming of the _tympani_, a ground bass in some symphonic poem,
the idea of nationalism is gradually disclosed as we decipher these
palimpsests of egoism.


The art of Barrès till this juncture had been of a smoky enchantment,
many-hued, of shifting shapes, often tenuous, sometimes opaque, yet
ever graceful, ever fascinating. Whether he was a great spiritual force
or only an amazing protean acrobat, coquetting with the _Zeitgeist_,
his admirers and enemies had not agreed upon. He had further clouded
public opinion by becoming a Boulangist deputy from Nancy, and his
apparition in the Chamber must have been as bizarre as would have been
Shelley's in Parliament. Barrès but followed the illustrious lead of
Hugo, Lamartine, Lamennais. His friends were moved to astonishment. The
hater of the law, the defender in the press of Chambige, the Algerian
homicide, this writer of "precious" literature, among the political
opportunists! Yet he sat as a deputy from 1889 to 1893, and proved
himself a resourceful debater; in the chemistry of his personality
patriotism had been at last precipitated.

His second trilogy of books was his most artistic gift to French
literature. But with the advent, in 1897, of Les Déracinés (The
Uprooted) a sharp change in style may be noted. It is the sociological
novel in all its thorny efflorescence. Diction is no longer in the
foreground. Vanished the velvety rhetoric, the musical phrase, the
nervous prose of many facets. Sharp in contour and siccant, every
paragraph is packed with ideas. The Uprooted is formidable reading,
but we at least touch the rough edges of reality. Men and women
show familiar gestures; the prizes run for are human; we are in a
dense atmosphere of intrigue, political and personal; Flaubert's
Frédéric Moreau, the young man of confused ideas and feeble volition,
once more appears as a cork in the whirlpool of modern Paris. The
iconoclast that is in the heart of this poet is rampant. He smashes
institutions, though his criticism is often constructive. He strives
to expand the national soul, strives to combat cynicism, and he urges
decentralisation as the sole remedy for the canker that he believes is
blighting France. Bourget holds that "Society is the functioning of
a federation of organisms of which the individual is the cell"; that
functioning, says Barrès, is ill served by the violent uprooting of
the human organism from its earth. A man best develops in his native
province. His deracination begins with the education that sends him
to Paris, there to lose his originality. The individual can flourish
only in the land where the mysterious forces of heredity operate, make
richer his Ego, and create solidarity--that necromantic word which, in
the hands of social preachers, has become a glittering and illuding
talisman. A tree does not grow upward unless its roots plunge deeply
into the soil. A wise administrator attaches the animal to the pasture
that suits it. (But Barrès himself still lives in Paris.)

This nationalism of Barrès is not to be confounded with the perfidious
slogan of the politicians; it is a national symbol for many youth
of his land. Nor is Barrès affiliated with some extreme modes of
socialism--socialism, that daydream of a retired green-grocer who
sports a cultivated taste for dominoes and penny philanthropy. To those
who demand progress, he asks, Progressing toward what? Rather let us
face the setting sun. Do not repudiate the past. Hold to our dead. They
realise for us the continuity of which we are the ephemeral expression.
The cult of the "I" is truly the cult of the dead. Egoism must not be
construed as the average selfishness of humanity; the higher egoism
is the art--Barrès artist, always--of canalising one's Ego for the
happiness of others. Out of the Barrès nationalism has grown a mortuary
philosophy; we see him rather too fond of culling the flowers in the
cemetery as he takes his evening stroll. When a young man he was
obsessed by the vision of death. His logic is sometimes audaciously
romantic; he paints ideas in a dangerously seductive style; and he is
sometimes carried away by the electric energy which agitates his not
too robust physique. This cult of the dead, while not morbid, smacks
nevertheless of the Chinese. Our past need not be in a graveyard, and
one agrees with Jean Dolent that man is surely matter, but that his
soul is his own work.

Latterly the patriotism of Barrès is beginning to assume an unpleasant
tinge. In his azure, _chauvinisme_ is the ugliest cloud. He loves the
fatal word "revenge." In the Service of Germany presents a pitiable
picture of a young Alsatian forced to military service in the German
army. It is not pleasing, and the rage of Barrès will be voted laudable
until we recall the stories by Frenchmen of the horrors of French
military life. He upholds France for the French. It is a noble idea,
but it leads to narrowness and fanatical outbreaks. His influence
was great from 1888 to 1893 among the young men. It abated, to be
renewed in 1896 and 1897. It reached its apogee a few years ago. The
Rousseau-like cry, "Back to the soil!" made of Barrès an idol in
several camps. His election to the Academy, filling the vacancy caused
by the death of the poet De Hérédia, was the consecrating seal of a
genius who has the gift of projecting his sympathies in many different
directions, only to retrieve as by miraculous tentacles the richest
moral and æsthetic nourishment. We should not forget to add, that by
the numerous early Barrèsians, the Academician is now looked upon as a
backslider from the cause of philosophic anarchy.

The determinism of Taine stems in Germany and his theory of environment
has been effectively utilised by Barrès. In The Uprooted, the argument
is driven home by the story of seven young Lorrainers who descend upon
Paris to capture it. Their Professor Bouteiller (said to be a portrait
of Barrès's old master Burdeau at Nancy) has educated them as if
"they might some day be called upon to do without a mother-country."
Paris is a vast maw which swallows them. They are disorganised by
transplantation. (What young American would be, we wonder?) Some
drift into anarchy, one to the scaffold because of a murder; all are
_arrivistes_; and the centre figure, Sturel, is a failure because he
cannot reconcile himself to new, harsh conditions. They blame their
professor. He diverted the sap of their nationalism into strange
channels. A few "arrive," though not in every instance by laudable
methods. One is a scholar. The account of his interview with Taine and
Taine's conversation with him is another evidence of the intellectual
mimicry latent in Barrès. He had astonished us earlier by his
recrudescence of Renan's very fashion of speech and ideas; literally a
feat of literary prestidigitation. There are love, political intrigue,
and a dramatic assassination--the general conception of which recalls
to us the fact that Barrès once sat at the knees of Bourget, and had
read that master's novel, Le Disciple. A striking episode is that
of the meeting of the seven friends at the tomb of Napoleon, there
to meditate upon his grandeur and to pledge themselves to follow
his illustrious example. "Professor of Energy" he is denominated. A
Professor of Spiritual Energy is certainly Maurice Barrès. In another
scene Taine demonstrates the theory of nationalism by the parable of
a certain plane tree in the Square of the Invalides. For the average
lover of French fiction The Uprooted must prove trying. It is, with
its two companions in this trilogy of The Novel of National Energy, a
social document, rather than a romance. It embodies so clearly a whole
cross-section of earnest French youths' moral life, that--with L'Appel
au Soldat, and Leurs Figures, its sequels--it may be consulted in the
future for a veridic account of the decade it describes. One seems
to lean from a window and watch the agitation of the populace which
swarmed about General Boulanger; or to peep through keyholes and see
the end of that unfortunate victim of treachery and an ill-disciplined
temperament. Barrès later reviles the friends of Boulanger who deserted
him, by his delineation of the Panama scandal. Yet it is all as dry
as a parliamentary blue-book. After finishing these three novels, the
impression created is that the flaw in the careers of four or five of
the seven young men from Lorraine was not due to their uprooting, but
to their lack of moral backbone.

Paris is no more difficult a social medium to navigate in than New
York; the French capital has been the battlefield of all French genius;
but neither in New York nor in Paris can a young man face the conflict
so loaded down with the burden of general ideas and with so scant
a moral outfit as possessed by these same young men. The Lorraine
band--is it a possible case? No doubt. Nevertheless, if its members had
remained at Nancy they might have been shipwrecked for the same reason.
Why does not M. Barrès show his cards? The Kingdom on the table!
cries Hilda Wangel to her Masterbuilder. Love of the natal soil does
not make a complete man; some of the greatest patriots have been the
greatest scoundrels. M. Bourget sums up the situation more lucidly than
M. Barrès, who is in such a hurry to mould citizens that he omits an
essential quality from his programme--God (or character, moral force,
if you prefer other terms). Now, when a rationalistic philosopher
considers God as an intellectual abstraction, he is not illogical.
Scepticism is his stock in trade. But can Maurice Barrès elude the
issue? Can he handle the tools of such pious workmen as Loyola, De
Sales, and Thomas à Kempis, for the building of his soul, and calmly
overlook the inspiration of those masons of men? It is one of the
defects of dilettanteism that it furnishes a _point d'appui_ for the
liberated spirit to see-saw between free-will and determinism, between
the Lord of Hosts and the Lucifer of Negation. Paul Bourget feels this
spiritual dissonance. Has he not said that the day may come when Barrès
may repeat the phrase of Michelet: _Je ne me peux passer de Dieu!_
Has Maurice Barrès already plodded the same penitential route without
indulging in an elliptical flight to a new artificial paradise?

If his moral evolution, so insistently claimed by his disciples,
has been of a zigzag nature, if _lacunæ_ abound in his system and
paradoxical _vues d'ensemble_ often distract, yet logical evolution
there has been--from the maddest, romantic individualism to a
well-defined solidarity--and without attenuation of the dignity and
utility of the Individual in the scheme of collectivism. The Individual
is the Salt of the State. The Individual leavens the mass politic.
Numbers will never supplant the value, psychic or economic, of the
Individual. Emerson and Matthew Arnold said all this before Barrès.
Incomparable artist as is Maurice Barrès, we still must demand of him:
"In Vishnu-land what Avatar!"





Coleridge quotes Sir Joshua Reynolds as declaring that "the greatest
man is he who forms the taste of a nation; the next greatest is he
who corrupts it." It is an elastic epigram and not unlike the rule
which is poor because it won't work both ways. All master reformers,
heretics, and rebels were at first great corrupters. It is a prime
necessity in their propaganda. Aristophanes and Arius, Mohammed and
Napoleon, Montaigne and Rabelais, Paul and Augustine, Luther and
Calvin, Voltaire and Rousseau, Darwin and Newman, Liszt and Wagner,
Kant and Schopenhauer--here are a few names of men who undermined the
current beliefs and practices of their times, whether for good or evil.
Rousseau has been accused of being the greatest corrupter in history;
yet to him we may owe the Constitution of the United States. Pascal,
in prose of unequalled limpidity, denounced the Jesuits as corrupting
youth. Nevertheless, Dr. Georg Brandes, an "intellectual" and a
philosophic anarch, once wrote to Nietzsche: "I, too, love Pascal. But
even as a young man I was on the side of the Jesuits against Pascal.
Wise men, it was they who were right; he did not understand them; but
they understood him and ... they published his Provincial Letters with
notes themselves. The best edition is that of the Jesuits," Were not
Titian, Rubens, and Rembrandt the three unspeakable devils of painting
for Blake? Loosely speaking, then, it doesn't much matter whether one
considers a great man as a regenerator or a corrupter. Napoleon was
called the latter by Taine after he had been saluted as demigod by
his idolatrous contemporaries. Nor does the case of Nietzsche differ
much from his philosophic forerunners. He scolded Schopenhauer, though
borrowing his dialectic tools, as he later mocked at the one sincere
friendship of his lonely life, Richard Wagner's. We know the most
objective philosophies are tinged by the individual temperaments of
their makers, and perhaps the chief characteristic of all philosophers
is their unphilosophic contempt for their fellow-thinkers. Nietzsche
displayed this trait; so did Richard Wagner--who was in a lesser
fashion an amateur philosopher, his system adorned by plumes borrowed
from Feuerbach, Schelling, and Schopenhauer. Arthur Schopenhauer was
endowed with a more powerful intellect than either Wagner or Nietzsche.
He "corrupted" them both. He was materialist enough to echo the
epigram attributed to Fontenelle: To be happy a man must have a good
stomach and a wicked heart.

Friedrich Nietzsche was more poet than original thinker. Merely to say
Nay! to all existing institutions is not to give birth to a mighty
idea, though the gesture is brave. He substituted for Schopenhauer's
"Will to Live"--(an ingenious variation of Kant's "Thing in Itself")
the "Will to Power"; which phrase is mere verbal juggling. The late
Eduard von Hartmann built his house of philosophy in the fog of the
Unconscious; Nietzsche, despising Darwin as a dull grubber, returned
unknowingly to the very land of metaphysics he thought he had fled
forever. He was always the theologian--_toujours séminariste_, as they
said of Renan. Theology was in his blood. It stiffened his bones.
Abusing Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, he was
himself an exponent of a theological odium of the virulent sort, as
may be seen in his thundering polemics. He held a brief for the other
side of good and evil; but a man can't so easily empty his veins of the
theologic blood of his forebears. It was his Nessus shirt and ended
by consuming him. He had the romantic cult of great men, yet sneered
at Carlyle for his Titanism. He believed in human perfectibility. He
borrowed his Superman partly from the classic pantheon, partly from
the hierarchy of Christian saints--or perhaps from the very Cross he
vituperated. The only Christian, he was fond of saying, died on the
Cross. The only Nietzschian, one might reply, passed away when crumbled
the brilliant brain of Nietzsche. Saturated with the culture of Goethe,
his Superman was sent ballooning aloft by the poetic afflatus of

He was an apparition possible only in modern and rationalistic
Protestant Germany. Like a voice from the Middle Ages he has stirred
the profound phlegm and spiritual indifference of his fellow
countrymen. But he has in him more of Savonarola than Luther--Luther,
who was for him the apotheosis of all that is hateful in the German
character: the self-satisfied philistinism, sensuality, beer and
tobacco, unresponsiveness to all the finer issues of existence, pious
tactlessness and harsh dogmatism.

His truth is enclosed in a transcendental vacuum. Whether he had
Galton's science of Eugenics in his mind when he modelled his
Zarathustra we need not concern ourselves. His revaluation of
moral values has not shaken morality to its centre. He challenged
superficial conventional morality, but the ultimate pillars of faith
still stand. He reminds us of William Blake when he writes: "The
path to one's heaven ever leads through the voluptuousness of one's
own hell." And his psychical resemblance to Pascal is striking. Both
men were physically debilitated; their nervous systems, overwhelmed
by the burdens they imposed upon them, made their days and nights
a continuous agony. The Nietzschian philosophy may be negligible,
but the psychological aspects of this singularly versatile,
fascinating, and contradictory nature are not. His "Will to Power"
in his own case resolves itself into the will to suffer. Compared
to his, Schopenhauer's pessimism is the good-natured grumbling of a
healthy, witty man, with a tremendous vital temperament. Nietzsche
was delicate from youth. His experiences in the Franco-Prussian war
harmed him. Headache, eye trouble, a weak stomach, coupled with his
abuse of intellectual work, and, toward the last, indulgence in
narcotics for insomnia, all coloured his philosophy. The personal
bias was unescapable, and this bias favoured sickness, not health.
Hence his frantic apotheosis of health, the dance and laughter, and
his admiration for Bizet's Carmen. Hence his constant employment of
joyful imagery, of bold defiance to the sober workaday world. His
famous injunction: "Be hard!" was meant for his own unhappy soul, ever
nearing, like Pascal's, the abyss of black melancholy.

While we believe that too much stress has been laid upon the
pathologic side of Pascal's and Nietzsche's characters, there is no
evading the fact that both seemed tinged with what Kurt Eisner calls
_psychopathia spiritualis_. The references to suffering in Nietzsche's
books are significant. There is a vibrating accent of personal sorrow
on every page. He lived in an inferno, mental and physical. We are
given to praising Robert Louis Stevenson for his cheerfulness in the
dire straits of his illness. He was a mere amateur of misery, a
professional invalid, in comparison with Nietzsche. And how cruel was
the German poet to himself. He tied his soul to a stake and recorded
the poignant sensations of his spiritual _auto-da-fé_. At the close of
his sane days we find him taking a dolorous pride in his capacity for
suffering. "It is great affliction only--that long, slow affliction in
which we are burned as it were with green wood, which takes time--that
compels us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depth and divest
ourselves of all trust, all good nature, glossing, gentleness.... I
doubt whether such affliction improves us; but I know that it deepens
us.... Oh, how repugnant to one henceforth is gratification, coarse,
dull, drab-coloured gratification, as usually understood by those who
enjoy life!... Profound suffering makes noble; it separates. ... There
are free, insolent minds that would fain conceal and deny that at
the bottom they are disjointed, incurable souls--it is the case with
Hamlet." Nietzsche has the morbidly introspective Hamlet temper, and
Pascal has been called the Christian Hamlet.

We read in Overbeck's recollections that Nietzsche manifested deep
interest in the personality of Pascal. Both hated hypocrisy. But
the German thinker saw in the Frenchman of genius only a Christian
who hugged his chains, one who for his faith suffered "a continuous
suicide of reason." (Has not Nietzsche himself also said hard things
about Reason?) "One is punished best by one's virtues" ... or, "He
who fights with monsters, let him be careful lest he thereby become
a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also
gaze into thee." This last is unquestionably a reminiscence of Pascal.
He could not endure with equanimity Pascal's _sacrifizio dell'
intelletto_, not realizing that the Frenchman felt beneath his feet
the solid globe of faith. He discerned the Puritan in Pascal, though
failing to recognise the Puritan in himself. Despite his praise of
the Dionysian element in art and life, a puritan was buried in the
nerves of Nietzsche. He never could tolerate the common bourgeois joys.
Wine, Woman, Song, and their poets, were his detestations. Yet he
hated Puritanism in Protestant Christianity. "The dangerous thrill of
repentance spasms, the vivisection of conscience," he contemns; "even
in every desire for knowledge there is a drop of cruelty." He wrote
to Brandes: "Physically, too, I lived for years in the neighbourhood
of death. This was my great piece of good fortune; I forgot myself. I
outlived myself--a shedding of the skin." Pascal also knew the sting of
the flesh and brain. From the time he had an escape from sudden death,
he was conscious of an abyss at his side. "Men of genius," he wrote,
"have their heads higher but their feet lower than the rest of us."
With Nietzsche there was a darker _nuance_ of pain; he speaks somewhere
of "the philtre of the great Circe of mingled pleasure and cruelty."
His soul was a mysterious palimpsest. The heart has its reasons, cried
Pascal; of Nietzsche's heart the last word has not been written.

His criticism of Pascal was not clement. He said: "In Goethe the
superabundance becomes creative, in Flaubert the hatred; Flaubert,
a new edition of Pascal, but as an artist with instinctive judgment
at bottom.... He tortured himself when he composed, quite as Pascal
tortured himself when he thought." Yes, but Nietzsche was as fierce
a hater as Pascal or Flaubert. He set up for Christianity a straw
adversary and proceeded to demolish it. He forgot that, as Francis
Thompson has it: "It is the severed head that makes the Seraph."
Nietzsche would not look higher than the mud around the pedestal. He,
poor sufferer, was not genuinely impersonal. His tragedy was his sick
soul and body. "If a man cannot sing as he carries his cross, he had
better drop it," advises Havelock Ellis. Nietzsche bore a terrible
cross--like the men staggering with their chimeras in Baudelaire's
poem--but he did not bear it with equanimity. We must not be deceived
by his desperate gayety. As a married man he would never have enjoyed,
as did John Stuart Mill, spiritual henpeckery. He was afraid of life,
this dazzling Zarathustra, who went on Icarus-wings close to the sun.
He could speak of women thus: "We think woman deep--why? Because we
never find any foundation in her. Woman is not even shallow." Or,
"Woman would like to believe that love can do all--it is a superstition
peculiar to herself. Alas! he who knows the heart finds out how poor,
helpless, pretentious, and liable to error even the best, the deepest
love is--how it rather destroys than saves."

_Der Dichter spricht!_ Also the bachelor. Once a Hilda of the younger
generation, Lou Salomé by name, came knocking at the door of the poet's
heart. It was in vain. The wings of a great happiness touched his brow
as it passed, No wonder he wrote: "The desert grows; woe to him who
hides deserts"; "Woman unlearns the fear of man"; "Thou goest to women!
Remember thy whip." (Always this resounding motive of cruelty.) "Thy
soul will be dead even sooner than thy body"; "Once spirit became God;
then it became man; and now it is becoming mob"; "And many a one who
went into the desert and suffered thirst with the camels, merely did
not care to sit around the cistern with dirty camel-drivers." Here is
the aristocratic radical.

It is weakness, admitted Goethe, not to possess the capacity for noble
indignation; but Nietzsche was obsessed by his indignations. His voice,
that golden poet's voice, becomes too often shrill, cracked, and
falsetto. Voltaire has remarked that the first man who compared a woman
to a rose was a poet, the second a fool. In his attitude toward Woman,
Nietzsche was neither fool nor poet; but he never called her a rose.
Nor was he a cynic; he saw too clearly for that, and he had suffered.
Suffering, however, should have been a bond with women. Despite his
cruel utterances he enjoyed several ideal friendships with cultivated
women. "There is no happy life for woman--the advantage that the world
offers her is her choice in self-sacrifice," wrote Mr. Howells. Gossip
has whispered that he was hopelessly in love with Cosima Wagner. A
charming theme for a psychological novel. So was Von Bülow, once--until
he married her; so, Anton Rubinstein. Both abused Wagner's music;
Von Bülow after he became an advocate of Brahms; Rubinstein always.
Nietzsche, just before 1876, experienced the pangs of a Wagnerian
reactionary. A pretty commentary this upon masculine mental superiority
if one woman (even such a remarkable creature as Cosima) could upset
the stanchest convictions of these three men. And convictions, asserted
Nietzsche, are prisons. He contrived to escape from many intellectual
prisons. Cosima had proved the one inflexible jailer.

Merciless to himself, he did not spare others. Of Altruism, with its
fundamental contradictions, he wrote:

      A being capable of purely altruistic actions alone is more
      fabulous than the Phœnix. Never has a man done anything
      solely for others, and without any personal motive; how
      could the Ego act without Ego? ... Suppose a man wished
      to do and to will everything for others, nothing for
      himself, the latter would be impossible, for the very good
      reason that he must do very much for himself, in order to
      do anything at all for others. Moreover, it presupposes
      that the other is egoist enough constantly to accept
      these sacrifices made for him; so that the men of love and
      self-sacrifice have an interest in the continued existence
      of loveless egoists who are incapable of self-sacrifice.
      In order to subsist, the highest morality must positively
      enforce the existence of immorality.--(Menschliches, I,

"Nietzsche's criticism on this point," remarks Professor Seth Pattison,
"must be accepted as conclusive. Every theory which attempts to
divorce the ethical end from the personality of the moral agent must
necessarily fall into this vicious circle; in a sense, the moral centre
and the moral motive must always ultimately be self, the satisfaction
of the self, the perfection of the self. The altruistic virtues, and
self-sacrifice in general, can only enter into the moral ideal so far
as they minister to the realisation of what is recognised to be the
highest type of manhood, the self which finds its own in all men's
good. Apart from this, self-sacrifice, self-mortification for its
own sake, would be a mere negation, and, as such, of no moral value

Hasn't this the familiar ring of Max Stirner and his doctrine of the

Nietzsche with Pascal would have assented that "illness is the natural
state of the true Christian." There was in both thinkers a tendency
toward self-laceration of the conscience. "Il faut s'abêtir," wrote
Pascal; and Nietzsche's pride vanished in the hot fire of suffering.
The Pascal injunction to stupefy ourselves was not to imitate the
beasts of the field, but was a counsel of humility. Montaigne in his
essay on Raymond de Sebonde wrote before Pascal concerning the danger
of overwrought sensibility; (Il nous faut abestir pour nous assagir,
is the original old French). It would have been wise for Nietzsche to
follow Pascal's advice. "We live alone, we die alone," sorrowfully
wrote the greatest religious force of the past century, Cardinal Newman
(a transposition of Pascal's "Nous mourrons seuls"). Nietzsche was the
loneliest of poets. He lived on the heights and paid the penalty, like
other exalted searchers after the vanished vase of the ideal.



Although Macaulay called Horace Walpole a "wretched fribble," that
gossip knew a trick or two in fancy fencing. "Oh," he wrote, "I am sick
of visions and systems that shove one another aside and come again like
figures in a moving picture." This was the outburst of a man called
insincere and fickle, but frank in this instance. Issuing from the
mouth of Friedrich Nietzsche this cry of the entertaining, shallow
Walpole would have been curiously apposite. The unhappy German poet
and philosopher suffered during his intellectual life from the "moving
pictures" of other men's visions and systems, and when he finally
escaped them all and evoked his own dream-world his brain became
over-clouded and he passed away "trailing clouds of glory." It is an
imperative necessity for certain natures to change their opinions, to
slough, as sloughs a snake its skin, their master ideas. Renan went
still further when he asserted that all essayists contradict themselves
sometime during their life.

With Nietzsche the apparent contradictions of his Wagner-worship and
Wagner-hatred may be explained if we closely examine the concepts
of his first work of importance, The Birth of Tragedy. It was a
misfortune that his bitterest book, The Wagner Case, should have
been first translated into English, for Wagner is our music-maker
now, and the rude assaults of Nietzsche fall upon deaf ears; while
those who had read the earlier essay, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth,
were both puzzled and outraged. Certainly the man who could thus
flout what he once adored must have been mad. This was the popular
verdict, a facile and unjust verdict. What Nietzsche first postulated
as to the nature of music he returned to at the close of his life;
the mighty personality of Richard Wagner had deflected the stream
of his thought for a few years. But as early as 1872 doubts began
to trouble his sensitive conscience--this was before his pamphlet
Richard Wagner in Bayreuth--and his notebooks of that period were sown
with question-marks. In the interesting correspondence with Dr. Georg
Brandes, who literally revealed to Europe the genius of Nietzsche, we
find this significant passage:

      I was the first to distil a sort of unity out of the two
      [Schopenhauer and Wagner].... All the Wagnerians are
      disciples of Schopenhauer. Things were different when I
      was young. Then it was the last of the Hegelians who clung
      to Wagner, and "Wagner and Hegel" was still the cry in the

Nietzsche might have added the name of the philosopher Feuerbach.
Wagner's English apologist, Ashton Ellis, repudiates the common belief
that Wagner refashioned the latter part of the Ring so as to introduce
in it his newly acquired Schopenhauerian ideas. Wagner was always
a pessimist, declares Mr. Ellis; Schopenhauer but confirmed him in
his theories. Wagner, like Nietzsche, was too often a weathercock. A
second-rate poet and philosopher, he stands chiefly for his magnificent
music. Nietzsche or any other _polemiker_ cannot change the map of
music by fulminating against Wagner. Time may prove his true foe--the
devouring years that always show such hostility to music of the
theatre, music that is not pure music.

The spirit of the letter to Brandes quoted above may be found in
Nietzsche Contra Wagner (The Case of Wagner, page 72). Nietzsche wrote:

      I similarly interpreted Wagner's music in my own way
      as the expression of a Dionysian powerfulness of
      soul.... It is obvious what I misunderstood, it is
      obvious in like manner what I bestowed upon Wagner and

He read his own enthusiasms, his Hellenic ideals, into the least Greek
among composers. Wagner himself was at first pleased, also not a little
nonplussed by the idolatry of Nietzsche. Remember that this young
philologist was a musician as well as a brilliant scholar.

Following Schopenhauer in his main contention that music is a
presentative, not a representative art; the noumenon, not the
phenomenon--as are, for instance, painting and sculpture--Nietzsche
held that the unity of music is undeniable. There is no dualism,
such as instrumental music and vocal music. Sung music is only music
presented by a sonorous vocal organ; the words are negligible. A poem
may be a starting-point for the composer, yet in poetry there is
not the potentiality of tone (this does not naturally refer to the
literary tone-quality of music). From a non-musical thing music cannot
be evolved. There is only absolute music. Its beginning is absolute.
All other is a masquerading. The dramatic singer is a monstrosity--the
actual words of Nietzsche. Opera is a debased genre. We almost expect
the author to deny, as denied Hanslick, music any content whatsoever.
But this he does not. He is too much the Romantic. For him the poem
of Tristan was but the "vapour" of the music. Music is the archetype
of the arts. It is the essence of Greek tragedy and therefore
pessimistic. Tragedy is pessimism. The two faces of the Greek art he
calls the Apollonian and the Dionysian impulses. One is the Classic,
the other the Romantic; calm beauty as opposed to bacchantic ecstasy.
Wagner, Nietzsche identified with the Dionysian element, and he was
not far wrong; but Greek? The passionate welter of this new music
stirred Nietzsche's excitable young nerves. He was, like many of his
contemporaries, swept away in the boiling flood of the Wagnerian sea.
It appeared to him, the profound Greek scholar, as a recrudescence of
Dionysian joy. Instead, it was the topmost crest of the dying waves of
Romanticism. Nietzsche later realised this fact. To Brandes he wrote:

Your German romanticism has made me reflect how the whole movement
only attained its goal in music (Schumann, Mendelssohn, Weber, Wagner,
Brahms); in literature it stopped short with a huge promise--the French
were more fortunate. I am afraid I am too much of a musician not to be
a Romanticist. Without music life would be a mistake.... With regard to
the effect of Tristan I could tell you strange things. A good dose of
mental torture strikes me as an excellent tonic before a meal of Wagner.

Nietzsche loved Wagner the man more than Wagner the musician. The news
of Wagner's death in 1883 was a terrible blow for him. He wrote Frau
Wagner a letter of condolence, which was answered from Bayreuth by her
daughter Daniela von Bülow. (See the newly published Overbeck Letters.)

Nothing could be more unfair than to ascribe to Nietzsche petty
motives in his breaking off with Wagner. There were minor differences,
but it was Parsifal and its drift toward Rome, that shocked the
former disciple. What he wrote of Wagner and Wagnerism may be
interpreted according to one's own views, but the Parsifal criticism
is sound. That parody of the Roman Catholic ceremonial and ideas,
and the glorification of its psychopathic hero, with the consequent
degradation of the idea of womanhood, Nietzsche saw and denounced.
"I despise everyone who does not regard Parsifal as an outrage on
morals," he cried. To-day his denunciations are recognised by wise
folk as wisdom. He first heard Carmen in Genoa, November 27, 1881.
To his exacerbated nerves its rich southern melodies were soothing.
He overpraised the opera--which is a sparkling compound of Gounod
and Spanish gypsy airs; an _olla podrida_ as regards style. He knew
that this was bonbon music compared with Wagner. And the confession
was wrung from his lips: "We must first be Wagnerians." Thus, as he
escaped from Schopenhauer's pessimism, he plucked from his heart his
affection for Wagner. He had become Zarathustra. He painted Wagner as
an "ideal monster," but the severing of the friendship cost Nietzsche
his happiness. An extraordinary mountain-mania attacked him on the
heights of the upper Engadine. All that he had once admired he now
hated. He had a positive genius for hatred, even more so than Huysmans;
both writers were bilious melancholics, and both were alike in the
display of heavy-handed irony. With Nietzsche's "ears for quarter
tones"--as he told Brandes--it would have been far better for him to
remain with Peter Gast in Italy, while the latter was writing that
long-contemplated study on Chopin. Nietzsche loved the music of the
Pole who had introduced into the heavy monochrome of German harmonies
an exotic and chromatic gamut of colours.

If Wagner erred in his belief that it was the drama not the music which
ruled in his own compositions (for his talk about the welding of the
different arts is an æsthetic nightmare), why should not Nietzsche
have made a mistake in ascribing to Wagner his own exalted ideals?
Wagner's music is the Wagner music drama. That is a commonplace of
criticism--though not at Bayreuth. Nietzsche taught the supremacy of
tone in his early book. He detested so-called musical realism. These
two men became friends through a series of mutual misunderstandings.
When Nietzsche discovered that music and philosophy had naught in
common--and he had hoped that Wagner's would prove the solvent--he
cooled off in his faith. It was less an apostasy than we believe.
Despite his eloquent affirmation of Wagnerism, Nietzsche was never
in his innermost soul a Wagnerian. Nor yet was he insincere. This may
seem paradoxical. He had felt the "pull" of Wagner's genius, and,
as in the case of his Schopenhauer worship, he temporarily lost his
critical bearings. This accounts for his bitterness when he found the
feet of his idol to be clay. He was lashing his own bare soul in each
scarifying phrase he applied to Wagner. He saw the free young Siegfried
become the old Siegfried in the manacles of determinism and pessimism;
then followed Parsifal and Wagner's apostasy--Nietzsche believed Wagner
was going back to Christianity. There is more consistency in the case
of Friedrich Nietzsche than has been acknowledged by the Wagnerians.
He, the philosopher of decadence and romanticism, could have said
to Wagner as Baudelaire to Manet: "You are only the first in the
decrepitude of your art."

If Nietzsche considered the poem a vaporous background for the
passionate musical mosaic of Tristan and Isolde, what would he
have thought if he could have heard the tonal interpretation of
his Also Sprach Zarathustra, as conceived by the mathematical and
emotional brain of Richard Strauss? I recall the eagerness with
which I asked an impossible question of Frau Foerster-Nietzsche
when at the Nietzsche-Archive, Weimar, in 1904: Is this tone-poem
by Richard Strauss truly Nietzschean? Her tact did not succeed in
quite veiling a hint of dubiety, though the noble sister of the dead
philosopher was too tender-hearted to suggest a formal criticism of
the composer's imposing sound-palace. It is not, however, difficult
to imagine Nietzsche, alive, glaring in dismay and with "embellished
indignation" as he hears the dance theme in Zarathustra. Nor would he
be less surprised if he had suddenly forced upon his consciousness a
performance of Claude Debussy's mooning, mystic, _triste_ Pélléas et
Mélisande, with its invertebrate charm, its innocuous sensuousness,
its absence of thematic material, its perverse harmonies, its lack of
rhythmic variety, and its faded sweetness, like that evoked by musty,
quaint tapestry in languid motion. (Debussy might have delved deeper
into churchly modes and for novelty's sake even employed pneumes to
lend his score a still more venerable aspect. Certainly his tonalities
are on the other side of diatonic and chromatic. Why not call them
_pneumatic_ scales?) Surely Nietzsche could not have refrained from
exclaiming: Ah! the pathos of distance! Ah! what musical sins thou must
take upon thee, Richard Wagner! Strauss and Debussy are the legitimate
fruits of thy evil tree of music!

Miserably happy poet, like one of those Oriental wonder-workers dancing
in ecstasy on white-hot sword-blades, the tears all the while streaming
down his cheeks as he proclaims his new gospel of joy: "_Il faut
méditerraniser la musique._" Alas! the pathos of Nietzsche's reality.
Reality for this self-tortured Hamlet-soul was a spiritual crucifixion
and a spiritual tragedy.



The penalty of misrepresentation and misinterpretation seems to
be attached to every new idea that comes to birth through the
utterances of genius. At first with Wagner it was the "noise-making
Wagner"--whereas he is a master of plangent harmonies. Ibsen, we
were told, couldn't write a play. His dramatic technique is nearly
faultless; in reality, with its unities there is a suspicion of the
academic in it and a perilous approach to the Chinese ivory mechanism
of Scribe. And paint, Paris asserted, the late Edouard Manet could
not. It was precisely his almost miraculous manipulation of paint that
sets this artist apart from his fellows. The same tactless rating
of Friedrich Nietzsche has prevailed in the general critical and
popular imagination. Nietzsche has become the bugaboo of timid folk.
He has been denounced as the Antichrist; yet he has been the subject
of a discriminating study in such a conservative magazine as the
_Catholic World_. Thanks to the conception of some writers, Nietzsche
and the Nietzschians are gigantic brutes, a combination of Genghis
Khan and Bismarck, terrifying apparitions wearing mustachios like
yataghans, eyes rolling in frenzy, with a philosophy that ranged from
pitch-and-toss to manslaughter, and with a consuming atheism as a side
attraction. Need we protest that this is Nietzsche misread, Nietzsche
butchered to make a stupid novelist's holiday.

Ideas to be vitally effective must, like scenery, be run on during the
exact act of the contemporary drama. The aristocratic individualism of
Nietzsche came at a happy moment when the stage was bare yet encumbered
with the débris of socialistic theories left over from the storm that
first swept all Europe in 1848. It was necessary that the pendulum
should swing in another direction. The small voice of Max Stirner--who,
as the French would say, imitated Nietzsche in advance--was swallowed
in the universal gabble of sentimental humanitarianism preached from
pulpits and barricades. Nietzsche's appearance marked one of those
precise psychological moments when the rehabilitation of an old idea in
a new garment of glittering rhetoric would resemble a new dispensation.
For over a decade now the fame and writings of the Saxon-born
philosopher have traversed the intellectual life of the Continent. He
was translated into a dozen languages, he was expounded, schools sprang
up and his disciples fought furious battles in his name. His doctrines,
because of their dynamic revolutionary quality, were impudently annexed
by men whose principles would have been abhorrent to the unfortunate
thinker. Nietzsche, who his life long had attacked socialism in its
myriad shapes, was captured by the socialists. However, the regression
of the wave of admiration has begun not only in Germany but in France,
once his greatest stronghold. The real Nietzsche, undimmed by violent
partisanship and equally violent antagonism, has emerged. No longer is
he a bogey man, not a creature of blood and iron, not a constructive or
an academic philosopher, but simply a brilliant and suggestive thinker
who, because of the nature of his genius, could never have erected
an elaborate philosophic system, and a writer not quite as dangerous
to established religion and morals as some critics would have us
believe. He most prided himself on his common sense, on his "realism,"
as contradistinguished from the cobweb-spinning idealisms of his
philosophic predecessors.

Early in 1908 a book was published at Jena entitled Franz Overbeck
and Friedrich Nietzsche, by Carl Albrecht Bernouilli. In it at great
length and with clearness was described the friendship of Overbeck--a
well-known church historian and culture-novelist, born at St.
Petersburg of German and English parents--and Nietzsche during their
Basel period. Interesting is the story of his relations with Richard
Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt, the historian of the Renaissance. As a
youth Nietzsche had won the praises of both Rietschl and Burckhardt for
his essay on Theognis. This was before 1869, in which year at the age
of twenty-six he took his doctor's degree and accepted the chair of
classical philology at Basel. His friend Overbeck noted his dangerously
rapid intellectual development and does not fail to record, what has
never been acknowledged by the dyed-in-the-wool Nietzschians, that the
"Master" had read and inwardly digested Max Stirner's anarchistic work,
The Ego and His Own. Not only is this long-denied fact set forth, but
Overbeck, in a careful analysis, reaches the positive conclusion that,
notwithstanding his profound erudition, his richly endowed nature,
Friedrich Nietzsche is not one of the world's great men; that in his
mad endeavour to carve himself into the semblance of his own Superman
he wrecked brain and body.

The sad irony of this book lies in the fact that the sister of
Nietzsche, Frau Foerster-Nietzsche, who nursed the poet-philosopher
from the time of his breakdown in 1888 till his death in 1900; who
for twenty years has by pen and personally made such a successful
propaganda for his ideas, was in at least three letters--for the first
time published by Bernouilli--insulted grievously by her brother.
This posthumous hatred as expressed in the acrid prose of Nietzsche
is terribly disenchanting. He calls her a meddlesome woman without a
particle of understanding of his ideals. He declares that she martyred
him, made him ridiculous, and in the last letter he wrote her, dated
December, 1886, he wonders at the enigma of fate that made two persons
of such different temperaments blood-relatives. Bernouilli, the
editor of these Overbeck letters, adds insult to injury by calling
the unselfish, noble-minded sister and biographer of her brother a
tyrannical and not very intellectual person, who often wounded her
brother with her advice and criticism.

Peter Gast doubts the authenticity of these letters, for, as he
truthfully points out, the love of Nietzsche for his sister, as
evidenced by an ample correspondence, was great. We recall the touching
exclamation of the sick philosopher when once at his sister's house in
Weimar he saw her weeping: "Don't cry, little sister, we are all so
happy now." That "now" had a sinister significance, for the brilliant
thinker was quite helpless and incapable of reading through the page
of a book, though he was never the lunatic pictured by some of his
opponents. A deep melancholy had settled upon his soul and he died
without enjoying the light of a returned reason. It has not occurred to
German critics that these letters even if genuine are the product of a
diseased imagination. Nietzsche became a very suspicious man after his
break with Wagner. He suffered from the mania of persecution. He hated
mankind and fled to the heights of Sils-Maria to escape what Poe aptly
described as the "tyranny of the human face."

The first thing that occurs to one after reading Beyond Good and
Evil is that Nietzsche is more French than German. It is well known
that his favourites were the _pensée_ writers, Pascal, La Bruyère,
La Rochefoucauld, Fontenelle, Chamfort, Vauvenargues. A peripatetic
because of chronic ill health--he had the nerves of a Shelley and the
stomach of a Carlyle--his ideas were jotted down during his long
walks in the Engadine. Naturally they assumed the form of aphorisms,
epigrams, _jeux d'esprit_. With his increasing illness came the
inability to write more than a few pages of connected thoughts. His
best period was between the years 1877 and 1882. He had attacked
Schopenhauer; he wished to be free to go up to the "heights" unimpeded
by the baggage of other men's ideas. It was with disquietude that his
friends witnessed the growing self-exaltation that may be noted in the
rhapsodical Zarathustra.

He felt the ground sinking under him--his pride of intellect Luciferian
in intensity--and his latter works were a desperate challenge to his
darkening brain and the world that refused to recognize his value.

Nietzsche had the true ascetic's temperament. He lived the life of
a strenuous saint, and his Beyond Good and Evil might land us in
a barren desert, where austerity would rule our daily conduct. To
become a Superman one must renounce the world. It was the easy-going,
down-at-the-heel morality of the world, its carrying water on both
shoulders, that stirred the wrath of this earnest man of blameless
life and provoked from him so much brilliant and fascinating prose.
He wrote a swift, golden German. He was a stylist. The great culture
hero of his day, nourished on Latin and Greek, he waged war against the
moral ideas of his generation and ruined his intellect in the unequal
conflict. He turned on himself and rended his soul into shreds rather
than join in the affirmations of recognised faith. Yet what eloquent,
touching pages he has devoted to the founder of the Christian religion.
His last signature in the letter to Brandes reveals the preoccupation
of his memory with the religion he despised. Nietzsche made the great
renunciation of inherited faith and committed spiritual suicide.
Libraries are filled with the works of his commentators, eager to make
of him what he was not. He has been shamelessly exploited. He has
been called the forerunner of Pragmatism. He was a poet, an artist,
who saw life as a gorgeously spun dream, not as a dreary phalanstery.
He belonged rather to Goethe and Faust than to Schopenhauer or the
positivists. Hellenism was his first and last love.

The correspondence between Nietzsche and his famulus, the musician
Peter Gast--whose real name is Heinrich Kôselitz--from 1876 to 1889,
appeared last autumn and comprises 278 letters. Another Nietzsche
appears--gentle, suffering, as usual still hopeful. He loves Italy;
at the end, Turin is his favourite city. There is little except in
the final communication to show a mind cracking asunder. No doubt
this correspondence was given to the world as an offset to the
Overbeck-Bernouilli letters.

Leslie Stephen declared that no one ever wrote a dull autobiography,
and risking a bull, added, "The very dulness would be interesting." Yet
one is not afraid to maintain that Friedrich Nietzsche's autobiography
is rather a disappointment; possibly because too much was expected.
It should not be forgotten that Nietzsche, when at Wagner's villa
Triebschen, near Lucerne, read and corrected Wagner's autobiography,
which is yet to see the light of publication. He seems to have violated
certain confidences, for he was the first--that is, in latter years--to
revive the story of Wagner's blood relationship to his stepfather,
Ludwig Geyer. In Leipsic this was a thrice-told tale. Moreover, he
warned us to be suspicious of great men's autobiographies and then
wrote one himself, wrote it in three weeks, beginning October 15, 1888,
the forty-fourth anniversary of his birth, and ending with difficulty
November 4. It rings sincere, and was composed at white heat, but
unhappily for this present curious generation of Nietzsche readers it
tells very little that is new.

Notwithstanding Nietzsche's wish that the book should not exceed in
price over a mark and a half, a limited edition de luxe has been put
forth with the acquiescence of the Nietzsche archive, Weimar, and at
a high price. This edition is limited to 1,250 copies. It is clearly
printed, but the decorative element is rather bizarre. Henry Van
de Velde of the Weimar Art School is the designer of the title and
ornaments. Raoul Richter, professor at the Leipsic University, has
written a few appreciative words at the close.

Nietzsche was at Turin, November, 1888. There he wrote the following
to Professor Georg Brandes, the celebrated Copenhagen critic: "I
have now revealed myself with a cynicism that will become historical.
The book is called Ecce Homo and is against everything Christian....
I am after all the first psychologist of Christianity, and like the
old artillerist I am, I can bring forward cannon of which no opponent
of Christianity has even suspected the existence.... I lay down my
oath that in two years we shall have the whole earth in convulsions.
I am a fatality. Guess who it is that comes off worst in Ecce Homo?
The Germans! I have said awful things to them." This was the "golden
autumn" of his life, as he confessed to his sister Elizabeth. In a
little over four weeks from the date of the letter to Brandes Nietzsche
went mad, after a stroke of apoplexy in Turin. The collapse must have
taken place between January 1 and 3, 1889. Brandes received a card
signed "The Crucified One"; Overbeck, his old friend at Basel, was also
agitated by a few lines in which Nietzsche proclaimed himself the King
of Kings; while to Cosima Wagner at Bayreuth was sent a communication
which read, "Ariadne, I love you! Dionysos." Like Tolstoy, Nietzsche
suffered from theomania and prophecy madness.

These details are not in the autobiography but may be found in Dr.
Mügge's excellent study just published, Nietzsche, His Life and Work.
Overbeck started for Turin and there found his poor old companion
giving away his money, dancing, singing, declaiming verse, and playing
snatches of crazy music on the pianoforte. He was taken back to
Basel and was gentle on the trip except that in the Saint-Gothard
tunnel he sang a poem of his, "An der Brücke," which appears in the
autobiography. His mother brought him from Switzerland to Naumburg;
thence to Dr. Binswanger's establishment at Jena. Later he lived in his
sister's home at Upper Weimar, and from the balcony, where he spent
his days, he could see a beautiful landscape. He was melancholy rather
than mad, never violent--this his sister has personally assured me--and
occasionally surprised those about him by flashes of memory; but full
consciousness was not to be again enjoyed by him. Overwork, chloral,
and despair at the "conspiracy of silence" caused his brain to crumble.
He had attained his "Great Noon," Zarathustra's Noon, during the
closing days of 1888. In August, 1900, came the euthanasia for which he
had longed.

There is internal evidence that the autobiography was written under
exalted nervous conditions. The aura of insanity hovers about its
pages. Yet Nietzsche has seldom said so many brilliant, ironical, and
savage things. He melts over memories of Wagner, the one friendship
of a life crowded with friends and cursed by solitude. He sets out to
smash Christianity, but he expressed the hope that the book would fall
into the hands of the intellectual élite. He divides his theme into
the following heads: Why I Am So Clever: Why I Am So Sage: Why I Write
Such Good Books: Why I Am a Fatality. (You recall here the letter to
Brandes.) He ranges from the abuse of bad German cookery to Kantian
metaphysics. He calls Ibsen the typical old maid and denounces him as
the creator of the "Emancipated Woman." Yes, he does insult Germany
and the Germans, but no worse than in earlier books; and certainly not
so effectively as did Goethe, Heine, and Schopenhauer. In calling the
Germans the "Chinese of Europe" he but repeated the words of Goncourt
in Charles Demailly. He speaks of Liszt as one "who surpasses all
musicians by the noble accents of his orchestration" (vague phrase);
and depreciates Schumann's "Manfred." He, Nietzsche, had composed a
counter overture which Von Bülow declared extraordinary. True, Von
Bülow did call it something of the sort, with the advice to throw it
into the dust-bin as being an insult to good music. He analyses his
recent readings of Baudelaire--whose diary touched him deeply--of
Stendhal, Bourget, Maupassant, Anatole France, and others. Best of all,
he minutely analyses the mental processes of his books from The Birth
of Tragedy to The Wagner Case. He declares Zarathustra a dithyramb of
solitude and purity, and proudly boasts that the Superman builds his
nest in the trees of the future.

What a master of invective! He often descends to the street in his
tongue-lashing, as, for instance, when he groups "shopkeepers,
Christians, cows, women, Englishmen, and other democrats." Woman is
always the enemy. The only way to tame her is to make her a mother.
As for female suffrage, he sets it down to psychological disorders.
He is a _nuance_, and is the first German to understand women! Alas!
And not the last man who will repeat this speech surely hailing from
the Stone Age. He seems rather proud of his double personality, and
hints at a third. Oddly enough, Nietzsche asked that his Ecce Homo
(the title proves his constant preoccupation with Christianity) be
translated into French by Strindberg, the Swedish poet and the first
dramatist to incorporate into his plays the Nietzschian philosophy,
or what he conceived to be such. (Daniel Lesueur has written of the
various adaptations for gorillas of a teaching that really demands from
man the utmost that is in him.) Nietzsche was a hater of Christianity;
above all of Christian morals, but he was a brave and honest fighter.
He raged at George Eliot, Herbert Spencer, and Carlyle for their
half-heartedness. To give up the belief in Christ and His mission
meant for Nietzsche to drop the moral system, to transvalue old moral
values. This, he truthfully asserted, George Eliot and Spencer had not
the courage to do. He did not skulk behind such masks as the Higher
Criticism, Modernism, or quacksalver Christian socialism. Compromise
was abhorrent to him. His Superman, with its echoes of Wagner's
Siegfried, Ibsen's Brand, Stendhal's wicked heroes, the Renaissance
Borgias, the second Faust of Goethe, and not a little of Hamlet, is
a monster of perfection that may some day become a demigod for a new
religion--and no worse than contemporary mud-gods manufactured daily.
Nietzsche's particular virtue, even for the orthodox, is that though
he assails their faith he also puts to rout with the fiery blasts of
his rhetoric all the belly-gods, the false-culture gods, the gods who
"heal," and other "ghosts"--as Max Stirner calls them. But to every
generation its truths (or lies).

A recently published anecdote of Ibsen quotes a statement of his _a
propos_ of Brand. "The whole drama is only meant as irony. For the man
who wants all or nothing is certainly crazy." Well, Friedrich Nietzsche
was such a man. No half-way parleyings. Fight the Bogey. Don't go
around. He went more serenely than did Brand to his ice cathedral on
the heights. His prayer uttered years before came true: "Give me, ye
gods, give me madness! Madness to make me believe at last in myself."

Nietzsche is the most dynamically emotional writer of his
times. He sums up an epoch. He is the expiring voice of the old
nineteenth-century romanticism in philosophy. His message to unborn
generations we may easily leave to those unborn, and enjoy the wit, the
profound criticisms of life, the bewildering gamut of his ideas; above
all, pity the tragic blotting out of such a vivid intellectual life.





It occurred in the beautiful gardens of the Paris exposition during
that summer of 1867 when Glory and France were synonymous expressions.
To the music, cynical and voluptuous, of Offenbach and Strauss the
world enjoyed itself, applauding equally Renan's latest book and
Thérésa's vulgarity; amused by Ponson de Terrail's fatuous indecencies
and speaking of Proudhon in the same breath. Bismarck and his Prussians
seemed far away. Babel or Pompeii? The tower of the Second Empire
reached to the clouds; below, the people danced on the edge of the
crater. A time for prophets and their lamentations. Jeremiah walked in
the gardens. He was a terrible man, with sombre fatidical gaze, eyes
in which were the smothered fires of hatred. His thin hair waved in
the wind. He said to his friends: "I come from the Tuileries Palace;
it is not yet consumed; the Barbarians delay their coming. What is
Attila doing?" He passed. "A madman!" exclaimed a companion to Henri
Lasserre. "Not in the least," replied that writer. "He is Ernest
Hello." After reading this episode as related by Hello's friend and
editor, the disquieting figure is evoked of that son of Hanan, who
prowled through the streets of the holy city in the year A.D. 62 crying
aloud: "Woe, woe upon Jerusalem!" The prophecy of Hello was realized
in a few years. Attila came and Attila went, and after his departure
the polemical writer, who could be both a spouting volcano and a subtle
doctor of theology, wrote his masterpiece, L'Homme, a remarkable book,
a seed-bearing book.

Why is there so little known of Ernest Hello? He was born 1828, died
1885, and was a voluminous author, who wrote much for the _Univers_ and
other periodicals and passed away as he had lived, fighting in harness
for the truths of his religion. Possibly the less sensitive texture of
Louis Veuillot's mind and character threw the talents of Hello into
shadow; perhaps his avowed hatred of mediocrity, his Old Testament
power of vituperation, and his apocalyptic style militated against his
acceptance by the majority of Roman Catholic readers. Notwithstanding
his gifts as a writer and thinker, Hello was never popular, and it is
only a few years ago that his works began to be republished. Let us
hasten to add that they are rich in suggestion for lovers of apologetic
or hortatory literature.

It was Huysmans and Remy de Gourmont who sent me to the amazing
Hello. In A Rebours Huysmans discusses him with Léon Bloy, Barbey
d'Aurevilly, and Ozanam. "Hello is a cunning engineer of the soul, a
skilful watchmaker of the brain, delighting to examine the mechanism
of a passion and to explain the play of a wheel work." United to his
power of analysis there is the fanaticism of a Biblical prophet and the
tortured ingenuity of a master of style. A little John of Patmos, one
who, complex and precious, is a sort of epileptic mystic--vindictive,
proud, a despiser of the commonplace. All these things was Hello
to Huysmans, who did not seem to relish him very much. De Gourmont
described him as one who believed with genius. A believing genius he
was, Ernest Hello, and his genius, his dynamic faith--apart from any
consideration of his qualities as a prose artist or his extraordinary
powers of analysis. Without his faith, which was, one is tempted to
add, his thematic material, he might have been a huge force vainly
flapping his wings in the void, or, as Lasserre puts it, he was
impatient with God because of His infinite patience. He longed to
see Him strike dumb the enemies of His revealed word. He lived in a
continuous thunder-storm of the spirit. He was a mystic, yet a warrior
on the fighting line of the church militant.

Joachim of Flora has written: "The true ascetic counts nothing his
own save his harp." Hello, less subjective than Newman, less lyric
though a "son of thunder," counted but the harp of his faith. All
else he cast away. And this faith was published to the heathen with
the hot rhetoric of a propagandist. The nations must be aroused from
their slumber. He whirls his readers off their feet by the torrential
flow of his argument. He never winds calmly into his subject, but
smites vehemently the opening bars of his hardy discourse. He writes
pure, untroubled prose at times, the line, if agitated, unbroken,
the balance of sound and sense perfect. But too often he employs a
staccato, declamatory, tropical, inflated style which recalls Victor
Hugo at his worst; the short sentence; the single paragraph; the
vicious abuse of antithesis; if it were not for the subject-matter
whole pages might masquerade as the explosive mannerisms of Hugo.
"Christianity is _naturally_ impossible. However, it exists. Therefore
it is supernatural!" This is Hello logic. Or, speaking of St. Joseph
of Cupertino: "If he had not existed, no one could have invented
him," which is a very witty inversion of Voltaire's celebrated _mot_.
God-intoxicated as were St. Francis of Assisi or Père Ratisbonne,
Hello was not; when absent from the tripod of vaticination he was a
meek, loving man; then the walls of his _Turris eburnea_ echoed the
inevitable: _Ora pro nobis!_ Even when the soul seems empty, it may,
like a hollow shell, murmur of eternity. Hello's faith was in the
fourth spiritual dimension. It demanded the affirmation of his virile
intellect and the concurrence of his overarching emotional temperament.

In the black-and-white sketch by Vallotton he resembles both Remenyi,
the Hungarian violin virtuoso, and Louise Michel, the anarchist.
The brow is vast, the expression exalted, the mouth belligerent,
disputatious, and the chin slightly receding. One would say a man of
violent passions, in equilibrium unsteady, a skirter of abysses, a good
hater--did he not once propose a History of Hatred? Yet how submissive
he was to papal decrees; many of his books contain instead of a preface
his act of submission to Catholic dogma. More so than Huysmans was
he a mediæval man. For him modern science did not exist. The Angelic
Doctor will outlive Darwin, he cried, and the powers and principalities
of darkness are as active in these days as in the age when the saints
of the desert warred with the demons of doubt and concupiscence. "To
wring from man's tongue the denial of his existence is proof of Satan's
greatest power," was a sentiment of Père Ravignan to which Hello would
have heartily subscribed. He detested Renan--_Renan, voilà l'ennemi!_
Jeremy Taylor's vision of hell as an abode crowded with a million dead
dogs would not be too severe a punishment for that silken sophist,
whose writings are the veriest flotsam and jetsam of a disordered
spiritual life. Hello has written eloquent pages about Hugo, whose
poetry he admired, whose ideas he combated. Napoleon was a genius, but
a foe of God.

Shakespeare for him vacillated between obscenity and melancholy; Hamlet
was a character hardly sounded by Hello; doubt was a psychological
impossibility to one of his faith. He was convinced that the John of
the Apocalyptic books was not John the Presbyter, nor any one of the
five Johns of the Johannic writings, but John the Apostle. He has often
the colour of Bossuet's moral indignation. A master of theological
odium, his favourite denunciation was "Horma, Anathema, Anathème,
Amen!" His favourite symbol of confusion is Babel--Paris. He loved,
among many saints, Denys the Areopagite; he extolled the study of St.
Thomas Aquinas. To the unhappy Abbé de Lamenais's Paroles d'un Croyant
(1834), he opposed his own Paroles de Dieu. He could have, phrase for
phrase, book for book, retorted with tenfold interest to Nietzsche's
vilification of Christianity. Society will again become a theocracy,
else pay the penalty in anarchy. One moment beating his breast, he
cries aloud: "_Maranatha! Maranatha!_ Our Lord is at hand!" The next
we find him with the icy contemptuousness of a mystic quoting from
the Admirable Ruysbroeck (a thirteenth-century mystic whom he had
translated, whose writings influenced Huysmans, and at one period of
his development, Maurice Maeterlinck) these brave words: "Needs must
I rejoice beyond the age, though the world has horror of my joy, and
its grossness cannot understand what I say." Notwithstanding this
aloofness, there are some who after reading Ernest Hello's Man may
agree with Havelock Ellis: "Hello is the real psychologist of the
century, not Stendhal."

It is indeed a work of penetrating criticism and clairvoyance, this
study of man, of life. Read his analysis of the Miser and you will
recall Plautus or Molière. He has something of Saint-Simon's power in
presenting a finished portrait and La Bruyère's cameo concision. He
is reactionary in all that concerns modern æsthetics or the natural
sciences. There is but one science, the knowledge of God. Avoiding the
devious webs of metaphysics, he sets before us his ideas with a crystal
clarity. Despite its religious bias, L'Homme may be recommended as a
book for mundane minds. Nor is Le Siècle to be missed. Those views
of the world, of men and women, are written by a shrewd observer and
a profound thinker. Philosophie et Athéisme is just what its title
foretells--a battering-ram of dialectic. The scholastic learning of
Hello is enormous. He had at his back the Bible, the patristic writers,
the schoolmen, and all the moderns from De Maistre to Father Faber.
He execrated Modernism. Physionomies de Saintes, Angelo de Foligno,
and half a dozen other volumes prove how versed he was in Holy Writ.
"The Scriptures are an abysm," he declared. He wrote short stories,
Contes extraordinaires, which display excellent workmanship, no little
fantasy, yet are rather slow reading. In literature Hello was a belated
romantic, a Don Quixote of the ideal who charged ferociously the
windmills of indifference.

In 1881 he was a collaborator with an American religious publication
called _Propagateur Catholique_ (I give the French title because
I do not know whether it was published here or in Canada). His
contributions were incorporated later in his Words of God. I confess
to knowing little of Hello but his works, the Life by Lasserre being
out of print. Impressive as is his genius, it is often repellent,
because love of his fellow-man is not a dominant part of it. The
central flame burns brightly, fiercely; the tiny taper of charity is
often missing. With his beloved Ruysbroeck (Rusbrock, he names him)
he seems to be muttering too often a disdainful adieu to his gross
and ignorant brethren as if abandoning them to their lies and ruin.
However, his translation of this same Ruysbroeck is a genuine accession
to contemplative literature. And perhaps, if one too hastily criticises
the almost elemental faith of Hello and its rude assaults of the
portals of pride, luxury, and worldliness, perhaps the old wisdom may
cruelly rebound upon his detractors: "Dixit insipiens in corde suo: Non
est Deus."




Perhaps the best criticism ever uttered offhand about the art of
William Blake was Rodin's, who, when shown some facsimiles of Blake's
drawings by brilliant Arthur Symons with the explanation that Blake
"used literally to see those figures, they are not mere inventions,"
replied: "Yes. He saw them once; he should have seen them three or
four times." And this acute summing up of Blake's gravest defect is
further strengthened by a remark made by one of his most sympathetic
commentators, Laurence Binyon. Blake once said: "The lavish praise I
have received from all quarters for invention and drawing has generally
been accompanied by this: 'He can conceive, but he cannot execute.'
This absurd assertion has done and may still do me the greatest
mischief." Now comments Mr. Binyon: "In spite of the artist's protest
this continues to be the current criticism on Blake's work; and yet
the truth lies rather on the other side. It is not so much in his
execution as in the failure to mature his conceptions that his defect
is to be found." Again: "His temperament unfitted him for success in
carrying his work further; his want was not lack of skill, but lack
of patience." If this sounds paradoxical we find Symons admitting
that Rodin had hit the nail on the head. "There, it seems to me, is
the fundamental truth about the art of Blake; it is a record of vision
which has not been thoroughly mastered even as vision."

Notwithstanding the neglect to which Blake was subjected during
his lifetime and the misunderstanding ever since his death of his
extraordinary and imaginative designs, poetry, and vaticinations, it
is disquieting to see how books about Blake are beginning to pile
up. He may even prove as popular as Ibsen. A certain form of genius
serves as a starting-point for critical performances. Blake is the
most admirable example, though Whitman and Browning are in the same
class. Called cryptic by their own, they are too well understood by a
later generation. Wagner once swam in the consciousness of the elect;
and he was understood. Baudelaire understood him, so Liszt. Wagner
to-day is the property of the man in the street, who whistles him,
and Ibsen is already painfully yielding up his precious secrets to
relentless "expounding" torturers. As for Maeterlinck, he is become a
mere byword in literary clubs, where they discuss his Bee in company
with the latest Shaw epigram. "Even caviare, it seems, may become a
little flyblown," exclaims Mr. Dowden. Everything is being explained.
Oh, happy age! Who once wrote: "A hundred fanatics are found to a
theological or metaphysical statement, but not one for a geometric

Yet we may be too rash. Blake's prophetic books are still cloudy
nightmares, for all but the elect, and not Swinburne, Gilchrist,
Tatham, Richard Garnett, Ellis, Binyon, Yeats, Symons, Graham
Robertson, Alfred Story, Maclagan and Russell, Elizabeth Luther Cary
and the others--for there are others and there will be others--can
wring from these fragments more than an occasional meaning or music.
But in ten years he may be the pontiff of a new dispensation. Symons
has been wise in the handling of his material. After a general and
comprehensive study of Blake he brings forward some new records
from contemporary sources--extracts from the diary, letters and
reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson; from A Father's Memoir of His
Child, by Benjamin Heath Malkin; from Lady Charlotte Bury's Diary
(1820); Blake's horoscope, obituary notice, extract from Varley's
Zodiacal Physiognomy (1828); a biographical sketch of Blake by J.
T. Smith (1828), and Allan Cunningham's life of Blake (1830). In a
word, for those who cannot spare the time to investigate the various
and sundry Blakian exegetics, Symons's book is the best because most
condensed. It is the Blake question summed up by a supple hand and a
sympathetic spirit. It is inscribed to Auguste Rodin in the following
happy and significant phrase: "To Auguste Rodin, whose work is the
marriage of heaven and hell."


William Blake must have been the happiest man that ever lived; not
the doubtful happiness of a fool's paradise, but a sharply defined
ecstasy that was his companion from his earliest years to his very
death-bed; that bed on which he passed away "singing of the things
he saw in heaven," to the tune of his own improvised strange music.
He seems to have been the solitary man in art history who really
fulfilled Walter Pater's test of success in life: "To burn always
with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy." Blake easily
maintained it. His face shone with it. Withal he was outwardly sane
in matters of mundane conduct, sensitive and quick to resent any
personal affront, and by no means one of those awful prophets going
about proclaiming their self-imposed mission. An amiable man, quick
to fly into and out of a passion, a gentleman exquisite in manners,
he impressed those who met him as an unqualified genius. Charles Lamb
has told us of him; so have others. I possess an engraving of his head
after Linnell's miniature, and while his Irish paternity has never
been thoroughly established--Yeats calls him an Irishman--there can
be little doubt of his Celtic origin. His is the head of a poet, a
patriot, a priest..The brow is lofty and wide, the hair flamelike in
its upcurling. The eyes are marvellous--true windows of a soul vividly
aware of its pricelessness; the mystic eye and the eye of the prophet
about to thunder upon the perverse heads of his times. The full lips
and massive chin make up the ensemble of a singularly noble, inspired,
and well-balanced head. Symmetry is its keynote. A God-kindled face.
One looks in vain for any indication of the madman--Blake was called
mad during his lifetime, and ever since he has been considered mad by
the world. Yet he was never mad as were John Martin and Wiertz the
Belgian, or as often seems Odilon Redon, who has been called--heaven
knows why!--the "French Blake." The poet Cowper said to Blake: "Oh,
that I were insane always.... Can you not make me truly insane?...
You retain health and yet are as mad as any of us--over us all--mad
as a refuge from unbelief--from Bacon, Newton, and Locke." The arid
atheism of his century was doubtless a contributory cause to the
exasperation of Blake's nerves. He believed himself a Christian despite
his heterodox sayings, and his belief is literal and profound. A true
Citizen of Eternity, as Yeats named him, and with all his lack of
academic training, what a giant he was among the Fuselis, Bartolozzis,
Stothards, Schiavonettis, and the other successful mediocrities.

His life was spent in ignoble surroundings, an almost anonymous life,
though a happy one because of its illuminating purpose and flashes of
golden fire. Blake was born in London (1757) and died in London (1827).
He was the son of a hosier, whose real name was not O'Neill, as some
have maintained. The boy, at the age of fourteen, was apprenticed to
Ryland the engraver, but the sight of his master's face caused him
to shudder and he refused to work under him, giving as a reason that
Ryland would be hanged some day. And so he was, for counterfeiting.
The abnormally sensitive little chap then went to the engraver Basire,
with whom he remained a year. His precocity was noteworthy. In 1773
he put forth as a pretended copy of Michaelangelo a design which he
called Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion. At that early
age he had already begun to mix up Biblical characters and events with
the life about him. The Bible saturated his imagination; it was not a
dead record for him, but a living, growing organism that overlapped
the spiritual England of his day. The grotesqueness of his titles, the
mingling of the familiar with the exotic--the sublime and the absurd
are seldom asunder in Blake--sacred with secular, were the results
of his acquaintance with the Scriptures at a period when other boys
were rolling hoops or flying kites. Blake could never have been a
boy, in the ordinary sense; yet he was to the last day of his life a
child in the naïveté of his vision. "I am ever the new-born child," he
might have said, as did Goethe to Herder. At the age of four he said
God put his face in the window, and he ran screaming to his parents
to bear witness to the happening. He had seen a tree bright with
angels at Peckham Rye, and his life long he held converse with the
spirits of Moses, Homer, Socrates, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton. He
adored Michaelangelo, and Albrecht Dürer and Swedenborg completed the
conquest--perhaps the unsettlement--of his intellect. He hated Titian,
Rubens, and Rembrandt. They were sensualists, they did not in their art
lay the emphasis upon drawing, and as we shall see presently, drawing
was the chief factor for Blake, colour being a humble handmaiden.

In 1782 Blake married for love Catharine Boucher, or Boutcher, of whom
Mr. Swinburne has said that she "deserves remembrance as about the
most perfect wife on record." She was uneducated, but learned to read
and write, and later proved an inestimable helpmate for the struggling
and unpractical Blake. She bound his books and coloured some of his
illustrations. She bore long poverty uncomplainingly, one is tempted
to say with enthusiasm. Once only she faltered. Blake had his own
notions about certain Old Testament customs, and he, it is said on the
authority of a gossip, had proposed to add another wife to the poor
little household. Mrs. Blake wept and the matter was dropped. Other
gossip avers that the Adamite in Blake manifested itself in a not
infrequent desire to cast aside garments and to sit in paradisiacal
innocence. Whether these stories were the invention of malicious
associates or were true, one thing is certain: Blake was capable of
anything for which he could find a Biblical precedent. In the matter
of the unconventional he was the _Urvater_ of English rebels. Shelley,
Byron, Swinburne were timid amateurs compared to this man, who with a
terrific energy translated his thoughts into art. He was not the idle
dreamer of an empty day nor a mooning mystic. His energy was electric.
It sounds a clarion note in his verse and prose, it reveals itself in
the fiery swirlings of his line, a line swift and personal. He has
been named by some one a heretic in the Church of Swedenborg; but like
a latter-day rebel--Nietzsche, who renounced Schopenhauer--Blake soon
renounced Swedenborg. But Michelangelo remained a deity for him, and in
his designs the influence of Angelo is paramount.

Blake might be called an English Primitive. He stems from the
Florentines, but _à la gauche_. The bar sinister on his artistic
coat of arms is the lack of fundamental training. He had a Gothic
imagination, but his dreams lack architectonics. Goethe, too, had
dreams, and we are the richer by Faust. And no doubt there are in his
works phrases that Nietzsche has seemed to repeat. It is the fashion
just now to trace every idea of Nietzsche to some one else. The truth
is that the language of rebellion through the ages is the same. The
mere gesture of revolt, as typified in the uplifted threatening arm of
a Cain, a Prometheus, a Julian the Apostate, is no more conventional
than the phraseology of the heretic. How many of them have written
"inspired" bibles, from Mahomet to Zarathustra. Blake, his tumultuous
imagination afire--remember that the artist doubled the poet in his
amazing and versatile soul--poured forth for years his "sacred" books,
his prophecies, his denouncements of his fellow-man. It was all sincere
righteous indignation; but the method of his speech is obscure; the
Mormon books of revelation are miracles of clarity in comparison. Let
us leave these singular prophecies of Blake to the mystics. One thing
is sure--he has affected many poets and thinkers. There are things in
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Shaw might have said had not Blake
forestalled him. Such is the cruelty of genius.

Symons makes apt comparison between Blake and Nietzsche: "There is
nothing in good and evil, the virtues and vices ... vices in the
natural world are the highest sublimities in the spiritual world."
This might have appeared over Nietzsche's signature in Beyond Good
and Evil. And the following in his marginalia to Reynolds--Sir Joshua
always professed a high regard for the genius of Blake. "The Enquiry
in England is not whether a man has Talents and Genius, but whether he
is Passive and Polite and a Virtuous Ass." The vocabulary of rebellion
is the same. Still more bitter is his speech about holiness: "The fool
shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, let him be ever so pious."
Blake glorified passion, which for him was the highest form of human
energy. His tragic scrolls, emotional arabesques, are testimony to his
high and subtle temperament. The intellect he worshipped. Of pride
we cannot have too much! As a lyric poet it is too late in the day to
reiterate that he is a peer in the "holy church of English literature."
The Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience have given him a place
in the anthologies and made him known to readers who have never heard
of him as a pictorial genius. "Tiger, tiger, burning bright, In the
forests of the night," is recited by sweet school-misses and pondered
for its philosophy by their masters. And has Keats ever fashioned a
lovelier image than: "Let thy west wind sleep on the lake; spread
silence with thy glimmering eyes and wash the dusk with silver"?
Whatever he may not be, William Blake is a great singer.


William Butler Yeats in his Ideas of Good and Evil has said some
notable things about Blake. He calls him a realist of the imagination
and first pointed out the analogy between Blake and Nietzsche. "When
one reads Blake it is as though the spray of an inexhaustible fountain
of beauty was blown into our faces." And "he was a symbolist who had
to invent his symbols." Well, what great artist does not? Wagner
did; also Ibsen and Maeterlinck. Blake was much troubled over the
imagination. It was the "spirit" for him in this "vegetable universe,"
the Holy Ghost. All art that sets forth with any fulness the outward
vesture of things is prompted by the "rotten rags of memory." That
is why he loathed Rubens, why he seemingly slurs the forms of men
and things in his eagerness to portray the essential. Needless to
add, the essential for him was the soul. He believed in goading the
imagination to vision--though not with opium--and we are led through
a dream-world of his own fashioning, one in which his creatures bear
little correspondence to earthly types. His illustrations to the
Book of Job, to Dante, to Young's Night Thoughts bear witness to the
intensity of his vision, though flesh and blood halts betimes in
following these vast decorative whirls of flame bearing myriad souls in
blasts that traverse the very firmament. The "divine awkwardness" of
his Adam and Eve and the "Ancient of Days" recall something that might
be a marionette and yet an angelic being. To Blake they were angels;
of that there can be no doubt; but we of less fervent imagination may
ask as did Hotspur of Glendower, who had boasted that he could "call
spirits from the vasty deep." "Why, so can I, or so can any man. But
will they come when you do call for them?" quoth the gallant Percy. We
are, the majority of us, as unimaginative as Hotspur. Blake summoned
his spirits; to him they appeared; to quote his own magnificent
utterance, "The stars threw down their spears, and watered heaven with
their tears"; but we, alas! see neither stars nor spears nor tears,
only eccentric draughtsmanship and bizarre designs. Yet, after Blake,
Doré's Dante illustrations are commonplace; even Botticelli's seem
ornamental. Such is the genius of the Englishman that on the thither
side of his shadowy conceptions there shine intermittently pictures
of a No Man's Land, testifying to a burning fantasy hampered by human
tools. He suggests the supernatural. "How do you know," he asks, "but
every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight closed
by your senses five?" Of him Ruskin has said: "In expressing conditions
of glaring and flickering light Blake is greater than Rembrandt." With
Dante he went to the nethermost hell. His warring attributes tease and
attract us. For the more human side we commend Blake's seventeen wood
engravings to Thornton's Virgil. They are not so rich as Bewick's,
but we must remember that it was Blake's first essay with knife and
box-wood--he was really a practised copper engraver--and the effects
he produced are wonderful. What could be more powerful in such a tiny
space than the moon eclipse and the black forest illustrating the
lines, "Or when the moon, by wizard charm'd, foreshows Bloodstained in
foul eclipse, impending woes!" And the dim sunsets, the low, friendly
sky in the other plates!

Blake's gospel of art may be given in his own words: "The great and
golden rule of art, as of life, is this: that the more distinct,
sharp and wiry the boundary line the more perfect the work of art;
and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak
imitation, plagiarism and bungling." He abominated the nacreous flesh
tones of Titian, Correggio, or Rubens. Reflected lights are sinful.
The silhouette betrays the soul of the master. Swinburne in several
eloquent pages has instituted a comparison between Walt Whitman and
William Blake. (In the first edition of "William Blake: A Critical
Essay," 1868.) Both men were radicals. "The words of either strike
deep and run wide and soar high." What would have happened to Blake if
he had gone to Italy and studied the works of the masters--for he was
truly ignorant of an entire hemisphere of art? Turner has made us see
his dreams of a gorgeous world; Blake, as through a scarce opened door,
gives us a breathless glimpse of a supernal territory, whether heaven
or hell, or both, we dare not aver. Italy might have calmed him, tamed
him, banished his arrogance--as it did Goethe's. Suppose that Walt
Whitman had written poems instead of magical and haunting headlines.
And if Browning had made clear the devious ways of Sordello--what then?
"What porridge had John Keats?" We should have missed the sharp savour
of the real Blake, the real Whitman, the real Browning. And what a
number of interesting critical books would have remained unwritten.
"Oh, never star was lost here but it arose afar." What Coleridge wrote
of his son Hartley might serve for Blake: "Exquisitely wild, an utter
visionary, like the moon among thin clouds, he moves in a circle of
his own making. He alone is a light of his own. Of all human beings I
never saw one so utterly naked of self." Naked of self! William Blake,
unselfish egoist, stands before us in three words.



There is a memorable passage in A Rebours, the transcription of which,
by Mr. George Moore, may be helpful in understanding the work of that
rare literary artist, Francis Poictevin. "The poem in prose," wrote
Huysmans, "handled by an alchemist of genius, should contain the
quintessence, the entire strength of the novel, the long analysis and
the superfluous description of which it suppresses ... the adjective
placed in such an ingenious and definite way that it could not be
legally dispossessed of its place, that the reader would dream for
whole weeks together over its meaning, at once precise and multiple;
affirm the present, reconstruct the past, divine the future of the
souls revealed by the light of the unique epithet. The novel thus
understood, thus condensed into one or two pages, would be a communion
of thought between a magical writer and an ideal reader, a spiritual
collaboration by consent between ten superior persons scattered through
the universe, a delectation offered to the most refined and accessible
only to them."

This aristocratic theory of art was long ago propounded by Poe in
regard to the short poem. Huysmans transposed the idea to the key of
fiction while describing the essential prose of Mallarmé; but some
years before the author of A Rebours wrote his ideal book on decadence
a modest young Frenchman had put into practice the delightfully
impracticable theories of the prose poem. This writer was Francis
Poictevin (born at Paris, 1854). Many there were, beginning with Edgar
Poe and Louis Bertrand, who had essayed the form, at its best extremely
difficult, at its worst too tempting to facile conquests: Baudelaire,
Huysmans in his Le Drageoir aux Epices; Daudet, De Banville, Villiers
de l'Isle Adam, Maurice de Guérin, and how many others! During the
decade of the eighties the world of literature seemed to be fabricating
poems in prose. Pale youths upon whose brows descended aureoles at
twilight, sought fame in this ivory miniature carving addressed to the
"ten superior persons" very much scattered over the globe. But like
most peptonic products, the brain as does the stomach, finally refuses
to accept as nourishment artificial concoctions too heavily flavoured
with midnight oil. The world which is gross prefers its literature by
the gross, and though it has been said that all the great exterior
novels have been written, the majority of readers continue to read
long-winded stories dealing with manners and, of course, the eternal
conquest of an uninteresting female by a mediocre male. Aiming at
instantaneity of pictorial and musical effect--as a picture become
lyrical--the poets who fashioned their prose into artistic rhythms and
colours and tones ended by exhausting the patience of a public rapidly
losing its faculty of attention.

Possibly these things may account for the neglect of a writer and
thinker of such delicacy and originality as Poictevin, but he was
always caviare even to the consumers of literary caviar. But he had
a small audience in Paris, and after his first book appeared--one
hesitates to call it a novel--Daudet saluted it with the praise that
Sainte-Beuve--the Sainte-Beuve of Volupté and Port-Royal--would have
been delighted with La Robe du Moine. Here is a list of Poictevin's
works and the years of their publication until 1894. Please note their
significant and extraordinary names: La Robe du Moine, 1882; Ludine,
1883; Songes, 1884; Petitan, 1885; Seuls, 1886; Paysages et Nouveaux
Songes, 1888; Derniers Songes, 1888; Double, 1889; Presque, 1891;
Heures, 1892; Tout Bas, 1893; Ombres, 1894.

A collective title for them might be Nuances; Poictevin searches
the last nuance of sensations and ideas. He is a remote pupil of
Goncourt, and superior to his master in his power of recording the
impalpable. (Compare any of his books with the Madame Gervaisais of
Goncourt; the latter is mysticism very much in the concrete.) At the
same time he recalls Amiel, Maurice de Guérin, Walter Pater, and
Coventry Patmore. A mystical pantheist in his worship of nature, he
is a mystic in his adoration of God. This intensity of vision in the
case of Poictevin did not lead to the depravities, exquisite and
morose, of Baudelaire, Huysmans, and the brilliant outrageous Barbey
d'Aurevilly. With his soul of ermine Poictevin is characterised by De
Gourmont as the inventor of the mysticism of style. Once he saluted
Edmond de Goncourt as the Velasquez of the French language, and that
master, not to be outdone in politeness, told Poictevin that his prose
could boast its "victories over the invisible." If by this Goncourt
meant making the invisible visible, rendering in prose of crepuscular
subtlety moods recondite, then it was not an exaggerated compliment.
In such spiritual performances Poictevin resembles Lafcadio Hearn
in his airiest gossamer-webbed phrases. A true, not a professional
symbolist, the French _prosateur_ sounds Debussy twilight harmonies.
His speech at times glistens with the hues of a dragon-fly zigzagging
in the sunshine. In the tenuous exaltation of his thought he evokes the
ineffable deity, circled by faint glory. To compass his picture he does
not hesitate to break the classic mould of French syntax while using
all manners of strange-fangled vocables to attain effects that remind
one of the clear-obscure of Rembrandt. Indeed, a mystic style is his,
beside which most writers seem heavy-handed and obvious.

Original in his form, in the bizarre architecture of his paragraphs,
pages, chapters, he abolishes the old endings, cadences, chapter
headings. Nor, except at the beginning of his career, does he portray
a definite hero or heroine. Even names are avoided. "He" or "she"
suffices to indicate the sex. Action there is little. Story he has
none to tell; by contrast Henry James is epical. Exteriority does
not interest Poictevin, who is nevertheless a landscape painter;
intimate and charming. His young man and young woman visit Mentone,
the Pyrenees, Brittany, along the Rhine--a favourite resort--Holland,
Luchon, Montreux, and Switzerland, generally. His palette is
marvellously complicated. We should call him an impressionist but that
the phrase is become banal. Poictevin deals in subtle grays. He often
writes _gris-iris_. His portraits swim in a mysterious atmosphere as do
Eugène Carrière's. His fluid, undulating prose records landscapes in
the manner of Theocritus.

The tiny repercussions of the spirit that is reacted upon by life
are Whistlerian notations in the gamut of this artist's instrument.
Evocation, not description; evocation, not narration; always evocation,
yet there is a harmonious ensemble; he returns to his theme after
capriciously circling about it as does a Hungarian gypsy when
improvising upon the heart-strings of his auditors. Verlaine once
addressed a poem to Poictevin the first line of which runs: "Toujours
mécontent de son œuvre." Maurice Barrès evidently had read Seuls
before he wrote Le Jardin de Bérénice (1891). The young woman in
Poictevin's tale has the same feverish languors; her male companion,
though not the egoist of Barrès, is a very modern person, slightly
consumptive; one of whom it may be asked, in the words of Poictevin:
"Is there anything sadder under the sun than a soul incapable of
sadness?" In their room hang portraits of Baudelaire and the Curé
d'Ars. Odder still is the monk, P. Martin. Martin is the name of the
"adversary" in The Garden of Bérénice. And the episode of the dog's
death! Huysmans, too, must have admired Poictevin's descriptions of the
Grünewald Christ at Colmar, and of the portrait of the Young Florentine
in the Stadel Museum at Frankfort. It would be instructive to compare
the differing opinions of the two critics concerning this last-named

A mirror, Poictevin's soul reflects the moods of landscapes. Without
dogmatism he could say with St. Anselm that he would rather go to hell
sinless than be in heaven smudged by a single transgression. To his
tender temperament even the reading of Pascal brought shadows of doubt.
A persistent dreamer, the world for him is but the garment investing
God. Flowers, stars, the wind that weeps in little corners, the placid
bosom of lonely lakes, far-away mountains and their mystic silhouettes,
the Rhine and its many curvings, the clamour of cities and the joy of
the green grass, are his themes. Life with its frantic gestures is
quite inutile. Let it be avoided. You turn after reading Poictevin
to the Minoration of Emile Hennequin: "Let all that is be no more.
Let glances fade and the vivacity of gestures fall. Let us be humble,
soft, and slow. Let us love without passion, and let us exchange
weary caresses." Or hear the tragic cry of Ephraim Mikhael: "Ah! to
see behind me no longer, on the lake of Eternity, the implacable wake
of Time." "Poictevin's men and women," once wrote Aline Gorren in a
memorable study of French symbolism, "are subordinate to these wider
curves of wave and sky; they come and go, emerging from their setting
briefly and fading into it again; they have no personality apart from
it; and amid the world symbols of the heavens in marshalled movements
and the thousand reeded winds, they in their human symbols are allowed
to seem, as they are, proportionately small. They are possessed as
are clouds, waters, trees, but no more than clouds, waters, trees, of
a baffling significance, forever a riddle to itself. They have bowed
attitudes; the weight of the mystery they carry on their shoulders."

The humanity that secretly evaporates when the prose poet notes the
attrition of two souls is shed upon his landscapes with their sonorous
silences. A picture of the life contemplative, of the adventures of
timorous gentle souls in search of spiritual adventures, set before
us in a style of sublimated preciosity by an orchestra of sensations
that has been condensed to the string quartet, the dreams of Francis
Poictevin--does he not speak of the human forehead as a dream dome?
--are not the least consoling of his century. He is the white-robed
acolyte among mystics of modern literature.



Religious conversion and its psychology have furnished the world's
library with many volumes. Perfectly understood in the ages of
faith, the subject is for modern thinkers susceptible of realistic
explanation. Only we pave the way now by a psychological course instead
of the ancient doctrine of Grace Abounding. Nor do we confound the
irresistible desire of certain temperaments to spill their innermost
thoughts, with what is called conversion. There was Rousseau, who
confessed things that the world would be better without having heard.
He was not converted. Tolstoy, believing that primitive Christianity
is almost lost to his fellow beings, preaches what he thinks is the
real faith. Yet he was converted. He had been, he said, a terrible
transgressor. The grace of God gave sight to his sin-saturated
eyeballs. Is there the slightest analogy between his case and that
of Cardinal Newman? John Henry Newman had led a spotless life before
he left the Anglican fold. Nevertheless he was a convert. And Saint
Augustine, the pattern of all self-confessors, the classic case, may
be compared to John Bunyan or to Saint Paul! Professor William James,
who with his admirable impartiality has scrutinized the psychological
topsy-turvy we name conversion, has not missed the commonplace fact
that every man as to details varies, but at base the psychical
machinery is controlled by the same motor impulses. _A chacun son

Some natures reveal a mania for confession. Dostoïevsky's men and
women continually tell what they have thought, what crimes they have
committed. It was an epileptic obsession with this unhappy Russian
writer. Paul Verlaine sang blithely of his ghastly life, and Baudelaire
did not spare himself. So it would seem that the inability of certain
natures to keep their most precious secrets is also the keynote of
religious confessions. But let us not muddle this with the sincerity
or insincerity of the change. Leslie Stephen has said that it did not
matter much whether Pascal was sincere, and instanced the Pascal wager
(_le pari de Pascal_) as evidence of the great thinker's casuistry. It
is better to believe and be on the safe side than be damned if you do
not believe; for if there is no hereafter your believing that there is
will not matter one way or the other. This is the substance of Pascal's
wager, and it must be admitted that the ardent upholder of Jansenism
and the opponent of the Jesuits proved himself an excellent pupil of
the latter when he framed his famous proposition.

Among the converts who have become almost notorious in France during
the last two decades are Ferdinand Brunetière, François Coppée, Paul
Verlaine, and Joris-Karl Huysmans. But it must not be forgotten that
if the quartette trod the Road to Damascus they were all returning to
their early City of Faith. They had been baptized Roman Catholics. All
four had strayed. And widely different reasons brought them back to
their mother Church. We need not dwell now on the case of Villiers de
l'Isle Adam, as his was a death-bed repentance; nor with Paul Bourget,
a Catholic born and on the side of his faith since the publication of
Cosmopolis. As for Maurice Barrès, he may be a Mohammedan for all we
care. He will always stand, spiritually, on his head.

The stir in literary and religious circles over Huysmans's trilogy,
En Route, La Cathédrale, and L'Oblat, must have influenced the
succeeding generation of French writers. Of a sudden sad young rakes
who spouted verse in the æsthetic taverns of the Left Bank fell to
writing religious verse. Mary Queen of Heaven became their shibboleth.
They invented new sins so that they might repent in a novel fashion.
They lacked the delicious lyric gift of Verlaine and the tremendous
enfolding moral earnestness of Huysmans to make themselves believed.
One, however, has emerged from the rest, and his book, Du Diable à
Dieu (From the Devil to God), has crossed the twenty-five thousand
mark; perhaps it is further by this time. The author is an authentic
poet, Adolphe Retté. For his confessions the lately deceased François
Coppée wrote a dignified and sympathetic preface. Retté's place in
contemporary poetry is high. Since Verlaine we hardly dare to think
of another poet of such charm, verve, originality. An anarchist with
Sebastien Faure and Jean Grave, a Socialist of all brands, a lighted
lyric torch among the insurrectionists, a symbolist, a writer of "free
verse" (which is hedged in by more rules, though unformulated and
unwritten, than the stiffest academic production of Boileau), Adolphe
Retté led the life of an individualist poet; precisely the sort of
life at which pulpit-pounders could point and cry: "There, there is
your æsthetic poet, your man of feeling, of finer feelings than his
neighbours! Behold to what base uses he has put this gift! See him
wallowing with the swine!" And, practically, these words Retté has
employed in speaking of himself. He insulted religion in the boulevard
journals; he hailed with joy the separation of Church and State. He
wrote not too decent novels, though his verse is feathered with the
purest pinions. He treated his wife badly, neglecting her for the
inevitable Other Woman. (What a banal example this is, after all.) He
once, so he tells us to his horror, maltreated the poor woman because
of her piety. Typical, you will say. Then why confess it in several
hundred pages of rhythmic prose, why rehearse for gaping, indifferent
Paris the threadbare, sordid tale? Paris, too, so cynical on the
subject of conversions, and also very suspicious of such a spiritual
_bouleversement_ as Retté's! "No, it won't do, Huysmans is to blame,"
exclaimed many.

Yet this conversion--literally one, for he was educated in a Protestant
college--is sincere. He means every word he says; and if he is
copiously rhetorical, set it all down to the literary temperament. He
wrote not only with the approval of his spiritual counsellor, but also
for the same reason as Saint Augustine or Bunyan. Newman's confession
was an Apologia, an answer to Kingsley's challenge. With Huysmans, he
is such a consummate artist that we could imagine him plotting ahead
his cycle of novels (if novels they are); from Là-Bas to Lourdes the
spiritual modulation is harmonious. Now, M. Retté (he was born in 1863
in Paris of an Ardennaise family), while he has sung in his melodious
voice many alluring songs, while he has shown the impressions wrought
upon his spirit by Walt Whitman and Richard Wagner, there is little
in the rich extravagance of his love for nature or the occasional
Vergilian silver calm of his verse--he can sound more than one chord
on his poetic keyboard--to prepare us for the great plunge into the
healing waters of faith. A pagan nature shows in his early work, apart
from the hatred and contempt he later displayed toward religion. How
did it all come about? He has related it in this book, and we are free
to confess that, though we must not challenge the author's sincerity,
his manner is far from reassuring. He is of the brood of Baudelaire.

Huysmans frankly gave up the riddle in his own case. Atavism may have
had its way; he had relatives who were in convents; a pessimism that
drove him from the world also contributed its share in the change.
Personally Huysmans prefers to set it down to the mercy and grace of
God--which is the simplest definition after all. When we are through
with these self-accusing men; when professional psychology is tired of
inventing new terminologies, then let us do as did Huysmans--go back to
the profoundest of all the psychologists, the pioneers of the moderns,
Saint Theresa--what actual, virile magnificence is in her Castle of
the Soul--Saint John of the Cross, and Ruysbroeck. They are mystics
possessing a fierce faith; and without faith a mystic is like a moon
without the sun. Adolphe Retté knows the great Spanish mystics and
quotes them almost as liberally as Huysmans. But with a difference. He
has read Huysmans too closely; books breed books, ideas and moods beget
moods and ideas. We are quite safe in saying that if En Route had not
been written, Retté's Du Diable à Dieu could not have appeared in its
present shape. The similarity is both external and internal. John of
the Cross had his Night Obscure, so has M. Retté; Huysmans, however,
showed him the way. Retté holds an obstinate dialogue with the Devil
(who is a capitalized creature). Consult the wonderful fifth chapter
in En Route. Naturally there must be a certain resemblance in these
spiritual adventures when the Evil One captures the outposts of the
soul and makes sudden savage dashes into its depths. Retté's style is
not in the least like Huysmans's. It is more fluent, swifter, and more
staccato. You skim his pages; in Huysmans you recognise the distilled
remorse; you move as in a penitential procession, the rhythms grave,
the eyes dazzled by the vision divine, the voice lowly chanting. Not so
Retté, who glibly discourses on sacred territory, who is terribly at
ease in Zion.

Almost gayly he recounts his misdeeds. He pelts his former associates
with hard names. He pities Anatole France for his socialistic
affinities. All that formerly attracted him is anathema. Even the
mysterious lady with the dark eyes is castigated. She is not a
truth-teller. She does not now understand the protean soul of her poet.
_Retro me Sathanas!_ It is very exhilarating. The Gallic soul in its
most resilient humour is on view. See it rebound! Watch it ascend on
high, buoyed by delicious phrases, asking sweet pardon; then it falls
to earth abusing its satanic adversary with sinister energy. At times
we overhear the honeyed accents, the silky tones of Renan. It is he,
not Retté, who exclaims: _Mais quelles douces larmes!_ Ah! Renan--also
a cork soul! The Imitation is much dwelt upon--the influence of
Huysmans has been incalculable in this. And we forgive M. Retté his
theatricalism for the lovely French paraphrase he has made of Salve
Regina. But on the whole we prefer En Route. The starting-point of
Retté's change was reading some verse in the Purgatory of the Divine
Comedy. A literary conversion? Possibly, yet none the less complete.
All roads lead to Rome, and the Road to Damascus may be achieved from
many devious side paths. But in writing with such engaging frankness
the memoirs of his soul we wish that Retté had more carefully followed
the closing sentence of his brilliant little book: _Non nobis, Domine,
non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam!_



"Their impatience," was the answer once given by Cardinal Newman to
the question, What is the chief fault of heresiarchs? In this category
Walter Pater never could have been included, for his life was a long
patience. As Newman sought patiently for the evidences of faith, so
Pater sought for beauty, that beauty of thought and expression, of
which his work is a supreme exemplar in modern English literature.
Flaubert, a man of genius with whom he was in sympathy, toiled no
harder for the perfect utterance of his ideas than did this retiring
Oxford man of letters. And, like his happy account of Raphael's growth,
Pater was himself a "genius by accumulation; the transformation of meek
scholarship into genius."

Walter Pater's intimate life was once almost legendary. We heard
more of him a quarter of a century ago than yesterday. This does not
mean that his vogue has declined; on the contrary, he is a force at
the present such as he never was either at Oxford or London. But
of the living man, notwithstanding his shyness, stray notes crept
into print. He wrote occasional reviews. He had disciples. He had
adversaries who deplored his--admittedly remote--immoral influence
upon impressionable, "slim, gilt souls"; he had critics who detected
the truffle of evil in savouring his exotic style. When he died,
in 1894, the air was cleared by his devoted friends, Edmund Gosse,
Lionel Johnson, William Sharp, Arthur Symons, and some of his Oxford
associates, Dr. Bussell and Mr. Shadwell. It was proved without a
possibility of doubt that the popular conception of the man was far
from the reality; that the real Pater was a plain liver and an austere
thinker; that he was not the impassive Mandarin of literature pictured
by some; that the hedonism, epicureanism, cyrenaicism of which he had
been vaguely accused had been a confounding of intellectual substances,
a slipshod method of thought he abhorred; that his entire career had
been spent in the pursuit of an æsthetic and moral perfection and its
embodiment in prose of a rarely individual and haunting music. Recall
his half-petulant, half-ironical exclamation of disgust to Mr. Gosse:
"I wish they wouldn't call me a 'hedonist'; it produces such a bad
effect on the minds of people who don't know Greek." He would have
been quite in accord with Paul Bourget's dictum that "there is no such
thing as health, or the contrary, in the world of the soul"; Bourget,
who, lecturing later at Oxford, pronounced Walter Pater "un parfait

Despite the attempt to chain him to the chariots of the Pre-Raphaelite
brotherhood, Pater, like Chopin, during the Romantic turmoil, stood
aloof from the heat and dust of its battles. He was at first deeply
influenced by Goethe and Ruskin, and was a friend of Swinburne's; he
wrote of the Morris poetry; but his was not the polemical cast of mind.
The love of spiritual combat, the holy zeal of John Henry Newman, of
Keble, of Hurrell Froude, were not in his bones. And so his scholar's
life, the measured existence of a recluse, was uneventful; but measured
by the results, what a vivid, intense, life it was. There is, however,
very little to tell of Walter Pater. His was the interior life. In his
books is his life--hasn't some one said that all great literature is

There are articles by the late William Sharp and by George Moore. The
former in Some Personal Recollections of Walter Pater, written in 1894,
gave a vivid picture of the man, though it remained for Mr. Moore
to discover his ugly face and some peculiar minor characteristics.
Sharp met Pater in 1880 at the house of George T. Robinson, in Gower
Street, that delightful meeting-place of gifted people. Miss A.
Mary F. Robinson, now Mme. Duclaux, was the tutelary genius. She
introduced Sharp to Pater. The blind poet, Philip Bourke Marston, was
of the party. Pater at that time was a man of medium height, stooping
slightly, heavily built, with a Dutch or Flemish cast of features, a
pale complexion, a heavy moustache--"a possible Bismarck, a Bismarck
who had become a dreamer," adds the keen observer. A friendship was
struck up between the pair. Pater came out of his shell, talked
wittily, paradoxically, and later at Oxford showed his youthful
admirer the poetic side of his singularly complex nature. There are
conversations recorded and letters printed which would have added to
the value of Mr. Benson's memoir.

Mr. Moore's recollections are slighter, though extremely engaging.
Above all, with his trained eye of a painter, he sketches for us
another view of Pater, one not quite so attractive. Mr. Moore saw a
very ugly man--"it was like looking at a leaden man, an uncouth figure,
badly moulded, moulded out of lead, a large, uncouth head, the head
of a clergyman,... a large, overarching skull, and small eyes; they
always seemed afraid of you, and they shifted quickly. There seemed
to be a want of candour in Pater's face,... an abnormal fear of his
listener and himself. There was little hair on the great skull, and his
skull and his eyes reminded me a little of the French poet Verlaine, a
sort of domesticated Verlaine, a Protestant Verlaine." His eyes were
green-gray, and in middle life he wore a brilliant apple-green tie and
the inevitable top-hat and frock coat of an urban Englishman. In one of
his early essays Max Beerbohm thus describes Pater: "a small, thick,
rock-faced man, whose top-hat and gloves of _bright_ dog skin struck
one of the many discords in that little city of learning and laughter.
The serried bristles of his mustachio made for him a false-military
air." Pater is said to have come of Dutch stock. Mr. Benson declares
that it has not been proved. He had the amiable fancy that he may
have had in his veins some of the blood of Jean Baptiste Pater, the
painter. His father was born in New York. He went to England, and near
London in 1839 Walter Horatio, his second son, was born. To The Child
in the House and Emerald Uthwart, both "imaginary portraits," we may
go for the early life of Pater, as Marius is the idealized record of
his young manhood. When a child he was fond of playing Bishop, and
the bent of his mind was churchly, further fostered by his sojourn at
Canterbury. He matriculated at Oxford in 1858 as a commoner of Queen's
College, where he was graduated after being coached by Jowett, who
said to his pupil, "I think you have a mind that will come to great
eminence." Years afterward the Master of Balliol seems to have changed
his opinion, possibly urged thereto by the parody of Pater as Mr. Rose
by Mr. Mallock in The New Republic. Jowett spoke of Pater as "the
demoralizing moralizer," while Mr. Freeman could see naught in him but
"the mere conjurer of words and phrases." Others have denounced his
"pulpy magnificence of style," and Max Beerbohm declared that Pater
wrote English as if it were a dead language; possibly an Irish echo
of Pater's own assertion that English should be written as a learned

He became a Fellow of Brasenose, and Oxford--with the exception of
a few years spent in London, and his regular annual summer visits
to Italy, France, and Germany, where he took long walks and studied
the churches and art galleries--became his home. Contradictory
legends still float in the air regarding his absorbed demeanour, his
extreme sociability, his companionable humour, his chilly manner,
his charming home, his barely furnished room, with the bowl of dried
rose leaves; his sympathies, antipathies, nervousness, and baldness,
and, like Baudelaire, of his love of cats, and a host of mutually
exclusive qualities. Mr. Zangwill relates that he told Pater he had
discovered a pun in one of his essays. Thereat, great embarrassment on
Pater's part. Symons, who knew him intimately, tells of his reading
the dictionary--that "pianoforte of writers," as Mr. Walter Raleigh
cleverly names it--for the opposite reason that Gautier did, i.e.,
that he might learn what words to avoid. Another time Symons asked him
the meaning of a terrible sentence, Ruskinian in length and involution.
Pater carefully scanned the page, and after a few minutes said with
a sigh of relief: "Ah, I see the printer has omitted a dash." Yet,
with all this meticulous precision, Pater was a man with an individual
style, and not a mere stylist. What he said was of more importance than
the saying of it.

The portraits of Pater are, so his friends declare, unlike him. He had
irregular features, and his jaw was prognathic; but there was great
variety of expression, and the eyes, set deeply in the head, glowed
with a jewelled fire when he was deeply aroused. In Mr. Greenslet's
wholly admirable appreciation, there is a portrait executed by the
unfortunate Simeon Solomon, and dated 1872. There is in Mosher's
edition of the Guardian Essays a copy of Will Rothenstein's study,
a characteristic piece of work, though Mr. Benson says it is not
considered a resemblance. And I have a picture, a half-tone, from some
magazine, the original evidently photographic, that shows a Pater much
more powerful in expression than the others, and without a hint of the
ambiguous that lurks in Rothenstein's drawing and Moore's pen portrait.
Pater never married. Like Newman, he had a talent for friendship. As
with Newman, Keble, that beautiful soul, made a deep impression on him,
and, again like Newman, to use his own words, he went his way "like one
on a secret errand."

And the Pater style! Matthew Arnold on a certain occasion advised
Frederic Harrison to "flee Carlylese as the very devil," and doubtless
would have given the same advice regarding Paterese. Pater is a
dangerous guide for students. This theme of style, so admirably
vivified in Mr. Walter Raleigh's monograph, was worn threadbare during
the days when Pater was slowly producing one book every few years--he
wrote five in twenty years, at the rate of an essay or two a year,
thus matching Flaubert in his tormented production. The principal
accusation brought against the Pater method of work and the Pater
style is that it is lacking in spontaneity, in a familiar phrase,
"it is not natural." But a "natural" style, so called, appears not
more than a half dozen times in its full flowering during the course
of a century. The French write all but faultless prose. To match
Flaubert, Renan, or Anatole France, we must go to Ruskin, Pater, and
Newman. When we say: "Let us write simple, straightforward English,"
we are setting a standard that has been reached of late years only by
Thackeray, Newman, and few besides. There are as many victims of the
"natural English" formula as there are of the artificial formula of a
Pater or a Stevenson. The former write careless, flabby, colourless,
undistinguished, lean, commercial English, and pass unnoticed in the
vast whirlpool of universal mediocrity, where the _cliché_ is king
of the paragraph. The others, victims to a misguided ideal of "fine
writing," are more easily detected.

Now, properly speaking, there is no such thing as a "natural" style.
Even Newman confesses to laborious days, though he wrote with the idea
uppermost, and with no thought of the style. Renan, perfect master,
disliked the idea of teaching "style"--as if it could be taught!--yet
he worked over his manuscripts. We all know the Flaubert case. With
Pater one must not rush to the conclusion that because he produced
slowly and with infinite pains, he was all artificiality. Prose for
him was a fine art. He would no more have used a phrase coined by
another man than he would have worn his hat. He embroidered upon the
canvas of his ideas the grave and lovely phrases we envy and admire.
Prose--"cette ancienne et très jalouse chose," as it was called by
Stéphane Mallarmé--was for Pater at once a pattern and a cadence,
a picture and a song. Never suggesting hybrid "poetic-prose," the
great stillness of his style--atmospheric, languorous, sounding sweet
undertones--is always in the rhythm of prose. Speed is absent; the
_tempo_ is usually lenten; brilliance is not pursued; but there is
a hieratic, almost episcopal, pomp and power. The sentences uncoil
their many-coloured lengths; there are echoes, repercussions, tonal
imagery, and melodic evocation; there is clause within clause that
occasionally confuses; for compensation we are given newly orchestrated
harmonies, as mordant, as salient, and as strange as some chords in
the music of Chopin, Debussy and Richard Strauss. Sane it always
is--simple seldom. And, as Symons observes: "Under the soft and musical
phrases an inexorable logic hides itself, sometimes only too well.
Link is added silently but faultlessly to link; the argument marches,
carrying you with it, while you fancy you are only listening to the
music with which it keeps step." It is very personal, and while it
does not make melody for every ear, it is exquisitely adapted to the
idea it clothes. Read aloud Ruskin and then apply the same vocal
test--Flaubert's procedure--to Pater, and the magnificence of the
older man will conquer your ear by storm; but Pater, like Newman, will
make it captive in a persuasive snare more delicately varied, more
subtle, and with modulations more enchanting. Never oratorical, in
eloquence slightly muffled, his last manner hinted that he had sought
for newer combinations. Of his prose we may say, employing his own
words concerning another theme: "It is a beauty wrought from within,...
the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic
reveries and exquisite passions."

The prose of Jeremy Taylor is more impassioned, Browne's richer, there
are deeper organ tones in De Quincey's, Ruskin's excels in effects,
rhythmic and sonorous; but the prose of Pater is subtler, more sinuous,
more felicitous, and in its essence consummately intense. Morbid it
sometimes is, and its rich polyphony palls if you are not in the
mood; and in greater measure than the prose of the other masters,
for the world is older and Pater was weary of life. But a suggestion
of morbidity may be found in the writings of every great writer from
Plato to Dante, from Shakespeare to Goethe; it is the faint spice of
mortality that lends a stimulating if sharp perfume to all literatures.
Beautiful art has been challenged as corrupting. There may be a grain
of truth in the charge. But man cannot live by wisdom alone, so art
was invented to console, disquiet, and arouse him. Whenever a poet
appears he is straightway accused of tampering with the moral code;
it is mediocrity's mode of adjusting violent mental disproportions.
But persecution never harmed a genuine talent, and the accusations
against the art of Pater only provoked from him such beautiful books
as Imaginary Portraits, Marius the Epicurean, and Plato and Platonism.
Therefore let us be grateful to the memory of his enemies.

There is another Pater, a Pater far removed from the one who wove such
silken and coloured phrases. If he sometimes recalls Keats in the
rich texture of his prose, he can also suggest the aridity of Herbert
Spencer. There are early essays of his that are as cold, as logically
adamant, and as tortuous as sentences from the Synthetic Philosophy.
Pater was a metaphysician before he became an artist. Luckily for us,
his tendency to bald theorising was subdued by the broad humanism of
his temperament. There are not many "purple patches" in his prose,
"purple" in the De Quincey or Ruskin manner; no "fringes of the north
star" style, to use South's mocking expression. He never wrote in sheer
display. For the boorish rhetoric and apish attitudes of much modern
drama he betrayed no sympathy. His critical range is catholic. Consider
his essays on Lamb, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Winckelmann, setting aside
those finely wrought masterpieces, the studies of Da Vinci, Giorgione,
and Botticelli. As Mr. Benson puts it, Pater was not a modern
scientific or archæological critic, but the fact that Morelli has
proved the Concert of Giorgione not to be by that master, or that Vinci
is not all Pater says he is, does not vitiate the essential values of
his criticism.

Like Maurice Barrès, Pater was an egoist of the higher type; he
seldom left the twilight of his _tour d'ivoire_; yet his work is
human and concrete to the core. Nothing interested him so much as the
human quality in art. This he ever sought to disengage. Pater was a
deeply religious nature _au fond_, perhaps addicted a trifle to moral
preciosity, and, as 'Mr. Greenslet says, a lyrical pantheist. His
essay on Pascal, without plumbing the ethical depths as does Leslie
Stephen's study of the same thinker, gives us a fair measure of his
own religious feelings. A pagan with Anatole France in his worship
of Greek art and literature, his profounder Northern temperament, a
Spartan temperament, strove for spiritual things, for the vision of
things behind the veil. The Paters had been Roman Catholic for many
generations; his father was not, and he was raised in the Church of
England. But the ritual of the older Church was for him a source of
delight and consolation. Mr. Benson deserves unstinted praise for his
denunciation of the pseudo-Paterians, the self-styled disciples, who,
totally misinterpreting Pater's pure philosophy of life, translated
the more ephemeral phases of his cyrenaicism into the grosser terms
of a gaudy æsthetic. These defections pained the thinker, whose
study of Plato had extorted praise from Jowett. He even withdrew the
much-admired conclusion of The Renaissance because of the wilful
misconstructions put upon it. He never achieved the ataraxia of his
beloved master. And Oxford was grudging of her favour to him long after
the world had acclaimed his genius. Sensitive he was, though Mr. Gosse
denies the stories of his suffering from harsh criticism; but there
were some forms of criticism that he could not overlook. Books like his
Plato and Marius the Epicurean were adequate answers to detractors.
Somewhat cloistered in his attitude toward the normal world of work;
too much the artist for art's sake, he may never trouble the greater
currents of literature; but he will always be a writer for writers,
the critic whose vision pierces the shell of appearances, the composer
of a polyphonic prose-music that recalls the performance of harmonious
adagio within the sonorous spaces of a Gothic cathedral, through the
windows of which filters alien daylight. It was a favourite contention
of his that all the arts constantly aspire toward the condition of
music. This idea is the keynote of his poetic scheme, the keynote of
Walter Pater, mystic and musician, who, like his own Marius, carried
his life long "in his bosom across a crowded public place--his own




Henrik Ibsen was the best-hated artist of the nineteenth century. The
reason is simple: He was, himself, the arch-hater of his age. Yet,
granting this, the Norwegian dramatist aroused in his contemporaries a
wrath that would have been remarkable even if emanating from the fiery
pit of politics; in the comparatively serene field of æsthetics such
overwhelming attacks from the critics of nearly every European nation
testified to the singular power displayed by this poet. Richard Wagner
was not so abused; the theatre of his early operations was confined to
Germany, the Tannhäuser fiasco in Paris a unique exception. Wagner,
too, did everything that was possible to provoke antagonism. He scored
his critics in speech and pamphlet. He gave back as hard names as he
received. Ibsen never answered, either in print or by the mouth of
friends, the outrageous allegations brought against him. Indeed, his
disciples often darkened the issue by their unsolicited, uncritical

In Edouard Manet, the revolutionary Parisian painter and head of the
so-called impressionist movement--himself not altogether deserving
the appellation--we have an analogous case to Wagner's. Ridicule,
calumny, vituperation, pursued him for many years. But Paris was the
principal scene of his struggles; Paris mocked him, not all Europe.
Even the indignation aroused by Nietzsche was a comparatively local
affair. Wagner is the only man who approaches Ibsen in the massiveness
of his martyrdom. Yet Wagner had consolations for his opponents. His
music-drama, so rich in colour and rhythmic beauty, his romantic
themes, his appeal to the eye, his friendship with Ludwig of Bavaria,
at times placated his fiercest detractors. Manet painted one or two
successes for the official Salon; Nietzsche's brilliant style and
faculty for coining poetic images were acclaimed, his philosophy
declared detestable. Yes, fine phrases may make fine psychologues.
Robert Browning never felt the heavy hand of public opinion as did
Ibsen. We must go back to the days of Byron and Shelley for an example
of such uncontrollable and unanimous condemnation. But, again, Ibsen
tops them all as victim of storms that blew from every quarter:
Norway to Austria, England to Italy, Russia to America. There were no
mitigating circumstances in his _lèse-majesté_ against popular taste.
No musical rhyme, scenic splendour, or rhythmic prose, acted as an
emotional buffer between him and his audiences. His social dramas were
condemned as the sordid, heartless productions of a mediocre poet, who
wittingly debased our moral currency. And as they did not offer as
bribes the amatory intrigue, the witty dialogue, the sensual arabesques
of the French stage, or the stilted rhetoric and heroic postures of the
German, they were assailed from every critical watch-tower in Europe.
Ibsen was a stranger, Ibsen was disdainfully silent, therefore Ibsen
must be annihilated. Possibly if he had, like Wagner, explained his
dramas, we should have had confusion thrice confounded.

The day after his death the entire civilised world wrote of him as the
great man he was: great man, great artist, great moralist. And A Doll's
House only saw the light in 1879--so potent a creator of critical
perspective is Death. There were, naturally, many dissonant opinions
in this symphony of praise. Yet how different it all read from the
opinions of a decade ago. Adverse criticism, especially in America,
was vitiated by the fact that Ibsen the dramatist was hardly known
here. Ibsen was eagerly read, but seldom played; and rarely played as
he should be. He is first the dramatist. His are not closet dramas
to be leisurely digested by lamp-light; conceived for the theatre,
actuality their key-note, his characters are pale abstractions on the
printed page--not to mention the inevitable distortions to be found
in the closest translation. We are all eager to tell what we think of
him. But do we know him? Do we know him as do the goers of Berlin,
or St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Vienna, or Munich? And do we realise
his technical prowess? In almost every city of Europe Ibsen is in the
regular repertory. He is given at intervals with Shakespeare, Schiller,
Dumas, Maeterlinck, Hauptmann, Grillparzer, Hervieu, Sudermann, and
with the younger dramatists. That is the true test. Not the isolated
divinity of a handful of worshippers, with an esoteric message, his
plays are interpreted by skilled actors and not for the untrained if
enthusiastic amateur. There is no longer Ibsenism on the Continent;
Ibsen is recognised as the greatest dramatist since Racine and Molière.
Cults claim him no more, and therefore the critical point of view at
the time of his death had entirely shifted. His works are played in
every European language and have been translated into the Japanese.

The mixed blood in the veins of Ibsen may account for his temperament;
he was more Danish than Norwegian, and there were German and Scotch
strains in his ancestry. Such obscure forces of heredity doubtless
played a rôle in his career. Norwegian in his love of freedom, Danish
in his artistic bent, his philosophic cast of mind was wholly Teutonic.
Add to these a possible theologic prepossession derived from the
Scotch, a dramatic technique in which Scribe and Sophocles are not
absent, and we have to deal with a disquieting problem. Ibsen was a
mystery to his friends and foes. Hence the avidity with which he is
claimed by idealists, realists, socialists, anarchists, symbolists,
by evangelical folk, and by agnostics. There were in him many
contradictory elements. Denounced as a pessimist, all his great plays
have, notwithstanding, an unmistakable message of hope, from Brand to
When We Dead Awake. An idealist he is, but one who has realised the
futility of dreams; like all world-satirists, he castigates to purify.
His realism is largely a matter of surfaces, and if we care to look
we may find the symbol lodged in the most prosaic of his pieces. His
anarchy consists in a firm adherence to the doctrine of individualism;
Emerson and Thoreau are of his spiritual kin. In both there is the
contempt for mob-rule, mob-opinion; for both the minority is the true
rational unit; and with both there is a certain aloofness from mankind.
Yet we do not denounce Emerson or Thoreau as enemies of the people. To
be candid, Ibsen's belief in the rights of the individual is rather
naïve and antiquated, belonging as it does to the tempestuous period of
'48. Max Stirner was far in advance of the playwright in his political
and menacing egoism; while Nietzsche, who loathed democracy, makes
Ibsen's aristocracy timid by comparison.

Ibsen can hardly be called a philosophic anarch, for the body of
doctrine, either political or moral, deducible from his plays is so
perplexing by reason of its continual affirmation and negation, so
blurred by the kaleidoscopic clash of character, that one can only fuse
these mutually exclusive qualities by realising him as a dramatist
who has created a microcosmic world; in a word, we must look upon the
man as a creator of dramatic character not as a theorist. And his
characters have all the logical illogicality of life.

Several traits emerge from this welter of cross-purposes and action.
Individualism is a leading motive from the first to the last play;
a strong sense of moral responsibility--an oppressive sense, one is
tempted to add--is blended with a curious flavour of Calvinism, in
which are traces of predestination. A more singular equipment for a
modern dramatist is barely conceivable. Soon we discover that Ibsen
is playing with the antique dramatic counters under another name.
Free-will and determinism--what are these but the very breath of
classic tragedy! In one of his rare moments of expansion he said: "Many
things and much upon which my later work has turned--the contradiction
between endowment and desire, between capacity and will, at once the
entire tragedy and comedy of mankind--may here be dimly discerned."
Moral responsibility evaded is a favourite theme of his. No Furies of
the Greek drama pursued their victims with such relentless vengeance as
pursues the unhappy wretches of Ibsen. In Ghosts, the old scriptural
wisdom concerning the sins of parents is vividly expounded, though
the heredity doctrine is sadly overworked. As in other plays of his,
there were false meanings read into the interpretation; the realism of
Ghosts is negligible; the symbol looms large in every scene. Search
Ibsen throughout and it will be found that his subject-matter is
fundamentally the same as that of all great masters of tragedy. It is
his novel manner of presentation, his transposition of themes hitherto
treated epically, to the narrow, unheroic scale of middle-class family
life that blinded critics to his true significance. This tuning down
of the heroic, this reversal of the old æsthetic order extorted bitter
remonstrances. If we kill the ideal in art and life, what have we
left? was the cry. But Ibsen attacks false as well as true ideals and
does not always desert us after stripping us of our self-respect. A
poet of doubt he is, who seldom attempts a solution; but he is also a
puritan--a positivist puritan--and his scourgings are an equivalent for
that _katharsis_, in the absence of which Aristotle denied the title of

Consider, then, how Ibsen was misunderstood. Setting aside the
historical and poetic works, we are confronted in the social plays
by the average man and woman of every-day life. They live, as a
rule, in mediocre circumstances; they are harried by the necessities
of quotidian existence. Has this undistinguished _bourgeoisie_ the
potentialities of romance, of tragedy, of beauty? Wait, says Ibsen, and
you will see your own soul, the souls of the man and woman who jostle
you in the street, the same soul in palace or hovel, that orchestra of
cerebral sensations, the human soul. And it is the truth he speaks. We
follow with growing uneasiness his exposition of a soul. The spectacle
is not pleasing. In his own magical but charmless way the souls of
his people are turned inside out during an evening. No monologues, no
long speeches, no familiar machinery of the drama, are employed. But
the miracle is there. You face yourself. Is it any wonder that public
and critic alike waged war against this showman of souls, this new
psychologist of the unflattering, this past master of disillusionment?
For centuries poets, tragic and comic, satiric and lyric, have been
exalting, teasing, mocking, and lulling mankind. When Aristophanes
flayed his victims he sang a merry tune; Shakespeare, with Olympian
amiability, portrayed saint and sinner alike to the accompaniment of a
divine music. But Ibsen does not cajole, amuse, or bribe with either
just or specious illusions. He is determined to tell the truth of our
microcosmic baseness. The truth is his shibboleth. And when enounced
its sound is not unlike the chanting of a _Nox Irae_. He lifted the
ugly to heroic heights; the ignoble he analysed with the cold ardour of
a moral biologist--the ignoble, that "sublime of the lower slopes," as
Flaubert has it.

This psychological method was another rock of offence. Why transform
the playhouse into a school of metaphysics? But Ibsen is not a
metaphysician and his characters are never abstractions; instead, they
are very lively humans. They offend those who believe the theatre to
be a place of sentimentality or clowning; these same Ibsen men and
women offend the lovers of Shakespeare and the classics. We know they
are real, yet we dislike them as we dislike animals trained to imitate
humanity too closely. The simian gestures cause a feeling of repulsion
in both cases; surely we are not of such stock! And we move away. So
do we sometimes turn from the Ibsen stage when human souls are made to
go through a series of sorrowful evolutions by their stern trainer. To
what purpose such revelations? Is it art? Is not our ideal of a nobler
humanity shaken?

Ibsen's report of the human soul as he sees it is his right, the
immemorial right of priest, prophet, or artist. All our life is a huge
lie if this right be denied; from the Preacher to Schopenhauer, from
Æschylus to Molière, the man who reveals, in parable or as in a mirror,
the soul of his fellow-being is a man who is a benefactor of his kind,
if he be not a cynical spirit that denies. Ibsen is a satirist of a
superior degree; he has the gift of creating a _Weltspiegel_ in which
we see the shape of our souls. He is never the cynic, though he has
portrayed the cynic in his plays. He has too much moral earnestness
to view the world merely as a vile jest. That he is an artist is
acknowledged. And for the ideals dear to us which he so savagely
attacks, he so clears the air about some old familiar, mist-haunted
ideal of duty, that we wonder if we have hitherto mistaken its meaning.

From being denounced as a corrupter of youth, an anarch of letters, a
debaser of current moral coin, we have learned to view him as a force
making for righteousness, as a master of his craft, and as a creator
of a large gallery of remarkably vivid human characters. We know now
that many modern dramatists have carried their pails to this vast
northern lake and from its pine-hemmed and sombre waters have secretly
drawn sparkling inspiration.

The truth is that Ibsen can be no longer denied--we exclude the
wilfully blind--by critic or public. He is too big a man to be locked
up in a library as if he were full of vague forbidden wickedness. When
competently interpreted he is never offensive; the scenes to which the
critics refer as smacking of sex are mildness itself compared to the
doings of Sardou's lascivious marionettes. In the theatrical sense his
are not sex plays, as are those of Dumas the younger. He discusses
woman as a social as well as a psychical problem. Any picture of love
is tolerated so it be frankly sentimental; but let Ibsen mention the
word sex and there is a call to arms by the moral policemen of the
drama. Thus, by some critical hocus-pocus the world was led for years
to believe that this lofty thinker, moralist, and satirist concealed
an immoral teacher. It is an old trick of the enemy to place upon an
author's shoulders the doings and sayings of his mimic people. Ibsen
was fathered with all the sins of his characters. Instead of being
studied from life, they were, so many averred, the result of a morbid
brain, the brain of a pessimist and a hater of his kind.

We have seen that Ibsen offended by his disregard of academic dramatic
attitudes. His personages are ordinary, yet like Browning's meanest
soul they have a human side to show us. The inherent stuff of his plays
is tragic; but the hero and heroine do not stamp, stalk, or spout blank
verse; it is the tragedy of life without the sop of sentiment usually
administered by second-rate poets. Missing the colour and decoration,
the pretty music, and the eternal simper of the sensual, we naturally
turn our back on such a writer. If he knows souls, he certainly
does not understand the box-office. This for the negative side. On
the positive, the apparent baldness of the narrative, the ugliness
of his men and women, their utterance of ideas foreign to cramped,
convention-ridden lives, mortify us immeasurably. The tale always ends
badly or sadly. And when one of his characters begins to talk about the
"joy of life," it is the gloom of life that is evoked. The women--and
here is the shock to our masculine vanity--the women assert themselves
too much, telling men that they are not what they believe themselves
to be. Lastly, the form of the Ibsen play is compact with ideas and
emotion. We usually don't go to the theatre to think or to feel. With
Ibsen we must think, and think closely; we must feel--worse still, be
thrilled to our marrow by the spectacle of our own spiritual skeletons.
No marvellous music is there to heal the wounded nerves as in Tristan
and Isolde; no prophylactic for the merciless acid of the dissector.
We either breathe a rarefied atmosphere in his Brand and in When We
Dead Awake, or else, in the social drama, the air is so dense with
the intensity of the closely wrought moods that we gasp as if in the
chamber of a diving-bell. Human, all too human!

Protean in his mental and spiritual activities, a hater of
shams--religious, political, and social shams--more symbolist
than realist, in assent with Goethe that no material is unfit for
poetic treatment, the substance of Ibsen's morality consists in his
declaration that men to be free must first free themselves. Once, in
addressing a group of Norwegian workmen, he told them that man must
ennoble himself, he must _will_ himself free; "to will is to have
to will," as he says in Emperor and Galilean. Yet in Peer Gynt he
declares "to be oneself is to slay oneself." Surely all this is not
very radical. He wrote to Georg Brandes, that the State was the foe
of the individual; therefore the State must go. But the revolution
must be one of the spirit. Ibsen ever despised socialism, and after
his mortification over the fiasco of the Paris Commune he had never a
good word for that vain legend: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Brandes
relates that while Ibsen wished--in one of his poems--to place a
torpedo under the social ark, there was also a time when he longed to
use the knout on the willing slaves of a despised social system.

Perhaps the main cause of Ibsen's offending is his irony. The
world forgives much, irony never, for irony is the ivory tower of
the intellectual, the last refuge of the original. It is not the
intellectual irony of Meredith, nor the playful irony of Anatole
France, but a veiled corrosive irony that causes you to tread
suspiciously every yard of his dramatic domain. The "second intention,"
the secondary dialogue, spoken of by Maeterlinck, in the Ibsen plays is
very disconcerting to those who prefer their drama free from enigma.
Otherwise his dialogue is a model for future dramatists. It is clarity
itself and, closely woven, it has the characteristic accents of nature.
Read, we feel its gripping logic; spoken by an actor, it tingles with

For the student there is a fascination in the cohesiveness of these
dramas. Ibsen's mind was like a lens; it focussed the refracted,
scattered, and broken lights of opinions and theories of his day upon
the contracted space of his stage. In a fluid state the ideas that
crystallised in his prose series are to be found in his earliest work;
there is a remorseless fastening of link to link in the march-like
movement of his plays. Their author seems to delight in battering down
in Ghosts what he had preached in A Doll's House; The Enemy of the
People exalted the individual man, though Ghosts taught that a certain
kind of personal liberty is deadly; The Wild Duck, which follows, is
another puzzle, for in it the misguided idealist is pilloried for
destroying homes by his truth-telling, dangerous tongue; Rosmersholm
follows with its portrayal of lonely souls; and the danger of filling
old bottles with the fermenting wines of new ideas is set forth; in
The Lady from the Sea free-will, the will to love, is lauded, though
Rebekka West and Rosmersholm perished because of their exercise of this
same will; Hedda Gabler shows the converse of Ellida Wangel's "will
to power." Hedda is a creature wholly alive and shocking. Ibsen stuns
us again, for if it is healthy to be individual and to lead your own
life, in neurasthenic Hedda's case it leads to a catastrophe which
wrecks a household. This game of contradiction is continued in The
Master-Builder, a most potent exposition of human motives. Solness is
sick-brained because of his loveless egoism. Hilda Wangel, the "younger
generation," a Hedda Gabler _à rebours_, that he so feared would come
knocking at his door, awakens in him his dead dreams, arouses his
slumbering self; curiously enough, if the ordinary standards of success
be adduced, he goes to his destruction when he again climbs the dizzy
spire. In John Gabriel Borkman the allegory is clearer. Sacrificing
love to a base ambition, to "commercialism," Borkman at the close of
his great and miserable life discovers that he has committed the one
unpardonable offence: he has slain the love-life in the woman he loved,
and for the sake of gold. So he is a failure, and, like Peer Gynt, he
is ready for the Button-Moulder with his refuse-heap, who lies in wait
for all cowardly and incomplete souls. The Epilogue returns to the
mountains, the Ibsen symbol of freedom, and there we learn for the
last time that love is greater than art, that love is life. And the
dead of life awake.

The immorality of these plays is so well concealed that only abnormal
moralists detect it. It may be admitted that Ibsen, like Shakespeare,
manifests a preference for the man who fails. What is new is the art
with which this idea is developed. The Ibsen play begins where other
plays end. The form is the "amplified catastrophe" of Sophocles. After
marriage the curtain is rung up on the true drama of life, therefore
marriage is a theme which constantly preoccupies this modern poet.
He regards it from all sides, asking whether "by self-surrender,
self-realisation may be achieved." His speech delivered once before
a ladies' club at Christiania proves that he is not a champion of
latter-day woman's rights. "The women will solve the question of
mankind, but they must do so as mothers." Yet Nora Helmer, when she
slammed the door of her doll's home, caused an echo in the heart of
every intelligent woman in Christendom. It is not necessary now to ask
whether a woman would, or should, desert her children; Nora's departure
was only the symbol of her liberty, the gesture of a newly awakened
individuality. Ibsen did not preach--as innocent persons of both sexes
and all anti-Ibsenites believe--that woman should throw overboard
her duties; this is an absurd construction. As well argue that the
example of Othello must set jealous husbands smothering their wives.
A Doll's House enacted has caused no more evil than Othello. It was
the plea for woman as a human being, neither more nor less than man,
which the dramatist made. Our withers must have been well wrung, for
it aroused a whirlwind of wrath, and henceforth the house-key became
the symbol of feminine supremacy. Yet in his lovely drama of pity and
resignation, Little Eyolf, the tenderest from his pen, the poet set up
a counter-figure to Nora, demonstrating the duties parents owe their

Without exaggeration, he may be said to have discovered for the stage
the modern woman. No longer the sleek cat of the drawing-room, or the
bayadere of luxury, or the wild outlaw of society, the "emancipated"
Ibsen woman is the sensible woman, the womanly woman, bearing a not
remote resemblance to the old-fashioned woman, who calmly accepts her
share of the burdens and responsibilities of life, single or wedded,
though she insists on her rights as a human being, and without a touch
of the heroic or the supra-sentimental. Ibsen should not be held
responsible for the caricatures of womanhood evolved by his disciples.
When a woman evades her responsibilities, when she is frivolous or
evil, an exponent of the "life-lie" in matrimony, then Ibsen grimly
paints her portrait, and we denounce him as cynical for telling the
truth. And truth is seldom a welcome guest. But he knows that a fiddle
can be mended and a bell not; and in placing his surgeon-like finger
on the sorest spot of our social life, he sounds this bell, and when
it rings cracked he coldly announces the fact. But his attitude toward
marriage is not without its mystery. In Love's Comedy his hero and
heroine part, fearing the inevitable shipwreck in the union of two
poetic hearts without the necessary means of a prosaic subsistence.
In the later plays, marriage for gain, for home, for anything but
love, brings upon its victims the severest consequences; John Gabriel
Borkman, Hedda, Dora, Mrs. Alving, Allmers, Rubek, are examples. The
idea of man's cruelty to man or woman, or woman's cruelty to woman or
man, lashes him into a fury. Then he becomes Ibsen the Berserker.

Therefore let us beware the pitfalls dug by some Ibsen exegetists; the
genius of the dramatist is too vast and versatile to be pinned down to
a single formula. If you believe that he is dangerous to young people,
let it be admitted--but so are Thackeray, Balzac, and Hugo. So is any
strong thinker. Ibsen is a powerful dissolvent for an imagination
clogged by theories of life, low ideals, and the facile materialism
that exalts the letter but slays the spirit. He is a foe to compromise,
a hater of the half-way, the roundabout, the weak-willed, above all,
a hater of the truckling politician--he is a very Torquemada to
politicians. At the best there is ethical grandeur in his conceptions,
and if the moral stress is unduly felt, if he tears asunder the veil
of our beloved illusions and shows us as we are, it is because of his
righteous indignation against the platitudinous hypocrisy of modern
life. His unvarying code is: "So to conduct one's life as to realise
oneself." Withal an artist, not the evangelist of a new gospel, not
the social reformer, not the exponent of science in the drama. These
titles have been thrust upon him by his overheated admirers. He never
posed as a prophet. He is poet, psychologist, skald, dramatist, not
always a soothsayer. The artist in him preserved him from the fate
of the didactic Tolstoy. With the Russian he shares the faculty of
emptying souls. Ibsen, who vaguely recalls Stendhal in his clear-eyed
vision and dry irony, is without a trace of the Frenchman's cynicism
or dilettantism. Like all dramatists of the first rank, the Norwegian
has in him much of the seer, yet he always avoided the pontifical tone;
he may be a sphinx, but he never plays the oracle. His categorical
imperative, however, "All or nothing," does not bear the strain of
experience. Life is simpler, is not to be lived at such an intolerable
tension. The very illusions he seeks to destroy would be supplanted by
others. Man exists because of his illusions. Without the "life-lie" he
would perish in the mire. His illusions are his heritage from aeons
of ancestors. The classic view considered man as the centre of the
universe; that position has been ruthlessly altered by science--we are
now only tiny points of consciousness in unthinkable space. Isolated
then, true children of our inconsiderable planet, we have in us traces
of our predecessors. True, one may be disheartened by the pictures of
unheroic meanness and petty corruption, the ill-disguised instincts
of ape and tiger, in the prose plays, even to the extent of calling
them--as did M. Melchior de Vogüé, Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet--a
grotesque Iliad of Nihilism. But we need not despair. If Ibsen seemed
to say for a period, "Evil, be thou my good," his final words in the
Epilogue are those of pity and peace: _Pax vobiscum!_


This old man with the head and hair of an electrified Schopenhauer
and the torso of a giant, his temperament coinciding with his curt,
imperious name, left behind him twenty-six plays, one or more in
manuscript. A volume of very subjective poems concludes this long
list; among the dramas are at least three of heroic proportion and
length. Ibsen was born at Skien, Norway, 1828. His forebears were
Danish, German, Scotch, and Norwegian. His father, a man of means,
failed in business, and at the age of eight the little Henrik had to
face poverty. His schooling was of the slightest. He was not much
of a classical scholar and soon he was apprenticed to an apothecary
at Grimstad, the very name of which evokes a vision of gloominess.
He did not prove a success as a druggist, as he spent his spare
time reading and caricaturing his neighbours. His verse-making was
desultory, his accustomed mien an unhappy combination of Hamlet and
Byron; his misanthropy at this period recalls that of the young
Schopenhauer. His favourite reading was poetry and history, and he had
a predilection for sketching and conjuring tricks. It might be pointed
out that here in the raw were the aptitudes of a future dramatist:
poetry, pictures, illusion. In the year 1850 Ibsen published his
first drama, derived from poring over Sallust and Cicero. It was a
creditable effort of youth, and to the discerning it promised well for
his literary future. He was gifted, without doubt, and from the first
he sounded the tocsin of revolt. Pessimistic and rebellious his poems
were; he had tasted misery, his home was an unhappy one--there was
little love in it for him--and his earliest memories were clustered
about the town jail, the hospital, and the lunatic asylum. These
images were no doubt the cause of his bitter and desperate frame of
mind; grinding poverty, the poverty of a third-rate provincial town
in Norway, was the climax of his misery. And then, too, the scenery,
rugged and noble, and the climate, depressing for months, all had
their effect upon his sensitive imagination. From the start, certain
conceptions of woman took root in his mind and reappear in nearly all
his dramas. Catalina's wife, Aurelia, and the vestal Furia, who are
reincarnated in the Dagny and Hjordis of his Vikings, reappear in A
Doll's House, Hedda Gabler, and at the last in When We Dead Awake. One
is the eternal womanly, the others the destructive feminine principle,
woman the conqueror. As Catalina is a rebel against circumstances, so
are Maja and the sculptor in the Epilogue of 1899. There is almost
a half century of uninterrupted composition during which this group
of men and women disport themselves. Brand, a poetic rather than an
acting drama, is no exception; Brand and the Sheriff, Agnes and Gerda.
These types are cunningly varied, their traits so concealed as to be
recognised only after careful study. But the characteristics of each
are alike. The monotony of this procedure is redeemed by the unity
of conception--Ibsen is the reflective poet, the poet who conceives
the idea and then clothes it, therein differing from Shakespeare and
Goethe, to whom form and idea are simultaneously born.

In March, 1850, he went to Christiania and entered Heltberg's school
as a preparation for the university. His studies were brief. He became
involved in a boyish revolutionary outburst--in company with his
life-long friend, the good-hearted Björnstjerne Björnson, who helped
him many times--and while nothing serious occurred, it caused the
young man to effervesce with literary plans and the new ideas of his
times. The Warrior's Tomb, his second play, was accepted and actually
performed at the Christiania theatre. The author gave up his university
dreams and began to earn a rude living by his pen. He embarked in
newspaper enterprises which failed. An extremist politically, he soon
made a crop of enemies, the wisest crop a strong character can raise;
but he often worked on an empty stomach in consequence. The metal of
the man showed from the first: endure defeat, but no compromise!
He went to Bergen in 1851 and was appointed theatre poet at a small
salary; this comprised a travelling stipend. Ibsen saw the Copenhagen
and Dresden theatres with excellent results. His eyes were opened to
the possibilities of his craft, and on his return he proved a zealous
stage manager. He composed, in 1853, St. John's Night, which was played
at his theatre, and in 1857 Fru Inger of Oesträtt was written. It is
old-fashioned in form, but singularly lifelike in characterization and
fruitful in situations. The story is semi-historical. In the Lady Inger
we see a foreshadowing of his strong, vengeful women. Olaf Liljekrans
need not detain us. The Vikings (1858) is a sterling specimen of
drama, in which legend and history are artfully blended. The Feast of
Solhaug (1857) was very successful in its treatment of the saga, and is
comparatively cheerful.

Ibsen left Bergen to take the position of director at the Norwegian
Theatre, Christiania. He remained there until 1862, staging all
manner of plays, from Shakespeare to Scribe. The value of these years
was incalculable in his technical development. A poet born and by
self-discipline developed, he was now master of a difficult art, an
art that later he never lost, even when, weary of the conventional
comedy of manners, he sought to spiritualize the form and give us the
psychology of commonplace souls. It may be noted that, despite the
violinist Ole Bull's generous support, the new theatre endured only
five years. More than passing stress should be laid upon this formative
period. His experience of these silent years was bitter, but rich
in spiritual recompense. After some difficulty in securing a paltry
pension from his government, Ibsen was enabled to leave Norway, which
had become a charnel-house to him since the Danish war with Germany,
and with his young wife he went to Rome. Thenceforth his was a gypsy
career. He lived in Rome, in Dresden, in Munich, and again in Rome. He
spent his summers in the Austrian Tyrol, at Sorrento, and occasionally
in his own land. His was a self-imposed exile, and he did not return
to Christiania to reside permanently until an old, but famous man.
Silent, unsociable, a man of harsh moods, he was to those who knew him
an upright character, an ideal husband and father. His married life had
no history, a sure sign of happiness, for he was well mated. Yet one
feels that, despite his wealth, his renown, existence was for him a
_via dolorosa_. Ever the solitary dreamer, he wrote a play about every
two or three years, and from the very beginning of his exile the effect
in Norway was like unto the explosion of a bomb-shell. Not wasting time
in answering his critics, it was nevertheless remarked that each new
piece was a veiled reply to slanderous criticism. Ghosts was absolutely
intended as an answer to the attacks upon A Doll's House; here is
what Nora would have become if she had been a dutiful wife, declares
Ibsen, in effect; and we see Mrs. Alving in her motherly agonies. The
counterblast to the criticism of Ghosts was An Enemy of the People; Dr.
Stockman is easily detected as a partial portrait of Ibsen.

Georg Brandes, to whom the poet owes many ideas as well as sound
criticism, said that early in his life a lyric Pegasus had been killed
under Ibsen This striking hint of his sacrifice is supplemented by
a letter in which he compared the education of a poet to that of a
dancing bear. The bear is tied in a brewer's vat and a slow fire is
built under the vat; the wretched animal is then forced to dance. Life
forces the poet to dance by means quite as painful; he dances and
the tears roll down his cheeks all the while. Ibsen forsook poetry
for prose and--the dividing line never to be recrossed is clearly
indicated between Emperor and Galilean and The Pillars of Society--he
bestowed upon his country three specimens of his poetic genius. As
Italy fructified the genius of Goethe, so it touched as with a glowing
coal the lips of the young Northman. Brand, a noble epic, startled and
horrified Norway. In Rome Ibsen regained his equilibrium. He saw his
country and countrymen more sanely, more steadily, though there is a
terrible fund of bitterness in this dramatic poem. The local politics
of Christiania no longer irritated him, and in the hot, beautiful
South he dreamed of the North, of his beloved fiords and mountains, of
ice and avalanche, of troll and saga. Luckily for those who have not
mastered Norwegian, C. H. Herford's translation of Brand exists, and,
while the translator deplores his sins of omission, it is a work--as
are the English versions of the prose plays by William Archer--that
gives one an excellent idea of the original. In Brand (1866) Ibsen is
at his furthest extremity from compromise. This clergyman sacrifices
his mother, his wife, his child, his own life, to a frosty ideal: "All
or nothing." He is implacable in his ire against worldliness, in his
contempt of churchmen that believe in half-way measures. He perishes
on the heights as a voice proclaims, "He is the God of Love." Greatly
imaginative, charged with spiritual spleen and wisdom, Brand at once
placed Ibsen among the mighty.

He followed it with a new Odyssey of his soul, the amazing Peer Gynt
(1867), in which his humour, hitherto a latent quality, his fantasy,
bold invention, and the poetic evocation of the faithful, exquisite
Solveig, are further testimony to his breadth of resource. Peer Gynt
is all that Brand was not: whimsical, worldly, fantastic, weak-willed,
not so vicious as perverse; he is very selfish, one who was to himself
sufficient, therefore a failure. The will, if it frees, may also kill.
It killed the soul of Peer. There are pages of unflagging humour,
poetry, and observation; scene dissolves into scene; Peer travels over
half the earth, is rich, is successful, is poor; and at the end meets
the Button-Moulder, that ironical shadow who tells him what he has
become. We hear the Boyg, the spirit of compromise, with its huge,
deadly, coiling lengths, gruffly bid Peer to "go around." Facts of life
are to be slunk about, never to be faced. Peer comes to harbour in the
arms of his deserted Solveig. The resounding sarcasm, the ferociousness
of the attack on all the idols of the national cavern, raised a storm
in Norway that did not abate for years. Ibsen was again a target for
the bolts of critical and public hatred. Peer Gynt is the Scandinavian

Having purged his soul of this perilous stuff, the poet, in 1873,
finished his double drama Emperor and Galilean, not a success
dramatically, but a strong, interesting work for the library, though it
saw the footlights at Berlin, Leipsic, and Christiania. The apostate
Emperor Julian is the protagonist. We discern Ibsen the mystic
philosopher longing for his Third Kingdom.

After a silence of four years The Pillars of Society appeared. Like
its predecessor in the same _genre_, The Young Men's League, it is
a prose drama, a study of manners, and a scathing arraignment of
civic dishonesty. All the rancour of its author against the bourgeois
hypocrisy of his countrymen comes to the surface; as in The Young Men's
League the vacillating nature of the shallow politician is laid bare.
It seems a trifle banal now, though the canvas is large, the figures
animated. One recalls Augier without his Gallic _esprit_, rather than
the later Ibsen. A Doll's House was once a household word, as was
Ghosts (1881). There is no need now to retell the story of either
play. Ghosts, in particular, has an antique quality, the _dénouement_
leaves us shivering. It may be set down as the strongest play of the
nineteenth century, and also the most harrowing. Its intensity borders
on the hallucinatory. We involuntarily recall the last act of Tristan
and Isolde or the final movement of Tschaikowsky's Pathetic symphony.
It is the shrill discord between the mediocre creatures involved and
the ghastly punishment meted out to the innocent that agitates and
depresses us. Here are human souls illuminated as if by a lightning
flash; we long for the anticipated thunder. It does not sound. The
drama ends in silence--one of those pauses (Ibsen employs the pause
as does a musical composer) which leaves the spectator unstrung. The
helpless sense of hovering about the edge of a bottomless gulf is
engendered by this play. No man could have written it but Ibsen, and we
hope that no man will ever attempt a parallel performance, for such art
modulates across the borderland of the pathologic.

The Wild Duck (1884) followed An Enemy of the People (1882). It is the
most puzzling of the prose dramas except The Master-Builder, for in it
Ibsen deliberately mocks himself and his ideals. It is, nevertheless,
a profoundly human and moving work. Gina Ekdal, the wholesome,
sensible wife of Ekdal, the charlatan photographer--a _revenant_ of
Peer Gynt--has been called a feminine Sancho Panza. Gregers Werle,
the meddlesome truth-teller; Relling--a sardonic incarnation of
the author--who believes in feeding humanity on the "life-lie" to
maintain its courage; the tiny Hedwig, sweetest and freshest of Ibsen's
girls--these form a memorable _ensemble_. And how the piece plays!
Humour and pathos alternate, while the symbol is not so remote that
an average audience need miss its meaning. The end is cruel. Ibsen is
often cruel, with the passionless indifference of the serene Buddha.
But he is ever logical. Nora must leave her husband's house--a "happy
ending" would be ridiculous--and Hedwig must be sacrificed instead of
the wild duck, or her fool of a father. There is a battalion of minor
characters in the Ibsen plays who recall Dickens by their grotesque,
sympathetic physiognomies. To deny this dramatist humour is to miss a
third of his qualities. His is not the ventripotent humour of Rabelais
or Cervantes; it seldom leaves us without the feeling that the poet is
slyly laughing at us, not with us, though in the early comedies there
are many broad and telling strokes.

Rosmersholm (1886) is a study of two temperaments. Rebekka West
is another malevolent portrait in his gallery of dangerous and
antipathetic women. She ruins Rosmersholm, ruins herself, because she
does not discover this true self until too late. The play illustrates
the extraordinary technique of the master. It seems to have been
written backward; until the third act we are not aware that the
peaceful home of the Rosmersholms is the battle-field of a malignant
soul. The Lady from the Sea (1888) illustrates the thesis that love
must be free. The allegory is rather strained and in performance the
play lacks poetic glamour. Hedda Gabler (1890) is a masterpiece. A more
selfish, vicious, cold nature than Hedda's never stepped from the page
of a Russian novel--Becky Sharp and Madame Marneffe are lovable persons
in comparison. She is not in the slightest degree like the stage
"adventuress," but is a magnificent example of egoism magnificently
delineated and is the true sister in fiction of Julien Sorel. That she
is dramatically worth the while is beside the question. Her ending by a
pistol shot is justice itself; alive she fascinates as does some exotic
reptile. She is representative of her species, the loveless woman, the
petty hater, a Lady Macbeth reversed. Ibsen has studied her with the
same care and curiosity he bestowed upon the homely Gina Ekdal.

His Master-Builder (1892) is the beginning of the last cycle. A true
interior drama, we enter here into the region of the symbolical.
With Ibsen the symbol is always an image, never an abstraction, a
state of sensibility, not a formula, and the student may winnow many
examples from The Pretenders (1864), with its "kingship" idea, to the
Epilogue. Solness stands on the heights only to perish, but in the full
possession of his soul. Hilda Wangel is one of the most perplexing
characters to realise in the modern theatre. She, with her cruelty
and loveliness of perfect youth, is the work of a sorcerer who holds
us spellbound while the souls he has created by his black art slowly
betray themselves. It may be said that all this is not the art of
the normal theatre. Very true. It more nearly resembles a dramatic
confessional with a hidden auditory bewitched into listening to secrets
never suspected of the humanity that hedges us about in street or
home. Ibsen is clairvoyant. He takes the most familiar material and
holds it in the light of his imagination; straightway we see a new
world, a northern dance of death, like the ferocious pictures of his
fellow-countryman, the painter Edvard Munch.

Little Eyolf (1894) is fairly plain reading, with some fine overtones
of suffering and self-abnegation. Its lesson is wholly satisfying.
John Gabriel Borkman (1896), written at an age when most poets show
declining power, is another monument to the vigour and genius of Ibsen.
The story winds about the shattered career of a financier. There is a
secondary plot, in which the parental curses come home to roost--the
son, carefully reared to wipe away the stain from his father's name,
prefers Paris and a rollicking life. The desolation under this
roof-tree is almost epical: two sisters in deadly antagonism, a
blasted man, the old wolf, whose footfalls in the chamber above become
absolutely sinister as the play progresses, are made to face the hard
logic of their misspent lives. The doctrine of compensation has never
had such an exponent as Ibsen.

In the last of his published plays, When We Dead Awake (1899), we find
earlier and familiar themes developed at moments with contrapuntal
mastery. Rubek, the sculptor, has aroused a love that he never dared to
face. He married the wrong woman. His early dream, the inspiration of
his master work, he has lost. His art withers. And when he meets his
Irene, her mind is full of wandering ghosts. To the heights, to the
same peaks that Brand climbed, they both must mount, and there they are
destroyed, as was Brand, by an avalanche. Eros is the triumphant god of
the aged magician.


It must be apparent to those who have not read or seen the Ibsen
plays that, despite this huddled and foreshortened account, they
are in essence quite different from what has been reported of them.
Idealistic, symbolistic, moral, and ennobling, the Ibsen drama was
so vilified by malice and ignorance that its very name was a portent
of evil. Mad or wicked Ibsen is not. His scheme of life and morals
is often oblique and paradoxical, his interpretation of truths so
elliptical that we are confused. But he is essentially sound. He
believes in the moral continuity of the universe. His astounding energy
is a moral energy. Salvation by good works is his burden. The chief
thing is to be strong in your faith. He despises the weak, not the
strong sinner. His Supermen are the bankrupts of romantic heroism.
His strong man is frequently wrong-headed; but the weakling works the
real mischief. Never admit you are beaten. Begin at the bottom twenty
times, and when the top is achieved die, or else look for loftier peaks
to climb. Ibsen exalts strength. His "ice-church" is chilly; the lungs
drink in with difficulty the buffeting breezes on his heights; yet how
bracing, how inspiring, is this austere place of worship. Bad as is
mankind, Ibsen, who was ever in advance of his contemporaries, believed
in its possibility for betterment. Here the optimist speaks. Brand's
spiritual pride is his downfall; nevertheless, Ibsen, an aristocratic
thinker, believes that of pride one cannot have too much. He recognised
the selfish and hollow foundation of all "humanitarian" movements.
He is a sign-post for the twentieth century when the aristocratic of
spirit must enter into combat with the herd instinct of a depressing
socialism. His influence has been tremendous. His plays teem with the
general ideas of his century. His chief value lies in the beauty of
his art; his is the rare case of the master-singer rounding a long
life with his master works. He brought to the theatre new ideas; he
changed forever the dramatic map of Europe; he originated a new method
of surprising life, capturing it and forcing it to give up a moiety of
its mystery for the uses of a difficult and recondite art. He fashioned
character anew. And he pushed resolutely into the mist that surrounded
the human soul, his Diogenes lantern glimmering, his brave, lonely
heart undaunted by the silence and the solitude. His message? Who shall
say? He asks questions, and, patterning after nature, he seldom answers
them. When his ideas sicken and die--he asserted that the greatest
truth outlives its usefulness in time, and it may not be denied that
his drama is a dissolvent; already the early plays are in historical
twilight and the woman question of his day is for us something quite
different--his art will endure. Henrik Ibsen was a man of heroic
fortitude. His plays are a bold and stimulating spectacle for the
spirit. Should we ask more of a dramatic poet?




In 1888 John Henry Mackay, the Scottish-German poet, while at the
British Museum reading Lange's History of Materialism, encountered
the name of Max Stirner and a brief criticism of his forgotten book,
Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (The Only One and His Property; in
French translated L'Unique et sa Propriété, and in the first English
translation more aptly and euphoniously entitled The Ego and His Own).
His curiosity excited, Mackay, who is an anarchist, procured after
some difficulty a copy of the work, and so greatly was he stirred
that for ten years he gave himself up to the study of Stirner and his
teachings, and after incredible painstaking published in 1898 the
story of his life. (Max Stirner: Sein Leben und sein Werk: John Henry
Mackay.) To Mackay's labours we owe all we know of a man who was as
absolutely swallowed up by the years as if he had never existed. But
some advanced spirits had read Stirner's book, the most revolutionary
ever written, and had felt its influence. Let us name two: Henrik
Ibsen and Frederick Nietzsche. Though the name of Stirner is not quoted
by Nietzsche, he nevertheless recommended Stirner to a favourite pupil
of his, Professor Baumgartner at Basel University. This was in 1874.

One hot August afternoon in the year 1896 at Bayreuth, I was standing
in the Marktplatz when a member of the Wagner Theatre pointed out to me
a house opposite, at the corner of the Maximilianstrasse, and said: "Do
you see that house with the double gables? A man was born there whose
name will be green when Jean Paul and Richard Wagner are forgotten."
It was too large a draught upon my credulity, so I asked the name.
"Max Stirner," he replied. "The crazy Hegelian," I retorted. "You have
read him, then?" "No; but you haven't read Nordau." It was true. All
fire and flame at that time for Nietzsche, I did not realise that the
poet and rhapsodist had forerunners. My friend sniffed at Nietzsche's
name; Nietzsche for him was an aristocrat, not an Individualist--in
reality, a lyric expounder of Bismarck's gospel of blood and iron.
Wagner's adversary would, with Renan, place mankind under the yoke of
a more exacting tyranny than Socialism, the tyranny of Culture, of the
Superman. Ibsen, who had studied both Kierkegaard and Stirner--witness
Brand and Peer Gynt--Ibsen was much nearer to the champion of the Ego
than Nietzsche. Yet it is the dithyrambic author of Zarathustra who is
responsible, with Mackay, for the recrudescence of Stirner's teachings.

Nietzsche is the poet of the doctrine, Stirner its prophet, or, if
you will, its philosopher. Later I secured the book, which had been
reprinted in the cheap edition of Reclam (1882). It seemed colourless,
or rather gray, set against the glory and gorgeous rhetoric of
Nietzsche. I could not see then what I saw a decade later--that
Nietzsche had used Stirner as a springboard, as a point of departure,
and that the Individual had vastly different meanings to those diverse
temperaments. But Stirner displayed the courage of an explorer in
search of the north pole of the Ego.

The man whose theories would make a _tabula rasa_ of civilisation, was
born at Bayreuth, October 25, 1806, and died at Berlin June 25, 1856.
His right name was Johann Caspar Schmidt, Max Stirner being a nickname
bestowed upon him by his lively comrades in Berlin because of his very
high and massive forehead. His father was a maker of wind instruments,
who died six months after his son's birth. His mother remarried, and
his stepfather proved a kind protector. Nothing of external importance
occurred in the life of Max Stirner that might place him apart from his
fellow-students. He was very industrious over his books at Bayreuth,
and when he became a student at the Berlin University he attended the
lectures regularly, preparing himself for a teacher's profession. He
mastered the classics, modern philosophy, and modern languages. But
he did not win a doctor's degree; just before examinations his mother
became ill with a mental malady (a fact his critics have noted) and
the son dutifully gave up everything so as to be near her. After her
death he married a girl who died within a short time. Later, in 1843,
his second wife was Marie Dähnhardt, a very "advanced" young woman, who
came from Schwerin to Berlin to lead a "free" life. She met Stirner
in the Hippel circle, at a Weinstube in the Friedrichstrasse, where
radical young thinkers gathered: Bruno Bauer, Feuerbach, Karl Marx,
Moses Hess, Jordan, Julius Faucher, and other stormy insurgents. She
had, it is said, about 10,000 thalers. She was married with the ring
wrenched from a witness's purse--her bridegroom had forgotten to
provide one. He was not a practical man; if he had been he would hardly
have written The Ego and His Own.

It was finished between the years 1843 and 1845; the latter date it
was published. It created a stir, though the censor did not seriously
interfere with it; its attacks on the prevailing government were
veiled. In Germany rebellion on the psychic plane expresses itself in
metaphysics; in Poland and Russia music is the safer medium. Feuerbach,
Hess, and Szeliga answered Stirner's terrible arraignment of society,
but men's thoughts were interested elsewhere, and with the revolt
of 1848 Stirner was quite effaced. He had taught for five years in
a fashionable school for young ladies; he had written for several
periodicals, and translated extracts from the works of Say and Adam

After his book appeared, his relations with his wife became uneasy.
Late in 1846 or early in 1847 she left him and went to London, where
she supported herself by writing; later she inherited a small sum from
a sister, visited Australia, married a labourer there, and became a
washerwoman. In 1897 Mackay wrote to her in London, asking her for
some facts in the life of her husband. She replied tartly that she was
not willing to revive her past; that her husband had been too much of
an egotist to keep friends, and was "very sly." This was all he could
extort from the woman, who evidently had never understood her husband
and execrated his memory, probably because her little fortune was
swallowed up by their mutual improvidence. Another appeal only elicited
the answer that "Mary Smith is preparing for death"--she had become a
Roman Catholic. It is the irony of things in general that his book is
dedicated to "My Sweetheart, Marie Dähnhardt."

Stirner, after being deserted, led a precarious existence. The old
jolly crowd at Hippel's seldom saw him. He was in prison twice for
debt--free Prussia--and often lacked bread. He, the exponent of
Egoism, of philosophic anarchy, starved because of his pride. He was
in all matters save his theories a moderate man, eating and drinking
temperately, living frugally. Unassuming in manners, he could hold his
own in debate--and Hippel's appears to have been a rude, debating
society--yet one who avoided life rather than mastered it. He was of
medium height, ruddy, and his eyes deep-blue. His hands were white,
slender, "aristocratic," writes Mackay. Certainly not the figure of
a stalwart shatterer of conventions, not the ideal iconoclast; above
all, without a touch of the melodrama of communistic anarchy, with its
black flags, its propaganda by force, its idolatry of assassinations,
bomb-throwing, killing of fat, harmless policemen, and its sentimental
gabble about Fraternity. Stirner hated the word Equality; he knew it
was a lie, knew that all men are born unequal, as no two grains of sand
on earth ever are or ever will be alike. He was a solitary. And thus he
died at the age of fifty. A few of his former companions heard of his
neglected condition and buried him. Nearly a half century later Mackay,
with the co-operation of Hans von Bülow, affixed a commemorative tablet
on the house where he last lived, Phillipstrasse 19, Berlin, and alone
Mackay placed a slab to mark his grave in the Sophienkirchhof.

It is to the poet of the Letzte Erkentniss, with its stirring line,
"Doch bin ich mein," that I owe the above scanty details of the most
thorough-going Nihilist who ever penned his disbelief in religion,
humanity, society, the family. He rejects them all. We have no genuine
portrait of this insurrectionist--he preferred personal insurrection
to general revolution; the latter, he asserted, brought in its train
either Socialism or a tyrant--except a sketch hastily made by
Friedrich Engels, the revolutionist, for Mackay. It is not reassuring.
Stirner looks like an old-fashioned German and timid pedagogue, high
coat-collar, spectacles, clean-shaven face, and all. This valiant enemy
of the State, of socialism, was, perhaps, only brave on paper. But his
icy, relentless, epigrammatic style is in the end more gripping than
the spectacular, volcanic, whirling utterances of Nietzsche. Nietzsche
lives in an ivory tower and is an aristocrat. Into Stirner's land
all are welcome. That is, if men have the will to rebel, and if they
despise the sentimentality of mob rule. The Ego and His Own is the most
drastic criticism of socialism thus far presented.


For those who love to think of the visible universe as a cosy corner
of God's footstool, there is something bleak and terrifying in the
isolated position of man since science has postulated him as an
infinitesimal bubble on an unimportant planet. The soul shrinks as our
conception of outer space widens. Thomas Hardy describes the sensation
as "ghastly." There is said to be no purpose, no design in all the
gleaming phantasmagoria revealed by the astronomer's glass; while on
our globe we are a brother to lizards, bacteria furnish our motor
force, and our brain is but a subtly fashioned mirror, composed of
neuronic filaments, a sort of "darkroom" in which is somehow pictured
the life without. Well, we admit, for the sake of the argument, that
we banish God from the firmament, substituting a superior mechanism;
we admit our descent from star-dust and apes, we know that we have no
free will, because man, like the unicellular organisms, "gives to every
stimulus without an inevitable response." That, of course, settles all
moral obligations. But we had hoped, we of the old sentimental brigade,
that all things being thus adjusted we could live with our fellow man
in (comparative) peace, cheating him only in a legitimate business
way, and loving our neighbour better than ourselves (in public). Ibsen
had jostled our self-satisfaction sadly, but some obliging critic
had discovered his formula--a pessimistic decadent--and with bare
verbal bones we worried the old white-haired mastiff of Norway. Only
a decadent It is an easy word to speak and it means nothing. With
Nietzsche the case was simpler. We couldn't read him because he was a
madman; but he at least was an aristocrat who held the _bourgeois_ in
contempt, and he also held a brief for culture. Ah! when we are young
we are altruists; as Thackeray says, "Youths go to balls; men go to

But along comes this dreadful Stirner, who cries out: Hypocrites all
of you. You are not altruists, but selfish persons, who, self-illuded,
believe yourselves to be disinterested. Be Egoists. Confess the truth
in the secrecy of your mean, little souls. We are all Egotists. Be
Egoists. There is no truth but my truth. No world but my world. I
am I. And then Stirner waves away God, State, society, the family,
morals, mankind, leaving only the "hateful" Ego. The cosmos is frosty
and inhuman, and old Mother Earth no longer offers us her bosom as a
reclining-place. Stirner has so decreed it. We are suspended between
heaven and earth, like Mahomet's coffin, hermetically sealed in Self.
Instead of "smiting the chord of self," we must reorchestrate the chord
that it may give out richer music. (Perhaps the Higher Egoism which
often leads to low selfishness.)

Nevertheless, there is an honesty in the words of Max Stirner. We are
weary of the crying in the market-place, "Lo! Christ is risen," only
to find an old nostrum tricked out in socialistic phrases; and fine
phrases make fine feathers for these gentlemen who offer the millennium
in one hand and perfect peace in the other. Stirner is the frankest
thinker of his century. He does not soften his propositions, harsh ones
for most of us, with promises, but pursues his thought with ferocious
logic to its covert. There is no such hybrid with him as Christian
Socialism, no dodging issues. He is a Teutonic Childe Roland who to
the dark tower comes, but instead of blowing his horn--as Nietzsche
did--he blows up the tower itself. Such an iconoclast has never before
put pen to paper. He is so sincere in his scorn of all we hold dear
that he is refreshing. Nietzsche's flashing epigrammatic blade often
snaps after it is fleshed; the grim, cruel Stirner, after he makes a
jab at his opponent, twists the steel in the wound. Having no mercy for
himself, he has no mercy for others. He is never a hypocrite. He erects
no altars to known or unknown gods. Humanity, he says, has become the
Moloch to-day to which everything is sacrificed. Humanity--that is,
the State, perhaps, even the socialistic state (the most terrible yoke
of all for the individual soul). This assumed love of humanity, this
sacrifice of our own personality, are the blights of modern life. The
Ego has too long been suppressed by ideas, sacred ideas of religion,
state, family, law, morals. The conceptual question, "What is Man?"
must be changed to "Who is Man?" I am the owner of my might, and I am
so when I know myself as _unique_.

Stirner is not a communist--so long confounded with anarchs--he does
not believe in force. That element came into the world with the advent
of Bakounine and Russian nihilism. Stirner would replace society
by groups; property would be held, money would be a circulating
medium; the present compulsory system would be voluntary instead of
involuntary. Unlike his great contemporary, Joseph Proudhon, Stirner
is not a constructive philosopher. Indeed, he is no philosopher. A
moralist (or immoralist), an _Ethiker_, his book is a defence of
Egoism, of the submerged rights of the Ego, and in these piping times
of peace and fraternal humbug, when every nation, every man embraces
his neighbour preparatory to disembowelling him in commerce or war,
Max Stirner's words are like a trumpet-blast. And many Jericho-built
walls go down before these ringing tones. His doctrine is the Fourth
Dimension of ethics. That his book will be more dangerous than a
million bombs, if misapprehended, is no reason why it should not be
read. Its author can no more be held responsible for its misreading
than the orthodox faiths for their backsliders. Nietzsche has been
wofully misunderstood; Nietzsche, the despiser of mob rule, has been
acclaimed a very Attila--instead of which he is a culture-philosopher,
one who insists that reform must be first spiritual. Individualism
for him means only an end to culture. Stirner is not a metaphysician;
he is too much realist. He is really a topsy-turvy Hegelian, a
political pyrrhonist. His Ego is his Categorical Imperative. And if the
Individual loses his value, what is his _raison d'être_ for existence?
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses
his own Ego? Make your value felt, cries Stirner. The minority may
occasionally err, but the majority is always in the wrong. Egoism must
not be misinterpreted as petty selfishness or as an excuse to do wrong.
Life will be ennobled and sweeter if we respect ourselves. "There is
no sinner and no sinful egoism.... Do not call men sinful; and _they
are not_" Freedom is not a goal. "Free--from what? Oh! what is there
that cannot be shaken off? The yoke of serfdom, of sovereignty, of
aristocracy and princes, the dominion of the desires and passions;
yes, even the dominion of one's own will, of self-will, for the
completest self-denial is nothing but freedom--freedom, to wit, from
self-determination, from one's own self." This has an ascetic tang,
and indicates that to compass our complete Ego the road travelled will
be as thorny as any saint's of old. Where does Woman come into this
scheme? There is no Woman, only a human Ego. Humanity is a convenient
fiction to harry the individualist. So, society, family are the clamps
that compress the soul of woman. If woman is to be free she must first
be an individual, an Ego. In America, to talk of female suffrage is to
propound the paradox of the masters attacking their slaves; yet female
suffrage might prove a good thing--it might demonstrate the _reductio
ad absurdum_ of the administration of the present ballot system.

Our wail over our neighbour's soul is simply the wail of a busybody.
Mind your own business! is the pregnant device of the new Egoism.
Puritanism is not morality, but a psychic disorder.

Stirner, in his way, teaches that the Kingdom of God is within you.
That man will ever be sufficiently perfected to become his own master
is a dreamer's dream. Yet let us dream it. At least by that road we
make for righteousness. But let us drop all cant about brotherly love
and self-sacrifice. Let us love ourselves (respect our Ego), that we
may learn to respect our brother; self-sacrifice means doing something
that we believe to be good for our souls, therefore _egotism_--the
higher _egotism_, withal _egotism_. As for going to the people--the
Russian phrase--let the people forget themselves as a collective body,
tribe, or group, and each man and woman develop his or her Ego. In
Russia "going to the people" may have been sincere--in America it is a
trick to catch, not souls, but votes.

"The time is not far distant when it will be impossible for any proud,
free, independent spirit to call himself a socialist, since he would
be classed with those wretched toadies and worshippers of success who
even now lie on their knees before every workingman and lick his hands
simply because he is a workingman."

John Henry Mackay spoke these words in a book of his. Did not
Campanella, in an unforgettable sonnet, sing, "The people is a beast of
muddy brain that knows not its own strength.... With its own hands it
ties and gags itself"?


The Ego and His Own is divided into two parts: first, The Man; second,
I. Its motto should be, "I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own
bones." But Walt Whitman's pronouncement had not been made, and Stirner
was forced to fall back on Goethe--Goethe, the grand Immoralist of his
epoch, wise and wicked Goethe, from whom flows all that is modern. "I
place my all on Nothing" ("Ich hab' Mein Sach' auf Nichts gestellt,"
in the joyous poem Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas!) is Stirner's keynote
to his Egoistic symphony. The hateful I, as Pascal called it, caused
Zola, a solid egotist himself, to assert that the English were the most
egotistic of races because their I in their tongue was but a single
letter, while the French employed two, and not capitalised unless
beginning a sentence. Stirner must have admired the English, as his I
was the sole counter in his philosophy. His Ego and not the family is
the unit of the social life. In antique times, when men were really
the young, not the ancient, it was a world of reality. Men enjoyed the
material. With Christianity came the rule of the spirit; ideas were
become sacred, with the concepts of God, Goodness, Sin, Salvation.
After Rousseau and the French Revolution humanity was enthroned, and
the State became our oppressor. Our first enemies are our parents, our
educators. It follows, then, that the only criterion of life is my Ego.
Without my Ego I could not apprehend existence. Altruism is a pretty
disguise for egotism. No one is or can be disinterested. He gives up
one thing for another because the other seems better, nobler to him.
Egotism! The ascetic renounces the pleasures of life because in his
eyes renunciation is nobler than enjoyment. Egotism again! "You are to
benefit yourself, and you are not to seek your benefit," cries Stirner.
Explain the paradox! The one sure thing of life is the Ego. Therefore,
"I am not you, but I'll use you if you are agreeable to me." Not to
God, not to man, must be given the glory. "I'll keep the glory myself."
What is Humanity but an abstraction? I am Humanity. Therefore the State
is a monster that devours its children. It must not dictate to me.
"The State and I are enemies." The State is a spook. A spook, too, is
freedom. What is freedom? Who is free? The world belongs to all, but
_all_ are _I_. I alone am individual proprietor.

Property is conditioned by might. What I have is mine. "Whoever knows
how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." Stirner
would have held that property was not only nine but ten points of the
law. This is Pragmatism with a vengeance. He repudiates all laws;
repudiates competition, for persons are not the subject of competition,
but "things" are; therefore if you are without "things" how can you
compete? Persons are free, not "things." The world, therefore, is not
"free." Socialism is but a further screwing up of the State machine
to limit the individual. Socialism is a new god, a new abstraction
to tyrannise over the Ego. And remember that Stirner is not speaking
of the metaphysical Ego of Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, but of your I,
my I, the political, the social I, the economic I of every man and
woman. Stirner spun no metaphysical cobwebs. He reared no lofty cloud
palaces. He did not bring from Asia its pessimism, as did Schopenhauer;
nor deny reality, as did Berkeley. He was a foe to general ideas. He
was an implacable realist. Yet while he denies the existence of an
Absolute, of a Deity, State, Categorical Imperative, he nevertheless
had not shaken himself free from Hegelianism (he is Extreme Left as a
Hegelian), for he erected his I as an Absolute, though only dealing
with it in its relations to society. Now, nature abhors an absolute.
Everything is relative. So we shall see presently that with Stirner,
too, his I is not so independent as he imagines.

He says "crimes spring from fixed ideas." The Church, State, the
Family, Morals, are fixed ideas. "Atheists are pious people." They
reject one fiction only to cling to many old ones. Liberty for the
people is not my liberty. Socrates was a fool in that he conceded to
the Athenians the right to condemn him. Proudhon said (rather, Brisson
before him), "Property is theft." Theft from whom? From society? But
society is not the sole proprietor. Pauperism is the valuelessness of
Me. The State and pauperism are the same. Communism, Socialism abolish
private property and push us back into Collectivism. The individual is
enslaved by the machinery of the State or by socialism. Your Ego is not
free if you allow your vices or virtues to enslave it. The intellect
has too long ruled, says Stirner; it is the will (not Schopenhauer's
Will to Live, or Nietzsche's Will to Power, but the sum of our activity
expressed by an act of volition; old-fashioned will, in a word) to
exercise itself to the utmost. Nothing compulsory, all voluntary. Do
what you will. _Fay ce que vouldras_, as Rabelais has it in his Abbey
of Thélème. Not "Know thyself," but get the value out of yourself. Make
your value felt. The poor are to blame for the rich. Our art to-day
is the only art possible, and therefore real at the time. We are at
every moment all we can be. There is no such thing as sin. It is an
invention to keep imprisoned the will of our Ego. And as mankind is
forced to believe theoretically in the evil of sin, yet commit it in
its daily life, hypocrisy and crime are engendered. If the concept of
sin had never been used as a club over the weak-minded, there would be
no sinners--i.e., wicked people. The individual is himself the world's
history. The world is my picture. There is no other Ego but mine. Louis
XIV. said, "_L'Etat, c'est moi_"; I say, "_l'Univers, c'est moi._" John
Stuart Mill wrote in his famous essay on liberty that "Society has now
got the better of the individual."

Rousseau is to blame for the "Social Contract" and the "Equality"
nonsense that has poisoned more than one nation's political ideas. The
minority is always in the right, declared Ibsen, as opposed to Comte's
"Submission is the base of perfection." "Liberty means responsibility.
That is why most men dread it" (Bernard Shaw). "Nature does not seem
to have made man for independence" (Vauvenargues). "What can give a
man liberty? Will, his own will, and it gives power, which is better
than liberty" (Turgenev). To have the will to be responsible for one's
self, advises Nietzsche. "I am what I am" (Brand). "To thyself be
sufficient" (Peer Gynt). Both men failed, for their freedom kills. To
thine own self be true. God is within you. Best of all is Lord Acton's
dictum that "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is of
itself the highest political end." To will is to have to will (Ibsen).
My truth is the truth (Stirner). Mortal has made the immortal, says
the Rig Veda. Nothing is greater than I (Bhagavat Gita). I am that I
am (the Avesta, also Exodus). Taine wrote, "Nature is in reality a
tapestry of which we see the reverse side. This is why we try to turn
it." Hierarchy, oligarchy, both forms submerge the Ego. J. S. Mill
demanded: "How can great minds be produced in a country where the test
of a great mind is agreeing in the opinions of small minds?" Bakounine
in his fragmentary essay on God and the State feared the domination of
science quite as much as an autocracy. "Politics is the madness of the
many for the gain of the few," Pope asserted. Read Spinoza, The Citizen
and the State (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus). Or Oscar Wilde's
epigram: "Charity creates a multitude of sins." "I am not poor enough
to give alms," says Nietzsche. But Max Beerbohm has wittily said--and
his words contain as much wisdom as wit--that "If he would have his
ideas realised, the Socialist must first kill the Snob."

Science tells us that our _I_ is really a _We_; a colony of cells, an
orchestra of inherited instincts. We have not even free will, or at
least only in a limited sense. We are an instrument played upon by our
heredity and our environment. The cell, then, is the unit, not the Ego.
Very well, Stirner would exclaim (if he had lived after Darwin and
1859), the cell is my cell, not yours! Away with other cells! But such
an autonomous gospel is surely a phantasm. Stirner saw a ghost. He,
too, in his proud Individualism was an aristocrat. No man may separate
himself from the tradition of his race unless to incur the penalty of a
sterile isolation. The solitary is the abnormal man. Man is gregarious.
Man is a political animal. Even Stirner recognises that man is not man
without society.

In practice he would not have agreed with Havelock Ellis that "all
the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding
on." Stirner, sentimental, henpecked, myopic Berlin professor, was
too actively engaged in wholesale criticism--that is, destruction of
society, with all its props and standards, its hidden selfishness
and heartlessness--to bother with theories of reconstruction. His
disciples have remedied the omission. In the United States, for
example, Benjamin R. Tucker, a follower of Josiah Warren, teaches a
practical and philosophical form of Individualism. He is an Anarch
who believes in passive resistance. Stirner speaks, though vaguely,
of a Union of Egoists, a Verein, where all would rule all, where
man, through self-mastery, would be his own master. ("In those days
there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in
his own eyes.") Indeed, his notions as to Property and Money--"it
will always be money"--sound suspiciously like those of our "captains
of industry." Might conquers Right. He has brought to bear the most
blazing light-rays upon the shifts and evasions of those who decry
Egoism, who are what he calls "involuntary," not voluntary, egotists.
Their motives are shown to the bone. Your Sir Willoughby Patternes
are not real Egoists, but only half-hearted, selfish weaklings. The
true egotist is the altruist, says Stirner; yet Leibnitz was right; so
was Dr. Pangloss. This is the best of possible worlds. Any other is
not conceivable for man, who is at the top of his zoological series.
(Though Quinton has made the statement that birds followed the mammal.)
We are all "spectres of the dust," and to live on an overcrowded planet
we must follow the advice of the Boyg: "Go roundabout!" Compromise
is the only sane attitude. The world is not, will never be, to the
strong of arm or spirit, as Nietzsche believes. The race is to the
mediocre. The survival of the fittest means survival of the weakest.
Society shields and upholds the feeble. Mediocrity rules, let Carlyle
or Nietzsche thunder to the contrary. It was the perception of these
facts that drove Stirner to formulate his theories in The Ego and His
Own. He was poor, a failure, and despised by his wife. He lived under
a dull, brutal régime. The Individual was naught, the State all. His
book was his great revenge. It was the efflorescence of his Ego. It
was his romance, his dream of an ideal world, his Platonic republic.
Philosophy is more a matter of man's temperament than some suppose.
And philosophers often live by opposites. Schopenhauer preached
asceticism, but hardly led an ascetic life; Nietzsche's injunctions to
become Immoralists and Supermen were but the buttressing up of a will
diseased, by the needs of a man who suffered his life long from morbid
sensibility. James Walker's suggestion that "We will not allow the
world to wait for the Superman. We are the Supermen," is a convincing
criticism of Nietzscheism. I am Unique. Never again will this
aggregation of atoms stand on earth. Therefore I must be free. I will
myself free. (It is spiritual liberty that only counts.) But my I must
not be of the kind described by the madhouse doctor in Peer Gynt: "Each
one shuts himself up in the barrel of self. In the self-fermentation
he dives to the bottom; with the self-bung he seals it hermetically."
The increased self-responsibility of life in an Egoist Union would
prevent the world from ever entering into such ideal anarchy (an-arch,
i.e., without government). There is too much of renunciation in the
absolute freedom of the will--that is its final, if paradoxical,
implication--for mankind. Our Utopias are secretly based on Chance.
Deny Chance in our existence and life would be without salt. Man is not
a perfectible animal; not on this side of eternity. He fears the new
and therefore clings to his old beliefs. To each his own chimera. He
has not grown mentally or physically since the Sumerians--or a million
years before the Sumerians. The squirrel in the revolving cage thinks
it is progressing; Man is in a revolving cage. He goes round but he
does not progress. Man is not a logical animal. He is governed by his
emotions, his affective life. He lives by his illusions. His brains are
an accident, possibly from overnutrition as De Gourmont has declared.
To fancy him capable of existing in a community where all will be
selfgoverned is a poet's vision. That way the millennium lies, or the
High Noon of Nietzsche. And would the world be happier if it ever did
attain this condition?

The English translation of The Ego and His Own, by Stephen T. Byington,
is admirable; it is that of a philologist and a versatile scholar.
Stirner's form is open to criticism. It is vermicular. His thought is
sometimes confused; he sees so many sides of his theme, embroiders
it with so many variations, that he repeats himself. He has neither
the crystalline brilliance nor the poetic glamour of Nietzsche. But
he left behind him a veritable breviary of destruction, a striking
and dangerous book. It is dangerous in every sense of the word--to
socialism, to politicians, to hypocrisy. It asserts the dignity of the
Individual, not his debasement.

"Is it not the chief disgrace in the world not to be a unit; to be
reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each
man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the
hundred of thousands, of the party, of the section to which we belong,
and our opinion predicted geographically as the North or the South?"

Herbert Spencer did not write these words, nor Max Stirner. Ralph Waldo
Emerson wrote them.

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