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Title: Degeneration
Author: Nordau, Max Simon
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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                          BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

                      _Uniform with this Volume._

                         CONVENTIONAL LIES OF
                           OUR CIVILIZATION.


                      LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN.



                              MAX NORDAU

                               AUTHOR OF


                  Translated from the Second Edition
                          of the German Work

                            Popular Edition


                           WILLIAM HEINEMANN


                        [_All rights reserved_]

                _First Edition_      _February, 1895._

                 _New Impressions, March 4, 1895;
                     March 22, 1895; April, 1895; May,
                     1895; June, 1895; August, 1895;
                     November, 1895; (Popular Edition),
                     September, 1898._



                            CÆSAR LOMBROSO,

                    THE ROYAL UNIVERSITY OF TURIN,


                              THE AUTHOR.


                       PROFESSOR CÆSAR LOMBROSO,



_I dedicate this book to you, in open and joyful recognition of the
fact that without your labours it could never have been written._

_The notion of degeneracy, first introduced into science by Morel, and
developed with so much genius by yourself, has in your hands already
shown itself extremely fertile in the most diverse directions. On
numerous obscure points of psychiatry, criminal law, politics, and
sociology, you have poured a veritable flood of light, which those
alone have not perceived who obdurately close their eyes, or who are
too short-sighted to derive benefit from any enlightenment whatsoever._

_But there is a vast and important domain into which neither you nor
your disciples have hitherto borne the torch of your method--the domain
of art and literature._

_Degenerates are not always criminals, prostitutes, anarchists, and
pronounced lunatics; they are often authors and artists. These,
however, manifest the same mental characteristics, and for the most
part the same somatic features, as the members of the above-mentioned
anthropological family, who satisfy their unhealthy impulses with the
knife of the assassin or the bomb of the dynamiter, instead of with pen
and pencil._

_Some among these degenerates in literature, music, and painting have
in recent years come into extraordinary prominence, and are revered by
numerous admirers as creators of a new art, and heralds of the coming

_This phenomenon is not to be disregarded. Books and works of art
exercise a powerful suggestion on the masses. It is from these
productions that an age derives its ideals of morality and beauty. If
they are absurd and anti-social, they exert a disturbing and corrupting
influence on the views of a whole generation. Hence the latter,
especially the impressionable youth, easily excited to enthusiasm for
all that is strange and seemingly new, must be warned and enlightened
as to the real nature of the creations so blindly admired. This warning
the ordinary critic does not give. Exclusively literary and æsthetic
culture is, moreover, the worst preparation conceivable for a true
knowledge of the pathological character of the works of degenerates.
The verbose rhetorician exposes with more or less grace, or cleverness,
the subjective impressions received from the works he criticises,
but is incapable of judging if these works are the productions of
a shattered brain, and also the nature of the mental disturbance
expressing itself by them._

_Now I have undertaken the work of investigating (as much as possible
after your method), the tendencies of the fashions in art and
literature; of proving that they have their source in the degeneracy
of their authors, and that the enthusiasm of their admirers is for
manifestations of more or less pronounced moral insanity, imbecility,
and dementia._

_Thus, this book is an attempt at a really scientific criticism, which
does not base its judgment of a book upon the purely accidental,
capricious and variable emotions it awakens--emotions depending on
the temperament and mood of the individual reader--but upon the
psycho-physiological elements from which it sprang. At the same time it
ventures to fill a void still existing in your powerful system._

_I have no doubt as to the consequences to myself of my initiative.
There is at the present day no danger in attacking the Church, for
it no longer has the stake at its disposal. To write against rulers
and governments is likewise nothing venturesome, for at the worst
nothing more than imprisonment could follow, with compensating glory
of martyrdom. But grievous is the fate of him who has the audacity to
characterize æsthetic fashions as forms of mental decay. The author or
artist attacked never pardons a man for recognising in him a lunatic
or a charlatan; the subjectively garrulous critics are furious when it
is pointed out how shallow and incompetent they are, or how cowardly
in swimming with the stream; and even the public is angered when
forced to see that it has been running after fools, quack dentists,
and mountebanks, as so many prophets. Now, the graphomaniacs and their
critical bodyguard dominate nearly the entire press, and in the latter
possess an instrument of torture by which, in Indian fashion, they can
rack the troublesome spoiler of sport, to his life’s end._

_The danger, however, to which he exposes himself cannot deter a man
from doing that which he regards as his duty. When a scientific truth
has been discovered, he owes it to humanity, and has no right to
withhold it. Moreover, it is as little possible to do this as for a
woman voluntarily to prevent the birth of the mature fruit of her womb._

_Without aspiring to the most distant comparison of myself with you,
one of the loftiest mental phenomena of the century, I may yet take for
my example the smiling serenity with which you pursue your own way,
indifferent to ingratitude, insult, and misunderstanding._

_Pray remain, dear and honoured master, ever favourably disposed
towards your gratefully devoted_

      _MAX NORDAU_.






  THE DUSK OF THE NATIONS                                  1


  THE SYMPTOMS                                             7


  DIAGNOSIS                                               15


  ETIOLOGY                                                34




  THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MYSTICISM                             45


  THE PRE-RAPHAELITES                                     67


  SYMBOLISM      100


  TOLSTOISM                                              144


  THE RICHARD WAGNER CULT                                171


  PARODIES OF MYSTICISM                                  214




  THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EGO-MANIA                            241


  PARNASSIANS AND DIABOLISTS                             266


  DECADENTS AND ÆSTHETES                                 296


  IBSENISM                                               338


  FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE                                    415




  ZOLA AND HIS SCHOOL                                    473


  THE ‘YOUNG GERMAN’ PLAGIARISTS                         506




  PROGNOSIS                                              536


  THERAPEUTICS                                           550






FIN-DE-SIÈCLE is a name covering both what is characteristic of many
modern phenomena, and also the underlying mood which in them finds
expression. Experience has long shown that an idea usually derives
its designation from the language of the nation which first formed
it. This, indeed, is a law of constant application when historians of
manners and customs inquire into language, for the purpose of obtaining
some notion, through the origins of some verbal root, respecting the
home of the earliest inventions and the line of evolution in different
human races. _Fin-de-siècle_ is French, for it was in France that the
mental state so entitled was first consciously realized. The word has
flown from one hemisphere to the other, and found its way into all
civilized languages. A proof this that the need of it existed. The
_fin-de-siècle_ state of mind is to-day everywhere to be met with;
nevertheless, it is in many cases a mere imitation of a foreign fashion
gaining vogue, and not an organic evolution. It is in the land of its
birth that it appears in its most genuine form, and Paris is the right
place in which to observe its manifold expressions.

No proof is needed of the extreme silliness of the term. Only the
brain of a child or of a savage could form the clumsy idea that the
century is a kind of living being, born like a beast or a man, passing
through all the stages of existence, gradually ageing and declining
after blooming childhood, joyous youth, and vigorous maturity, to die
with the expiration of the hundredth year, after being afflicted in
its last decade with all the infirmities of mournful senility. Such
a childish anthropomorphism or zoomorphism never stops to consider
that the arbitrary division of time, rolling ever continuously along,
is not identical amongst all civilized beings, and that while this
nineteenth century of Christendom is held to be a creature reeling to
its death presumptively in dire exhaustion, the fourteenth century of
the Mahommedan world is tripping along in the baby-shoes of its first
decade, and the fifteenth century of the Jews strides gallantly by in
the full maturity of its fifty-second year. Every day on our globe
130,000 human beings are born, for whom the world begins with this same
day, and the young citizen of the world is neither feebler nor fresher
for leaping into life in the midst of the death-throes of 1900, nor on
the birthday of the twentieth century. But it is a habit of the human
mind to project externally its own subjective states. And it is in
accordance with this naïvely egoistic tendency that the French ascribe
their own senility to the century, and speak of _fin-de-siècle_ when
they ought correctly to say _fin-de-race_.[1]

But however silly a term _fin-de-siècle_ may be, the mental
constitution which it indicates is actually present in influential
circles. The disposition of the times is curiously confused, a compound
of feverish restlessness and blunted discouragement, of fearful presage
and hang-dog renunciation. The prevalent feeling is that of imminent
perdition and extinction. _Fin-de-siècle_ is at once a confession and
a complaint. The old Northern faith contained the fearsome doctrine
of the Dusk of the Gods. In our days there have arisen in more
highly-developed minds vague qualms of a Dusk of the Nations, in which
all suns and all stars are gradually waning, and mankind with all its
institutions and creations is perishing in the midst of a dying world.

It is not for the first time in the course of history that the horror
of world-annihilation has laid hold of men’s minds. A similar sentiment
took possession of the Christian peoples at the approach of the year
1000. But there is an essential difference between chiliastic panic
and _fin-de-siècle_ excitement. The despair at the turn of the first
millennium of Christian chronology proceeded from a feeling of fulness
of life and joy of life. Men were aware of throbbing pulses, they
were conscious of unweakened capacity for enjoyment, and found it
unmitigatedly appalling to perish together with the world, when there
were yet so many flagons to drain and so many lips to kiss, and when
they could yet rejoice so vigorously in both love and wine. Of all
this in the _fin-de-siècle_ feeling there is nothing. Neither has it
anything in common with the impressive twilight-melancholy of an aged
Faust, surveying the work of a lifetime, and who, proud of what has
been achieved, and contemplating what is begun but not completed, is
seized with vehement desire to finish his work, and, awakened from
sleep by haunting unrest, leaps up with the cry: ‘Was ich gedacht, ich
eil’ es zu vollbringen.’[2]

Quite otherwise is the _fin-de-siècle_ mood. It is the impotent despair
of a sick man, who feels himself dying by inches in the midst of an
eternally living nature blooming insolently for ever. It is the envy of
a rich, hoary voluptuary, who sees a pair of young lovers making for
a sequestered forest nook; it is the mortification of the exhausted
and impotent refugee from a Florentine plague, seeking in an enchanted
garden the experiences of a Decamerone, but striving in vain to snatch
one more pleasure of sense from the uncertain hour. The reader of
Turgenieff’s _A Nest of Nobles_ will remember the end of that beautiful
work. The hero, Lavretzky, comes as a man advanced in years to visit at
the house where, in his young days, he had lived his romance of love.
All is unchanged. The garden is fragrant with flowers. In the great
trees the happy birds are chirping; on the fresh turf the children romp
and shout. Lavretzky alone has grown old, and contemplates, in mournful
exclusion, a scene where nature holds on its joyous way, caring nought
that Lisa the beloved is vanished, and Lavretzky, a broken-down man,
weary of life. Lavretzky’s admission that, amidst all this ever-young,
ever-blooming nature, for him alone there comes no morrow; Alving’s
dying cry for ‘The sun--the sun!’ in Ibsen’s _Ghosts_--these express
rightly the _fin-de-siècle_ attitude of to-day.

This fashionable term has the necessary vagueness which fits it to
convey all the half-conscious and indistinct drift of current ideas.
Just as the words ‘freedom,’ ‘ideal,’ ‘progress’ seem to express
notions, but actually are only sounds, so in itself _fin-de-siècle_
means nothing, and receives a varying signification according to the
diverse mental horizons of those who use it.

The surest way of knowing what _fin-de-siècle_ implies, is to consider
a series of particular instances where the word has been applied. Those
which I shall adduce are drawn from French books and periodicals of the
last two years.[3]

A king abdicates, leaves his country, and takes up his residence in
Paris, having reserved certain political rights. One day he loses much
money at play, and is in a dilemma. He therefore makes an agreement
with the Government of his country, by which, on receipt of a million
francs, he renounces for ever every title, official position and
privilege remaining to him. _Fin-de-siècle_ king.

A bishop is prosecuted for insulting the minister of public worship.
The proceedings terminated, his attendant canons distribute amongst
the reporters in court a defence, copies of which he has prepared
beforehand. When condemned to pay a fine, he gets up a public
collection, which brings in tenfold the amount of the penalty. He
publishes a justificatory volume containing all the expressions of
support which have reached him. He makes a tour through the country,
exhibits himself in every cathedral to the mob curious to see the
celebrity of the hour, and takes the opportunity of sending round the
plate. _Fin-de-siècle_ bishop.

The corpse of the murderer Pranzini after execution underwent autopsy.
The head of the secret police cuts off a large piece of skin, has
it tanned, and the leather made into cigar-cases and card-cases for
himself and some of his friends. _Fin-de-siècle_ official.

An American weds his bride in a gas-factory, then gets with her into
a balloon held in readiness, and enters on a honeymoon in the clouds.
_Fin-de-siècle_ wedding.

An _attaché_ of the Chinese Embassy publishes high-class works in
French under his own name. He negotiates with banks respecting a
large loan for his Government, and draws large advances for himself
on the unfinished contract. Later it comes out that the books were
composed by his French secretary, and that he has swindled the banks.
_Fin-de-siècle_ diplomatist.

A public schoolboy walking with a chum passes the gaol where his
father, a rich banker, has repeatedly been imprisoned for fraudulent
bankruptcy, embezzlement and similar lucrative misdemeanours. Pointing
to the building, he tells his friend with a smile: ‘Look, that’s the
governor’s school.’ _Fin-de-siècle_ son.

Two young ladies of good family, and school friends, are chatting
together. One heaves a sigh. ‘What’s the matter?’ asks the other. ‘I’m
in love with Raoul, and he with me.’ ‘Oh, that’s lovely! He’s handsome,
young, elegant; and yet you’re sad?’ ‘Yes, but he has nothing, and
is nothing, and my parents want me to marry the baron, who is fat,
bald, and ugly, but has a huge lot of money.’ ‘Well, marry the baron
without any fuss, and make Raoul acquainted with him, you goose.’
_Fin-de-siècle_ girls.

Such test-cases show how the word is understood in the land of its
birth. Germans who ape Paris fashions, and apply _fin-de-siècle_
almost exclusively to mean what is indecent and improper, misuse the
word in their coarse ignorance as much as, in a previous generation,
they vulgarized the expression _demi-monde_, misunderstanding its
proper meaning, and giving it the sense of _fille de joie_, whereas
its creator Dumas intended it to denote persons whose lives contained
some dark period, for which they were excluded from the circle to which
they belong by birth, education, or profession, but who do not by their
manner betray, at least to the inexperienced, that they are no longer
acknowledged as members of their own caste.

_Prima facie_, a king who sells his sovereign rights for a big cheque
seems to have little in common with a newly-wedded pair who make their
wedding-trip in a balloon, nor is the connection at once obvious
between an episcopal Barnum and a well-brought-up young lady who
advises her friend to a wealthy marriage mitigated by a _cicisbeo_. All
these _fin-de-siècle_ cases have, nevertheless, a common feature, to
wit, a contempt for traditional views of custom and morality.

Such is the notion underlying the word _fin-de-siècle_. It means a
practical emancipation from traditional discipline, which theoretically
is still in force. To the voluptuary this means unbridled lewdness, the
unchaining of the beast in man; to the withered heart of the egoist,
disdain of all consideration for his fellow-men, the trampling under
foot of all barriers which enclose brutal greed of lucre and lust
of pleasure; to the contemner of the world it means the shameless
ascendency of base impulses and motives, which were, if not virtuously
suppressed, at least hypocritically hidden; to the believer it means
the repudiation of dogma, the negation of a supersensuous world, the
descent into flat phenomenalism; to the sensitive nature yearning for
æsthetic thrills, it means the vanishing of ideals in art, and no more
power in its accepted forms to arouse emotion. And to all, it means the
end of an established order, which for thousands of years has satisfied
logic, fettered depravity, and in every art matured something of beauty.

One epoch of history is unmistakably in its decline, and another
is announcing its approach. There is a sound of rending in every
tradition, and it is as though the morrow would not link itself with
to-day. Things as they are totter and plunge, and they are suffered to
reel and fall, because man is weary, and there is no faith that it
is worth an effort to uphold them. Views that have hitherto governed
minds are dead or driven hence like disenthroned kings, and for their
inheritance they that hold the titles and they that would usurp are
locked in struggle. Meanwhile interregnum in all its terrors prevails;
there is confusion among the powers that be; the million, robbed of its
leaders, knows not where to turn; the strong work their will; false
prophets arise, and dominion is divided amongst those whose rod is the
heavier because their time is short. Men look with longing for whatever
new things are at hand, without presage whence they will come or what
they will be. They have hope that in the chaos of thought, art may
yield revelations of the order that is to follow on this tangled web.
The poet, the musician, is to announce, or divine, or at least suggest
in what forms civilization will further be evolved. What shall be
considered good to-morrow--what shall be beautiful? What shall we know
to-morrow--what believe in? What shall inspire us? How shall we enjoy?
So rings the question from the thousand voices of the people, and where
a market-vendor sets up his booth and claims to give an answer, where
a fool or a knave suddenly begins to prophesy in verse or prose, in
sound or colour, or professes to practise his art otherwise than his
predecessors and competitors, there gathers a great concourse, crowding
around him to seek in what he has wrought, as in oracles of the Pythia,
some meaning to be divined and interpreted. And the more vague and
insignificant they are, the more they seem to convey of the future to
the poor gaping souls gasping for revelations, and the more greedily
and passionately are they expounded.

Such is the spectacle presented by the doings of men in the reddened
light of the Dusk of the Nations. Massed in the sky the clouds are
aflame in the weirdly beautiful glow which was observed for the space
of years after the eruption of Krakatoa. Over the earth the shadows
creep with deepening gloom, wrapping all objects in a mysterious
dimness, in which all certainty is destroyed and any guess seems
plausible. Forms lose their outlines, and are dissolved in floating
mist. The day is over, the night draws on. The old anxiously watch its
approach, fearing they will not live to see the end. A few amongst the
young and strong are conscious of the vigour of life in all their veins
and nerves, and rejoice in the coming sunrise. Dreams, which fill up
the hours of darkness till the breaking of the new day, bring to the
former comfortless memories, to the latter high-souled hopes. And in
the artistic products of the age we see the form in which these dreams
become sensible.

Here is the place to forestall a possible misunderstanding. The
great majority of the middle and lower classes is naturally not
_fin-de-siècle_. It is true that the spirit of the times is stirring
the nations down to their lowest depths, and awaking even in the most
inchoate and rudimentary human being a wondrous feeling of stir and
upheaval. But this more or less slight touch of moral sea-sickness
does not excite in him the cravings of travailing women, nor express
itself in new æsthetic needs. The Philistine or the Proletarian still
finds undiluted satisfaction in the old and oldest forms of art and
poetry, if he knows himself unwatched by the scornful eye of the votary
of fashion, and is free to yield to his own inclinations. He prefers
Ohnet’s novels to all the symbolists, and Mascagni’s _Cavalleria
Rusticana_ to all Wagnerians and to Wagner himself; he enjoys himself
royally over slap-dash farces and music-hall melodies, and yawns or is
angered at Ibsen; he contemplates gladly chromos of paintings depicting
Munich beer-houses and rustic taverns, and passes the open-air painters
without a glance. It is only a very small minority who honestly
find pleasure in the new tendencies, and announce them with genuine
conviction as that which alone is sound, a sure guide for the future,
a pledge of pleasure and of moral benefit. But this minority has the
gift of covering the whole visible surface of society, as a little
oil extends over a large area of the surface of the sea. It consists
chiefly of rich educated people, or of fanatics. The former give the
_ton_ to all the snobs, the fools, and the blockheads; the latter make
an impression upon the weak and dependent, and intimidate the nervous.
All snobs affect to have the same taste as the select and exclusive
minority, who pass by everything that once was considered beautiful
with an air of the greatest contempt. And thus it appears as if the
whole of civilized humanity were converted to the æsthetics of the Dusk
of the Nations.



LET us follow in the train frequenting the palaces of European
capitals, the highways of fashionable watering-places, the receptions
of the rich, and observe the figures of which it is composed.

Amongst the women, one wears her hair combed smoothly back and down
like Rafael’s Maddalena Doni in the Pitti at Florence; another wears
it drawn up high over the temples like Julia, daughter of Titus, or
Plotina, wife of Trajan, in the busts in the Louvre; a third has
hers cut short in front on the brow and long in the nape, waved and
lightly puffed, after the fashion of the fifteenth century, as may be
seen in the pages and young knights of Gentile Bellini, Botticelli
and Mantegna. Many have their hair dyed, and in such a fashion as to
be startling in its revolt against the law of organic harmony, and
the effect of a studied discord, only to be resolved into the higher
polyphony of the toilet taken as a whole. This swarthy, dark-eyed
woman snaps her fingers at nature by framing the brown tones of her
face in copper-red or golden-yellow; yonder blue-eyed fair, with a
complexion of milk and roses, intensifies the brightness of her cheeks
by a setting of artificially blue-black tresses. Here is one who covers
her head with a huge heavy felt hat, an obvious imitation, in its
brim turned up at the back, and its trimming of large plush balls, of
the sombrero of the Spanish bull-fighters, who were displaying their
skill in Paris at the exhibition of 1889, and giving all kinds of
_motifs_ to modistes. There is another who has stuck on her hair the
emerald-green or ruby-red biretta of the mediæval travelling student.
The costume is in keeping with the bizarre coiffure. Here is a mantle
reaching to the waist, slit up on one side, draping the breast like
a _portière_, and trimmed round the hem with little silken bells, by
the incessant clicking of which a sensitive spectator would in a very
short time either be hypnotized or driven to take frantic fright.
There is a Greek peplos, of which the tailors speak as glibly as any
venerable philologist. Next to the stiff monumental trim of Catharine
de Medicis, and the high ruff of Mary, Queen of Scots, goes the flowing
white raiment of the angel of the Annunciation in Memling’s pictures,
and, by way of antithesis, that caricature of masculine array, the
fitting cloth coat, with widely opened lapels, waistcoat, stiffened
shirt-front, small stand-up collar, and necktie. The majority, anxious
to be inconspicuous in unimaginative mediocrity, seems to have for
its leading style a laboured rococo, with bewildering oblique lines,
incomprehensible swellings, puffings, expansions and contractions,
folds with irrational beginning and aimless ending, in which all the
outlines of the human figure are lost, and which cause women’s bodies
to resemble now a beast of the Apocalypse, now an armchair, now a
triptych, or some other ornament.

The children, strolling beside their mothers thus bedecked, are
embodiments of one of the most afflicting aberrations into which the
imagination of a spinster ever lapsed. They are living copies of the
pictures of Kate Greenaway, whose love of children, diverted from its
natural outlet, has sought gratification in the most affected style of
drawing, wherein the sacredness of childhood is profaned under absurd
disguises. Here is an imp dressed from head to foot in the blood-red
costume of a mediæval executioner; there a four-year-old girl wears a
cabriolet bonnet of her great-grandmother’s days and sweeps after her a
court mantle of loud-hued velvet. Another wee dot, just able to keep on
her tottering legs, has been arrayed in the long dress of a lady of the
First Empire, with puffed sleeves and short waist.

The men complete the picture. They are preserved from excessive oddity
through fear of the Philistine’s laugh, or through some remains of
sanity in taste, and, with the exception of the red dress-coat with
metal buttons, and knee-breeches with silk stockings, with which some
idiots in eye-glass and gardenia try to rival burlesque actors, present
little deviation from the ruling canon of the masculine attire of the
day. But fancy plays the more freely among their hair. One displays
the short curls and the wavy double-pointed beard of Lucius Verus,
another looks like the whiskered cat in a Japanese kakemono. His
neighbour has the _barbiche_ of Henri IV., another the fierce moustache
of a lansquenet by F. Brun, or the chin-tuft of the city-watch in
Rembrandt’s ‘Ronde de Nuit.’

The common feature in all these male specimens is that they do not
express their real idiosyncrasies, but try to present something that
they are not. They are not content to show their natural figure, nor
even to supplement it by legitimate accessories, in harmony with the
type to which they approximate, but they seek to model themselves
after some artistic pattern which has no affinity with their own
nature, or is even antithetical to it. Nor do they for the most part
limit themselves to one pattern, but copy several at once, which jar
one with another. Thus we get heads set on shoulders not belonging to
them, costumes the elements of which are as disconnected as though
they belonged to a dream, colours that seem to have been matched in
the dark. The impression is that of a masked festival, where all are
in disguises, and with heads too in character. There are several
occasions, such as the varnishing day at the Paris Champs de Mars
salon, or the opening of the Exhibition of the Royal Academy in London,
where this impression is so weirdly intensified, that one seems to be
moving amongst dummies patched together at haphazard, in a mythical
mortuary, from fragments of bodies, heads, trunks, limbs, just as they
came to hand, and which the designer, in heedless pell-mell, clothed at
random in the garments of all epochs and countries. Every single figure
strives visibly by some singularity in outline, set, cut, or colour,
to startle attention violently, and imperiously to detain it. Each
one wishes to create a strong nervous excitement, no matter whether
agreeably or disagreeably. The fixed idea is to produce an effect at
any price.

Let us follow these folk in masquerade and with heads in character to
their dwellings. Here are at once stage properties and lumber-rooms,
rag-shops and museums. The study of the master of the house is a Gothic
hall of chivalry, with cuirasses, shields and crusading banners on the
walls; or the shop of an Oriental bazaar with Kurd carpets, Bedouin
chests, Circassian narghilehs and Indian lacquered caskets. By the
mirror on the mantelpiece are fierce or funny Japanese masks. Between
the windows are staring trophies of swords, daggers, clubs and old
wheel-trigger pistols. Daylight filters in through painted glass, where
lean saints kneel in rapture. In the drawing-room the walls are either
hung with worm-eaten Gobelin tapestry, discoloured by the sun of two
centuries (or it may be by a deftly mixed chemical bath), or covered
with Morris draperies, on which strange birds flit amongst crazily
ramping branches, and blowzy flowers coquet with vain butterflies.
Amongst armchairs and padded seats, such as the cockered bodies of our
contemporaries know and expect, there are Renaissance stools, the heart
or shell-shaped bottoms of which would attract none but the toughened
hide of a rough hero of the jousting lists. Startling is the effect
of a gilt-painted couch between buhl-work cabinets and a puckered
Chinese table, next an inlaid writing-table of graceful rococo. On
all the tables and in all the cabinets is a display of antiquities or
articles of vertù, big or small, and for the most part warranted not
genuine; a figure of Tanagra near a broken jade snuff-box, a Limoges
plate beside a long-necked Persian waterpot of brass, a _bonbonnière_
between a breviary bound in carved ivory, and snuffers of chiselled
copper. Pictures stand on easels draped with velvet, the frames made
conspicuous by some oddity, such as a spider in her web, a metal bunch
of thistle-heads, and the like. In a corner a sort of temple is erected
to a squatting or a standing Buddha. The boudoir of the mistress of
the house partakes of the nature of a chapel and of a harem. The
toilet-table is designed and decorated like an altar, a _prie-Dieu_
is a pledge for the piety of the inmate, and a broad divan, with an
orgiastic _abandon_ about the cushions, gives reassurance that things
are not so bad. In the dining-room the walls are hung with the whole
stock-in-trade of a porcelain shop, costly silver is displayed in an
old farmhouse dresser, and on the table bloom aristocratic orchids, and
proud silver vessels shine between rustic stone-ware plates and ewers.
In the evening, lamps of the stature of a man illumine these rooms with
light both subdued and tinted by sprawling shades, red, yellow or green
of hue, and even covered by black lace. Hence the inmates appear,
now bathed in variegated diaphanous mist, now suffused with coloured
radiance, while the corners and backgrounds are shrouded in depths of
artfully-effected _clair-obscur_, and the furniture and bric-à-brac
are dyed in unreal chords of colour. Unreal, too, are the studied
postures, by assuming which the inmates are enabled to reproduce on
their faces the light effects of Rembrandt or Schalcken. Everything in
these houses aims at exciting the nerves and dazzling the senses. The
disconnected and antithetical effects in all arrangements, the constant
contradiction between form and purpose, the outlandishness of most
objects, is intended to be bewildering. There must be no sentiment of
repose, such as is felt at any composition, the plan of which is easily
taken in, nor of the comfort attending a prompt comprehension of all
the details of one’s environment. He who enters here must not doze, but
be thrilled. If the master of the house roams about these rooms clothed
after the example of Balzac in a white monk’s cowl, or after the model
of Richepin in the red cloak of the robber-chieftain of an operetta, he
only gives expression to the admission that in such a comedy theatre a
clown is in place. All is discrepant, indiscriminate jumble. The unity
of abiding by one definite historic style counts as old-fashioned,
provincial, Philistine, and the time has not yet produced a style
of its own. An approach is, perhaps, made to one in the furniture
of Carabin, exhibited in the salon of the Champs de Mars. But these
balusters, down which naked furies and possessed creatures are rolling
in mad riot, these bookcases, where base and pilaster consist of a pile
of guillotined heads, and even this table, representing a gigantic open
book borne by gnomes, make up a style that is feverish and infernal. If
the director-general of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ had an audience-chamber, it
might well be furnished with such as these. Carabin’s creations may be
intended to equip a house, but they are a nightmare.

We have seen how society dresses and where it dwells. We shall now
observe how it enjoys itself, and where it seeks stimulation and
distraction. In the art exhibition it crowds, with proper little cries
of admiration, round Besnard’s women, with their grass-green hair,
faces of sulphur-yellow or fiery-red, and arms spotted in violet and
pink, dressed in a shining blue cloud resembling faintly a sort of
nightdress; that is to say, it has a fondness for bold, revolutionary
debauch of colour. But not exclusively so. Next to Besnard it worships
with equal or greater rapture the works of Puvis de Chavannes, wan,
and as though blotted out with a half-transparent wash of lime; or
those of Carrière, suffused in a problematical vapour, reeking as if
with a cloud of incense; or those of Roll, shimmering in a soft and
silvery sheen. The purple of the Manet school, steeping the whole
visible creation in bluish glamour, the half-tones, or, rather,
phantom-colours of the ‘Archaists,’ that seem to have risen, faded and
nebulous, out of some primeval tomb, and all these palettes of ‘dead
leaves,’ ‘old ivory,’ evaporating yellows, smothered purple, attract on
the whole more rapturous glances than the voluptuous ‘orchestration’
of the Besnard section. The subject of the picture leaves these
select gazers apparently indifferent; it is only seamstresses and
country-folk, the grateful _clientèle_ of the chromo, who linger over
the ‘story.’ And yet these as they pass stop by preference before
Henry Martin’s ‘Every Man and his Chimæra,’ in which bloated figures,
in an atmosphere of yellow broth, are doing incomprehensible things
that need profound explanation; or before Jean Béraud’s ‘Christ and
the Adulteress,’ where, in a Parisian dining-room, in the midst of a
company in dress-coats, and before a woman in ball-dress, a Christ
robed in correct Oriental gear, and with an orthodox halo, acts a scene
out of the Gospel; or before Raffaelli’s topers and cut-throats of the
purlieus of Paris, drawn in high relief, but painted with ditch-water
and dissolved clay. Steering in the wake of ‘society’ through a
picture-gallery, one will be unalterably convinced that they turn up
their eyes and fold their hands before pictures at which the commoner
sort burst out laughing or pull the grimace of a man who believes he
is made a fool of; and that they shrug their shoulders and hasten with
scornful exchange of looks past such as the latter pause at in grateful

At opera and concert the rounded forms of ancient melody are coldly
listened to. The translucent thematic treatment of classic masters,
their conscientious observance of the laws of counterpoint, are
reckoned flat and tedious. A coda graceful in cadence, serene in its
‘dying fall,’ a pedal-base with correct harmonization, provoke yawns.
Applause and wreaths are reserved for Wagner’s _Tristan and Isolde_,
and especially the mystic _Parsifal_, for the religious music in
Bruneau’s _Dream_, or the symphonies of César Franck. Music in order
to please must either counterfeit religious devotion, or agitate the
mind by its form. The musical listener is accustomed involuntarily
to develop a little in his mind every motive occurring in a piece.
The mode in which the composer carries out his _motif_ is bound,
accordingly, to differ entirely from this anticipated development.
It must not admit of being guessed. A dissonant interval must appear
where a consonant interval was expected; if the hearer is hoping that
a phrase in what is an obvious final cadence will be spun out to its
natural end, it must be sharply interrupted in the middle of a bar.
Keys and pitch must change suddenly. In the orchestra a vigorous
polyphony must summon the attention in several directions at once;
particular instruments, or groups of instruments, must address the
listener simultaneously without heeding each other, till he gets as
nervously excited as the man who vainly endeavours to understand what
is being said in the jangle of a dozen voices. The theme, even if in
the first instance it has a distinct outline, must become ever more
indefinite, ever more dissolving into a mist, in which the imagination
can see any forms it likes, as in driving clouds of night. The tide of
sound must flow on without any perceptible limit or goal, surging up
and down in endless chromatic passages of triplets. If now and then
it delude the listener, borne along by it, and straining his eyes to
see land with glimpses of a distant shore, this is soon discovered to
be a fleeting mirage. The music must continually promise, but never
perform; must seem about to tell some great secret, and grow dumb or
break away ere to throbbing hearts it tells the word they wait for. The
audience go to their concert-room in quest of Tantalus moods, and leave
it with all the nervous exhaustion of a young pair of lovers, who for
hours at the nightly tryst have sought to exchange caresses through a
closely-barred window.

The books in which the public here depicted finds its delight or
edification diffuse a curious perfume yielding distinguishable odours
of incense, eau de Lubin and refuse, one or the other preponderating
alternately. Mere sewage exhalations are played out. The filth of
Zola’s art and of his disciples in literary canal-dredging has been
got over, and nothing remains for it but to turn to submerged peoples
and social strata. The vanguard of civilization holds its nose at the
pit of undiluted naturalism, and can only be brought to bend over it
with sympathy and curiosity when, by cunning engineering, a drain from
the boudoir and the sacristy has been turned into it. Mere sensuality
passes as commonplace, and only finds admission when disguised as
something unnatural and degenerate. Books treating of the relations
between the sexes, with no matter how little reserve, seem too dully
moral. Elegant titillation only begins where normal sexual relations
leave off. Priapus has become a symbol of virtue. Vice looks to Sodom
and Lesbos, to Bluebeard’s castle and the servants’ hall of the
‘divine’ Marquis de Sade’s _Justine_, for its embodiments.

The book that would be fashionable must, above all, be obscure. The
intelligible is cheap goods for the million only. It must further
discourse in a certain pulpit tone--mildly unctuous, not too
insistent; and it must follow up risky scenes by tearful outpourings
of love for the lowly and the suffering, or glowing transports of
piety. Ghost-stories are very popular, but they must come on in
scientific disguise, as hypnotism, telepathy, somnambulism. So are
marionette-plays, in which seemingly naïve but knowing rogues make
used-up old ballad dummies babble like babies or idiots. So are
esoteric novels, in which the author hints that he could say a deal
about magic, kabbala, fakirism, astrology and other white and black
arts if he only chose. Readers intoxicate themselves in the hazy
word-sequences of symbolic poetry. Ibsen dethrones Goethe; Maeterlinck
ranks with Shakespeare; Nietzsche is pronounced by German and even
by French critics to be the leading German writer of the day; the
_Kreutzer Sonata_ is the Bible of ladies, who are amateurs in love,
but bereft of lovers; dainty gentlemen find the street ballads and
gaol-bird songs of Jules Jouy, Bruant, MacNab and Xanroff very
_distingué_ on account of ‘the warm sympathy pulsing in them,’ as the
stock phrase runs; and society persons, whose creed is limited to
baccarat and the money market, make pilgrimages to the Oberammergau
Passion-play, and wipe away a tear over Paul Verlaine’s invocations to
the Virgin.

But art exhibitions, concerts, plays and books, however extraordinary,
do not suffice for the æsthetic needs of elegant society. Novel
sensations alone can satisfy it. It demands more intense stimulus,
and hopes for it in spectacles, where different arts strive in new
combinations to affect all the senses at once. Poets and artists
strain every nerve incessantly to satisfy this craving. A painter, who
for that matter is less occupied with new impressions than with old
puffs, paints a picture indifferently well of the dying Mozart working
at his _Requiem_, and exhibits it of an evening in a darkened room,
while a dazzling ray of skilfully directed electric light falls on
the painting, and an invisible orchestra softly plays the _Requiem_.
A musician goes one step further. Developing to the utmost a Bayreuth
usage, he arranges a concert in a totally darkened hall, and thus
delights those of the audience who find opportunity, by happily
chosen juxtapositions, to augment their musical sensations by hidden
enjoyment of another sort. Haraucourt, the poet, has his paraphrase of
the Gospel, written in spirited verse, recited on the stage by Sarah
Bernhardt, while, as in the old-fashioned melodrama, soft music in
unending melody accompanies the actress. Even the nose, hitherto basely
ignored by the fine arts, attracts the pioneers, and is by them invited
to take part in æsthetic delights. A hose is set up in the theatre, by
which the spectators are sprayed with perfumes. On the stage a poem in
approximately dramatic form is recited. In every division, act, scene,
or however the thing is called, a different vowel-sound is made to
preponderate; during each the theatre is illuminated with a differently
tinted light, the orchestra discourses music in a different key, and
the jet gives out a different perfume. This idea of accompanying verses
with odours was thrown out years ago, half in jest, by Ernest Eckstein.
Paris has carried it out in sacred earnest. The new school fetch the
puppet theatre out of the nursery, and enact pieces for adults which,
with artificial simplicity, pretend to hide or reveal a profound
meaning, and with great talent and ingenuity execute a magic-lantern of
prettily drawn and painted figures moving across surprisingly luminous
backgrounds; and these living pictures make visible the process of
thought in the mind of the author who recites his accompanying poem,
while a piano endeavours to illustrate the leading emotion. And to
enjoy such exhibitions as these society crowds into a suburban circus,
the loft of a back tenement, a second-hand costumier’s shop, or a
fantastic artist’s restaurant, where the performances, in some room
consecrated to beery potations, bring together the greasy _habitué_ and
the dainty aristocratic fledgling.



THE manifestations described in the preceding chapter must be patent
enough to everyone, be he never so narrow a Philistine. The Philistine,
however, regards them as a passing fashion and nothing more; for him
the current terms, caprice, eccentricity, affectation of novelty,
imitation, instinct, afford a sufficient explanation. The purely
literary mind, whose merely æsthetic culture does not enable him to
understand the connections of things, and to seize their real meaning,
deceives himself and others as to his ignorance by means of sounding
phrases, and loftily talks of a ‘restless quest of a new ideal by the
modern spirit,’ ‘the richer vibrations of the refined nervous system
of the present day,’ ‘the unknown sensations of an elect mind.’ But
the physician, especially if he have devoted himself to the special
study of nervous and mental maladies, recognises at a glance, in the
_fin-de-siècle_ disposition, in the tendencies of contemporary art and
poetry, in the life and conduct of the men who write mystic, symbolic
and ‘decadent’ works, and the attitude taken by their admirers in the
tastes and æsthetic instincts of fashionable society, the confluence
of two well-defined conditions of disease, with which he is quite
familiar, viz. degeneration (degeneracy) and hysteria, of which the
minor stages are designated as neurasthenia. These two conditions of
the organism differ from each other, yet have many features in common,
and frequently occur together; so that it is easier to observe them in
their composite forms, than each in isolation.

The conception of degeneracy, which, at this time, obtains throughout
the science of mental disease, was first clearly grasped and formulated
by Morel. In his principal work--often quoted, but, unfortunately, not
sufficiently read[4]--the following definition of what he wishes to be
understood by ‘degeneracy’ is given by this distinguished expert in
mental pathology, who was, for a short time, famous in Germany, even
outside professional circles.[5]

‘The clearest notion we can form of degeneracy is to regard it as _a
morbid deviation from an original type_. This deviation, even if, at
the outset, it was ever so slight, contained transmissible elements of
such a nature that anyone bearing in him the germs becomes more and
more incapable of fulfilling his functions in the world; and mental
progress, already checked in his own person, finds itself menaced also
in his descendants.’

When under any kind of noxious influences an organism becomes
debilitated, its successors will not resemble the healthy, normal
type of the species, with capacities for development, but will form
a new sub-species, which, like all others, possesses the capacity of
transmitting to its offspring, in a continuously increasing degree, its
peculiarities, these being morbid deviations from the normal form--gaps
in development, malformations and infirmities. That which distinguishes
degeneracy from the formation of new species (phylogeny) is, that the
morbid variation does not continuously subsist and propagate itself,
like one that is healthy, but, fortunately, is soon rendered sterile,
and after a few generations often dies out before it reaches the lowest
grade of organic degradation.[6]

Degeneracy betrays itself among men in certain physical
characteristics, which are denominated ‘stigmata,’ or brand-marks--an
unfortunate term derived from a false idea, as if degeneracy were
necessarily the consequence of a fault, and the indication of it a
punishment. Such stigmata consist of deformities, multiple and stunted
growths in the first line of asymmetry, the unequal development of
the two halves of the face and cranium; then imperfection in the
development of the external ear, which is conspicuous for its enormous
size, or protrudes from the head, like a handle, and the lobe of which
is either lacking or adhering to the head, and the helix of which is
not involuted; further, squint-eyes, hare-lips, irregularities in the
form and position of the teeth; pointed or flat palates, webbed or
supernumerary fingers (syn-and polydactylia), etc. In the book from
which I have quoted, Morel gives a list of the anatomical phenomena of
degeneracy, which later observers have largely extended. In particular,
Lombroso[7] has conspicuously broadened our knowledge of stigmata,
but he apportions them merely to his ‘born criminals’--a limitation
which from the very scientific standpoint of Lombroso himself cannot
be justified, his ‘born criminals’ being nothing but a subdivision of
degenerates. Féré[8] expresses this very emphatically when he says,
‘Vice, crime and madness are only distinguished from each other by
social prejudices.’

There might be a sure means of proving that the application of the term
‘degenerates’ to the originators of all the _fin-de-siècle_ movements
in art and literature is not arbitrary, that it is no baseless conceit,
but a fact; and that would be a careful physical examination of the
persons concerned, and an inquiry into their pedigree. In almost all
cases, relatives would be met with who were undoubtedly degenerate, and
one or more stigmata discovered which would indisputably establish the
diagnosis of ‘Degeneration.’ Of course, from human consideration, the
result of such an inquiry could often not be made public; and he alone
would be convinced who should be able to undertake it himself.

Science, however, has found, together with these physical stigmata,
others of a mental order, which betoken degeneracy quite as clearly as
the former; and they allow of an easy demonstration from all the vital
manifestations, and, in particular, from all the works of degenerates,
so that it is not necessary to measure the cranium of an author, or to
see the lobe of a painter’s ear, in order to recognise the fact that he
belongs to the class of degenerates.

Quite a number of different designations have been found for these
persons. Maudsley and Ball call them ‘Borderland dwellers’--that is to
say, dwellers on the borderland between reason and pronounced madness.
Magnan gives to them the name of ‘higher degenerates’ (_dégénérés
supérieurs_), and Lombroso speaks of ‘mattoids’ (from _matto_, the
Italian for insane), and ‘graphomaniacs,’ under which he classifies
those semi-insane persons who feel a strong impulse to write. In spite,
however, of this variety of nomenclature, it is a question simply of
one single species of individuals, who betray their fellowship by the
similarity of their mental physiognomy.

In the mental development of degenerates, we meet with the same
irregularity that we have observed in their physical growth. The
asymmetry of face and cranium finds, as it were, its counterpart in
their mental faculties. Some of the latter are completely stunted,
others morbidly exaggerated. That which nearly all degenerates lack is
the sense of morality and of right and wrong. For them there exists no
law, no decency, no modesty. In order to satisfy any momentary impulse,
or inclination, or caprice, they commit crimes and trespasses with the
greatest calmness and self-complacency, and do not comprehend that
other persons take offence thereat. When this phenomenon is present in
a high degree, we speak of ‘moral insanity’ with Maudsley;[9] there
are, nevertheless, lower stages in which the degenerate does not,
perhaps, himself commit any act which will bring him into conflict with
the criminal code, but at least asserts the theoretical legitimacy of
crime; seeks, with philosophically sounding fustian, to prove that
‘good’ and ‘evil,’ virtue and vice, are arbitrary distinctions; goes
into raptures over evildoers and their deeds; professes to discover
beauties in the lowest and most repulsive things; and tries to awaken
interest in, and so-called ‘comprehension’ of, every bestiality.
The two psychological roots of moral insanity, in all its degrees
of development, are, firstly, unbounded egoism,[10] and, secondly,
impulsiveness[11]--_i.e._, inability to resist a sudden impulse to any
deed; and these characteristics also constitute the chief intellectual
stigmata of degenerates. In the following sections of this work, I
shall find occasion to show on what organic grounds, and in consequence
of what peculiarities of their brain and nervous system, degenerates
are necessarily egoistical and impulsive. In these introductory remarks
I would wish only to point out the stigma itself.

Another mental stigma of degenerates is their emotionalism.
Morel[12] has even wished to make this peculiarity their chief
characteristic--erroneously, it seems to me, for it is present in the
same degree among hysterics, and, indeed, is to be found in perfectly
healthy persons, who, from any transient cause, such as illness,
exhaustion, or any mental shock, have been temporarily weakened.
Nevertheless it is a phenomenon rarely absent in a degenerate. He
laughs until he sheds tears, or weeps copiously without adequate
occasion; a commonplace line of poetry or of prose sends a shudder
down his back; he falls into raptures before indifferent pictures
or statues; and music especially, even the most insipid and least
commendable, arouses in him the most vehement emotions. He is quite
proud of being so vibrant a musical instrument, and boasts that where
the Philistine remains completely cold, he feels his inner self
confounded, the depths of his being broken up, and the bliss of the
Beautiful possessing him to the tips of his fingers. His excitability
appears to him a mark of superiority; he believes himself to be
possessed by a peculiar insight lacking in other mortals, and he is
fain to despise the vulgar herd for the dulness and narrowness of their
minds. The unhappy creature does not suspect that he is conceited
about a disease and boasting of a derangement of the mind; and certain
silly critics, when, through fear of being pronounced deficient in
comprehension, they make desperate efforts to share the emotions of
a degenerate in regard to some insipid or ridiculous production, or
when they praise in exaggerated expressions the beauties which the
degenerate asserts he finds therein, are unconsciously simulating one
of the stigmata of semi-insanity.

Besides moral insanity and emotionalism, there is to be observed in
the degenerate a condition of mental weakness and despondency, which,
according to the circumstances of his life, assumes the form of
pessimism, a vague fear of all men, and of the entire phenomenon of
the universe, or self-abhorrence. ‘These patients,’ says Morel,[13]
‘feel perpetually compelled ... to commiserate themselves, to sob, to
repeat with the most desperate monotony the same questions and words.
They have delirious presentations of ruin and damnation, and all
sorts of imaginary fears.’ ‘Ennui never quits me,’ said a patient of
this kind, whose case Roubinovitch[14] describes, ‘ennui of myself.’
‘Among moral stigmata,’ says the same author,[15] ‘there are also to
be specified those undefinable apprehensions manifested by degenerates
when they see, smell, or touch any object.’ And he further[16] calls
to notice ‘their unconscious fear of everything and everyone.’ In this
picture of the sufferer from melancholia; downcast, sombre, despairing
of himself and the world, tortured by fear of the Unknown, menaced
by undefined but dreadful dangers, we recognise in every detail the
man of the Dusk of the Nations and the _fin-de-siècle_ frame of mind,
described in the first chapter.

With this characteristic dejectedness of the degenerate, there
is combined, as a rule, a disinclination to action of any kind,
attaining possibly to abhorrence of activity and powerlessness to will
(_aboulia_). Now, it is a peculiarity of the human mind, known to every
psychologist, that, inasmuch as the law of causality governs a man’s
whole thought, he imputes a rational basis to all his own decisions.
This was prettily expressed by Spinoza when he said: ‘If a stone flung
by a human hand could think, it would certainly imagine that it flew
because it wished to fly.’ Many mental conditions and operations of
which we become conscious are the result of causes which do not reach
our consciousness. In this case we fabricate causes _a posteriori_ for
them, satisfying our mental need of distinct causality, and we have
no trouble in persuading ourselves that we have now truly explained
them. The degenerate who shuns action, and is without will-power, has
no suspicion that his incapacity for action is a consequence of his
inherited deficiency of brain. He deceives himself into believing
that he despises action from free determination, and takes pleasure
in inactivity; and, in order to justify himself in his own eyes, he
constructs a philosophy of renunciation and of contempt for the world
and men, asserts that he has convinced himself of the excellence of
Quietism, calls himself with consummate self-consciousness a Buddhist,
and praises Nirvana in poetically eloquent phrases as the highest and
worthiest ideal of the human mind. The degenerate and insane are the
predestined disciples of Schopenhauer and Hartmann, and need only to
acquire a knowledge of Buddhism to become converts to it.

With the incapacity for action there is connected the predilection
for inane reverie. The degenerate is not in a condition to fix his
attention long, or indeed at all, on any subject, and is equally
incapable of correctly grasping, ordering, or elaborating into ideas
and judgments the impressions of the external world conveyed to his
distracted consciousness by his defectively operating senses. It is
easier and more convenient for him to allow his brain-centres to
produce semi-lucid, nebulously blurred ideas and inchoate embryonic
thoughts, and to surrender himself to the perpetual obfuscation of a
boundless, aimless, and shoreless stream of fugitive ideas; and he
rarely rouses himself to the painful attempt to check or counteract the
capricious, and, as a rule, purely mechanical associations of ideas
and succession of images, and bring under discipline the disorderly
tumult of his fluid presentations. On the contrary, he rejoices in
his faculty of imagination, which he contrasts with the insipidity of
the Philistine, and devotes himself with predilection to all sorts
of unlicensed pursuits permitted by the unshackled vagabondage of
his mind; while he cannot endure well-ordered civil occupations,
requiring attention and constant heed to reality. He calls this ‘having
an idealist temperament,’ ascribes to himself irresistible æsthetic
propinquities, and proudly styles himself an artist.[17]

We will briefly mention some peculiarities frequently manifested
by a degenerate. He is tormented by doubts, seeks for the basis of
all phenomena, especially those whose first causes are completely
inaccessible to us, and is unhappy when his inquiries and ruminations
lead, as is natural, to no result.[18] He is ever supplying new
recruits to the army of system-inventing metaphysicians, profound
expositors of the riddle of the universe, seekers for the philosopher’s
stone, the squaring of the circle and perpetual motion.[19] These
last three subjects have such a special attraction for him, that
the Patent Office at Washington is forced to keep on hand printed
replies to the numberless memorials in which patents are constantly
demanded for the solution of these chimerical problems. In view of
Lombroso’s researches,[20] it can scarcely be doubted that the writings
and acts of revolutionists and anarchists are also attributable to
degeneracy. The degenerate is incapable of adapting himself to existing
circumstances. This incapacity, indeed, is an indication of morbid
variation in every species, and probably a primary cause of their
sudden extinction. He therefore rebels against conditions and views of
things which he necessarily feels to be painful, chiefly because they
impose upon him the duty of self-control, of which he is incapable on
account of his organic weakness of will. Thus he becomes an improver of
the world, and devises plans for making mankind happy, which, without
exception, are conspicuous quite as much by their fervent philanthropy,
and often pathetic sincerity, as by their absurdity and monstrous
ignorance of all real relations.

Finally, a cardinal mark of degeneration which I have reserved
to the last, is mysticism. Colin says:[21] ‘Of all the delirious
manifestations peculiar to the hereditarily-afflicted, none indicates
the condition more clearly, we think, than mystical delirium, or, when
the malady has not reached this point, the being constantly occupied
with mystical and religious questions, an exaggerated piety, etc.’ I
will not here multiply evidence and quotations. In the following books,
where the art and poetry of the times are treated of, I shall find
occasion to show the reader that no difference exists between these
tendencies and the religious manias observed in nearly all degenerates
and sufferers from hereditary mental taint.

I have enumerated the most important features characterizing the
mental condition of the degenerate. The reader can now judge for
himself whether or not the diagnosis ‘degeneration’ is applicable to
the originators of the new æsthetic tendencies. It must not for that
matter be supposed that degeneration is synonymous with absence of
talent. Nearly all the inquirers who have had degenerates under their
observation expressly establish the contrary. ‘The degenerate,’ says
Legrain,[22] ‘may be a genius. A badly balanced mind is susceptible
of the highest conceptions, while, on the other hand, one meets in
the same mind with traits of meanness and pettiness all the more
striking from the fact that they co-exist with the most brilliant
qualities.’ We shall find this reservation in all authors who have
contributed to the natural history of the degenerate. ‘As regards
their intellect, they can,’ says Roubinovitch,[23] ‘attain to a high
degree of development, but from a moral point of view their existence
is completely deranged.... A degenerate will employ his brilliant
faculties quite as well in the service of some grand object as in the
satisfaction of the basest propensities.’ Lombroso[24] has cited a
large number of undoubted geniuses who were equally undoubted mattoids,
graphomaniacs, or pronounced lunatics; and the utterance of a French
savant, Guérinsen, ‘Genius is a disease of the nerves,’ has become a
‘winged word.’ This expression was imprudent, for it gave ignorant
babblers a pretext, and apparently a right, to talk of exaggeration,
and to contemn experts in nervous and mental diseases, because they
professedly saw a lunatic in everyone who ventured to be something more
than the most ordinary, characterless, average being. Science does
not assert that every genius is a lunatic; there are some geniuses of
superabundant power whose high privilege consists in the possession
of one or other extraordinarily developed faculty, without the rest
of their faculties falling short of the average standard. Just as
little, naturally, is every lunatic a genius; most of them, even if
we disregard idiots of different degrees, are much rather pitiably
stupid and incapable; but in many, nay, in abundant cases, the ‘higher
degenerate’ of Magnan, just as he occasionally exhibits gigantic bodily
stature or the disproportionate growth of particular parts, has some
mental gift exceptionally developed at the cost, it is true, of the
remaining faculties, which are wholly or partially atrophied.[25] It
is this which enables the well-informed to distinguish at the first
glance between the sane genius, and the highly, or even the most
highly, gifted degenerate. Take from the former the special capacity
through which he becomes a genius, and there still remains a capable,
often conspicuously intelligent, clever, moral, and judicious man,
who will hold his ground with propriety in our social mechanism. Let
the same be tried in the case of a degenerate, and there remains only
a criminal or madman, for whom healthy humanity can find no use. If
Goethe had never written a line of verse, he would, all the same,
have still remained a man of the world, of good principles, a fine
art connoisseur, a judicious collector, a keen observer of nature.
Let us, on the contrary, imagine a Schopenhauer who had written no
astounding books, and we should have before us only a repulsive
_lusus naturæ_, whose morals would necessarily exclude him from all
respectable society, and whose fixed idea that he was a victim of
persecution would point him out as a subject for a madhouse. The
lack of harmony, the absence of balance, the singular incapacity of
usefully applying, or deriving satisfaction from, their own special
faculty among highly-gifted degenerates, strikes every healthy censor
who does not allow himself to be prejudiced by the noisy admiration
of critics, themselves degenerates: and will always prevent his
mistaking the mattoid for the same exceptional man who opens out new
paths for humanity and leads it to higher developments. I do not
share Lombroso’s opinion[26] that highly-gifted degenerates are an
active force in the progress of mankind. They corrupt and delude;
they do, alas! frequently exercise a deep influence, but this is
always a baneful one. It may not be at once remarked, but it will
reveal itself subsequently. If cotemporaries do not recognise it, the
historian of morals will point it out _a posteriori_. They, likewise,
are leading men along the paths they themselves have found to new
goals; but these goals are abysses or waste places. They are guides
to swamps like will-o’-the-wisps, or to ruin like the ratcatcher of
Hammelin. Observers lay stress on their unnatural sterility. ‘They
are,’ says Tarabaud,[27] ‘cranks; wrong-headed, unbalanced, incapable
creatures; they belong to the class of whom it may not be said that
they have no mind, but whose mind produces nothing.’ ‘A common type,’
writes Legrain,[28] ‘unites them:--weakness of judgment and unequal
development of mental powers.... Their conceptions are never of a
high order. They are incapable of great thoughts and prolific ideas.
This fact forms a peculiar contrast to the frequently excessive
development of their powers of imagination.’ ‘If they are painters,’
we read in Lombroso,[29] ‘then their predominant attribute will be the
colour-sense; they will be decorative. If they are poets, they will be
rich in rhyme, brilliant in style, but barren of thought; sometimes
they will be “decadents.”’

Such are the qualities of the most gifted of those who are discovering
new paths, and are proclaimed by enthusiastic followers as the guides
to the promised land of the future. Among them degenerates and mattoids
predominate. The second of the above-mentioned diagnoses, on the
contrary, applies for the most part to the multitude who admire these
individuals and swear by them, who imitate the fashions they design,
and take delight in the extravagances described in the previous
chapter. In their case we have to deal chiefly with hysteria, or

For reasons which will be elucidated in the next chapter, hysteria has
hitherto been less studied in Germany than in France, where, more than
elsewhere, it has formed a subject of earnest inquiry. We owe what we
know of it almost exclusively to French investigators. The copious
treatises of Axenfeld,[30] Richer,[31] and in particular Gilles de la
Tourette,[32] adequately comprise our present knowledge of this malady;
and I shall refer to these works when I enumerate the symptoms chiefly
indicative of hysteria.

Among the hysterical--and it must not be thought that these are met
with exclusively, or even preponderantly, among females, for they are
quite as often, perhaps oftener, found among males[33]--among the
hysterical, as among the degenerate, the first thing which strikes us
is an extraordinary emotionalism. ‘The leading characteristic of the
hysterical,’ says Colin,[34] ‘is the disproportionate impressionability
of their psychic centres.... They are, above all things,
impressionable.’ From this primary peculiarity proceeds a second quite
as remarkable and important--the exceeding ease with which they can be
made to yield to suggestion.[35] The earlier observers always mentioned
the boundless mendacity of the hysterical; growing, indeed, quite
indignant at it, and making it the most prominent mark of the mental
condition of such patients. They were mistaken. The hysterical subject
does not consciously lie. He believes in the truth of his craziest
inventions. The morbid mobility of his mind, the excessive excitability
of his imagination, conveys to his consciousness all sorts of queer and
senseless ideas. He suggests to himself that these ideas are founded on
true perceptions, and believes in the truth of his foolish inventions
until a new suggestion--perhaps his own, perhaps that of another
person--has ejected the earlier one. A result of the susceptibility
of the hysterical subject to suggestion is his irresistible passion
for imitation,[36] and the eagerness with which he yields to all the
suggestions of writers and artists.[37] When he sees a picture, he
wants to become like it in attitude and dress; when he reads a book,
he adopts its views blindly. He takes as a pattern the heroes of the
novels which he has in his hand at the moment, and infuses himself into
the characters moving before him on the stage.

Added to this emotionalism and susceptibility to suggestion is a love
of self never met with in a sane person in anything like the same
degree. The hysterical person’s own ‘I’ towers up before his inner
vision, and so completely fills his mental horizon that it conceals the
whole of the remaining universe. He cannot endure that others should
ignore him. He desires to be as important to his fellow-men as he is
to himself. ‘An incessant need pursues and governs the hysterical--to
busy those about them with themselves.’[38] A means of satisfying this
need is the fabrication of stories by which they become interesting.
Hence come the adventurous occurrences which often enough occupy the
police and the reports of the daily press. In the busiest thoroughfare
the hysterical person is set upon, robbed, maltreated and wounded,
dragged to a distant place, and left to die. He picks himself up
painfully, and informs the police. He can show the wounds on his body.
He gives all the details. And there is not a single word of truth
in the whole story; it is all dreamt and imagined. He has himself
inflicted his wounds in order for a short time to become the centre
of public attention. In the lower stages of hysteria this need of
making a sensation assumes more harmless forms. It displays itself in
eccentricities of dress and behaviour. ‘Other hysterical subjects are
passionately fond of glaring colours and extravagant forms; they wish
to attract attention and make themselves talked about.’[39]

It is certainly unnecessary to draw the reader’s attention in a
special manner to the complete coincidence of this clinical picture
of hysteria with the description of the peculiarities of the
_fin-de-siècle_ public, and to the fact that in the former we meet
with all the features made familiar to us by the consideration of
contemporary phenomena; in particular with the passion for imitating
in externals--in dress, attitude, fashion of the hair and beard--the
figures in old and modern pictures, and the feverish effort, through
any sort of singularity, to make themselves talked about. The
observation of pronounced cases of degeneration and hysteria, whose
condition makes them necessary subjects for medical treatment, gives
us also the key to the comprehension of subordinate details in the
fashions of the day. The present rage for collecting, the piling up,
in dwellings, of aimless bric-à-brac, which does not become any more
useful or beautiful by being fondly called _bibelots_, appear to us in
a completely new light when we know that Magnan has established the
existence of an irresistible desire among the degenerate to accumulate
useless trifles. It is so firmly imprinted and so peculiar that Magnan
declares it to be a stigma of degeneration, and has invented for it
the name ‘oniomania,’ or ‘buying craze.’ This is not to be confounded
with the desire for buying, which possesses those who are in the first
stage of general paralysis. The purchases of these persons are due to
their delusion as to their own greatness. They lay in great supplies
because they fancy themselves millionaires. The oniomaniac, on the
contrary, neither buys enormous quantities of one and the same thing,
nor is the price a matter of indifference to him as with the paralytic.
He is simply unable to pass by any lumber without feeling an impulse to
acquire it.

The curious style of certain recent painters--‘impressionists,’
‘stipplers,’ or ‘mosaists,’ ‘papilloteurs’ or ‘quiverers,’ ‘roaring’
colourists, dyers in gray and faded tints--becomes at once intelligible
to us if we keep in view the researches of the Charcot school into the
visual derangements in degeneration and hysteria. The painters who
assure us that they are sincere, and reproduce nature as they see it,
speak the truth. The degenerate artist who suffers from _nystagmus_,
or trembling of the eyeball, will, in fact, perceive the phenomena of
nature trembling, restless, devoid of firm outline, and, if he is a
conscientious painter, will give us pictures reminding us of the mode
practised by the draughtsmen of the _Fliegende Blätter_ when they
represent a wet dog shaking himself vigorously. If his pictures fail to
produce a comic effect, it is only because the attentive beholder reads
in them the desperate effort to reproduce fully an impression incapable
of reproduction by the expedients of the painter’s art as devised by
men of normal vision.

There is hardly a hysterical subject whose retina is not partly
insensitive.[40] As a rule the insensitive parts are connected, and
include the outer half of the retina. In these cases the field of
vision is more or less contracted, and appears to him not as it does to
the normal man--as a circle--but as a picture bordered by whimsically
zigzag lines. Often, however, the insensitive parts are not connected,
but are scattered in isolated spots over the entire retina. Then the
sufferer will have all sorts of gaps in his field of vision, producing
strange effects, and if he paints what he sees, he will be inclined
to place in juxtaposition larger or smaller points or spots which
are completely or partially dissociated. The insensitiveness need
not be complete, and may exist only in the case of single colours,
or of all. If the sensitiveness is completely lost (‘achromatopsy’)
he then sees everything in a uniform gray, but perceives differences
in the degree of lustre. Hence the picture of nature presents itself
to him as a copper-plate or a pencil drawing--where the effect of
the absent colours is replaced by differences in the intensity of
light, by greater or less depth and power of the white and black
portions. Painters who are insensitive to colour will naturally have a
predilection for neutral-toned painting; and a public suffering from
the same malady will find nothing objectionable in falsely-coloured
pictures. But if, besides the whitewash of a Puvis de Chavannes,
obliterating all colours equally, fanatics are found for the screaming
yellow, blue, and red of a Besnard, this also has a cause, revealed to
us by clinical science. ‘Yellow and blue,’ Gilles de la Tourette[41]
teaches us, ‘are peripheral colours’ (_i.e._, they are seen with
the outermost parts of the retina); ‘they are, therefore, the last
to be perceived’ (if the sensitiveness for the remaining colours is
destroyed). ‘These are ... the very two colours the sensations of which
in hysterical amblyopia [dulness of vision] endure the longest. In many
cases, however, it is the red, and not the blue, which vanishes last.’

Red has also another peculiarity explanatory of the predilection
shown for it by the hysterical. The experiments of Binet[42] have
established that the impressions conveyed to the brain by the sensory
nerves exercise an important influence on the species and strength
of the excitation distributed by the brain to the motor nerves.
Many sense-impressions operate enervatingly and inhibitively on the
movements; others, on the contrary, make these more powerful, rapid and
active; they are ‘dynamogenous,’ or ‘force-producing.’ As a feeling
of pleasure is always connected with dynamogeny, or the production
of force, every living thing, therefore, instinctively seeks for
dynamogenous sense-impressions, and avoids enervating and inhibitive
ones. Now, red is especially dynamogenous. ‘When,’ says Binet,[43]
in a report of an experiment on a female hysterical subject who was
paralyzed in one half of her body, ‘we place a dynamometer in the
anæsthetically insensible right hand of Amélie Cle.... the pressure of
the hand amounts to 12 kilogrammes. If at the same time she is made to
look at a red disc, the number indicating the pressure in kilogrammes
is at once doubled.’ Hence it is intelligible that hysterical painters
revel in red, and that hysterical beholders take special pleasure in
pictures operating dynamogenously, and producing feelings of pleasure.

If red is dynamogenous, violet is conversely enervating and
inhibitive.[44] It was not by accident that violet was chosen by
many nations as the exclusive colour for mourning, and by us also
for half-mourning. The sight of this colour has a depressing effect,
and the unpleasant feeling awakened by it induces dejection in a
sorrowfully-disposed mind. This suggests that painters suffering from
hysteria and neurasthenia will be inclined to cover their pictures
uniformly with the colour most in accordance with their condition of
lassitude and exhaustion. Thus originate the violet pictures of Manet
and his school, which spring from no actually observable aspect of
nature, but from a subjective view due to the condition of the nerves.
When the entire surface of walls in salons and art exhibitions of the
day appears veiled in uniform half-mourning, this predilection for
violet is simply an expression of the nervous debility of the painter.

There is yet another phenomenon highly characteristic in some cases
of degeneracy, in others of hysteria. This is the formation of close
groups or schools uncompromisingly exclusive to outsiders, observable
to-day in literature and art. Healthy artists or authors, in possession
of minds in a condition of well-regulated equilibrium, will never think
of grouping themselves into an association, which may at pleasure be
termed a sect or band; of devising a catechism, of binding themselves
to definite æsthetic dogmas, and of entering the lists for these
with the fanatical intolerance of Spanish inquisitors. If any human
activity is individualistic, it is that of the artist. True talent
is always personal. In its creations it reproduces itself, its own
views and feelings, and not the articles of faith learnt from any
æsthetic apostle; it follows its creative impulses, not a theoretical
formula preached by the founder of a new artistic or literary church;
it constructs its work in the form organically necessary to it, not
in that proclaimed by a leader as demanded by the fashion of the day.
The mere fact that an artist or author allows himself to be sworn in
to the party cry of any ‘ism,’ that he perambulates with jubilations
behind a banner and Turkish music, is complete evidence of his lack
of individuality--that is, of talent. If the mental movements of a
period--even those which are healthy and prolific--range themselves,
as a rule, under certain main tendencies, which receive each its
distinguishing name, this is the work of historians of civilization or
literature, who subsequently survey the combined picture of an epoch,
and for their own convenience undertake divisions and classifications,
in order that they may more correctly find their way among the
multifariousness of the phenomena. These are, however, almost always
arbitrary and artificial. Independent minds (we are not here speaking
of mere imitators), united by a good critic into a group, may, it is
true, have a certain resemblance to each other, but, as a rule, this
resemblance will be the consequence, not of actual internal affinity,
but of external influences. No one is able completely to withdraw
himself from the influences of his time, and under the impression
of events which affect all contemporaries alike, as well as of the
scientific views prevailing at a given time, certain features develop
themselves in all the works of an epoch, which stamp them as of the
same date. But the same men who subsequently appear so naturally in
each other’s company, in historical works, that they seem to form a
family, went when they lived their separate ways far asunder, little
suspecting that at one time they would be united under one common
designation. Quite otherwise it is when authors or artists consciously
and intentionally meet together and found an æsthetic school, as a
joint-stock bank is founded, with a title for which, if possible, the
protection of the law is claimed, with by-laws, joint capital, etc.
This may be ordinary speculation, but as a rule it is disease. The
predilection for forming societies met with among all the degenerate
and hysterical may assume different forms. Criminals unite in bands, as
Lombroso expressly establishes.[45] Among pronounced lunatics it is the
_folie à deux_, in which a deranged person completely forces his insane
ideas on a companion; among the hysterical it assumes the form of close
friendships, causing Charcot to repeat at every opportunity: ‘Persons
of highly-strung nerves attract each other;’[46] and finally authors
found schools.

The common organic basis of these different forms of one and the same
phenomenon--of the _folie à deux_, the association of neuropaths,
the founding of æsthetic schools, the banding of criminals--is, with
the active part, viz., those who lead and inspire, the predominance
of obsessions: with the associates, the disciples, the submissive
part, weakness of will and morbid susceptibility to suggestion.[47]
The possessor of an obsession is an incomparable apostle. There is no
rational conviction arrived at by sound labour of intellect, which so
completely takes possession of the mind, subjugates so tyrannically
its entire activity, and so irresistibly impels it to words and deeds,
as delirium. Every proof of the senselessness of his ideas rebounds
from the deliriously insane or half-crazy person. No contradiction,
no ridicule, no contempt, affects him; the opinion of the majority
is to him a matter of indifference; facts which do not please him
he does not notice, or so interprets that they seem to support his
delirium; obstacles do not discourage him, because even his instinct
of self-preservation is unable to cope with the power of his delirium,
and for the same reason he is often enough ready, without further ado,
to suffer martyrdom. Weak-minded or mentally-unbalanced persons, coming
into contact with a man possessed by delirium, are at once conquered
by the strength of his diseased ideas, and are converted to them. By
separating them from the source of inspiration, it is often possible to
cure them of their transmitted delirium, but frequently their acquired
derangement outlasts this separation.

This is the natural history of the æsthetic schools. Under the
influence of an obsession, a degenerate mind promulgates some doctrine
or other--realism, pornography, mysticism, symbolism, diabolism. He
does this with vehement penetrating eloquence, with eagerness and
fiery heedlessness. Other degenerate, hysterical, neurasthenical minds
flock around him, receive from his lips the new doctrine, and live
thenceforth only to propagate it.

In this case all the participants are sincere--the founder as well as
the disciples. They act as, in consequence of the diseased constitution
of their brain and nervous system, they are compelled to act. The
picture, however, which from a clinical standpoint is perfectly
clear, gets dimmed if the apostle of a craze and his followers
succeed in attracting to themselves the attention of wider circles.
He then receives a concourse of unbelievers, who are very well able
to recognise the insanity of the new doctrine, but who nevertheless
accept it, because they hope, as associates of the new sect, to acquire
fame and money. In every civilized nation which has a developed art
and literature there are numerous intellectual eunuchs, incapable
of producing with their own powers a living mental work, but quite
able to imitate the process of production. These cripples form,
unfortunately, the majority of professional authors and artists, and
their many noxious followers often enough stifle true and original
talent. Now it is these who hasten to act as camp-followers for every
new tendency which seems to come into fashion. They are naturally the
most modern of moderns, for no precept of individuality, no artistic
knowledge, hinders them from bunglingly imitating the newest model
with all the assiduity of an artisan. Clever in discerning externals,
unscrupulous copyists and plagiarists, they crowd round every original
phenomenon, be it healthy or unhealthy, and without loss of time
set about disseminating counterfeit copies of it. To-day they are
symbolists, as yesterday they were realists or pornographists. If they
can promise themselves fame and a good sale, they write of mysteries
with the same fluency as if they were spinning romances of knights and
robbers, tales of adventure, Roman tragedies, and village stories at
a time when newspaper critics and the public seemed to demand these
things in preference to others. Now these practitioners, who, let it
be again asserted, constitute the great majority of the mental workers
of the fashionable sects in art and literature, and therefore of the
associates of these sects also, are intellectually quite sane, even
if they stand at a very low level of development, and were anyone to
examine them, he might easily doubt the accuracy of the diagnosis
‘Degeneration’ as regards the confessors of the new doctrines. Hence
some caution must be exercised in the inquiry, and the sincere
originators be always distinguished from the aping intriguers,--the
founder of the religion and his apostles from the rabble to whom the
Sermon on the Mount is of less concern than the miraculous draught of
fishes and the multiplication of loaves.

It has now been shown how schools originate. They arise from the
degeneration of their founders and of the imitators they have
convinced. That they come into fashion, and for a short time attain a
noisy success, is due to the peculiarities of the recipient public,
namely, to hysteria. We have seen that hypersusceptibility to
suggestion is the distinguishing characteristic of hysteria. The same
power of obsession with which the degenerate in mind wins imitators,
gathers round him adherents. When a hysterical person is loudly and
unceasingly assured that a work is beautiful, deep, pregnant with the
future, he believes in it. He believes in everything suggested to him
with sufficient impressiveness. When the little cow-girl, Bernadette,
saw the vision of the Holy Virgin in the grotto of Lourdes, the
women devotees and hysterical males of the surrounding country who
flocked thither did not merely believe that the hallucinant maiden
had herself seen the vision, but all of them saw the Holy Virgin
with their own eyes. M. E. de Goncourt[48] relates that in 1870,
during the Franco-Prussian War, a multitude of men, numbering tens
of thousands, in and before the Bourse in Paris, were convinced that
they had themselves seen--indeed, a part of them had read--a telegram
announcing French victories fastened to a pillar inside the Exchange,
and at which people were pointing with their finger; but as a matter
of fact it never existed. It would be possible to cite examples by
the dozen, of illusions of the senses suggested to excited crowds.
Thus the hysterical allow themselves without more ado to be convinced
of the magnificence of a work, and even find in it beauties of the
highest kind, unthought of by the authors themselves and the appointed
trumpeters of their fame. If the sect is so completely established
that, in addition to the founders, the priests of the temple, the paid
sacristans and choir-boys, it has a congregation, processions, and
far-sounding bells, it then attaches to itself other converts besides
the hysterical who have accepted the new belief by way of suggestion.
Young persons without judgment, still seeking their way, go whither
they see the multitude streaming, and unhesitatingly follow the
procession, because they believe it to be marching on the right road.
Superficial persons, fearing nothing so much as to be thought behind
the times, attach themselves to the procession, shouting ‘Hurrah!’ and
‘All hail!’ so as to convince themselves that they also are really
dancing along before the latest conqueror and newest celebrity.
Decrepit gray-beards, filled with a ridiculous dread of betraying their
real age, eagerly visit the new temple and mingle their quavering
voices in the song of the devout, because they hope to be thought young
when seen in an assembly in which young persons predominate.

Thus a regular concourse is established about a victim of degeneration.
The fashionable coxcomb, the æsthetic ‘gigerl,’[49] peeps over the
shoulder of the hysterical whose admiration has been suggested to him;
the intriguer marches at the heel of the dotard, simulating youth; and
between all these comes pushing the inquisitive young street-loafer,
who must always be in every place where ‘something is going on.’ And
this crowd, because it is driven by disease, self-interest and vanity,
makes very much more noise and bustle than a far larger number of sane
men, who, without self-seeking after-thought, take quiet enjoyment
in works of sane talent, and do not feel obliged to shout out their
appreciation in the streets, and to threaten with death harmless
passers-by who do not join in their jubilations.



WE have recognised the effect of diseases in these _fin-de-siècle_
literary and artistic tendencies and fashions, as well as in the
susceptibility of the public with regard to them, and we have succeeded
in maintaining that these diseases are degeneracy and hysteria. We have
now to inquire how these maladies of the day have originated, and why
they appear with such extraordinary frequency at the present time.

Morel,[50] the great investigator of degeneracy, traces this chiefly
to poisoning. A race which is regularly addicted, even without excess,
to narcotics and stimulants in any form (such as fermented alcoholic
drinks, tobacco, opium, hashish, arsenic), which partakes of tainted
foods (bread made with bad corn), which absorbs organic poisons (marsh
fever, syphilis, tuberculosis, goitre), begets degenerate descendants
who, if they remain exposed to the same influences, rapidly descend
to the lowest degrees of degeneracy, to idiocy, to dwarfishness, etc.
That the poisoning of civilized peoples continues and increases at a
very rapid rate is widely attested by statistics.[51] The consumption
of tobacco has risen in France from 0.8 kilogramme per head in 1841
to 1.9 kilogrammes in 1890. The corresponding figures for England
are 13 and 26 ounces;[52] for Germany, 0.8 and 1.5 kilogrammes. The
consumption of alcohol[53] during the same period has risen in
Germany (1844) from 5.45 quarts to (1867) 6.86 quarts; in England
from 2.01 litres to 2.64 litres; in France from 1.33 to 4 litres. The
increase in the consumption of opium and hashish is still greater, but
we need not concern ourselves about that, since the chief sufferers
from them are Eastern peoples, who play no part in the intellectual
development of the white races. To these noxious influences, however,
one more may be added, which Morel has not known, or has not taken into
consideration--residence in large towns. The inhabitant of a large
town, even the richest, who is surrounded by the greatest luxury, is
continually exposed to unfavourable influences which diminish his vital
powers far more than what is inevitable. He breathes an atmosphere
charged with organic detritus; he eats stale, contaminated, adulterated
food; he feels himself in a state of constant nervous excitement, and
one can compare him without exaggeration to the inhabitant of a marshy
district. The effect of a large town on the human organism offers the
closest analogy to that of the Maremma, and its population falls victim
to the same fatality of degeneracy and destruction as the victims
of malaria. The death-rate in a large town is more than a quarter
greater than the average for the entire population; it is double that
of the open country, though in reality it ought to be less, since in
a large town the most vigorous ages predominate, during which the
mortality is lower than in infancy and old age.[54] And the children
of large towns who are not carried off at an early age suffer from the
peculiar arrested development which Morel[55] has ascertained in the
population of fever districts. They develop more or less normally until
fourteen or fifteen years of age, are up to that time alert, sometimes
brilliantly endowed, and give the highest promise; then suddenly there
is a standstill, the mind loses its facility of comprehension, and the
boy who, only yesterday, was a model scholar, becomes an obtuse, clumsy
dunce, who can only be steered with the greatest difficulty through
his examinations. With these mental changes bodily modifications go
hand in hand. The growth of the long bones is extremely slow, or ceases
entirely, the legs remain short, the pelvis retains a feminine form,
certain other organs cease to develop, and the entire being presents a
strange and repulsive mixture of incompleteness and decay.[56]

Now we know how, in the last generation, the number of the inhabitants
of great towns increased[57] to an extraordinary degree. At the
present time an incomparably larger portion of the whole population is
subjected to the destructive influences of large towns than was the
case fifty years ago; hence the number of victims is proportionately
more striking, and continually becomes more remarkable. Parallel
with the growth of large towns is the increase in the number of
the degenerate of all kinds--criminals, lunatics, and the ‘higher
degenerates’ of Magnan; and it is natural that these last should play
an ever more prominent part in endeavouring to introduce an ever
greater element of insanity into art and literature.

The enormous increase of hysteria in our days is partly due to the
same causes as degeneracy, besides which there is one cause much more
general still than the growth of large towns--a cause which perhaps of
itself would not be sufficient to bring about degeneracy, but which
is unquestionably quite enough to produce hysteria and neurasthenia.
This cause is the fatigue of the present generation. That hysteria is
in reality a consequence of fatigue Féré has conclusively demonstrated
by convincing experiments. In a communication to the Biological
Society of Paris, this distinguished investigator says:[58] ‘I have
recently observed a certain number of facts which have made apparent
the analogy existing between fatigue and the chronic condition of the
hysterical. One knows that among the hysterical [involuntary!] symmetry
of movements frequently shows itself in a very characteristic manner.
I have proved that in normal subjects this same symmetry of movements
is met with under the influence of fatigue. A phenomenon which shows
itself in a very marked way in serious hysteria is that peculiar
excitability which demonstrates that the energy of the voluntary
movements, through peripheral stimulations or mental presentations,
suffers rapid and transitory modifications co-existing with parallel
modifications of sensibility, and of the functions of nutrition. This
excitability can be equally manifested during fatigue.... Fatigue
constitutes a true temporary experimental hysteria. It establishes a
transition between the states which we call normal and the various
states which we designate hysteria. One can change a normal into a
hysterical individual by tiring him.... All these causes (which produce
hysteria) can, as far as the pathogenic part they play is concerned, be
traced to one simple physiological process--to fatigue, to depression
of vitality.’

Now, to this cause--fatigue--which, according to Féré, changes healthy
men into hysterical, the whole of civilized humanity has been exposed
for half a century. All its conditions of life have, in this period
of time, experienced a revolution unexampled in the history of the
world. Humanity can point to no century in which the inventions which
penetrate so deeply, so tyrannically, into the life of every individual
are crowded so thick as in ours. The discovery of America, the
Reformation, stirred men’s minds powerfully, no doubt, and certainly
also destroyed the equilibrium of thousands of brains which lacked
staying power. But they did not change the material life of man. He
got up and laid down, ate and drank, dressed, amused himself, passed
his days and years as he had been always wont to do. In our times, on
the contrary, steam and electricity have turned the customs of life of
every member of the civilized nations upside down, even of the most
obtuse and narrow-minded citizen, who is completely inaccessible to the
impelling thoughts of the times.

In an exceptionally remarkable lecture by Professor A. W. von Hofmann,
in 1890, before the Congress of German Natural Science held in
Bremen, he gave, in concluding, a short description of the life of
an inhabitant of a town in the year 1822. He shows us a student of
science who at that date is arriving with the coach from Bremen to
Leipzig. The journey has lasted four days and four nights, and the
traveller is naturally stiff and bruised. His friends receive him,
and he wishes to refresh himself a little. But there is yet no Munich
beer in Leipzig. After a short interview with his comrades, he goes in
search of his inn. This is no easy task, for in the streets an Egyptian
darkness reigns, broken only at long distances by the smoky flame of
an oil-lamp. He at last finds his quarters, and wishes for a light. As
matches do not yet exist, he is reduced to bruising the tips of his
fingers with flint and steel, till he succeeds at last in lighting a
tallow candle. He expects a letter, but it has not come, and he cannot
now receive it till after some days, for the post only runs twice a
week between Frankfort and Leipzig.[59]

But it is unnecessary to go back to the year 1822, chosen by Professor
Hofmann. Let us stop, for purposes of comparison, at the year 1840.
This year has not been arbitrarily selected. It is about the date when
that generation was born which has witnessed the irruption of new
discoveries in every relation of life, and thus personally experienced
those transformations which are the consequences. This generation
reigns and governs to-day; it sets the tone everywhere, and its sons
and daughters are the youth of Europe and America, in whom the new
æsthetic tendencies gain their fanatical partisans. Let us now compare
how things went on in the civilized world in 1840 and a half-century

In 1840 there were in Europe 3,000 kilometres of railway; in 1891
there were 218,000 kilometres. The number of travellers in 1840, in
Germany, France and England, amounted to 2-1/2 millions; in 1891 it
was 614 millions. In Germany every inhabitant received, in 1840, 85
letters; in 1888, 200 letters. In 1840 the post distributed in France
94 millions of letters; in England, 277 millions; in 1881, 595 and
1,299 millions respectively. The collective postal intercourse between
all countries, without including the internal postage of each separate
country, amounted, in 1840, to 92 millions; in 1889, to 2,759 millions.
In Germany, in 1840, 305 newspapers were published; in 1891, 6,800; in
France, 776 and 5,182; in England (1846), 551 and 2,255. The German
book trade produced, in 1840, 1,100 new works; in 1891, 18,700. The
exports and imports of the world had, in 1840, a value of 28, in 1889
of 74, milliards of marks. The ships which, in 1840, entered all the
ports of Great Britain contained 9-1/2, in 1890 74-1/2, millions of
tons. The whole British merchant navy measured, in 1840, 3,200,000; in
1890, 9,688,000 tons.

Let us now consider how these formidable figures arise. The 18,000
new publications, the 6,800 newspapers in Germany, desire to be read,
although many of them desire in vain; the 2,759 millions of letters
must be written; the larger commercial transactions, the numerous
journeys, the increased marine intercourse, imply a correspondingly
greater activity in individuals. The humblest village inhabitant
has to-day a wider geographical horizon, more numerous and complex
intellectual interests, than the prime minister of a petty, or even a
second-rate state a century ago. If he do but read his paper, let it
be the most innocent provincial rag, he takes part, certainly not by
active interference and influence, but by a continuous and receptive
curiosity, in the thousand events which take place in all parts of
the globe, and he interests himself simultaneously in the issue of a
revolution in Chili, in a bush-war in East Africa, a massacre in North
China, a famine in Russia, a street-row in Spain, and an international
exhibition in North America. A cook receives and sends more letters
than a university professor did formerly, and a petty tradesman travels
more and sees more countries and people than did the reigning prince of
other times.

All these activities, however, even the simplest, involve an effort
of the nervous system and a wearing of tissue. Every line we read or
write, every human face we see, every conversation we carry on, every
scene we perceive through the window of the flying express, sets in
activity our sensory nerves and our brain centres. Even the little
shocks of railway travelling, not perceived by consciousness, the
perpetual noises, and the various sights in the streets of a large
town, our suspense pending the sequel of progressing events, the
constant expectation of the newspaper, of the postman, of visitors,
cost our brains wear and tear. In the last fifty years the population
of Europe has not doubled, whereas the sum of its labours has increased
tenfold, in part even fifty-fold. Every civilized man furnishes, at
the present time, from five to twenty-five times as much work as was
demanded of him half a century ago.

This enormous increase in organic expenditure has not, and cannot have,
a corresponding increase of supply. Europeans now eat a little more
and a little better than they did fifty years ago, but by no means in
proportion to the increase of effort which to-day is required of them.
And even if they had the choicest food in the greatest abundance, it
would do nothing towards helping them, for they would be incapable of
digesting it. Our stomachs cannot keep pace with the brain and nervous
system. The latter demand very much more than the former are able to
perform. And so there follows what always happens if great expenses
are met by small incomes; first the savings are consumed, then comes

Its own new discoveries and progress have taken civilized humanity by
surprise. It has had no time to adapt itself to its changed conditions
of life. We know that our organs acquire by exercise an ever greater
functional capacity, that they develop by their own activity, and can
respond to nearly every demand made upon them; but only under one
condition--that this occurs gradually, that time be allowed them. If
they are obliged to fulfil, without transition, a multiple of their
usual task, they soon give out entirely. No time was left to our
fathers. Between one day and the next, as it were, without preparation,
with murderous suddenness, they were obliged to change the comfortable
creeping gait of their former existence for the stormy stride of modern
life, and their heart and lungs could not bear it. The strongest could
keep up, no doubt, and even now, at the most rapid pace, no longer lose
their breath, but the less vigorous soon fell out right and left, and
fill to-day the ditches on the road of progress.

To speak without metaphor, statistics indicate in what measure the sum
of work of civilized humanity has increased during the half-century.
It had not quite grown to this increased effort. It grew fatigued and
exhausted, and this fatigue and exhaustion showed themselves in the
first generation, under the form of acquired hysteria; in the second,
as hereditary hysteria.

The new æsthetic schools and their success are a form of this general
hysteria; but they are far from being the only one. The malady of
the period shows itself in yet many other phenomena which can be
measured and counted, and thus are susceptible of being scientifically
established. And these positive and unambiguous symptoms of exhaustion
are well adapted to enlighten the ignorant, who might believe at first
sight that the specialist acts arbitrarily in tracing back fashionable
tendencies in art and literature to states of fatigue in civilized

It has become a commonplace to speak of the constant increase of crime,
madness and suicide. In 1840, in Prussia, out of 100,000 persons of
criminally responsible age, there were 714 convictions; in 1888, 1,102
(from a letter communicated by the Prussian bureau of statistics). In
1865, in every 10,000 Europeans there were 63 suicides; in 1883, 109;
and since that time the number has increased considerably. In the last
twenty years a number of new nervous diseases have been discovered and
named.[61] Let it not be believed that they always existed, and were
merely overlooked. If they had been met with anywhere they would have
been detected, for even if the theories which prevailed in medicine at
various periods were erroneous, there have always been perspicacious
and attentive physicians who knew how to observe. If, then, the
new nervous diseases were not noticed, it is because they did not
formerly appear. And they are exclusively a consequence of the present
conditions of civilized life. Many affections of the nervous system
already bear a name which implies that they are a direct consequence of
certain influences of modern civilization. The terms ‘railway-spine’
and ‘railway-brain,’ which the English and American pathologists have
given to certain states of these organs, show that they recognise
them as due partly to the effects of railway accidents, partly to
the constant vibrations undergone in railway travelling. Again, the
great increase in the consumption of narcotics and stimulants, which
has been shown in the figures above, has its origin unquestionably
in the exhausted systems with which the age abounds. There is here a
disastrous, vicious circle of reciprocal effects. The drinker (and
apparently the smoker also) begets enfeebled children, hereditarily
fatigued or degenerated, and these drink and smoke in their turn,
because they are fatigued. These crave for a stimulus, for a
momentary, artificial invigoration, or an alleviation of their painful
excitability, and then, when they recognise that this increases, in the
long-run, their exhaustion as well as their excitability, they cannot,
through weakness of will, resist those habits.[62]

Many observers assert that the present generation ages much more
rapidly than the preceding one. Sir James Crichton-Browne points out
this effect of modern circumstances on contemporaries in his speech at
the opening of the winter term, 1891, before the medical faculty of
the Victoria University.[63] From 1859 to 1863 there died in England,
of heart-disease, 92,181 persons; from 1884 to 1888, 224,102. Nervous
complaints carried off from 1864 to 1868, 196,000 persons; from 1884
to 1888, 260,558. The difference of figures would have been still more
striking if Sir James had chosen a more remote period for comparison
with the present, for in 1865 the high pressure under which the English
worked was already nearly as great as in 1885. The dead carried off by
heart and nerve diseases are the victims of civilization. The heart
and nervous system first break down under the overstrain. Sir James
in his speech says further on: ‘Men and women grow old before their
time. Old age encroaches upon the period of vigorous manhood.... Deaths
due exclusively to old age are found reported now between the ages of
forty-five and fifty-five....’ Mr. Critchett (an eminent oculist) says:
‘My own experience, which extends now over a quarter of a century,
leads me to believe that men and women, in the present day, seek
the aid of spectacles at a less advanced period of life than their
ancestors.... Previously men had recourse to spectacles at the age of
fifty. The average age is now forty-five years.’ Dentists assert that
teeth decay and fall out at an earlier age than formerly. Dr. Lieving
attests the same respecting the hair, and assures us that precocious
baldness is to be specially observed ‘among persons of nervous
temperaments and active mind, but of weak general health.’ Everyone who
looks round the circle of his friends and acquaintances will remark
that the hair begins to turn gray much sooner than in former days. Most
men and women show their first white hairs at the beginning of the
thirties, many of them at a very much younger age. Formerly white hair
was the accompaniment of the fiftieth year.

All the symptoms enumerated are the consequences of states of fatigue
and exhaustion, and these, again, are the effect of contemporary
civilization, of the vertigo and whirl of our frenzied life, the
vastly increased number of sense impressions and organic reactions,
and therefore of perceptions, judgments, and motor impulses, which at
present are forced into a given unity of time. To this general cause
of contemporary pathological phenomena, one may be added special to
France. By the frightful loss of blood which the body of the French
people suffered during the twenty years of the Napoleonic wars, by
the violent moral upheavals to which they were subjected in the
great Revolution and during the imperial epic, they found themselves
exceedingly ill-prepared for the impact of the great discoveries of the
century, and sustained by these a more violent shock than other nations
more robust and more capable of resistance. Upon this nation, nervously
strained and predestined to morbid derangement, there broke the awful
catastrophe of 1870. It had, with a self-satisfaction which almost
attained to megalomania, believed itself the first nation in the world;
it now saw itself suddenly humiliated and crushed. All its convictions
abruptly crumbled to pieces. Every single Frenchman suffered reverses
of fortune, lost some members of his family, and felt himself
personally robbed of his dearest conceptions, nay, even of his honour.
The whole people fell into the condition of a man suddenly visited by a
crushing blow of destiny, in his fortune, his position, his family, his
reputation, even in his self-respect. Thousands lost their reason. In
Paris a veritable epidemic of mental diseases was observed, for which
a special name was found--_la folie obsidionale_, ‘siege-madness.’ And
even those who did not at once succumb to mental derangement, suffered
lasting injury to their nervous system. This explains why hysteria and
neurasthenia are much more frequent in France, and appear under such a
greater variety of forms, and why they can be studied far more closely
in this country than anywhere else. But it explains, too, that it is
precisely in France that the craziest fashions in art and literature
would necessarily arise, and that it is precisely there that the
morbid exhaustion of which we have spoken became for the first time
sufficiently distinct to consciousness to allow a special name to be
coined for it, namely, the designation of _fin-de-siècle_.

The proposition which I set myself to prove may now be taken as
demonstrated. In the civilized world there obviously prevails a
twilight mood which finds expression, amongst other ways, in all
sorts of odd æsthetic fashions. All these new tendencies, realism or
naturalism, ‘decadentism,’ neo-mysticism, and their sub-varieties,
are manifestations of degeneration and hysteria, and identical
with the mental stigmata which the observations of clinicists have
unquestionably established as belonging to these. But both degeneration
and hysteria are the consequences of the excessive organic wear and
tear suffered by the nations through the immense demands on their
activity, and through the rank growth of large towns.

Led by this firmly linked chain of causes and effects, everyone capable
of logical thought will recognise that he commits a serious error if,
in the æsthetic schools which have sprung up in the last few years, he
sees the heralds of a new era. They do not direct us to the future,
but point backwards to times past. Their word is no ecstatic prophecy,
but the senseless stammering and babbling of deranged minds, and what
the ignorant hold to be the outbursts of gushing, youthful vigour and
turbulent constructive impulses are really nothing but the convulsions
and spasms of exhaustion.

We should not allow ourselves to be deceived by certain catch-words,
frequently uttered in the works of these professed innovators. They
talk of socialism, of emancipation of the mind, etc., and thereby
create the outward show of being deeply imbued with the thoughts and
struggles of the times. But this is empty sham. The catch-words in
vogue are scattered through the works without internal sequence, and
the struggles of the times are merely painted on the outside. It is
a phenomenon observed in every kind of mania, that it receives its
special colouring from the degree of culture of the invalid, and from
the views prevailing at the times in which he lived. The Catholic who
is a prey to megalomania fancies he is the Pope; the Jew, that he is
the Messiah; the German, that he is the Emperor or a field-marshal;
the Frenchman, that he is the President of the Republic. In the
persecution-mania, the invalid of former days complained of the
wickedness and knavery of magicians and witches; to-day he grumbles
because his imaginary enemies send electric streams through his nerves,
and torment him with magnetism. The degenerates of to-day chatter of
Socialism and Darwinism, because these words, and, in the best case,
the ideas connected with these, are in current use. These so-called
socialist and free-thinking works of the degenerate as little advance
the development of society towards more equitable economic forms, and
more rational views of the relations among phenomena, as the complaints
and descriptions of an individual suffering from persecution-mania,
and who holds electricity responsible for his disagreeable sensations,
advance the knowledge of this force of nature. Those obscure or
superficially verbose works which pretend to offer solutions for
the serious questions of our times, or, at least, to prepare the
way thereto, are even impediments and causes of delay, because they
bewilder weak or unschooled brains, suggest to them erroneous views,
and make them either more inaccessible to rational information or
altogether closed to it.

The reader is now placed at those points of view whence he can see the
new æsthetic tendencies in their true light and their real shape. It
will be the task of the following books to demonstrate the pathological
character of each one of these tendencies, and to inquire what
particular species of degenerate delirium or hysterical psychological
process they are related to or identical with.





WE have already learnt to see in mysticism a principal characteristic
of degeneration. It follows so generally in the train of the latter,
that there is scarcely a case of degeneration in which it does not
appear. To cite authorities for this is about as unnecessary as to
adduce proof for the fact that in typhus a rise in the temperature
of the body is invariably observed. I will therefore only repeat one
remark of Legrain’s:[64] ‘Mystical thoughts are to be laid to the
account of the insanity of the degenerate. There are two states in
which they are observed--in epilepsy and in hysterical delirium.’ When
Federoff,[65] who makes mention of religious delirium and ecstasy as
among the accompanying features of an attack of hysteria, puts them
down as a peculiarity of women, he commits an error, since they are at
least as common in male hysterical and degenerate subjects as in female.

What is really to be understood by this somewhat vague term
‘mysticism’? The word describes a state of mind in which the subject
imagines that he perceives or divines unknown and inexplicable
relations amongst phenomena, discerns in things hints at mysteries, and
regards them as symbols, by which a dark power seeks to unveil or, at
least, to indicate all sorts of marvels which he endeavours to guess,
though generally in vain. This condition of mind is always connected
with strong emotional excitement, which consciousness conceives to be
the result of its presentiments, although it is this excitement, on the
contrary, which is pre-existent, while the presentiments are caused by
it and receive from it their peculiar direction and colour.

All phenomena in the world and in life present themselves in a
different light to the mystic from what they do to the sane man. The
simplest word uttered before the former appears to him an allusion
to something mysteriously occult; in the most commonplace and
natural movements he sees hidden signs. All things have for him deep
backgrounds; far-reaching shadows are thrown by them over adjacent
tracts; they send out wide-spreading roots into remote substrata. Every
image that rises up in his mind points with mysterious silence, though
with significant look and finger, to other images distinct or shadowy,
and induces him to set up relations between ideas, where other people
recognise no connection. In consequence of this peculiarity of his
mind, the mystic lives as if surrounded by sinister forms, from behind
whose masks enigmatic eyes look forth, and whom he contemplates with
constant terror, since he is never sure of recognising any shapes among
the disguises which press upon him. ‘Things are not what they seem’
is the characteristic expression frequently heard from the mystic.
In the history of a ‘degenerate’ in the clinics of Magnan[66] it is
written: ‘A child asks drink of him at a public fountain. He finds this
unnatural. The child follows him. This fills him with astonishment.
Another time he sees a woman sitting on a curb-stone. He asks himself
what that could possibly mean.’ In extreme cases this morbid attitude
amounts to hallucinations, which, as a rule, affect the hearing; but
it can also influence sight and the other senses. When this is so, the
mystic does not confine himself to conjectures and guesses at mysteries
in and behind phenomena, but hears and sees as real, things which for
the sane man are non-existent.

Pathological observation of the insane is content to describe this
mental condition, and to determine its occurrence in the hysterical and
degenerate. That, however, is not the end of the matter. We also want
to know in what manner the degenerate or exhausted brain falls into
mysticism. In order to understand the subject, we must refer to some
simple facts in the growth of the mind.[67]

Conscious intellection is activity of the gray surface of the brain, a
tissue consisting of countless nerve-cells united by nerve-fibres. In
this tissue the nerves, both of the external bodily surface and of the
internal organs, terminate. When one of these nerves is excited (the
nerve of vision by a ray of light, a nerve in the skin by contact, an
organic nerve by internal chemical action, etc.), it at once conveys
the excitement to the nerve-cell in the cerebral cortex in which it
debouches. This cell undergoes in consequence chemical changes, which,
in a healthy condition of the organism, are in direct relation to the
strength of the stimulus. The nerve-cell, which is immediately affected
by the stimulus conveyed to it by the conducting nerve, propagates in
its turn the stimulus received to all the neighbouring cells with which
it is connected by fibrous processes. The disturbance spreads itself on
all sides, like a wave-circle that is caused by any object thrown into
water, and subsides gradually exactly as does the wave--more quickly
or more slowly, with greater or less diffusion, as the stimulus that
caused it has been stronger or weaker.

Every stimulus which reaches a place on the cerebral cortex results
in a rush of blood to that spot,[68] by means of which nutriment
is conveyed to it. The brain-cells decompose these substances, and
transmute the stored-up energy in them into other forms of energy,
namely, into ideas and motor impulses.[69] How an idea is formed out of
the decomposition of tissues, how a chemical process is metamorphosed
into consciousness, nobody knows; but the fact that conscious ideas
are connected with the process of decomposition of tissues in the
stimulated brain-cells is not a matter of doubt.[70]

In addition to the fundamental property in the nerve-cells of
responding to a stimulus produced by chemical action, they have also
the capacity of preserving an image of the strength and character of
this stimulus. To put it popularly, the cell is able to remember its
impressions. If now a new, although it may be a weaker, disturbance
reach this cell, it rouses in it an image of similar stimuli which
had previously reached it, and this memory-image strengthens the
new stimulus, making it more distinct and more intelligible to
consciousness. If the cell could not remember, consciousness would
be ever incapable of interpreting its impressions, and could never
succeed in attaining to a presentation of the outer world. Particular
direct stimuli would certainly be perceived, but they would remain
without connection or import, since they are by themselves, and without
the assistance of earlier impressions, inadequate to lead to knowledge.
Memory is therefore the first condition of normal brain activity.

The stimulus which reaches a brain-cell gives rise, as we have
seen, to an expansion of this stimulus to the neighbouring cells,
to a wave of stimulus proceeding in all directions. And since every
stimulus is connected with the rise of conscious presentations, it
proves that every stimulus calls a large number of presentations into
consciousness, and not only such presentations as are related to the
immediate external cause of the stimulation perceived, but also such
as are only aroused by the cells that elaborate them happening to lie
in the vicinity of that cell, or group of cells, which the external
stimulus has immediately reached. The wave of stimulus, like every
other wave-motion, is strongest at its inception; it subsides in
direct ratio to the widening of its circle, till at last it vanishes
into the imperceptible. Corresponding to this, the presentations,
having their seat in cells which are in the immediate neighbourhood of
those first reached by the stimulus, are the most lively, while those
arising from the more distant cells are somewhat less distinct, and
this distinctness continues to decrease until consciousness can no
longer perceive them--until they, as science expresses it, sink beneath
the threshold of consciousness. Each particular stimulus arouses,
therefore, not only in the cell to which it was directly led, but also
in countless other contiguous and connected cells, the activity which
is bound up with presentation. Thus arise simultaneously, or, more
accurately, following each other in an immeasurably short interval of
time, thousands of impressions of regularly decreasing distinctness;
and since unnumbered thousands of external and internal organic stimuli
are carried to the brain, so continually thousands of stimulus-waves
are coursing through it, crossing and intersecting each other with the
greatest diversity, and in their course arousing millions of emerging,
waning, and vanishing impressions. It is this that Goethe means when he
depicts in such splendid language how

  ‘...ein Tritt tausend Fäden regt,
  Die Schifflein herüber, hinüber schiessen,
  Die Fäden ungesehen fliessen,
  Ein Schlag tausend Verbindungen schlägt.’[71]

Now, memory is a property not only of the nerve-cell, but also of the
nerve-fibre, which is only a modification of the cell. The fibre has
a recollection of the stimulus which it conveyed, in the same way as
the cell has of that which it has transformed into presentation and
motion. A stimulus will be more easily conducted by a fibre which has
already conveyed it, than by one which propagates it for the first time
from one cell to another. Every stimulus which reaches a cell will take
the line of least resistance, and this will be set out for it along
those nerve-tracks which it has already traversed. Thus a definite
path is formed for the course of a stimulus-wave, a customary line
of march; it is always the same nerve-cells which exchange mutually
their stimulus-waves. Presentation always awakens the same resulting
presentations, and always appears in consciousness accompanied by them.
This procedure is called the association of ideas.

It is neither volition nor accident that determines to which other
cells a disturbed cell habitually communicates its stimulus, which
accompanying impressions an aroused presentation draws with it into
consciousness. On the contrary, the linking of presentations is
dependent upon laws which Wundt especially has well formulated.

Those who have not been born blind and deaf (like the unfortunate
Laura Bridgman, cited by all psychologists) will never be influenced
by one external stimulus only, but invariably by many stimuli at once.
Every single phenomenon of the outer world has, as a rule, not only
one quality, but many; and since that which we call a quality is the
assumed cause of a definite sensation, it results that phenomena appeal
at once to several senses, are simultaneously seen, heard, felt, and
moreover are seen in different degrees of light and colour, heard in
various nuances of timbre, etc. The few phenomena which possess only
one quality and arouse therefore only one sense, _e.g._, thunder, which
is only heard, although with varying intensity, occur nevertheless in
conjunction with other phenomena, such as, to keep to thunder, with a
clouded sky, lightning and rain. Our brains are therefore accustomed to
receive at once from every phenomenon several stimuli, which proceed
partly from the many qualities of the phenomenon itself, and partly
from the phenomena usually accompanying it. Now, it is sufficient that
only one of these stimuli should reach the brain, in order to call
into life, in virtue of the habitual association of the memory-images,
the remaining stimuli of the same group as well. Simultaneity of
impressions is therefore a cause of the association of ideas.

One and the same quality belongs to many phenomena. There is a whole
series of things which are blue, round, and smooth. The possession
of a common quality is a condition of similarity, which is greater in
proportion to the number of common qualities. Every single quality,
however, belongs to a habitually associated group of qualities, and can
by the mechanism of simultaneity arouse the memory-image of this group.
In consequence of their similarity, therefore, the memory-images can be
aroused of all those groups, which resemble each other in some quality.
The colour blue is a quality which belongs equally to the cheerful sky,
the cornflower, the sea, certain eyes, and many military uniforms. The
perception of blue will awaken the memory of some or many blue things
which are only related through their common colour. Similarity is
therefore another cause of the association of ideas.

It is a distinctive characteristic of the brain-cell to elaborate at
the same time both a presentation and its opposite. It is probable that
what we perceive as its opposite is generally, in its original and
simplest form, only the consciousness of the cessation of a certain
presentation. As the fatigue of the optic nerve by a colour arouses
the sensation of the complimentary colour, so, on the exhaustion
of a brain-cell through the elaboration of a presentation, the
contrary presentation appears in consciousness. Now, whether this
interpretation be right or not, the fact itself is established through
the ‘contradictory double meaning of primitive roots,’ discovered by K.
Abel.[72] Contrast is the third cause of the association of ideas.

Many phenomena present themselves in the same place close to, or after,
one another; and we associate there, presentation of the particular
place with those objects, to which it is used to serve as a frame.
Simultaneity, similarity, contrast, and occurrence in the same place
(contiguity), are thus, according to Wundt, the four conditions under
which phenomena will be connected in our consciousness through the
association of ideas. To these James Sully[73] believes yet a fifth
should be added: presentations which are rooted in the same emotion.
Nevertheless all the examples cited by the distinguished English
psychologist demonstrate without effort the action of one or more of
Wundt’s laws.

In order that an organism should maintain itself, it must be in a
position to make use of natural resources, and protect itself from
adverse conditions of every sort. It can accomplish this only if
it possesses a knowledge of these adverse conditions, and of such
natural resources as it can use; and it can do this better and more
surely the more complete this knowledge is. In the more highly
differentiated organism it devolves upon the brain and nervous system
to acquire knowledge of the outer world, and to turn that knowledge
to the advantage of the organism. Memory makes it possible for the
brain to perform its task, and the mechanism by which memory is
made to serve the purport of knowledge is the association of ideas.
For it is clear that a brain, in which a single perception awakens
through the operation of the association of ideas a whole train of
connected representations, will recognise, conceive and judge far more
rapidly than one in which no association of ideas obtains, and which
therefore would form only such concepts as had for their content direct
sense-perceptions and such representations as originated in those cells
which, by the accident of their contiguity, happened to lie in the
circuit of a stimulus-wave. For the brain which works with association
of ideas, the perception of a ray of light, of a tone, is sufficient,
in order instantly to produce the presentation of the object from
which the sensation proceeds, as well as of its relations in time
and space, to group these presentations as concepts, and from these
concepts to arrive at a judgment. To the brain without association of
ideas that perception would only convey the presentation of having
something bright or sonant in front of it. In addition, presentations
would be aroused which had nothing in common with this bright or sonant
something; it could form no image of the exciter of the sense, but it
would first have to receive a train of further impressions from several
or all of the senses, in order to learn to recognise the various
properties of the object, of which at first only a tone or a colour
was perceived, and to unite them in a single presentation. Even then
the brain would only know in what the object consisted, _i.e._, what
it had in front of it, but not how the object stood in relation to
other things, where and when it had already been perceived, and by what
phenomena it was accompanied, etc. Knowledge of objects thus acquired
would be wholly unadapted to the formation of a right judgment. It
can now be seen what a great advantage was given to the organism in
the struggle for existence by the association of ideas, and what
immense progress in the development of the brain and its activity the
acquirement of it signified.

But this is only true with a limitation. The association of ideas as
such does not do more to lighten the task of the brain in apprehending
and in judging than does the uprising throng of memory-images in the
neighbourhood of the excited centre. The presentations, which the
association of ideas calls into consciousness, stand, it is true,
in somewhat closer connection with the phenomenon which has sent a
stimulus to the brain, and by the latter has been perceived, than do
those occurring in the geometrical circuit of the stimulus-wave;
but even this connection is so slight, that it offers no efficient
help in the interpretation of the phenomenon. We must not forget that
properly all our perceptions, ideas, and conceptions are connected more
or less closely through the association of ideas. As in the example
cited above the sensation of blue arouses the ideas of the sky, the
sea, a blue eye, a uniform, etc., so will each of these ideas arouse
in its turn, according to Wundt’s law, ideas associated with them.
The sky will arouse the idea of stars, clouds and rain; the sea, that
of ships, voyages, foreign lands, fishes, pearls, etc.; blue eyes,
that of a girl’s face, of love and all its emotions; in short, this
one sensation, through the mechanism of the association of ideas, can
arouse pretty well almost all the conceptions which we have ever at any
time formed, and the blue object which we have in fact before our eyes
and perceive, will, through this crowd of ideas which are not directly
related to it, be neither interpreted nor explained.

In order, however, that the association of ideas may fulfil its
functions in the operations of the brain, and prove itself a
useful acquisition to the organism, one thing more must be added,
namely, attention. This it is which brings order into the chaos of
representations awakened by the association of ideas, and makes them
subserve the purposes of cognition and judgment.

What is attention? Th. Ribot[74] defines this attribute as ‘a
spontaneous or an artificial adaptation of the individual to a
predominating thought’. (I translate this definition freely because
too long an explanation would be necessary to make the uninitiated
comprehend the expressions made use of by Ribot.) In other words,
attention is the faculty of the brain to suppress one part of the
memory-images which, at each excitation of a cell or group of cells,
have arisen in consciousness, by way either of association or of
stimulus-wave; and to maintain another part, namely, only those
memory-images which relate to the exciting cause, _i.e._, to the object
just perceived.

Who makes this selection among the memory-images? The stimulus itself,
which rouses the brain-cells into activity. Naturally those cells
would be the most strongly excited which are directly connected with
the afferent nerves. Somewhat weaker is the excitement of the cells to
which the cell first excited sends its impulse by way of the customary
nerve channels; still weaker the excitement of those cells which,
by the same mechanism, receive their stimulus from the secondarily
excited cell. That idea will be the most powerful, therefore, which
is awakened directly by the perception itself; somewhat weaker that
which is aroused by the first impression through association of ideas;
weaker still that which the association in its turn involves. We
know further that a phenomenon never produces a single stimulus, but
several at once. If, for example, we see a man before us, we do not
merely perceive a single point in him, but a larger or smaller portion
of his exterior, _i.e._, a large number of differently coloured and
differently illuminated points; perhaps we hear him as well, possibly
touch him, and, at all events, perceive besides him somewhat of his
environment, of his spacial relations. Thus, there arise in our brain
quite a number of centres of stimulation, operating simultaneously in
the manner described above. There awakes in consciousness a series
of primary presentations, which are stronger, _i.e._, clearer, than
the associated or consequent representations, namely, just those
presentations which the man standing before us has himself aroused.
They are like the brightest light-spots in the midst of others less
brilliant. These brightest light-spots necessarily predominate in
consciousness over the lesser ones. They fill the consciousness,
which combines them in a judgment. For what we call a judgment is,
in the last resort, nothing else than a simultaneous lighting up of
a number of presentations in consciousness, which we in truth only
bring into relation with each other because we ourselves became
conscious of them at one and the same moment. The ascendency which
the clearer presentations acquire over the more obscure, the primary
presentations over derived representations, in consciousness, enables
them, with the help of the will, to influence for a time the whole
brain-activity to their own advantage, viz., to suppress the weaker,
_i.e._, the derived, representations; to combat those which cannot be
made to agree with them; to reinforce, to draw into their circuit of
stimulation, or simply to arouse, others, through which they themselves
are reinforced and secure some duration in the midst of the constant
emergence and disappearance of representations in their pursuit of each
other. I myself conceive the interference of the will in this struggle
for life amongst representations as giving motor impulses (even if
unconsciously) to the muscles of the cerebral arteries. By this means
the bloodvessels are dilated or contracted as required,[75] and the
consequent supply of blood becomes more or less copious.[76] The cells
which receive no blood must suspend their action; those which receive a
larger supply can, on the contrary, operate more powerfully. The will
which regulates the distribution of blood, when incited by a group of
presentations temporarily predominating, thus resembles a servant who
is constantly occupied in a room in carrying out the behests of his
master: to light the gas in one place, in another to turn it up higher,
in another to turn it off partly or wholly, so that at one moment this,
and at another that, corner of the room becomes bright, dim, or dark.
The preponderance of a group of presentations allows them during their
period of power to bring into their service, not only the brain-cells,
but the whole organism besides; and not only to fortify themselves
through the representations which they arouse by way of association,
but also to seek certain new sense-impressions, and repress others, in
order, on the one hand, to obtain new excitations favourable to their
persistence--new original perceptions--and on the other hand, through
the exclusion of the rest, to ward off such excitations as are adverse
to their persistence.

For instance, I see in the street a passer-by who for some reason
arouses my attention. The attention immediately suppresses all other
presentations which, an instant before, were in my consciousness, and
permits those only to remain which refer to the passer-by. In order to
intensify these presentations I look after him, _i.e._, the ciliary and
ocular muscles, then the muscles of the neck, perhaps also the muscles
of the body and of the legs, receive motor impulses, which serve the
purpose only of keeping up continually new sense-impressions of the
object of my attention, by means of which the presentations of him are
continuously strengthened and multiplied. I do not notice other persons
who for the time come into my field of vision, I disregard the sounds
which meet my ears, if my attention is strong enough I do not perhaps
even hear them; but I should at once hear them if they proceeded from
the particular passer-by, or if they had any reference to him.

This is the ‘adaptation of the whole organism to a predominant idea’
of which Ribot speaks. This it is which gives us exact knowledge of
the external world. Without it that knowledge would be much more
difficult of attainment, and would remain much more incomplete. This
adaptation will continue until the cells, which are the bearers of
the predominating presentations, become fatigued. They will then be
compelled to surrender their supremacy to other groups of cells,
whereupon the latter will obtain the power to adapt the organism to
their purposes.

Thus we see it is only through attention that the faculty of
association becomes a property advantageous to the organism, and
attention is nothing but the faculty of the will to determine
the emergence, degree of clearness, duration and extinction of
presentations in consciousness. The stronger the will, so much the more
completely can we adapt the whole organism to a given presentation, so
much the more can we obtain sense impressions which serve to enhance
this presentation, so much the more can we by association induce
memory-images, which complete and rectify the presentation, so much the
more definitely can we suppress the presentations which disturb it or
are foreign to it; in a word, so much the more exhaustive and correct
will our knowledge be of phenomena and their true connection.

Culture and command over the powers of nature are solely the result of
attention; all errors, all superstition, the consequence of defective
attention. False ideas of the connection between phenomena arise
through defective observation of them, and will be rectified by a more
exact observation. Now, to observe means nothing else than to convey
deliberately determined sense-impressions to the brain, and thereby
raise a group of presentations to such clearness and intensity that it
can acquire preponderance in consciousness, arouse through association
its allied memory-images, and suppress such as are incompatible with
itself. Observation, which lies at the root of all progress, is thus
the adaptation through attention of the sense-organs and their centres
of perception to a presentation or group of presentations predominating
in consciousness.

A state of attention allows no obscurity to persist in consciousness.
For either the will strengthens every rising presentation to full
clearness and distinctness, or, if it cannot do this, it extinguishes
the idea completely. The consciousness of a healthy, strong-minded, and
consequently attentive man, resembles a room in the full light of day,
in which the eye sees all objects distinctly, in which all outlines are
sharp, and wherein no indefinite shadows are floating.

Attention, therefore, presupposes strength of will, and this, again,
is the property only of a normally constituted and unexhausted brain.
In the degenerate, whose brain and nervous system are characterized
by hereditary malformations or irregularities; in the hysterical,
whom we have learnt to regard as victims of exhaustion, the will is
entirely lacking, is possessed only in a small degree. The consequence
of weakness or want of will is incapacity of attention. Alexander
Starr[77] published twenty-three cases of lesions, or diseases of
the convolutions of the brain, in which ‘it was impossible for the
patients to fix their attention’; and Ribot[78] remarks: ‘A man who
is tired after a long walk, a convalescent who has undergone a severe
illness--in a word, all weakened persons are incapable of attention....
Inability to be attentive accompanies all forms of exhaustion.’

Untended and unrestrained by attention, the brain activity of the
degenerate and hysterical is capricious, and without aim or purpose.
Through the unrestricted play of association representations are called
into consciousness, and are free to run riot there. They are aroused
and extinguished automatically; and the will does not interfere to
strengthen or to suppress them. Representations mutually alien or
mutually exclusive appear continuously. The fact that they are retained
in consciousness simultaneously, and at about the same intensity,
combines them (in conformity with the laws of conscious activity) into
a thought which is necessarily absurd, and cannot express the true
relations of phenomena.

Weakness or want of attention, produces, then, in the first place,
false judgments respecting the objective universe, respecting the
qualities of things and their relations to each other. Consciousness
acquires a distorted and blurred view of the external world. And there
follows a further consequence. The chaotic course of stimuli along
the channels of association and of the adjacent structures arouses
the activity both of contiguous, of further, and of furthest removed
groups of cells, which, left to themselves, act only so long and with
such varying intensity as is proportionate to the intensity of the
stimulus which has reached them. Clear, obscure, and yet obscurer
representations rise in consciousness, which, after a time, disappear
again, without having attained to greater distinctness than they had
when first appearing. The clear representations produce a thought, but
such a one as cannot for a moment become firmer or clearer, because
the definite representations of which it is composed are mingled
with others which consciousness perceives indistinctly, or scarcely
perceives at all. Such obscure ideas cross the threshold of even a
healthy person’s consciousness; but in that case attention intervenes
at once, to bring them fully to the light, or entirely to suppress
them. These synchronous overtones of every thought cannot, therefore,
blur the tonic note. The emergent thought-phantoms can acquire no
influence over the thought-procedure because attention either lightens
up their faces, or banishes them back to their under-world of the
Unconscious. It is otherwise with the degenerate and debilitated,
who suffer from weakness of will and defective attention. The faint,
scarcely recognisable, liminal presentations are perceived at the same
time as those that are well lit and centrally focussed. The judgment
grows drifting and nebulous like floating fog in the morning wind.
Consciousness, aware of the spectrally transparent shapes, seeks in
vain to grasp them, and interprets them without confidence, as when
one fancies in a cloud resemblances to creatures or things. Whoever
has sought on a dark night to discern phenomena on a distant horizon
can form an idea of the picture which the world of thought presents to
the mind of an asthenic. Lo there! a dark mass! What is it? A tree?
A hayrick? A robber? A beast of prey? Ought one to fly? Ought one
to attack it? The incapacity to recognise the object, more guessed
at than perceived, fills him with uneasiness and anxiety. This is
just the condition of the mind of an asthenic in the presence of his
liminal presentations. He believes he sees in them a hundred things
at once, and he brings all the forms that he seems to discern into
connection with the principal presentation which has aroused them. He
has, however, a strong feeling that this connection is incomprehensible
and inexplicable. He combines presentations into a thought which
is in contradiction to all experience, but which he must look upon
as equal in validity to all his remaining thoughts and opinions,
because it originated in the same way. And even if he wishes to make
clear to himself what is really the content of his judgment, and of
what particular presentations it is composed, he observes that these
presentations are, as a matter of fact, nothing but unrecognisable
adumbrations of presentations, to which he vainly seeks to give a
name. Now, this state of mind, in which a man is straining to see,
thinks he sees, but does not see--in which a man is forced to construct
thoughts out of presentations which befool and mock consciousness
like will-o’-the-wisps or marsh vapours--in which a man fancies that
he perceives inexplicable relations between distinct phenomena and
ambiguous formless shadows--this is the condition of mind that is
called Mysticism.

From the shadowy thinking of the mystic, springs his washed-out style
of expression. Every word, even the most abstract, connotes a concrete
presentation or a concept, which, inasmuch as it is formed out of the
common attributes of different concrete presentations, betrays its
concrete origin. Language has no word for that which one believes he
sees as through a mist, without recognisable form. The mystic, however,
is conscious of ghostly presentations of this sort without shape or
other qualities, and in order to express them he must either use
recognised words, to which he gives a meaning wholly different from
that which is generally current, or else, feeling the inadequacy of the
fund of language created by those of sound mind, he forges for himself
special words which, to a stranger, are generally incomprehensible,
and the cloudy, chaotic sense of which is intelligible only to
himself; or, finally, he embodies the several meanings which he gives
to his shapeless representations in as many words, and then succeeds
in achieving those bewildering juxtapositions of what is mutually
exclusive, those expressions which can in no way be rationally made
to harmonize, but which are so typical of the mystic. He speaks, as
did the German mystics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
of the ‘cold fire’ of hell, and of the ‘dark light’ of Satan; or,
he says, like the degenerate in the twenty-eighth pathological case
of Legrain,[79] ‘that God appeared to him in the form of luminous
shadows;’ or he remarks, as did another of Legrain’s patients:[80] ‘You
have given me an immutable evening’ (_soirée immutable_).[81]

The healthy reader or listener who has confidence in his own judgment,
and tests with lucidity and self-dependence, naturally discerns at
once that these mystical expressions are senseless, and do but reflect
the mystic’s confused manner of thinking. The majority of mankind,
however, have neither self-confidence nor the faculty of judging,
and cannot throw off the natural inclination to connect some meaning
with every word. And since the words of the mystic have no definite
meaning in themselves, or in their juxtaposition, a certain meaning
is arbitrarily imputed to them, is mysteriously conjured into them.
The effect of the mystical method of expression on people who allow
themselves to be bewildered is for this reason a very strong one. It
gives them food for thought, as they call it; that is to say, it allows
them to give way to all kinds of dream-fancies, which is very much
easier, and therefore more agreeable, than the toil of reflecting on
firmly outlined presentations and thoughts admitting of no evasions
and extravagances.[82] It transports their minds to the same condition
of mental activity determined by unbridled association of ideas that
is peculiar to the mystic; it awakens in them also his ambiguous,
unutterable presentations, and makes them divine the strangest and
most impossible relations of things to each other. All the weak-headed
appear therefore ‘deep’ to the mystic, and this designation has, from
the constant use made of it by them, become almost an insult. Only
very strong minds are really deep, such as can keep the processes of
thought under the discipline of an extraordinarily powerful attention.
Such minds are in a position to exploit the association of ideas in the
best possible way, to impart the greatest sharpness and clearness to
all representations which through them are called into consciousness;
to suppress them firmly and rapidly if they are not compatible with
the rest; to procure new sense-impressions, if these are necessary in
order to make the presentations and judgments predominant at the time
in their minds still more vivid and distinct; they gain in this way an
incomparably clear picture of the world, and discover true relations
among phenomena which, to a weaker attention, must always remain
hidden. This true depth of strong select minds is wholly luminous. It
scares shadows out of hidden corners, and fills abysses with radiant
light. The mystic’s pseudo-depth, on the contrary, is all obscurity.
It causes things to appear deep by the same means as darkness, viz.,
by reason of its rendering their outlines imperceptible. The mystic
obliterates the firm outlines of phenomena; he spreads a veil over
them, and conceals them in blue vapour. He troubles what is clear, and
makes the transparent opaque, as does the cuttle-fish the waters of the
ocean. He, therefore, who sees the world through the eyes of a mystic,
gazes into a black heaving mass, in which he can always find what he
desires, although, and just because, he actually perceives nothing at
all. To the weak-headed everything which is clearly, firmly defined,
and which, therefore, has strictly but one meaning, is flat. To them
everything is profound which has no meaning, and which, therefore,
allows them to apply what meaning they please. To them mathematical
analysis is flat; theology and metaphysics, deep. The study of Roman
law is flat; the dream-book and the prophecies of Nostradamus are deep.
The forms assumed by pouring molten lead on New Year’s Eve are the true
symbols of their depth.

The content of mystic thought is determined by the individual character
and level of culture possessed by each degenerate and hysteric. For
we should never forget that the morbidly-affected or exhausted brain
is only the soil which receives the seed sown by nurture, education,
impressions and experience of life, etc. The seed-grains do not
originate in the soil; they only receive in and through it their
special irregularities of development, their deformities, and crazy
offshoots. The naturalist who loses the faculty of attention becomes
the so-called ‘Natural Philosopher,’ or the discoverer of a fourth
dimension in space, like the unfortunate Zöllner. A rough, ignorant
person from the low ranks of the people falls into the wildest
superstition. The mystic, nurtured in religion and nourished with
dogma, refers his shadowy impressions to his beliefs, and interprets
them as revelations of the nature of the Trinity, or of the condition
of existence before birth or after death. The technologist who has
fallen into mysticism worries over impossible inventions, believes
himself to be on the track of the solution of the problem of a
_perpetuum mobile_, devises communication between earth and stars,
shafts to the glowing core of the earth, and what not. The astronomer
becomes an astrologist, the chemist an alchemist and a seeker after the
philosopher’s stone; the mathematician labours to square the circle, or
to invent a system in which the notion of progress is expressed by a
process of integration, the war of 1870 by an equation, and so on.

As was set forth above, the cerebral cortex receives its stimuli,
not only from the external nerves, but also from the interior of the
organism, from the nerves of separate organs, and the nerve-centres of
the spinal cord and the sympathetic system. Every excitement in these
centres affects the brain-cells, and arouses in them more or less
distinct presentations, which are necessarily related to the activity
of the centres from which the stimulus proceeds. A few examples will
make this clear, even to the uninitiated. If the organism feels the
need of nourishment, and we are hungry, we shall not only be generally
conscious of an indeterminate desire for food, but there will also
arise in our minds definite representations of dishes, of served
repasts, and of all the accessories of eating. If we, from some cause,
maybe an affection of the heart or lungs, cannot breathe freely, we
have not only a hunger for air, but also accompanying ideas of an
uneasy nature, presentiments of unknown dangers, melancholy memories,
etc., _i.e._, representations of circumstances which tend to deprive
us of breath or affect us oppressively. During sleep also organic
stimuli exert this influence on the cerebral cortex, and to them we owe
the so-called somatic dreams (_Leibesträume_), _i.e._, dream-images
about the functioning of any organs which happen not to be in a normal

Now, it is known that certain organic nerve-centres, the sexual
centres, namely, in the spinal cord and the medulla oblongata, are
frequently malformed, or morbidly irritated among the degenerate.
The stimuli proceeding from them therefore awaken, in the brain of
patients of this sort, presentations which are more or less remotely
connected with the sexual activity. In the consciousness, therefore,
of such a subject there always exist, among the other presentations
which are aroused by the varying stimuli of the external world,
presentations of a sexual character, erotic thoughts being associated
with every impression of beings and things. In this way he attains to
a state of mind in which he divines mysterious relations among all
possible objective phenomena, _e.g._, a railway-train, the title of his
newspaper, a piano on the one hand, and woman on the other; and feels
emotions of an erotic nature at sights, words, odours, which would
produce no such impression on the mind of a sound person, emotions
which he refers to unknown qualities in those sights, words, etc. Hence
it comes that in most cases mysticism distinctly takes on a decidedly
erotic colouring, and the mystic, if he interprets his inchoate liminal
presentations, always tends to ascribe to them an erotic import. The
mixture of super-sensuousness and sensuality, of religious and amorous
rapture, which characterizes mystic thought, has been noticed even by
those observers who do not understand in what way it is brought about.

The mysticism which I have hitherto investigated is the incapacity,
due to weakness of will, either innate or acquired, to guide the work
of the association of ideas by attention, to draw shadowy liminal
representations into the bright focal circle of consciousness, and to
suppress presentations which are incompatible with those attended to.
There exists, however, another form of mysticism, the cause of which
is not defective attention, but an anomaly in the sensitivity of the
brain and nervous system. In the healthy organism the afferent nerves
convey impressions of the external world in their full freshness to the
brain, and the stimulation of the brain-cell is in direct ratio to the
intensity of the stimulus conducted to it. Not so is the deportment of
a degenerate or exhausted organism. Here the brain may have forfeited
its normal irritability; it is blunted, and is only feebly excited
by stimuli conveyed to it. Such a brain, as a rule, never succeeds
in elaborating sharply-defined impressions. Its thoughts are always
shadowy and confounded. There is, however, no occasion for me to depict
in detail the characteristics of its mental procedure, for in the
higher species of the degenerate a blunted brain is hardly ever met
with, and plays no part in art or literature. To the possessor of a
sluggishly-reacting brain it hardly ever occurs to compose or paint.
He is of account only as forming the creative mystic’s partial and
grateful public. Inadequate excitability may moreover be a property
of the sensory nerves. This irregularity leads to anomalies in mental
life, with which I shall deal exhaustively in the next book. Finally,
instead of slow reaction there may exist excessive excitability, and
this may be peculiar to the whole nervous system and brain, or only to
a portion of the latter. A generally excessive excitability produces
those morbidly-sensitive natures in whom the most insignificant
phenomena create the most astonishing perceptions; who hear the
‘sobbing of the evening glow,’ shudder at the contact of a flower;
distinguish thrilling prophecies and fearful threatenings in the
sighing of the wind, etc.[83] Excessive irritability of particular
groups of cells of the cerebral cortex gives rise to other phenomena.
In the affected part of the brain, stimulated either externally or
by adjacent stimuli, in other words, by sense impressions or by
association, the disturbance does not in this case proceed in a natural
ratio to the strength of the exciting cause, but is stronger and more
lasting than is warranted by the stimulus. The aroused group of cells
returns to a state of rest either with difficulty or not at all. It
attracts large quantities of nutriment for purposes of absorption,
withdrawing them from the other parts of the brain. It works like a
machine which an unskilful hand has set in motion but cannot stop.
If the normal action of the brain-cells may be compared to quiet
combustion, the action of a morbidly-irritable group of cells may be
said to resemble an explosion, and one, too, which is both violent and
persistent. With the stimulus there flames forth in consciousness a
presentation, or train of presentations, conceptions and reasonings,
which suffuse the mind as with the glare of a conflagration, outshining
all other ideas.

The degree of exclusiveness and insistence in the predominance of any
presentation is in proportion to the degree of morbid irritability in
the particular tract of brain by which it is elaborated. Where the
degree is not excessive there arise obsessions which the consciousness
recognises as morbid. They do not preclude the coexistence of healthy
functioning of the brain, and consciousness acquires the habit of
treating these co-existent obsessions as foreign to itself, and of
banishing them from its presentations and judgments. In aggravated
cases these obsessions grow into fixed ideas. The immoderately
excitable portions of the brain work out their ideas with such
liveliness that consciousness is filled with them, and can no longer
distinguish them from such as are the result of sense-impressions, the
nature and strength of which they accurately reflect. Then we reach
the stage of hallucinations and delirium. Finally, in the last stage,
comes ecstasy, which Ribot calls ‘the acute form of the effort after
unity of consciousness.’ In ecstasy the excited part of the brain
works with such violence that it suppresses the functioning of all
the rest of the brain. The ecstatic subject is completely insensible
to external stimuli. There is no perception, no representation, no
grouping of presentations into concepts, and of concepts into judgments
and reasoning. A single presentation, or group of presentations, fills
up consciousness. These presentations are of extreme distinctness and
clearness. Consciousness is, as it were, flooded with the blinding
light of mid-day. There therefore takes place exactly the reverse
of what has been noticed in the case of the ordinary mystic. The
ecstatic state is associated with extremely intense emotions, in
which the highest bliss is mixed with pain. These emotions accompany
every strong and excessive functioning of the nerve-cells, every
extraordinary and violent decomposition of nerve-nutriment. The
feeling of voluptuousness is an example of the phenomena accompanying
extraordinary decompositions in a nerve-cell. In healthy persons the
sexual nerve-centres are the only ones which, conformably with their
functions, are so differentiated and so adapted that they exercise no
uniform or lasting activity, but, for by far the greatest part of the
time, are perfectly tranquil, storing up large quantities of nutriment
in order, during very short periods, to decompose this suddenly and,
as it were, explosively. Every nerve-centre which operates in this
way would procure us voluptuous emotion; but precisely among healthy
persons there are, except the sexual nerve-centres, none which are
compelled to act in this manner, in order to serve the purpose of the
organism. Among the degenerate, on the contrary, particular morbidly
excited brain-centres operate in this way, and the emotions of delight
which accompany their explosive activity are more powerful than sexual
feelings, in proportion as the brain-centres are more sensitive than
the subordinate and more sluggish spinal centres. One may completely
believe the assurances of great ecstatics, such as a St. Theresa,
a Mohammed, an Ignatius Loyola, that the bliss accompanying their
ecstatic visions is unlike anything earthly, and almost more than a
mortal can bear. This latter statement proves that they were conscious
of the sharp pain which accompanies nerve-action in overexcited
brain-cells, and which, on careful analysis, may be distinguished in
every very strong feeling of pleasure. The circumstance that the only
normal organic sensation known to us which resembles that of ecstasy
is the sexual feeling, explains the fact that ecstatics connect their
ecstatic presentations by way of association with the idea of love,
and describe the ecstasy itself as a kind of supernatural act of
love, as a union of an ineffably high and pure sort with God or the
Blessed Virgin. This drawing near to God and the saints is the natural
result of a religious training, which begets the habit of looking
on everything inexplicable as supernatural, and of bringing it into
connection with the doctrines of faith.

We have now seen that mysticism depends upon the incapacity to control
the association of ideas by the attention, and that this incapacity
results from weakness of will; while ecstasy is a consequence of
the morbid irritability of special brain-centres. The incapacity
of being attentive occasions, however, besides mysticism, other
eccentricities of the intellect, which may here be briefly mentioned.
In extreme stages of degeneration, _e.g._, in idiocy, attention is
utterly wanting. No stimulus is able to arouse it, nor is there any
external means of making an impression on the brain of the idiot, and
awakening his consciousness to definite presentations. In less complete
degeneration, _i.e._, in cases of mental debility, attention may
exist, but it is extremely weak and fleeting. Imbeciles (weak minds)
present, in graduated intensity, the phenomenon of fugitive thought
(_Gedankenflucht_), _i.e._, the incapacity to retain, or to unite in a
concept or judgment, the representations automatically and reciprocally
called into consciousness in conformity with the laws of association,
and also that of reverie, which is another form of fugitive thought,
but which differs from it in that the particular representations of
which it is composed are feebly elaborated, and are therefore shadowy
and undefined, sometimes so much so that an imbecile, who in the
midst of his reveries is asked of what he is thinking, is not able
to state exactly what happens to be present in his consciousness.
All observers maintain that the ‘higher degenerate’ is frequently
‘original, brilliant, witty,’ and that whereas he is incapable of
activity which demands attention and self-control, he has strong
artistic inclinations. All these peculiarities are to be explained by
the uncontrolled working of association.

The reader should recall the procedure of that brain which is incapable
of attention. A perception arouses a representation which summons
into consciousness a thousand other associated representations. The
healthy mind suppresses the representations which are contradictory
to, or not rationally connected with, the first perception. This the
weak-minded cannot do. The mere similarity of sound determines the
current of his thought. He hears a word, and feels compelled to repeat
it, once or oftener, sometimes to the extent of ‘Echolalia’; or it
calls into his consciousness other words similar to it in sound, but
not connected with it in meaning,[84] whereupon he thinks and talks in
a series of completely disconnected rhymes; or else the words have,
besides their similarity of sound, a very remote and weak connection
of meaning; this gives rise to punning. Ignorant persons are inclined
to call the rhyming and punning of imbeciles witty, not bearing in
mind that this way of combining ideas according to the sound of the
words frustrates the purposes of the intellect by obscuring the
apprehension of the real connections of phenomena. No witticism has
ever made easier the discovery of any truth. And whoever has tried to
hold a serious conversation with a quibbling person of weak mind will
have recognised the impossibility of keeping him in check, of getting
from him a logical conclusion, or of making him comprehend a fact or
a causal connection. When presentations are connected, not merely
according to auditory impressions of simple similarity of sound, but
also according to the other laws of association, those juxtapositions
of words are effected which the ignorant designate as ‘original modes
of expression,’ and which confer upon their originator the reputation
of a ‘brilliant’ conversationalist or author. Sollier[85] cites
some characteristic examples of the ‘original’ modes of expression
of imbeciles. One said to his comrade, ‘You look like a piece of
barley-sugar put out to nurse.’ Another expresses the thought that
his friend made him laugh so much he could not restrain his saliva,
by saying, ‘Tu me fais baver des ronds de chapeaux.’ The junction
of words which by their sense have little or no relation to each
other is, as a rule, an evidence of imbecility, although it often
enough is sensational and mirth-provoking. The cleverness which in
Paris is called _blague_, or _boulevard-esprit_, the psychologist
discerns as imbecility. That this condition goes hand-in-hand with
artistic tendencies is easy to understand. All callings which require
knowledge of fact, and adaptation to it, presuppose attention. This
capacity is wanting in imbeciles; hence they are not fitted for
serious professions. Certain artistic occupations, especially those
of a subordinate kind, are, on the contrary, quite compatible with
uncontrolled association of ideas, reverie, or fugitive thought,
because they exact only a very limited adaptation to fact, and
therefore have great attractions for persons of weak intellect.

Between the process of thought and movement there exists an
exact parallelism explicable by the fact that the elaboration of
presentations is nothing else than a modification of the elaboration
of the motor impulses. The phenomena of movement make the mechanism
of thought more easily apprehensible to the lay mind. The automatic
association of muscular contractions corresponds to the association of
ideas, their co-ordination to attention. As with defective attention
there ensues no intelligent thought, so with faulty co-ordination there
can be no appropriate movement. Palsy is equivalent to idiocy, St.
Vitus’s dance to obsessions and fixed ideas. The attempts at witticisms
of the weak-minded are like beating the air with a sword; the notions
and judgments of sound brains are like the careful thrust and parry of
skilful fencing. Mysticism finds its reflected image in the aimless
and powerless, often hardly discernible, movements of senile and
paralytic trembling; and ecstasy is, for a brain-centre, the same state
as a prolonged and violent tonic contraction for a muscle or group of



MYSTICISM is the habitual condition of the human race, and in no way
an eccentric disposition of mind. A strong brain which works out every
presentation to its full clearness--a powerful will, which sustains
the toiling attention--these are rare gifts. Musing and dreaming, the
free ranging of imagination, disporting itself at its own sweet will
along the meandering pathways of association, demand less exertion, and
will therefore be widely preferred to the hard labour of observation
and intelligent judgment. Hence the consciousness of men is filled
with a vast mass of ambiguous, shadowy ideas; they see, as a rule, in
unmistakable clearness only those phenomena which are daily repeated in
their most intimate personal experience, and, among these, those only
which are the objects of their immediate needs.

Speech, that great auxiliary in the interchange of human thought,
is no unmixed benefit. It brings to the consciousness of most men
incomparably more obscurity than brightness. It enriches their memory
with auditory images, not with well-defined pictures of reality. A
word, whether written or spoken, excites a sense (sight or hearing),
and sets up an activity in the brain. True; it always arouses
presentation. A series of musical tones does the same. At an unknown
word, at ‘Abracadabra,’ at a proper name, at a tune scraped on the
fiddle, we also think of something, but it is either indefinite, or
nonsensical, or arbitrary. It is absolute waste of labour to attempt to
give a man new ideas, or to widen the circle of his positive knowledge,
by means of a word. It can never do more than awaken such ideas as he
already possesses. Ultimately everyone works only with the material for
presentation which he has acquired by attentive personal observation of
the phenomena of the universe. Nevertheless, he cannot do without the
stimulus conveyed to him by speech. The desire for knowledge, without
any hiatus, of all that is in the world, is irresistible; while the
opportunities of perception at first hand, even in the most favourable
circumstances, are limited. What we have not ourselves experienced
we let others, the dead and the living, tell us. The word must take
the place of the direct impressions of sense for us. And then it is
itself an impression of sense, and our consciousness is accustomed
to put this impression on a level with others, to estimate the idea
aroused by this word equally with those ideas which have been acquired
through the simultaneous co-operation of all the senses, through
observations, and handling on every side, through moving and lifting,
listening to, and smelling the object itself. This parity of values
is an error of thought. It is false in any case if a word do more
than call into consciousness a memory-image of a presentation, which
it has acquired through personal experience, or a concept composed of
such presentations. Nevertheless, we all of us commit this fallacy.
We forget that language was only developed by the race as a means of
communication between individuals, that it is a social function, but
not a source of knowledge. Words are in reality much more a source
of error. For a man can only actually know what he has directly
experienced and attentively observed, not what he has merely heard or
read, and what he repeats; and if he would free himself from the errors
which words have led him into, he has no other means than the increase
of his sterling representative material, through personal experience
and attentive observation. And since man is never in a position to do
this save within certain limits, everyone is condemned to carry on the
operations of his consciousness with direct presentations, and at the
same time with words. The intellectual structure which is built up with
materials of such unequal solidity reminds one of those dilapidated
Gothic churches which brainless masons used to patch up with a plaster
of soot and cheese, giving it, by means of a wash, the appearance of
stone. To the eye the frontage is irreproachable, but many parts of the
building could not for one moment resist a vigorous blow of criticism.

Many erroneous explanations of natural phenomena, the majority of false
scientific hypotheses, all religious and metaphysical systems, have
arisen in such a way that mankind, in their thoughts and opinions,
have interwoven, as equally valid components, ideas suggested by words
only, together with such as were derived from direct perception. The
words were either invented by mystics and originally indicated nothing
beyond the unbalanced condition of a weak and diseased brain, or,
whereas they at first expressed a definite, correct presentation, their
proper meaning was not caught by those who repeated them, and by them
was arbitrarily falsified, differently interpreted, or blurred. Innate
or acquired weakness of mind and ignorance lead alike to the goal of
mysticism. The brain of the ignorant elaborates presentations that are
nebulous, because they are suggested by words, not by the thing itself,
and the stimulus of a word is not strong enough to produce vigorous
action in the brain-cells; moreover, the brain of the exhausted and
degenerate elaborates nebulous presentations, because in any case it
is not in a condition to respond to a stimulus by vigorous action.
Hence ignorance is artificial weakness of mind, just as, conversely,
weakness of mind is the natural organic incapacity for knowledge.

In one part or another of his mental field of vision each of us
therefore is a mystic. From all the phenomena which he himself has not
observed, everyone forms shadowy, unstable presentations. Nevertheless,
it is easy to distinguish healthy men from those who deserve the
designation of mystic. There is a sure sign for each. The healthy man
is in a condition to obtain sharply-defined presentations from his
own immediate perceptions, and to comprehend their real connection.
The mystic, on the contrary, mixes his ambiguous, cloudy, half-formed
liminal representations with his immediate perceptions, which are
thereby disturbed and obscured. Even the most superstitious peasant
has definite presentations of his field work, of the feeding of his
cattle, and of looking after his landmark. He may believe in the
weather-witch, because he does not know how the rain comes to pass,
but he does not wait a moment for the angels to plough for him. He may
have his field blessed, because the real conditions of the thriving
or perishing of his seed are beyond his ken, but he will never so
put his trust in supernatural favour as to omit sowing his grain.
All the genuine mystic’s presentations, on the contrary, even those
of daily experience, are permeated and overgrown with that which is
incomprehensible, because it is without form. His want of attention
makes him incapable of apprehending the real connecting links between
the simplest and most obviously related phenomena, and leads him to
deduce them from one or another of the hazy, intangible presentations
wavering and wandering in his consciousness.

There is no human phenomenon in the art and poetry of the century
with whom this characteristic of the mystic so completely agrees as
with the originators and supporters of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in
England. It may be taken for granted that the history of this movement
is known--at least, in its outlines--and that it will suffice here
to recall briefly its principal features. The three painters, Dante
Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt, and Millais, in the year 1848, entered
into a league which was called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. After
the association was formed, the painters F. G. Stephens and James
Collinson, and the sculptor Thomas Woolner, joined it. In the spring
of 1849 they exhibited in London a number of pictures and statues, all
of which, in addition to the signature of the artist, bore the common
mark P.R.B. The result was crushing. Hitherto no hysterical fanatic
had tyrannically forced on the public a belief in the beauty of these
works, nor was it as yet under the domination of the fashion, invented
by æsthetic snobs, of considering their admiration as a mark of
distinction, and of membership of a narrow and exclusive circle of the
aristocrats of taste. Hence it confronted them without prepossession,
and found them incomprehensible and funny. The contemplation of them
roused inextinguishable laughter among the good-humoured, and wrath
among the morose, who are nettled when they think themselves made fools
of. The brotherhood did not renew their attempt; the P.R.B. exhibition
was never repeated; the league broke up of itself. Its members no
longer added the shibboleth of initials after their names. They formed
no longer a closed association, involving formal admission, but only
a loosely-knit circle, consisting of friends having tastes in common,
and who were perpetually modifying its character by their joining and
retiring. In this way it was joined by Burne Jones and Madox Brown, who
also passed for Pre-Raphaelites, although they had not belonged to the
original P.R.B. Later on the designation was extended from painters to
poets, and among the Pre-Raphaelites, in addition to D. G. Rossetti
(who soon exchanged the brush for the pen), were Algernon Charles
Swinburne and William Morris.

What are the governing thoughts and aims of the Pre-Raphaelite
movement? An Anglo-German critic of repute, F. Hüffer,[86] thinks
that he answers this question when he says: ‘I myself should call
this movement the renaissance of mediæval feeling.’ Apart from the
fact that these words signify nothing, since every man may interpret
‘mediæval feeling’ as he pleases, the reference to the Middle Ages
only emphasizes the most external accompanying circumstance of
Pre-Raphaelitism, leaving its essence entirely untouched.

It is true that the Pre-Raphaelites with both brush and pen betray a
certain, though by no means exclusive, predilection for the Middle
Ages; but the mediævalism of their poems and paintings is not
historical, but mythical, and simply denotes something outside time
and space--a time of dreams and a place of dreams, where all unreal
figures and actions may be conveniently bestowed. That they decorate
their unearthly world with some features which may remotely recall
mediævalism; that it is peopled with queens and knights, noble damozels
with coronets on their golden hair, and pages with plumed caps--these
may be accounted for by the prototypes which, perhaps unconsciously,
hover before the eyes of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Movements in art and literature do not spring up suddenly and
spontaneously. They have progenitors from whom they descend in the
natural course of generation. Pre-Raphaelitism is the grandson of
German, and a son of French, Romanticism. But in its wanderings
through the world Romanticism has suffered such alteration through
the influence of the changing opinions of the times, and the special
characteristics of various nations, that the English offspring bears
scarcely any family resemblance to its German ancestor.

German romanticism was in its origin a reaction against the spirit
of the French encyclopædists, who had held undisputed sway over the
eighteenth century. Their criticism of ancient errors, their new
systems which were to solve the riddles of the world and of the nature
of man, had at first dazzled and nearly intoxicated mankind. They could
not, however, satisfy in the long-run, for they committed a great
fault in two respects. Their knowledge of facts was insufficient to
enable them to explain the collective phenomenon of the universe, and
they looked upon man as an intellectual being. Proud of their strictly
logical and mathematical reasoning, they overlooked the fact that
this is a method of knowledge, but not knowledge itself. The logical
apparatus is a machine, which can manufacture only the material shot
into it. If the machine is not fed, it runs on empty and makes a noise,
but produces nothing. The condition of science in the eighteenth
century did not allow the encyclopædists to make advantageous use of
their logical machine. They did not take cognizance of this fact,
however, and, with their limited material and much unconscious
temerity, constructed a system which they complacently announced
as a faithful representation of the system of the universe. It was
soon discovered that the encyclopædists, for all their intellectual
arrogance, were deluding both themselves and their followers. There
were known facts which contradicted their hasty explanations, and there
was a whole range of phenomena of which their system took no account,
and failed to cover as if with too short a cloak, and which peeped out
mockingly at all the seams. Hence the philosophy of the encyclopædists
was kicked and abused, and the same faults were committed with
respect to it which it had perpetrated; the methods of intelligent
criticism were mistaken for the results obtained by them. Because
the encyclopædists, from lack of knowledge and of natural facts,
explained nature falsely and arbitrarily, those who were disappointed
and thirsting for knowledge cried out, that intelligent criticism as
such was a false method, that consistent reasoning led to nothing,
that the conclusions of the ‘Philosophy of Enlightenment’ were just as
unproven and unprovable as those of religion and metaphysics, only less
beautiful, colder, and narrower; and mankind threw itself with fervour
into all the depths of faith and superstition, where certainly the Tree
of Knowledge did not grow, but where beautiful mirages charmed the
eye, and the warm fragrant springs of all the emotions bubbled up.

And more fatal than the error of their philosophy was the false
psychology of the encyclopædists. They believed that the thoughts and
actions of men are determined by reason and the laws of consistency,
and had no inkling that the really impelling force in thought and deed
are the emotions, those disturbances elaborated in the depths of the
internal organs, and the sources of which elude consciousness, but
which suddenly burst into it like a horde of savages, not declaring
whence they come, submitting to no police regulations of a civilized
mind, and imperiously demanding lodgment. All that wide region of
organic needs and hereditary impulses, all that E. von Hartmann calls
the ‘Unconscious,’ lay hidden from the rationalists, who saw nothing
but the narrow circle of the psychic life which is illumined by the
little lamp of consciousness. Fiction which should depict mankind
according to the views of this inadequate psychology would be absurdly
untrue. It had no place for passions and follies. It saw in the world
only logical formulæ on two legs, with powdered heads and embroidered
coats of fashionable cut. The emotional nature took its revenge on this
æsthetic aberration, breaking out in ‘storm and stress,’ and in turn
attaching value only to the unconscious, the inherited impulse, and the
organic appetites, while it neglected entirely reason and will, which
are there none the less.

Mysticism, which rebelled against the application of the rationalistic
methods to explain the universe, and the _Sturm und Drang_, which
rebelled against their application to the psychical life of mankind,
were the first-fruits of romanticism, which is nothing but the union
and exaggeration of these two revolutionary movements. That it took
up with fondness the form of mediævalism was due to circumstances and
the sentiment of the age. The beginnings of romanticism coincide with
the time of the deepest humiliation of Germany, and the suffering of
young men of talent at the ignominy of foreign rule gave to the whole
content of their thought a patriotic colouring. During the Middle
Ages Germany had passed through a period of the greatest power and
intellectual florescence; those centuries which were irradiated at one
and the same time by the might of the world-empire of the Hohenstaufen,
by the splendour of the poems of the Court Minnesingers, and by the
vastness of the Gothic cathedrals, must naturally have attracted those
spirits who, filled with disgust, broke out against the intellectual
jejuneness and political abasement of the times. They fled from
Napoleon to Frederick Barbarossa, and drew refreshment with Walter von
der Vogelweide from their abhorrence of Voltaire. The foreign imitators
of the German romanticists do not know that if in their flight from
reality they come to a halt in mediævalism, they have German patriotism
as their pioneer.

The patriotic side of romanticism was, moreover, emphasized only by
the sanest talents of this tendency. In others it stands revealed most
signally as a form of the phenomenon of degeneration. The brothers
Schlegel, in their _Athenæum_, give this programme of romanticism:
‘The beginning of all poetry is to suspend the course and the laws
of rationally thinking reason, and to transport us again into the
lovely vagaries of fancy and the primitive chaos of human nature....
The freewill of the poet submits to no law.’ This is the exact mode
of thought and expression of the weak-minded, of the imbecile, whose
brain is incapable of following the phenomena of the universe with
discernment and comprehension, and who, with the self-complacency which
characterizes the weak-minded, proclaims his infirmity as an advantage,
and declares that his muddled thought, the product of uncontrolled
association, is alone exact and commendable, boasting of that for which
the sane-minded are pitying him. Besides the unregulated association
of ideas there appears in most romanticists its natural concomitant,
mysticism. That which enchanted them in the idea of the Middle Ages
was not the vastness and might of the German Empire, not the fulness
and beauty of the German life of that period, but Catholicism with its
belief in miracles and its worship of saints. ‘Our Divine Service,’
writes H. von Kleist, ‘is nothing of the kind. It appeals only to cold
reason. A Catholic feast appeals profoundly to all the senses.’ The
obscure symbolism of Catholicism, all the externals of its priestly
motions, all its altar service so full of mystery, all the magnificence
of its vestments, sacerdotal vessels and works of art, the overwhelming
effect of the thunder of the organ, the fumes of incense, the flashing
monstrance--all these undoubtedly stir more confused and ambiguous
adumbrations of ideas than does austere Protestantism. The conversion
of Friedrich Schlegel, Adam Müller, Zacharias Werner, Count Stolberg,
to Catholicism is just as consistent a result as, to the reader who
has followed the arguments on the psychology of mysticism, it is
intelligible that, with these romanticists, the ebullitions of piety
are accompanied by a sensuousness which often amounts to lasciviousness.

Romanticism penetrated into France a generation later than into
Germany. The delay is easy of historical explanation. In the storms
of the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the leading minds of
the French people had no time to think of themselves. They had no
leisure for testing the philosophy of their encyclopædists, to find
it inadequate, reject it, and rise up against it. They devoted their
whole energy to rough, big, muscular deeds of war, and the need for
the emotional exercise afforded by art and poetry, asserted itself
but feebly, being completely satisfied by the far stronger emotions of
self-love and despair produced by their famous battles and cataclysmic
overthrows. Æsthetic tendencies only reasserted their rights during
the half-dormant period following the battle of Waterloo, and then the
same causes led to the same results as in Germany. The younger spirits
in this case also raised the flag of revolt against the dominating
æsthetic and philosophic tendencies. They wished Imagination to grapple
with Reason, and place its foot on its neck, and they proclaimed the
martial law of passion against the sober procedure of discipline and
morality. Through Madame de Staël and A. W. Schlegel, partly by the
latter’s personal intercourse with Frenchmen, and partly by his works,
which were soon translated into French, they were in some measure
made acquainted with the German movement. They joined it perhaps half
unconsciously. Of the many impulses which were active among the German
romanticists, patriotism and Catholic mysticism had no influence on
the French mind, which only lent itself to the predilection for what
was remote in time and space, and what was free from moral and mental

French romanticism was neither mediæval nor pious. It took up its abode
rather in the Renaissance period as regards remoteness in time, and in
the East or the realms of faerie, if it wished to be spacially remote
from reality. In Victor Hugo’s works the one drama of _Les Burgraves_
takes place in the thirteenth century; but in all the others,
_Cromwell_, _Maria Tudor_, _Lucrezia Borgia_, _Angelo_, _Ruy Blas_,
_Hernani_, _Marion Delorme_, _Le Roi s’amuse_, the scenes were laid in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and his one mediæval romance,
_Notre Dame de Paris_, can be set over against all the rest, from _Han
d’Islande_, which has for its scene of action a fancied Thule, to _Les
Miserables_ and _1793_, which take place in an apocalyptic Paris and
in a history of the Revolution suited to the use of hashish-smokers.
The bent of French romanticism towards the Renaissance is natural. That
was the period of great passions and great crimes, of marble palaces,
of dresses glittering with gold, and of intoxicating revels; a period
in which the æsthetic prevailed over the useful, and the fantastic
over the rational, and when crime itself was beautiful, because
assassination was accomplished with a chased and damascened poniard,
and the poison was handed in goblets wrought by Benvenuto Cellini.

The French romanticists made use of the unreality of their scene
of action and costumes chiefly for the purpose of enabling them,
without restraint, to attribute to their characters all the qualities,
exaggerated even to monstrosity, that were dear to the French, not
yet ailing with the pain of overthrow. Thus in the heroes of Victor
Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, we become
acquainted with the French ideal of man and woman. The subtle inquiries
of Faust, the soliloquies of Hamlet, are not their affair. They talk
unceasingly in dazzling witticisms and antitheses; they fight one
against ten; they love like Hercules in the Thespidian night, and
their whole life is one riot of fighting, wantoning, wine, perfume,
and pageantry--a sort of magnificent illusion, with performance of
gladiators, Don Juans, and Monte Christos; a crazy prodigality of
inexhaustible treasures of bodily strength, gaiety and gold. These
ideal beings had necessarily to wear doublets or Spanish mantles,
and speak in the tongues of unknown times, because the tightness of
the contemporary dress-coat could not accommodate all this wealth of
muscle, and the conversation of the Paris salon did not admit of the
candour of souls which their authors had turned inside out.

The fate of romanticism in England was exactly the reverse of that
which befell it in France. Whereas the French had imitated chiefly, and
even exclusively, in the German romanticists, their divergence from
reality, and their declaration of the sovereign rights of the passions,
the English just as exclusively elaborated their Catholic and mystical
elements. For them the Middle Ages had a powerful attraction, inasmuch
as it was the period of childlike faith in the letter, and of the
revelling of simple piety in personal intercourse with the Trinity, the
Blessed Virgin, and all the guardian saints.

Trade, industry, and civilization were nowhere in the world so much
developed as in England. Nowhere did men work so assiduously, nowhere
did they live under such artificial conditions as there. Hence the
state of degeneration and exhaustion, which we observe to-day in all
civilized countries as the result of this over-exertion, must of
necessity have shown itself sooner in England than elsewhere, and, as a
matter of fact, did show itself in the third and fourth decade of the
century with continually increasing violence. In consequence, however,
of the peculiarity of the English mind, the emotional factor in
degeneration and exhaustion necessarily assumed with them a religious

The Anglo-Saxon race is by nature healthy and strong-minded. It has
therefore, in a high degree, that strong desire for knowledge which
is peculiar to normally-constituted persons. In every age it has
inquired into the why and how of phenomena, and shown passionate
sympathy with, and gratitude to, everyone who held out hopes of an
explanation of them. The well-known and deeply thoughtful discourse
of the Anglican noble concerning what precedes and follows man’s
life--a speech which Bede has preserved for us in his account of the
conversion of Edwin to Christianity--has been cited by all authors
(_e.g._, by G. Freytag and H. Taine[87]) who have studied the origins
of the English mental constitution. It shows that as early as the
beginning of the seventh century the Anglo-Saxons were consumed
by an ardent desire to comprehend the phenomenon of the universe.
This fine and high-minded craving for knowledge has proved at once
the strength and the weakness of the English. It led with them to
the development along parallel lines of the natural sciences and
theology. The scientific investigators contributed a store of facts
won through toilsome observation; the experts in divinity obtained
theirs through systems compounded of notions arbitrarily conceived.
Both claimed to explain the nature of things, and the people were
deeply grateful to both, more so, it is true, to the theologians than
to the scholars, because the former could afford to be more copious
and confident in their teaching than the latter. The natural tendency
to reckon words as equivalent to facts, assertions to demonstrations,
always gives theologians and metaphysicians an immense advantage over
observers. The craving of the English for knowledge has produced both
the philosophy of induction and spiritualism. Humanity owes to them
on the one hand Francis Bacon, Harvey, Newton, Locke, Darwin, J.
S. Mill; on the other, Bunyan, Berkeley, Milton, the Puritans, the
Quakers, and all the religious enthusiasts, visionaries, and mediums
of this century. No people has done so much for, and conferred such
honour on, scientific investigators; no people has sought with so much
earnestness and devotion for instruction, especially in matters of
faith, as have the English. Eagerness to know is, therefore, the main
source of English religiousness. There is this also to be noticed, that
among them the ruling classes never gave an example of indifference
in matters of faith, but systematically made religiousness a mark of
social distinction; unlike France, where the nobility of the eighteenth
century exalted Voltairianism into a symptom of good breeding. The
evolution of history led in England to two results which apparently
exclude each other--to caste-rule, and the liberty of the individual.
The caste which is in possession of wealth and power naturally wishes
to protect its possessions. The rigid independence of the English
people precludes it from applying physical force. Hence it uses moral
restraints to keep the lower ranks submissive and amenable, and, among
these, religion is by far the most effective.

Herein lies the explanation both of the devoutness of the English and
of the religious character of their mental degeneration. The first
result of the epidemic of degeneration and hysteria was the Oxford
Movement in the thirties and forties. Wiseman turned all the weaker
heads. Newman went over to Catholicism. Pusey clothed the entire
Established Church in Romish garb. Spiritualism soon followed, and
it is worthy of remark that all mediums adopted theological modes of
speech, and that their disclosures were concerned with heaven and
hell. The ‘revival meetings’ of the seventies, and the Salvation Army
of to-day, are the direct sequel of the Oxford stream of thought, but
rendered turbid and foul in accordance with the lower intellectual
grade of their adherents. In the world of art, however, the religious
enthusiasm of degenerate and hysterical Englishmen sought its
expression in pre-Raphaelitism.

An accurate definition of the connotation of this word is an
impossibility, in that it was invented by mystics, and is as vague and
equivocal as are all new word-creations of the feeble and deranged
in mind. The first members of the Brotherhood believed that, in the
artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in the predecessors
of the great geniuses of the Umbrian and Venetian schools, they
had discovered minds congenial to their own. For a short time they
took the methods of these painters for their models, and created
the designation ‘pre-Raphaelite.’ The term was bound to approve
itself to them, since the prefix ‘pre’ (‘præ’) arouses ideas of the
primeval, the far-away, the hardly perceptible, the mysteriously
shadowy. ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ calls up, through association of ideas,
‘pre-Adamite,’[88] ‘prehistoric,’ etc.--in short, all that is opened
to view by immeasurable vistas down the dusk of the unknown, and which
allow the mind to wander dreamily beyond the limits of time and in the
realms of myth. But that the pre-Raphaelites should have lit on the
quattrocento painters for the embodiment of their artistic ideals is
due to John Ruskin.

Ruskin is one of the most turbid and fallacious minds, and one of the
most powerful masters of style, of the present century. To the service
of the most wildly eccentric thoughts he brings the acerbity of a
bigot and the deep sentiment of Morel’s ‘emotionalists.’ His mental
temperament is that of the first Spanish Grand Inquisitors. He is a
Torquemada of æsthetics. He would liefest burn alive the critic who
disagrees with him, or the dull Philistine who passes by works of art
without a feeling of devout awe. Since, however, stakes do not stand
within his reach, he can at least rave and rage in word, and annihilate
the heretic figuratively by abuse and cursing. To his ungovernable
irascibility he unites great knowledge of all the minutiæ in the
history of art. If he writes of the shapes of clouds he reproduces the
clouds in seventy or eighty existing pictures, scattered amongst all
the collections of Europe. And be it noted that he did this in the
forties, when photographs of the masterpieces of art, which render
the comparative study of them to-day so convenient, were yet unknown.
This heaping up of fact, this toilsome erudition, made him conqueror
of the English intellect, and explains the powerful influence which he
obtained over artistic sentiment and the theoretic views concerning
the beautiful of the Anglo-Saxon world. The clear positivism of the
Englishman demands exact data, measures, and figures. Supplied with
these he is content, and does not criticise starting-points. The
Englishman accepts a fit of delirium if it appears with footnotes,
and is conquered by an absurdity if it is accompanied by diagrams.
Milton’s description of hell and its inhabitants is as detailed and
conscientious as that of a land-surveyor or a natural philosopher,
and Bunyan depicts the _Pilgrim’s Progress_ to the mystical kingdom
of Redemption in the method of the most graphic writer of travels--a
Captain Cook or a Burton. Ruskin has in the highest conceivable degree
this English peculiarity of exactness applied to the nonsensical, and
of its measuring and counting applied to fevered visions.

In the year 1843, almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the great
Catholicizing movement, Ruskin began to publish the feverish studies
on art which were subsequently collected under the title of _Modern
Painters_. He was then a young divinity student, and as such he entered
upon the study of works of art. The old scholasticism wished to make
philosophy the ‘handmaid of godly learning.’ Ruskin’s mysticism had
the same purpose with regard to art. Painting and sculpture ought to
be a form of divine worship, or they ought not to exist at all. Works
of art were valuable merely for the supersensuous thoughts that they
conveyed, for the devotion with which they were conceived and which
they revealed, not for the mastery of form.

From this point of view he was able to arrive at judgments among
which I here quote a few of the most typical. ‘It appears to me,’ he
says,[89] ‘that a rude symbol is oftener more efficient than a refined
one in touching the heart, and that as pictures rise in rank as works
of art they are regarded with less devotion and more curiosity.... It
is man and his fancies, man and his trickeries, man and his inventions,
poor, paltry, weak, self-sighted man, which the connoisseur for ever
seeks and worships. Among potsherds and dunghills, among drunken
boors and withered beldames, through every scene of debauchery and
degradation, we follow the erring artist, not to receive one wholesome
lesson, not to be touched with pity, nor moved with indignation, but
to watch the dexterity of the pencil, and gloat over the glittering of
the hue.... Painting is nothing but a noble and expressive language,
invaluable as the vehicle of thought, but by itself nothing.... It is
not by the mode of representing and saying, but by what is represented
and said, that the respective greatness either of the painter or the
writer is to be finally determined.... The early efforts of Cimabue
and Giotto are the burning messages of prophecy, delivered by the
stammering lips of infants.... The picture which has the nobler and
more numerous ideas, however awkwardly expressed, is a greater and a
better picture than that which has the less noble and less numerous
ideas, however beautifully expressed.... The less sufficient the means
appear to the end the greater will be the sensation of power.’ These
propositions were decisive in determining the direction taken by
the young Englishmen of 1843, who united artistic inclinations with
the mysticism of the degenerate and hysterical. They comprise the
æstheticism of the first pre-Raphaelites, who felt that Ruskin had
expressed with clearness what was vaguely fermenting within them. Here
was the art-ideal which they had presaged--form as indifferent, idea
as everything; the clumsier the representation, the deeper its effect;
the devotion of faith as the only worthy import of a work of art. They
reviewed the history of art for phenomena agreeing with the theories
of Ruskin, which they had taken up with enthusiasm, and they found
what they sought in the archaic Italian school, in which the London
National Gallery is extraordinarily rich. There they had perfect models
to imitate; they were bound to take for their starting-point these Fra
Angelicos, Giottos, Cimabues, these Ghirlandajos and Pollajuolos. Here
were paintings bad in drawing, faded or smoked, their colouring either
originally feeble or impaired by the action of centuries; pictures
executed with the awkwardness of a learner representing events in the
Passion of Christ, in the life of the Blessed Virgin, or in the Golden
Legend, symbolizing childish ideas of hell and paradise, and telling of
earnest faith and fervent devotion. They were easy of imitation, since,
in painting pictures in the style of the early masters, faulty drawing,
deficient sense of colour, and general artistic incapacity, are so many
advantages. And they constituted a sufficiently forcible antithesis
to all the claims of the artistic taste of that decade to satisfy
the proclivity for contradiction, paradox, negation and eccentricity
which we have learned to recognise as a special characteristic of the

Ruskin’s theory is in itself delirious. It mistakes the fundamental
principles of æsthetics, and, with the unconsciousness of a saucy child
at play, muddles and entangles the boundary lines of the different
arts. It holds of account in plastic art only the conception. A
picture is valuable only in so far as it is a symbol giving expression
to a religious idea. Ruskin does not take into consideration, or
deliberately overlooks the fact, that the pleasurable feelings which
are produced by the contemplation of a picture are not aroused by
its intellectual import, but by it as a sensuous phenomenon. The art
of painting awakens through its media of colour and drawing (_i.e._,
the exact grasp and reproduction of differences in the intensity of
light), firstly, a purely sensuously agreeable impression of beautiful
single colours and happily combined harmonies of colour; secondly, it
produces an illusion of reality and, together with this, the higher,
more intellectual pleasures arising from a recognition of the phenomena
depicted, and from a comprehension of the artist’s intention; thirdly,
it shows these phenomena as seen with the eye of the artist, and brings
out details or collective traits, which until then the inartistic
beholder had not been by himself able to perceive. The painter
therefore influences, through the medium of his art, only so far as he
agreeably excites the sense of colour, gives to the mind an illusion of
reality, together with the consciousness that it is an illusion, and,
through his deeper, more penetrating vision, discloses to the spectator
the hidden treasures of the phenomenal world. If, in addition to the
presentation of the picture, ‘its story’ also affects the beholder,
it is no longer the merit of the painter as such, but of his not
exclusively pictorial intelligence in making choice of a subject, and
in committing its portrayal to his specific pictorial abilities. The
effect of the story is not called forth through the media of painting;
it is not based on the pleasure of the spectator in colour, on the
illusion of reality, or on a better grasp of the phenomenon, but on
some pre-existing inclination, some memory, some prejudice. A purely
painter’s picture, such as Leonardo’s _Mona Lisa_, charms everyone
whose eye has been sufficiently trained. A picture which tells a story,
but is not distinguished for its purely pictorial qualities, leaves
everyone unappreciative to whom the story in itself is uninteresting,
_i.e._, to whom it would in any case have been uninteresting, had it
not been executed by the instrumentality of pictorial art, but simply
narrated. A Russian eikon affects a moujik, and leaves the Western art
connoisseur cold. A painting which represents a French victory over
Russian troops would excite and please a French Philistine, even if
it were painted in the style of an Épinal. It is true, no doubt, that
there is a sort of painting which does not seek to seize and awaken
visual impressions in the spectator, together with the emotions which
they directly arouse, but to express ideas, and in which the picture is
intended to affect the mind, not by itself and its own consummate art,
but by its spiritual significance. But this kind of painting has a
special name: we call it writing. The signs, which are meant to have no
pictorial, but only symbolic value, where we turn away from the form in
order to dwell upon their meaning, we call ‘letters,’ and the art which
makes use of such symbols for the expression of mental processes is not
painting, but poetry. Originally, pictures were actually, no doubt,
a means of symbolizing thoughts, and their value as things of beauty
was considered of secondary importance in relation to their value as
means of expression. On the other hand, æsthetic impressions still play
in these days a subdued accompaniment to our writing, and a beautiful
handwriting, quite apart from its import, affects us more agreeably
than one that is ugly. At the very beginning of their evolution,
however, the kind of painting which satisfied only æsthetic needs
separated itself from that of writing, which serves to render ideas
perceptible to the senses. Descriptive drawing became the hieroglyph,
the demotic writing, the letter; and it was reserved for Ruskin to be
the first to try to annul a distinction which the scribes of Thebes had
learnt to make six thousand years before him.

The pre-Raphaelites, who got all their leading principles from Ruskin,
went further. They misunderstood his misunderstandings. He had simply
said that defectiveness in form can be counter-balanced by devotion and
noble feeling in the artist. They, however, raised it to the position
of a fundamental principle, that in order to express devotion and noble
feeling, the artist must be defective in form. Incapable, like all the
weak-minded, of observing any process and of giving a clear account
of it to themselves, they did not distinguish the real causes of the
influence exercised over them by the old masters. The pictures touched
and moved them; the most striking distinction between such pictures and
others, to which they were indifferent, was their awkward stiffness;
they did not look further, however, than this awkward stiffness for the
source of what touched and moved them, and imitated with great care and
conscientiousness the bad drawing of the old masters.

Now, the clumsiness of the old masters is certainly touching; but
why? Because these Cimabues and Giottos were sincere. They wished to
get closer to nature, and to free themselves from the thraldom of the
Byzantine school, which had become entirely unreal. They struggled with
vehement endeavour against the bad habits of hand and eye which they
had acquired from the teachers of their guilds, and the spectacle of
such a conflict, like every violent effort of an individuality which
sets itself to rend fetters of any sort and save its own soul from
bondage, is the most attractive thing possible to observe. The whole
difference between the old masters and the pre-Raphaelites is, that
the former had first to find out how to draw and paint correctly, while
the latter wished to forget it. Hence, where the former fascinate, the
latter must repel. It is the contrast between the first babbling of a
thriving infant and the stammering of a mentally enfeebled gray-beard;
between childlike and childish. But this retrogression to first
beginnings, this affectation of simplicity, this child’s play in word
and gesture, is a frequent phenomenon amongst the weak-minded, and we
shall often meet with it among the mystic poets.

According to the doctrine of their master in theory, Ruskin, the
decline of art for pre-Raphaelites begins with Raphael--and for
obvious reasons. To copy Cimabue and Giotto is comparatively easy.
In order to imitate Raphael it is necessary to be able to draw and
paint to perfection, and this was just what the first members of the
Brotherhood could not do. Moreover, Raphael lived in the most glorious
period of the Renaissance. The rosy dawn of the New Thought shone in
his being and his work. With the liberal-mindedness of an enlightened
Cinquecentist, he no longer painted only religious subjects, but
mythological and historical, or, as the mystics say, profane, subjects
as well. His paintings appealed not only to the devotion of faith, but
also to the sense of beauty. They are no longer exclusively divine
worship; consequently, as Ruskin says, and his disciples repeat,
they are devil-worship, and therefore to be rejected. Finally, it is
consistent with the tendency to contradiction, and to the repudiation
of what is manifest, which governs the thoughts of the weak-minded,
that they should declare as false those tenets in the history of art
which others than themselves deemed the most incontestable. The whole
world for three hundred years had said, ‘Raphael is the zenith of
painting.’ To this they replied, ‘Raphael is the nadir of painting.’
Hence it came about that, in the designation which they appropriated,
they took up a direct allusion to Raphael, and to no other master or
other portion of the history of art.

Consistency of sequence and unity are not to be expected from mystical
thought. It proceeds after its kind in perpetual self-contradiction. In
one place Ruskin says:[90] ‘The cause of the evil lies in the painter’s
taking upon him to modify God’s works at his pleasure, casting the
shadow of himself on all he sees. Every alteration of the features of
nature has its origin either in powerless indolence or blind audacity.’
Thus the painter should reproduce the phenomenon exactly as he sees it,
and not suffer himself to make the smallest alteration in it. And a few
pages further on:[91] ‘There is an ideal form of every herb, flower,
and tree; it is that form to which every individual of the species
has a tendency to attain, freed from the influence of accident or
disease.’ And, he continues, to recognise and to reproduce this ideal
form is the one great task of the painter.

That one of these propositions completely nullifies the other it is
hardly necessary to indicate. The ‘ideal form’ which every phenomenon
strives after does not stand before the bodily eyes of the painter. He
reads it, according to some preconceived notion, into the phenomenon.
He has to deal with individual forms which, through ‘accident or
disease,’ have diverged from the ‘ideal form.’ In order to bring them
back in painting to their ideal form, he must alter the object given
by nature. Ruskin demands that he should do this, but at the same time
says that every alteration is an act of ‘powerless indolence or blind
audacity.’ Naturally, only one of these mutually exclusive statements
can be true. Unquestionably it is the former. The ‘ideal form’ is an
assumption, not a perception. The separation of the essential from the
accidental, in the phenomenon, is an abstraction--the work of reason,
not of the eye or æsthetic emotion. Now, the subject-matter of painting
is the visible, not the conjectural; the real, not the possible or
probable; the concrete, not the abstract. To exclude individual
features from a phenomenon as unessential and accidental, and to retain
others as intrinsic and necessary, is to reduce it to an abstract idea.
The work of art, however, is not to abstract, but to individualize.
Firstly, because abstraction presupposes an idea of the law which
determines the phenomenon, because this idea may be erroneous, because
it changes with the ruling scientific theories of the day, whereas
the painter does not reproduce changing scientific theories, but
impressions of sense. Secondly, because the abstraction rouses the
working of thought, and not emotion, while the task of art is to excite

Nevertheless, the pre-Raphaelites had no eye for these contradictions,
and followed blindly all Ruskin’s injunctions. They typified the human
form, but they rendered all accessories truthfully, and had neither
‘the blind audacity nor powerless indolence’ to change any of them.
They painted with the greatest precision the landscape in which their
figures stood, and the objects with which they were surrounded. The
botanist can determine every kind of grass and flower painted; the
cabinet-maker can recognise the joining and glueing in every footstool,
the kind of wood and varnish in the furniture. Moreover, this
conscientious distinctness is just the same in the foreground as in
the extreme background, where, according to the laws of optics, things
should be scarcely perceptible.

This uniformly clear reproduction of all the phenomena in the field of
vision is the pictorial expression of the incapacity for attention. In
intellection, attention suppresses a portion of that which is presented
to consciousness (through association or perception), and suffers
only a dominant group of the latter to remain. In sight, attention
suppresses a portion of the phenomena in the field of vision in order
distinctly to perceive only that part which the eye can focus. To look
at a thing is to see one object intently, and to disregard others. The
painter must observe if he wishes to make clear to us what phenomenon
has engrossed him, and what his picture is to show us. If he does
not dwell observantly on a definite point in the field of vision,
but represents the whole field of view with the same proportion of
intensity, we cannot divine what he wishes particularly to tell us, and
on what he wishes to direct our attention. Such a style of painting may
be compared to the disconnected speech of a weak mind, who chatters
according to the current of the association of ideas, wanders in his
talk, and neither knows himself what he wishes to arrive at, nor is
able to make it clear to us; it is painted drivelling, echolalia of the

But it is just this manner of painting which has gained for itself an
influence on contemporary art. It is the pre-Raphaelite contribution to
its evolution. The non-mystical painters have also learnt to observe
accessories with precision, and to reproduce them faithfully; but
they have prudently avoided falling into the faults of their models,
and nullifying the unity of their work by filling the most distant
backgrounds with still life, painted with painful accuracy. The lawns,
flowers and trees, which they render with botanical accuracy, the
geologically correct rocks, surfaces of soil, and mountain structures,
the distinct patterns of carpets and wall-papers, which we find in the
new pictures, are traceable to Ruskin and the pre-Raphaelites.

These mystics believed themselves to be mentally affiliated with the
Old Masters, because, like the latter, they painted religious pictures.
But in this they deceive themselves. Cimabue, Giotto and Fra Angelico
were no mystics, or, to put it more precisely, they are to be classed
as mystics because of their ignorance, and not because of organic
weakness of mind. The mediæval painter, who depicted a religious
scene, was convinced that he was painting something perfectly true.
An Annunciation, a Resurrection, an Ascension, an event in the lives
of the saints, a scene of life in paradise or in hell, possessed for
him the same incontestable character of reality as drinking bouts in
a soldier’s tavern, or a banquet in a ducal palace. He was a realist
when he was painting the transcendental. To him the legend of his faith
was related as a fact; he was penetrated with a sense of its literal
truth, and reproduced it exactly as he would have done any other true
story. The spectator approached the picture with the same conviction.
Religious art was the Bible of the poor. It had for the mediæval man
the same importance as the illustrations in the works on the history of
civilization, and on natural science, have in our day. Its duty was to
narrate and to teach, and hence it had to be exact. We know from the
touching stanza of Villon[92] how the illiterate people of the Middle
Ages regarded church pictures. The dissolute poet makes his mother say
to the Virgin Mary:

  ‘A pitiful poor woman, shrunk and old,
  I am, and nothing learn’d in letter-lore;
  Within my parish-cloister I behold
  A painted Heaven where harps and lutes adore,
  And eke an Hell whose damned folk seethe full sore:
  One bringeth fear, the other joy to me.
  That joy, great Goddess, make thou mine to be--
  Thou of whom all must ask it even as I;
  And that which faith desires, that let it see,
  For in this faith I choose to live and die.’

With this sober faith a mystic mode of painting would be quite
incompatible. The painter then avoided all that was obscure or
mysterious; he did not paint nebulous dreams and moods, but positive
records. He had to convince others, and could do so, because he was
convinced himself.

It was quite otherwise with the pre-Raphaelites. They did not paint
sober visions, but emotions. They therefore introduced into their
pictures mysterious allusions and obscure symbols, which have nothing
to do with the reproduction of visible reality. I need cite only one
example--Holman Hunt’s _Shadow of the Cross_. In this picture Christ
is standing in the Oriental attitude of prayer with outstretched arms,
and the shadow of his body, falling on the ground, shows the form of
a cross. Here we have a most instructive pattern of the processes of
mystic thought. Holman Hunt imagines Christ in prayer. Through the
association of ideas there awakes in him simultaneously the mental
image of Christ’s subsequent death on the cross. He wants, by the
instrumentality of painting, to make the association of these ideas
visible. And hence he lets the living Christ throw a shadow which
assumes the form of a cross, thus foretelling the fate of the Saviour,
as if some mysterious, incomprehensible power had so posed his body
with respect to the rays of the sun that a wondrous annunciation of
his destiny must needs write itself on the floor. The invention is
completely absurd. It would have been childish trifling if Christ had
drawn his sublime death of sacrifice, whether in jest or in vanity,
in anticipation, by his shadow on the ground. Neither would the
shadow-picture have had any object, for no contemporary of Christ’s
would have understood the significance of the shadowed cross before
he had suffered death by crucifixion. In Holman Hunt’s consciousness,
however, emotion simultaneously awakened the form of the praying
Christ and of the cross, and he unites both presentations anyhow,
without regard to their reasonable connection. If an Old Master had
had to paint the same idea, namely, the praying Christ filled with
the presentiment of his impending death, he would have shown us in
the picture a realistic Christ in prayer, and in a corner an equally
realistic crucifixion; but he would never have sought to blend both
these different scenes into a single one by a shadowy connection. This
is the difference between the religious painting of the strong healthy
believer and of the emotional degenerate mind.

In the course of time the pre-Raphaelites laid aside many of their
early extravagances. Millais and Holman Hunt no longer practise the
affectation of wilfully bad drawing and of childish babbling in
imitation of Giotto’s language. They have only retained, of the leading
principles of the school, the careful reproduction of the unessential
and the painting of the idea. A benevolent critic, Edward Rod,[93]
says of them: ‘They were themselves writers, and their painting is
literature.’ This speech is still applicable to the school.

A few of the earliest pre-Raphaelites have understood it. They have
recognised in time that they had mistaken their vocation, and have gone
over, from a style of painting which was merely thought-writing, to
genuine writing. The most notable among them is Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
who, though born in England, was the son of an Italian Carbonaro, and
a scholar of Dante. His father gave him the name of the great poet
at his entrance into the world, and this expressive baptismal name
became a constant suggestion, which Rossetti felt, and has, perhaps
half unconsciously, admitted.[94] He is the most instructive example
of the often-quoted assertion of Balzac, of the determining influence
of a name on the development and destiny of its bearer. Rossetti’s
whole poetical feeling was rooted in Dante. His theory of life bears an
indistinct cast of that of the Florentine. Through all his ideas there
runs a reminiscence, faint or strong, of the _Divina Commedia_ or the
_Vita Nuova_.

The analysis of one of his most celebrated poems, _The Blessed
Damozel_, will show this parasitic battening on the body of Dante, and
at the same time disclose some of the most characteristic peculiarities
of the mental working of a mystic’s brain. The first strophe runs thus:

  ‘The blessed damozel leaned out
    From the gold bar of Heaven;
  Her eyes were deeper than the depth
    Of waters stilled at even;
  She had three lilies in her hand,
    And the stars in her hair were seven.’

The whole of this description of a lost love, who looks down upon him
from a heaven imagined as a palace, with paradisiacal decorations, is
a reflection of Dante’s _Paradiso_ (Canto iii.), where the Blessed
Virgin speaks to the poet from the moon. We even find details repeated,
_e.g._, the deep and still waters ( ... ‘_ver per acque nitide e
tranquille Non sì profonde, che i fondi sien persi ..._’). The ‘lilies
in her hand’ he gets from the Old Masters, yet even here there is
a slight ring of the morning greeting from the _Purgatorio_ (Canto
xxx.), ‘_Manibus o date lilia plenis._’ He designates his love by the
Anglo-Norman word ‘damozel.’ By this means he makes any clear outlines
in the idea of a girl or lady artificially blurred, and shrouds the
distinct picture in a veil of clouds. By the word ‘girl’ we should
just think of a girl and nothing else. ‘Damozel’ awakens in the
consciousness of the English reader obscure ideas of slim, noble ladies
in the tapestries of old castles, of haughty Norman knights in mail, of
something remote, ancient, half forgotten; ‘damozel’ carries back the
contemporary beloved into the mysterious depths of the Middle Ages, and
spiritualizes her into the enchanted figure of a ballad. This one word
awakens all the crepuscular moods which the body of romantic poets and
authors have bequeathed as a residuum in the soul of the contemporary
reader. In the hand of the ‘damozel’ Rossetti places three lilies,
round her head he weaves seven stars. These numbers are, of course, not
accidental. From the oldest times they have been reckoned as mysterious
and holy. The ‘three’ and the ‘seven’ are allusions to something
unknown, and of deep meaning, which the intuitive reader may try to

It must not be said that my criticism of the means by which Rossetti
seeks to express his own dreamy states of mind, and to arouse similar
states in the reader, applies equally to all lyrics and poetry
generally, and that I condemn the latter when I adduce the former as
the emanations of the mystic’s weakness of mind. All poetry no doubt
has this peculiarity, that it makes use of words intended not only
to arouse the definite ideas which they connote, but also to awaken
emotions that shall vibrate in consciousness. But the procedure of a
healthy-minded poet is altogether different from that of a weak-minded
mystic. The suggestive word employed by the former has in itself an
intelligible meaning, but besides this it is adapted to excite emotions
in every healthy-minded man; and finally the emotions excited have all
of them reference to the subject of the poem. One example will make
this clear. Uhland sings the _Praise of Spring_ in these words:

  ‘Saatengrün, Veilchenduft,
  Lerchenwirbel, Amselschlag,
  Sonnenregen, linde Luft:
  Wenn ich solche Worte singe,
  Braucht es dann noch grosse Dinge,
  Dich zu preisen, Frühlingstag?’[95]

Each word of the first three lines contains a positive idea. Each
of them awakens glad feelings in a man of natural sentiment. These
feelings, taken together, produce the mood with which the awakening of
spring fills the soul, to induce which was precisely the intention of
the poet. When, on the other hand, Rossetti interweaves the mystical
numbers ‘three’ and ‘seven’ in the description of his ‘damozel,’ these
numbers signify nothing in themselves; moreover, they will call up
no emotion at all in an intellectually healthy reader, who does not
believe in mystical numbers; but even in the case of the degenerate and
hysterical reader, on whom the cabbala makes impression, the emotions
excited by the sacred numbers will not involve a reference to the
subject of the poem, viz., the apparition of one loved and lost, but at
best will call up a general emotional consciousness, which may perhaps
tell in a remote way to the advantage of the ‘damozel.’

But to continue the analysis of the poem. To the maiden in bliss it
appears that she has been a singer in God’s choir for only one day;
to him who is left behind this one day has been actually a matter of
ten years. ‘To one it is ten years of years.’ This computation is
thoroughly mystical. It means, that is, absolutely nothing. Perhaps
Rossetti imagined that there may exist a higher unity to which the
single year may stand as one day does to a year; that therefore 365
years would constitute a sort of higher order of year. The words ‘year
of years’ therefore signified 365 years. But as Rossetti portrays
this thought vaguely and imperfectly, he is far from expressing it as
intelligibly as this.

  ‘It was the rampart of God’s house
    That she was standing on;
  By God built over the sheer depth
    The which is space begun;
  So high that, looking downward, thence
    She scarce could see the sun.

  ‘It lies in heaven, across the flood
    Of ether, as a bridge.
  Beneath, the tides of day and night
    With flame and darkness ridge
  The void, as low as where this earth
    Spins like a fretful midge.

  ‘Heard hardly, some of her new friends,
    Amid their loving games,
  Spake evermore among themselves
    Their virginal chaste names,
  And the souls mounting up to God
    Went by her like thin flames.

  ‘From the fixed place of Heaven she saw
    Time like a pulse shake fierce
  Through all the worlds....’

I leave it to the reader to imagine all the details of this description
and unite them into one complete picture. If he fail in this in spite
of honest exertion, let him comfort himself by saying that the fault is
not his, but Rossetti’s.

The damozel begins to speak. She wishes that her beloved were already
with her. For come he will.

  ‘“When round his head the aureole clings,
  And he is clothed in white,
  I’ll take his hand and go with him
  To the deep wells of light.
  We will step down as to a stream.
  And bathe there in God’s sight.”’

It is to be observed how, in the midst of the turgid stream of these
transcendental senseless modes of speech, the idea of bathing together
takes a definite shape. Mystical reverie never fails to be accompanied
by sensuality.

  ‘“We two,” she said, “will seek the groves
  Where the Lady Mary is,
  With her five handmaidens, whose names
  Are five sweet symphonies--
  Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
  Margaret, and Rosalys.”’

The enumeration of these five feminine names, occupying two lines of
the stanza, is a method of versification characteristic of the mystic.
Here the word ceases to be the symbol of a distinct presentation or
concept, and sinks into a meaningless vocal sound, intended only to
awaken divers agreeable emotions through association of ideas. In this
case the five names arouse gliding shadowy ideas of beautiful young
maidens, ‘Rosalys’ those of roses and lilies as well; and the two
verses together diffuse a glamour of faerie, as if one were roaming at
ease in a garden of flowers, where between lilies and roses slender
white and rosy maidens pace to and fro.

The maiden in paradise goes on picturing to herself the union with her
beloved, and then:

            ‘she cast her arms along
    The golden barriers,
  And laid her face between her hands
    And wept--I heard her tears.’

These tears are incomprehensible. The blessed maiden after her death
lives in the highest bliss, in a golden palace, in the presence of God
and the Blessed Virgin. What pains her now? That her beloved is not yet
with her? Ten years of mortal men are to her as a single day. Even if
it be her beloved’s destiny to live to be a very old man, she will at
most have to wait only five or six of her days until he appears at her
side, and after this tiny span of time there blossoms for them both an
eternity of joy. It is not, therefore, obvious why she is distressed
and sheds tears. This can only be attributed to the bewildered thoughts
of the mystic poet. He imagines to himself a life of happiness after
death, but at the same time there dawn in his consciousness dim
pictures of the annihilation of individuality, and of final separation
through death, and those painful feelings are excited which we are
accustomed to associate with ideas of death, decay, and separation
from all we love. Hence it is that he comes to close an ecstatic hymn
of immortality with tears, which have a meaning only if one does not
believe in the continuation of life after death. In other respects
also there are contradictions in the poem which show that Rossetti had
not formed any one of his ideas so clearly as to exclude the opposite
and incompatible. Thus, at one time the dead are dressed in white, and
adorned with a galaxy of stars; they appear in pairs and call each
other by caressing names; they must also be thought of as resembling
human beings in appearance, while on another occasion their souls are
‘thin flames’ which rustle past the damozel. Every single idea in the
poem, when we try soberly to follow it out, infallibly takes refuge
after this manner in darkness and intangibility.

In the ‘Divine Comedy,’ echoes of which are ever humming in Rossetti’s
soul, we find nothing of this kind. This was because Dante, like the
Old Masters, was a mystic from ignorance, not from the weak-mindedness
of degeneration. The raw material of his thought, the store of facts
with which he worked, was false, but the use his mind made of it was
true and consistent. All his ideas were clear, homogeneous, and free
from internal contradictions. His hell, his purgatory, his paradise,
he built up on the science of his times, which based its knowledge of
the world exclusively on dogmatic theology. Dante was familiar with the
system of his contemporary, Thomas Aquinas (he was nine years old when
the Doctor Angelicus died), and permeated by it. To the first readers
of the _Inferno_ the poem must have appeared at least as well founded
on fact and as convincing as, let us say, Häckel’s _Natural History of
Creation_ does to the public of to-day. In coming centuries our ideas
of an atom as merely a centre of force, of the disposition of atoms in
the molecule of an organic combination, of ether and its vibrations,
will perhaps be discerned to be just as much poetical dreams as the
ideas of the Middle Ages concerning the abode of the souls of the dead
appear to us. But that is no reason why anyone should claim the right
to designate Helmholtz or William Thompson as mystics, because they
base their work upon those notions which even to their minds do not
to-day represent anything definite. For the same reason no one ought to
call Dante a mystic like a Rossetti. Rossetti’s _Blessed Damozel_ is
not based upon the scientific knowledge of his time, but upon a mist of
undeveloped germs of ideas in constant mutual strife. Dante followed
the realities of the world with the keenly penetrating eyes of an
observer, and bore with him its image down to his hell. Rossetti is not
in a condition to understand, or even to see the real, because he is
incapable of the necessary attention; and since he feels this weakness
he persuades himself, in conformity with human habit, that he does not
wish to do what in reality he cannot do. ‘What is it to me,’ he once
said,[96] ‘whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun around
the earth?’ To him it is of no importance, because he is incapable of
understanding it.

It is, of course, impossible to go so deeply into all Rossetti’s poems
as into the _Blessed Damozel_; but it is also unnecessary, since we
should everywhere meet with the same mixture of transcendentalism and
sensuality, the same shadowy ideation, the same senseless combinations
of mutually incompatible ideas. Reference, however, must be made to
some of the peculiarities of the poet, because they characterize the
brain-work of weak degenerate minds.

The first thing that strikes us is his predilection for refrains. The
refrain is an excellent artistic medium for the purpose of unveiling
the state of a soul under the influence of a strong emotion. It is
natural that, to the lover yearning for his beloved, the recurring idea
of her should be ever thrusting itself among all the other thoughts in
which he temporarily indulges. It is equally comprehensible that the
unhappy being who is made miserable by thoughts of suicide should be
unable to free himself from an idea which is in harmony with his mental
condition, say of an _Armensünderblum_, or ‘flower of the doomed soul,’
which he sees when walking at night. (See Heine’s poem, _Am Kreuzweg
wird begraben_, in which the line _die Armensünderblum_ is repeated at
the end of both strophes with peculiarly thrilling effect.)

Rossetti’s refrains, however, are different from this, which is
natural and intelligible. They have nothing to do with the emotion or
action expressed by the poem. They are alien to the circle of ideas
belonging to the poem. In a word, they possess the character of an
obsession, which the patient cannot suppress, although he recognises
that they are in no rational connection with the intellectual content
of his consciousness. In the poem _Troy Town_ it is related how Helen,
long before Paris had carried her off, kneels in the temple of Venus
at Sparta, and, drunken with the luxuriant beauty of her own body,
fervently implores the Goddess of Love to send her a man panting for
love, where or whoever he might be, to whom she might give herself.
The absurdity of this fundamental idea it is sufficient to indicate in
passing. The first strophe runs thus:

  ‘Heaven-born Helen, Sparta’s Queen
              (O Troy town!),
  Had two breasts of heavenly sheen,
  The sun and the moon of the heart’s desire.
  All Love’s lordship lay between.
              (O Troy’s down,
            Tall Troy’s on fire!)

  ‘Helen knelt at Venus’ shrine
              (O Troy town!)
  Saying, “A little gift is mine,
  A little gift for a heart’s desire.
  Hear me speak and make me a sign!
              (O Troy’s down,
            Tall Troy’s on fire!)”’[97]

And thus through fourteen strophes there constantly recurs, after the
first line, ‘O Troy town!’ at the end of the third line, ‘heart’s
desire’; and after the fourth line, ‘O Troy’s down, tall Troy’s on
fire!’ It is easy to discern what Rossetti wishes. In him there is
repeated the mental process which we recognised in Holman Hunt’s
picture, _The Shadow of the Cross_. As by association of ideas, in
thinking of Helen at Sparta, he hits upon the idea of the subsequent
fate of Troy, so shall the reader, while he sees the young queen in
Sparta intoxicated by her own beauty, be simultaneously presented with
the picture of the yet distant tragical consequences of her longing
desire. But he does not seek to connect these two trains of thought
in a rational way. He is ever muttering as he goes, monotonously as
in a litany, the mysterious invocations to Troy, while he is relating
the visit to the temple of Venus at Sparta. Sollier[98] remarks this
peculiarity among persons of feeble intellect. ‘Idiots,’ he says,
‘insert words which have absolutely no connection with the object.’ And
further on: ‘Among idiots constant repetition [_le rabâchage_] grows
into a veritable _tic_.’

In another very famous poem, _Eden Bower_,[99] which treats of the
pre-Adamite woman Lilith, her lover the serpent of Eden, and her
revenge on Adam, the litany refrain of ‘Eden Bower’s in flower,’ and
‘And O the Bower and the hour,’ are introduced alternately after the
first line in forty-nine strophes. As a matter of course, between these
absolutely senseless phrases and the strophe which each interrupts,
there is not the remotest connection. They are strung together without
any reference to their meaning, but only because they rhyme. It is a
startling example of echolalia.

We frequently find this peculiarity of the weak and deranged mind,
_i.e._, echolalia, in Rossetti. Here are a few proofs:

  ‘So wet she comes to wed’ (_Stratton Water_).

Here the sound ‘wed’ has called up the sound ‘wet.’ In the poem _My
Sisters Sleep_, in one place where the moon is spoken of, it is said:

  ‘The hollow halo it was in
  Was like an icy crystal cup.’

It is stark nonsense to qualify a plane surface such as a halo by the
adjective ‘hollow.’ The adjective and noun mutually exclude each other,
but the rhyming assonance has joined ‘hollow’ to ‘halo.’ With this we
may also compare the line:

  ‘Yet both were ours, but hours will come and go’
  (_A New Year’s Burden_),


  ‘Forgot it not, nay, but got it not’ (_Beauty_).

Many of Rossetti’s poems consist of the stringing together of wholly
disconnected words, and to mystic readers these absurdities seem
naturally to have the deepest meaning. I should like to cite but one
example. The second strophe of the _Song of the Bower_ says:

  ‘... My heart, when it flies to thy bower,
  What does it find there that knows it again?
  There it must droop like a shower-beaten flower,
  Red at the rent core and dark with the rain.
  Ah! yet what shelter is still shed above it--
  What waters still image its leaves torn apart?
  Thy soul is the shade that clings round it to love it,
  And tears are its mirror deep down in thy heart.’[100]

The peculiarity of such series of words is, that each single word has
an emotional meaning of its own (such as ‘heart,’ ‘bower,’ ‘flies,’
‘droop,’ ‘flower,’ ‘rent,’ ‘dark,’ ‘lone,’ ‘tears,’ etc.), and that
they follow each other with a cradled rhythm and ear-soothing rhyme.
Hence they easily arouse in the emotional and inattentive reader a
general emotion, as does a succession of musical tones in a minor key.
And the reader fancies that he understands the strophe, while he, as a
matter of fact, only interprets his own emotion according to his own
level of culture, his character, and his recollections of what he has

Besides Dante Gabriel Rossetti, it has been customary to include
Swinburne and Morris among the pre-Raphaelite poets. But the similarity
between these two and the head of the school is remote. Swinburne is,
in Magnan’s phrase, a ‘higher degenerate,’ while Rossetti should be
counted among Sollier’s imbeciles. Swinburne is not so emotional as
Rossetti, but he stands on a much higher mental plane. His thought
is false and frequently delirious, but he has thoughts, and they are
clear and connected. He is mystical, but his mysticism partakes more
of the depraved and the criminal than of the paradisiacal and divine.
He is the first representative of ‘Diabolism’ in English poetry. This
is because he has been influenced, not only by Rossetti, but also and
especially by Baudelaire. Like all ‘degenerates,’ he is extraordinarily
susceptible to suggestion, and, consciously or unconsciously, he has
imitated, one after another, all the strongly-marked poetic geniuses
that have come under his notice. He was an echo of Rossetti and
Baudelaire, as he was of Gautier and Victor Hugo, and in his poems it
is possible to trace the course of his reading step by step.

Completely Rossettian, for example, is _A Christmas Carol_.[101]

  ‘Three damsels in the queen’s chamber,
  The queen’s mouth was most fair;
  She spake a word of God’s mother,
  As the combs went in her hair.
  “Mary that is of might,
  Bring us to thy Son’s sight.”’

Here we find a mystical content united to the antiquarianism and
childish phraseology of genuine pre-Raphaelitism. _The Masque of
Queen Bersabe_ is worked out on the same model, being an imitation
of the mediæval miracle-play, with its Latin stage directions and
puppet-theatre style. This, in its turn, has become the model of many
French poems, in which there is only a babbling and stammering and a
crawling on all fours, as if in a nursery.

Where he walks in Baudelaire’s footsteps, Swinburne tries to distort
his face to a diabolical mien, and makes the woman say (in _Anactoria_)
to the other unnaturally loved woman:

  ‘I would my love could kill thee. I am satiated
  With seeing thee live, and fain would have thee dead.
  I would earth had thy body as fruit to eat,
  And no mouth but some serpent’s found thee sweet.
  I would find grievous ways to have thee slain,
  Intense device, and superflux of pain;
                            ... O! that I
  Durst crush thee out of life with love, and die--
  Die of thy pain and my delight, and be
  Mixed with thy blood and molten unto thee.’

Or, when he curses and reviles, as in _Before Dawn_:

  ‘To say of shame--what is it?
  Of virtue--we can miss it,
  Of sin--we can but kiss it,
  And it’s no longer sin.’

One poem deserves a more detailed analysis, because it contains
unmistakably the germ of the later ‘symbolism,’ and is an instructive
example of this form of mysticism. The poem is _The King’s Daughter_.
It is a sort of ballad, which in fourteen four-lined stanzas relates
a fairy story about the ten daughters of a king, of whom one was
preferred before the remaining nine, was beautifully dressed, pampered
with the most costly food, slept in a soft bed, and received the
attentions of a handsome prince, while her sisters remained neglected;
but instead of finding happiness at the prince’s side, she became
deeply wretched and wished she were dead. In the first and third
lines of every stanza the story is rehearsed. The second line speaks
of a mythical mill-stream, which comes into the ballad one knows not
how, and which always, by some mysterious influence, symbolically
reflects all the changes that take place as the action of the ballad
progresses; while the fourth line contains a litany-like exclamation,
which likewise makes a running reference to the particular stage
reached in the narrative.

  ‘We were ten maidens in the green corn,
    Small red leaves in the mill-water:
  Fairer maidens never were born,
    Apples of gold for the King’s daughter.

  ‘We were ten maidens by a well-head,
    Small white birds in the mill-water:
  Sweeter maidens never were wed,
    Rings of red for the King’s daughter.’

In the following stanzas the admirable qualities of each of the ten
princesses are portrayed, and the symbolical intermediate lines run

 ‘Seeds of wheat in the mill-water-- ... White bread and brown for
 the King’s daughter-- ... Fair green weed in the mill-water-- ...
 White wine and red for the King’s daughter-- ... Fair thin reeds in
 the mill-water-- ... Honey in the comb for the King’s daughter-- ...
 Fallen flowers in the mill-water-- ... Golden gloves for the King’s
 daughter-- ... Fallen fruit in the mill-water-- ... Golden sleeves for
 the King’s daughter-- ...’

The King’s son then comes, chooses the one princess and disdains the
other nine. The symbolical lines point out the contrast between the
brilliant fate of the chosen one and the gloomy destiny of the despised

 ‘A little wind in the mill-water; A crown of red for the King’s
 daughter--A little rain in the mill-water; A bed of yellow straw for
 all the rest; A bed of gold for the King’s daughter--Rain that rains
 in the mill-water; A comb of yellow shell for all the rest,--A comb
 of gold for the King’s daughter--Wind and hail in the mill-water;
 A grass girdle for all the rest, A girdle of arms for the King’s
 daughter--Snow that snows in the mill-water; Nine little kisses for
 all the rest, An hundredfold for the King’s daughter.’

The King’s daughter thus appears to be very fortunate, and to be envied
by her nine sisters. But this happiness is only on the surface, for the
poem now suddenly changes:

  ‘Broken boats in the mill-water;
  Golden gifts for all the rest,
  Sorrow of heart for the King’s daughter.

  ‘“Ye’ll make a grave for my fair body,”
  Running rain in the mill-water;
  “And ye’ll streek my brother at the side of me,”
  The pains of hell for the King’s daughter.’

What has brought about this change in her fate the poet purposely
leaves obscure. Perhaps he wishes to have us understand that the King’s
son has no right to sue for her hand, being her brother, and that the
chosen princess for shame at the incest perishes. This would be in
keeping with Swinburne’s childish devilry. But I am not dwelling on
this aspect of the poem, but on its symbolism.

It is psychologically justifiable that a subjective connection should
be set up between our states of mind for the time being and phenomena;
that we should perceive in the external world a reflection of our
moods. If the external world shows a well-marked emotional character,
it awakens in us the mood corresponding to it; and conversely, if
we are under the influence of some pronounced feeling, we notice,
in accordance with the mechanism of attention, only those features
of nature which are in harmony with our mood, which intensify and
sustain it, while the opposing phenomena we neither observe nor even
perceive. A gloomy ravine overhung by a cloudy sky makes us sad. This
is one form of associating our humour with the outer world. But if we
from any cause are already sad, we find some corresponding sadness in
all the scenes around us--in the streets of the metropolis ragged,
starved-looking children, thin, miserably kept cab-horses, a blind
beggar-woman; in the woods withered, mouldering leaves, poisonous
fungi, slimy slugs, etc. If we are joyous, we see just the same
objects, but take no notice of them, perceiving only beside them, in
the street, a wedding procession, a fresh young maiden with a basket of
cherries on her arm, gaily-coloured placards, a funny fat man with his
hat on the back of his head; in the woods, birds flitting by, dancing
butterflies, little white anemones, etc. Here we have the other form
of that association. The poet has a perfect right to make use of both
these forms. If Heine sings:

  ‘Es ragt ins Meer der Runenstein,
  Da sitz ich mit meinen Träumen;
  Es pfeift der Wind, die Möwen schrein,
  Die Wellen, die wandern und schäumen.

  ‘Ich habe geliebt manch schönes Kind
  Und manchen guten Gesellen--
  Wo sind sie hin?--Es pfeift der Wind,
  Es schäumen und wandern die Wellen,’[102]

he brings his own mournful, melancholy frame of mind with him. He
bemoans the fleetingness of man’s life, the impermanence of the
feelings, the shadowy passing by and away of beloved companions. In
this state he looks out over the sea from the shore where he sits,
and perceives only those objects that are in keeping with his humour
and give it embodiment: the driving gust of wind, the hurrying gulls,
now seen, now lost to sight, the rolling in and trackless ebbing of
the surf. These features of an ocean scene become symbols of what
is passing through the poet’s mind, and this symbolism is sound and
founded on the laws of thought.

Swinburne’s symbolism is of quite another kind. He does not let
the external world express a mood, but makes it tell a story; he
changes its appearance according to the character of the event he
is describing. Like an orchestra, it accompanies all events which
somewhere are taking place. Here nature is no longer a white wall
on which, as in a game of shadows, the varied visions of the soul
are thrown; but a living, thinking being, which follows the sinful
love-romance with the same tense sympathy as the poet, and which,
with its own media, expresses just as much as he does--complacency,
delight, or sorrow--at every chapter of the story. This is a purely
delirious idea. It corresponds in art and poetry to hallucination in
mental disease. It is a form of mysticism, which is met with in all
the degenerate. Just as in Swinburne the mill-water drives ‘small red
leaves,’ and, what is certainly more curious, ‘little white birds,’
when everything is going on well, and on the other hand is lashed
by snow and hail, and tosses shattered boats about, if things take
an adverse turn; so, in Zola’s _Assommoir_, the drain from a dyeing
factory carries off fluid of a rosy or golden hue on days of happiness,
but a black or gray-coloured stream if the fates of Gervaise and
Lantier grow dark with tragedy. Ibsen, too, in his _Ghosts_, makes it
rain in torrents if Frau Alving and her son are in sore trouble, while
the sunshine breaks forth just as the catastrophe is about to occur.
Ibsen, moreover, goes farther in this hallucinatory symbolism than the
others, since with him Nature not only plays an active part, but shows
scornful malice--she not only furnishes an expressive accompaniment to
the events, but makes merry over them.

William Morris is intellectually far more healthy than Rossetti and
Swinburne. His deviations from mental equilibrium betray themselves,
not through mysticism, but through a want of individuality, and
an overweening tendency to imitation. His affectation consists in
mediævalism. He calls himself a pupil of Chaucer.[103] He artlessly
copies whole stanzas also from Dante, _e.g._, the well-known Francesca
and Paolo episode from Canto V. of the _Inferno_, when he writes in his

                    ‘In that garden fair
  Came Lancelot walking; this is true, the kiss
  Wherewith we kissed in meeting that spring day,
  I scarce dare talk of the remembered bliss.’

Morris persuades himself that he is a wandering minstrel of the
thirteenth or fourteenth century, and takes much trouble to look at
things in such a way, and express them in such language, as would
have befitted a real contemporary of Chaucer. Beyond this poetical
ventriloquism, so to speak, with which he seeks so to alter the sound
of his voice that it may appear to come from far away to our ear, there
are not many features of degeneracy in him to notice. But he sometimes
falls into outspoken echolalia, _e.g._, in a stanza of the _Earthly

  ‘Of Margaret sitting glorious there,
  In glory of gold and glory of hair,
  And glory of glorious face most fair’--

where ‘glory’ and ‘glorious’ are repeated five times in three lines.
His emotional activity in recent years has made him an adherent
of a vague socialism, consisting chiefly of love and pity for his
fellow-men, and which has an odd effect when expressed artistically in
the language of the old ballads.

The pre-Raphaelites have for twenty years exercised a great influence
on the rising generation of English poets. All the hysterical and
degenerate have sung with Rossetti of ‘damozels’ and of the Virgin
Mary, have with Swinburne eulogized unnatural license, crime, hell,
and the devil. They have, with Morris, mangled language in bardic
strains, and in the manner of the _Canterbury Tales_; and if the whole
of English poetry is not to-day unmitigatedly pre-Raphaelite, it is
due merely to the fortunate accident that, contemporaneously with the
pre-Raphaelites, so sound a poet as Tennyson has lived and worked.
The official honours bestowed on him as Poet Laureate, his unexampled
success among readers, pointed him out to a part at least of the petty
strugglers and aspirants as worthy of imitation, and so it comes about
that among the chorus of the lily-bearing mystics there are also heard
other street-singers who follow the poet of the _Idylls of the King_.

In its further development pre-Raphaelitism in England degenerated
into ‘æstheticism,’ and in France into ‘symbolism.’ With both of these
tendencies we must deal more fully.



A SIMILAR phenomenon to that which we observed in the case of the
pre-Raphaelites is afforded by the French Symbolists. We see a number
of young men assemble for the purpose of founding a school. It assumes
a special title, but in spite of all sorts of incoherent cackle and
subsequent attempts at mystification it has, beyond this name, no
kind of general artistic principle or clear æsthetic ideal. It only
follows the tacit, but definitely recognisable, aim of making a noise
in the world, and by attracting the attention of men through its
extravagances, of attaining celebrity and profit, and the gratification
of all the desires and conceits agitating the envious souls of these
filibusters of fame.

Shortly after 1880 there was, in the Quartier Latin in Paris, a group
of literary aspirants, all about the same age, who used to meet in an
underground café at the Quai St. Michel, and, while drinking beer,
smoking and quibbling late into the night, or early hours of the
morning, abused in a scurrilous manner the well-known and successful
authors of the day, while boasting of their own capacity, as yet
unrevealed to the world.

The greatest talkers among them were Emile Goudeau, a chatterbox
unknown save as the author of a few silly satirical verses; Maurice
Rollinat, the author of _Les Névroses_; and Edmond Haraucourt, who now
stands in the front rank of French mystics. They called themselves the
‘Hydropaths,’ an entirely meaningless word, which evidently arose out
of an indistinct reminiscence of both ‘hydrotherapy’ and ‘neuropath,’
and which was probably intended, in the characteristic vagueness of the
mystic thought of the weak-minded, to express only the general idea
of people whose health is not satisfactory, who are ailing and under
treatment. In any case there is, in the self-chosen name, a suggestion
of shattered nervous vitality vaguely felt and admitted. The group,
moreover, owned a weekly paper _Lutèce_, which ceased after a few

About 1884 the society left their paternal pot-house, and pitched
their tent in the Café François I., Boulevard St. Michel. This _café_
attained a high renown. It was the cradle of Symbolism. It is still the
temple of a few ambitious youths, who hope, by joining the Symbolist
school, to acquire that advancement which they could not expect
from their own abilities. It is, too, the Kaaba to which all foreign
imbeciles make a pilgrimage, those, that is, who have heard of the new
Parisian tendency, and wish to become initiated into its teachings
and mysteries. A few of the Hydropaths did not join in the change
of quarters, and their places were taken by fresh auxiliaries--Jean
Moréas, Laurent Tailhade, Charles Morice, etc. These dropped the old
name, and were known for a short time as the ‘Décadents.’ This had been
applied to them by a critic in derision, but just as the ‘Beggars’ of
the Netherlands proudly and truculently appropriated the appellation
bestowed in contempt and mockery, so the ‘Décadents’ stuck in their
hats the insult, which had been cast in their faces, as a sign of
mutiny against criticism. Soon, however, these original guests of the
François I. became tired of their name, and Moréas invented for them
the designation of ‘Symbolists,’ under which they became generally
known, while a special smaller group, who had separated themselves from
the Symbolists, continued to retain the title of ‘Décadents.’

The Symbolists are a remarkable example of that group-forming tendency
which we have learnt to know as a peculiarity of ‘degenerates.’ They
had in common all the signs of degeneracy and imbecility: overweening
vanity and self-conceit, strong emotionalism, confused disconnected
thoughts, garrulity (the ‘logorrhœa’ of mental therapeutics), and
complete incapacity for serious sustained work. Several of them had had
a secondary education, others even less. All of them were profoundly
ignorant, and being unable, through weakness of will and inability
to pay attention, to learn anything systematically, they persuaded
themselves, in accordance with a well-known psychological law, that
they despised all positive knowledge, and held that only dreams and
divinings, only ‘intuitions,’ were worthy of human beings. A few of
them, like Moréas and Guaita, who afterwards became a ‘magian,’ read in
a desultory fashion all sorts of books which chanced to fall into their
hands at the _bouquinistes_ of the Quais, and delivered themselves of
the snatched fruits of their reading in grandiloquent and mysterious
phrases before their comrades. Their listeners thereupon imagined that
they had indulged in an exhausting amount of study, and in this way
they acquired that intellectual lumber which they peddled out in such
an ostentatious display in their articles and pamphlets, and in which
the mentally sane reader, to his amused astonishment, meets with the
names of Schopenhauer, Darwin, Taine, Renan, Shelley and Goethe; names
employed to label the shapeless, unrecognisable rubbish-heaps of a
mental dustbin, filled with raw scraps of uncomprehended and insolently
mutilated propositions and fragments of thought, dishonestly extracted
and appropriated. This ignorance on the part of the Symbolists, and
their childish flaunting of a pretended culture, are openly admitted by
one of them. ‘Very few of these young men,’ says Charles Morice,[105]
‘have any exact knowledge of the tenets of religion or philosophy.
From the expressions used in the Church services, however, they retain
some fine terms, such as “monstrance,” “ciborium,” etc.; several have
preserved from Spencer, Mill, Shopenhauer (_sic!_), Comte, Darwin,
a few technical terms. Few are those who know deeply what they talk
about, or those who do not try to make a show and parade of their
manner of speaking, which has no other merit than that of being a
conceit in syllables.’ (Charles Morice naturally is responsible for
this last unmeaning phrase, not I.)

The original guests of the François I. made their appearance at one
o’clock in the day at their café, and remained there till dinner-time.
Immediately after that meal they returned, and did not leave their
headquarters till long after midnight. Of course none of the Symbolists
had any known occupation. These ‘degenerates’ are no more capable of
regularly fulfilling any duty than they are of methodical learning.
If this organic deficiency appears in a man of the lower classes, he
becomes a vagabond; in a woman of that class it leads to prostitution;
in one belonging to the upper classes it takes the form of artistic and
literary drivel. The German popular mind betrays a deep intuition of
the true connection of things in inventing such a word as ‘day-thief’
(_Tagedieb_) for such æsthetic loafers. Professional thieving and the
unconquerable propensity to busy, gossiping, officious idleness flow
from the same source, to wit, inborn weakness of brain.

It is true that the boon companions of the café are not conscious of
their mentally-crippled condition. They find pet names and graceful
appellations for their inability to submit themselves to any sort of
discipline, and to devote persistent concentration and attention to
any sort of work. They call it ‘the artist nature,’ ‘genius roaming
at large,’ ‘a soaring above the low miasma of the commonplace.’ They
ridicule the dull Philistine, who, like the horse turning a winch,
performs mechanically a regular amount of work; they despise the
narrow-minded loons who demand that a man should either pursue a
circumscribed bourgeois trade or possess an officially acknowledged
status, and who profoundly distrust impecuniary professions. They
glory in roving folk who wander about singing and carelessly begging,
and they hold up as their ideal the ‘commoner of air,’ who bathes in
morning dew, sleeps under flowers, and gets his clothing from the same
firm as the lilies of the field in the Gospel. Richepin’s _La Chanson
des Gueux_ is the most typical expression of this theory of life.
Baumbach’s _Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen_ and _Spielmannslieder_
are analogous specimens in German literature, but of a less pronounced
character. Schiller’s _Pegasus im Joch_ seems to be pulling at the
same rope as these haters of the work society expects of them, but
it is only apparently so. Our great poet sides not with the impotent
sluggard, but with that overflowing energy which would fain do greater
things than the work of an office-boy or a night-watchman.

Moreover, the pseudo-artistic loafer, in spite of his imbecility
and self-esteem, cannot fail to perceive that his mode of life
runs contrary to the laws on which the structure of society and
civilization are based, and he feels the need of justifying himself
in his own eyes. This he does by investing with a high significance
the dreams and chatter over which he wastes his time, calculated to
arouse in him the illusion that they rival in value the most serious
productions. ‘The fact is, you see,’ says M. Stéphane Mallarmé, ‘that
a fine book is the end for which the world was made.’[106] Morice
complains[107] touchingly that the poetic mind ‘should be bound to
suffer the interruption of a twenty-eight days’ army drill between
the two halves of a verse.’ ‘The excitement of the streets,’ he goes
on, ‘the jarring of the Governmental engine, the newspapers, the
elections, the change of the Ministry, have never made so much noise;
the stormy and turbulent autocracy of trade has suppressed the love of
the beautiful in the thoughts of the multitude, and industry has killed
as much silence as politics might still have permitted to survive.’ In
fact, what are all these nothings--commerce, manufactures, politics,
administration--against the immense importance of a hemistich?

The drivelling of the Symbolists was not entirely lost in the
atmosphere of their café, like the smoke of their pipes and
cigarettes. A certain amount of it was perpetuated, and appeared
in the _Revue Indépendante_, the _Revue Contemporaine_, and other
fugitive periodicals, which served as organs to the round table of
the François I. These little journals and the books published by the
Symbolists were not at first noticed outside the café. Then it happened
that _chroniqueurs_ of the Boulevard papers, into whose hands these
writings chanced to fall, devoted an article to them on days when
‘copy’ was scanty, but only to hold them up to ridicule. That was all
the Symbolists wanted. Mockery or praise mattered little so long as
they got noticed. Now they were in the saddle, and showed at once what
unparalleled circus-riders they were. They themselves used every effort
to get into the larger newspapers, and when one of them succeeded, like
the smith of Jüterbock in the familiar fairy tale, in throwing his
cap into an editor’s office through the crack of the door incautiously
put ajar, he followed it neck and crop, took possession of the place,
and in the twinkling of an eye transformed it into the citadel of the
Symbolist party. In these tactics everything served their turn--the
dried-up scepticism and apathy of Parisian editors, who take nothing
seriously, are capable neither of enthusiasm nor of repugnance, and
only know the cardinal principle of their business, viz., to make
a noise, to arouse curiosity, to forestall others by bringing out
something new and sensational; the uncritical gaping attitude of the
public, who repeat in faith all that their newspaper gossips to them
with an air of importance; the cowardice and cupboard-love of the
critics who, finding themselves confronted by a closed and numerous
band of reckless young men, got nervous at the sight of their clenched
fists and angry threatening glances, and did not dare to quarrel
with them; the low cunning of the ambitious, who hoped to make a
good bargain if they speculated on the rise of shares in Symbolism.
Thus the very worst and most despicable characteristics of editors,
critics, aspiring authors, and newspaper readers, co-operated to make
known, and, in part, even famous, the names of the original habitués
of the François I., and to awaken the conviction in very many weak
minds of both hemispheres that their tendency governed the literature
of the day, and included all the germs of the future. This triumph of
the Symbolists marks the victory of the gang over the individual. It
proves the superiority of attack over defence, and the efficacy of
mutual-admiration-insurance, even in the case of the most beggarly

With all their differences, the works of the Symbolists have two
features in common. They are vague often to the point of being
unintelligible, and they are pious. Their vagueness is only to be
expected, after all that has been said here about the peculiarities of
mystic thought. Their piousness has attained to an importance which
makes it necessary to consider it more in detail.

When, in the last few years, a large number of mysteries, passion
plays, golden legends, and cantatas appeared, when one dozen after
another of new poets and authors, in their first poems, novels, and
treatises, made ardent confessions of faith, invoked the Virgin Mary,
spoke with rapture of the sacrifice of the Mass, and knelt in fervent
prayer, the cry arose amongst reactionists, who have a vested interest
in diffusing a belief in a reversion of cultured humanity to the mental
darkness of the past: ‘Behold, the youth, the hope, the future of the
French people is turning away from science; “emancipation” is becoming
bankrupt; souls are opening again to religion, and the Holy Catholic
Church steps anew into its lofty office, as the teacher, comforter,
and guide of civilized mankind.’ The Symbolistic tendency is designedly
called ‘neo-Catholic,’ and certain critics pointed to its appearance
and success as a proof that freethought was overthrown by faith. ‘Even
the most superficial glance at the state of the world,’ writes Edouard
Rod,[108] ‘shows us that we are on all sides in the full swing of
reaction.’ And, further, ‘I believe in reaction in every sense of the
word. How far this reaction will go is the secret of to-morrow.’

The jubilant heralds of the new reaction, in inquiring into the cause
of this movement, find, with remarkable unanimity, this answer, viz.:
The best and most cultivated minds return to faith, because they found
out that science had deceived them, and not done for them what it
had promised to do. ‘The man of this century,’ says M. Melchior de
Vogüé,[109] ‘has acquired a very excusable confidence in himself....
The rational mechanism of the world has been revealed to him.... In
the explanation of things the Divine order is wholly eliminated....
Besides, why follow after doubtful causes, when the operations of the
universe and of humanity had become so clear to the physicist and
physiologist?... The least wrong God ever wrought was that of being
unnecessary. Great minds assured us of this, and all mediocre spirits
were convinced of it. The eighteenth century had inaugurated the
worship of Reason. The rapture of that millennium lasted but a moment.
Then came eternal disillusion, the regularly recurring ruin of all that
man had built upon the hollow basis of his reason.... He had to admit
that, beyond the circle of acquired truths, the abyss of ignorance
appeared again just as deep, just as disquieting.’

Charles Morice, the theorist and philosopher of the Symbolists,
arraigns Science on almost every page of his book, _La Littérature de
tout-à-l’heure_, for her great and divers sins. ‘It is lamentable,’ he
says in his apocalyptic phraseology,[110] ‘that our learned men have
no idea how, in popularizing science, they were disorganizing it (?).
To entrust principles to inferior memories, is to expose them to the
uncertainty of unauthorized interpretations, of erroneous commentaries
and heterodox hypotheses. For the word that the books contain is a
dead letter, and the books themselves may perish, but the impact which
they leave behind them, the breath going forth from them, survives.
And what if they have breathed out storm and unloosed (!) darkness?
But this is just what all this chaos of vulgarization has as its most
patent result.... Is not such the natural consequence of a century
of psychological investigation, which was a good training for the
reason, but whose immediate and actual consequences must inevitably
be weariness, and disgust, ay, and despair of reason?... Science had
erased the word mystery. With the same stroke of the pen she had
expunged the words beauty, truth, joy, humanity.... And now mysticism
takes from Science, the intruder and usurper, not only all that she
had stolen, but something also, it may be, of her own property. The
reaction against the shameless and miserable negations of scientific
literature ... has taken the form of an unforeseen poetical restoration
of Catholicism.’

Another graphomaniac, the author of that imbecile book, _Rembrandt
as Educator_, drivels in almost the same way. ‘Interest in science,
and especially in the once so popular natural science, has widely
diminished of late in the German world.... There has been to a certain
extent a surfeit of induction; there is a longing for synthesis; the
days of objectivity are declining once more to their end, and, in its
place, subjectivity knocks at the door.’[111]

Edouard Rod[112] says: ‘The century has advanced without keeping all
its promises’; and further on he speaks again of ‘this ageing and
deluded century.’

In a small book, which has become a sort of gospel to imbeciles and
idiots, _Le Devoir présent_, the author, M. Paul Desjardins,[113] makes
continual attacks on ‘so-called scientific empiricism,’ and speaks of
the ‘negativists, the empiricists, and the mechanists, whose attention
is wholly taken up with physical and inexorable forces,’ boasting of
his intention ‘to render invalid the value of the empirical methods.’

Even a serious thinker, M. F. Paulhan,[114] in his investigation of the
basis of French neo-mysticism, comes to the conclusion that natural
science has shown itself powerless to satisfy the needs of mankind.
‘We feel ourselves surrounded by a vast unknown, and demand that at
least access to it should be permitted to us. Evolution and positivism
have blocked the way.... For these reasons evolution could not but
show itself incapable of guiding the mind, even if it left us great

Overwhelming as may appear this unanimity between strong minds
commanding respect and weak graphomaniacs, it does not, nevertheless,
contain the slightest spark of truth. To assert that the world turns
away from science because the ‘empirical,’ which means the scientific,
method of observation and registration has suffered shipwreck, is
either a conscious lie or shows lack of mental responsibility. A
healthy-minded and honourable man must almost feel ashamed to have
still to demonstrate this. In the last ten years, by means of
spectrum-analysis, science has made disclosures in the constitution
of the most distant heavenly bodies, their component matter, their
degree of heat, the speed and direction of their motions; it has
firmly established the essential unity of all modes of force, and
has made highly probable the unity of all matter; it is on the track
of the formation and development of chemical elements, and it has
learnt to understand the building up of extremely intricate organic
combinations; it shows us the relations of atoms in molecules, and
the position of molecules in space; it has thrown wonderful light on
the conditions of the action of electricity, and placed this force at
the service of mankind; it has renewed geology and palæontology, and
disentangled the concatenation of animal and vegetable forms of life;
it has newly created biology and embryology, and has explained in a
surprising manner, through the discovery and investigation of germs,
some of the most disquieting mysteries of perpetual metamorphosis,
illness, and death; it has found or perfected methods which, like
chronography, instantaneous photography, etc., permit of the analysis
and registration of the most fleeting phenomena, not immediately
apprehensible by human sense, and which promise to become extremely
fruitful for the knowledge of nature. And in the face of such splendid,
such overwhelmingly grand results, the enumeration of which could
easily be doubled and trebled, does anyone dare to speak of the
shipwreck of science, and of the incapacity of the empirical method?

Science is said not to have kept what she promised. When has she
ever promised anything else than honest and attentive observation of
phenomena and, if possible, establishment of the conditions under which
they occur? And has she not kept this promise? Does she not keep it
perpetually? If anyone has expected of her that she would explain from
one day to another the whole mechanism of the universe, like a juggler
explains his apparent magic, he has indeed no idea of the true mission
of science. She denies herself all leaps and flights. She advances step
by step. She builds slowly and patiently a firm bridge out into the
Unknown, and can throw no new arch over the abyss before she has sunk
deep the foundations of a new pier in the depths, and raised it to the
right height.

Meanwhile, she asks nothing at all about the first cause of phenomena,
so long as she has so many more proximate causes to investigate. Many
of the most eminent men of science go so far, indeed, as to assert
that the first cause will never become the object of scientific
investigation, and call it, with Herbert Spencer, ‘the Unknowable,’
or exclaim despondingly with Du Bois-Reymond, _Ignorabimus_. Both of
them in this respect are completely unscientific, and only prove
that even clear thinkers like Spencer, and sober investigators like
Du Bois-Reymond, stand yet under the influence of theological dreams.
Science can speak of no Unknowable, since this would presuppose that
she is able to mark exactly the boundaries of the Knowable. This,
however, she cannot do, since every new discovery thrusts back that
boundary. Moreover, the acceptance of an Unknowable involves the
acknowledgment that there is something which we cannot know. Now, in
order to be able seriously to assert the existence of this Something,
either we must have acquired some knowledge of it, however slight
and indistinct, and this, therefore, would prove that it cannot be
unknowable, since we actually know it, and nothing then would justify
us in declaring beforehand that our present knowledge of it, however
little it may be, will not be extended and deepened; or else we have
no knowledge, even of the minutest character, of the philosopher’s
Unknowable, in which case it cannot exist for us. The whole conception
is based upon nothing, and the word is an idle creation of a dreaming
imagination. The same thing can be said of _Ignorabimus_. It is the
opposite of science. It is not a correct inference from well-founded
premises, it is not the result of observation, but a mystical prophecy.
No one has the right to make communications with respect to the future
as matters of fact. Science can announce what she knows to-day; she can
also mark off exactly what she does not know; but to say what she will
or will not at any time know is not her office.

It is true that whoever asks from Science that she should give an
answer to all the questions of idle and restless minds with unshaken
and audacious certainty must be disappointed by her; for she will
not, and cannot, fulfil his desires. Theology and metaphysics have an
easier task. They devise some fable, and propound it with overwhelming
earnestness. If anyone does not believe in them, they threaten and
insult the intractable client; but they can prove nothing to him,
they cannot force him to take their chimeras for cash. Theology and
metaphysics can never be brought into a dilemma. It costs them nothing
to add to their words more words, to unite to one voluntary assertion
another, and pile up dogma upon dogma. It will never occur to the
serious sound mind, which thirsts after real knowledge, to seek it from
metaphysics or theology. They appeal only to childish brains, whose
desire for knowledge, or, rather, whose curiosity, is fully satisfied
with the cradling croon of an old wife’s tale.

Science does not compete with theology and metaphysics. If the
latter declare themselves able to explain the whole phenomenon of
the universe, Science shows that these pretended explanations are
empty chatter. She, for her part, is naturally on her guard against
putting in the place of a proved absurdity another absurdity. She says
modestly: ‘Here we have a fact, here an assumption, here a conjecture.
‘Tis a rogue who gives more than he has.’ If this does not satisfy
the neo-Catholics, they should sit down and themselves investigate,
themselves find out new facts, and help to make clear the weird
obscurity of the phenomenon of the universe. That would be a proof of
a true desire for knowledge. At the table of Science there is room for
all, and every fellow-observer is welcome. But this does not enter
into even the dreams of these poor creatures, who drivel about the
‘bankruptcy of science.’ Talk is so much easier and more comfortable
than inquiry and discovery!

True, science tells us nothing about the life after death, of
harp-concerts in Paradise, and of the transformation of stupid youths
and hysterical geese into white-clad angels with rainbow-coloured
wings. It contents itself, in a much more plain and prosaic manner,
with alleviating the existence of mankind on earth. It lessens the
average of mortality, and lengthens the life of the individual through
the suppression of known causes of disease; it invents new comforts,
and makes easier the struggle against Nature’s destructive powers. The
Symbolist, who is preserved after surgical interference through asepsy
from suppuration, mortification, and death; who protects himself by
a Chamberland filter from typhus; who by the careless turning of a
button fills his room with electric light; who through a telephone can
converse with someone beloved in far-distant countries, has to thank
this alleged bankrupt science for it all, and not the theology to which
he maintains that he wants to return.

The demand that science should give not only true, if limited,
conclusions, and offer not only tangible benefits, but also solve all
enigmas to-day and at once, and make all men omniscient, happy, and
good, is ridiculous. Theology and metaphysics have never fulfilled this
demand. It is simply the intellectual manifestation of the same foolish
conceit, which in material concerns reveals itself in hankering after
pleasure and in shirking work. The man who has lost his social status,
who craves for wine and women, for idleness and honours, and complains
of the constitution of society because it offers no satisfaction to his
lusts, is own brother to the Symbolist who demands truth, and reviles
science because it does not hand it to him on a golden platter. Both
betray a similar incapacity to grasp the reality of things, and to
understand that it is not possible to acquire goods without bodily
labour, or truth without mental exertion. The capable man who wrests
her gifts from Nature, the industrious inquirer who in the sweat of his
brow bores into the sources of knowledge, inspires respect and cordial
sympathy. On the other hand, there can be but little esteem for the
discontented idlers who look for riches from a lucky lottery ticket, or
a rich uncle, and for enlightenment from a revelation which is to come
to them without trouble on their part over the slovenly beer-drinking
at their favourite café.

The dunces who abuse science, reproach it also for having destroyed
ideals, and stolen from life all its worth. This accusation is just as
absurd as the talk about the bankruptcy of science. A higher ideal than
the increase of general knowledge there cannot be. What saintly legend
is as beautiful as the life of an inquirer, who spends his existence
bending over a microscope, almost without bodily wants, known and
honoured by few, working only for his own conscience’ sake, without
any other ambition than that perhaps one little new fact may be firmly
established, which a more fortunate successor will make use of in a
brilliant synthesis, and insert as a stone in some monument of natural
science? What religious fable has inspired with a contempt of death
sublimer martyrs than a Gehlen, who sank down poisoned while preparing
the arsenious hydrogen which he had discovered; or a Crocé-Spinelli,
who was overtaken by death in an over-rapid ascent of his balloon while
observing the pressure of the atmosphere; or an Ehrenberg, who became
blind over his life’s work; or a Hyrtl, who almost entirely destroyed
his eyesight by his anatomical corrosive preparations; or the doctors,
who inoculate themselves with some deadly disease--not to speak of the
innumerable crowd of discoverers travelling to the North Pole, and
to the interior of dark continents? And did Archimedes really feel
his life to be so worthless when he entreated the pillaging bands of
Marcellus, ‘Do not disturb my circles’? Genuine healthy poetry has
always recognised this, and finds its most ideal characters, not in
a devotee, who murmurs prayers with drivelling lips, and stares with
distorted eyes at some visual hallucination, but in a Prometheus and a
Faust, who wrestle for science, _i.e._, for exact knowledge of nature.

The assertion that science has not kept its promises, and that,
therefore, the rising generation is turning away from it, does not
for a moment resist criticism, and is entirely without foundation.
It is a senseless premise of neo-Catholicism, were the Symbolists to
declare a hundred times over that disgust with science had made them
mystics. The explanations which even a healthy-minded man makes with
respect to the true motives of his actions are only to be accepted
with the most cautious criticism; those proffered by the degenerate
are completely useless. For the impulse to act and to think originate,
for the degenerate, in the unconscious, and consciousness finds
subsequent, and in some measure plausible, reasons for the thoughts and
deeds, the real source of which is unknown to itself. Every book on
suggestion gives illustrations of Charcot’s typical case: a hysterical
female is sent into hypnotic sleep, and it is suggested to her that
on awaking she is to stab one of the doctors present. She is then
awakened. She grasps a knife and makes for her appointed victim. The
blade is wrenched from her, and she is asked why she wishes to murder
the doctor. She answers without hesitation, ‘Because he has done me an
injury.’ Note that she had seen him that day for the first time in her
life. This person felt when in a waking condition the impulse to kill
the doctor. Her consciousness had no presentiment that this impulse had
been suggested to her in a hypnotic state. Consciousness knows that a
murder is never committed without some motive. Forced to find a motive
for the attempted murder, consciousness falls back upon the only one
reasonably possible under the circumstances, and fancies that it got
hold of the idea of murder in order to avenge some wrong.

The brothers Janet[115] offer, as an explanation of this psychological
phenomenon, the hypothesis of dual personality. ‘Every person consists
of two personalities, one conscious and one unconscious. Among
healthy persons both are alike complete, and both in equilibrium. In
the hysteric they are unequal, and out of equilibrium. One of the
two personalities, usually the conscious, is incomplete, the other
remaining perfect.’ The conscious personality has the thankless task
of inventing reasons for the actions of the unconscious. It resembles
the familiar game where one person makes movements and another
says words in keeping with them. In the degenerate with disturbed
equilibrium consciousness has to play the part of an ape-like mother
finding excuses for the stupid and naughty tricks of a spoiled child.
The unconscious personality commits follies and evil deeds, and the
conscious, standing powerless by, and unable to hinder it, seeks to
palliate them by all sorts of pretexts.

The cause of the neo-Catholic movement, then, is not to be sought in
any objection felt by younger minds to science, or in their having
any complaint to make against it. A De Vogüé, a Rod, a Desjardins, a
Paulhan, who impute such a basis to the mysticism of the Symbolists,
arbitrarily attribute to it an origin which it never had. It is
due solely and alone to the degenerate condition of its inventors.
Neo-Catholicism is rooted in emotivity and mysticism, both of these
being the most frequent and most distinctive stigmata of the degenerate.

That the mysticism of the degenerate, even in France, the land of
Voltaire, has frequently taken the form of religious enthusiasm might
at first seem strange, but will be understood if we consider the
political and social circumstances of the French people during the last

The great Revolution proclaimed three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and
Fraternity. Fraternity is a harmless word which has no real meaning,
and therefore disturbs nobody. Liberty, to the upper classes, is
certainly unpleasant, and they lament greatly over the sovereignty of
the people and universal suffrage, but still they bear, without too
much complaint, a state of things which, after all, is sufficiently
mitigated by a prying administration, police supervision, militarism,
and gendarmerie, and which will always be sufficient to keep the mob
in leash. But equality to those in possession is an insufferable
abomination. It is the one thing won by the great Revolution, which has
outlasted all subsequent changes in the form of government, and has
remained alive in the French people. The Frenchman does not know much
about fraternity; his liberty in many ways has a muzzle as its emblem;
but his equality he possesses as a matter of fact, and to it he holds
firmly. The lowest vagabond, the bully of the capital, the rag-picker,
the hostler, believes that he is quite as good as the duke, and says
so to his face without the smallest hesitation if occasion arises. The
reasons of the Frenchman’s fanaticism for equality are not particularly
elevated. The feeling does not spring from a proud, manly consciousness
and the knowledge of his own worth, but from low envy and malicious
intolerance. There shall be nothing above the dead level! There shall
be nothing better, nothing more beautiful or even more striking, than
the average vulgarity! The upper classes struggle against this rage for
equalization with passionate vehemence, especially and precisely those
who have reached their high position through the great Revolution.

The grandchildren of the rural serfs, who plundered and destroyed the
country seats of noblemen, basely murdered the inmates, and seized upon
their lands; the descendants of town grocers and cobblers, who waxed
rich as politicians of street and club, as speculators in national
property and assignats, and as swindlers in army purveyance, do not
want to become identified with the mob. They want to form a privileged
class. They want to be recognised as belonging to a more honourable
caste. They sought, for this purpose, a distinguishing mark, which
would make them at once conspicuous as members of a select class, and
they found it in belonging to the Church.

This choice is quite intelligible. The mass of the people in France,
especially in towns, is sceptical, and the aristocracy of the _ancien
régime_, who in the eighteenth century bragged about free thought, had
come out of the deluge of 1789 as very pious persons, comprehending
or divining the inner connection between all the old ideas and emblems
of the Faith, of the Monarchy, and of feudal nobility. Hence, through
their clericalism, the parvenus at once established a contrast between
themselves and the multitude from whom they wanted to keep distinct,
and a resemblance with the class into which they would like to smuggle
or thrust themselves.

Experience teaches that the instinct of preservation is often the
worst adviser in positions of danger. The man who cannot swim,
falling into the water, involuntarily throws up his arms, and thus
infallibly lets his head be submerged and himself be drowned; whereas
his mouth and nose would remain above water if he held his arms and
hands quietly under the surface. The bad rider, who feels his seat
insecure, usually draws up his legs, and then comes the certainty of
a fall; whereas he would probably be able to preserve his equilibrium
if he left his legs outstretched. Thus the French _bourgeoisie_, who
knew that they had snatched for themselves the fruits of the great
upheaval, and let the Fourth Estate, who alone had made the Revolution,
come out of it empty-handed, chose the worst means for retaining
their unjustly-acquired possessions and privileges, and for escaping
unnatural equalization when they made use of their clericalism for the
establishment of their social status. They alienated, in consequence,
the wisest, strongest, and most cultivated minds, and drove over to
socialism many young men who, though intellectually radical, were yet
economically conservative, and little in favour of equality, and who
would have become a strong defence for a free-thinking _bourgeoisie_,
but who felt that socialism, however radical its economic doctrines and
impossible its theories of equality, represented emancipation.

But I have not to judge here whether the religious mimicry of the
French _bourgeoisie_, which was to make them resemble the old nobility,
exerts the protection expected of it or not; I only set down the fact
of this mimicry. It is a necessary consequence that all the rich
and snobbish parvenus send their sons to the Jesuit middle and high
schools. To be educated by the Jesuits is regarded as a sign of caste,
very much as is membership of the Jockey Club. The old pupils of the
Jesuits form a ‘black freemasonry,’ which zealously advances their
protégés in every career, marries them to heiresses, hurries to their
assistance in misfortune, hushes up their sins, stifles scandal, etc.
It is the Jesuits who for the last decade have made it their care to
inculcate their own habits of thinking into the rich and high-born
youth of France entrusted to them. These youths brought brains of
hereditary deficiency, and therefore mystically disposed, into the
clerical schools, and these then gave to the mystic thoughts of the
degenerate pupils a religious content. This is not an arbitrary
assumption, but a well-founded fact. Charles Morice, the æsthetic
theorist and philosopher of the Symbolists, received his education from
the Jesuits, according to the testimony of his friends.[116] So did
Louis le Cardonnel, Henri de Régnier, and others. The Jesuits invented
the phrase ‘bankruptcy of science,’ and their pupils repeat it after
them, because it includes a plausible explanation of their pietistic
mooning, the real organic causes of which are unknown to them, and for
that matter would not be understood if they were known. ‘I return to
faith, because science does not satisfy me,’ is a possible statement.
It is even a superior thing to say, since it presupposes a thirst for
truth and a noble interest in great questions. On the contrary, a man
will hardly be willing to confess, ‘I am an enthusiastic admirer of the
Trinity and the Holy Virgin because I am degenerate, and my brain is
incapable of attention and clear thought.’

That the Jesuitical argument as reported by MM. de Vogüé, Rod,
etc., can have found credit beyond clerical circles and degenerate
youth, that the half-educated are heard repeating to-day, ‘Science
is conquered, the future belongs to religion,’ is consistent with
the mental peculiarities of the million. They never have recourse to
facts, but repeat the ready-made propositions with which they have been
prompted. If they would have regard to facts, they would know that
the number of faculties, teachers and students of natural science, of
scientific periodicals and books, of their subscribers and readers,
of laboratories, scientific societies and reports to the academies
increases year by year. It can be shown by figures that science does
not lose, but continually gains ground.[117] But the million does not
care about exact statistics. In France it accepts without resistance
the suggestion, that science is retreating before religion, from a few
newspapers, written mainly for clubmen and gilded courtezans, into
the columns of which the pupils of the clerical schools have found an
entrance. Of science itself, of its hypotheses, methods, and results,
they have never known anything. Science was at one time the fashion.
The daily press of that date said, ‘We live in a scientific age’; the
news of the day reported the travels and marriages of scientists; the
feuilleton-novels contained witty allusions to Darwin; the inventors of
elegant walking-sticks and perfumes called their productions ‘Evolution
Essence’ or ‘Selection Canes’; those who affected culture took
themselves seriously for the pioneers of progress and enlightenment.
To-day those social circles which set the fashions, and the papers
which seek to please these circles, decree that, not science is
_chic_, but faith, and now the paragraphs of the boulevard papers
relate small piquant sayings of preachers; in the feuilleton-novels
there are quotations from the _Imitation of Christ_; inventors bring
out richly-mounted prie-dieus and choice rosaries, and the Philistine
feels with deep emotion the miraculous flower of faith springing up and
blossoming in his heart. Of real disciples science has scarcely lost
one. It is only natural, on the contrary, that the plebs of the salons,
to whom it has never been more than a fashion, should turn their backs
on it at the mere command of a tailor or a modiste.

Thus much on the neo-Catholicism which, partly for party reasons,
partly from ignorance, partly from snobbishness, is mistaken for a
serious intellectual movement of the times.

The pretension of Symbolism to be, not only a return to faith, but a
new theory of art and poetry, is what we must now proceed to test.

If we wish to know at the outset what Symbolists understand by symbol
and symbolism, we shall meet with the same difficulties we encountered
in determining the precise meaning of the name pre-Raphaelitism, and
for the same reason, viz., because the inventors of these appellations
understood by them hundreds of different mutually contradictory,
indefinite things, or simply nothing at all. A skilled and sagacious
journalist, Jules Huret,[118] instituted an inquiry about the new
literary movement in France, and from its leading representatives
acquired information, by which he has furnished us with a trustworthy
knowledge of the meaning which they connect, or pretend to connect,
with the expressions and phraseology of their programme. I will here
adduce some of these utterances and declarations. They will not tell us
what Symbolism is. But they may afford us some insight into symbolist
methods of thought.

M. Stéphane Mallarmé, whose leadership of the Symbolist band is least
disputed among the disciples, expresses himself as follows: ‘To name
an object means to suppress three-quarters of the pleasure of a
poem--_i.e._, of the happiness which consists in gradually divining
it. Our dream should be to suggest the object. The symbol is the
perfected use of this mystery, viz., to conjure up an object gradually
in order to show the condition of a soul; or, conversely, to choose
an object, and out of it to reveal a state of the soul by a series of

If the reader does not at once understand this combination of vague
words, he need not stop to solve them. Later on I will translate the
stammerings of this weak mind into the speech of sound men.

M. Paul Verlaine, another high-priest of the sect, expresses himself
as follows: ‘It was I who, in the year 1885, laid claim to the name
of Symbolist. The Parnassians, and most of the romanticists, in a
certain sense lacked symbols.... Thence errors of local colouring in
history, the shrinking up of the myth through false philosophical
interpretations, thought without the discernment of analogies, the
anecdote emptied of feeling.’

Let us listen to a few second-rate poets of the group. ‘I declare
art,’ says M. Paul Adam, ‘to be the enshrining of a dogma in a symbol.
It is a means of making a system prevail, and of bringing truths to
the light of day.’ M. Rémy de Gourmont confesses honestly: ‘I cannot
unveil the hidden meaning of the word “symbolism,” since I am neither
a theorist nor a magician.’ And M. Saint-Pol-Roux-le-Magnifique utters
this profound warning: ‘Let us take care! Symbolism carried to excess
leads to _nombrilisme_, and to a morbid mechanism.... This symbolism is
to some extent a parody of mysticism.... Pure symbolism is an anomaly
in this remarkable century, remarkable for militant activities. Let us
view this transitional art as a clever trick played upon naturalism,
and as a precursor of the poetry of to-morrow.’

We may expect from the theorists and philosophers of the group more
exhaustive information concerning their methods and aims. Accordingly,
M. Charles Morice instructs us how ‘the symbol is the combination of
the objects which have aroused our sensations, with our souls, in a
fiction [_fiction_]. The means is suggestion; it is a question of
giving people a remembrance of something which they have never seen.’
And M. Gustav Kahn says: ‘For me personally, symbolic art consists
in recording in a cycle of works, as completely as possible, the
modifications and variations of the mind of the poet, who is inspired
by an aim which he has determined.’

In Germany there have already been found some imbeciles and idiots,
some victims of hysteria and graphomania, who affirm that they
understand this twaddle, and who develop it further in lectures,
newspaper articles and books. The cultured German Philistine, who from
of old has had preached to him contempt for ‘platitude,’ _i.e._, for
healthy common-sense, and admiration for ‘deep meaning,’ which is as a
rule only the futile bubbling of soft and addled brains incapable of
thought, becomes visibly uneasy, and begins to inquire if there may not
really be something behind these senseless series of words. In France
people have not been caught on the limed twigs of these poor fools
and cold-blooded jesters, but have considered Symbolism to be what in
fact it is, madness or humbug. We shall meet with these words in the
writings of noted representatives of all shades of literary thought.

‘The Symbolists!’ exclaims M. Jules Lemaître, ‘there are none....
They themselves do not know what they are or what they want. There
is something stirring and heaving under the earth, but unable to
break through. Do you understand? When they have painfully produced
something, they would like to build formulæ and theories around it, but
fail in doing so, because they do not possess the necessary strength
of mind.... They are jesters with a certain amount of sincerity--that
I grant them--but nevertheless jesters.’ M. Joséphin Péladan describes
them as ‘whimsical pyrotechnists of metrics and glossaries, who combine
in order to get on, and give themselves odd names in order to get
known.’ M. Jules Bois is much more forcible: ‘Disconnected action,
confused clamour, such are the Symbolists. Cacophony of savages
who have been turning over the leaves of an English grammar, or a
glossary of obsolete words. If they have ever known anything, they
pretend to have forgotten it. Indistinct, faulty, obscure, they are
nevertheless as solemn as augurs.... You, decadent Symbolists, you
deceive us with childish and necromantic formulæ.’ Verlaine himself,
the co-founder of Symbolism, in a moment of sincerity, calls his
followers a ‘flat-footed horde, each with his own banner, on which is
inscribed _Réclame_!’ M. Henri de Régnier says apologetically: ‘They
feel the need of gathering round a common flag, so that they may fight
more effectually against the contented.’ M. Zola speaks of them as ‘a
swarm of sharks who, not being able to swallow us, devour each other.’
M. Joseph Caraguel designates symbolical literature as ‘a literature
of whining, of babbling, of empty brains, a literature of Sudanese
Griots [minstrels].’ Edmond Haraucourt plainly discerns the aims of
the Symbolists: ‘They are discontented, and in a hurry. They are the
Boulangists of literature. We must live! We would take a place in the
world, become notorious or notable. We beat wildly on a drum which is
not even a kettledrum.... Their true symbol is “Goods by express.”
Everyone goes by express train. Their destination--Fame.’ M. Pierre
Quillard thinks that under the title of Symbolists ‘poets of rare
gifts and unmitigated simpletons have been arbitrarily included.’ And
M. Gabriel Vicaire sees in the manifestoes of Symbolists ‘nothing but
schoolboy jokes.’ Finally, M. Laurent Tailhade, one of the leading
Symbolists, divulges the secret: ‘I have never attached any other value
to this performance than that of a transient amusement. We took in
the credulous judgment of a few literary beginners with the joke of
coloured vowels, Theban love, Schopenhauerism, and other pranks, which
have since made their way in the world.’ Quite so; just, as we have
already said, in Germany.

To abuse, however, is not to explain, and although summary justice is
fit in the case of deliberate swindlers, who, like quack-dentists, play
the savage in order to entice money from market-folk, yet anger and
ridicule are out of place in dealing with honest imbeciles. They are
diseased or crippled, and as such deserve only pity. Their infirmities
must be disclosed, but severity of treatment has been abolished even in
lunatic asylums since Pinel’s time.

The Symbolists, so far as they are honestly degenerate and imbecile,
can think only in a mystical, _i.e._, in a confused way. The unknown
is to them more powerful than the known; the activity of the organic
nerves preponderates over that of the cerebral cortex; their emotions
overrule their ideas. When persons of this kind have poetic and
artistic instincts, they naturally want to give expression to their
own mental state. They cannot make use of definite words of clear
import, for their own consciousness holds no clearly-defined univocal
ideas which could be embodied in such words. They choose, therefore,
vague equivocal words, because these best conform to their ambiguous
and equivocal ideas. The more indefinite, the more obscure a word is,
so much the better does it suit the purpose of the imbecile, and it
is notorious that among the insane this habit goes so far that, to
express their ideas, which have become quite formless, they invent new
words, which are no longer merely obscure, but devoid of all meaning.
We have already seen that, for the typical degenerate, reality has
no significance. On this point I will only remind the reader of the
previously cited utterances of D. G. Rossetti, Morice, etc. Clear
speech serves the purpose of communication of the actual. It has,
therefore, no value in the eyes of a degenerate subject. He prizes
that language alone which does not force him to follow the speaker
attentively, but allows him to indulge without restraint in the
meanderings of his own reveries, just as his own language does not aim
at the communication of definite thought, but is only intended to give
a pale reflection of the twilight of his own ideas. That is what M.
Mallarmé means when he says: ‘To name an object means to suppress three
quarters of the pleasure.... Our dream should be to suggest the object.’

Moreover, the thought of a healthy brain has a flow which is regulated
by the laws of logic and the supervision of attention. It takes for its
content a definite object, manipulates and exhausts it. The healthy man
can tell what he thinks, and his telling has a beginning and an end.
The mystic imbecile thinks merely according to the laws of association,
and without the red thread of attention. He has fugitive ideation.
He can never state accurately what he is thinking about; he can only
denote the emotion which at the moment controls his consciousness. He
can only say in general, ‘I am sad,’ ‘I am merry,’ ‘I am fond,’ ‘I am
afraid.’ His mind is filled with evanescent, floating, cloudy ideas,
which take their hue from the reigning emotion, as the vapour hovering
above a crater flames red from the glow at the bottom of the volcanic
caldron. When he poetizes, therefore, he will never develop a logical
train of thought, but will seek by means of obscure words of distinctly
emotional colouring to represent a feeling, a mood. What he prizes in
poetical works is not a clear narrative, the exposition of a definite
thought, but only the reflected image of a mood, which awakens in him
a similar, but not necessarily the same, mood. The degenerate are well
aware of this difference between a work which expresses strong mental
labour and one in which merely emotionally coloured fugitive ideation
ebbs and flows; and they eagerly ask for a distinguishing name for
that kind of poetry of which alone they have any understanding. In
France they have found this designation in the word ‘Symbolism.’ The
explanations which the Symbolists themselves give of their cognomen
appear nonsensical; but the psychologist gathers clearly from their
babbling and stammering that under the name ‘symbol’ they understand a
word (or series of words) expressing, not a fact of the external world,
or of conscious thought, but an ambiguous glimmer of an idea, which
does not force the reader to think, but allows him to dream, and hence
brings about no intellectual processes, but only moods.

The great poet of the Symbolists, their most admired model, from
whom, according to their unanimous testimony, they have received
the strongest inspiration, is Paul Verlaine. In this man we find,
in astonishing completeness, all the physical and mental marks of
degeneration, and no author known to me answers so exactly, trait
for trait, to the descriptions of the degenerate given by the
clinicists--his personal appearance, the history of his life, his
intellect, his world of ideas and modes of expression. M. Jules
Huret[119] gives the following account of Verlaine’s physical
appearance: ‘His face, like that of a wicked angel grown old, with
a thin, untrimmed beard, and abrupt(?) nose; his bushy, bristling
eyebrows, resembling bearded wheat, hiding deep-set green eyes; his
wholly bald and huge long skull, misshapen by enigmatic bumps--all
these give to his physiognomy a contradictory appearance of stubborn
asceticism and cyclopean appetites.’ As appears in these ludicrously
laboured and, in part, entirely senseless expressions, even the most
unscientific observer has been struck with what Huret calls his
‘enigmatic bumps.’ If we look at the portrait of the poet, by Eugène
Carrière, of which a photograph serves as frontispiece in the _Select
Poems_ of Verlaine,[120] and still more at that by M. Aman-Jean,
exhibited in the Champs de Mars Salon in 1892, we instantly remark the
great asymmetry of the head, which Lombroso[121] has pointed out among
degenerates, and the Mongolian physiognomy indicated by the projecting
cheek-bones, obliquely placed eyes, and thin beard, which the same
investigator[122] looks upon as signs of degeneration.

Verlaine’s life is enveloped in mystery, but it is known, from his own
avowals, that he passed two years in prison. In the poem _Écrit en_
1875[123] he narrates in detail, not only without the least shame,
but with gay unconcern, nay, even with boasting, that he was a true
professional criminal:

  ‘J’ai naguère habité le meilleur des châteaux
  Dans le plus fin pays d’eau vive et de coteaux:
  Quatre tours s’élevaient sur le front d’autant d’ailes,
  Et j’ai longtemps, longtemps habité l’une d’elles...
  Une chambre bien close, une table, une chaise,
  Un lit strict où l’on pût dormir juste à son aise,...
  Tel fut mon lot durant les longs mois là passés...
  ...J’étais heureux avec ma vie,
  Reconnaissant de biens que nul, certes, n’envie.’

And in the poem _Un Conte_ he says:

  ...’ce grand pécheur eut des conduites
  Folles à ce point d’en devenir trop maladroites,
  Si bien que les tribunaux s’en mirent--et les suites!
  Et le voyez-vous dans la plus étroite des boîtes?

  Cellules! prison humanitaires! Il faut taire
  Votre horreur fadasse et ce progrès d’hypocrisie’...

It is now known that a crime of a peculiarly revolting character led
to his punishment; and this is not surprising, since the special
characteristic of his degeneration is a madly inordinate eroticism.
He is perpetually thinking of lewdness, and lascivious images fill
his mind continually. I have no wish to quote passages in which
this unhappy slave of his morbidly excited senses has expressed the
loathsome condition of his mind, but the reader who wishes to become
acquainted with them may be referred to the poems _Les Coquillages_,
_Fille_, and _Auburn_.[124] Sexual license is not his only vice. He is
also a dipsomaniac, and (as may be expected in a degenerate subject) a
paroxysmal dipsomaniac, who, awakened from his debauch, is seized with
deep disgust of the alcoholic poison and of himself, and speaks of ‘les
breuvages exécrés’ (_La Bonne Chanson_), but succumbs to the temptation
at the next opportunity.

Moral insanity, however, is not present in Verlaine. He sins through
irresistible impulse. He is an Impulsivist. The difference between
these two forms of degeneration lies in the fact that the morally
insane does not look upon his crimes as bad, but commits them with the
same unconcern as a sane man would perform any ordinary or virtuous
act, and after his misdeed is quite contented with himself; whereas the
Impulsivist retains a full consciousness of the baseness of his deeds,
hopelessly fights against his impulse until he can no longer resist
it, and after the performance[125] suffers the most terrible remorse
and despair. It is only an Impulsivist who speaks in execration of
himself as a reprobate (‘Un seul Pervers,’ in _Sagesse_), or strikes
the dejected note which Verlaine touches in the first four sonnets of

  ‘Hommes durs! Vie atroce et laide d’ici bas!
  Ah! que du moins, loin des baisers et des combats,
  Quelque chose demeure un peu sur la montagne,

  ‘Quelque chose du cœur enfantin et subtil,
  Bonté, respect! car qu’est-ce qui nous accompagne,
  Et vraiment quand la mort viendra que reste-t-il?...

  ‘Ferme les yeux, pauvre âme, et rentre sur-le-champ:
  Une tentation des pires. Fuis l’infâme ...
  Si la vieille folie était encore en route?

  ‘Ces souvenirs, va-t-il falloir les retuer?
  Un assaut furieux, le suprême, sans doute!
  O va prier contre l’orage, va prier!...

  ‘C’est vers le Moyen-Age énorme et delicat
  Qu’il faudrait que mon cœur en panne naviguât,
  Loin de nos jours d’esprit charnel et de chair triste ...

  ‘Et là que j’eusse part...
  ...à la chose vitale,
  Et que je fusse un saint, actes bons, pensers droits,

  ‘Haute théologie et solide morale,
  Guidé par la folie unique de la Croix
  Sur tes ailes de pierre, ô folle Cathédrale!’

This example serves to show that there is not wanting in Verlaine
that religious fervour which usually accompanies morbidly intensified
eroticism. This finds a much more decided expression in several other
poems. I should wish to quote only from two.[126]

  ‘O mon Dieu, vous m’avez blessé d’amour,
  Et la blessure est encore vibrante,
  O mon Dieu, vous m’avez blessé d’amour.

  ‘O mon Dieu, votre crainte m’a frappé,
  Et la brûlure est encore là qui tonne
  O mon Dieu, votre crainte m’a frappé.

(Observe the mode of expression and the constant repetitions.)

  ‘O mon Dieu, j’ai connu que tout est vil,
  Et votre gloire en moi s’est installée,
  O mon Dieu, j’ai connu que tout est vil.

  ‘Noyez mon âme aux flots de votre vin,
  Fondez ma vie au pain de votre table,
  Noyez mon âme aux flots de votre vin.

  ‘Voici mon sang que je n’ai pas versé,
  Voici ma chair indignée de souffrance,
  Voici mon sang que je n’ai pas versé.’

Then follows the ecstatic enumeration of all the parts of his body,
which he offers up in sacrifice to God; and the poem closes thus:

  ‘Vous connaissez tout cela, tout cela,
  Et que je suis plus pauvre que personne,
  Vous connaissez tout cela, tout cela,
  Mais ce que j’ai, mon Dieu, je vous le donne.’

He invokes the Virgin Mary as follows:

  ‘Je ne veux plus aimer que ma mère Marie.
  Tous les autres amours sont de commandement,
  Nécessaires qu’ils sont, ma mère seulement
  Pourra les allumer aux cœurs qui l’ont chérie.

  ‘C’est pour Elle qu’il faut chérir mes ennemis,
  C’est pour Elle que j’ai voué ce sacrifice,
  Et la douceur de cœur et le zèle au service.
  Comme je la priais, Elle les a permis.

  ‘Et comme j’étais faible et bien méchant encore,
  Aux mains lâches, les yeux éblouis des chemins,
  Elle baissa mes yeux et me joignit les mains,
  Et m’enseigna les mots par lesquels on adore.’

The accents here uttered are well known to the clinics of psychiatry.
We may compare them to the picture which Legrain[127] gives of some of
his patients. ‘His speech continually reverts to God and the Virgin
Mary, his cousin.’ (The case in question is that of a degenerate
subject who was a tramway conductor.) ‘Mystical ideas complete the
picture. He talks of God, of heaven, crosses himself, kneels down, and
says that he is following the commandments of Christ.’ (The subject
under observation is a day labourer.) ‘The devil will tempt me, but I
see God who guards me. I have asked of God that all people might be
beautiful,’ etc.

The continual alternation of antithetical moods in Verlaine--this
uniform transition from bestial lust to an excess of piety, and
from sinning to remorse--has struck even observers who do not know
the significance of such a phenomenon. ‘He is,’ writes M. Anatole
France,[128] ‘alternately devout and atheistical, orthodox and
sacrilegious.’ These he certainly is. But why? Simply because he is
a _circulaire_. This not very happy expression, invented by French
psychiatry, denotes that form of mental disease in which states of
excitement and depression follow each other in regular succession.
The period of excitement coincides with the irresistible impulses to
misdeeds and blasphemous language; that of dejection with the paroxysms
of contrition and piety. The _circulaires_ belong to the worst
species of the degenerate. ‘They are drunkards, obscene, vicious, and
thievish.’[129] They are also in particular incapable of any lasting,
uniform occupation, since it is obvious that in such a condition
of mental depression they cannot accomplish any work which demands
strength and attention. The _circulaires_ are, by the nature of their
affliction, condemned to be vagabonds or thieves, unless they belong
to rich families. In normally constituted society there is no place
for them. Verlaine has been a vagabond the whole of his life. He has
loafed about all the highways of France, and roamed as well through
Belgium and England. Since his release from prison he has spent most of
his time in Paris, where, however, he has no residence, but resorts to
the hospitals under the pretext of rheumatism, which for that matter
he may easily have contracted during the nights which, as a tramp, he
has spent under the open sky. The administration winks at his doings,
and grants him food and shelter gratis, out of regard for his poetical
capacity. Conformably with the constant tendency of the human mind
to beautify what cannot be altered, he persuades himself that his
vagrancy, which was forced upon him by his organic vice, is a glorious
and enviable condition; he prizes it as something beautiful, artistic,
and sublime, and looks upon vagabonds with especial tenderness.
Speaking of them he says (_Grotesques_):

  ‘Leur jambes pour toutes montures,
  Pour tous biens l’or de leurs regards,
  Par le chemin des aventures
  Ils vont haillonneux et hagards.

  ‘Le sage, indigné, les harangue;
  Le sot plaint ces fous hasardeux;
  Les enfants leur tirent la langue
  Et les filles se moquent d’eux.’

We find in every lunatic and imbecile the conviction that the rational
minds who discern and judge him are ‘blockheads.’

  ‘... Dans leurs prunelles
  Rit et pleure--fastidieux--
  L’amour des choses éternelles,
  Des vieux morts et des anciens dieux!

  ‘Donc, allez, vagabonds sans trêves,
  Errez, funestes et maudits,
  Le long des gouffres et des grèves,
  Sous l’œil fermé des paradis!

  ‘La nature à l’homme s’allie
  Pour châtier comme il le faut
  L’orgueilleuse mélancolie
  Qui vous fait marcher le front haut.’

In another poem (_Autre_) he calls to his chosen mates:

  ‘Allons, frères, bons vieux voleurs,
          Doux vagabonds
          Filous en fleur
          Mes chers, mes bons,

  ‘Fumons philosophiquement,
          Promenons nous
          Rien faire est doux.’

As one vagabond feels himself attracted by other vagabonds, so does
one deranged mind feel drawn to others. Verlaine has the greatest
admiration for King Louis II. of Bavaria, that unhappy madman in whom
intelligence was extinct long before death, in whom only the most
abominable impulses of foul beasts of the most degraded kind had
survived the perishing of the human functions of his disordered brain.
He apostrophizes him thus:

  ‘Roi, le seul vrai Roi de ce siècle, salut, Sire,
    Qui voulûtes mourir vengeant votre raison
  Des choses de la politique, et du délire
    De cette Science intruse dans la maison,

  ‘De cette Science assassin de l’Oraison
    Et du Chant et de l’Art et de toute la Lyre,
  Et simplement et plein d’orgueil et floraison
    Tuâtes en mourant, salut, Roi, bravo, Sire!

  ‘Vous fûtes un poète, un soldat, le seul Roi
    De ce siècle ...
  Et le martyr de la Raison selon la Foi....’

Two points are noticeable in Verlaine’s mode of expression. First, we
have the frequent recurrence of the same word, of the same turn of
phrase, that chewing the cud, or _rabâchage_ (repetition), which we
have learnt to know as the marks of intellectual debility. In almost
every one of his poems single lines and hemistiches are repeated,
sometimes unaltered, and often the same word appears instead of
one which rhymes. Were I to quote all the passages of this kind, I
should have to transcribe nearly all his poems. I will therefore
give only a few specimens, and those in the original, so that their
peculiarity will be fully apparent to the reader. In the _Crépuscule
du soir mystique_ the lines, ‘Le souvenir avec le crépuscule,’ and
‘Dahlia, lys, tulipe et renoncules,’ are twice repeated without any
internal necessity. In the poem _Promenade sentimentale_ the adjective
_blême_ (wan) pursues the poet in the manner of an obsession or
‘onomatomania,’ and he applies it to water-lilies and waves (‘wan
waves’). The _Nuit du Walpurgis classique_ begins thus:

  ‘Un rythmique sabbat, rythmique, extrêmement

In the _Sérénade_ the first two lines are repeated _verbatim_ as the
fourth and eighth. Similarly in _Ariettes oubliées_, VIII.:

  ‘Dans l’interminable
  Ennui de la plaine,
  La neige incertaine
  Luit comme du sable.

  ‘Le ciel est de cuivre,
  Sans lueur aucune.
  On croirait voir vivre
  Et mourir la lune.

  ‘Comme des nuées
  Flottent gris les chênes
  Des forêts prochaines
  Parmi les buées.

  ‘Le ciel est de cuivre,
  Sans lueur aucune.
  On croirait voir vivre
  Et mourir la lune.

  ‘Corneille poussive,
  Et vous, les loups maigres,
  Par ces bises aigres
  Quoi donc vous arrive?

  ‘Dans l’interminable
  Ennui de la plaine,
  La neige incertaine
  Luit comme du sable.’

The _Chevaux de bois_ begins thus:

  ‘Tournez, tournez, bons chevaux de bois,
  Tournez cent tours, tournez mille tours,
  Tournez souvent et tournez toujours,
  Tournez, tournez au son des hautbois.’

In a truly charming piece in _Sagesse_ he says:

  ‘Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
            Si bleu, si calme!
  Un arbre, par dessus le toit
            Berce sa palme.

  ‘La cloche, dans le ciel qu’on voit,
            Doucement tinte.
  Un oiseau, sur l’arbre qu’on voit,
            Chante sa plainte.’

In the passage in _Amour_, ‘Les fleurs des champs, les fleurs
innombrables des champs ... les fleurs des gens,’ ‘champs’ and ‘gens’
sound somewhat alike. Here the imbecile repetition of similar sounds
suggests a senseless pun, to the poet, and as for this stanza in
_Pierrot gamin_:

  ‘Ce n’est pas Pierrot en herbe
  Non plus que Pierrot en gerbe,
  C’est Pierrot, Pierrot, Pierrot.
  Pierrot gamin, Pierrot gosse,
  Le cerneau hors de la cosse,
  C’est Pierrot, Pierrot, Pierrot!’

it is the language of nurses to babies, who do not care to make sense,
but only to twitter to the child in tones which give him pleasure.
The closing lines of the poem _Mains_ point to a complete ideational
standstill, to mechanical mumbling:

  ‘Ah! si ce sont des mains de rêve,
  Tant mieux, ou tant pis, ou tant mieux.’[130]

The second peculiarity of Verlaine’s style is the other mark of mental
debility, viz., the combination of completely disconnected nouns and
adjectives, which suggest each other, either through a senseless
meandering by way of associated ideas, or through a similarity of
sound. We have already found some examples of this in the extracts
cited above. In these we find the ‘enormous and tender Middle Ages’ and
the ‘brand which thunders.’ Verlaine writes also of ‘feet which glide
with a pure and wide movement,’ of ‘a narrow and vast affection,’ of ‘a
slow landscape,’[131] of ‘a slack liqueur’ (‘jus flasque’), ‘a gilded
perfume,’ a ‘condensed’ or ‘terse contour’ (‘galbe succinct’), etc. The
Symbolists admire this form of imbecility, as ‘the research for rare
and precious epithets’ (la recherche de l’epithète rare et précieuse).

Verlaine has a clear consciousness of the vagueness of his thoughts,
and in a very remarkable poem from the psychological point of view,
_Art poétique_, in which he attempts to give a theory of his lyric
creation, he raises nebulosity to the dignity of a fundamental method:

  ‘De la musique avant toute chose
  Et pour cela préfère l’Impair
  Plus vague et plus soluble dans l’air,
  Sans rien en lui qui pèse ou qui pose.’

The two verbs ‘pèse’ and ‘pose’ are juxtaposed merely on account of
their similarity of sound.

  ‘Il faut aussi que tu n’ailles point
  Choisir les mots sans quelque méprise;
  Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise
  Où l’Indécis au Précis se joint.

  ‘C’est des beaux yeux derrière des voiles,
  C’est le grand jour tremblant de midi,
  C’est par un ciel d’automne attiédi,
  Le bleu fouillis des claires étoiles!

  ‘Car nous voulons la Nuance encor,
  Pas la Couleur, rien que la nuance!
  Oh! la nuance seule fiance
  Le rêve au rêve et la flûte au cor!’

(This stanza is completely delirious; it places ‘nuance’ and ‘colour’
in opposition, as though the latter were not contained in the former.
The idea of which the weak brain of Verlaine had an inkling, but could
not bring to a complete conception, is probably that he prefers subdued
and mixed tints, which lie on the margin of several colours, to the
full intense colour itself.)

  ‘Fuis du plus loin la Pointe assassine,
  L’esprit cruel et le Rire impur,
  Qui font pleurer les yeux de l’Azur,
  Et tout cet ail de basse cuisine!’

It cannot be denied that this poetical method in the hands of Verlaine
often yields extraordinarily beautiful results. There are few poems in
French literature which can rival the _Chanson d’Automne_:

  ‘Les sanglots longs
  Des violons
        De l’automne
  Blessent mon cœur
  D’une langueur

  ‘Tout suffocant
  Et blême, quand
        Sonne l’heure,
  ‘Je me souviens
  Des jours anciens,
        Et je pleure.

  ‘Et je m’en vais
  Au vent mauvais
        Qui m’emporte
  Deçà, delà,
  Pareil à la
        Feuille morte.’

Even if literally translated, there remains something of the melancholy
magic of the lines, which in French are richly rhythmical and full of
music. _Avant que tu ne t’en ailles_ (p. 99) and _Il pleure dans mon
cœur_ (p. 116) may also be called pearls among French lyrics.

This is because the methods of a highly emotional, but intellectually
incapable, dreamer suffice for poetry which deals exclusively with
moods, but this is the inexorable limit of his power. Let the true
meaning of mood be always present with us. The word denotes a state of
mind, in which, through organic excitations which it cannot directly
perceive, consciousness is filled with presentations of a uniform
nature, which it elaborates with greater or less clearness, and one
and all of which relate to those organic excitations inaccessible to
consciousness. The mere succession of words, giving a name to these
presentations, the roots of which are in the unknown, expresses
the mood, and is able to awaken it in another. It has no need of a
fundamental thought, or of a progressive exposition to unfold it.
Verlaine often attains to astonishing effects in such poetry of moods.
Where, however, distinct vision, or a feeling the motive of which is
clear to consciousness, or a process well delimitated in time and
space, is to be poetically rendered, the poetic art of the emotional
imbecile fails utterly. In a healthy and sane poet even the mood
pure and simple is united to clear presentations, and is not a mere
undulation of fragrance and rose-tinted mist. Poems like Goethe’s
_Ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh_, _Der Fischer_, or _Freudvoll und
leidvoll_, can never be created by the emotionally degenerate; but,
on the other hand, the most marvellous of Goethe’s poems are not so
utterly incorporeal, not such mere sighs, as three or four of the best
of a Verlaine.

We have now the portrait of this most famous leader of the Symbolists
clearly before us. We see a repulsive degenerate subject with
asymmetric skull and Mongolian face, an impulsive vagabond and
dipsomaniac, who, under the most disgraceful circumstances, was placed
in gaol; an emotional dreamer of feeble intellect, who painfully fights
against his bad impulses, and in his misery often utters touching
notes of complaint; a mystic whose qualmish consciousness is flooded
with ideas of God and saints, and a dotard who manifests the absence
of any definite thought in his mind by incoherent speech, meaningless
expressions and motley images. In lunatic asylums there are many
patients whose disease is less deep-seated and incurable than is that
of this irresponsible _circulaire_ at large, whom only ignorant judges
could have condemned for his epileptoid crimes.

A second leader among the Symbolists, whose prestige is in no quarter
disputed, is M. Stéphane Mallarmé. He is the most curious phenomenon
in the intellectual life of contemporary France. Although long past
fifty years of age, he has written hardly anything, and the little that
is known of him is, in the opinion of his most unreserved admirers,
of no account; and yet he is esteemed as a very great poet, and
the utter infertility of his pen, the entire absence of any single
work which he can produce as evidence of his poetical capacity, is
prized as his greatest merit, and as a most striking proof of his
intellectual importance. This statement must appear so fabulous to any
reader not deranged in mind, that he may rightly demand proofs of
these statements. M. Charles Morice[132] says of Mallarmé: ‘I am not
obliged to unveil the secrets of the works of a poet who, as he has
himself remarked, is excluded from all participation in any official
exposition of the beautiful. The fact itself that these works are
still unknown ... would seem to forbid our associating the name of
M. Mallarmé with those of men who have given us books. I let vulgar
criticism buzz without replying to it, and state that M. Mallarmé,
without having given us books ... is famous--a fame which, of course,
has not been won without arousing the laughter of stupidity in both
petty and important newspapers, but which does not offer public and
private ... ineptitude that opportunity for showing its baseness which
is provoked by the advent of a new wonder.... The people, in spite
of their abhorrence of the beautiful, and especially of novelty in
the beautiful, have gradually, and in spite of themselves, come to
comprehend the prestige of a legitimate authority. They themselves,
even they, feel ashamed of their foolish laughter; and before this man,
whom that laughter could not tear from the serenity of his meditative
silence, laughter became dumb, and itself suffered the divine contagion
of silence. Even for the million this man, who published no books, and
whom, nevertheless, all designated “a poet,” became, as it were, the
very symbol of a poet, seeking, where possible, to draw near to the
absolute.... By his silence, he has signified that he ... cannot yet
realize the unprecedented work of art which he wishes to create. Should
cruel life refuse to support him in his effort, our respect--nay, more,
our veneration--can alone give an answer worthy of a reticence thus

The graphomaniac Morice (of whose crazy and distorted style of
expression this literally translated example gives a very good idea)
assumes that perhaps Mallarmé will yet create his ‘unprecedented
work.’ Mallarmé himself, however, denies us the right to any such
hope. ‘The delicious Mallarmé,’ Paul Hervieu relates,[133] ‘told me
one day ... he could not understand that anyone should let himself
appear in print. Such a proceeding gave him the impression of an
indecency, an aberration, resembling that form of mental disease called
“exhibitionism.” Moreover, no one has been so discreet with his soul as
this incomparable thinker.’[134]

So, then, this ‘incomparable thinker’ shows ‘a complete discretion
as regards his soul.’ At one time he bases his silence on a sort of
shamed timidity at publicity; at another, on the fact that he ‘cannot
yet realize the unprecedented work of art which he wishes to create,’
two reasons for that matter reciprocally precluding each other. He is
approaching the evening of his life, and beyond a few brochures, such
as _Les Dieux de la Grèce_ and _L’après-midi d’un Faune_, together
with some verses and literary and theatrical criticisms, scattered in
periodicals, the lot barely sufficing for a volume, he has published
nothing but some translations from the English and a few school-books
(M. Mallarmé is a teacher of English in a Parisian lycée), and yet
there are some who admire him as a great poet, as the one exclusive
poet, and they overwhelm the ‘blockheads’ and the ‘fools’ who laugh at
him with all the expressions of scorn that the force of imagination
in a diseased mind can display. Is not this one of the wonders of our
day? Lessing makes Conti, in _Emilia Galotti_, say that ‘Raphael would
have been the greatest genius in painting, even if he had unfortunately
been born without hands.’ In M. Mallarmé we have a man who is revered
as a great poet, although ‘he has unfortunately been born without
hands,’ although he produces nothing, although he does not pursue the
art he professes. During the period when in London a great number of
bubble-company swindles were being promoted, when all the world went
mad for the possession of the least scrap of Stock Exchange paper, it
happened that a few sharp individuals advertised in the newspapers,
inviting people to subscribe for shares in a company of which the
object was kept a secret. There really were men who brought their
money to these lively promoters, and the historian of the City crisis
regards this fact as inconceivable. Inconceivable as it is, Paris sees
it repeated. Some persons demand unbounded admiration for a poet whose
works are his own secret, and will probably remain such, and others
trustingly and humbly bring their admiration as required. The sorcerers
of the Senegal negroes offer their congregation baskets and calabashes
for veneration, in which they assert that a mighty fetich is enclosed.
As a matter of fact they contain nothing; but the negroes regard the
empty vessels with holy dread, and show them and their possessors
divine honours. Exactly thus is empty Mallarmé the fetich of the
Symbolists, who, it must be admitted, are intellectually far below the
Senegal negroes.

This position of a calabash worshipped on bended knees he has attained
by oral discourse. Every week he gathers round him embryonic poets and
authors, and develops his art theories before them. He speaks just as
Morice and Kahn write. He strings together obscure and wondrous words,
at which his disciples become as stupid ‘as if a mill-wheel were going
round in their heads,’ so that they leave him as if intoxicated, and
with the impression that incomprehensible, superhuman disclosures
have been made to them. If there is anything comprehensible in the
incoherent flow of Mallarmé’s words, it is perhaps his admiration
for the pre-Raphaelites. It was he who drew the attention of the
Symbolists to this school, and enjoined imitation of it. It is through
Mallarmé that the French mystics received their English mediævalism and
neo-Catholicism. Finally, it may be mentioned that among the physical
features of Mallarmé are ‘long pointed faun-like ears.’[135] After
Darwin, who was the first to point out the apish character of this
peculiarity, Hartmann,[136] Frigerio,[137] and Lombroso,[138] have
firmly established the connection between immoderately long and pointed
external ears and atavism and degeneration; and they have shown that
this peculiarity is of especially frequent occurrence among criminals
and lunatics.

The third among the leading spirits of the Symbolists is Jean Moréas, a
Franco-Greek poet, who at the completion of his thirty-sixth year (his
friends assert, it may be in friendly malice, that he makes himself
out to be very much younger than he is) has produced _in toto_ three
attenuated collections of verses, of hardly one hundred to one hundred
and twenty pages, bearing the titles, _Les Syrtes_, _Les Cantilènes_,
and _Le Pélerin passionné_. The importance of a literary performance
does not, of course, depend upon its amplitude, if it is otherwise
unusually significant. When, however, a man cackles during interminable
café séances of the renewal of poetry and the unfolding of a new art
of the future, and finally produces three little brochures of childish
verses as the result of his world-stirring effort, then the material
insignificance of the performance also becomes a subject for ridicule.

Moréas is one of the inventors of the word ‘Symbolism.’ For some few
years he was the high-priest of this secret doctrine, and administered
the duties of his service with requisite seriousness. One day he
suddenly abjured his self-founded faith, and declared that ‘Symbolism’
had always been meant only as a joke, to lead fools by the nose withal;
and that the true salvation of poetry was in Romanism (_romanisme_).
Under this new word he affirms a return to the language, versification
and mode of feeling of the French poets at the close of the Middle
Ages, and of the Renaissance period; but it were well to adopt his
declarations with caution, since in two or three years he may be
proclaiming his ‘romanisme’ as much a tap-room joke as his ‘symbolism.’
The appearance of the _Pélerin passionné_ in 1891 was celebrated by
the Symbolists as an event which was to be the beginning of a new era
in poetry. They arranged a banquet in honour of Moréas, and in the
after-dinner speeches he was worshipped as the deliverer from the
shackles of ancient forms and notions, and as the saviour who was
bringing in the kingdom of God of true poetry. And the same poets who
sat at the table with Moréas, and delivered to him rapturous addresses
or joined in the applause, a few weeks after this event overwhelmed
him with contumely and contempt. ‘Moréas a Symbolist!’ cried Charles
Vignier.[139] ‘Is he one through his ideas? He laughs at them himself!
His thoughts! They don’t weigh much, these thoughts of Jean Moréas!’
‘Moréas?’ asks Adrien Remacle,[140] ‘we have all been laughing at him.
It is that which has made him famous.’ René Ghil calls his _Pélerin
passionné_ ‘doggerel written by a pedant,’ and Gustav Kahn[141] passes
sentence on him thus: ‘Moréas has no talent.... He has never done
anything worth mentioning. He has his own particular jargon.’ These
expressions disclose to us the complete hollowness and falseness of the
Symbolistic movement, which outside France is obstinately proclaimed
as a serious matter by imbeciles and speculators, although its French
inventors make themselves hoarse in trying to convince the world that
they merely wanted to banter the Philistine with a tap-room jest and
advertise themselves.

After the verdict of his brethren in the Symbolist Parnassus, I may
really spare myself the trouble of dwelling longer on Moréas; I will,
however, cite a few examples from his _Pélerin passionné_, in order
that the reader may form an idea of the softness of brain which
displays itself in these verses.

The poem Agnes[142] begins thus:

      ‘Il y avait des arcs où passaient des escortes
      Avec des bannières de deuil et du fer
      Lacé (?) des potentats de toutes sortes
      --Il y avait--dans la cité au bord de la mer.
      Les places étaient noires, et bien pavées, et les portes,
      Du côté de l’est et de l’ouest, hautes; et comme en hiver
      La forêt, dépérissaient les salles de palais, et les porches,
      Et les colonnades de belvéder.
  C’était (tu dois bien t’en souvenir) c’était aux plus beaux jours de
    ton adolescence.

      ‘Dans la cité au bord de la mer, la cape et la dague lourdes
      De pierres jaunes, et sur ton chapeau des plumes de perroquets,
      Tu t’en venais, devisant telles bourdes,
      Tu t’en venais entre tes deux laquais
      Si bouffis et tant sots--en verité, des happelourdes!--
      Dans la cité au bord de la mer tu t’en venais et tu vaguais
      Parmi de grands vieillards qui travaillaient aux felouques,
      Le long des môles et des quais.
  C’était (tu dois bien t’en souvenir) c’était aux plus beaux jours de
    ton adolescence.

And thus the twaddle goes on through eight more stanzas, and in every
line we find the characteristics of the language used by imbeciles and
made notorious by Sollier (_Psychologie de l’Idiot et de l’Imbécile_),
the ‘ruminating’ as it were, of the same expressions, the dreamy
incoherence of the language, and the insertion of words which have no
connection with the subject.

Two _Chansons_[143] run thus:

  ‘Les courlis dans les roseaux!
  (Faut-il que je vous en parle,
  Des courlis dans les roseaux?)
  O vous joli’ Fée des eaux.

  ‘Le porcher et les pourceaux!
  (Faut-il que je vous en parle,
  Du porcher et des pourceaux?)
  O vous joli’ Fée des eaux.

  ‘Mon cœur pris en vos réseaux!
  (Faut-il que je vous en parle,
  De mon cœur en vos réseaux?)
  O vous joli’ Fée des eaux.

  ‘On a marché sur les fleurs au bord de la route,
  Et le vent d’automne les secoue si fort, en outre.

  ‘La malle-poste a renversé la vieille croix au bord de la route;
  Elle était vraiment si pourrie, en outre.

  ‘L’idiot (tu sais) est mort au bord de la route,
  Et personne ne le pleurera, en outre.’

The stupid artifice with which Moréas here seeks to produce a feeling
of wretchedness by conjuring up the three associated figures of crushed
flowers, dishevelled by the wind, an overturned and mouldering cross,
and a dead, unmourned idiot, makes this poem a model of the would-be
profound production of a madhouse!

When Moréas is not soft of brain, he develops a rhetorical turgidity
which reminds us of Hofmann von Hofmannswaldau in his worst efforts.
Only one example[144] of this kind, and we have done with him:

  ‘J’ai tellement soif, ô mon amour, de ta bouche,
  Que j’y boirais en baisers le cours detourné
  Du Strymon, l’Araxe et le Tanaïs farouche;
  Et les cent méandres qui arrosent Pitané,
  Et l’Hermus qui prend sa source où le soleil se couche,
  Et toutes les claires fontaines dont abonde Gaza,
  Sans que ma soif s’en apaisât.’

Behind the leaders Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Moréas a troop of minor
Symbolists throng, each, it is true, in his own eyes the one great
poet of the band, but whose illusions of greatness do not entitle
them to any special observation. Sufficient justice is dealt them if
the spirit they are made of be characterized by quoting a few lines
of their poetry. Jules Laforgue, ‘unique not only in his generation,
but in all the republic of literature,’[145] cries: ‘Oh, how daily
[_quotidienne_] is life!’ and in his poem _Pan et la Syrinx_ we come
upon lines like the following:

  ‘O Syrinx! voyez et comprenez la Terre et la merveille de cette
      matinée et la circulation de la vie.
  Oh, vous là! et moi, ici! Oh vous! Oh, moi! Tout est dans Tout!’[146]

Gustav Kahn, one of the æstheticists and philosophers of Symbolism,
says in his _Nuit sur la Lande_: ‘Peace descends from thy lovely eyes
like a great evening, and the borders of slow tents descend, studded
with precious stones, woven of far-off beams and unknown moons.’

In German, at least, ‘borders of slow tents which descend’ is
completely unintelligible nonsense. In French they are also
unintelligible; but in the original their meaning becomes apparent.
‘Et des pans de tentes lentes descendent,’ the line runs, and betrays
itself as pure echolalia, as a succession of similar sounds, as it
were, echoing each other.

Charles Vignier, ‘the beloved disciple of Verlaine,’ says to his

  ‘Là-bas c’est trop loin,
  Pauvre libellule,
  Reste dans ton coin
  Et prends des pilules...

  ‘Sois Edmond About
  Et d’humeur coulante,
  Sois un marabout
  Du Jardin des Plantes.’

Another of his poems, _Une Coupe de Thulé_, runs thus:

  ‘Dans une coupe de Thulé
  Où vient pâlir l’attrait de l’heure,
  Dort le sénile et dolent leurre
  De l’ultime rêve adulé.

  ‘Mais des cheveux d’argent filé
  Font un voile à celle qui pleure,
  Dans une coupe de Thulé
  Où s’est éteint l’attrait de l’heure.

  ‘Et l’on ne sait quel jubilé
  Célèbre une harpe mineure
  Que le hautain fantôme effleure
  D’un lucide doigt fuselé!...
  Dans une coupe de Thulé!’

These poems remind us so forcibly of those doggerel rhymes at which in
Germany jovial students are often wont to try their skill, and which
are known as ‘flowery [_lit._ blooming] nonsense,’ that, in spite of
the solemn assurance of French critics, I am convinced that they were
intended as a joke. If I am right in my supposition, they are really
evidences, not of the mental status of Vignier, but of his readers,
admirers, and critics.

Louis Dumur addresses the Neva in the following manner:

  ‘Puissante, magnifique, illustre, grave, noble reine!
  O Tsaristsa [_sic!_] de glace et de fastes Souveraine!
  Matrone hiératique et solennelle et vénérée!...
  Toi qui me forces à rêver, toi qui me deconcertes,
  Et toi surtout que j’aime, Émail, Beauté, Poème, Femme.
  Néva! j’évoque ton spectacle et l’hymne de ton âme!’

And René Ghil, one of the best-known Symbolists (he is chief of a
school entitled ‘évolutive-instrumentiste’), draws from his lyre these
tones, which I also quote in French; in the first place because they
would lose their ring in a translation, and, secondly, because if I
were to translate them literally, it is hopeless to suppose that the
reader would think I was serious:

  ‘Ouïs! ouïs aux nues haut et nues où
  Tirent-ils d’aile immense qui vire ...
          et quand vide
  et vers les grands pétales dans l’air plus aride--

  ‘(Et en le lourd venir grandi lent stridule, et
  Titille qui n’alentisse d’air qui dure, et!
  Grandie, erratile et multiple d’éveils, stride
  Mixte, plainte et splendeur! la plénitude aride)

  ‘et vers les grands pétales d’agitations
  Lors évanouissait un vol ardent qui stride....

  ‘(des saltigrades doux n’iront plus vers les mers....)’

One thing must be acknowledged, and that is, the Symbolists have
an astonishing gift for titles. The book itself may belong to pure
madhouse literature; the title is always remarkable. We have already
seen that Moréas names one of his collection of verses _Les Syrtes_.
He might in truth just as well call it the _North Pole_, or _The
Marmot_, or _Abd-el-Kader_, since these have just as much connection
with the poems in the little volume as _Syrtes_; but it is undeniable
that this geographical name calls up the lustre of an African sun, and
the pale reflection of classic antiquity, which may well please the
eye of the hysteric reader. Edouard Dubus entitles his poem, _Quand
les Violons sont partis_; Louis Dumur, _Lassitudes_; Gustave Khan,
_Les Palais nomades_; Maurice du Plessis, _La Peau de Marsyas_; Ernest
Raynaud, _Chairs profanes_ and _Le Signe_; Henri de Régnier, _Sites
et Episodes_; Arthur Rimbaud, _Les Illuminations_; Albert Saint Paul,
_L’Echarpe d’Iris_; Viélé-Griffin, _Ancæus_; and Charles Vignier,

Of the prose of the Symbolists, I have already given some examples.
I should further like to cite only a few passages from a book which
the Symbolists declare to be one of their most powerful mental
manifestations, _La Littérature de tout-à-l’heure_, by Charles Morice.
It is a sort of bird’s-eye view of the development of literature up to
the present time, a rapid critique of the more and most recent books
and authors, a kind of programme of the literature of the future. This
book is one of the most astonishing which exists in any language. It
strongly resembles _Rembrandt as Educator_, but is far beyond that
book in the utter senselessness of its concatenations of words. It is
a monument of pure literary insanity, of ‘graphomania’; and neither
Delepierre in his _Littérature des Fous_, nor Philomnestes (Gustave
Brunet) in his _Fous Littéraires_, quotes examples of more complete
mental dislocation than are visible in every page of this book. Notice
the following confession of faith by Morice:[147] ‘Although in this
book treating only of æsthetics--although of æsthetics based upon
metaphysics--we shall remember to refrain, as far as possible, from
pure philosophizing, we must approximately paraphrase a word which will
more than once be made use of, and which, in the highest sense here
put upon it, is not incapable of being paraphrased. God is the first
and universal cause, the final and universal end; the bond between
spirits; the point of intersection where two parallels would meet; the
fulfilment of our inclinations; the fruition which accords with the
glories of our dreams; the abstraction itself of the concrete; the
unseen and unheard and yet certain ideal of our demands for beauty
in truth. God is, par excellence, THE very word--the very word, that
is to say, that unknown certain word of which every author has the
incontrovertible, but undiscernible idea, the self-evident but hidden
goal which he will never reach, and which he approaches as near as
possible. In, so to say, practical æsthetics He is the atmosphere
of joy in which the mind revels victorious, because it has reduced
irreducible mystery to imperishable symbols.’ I do not for a moment
doubt that this incomparable jumble will be quite intelligible to
theologians. Like all mystics, they discover a sense in every sound;
that is, they persuade themselves and others that the nebulous ideas
which the sound awakens in their brains by association are the meaning
of that sound. But anyone who demands of words that they should be the
media of definite thoughts, will perceive in the face of this twaddle
that the author was not thinking anything at all when he wrote,
although he was dreaming of many things. ‘Religion’ is for Morice (p.
56), ‘the source of art, and art in its essence is religious’--an
affirmation which he borrows from Ruskin, although he does not
acknowledge it. ‘Our scholars, our thinkers ... the luminous heads of
the nineteenth century,’ are ‘Edgar Poe, Carlyle, Herbert Spencer,
Darwin, Auguste Comte, Claude Bernard, Berthelot’ (p. 57). Edgar Poe
by the side of Spencer, Darwin, and Claude Bernard! never have ideas
danced a crazier fools’ quadrille in a disordered brain.

And this book, of which the passages we have cited give a sufficiently
correct idea, was, in France (just as _Rembrandt as Educator_ was in
Germany), pronounced by thoroughly responsible critics to be ‘strange,
but interesting and suggestive.’ A poor degenerate devil who scribbles
such stuff, and an imbecile reader who follows his twaddle like passing
clouds, are simply to be pitied. But what words of contempt are strong
enough for the sane intellectual tatterdemalions who, in order not
to offend or else to give themselves the appearance of possessing
a remarkable faculty of comprehension, or to affect fairness and
benevolence even towards those whose opinions they in part do not
share, insist that they discover in books of this kind many a truth,
much wit along with peculiar whims, an ideal of fervour and frequent
lightnings of thought?

The word ‘Symbolism’ conveys, as we have seen, no idea to its
inventors. They pursue no definite artistic tendency; hence it is
not possible to show them that their tendency is a false one. It is
otherwise with some of their disciples, who joined their ranks, partly
through a desire to advertise themselves, partly because they thought
that, in the conflicts between literary parties, they were fighting
on the side which was the stronger and the more sure of victory, and
partly, also, through the folly of fashion, and through the influence
exerted by any noisy novelty over uncritical minds. Less weak-brained
than the leaders, they felt the need of giving the word ‘Symbolism’ a
certain significance, and, in fact, drew up a number of axioms which,
according to their profession, serve to guide them in their creations.
These axioms are sufficiently defined to allow of discussion.

The Symbolists demand greater freedom in the treatment of French verse.
They fiercely rebel against the old alexandrines, with the cæsura in
the middle, and the necessary termination of the sentence at the end;
against the prohibition of the hiatus; against the law of a regular
alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes. They make defiant use
of the ‘free verse,’ with length and rhythm _ad libitum_, and false
rhymes. The foreigner can only smile at the savage gestures with which
this conflict is carried on. It is a schoolboys’ war against some
hated book, which is solemnly torn in pieces, trodden under foot, and
burned. The whole dispute concerning prosody and the rules of rhyme
is, so to speak, an inter-Gallic concern, and is of no consequence to
the literature of the world. We have long had everything which the
French poets are only now seeking to obtain by barricades and street
massacres. In Goethe’s _Prometheus_, _Mahomet’s Gesang_, _Harzreise im
Winter_, in Heine’s _Nordsee Cyklus_, etc., we possess perfect models
of free verse; we alternate the rhymes as we will; we allow masculine
and feminine rhymes to follow one another as seems good to us; we do
not bind ourselves to the rigid law of old classic metres, but suffer,
in the cradling measure of our verse, anapæsts to alternate with
iambics and spondees, according to our feeling for euphony. English,
Italian and Sclavonic poetry have gone equally far, and if the French
alone have remained behind, and have at last found a need for casting
aside their old matted, moth-eaten periwig, this is quite reasonable;
but to anyone but a Frenchman they merely make themselves ridiculous
when they trumpet their painful hobbling after the nations who are far
in front of them, as an unheard-of discovery of new paths and opening
up of new roads, and as an advance inspired by the ideal into the dawn
of the future.

Another æsthetic demand of the Symbolists is that the line should,
independently of its sense, call forth an intended emotion merely by
its sound. A word should produce an effect, not through the idea which
it embodies, but as a tone, language becoming music. It is noteworthy
that many of the Symbolists have given their books titles which are
intended to awaken musical ideas. We find _Les Gammes_ (The Scales),
by Stuart Merrill; _Les Cantilènes_, by Jean Moréas; _Cloches dans la
Nuit_, by Adolphe Retté; _Romances sans Paroles_, by Paul Verlaine,
etc. To make use of language as a musical instrument for the production
of pure tone effects is the delirious idea of a mystic. We have seen
that the pre-Raphaelites demand of the fine arts that they should not
represent the concrete plastically or optically, but should express
the abstract, and therefore simply undertake the _rôle_ of alphabetic
writing. Similarly, the Symbolists displace all the natural boundary
lines of art, and impose upon the word a task which belongs to musical
signs only. But while the pre-Raphaelites wish to raise the fine arts
to a higher rank than is suited to them, the Symbolists greatly degrade
the word. In its origin sound is musical. It expresses no definite
idea, but only a general emotion of the animal. The cricket fiddles,
the nightingale trills, when sexually excited. The bear growls when
stirred by the rage of conflict; the lion roars in his pleasure when
tearing a living prey. In proportion as the brain develops in the
animal kingdom, and mental life becomes richer, the means of vocal
expression are evolved and differentiated, and become capable of making
perceptible to the senses not only simple generic emotions, but also
presentative complexes of a more restricted and definitely delimitated
nature--nay, if Professor Garner’s observations concerning the language
of apes are accurate, even tolerably distinct single presentations.
Sound, as a means of expressing mental operations, reaches its final
perfection in cultivated, grammatically articulated language, inasmuch
as it can then follow exactly the intellectual working of the brain,
and make it objectively perceptible in all the minutest details. To
bring the word, pregnant with thought, back to the emotional sound is
to renounce all the results of organic development, and to degrade
man, rejoicing in the power of speech, to the level of the whirring
cricket or the croaking frog. The efforts of the Symbolists, then,
result in senseless twaddle, but not in the word-music they intend,
for this simply does not exist. No word of any single human language
is, as such, musical. Many languages abound in consonants; in others
vowels predominate. The former require more dexterity in the muscles
employed in speaking; their pronunciation, therefore, counts as more
difficult, and they seem less agreeable to the ears of foreigners than
the languages which are rich in vowels. But this has nothing to do
with the musical side of the question. What remains of the phonetic
effect of a word if it is whispered, or if it is only visible as a
written character? And yet in both cases it is able to awaken the same
emotions, as if it had reached consciousness full-toned through the
sense of hearing. Let anyone have read aloud to him the most cleverly
chosen arrangement of words in a language completely unknown to him,
and try to produce in himself a definite emotion through the mere
phonetic effect. In every case it will be found impossible. The meaning
of a word, and not its sound, determines its value. The sound is as
such neither beautiful nor ugly. It becomes so only through the voice
which gives it life. Even the first soliloquy in Goethe’s _Iphigenie_
would be ugly coming from the throat of a drunkard. I have had the
opportunity of convincing myself that even the Hottentot language,
spoken in a mellow, agreeable contralto voice, could be pleasing.

Still more cracked is the craze of a sub-section of the Symbolists,
the ‘Instrumentalists,’ whose spokesman is René Ghil. They connect
each sound with a definite feeling of colour, and demand that the
word should not only awaken musical emotion, but at the same time
operate æsthetically in producing a colour-harmony. This mad idea has
its origin in a much-quoted sonnet by Arthur Rimbaud, _Les Voyelles_
(Vowels), of which the first line runs thus:

  ‘A black, e white, i red, u green, o blue.’

Morice declares[148] explicitly (what in any case no one in a sane
state of mind would have doubted) that Rimbaud wished to make one
of those silly jokes which imbeciles and idiots are in the habit
of perpetrating. Some of his comrades, however, took the sonnet in
grim earnest, and deduced from it a theory of art. In his _Traité du
Verbe_ René Ghil specifies the colour-value, not only of individual
vowels, but of musical instruments. ‘Harps establish their supremacy
by being white. And violins are blue, often softened by a shimmer of
light, to subdue paroxysms.’ (It is to be hoped the reader will duly
appraise these combinations of words.) ‘In the exuberance of ovations,
brass instruments are red, flutes yellow, allowing the childlike to
proclaim itself astonished at the luminance of the lips. And the organ,
synthesis of all simple instruments, bewails deafness of earth and
the flesh all in black....’ Another Symbolist, who has many admirers,
M. Francis Poictevin, teaches us, in _Derniers Songes_, to know
the feelings corresponding to colours. ‘Blue goes--without more of
passion--from love to death; or, more accurately, it is a lost extreme.
From turquoise blue to indigo, one goes from the most shame-faced
influences to final ravages.’

Wiseacres were, of course, at once to the fore, and set up a
quasi-scientific theory of ‘colour-hearing.’ Sounds are said to
awaken sensations of colour in many persons. According to some, this
was a gift of specially finely organized nervous natures; according
to others, it was due to an accidental abnormal connection between
the optic and acoustic brain-centres by means of nerve filaments.
This anatomical explanation is entirely arbitrary, and has not been
substantiated by any facts. But ‘colour-hearing’ itself is by no means
confirmed. The most complete book hitherto published on this subject,
the author of which is the French oculist, Suarez de Mendoza,[149]
collects all the available observations on this alleged phenomenon,
and deduces from them the following definition: ‘It is the faculty
of associating tones and colours, by which every objective acoustic
perception of sufficient intensity, nay, even the memory-image of such
a perception, arouses in certain persons a luminous or non-luminous
image, which is always the same for the same letters, the same tone
of voice or instrument, and the same intensity or pitch of tone.’
Suarez well hits the truth when he says, ‘Colour-hearing’ (he calls
it _pseudo-photesthésie_) ‘is often a consequence of an association
of ideas established in youth ... and often of a special action of
the brain, the particular nature of which is unknown to us, and may
have a certain similarity to sense-illusion and hallucination.’ For my
part, I have no doubt that colour-hearing is always the consequence
of association of ideas, the origins of which must remain obscure,
because the combination of certain presentations of colour with certain
sensations of sound may possibly depend upon the very evanescent
perceptions of early childhood, which were not powerful enough to
arouse the attention, and have therefore remained undiscerned in
consciousness. That it is a question of purely individual associations
brought about by the accident of associated ideas, and not of organic
co-ordinations depending upon definite abnormal nervous connections,
is made very probable by the fact that every colour-hearer ascribes a
different colour to the same vowel or instrument. We have seen that
to Ghil the flute is yellow, to L. Hoffmann (whom Goethe cites in his
_Farbenlehre_) this instrument is scarlet. Rimbaud calls the letter ‘a’
black. Persons whom Suarez mentions heard this vowel as blue, and so on.

The relation between the external world and the organism is originally
very simple. Movements are continually occurring in nature, and the
protoplasm of living cells perceives these movements. Unity of effect
corresponds to unity of cause. The lowest animals perceive of the
outer world only this, that something in it changes, and possibly,
also, whether this change is marked or slight, sudden or slow. They
receive sensations differing quantitatively, but not qualitatively.
We know, for example, that the proboscis, or syphon, of the _Pholas
dactylus_, which contracts more or less vigorously and quickly at
every excitation, is sensitive to all external impressions--light,
noise, touch, smell, etc. This mollusc sees, hears, feels and smells,
therefore, with this simple organ; his proboscis is to him at once
eye, ear, nose, finger, etc. In the higher animals the protoplasm
is differentiated. Nerves, ganglia, brain and sense-apparatus are
formed. The movements of nature are now perceived in a variety of
ways. The differentiated senses transform the unity of the phenomenon
into the diversity of the percept. But even in the highest and most
differentiated brain there still remains something like a very
distant and very dim remembrance that the cause which excites the
different senses is one and the same movement, and there are formed
presentations and conceptions which would be unintelligible if we
could not concede this vague intuition of the fundamental unity of
essence in all perceptions. We speak of ‘high’ and ‘deep’ tones, and
thus give to sound-waves a relationship in space which they cannot
have. In the same way we speak of tone-colour, and, conversely, of
colour-tones, and thus confound the acoustic and optic properties of
the phenomena. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ lines or tones, ‘sweet’ voices, are
frequent modes of expression, which depend on a transference of the
perception of one sense to the impressions of another. In many cases
this method of speech may no doubt be traced to mental inertia. It is
more convenient to designate a sense-perception by a word which is
familiar, though borrowed from the province of another sense, than to
create a special word for the particular percept. But even this loan
for convenience’ sake is possible and intelligible only if we admit
that the mind perceives certain resemblances between the impressions of
the different senses--resemblances which, although they are often to be
explained by conscious or unconscious association of ideas, are oftener
quite inexplicable objectively. It only remains for us to assume that
consciousness, in its deepest substrata, neglects the differentiation
of phenomena by the various senses, passes over this perfection
attained very late in organic evolution, and treats impressions only
as undifferentiated material for the acquirement of knowledge of the
external world without reference to their origin by way of this or
that sense. It thus becomes intelligible that the mind mingles the
perceptions attained through the different senses, and transforms them
one into another. Binet[150] has established, in his excellent essays,
this transposition of the senses in hysterical persons. A female
patient, whose skin was perfectly insensible on one half of her body,
took no notice when, unseen by herself, she was pricked with a needle.
But at the moment of puncture there arose in her consciousness the
image of a black (in the case of another invalid, of a bright) point.
Consciousness thus transposed an impression of the nerves of the skin,
which, as such, was not perceived, into an impression of the retina, of
the optic nerve.

In any case, it is an evidence of diseased and debilitated
brain-activity, if consciousness relinquishes the advantages of the
differentiated perceptions of phenomena, and carelessly confounds the
reports conveyed by the particular senses. It is a retrogression to
the very beginning of organic development. It is a descent from the
height of human perfection to the low level of the mollusc. To raise
the combination, transposition and confusion of the perceptions of
sound and sight to the rank of a principle of art, to see futurity
in this principle, is to designate as progress the return from the
consciousness of man to that of the oyster.

Moreover, it is an old clinical observation that mental decay is
accompanied by colour mysticism. One of Legrain’s[151] mental
invalids ‘endeavoured to recognise good and evil by the difference of
colour, ascending from white to black; when he was reading, words had
(according to their colour) a hidden meaning, which he understood.’
Lombroso[152] cites ‘eccentric persons’ who, ‘like Wigman, had the
paper for their books specially manufactured with several colours
on each page.... Filon painted each page of the books he wrote in a
different colour.’ Barbey d’Aurevilly, whom the Symbolists venerate as
a pioneer, used to write epistles in which each letter of a word was
coloured with a different tint. Most alienists know similar cases in
their experience.

The more reliable Symbolists proclaim their movement as ‘a reaction
against naturalism.’ Such a reaction was certainly justified and
necessary; for naturalism in its beginnings, as long as it was embodied
in De Goncourt and Zola, was morbid, and, in its later development in
the hands of their imitators, vulgar and even criminal, as will be
proved further on. Nevertheless Symbolism is not in the smallest degree
qualified to conquer naturalism, because it is still more morbid than
the latter, and, in art, the devil cannot be driven out by Beelzebub.

Finally, it is affirmed that Symbolism connotes ‘the inscribing of
a symbol in human form.’ Expressed unmystically, this means that in
the poems of the Symbolists the particular human form should not only
exhibit its special nature and contingent destiny, but also represent
a general type of humanity, and embody a universal law of life. This
quality, however, is not the monopoly of Symbolistic poetry, but
belongs to all kinds of poetry. No genuine poet has yet been impelled
to deal with an utterly unprecedented and unique case, or with a
monstrous being whose likeness is not to be found in mankind. That
which interests him in men and their destiny is just the intimate
connection between the two and the universal laws of human life. The
more the government of universal laws is made apparent in the fate of
the individual, the more there is embodied in him that which lives in
all men, so much the more attractive will this destiny and this man be
to the poet. There is not in all the literature of humanity a single
work of recognised importance which in this sense is not symbolic,
and in which the characters, their passions and fortunes, have not a
typical significance, far transcending the particular circumstances.
It is, therefore, a piece of foolish arrogance in the Symbolists to
lay claim to the sole possession of this quality in the works of their
school. They show, moreover, that they do not understand their own
formulæ; for those theorists of the school who demand of poetry that it
should be ‘a symbol inscribed in human form,’ assert at the same time
that only the ‘rare and unique case’ (_le cas rare et unique_) deserves
the attention of the poet, _i.e._, the case which is significant of
nothing beyond itself, and consequently the opposite of a symbol.[153]

We have now seen that Symbolism, like English pre-Raphaelitism (from
which it borrowed its catch-words and opinions), is nothing else
than a form of the mysticism of weak-minded and morbidly emotional
degeneration. The efforts of some followers of the movement to import
a meaning into the stammering utterances of their leaders, and falsely
to ascribe to them a sort of programme, do not for a moment withstand
criticism, but show themselves to be graphomaniac and delirious
twaddle, without the smallest grain of truth or sound reason. A young
Frenchman, who is certainly not adverse to rational innovation, Hugues
Le Roux,[154] describes the group of Symbolists quite correctly in
saying of them: ‘They are ridiculous cripples, each intolerable to the
other; they live uncomprehended by the public, several by their friends
as well, and a few by themselves. As poets or prose writers they
proceed in the same way: no material, no sense, and only juxtapositions
of loud-sounding musical (?) words; teams of strange rhymes, groupings
of unexpected colours and tones, swaying cadences, hurtlings,
hallucinations and evoked suggestions.’



COUNT LEO TOLSTOI has become in the last few years one of the
best-known, and apparently, also, of the most widely-read authors in
the world. Every one of his words awakens an echo among all civilized
nations on the globe. His strong influence over his contemporaries is
unmistakable. But it is no artistic influence. No one has yet imitated
him--at least, for the present. He has formed no school after the
manner of the pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists. The already large number
of writings to which he has given occasion are explanatory or critical.
There are no poetical creations modelled upon his own. The influence
which he exercises over contemporary thoughts and feelings is a moral
one, and applies far more to the great bulk of his readers than to the
smaller circle of struggling authors who are on the look-out for a
leader. What we, then, can call Tolstoism is no æsthetic theory, but
rather a conception of life.

In order to bring forward the proof that Tolstoism is a mental
aberration, that it is a form of the phenomenon of degeneration, it
will be necessary to look critically first at Tolstoi himself, and then
at the public which is inspired by his thoughts.

Tolstoi is at once a poet and a philosopher, the latter in the widest
sense--_i.e._, he is a theologian, a moralist, and a social theorist.
As the author of works of imagination he stands very high, even if he
does not equal his countryman Tourgenieff, whom he at present appears
in the estimation of most people to have thrown into the shade.
Tolstoi does not possess the splendid sense of artistic proportion of
Tourgenieff, with whom there is never a word too much, who neither
protracts his subject nor digresses from his point, and who, as a
grand and genuine creator of men, stands Prometheus-like over the
figures he has inspired with life. Even Tolstoi’s greatest admirers
admit that he is long-winded, loses himself in details, and does not
always know how to sacrifice the unessential in order, with sure
judgment, to enhance the indispensable. Speaking of the novel _War
and Peace_, M. de Vogüé[155] says: ‘Is this complicated work properly
to be termed a novel?... The very simple and very loose thread of the
plot serves to connect chapters on history, politics, philosophy,
which are all crammed promiscuously into this polygraphy of Russian
life.... Enjoyment has here to be purchased in a manner resembling a
mountain ascent. The way is often wearisome and hard; at times one
goes astray; effort is necessary and toil.... Those who only seek
diversion in fiction are by Tolstoi driven from their wonted ways.
This close analyst does not know, or else disdains, the first duty of
analysis, which is so natural to the French genius; we desire that the
novelist should select; that he should set apart a person, a fact, out
of the chaos of beings and things, in order to observe the objects
of his choice. The Russian, governed by the feeling of universal
interdependence, cannot make up his mind to cut the thousand cords
which unite a man, a fact, a thought, to the whole course of the world.’

Vogüé sees rightly that these facts are deserving of notice, but he
cannot explain them. Unconsciously he has clearly characterized the
method with which a mystical degenerate looks upon the world, and
depicts its phenomena. We know that it is lack of attention which
constitutes the peculiarity of mystical thought. It is attention which
selects from the chaos of phenomena, and so groups what it selects as
to illustrate the predominating thought in the mind of the beholder.
If attention fails, the world appears to the beholder like a uniform
stream of enigmatic states, which emerge and disappear without any
connection, and remain completely without expression to consciousness.
These primary facts of mental life must ever be kept in view by the
reader. The attitude of the attentive man in the face of external
phenomena is one of activity; that of the inattentive man is passive;
the former orders them according to a plan which he has worked out in
his mind; the latter receives the turmoil of their impress without
attempting to organize, separate, or co-ordinate. The difference is
the same as that between the reproduction of the scenes of nature by a
good painter and a photographic plate. The painting suppresses certain
features in the world’s phenomena, and brings others into prominence,
so that it at once permits a distinct external incident, or a definite
internal emotion of the painter, to be recognised. The photograph
reflects the whole scene with all its details indiscriminately, so
that it is without meaning, until the beholder brings into play his
attention, which the sensitive plate could not do. At the same time it
is to be observed that even the photograph is not a true impression
of reality, for the sensitive plate is only sensitive to certain
colours; it records the blue and violet, and receives from yellow and
red either a weak impression or none at all. The sensitiveness of
the chemical plate corresponds to the emotionalism of the degenerate
mind. The latter also makes a choice among phenomena, not, however,
according to the laws of conscious attention, but according to the
impulse of unconscious emotionalism. He perceives whatever is in tune
with his emotions; what is not consonant with them does not exist for
him. Thus arises the method of work which Vogüé has pointed out in
Tolstoi’s novels. The details are perceived equally, and placed side
by side, not according to their importance for the leading idea, but
according to their relation with the emotions of the novelist. For that
matter, there is scarcely any leading idea, or none at all. The reader
must first carry it into the novel, as he would carry it into Nature
herself, into a landscape, into a crowd of people, into the course of
events. The novel is only written because the novelist felt certain
strong emotions, and certain features of the world’s panorama as it
unrolled before his eyes intensified these emotions. Thus, the novel
of Tolstoi resembles the picture of the pre-Raphaelites: an abundance
of amazingly accurate details,[156] a mystically blurred, scarcely
recognisable, leading idea,[157] a deep and strong emotion.[158] This
is also distinctly felt by M. de Vogüé, but again without his being
able to explain it. He says:[159] ‘Through a peculiar and frequent
contradiction, this troubled, vacillating mind, steeped as it is in the
mists of Nihilism, is endowed with an incomparable clearness and power
of penetration for the scientific (?) study of the phenomena of life.
He sees distinctly, rapidly, analytically, everything on earth.... One
might say, the mind of an English chemist in the soul of an Indian
Buddhist. Let anyone who can explain this singular union; whoever
succeeds will be able to explain Russia.... These phenomena, which
offer so firm a basis to him when he observes them singly, he wishes
to know in their universal relations, and to arrive at the definite
laws governing these relations, and at their inaccessible causes. Then
it is that this clear vision darkens, the intrepid inquirer loses his
footing, he falls into the abyss of philosophical contradictions; in
him and around him he feels only nothingness and night.’

M. de Vogüé wishes for an explanation of this ‘singular union’ between
great clearness in apprehension of details, and complete incapacity of
understanding their relations to each other. The explanation is now
familiar to my readers. The mystical intellect, the intellect without
attention, of the _émotif_ conveys to his consciousness isolated
impressions, which can be very distinct if they relate to his emotions;
but it is not in the condition to connect these isolated impressions
intelligibly, just because it is deficient in the attention necessary
to this object.

Grand as are the qualities which Tolstoi’s works of fiction possess, it
is not them he has to thank for his world-wide fame, or his influence
on his contemporaries. His novels were recognised as remarkable works,
but for decades of years neither _Peace and War_, nor _Anna Karenina_,
nor his short stories, had very many readers outside Russia; and the
critics bestowed upon their author only a guarded commendation. In
Germany, as recently as 1882, Franz Bornmüller said of Tolstoi in his
_Biographical Dictionary of Authors of the Present Time_: ‘He possesses
no ordinary talent for fiction, but one devoid of due artistic finish,
and which is influenced by a certain one-sidedness in his views of life
and history.’ This was the opinion until a few years ago of the not
very numerous non-Russian readers who knew him at all.

In 1889 his _Kreutzer Sonata_ appeared, and was the first of his
works to carry his name to the borders of civilization. This little
tale was the first to be translated into all cultivated languages. It
was disseminated in hundreds of thousands of copies, and was read by
millions with lively emotion. From this time onward the public opinion
of the Western nations placed him in the first rank of living authors:
his name was in everyone’s mouth, and universal sympathy turned not
only towards his early writings (which had remained unnoticed for
decades), but also to his person and his career, and he became, as it
were, in a night what he unquestionably is now in the evening of his
life--one of the chief representative figures of the departing century.
Yet the _Kreutzer Sonata_ stands, as a poetic creation, not so high
as most of his older works. A fame which was not gained by _War and
Peace_, _The Cossacks_, _Anna Karenina_, etc., nor, indeed, until long
after the appearance of these rich creations, but came at one stroke
through the _Kreutzer Sonata_, cannot therefore depend either solely
or principally on æsthetic excellence. The history of this fame shows
consequently that Tolstoi the novelist is not the cause of Tolstoism.

In fact, the tendency of mind so named is far more--perhaps wholly and
entirely--traceable to Tolstoi the philosopher. The philosopher is,
therefore, incomparably more important to our inquiry than the novelist.

Tolstoi has formed certain views on the position of man in the world,
on his relation to collective humanity, and on the aim of his life,
which are visible in all his creations, but which he has also set forth
connectedly in several theoretic works, especially in _My Confession_,
_My Faith_, _A Short Exposition of the Gospel_, and _About my Life_.
These views are but little complicated, and can be condensed in a
few words: the individual is nothing; the species is everything; the
individual lives in order to do his fellow-creatures good; thought and
inquiry are great evils; science is perdition; faith is salvation.

How he arrived at these results is related in _My Confessions_: ‘I lost
my faith early. I lived for a long time like everyone else, in the
frivolities of life. I wrote books, and taught, like everyone else,
what I did not know. Then the Sphinx began to follow me more and more
ruthlessly: “Guess my problem or I will tear thee to pieces.” Science
has explained absolutely nothing to me. In answer to my everlasting
question, the only one which means anything, “Wherefore am I alive?”
Science replied by teaching me things that were indifferent to me.
Science only said ...: “Life is a senseless evil.” I wanted to kill
myself. Finally I had a fancy to see how the vast majority of men lived
who, unlike us of the so-called upper classes, who give ourselves up to
pondering and investigation, work and suffer, and are, nevertheless,
quiet and clear in their minds over the aim of life. I understood that
to live like these men one must return to their simple beliefs.’

If this train of thought is seriously considered, it will be recognised
at once as nonsensical. The question, ‘Wherefore am I alive?’ is
incorrectly and superficially put. It tacitly presupposes the idea of
finality in nature, and it is just upon this presupposition that the
mind, thirsting earnestly for truth and knowledge, has to exercise its

In order to ask, ‘What is the aim of our life?’ we must take for
granted, above all, that our life has a definite aim, and since it is
only a particular phenomenon in the universal life of nature, in the
evolution of our earth, of our solar system, of all solar systems,
this assumption includes in itself the wider one, that the universal
life of Nature has a definite aim. This assumption, again, necessarily
presupposes the rule of a conscious, prescient, and guiding mind over
the universe. For what is an aim? The fore-ordained effect in the
future of forces active in the present. The aim exercises an influence
on these forces in pointing out to them a direction, and is thus itself
a force. It cannot, however, exist objectively, in time and space,
because then it would cease to be an aim and become a cause, _i.e._, a
force fitting in with the general mechanism of the forces of nature,
and all the speculation concerning the aim would fall to the ground.
But if it is not objective, if it does not exist in time and space, it
must, in order to be conceivable, exist somewhere, virtually, as idea,
as a plan and design. But that which contains a design, a thought, a
plan, we name consciousness; and a consciousness that can conceive
a plan of the universe, and for its realization designedly uses the
forces of nature, is synonymous with God. If a man, however, believes
in a God, he loses at once the right to raise the question, ‘Wherefore
am I alive?’ Since it is in that case an insolent presumption, an
effort of small, weak man to look over God’s shoulder, to spy out God’s
plan, to aspire to the height of omniscience. But neither is it in such
a case necessary, since a God without the highest wisdom cannot be
conceived, and if He has devised a plan for the world, this is certain
to be perfect, all its parts are in harmony, and the aim to which every
co-operator, from the smallest to the greatest, will devote himself
is the best conceivable. Thus, man can live in complete rest and
confidence in the impulses and forces implanted in him by God, because
he, in every case, fulfils a high and worthy destiny by co-operating in
a, to him, unknown Divine plan of the world.

If, on the other hand, there is no belief in a God, it is also
impossible to form a conception of the aim, for then the aim, existing
in consciousness only as an idea, in the absence of a universal
consciousness, has no locus for its existence; there is no place
for it in Nature. But if there is no aim, then one cannot ask the
question, ‘Wherefore am I alive?’ Then life has not a predetermined
aim, but only causes. We have then to concern ourselves only with these
causes--at least, with the more proximate, and which are accessible to
our examination, since the remote, and especially the first, causes
elude our cognition. Our question must then run, ‘Why do we live?’
and we find the answer to it without difficulty. We live, because we
stand, like the rest of cognizable Nature, under the universal law of
causality. This is a mechanical law, which requires no predetermined
plan, and no design, consequently also no universal consciousness.
According to this law present phenomena are grounded on the past,
not on the future. We live because we are engendered by our parents,
because we have received from them a definite measure of force, which
makes it possible for us to resist for a given time the influence
upon us of Nature’s forces of dissolution. How our life is shaped is
determined by the constant interaction of our inherited organic forces
and of our environment. Our life is, therefore, objectively viewed,
the necessary result of the law-governed activity of the mechanical
forces of Nature. Subjectively it includes a quantity of pleasures and
pains. We feel as pleasure the satisfaction of our organic impulses, as
pain their fruitless struggles for satisfaction. In a sound organism,
possessing a high capacity for adaptation, those appetites only attain
development, the satisfaction of which is possible--at least, to a
certain degree--and is accompanied by no bad consequences for the
individual. In such a life pleasure consequently prevails decidedly
over pain, and he looks upon existence, not as an evil, but as a great
good. In the organism deranged by disease degenerate appetites exist
which cannot be satisfied, or of which the gratification injures
or destroys the individual, or the degenerate organism is too weak
or too inapt to gratify the legitimate impulses. In his life pain
necessarily predominates, and he looks upon existence as an evil.
My interpretation of the riddle of life is nearly related to the
well-known theory of eudæmonism, but it is founded on a biological,
not a metaphysical, basis. It explains optimism and pessimism simply
as an adequate or inadequate vitality, as the existence or absence of
adaptability, as health or illness. Unprejudiced observation of life
shows that the whole of mankind stands knowingly or unknowingly at the
same philosophical standpoint. Men live willingly, and rather quietly
happy than sadly, so long as existence affords them gratification. If
the sufferings are stronger than the feeling of pleasure conferred
by the satisfaction of the first and most important of all organic
impulses--the impulse of life or self-preservation--then they do not
hesitate to kill themselves. When Prince Bismarck once said, ‘I do
not know why I should bear all the troubles of life, if I were not
able to believe in a God and a future life,’ it only shows that he is
insufficiently acquainted with the progress of human thought since
Hamlet, who raised somewhat the same question. He bears the troubles
of life because, and as long as, he can bear them, and he throws them
down infallibly at the moment in which his strength is no longer
adequate to carry them. The unbeliever lives and is happy, so long as
the sweets of life weigh down the scale, and for this reason also the
believer, as experience daily teaches, will commit suicide if he sees
his balance of life’s account yielding a deficit of satisfaction. The
arguments of religion have undoubtedly in the mind of the believer, as
have the arguments of duty and honour in the mind of the unbeliever, a
convincing force, and must likewise be taken into account as so many
assets. Nevertheless they have only a limited, if high value, and can
counterbalance their own equivalent of suffering only, and no more.

From these considerations it follows that the terrible
question--‘Wherefore am I alive?’--which nearly drove Tolstoi to
suicide, is to be answered satisfactorily and without difficulty. The
believer, who accepts the fact that his life must have an aim, will
live according to his inclinations and powers, and tell himself that he
performs correctly, in this way, his allotted portion of the world’s
work without knowing its final aim; as also a soldier, at that point
of the field of battle where he is placed, does his duty willingly,
without having any notion of the general progress of the fight, and
of its significance for the whole campaign. The unbeliever, who is
convinced that his life is a particular instance of the universal
life of Nature, that his individuality has blossomed into existence
as a necessary law-governed operation of eternal organic forces,
knows also very well not only ‘wherefore,’ but also ‘what for,’ he is
alive; he lives because, and as long as, life is to him a source of
gratification--that is to say, of joy and happiness.

Has Tolstoi found any other answer by his desperate seeking? No. The
explanation which his pondering and searching did not offer him was,
as we have seen in the above-quoted passage in _My Confessions_, given
him by ‘the enormous majority of mankind, who ... labour and suffer,
and, nevertheless, are quiet and clear in their minds as to the aim
of life.’ ‘I understood,’ he adds, ‘that one must return to their
simple faith to live as these men do.’ The conclusion is arbitrary,
and is a _saltum_ of mystic thought. ‘The masses live quietly, and are
clear in their minds as to the aim of life,’ not because they have
a ‘simple faith,’ but because they are healthy, because they like
to feel themselves alive, because life gives them, in every organic
function, in every manifestation of their powers, at every moment,
some gratification. The ‘simple faith’ is the accidental accompanying
phenomenon of this natural optimism. No doubt the majority of the
uneducated classes, who represent the healthy portion of mankind,
and therefore certainly rejoice in life, receive, during childhood,
instruction in religious faith, and afterwards only rarely rectify
through their own thought the errors which, for state reasons, have
been imparted to them; but their unthinking belief is a consequence
of their poverty and ignorance, like their bad clothing, insufficient
food, and insanitary dwellings. To say that the majority ‘live quietly,
and are clear in their minds as to the aim of life,’ because they ‘have
simple faith,’ is quite as logical a sequitur as the assertion that
this majority ‘live quietly, and are clear in their minds as to the aim
of life’ because they chiefly eat potatoes, or because they live in
cellars, or because they seldom take baths.

Tolstoi has rightly noticed the fact that the majority do not share
his pessimism, and rejoice in their life, but he has explained it
mystically. Instead of recognising that the optimism of the masses is
simply a sign of their vitality, he traces it to their belief, and
then seeks in faith the clue to the aim of his existence. ‘I was led
to Christianity,’ he writes in another book,[160] ‘neither through
theological nor historical research, but by the circumstance that
when, at fifty years of age, I asked myself and the wise among my
acquaintance what myself and my life might signify, and received the
answer: “You are an accidental concatenation of parts; there is no
significance in life; life as such is an evil.”--I was then brought
to despair, and wished to kill myself. Remembering, however, that
formerly, in childhood, when I believed, life had a meaning for me,
and that the people about me who believe--the greater number being men
unspoilt by riches--both believe and lead real lives, I doubted the
accuracy of the answer which had been given me by the wisdom of my
circle, and endeavoured to understand that answer which Christianity
gives to men who lead a real life.’[161]

He found this answer ‘in the Gospels, that source of light.’ ‘It was
quite the same thing to me,’ he goes on to say, ‘whether Jesus was
God or not God; whether the Holy Ghost proceeded from the one or the
other. It was likewise neither necessary nor important for me to know
when and by whom the Gospel, or any one of the parables, was composed,
and whether they could be ascribed to Christ or not. What to me was
important was that Light, which for eighteen hundred years was the
Light of the World, and is that Light still, but what name was to be
given to the source of this Light, or what were its component parts,
and by whom it was lighted, was quite indifferent to me.’

Let us appraise this process of thought in a mystical mind. The
Gospel is the source of truth; it is, however, quite the same thing
whether the Gospel is God’s revelation or man’s work, and whether it
contains the genuine tradition of the life of Christ, or whether it
was written down hundreds of years after his death on the basis of
obscured and distorted traditions. Tolstoi himself feels that he here
makes a great error of thought, but he deceives himself over and out
of it in genuine mystical fashion, in that he makes use of a simile,
and pretends that his image was the matter-of-fact truth. He speaks,
namely, of the Gospel as a light, and says it is indifferent to him
what that light is called, and of what it consists. This is correct if
it concerns a real, material light, but the Gospel is only figuratively
a light, and can obviously, therefore, be compared to a light only if
it contains the truth. Whether it does contain the truth should first
be decided by inquiry. Should inquiry result in establishing that it
is man’s work, and consists only in unauthenticated traditions, then
it would evidently be no receptacle of truth, and one could not any
longer compare it with light, and the magnificent image with which
Tolstoi cuts short inquiry into the source of the light would vanish
into air. While, therefore, Tolstoi calls the Gospel a light, and
denies the necessity of following up its origin, he forthwith takes as
proven the very thing which is to be proved, namely, that the Gospel
is a light. We know already, however, the peculiarity of mystics to
found all their conclusions on the most senseless premises, alleging
contempt of reality and resisting all reasonable verification of their
starting-point. I only remind the reader of Rossetti’s sentence, ‘What
does it matter to me whether the sun revolves round the earth, or the
earth round the sun?’ and of Mallarmé’s expression, ‘The world is made
in order to lead to a beautiful book.’

One can read for one’s self in his _Short Exposition_ how Tolstoi
handles the Gospel, so that it may give him the required explanation.
He does not trouble himself in the least about the literal sense of
the Scriptures, but puts into them what is in his own head. The Gospel
which he has so recast has about as much resemblance to the canonical
Scriptures as the _Physiognomische Fragmente_, which Jean Paul’s
‘merry little schoolmaster, Maria Wuz in Auenthal,’ ‘drew out of his
own head,’ had with Lavater’s work of the same title. This Gospel of
his taught him concerning the importance of life as follows:[162] ‘Men
imagine that they are isolated beings, each one shaping his own life
as he wills. This, however, is a delusion. The only true life is that
which acknowledges the will of the Father as the source of life. This
unity of life my teaching reveals, and represents that life, not as
separate shoots, but as a single tree on which all the shoots grow. He
only who lives in the will of the Father, like a shoot on the tree,
has life; but he who would live according to his own will, like a
severed shoot, dies.’ He has already said that the Father is synonymous
with God, and that God, who ‘is the eternal origin of all things,’
is synonymous with ‘Spirit.’ If, then, this passage has any sense at
all, it can only be that the whole of Nature is a single living being,
that every single living being, therefore also every human being, is a
portion of universal life, and that this universal life is God. This
teaching is, however, not invented by Tolstoi. It has a name in the
history of philosophy, and is called Pantheism. It is shadowed forth in
Buddhism[163] and Greek Hylozoism, and was elaborated by Spinoza. It
is certainly not contained in the Gospel, and it is a definite denial
of Christianity which, let its dogmas be ever so rationalistically
interpreted and tortured, can never give up its doctrine of a personal
God and the Divine nature of Christ without ridding itself of its whole
religious import and its vitally important organs, and ceasing to be a

Thus we see that, though Tolstoi supposes he has succeeded in his
attempt to explain life’s problems by the Christian faith of the
masses, he has, on the contrary, fallen into its very opposite,
namely, Pantheism. The reply of the ‘wise,’ that he ‘is an accidental
concatenation of parts, and that there is no significance in life,’
‘drove him almost to suicide’; he is, on the contrary, quite tranquil
in the knowledge that[164] ‘the true life is ...not the life which is
past, nor that which will be, but is the life which now is, that which
confronts everyone at the present minute’; he expressly denies in _My
Religion_ the resurrection of the body and the individuality of the
soul, and does not notice that the teaching which contents him is quite
the same as that of the ‘wise,’ who ‘almost drove him into suicide.’
For if life exists only in the present, it can have no aim, since this
would refer to the future; and if the body does not rise again, and the
soul has no individual existence, then the ‘wise’ are quite right to
call the human being (certainly not accidental, but necessary, because
causally conditioned) ‘a concatenation of parts.’

Tolstoi’s theory of life, the fruit of the despairing mental labour
of his whole life, is therefore, nothing but a haze, a failure to
comprehend his own questions and answers, and hollow verbiage. His
ethics--on which he himself lays a far greater stress than on his
philosophy--is not in much better case than the latter. He comprises
them[165] in five laws, of which the fourth is the most important: ‘Do
not resist evil; suffer wrong, and do more than men ask; and so judge
not, nor suffer to be judged....’ To avenge one’s self only teaches to
avenge one’s self. His admirer, M. de Vogüé, expresses Tolstoi’s moral
philosophy in this form:[166] ‘Resist not evil, judge not, kill not.
Consequently no courts of justice, no armies, no prisons, no public
or private reprisals. No wars nor judgments. The world’s law is the
struggle for existence; the law of Christ is the sacrifice of one’s own
existence for others.’

Is it still necessary to point out the unreasonableness of these
ethics? It is obvious to sound common-sense without saying any more.
If the murderer had no longer to fear the gallows, and the thief the
prison, throat-cutting and stealing would be soon by far the most
generally adopted trade. It is so much more convenient to filch baked
bread and ready-made boots than to rack one’s self at the plough and in
the workshop. If society should cease to take care that crime should
be a dangerous risk, what would there be, forsooth, to deter wicked
men, who certainly exist, according to Tolstoi’s assumption, from
surrendering themselves to their basest impulses; and how could the
great mass of indifferent people be restrained, who have no pronounced
leaning either for good or for evil, from imitating the example of the
criminal? Certainly not Tolstoi’s own teaching that ‘the true life is
life in the present.’ The first active measures of society, for the
sake of which individuals originally formed themselves into a society,
is the protection of their members against those who are diseased
with homicidal mania, and against the parasites--another unhealthy
variation from the normal human type--who can only live by the work of
others, and who, to appease all their lusts, unscrupulously overpower
every human being who crosses their path. Individuals with anti-social
impulses would soon be in the majority if the healthy members did not
subdue them, and make it difficult for them to thrive. Were they once
to become the stronger, society, and soon mankind itself, would of a
necessity be devoted to destruction.

In addition to the negative precept that one should not resist evil,
Tolstoi’s moral philosophy has yet a positive precept, viz.: we ought
to love all men; to sacrifice everything, even one’s own life, for
them; to do good to them where we can. ‘It is necessary to understand
that man, if he does good, only does that to which he is bound--what
he cannot leave undone.... If he gives up his carnal life for the
good, he does nothing for which he need be thanked and praised....
Only those live who do good’ (_Short Exposition of the Gospel_). ‘Not
is alms-giving effectual, but brotherly sharing. Whoever has two
cloaks should give one to him who has none’ (_What ought one to Do?_).
This distinction between charity and sharing cannot be maintained in
earnest. Every gift that a man receives from some other man without
work, without reciprocal service, is an alms, and as such is deeply
immoral. The sick, the old, the weak, those who cannot work, must be
supported and tended by their fellow-creatures; it is their duty,
and it is also their natural impulse. But to give to men capable of
working is under all circumstances a sin and a self-deception. If men
capable of work find no work, this is obviously attributable to some
defect in the economical structure of society; and it is the duty of
each individual to assist earnestly in removing this defect, but not
to facilitate its continuance by pacifying for awhile the victim of
the defective circumstances by a gift. Charity has in this case merely
the aim of deadening the conscience of the donor, and furnishing him
with an excuse why he should shirk his duty of curing recognised evils
in the constitution of society. Should, however, the capable man be
averse to labour, then charity spoils him completely, and kills in
him entirely any inclination to put his powers into action, which
alone keeps the organism healthy and moral. Thus alms, extended to
an able-bodied man, degrades both the donor and the recipient, and
operates like poison on the feeling of duty and the morality of both.

But the love of our neighbour which exhibits itself in alms-giving,
or even brotherly sharing, is, properly speaking, no such love if
we look at it closely. Love in its simplest and most original form
(I speak here not of sexual love, but of general sympathy for some
other living being, and that need not even be a human being) is a
selfish impulse, which seeks only its own gratification, not that of
the beloved being; in its higher development, on the contrary, it
is principally, or wholly, bent upon the happiness of the beloved
being, and forgets itself. The healthy man, who has no anti-social
impulses, enjoys the company of other men; he therefore avoids almost
unconsciously those actions which would cause his fellow-creatures to
avoid him, and he does that which, without costing himself too much
effort, is sufficiently pleasant to his fellows to attract them to him.
In the same healthy man the idea of sufferings, even when they are
not his own, produces pain, which is always greater or less according
to the degree of excitability of his brain; the more active the idea
of suffering, the more violent is the accompanying feeling of pain.
Because the ideas excited by direct sense-impressions are the most
vivid, the sufferings which he sees with his own eyes cause him the
sharpest pain, and in order to escape from this, he makes suitable
efforts to put an end to this extraneous suffering, or often, it is
true, only not to witness it. This degree of love to our neighbour is,
as was said above, pure self-love; it merely aims at averting pain
from self, and at increasing one’s own feelings of pleasure. The love
of our neighbour, on the contrary, which Tolstoi obviously wishes to
preach, claims to be unselfish. It contemplates the diminution of the
sufferings, and the increase of the happiness, of others; it can no
longer be exercised instinctively, for it demands an exact knowledge of
the conditions of life, and the feelings and wishes of others, and the
acquisition of this knowledge presupposes observation, reflection, and
judgment. One must earnestly consider what is really needful and good
for one’s neighbour. One must come out of one’s self, must set aside
one’s own habits and ideas completely, and strive to slip into the
skin of him to whom one would show love. One must regard the intended
benefit with the other’s eyes, and feel with his nature, and not with
one’s own. Does Tolstoi do this? His novels, in which he shows his
alleged love between fellow-men living and working, prove the exact

In the tale _Albert_[167] Delessow takes up a sickly, strolling
violin-player out of admiration for his great talent, and out of pity
for his poverty and helplessness. But the unhappy artist is a drunkard.
Delessow locks him up in his dwelling, places him under the care of
his servant Sachar, and keeps him from intoxicating drinks. On the
first day Albert the artist submits, but is very depressed and out of
temper. On the second day he is already casting ‘malignant glances’ at
his benefactor. ‘He seemed to fear Delessow, and whenever their eyes
met a deadly terror was depicted on his face.... He did not answer the
questions which were put to him.’ Finally, on the third day Albert
rebels against the restraint to which he believes himself subjected.
‘You have no right to shut me up here,’ he cries. ‘My passport is in
order. I have stolen nothing from you; you can search me. I will go
to the superintendent of police.’ The servant Sachar tries to appease
him. Albert becomes more and more enraged, and suddenly ‘shrieks out at
the top of his voice: “Police!”’ Delessow allows him to depart. Albert
‘goes out of the door without taking leave, and constantly muttering to
himself incomprehensible words.’

Delessow had taken Albert home, because the sight was painful to him
of the poorly-clad, sickly, pale artist, trembling in the cold of a
Russian winter. When he saw him in his warm house, before a well-spread
table, in his own handsome dressing-gown, Delessow felt contented and
happy. But was Albert also contented? Tolstoi testifies that Albert
feels himself much more unhappy in the new position than in the old--so
unhappy that very soon he could not bear it, and freed himself from it
with an outburst of fury. To whom, then, had Delessow done good, to
himself or to Albert?

In this narrative a mentally diseased man is depicted, and, it must
be admitted, upon such a one a benefit has frequently to be forcibly
pressed, which he does not understand or appreciate as such, though,
of course, in a manner more consistent, persistent, and prudent than
Delessow’s. In another story in the same volume, however, _From the
Diary of the Prince Nechljudow, Lucerne_, the absurdity of love for
one’s fellow-creature which does not trouble itself about the real
needs of the fellow-creature is brought out more vividly and without
any excuse.

One glorious evening in July, in front of the Schweizer-Hof, in
Lucerne, Prince Nechljudow heard a street-singer whose songs touched
and enraptured him deeply. The singer is a poor, small, hump-backed
man, insufficiently clad and looking half starved. On all the balconies
of the sumptuous hotel rich Englishmen and their wives are standing;
all have enjoyed the glorious singing of the poor cripple, but when he
takes off his hat and begs a small reward for his artistic performance,
not one person throws even the smallest coin to him. Nechljudow falls
into the most violent excitement. He is beside himself over the fact
that ‘the singer could beg three times for a gift, and no one gave him
the smallest thing, while the greater number laughed at him.’ It seems
to him ‘an event which the historian of our times should inscribe in
the pages of history with indelible letters of fire.’ He, for his part,
will not be a participator in this unprecedented sin. He hastens after
the poor devil, overtakes him and invites him to drink a bottle of wine
with him. The singer accepts. ‘Close by is a small café,’ says he; ‘we
can go in there--it is a cheap one,’ he continued. ‘The words, “a cheap
one,” involuntarily suggested the idea,’ relates Nechljudow in his
diary, ‘not to go to a cheap cafe, but into the Schweizer-Hof, where
were the people who had listened to his singing. Although he refused
the Schweizer-Hof several times in timid agitation, because he thought
it was much too grand there, I persisted in it.’

He leads the singer into the splendid hotel. Although he appears in the
company of the princely guest, the servants look at the badly dressed
vagabond with hostile and contemptuous glances. They show the pair into
the ‘saloon on the left, the drinking-bar for the people.’ The singer
is very much embarrassed, and wishes himself far away, but he conceals
his feelings. The Prince orders champagne. The singer drinks without
any real pleasure and without confidence. He talks about his life,
and says suddenly: ‘I know what you wish. You want to make me drunk,
and then see what can be got out of me.’ Nechljudow, annoyed by the
scornful and insolent demeanour of the servants jumps up and goes with
his guest into the handsome dining-room on the right hand, which is set
apart for the visitors. He will be served here and nowhere else. The
English, who are present, indignantly leave the room; the waiters are
dismayed, but do not venture to oppose the angry Russian Prince. ‘The
singer drew a very miserable, terrified face, and begged me, as soon as
possible, to go away, evidently not understanding why I was angry and
what I wished.’ The little mannikin ‘sat more dead than alive’ near the
Prince, and was very happy when Nechljudow finally dismissed him.

It must be noticed how extremely absurdly Prince Nechljudow behaves
from beginning to end. He invites the singer to a bottle of wine,
although, if he had possessed the faintest glimmer of sound
common-sense, he might have said to himself that a hot supper, or,
still better, a five-franc piece, would be far more necessary and
useful to the poor devil than a bottle of wine. The singer proposes to
go to a modest restaurant, where he himself would feel comfortable.
The Prince pays not the smallest attention to this natural, reasonable
desire, but drags the poor devil into a leading hotel, where he feels
extremely uncomfortable in his bad clothing, under the cross-fire
of the waiters’ insolent and scornful looks. The Prince does not
care about this, but orders champagne, to which the singer is not
accustomed, and which gives him so little pleasure that the thought
occurs to him that his noble host desires to make sport of him by
seeing him drunk. Nechljudow begins to squabble with the waiters,
proceeds to the finest saloon of the hotel, scares away the remaining
guests, who do not desire to sit at supper with the street-singer,
and does not concern himself during the whole of this time about the
feelings of his guest, who sits on hot coals, and would far rather
sink into the floor, and who only breathes again when his terrible
benefactor lets him escape out of his fangs.

Did Nechljudow exercise neighbourly love? No. He did nothing pleasant
to the singer. He tormented him. He only satisfied himself. He wished
to revenge himself on the hard-hearted English people, with whom he was
furious, and he did so at the expense of the poor devil. Nechljudow
calls it an unheard-of occurrence that the wealthy Englishmen should
give nothing to the singer, but what he did to the latter is worse.
The odious niggardliness of the English people annoyed the singer for
a quarter of an hour, perhaps; Nechljudow’s foolish entertainment
tortured him for an hour. The Prince never took the trouble to
consider, even for a moment, what would be agreeable and useful to
the singer; he thought always of himself only, of his own feelings,
his anger, his indignation. This tender-hearted philanthropist is a
dangerous, depraved egoist.

The irrational neighbourly love of the emotional mystic fails
necessarily in its ostensible aim, because it does not arise from a
knowledge of the true needs of the neighbour. The mystic practises a
sentimental anthropomorphism. He transfers his own feelings, without
more ado, to other beings, who feel quite differently from himself. He
is in a condition bitterly to commiserate the moles because they are
condemned to brood in perpetual darkness in their underground passages,
and dreams, perhaps with tears in his eyes, of introducing electric
light into their burrows. Because he, as seeing, would suffer severely
under the conditions of a mole’s life, therefore this animal is
naturally to be pitied also, although it is blind and so does not miss
the light. An anecdote relates that a child poured some hot water into
the drawing-room aquarium one winter’s day because it must have been
so intolerably cold for the gold-fish; and in comic papers there is
frequently a hit at the benevolent societies which bestow warm winter
clothing on the negroes at the equator. This is Tolstoi’s love of one’s
neighbour put into practice.

One especial point of his moral doctrine is the mortification of the
flesh. All sexual intercourse is for him unchaste; marriage is quite as
impure as the loosest tie. The _Kreutzer Sonata_ is the most complete,
and at the same time most celebrated, embodiment of these propositions.
Pozdnyscheff, the murderer from motives of jealousy, says:[168] ‘There
is nothing pleasant in the honeymoon; on the contrary, it is a period
of continual embarrassment, a shame, a profound depression, and, above
all, boredom--fearful boredom! I can only compare the situation to
that of a youth who is beginning to smoke: he feels sick, swallows his
saliva, and pretends to like it very much. If the cigar is to give him
any pleasure, it can only be later on, as it is with marriage. In order
to enjoy it, the married couple must first accustom themselves to the

‘How do you mean--to the vice? You are speaking of one of the most
natural things--of an instinct.’

‘Natural thing? An instinct? Not in the least. Allow me to tell you
that I have been brought to, and maintain, the opposite conviction. I,
the depraved and dissolute, assert that it is something unnatural....
It is an entirely unnatural treatment for any pure girl, just as it
would be for a child.’

Further on Pozdnyscheff develops the following crazy theory of the law
of life: ‘The object of man, as of humanity in general, is happiness,
and to attain it humanity has a law which must be carried out. This law
consists in the union of the individual beings which compose humanity.
Human passions only impede this union, particularly the strongest and
worst of all, sensual love, sexual pleasures. When human passions,
especially the most violent, sensuality, shall have been suppressed,
the union will be accomplished, and humanity, having attained its end,
will have no further reason for existing.’ And his last words are:
‘People should understand that the true meaning of the words of St.
Matthew, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed
adultery with her already in his heart,” applies to one’s sister, and
not only to a strange woman, but also, and above all, to one’s own

Tolstoi, in whom, as in every ‘higher degenerate,’ two natures
co-exist, of whom the one notices and judges the follies of the other,
has yet a distinct feeling of the senselessness of his _Kreutzer
Sonata_ theory, and he makes his mouthpiece, Pozdnyscheff, declare[169]
that he ‘was looked upon as cracked.’ But in the _Short Exposition_,
where Tolstoi speaks in his own name, he develops, if with somewhat
more reserve, the same philosophy.[170] The temptation to break the
seventh commandment is due to the fact that we believe woman to have
been created for carnal pleasure, and that, if a man leave one wife
and take another, he will have more pleasure. Not to fall into this
temptation, we must remember that it is not the will of the Father
that the man should have pleasure through feminine charms....’ In the
story _Family Happiness_[171] he likewise explains that a husband and
wife, even if they have married from love, must become enemies in
their wedded life, and it is quite purposeless to attempt a lasting
cultivation of the original feelings.

It is not indeed necessary to refute a theory which pours contempt on
all experience, all observations of nature, all institutions and laws
that have been historically developed, and the known aim of which is
the destruction of humanity. The thought of assailing it with zeal
could only occur to men who were themselves more or less deranged. It
is sufficient for the healthy minded to state it in distinct language;
it is at once recognisable, then, for what it is--insanity.

For Tolstoi the great enemy is science. In _My Confession_ he is never
tired of accusing and abusing it. It is of no use to the people, but
only to governments and to capitalists. It occupies itself with idle
and vain things, such as the inquiries into protoplasm and spectrum
analysis, but has never yet thought of anything useful, _e.g._, ‘how an
axe and an axe-handle can best be manufactured; how a good saw ought to
be fashioned; how good bread can be baked, which species of flour is
best adapted for the purpose, how to manage the yeast, construct and
heat the baking-oven; what foods and beverages are the most wholesome;
what mushrooms are edible,’ etc.

He is, be it noted, particularly unfortunate in his examples, since,
as a matter of fact, every beginner takes up all the subjects he
enumerates in the scientific study of hygiene and mechanics. In
accordance with his poetic nature, he has had a strong desire to embody
his views on science artistically. This he has done in the comedy
_The Fruits of Enlightenment_. What does he scoff at in that? At the
pitiable blockheads who believe in spirits and, in dread of death, hunt
after bacteria. Spiritualism, and the opinions created in uneducated
men of the world by the imperfectly understood news of the day,
conveyed in political papers, respecting infectious micro-organisms,
are what he takes for science, and against them he directs the arrows
of his satire.

Real science does not need to be protected against attacks of this
sort. I have already proved, in estimating the value of the reproaches
which the neo-Catholic Symbolists and their critical patrons raised
against natural science, that all those phrases were either childish
or dishonest. The accusation of dishonesty cannot be brought against
Tolstoi. He believes what he says. But childish his complaints and
his mockery certainly are. He speaks of science as a blind man of
colour. He has evidently no suspicion of its essence, its mission, its
methods and the subjects with which it deals. He resembles Bouvard and
Pécuchet, Flaubert’s two idiots, who, completely ignorant, without
teachers or guides, skim through a number of books indiscriminately,
and fancy themselves in this sportive manner to have gained positive
knowledge; this they seek to apply with the candour of a trained
Krooboy, commit, self-evidently, one hair-raising stupidity after
another, and then believe themselves justified in sneering at science,
and declaring it a vain folly and deception. Flaubert avenged himself
on the absurdity of his own efforts to conquer science as a lieutenant
conquers a music-hall singer, by tarring and feathering Bouvard and
Pécuchet. Tolstoi exploded his little fuss and fume on Science, that
proud, disdainful beauty, who is only to be won by long, earnest,
unselfish service, by lampooning the blockheads of his _Fruits of
Enlightenment_. The degenerate Flaubert and the degenerate Tolstoi meet
here in the same frenzy.

The way to happiness is, according to Tolstoi, the turning away from
science, the renunciation of reason, and the return to the life of
Nature; that is, to agriculture. ‘The town must be abandoned, the
people must be sent away from the factories and into the country to
work with their hands; the aim of every man should be to satisfy all
his wants himself’ (_What ought one to Do?_).

How oddly is reason mixed with nonsense even in these economic demands!
Tolstoi has rightly discerned the evils which follow the uprooting
of the people from fostering Mother Earth, and the incubation of a
day-wage-earning, urban industrial proletariate. It is true, also, that
agriculture could employ very many more men healthily and profitably
than at present if the land were the property of the community,
and each one received only such a share, and that only for his
lifetime, as he could himself cultivate thoroughly. But must industry
on this account be destroyed? Would not that mean the destruction
of civilization itself? Is it not rather the duty of intelligent
philanthropy and justice carefully to maintain the division of labour,
this necessary and profitable result of a long evolution, but at the
same time, through a better system of economy, to transform the artisan
from a factory convict, condemned to misery and ill-health, into a free
producer of wealth, who enjoys the fruits of his labour himself, and
works no more than is compatible with his health and his claims on life?

It is vain to seek for even the slightest hint of such a solution in
Tolstoi. He contents himself with a barren enthusiasm for country life,
which, if beautiful in Horace, has become annoying and ridiculous in
Rousseau; and he garrulously plagiarizes the hollow phrases about the
worthlessness of civilization of the eloquent Genevese, who, smitten
with the mania of persecution, could only have led a sentimental
century like his own by the nose. Return to nature! It is not possible
to compress more absurdity into fewer words. On our earth Nature is
our enemy, whom we must fight, before whom we dare not lay down our
weapons. In order to maintain our span of life we must create endlessly
complicated artificial conditions; we must clothe our bodies, build a
roof over our heads, and store up provisions for many months, during
which Nature denies us every nourishment. There is only one very
narrow strip of our planet where mankind can live without exertion,
without inventions and arts, like the beast in the forest and the fish
in the water, and that is on some of the South Sea islands. There,
in perpetual spring, he certainly needs no clothes and no dwelling,
or only some palm-leaves as a shelter from occasional rain. There,
at all seasons of the year, he finds food constantly prepared for
him in the cocoanut palm, the bread-fruit tree, the banana, in some
domestic animals, in fish and mussels. No beast of prey threatens his
safety, and forces on him the development of strength and contempt of
death. But how many men can this earthly paradise maintain? Perhaps
a hundredth part of present humanity. The remaining ninety-nine
hundredths have only the alternative either of perishing, or of
settling in regions of our planet where the table is not spread, and
the pillow of delight is not prepared, but in which everything which
life demands for its sustenance must be procured artificially and
laboriously. The ‘return to Nature’ means, in our degrees of latitude,
the return to hunger, to freezing, to being devoured by wolves and
bears. Not in the impossible ‘return to Nature’ lies healing for human
misery, but in the reasonable organization of our struggle with Nature,
I might say, in universal and obligatory service against it, from which
only the crippled should be exempted.

We have now learnt to know the particular ideas which together
constitute Tolstoism. As a philosophy it gives explanations of the
world and of life, with unmeaning or contradictory paraphrases of some
intentionally misunderstood Bible verses. As ethics, it prescribes the
renunciation of resistance against vice and crime, the distribution
of property, and the annihilation of mankind by complete abstinence.
As sociological and economic doctrine it preaches the uselessness
of science, the happiness of becoming stupid, the renunciation of
manufactured products, and the duty of agriculture, though without
betraying from whence the farmer is to get the necessary soil for
cultivation. The remarkable thing in this system is, that it does not
notice its own superfluity. If it understood itself, it would restrict
itself to one single point--abstinence--since it is evident that it is
unnecessary to break one’s head over the aim and import of human life,
over crime and love of your neighbour, and particularly over country
or town life, if in any case through abstinence humanity is to die out
with the present generation.

Rod[172] denies that Tolstoi is a mystic. ‘Mysticism was always, as the
word indicates, a transcendental doctrine. The mystics, especially the
Christian mystics, have always sacrificed the present to the future
life.... What, on the contrary, astonishes an unprejudiced mind in
Tolstoi’s books is the almost complete absence of all metaphysics, his
indifference to the so-called questions of the other world.’

Rod simply does not know what mysticism is. He unduly restricts the
sense of the word, if he only uses it to mean the investigation of
‘other-world questions.’ If he were less superficial he would know that
religious enthusiasm is only one special instance of a general mental
condition, and that mysticism is any morbid obscuration and incoherence
of thought which is accompanied by emotionalism, and therefore includes
that thought, the fruit of which is the system at once Materialistic,
Pantheistic Christian, Ascetic, Rousseauistic and Communistic, of Leo

Raphael Löwenfeld, whom we have to thank for the first complete German
edition of Tolstoi’s works, has also written a very commendable
biography of the Russian novelist, yet in which he feels himself
obliged, not only to take sides vehemently with his hero, but also to
assure that hero’s possible critics beforehand of his deep contempt
for them. ‘Want of comprehension,’ he says,[173] ‘calls them (the
“independent phenomena” of Tolstoi’s sort) eccentrics, unwilling
to allow that anyone should be a head taller than the rest. The
unprejudiced man, who is capable of admiring greatness, sees in their
independence the expression of an extraordinary power which has
outgrown the possibilities of the time, and, leading on, points out
the paths to those coming after.’ It is indeed hazardous forthwith
to accuse all who are not of his opinion of ‘want of comprehension.’
One who judges so autocratically will have to put up with the answer,
that he is guilty of ‘want of comprehension’ who, without the most
elementary training, enters upon the criticism of a phenomenon, to the
understanding of which some degree of æsthetical and literary so-called
‘knowledge’ and personal feeling are very far from sufficient.
Löwenfeld boasts of his capacity to admire greatness. He is possibly
wrong not to presuppose this capacity in others also. What he precisely
has to prove is this, that what he admires deserves in truth the
designation of greatness. His assertion, however, is the only proof he
brings on this most important point. He calls himself unprejudiced.
It may be admitted that he is free from prejudices, but then he is
free also from the preliminary knowledge that alone entitles anyone
to form an opinion on psychological phenomena, which strike even the
uninitiated as extraordinary, and to present them with self-assurance.
Did he possess this preliminary knowledge he would know that Tolstoi,
who, ‘leading, is to point out the paths to those coming after,’ is a
mere copy of a class of men who have had their representatives in every
age. Lombroso[174] instances a certain Knudsen, a madman, who lived in
Schleswig about 1680, and asserted that there was neither a God nor a
hell; that priests and judges were useless and pernicious, and marriage
an immorality; that men ceased to exist after death; that everyone must
be guided by his own inward insight,’ etc. Here we have the principal
features of Tolstoi’s cosmology and moral philosophy. Knudsen has,
however, so little ‘pointed out, leading, the way to those coming
after,’ that he still only exists as an instructive case of mental
aberration in books on diseases of the mind.

The truth is that all Tolstoi’s idiosyncrasies could be traced to the
best-known and most often observed stigmata of higher degeneration. He
even relates of himself:[175] ‘Scepticism brought me at one time to
a condition nearly bordering on frenzy. I had the idea that besides
myself nobody and nothing existed in the whole world; that things were
not things, but presentations, which only became phenomenal at what
time I directed my attention to them, and that these presentations
disappeared at once when I ceased to think of them.... There were hours
when, under the influence of this fixed idea, I came to such a pitch
of mental bewilderment that I at times looked quickly the other way,
in the hope that in the place where I was not, I might be surprised
by nothingness.’ And in his _Confession_ he says explicitly: ‘I felt
that I was not quite mentally sound.’[176] His feeling was correct. He
was suffering from a mania of brooding doubt, observable in many of
the ‘higher degenerates.’ Professor Kowalewski[177] explains the mania
of doubt straight away as exclusively a psychosis of degeneration.
Griesinger[178] relates the case of a patient who continually brooded
over the notions of beauty, existence, etc., and put endless questions
about them. Griesinger, however, was less familiar with the phenomena
of degeneration, and therefore held his case as ‘one little known.’
Lombroso[179] mentions in the enumeration of the symptoms of his
maniacs of genius: ‘Almost all are taken up, in the most painful
manner, with religious doubts, which disturb the mind and oppress the
timid conscience and sick heart, like a crime.’ It is not, then, the
noble desire for knowledge which forces Tolstoi to be ceaselessly
occupied with questions concerning the aim and meaning of life, but
the degeneration-mania of doubt and brooding thought, which is barren,
because no answer, no explanation can satisfy them. For it is obvious
that be the ‘therefore’ never so clear, never so exhaustive, it can
never silence the mechanically impulsive ‘wherefore’ proceeding from
the Unconscious.

A special form of the phenomenon of scepticism and brooding thought is
a rage for contradiction, and the inclination to bizarre assertions, as
is noted by many clinicists--_e.g._, Sollier[180]--as a special stigma
of degeneration. It has appeared very strongly in Tolstoi at certain
times. ‘In the struggles for independence,’ relates Löwenfeld,[181]
‘Tolstoi frequently overstepped the limits of good taste, while he
combated tradition only because it was tradition. Thus he called ...
Shakespeare a scribbler by the dozen, and asserted that the admiration
... for the great Englishman ...has properly no other origin than the
custom of echoing strange opinions with thoughtless obsequiousness.’

What one finds most touching and most worthy of admiration in Tolstoi
is his boundless spirit of fraternity. I have already shown above that
it is foolish in its starting-points and manifestations. Here, however,
I may have to point out that it is likewise a stigma of degeneration.
Though he has not the experience of an alienist, the clear-minded,
healthy Tourgenieff has, by his own common-sense, ‘scoffingly’
called Tolstoi’s fervent love for the oppressed people ‘hysterical,’
as Löwenfeld[182] says. We shall find it again in many degenerate
subjects. ‘In contrast to the selfish imbecile,’ Legrain[183] teaches,
‘we have the imbeciles who are good to excess, who are philanthropic,
who set up a thousand absurd systems in order to advance the happiness
of humanity.’ And further on: ‘Full of his love for humanity, the
imbecile patient, without reflection, takes up the social question
on its most difficult side, and settles it confidently in a series
of grotesque inventions.’ This irrational philanthropy, untutored
by judgment, which Tourgenieff, with just surmise if incorrect
designation, called ‘hysterical,’ is nothing else than a manifestation
of that emotionalism which constitutes for Morel the fundamental
character of degeneration. Nothing in this diagnosis is altered by
the fact that Tolstoi had the good fortune, during the recent famine,
of being able to develop the most highly effective and most devoted
helpfulness for the alleviation of the misery of his countrymen. The
case happened to be very simple. The need of his fellow-creatures was
of the most primitive form, want of bodily food. Fraternal love could
likewise set to work in its most primitive form, in the distribution of
food and clothing. A special power of judgment, a deep comprehension
of the need of his fellow-creatures, was here unnecessary. And that
Tolstoi’s preparations for the relief of the sufferers were more
effective than those of the proper authorities only proved the
stupidity and incapacity of the latter.

Tolstoi’s attitude towards women also, which must remain
incomprehensible to a healthy human understanding, will, in the light
of clinical experience, forthwith be understood. It has been repeatedly
pointed out in these pages that the emotionalism of the degenerate
has, as a rule, an erotic colouring, because of the pathological
alteration in their sexual centres. The abnormal excitability of
these parts of the nervous system can have as a consequence both an
especial attraction towards woman and an especial antipathy to her.
The common element connecting these opposing effects of one and the
same organic condition is the being constantly occupied with woman, the
being constantly engrossed with presentations in consciousness from the
region of sexuality.[184]

In the mental life of a sane man, woman is far from filling the part
she plays in that of the degenerate. The physiological relation of
man to woman is that of desire for the time being toward her, and
of indifference when the state of desire is not present. Antipathy,
let alone violent enmity, to woman, the normal man never feels. If
he desires the woman, he loves her; if his erotic excitement is
appeased, he becomes cool and more distant in his attitude, though
without feeling aversion or fear. The man, from his purely subjective,
physiological necessities and inclinations, would certainly never have
invented marriage, the persistent alliance with woman. This is not
a sexual but a social arrangement. It does not rest on the organic
instincts of the individual man, but on the need of collectivity.
It depends on the existing economic order and the dominant opinions
about the State, its problems and its relations to the individual, and
changes its form with these. A man may--or at least should--choose a
certain woman for his consort out of love; but what holds him fast
married, after a suitable choice and successful courtship, is no
longer physiological love, but a complex mixture of habit, gratitude,
unsexual friendship, convenience, the wish to obtain for himself social
advantages (to which must naturally be added an ordered household,
social representation, etc.), considerations of duty towards children
and State; more or less, also, unthinking imitation of a universal
observance. But feelings such as are described in the _Kreutzer Sonata_
and in _Family Happiness_ the normal man never experiences towards his
wife, even if he has ceased to love her in the natural sense of the

These relations are quite otherwise in the degenerate. The morbid
activity of his sexual centres completely rules him. The thought of
woman has for him the power of an ‘obsession.’ He feels that he cannot
resist the exciting influences proceeding from the woman, that he is
her helpless slave, and would commit any folly, any madness, any crime,
at her beck and call. He necessarily, therefore, sees in woman an
uncanny, overpowering force of nature, bestowing supreme delights or
dealing destruction, and he trembles before this power, to which he is
defencelessly exposed. If, then, besides this, the almost never-failing
aberrations set in, if he, in fact, commits things for woman for which
he must condemn and despise himself; or if woman, without its coming
to actual deeds, awakens in him emotions and thoughts before whose
baseness and infamy he is horrified, then, in the moment of exhaustion,
when judgment is stronger than impulse, the dread which woman inspires
him withal will be suddenly changed into aversion and savage hatred.
The erotomaniac ‘degenerate’ stands in the same position to the woman
as a dipsomaniac to intoxicating drinks. Magnan[185] has given an
appalling picture of the struggles waged in the mind of a dipsomaniac
by the passionate eagerness for the bottle, and the loathing and
horror of it. The mind of an erotomaniac presents a similar spectacle,
but probably still stronger struggles. These frequently lead the
unhappy creature, who sees no other means of escaping from his sexual
obsession, to self-mutilation. There are in Russia, as is well
known, a whole sect of ‘degenerates,’ the Skoptzi, by whom this is
systematically exercised, as the only effective treatment to escape
the devil and be saved. Pozdnyscheff, in the _Kreutzer Sonata_, is
a Skopetz without knowing it, and the sexual morality which Tolstoi
teaches in this narrative and in his theoretic writings is the
expression in literature of the sexual psychopathy of the Skoptzi.

The universal success of Tolstoi’s writings is undoubtedly due in
part to his high literary gifts. But that part is not the greatest;
for, as we have seen in the beginning of this chapter, it was not his
artistically most important creations, the works of his best years, but
his later mystical works, which have won for him his body of believers.
This effect is to be explained, not on æsthetical, but on pathological
grounds. Tolstoi would have remained unnoticed, like any Knudsen of
the seventeenth century, if his extravagances as a degenerate mystic
had not found his contemporaries prepared for their reception. The
widespread hysteria from exhaustion was the requisite soil in which
alone Tolstoism could flourish.

That the rise and expansion of Tolstoism is to be traced, not to the
intrinsic merit of Tolstoi’s writings, but to the mental condition
of his readers, is made clear in the most significant manner by the
difference in those parts of his system which have made an impression
in various countries. In every nation just such tones awakened an echo
as were attuned with its own nervous system.

In England it was Tolstoi’s sexual morality that excited the greatest
interest, for in that country economic reasons condemn a formidable
number of girls, particularly of the educated classes, to forego
marriage; and, from a theory which honoured chastity as the highest
dignity and noblest human destiny, and branded marriage with gloomy
wrath as abominable depravity, these poor creatures would naturally
derive rich consolation for their lonely, empty lives, and their cruel
exclusion from the possibility of fulfilling their natural calling. The
_Kreutzer Sonata_ has, therefore, become the book of devotion of all
the spinsters of England.

In France Tolstoism is particularly valued for the way in which
it casts out science, deposes the intellect from all offices and
dignities, preaches the return to implicit faith, and praises the poor
in spirit as alone happy. This is water to the mill of neo-Catholics,
and those mystics, from political motives, or from degeneration, who
erect a cathedral to pious symbolism, raise up also a high altar to
Tolstoi in their church.

In Germany, on the whole, but little enthusiasm is evinced for the
abstinence-morality of the _Kreutzer Sonata_, and the intellectual
reaction of _My Confession_, _My Religion_, and _Fruits of
Enlightenment_. On the other hand, his followers in that country
exalt Tolstoi’s vague socialism and his morbid fraternal love into
their dogma. All the muddle-headed among our people who, not from
sober scientific conviction, but from hysterical emotionalism,
feel a leaning towards a sickly, impotent socialism, which tends
principally towards ministering cheap broth to proletarians, and
towards revelling in sentimental romances and melodramas from the
pretended life of the city worker, naturally discovered in Tolstoi’s
‘give-me-something-communism,’ with its scorn for all economic and
moral laws, the expression of their--very platonic!--love for the
disinherited. And in the circles in which Herr von Egidy’s watery
rationalism (at least a hundred years behind time) could rise into
notoriety, and in which his first writing could call forth nearly
a hundred replies, assents, and explanations, Tolstoi’s _Short
Exposition of the Gospel_, with its denial of the divine nature
of Christ, and of existence after death, with its effusions of a
superabundance of feelings of aimless love, its incomprehensible
personal sanctification and rhetoric morality, and especially with its
astounding misinterpretation of the clearest passages from Scripture,
must indeed have been an event. All the adherents of Herr von Egidy are
predestined followers of Tolstoi, and all Tolstoi’s admirers perpetrate
an inconsistency if they do not enter into the new Salvation Army of
Herr von Egidy.

By the special _timbre_ of the echo which Tolstoism calls forth in
different countries, he has become an instrument which is better fitted
than any other tendency of degeneration in contemporary literature for
the determination, measurement, and comparison, in kind and degree, of
degeneration and hysteria among those civilized nations in which the
phenomenon of the Dusk of the Nations has been observed.



WE have seen in a previous chapter that the whole mystic movement of
the period has its roots in romanticism, and hence originally emanates
from Germany. In England German romanticism was metamorphosed into
pre-Raphaelitism, in France the latter engendered, with the last
remains of its procreative strength, the abortions of symbolism and
neo-Catholicism, and these Siamese twins contracted with Tolstoism a
mountebank marriage such as might take place between the cripple of
a fair and the wonder of a show-booth. While the descendants of the
emigrant (who on his departure from his German home already carried
in him all the germs of subsequent tumefactions and disfigurements),
so changed as to be almost unrecognisable, grew up in different
countries, and set about returning to their native land to attempt the
renewal of family ties with their home-staying connections, Germany
gave birth to a new prodigy, who was in truth only reared with great
trouble to manhood, and for long years received but little notice
or appreciation, but who finally obtained an incomparably mightier
attractive force over the great fools’ fair of the present time than
all his fellow-competitors. This prodigy is ‘Wagnerism.’ It is the
German contribution to modern mysticism, and far outweighs all that
the other nations combined have supplied to that movement. For Germany
is powerful in everything, in evil as in good, and the magnitude of
its elementary force manifests itself in a crushing manner in its
degenerate, as well as in its ennobling, efforts.

Richard Wagner is in himself alone charged with a greater abundance of
degeneration than all the degenerates put together with whom we have
hitherto become acquainted. The stigmata of this morbid condition are
united in him in the most complete and most luxuriant development.
He displays in the general constitution of his mind the persecution
mania, megalomania and mysticism; in his instincts vague philanthropy,
anarchism, a craving for revolt and contradiction; in his writings all
the signs of graphomania, namely, incoherence, fugitive ideation, and a
tendency to idiotic punning, and, as the groundwork of his being, the
characteristic emotionalism of a colour at once erotic and religiously

For Wagner’s persecution mania, we have the testimony of his most
recent biographer and friend, Ferdinand Praeger, who relates that for
years Wagner was convinced that the Jews had conspired to prevent
the representation of his operas--a delirium inspired by his furious
anti-Semitism. His megalomania is so well known through his writings,
his verbal utterances, and the whole course of his life, that a bare
reference to it is sufficient. It is to be admitted that this mania was
essentially increased by the crazy procedure of those who surrounded
Wagner. A much firmer equilibrium than that which obtained in Wagner’s
mind would have been infallibly disturbed by the nauseous idolatry of
which Bayreuth was the shrine. The _Bayreuther Blätter_ is a unique
phenomenon. To me, at least, no other instance is known of a newspaper
which was founded exclusively for the deification of a living man, and
in every number of which, through long years, the appointed priests of
the temple have burned incense to their household god, with the savage
fanaticism of howling and dancing dervishes, bent the knee, prostrated
themselves before him, and immolated all opponents as sacrificial

We will take a closer view of the graphomaniac Wagner. His _Collected
Writings and Poems_ form ten large thick volumes, and among the 4,500
pages which they approximately contain there is hardly a single
one which will not puzzle the unbiased reader, either through some
nonsensical thought or some impossible mode of expression. Of his prose
works (his poems will be treated of further on), the most important
is decidedly _The Art-work of the Future_.[186] The thoughts therein
expressed--so far as the wavering shadows of ideas in a mystically
emotional degenerate subject may be so called--occupied Wagner during
his whole life, and were again and again propounded by him in ever new
terms and phraseology. _The Opera and the Drama_, _Judaism in Music_,
_On the State and Religion_, _The Vocation of the Opera_, _Religion
and Art_, are nothing more than amplifications of single passages of
_The Art-work of the Future_. This restless repetition of one and
the same strain of thought is itself characteristic in the highest
degree. The clear, mentally sane author, who feels himself impelled
to say something, will once for all express himself as distinctly
and impressively as it is possible for him to do, and have done with
it. He may, perhaps, return to the subject, in order to clear up
misconceptions, repel attacks, and fill up lacunæ; but he will never
wish to rewrite his book, wholly or in part, two or three times in
slightly different words, not even if in later years he attains to
the insight that he has not succeeded in finding for it an adequate
form. The crazed graphomaniac, on the contrary, cannot recognise in
his book, as it lies finished before him, the satisfying expression of
his thoughts, and he will always be tempted to begin his work afresh,
a task which is endless, because it must consist in giving a fixed
linguistic form to ideas which are formless.

The fundamental thought of the _Art-work of the Future_ is this: The
first and most original of the arts was that of dancing; its peculiar
essence is rhythm, and this has developed into music; music, consisting
of rhythm and tone, has raised (Wagner says ‘condensed’) its phonetic
element to speech, and produced the art of poetry; the highest form of
poetry is the drama, which for the purpose of stage-construction, and
to imitate the natural scene of human action, has associated itself
with architecture and painting respectively; finally, sculpture is
nothing but the giving permanence to the appearance of the actor in
a dead rigid form, while acting is real sculpture in living, flowing
movement. Thus all the arts group themselves around the drama, and the
latter should unite them naturally. Nevertheless they appear at present
in isolation, to the great injury of each and of art in general.
This reciprocal estrangement and isolation of the different arts is
an unnatural and decadent condition, and the effort of true artists
must be to win them back to their natural and necessary conjunction
with each other. The mutual penetration and fusion of all arts into
a single art will produce the genuine work of art. Hence the work
of art of the future is a drama with music and dance, which unrolls
itself in a landscape painting, has for a frame a masterly creation
of architectural art designed for the poetico-musical end, and is
represented by actors who are really sculptors, but who realize their
plastic inspirations by means of their own bodily appearance.

In this way Wagner has set forth for himself the evolution of art. His
system calls for criticism in every part. The historical filiation
of the arts which he attempts to establish is false. If the original
reciprocal connections of song, dance and poetry be granted, the
development of architecture, painting and sculpture is certainly
independent of poetry in its dramatic form. That the theatre employs
all the arts is true, but it is one of those truths which are so
self-evident that it is generally unnecessary to mention them, and
least of all with profound prophetic mien and the grand priestly
gestures of one proclaiming surprising revelations. Everyone knows from
experience that the stage is in a theatrical building, that it displays
painted decorations which represent landscapes or buildings, and that
on it there is speaking, singing and acting. Wagner secretly feels that
he makes himself ridiculous when he strains himself to expound this
trite matter of first experience in the Pythian mode, with an enormous
outlay of gush and exaltation ...; hence he exaggerates it to such a
degree as to turn it into an absurdity. He not only asseverates that in
the drama (more correctly speaking, the opera, or the musical drama, as
Wagner prefers to call it) different arts co-operate, but he asserts
that it is only through this co-operation that each individual art is
advanced to its highest capacity of expression, and that the individual
arts must and will surrender their independence as an unnatural error,
in order to continue to exist only as collaborators of the musical

The first asseveration is at least doubtful. In the cathedral of
Cologne architecture produces an impression without the representation
of a drama; the accompaniment of music would add nothing whatever to
the beauty and depth of Faust and Hamlet; Goethe’s lyric poetry and the
_Divina Commedia_ need no landscape-painting as a frame and background;
Michael Angelo’s _Moses_ would hardly produce a deeper impression
surrounded by dancers and singers; and the _Pastoral Symphony_ does
not require the accompaniment of words in order to exercise its full
charm. Schopenhauer, although Wagner admired him as the greatest
thinker of all time, expresses himself very decidedly on this point.
‘The grand opera,’ he says,[187] ‘is, properly speaking, no product of
pure artistic sense, but rather of the somewhat barbaric conception
of elevating æsthetic enjoyment through accumulation of means,
simultaneity of quite different impressions, and intensification of the
effect through the multiplication of the operating masses and forces;
while, on the other hand, music, as the mightiest of all arts, is able
by itself alone completely to occupy the mind which is susceptible to
it; indeed, its loftiest productions, to be appropriately grasped and
enjoyed, demand a mind wholly undivided and undiverted, so that it may
yield itself up to them, and lose itself in them, in order completely
to understand their incredible inwardness of language. Instead of
this, in highly complicated operatic music the mind is besieged at
the same time by way of the eye, by means of the most variegated
pomp, the most fantastic pictures, and the liveliest impressions of
light and colour; while over and above this it is occupied with the
story of the piece.... Strictly speaking, then, one may call opera an
unmusical invention for the benefit of unmusical minds, into which
music must only be smuggled by means of a medium foreign to it, that
is, as a sort of accompaniment to a long spun-out, insipid love-story,
and its poetical thin broth; for the libretto of an opera does not
tolerate concise poetry, full of genius and thought.’ This is an
absolute condemnation of the Wagnerian idea of the musical drama as
the collective art-work of the future. It might seem, it is true,
that certain recent experiments in psychophysics had come to the help
of Wagner’s theory of the reciprocal enhancement of the simultaneous
effects of different arts. Charles Féré[188] has, in fact, shown that
the ear hears more keenly when the eye is simultaneously stimulated
by an agreeable (dynamogenous) colour; but, in the first place, this
phenomenon may also be interpreted thus: that the keenness of hearing
is enhanced not by the visual impression as such, not simply as
sense excitation, but only through its dynamogenous quality, which
arouses the whole nervous system as well to a more lively activity.
And then the question in Féré’s experiments is merely one of simple
sense-perceptions, whereas the musical drama is supposed to awaken
a higher cerebral activity, to produce presentations and thoughts,
together with direct emotions; in which case each of the arts acting
in concert will produce, in consequence of the necessary dispersion of
the attention to it, a more feeble effect than if it appealed by itself
alone to sense and intellect.

Wagner’s second assertion, that the natural evolution of each art
necessarily leads it to the surrender of its independence and to its
fusion with the other arts,[189] contradicts so strongly all experience
and all the laws of evolution, that it can at once be characterized
as delirious. Natural development always proceeds from the simple to
the complex--not inversely; progress consists in differentiation,
_i.e._, in the evolution of originally similar parts into special
organs of different structure and independent functions, and not in
the retrogression of differentiated beings of rich specialization to a
protoplasm without physiognomy.

The arts have not arisen accidentally; their differentiation is the
consequence of organic necessity; once they have attained independence,
they will never surrender it. They can degenerate, they can even die
out, but they can never again shrink back into the germ from which
they have sprung. The effort to return to beginnings is, however, a
peculiarity of degeneration, and founded in its deepest essence. The
degenerate subject is himself on the downward road from the height
of organic development which our species has reached; his imperfect
brain is incapable of the highest and most refined operations of
thought; he has therefore a strong desire to lighten them, to simplify
the multifariousness of phenomena and make them easier to survey;
to drag everything animate and inanimate down to lower and older
stages of existence, in order to make them more easy of access to
his comprehension. We have seen that the French Symbolists, with
their colour-hearing, wished to degrade man to the indifferentiated
sense-perceptions of the pholas or oyster. Wagner’s fusion of the
arts is a pendant to this notion. His _Art-work of the Future_ is
the art-work of times long past. What he takes for evolution is
retrogression, and a return to a primeval human, nay, to a pre-human

Still more extraordinary than the fundamental idea of the book is its
linguistic form. For example, let us estimate the following remarks
on musical art (p. 68): ‘The sea separates and unites countries; thus
musical art separates and unites the two extreme poles of human art,
dancing and poetry. It is the heart of man; the blood which takes its
circulation from it gives to the outward flesh its warm living colour;
but it nourishes with an undulating, elastic force the nerves of the
brain which are directed inward’ [!!]. ‘Without the activity of the
heart, the activity of the brain would become a piece of mechanical
skill [!], the activity of the external limbs an equally mechanical,
emotionless procedure.’ ‘By means of the heart the intellect feels
itself related to the entire body [!]; the mere sensuous man rises
to intellectual activity’ [!]. ‘Now, the organ of the heart [!] is
_sound_, and its artistic language is music.’ What here floated before
the mind of Wagner was a comparison, in itself senseless, between the
function of music as the medium of expression for the feelings, and
the function of the blood as the vehicle of nutritive materials for
the organism. But as his mystically-disposed brain was not capable
of clearly grasping the various parts of this intricate idea, and of
arranging them in parallel lines, he entangled himself in the absurdity
of an ‘activity of the brain without activity of the heart’; of a
‘relation between the intellect and the whole body through the heart,’
etc., and finally attains to the pure twaddle of calling ‘sound’ the
‘organ of the heart.’

He wishes to express the very simple thought that music cannot
communicate definite images and judgments, but merely feelings of
a general character; and for this purpose devises the following
rigmarole (p. 88): ‘It is never able ... of itself alone to bring
the human individual, determined as to sensation and morals, to an
exactly perceptible, distinctive representation; it is in its infinite
involution always and only feeling; it appears as an _accompaniment_
of the moral deed, not as the _deed itself_; it can place feelings
and dispositions side by side, not develop in necessary sequence one
disposition from another; it is lacking in _moral will_’ [!].

Let the reader further bury himself in this passage (p. 159): ‘It
is only and exactly in the degree to which the woman of perfected
womanliness, in her love for the man, and through her absorption into
his being, shall have developed the masculine element as well as this
womanliness, and brought it with the purely womanly element in herself
to a complete consummation; in other words, in the degree in which she
is not only the man’s mistress, but also his friend, is the man able to
find perfect satisfaction in a woman’s love.’

Wagner’s admirers asseverate that they understand this string of words
thrown together at random. Indeed, they find them remarkably clear!
This, however, should not surprise us. Readers who through weakness
of mind or flightiness of thought are incapable of attention always
understand everything. For them there exists neither obscurity nor
nonsense. They seek in the words over which their absent gaze flits
superficially, not the author’s thoughts, but a reflection of their own
rambling dreams. Those who have lived lovingly observant in children’s
nurseries must have frequently seen the game in which a child takes
a book, or printed paper, and, holding it before his face, generally
upside down, begins gravely to read aloud, often the story told him
by his mamma yesterday before he dropped asleep, or, more frequently,
the fancies which at the moment are buzzing in his little head. This
is somewhat the procedure of these blessed readers who understand
everything. They do not read what is in the books, but what they put
into them; and as far as the process and result of this mental activity
are concerned, it is certainly very much a matter of indifference what
the author has actually thought and said.

The incoherence of Wagner’s thought, determined as it is by the
excitations of the moment, manifests itself in his constant
contradictions. At one time (p. 187) he asserts, ‘The highest aim of
mankind is the artistic; the most highly artistic is the drama;’ and in
a foot-note (p. 194) he exclaims, ‘These easy-going creatures are fain
to see and hear everything, except _the real, undisfigured human being_
who stands exhorting at the exit of their dreams. _But it is exactly
this very human being whom we must now place in the foreground._’ It is
evident that one of these affirmations is diametrically opposed to the
other. The ‘artistic’ ‘dramatic’ man is not the ‘real’ man, and it will
be impossible for him, who looks upon it as his task to occupy himself
with the real man, to recognise art as ‘the highest aim of man,’ and to
regard his ‘dreams’ as the most distinguished of his activities.

In one passage (p. 206) he says: ‘Who, therefore, will be _the artist
of the future_? Unquestionably the poet. But _who_ will be the poet?
Incontestably the _interpreter_. Again, however, _who_ will be the
interpreter? Necessarily the _association of all artists_.’ If this
has any sense at all, it can only be that in the future the people
will jointly write and act their dramas; and that Wagner really meant
this he proves in the passage (p. 225) where he meets the objection
he anticipated, that therefore the mob is to be the creator of the
art-work of the future, with the words, ‘Bear in mind that this mob
is in no way a normal product of real human nature, but rather the
artificial result of your unnatural civilization; that all the devices
and abominations which disgust you in this mob are only the desperate
movements of the fight which real human nature is carrying on against
its cruel oppressor, modern civilization.’ Let us contrast with
these expressions the following passage from the treatise, _What is
German?_[190]: ‘The fact that from the bosom of the German race there
have sprung Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven, too easily
seduces the greater number of persons of mediocre gifts into regarding
these great minds as belonging by right to them, and to attempt, with
the complacency of a demagogue, to persuade the masses that they
themselves are Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven.’ But who, if
not Wagner himself, has thus persuaded the masses, proclaiming them to
be the ‘artists of the future’? And this very madness, which he himself
recognises as such in the remark quoted, has made a great impression
on the multitude. They have taken literally what Wagner, with the
‘complacency of a demagogue,’ has persuasively said to them. They have
really imagined themselves to be the ‘artists of the future,’ and we
have lived to see societies formed in many places in Germany who wanted
to build theatres of the future, and themselves to perform works of the
future in them! And these societies were joined not only by students
or young commercial employés in whom a certain propensity for acting
plays comes as a malady of adolescence, and who persuade themselves
that they are serving the ‘ideal’ when with childish vanity and in
grotesque theatrical costume they gesticulate and declaim before their
touched and admiring relatives and acquaintances. Nay, old burgesses,
bald and bulky, abandoned their sacred _skat_, and even the thrice-holy
morning tankard, and prepared themselves devoutly for noble dramatic
achievements! Since the memorable occasion on which Quince, Snug,
Bottom, Flute, Snout, and Starveling rehearsed their admirable _Pyramus
and Thisbe_, the world has seen no similar spectacle. Emotional
shopkeepers and enthusiastic counter-jumpers got Wagner’s absurdities
on the brain, and the provincials and Philistines whom his joyful
message had reached actually set about with their united strength to
carry on the work of Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven.

In the passages quoted, in which, in the most used-up style of
Rousseau, he glorifies the masses, speaks of ‘unnatural culture,’ and
calls ‘modern civilization’ ‘the cruel oppressor of human nature,’
Wagner betrays that mental condition which the degenerate share with
enlightened reformers, born criminals with the martyrs of human
progress, namely, deep, devouring discontent with existing facts. This
certainly shows itself otherwise in the degenerate than in reformers.
The latter grow angry over real evils only, and make rational proposals
for their remedy which are in advance of the time: these remedies may
presuppose a better and wiser humanity than actually exists, but, at
least, they are capable of being defended on reasonable grounds. The
degenerate subject, on the other hand, selects among the arrangements
of civilization such as are either immaterial or distinctly suitable,
in order to rebel against them. His fury has either ridiculously
insignificant aims or simply beats the air. He either gives no earnest
thought to improvement, or hatches astoundingly mad projects for making
the world happy. His fundamental frame of mind is persistent rage
against everything and everyone, which he displays in venomous phrases,
savage threats, and the destructive mania of wild beasts. Wagner is a
good specimen of this species. He would like to crush ‘political and
criminal civilization,’ as he expresses it. In what, however, does
the corruption of society and the untenableness of the condition of
everything reveal themselves to him? In the fact that operas are played
with tripping airs, and ballets are performed! And how shall humanity
attain its salvation! By performing the musical drama of the future! It
is to be hoped that no criticism of this universal plan of salvation
will be demanded of me.

Wagner is a declared anarchist. He distinctly develops the teaching
of this faction in the _Art-work of the Future_ (p. 217): ‘_All_ men
have but _one_ common _need_ ... the need of _living_ and _being
happy_. Herein lies the natural bond between all men.... It is only
the special needs which, according to time, place, and individuality,
make themselves known and increase, which in the rational condition
of future humanity can serve as a basis for special associations....
These associations will change, will take another form, dissolve
and reconstitute themselves according as those needs change and
reappear.’[191] He does not conceal the fact that this ‘rational
condition of future humanity’ ‘can be brought about only by force’ (p.
228). ‘Necessity must force us, too, through the Red Sea if we, purged
of our shame, are to reach the Promised Land. We shall not be drowned
in it; it is destructive only to the _Pharaohs_ of this world, who
have once already been swallowed up--man and horse ... the arrogant,
proud Pharaohs who then forgot that once a poor shepherd’s son with his
shrewd advice had saved their land from starvation.’

Together with this anarchistic acerbity, there is another feeling that
controls the entire conscious and unconscious mental life of Wagner,
viz., sexual emotion. He has been throughout his life an erotic (in a
psychiatric sense), and all his ideas revolve about woman. The most
ordinary incitements, even those farthest removed from the province
of the sexual instinct, never fail to awaken in his consciousness
voluptuous images of an erotic character, and the bent of the automatic
association of ideas is in him always directed towards this pole of his
thought. In this connection let this passage be read from the _Art-work
of the Future_ (p. 44), where he seeks to demonstrate the relation
between the art of dancing, music, and poetry: ‘In the contemplation
of this ravishing dance of the most genuine and noblest muses, of the
artistic man [?], we now see the three arm-in-arm lovingly entwined
up to their necks; then this, then that one, detaching herself from
the entwinement, as if to display to the others her beautiful form
in complete separation, touching the hands of the others only with
the extreme tips of her fingers; now the one, entranced by a backward
glance at the twin forms of her closely entwined sisters, bending
towards them; then two, carried away by the allurements of the one
[!] greeting her in homage; finally all, in close embrace, breast to
breast, limb to limb, in an ardent kiss of love, coalescing in one
blissfully living shape. This is the love and life, the joy and wooing
of art,’ etc. (Observe the word-play: _Lieben und Leben, Freuen und
Freien_!) Wagner here visibly loses the thread of his argument; he
neglects what he really wishes to say, and revels in the picture of
the three dancing maidens, who have arisen before his mind’s eye,
following with lascivious longing the outline of their forms and their
seductive movements.

The shameless sensuality which prevails in his dramatic poems has
impressed all his critics. Hanslick[192] speaks of the ‘bestial
sensuality’ in _Rheingold_, and says of _Siegfried_: ‘The feverish
accents, so much beloved by Wagner, of an insatiable sensuality,
blazing to the uttermost limits--this ardent moaning, sighing, crying,
and sinking to the ground, move us with repugnance. The text of these
love-scenes becomes sometimes, in its exuberance, sheer nonsense.’
Compare in the first act of the _Walküre_,[193] in the scene between
Siegmund and Sieglinde, the following stage directions: ‘Hotly
interrupting’; ‘embraces her with fiery passion’; ‘in gentle ecstasy’;
‘she hangs enraptured upon his neck’; ‘close to his eyes’; ‘beside
himself’; ‘in the highest intoxication,’ etc. At the conclusion, it
is said, ‘The curtain falls quickly,’ and frivolous critics have not
failed to perpetrate the cheap witticism, ‘Very necessary, too.’ The
amorous whinings, whimperings and ravings of _Tristan und Isolde_,
the entire second act of _Parsifal_, in the scene between the hero
and the flower-girls, and then between him and Kundry in Klingsor’s
magic garden, are worthy to rank with the above passages. It certainly
redounds to the high honour of German public morality, that Wagner’s
operas could have been publicly performed without arousing the greatest
scandal. How unperverted must wives and maidens be when they are in a
state of mind to witness these pieces without blushing crimson, and
sinking into the earth for shame! How innocent must even husbands and
fathers be who allow their womankind to go to these representations
of ‘lupanar’ incidents! Evidently the German audiences entertain
no misgivings concerning the actions and attitudes of Wagnerian
personages; they seem to have no suspicion of the emotions by which
they are excited, and what intentions their words, gestures and acts
denote; and this explains the peaceful artlessness with which these
audiences follow theatrical scenes during which, among a less childlike
public, no one would dare lift his eyes to his neighbour or endure his

With Wagner amorous excitement assumes the form of mad delirium.
The lovers in his pieces behave like tom-cats gone mad, rolling in
contortions and convulsions over a root of valerian. They reflect a
state of mind in the poet which is well known to the professional
expert. It is a form of Sadism. It is the love of those degenerates
who, in sexual transport, become like wild beasts.[194] Wagner
suffered from ‘erotic madness,’ which leads coarse natures to murder
for lust, and inspires ‘higher degenerates’ with works like _Die
Walküre_, _Siegfried_, and _Tristan und Isolde_.

Wagner’s graphomania is shown not only by the substance, but also by
the outward form of his writings. The reader will have been able to
remark in the quotations given what a misuse Wagner makes of italics.
He often has whole half-pages printed in spaced letters. Lombroso
expressly establishes this phenomenon among graphomaniacs.[195] It
is sufficiently explained by the peculiarity of mystical thought, so
often set forth in this work. No linguistic form which the mystically
degenerate subject can give to his thought-phantoms satisfies him; he
is always conscious that the phrases he is writing do not express the
mazy processes of his brain; and as he is forced to abandon the attempt
to embody these in words, he seeks, by means of notes of exclamation,
dashes, dots, and blanks, to impart to his writings more of mystery
than the words themselves can express.

The irresistible propensity to play on words--another peculiarity
of graphomaniacs and imbeciles--is developed to a high degree in
Wagner. I will here give only a few examples from the _Art-work of the
Future_--p. 56: ‘Thus it [the science of music] acquires through sound,
which has become speech ... its most _exalted satisfaction_, and at
the same time its most _satisfying exaltation_,’ p. 91: ‘Like a second
Prometheus, who from _Thon_ (clay) formed men, Beethoven had striven to
form them from _Ton_ (music). Not from clay or music (_Thon_ or _Ton_),
but from both of these substances, should man, the image of Zeus, the
dispenser of life, be created.’ Special attention may, however, be
called to the following astounding passage (p. 103): ‘If fashion or
custom permitted us again to adopt, in speech and writing, the genuine
and true use of _Tichten_ for _Dichten_ (to compose poetry), we should
thus obtain, in the united names of the three primitive human arts,
_Tanz_-, _Ton_-, and _Tichtkunst_ (dancing, music, and poetry), a
beautifully significant, sensuous image of the essence of this trinity
of sisters, viz., a perfect alliteration.... This alliteration would,
moreover, be peculiarly characteristic, on account of the position
held in it by _Tichtkunst_ (poetry), for only as its last member would
_Tichtkunst_ transform the alliteration into rhyme,’ etc.

We now come to the mysticism of Wagner, which permeates all his works,
and has become one of the chief causes of his influence over his
contemporaries--at least, outside Germany. Although he is irreligious
through and through, and frequently attacks positive religions, their
doctrines and their priests, there have, nevertheless, remained
active in him from childhood (passed in an atmosphere of Christian
Protestant views and religious practices) ideas and sentiments which
he subsequently transformed so strangely in his degenerate mind. This
phenomenon, viz., the persistence, in the midst of later doubts and
denials, of early-acquired Christian views, operating as an ever-active
leaven, singularly altering the whole mind, and at the same time
themselves suffering manifold decomposition and deformation--may be
frequently observed in confused brains. We shall meet it, for example,
in Ibsen. At the foundation of all Wagner’s poems and theoretical
writings there is to be found a more or less potent sediment of the
Catechism, distorted as to its doctrines; and in his most luxuriant
pictures, between the thick, crude colours, we get glimpses of strange
and hardly recognisable touches, betraying the fact that the scenes are
brutally daubed on the pale background of Gospel reminiscences.

One idea, or, more accurately, one word, has remained especially deeply
fixed in his mind, and pursued him throughout his whole life as a real
obsession, viz., the word ‘redemption.’ True, it has not with him the
value it possesses in the language of theology. To the theologian
‘redemption,’ this central idea of the whole Christian doctrine,
signifies the sublime act of superhuman love, which freely takes upon
itself the greatest suffering, and gladly bears it, that it may free
from the power of evil those whose strength is insufficient for such a
task. So understood, redemption presupposes three things. Firstly, we
must assume a dualism in nature, most distinctly developed in the Zend
religion; the existence of a first principle of good and one of evil,
between which mankind is placed, and becomes the cause of their strife.
Secondly, the one who is to be redeemed must be free from all conscious
and wilful fault; he must be the victim of superior forces which he is
himself incapable of warding off. Thirdly in order that the redeemer’s
act may be a true act of salvation and acquire power to deliver, he
must, in the fulfilment of a clearly recognised and purposed mission,
offer himself in sacrifice. It is true that a tendency has often
asserted itself to think of redemption as an act of grace, in which
not only the victims, but also sinners, may participate; but the
Church has always recognised the immorality of such a conception, and
has expressly taught that, in order to receive redemption, the guilty
must himself strive for it, through repentance and penance, and not
passively await it as a completely unmerited gift.

This theological redemption is not redemption in Wagner’s sense. With
him it has never any clearly recognisable import, and serves only to
denote something beautiful and grand, which he does not more closely
specify. At the outset the word has evidently made a deep impression on
his imagination, and he subsequently uses it like a minor chord, let
us say _a_, _c_, _e_, which is likewise without definite significance,
but, nevertheless, awakens emotion and peoples consciousness with
floating presentations. With Wagner someone is constantly being
‘redeemed.’ If (in the _Art-work of the Future_) the art of painting
ceases to paint pictures, and produces thenceforth only decorations
for the theatre, this is its ‘redemption.’ In the same way the music
accompanying a poem is a ‘redeemed’ music. Man is ‘redeemed’ when
he loves a woman, and the people is ‘redeemed’ when it plays at the
drama. His compositions also turn upon ‘redemption.’ Nietzsche[196] has
already remarked this, and makes merry over it, if with repulsively
superficial witticisms. ‘Wagner,’ he says, ‘has meditated on nothing
so much as on redemption’ (a wholly false assertion, since Wagner’s
redemption-twaddle is certainly no result of meditation, but only
a mystical echo of childish emotions); ‘his opera is the opera of
redemption. With him someone is always wanting to be redeemed--now a
male, now a female.... Who, if not Wagner, teaches us that innocence
has a predilection for redeeming interesting sinners (the case of
_Tannhäuser_)? Or that even the Wandering Jew will be redeemed and
become sedentary when he marries (the case of _The Flying Dutchman_)?
Or that depraved old wantons prefer to be redeemed by chaste youths
(the case of _Kundry_)? Or that beauteous maidens like best to be
redeemed by a knight who is a Wagnerian (the case in _Meistersinger_)?
Or that even married women like to be redeemed by a knight (the case of
_Isolde_)? Or that the ancient god, after having morally compromised
himself in every respect, is redeemed by a free-thinker and an immoral
character (the case in the _Niebelungen_)? How particularly admirable
is this last profundity! Do you understand it? As for me, defend me
from understanding it.’

The work of Wagner which may be truly termed ‘the opera of redemption’
is _Parsifal_. Here we may catch Wagner’s mind in its most nonsensical
vagaries. In _Parsifal_ two persons are redeemed: King Amfortas and
Kundry. The King has allowed himself to become infatuated with the
charms of Kundry, and has sinned in her arms. As a punishment, the
magic spear which had been entrusted to him has been taken from him,
and be wounded by this sacred weapon. The wound gapes and bleeds
unceasingly, and causes him dreadful suffering. Nothing can heal it
but the spear itself which gave it. But ‘the pure fool who through
compassion knows’ can alone wrest the spear from the wicked magician,
Klingsor. Kundry, when a young maiden, had seen the Saviour on the path
of his Passion, and had laughed at him. As a penalty for her act she
is doomed to live for ever, longing in vain for death, and seducing
to sin all men who approach her. Only if a man is able to resist her
allurements can she be redeemed from her curse. (One man has, in fact,
resisted her, the magician Klingsor. Yet this victorious resistance
has not redeemed her as it ought. Why? Wagner does not reveal this by
a single syllable.) It is Parsifal who brings redemption to the two
accursed ones. The ‘pure fool’ has no inkling that he is predestined
to redeem Amfortas and Kundry, and he neither undergoes any suffering
nor exposes himself to any serious danger in accomplishing the act
of salvation. It is true that, in forcing his way into the enchanted
garden, he is obliged to have a small bout with its knights, but this
skirmish is far more a pleasure than an effort for him, for he is far
stronger than his adversaries, and, after some playful passes, puts
them to flight, bleeding and beaten. He certainly resists the beauty of
Kundry, and this is meritorious, yet it hardly constitutes an act of
deadly self-sacrifice. He obtains the magic spear without any effort.
Klingsor hurls it at him to slay him, but the weapon ‘remains floating
above his head,’ and Parsifal has only to stretch out his hand to take
it at his convenience, and then to fulfil his mission.

Every individual feature of this mystical piece is in direct contrast
to the Christian idea of redemption, which has nevertheless inspired
it. Amfortas is in need of redemption through his own weakness and
guilt, not on account of an invincible fate, and he is redeemed without
any assistance on his part beyond whining and moaning. The salvation he
is awaiting and ultimately obtains has its source completely outside
his will and consciousness. He has no part in its attainment. Another
effects it for him, and bestows it on him as a gift. The redemption
is a purely external affair, a lucky windfall, and not the reward of
an inward moral struggle. Still more monstrous are the conditions of
Kundry’s redemption. Not only is she not allowed to labour for her
own salvation, but she is compelled to employ all her strength to
prevent it; for her redemption depends on her being despised by a man,
and the task to which she has been condemned is to turn to account
all the seductive power of beauty and passionate solicitation to win
over the man. She must by all possible means thwart the man by whom
her redemption is to come, from becoming her redeemer. If the man
yields to her charms, then the redemption is frustrated, not through
her fault, though by her action; if the man resists the temptation,
she obtains redemption without deserving it, because in spite of her
opposing effort. It is impossible to concoct a situation more absurd
and at the same time more immoral. Parsifal the redeemer is, in fine,
from beginning to end, a mystic re-incarnation of ‘Hans in Luck’ in
the German fairy-tale. He succeeds in everything without personal
effort. He sets out to kill a swan, and finds the Grail and the royal
crown. His redeemership is no self-sacrifice, but a benefice. The
favour of Heaven has called him to an enviable, honourable office--on
what powerful recommendation Wagner does not disclose. But a closer
examination reveals worse things. Parsifal, the ‘pure fool,’ is simply
a precipitate of confused reminiscences of Christology. Powerfully
struck by the poetical elements of the Saviour’s life and sufferings,
Wagner has been impelled to externalize his impressions and emotions,
and has created Parsifal, whom he causes to experience some of the most
affecting scenes of the Gospel, and who in his hands becomes (partly,
perhaps, without his being aware of it) at once a foolish and frivolous
caricature of Jesus Christ. In the mystical work, the temptation of the
Saviour in the desert is transformed into the temptation of Parsifal by
Kundry. The scene in the Pharisee’s house, where the Magdalene anoints
the Saviour’s feet, is reproduced exactly: Kundry bathes and anoints
Parsifal’s feet, and dries them with her unbound hair; and the ‘pure
fool’ plagiarizes the words of Christ, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’
in this exclamation: ‘Thus I accomplish my first office; be baptized
and believe on the Redeemer.’ That the ordinary theatre-goer is not
shocked by this misused application of the Christ legend--nay, that in
the distorted fragments of the Gospel he is able to revive some of the
emotions it perhaps at one time excited in him--is conceivable. But
it is incomprehensible that earnest believers, and especially zealous
fanatics, have never perceived what a profanation of their most sacred
ideas is perpetrated by Wagner, when he endows his Parsifal with traits
of the Christ Himself.

We may mention only one of the other absurd details of the _Parsifal_.
The aged Titurel has succumbed to the earthly penalty of death, but
through the Saviour’s mercy continues to live in the grave. The
sight of the Grail continually renews for a time his waning vital
strength. Titurel seems to attach a great value to this comfortless
life-in-death existence. ‘By the mercy of the Saviour I live in the
tomb,’ he joyously cries from his coffin, demanding with impetuous
vehemence that the Grail be shown him, in order that his life may
thereby be prolonged. ‘Am I to-day to see once more the Grail and
live?’ he asks in anguish, and because he receives no immediate answer
thus laments, ‘Must I die unaccompanied by the Deliverer?’ His son,
Amfortas, hesitates, whereupon the old man gives his orders: ‘Unveil
the Grail! The benediction!’ And when his wishes are complied with, he
exults: ‘Oh, sacred bliss! How bright the Lord doth greet us to-day!’
Subsequently Amfortas has for some time neglected the unveiling of the
Grail, and hence Titurel has had to die. Amfortas is in despair. ‘My
father! highly blessed of heroes!... I, who alone was fain to die, to
thee have I given death!’ From all this it undoubtedly results that all
the persons concerned see in life, even if it be the shadowy and empty
life of a being already laid in his coffin, an exceedingly precious
possession, and in death a bitter misfortune. And this takes place in
the same piece in which Kundry endures eternal life as a frightful
curse, and passionately longs for death as a most delicious salvation!
Is a more ridiculous contradiction conceivable? Moreover, the Titurel
episode is a denial of all the premises of _Parsifal_, constructed as
it is on the foundation of the religious idea of personal persistence
after death. How can death frighten the man who is convinced that the
bliss of paradise awaits him? We are here in the presence of the same
non-comprehension of his own assumptions which has already struck
us in Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Tolstoi. But this is precisely the
peculiarity of morbidly mystic thought. It unites mutually exclusive
ideas; it shuns the law of consistency, and imperturbably combines
details which are dumbfounded at finding themselves in company. We do
not observe this phenomenon in one who is a mystic through ignorance,
mental indolence, or imitation. He may take an absurd idea as a point
of departure for a train of thought; but the latter unrolls itself
rationally and consistently, and suffers no gross contradiction among
its particular members.

As Christology inspired Wagner with the figures of _Parsifal_, so
did the Eucharist inspire him with the most effective scene of the
piece--the love-feast of the Grail. It is the _mise-en-scène_ of
the Catholic Mass, with the heretical addition of one Protestant
feature--the partaking by the communicants of the elements in both
kinds. The unveiling of the Grail corresponds to the elevation
of the Host. The acolytes take the form of the choir of boys and
youths. In the antiphonal songs and the actions of Amfortas, we find
approximations to all four parts of the Mass. The knights of the Grail
intone a sort of stunted introit, the long plaint of Amfortas: ‘No!
Let it not be unveiled! Oh, may no one, no one, fathom the depths of
this torment!’ etc., may be regarded as a _Confiteor_. The boys sing
the offertory (‘Take ye my blood for the sake of our love!’ etc.).
Amfortas proceeds to the consecration; all partake in the Communion,
and there is even a parodied reminiscence of the ‘Ite, missa est’ in
Gurnemanz’s exclamation, ‘Go out hence upon thy way!’ Since Constantine
the Great, since the elevation of Christianity to the rank of a State
religion, no poet has dared do what Wagner has done; he has drawn
theatrical effects from the incomparable rich emotional content of the
function of the Mass. He felt profoundly the symbolism of the Lord’s
Supper; it provoked in him a powerful mystical excitement, and the
need arose in him of endowing the symbolical event with a dramatic
form, and of sensuously experiencing in all its details and in its
entirety that which in the sacrifice of the Mass is only indicated,
condensed, and spiritualized. He wished to see and feel in his own
person how the elect enjoy, amid violent emotions, the body of Christ
and His redeeming blood; and how super-terrestrial phenomena, the
purple gleaming of the Grail and the downward hovering dove (in the
final scene), etc., make palpable the real presence of Christ and the
divine nature of the Eucharist. Just as Wagner has borrowed from the
Church his inspiration for the scenes in the Grail, and then for his
own purposes has popularized the liturgy in the style of the _Biblia
Pauperum_, so does the audience find again the cathedral and high mass
on his stage, and import into the piece all the emotions left in their
soul by Church ceremonies. The real priest in his sacerdotal robes,
the remembrance of his gestures, of the hand-bell and the genuflexions
of the servers, the blue reek and perfume of the incense, the pealing
of the organ and the play of chequered sunlight through the stained
windows of the church--these are, in the heart of the public, Wagner’s
collaborators; and it is not his art which lulls them into mystic
ecstasy, but the fundamental mood inculcated in the vast majority of
white races by two centuries of Christian sentiment.

Mysticism is, as we know, always accompanied by eroticism, especially
in the degenerate, whose emotionalism has its chief source in
morbidly excited states of the sexual centres. Wagner’s imagination
is perpetually occupied with woman. But he never sees her relation
to man in the form of healthy and natural love, which is a benefit
and satisfaction for both lovers. As with all morbid erotics (we have
already remarked this in Verlaine and Tolstoi), woman presents herself
to him as a terrible force of nature, of which man is the trembling,
helpless victim. The woman that he knows is the gruesome Astarté of
the Semites, the frightful man-eating Kali Bhagawati of the Hindoos, an
apocalyptic vision of smiling bloodthirstiness, of eternal perdition
and infernal torment, in demoniacally beautiful embodiment. No poetical
problem has so profoundly moved him as the relation between man and
this his ensnaring destroyer. He has approached this problem from
all sides, and has given it different solutions corresponding to his
instincts and views of morality. The man frequently succumbs to the
temptress, but Wagner revolts against this weakness, of which he is
himself only too conscious, and in his chief works makes the man offer
a desperate, but finally victorious, resistance. Not, however, by his
own strength does man tear himself from the paralyzing charm of woman.
He must receive supernatural aid. This proceeds most frequently from a
pure and unselfish virgin, who forms the antithesis to the sphinx with
soft woman’s body and lion’s paws. In conformity with the psychological
law of contrast, Wagner invents as a counterpart to the terrible
woman of his inmost perception an angelic woman, who is all love, all
devotion, all celestial mildness; a woman who asks for nothing and
gives all; a woman soothing, caressing and healing; in a word, a woman
for whom an unhappy creature pants as he writhes, consumed by flames,
in the white-hot flames of Belit. Wagner’s Elizabeth, Elsa, Senta, and
Gertrude are extremely instructive manifestations of erotic mysticism,
in which the half-unconscious idea is struggling for form, viz., that
the safety of the sexually crazy degenerate lies in purity, continence,
or in the possession of a wife having no sort of individuality, no
desire and no rights, and hence incapable of ever proving dangerous to
the man.

In one of his first compositions, as in his last, in _Tannhäuser_ as in
_Parsifal_, he treats of the combat between man and his corruptress,
the fly versus the spider, and in this way testifies that for
thirty-three years, from youth to old age, the subject has never been
absent from his mind. In _Tannhäuser_ it is the beautiful devil Venus
herself who ensnares the hero, and with whom he has to wage a desperate
conflict for the salvation of his soul. The pious and chaste Elizabeth,
this dream-being, woven of moonlight, prayer, and song, becomes his
‘redeemer.’ In _Parsifal_ the beautiful devil is named Kundry, and the
hero escapes the danger with which she threatens his soul only because
he is ‘the pure fool,’ and is in a state of grace.

In the _Walküre_ Wagner’s imagination surrenders itself to unbridled
passion. He here represents the ardent man wildly and madly abandoning
himself to his appetite, without regard to the dictates of society, and
without attempting to resist the furious impetuosity of his instinct.
Siegmund sees Sieglinde, and thenceforth has but one idea--to possess
her. That she is another’s wife--nay, that he recognises her as his
own sister--does not check him for a moment. Those considerations are
as feathers before the storm. He pays for his night of pleasure by his
death the following morning. For with Wagner love is always a fatality,
and ever round its pillow blaze the flames of hell. And as he has not
made manifest in Sieglinde the images of carnage and annihilation
evoked in him by his idea of woman, he personifies these separately in
the _Walküre_. Their appearance in the drama is for him a psychological
need. The traits inseparable in his mind from his conception of woman,
and ordinarily united by him in a single figure, are here separated and
raised to the dignity of independent types. Venus, Kundry, are seducer
and destroyer in one person. In the _Walküre_ Sieglinde is only the
seducer, but the destroyer grows into a horde of gruesome Amazons, who
drink the blood of battling men, revel in the spectacle of murderous
blows, and rush with wild, exulting cries across the corpse-strewn

_Siegfried_, _Götterdämmerung_, _Tristan und Isolde_ are exact
repetitions of the essential content of the _Walküre_. It is always
the dramatic embodiment of the same obsession of the terrors of love.
Siegfried sees Brunhilde in the midst of her fire-circle, and both
instantly fall into each other’s arms in a rage of love; but Siegfried
must expiate his happiness with his life, and falls under the steel
of Hagen. The mere death of Siegfried does not suffice for Wagner’s
imagination as the inevitable consequence of love; destiny must show
itself more terribly. The castle of Asgard itself breaks out in flames,
and the slave of love in dying drags to his own perdition all the
gods of heaven along with him. _Tristan und Isolde_ is the echo of
this tragedy of passion. Here also is the complete annihilation of
the sentiment of duty and self-conquest, by the springing up of love
both in Tristan and Isolde; and here also is death as the natural
end towards which love is hurried. To express his fundamental mystic
thought, that love is an awful fatality wherewith the unapproachable
powers of destiny visit the poor mortal incapable of resistance, he
has resort to a childishly clumsy device; he introduces into his
compositions love-philtres of potent spell, now to explain the birth
of the passion itself, and to indicate its superhuman nature, as
in _Tristan und Isolde_; now to withdraw all the moral life of the
hero from the control of his will, and show him as the plaything of
super-terrestrial forces, as in the _Götterdämmerung_.

Thus Wagner’s poems give us a deep insight into the world of ideas of
an erotically emotional degenerate nature. They reveal the alternating
mental conditions of a most reckless sensuality, of a revolt of moral
sentiment against the tyranny of appetite, of the ruin of the higher
man and his despairing repentance. As has already been said, Wagner
is an admirer of Schopenhauer and his philosophy. Like his master,
he persuaded himself that life is a misfortune, and non-existence
salvation and happiness. Love, as the constantly active incitement
to the maintenance of the species and continuance of life, with all
its accompanying sufferings, was bound to seem to him the source of
all evil; and, on the other hand, the highest wisdom and morality, to
consist in the victorious resistance of this incitement, in chastity,
sterility, the negation of the will to perpetuate the species. And
while his judgment bound him to these views, his instincts attracted
him irresistibly to woman, and forced him during his whole life to
do all that flouted his convictions and condemned his doctrine. This
discord between his philosophy and his organic inclinations is the
inner tragedy of his mental life, and his poems form a unique whole,
recounting the process of the internal conflict. He sees a woman,
at once loses himself, and is absorbed in her charms (Siegmund and
Sieglinde, Siegfried and Brunhilde, Tristan and Isolde). This is a
great sin, demanding expiation; death alone is an adequate punishment
(final scenes in the _Walküre_, _Götterdämmerung_, _Tristan und
Isolde_). But the sinner has a timid and feeble excuse: ‘I could not
resist. I was the victim of superhuman powers. My seducer was of the
race of the gods’ (Sieglinde, Brunhilde). ‘Magic philtres deprived
me of my reason’ (Tristan, Siegfried in his relations with Gutrune).
How glorious to be strong enough to vanquish the devouring monster
of appetite within! How radiant and exalted the figure of a man able
to plant his foot on the neck of the demon woman! (Tannhäuser and
Parsifal). And, on the other hand, how beautiful and adorable the
woman who should not set ablaze the hell-fire of passion in man, but
aid him in quenching it; who should not exact of him a revolt against
reason, duty, and honour, but be an example to him of renunciation and
self-discipline; who, instead of enslaving him, should, as his loving
handmaid, divest herself of her own nature, to blend herself with his;
in a word, a woman who would leave him safe in his defencelessness,
because she herself would be unarmed! (Elizabeth, Elsa, Senta,
Gutrune). The creation of these forms of woman is a sort of _De
Profundis_ of the timid voluptuary, who feels the sting of the flesh,
and implores aid to protect him from himself.

Like all the degenerates, Wagner is wholly sterile as a poet, although
he has written a long series of dramatic works. The creative force
capable of reproducing the spectacle of universal normal life is
denied him. He has recourse to his own mystico-erotic emotions for the
emotional content of his pieces, and the external incidents forming
their skeleton are purely the fruits of reading, the reminiscences
of books which have made an impression on him. This is the great
difference between the healthy and the degenerate poet who receives
his sentiments at second-hand. The former is able to ‘plunge into
full human life,’ as Goethe says; to seize it, and either make it
enter all breathing and palpitating into a poem which itself thus
becomes a part of natural life, or else remould it with idealizing
art, suppressing its accidental, accessory features, so as to make
prominent the essential; and in this way convincingly to reveal law
behind enigmatically bewildering phenomena. The degenerate subject,
on the contrary, can do nothing with life; he is blind and deaf to
it. He is a stranger in the midst of healthy men. He lacks the organs
necessary for the comprehension of life--nay, even for its perception.
To work from a model does not lie within his powers. He can only copy
existing sketches, and then colour them subjectively with his own
emotions. He can see life only when it lies before him on paper in
black and white. While the healthy poet resembles the chlorophyllic
plant, which dives into the soil, and, by the honest labour of its own
roots, procures for itself the nutritive materials out of which it
constructs its blossoms and fruit, the degenerate poet has the nature
of a parasitic plant, which can only live on a host, and receives its
nutriment exclusively from the juices already elaborated by the latter.
There are modest parasites and proud parasites. Their range extends
from the insignificant lichen to the wondrous rafflesia, the flower
of which, a yard in breadth, illumines the sombre forests of Sumatra
with the wild magnificence of its blood-red colour. Wagner’s poems
have in them something of the carrion stench and uncanny beauty of
this plant of rapine and corruption. With the single exception of the
_Meistersinger_, they are grafted on the Icelandic sagas, the epics
of Gottfried of Strassburg, Wolfram of Eschenbach, and the singer of
the Wartburg war in the Manessian manuscript, as on so many trunks of
half-dead trees, and they draw their strength from these. _Tannhäuser_,
the _Niebelungen Tetralogy_, _Tristan und Isolde_, _Parsifal_, and
_Lohengrin_, are constructed entirely from materials supplied him by
ancient literature. _Rienzi_ he derives from written history, and the
_Fliegender Holländer_ from the tradition already utilized a hundred
times. Among popular legends, that of the Wandering Jew has made
the deepest impression on his mind, on account of its mysticism. He
has elaborated it once in the _Fliegender Holländer_; a second time
transposed it feature for feature into a feminine form in the person of
Kundry, not without weaving into this inversion some reminiscences of
the legend of Herodias. All this is patchwork and dilettantism. Wagner
deceives himself (probably unconsciously) as to his incapacity for
creating human beings, representing, not men, but gods and demi-gods,
demons and spectres, whose deeds are not to be explained by human
motives, but by mysterious destinies, curses and prophecies, fatal and
magic forces. That which passes before our eyes in Wagner’s pieces is
not life, but spectres, witches’ sabbaths, or dreams. He is a dealer
in old clothes, who has bought at second-hand the cast-off garments of
fairy-tales, and makes of them (often not without clever tailoring) new
costumes, in which we may recognise, strangely jumbled and joined, rags
of ancient gala stuffs and fragments of damascened suits of armour. But
these masquerading suits do not serve for clothes to a single being
of flesh and blood. Their apparent movements are produced exclusively
by the hand of Wagner, who has slipped into the empty doublets and
sleeves, and behind the flowing trains and dangling robes, and kicks
about in them with epileptic convulsions, that he may awaken in the
spectator the impression of a ghostly animation in this obsolete

Healthy geniuses have also, no doubt, allied themselves with popular
tradition or history, like Goethe in _Faust_ and _Tasso_. But what a
difference between the respective treatment by a healthy poet and a
degenerate one of that which they find, of that which is given! To
the former it is a vessel which he fills with genuine, fresh life, so
that the new contents become the essential part; to the latter, on
the contrary, the outside is and remains the chief thing, and his own
activity consists at best in choking the receptacle with the chaff of
nonsensical phrases. The great poets, too, lay claim to the cuckoo’s
privilege of laying their egg in a strange nest. But the bird which
issues from the egg is so much larger, handsomer and stronger than
the original denizens, that the latter are mercilessly driven from
their home and the former remains the sole possessor. When the great
poet puts his new wine into old bottles, he doubtless shows a little
indolence, a little poverty of invention and a not very high-minded
reckoning on the reader’s pre-existing emotions. But he cannot be
held too rigorously accountable for this small amount of stinginess,
because, after all, he gives us so much that is his own. Imagine
_Faust_ deprived of all the portions drawn from old popular books;
there would still remain nearly everything; there would remain all of
the man who thirsts for knowledge and seeks for it; all the struggle
between his baser instincts craving for satisfaction, and the higher
morality rejoicing in renunciation; in brief, just that which makes
the work one of the loftiest poems of humanity. If, on the other hand,
Wagner’s old ancestral marionettes are stripped of their armour and
brocades, there remains nothing, or, at best, only air and a musty
smell. Assimilating minds have hundreds of times felt tempted to
modernize _Faust_. The undertaking is so sure of success that it is
superfluous; Faust in dress-coat would be no other than the unaltered
embodiment of Goethe’s own Faust. But imagine Lohengrin, Siegmund,
Tristan, Parsifal, as contemporaries! They would not even serve for
burlesque, in spite of the Tannhäuser lampoon by the old Viennese poet

Wagner swaggered about the art-work of the future, and his partisans
hailed him as the artist of the future. He the artist of the future! He
is a bleating echo of the far-away past. His path leads back to deserts
long since abandoned by all life. Wagner is the last mushroom on the
dunghill of romanticism. This ‘modern’ is the degraded heir of a Tieck,
of a La Motte-Fouqué--nay more, sad to say, of a Johann Friedrich Kind.
The home of his intellect is the Dresden evening paper. He derives his
subsistence from the legacy of mediæval poems, and dies of starvation
when the remittance from the thirteenth century fails to arrive.

The subject alone of the Wagnerian poems can raise a claim to
serious consideration. As for their form, it is beneath criticism.
The absurdity of his style, his shallowness, the awkwardness of his
versification, his complete inability to clothe his feelings and
thoughts in anything like adequate language--these have been so often
pointed out and exposed in detail that I may spare myself the trouble
of dwelling on these points. But one faculty among the essential
constituents of dramatic endowment cannot be denied him--that of
picturesque imagination. It is developed in him to the point of genius.
Wagner as a dramatist is really a historical painter of the highest
rank. Nietzsche (in his skit, _Der Fall Wagner_[197]) perhaps means
the same when, without stopping at this important assertion, he calls
Wagner, not only ‘magnetizer’ and ‘collector of gew-gaws,’ but also
a ‘fresco-painter.’ This he is in a degree never yet attained by any
other dramatic author in the whole world of literature. Every action
embodies itself for him in a series of most imposing pictures, which,
when they are composed as Wagner has seen them with his inner eye, must
overwhelm and enrapture the beholder. The reception of the guests in
the hall of the Wartburg; the arrival and departure of Lohengrin in
the boat drawn by the swan; the gambols of the Rhine maidens in the
river; the defiling of the gods over the rainbow-bridge towards the
castle of Asgard; the bursting of the moonlight into Hunding’s hut;
the ride of the Walküre over the battlefield; Brunhilde in the circle
of fire; the final scene in _Götterdämmerung_, where Brunhilde flings
herself on to her horse and leaps into the midst of the funeral-pyre,
while Hagen throws himself into the surging Rhine, and the heavens
are aflame with the glow from the burning palace of the gods; the
love-feast of the knights in the castle of the Grail; the obsequies
of Titurel and the healing of Amfortas--these are pictures to which
nothing hitherto in art approaches. It is on account of this gift for
inventing incomparably imposing spectacles that Nietzsche has termed
Wagner a ‘comedian.’ The word signifies nothing, and, in so far as it
may contain a tinge of contempt, is unjust. Wagner is no comedian,
but a born painter. If he had been a healthy genius, endowed with
intellectual equilibrium, that is what he would undoubtedly have
become. His inner vision would have forced the brush into his hand,
and constrained him to realize it on canvas, by means of colour.
Leonardo da Vinci had the same gift. It made him the greatest painter
the world had yet known, and at the same time the unsurpassed deviser
and organizer of fêtes, pageants, triumphs, and allegorical plays,
which, perhaps more than his genius as a painter, won for him the
admiration of his princely patrons Ludovico Moro, Isabella of Aragon,
Cæsar Borgia, Charles VIII., Louis XII., Francis I. But Wagner, as is
the case with all the degenerate, did not see clearly into his own
nature. He did not understand his natural impulses. Perhaps also,
with the feeling of his own deep organic feebleness, he dreaded the
heavy labour of drawing and painting, and, conformably with the law of
least effort, his instinct sought vent in the theatre, where his inner
visions were embodied by others--the decorative painters, machinists,
and actors--without requiring him to exert himself. His pictures have
unquestionably a large share in the effect produced by his pieces.
They are admired without an inquiry into how far their introduction
is warranted by the rational course of the drama. However nonsensical
as part of an action, they justify their appearance, from an artistic
standpoint, by their intrinsic beauty, which makes of them independent
æsthetical phenomena. Through their enormous aggrandizement by the
media of the stage, their pictorial allurements are perceptible even to
the eye of the most crass Philistine, whose sense were otherwise dead
to them.

Of Wagner the musician, more important to all appearance than Wagner
the author, dramatic poet and fresco-painter, I treat lastly, because
this task will give us a clear proof of his degeneration, although
this is very much more evident in his writings than in his music,
where certain stigmata of degeneration are not so prominent, and where
others appear as its unmistakable advantages. The incoherence in words,
noticeable at once to an attentive person, does not exhibit itself in
music unless it is excessively strongly marked; the absurdity, the
contradictions, the twaddle, are hardly apparent in the language of
tones, because it is not the function of music to express an exact
meaning, and emotionalism is not in it an indication of disease, since
emotion is music’s proper essence.

We know, moreover, that high musical talent is compatible with a very
advanced state of degeneration--nay, even with pronounced delusion,
illusion, and idiocy. Sollier[198] says: ‘We have to deal with certain
aptitudes very often manifested with great intensity by idiots and
imbeciles.... That for music especially is often met with.... Although
this may seem disagreeable to musicians, it nevertheless proves that
music is the least intellectual of all the arts.’ Lombroso[199]
remarks: ‘It has been observed that the aptitude for music has been
displayed almost involuntarily and unexpectedly among many sufferers
from hypochondria and mania, and even among the really insane.’ He
cites, with other cases, a mathematician attacked with melancholia, who
improvised on the piano; a woman seized with megalomania, who ‘sang
very beautiful airs, at the same time improvising two different themes
on the piano’; a patient ‘who composed very beautiful new and melodious
tunes,’ etc.; and he adds in explanation that those who are afflicted
with megalomania and general paralysis surpass other mental invalids in
musical talent, ‘and from the very same cause as that of their unusual
aptitude for painting, viz., their violent mental excitation.’

Wagner the musician encounters his most powerful attacks from musicians
themselves. He himself bears witness to it:[200] ‘Both my friends
(Ferd. Hiller and Schumann) believed that they very soon discovered
me to be a musician of no remarkable endowment. My success also has
seemed to them to be due to the libretti written by myself.’ In other
language, the same old story--musicians regarded him as a poet,
and poets as a musician. It is of course convenient to explain _a
posteriori_ the decisive judgments of men who were at once prominent
professionals and sincere friends of Wagner by saying (after he had
attained success) that his tendency was too novel to be immediately
appreciated, or even understood, by them. This solution, however,
hardly applies to Schumann, as he was a friend to all innovations, and
audacities, even differing from his own, rather attracted than shocked
him. Rubinstein[201] still makes important reservations in regard to
Wagner’s music; and among serious contemporary musical critics who
have witnessed the birth, development and triumph of the Wagner cult,
Hanslick remained a long time recalcitrant, until at last, though not
very valiantly, he struck his colours in face of the overpowering
fanaticism of hysterical Wagnerphiles. What Nietzsche (in his _Der Fall
Wagner_) says against Wagner as a musician is unimportant, since the
brochure of abjuration is quite as insanely delirious as the brochure
of deification (_Wagner in Bayreuth_) written twelve years before.

In spite of the unfavourable judgments of many of his professional
brethren, Wagner is incontestably an eminently gifted musician. This
coolly-expressed recognition will certainly seem grotesque to Wagnerian
fanatics, who place him above Beethoven. But a serious inquirer into
truth need not trouble himself about the impressions provoked by Wagner
among these persons. In the first period of his productivity Wagner
much oftener achieved compositions of beauty than subsequently, and
among these many may be termed pearls of musical literature, and will
for a long time enjoy even the esteem of serious and rational people.
But Wagner the musician had to confront a lifelong enemy, who forcibly
prevented the full unfolding of his gifts, and this enemy was Wagner
the musical theorist.

In his graphomaniacal muddle he concocted certain theories, which
represent so many fits of æsthetic delirium. The most important
of these are the dogmas of the _leit-motif_ and of the unending
melody. Everyone now undoubtedly knows what Wagner understood by
the former. The expression has passed into all civilized languages.
The _leit-motif_, in which the threshed-out discarded ‘programme
music’ was bound logically to culminate, is a sequence of tones
supposed to express a definite conception, and appears in the
orchestration whenever the composer intends to recall to the auditor
the corresponding conception. By the _leit-motif_ Wagner transforms
music into dry speech. The orchestration, leaping from _leit-motif_
to _leit-motif_, no longer embodies general emotions, but claims
to appeal to memory and to reason, and communicate sharply defined
presentations. Wagner combines a few notes into a musical figure, as
a rule not even distinct or original, and makes this arrangement with
the auditor:--‘This figure signifies a combat, that a dragon, a third
a sword,’ etc. If the auditor does not agree to the stipulation, the
_leit-motifs_ lose all significance, for they possess in themselves
nothing which compels us to grasp the meaning arbitrarily lent
them; and they cannot have anything of this kind in them, because
the imitative powers of music are by its nature limited to purely
acoustical phenomena, or at most to those optical phenomena ordinarily
accompanied by acoustical phenomena. By imitating thunder, music can
express the notion of a thunderstorm; by the imitation of the tones of
a bugle, it can call up that of an army in such a way that the listener
can hardly have a doubt as to the significance of the corresponding
sequences of tones. On the other hand, it is absolutely denied to
music, with the means at its disposal, to produce an unequivocal
embodiment of the visible and tangible world, let alone that of
abstract thought. Hence the _leit-motifs_ are at best cold symbols,
resembling written characters, which in themselves say nothing, and
convey to the initiated and the learned alone the given import of a

Here again is found the phenomenon already repeatedly indicated by us
as a mark of the mode of thought among the degenerate--the unconscious
moon-struck somnambulous way in which they transgress the most
firmly-established limits of the particular artistic domain, annul the
differentiation of the arts arrived at by long historical evolution,
and lead them back to the period of the lacustrines, nay, of the most
primitive troglodytes. We have seen that the pre-Raphaelites reduce the
picture to a writing which is no longer to produce its effect by its
pictorial qualities, but must express an abstract idea; and that the
Symbolists make of the word, that conventional vehicle of a conception,
a musical harmony, by whose aid they endeavour to awaken not an idea,
but a phonetic effect. In precisely the same way Wagner wishes to
divest music of its proper essence, and to transform it from a vehicle
of emotion into a vehicle of rational thought. The disguise produced by
this interchange of costumes is in this way complete. Painters proclaim
themselves writers; poets behave like the composers of symphonies; the
musician plays the poet. Pre-Raphaelites wishing to record a religious
apothegm do not make use of writing, which leaves nothing to be desired
in the way of convenience, and by which they would be distinctly
understood, but plunge into the labour of a highly-detailed painting,
costing them much time, and which, in spite of its wealth of figures,
is far from speaking so clearly to the intelligence as a single line of
rational writing. Symbolists desirous of awakening a musical emotion
do not compose a melody, but join meaningless, though ostensibly
musical words, capable, perhaps, of provoking amusement or vexation,
but not the intended emotion. When Wagner wishes to express the idea of
‘giant,’ ‘dwarf,’ ‘tarn-cap which makes the wearer invisible,’ he does
not say in words universally understood ‘giant,’ ‘dwarf,’ ‘tarn-cap’
(which makes the wearer invisible), but replaces these excellent words
by a series of notes, the sense of which no one will divine without a
key. Is anything more needed to expose the complete insanity of this
confusion of all the means of expression, this ignorance of what is
possible to each art?

It is Wagner’s ambition to imitate those facetious students who teach
their dog to say ‘papa.’ He wants to perform the trick of making music
say the names ‘Schulze’ and ‘Müller’ (=Smith and Jones). The score
should, when necessary, supply the place of the directory. Language
does not suffice him. He creates for himself a _volapük_, and demands
that his hearers should learn it. No admission without hard work! Those
who have not assimilated the vocabulary of the Wagnerian _volapük_
cannot understand his operas. It is useless to go to the trouble of a
journey to Bayreuth if one cannot talk fluently in _leit-motifs_. And
how pitiable after all is the result of this delirious effort! H. von
Wolzogen, the writer of the _Thematische Leitfaden_ (Thematic Guide)
to the Niebelungen Tetralogy, finds in all these four prodigious works
only ninety _leit-motifs_. A language of ninety words, however inflated
they may be, such as ‘motif of the weary Siegmund,’ ‘motif of the mania
for vengeance,’ ‘motif of bondage,’ etc.! with such a vocabulary it
would be impossible even to exchange ideas about the weather with a
native of Tierra del Fuego. A page of Sanders’ lexicon contains more
means of expression than Wolzogen’s entire dictionary of the Wagnerian
_leit-motif_ language. The history of art knows no more astounding
aberration than this _leit-motif_ craze. To express ideas is not the
function of music; language provides for that as completely as could
be desired. When the word is accompanied by song or orchestra it is
not to make it more definite, but to re-enforce it by the intervention
of emotion. Music is a kind of sounding-board, in which the word has
to awake something like an echo from the infinite. But such an echo of
presentiment and mystery does not ring out from _leit-motifs_ coldly
pasted together, as if by the labour of a conscientious registrar.

With the ‘unending melody,’ the second of Wagner’s tenets, it is
the same as with the _leit-motif_. It is a product of degenerate
thought; it is musical mysticism. It is the form in which incapacity
for attention shows itself in music. In painting, attention leads to
composition; the absence of it to a uniformly photographic treatment
of the whole field of vision as with the pre-Raphaelites. In poetry,
attention results in clearness of ideas, consistency of statement,
the suppression of the unimportant, and the giving emphasis to the
essential; its absence leads to twaddle as with the graphomaniacs,
and to a painful prolixity in consequence of the indiscriminate
recording of all perceptions as with Tolstoi. Finally, in music
attention expresses itself in completed forms, _i.e._, in well-defined
melodies; its absence, on the contrary, by the dissolution of form,
the obliteration of its boundary lines, and thus by unending melodies
as with Wagner. This parallelism is not an arbitrary play of ideas,
but an exact picture of the corresponding mental processes among the
different groups of degenerate subjects, producing in the different
arts different manifestations according to their specific means and

Let us grasp what melody is. It is the regular grouping of notes in a
highly expressive series of tones. Melody in music corresponds to what
in language is a logically-constructed sentence, distinctly presenting
an idea, and having a clearly-marked beginning and ending. The dreamy
rambling of half-formed nebulous thoughts as little allows the mintage
of sentences of this kind, as does the fleeting agitation of the vague
bewildered emotion lead to the composition of a melody. The emotions,
too, have their own grades of distinctness. They, too, can appear as
chaotic, or as well-regulated states. In the one case they stand out in
the consciousness which grasps their composition and their purpose as
discriminable modes strongly illuminated by the attention; in the other
case they are a disturbing enigma to consciousness, and perceived by
it merely as a generic excitement, as a sort of subterranean trembling
and rumbling of unknown origin and tendency. If the emotions are
intelligible, they will be fain to manifest themselves in a form at
once the most expressive and most easily grasped. If, on the contrary,
they are a generic continuous state, without determined cause and
discoverable aim, the music presenting them to the senses will be as
blurred and as nebulously fluctuating in form as themselves. Melody
may be said to be an effort of music to say something definite. It
is clear that an emotion unconscious of its cause and its aims, and
unilluminated by attention, will not raise its musical expression to
the height of melody, precisely because it has nothing definite to say.

A completed melody is a late acquisition of music, obtained by it
only after long evolution. In its historic, and still more in its
prehistoric, beginnings, the art of music knew it not. Music springs
originally from song, and the rhythmic noise (_i.e._, noise repeated in
equal or regular intervals of time) of accompanying stamping, knocking,
or clapping of the hands; and song is nothing but speech grown louder
and moving in wider intervals through emotional excitement. I should
like to cite only one passage from the almost unlimited literature on
this hackneyed subject. Herbert Spencer, in his well-known treatise on
_The Origin and Function of Music_,[202] says: ‘All music is originally
vocal.... The dance-chants of savage tribes are very monotonous, and
in virtue of their monotony are much more nearly allied to ordinary
speech than are the songs of civilized races.... The early poems of the
Greeks, which, be it remembered, were sacred legends embodied in that
rhythmical, metaphorical language which strong feeling excites, were
not recited, but chanted; the tones and the cadences were made musical
by the same influences which made the speech poetical.... This chanting
is believed to have been not what we call singing, but nearly allied
to our recitative; far simpler, indeed, if we may judge from the fact
that the early Greek lyre, which had but _four_ strings, was played in
_unison_ with the voice, which was therefore confined to four notes....
That recitative--beyond which, by the way, the Chinese and Hindoos
seem never to have advanced--grew naturally out of the modulations and
cadences of strong feeling, we have, indeed, still current evidence.
There are even now to be met with occasions on which strong feeling
vents itself in this form. Whoever has been present when a meeting of
Quakers was addressed by one of their preachers (whose practice it is
to speak only under the influence of religious emotion) must have been
struck by the quite unusual tones, like those of a subdued chant, in
which the address was made.’

Recitative, which is nothing but speech intensified, and allows no
recognition of completed forms of melody, is therefore the most ancient
form of music; it is the degree of development reached by the art of
music among savages, the ancient Greeks, and contemporary races in
Eastern Asia. Wagner’s ‘unending melody’ is nothing but recitative,
richly harmonized and animated, but, nevertheless, recitative. The name
bestowed by him on his pretended invention must not mislead us. In the
mouth of the degenerate a word has never the meaning ascribed to it
by universal language. Wagner calmly applies the term ‘melody’--with
a distinguishing adjective--to a form which is actually the negation
and suppression of melody. He designates unending melody as an advance
in music, while it is really a return to its primeval starting-point.
Here there recurs in Wagner what we have so often laid stress upon in
the preceding chapters, viz., that by a strange optical illusion the
degenerate regard their atavism, their morbid reversion to the most
remote and lowest grades of evolution, as an ascent into the future.

Wagner was led to his theory of unending melody by his limited capacity
for the invention of finite, that is of real, melodies. His weakness in
melodic creation has struck all impartial musicians. In youth his power
in this direction was more abundant, and he succeeded in creating some
superb melodies (in _Tannhäuser_, _Lohengrin_, _Fliegende Höllander_).
With increasing age this power became more and more impoverished, and
in proportion as the torrent of melodic invention dried up in him, he
accentuated his theory of unending melody with ever more obstinacy and
asperity. Always there reappears the well-known device of concocting
a theory _a posteriori_ as a plausible ground for, and palliation
of, what is done through unconscious organic necessity. Wagner was
incapable of distinguishing the individual personages of his operas
by a purely musical characterization, and therefore he invented the
_leit-motif_.[203] Experiencing a great difficulty, especially with
advancing age, in creating true melodies, he set up the postulate of
the unending melody.

All the other crotchets of his musical theory also find their
explanation in this clear consciousness of definite incompetency. In
the _Art-work of the Future_ he overwhelms the theory of counterpoint
and the contrapuntists--those dull pedants who abase the most vital
of all arts to a desiccated, dead mathematics--with a scorn intended
to be biting, but producing the effect of an echo of Schopenhauer’s
invectives against the German philosophers. Why? Because, as an
inattentive mystic, abandoned to amorphous dreams, he must feel
intolerably oppressed by the severe discipline and fixed rules of the
theory of composition, which gave a grammar to the musical babbling
of primeval times, and made of it a worthy medium for the expression
of the emotions of civilized men. He asserts that pure instrumental
music ended with Beethoven; that progress after him is impossible; that
‘musical declamation’ is the only path along which the art of music can
further develop itself. It may be that, after Beethoven, instrumental
music will make no progress for decades, or for centuries. He was such
a stupendous genius that it is, in fact, difficult to imagine how he
can be surpassed, or even equalled. Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare,
Cervantes, Goethe, produce a similar impression; and, in truth, these
geniuses have not yet been surpassed. It is also conceivable that
there are limits which it is impossible for any given art to pass at
all, so that a very great genius says the last word for it, and after
that no progress can be made in it. In such a case, however, the
aspirant should humbly say: ‘I know that I cannot do better than the
supreme master of my art; I am therefore contented to labour as one
of the _epigoni_ in the shadow of his greatness, content if my work
expresses some peculiarities of my individuality.’ He ought not in
presumptuous self-conceit to affirm: ‘There is no sense in emulating
the eagle-flight of the mighty one; progress now lies alone in the
flapping of my bats’-wings.’ But this is exactly what Wagner does. Not
being himself endowed with any great gift for pure instrumental music,
as his few symphonic works suffice to prove, he decrees in the tone of
infallibility: ‘Instrumental music ended with Beethoven. It is an error
to seek for anything on this well-browsed field. The future of music
lies in the accompaniment of the word, and I am he who is to show you
the way into that future.’

Here Wagner simply makes a virtue of his necessity, and of his
weakness a title of glory. The symphony is the highest differentiation
of musical art. In it music has wholly discarded its relationship with
words, and attained its highest independence. Hence the symphony is
the most musical of all that music can produce. To disown it is to
disown that music is a special, differentiated art. To place above the
symphony music as an accompaniment of words is to raise the handmaiden
to a higher rank than her free-born mistress. It will never occur to
a composer, whose inmost being is charged with musical feeling and
thought, to seek words instead of musical themes for the expression of
that in him which is yearning for embodiment. For if it does occur to
him, it is a proof that in his inmost being he is a poet or an author,
and not a musician. The choruses in the Ninth Symphony are not to
be cited as proof of the inaccuracy of this assertion. In that case
Beethoven was overmastered by an emotion so powerful and univocal,
that the more general and equivocal character of purely musical
expression could no longer suffice for him, and he was unconditionally
compelled to call in the aid of words. In the deeply significant
Biblical legend, even Balaam’s ass acquired the power of speech when
he had something definite to say. The emotion which becomes clearly
conscious of its content and aim ceases to be a mere emotion, and
transforms itself into presentation, notion and judgment, but these
express themselves, not in music, but in articulate language. When
Wagner, as a fundamental principle, placed music as an accompaniment
to words above that which is purely instrumental, and not as a medium
for the expression of thought--for in regard to that there can be no
difference of opinion--but as a musical form properly so called, he
only proved that, in the inmost depths of his nature, and by virtue of
his organic disposition, he was not a musician, but a confused mixture
of a poet feeble in style, and a painter lazy of brush, with a Javanese
‘gamelang’ accompaniment buzzing in between. This is the case with
most ‘higher degenerates,’ except that the separate fragments of their
strangely intermingled hybrid talent are not so strong and great as

The musical productions in which Wagner has been most successful--the
Venusberg music; the E flat, G, B flat, ‘Wigala-Weia’ of the
Rhinemaidens, repeated one hundred and thirty-six times; the Walküre
ride; the fire incantation; the murmur of the forest; the Siegfried
idyl; the Good-Friday spell; magnificent compositions, and highly
praised with justice--show precisely the peculiarly unmusical character
of his genius. All these pieces have one thing in common that they
depict. They are not an inner emotion crying out from the soul in
music, but the mental vision of the gifted eye of a painter, which
Wagner, with gigantic power, but also with gigantic aberration,
strives to fix in tones instead of lines and colours. He avails himself
of natural sounds or noises, either imitating them directly, or
awakening ideas of them through association, reproducing the ripple and
roar of waves, the sough of the tree-top and the song of wild birds,
which are in themselves acoustic; or, by an acoustic parallelism,
the optical phenomena of the movements in the dance of voluptuous
female forms, the tearing along of fiercely snorting steeds, the
blazing and flickering of flames, etc. These creations are not the
outgrowth of emotional excitement, but have been produced by external
impressions conveyed through the senses; they are not the utterance
of a feeling but a reflection--_i.e._, something essentially optical.
I might compare Wagner’s music, at its very best, to the flight of
flying-fishes. It is an astonishing and dazzling spectacle, and yet
unnatural. It is a straying from a native to an alien element. Above
all, it is something absolutely barren and incapable of profiting
either normal fishes or normal birds.

Wagner has felt this himself very forcibly; he was quite clear on
the point that no one could build further on the foundation of his
tone-paintings; for with reference to the efforts of musicians eagerly
desirous of founding a Wagner school, he complains[204] that ‘younger
composers were most irrationally putting themselves to trouble in
imitating him.’

A searching examination has thus shown us that this pretended musician
of the future is an out-and-out musician of long-ago. All the
characteristics of his talent point not forward, but far behind us.
His _leit-motif_, abasing music to a conventional phonetic symbol, is
atavism; his unending melody is atavism, leading back the fixed form
to the vague recitative of savages; atavism, his subordination of
highly differentiated instrumental music to music-drama, which mixes
music and poetry, and allows neither of the two art-forms to attain
to independence; even his peculiarity of almost never permitting more
than one person on the stage to sing and of avoiding vocal polyphony is
atavism. As a personality he will occupy an important place in music;
as an initiator, or developer of his art, hardly any, or a very narrow
one. For the only thing that musicians of healthy capacity can learn
from him is to keep song and accompaniment in opera closely connected
with the words, to declaim with sincerity and propriety, and to suggest
pictorial ideas to the imagination by means of orchestral effects. But
I dare not decide whether the latter is an enlargement or an upheaval
of the natural boundaries of musical art, and in any event disciples
of Wagner must use his rich musical palette with caution if they are
not to be led astray.

Wagner’s mighty influence on his contemporaries is to be explained,
neither by his capacities as author and musician, nor by any of his
personal qualities, with the exception, perhaps, of that ‘stubborn
perseverance in one and the same fundamental idea’ which Lombroso[205]
cites as a characteristic of graphomaniacs, but by the peculiarities
in the life of the present nervous temperament. His earthly destiny
resembles that of those strange Oriental plants known as ‘Jericho
roses’ (_Anastatica asteriscus_), which, dingy-brown in colour,
leathery and dry, roll about, driven by every wind, until they reach
a congenial soil, when they take root and blossom into full-blown
flowers. To the end of his life Wagner’s existence was conflict and
bitterness, and his boastings had no other echo than the laughter
not only of rational beings, but, alas! of fools also. It was not
until he had long passed his fiftieth year that he began to know the
intoxication of universal fame; and in the last decade of his life he
was installed among the demi-gods. It had come to this, that the world
had, in the interval, become ripe for him--and for the madhouse. He had
the good fortune to endure until the general degeneration and hysteria
were sufficiently advanced to supply a rich and nutritious soil for his
theories and his art.

The phenomenon repeatedly established and verified in these pages, that
lunatics fly to each other as iron filings to the magnet, is quite
strikingly observable in Wagner’s life. His first great patroness
was the Princess Metternich, daughter of the well-known eccentric
Count Sandor, and whose own eccentricities formed material for the
chronicle of the Napoleonic Court. His most enthusiastic disciple and
defender was Franz Liszt, whom I have elsewhere characterized (see
my _Ausgewählte Pariser Briefe_; 2^{te} Auflage; Leipzig, 1887, p.
172), and of whom I will therefore only briefly remark that he bore
in his nature the greatest resemblance to Wagner. He was an author
(his works, filling six thick volumes, have an honourable place in the
literature of graphomaniacs), composer, erotomaniac and mystic, all in
an incomparably lower degree than Wagner, whom he surpassed only in a
prodigiously developed talent for pianoforte-playing. Wagner was an
enthusiastic admirer of all graphomaniacs who came in his way--_e.g._,
of that A. Gleizès expressly cited by Lombroso[206] as a lunatic, but
whom Wagner praises in most exuberant terms;[207] and he even gathered
round him a court of select graphomaniacs, among whom may be mentioned
Nietzsche, whose insanity compelled his confinement in a madhouse; H.
von Wolzogen, whose _Poetische Laut-Symbolik_ might have been written
by the most exquisite of French ‘Symbolists’ or ‘Instrumentists’;[208]
Henri Porges, E. von Hagen, etc. But the most important relations of
this kind were with the unhappy King Louis II. In him Wagner found
the soul he needed. In him he met with a full comprehension of all
his theories and his creations. It may be safely asserted that Louis
of Bavaria created the Wagner Cult. Only when the King became his
protector did Wagner and his efforts become of importance for the
history of civilization; not, perhaps, because Louis II. offered Wagner
the means of realizing the boldest and most sumptuous of his artistic
dreams, but chiefly because he placed the prestige of his crown in
the service of the Wagnerian movement. Let us for a moment consider
how deeply monarchical is the disposition of the vast majority of
the German people; how the knees of the beery Philistine tremble as
he reverentially salutes even an empty court carriage; and how the
hearts of well-bred maidens flutter with ineffable inspiration at the
sight of a prince! And here was a real king, handsome as the day,
young, surrounded by legends, whose mental infirmity was at that time
regarded by all sentimentalists as sublime ‘idealism,’ displaying
unbounded enthusiasm for an artist, and reviving on a far larger
scale the relations between Charles Augustus and Goethe! From that
moment it was natural that Wagner should become the idol of all loyal
hearts. To share in the royal taste for the ‘ideal’ was a thing to be
proud of. Wagner’s music became provisionally a royal Bavarian music,
adorned with crown and escutcheon, till it should subsequently become
an imperial German music. At the head of the Wagnerian movement there
walks, as is fit, an insane king. Louis II. was able to bring Wagner
into vogue with the entire German nation (excepting, of course, those
Bavarians who were revolted by the King’s prodigalities); nevertheless,
no amount of grovelling obsequiousness could by itself have produced
a fanaticism for Wagner. That the mere Wagner-fashion might attain to
this height another factor was necessary--the hysteria of the age.

Although not so widespread as in France and England, this hysteria is
not wanting in Germany, where during the last quarter of a century it
has continued to gain ground. Germany has been longer protected from
it than the civilized nations of the West by the smaller development
of large industry and by the absence of large cities properly so
called. In the last generation, however, both of these gifts have been
abundantly accorded her, and two great wars have done the rest to
make the nervous system of the people susceptible to the pernicious
influences of the city and the factory system.

The effect of war on the nerves of the participants has never been
systematically investigated; and yet how highly important and necessary
a work this would be! Science knows what disorders are produced in man
by a single strong moral shock, _e.g._, a sudden mortal danger; it
has recorded hundreds and thousands of cases in which persons saved
from drowning, or present at a fire on shipboard, or in a railway
accident, or who have been threatened with assassination, etc., have
either lost their reason, or been attacked by grave and protracted,
often incurable, nervous illnesses. In war hundreds of thousands are
exposed to all these fearful impressions at the same time. For months
cruel mutilation or sudden death menaces them at every step. They are
frequently surrounded by the spectacle of devastation, conflagration,
the most appalling wounds, and heaps of corpses frightful to behold.
Moreover, the greatest demands are made on their strength; they are
forced to march until they break down, and cannot count on having
adequate nourishment or sufficient sleep. And shall there not appear
among these hundreds of thousands the effect which is proved to result
from a single one of the occurrences which take place by thousands
during war? Let it not be said that in a campaign a soldier becomes
callous to the horrors encompassing him. That merely signifies that
they cease to excite the attention of his consciousness. They are
nevertheless perceived by the senses and their cerebral centres, and
therefore leave their traces in the nervous system. That the soldier
does not at the moment notice the deep shock--nay, even shattering--he
has experienced, equally proves nothing. ‘Traumatic hysteria,’ ‘railway
spine,’ the nervous maladies consequent on a moral shock, are also
frequently unobserved until months after the event occasioning them.

In my belief, it can scarcely be doubted that every great war is a
cause of hysteria among multitudes, and that far the larger number of
soldiers, even completely unknown to themselves, bring home from a
campaign a somewhat deranged nervous system. Of course this is much
less applicable to the conquerors than to the conquered, for the
feeling of triumph is one of the most pleasurable the human brain can
experience, and the force-producing (‘dynamogenous’) effect of this
pleasurable feeling is well qualified to counteract the destructive
influences of the impressions produced by war. But it is difficult
for it to entirely annul these impressions, and the victors, like the
vanquished, no doubt leave a large part of their nervous strength and
moral health on the battlefield and in the bivouac.

The brutalization of the masses after every war has become a
commonplace. The expression originates in the perception that after a
campaign the tone of the people becomes fiercer and rougher, and that
statistics show more acts of violence. The fact is correctly stated,
but the interpretation is superficial. If the soldier on returning home
becomes more short-tempered, and even has recourse to the knife, it is
not because the war has made him rougher, but because it has made him
more excitable. This increased excitability is, however, only one of
the forms of the phenomenon of nervous debility.

Hence under the action of the two great wars in connection with
the development of large industries and the growth of large towns,
hysteria among the German people has, since 1870, increased in an
extraordinary manner, and we have very nearly overtaken the unenviable
start which the English and French had over us in this direction.
Now, all hysteria, like every form of insanity, and for that matter
like every disease, receives its special form from the personality
of the invalid. The degree of culture, the character, propensities
and habits of the deranged person give the derangement its peculiar
colour. Among the English, always piously inclined, degeneration and
hysteria were bound to appear both mystical and religious. Among the
French, with their highly developed taste and widespread fondness for
all artistic pursuits, it was natural that hysteria should take an
artistic direction, and lead to the notorious extravagances in their
painting, literature and music. We Germans are in general neither very
pious nor very cultivated in matters of art. Our comprehension of the
beautiful in art expresses itself, for the most part, in the idiotic
‘_Reizend!_’ (charming), and ‘_Entzückend!_’ (ravishing), squeaked in
shrill head-tones and with upturned eyes by our well-bred daughters at
the sight of a quaintly-shaved poodle, and before the Darmstadt Madonna
by Holbein, indiscriminately; and in the grunts of satisfaction with
which the plain citizen pumps in his beer at a concert of his singing
club. Not that we are by nature devoid of a sense of the beautiful--I
believe, on the contrary, that in our deepest being we have more of it
than most other nations--but owing to unfavourable circumstances this
sense has not been able to attain development. Since the Thirty Years’
War we have been too poor, we have had too hard a struggle for the
necessities of life to have anything left for any sort of luxury; and
our ruling classes, profoundly Latinized and slaves to French fashion,
were so estranged from the masses, that for the last two centuries
the latter could have no part in the culture, taste, or æsthetic
satisfactions of the upper strata of society, separated from them by an
impassable gulf. As, therefore, the large majority of the German people
had no interest in art, and troubled themselves little about it, German
hysteria could not assume an artistic, æsthetic form.

It assumed other forms, partly abominable, partly ignoble and partly
laughable. German hysteria manifests itself in anti-Semitism, that most
dangerous form of the persecution-mania, in which the person believing
himself persecuted becomes a savage persecutor, capable of all crimes
(the _persécuté persécuteur_ of the French mental therapeutics).[209]
Like hypochondriacs and ‘hémorroïdaires,’ the German hysterical
subject is anxiously concerned about his precious health. His crazes
hinge on the exhalations of his skin and the functions of his
stomach. He becomes a fanatic for Jaeger vests, and for the groats
which vegetarians grind for themselves. He gets vehemently affected
over Kneipp’s douches and barefoot perambulations on wet grass. At
the same time, he excites himself with morbid sentimentalism (the
‘Zoophilia’ of Magnan) concerning the sufferings of the frog, utilized
in physiological experiments, and through all this anti-Semitic,
Kneippish, Jaegerish, vegetarian, and anti-vivisection insanity, there
rings out the fundamental note of a megalomaniacal, Teutonomaniacal
Chauvinism, against which the noble Emperor Frederick vainly warned
us. As a rule, all these derangements appear simultaneously, and in
nine out of ten cases it is safe to take the proudly strutting wearer
of Jaeger’s garments for a Chauvinist, the Kneipp visionary for a
groats-dieted maniac, and the defender of the frog, thirsting for the
professor’s blood, for an anti-Semitist.

Wagner’s hysteria assumed the collective form of German hysteria. With
a slight modification of Terence’s _Homo sum_, he could say of himself,
‘I am a deranged being, and no kind of derangement is a stranger to
me.’ He could as an anti-Semitist give points to Stoecker.[210] He has
an inimitable mastery of Chauvinistic phraseology.[211] Was he not able
to convince his hypnotized hysterical following that the heroes of his
pieces were primeval German figures--these Frenchmen and Brabanters,
these Icelanders and Norwegians, these women of Palestine--all the
fabulous beings he had fetched from the poems of Provence and Northern
France, and from the Northern saga, who (with the exception of
_Tannhäuser_ and the _Meistersinger_) have not a single drop of German
blood or a single German fibre in their whole body? It is thus that, in
public exhibitions, a quack hypnotist persuades his victims that they
are eating peaches instead of raw potatoes. Wagner became an advocate
for vegetarianism, and as the fruit needed for the nourishment of the
people in accordance with this diet exists in abundance only in warm
regions of the earth, he promptly advised ‘the direction of a rational
emigration to lands resembling the South American peninsula, which,
it has been affirmed, might, through its superabundant productivity,
supply nourishment for the present population of the entire
globe.’[212] He brandishes his knightly sword against the physiologists
who experiment on animals.[213] He was not an enthusiast for wool,
because personally he preferred silk; and this is the only hiatus
in the otherwise complete picture. He did not live to witness the
greatness of the reverend Pastor Kneipp, otherwise he probably would
have found words of profound significance for the primitive German
sanctity of wet feet, and the redeeming power vested in the knee-douche.

When, therefore, the enthusiastic friendship of King Louis had given
Wagner the necessary prestige, and directed the universal attention of
Germany to him; when the German people had learned to know him and his
peculiarities, then all the mystics of the Jewish sacrifice of blood,
of woollen shirts, of the vegetable _menu_, and sympathy cures, were
compelled to raise their pæans in his honour, for he was the embodiment
of all their obsessions. As for his music, they simply threw that into
the bargain. The vast majority of Wagner fanatics understood nothing of
it. The emotional excitement which the works of their idol made them
experience did not proceed from the singers and the orchestra, but in
part from the pictorial beauty of the scenic tableaux, and in a greater
measure from the specific craze each brought with him to the theatre,
and of which each worshipped Wagner as the spokesman and champion.

I do not, however, go so far as to assert that _skat_[214] patriotism,
and the heroic idealism of natural cures, rice with fruit, ‘away with
the Jews!’ and flannel, alone made the hearts of Wagner-bigots beat
faster in blissful emotion when they were listening to his music.
This music was certainly of a nature to fascinate the hysterical. Its
powerful orchestral effects produced in them hypnotic states (at the
Salpêtrière hospital in Paris the hypnotic state is often induced by
suddenly striking a gong), and the formlessness of the unending melody
was exactly suited to the dreamy vagaries of their own thought. A
distinct melody awakens and demands attention, and is hence opposed to
the fugitive ideation of the weak brains of the degenerate. A flowing
recitative, on the contrary, without beginning or end, makes no sort
of demand on the mind--for most auditors trouble themselves either
not at all, or for a very short time, about the hide-and-seek play of
the _leit-motif_--one can allow one’s self to be swayed and carried
along by it, and to emerge from it at pleasure, without any definite
remembrance, but with a merely sensual feeling of having enjoyed a
hot, nervously exciting tone-bath. The relation of true melody to the
unending melody is the same as that of a genre or historical painting
to the wayward arabesques of a Moorish mural decoration, repeated a
thousand times, and representing nothing definite; and the Oriental
knows how favourable the sight of his arabesques is to ‘Kef’--that
dreamy state in which Reason is lulled to sleep, and crazy Imagination
alone rules as mistress of the house.

Wagner’s music initiated hysterically-minded Germans into the mysteries
of Turkish Kef. Nietzsche may make sport of this subject with his
idiotic play on words ‘_Sursum_--bum-bum,’ and with his remarks about
the German youth who seeks for ‘Ahnung’ (presentiments); but the
fact is not to be denied that a part of Wagner’s devotees--those who
brought a diseased mysticism with them to the theatre--found in him
their satisfaction; for nothing is so well qualified to conjure up
‘presentiments,’ _i.e._, ambiguous, shadowy borderland presentations,
as a music which is itself born of nebulous adumbrations of thought.

Hysterical women were won over to Wagner chiefly by the lascivious
eroticism of his music, but also by his poetic representation of the
relation of man to woman. Nothing enchants an ‘intense’ woman so much
as demoniacal irresistibleness on the part of the woman, and trembling
adoration of her supernatural power on the part of the man. In contrast
to Frederick William I., who cried in anger, ‘You should not fear, but
love me,’ women of this sort would rather shout to every man, ‘You are
not to love me, but to lie, full of dread and terror, in the dust at my
feet.’ ‘Frau’ Venus, Brunhilde, Isolde, and Kundry have won for Wagner
much more admiration among women than have Elizabeth, Elsa, Senta, and

After Wagner had once conquered Germany, and a fervent faith in him
had been made the first article in the catechism of German patriotism,
foreign countries could not long withstand his cult. The admiration
of a great people has an extraordinary power of conviction. Even its
aberrations it forces with irresistible suggestion on other nations.
Wagner was one of the foremost conquerors in the German wars. Sadowa
and Sedan were fought in his behalf. The world, _nolens volens_, had to
take up its attitude with regard to a man whom Germany proclaimed its
national composer. He began his triumphal march round the globe draped
in the flag of Imperial Germany. Germany’s enemies were his enemies,
and this forced even such Germans as withstood his influence to take
his side against foreign lands. ‘I beat my breast: I, too, have fought
for him against the French in speech and writing. I also have defended
him against the pastrycooks who hissed his _Lohengrin_ in Paris.’ How
was one to get off this duty? Hamlet thrusts at the arras, well knowing
that Polonius stands there; hence any son or brother of Polonius is
bound resolutely to attack Hamlet. Wagner had the good fortune to play
the part of the tapestry to the French Hamlets, giving them the pretext
for thrusting at the Polonius of Germany. As a result, the attitude in
the Wagner question of every German was rigidly prescribed for him.

To the zeal of Germans all manner of other things added their aid in
favouring the success of Wagner abroad. A minority, composed in part
of really independent men of honorably unprejudiced minds, but in part
also of degenerate minds with a morbid passion for contradiction, took
sides with him just because he was blindly and furiously maligned by
the Chauvinist majority, who were a prey to national hatred. ‘It is
contemptible,’ cried the minority, ‘to condemn an artist because he is
a German. Art has no fatherland. Wagner’s music should not be judged
with the memory of Alsace-Lorraine.’ These views are so reasonable
and noble, that those who entertained them must have rejoiced in them
and been proud of them. On listening to Wagner, they had the clear
feeling, ‘We are better and cleverer than the Chauvinists,’ and this
feeling necessarily placed them at the outset in such an agreeable and
benevolent mood, that his music seemed much more beautiful than they
would have found it if they had not been obliged first to stifle their
vulgar and base instincts, and fortify those which were more elevated,
free and refined. They erroneously ascribed to Wagner’s music the
emotions produced by their self-satisfaction.

The fact that only in Bayreuth could this ‘music be heard, unfalsified
and in its full strength, was also of great importance for the
esteem in which it was held. If it had been played in every theatre,
if, without trouble and formalities, one could have gone to a
representation of Wagner as to one of _Il Trovatore_, Wagner would not
have obtained his most enthusiastic public from foreign countries. To
know the real Wagner it was necessary to journey to Bayreuth. This
could be done only at long intervals and at specified times; seats and
lodgings had to be obtained long in advance, and at great expenditure
of trouble. It was a pilgrimage requiring much money and leisure; hence
‘hoi polloi’ were excluded from it. Thus, the pilgrimage to Bayreuth
became a privilege of the rich and well-bred, and to have been to
Bayreuth came to be a great social distinction among the snobs of
both worlds. The journey was a thing to make a great parade of and be
haughty over. The pilgrim no longer belonged to the vulgar crowd, but
to the select few; he became a hadji! Oriental sages so well know the
peculiar vanity of the hadjis, that one of their proverbs contains an
express warning against the pious man who has been thrice to Mecca.

Hence the pilgrimage to Bayreuth became a mark of aristocracy, and
an appreciation of Wagner’s music, in spite of his nationality, was
regarded as evidence of intellectual preeminence. The prejudice in
his favour was created, and provided one went to him in this mood,
there was no reason why Wagner should not have the same influence
on hysterical foreigners as on hysterical Germans. _Parsifal_ was
especially fitted completely to subjugate the French neo-Catholics and
Anglo-American mystics who marched behind the banner of the Salvation
Army. It was with this opera that Wagner chiefly triumphed among his
non-German admirers. Listening to the music of _Parsifal_ has become
the religious act of all those who wish to receive the Communion in
musical form.

These are the explanatory causes of Wagner’s conquest, first
of Germany, and then of the world. The absence of judgment and
independence among the multitude, who chant the antiphony in the
Psalter; the imitation of musicians possessed of no originality, who
witnessed his triumph, and, like genuine little boys wanting ‘to be
taken,’ clung to his coat-tails--these did what was still needed to
lay the world at his feet. As it is the most widely diffused, so is
Wagnerism the most momentous aberration of the present time. The
Bayreuth festival theatre, the _Bayreuther Blätter_, the Parisian
_Revue Wagnérienne_, are lasting monuments by which posterity will be
able to measure the whole breadth and depth of the degeneration and
hysteria of the age.



THE artistic and poetic forms of mysticism, which we have studied
hitherto, might perhaps inspire doubts in superficial or insufficiently
instructed minds as to their origin in degeneration, and present
themselves as manifestations of a genuine and fertile talent. But
beside them appear others, in which a state of mind reveals itself
which suddenly arrests and perplexes any reader, however credulous,
and however accessible to the suggestion of printed words, and to
self-puffing charlatanism. Books and theories find publication, in
which even the unlearned observe the deep intellectual degradation of
their authors. One pretends to be able to initiate the reader into the
black art, and enable him to practise magic himself; another gives a
poetical form to definitely insane ideas, such as have been classified
by mental therapeutics; a third writes books as if prompted by thoughts
and feelings worthy of little children or idiots. A great part of the
works I have in view would justify, without further consideration, the
placing of their authors under constraint. As, however, in spite of
their manifest craziness, well-known critics are bent upon discovering
in them ‘the future,’ ‘fresh nerve-stimulations,’ and beauties of a
mysterious kind, and to puff them by their chatter to gaping simpletons
as revelations of genius, it is not superfluous to devote some brief
consideration to them.

A not very large amount of mysticism leads to belief; a larger
amount leads necessarily to superstition, and the more confused, the
more deranged, the mind is, so much the crazier will be the kind of
superstition. In England and America this most frequently takes the
form of spiritualism and the founding of sects. The hysterical and
deranged receive spiritual inspirations, and begin to preach and
prophesy, or they conjure up spirits and commune with the dead. In
English fiction ghost-stories have begun to occupy a large place, and
in English newspapers to act glibly as stopgaps, as was done formerly
in the Continental press by the sea-serpent and the Flying Dutchman.
A society has been formed which has for its object the collecting of
ghost-stories, and testing their authenticity; and even literary men
of renown have been seized with the vertigo of the supernatural, and
condescend to serve as vouchers for the most absurd aberrations.

In Germany, too, spiritualism has found an entrance, although, on the
whole, it has not gained much ground. In the large towns there may be
some small spiritualist bodies. The English expression _trance_ has
become so familiar to some deranged persons that they have adopted
it in German as _trans_, imagining apparently, with the popular
etymology, that it means ‘beyond’ instead of ‘ecstasy,’ or, in other
words, the state in which, according to the spiritualist hypothesis,
the medium ought to find himself who enters into communication with
the world of spirits. Nevertheless, spiritualism has as yet exerted
little influence on our literature. Excluding the later romanticists
who have fallen into childishness, notably the authors of tragedies
based on the idea of ‘fatality’ (_Schicksalstragödien_), few writers
have dared to introduce the supernatural into their creations otherwise
than allegorically. At most in Kleist and Kerner it attains a certain
importance, and healthy readers do not consider that as a merit in the
dramas of the unfortunate author of the _Hermannsschlacht_, and in the
_Seer of Prevorst_ of the Swabian poet. On the other hand, it must
certainly be noted that it is the ghost element precisely which has
brought to these two writers, in recent times, a renewal of youth and
popularity among degenerate and hysterical Germans. Maximilian Perty,
who was evidently born too soon, met with but rare and even rather
derisive notice from the less soft-headed generation which preceded
ours, for his bulky books on apparitions. And, among contemporaries,
none but Freiherr Karl du Prel has chosen the spirit world as the
special subject of his theoretic writings and novels. After all, our
plays, our tales, are very little haunted, scarcely enough to make a
schoolgirl shiver; and even among the eminent foreign authors best
known in Germany, such, for example, as Tourgenieff, it is not the
world of apparitions which attracts German readers.

The few ghost-seers whom we have at present in Germany endeavour
naturally to give their mental derangement a scientific colouring, and
appeal to individual professors of mathematics and natural science who
happen entirely to agree with them, or are supposed to be partially
inclined to do so. However, their one sheet-anchor is Zöllner, who is
simply a sad proof of the fact that a professorship is no protection
from madness; and they can besides, at any rate, point to opportune
remarks of Helmholtz and other mathematicians on _n_ dimensions, which
they, either intentionally or from mystical weakness of mind, have
misunderstood. In an analytical problem the mathematician, instead
of one, two, or three dimensions, may place _n_ dimensions without
altering thereby the law of the problem and its legitimately resulting
corollaries, but it does not occur to him to imagine, under the
geometrical expression, ‘nth dimension,’ something given in space, and
capable of being apprehended by the senses. When Zöllner gives the
well-known example of the inversion of the india-rubber ring which,
because only possible in the third dimension, necessarily appeared
quite inconceivable and supernatural to a bi-dimensional being, he
believes that he facilitates the comprehension of the formation of
a knot in a closed ring as an operation practicable in the fourth
dimension. In doing this he simply offers one more example of the known
tendency of the mystic to delude himself, as he does others, with words
which seem to signify something, and which a simpleton is convinced
oftener than not that he understands, but which in reality express no
idea, and are, therefore, empty sound, void of import.

France is about to become the promised land of believers in ghosts.
Voltaire’s countrymen have already got the start of the pious
Anglo-Saxons in dealings with the supernatural. I am not now thinking
of the lower ranks of the people, among whom the book of dreams (_La
Clé des Songes_) has never ceased to constitute the family library,
together with the Calendar, and, perhaps, the ‘Paroissien’ (missal);
nor of the fine ladies who at all times have ensured excellent
incomes to clairvoyantes and fortune-tellers; but only of the male
representatives of the educated classes. Dozens of spiritualist circles
count their numbers by thousands. In numerous drawing-rooms of the
best (even in the opinion of the ‘most cultured’!) society, the dead
are called up. A monthly publication, _L’Initiation_, announces, in
weighty tones, and with a prodigality of philosophical and scientific
technicalities, the esoteric doctrine of the marvels of the unearthly.
A bi-monthly publication, _Annales des Sciences Psychiques_, terms
itself a ‘collection of observations and researches.’ Next to these two
most important periodicals, a whole series of others exist, similar in
tendency, and all having a wide circulation. Strictly technical works
on hypnotism and suggestion run through edition after edition, and it
has become a profitable speculation for doctors without practice, who
do not attach much importance to the opinions of their colleagues,
to compile so-called manuals and text-books on these subjects, which
scientifically are completely worthless, but which are bought up by the
public like hot rolls. Novels have, with rare exceptions, no longer any
sale in France, but works on obscure phenomena of nerve function go off
splendidly, so that sagacious publishers give their discouraged authors
this advice: ‘Leave novels for a time, and write on magnetism.’

Some of the books on magic which have appeared of late years in
France connect their subject directly with the phenomena of hypnotism
and suggestion; for example, A. De Rochas’ _Les États profonds de
l’Hypnose_, and C. A. de Bodisco’s _Traits de Lumière_, or ‘physical
researches dedicated to unbelievers and egoists.’ This has brought
many observers to the idea that the works and discoveries of the
Charcot school in general have given the impulse to the whole of this
movement. Hypnotism, say the representatives of this opinion, has
brought such remarkable facts to light that the accuracy of certain
traditions, popular beliefs and old records can no longer be doubted,
though hitherto they have been generally considered inventions of
superstition; possession, witch-spells, second-sight, healing by
imposition of hands, prophecy, mental communication at the remotest
distance without the intervention of words, have received a new
interpretation and have been recognised as possible. What, then, more
natural than that minds weak in balance, and of insufficient scientific
training, should become accessible to the marvellous (against which
they had shielded themselves, as long as they considered it to be all
old nurses’ fables), when they saw it appear in the garb of science,
and found themselves in the best society by believing in it?

Plausible as this opinion is, it is not the less false. It puts the
cart before the horse. It confounds cause with effect. No completely
sound mind has been led by the experiences of the new hypnotic science
into a belief in the marvellous. In former times no attention was paid
to obscure phenomena, or they were passed by with eyes intentionally
closed, because they could not be fitted in to the prevailing system,
and were consequently held to be chimæras or frauds. For the last
twelve years official science has taken cognizance of them, and
Faculties and Academies are engaged upon them. But no one thinks
of them for a moment as supernatural, or supposes the working of
unearthly forces behind them. They class them with all other natural
phenomena which are accessible to the observation of the senses, and
are determined by the ordinary laws of nature. Our knowledge has simply
enlarged its frame, and admitted an order of facts which in former
times had remained beyond its pale. Many processes of hypnosis are
more or less satisfactorily explained; others as yet not at all. But
an earnest and healthy mind attaches no great importance to this, for
he knows that the pretended explanation of phenomena does not go very
far, and that we have mostly to be satisfied to determine them with
certainty, and to know their immediate conditions. I do not say that
the new science has exhausted its subject and has reached its limits.
But whatever it may bring to light of the unknown and the unexpected,
it is not a matter of doubt to the healthy mind that it will be
accounted for by natural means, and that the simple, ultimate laws of
physics, chemistry and biology cannot be shaken by these discoveries.

If, therefore, so many people now interpret the phenomena of hypnosis
as supernatural, and indulge the hope that the conjuration of
the spirits of the dead, aerial voyages on Faust’s magic cloak,
omniscience, etc., will soon be arts as common as reading and writing,
it is not the discoveries of science which have brought them to this
delusion, although the existing delusion is happy to be able to pass
itself off for science. Far from concealing itself, as formerly, it
exhibits itself proudly in the streets on the arms of professors and
academicians. Paulhan understands the matter very well: ‘It is not the
love of positive facts,’ he says,[215] ‘which has carried minds away;
there has been a certain kind of return for the love of the marvellous
in desires formerly satisfied, and which, now repressed, slumbered
unacknowledged in a latent condition. Magic, sorcery, astrology,
divination, all these ancient beliefs correspond to a need of human
nature; that of being able easily to act upon the external world and
the social world; that of possessing, by means relatively easy, the
knowledge requisite to make this action possible and fruitful.’ The
stormy outburst of superstition has by no means been let loose through
hypnological researches; it merely launches itself into the channels
they have dug. We have here already repeatedly drawn attention to the
fact that unbalanced minds always adapt their crazes to the prevailing
views, and usurp by predilection the most recent discoveries of
science to explain them. The physicists were still far from occupying
themselves with magnetism and electricity, when the persons attacked
by persecution-mania were already referring their own unpleasant
sensations and hallucinations to the electric currents or sparks which
their persecutors were supposed to cast on them through walls, ceilings
and floors; and in our days the degenerate were equally the first to
appropriate to themselves the results of hypnological researches, and
to employ them as ‘scientific’ proofs of the reality of spirits, angels
and devils. But the degenerate started with the belief in miracles; it
is one of their peculiar characteristics,[216] and it was not first
called forth by the observations of Parisian and Nancy hypnologists.

If another proof were needed in support of this affirmation, it could
be found in the fact that the greater number of ‘occultists,’ as they
call themselves, in their treatises on occult arts and magic sciences,
scorn to fall back on the results of hypnological experiments, and,
without any pretext of ‘modernity,’ without any concession to honest
investigation of nature, have direct recourse to the most ancient
traditions. Papus (the pseudonym of a physician, Dr. Encausse) writes
a _Traité méthodique de Science occulte_, an enormous large-octavo
volume of 1,050 pages, with 400 illustrations, which introduces the
reader to the cabala, magic, necromancy and cheiromancy, astrology,
alchemy, etc., and to which an old, not undeserving savant, Adolf
Franck, of the Institute of France, was imprudent enough to write a
long eulogistic preface, presumably without having even opened the book
himself. Stanislaus de Guaita, revered with awe by the adepts as past
master in the Black Art, and arch-magician, gives two treatises, _Au
Seuil du Mystère and Le Serpent de la Genèse_, so darkly profound that,
in comparison, Nicolas Flamel, the great alchemist, whom no mortal
has ever comprehended, seems clear and transparent as crystal. Ernest
Bose confines himself to the theory of the sorcery of the ancient
Egyptians. His book, _Isis dévoilée, ou l’Egyptologie sacrée_, has
for the sub-title: ‘Hieroglyphics, papyri, hermetic books, religion,
myths, symbols, psychology, philosophy, morals, sacred art, occultism,
mysteries, initiation, music.’ Nehor has likewise his speciality. If
Bosc unveils Egyptian mysteries, Nehor reveals the secrets of Assyria
and Babylonia. _Les Mages et le Secret magique_ is the name of the
modest pamphlet in which he initiates us into the profoundest magic
arts of the Chaldean Mobeds, or Knights Templars.

If I do not enter more fully into these books, which have found readers
and admirers, it is because I am not quite certain that they are
intended to be in earnest. Their authors read and translate so fluently
Egyptian, Hebraic and Assyriac texts, which no professional Orientalist
has yet deciphered; they quote so frequently and so copiously from
books which are found in no library in the world; they give with
such an imperturbable air exact instructions how to resuscitate the
dead, how to preserve eternal youth, how to hold intercourse with the
inhabitants of Sirius, how to divine beyond all the limits of time and
space, that one cannot get rid of the impression that they wished, in
cold blood, to make fun of the reader.

Only one of all these master-sorcerers is certainly to be taken in
good faith, and as he is at the same time intellectually the most
eminent among them, I will deal with him somewhat more in detail.
This is M. Joséphin Péladan. He has even arrogated to himself the
Assyrian royal title of ‘Sar,’ under which he is generally known.
The public authorities alone do not give him his Sar title; but then
they do not usually recognise any titles of nobility in France. He
maintains he is the descendant of the old Magi, and the possessor of
all the mental legacies of Zoroaster, Pythagoras and Orpheus. He is,
moreover, the direct heir of the Knights Templars and Rosicrucians,
both of which orders he has amalgamated and revived under a new form
as the ‘Order of the Rosy Cross.’ He dresses himself archaically in
a satin doublet of blue or black; he trims his extremely luxuriant
blue-black hair and beard into the shape in use among the Assyrians;
he affects a large upright hand, which might be taken for mediæval
character, writes by preference with red or yellow ink, and in the
corner of his letter-paper is delineated, as a distinctive mark of
his dignity, the Assyrian king’s cap, with the three serpentine
rolls opening in front. As a coat of arms he has the device of his
order; on an escutcheon divided by sable and argent a golden chalice
surmounted by a crimson rose with two outspread wings, and overlaid
with a Latin cross in sable. The shield is surmounted by a coronet
with three pentagrams as indents. M. Péladan has appointed a series of
commanders and dignitaries of his order (‘grand-priors,’ ‘archons,’
‘æsthetes’), which numbers, besides, ‘postulants’ and ‘grammarians’
(scholars). He possesses a special costume as grand-master and Sar (in
which his life-sized portrait has been painted by Alexandre Séon), and
a composer, who belongs to the order, has composed for him a special
fanfare, which on solemn occasions is to be played by trumpets at his
entrance. He makes use of extraordinary formulæ. His letters he calls
‘decrees,’ or commands (_mandements_). He addresses the persons to whom
they are directed either as ‘magnifiques,’ or ‘peers,’ sometimes also
‘dearest adelphe,’ or ‘synnoède.’ He does not call them ‘sir,’ but
‘your lordship’ (_seigneurie_). The introduction is: ‘Health, light
and victory in Jesus Christ, in the only God, and in Peter, the only
king’; or ‘_Ad Rosam per Crucem, ad Crucem per Rosam, in eâ, in eis
gemmatus resurgam_.’ This is at the same time the heraldic motto of
the Order of the Rosy Cross. At the conclusion is usually, ‘_Amen. Non
nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nominis tui gloriæ solæ._’ He writes the
name of his order, with a cross inserted in the middle, thus: ‘_Rose_
✠ _Croix._’ His novels he calls ‘_éthopées_,’ himself as their author
‘_éthopoète_,’ his dramas ‘_wagneries_,’ their table of contents

Every one of his books is ornamented with a large number of symbols.
That which appears the most often is a vignette showing on a column
a cowering form with the head of a woman breathing flames, and with
a woman’s breast, lion’s paws, and the lower part of the body of a
wasp or dragon-fly, terminating in an appendage similar to the tail
of a fish. The work itself is always preceded by some prefaces,
introductions and invocations, and is often followed by pages of
the same nature. I take as an example the book entitled, _Comment
on devient Mage_.[217] After the two title-pages adorned with a
great number of symbolical images (winged Assyrian bulls, the mystic
rose cross, etc.), comes a long dedication ‘to Count Antoine de la
Rochefoucauld, grand-prior of the temple, archon of the Rose ✠ Cross.’
Then follows in Latin a ‘prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, well suited to
warn the reader against the possible errors of this book’; after this,
an _élenctique_ (counter-demonstration) containing a sort of profession
of Catholic faith; next, an ‘invocation to ancestors’ in the style of
the Chaldean prayers; lastly, a long allocution ‘to the contemporary
young man,’ after which the book properly begins.

At the head of every chapter appear nine mysterious formulæ. Here are
two examples: ‘I. The Neophyte. Divine Name: Jud (the Hebrew letter
so called). Sacrament: Baptism. Virtue: Faith. Gift: Fear of God.
Beatitude: Poor in spirit. Work: Teaching. Angel: Michael. Arcanum:
Unity. Planet: Samas. II. Society. Divine Name: Jah--El (in Hebrew
characters, which Péladan evidently cannot read, for he turns it into
El-lah). Sacrament: Consecration. Virtue: Hope. Gift: Pity. Beatitude:
Gentleness. Work: Counsel. Angel: Gabriel. Arcanum: Duality. Planet:

Of the further contents of this mighty volume I think no examples need
be given. They correspond exactly with the headings of these chapters.

The novels or ‘éthopées’ of M. Péladan, of which nine have appeared
hitherto, but of which the author has announced fourteen, are arranged
in groups of seven, the mystical number. He has even established a
_Schéma de Concordance_,[218] which claims to give a synopsis of their
leading ideas. Let us hear how he explains his works:

‘First series of seven: I. The supreme vice. Moral and mental Diathesis
of the Latin decline--Merodach, summit of conscious will, type of
absolute entity; Alta, prototype of the monk in contact with the
world; Courtenay, inadequate man-of-fate, bewitched by social facts;
L. d’Este, extreme pride, the grand style in evil; Coryse, the true
young maiden; La Nine, the wicked Androgyne, or, better, Gynander;
Dominicaux, conscious reprobate, character of the irremediable,
resulting from a specious æsthetic theory for every vice, which kills
consciousness and, in consequence, conversion. Every novel has a
Merodach, that is, an abstract Orphic principle, as opposed to an ideal

‘II. Inquisitive. Parisian clinical collective-phenomenism. Ethics:
Nebo; the systematic, sentimental will. Erotics: Paula, passionate
with Androgynous Prism. The great horror, the Beast with two backs,
in Gynander (IX.), metamorphosing itself into unisexual corruption.
Inquisitive, that is the everyday and the everybody of instinct.
Gynander, the Goethesque midnight, and the exceptional,’ etc.

I have taken pains to reproduce faithfully all M. Péladan’s whimsical
methods of expression. That his _Concordance_ can give even the
slightest idea of the contents of his novels, I do not for a moment
believe. I will, therefore, say a few words about these in non-magian

They all move in the three following circles of ideas, variously
penetrating and intersecting each other: The highest intellectual aim
of man is to hear and thoroughly to appreciate Wagnerian music; the
highest development of morality consists in renouncing sexuality and
in transforming one’s self into a hybrid hermaphrodite (Androgyne and
Gynander); the higher man can quit and retake his body at pleasure,
soar into space as an ‘astral being,’ and subject to his will the
entire supernatural power of the world of spirits, of the good as well
as the bad.

Accordingly, in every romance a hero appears who unites in himself the
distinctive marks of both sexes, and resists with horror the ordinary
sexual instincts, who plays or enjoys the music of Wagner, enacts in
his own life some scene from the Wagnerian drama, and conjures up
spirits or has to repel their attacks.

If anyone wishes to trace the origin of all these delirious ideas, it
will not be difficult to discover how they arose. One day while reading
the Bible Péladan alighted on the name of the Babylonian king, Merodach
Baladan. The similarity of sound between ‘Baladan’ and ‘Péladan’ gave
an impulse to his imagination to establish relations between himself
and the Biblical Babylonian king. Once he began to reflect on this, he
found a resemblance, in the cast of his features, the colour of his
hair, and the growth of his beard, to the heads of Assyrian kings on
the alabaster casts from the palace at Nineveh. Thus he easily arrived
at the idea that he was possibly a descendant of Baladan, or of other
Assyrian kings, or, at least, that it would be a curious thing if he
were. And he continued to work out this thought, until one day he
resolutely took the title of Sar. If he were descended from the kings
of Babylon, he could also be the heir of the wisdom of the Magi. So
he began to proclaim the Magian esoteric doctrine. To these musings
were added afterwards the impressions he received on a pilgrimage to
Bayreuth, from _Tristan_, and especially from _Parsifal_. In fancy
he wrought his own life into the legend of the Grail, looked upon
himself as a knight of the Grail, and created his order of the ‘Rose
Croix,’ which is entirely composed of reminiscences of _Parsifal_.
His invention of the asexual hybrid being shows that his imagination
is actively preoccupied with presentations of a sexual character, and
unconsciously seeks to idealize the ‘contrary sexual feelings.’

The mental life of Péladan permits us to follow, in an extremely
well-marked instance, the ways of mystic thought. He is wholly
dominated by the association of ideas. A fortuitous assonance
awakens in him a train of thought which urges him irresistibly to
proclaim himself an Assyrian king and Magus, without his attention
being in a condition to make him realize the fact that a man can be
called Péladan without being, therefore, necessarily descended from
a Biblical Baladan. The meaningless flow of words of the mediæval
scholastics misleads him, because he is continually thinking by
way of analogy, that is to say, because he follows exclusively the
play of the association of ideas provoked by the most secondary and
superficial resemblances. He receives every artistic suggestion with
the greatest ease. If he hears Wagner’s operas, he believes himself
to be a Wagnerian character; if he reads of the Knights Templars and
Rosicrucians, he becomes the Grand-Master of the Temple, and of all
other secret orders. He has the peculiar sexual emotionalism of the
‘higher degenerates,’ and this endows him with a peculiar fabulous
shape, which, at once chaste and lascivious, embodies, in curiously
demonstrative manner, the secret conflicts which take place in his
consciousness between unhealthily intensified instincts, and the
judgment which recognises their dangerous character.

Does Péladan believe in the reality of his delusions? In other words,
does he take himself seriously? The answer to this question is not so
simple as many perhaps think. The two beings which exist in every human
mind are, in a nature such as Péladan’s, a prey to a strange conflict.
His unconscious nature is quite transfused with the _rôle_ of a Sar,
a Magus, a Knight of the Holy Grail, Grand-Master of the Order, etc.,
which he has invented. The conscious factor in him knows that it is
all nonsense, but it finds artistic pleasure in it, and permits the
unconscious life to do as it pleases. It is thus that little girls
behave who play with dolls, caressing or punishing them, and treating
them as if they were living beings, all the time well aware that in
reality they have before them only an object in leather and porcelain.

Péladan’s judgment has no power over his unconscious impulses. It is
not in his power to renounce the part of a Sar or a Magus, or no longer
to pose as grand-master of an order. He cannot abstain from perpetually
returning to his ‘Androgynous’ absurdity. All these aberrations, as
well as the invention of neologisms and the predilection for symbols,
the prolix titles, and the casket-series of prefaces, so characteristic
of the ‘higher degenerates,’ proceed from the depths of his organic
temperament, and evade the influence of his higher centres. On its
conscious side Péladan’s cerebral activity is rich and beautiful.
In his novels there are pages which rank among the most splendid
productions of a contemporary pen. His moral ideal is high and noble.
He pursues with ardent hatred all that is base and vulgar, every form
of egoism, falsehood, and thirst for pleasure; and his characters are
thoroughly aristocratic souls, whose thoughts are concerned only with
the worthiest, if somewhat exclusively artistic, interests of humanity.
It is deeply to be regretted that the overgrowth of morbidly mystic
presentations should render his extraordinary gifts completely sterile.

Far below Péladan stands Maurice Rollinat, who ought, nevertheless, to
be mentioned first, because he embodies in a very instructive manner a
definite form of mystic degeneration, and next because all French, and
many foreign, hysterical persons honour in him a great poet.

In his poems, which with characteristic self-knowledge he entitles
_Les Névroses_[219] (Nervous Maladies) he betrays all the stigmata of
degeneration, which by this time ought to be familiar enough to the
reader for me to content myself with a brief notice of them.

He feels in himself criminal impulses (_Le Fantôme du Crime_):

‘Wicked thoughts come into my soul in every place, at all hours, in the
height of my work.... I listen in spite of myself to the infernal tones
which vibrate in my heart where Satan knocks; and although I have a
horror of vile saturnalias, of which the mere shadow suffices to anger
me, I listen in spite of myself to the infernal tones.... The phantom
of crime across my reason prowls around (in my skull).... Murder, rape,
robbery, parricide, pass through my mind like fierce lightnings....’

The spectacle of death and corruption has a strong attraction for him.
He delights in putrefaction and revels in disease.

‘My ghostly belovèd, snatched by death, played before me livid and
purple.... Bony nakedness, chaste in her leanness! Hectic beauty as sad
as it is ardent!... Near her a coffin ... greedily opened its oblong
jaws, and seemed to call her....’ (_L’Amante macabre_).

  ‘Mademoiselle Squelette!
  Je la surnommais ainsi:
  Elle était si maigrelette!

  ‘Crachant une gouttelette
  De sang très peu cramoisi...
  Elle était si maigrelette!...

  ‘Sa phthisie étant complète;...
  Sa figure verdelette...
  Un soir, à l’espagnolette
  Elle vint se pendre ici.

  ‘Horreur! une cordelette
  Décapitait sans merci
  Mademoiselle Squelette:
  Elle était si maigrelette!’

  _Mademoiselle Squelette._

‘That I might rescue the angelically beautiful dead from the horrible
kisses of the worm I had her embalmed in a strange box. It was on a
winter’s night. From the ice-cold, stiff and livid body were taken out
the poor defunct organs, and into the open belly, bloody and empty,
were poured sweet-smelling salves....’ (_La Morte embaumée_).

‘Flesh, eyebrows, hair, my coffin and my winding-sheet, the grave
has eaten them all; its work is done.... My skull has attested its
shrinking, and I, a scaling, crumbling residue of death, have come to
look back with regret upon the time when I was rotting, and the worm
yet fasted not....’ (_Le mauvais Mort_).

This depravity of taste will not seldom be observed among the deranged.
In Rollinat it merely inspires loathsome verses; among others it leads
them to the eager devouring of human excretions, and, in its worst
forms, to being enamoured of a corpse (_Necrophilia_).

Violent erotomaniacal excitement expresses itself in a series of
poems (_Les Luxures_), which not only celebrate the most unbridled
sensuality, but also all the aberrations of sexual psychopathy.

But the most conspicuous are the sensations of undefined horrors which
continually beset him. Everything inspires him with anguish; all the
sights of Nature appear to him to enclose some frightful mystery. He is
always expecting, in trembling, some unknown terror.

‘I always shudder at the strange look of some boot and some shoe. Ay,
you may shrug your shoulders mockingly, I do shudder; and suddenly, on
thinking of the foot they cover, I ask myself: “Is it mechanical, or
living?” ...’ (_Le Maniaque_).

‘My room is like my soul.... Heavy curtains, very ancient, cling round
the deep bed; long fantastic insects dance and crawl on the ceiling.
When my clock strikes the hour it makes an appalling noise; every swing
of the pendulum vibrates, and is strangely prolonged.... Furniture,
pictures, flowers, even the books, all smell of hell and poison; and
the horror, which loves me, envelops this prison like a pall....’ (_La

‘The library made me think of very old forests; thirteen iron lamps,
oblong and spectral, poured their sepulchral light day and night on
the faded books full of shadow and secrets. I always shuddered when I
entered. I felt myself in the midst of fogs and death-rattles, drawn
on by the arms of thirteen pale armchairs, and scanned by the eyes of
thirteen great portraits....’ (_La Bibliothèque_).

‘In the swamp full of malice, which clogs and penetrates his stockings,
he hears himself faintly called by several voices making but one. He
finds a corpse as sentinel, which rolls its dull eyeballs, and moves
its corruption with an automatic spring. I show to his dismayed eyes
fires in the deserted houses, and in the forsaken parks beds full
of green rose.... And the old cross on the calvary hails him from
afar, and curses him, crossing its stern arms as it stretches out and
brandishes them....’ (_La Peur_).

I will not weary by multiplying examples, and will only quote the
titles of a few more poems: _The Living Grave_; _Troppmann’s Soliloquy_
(a well-known eight-fold murderer); _The Crazy Hangman_; _The Monster_;
_The Madman_; _The Headache_ (_La Céphalalgie_); _The Disease_; _The
Frenzied Woman_; _Dead Eyes_; _The Abyss_; _Tears_; _Anguish_; _The
Slow Death-struggle_; _The Interment_; _The Coffin_; _The Death-knell_;
_Corruption_; _The Song of the Guillotined_, etc.

All these poems are the production of a craze, which will be frequently
observed among degenerates. Even Dostojevski, who is known to have
been mentally afflicted, suffered from it also. ‘As soon as it grew
dusk,’ he relates of himself,[220] ‘I gradually fell into that state
of mind which so often overmasters me at night since I have been ill,
and which I shall call mystic fright. It is a crushing anxiety about
something which I can neither define nor even conceive, which does not
actually exist, but which perhaps is about to be realized suddenly, at
this very moment, to appear and rise up before me like an inexorable,
horrible, unshapen fact.’ Legrain[221] quotes a degenerate lunatic
whose mania began ‘with feelings of fear and anguish at some fancy.’
Professor Kowalewski[222] indicates as degrees of mental derangement in
degeneration--first, neurasthenia; secondly, impulses of ‘obsession’
and feelings of morbid anguish. Legrand du Saulle[223] and Morel[224]
describe this state of groundless, undefined fear, and coin for it
the not very happy word ‘Panophobia.’ Magnan calls it more correctly
‘Anxiomania’--frenzied anguish--and speaks of it as a very common
stigma of degeneration. The anguish mania is an error of consciousness,
which is filled with presentations of fear, and transfers their
cause into the external world, while, as a matter of fact, they are
stimulated by pathological processes within the organism. The invalid
feels oppressed and uneasy, and imputes to the phenomena which
surround him a threatening and sinister aspect, in order to explain
to himself his dread, the origin of which escapes him, because it is
rooted in the unconscious.

As in Rollinat we have learnt to know the poet of anxiomania, so shall
we find in another author, whose name has become widely known in the
last two years, in the Belgian, Maurice Maeterlinck, an example of
an utterly childish idiotically-incoherent mysticism. He reveals the
state of his mind most characteristically in his poems,[225] of which I
will give a few examples. Here is the first of the collection--_Serres

‘O hot-house in the middle of the woods. And your doors ever closed!
And all that is under your dome! And under my soul in your analogies!

‘The thoughts of a princess who is hungry; the tedium of a sailor in
the desert; a brass-band under the windows of incurables.

‘Go into the warm moist corners! One might say, ‘tis a woman fainting
on harvest-day. In the courtyard of the infirmary are postilions; in
the distance an elk-hunter passes by, who now tends the sick.

‘Examine in the moonlight! (Oh, nothing there is in its place!) One
might say, a madwoman before judges, a battle-ship in full sail on a
canal, night-birds on lilies, a death-knell towards noon (down there
under those bells), a halting-place for the sick in the meadows, a
smell of ether on a sunny day.

‘My God! my God! when shall we have rain and snow and wind in the

These idiotic sequences of words are psychologically interesting,
for they demonstrate with instructive significance the workings of
a shattered brain. Consciousness no longer elaborates a leading or
central idea. Representations emerge just as the wholly mechanical
association of ideas arouses them. There is no attention seeking to
bring order into the tumult of images as they come and go, to separate
the unconnected, to suppress those that contradict each other, and to
group those which are allied into a single logical series.

A few more examples of these fugitive thoughts exclusively under the
rule of unbridled association. Here is one entitled _Bell-glasses_
(_Cloches de verre_):

‘O bell-glasses! Strange plants for ever under shelter! While the wind
stirs my senses without! A whole valley of the soul for ever still! And
the enclosed lush warmth towards noon! And the pictures seen through
the glass!

‘Never remove one of them! Several have been placed on old moonlight.
Look through their foliage. There is perhaps a vagabond on a throne;
one has the impression that corsairs are waiting on the pond, and that
antediluvian beings are about to invade the towns.

‘Some have been placed on old snows. Some have been placed on ancient
rains. (Pity the enclosed atmosphere!) I hear a festival solemnized on
a famine Sunday; there is an ambulance in the middle of the house, and
all the daughters of the king wander on a fast-day across the meadows.

‘Examine specially those of the horizon! They cover carefully very old
thunderstorms. Oh, there must be somewhere an immense fleet on a marsh!
And I believe that the swans have hatched ravens. (One can scarcely
distinguish through the dampness.)

‘A maiden sprinkles the ferns with hot water; a troop of little girls
watch the hermit in his cell; my sisters have fallen asleep on the
floor of a poisonous grotto!

‘Wait for the moon and the winter, among these bells, scattered at last
on the ice.’

Another called _Soul_ (_Ame_):

‘My soul! O my soul truly too much sheltered! And these flocks of
desires in a hot-house! Awaiting a storm in the meadows! Let us go to
the most sickly: they have strange exhalations. In the midst of them I
cross a battlefield with my mother. They are burying a brother-in-arms
at noon, while the sentries take their repast.

‘Let us go also to the weakest; they have strange sweats: here is a
sick bride, treachery on Sunday, and little children in prison. (And
further across the mist.) Is it a dying woman at the door of a kitchen?
Or a nun, who cleans vegetables at the foot of the bed of an incurable?

‘Let us go lastly to the saddest: (at the last because they have
poisons). O my lips accept the kisses of one wounded!

‘All the ladies of the castle are dead of hunger this summer in the
towers of my soul! Here is the dawn, which enters into the festival!
I have a glimpse of sheep along the quays, and there is a sail at the
windows of the hospital!

‘It is a long road from my heart to my soul! And all the sentries are
dead at their posts!

‘One day there was a poor little festival in the suburbs of my soul!
They mowed the hemlock there one Sunday morning; and all the convent
virgins saw the ships pass by on the canal one sunny fast-day. While
the swans suffered under a poisonous bridge. The trees were lopped
about the prison; medicines were brought one afternoon in June, and
meals for the patients were spread over the whole horizon!

‘My soul! And the sadness of it all, my soul! and the sadness of it

I have translated with the greatest exactness, and not omitted one
word of the three ‘poems.’ Nothing would be easier than to compose
others on these models, overtrumping even those of Maeterlinck--_e.g._,
‘O Flowers! And we groan so heavily under the very old taxes! An
hour-glass, at which the dog barks in May; and the strange envelope
of the negro who has not slept. A grandmother who would eat oranges
and could not write! Sailors in a ballroom, but blue! blue! On the
bridge this crocodile and the policeman with the swollen cheek beckons
silently! O two soldiers in the cowhouse, and the razor is notched! But
the chief prize they have not drawn. And on the lamp are ink-spots!’
etc. But why parody Maeterlinck? His style bears no parody, for it has
already reached the extreme limits of idiocy. Nor is it quite worthy of
a mentally sound man to make fun of a poor devil of an idiot.

Certain of his poems consist simply of assonances, linked together
without regard to sense and meaning, _e.g._, one which is entitled

‘The careless peacocks, the white peacocks have flown, the white
peacocks have flown from the tedium of awaking; I see the white
peacocks, the peacocks of to-day, the peacocks that went away during my
sleep, the careless peacocks, the peacocks of to-day, reach lazily the
pond where no sun is, I hear the white peacocks, the peacocks of ennui,
waiting lazily for the times when no sun is.’

The French original reveals why these words were chosen; they contain
almost all the nasal sounds, ‘en’ or ‘an’ or ‘aon’: ‘_Les paons
nonchalants, les paons blancs ont fui, les paons blancs ont fui l’ennui
du réveil; je vois les paons blancs ... atteindre indolents l’étang
sans soleil_,’ etc. This is a case of that form of echolalia which is
observed not seldom among the insane. One patient says, _e.g._, ‘_Man
kann dann ran Mann wann Clan Bann Schwan Hahn_,’ and he continues to
grind similar sounds till he is either tired, or takes a word spoken
before him as a starting-point for a new series of rhymes.

If Maeterlinck’s poems are read with some attention, it is soon seen
that the muddled pictures which follow each other pell-mell as in a
dream, are borrowed from a very limited circle of ideas, which have
either generally, or only for him, an emotional content. ‘Strange,’
‘old,’ ‘distant,’ are the adjectives he constantly repeats; they have
this in common that they indicate something indistinct, not definitely
recognisable, away on the bounds of the distant horizon, corresponding,
therefore, to the nebulous thought of mysticism. Another adjective
which sets him dreaming is ‘slow’ (_lent_). It also influences the
French Symbolists, and hence their fondness for it. They evidently
associated it with the idea of the movements of the priest reading the
Mass, and it awakens in them the emotions of the mysticism of faith.
They betray this association of ideas by this, that they frequently
use _lent_ together with _hiératique_ (sacerdotal). Maeterlinck,
moreover, is constantly thinking of hospitals with their sick, and
of everything connected with them (nuns, invalids’ diet, medicines,
surgical operations, bandages, etc.), of canals with ships and swans,
and of princesses. The hospitals and the canals, which are a feature in
the Belgian landscape, may be connected with the first impressions of
his childhood, and therefore produce emotions in him. The princesses,
on the contrary, shut up in towers, suffering hunger, going astray,
wading through swamps, etc., have evidently remained fixed in his
imagination from the childish ballads of the pre-Raphaelites, one
of which, by Swinburne, was given above as an example. Hospitals,
canals, princesses, these are the pictures which always recur with the
obstinacy of obsessions, and in the midst of the nebulous chaos of his
jargon, alone show some sort of firm outline.

A few of his poems are written in the traditional poetical form;
others, on the contrary, have neither measure nor rhyme, but consist
of lines of prose, arbitrarily changing in length, not according to
the style of Goethe’s free poems, or of Heine’s _North Sea Songs_,
which ripple by with very strongly marked rhythmic movement, but deaf,
jolting and limping, as the items of an inventory. These pieces are a
servile imitation of the effusions of Walt Whitman, that crazy American
to whom Maeterlinck was necessarily strongly attracted, according to
the law I have repeatedly set forth--that all deranged minds flock

I should like here to interpolate a few remarks on Walt Whitman, who is
likewise one of the deities to whom the degenerate and hysterical of
both hemispheres have for some time been raising altars. Lombroso ranks
him expressly among ‘mad geniuses.’[226] Mad Whitman was without doubt.
But a genius? That would be difficult to prove. He was a vagabond,
a reprobate rake, and his poems[227] contain outbursts of erotomania
so artlessly shameless that their parallel in literature could hardly
be found with the author’s name attached. For his fame he has to
thank just those bestially sensual pieces which first drew to him the
attention of all the pruriency of America. He is morally insane, and
incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, virtue and crime.
‘This is the deepest theory of susceptibility,’ he says in one place,
‘without preference or exclusion; the negro with the woolly head, the
bandit of the highroad, the invalid, the ignorant--none are denied.’
And in another place he explains he ‘loves the murderer and the thief,
the pious and good, with equal love.’ An American driveller, W. D.
O’Connor, has called him on this account ‘The good gray Poet.’ We know,
however, that this ‘goodness,’ which is in reality moral obtuseness and
morbid sentimentality, frequently accompanies degeneration, and appears
even in the cruellest assassins, for example, in Ravachol.

He has megalomania, and says of himself:

‘From this hour I decree that my being be freed from all restraints and

‘I go where I will, my own absolute and complete master.

‘I breathe deeply in space. The east and the west are mine.

‘Mine are the north and south. I am greater and better than I thought

‘I did not know that so much boundless goodness was in me....

‘Whoever disowns me causes me no annoyance.

‘Whoever recognises me shall be blessed, and will bless me.’

He is mystically mad, and announces: ‘I have the feeling of all. I am
all, and believe in all. I believe that materialism is true, and that
spiritualism is also true; I reject nothing.’ And in another still more
characteristic passage:

 ‘Santa Spirita [_sic!_], breather, life, Beyond the light, lighter
 than light, Beyond the flames of hell, joyous, leaping easily above
 hell, Beyond Paradise, perfumed solely with mine own perfume,
 Including all life on earth, touching, including God, including
 Saviour and Satan, Ethereal, pervading all, for without me what were
 all? what were God? Essence of forms, life of the real identities ...
 Life of the great round world, the sun and stars, and of man, I, the
 general soul.’

In his patriotic poems he is a sycophant of the corrupt American
vote-buying, official-bribing, power-abusing, dollar-democracy, and a
cringer to the most arrogant Yankee conceit. His war-poems--the much
renowned _Drum Taps_--are chiefly remarkable for swaggering bombast and
stilted patter.

His purely lyrical pieces, with their ecstatic ‘Oh!’ and ‘Ah!’ with
their soft phrases about flowers, meadows, spring and sunshine, recall
the most arid, sugary and effeminate passages of our old Gessner, now
happily buried and forgotten.

As a man, Walt Whitman offers a surprising resemblance to Paul
Verlaine, with whom he shared all the stigmata of degeneration, the
vicissitudes of his career, and, curiously enough, even the rheumatic
ankylosis. As a poet, he has thrown off the closed strophe as too
difficult, measure and rhyme as too oppressive, and has given vent to
his emotional fugitive ideation in hysterical exclamations, to which
the definition of ‘prose gone mad’ is infinitely better suited than
it is to the pedantic, honest hexameters of Klopstock. Unconsciously,
he seemed to have used the parallelism of the Psalms, and Jeremiah’s
eruptive style, as models of form. We had in the last century the
_Paramythien_ of Herder, and the insufferable ‘poetical prose’ of
Gessner already mentioned. Our healthy taste soon led us to recognise
the inartistic, retrogressive character of this lack of form, and
that error in taste has found no imitator among us for a century. In
Whitman, however, his hysterical admirers commend this _réchauffé_ of
a superannuated literary fashion as something to come; and admire,
as an invention of genius, what is only an incapacity for methodical
work. Nevertheless, it is interesting to point out that two persons
so dissimilar as Richard Wagner and Walt Whitman have, in different
spheres, under the pressure of the same motives, arrived at the same
goal--the former at ‘infinite melody,’ which is no longer melody; the
latter at verses which are no longer verses, both in consequence of
their incapacity to submit their capriciously vacillating thoughts to
the yoke of those rules which in ‘infinite’ melody, as in lyric verse,
govern by measure and rhyme.

Maeterlinck, then, in his poems is a servile imitator of crazy Walt
Whitman, and carries his absurdities still further. Besides his poems
he has written things to which one cannot well refuse the name of
plays, since they are cast in the form of dialogues. The best known of
them is _The Princess Maleine_.[228]

The ‘dramatis personæ,’ as he, true to the romantic and mystical
practice of the pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists, entitles the list of
his characters, are as follows: Hjalmar, King of one part of Holland;
Marcellus, King of another part of Holland; Prince Hjalmar, son of
King Hjalmar; little Allan, son of Queen Anne; Angus, friend to Prince
Hjalmar; Stephano and Vanox, officers of Marcellus; Anne, Queen of
Jütland; Godeliva, wife of King Marcellus; Princess Maleine, daughter
of Marcellus and Godeliva; Maleine’s nurse; Princess Uglyane, daughter
of Queen Anne. With them come all the old well-known jointed dolls
and puppets out of the dustiest corners of the old lumber-rooms of
romance--a fool, three poor people, two old peasants, courtiers,
pilgrims, a cripple, beggars, vagabonds, an old woman, seven (the
mystic number!) nuns, etc.

The names which Maeterlinck gives to his figures should be noted.
As a Fleming, he knows very well that Hjalmar is not Dutch, but
Scandinavian; that Angus is Scotch. But he makes this confusion
intentionally, in order to obliterate the distinct outlines with which
he appears to surround his figures, when he calls them ‘Kings of
Holland’; in order again to detach them from the firm ground on which
he pretends to place them and to suppress their co-ordinates, which
assign them a place in space and time. They may wear clothes, have
names and take a human rank, but all the while they are only shadows
and clouds.

King Hjalmar comes with Prince Hjalmar to the castle of Marcellus in
order to ask for the hand of the Princess Maleine. The two young people
see each other for the first time, and only for a few minutes, but they
instantly fall in love with each other. At the banquet in honour of the
King a quarrel breaks out, about which we learn no particulars; King
Hjalmar is seriously offended, swears revenge, and leaves the castle
in a rage. In the interlude Hjalmar wages war against Marcellus, kills
him and his wife, Godeliva, and at once razes his castle and town to
the ground. Princess Maleine and her nurse were on this occasion--how,
why and by whom is not explained--immured in a vaulted room in a tower;
then the nurse, after three days’ work with her finger-nails, loosens a
stone in the wall, and the two women obtain their liberty.

Since Maleine loves Hjalmar and cannot forget him, they make their way
towards his father’s castle. Things are going very badly in Hjalmar’s
castle. There Queen Anne of Jütland resides, who has been driven away
by her subjects, and with her grown-up daughter Uglyane and her little
son Allan (here also the Dane is systematically given a Scottish name),
has found hospitality with King Hjalmar. Queen Anne has turned the head
of the old man. She has become his mistress, rules him completely, and
makes him ill in body and soul. She wishes that his son should marry
her daughter. Hjalmar is in despair about his father’s collapse. He
detests his morganatic step-mother, and shudders at the thought of a
marriage with Uglyane. He believes Maleine to have been slain with her
parents in the war, but he cannot yet forget her.

Maleine has in the meantime been wandering with her nurse through a
kind of enchanted forest, and through an incomprehensible village,
where she has uncanny meetings with all sorts of people, beggars,
vagabonds, peasants, old women, etc., interchanging odd talk, and
reaches Hjalmar’s castle, where no one knows her. She is, however, in
spite of this, at once appointed as lady-in-waiting to the Princess

One evening Prince Hjalmar decides to make advances to Uglyane, and
with that object he gives her a nocturnal rendezvous in the park of the
castle, not a secret, but, so to speak, an official, lovers’ tryst, to
which he, with his father’s consent, and she, with her mother’s, is to
go. Maleine hinders it by telling Uglyane, who is splendidly attiring
and adorning herself, that Prince Hjalmar has gone into the forest
and will not come. She then goes herself into the park, and makes
herself known to Hjalmar, who arrives punctually. He leads her in great
delight to his father, who receives her as his future daughter-in-law,
and there is no further talk of his betrothal to Uglyane. Queen Anne
determines to get rid of the intruder. She behaves at first in a
friendly manner, assigns her a beautiful room in the castle, then
in the night she forces the King, who for a long time resists her,
to penetrate into Maleine’s room, where she puts a cord round the
Princess’s neck and strangles her. Signs and wonders accompany the
deed: a tempest forces open a window, a comet appears, a wing of the
castle falls in ruins, a forest bursts into flames, swans fall wounded
out of the air, etc., etc.

Next morning the body of the Princess Maleine is discovered. King
Hjalmar, whom the night’s murder has robbed of the last remnant of
reason, betrays the secret of the deed. Prince Hjalmar stabs Queen
Anne, and then plunges the dagger into his own heart. Thereupon the
piece closes thus:

 NURSE. Come away, my poor lord.

 KING. Good God! good God! She is waiting now on the wharf of hell!

 NURSE. Come away! come away!

 KING. Is there anybody here that fears the curses of the dead?

 ANGUS. Ay, my lord, I do.

 KING. Well, you close their eyes, and let us be gone.

 NURSE. Ay, ay. Come hence! come hence!

 KING. I will; I will. Oh, oh! how lonely I shall feel hereafter! I am
 steeped in misery up to my ears at seventy-seven years of age. But
 where are you?

 NURSE! Here, here!

 KING. You will not feel angry with me? Let us go to breakfast. Will
 there be salad for breakfast? I should like a little salad.

 NURSE. Yes, yes. You shall have some, my lord.

 KING. I do not know why; I feel somewhat melancholy to-day. Good God!
 good God! How unhappy the dead do look! [_Exit with_ NURSE.

 ANGUS. Another night such as this, and all our heads will have turned

 [_Exeunt all save the_ NUNS, _who begin singing the Miserere while
 conveying the corpses towards the bed. The church bells cease
 sounding. Nightingales are heard warbling without. A cock jumps on the
 window-sill, and crows._

When we begin to read this piece we are startled, and ask: ‘Why is all
this so familiar to me? Of what does it remind me?’ After a few pages
it all at once becomes clear: the whole thing is a kind of cento from
Shakespeare! Every character, every scene, every speech in any way
essential to the piece! King Hjalmar is put together out of King Lear
and Macbeth; Lear in his madness and manner of expressing himself,
Macbeth in his share in the murder of the Princess Maleine. Queen
Anne is patched up out of Lady Macbeth and Queen Gertrude; Prince
Hjalmar is unmistakably Hamlet, with his obscure speeches, his profound
allusions and his inner struggles between filial duty and morality; the
nurse is from Romeo and Juliet; Angus is Horatio; Vanox and Stephano
are Rosenkranz and Guildenstern, with an admixture of Marcellus and
Bernardo, and all the subordinate characters, the fool, the doctor, the
courtiers, etc., bear the physiognomy of Shakespeare’s characters.

The piece begins in the following manner:

 _The Gardens of the Castle._

 _Enter_ STEPHANO _and_ VANOX.

 VANOX. What o’clock is it?

 STEPHANO. Judging from the moon, it should be midnight.

 VANOX. I think ‘tis going to rain.

Let us compare this with the first scene in _Hamlet_:

 _A platform before the Castle._


 FRANCISCO. You come most carefully upon your hour.

 BERNARDO. ‘Tis now struck twelve....

 FRANCISCO. ... ‘Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart, etc.

One could, if it were worth while, trace scene for scene, word for
word, from some passage in Shakespeare. In the _Princesse Maleine_
we find in succession the fearfully stormy night from _Julius Cæsar_
(Act I., Scene 3); the entrance of King Lear into the palace of Albany
(Act I., Scene 4 ... ‘LEAR: Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go, get
it ready,’ etc.); the night scene in _Macbeth_, where Lady Macbeth
induces her husband to commit murder; the thrice-repeated ‘Oh! oh!
oh!’ of Othello which Queen Anne here utters; Hamlet’s conversation
with Horatio, etc. The death of the Princess Maleine has been inspired
by memories both of Desdemona suffocated and of Cordelia hanged. All
this is jumbled up in the craziest manner, and often distorted almost
beyond recognition, or given the opposite meaning; but, with a little
attention, one can always find one’s way.

Let us imagine a child, at the age when he is able to follow the
conversation of grown-up people, attending a performance or a reading
of _Hamlet_, _Lear_, _Macbeth_, _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Richard II._,
and who on his return to the nursery should relate in his own way to
his little brothers and sisters what he had heard. We should in this
way get a correct idea of the composition of _Princesse Maleine_.
Maeterlinck has crammed himself with Shakespeare, and reproduces the
pieces undigested, yet repulsively altered and with the beginnings of
foul decomposition. This is an unappetizing picture, but it alone can
serve to illustrate the mental process which goes on in the so-called
‘creations’ of the degenerate. They read greedily, receive a very
strong impression in consequence of their emotionalism; this pursues
them with the force of an ‘obsession,’ and they do not rest till they
have reproduced, sadly travestied, what they have read. Thus their
works resemble the coins of the barbarians, which are imitations of
Roman and Greek models, while betraying that their artificers could not
read or understand the letters and symbols inscribed on them.

Maeterlinck’s _Princesse Maleine_ is a Shakespearian anthology for
children or Tierra del Fuegians. The characters of the British poet
have gone to make parts for the actors in a theatre of monkeys.
They still remind us more or less of the attitudes and movements of
the persons whom they ape, but they have not a human brain in their
heads, and cannot say two connected and rational words. Here are a few
examples of the manner in which Maeterlinck’s people converse:

King Marcellus in the First Act (Scene 2) endeavours to dissuade the
Princess Maleine from loving Hjalmar.

 MARCELLUS. Well, Maleine!

 MALEINE. My lord?

 MARCELLUS. Do you not understand?

 MALEINE. What, my lord?

 MARCELLUS. Will you promise me to forget Hjalmar?

 MALEINE. My lord!...

 MARCELLUS. What say you? Do you still love Hjalmar?

 MALEINE. Ay, my lord.

 MARCELLUS. Ay, my lord. Oh, devils and tempests! she coolly confesses
 it. She dares to tell me this without shame. She has seen Hjalmar once
 only, for one single afternoon, and now she is hotter than hell.

 GODELIVA. My lord!...

 MARCELLUS. Be silent, you. “Ay, my lord!” and she is not yet fifteen!
 Ha! it makes one long to kill them then and there....

 GODELIVA. My lord....

 NURSE. Isn’t she free to love, just like anyone else? Do you mean to
 put her under a glass case? Is this a reason to bully a poor child?
 She has done no harm....

 MARCELLUS. Oh, she has done no harm!... Now, in the first place, hold
 your peace, you.... I am not addressing you; and it is doubtless at
 your prompting, you procuress....

 GODELIVA. My lord!...

 NURSE. A procuress! I a procuress!

 MARCELLUS. Will you let me speak? Begone! begone, both of you! Oh!
 I know well enough you have put your heads together, and that the
 season of scheming and plotting has set in; but wait awhile....
 Now, Maleine, ... you should be reasonable. Will you promise to be

 MALEINE. Ay, my lord.

 MARCELLUS. There! come now. Therefore you will not think any more of
 this marriage?...


 MARCELLUS. Ay? You mean you will forget Prince Hjalmar?


 MARCELLUS. You do not yet give up Prince Hjalmar?


 MARCELLUS. Now, supposing I compel you? Ay, I! and supposing I
 have you put under lock and key? and supposing I separate you for
 evermore from your Hjalmar with his puny, girlish face? What say you?
 (_She weeps._) Ha! that’s it--is’t? Begone, and we shall see about

Next, the scene in the second act, where Maleine and Hjalmar meet in
the gloomy park of the castle:

 HJALMAR. ... Come!

 MALEINE. Not yet.

 HJALMAR. Uglyane! Uglyane!

 [_Kisses her. Here the waterfall, blown about by the wind, collapses
 and splashes them._

MALEINE. Oh! what have you done?

HJALMAR. It is the fountain.

MALEINE. Oh, oh!

HJALMAR. It’s the wind.

MALEINE. I am afraid.

HJALMAR. Think not of that any longer. Let us get further away. Let us
not think of that any more. Ah, ah, ah! I am wet all over.

MALEINE. There is somebody weeping, close by us.

HJALMAR. Somebody weeping?

MALEINE. I am afraid.

HJALMAR. But cannot you hear that it’s only the wind?

MALEINE. What are all those eyes on the tree, though?

HJALMAR. Where? Ha! those are the owls. They have returned. I will put
them to flight. (_Throws earth at them._) Away! away!

MALEINE. There is yonder one that will not go.

HJALMAR. Where is it?

MALEINE. On the weeping willow.


MALEINE. He is not gone.

HJALMAR. Away, away!

 [_Throws earth at the owl._

MALEINE. Oh! you have thrown earth on me.

HJALMAR. Thrown earth on you?

MALEINE. Ay, it fell on me.

HJALMAR. Oh, my poor Uglyane!

MALEINE. I am afraid.

HJALMAR. Afraid--at my side?

MALEINE. There are flames amid the trees.

HJALMAR. That is nothing--mere lightning. It has been very sultry

MALEINE. I am afraid. Oh! who can be digging so at the ground around us?

HJALMAR. That is nothing. ‘Tis but a mole--a poor little mole at work.

(The mole in Hamlet! To our old acquaintance greeting!)

 MALEINE. I am afraid.

After some more conversation in the same style:

 HJALMAR. What are you thinking of?

 MALEINE. I feel sad.

 HJALMAR. Sad? Now, what are your sad thoughts about, Uglyane?

 MALEINE. I am thinking of Princess Maleine.

 HJALMAR. What do you say?

 MALEINE. I am thinking of Princess Maleine.[229]

 HJALMAR. Do you know Princess Maleine?

 MALEINE. I am Princess Maleine.

 HJALMAR. You are not Uglyane?

 MALEINE. I am Princess Maleine.

 HJALMAR. What! you Princess Maleine? Dead! But Princess Maleine is

 MALEINE. I am Princess Maleine.

Has anyone anywhere in the poetry of the two worlds ever seen such
complete idiocy? These ‘Ahs’ and ‘Ohs,’ this want of comprehension of
the simplest remarks, this repetition four or five times of the same
imbecile expressions, gives the truest conceivable clinical picture of
incurable cretinism. These parts are precisely those most extolled by
Maeterlinck’s admirers. According to them, all has been chosen with a
deep artistic intention. A healthy reader will scarcely swallow that.
Maeterlinck’s puppets say nothing, because they have nothing to say.
Their author has not been able to put a single thought into their
hollow skulls, because he himself possesses none. The creatures moving
on his stage are not thinking and speaking human beings, but tadpoles
or slugs, considerably more stupid than trained fleas at a fair.

Moreover, _Princesse Maleine_ is not altogether a Shakespearian dream.
The ‘seven nuns,’ _e.g._, belong to Maeterlinck. They are an astounding
invention. They are ever marching like demented geese through the
piece, winding in and out, with their psalm-singing, through all the
rooms and corridors of the King’s castle, through the court, through
the park, through the forest, coming unexpectedly round a corner in
the middle of a scene, trotting across the stage and off at the other
side without anyone understanding whence they come, whither they go,
or for what purpose they are brought on at all. They are a living
‘obsession,’ mixing itself irresistibly in all the incidents of the
piece. Here also we find all the intellectual fads which we noticed in
the _Serres Chaudes_. The Princess Maleine is herself the embodiment
of the hungry, sick, strayed princesses, wandering over the meadows,
who haunt these poems, and undoubtedly sprang from Swinburne’s ballad
of _The King’s Daughters_. The canals also play their part (p. 18).
‘And the expression of her eyes! It seemed as though one were all of a
sudden in a great stream [Fr. _canal_] of fresh water....’ (p. 110).
‘We have been to look at the windmills along the canal,’ etc. And sick
people and illness are mentioned on almost every page (p. 110):

 ANNE. I was fever-stricken myself.

 THE KING. Everyone is fever-stricken on arriving here.

 HJALMAR. There is much fever in the village, etc.

Besides _Princesse Maleine_, Maeterlinck has written some other
pieces. One, _L’Intruse_ (The Intruder), deals with the idea that in a
house where a sick person lies _in extremis_, Death intrudes towards
midnight, that he walks audibly through the garden, makes at first a
few trial strokes with his scythe on the grass before the castle, then
knocks at the door, forces it open because they will not admit him,
and carries off his victim. In a second, _Les Aveugles_ (The Blind),
we are shown how a number of blind men, the inmates of a blind asylum,
were led by an old priest into a forest, how the priest died suddenly
without a sound, how the blind men did not at first notice this, but
becoming at length uneasy, groped about, succeeded in touching the
corpse, already growing cold, assured themselves by questioning each
other that their leader was dead, and then in terrible despair awaited
death by hunger and cold. For this charming story takes place on a wild
island in the far north; and between the wood and the asylum lies a
river, crossed by only one bridge, which the blind cannot find without
a guide. It never occurs either to Maeterlinck or to his inconsolable
blind men as possible that in the asylum, where, as is expressly
mentioned, there are attendant nuns, the long absence of the whole body
of blind men would be noticed, and someone sent out to look for them.
The reader will not expect me to point out in detail the craziness of
the assumption in both these pieces, or that, after these examples, I
should relate and analyze two other pieces of Maeterlinck’s, _Les Sept
Princesses_ (‘seven,’ of course!) and _Pelléas et Mélisande_.

_The Intruder_ has been translated into several languages, and
performed in many towns. The Viennese laughed at its imbecility. In
Paris and London men shook their heads. In Copenhagen an audience of
appreciators of the ‘poetry of the future’ was touched, enraptured and
inspired. This demonstrates the hysteria of to-day quite as much as the
piece itself.

The history of Maeterlinck’s celebrity is especially remarkable and
instructive. This pitiable mental cripple vegetated for years wholly
unnoticed in his corner in Ghent, without the Belgian Symbolists, who
outbid even the French, according him the smallest attention; as to
the public at large, no one had a suspicion of his existence. Then one
fine day in 1890 his writings fell accidentally into the hands of the
French novelist, Octave Mirbeau. He read them, and whether he desired
to make fun of his contemporaries in grand style, or whether he obeyed
some morbid ‘impulsion’ is not known; it is sufficient to say that he
published in _Le Figaro_ an article of an unheard-of extravagance,
in which he represented Maeterlinck as the most brilliant, sublime,
moving poet which the last three hundred years had produced, and
assigned him a place near--nay, above Shakespeare. And then the world
witnessed one of the most extraordinary and most convincing examples
of the force of suggestion. The hundred thousand rich and cultivated
readers to whom the _Figaro_ addresses itself immediately took up the
views which Mirbeau had imperiously suggested to them. They at once saw
Maeterlinck with Mirbeau’s eyes. They found in him all the beauties
which Mirbeau asserted that he perceived in him. Andersen’s fairy-tale
of the invisible clothes of the emperor repeated itself line for line.
They were not there, but the whole court saw them. Some imagined they
really saw the absent state robes; the others did not see them, but
rubbed their eyes so long that they at least doubted whether they saw
them or not; others, again, could not impose upon themselves, but dared
not contradict the rest. Thus Maeterlinck became at one stroke, by
Mirbeau’s favour, a great poet, and a poet of the ‘future.’ Mirbeau had
also given quotations which would have completely sufficed for a reader
who was not hysterical, not given over irresistibly to suggestion, to
recognise Maeterlinck for what he is, namely, a mentally debilitated
plagiarist; but these very quotations wrung cries of admiration from
the _Figaro_ public, for Mirbeau had pointed them out as beauties
of the highest rank, and one knows that a decided affirmation is
sufficient to compel hypnotic subjects to eat raw potatoes as oranges,
and to believe themselves to be dogs or other quadrupeds.

Everywhere apostles were quickly at hand to proclaim, interpret and
extol the new master. The ‘mashers’ of the critic world, whose ambition
is set on being the first to assume--nay, where it is possible, to
foretell--the very latest fashions, the fashion of to-morrow, as much
in the styles of literature, as in the colour and shape of neckties,
vied with each other in deifying Maeterlinck. Ten editions of his
_Princesse Maleine_ have been sold out since Mirbeau’s suggestion, and,
as I have said before, his _Aveugles_ and _Intruse_ have been performed
in various places.

We now know the different forms under which the mysticism of
degeneration manifests itself in contemporary literature. The magism of
a Guaita and a Papus, the Androgyne of a Péladan, the anxiomania of a
Rollinat, the idiotic drivelling of a Maeterlinck, may be regarded as
its culminating aberrations. At least I cannot myself imagine that it
would be possible for mysticism to go beyond, even by the thickness of
a hair, these extreme points without even the hysterical, the devotees
and the snobs of fashion, who are still in some degree capable of
discernment, recognising in it a profound and complete intellectual





HOWEVER dissimilar such individualities as Wagner and Tolstoi, Rossetti
and Verlaine, may at first sight appear, we have, nevertheless,
encountered in all of them certain common traits, to wit, vague and
incoherent thought, the tyranny of the association of ideas, the
presence of obsessions, erotic excitability, religious enthusiasm, by
which we may recognise them as members of one and the same intellectual
family, and justify their union into one single group--that of mystics.

We must go a step farther and say that not only the mystics among the
degenerate, but in the main all the degenerate, of whatever nature they
may be, are moulded from the same clay. They all show the same lacunæ,
inequalities, and malformations in intellectual capacity, the same
psychic and somatic stigmata. If, then, anyone, having a certain number
of degenerate subjects to judge from, were to bring into prominence
and represent as their exclusive peculiarity merely mystical thought
in some, merely erotic emotionalism in others, merely vague, barren,
fraternal love and a mania for regenerating the world, or else merely
an impulsion to commit acts of a criminal nature, etc., he would
manifestly be seeing only one side of the phenomenon, and taking no
account of the rest. One or another stigma of degeneration may, in a
given case, be especially apparent; but, on duly careful inspection,
the presence of all the others, or, at least, indications of them, will
be discerned.

To the celebrated French alienist, Esquirol, is due the signal merit
of having discovered that there are forms of mental derangement in
which thought proceeds apparently in a perfectly rational manner,
but in which, in the midst of intelligent and logical cerebral
activity, some insane presentations appear, like erratic boulders,
thus enabling us to recognise the subject as mentally diseased. But
Esquirol has committed the fault of not digging deep enough; his
observation is too much on the surface. It was through this that he
came to introduce into science the notion of ‘monomania,’ that is, of
well-delimitated, partial madness, of an isolated, fixed idea beside
which all the rest of the intellectual life operates with sanity.
This was an error. There is no monomania. Esquirol’s own pupil, the
elder Falret, has sufficiently proved it, and our Westphal, from whose
other merits I have no wish to detract, was far from standing in
the forefront of research, when, half a century after Esquirol, and
thirty years after Falret, he still described the ‘fear of space,’ or
agoraphobia, as a special mental malady, or kind of monomania. What
is apparently monomania is in reality an indication of a profound
organic disorder which never reveals itself by one single phase of
folly. A fixed idea never exists in isolation.[230] It is always
accompanied by other irregularities of thought and feeling, which, it
is true, at a cursory glance, may not be so distinctly remarked as
the more strongly developed insane idea. Recent clinical observation
has discovered a long series of similar fixed ideas or ‘monomanias,’
and recognised the fact that they are one and all the consequence of
a fundamental disposition of the organism, viz., of its degeneration.
It was unnecessary for Magnan to give a special name to each symptom
of degeneration, and to draw up in array, with almost comical effect,
the host of ‘phobias’ and ‘manias.’ Agoraphobia (fear of open space),
claustrophobia (fear of enclosed space), rupophobia (fear of dirt),
iophobia (fear of poison), nosophobia (fear of sickness), aichmophobia
(fear of pointed objects), belenophobia (fear of needles), cremnophobia
(fear of abysses), trichophobia (fear of hair), onomatomania (folly of
words or names), pyromania (incendiary madness), kleptomania (madness
for theft), dipsomania (madness for drink), erotomania (love madness),
arithmomania (madness of numbers), oniomania (madness for buying), etc.
This list might be lengthened at pleasure, and enriched by nearly all
the roots of the Greek dictionary. It is simply philologico-medical
trifling. None of the disorders discovered and described by Magnan
and his pupils, and decorated with a sonorous Greek name, forms an
independent entity, and appears separately; and Morel is right in
disregarding as unessential all these varied manifestations of a
morbid cerebral activity, and adhering to the principal phenomenon
which lies at the base of all the ‘phobias’ and ‘manias,’ namely,
the great emotionalism of the degenerate.[231] If to emotionalism, or
an excessive excitability, he had added the cerebral debility, which
implies feebleness of perception, will, memory, judgment, as well as
inattention and instability, he would have exhaustively characterized
the nature of degeneration, and perhaps prevented psychiatry from being
stuffed with a crowd of useless and disturbing designations. Kowalewski
approached much nearer to the truth in his well-known treatise,[232]
where he has represented all the mental disorders of the degenerate
as one single malady, which merely presents different degrees of
intensity, and which induces in its mildest form neurasthenia; under
a graver aspect impulsions and groundless anxieties; and, in its most
serious form, the madness of brooding thought or doubt. Within these
limits may be ranged all the particular ‘manias’ and ‘phobias’ which at
present swarm in the literature of mental therapeutics.

But if it be untenable to make a particular malady out of every symptom
in which the fundamental disorder (_i.e._, degeneration) shows itself,
it should not, on the other hand, be ignored that among certain of the
degenerate a group of morbid phenomena distinctly predominates, without
involving the absence of the other groups. Thus, it is permissible to
distinguish among them certain principal species, notably, beside the
mystics, of whom we have studied the most remarkable representatives in
contemporary art and poetry, the ego-maniacs (_Ichsüchtigen_). It is
not from affectation that I use this word instead of the terms ‘egoism’
(_Selbstsucht_) and ‘egoist,’ so generally employed. Egoism is a lack
of amiability, a defect in education, perhaps a fault of character, a
proof of insufficiently developed morality, but it is not a disease.
The egoist is quite able to look after himself in life, and hold his
place in society; he is often also, when the attainment of low ends
only is in view, even more capable than the superior and nobler man,
who has inured himself to self-abnegation. The ego-maniac, on the
contrary, is an invalid who does not see things as they are, does not
understand the world, and cannot take up a right attitude towards it.
The difference I make in German between _Ichsucht_ and _Selbstsucht_,
the French also make in their language, where a careful writer will
never confound the word ‘egotisme,’ borrowed from the English, with
‘egoïsme’--that is, selfishness.

Of course the reader to whom the mental physiognomy of ego-maniacs is
shown ought always to remember that, if the principal representatives
of this species and of that of the mystics are characterized with
sufficient clearness, the confines of the latter type are fluctuating.
The ego-maniacs are, on the one hand, at once mystics, erotics, and,
though it seems paradoxical, even affect occasionally an appearance of
philanthropy; among the mystics, on the other hand, we frequently meet
with a strongly-developed ego-mania. There are certain specimens among
the degenerate in whom all the disorders are produced to such an equal
degree that it is doubtful whether they ought to be classed with the
mystics or the ego-maniacs. As a general rule, however, co-ordination
under one class or the other will not be very difficult.

That egoism is a salient feature in the character of the degenerate
has been unanimously confirmed by all observers. ‘The degenerate
neither knows nor takes interest in anything but himself,’ says
Roubinovitch;[233] and Legrain[234] asserts that he ‘has ... only
one occupation, that of satisfying his appetites.’ This peculiarity
establishes a bond which unites the highest of the degenerate to the
lowest, the insane genius to the feeble mental cripple. ‘All delirious
geniuses,’ remarks Lombroso, ‘are very much captivated by, and
preoccupied with, their own selves,’[235] and Sollier writes on the
subject of their antipodes, the imbeciles: ‘Undisciplined as they are,
they obey only through fear, are often violent, especially to those
who are weaker than themselves, humble and submissive towards those
they feel to be stronger. They are without affection, egoistic in the
highest degree, braggarts.’[236]

The clinicist is satisfied with indicating the fact of this
characteristic egoism, but for ourselves we wish further to investigate
what are its organic roots, why the degenerate must be more than
egoistic, why he must be an ego-maniac, and cannot be otherwise.

In order to understand how the consciousness of the ‘I’ (morbidly
exaggerated and frequently increasing to megalomania) originates, we
must recall how the healthy consciousness of the ‘I’ is formed.

It is, of course, not my intention here to treat of the whole theory of
cognition. It is only the most important results of this science, so
highly developed in the present day, that can find place in this work.

It has become a philosophical commonplace that we know directly only
those changes which take place in our own organism. If, in spite of
this, we are able to form an image of the external world surrounding
us, from perceptions derived only from within, it is because we trace
the changes in our organism which we have perceived to causes exterior
to it; and from the nature and force of the changes taking place in our
organism draw conclusions as to the nature and force of the external
events causing them.

How we come in general to assume that there is something exterior, and
that changes perceived by us only in our organism can have causes which
are not in the organism itself, is a question over which metaphysics
has cudgelled its brain for centuries. So little has it found an
answer, that, in order to put an end to this difficulty anyhow, it has
simply denied the very question, and jumped to the conclusion that the
‘I’ has actually no knowledge of a ‘not-I,’ of an external world, and
cannot have it because there is no external world at all, that what we
so call is a creation of our mind, and exists only in our thought as a
presentation, but not outside our ‘I’ as a reality.

It is a fact characteristic of the soporific action exercised by
the sound of a word on the human mind that this wholly senseless
cackle, glib, well arranged and formed into the philosophical system
of idealism, should have thoroughly satisfied for nearly eight
generations the greater number of professional metaphysicians, from
Berkeley to Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. These wise men repeated,
in a tone of conviction, the doctrine of the non-existence of the
‘not-I,’ and it did not trouble them that they themselves contradicted
constantly, in all their actions, their own fustian; that they devoted
themselves from their birth to their death to an uninterrupted series
of absolutely absurd actions, if there were no objective external
world; that therefore they themselves recognised their system to be
but wind and shadow, a childish game with words devoid of sense. And
the most logical among these grave drivellers, Bishop Berkeley, did
not even observe that after all he had not obtained, even at the
price of the total abdication of common sense, the answer he sought
to the fundamental question of knowledge, for his dogmatic idealism
denies, it is true, the reality of the external world, but admits with
frivolous thoughtlessness that there are other minds outside of him,
Berkeley, and even a universal mind. Thus, then, even according to
him, the ‘I’ is not all; there is still something outside of the ‘I,’
a ‘not-I’; there does exist an external world, if only under the form
of immaterial spirits. This, however, brings up the question, How does
Berkeley’s ‘I’ come to conceive the existence of something outside of
itself, the existence of a ‘not-I’? That was the question which had
to be answered, and, in spite of its sacrificing the whole world of
phenomena, Berkeley’s idealism, like the idealism of every one of his
successors, makes no reply to it whatsoever.

Metaphysics could find no answer to the question, because the latter,
as stated by the former, does not admit of an answer. Scientific
psychology--_i.e._, psycho-physiology--does not encounter the same
difficulties. It does not take the finished ‘I’ of the adult, clearly
conscious of himself, feeling himself distinctly opposed to the ‘not-I’
to the entire external world, but it goes back to the beginnings of
this ‘I,’ investigates in what manner it is formed, and then finds
that, at a time when the idea of the existence of a ‘not-I,’ would be
really inexplicable, this idea, in fact, was absolutely non-existent,
and that, when we do meet it, the ‘I’ has already had experiences which
completely explain how it could and must arrive at the formation of the
idea of a ‘not-I.’

We may assume that a certain degree of consciousness is the
accompanying phenomenon of every reaction of the protoplasm on external
action--_i.e._, is a fundamental quality of living matter. Even the
simplest unicellular living organisms move with obvious intention
towards certain goals, and away from certain points; they distinguish
between foods and such materials as are unfit for nutrition; thus
they have a species of will and judgment, and these two activities
presuppose consciousness.[237] What may be the nature of this
consciousness localized in protoplasm not yet even differentiated into
nerve-cells, is a thing of which it is impossible for the human mind
to form a definite idea. The only thing we can presuppose with any
certainty is that in the crepuscular consciousness of a unicellular
organism, the notion of an ‘I’ and a ‘not-I,’ which is opposed to it,
does not exist. The cell feels changes in itself, and these changes
provoke others, in accordance with established bio-chemical or
bio-mechanical laws; it receives an impression to which it responds by
a movement, but it has certainly no idea that the impression is caused
by a process in the external world, and that its movement reacts on the
external world.

Even among animals very much higher in the scale, and considerably more
advanced in differentiation, a consciousness of the ‘Ego,’ properly so
called, is inconceivable. How can the ray of a star-fish, the bud of a
tunicate, of a botryllus, the half of a double animal (diplozoon), the
tube of an actinia, or of some other coral polypus, be aware of itself
as a separate ‘I,’ seeing that, though it is an animal, it is at the
same time a portion of a composite animal, of a colony of animals, and
must perceive impressions which strike it directly, as well as those
experienced by a companion of the same colony? Or can certain large
worms, many of the species of Eunice, for example, have an idea of
their ‘Ego,’ when they neither feel nor recognise portions of their own
bodies as constituent parts of their individuality, and begin to eat
their tails when, by any accident in coiling themselves, it happens to
lie in front of their mouths?

The consciousness of the ‘Ego’ is not synonymous with consciousness
in general. While the latter is probably an attribute of all living
matter, the former is the result of the concordant action of a nervous
tissue highly differentiated and ‘hierarchized,’ or brought into a
relation of mutual dependence. It appears very late in the series
of organic evolution, and is, up to the present, the highest vital
phenomenon of which we have knowledge. It arises little by little from
experiences which the organism acquires in the course of the natural
activity of its constituent parts. Every one of our nerve-ganglia,
every one of our nerve-fibres, and even every cell, has a subordinate
and faint consciousness of what passes in it. As the whole nervous
system of our body has numerous communications between all its parts,
it perceives in its totality something of all the stimulations of its
parts, and the consciousness which accompanies them. In this manner
there arises in the centre where all the nerve ducts of the whole
body meet, _i.e._, in the brain, a total consciousness composed of
innumerable partial consciousnesses, having evidently for its object
only the processes of its own organism. In the course of its existence,
and that at a very early period, consciousness distinguishes two kinds
of wholly different perceptions. Some appear without preparation,
others accompanied and preceded by other phenomena. No act of will
precedes the stimulation of the senses, but such an act does precede
every conscious movement. Before our senses perceive anything, our
consciousness has no notion of what they will perceive; before our
muscles execute a movement, an image of this movement is elaborated
in the brain, or spinal marrow (in the case of a reflex action).
There exists then, beforehand, a presentation of the movement which
the muscles will execute. We feel clearly that the immediate cause
of the movement lies in ourselves. On the other hand, we have no
similar feelings in regard to sense-impressions. Again, we learn by
the muscular sense the realization of motor images elaborated by our
consciousness; on the other hand, we experience nothing similar when
we elaborate a motor image not having our own muscles exclusively for
its object. We wish, for example, to raise our arm. Our consciousness
elaborates this image, the brachial muscles obey, and consciousness
receives the communication that the image has been realized by the
brachial muscles. Next, we wish to raise or throw a stone with our
arm. Our consciousness elaborates a motor image, involving our own
muscles and the stone. When we are executing the desired and meditated
movement, our consciousness receives sensations from the muscles in
activity, but not from the stone. Thus it perceives the movements which
are accompanied by muscular sensations, and others which appear without
this accompaniment.

In order thoroughly to comprehend the formation of our consciousness
of the ‘Ego,’ and the presentation of the existence of a ‘non-Ego,’
we must consider a third point. All the parts, all the cells of our
body, have their own separate consciousness, which accompanies every
one of their excitations. These excitations are occasioned partly by
the activity of nutrition, of assimilation, of the cleavage of the
nucleus--that is to say, by the vital processes of the cell itself,
and partly by action of the environment. The excitations which proceed
from the interior, the bio-chemical and bio-mechanical processes of the
cell, are continued, and endure as long as the life of the cell itself.
The stimulations which are the result of the action of the environment
only appear, of course, with this action, _i.e._, not continuously,
but intermittently. The vital processes in the cell have direct value
and significance only for the cell itself, not for the whole organism;
actions of the environment may become important for the whole organism.
The principal organ, the brain, acquires the habit of neglecting the
excitations relating to the interior vital activity of the cell--first,
because they are continuous, and we perceive distinctly only a change
of state, not a state itself; and then, because the cell accomplishes
its own functions by its own energy, which renders the interference
of the brain useless. The brain takes notice, on the contrary, of
excitations which are produced by action _ab extra_--first, because
they appear with interruptions; and, secondly, because they may
necessitate an adaptation of the whole organism, which could only take
place through the intervention of the brain.

It cannot be doubted that the brain has knowledge also of the internal
excitations of the organism, and only for the reasons already stated
is not, as a general rule, distinctly conscious of them. If through
illness a disturbance is produced in the functions of the single cell,
we at once become conscious of the processes in the cell--we feel the
diseased organ, it stimulates our attention; the whole organism is
uncomfortable and out of tune. It is sensations of this kind, which,
in a healthy state, do not distinctly reach our consciousness, that
make up the sensation of our body, our organic ‘I,’ the so-called
cœnæsthesis or general sensibility.

Cœnæsthesis, the organic dimly-conscious ‘I,’ rises into the clear
consciousness of the ‘Ego,’ by excitations of the second order,
reaching the brain from the nerves and muscles, for they are stronger
and more distinct than the others, and are interrupted. The brain
learns the changes produced in the nervous system by external causes,
and the contraction of the muscles. How it has knowledge of the latter
is still obscure. It has been recently asserted that the muscular sense
has for its seat the nerves of the joints. This is certainly false.
We have distinct sensations of the contractions of muscles which put
no joint in movement--for example, of the orbicular and constrictor
muscles. Then there are the cramps and spasms even of isolated muscular
fibres, which likewise do not produce a change of position in the
joints. But in any case the perceptions of muscular sense exist,
however they are or are not produced.

Thus consciousness very soon learns that the muscular movements it
perceives are preceded by certain acts accomplished by itself, namely,
the elaboration of motor images, and the despatch of impulses to the
muscles. It receives knowledge of these movements twice, one after the
other--it perceives them, first, directly as its own presentation and
act of volition, as a motor image elaborated in the nerve-centres;
and immediately afterwards as an impression arising from the muscular
nerves as accomplished movement. It acquires the habit of connecting
its own acts--those previously elaborated motor images--with the
muscular movements, and of regarding the latter a consequence of the
former--in short, of thinking causally. If consciousness has adopted
the habit of causality, it seeks a cause in all its perceptions, and
can no longer imagine a perception without a cause. The cause of
muscular perceptions--that is, of movements consciously willed--it
finds in itself. The cause of nervous perceptions--that is, the
information reported by the nervous system concerning the excitations
which it experiences--it does not find in itself. But the latter must
have a cause. Where is it? As it is not in consciousness, it must
necessarily exist somewhere else; there must then be something else
outside consciousness, and so consciousness comes, through the habit of
causal thought, to assume the existence of something outside itself, of
a ‘not-I,’ of an external world, and to project into it the cause of
the excitations which it perceives in the nervous system.

Experience teaches that the distinction between the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’
is really only a question of a habit of thought, of a form of thought,
and not of an effective, certain knowledge, which carries in itself
the criteria of its accuracy and certitude. When, in consequence
of a morbid disturbance, our sensory nerves or their centres of
perception are excited, and consciousness acquires knowledge of this
excitation, it imputes to it without hesitation, according to its
habit, an external cause existing in the ‘not-I.’ Hence arise illusions
and hallucinations, which the patient takes for realities, and that
so positively that there is absolutely no means of convincing him
that he perceives facts passing within him, not outside of him. In
the same manner consciousness concludes that the movements executed
unconsciously are occasioned by an extraneous will. It perceives the
movement, but it has not noticed that the habitual internal cause,
viz., a motor image and an act of the will, has preceded it; hence it
places the cause of the movement without hesitation in the ‘not-I,’
although it resides in the ‘I,’ and is only occasioned by subordinate
centres, the activity of which remains concealed from consciousness.
This it is which gives rise to spiritualism, which, in so far as it
is in good faith and not openly a hocus-pocus, is simply a mystical
attempt to explain movements, the real cause of which consciousness
does not find in itself, and which it places, in consequence, in the

In ultimate analysis, the consciousness of the ‘Ego,’ and notably the
opposition of the ‘Ego’ and the ‘non-Ego,’ is an illusion of the senses
and a fallacy of thought. Every organism is related to a species,
and, over and above that, to the universe. It is the direct material
continuation of its parents; it is itself continued directly and
materially in its descendants. It is composed of the same materials as
the whole environing world; these materials are constantly penetrating
into it, transforming it, producing in it all the phenomena of life
and consciousness. All the lines of action of the forces of nature are
prolonged in its interior; it is the scene of the same physical and
chemical processes in action throughout the universe. What pantheism
divines and clothes in needlessly mystic words is clear, sober fact,
namely, the unity of nature, in which each organism is also a part
related to the whole. Certain parts are more nearly connected; others
are more separated from one another. Consciousness perceives only the
closely-knit parts of its physical basis, not those more remote. Thus
it falls into the illusion that the parts near together alone belong
to it, and that the more distant are strangers to it, and to consider
itself as an ‘individuum,’ confronting the world as a separate world or
microcosm. It does not observe that the ‘I,’ so rigidly posited, has
no fixed limits, but continues and spreads beneath the threshold of
consciousness, with an ever-diminishing distinctness of separation, to
the extreme depths of nature, till it blends there with all the other
constituents of the universe.

We may now resume much more briefly the natural history of the ‘I’
and the ‘not-I,’ and present it in a few formulæ. Consciousness is a
fundamental quality of living matter. The highest organism itself is
only a colony of the simplest organisms--that is to say, of living
cells--differentiated diversely in order to qualify the colony for
higher functions than the simple cell can accomplish. The collective
or ego-consciousness of the colony is composed of the individual
consciousness of the parts. The ego-consciousness has an obscure and
disregarded part which relates to the vital functions of the cells, or
the cœnæsthesis, and a clear, privileged part which is attentive to the
excitations of the sensory nerves, and to the voluntary activity of the
muscles, and which recognises them. Clear consciousness learns from
experience that acts of will precede voluntary movements. It arrives at
the assumption of causality. It observes that the sensorial excitations
are not caused by anything contained in itself. It is compelled, in
consequence, to transfer this cause, the assumption of which it cannot
renounce, elsewhere, and is necessarily first brought by this to the
presentation of a ‘not-I,’ and afterwards to the development of this
‘not-I’ into an apparent universe.

The old spiritualistic psychology, which regards the ‘Ego’ as
something entirely different from the body, as a special unitary
substance, maintains that this ‘Ego’ considers its own body as
something not identical with it, as opposed to the ‘Ego’ properly so
called, as something external--in fact, as ‘non-Ego.’ Thus, it denies
cœnæsthesis--that is to say, an absolutely certain empirical fact. We
constantly have an obscure sensation of the existence of all parts of
our body, and our ego-consciousness immediately experiences a change
if the vital functions of any one of our organs or tissues suffers a

Development advances from the unconscious organic ‘I’ to the clear
conscious ‘I,’ and to the conception of the ‘not-I.’ The infant
probably has cœnæsthesis even before, in any case after, its birth,
for it feels its vital internal processes, shows satisfaction when
they are in healthy action, manifests its discomfort by movements and
cries, which are also only a movement of the respiratory and laryngeal
muscles, when any disturbances appear there, perceives and expresses
general states of the organism, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue.
But clear consciousness does not yet exist for it; the brain has not
yet taken command over the inferior centres. Sense-impressions are
perhaps perceived, but certainly not yet grouped into ideas; the
greater part of the movements are preceded by no conscious act of will,
and are only reflex actions--that is, manifestations of those local
consciousnesses which later become so obscure as to be imperceptible,
when the cerebral consciousness has attained its full clearness.
Little by little the higher centres develop; the child begins to give
heed to its sense-impressions, to form from its perceptions ideas,
and to make voluntary movements adapted to an end. With the awakening
of its conscious will the birth of the consciousness of its ‘Ego’ is
linked. The child apprehends that it is an individual. But its internal
organic processes occupy it very much more than does the procedure
of the external world, transmitted to it by the sensory nerves, and
its own states fill up its consciousness more or less completely. The
child is, for this reason, a model of egoism, and, until it reaches a
more advanced age, is wholly incapable of displaying either attention
or interest in anything at all which is not directly connected with
itself, its needs and inclinations. By the continued culture of his
brain man finally arrives at that degree of maturity in which he
acquires a just idea of his relations to other men and to Nature. Then
consciousness pays less and less regard to the vital processes in its
own organism, and more and more to the stimulations of its senses. It
only notices the former when they reveal pressing necessities; it is,
on the contrary, always concerned with the latter when in a waking
state. The ‘I’ retires decidedly behind the ‘not-I,’ and the image of
the world fills the greater part of consciousness.

As the formation of an ‘I,’ of an individuality clearly conscious of
its separate existence, is the highest achievement of living matter,
so the highest degree of development of the ‘I’ consists in embodying
in itself the ‘not-I,’ in comprehending the world, in conquering
egoism, and in establishing close relations with other beings, things
and phenomena. Auguste Comte, and after him Herbert Spencer, have
named this stage ‘altruism,’ from the Italian word _altrui_, ‘others.’
The sexual instinct which forces an individual to seek for another
individual is as little altruism as the hunger which incites the
hunter to follow an animal in order to kill and eat it. There can be
no question of altruism until an individual concerns himself about
another being from sympathy or curiosity, and not in order to satisfy
an immediate, pressing necessity of his body, the momentary hunger of
some organ.

Not till he attains to altruism is man in a condition to maintain
himself in society and in nature. To be a social being, man must
feel with his fellow-creatures, and show himself sensitive to their
opinion about him. Both the one and the other presuppose that he is
capable of so vividly representing to himself the feelings of his
fellow-creatures as to experience them himself. He who is not capable
of imagining the pain of another with sufficient clearness to suffer
the same himself will not have compassion, and he who cannot exactly
feel for himself what impression an action or an omission on his part
will make on another will have no regard for others. In both cases he
will soon see himself excluded from the human community as the enemy
of all, and treated as such by all, and very probably he will perish.
And to defend himself against destructive natural forces and turn them
to his advantage, man must know them intimately--that is, he must be
able distinctly to picture their effects. A clear presentation of the
feelings of others, and of the effects of natural forces, presupposes
the faculty of occupying himself intensively with the ‘not-I.’ While a
man is attending to the ‘not-I,’ he is not thinking of his ‘Ego,’ and
the latter descends below the level of consciousness. In order that the
‘not-I’ should in this way prevail over the ‘I,’ the sensory nerves
must properly conduct the external impressions, the cerebral centres of
perception must be sensitive to the excitations of the sensory nerves,
the highest centres must develop, in a sure, rapid and vigorous manner,
the perceptions into ideas, unite these into conceptions and judgments,
and, on occasion, transform them into acts of volition and motor
impulses. And as the greatest part of these different activities is
accomplished by the gray cortex of the frontal lobes, this means that
this gray cortex must be well developed and work vigorously.

It is thus that a sane man appears to us. He perceives little and
rarely his internal excitations, but always and clearly his external
impressions. His consciousness is filled with images of the external
world, not with images of the activity of his organs. The unconscious
work of his inferior centres plays an almost vanishing part by the side
of the fully conscious work of the highest centres. His egoism is no
stronger than is strictly necessary to maintain his individuality, and
his thoughts and actions are determined by knowledge of Nature and his
fellow-creatures, and by the consideration he owes to them.

Quite otherwise is the spectacle offered by the degenerate person. His
nervous system is not normal. In what the digression from the norm
ultimately consists we do not know. Very probably the cell of the
degenerate is formed a little differently from that of sane men, the
particles of the protoplasm are otherwise and less regularly disposed;
the molecular movements take place, in consequence, in a less free
and rapid, less rhythmic and vigorous, manner. This is, however, a
mere undemonstrable hypothesis. Nevertheless, it cannot reasonably be
doubted that all the bodily signs or ‘stigmata’ of degeneration, all
the arrests and inequalities of development that have been observed,
have their origin in a bio-chemical and bio-mechanical derangement of
the nerve-cell, or, perhaps, of the cell in general.

In the mental life of the degenerate the anomaly of his nervous system
has, as a consequence, the incapacity of attaining to the highest
degree of development of the individual, namely, the freely coming out
from the factitious limits of individuality, _i.e._, altruism. As to
the relation of his ‘Ego’ to his ‘non-Ego,’ the degenerate man remains
a child all his life. He scarcely appreciates or even perceives the
external world, and is only occupied with the organic processes in his
own body. He is more than egoistical, he is an ego-maniac.

His ego-mania may spring directly from different circumstances of his
organism. His sensory nerves may be obtuse, are, in consequence, but
feebly stimulated by the external world, transmit slowly and badly
their stimuli to the brain, and are not in a condition to incite it
to a sufficiently vigorous perceptive and ideational activity. Or
his sensory nerves may work moderately well, but the brain is not
sufficiently excitable, and does not perceive properly the impressions
which are transmitted to it from the external world.

The obtuseness of the degenerate is attested by almost all observers.
From the almost illimitable number of facts which could be adduced
on this point, we will only give a very concise, but sufficiently
characteristic selection. ‘Among many idiots,’ says Sollier, ‘there
is no distinction between sweet and bitter. When sugar and colocynth
are administered to them alternately, they manifest no change of
sensation.... Properly speaking, taste does not exist among them....
Besides this, there are perversions of taste. We are not speaking
here of complete idiots ... but even of imbeciles who eat ordure or
repulsive things ... even their own excrements.... The same remarks
apply to smell. Perhaps sensibility appears still more absolutely
obtuse for smells than for taste.... Tactile sensibility is very obtuse
in general, but it is always uniformly so.... Sometimes it might be a
question whether there is not complete anæsthesia.’[239] Lombroso has
examined the general sensitiveness of skin in sixty-six criminals, and
has found it obtuse in thirty-eight among them, and unequal in the two
halves of the body in forty-six.[240] In a later work he sums up in
these words his observations of sensorial acuteness in the degenerate:
‘Inaccessible to the feeling of pain, themselves without feeling, they
never understand pain even in others.’[241] Ribot traces the ‘diseases
of personality’ (that is, the false ideas of the ‘I’) to ‘organic
disturbances, of which the first result is to depress the faculty of
feeling in general; the second, to pervert it.’ ‘A young man whose
conduct had always been excellent suddenly gave himself up to the worst
inclinations. It was ascertained that in his mental condition there
was no sign of evident alienation, but it could be seen that the whole
outer surface of the skin had become absolutely insensible.’ ‘It may
seem strange that weak and false sensitivity ... that is, that simple
disturbances or sensorial alterations should disorganize the “Ego.”
Nevertheless, observation proves it.’[242] Maudsley[243] describes some
cases of degeneration among children whose skin was insensible, and
remarks: ‘They cannot feel impressions as they naturally should feel
them, nor adjust themselves to their surroundings, with which they are
in discord; and the motor outcomes of the perverted affections of self
are accordingly of a meaningless and destructive character.’[244]

The defective sensibility of the degenerate, confirmed by all
observers, is, moreover, susceptible of different interpretations.
Whereas many consider it a consequence of the pathological condition
of the sensory nerves, others believe that the perturbation has its
seat, not in these nerves, but in the brain; not in the ducts, but
in the centres of perception. To quote one of the most eminent among
the psycho-physiologists of the new school, Binet[245] has proved
that, ‘if a portion of the body of a person is insensible, he is
ignorant of what passes there; but, on the other hand, the nervous
centres in connection with this insensible region can continue to
act; the result is that certain acts, often simple, but sometimes very
complicated, can be accomplished in the body of a hysterical subject,
without his knowledge; much more, these acts can be of a psychical
nature, and manifest an intelligence which will be distinct from that
of the subject, and will constitute a second “I” co-existent with the
first. For a long time there was a misconception of the true nature
of hysterical anæsthesia, and it was compared to a common anæsthesia
from organic causes, due, for example, to the interruption of afferent
nerves. This view must be wholly abandoned, and we know now that
hysterical anæsthesia is not a true insensibility; it is insensibility
from unconsciousness from mental disaggregation; in a word, it is
psychical insensibility.’

Most frequently it is not a question of simple cases, where it is the
sensory nerves alone, or only the cerebral centres which work badly,
but of mixed cases, where the two apparatuses have a diversely varying
part in the disturbance. But whether the nerves do not conduct the
impressions to the brain, or the brain does not perceive, or does not
raise the impressions brought to it into consciousness, the result is
always the same, viz., the external world will not be correctly and
distinctly grasped by consciousness, the ‘not-I’ will not be suitably
represented in consciousness, the ‘I’ will not experience the necessary
derivation of the exclusive preoccupation with the processes taking
place in its own organism.

The natural healthy connection between organic sensations and
sense-perceptions is much more strongly displaced when to the
insensibility of the sensory nerves, or of the centres of perception,
or both, is added an unhealthily modified and intensified vital
activity of the organs. Then the organic ego-sensibility, or
cœnæsthesis, advances irrepressibly into the foreground, overshadowing
in great part or wholly the perceptions of the external world in
consciousness, which no longer takes notice of anything but the
interior processes of the organism. In this way there originates that
peculiar hyper-stimulation or emotionalism constituting, as we have
seen, the fundamental phenomenon of the intellectual life of the
degenerate. For the fundamental emotional tone, despairing or joyful,
angry or tearful, which determines the colour of his presentations as
well as the course of his thoughts, is the consequence of phenomena
taking place in his nerves, vessels and glands.[246] The consciousness
of the emotionally degenerate subject is filled with obsessions which
are not inspired by the events of the external world, and by impulsions
which are not the reaction against external stimulation. To this is
added next the unfailing weakness of will of the degenerate person,
which makes it impossible for him to suppress his obsessions, to resist
his impulsions, to control his fundamental moods, to keep his higher
centres to the attentive pursuit of objective phenomena. According to
the saying of the poet, the necessary result of these conditions is
that the world must be differently reflected in such heads than it is
in normal ones. The external world, the ‘not-I,’ either does not exist
at all in the consciousness of an emotionally degenerate subject, or it
is merely represented there as on a faintly reflecting surface, by a
scarcely recognisable, wholly colourless image, or, as in a concave or
convex mirror, by a completely distorted, false image; consciousness,
on the other hand, is imperiously monopolized by the somatic ‘I,’ which
does not permit the mind to be occupied with anything but the painful
or tumultuous processes taking place in the depths of the organs.

Badly-conducting sensory nerves, obtuse perceptive centres in the
brain, weakness of will with its resulting incapacity of attention,
morbidly irregular and violent vital processes in the cells, are
therefore the organic basis on which ego-mania develops.

The ego-maniac must of necessity immensely over-estimate his own
importance and the significance of all his actions, for he is only
engrossed with himself, and but little or not at all with external
things. He is therefore not in a position to comprehend his relation
to other men and the universe, and to appreciate properly the part he
has to play in the aggregate of social institutions. There might at
this juncture be an inclination to confound ego-mania with megalomania,
but there is a characteristic difference between the two states.
Megalomania, it is true, is itself, like its clinical complement, the
delusion of persecution, occasioned by morbid processes within the
organism obliging consciousness perpetually to be attending to its own
somatic ‘Ego.’ More especially the unnaturally increased bio-chemical
activity of the organs gives rise to the pleasantly extravagant
presentations of megalomania, while retarded or morbidly aberrant
activity gives rise to the painful presentations of the delusion of
persecution.[247] In megalomania, however, as in the delusion of
persecution, the patient is constantly engrossed with the external
world and with men; in ego-mania, on the contrary, he almost completely
withdraws himself from them. In the systematically elaborated delirium
of the megalomaniac and persecution-maniac, the ‘not-I’ plays the most
prominent part. The patient accounts for the importance his ‘Ego’
obtains in his own eyes by the invention of a grand social position
universally recognised, or by the inexorable hostility of powerful
persons, or groups of persons. He is Pope, or Emperor, and his
persecutors are the chief men in the State, or great social powers, the
police, the clergy, etc. His delirium, in consequence, takes account
of the State and society; he admits their importance, and attaches
the greatest value, in one case, to the homage, in the other to the
enmity, of his neighbours. The ego-maniac, on the contrary, does not
regard it as necessary to dream of himself as occupying some invented
social position. He does not require the world or its appreciation to
justify in his own eyes himself as the sole object of his own interest.
He does not see the world at all. Other people simply do not exist for
him. The whole ‘non-Ego’ appears in his consciousness merely as a vague
shadow or a thin cloud. The idea does not even occur to him that he is
something out of the common, that he is superior to other people, and
for this reason either admired or hated; he is alone in the world; more
than that, he alone is the world and everything else, men, animals,
things are unimportant accessories, not worth thinking about.

The less diseased are the conducting media, the centres of nutrition,
perception and volition, so much the weaker naturally will the
ego-mania be, and so much the more harmlessly will it be manifested.
Its least objectionable expression is the comic importance which
the ego-maniac often attributes to his sensations, inclinations and
activities. Is he a painter? he has no doubt that the whole history
of the universe only hinges on painting, and on his pictures in
particular. Is he a writer of prose or verse? he is convinced that
humanity has no other care, or at least no more serious care, than for
verses and books. Let it not be objected that this is not peculiar
to ego-maniacs, but is the case with the vast majority of mankind.
Assuredly everyone thinks what he is doing is important, and that man
would not be worth much who performed his work so heedlessly and so
superficially, with so little pleasure and conscientiousness, that he
himself could not look upon it with respect. But the great difference
between the rational and sane man and the ego-maniac is, that the
former sees clearly how subordinate his occupation is to the rest of
humanity, although it fills his life and exacts his best powers, while
the latter can never imagine that any exertion to which he devotes
his time and efforts can appear to others as unimportant and even
puerile. An honest cobbler, resoleing an old boot, gives himself up
heart and soul to his work, nevertheless he admits that there are far
more interesting and important things for humanity than the repairing
of damaged sole-leather. The ego-maniac, on the contrary, if he is a
writer, does not hesitate to declare, like Mallarmé, ‘The world was
made to lead up to a fine book.’ This absurd exaggeration of one’s own
occupations and interests produces in literature the Parnassians and
the Æsthetes.

If degeneration is deeper, and ego-mania is stronger, the latter no
longer assumes the comparatively innocent form of total absorption in
poetic and artistic cooings, but manifests itself as an immorality,
which may amount to moral madness. The tendency to commit actions
injurious to himself or society is aroused now and then even in a
sane man when some obnoxious desire demands gratification, but he has
the will and the power to suppress it. The degenerate ego-maniac is
too feeble of will to control his impulsions, and cannot determine
his actions and thoughts by a regard to the welfare of society,
because society is not at all represented in his consciousness. He
is a solitary, and is insensible to the moral law framed for life in
society, and not for the isolated individual. It is evident that for
Robinson Crusoe the penal code did not exist. Alone on his island,
having only Nature to deal with, it is obvious he could neither kill,
steal, nor pillage in the sense of the penal code. He could only commit
misdemeanours against himself. Want of insight and of self-control
are the only immoralities possible to him. The ego-maniac is a mental
Robinson Crusoe, who in his imagination lives alone on an island, and
is at the same time a weak creature, powerless to govern himself. The
universal moral law does not exist for him, and the only thing he may
possibly see and avow, perhaps also regret a little, is that he sins
against the moral law of the solitary, _i.e._, against the necessity of
controlling instincts in so far as they are injurious to himself.

Morality--not that learnt mechanically, but that which we feel as
an internal necessity--has become, in the course of thousands of
generations, an organized instinct. For this reason, like all other
organized instincts, it is exposed to ‘perversion,’ to aberration.
The effect of this is that an organ, or the whole organism, works in
opposition to its normal task and its natural laws, and cannot work
otherwise.[248] In perversion of taste the patient seeks greedily
to swallow all that ordinarily provokes the deepest repugnance,
_i.e._, is instinctively recognised as noxious, and rejected for
that reason--decaying organic matter, ordure, pus, spittle, etc. In
perversion of smell he prefers the odours of putrefaction to the
perfume of flowers. In perversion of the sexual appetite he has desires
which are directly contrary to the purpose of the instinct, _i.e._,
the preservation of the species. In perversion of the moral sense the
patient is attracted by, and feels delight in, acts which fill the sane
man with disgust and horror. If this particular perversion is added
to ego-mania, we have before us not merely the obtuse indifference
towards crime which characterizes moral madness, but delight in crime.
The ego-maniac of this kind is no longer merely insensible to good
and evil, and incapable of discriminating between them, but he has a
decided predilection for evil, esteems it in others, does it himself
every time he can act according to his inclination, and finds in it the
peculiar beauty that the sane man finds in good.

The moral derangement of an ego-maniac, with or without perverted moral
instincts, will naturally manifest itself in ways varying according
to the social class to which he belongs, as well as according to his
personal idiosyncrasies. If he is a member of the disinherited class,
he is simply either a fallen or degraded being, whom opportunity has
made a thief, who lives in horrible promiscuity with his sisters or
daughters, etc., or is a criminal from habit and profession. If he is
cultivated and well-to-do, or in a commanding position, he commits
misdemeanours peculiar to the upper classes which have as their object
not the gratification of material needs, but of other kinds of craving.
He becomes a Don Juan of the drawing-room, and carries shame and
dishonour without hesitation into the family of his best friend. He is
a legacy-hunter, a traitor to those who trust in him, an intriguer, a
sower of discord, and a liar. On the throne he may even develop into a
rapacious animal, and to a universal conqueror. With a limited tether
he becomes Charles the Bad the Count d’Evreux and King of Navarre,
Gilles de Rais, the prototype of Blue Beard, or Cæsar Borgia; and,
with a wider range, Napoleon I. If his nervous system is not strong
enough to elaborate imperious impulsions, or if his muscles are too
feeble to obey such impulsions, all these criminal inclinations remain
unsatisfied, and only expend themselves by way of his imagination. The
perverted ego-maniac is then only a platonic or theoretic malefactor,
and if he embraces the literary career, he will concoct philosophic
systems to justify his depravity, or will employ an accommodating
rhetoric in verse and prose to celebrate it, bedizen it and present
it under as seductive a form as possible. We then find ourselves in
the presence of the literary phases called Diabolism and Decadentism.
‘Diaboliques’ and ‘décadents’ are distinguished from ordinary criminals
merely in that the former content themselves with dreaming and writing,
while the latter have the resolution and strength to act. But they have
this bond in common, of being both of them ‘anti-social beings.’[249]

A second characteristic which is shared by all ego-maniacs is their
incapacity to adapt themselves to the conditions in which they live,
whether they assert their anti-social inclinations in thought or
action, in writings or as criminals. This want of adaptability is one
of the most striking peculiarities of the degenerate, and it is to them
a source of constant suffering, and finally of ruin. It is a necessary
result, however, of the constitution of his central nervous system. The
indispensable premise of adaptation is the having an exact presentation
of the facts to which a man must adapt himself.[250] I cannot avoid the
ruts in the road if I do not see them; I cannot ward off the blow I
do not see coming; it is impossible to thread a needle if its eye is
not seen with sufficient clearness, and if the thread is not carried
with steady hand to the right spot. All this is so elementary it is
scarcely necessary to say it. What we term power over Nature is, in
fact, adaptation to Nature. It is an inexact expression to say we make
the forces of Nature subject to us. In reality we observe them, we
learn to know their peculiarities, and we manage so that the tendencies
of natural forces and our own desires coincide. We construct a wheel
at the point where the water power, by natural law, must fall, and we
have then the advantage that the wheel turns according to our needs.
We know that electricity flows along copper wire, and so, with cunning
submission to its peculiar ways, we lay down copper lines to the place
where we want it, and where its action would be useful to us. Without
knowledge of Nature, therefore, no adaptation, and without adaptation
no possibility of profiting by its forces. Now, the degenerate subject
cannot adapt himself, because he has no clear idea of the circumstances
to which he ought to adapt himself, and he does not obtain from them
any clear idea, because, as we know, he has bad nerve-conductors,
obtuse centres of perception, and feeble attention.

The active cause of all adaptation, as of all effort in general--and
adaptation is nothing else than an effort of a particular kind--is
the wish to satisfy some organic necessity, or to escape from some
discomfort. In other words, the aim of adaptation is to give feelings
of pleasure, and to diminish or suppress the feelings of discomfort.
The being incapable of self-adaptation is for this reason far less
able to procure agreeable, and avoid disagreeable, sensations than the
normal being; he runs up against every corner, because he does not know
how to avoid them; and he longs in vain for the luscious pear, because
he does not know how to catch hold of the branch on which it hangs. The
ego-maniac is a type of such a being. He must, therefore, necessarily
suffer from the world and from men. Hence at heart he is bad-tempered,
and turns in wrathful discontent against Nature, society and public
institutions, irritated and offended by them, because he does not know
how to accommodate himself to them. He is in a constant state of revolt
against all that exists, and contrives how he may destroy it, or, at
least, dreams of destruction. In a celebrated passage Henri Taine
indicates ‘exaggerated self-esteem’ and ‘dogmatic argument’ as the
roots of Jacobinism.[251] This leads to contempt for and rejection of
institutions already established, and hence not invented or chosen by
himself. He considers the social edifice absurd because it is not ‘a
work of logic,’ but of history.

Besides these two roots of Jacobinism which Taine has brought to
light, there is yet another, and the most important, that has escaped
his attention, viz., the inability of the degenerate to adapt himself
to given circumstances. The ego-maniac is condemned by his natural
organization to be a pessimist and a Jacobin. But the revolutions he
wishes for, preaches, and perhaps effectively accomplishes, are barren
as regards progress. He is, as a revolutionary, what an inundation or
cyclone would be as a street-sweeper. He does not clear the ground
with conscious aim, but blindly destroys. This distinguishes him
from the clear-minded innovator, the true revolutionary, who is a
reformer, leading suffering and stagnating humanity from time to time
by toilsome paths into a new Canaan. The reformer hurls down with
pitiless violence, if violence is necessary, the ruins which have
become obstacles, in order to make way for useful constructions; the
ego-maniac raves against everything that stands upright, whether
useful or useless, and does not think of clearing the building-ground
after the devastation; his pleasure consists in seeing heaps of
rubbish overgrown by noxious weeds where once walls and gables reared

There is an impassable gulf between the sane revolutionary and the
ego-maniac Jacobin. The former has positive ideals, the latter has not.
The former knows what he is striving for; the latter has no conception
how that which irritates him could be changed for the better. His
thoughts do not reach so far; he never troubles himself to question
what will replace the things destroyed. He knows only that everything
frets him, and he desires to vent his muddled and blustering ill-humour
on all around him. Hence it is characteristic that the foolish
necessity to revolt of this kind of revolutionary frequently turns
against imaginary evils, follows puerile aims, or even fights against
those laws which are wise and beneficent. Here they form a ‘league
against lifting the hat in saluting’; there they oppose compulsory
vaccination; another time they rise in protest against taking the
census of the population; and they have the ridiculous audacity to
conduct these silly campaigns with the same speeches and attitudes
that the true revolutionaries assume--for example, in the service of
suppression of slavery, or liberty of thought.

To the ego-maniac’s incapacity for adaptation is often added the mania
for destruction, or clastomania, which is so frequently observed among
idiots and imbeciles, and in some forms of insanity.[252] In a child
the instinct of destruction is normal. It is the first manifestation
of the desire to exert muscular strength. Very soon, however, the
desire is aroused to exert its strength, not in destroying, but in
creating. Now, the act of creating has a psychic premise, viz.,
attention. This being absent in the degenerate, the impulse to destroy,
which can be gratified without attention, by disorderly and casual
movements, does not rise in them to the instinct of creation.

Hence, discontent as the consequence of incapacity of adaptation, want
of sympathy with his fellow-creatures arising from weak representative
capacity, and the instinct of destruction, as the result of arrested
development of mind, together constitute the anarchist, who, according
to the degree of his impulsions, either merely writes books and makes
speeches at popular meetings, or has recourse to a dynamite bomb.

Finally, in its extreme degree of development, ego-mania leads to that
folly of Caligula in which the unbalanced mind boasts of being ‘a
laughing lion,’ believes himself above all restraints of morality or
law, and wishes the whole of humanity had one single head that he might
cut it off.

The reader who has hitherto followed me will now, I hope, quite
comprehend the psychology of ego-mania. As I have stated above,
consciousness of the ‘Ego’ originates from the sensations of the
vital processes in all parts of our body, and the conception of
the ‘non-Ego’ from changes in our organs of special sense. How,
generally speaking, we arrive at the assumption of the existence of
a ‘not-I,’ I have explained above in detail, hence it is unnecessary
to repeat it here. If we wish to leave the firm soil of positively
established facts, and risk ourselves on the somewhat shaky ground of
probable assumptions, we may say that consciousness of the ‘Ego’ has
its anatomical basis in the sympathetic system, and the conception
of the ‘not-I’ in the cerebro-spinal system. In a healthy man the
perception of vital internal facts does not rise above the level of
consciousness. The brain receives its stimulations far more from
the sensory, than from the sympathetic nerves. In consciousness the
presentation of the external world greatly outweighs the consciousness
of the ‘Ego.’ In the degenerate, either (1) vital internal facts
are morbidly intensified, or proceed abnormally, and are therefore
constantly perceived by consciousness; or (2) the sensory nerves
are obtuse, and the perceptional centres weak and sluggish; or (3)
perhaps these two deviations from the norm co-exist. The result in
all three cases is that the notion of the ‘Ego’ is far more strongly
represented in consciousness than the image of the external world. The
ego-maniac, consequently, neither knows nor grasps the phenomenon of
the universe. The effect of this is a want of interest and sympathy,
and an incapacity to adapt himself to nature and humanity. The absence
of feeling, and the incapacity of adaptation, frequently accompanied
by perversion of the instincts and impulses, make the ego-maniac an
anti-social being. He is a moral lunatic, a criminal, a pessimist,
an anarchist, a misanthrope, and he is all these, either in his
thoughts and his feelings, or also in his actions. The struggle
against the anti-social ego-maniac, his expulsion from the social
body, are necessary functions of the latter; and if it is not capable
of accomplishing it, it is a sign of waning vital power or serious
ailment. Toleration, and, above all, admiration, of the ego-maniac,
be he one in theory or in practice, is, so to speak, a proof that the
kidneys of the social organism do not accomplish their task, that
society suffers from Bright’s disease.

In the following chapters we shall study the forms under which
ego-mania manifests itself in literature, and we shall find occasion to
treat in detail of many points to which at this stage mere allusion has
been sufficient.



IT has become the custom to designate the French Parnassians a school,
but those who are comprised under this denomination have always
refused to allow themselves to be included under a common name. ‘The
Parnassus?’ ... exclaimed one of the most undoubted Parnassians, M.
Catulle Mendès.[253] ‘We have never been a school!... The Parnassus! We
have not even written a preface!... The Parnassus originated from the
necessity of reaction against the looseness of poetry issuing from the
adherents of Murger, Charles Bataille, Amédée Rolland, Jean du Boys;
then it became a league of minds, who sympathized in matters of art....’

The name ‘Parnassiens’ was, in fact, applied to a whole series of poets
and writers who have scarcely a point in common between them. They
are united by a purely external bond; their works have been brought
out by the Parisian editor Alphonse Lemerre, who was able to make
Parnassians, as the editor Cotta, in the first half of this century,
made German classics. The designation itself emanates from a sort of
almanac of the Muses, which Catulle Mendès published in 1860 under the
title, _Le Parnasse contemporain: recueil de vers nouveaux_, and which
contains contributions from almost all the poets of the period.

With most of the names of this numerous group I do not need to concern
myself, for those who bear them are not degenerate, but honest average
men, correctly twittering what others have first sung to them. They
have exercised no sort of direct influence on contemporary thought,
and have only indirectly contributed to strengthen the action of a
few leaders by grouping themselves around them in the attitude of
disciples, and in permitting them thus to present themselves with an
imposing retinue, which always makes an impression on vacuous minds.

The leaders alone are of importance in my inquiries. It is of them
we think when we speak of the Parnassians, and it is from their
peculiarities that the artistic theory attributed to _Le Parnasse_ has
been derived. Embodied most completely in Théophile Gautier, it can
be summed up in two words: perfection of form and _impassibilité_, or

To Gautier and his disciples the form is everything in poetry; the
substance has no importance. ‘A poet,’ says he,[254] ‘say what you
will, is a labourer; he ought not to have more intelligence than a
labourer, or know any other trade than his own, otherwise he will do
it badly. I hold the mania that there is for putting them on an ideal
pedestal is perfectly absurd; nothing is less ideal than a poet....
The poet is a keyboard [_clavecin_], and nothing more. Every idea
in passing lays its finger on a key; the key vibrates and gives its
note, that is all.’ In another place he says: ‘For the poet, words
have in themselves, and outside the sense they express, a beauty and
value of their own, like precious stones as yet uncut, and set in
bracelets, necklaces, or rings; they charm the connoisseur who looks
at them, and sorts them with his finger in the little bowl where they
are stored.’[255] Gustave Flaubert, another worshipper of words, takes
entirely this view of the subject when he exclaims:[256] ‘A beautiful
verse meaning nothing, is superior to a verse less beautiful meaning
something.’ By the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘less beautiful,’ Flaubert
here understands ‘names with triumphant syllables, sounding like the
blast of clarions,’ or ‘radiant words, words of light.’[257] Gautier
only credited Racine, for whom he, a romanticist, naturally had a
profound contempt, with one verse of any value:

  ‘La fille de Minos et de Pasiphae.’

The most instructive application of this theory is found in a piece of
poetry by Catulle Mendès, entitled _Récapitulation_, which begins as

  ‘Rose, Emmeline,
  Alix, Aline.

  ‘Paule, Hippolyte,
  Lucy, Lucile,
  Daphné, Mélite.

  Myrrha, Myrrhine,
  Naïs, Eudore.’

Eleven stanzas of the same sort follow, which I will dispense with
reproducing, and then this final strophe:

  ‘Zulma, Zélie,
  Régine, Reine,
  Et j’en oublie.’[258]

‘And I forget the rest’--this is the only one of the sixty lines of
the piece which has any sense, the fifty-nine others being composed of
women’s names only.

What Catulle Mendès intends here is clear enough. He wishes to show the
state of a libertine’s soul, who revels in the remembrance of all the
women he has loved, or with whom he has flirted. In the mind of the
reader the enumeration of their names is to give rise to voluptuous
images of a troop of young girls, ministrants of pleasure, of pictures
of a harem or of the paradise of Mahomet. But apart from the length
of the list, which makes the piece insupportably wearisome and
chilling, Mendès does not attain the desired effect for yet a second
reason--because his artificiality betrays at the first glance the
profound insincerity of his pretended emotion. When before the mind of
a gallant the figures of the Phyllises of his pastoral idylls present
themselves, and he really feels the necessity of tenderly murmuring
their names, he certainly does not think of arranging these names as a
play on words (Alix--Aline, Lucy--Lucile, Myrrha--Myrrhine, etc.). If
he is cold-blooded enough to give himself up to this barren desk-work,
he cannot possibly find himself in the lascivious ecstasy which the
piece is supposed to express and impart. This emotion, immoral and
vulgar in its boasting, would still have the right, like every genuine
affection of the soul, of being lyrically expressed. But a list of
unmeaning names, artificially combined, and arranged according to
their assonance, implies nothing. According to the art theory of the
Parnassians, however, _Récapitulation_ is poetry--nay, the ideal of
poetry--for it ‘ne signifie rien,’ as Flaubert requires, and is wholly
composed of words which, according to Th. Gautier, ‘ont en eux-mêmes
une beauté et une valeur propres.’

Another eminent Parnassian, Théodore de Banville,[259] without pushing
to its extreme limits, with the intrepid logic of Catulle Mendès,
the theory of verbal resonance bare of all meaning, has professed it
with a sincerity to which homage is due. ‘I charge you,’ he exclaims
to poets in embryo, ‘to read as much as possible, dictionaries,
encyclopædias, technical works treating of all the professions, and
of all the special sciences, catalogues of libraries and of auctions,
handbooks of museums--in short, all the books which can increase
your stock of words, and give you instruction on their exact sense,
proper or figurative. Directly your head is thus furnished you will
be already well prepared to find rhymes.’ The only essential thing in
poetry, according to Banville, is to catch rhymes. To compose a piece
of poetry on any subject, he teaches his disciples: ‘All the rhymes on
this subject must first of all be known. The remainder, the soldering,
that which the poet must add to stop up the holes with the hand of an
artist and workman--these are called the plugs. I should like to see
those who counsel us to avoid the plugs bind two planks together with
the help of thought.’ The poet--Banville thus sums up his doctrine--has
no ideas in his brain; he has only sounds, rhymes, and play on words
(_calembours_). This play on words inspires his ideas, or his simulacra
of ideas.

Guyau rightly uses this criticism with regard to the æsthetic theory
of the Parnassians established by Banville.[260] ‘The search for
rhyme, pushed to the extreme, tends to make the poet lose the habit
of logically connecting his ideas--that is to say, in reality to
think--for to think, as Kant has said, is to unite and to bind. To
rhyme, on the contrary, is to place in juxtaposition words necessarily
unconnected.... The cult of rhyme for rhyme’s sake introduces into the
brain itself of the poet, little by little, a kind of disorder and
permanent chaos; all the usual laws of association, all the logic of
thought is destroyed in order to be replaced by the chance encounter
of sounds.... Periphrasis and metaphor are the only resources for good
rhyming.... The impossibility in seeking for rich rhymes, of remaining
simple, involves in its turn a consequent risk of a certain lack of
sincerity. Freshness of spontaneous feeling will disappear in the too
consummate artist in words; he will lose that respect for thought as
such which ought to be the first quality of the writer.’

Where Guyau commits an error is when he says that the cult of rhyme
for rhyme’s sake ‘introduces into the brain even of the poet a kind
of disorder and permanent chaos.’ The proposition must be reversed.
‘Permanent chaos’ and ‘disorder’ in the brain of the poet are there
already; the exaggeration of the importance of rhyme is only a
consequence of this state of mind. Here we have again to deal with
a form of that inaptitude for attention, well known to us, which is
a peculiarity of the degenerate subject. The course of his ideas is
determined, not by a central idea round which the will groups all other
ideas, suppressing some and strengthening others with the help of
attention; but by the wholly mechanical association of ideas, awakened
in the case of the Parnassians by a similar or identical verbal sound.
His poetical method is pure echolalia.

The Parnassian theory of the importance of form, notably of rhyme, for
poetry, of the intrinsic value of beauty in the sound of words, of
the sensuous pleasure to be derived from sonorous syllables without
regard to their sense, and of the uselessness, and even harmfulness, of
thought in poetry, has become decisive in the most recent development
of French poetry.[261] The Symbolists, whom we have studied in an
earlier chapter, hold closely to this theory. These poor in spirit,
who only babble ‘sonorous syllables’ without sense, are the direct
descendants of the Parnassians.

The Parnassian theory of art is mere imbecility. But the ego-mania
of the degenerate minds who have concocted it reveals itself in the
enormous importance they attribute to their hunt for rhymes, to their
puerile pursuit of words which are ‘tonitruants’ and ‘rayonnants.’
Catulle Mendès ends a poem (_La seule Douceur_), where he describes in
the most fulsome manner a series of the pleasures of life, with this
envoi: ‘Prince, I lie. Beneath the Twins or the Urn (? Aquarius) to
make noble words rhyme together in one’s book, this is the sole joy of
life.’[262] He who is not of this opinion is simply said to forfeit his
humanity. Thus it is that Baudelaire calls Paris ‘a Capernaum, a Babel
peopled by the imbecile and useless, not over-fastidious in their ways
of killing time, and wholly inaccessible to literary pleasures.’[263]
To treat as imbecile those who look upon a senseless jumble of rhymes
and a litany of so-called beautiful proper names as of no value, is
a stupid self-conceit at which one might well laugh. But Baudelaire
goes so far as to speak of the ‘useless.’ No one has a right to live
who is inaccessible to what he calls ‘literary pleasures’--that is, an
idiotic echolalia! Because he cultivates the art of playing on words
with a puerile seriousness, everyone must place the same importance as
he does on his infantile amusements, and whoever does not do so is not
simply a Philistine or an inferior being, without susceptibility or
refinement--no, he is a ‘useless creature.’ If this simpleton had the
power, he would no doubt wish to pursue his idea to the end and sweep
the ‘useless’ out of the ranks of the living, as Nero put to death
those who did not applaud his acting in the theatre. Can the monstrous
ego-mania of one demented be more audaciously expressed than in this
remark of Baudelaire’s?

The second characteristic of the Parnassians, after their insane
exaggeration of the value for humanity of the most external form for
poetry and rhyming, is their ‘impassibility,’ or impassivity. They
themselves, of course, will not admit that this term is applicable
to them. ‘Will they ever have done with this humbug!’ angrily cried
Leconte de Lisle, when interrogated on the subject of ‘impassibility,’
and Catulle Mendès says, ‘Because Glatigny has written a poem entitled
_Impassible_, and because I myself wrote this line, the avowed pose in
which is belied in the course of the poem,

  ‘“Pas de sanglots humains dans le chant des poètes!”[264]

it has been concluded that the Parnassians were or wished to be
“impassive.” Where do they find it, where do they see it, this icy
equanimity, this dryness which they have ascribed to us?’[265]

Criticism, in sooth, has chosen its word badly. ‘Impassibility’ in
art, in the sense of complete indifference to the drama of nature
and of life, there cannot be. It is psychologically impossible.
All artistic activity, in so far as it is not the mere imitation
of disciples, but flows from an original necessity, is a reaction
of the artist upon received impressions. Those which leave him
completely indifferent inspire the poet with no verse, the painter
with no picture, the musician with no tone composition. Impressions
must strike him in some way or other, they must awaken in him some
emotion, in order that he may have the idea at all of giving them an
objective artistic form. In the infinite volume of phenomena flowing
uniformly past his senses, the artist has distinguished the subject
he treats with the peculiar methods of his art; he has exercised a
selective activity, and has given the preference to this subject over
others. This preference presupposes sympathy or antipathy; the artist,
therefore, must have felt something on perceiving his subject. The sole
fact that an author has written a poem or a book testifies that the
subject treated of has inspired him with curiosity, interest, anger, an
agreeable or disagreeable emotion, that it has compelled his mind to
dwell upon it. This is, therefore, the contrary of indifference.

The Parnassians are not impassive. In their poems there is whimpering,
cursing and blasphemy, and the utterance of joy, enthusiasm and sorrow.
But what tortures them or enchants them is exclusively their own
states, their own experiences. The only foundation of their poetry is
their ‘Ego.’ The sorrow and joy of other men do not exist for them.
Their ‘impassibilité’ is, therefore, not impassivity, but rather a
complete absence of sympathy. The ‘tower of ivory’ in which, according
to the expression of one of them, the poet lives and proudly withdraws
himself from the indifferent mob, is a pretty name given to his
obtuseness in regard to the being and doing of his fellow-creatures.
All this has been well discerned by that beneficently clear-minded
critic, M. Ferdinand Brunetière. ‘One of the worst consequences,’
he writes, ‘that they [the theories of the Parnassians, and, in
particular, those of Baudelaire] may involve, is, by isolating art,
to isolate the artist as well, making him an idol to himself, and as
it were enclosing him in the sanctuary of his “Ego.” Not only, then,
does his work become a question merely concerned with himself--of
his griefs and his joys, his loves and his dreams--but, in order
to develop himself in the direction of his aptitudes, there is no
longer anything which he respects or spares, there is nothing he will
not subordinate to himself; which is, to speak by the way, the true
definition of immorality. To make one’s self the centre of things, from
a philosophical point of view, is as puerile an illusion as to see in
man “the king of creation,” or in the earth what the ancients called
“the navel of the world”; but, from the purely human point of view, it
is the glorification of egoism, and, consequently, the negation itself
of solidarity.’[266]

Thus Brunetière notices the ego-mania of the Parnassians, and affirms
their anti-social principles, their immorality; he believes, however,
that they have freely chosen their point of view. This is his only
error. They are not ego-maniacs by free choice, but because they must
be, and cannot be otherwise. Their ego-mania is not a philosophy or a
moral doctrine; it is their malady.

The impassivity of the Parnassians is, as we have seen, a callousness
with regard, not to everything, but only to their fellow-creatures,
united to the tenderest love for themselves. But their ‘impassibility’
has yet another aspect, and those who have found the term have probably
thought above all of this, without having given themselves a complete
account of it. The indifference which the Parnassians display, and
of which they are particularly proud, applies less to the joys and
sufferings of their fellow-creatures than to the universally recognised
moral law. For them there is neither virtue nor vice, but only the
beautiful and the ugly, the rare and the commonplace. They took their
point of view ‘beyond good and evil,’ long before the moral madness
of Frederick Nietzsche found this formula. Baudelaire justifies it
in the following terms: ‘Poetry ... has no other aim than itself; it
cannot have any other, and no poem will be so great, so noble, so truly
worthy of the name of poem, as that which will have been written only
for the pleasure of writing a poem. I do not wish to say--be it well
understood--that poetry may not ennoble morals, that its final result
may not be to raise man above vulgar interests. This would evidently
be an absurdity. I say that, if the poet has pursued a moral aim he
has diminished his poetical power, and it is not imprudent to wager
that his work will be bad. Poetry cannot, under pain of death or
degradation, assimilate itself to science or morals. It has not truth
for its object, it has only itself.’ And Th. Gautier, who records this
remark, wholly approves of it. ‘On the high summits he [the poet] is at
peace: _pacem summa tenent_,’ he says,[267] in employing an image which
occurs dozens of times in Nietzsche.

Let us nail here first of all a current sophistical artifice employed
by Baudelaire. The question to which he wishes to reply is this: Is
poetry to be moral or not? Suddenly he smuggles science, with which it
has nothing to do, into his demonstration, names it in the same breath
with morality, shows triumphantly that science has nothing in common
with poetry, and then acts as though he had demonstrated the same thing
on the subject of morality. Now, it does not occur to any reasonable
man of the present day to demand of poetry the teaching of scientific
truths, and for generations no serious poet has thought of treating
of astronomy or physics in a didactic poem. The only question which
some minds would wish to consider as an open one is that of knowing if
we may, or may not, exact of poetry that it be moral, and it is this
question that Baudelaire answers by an unproven affirmative, and by a
crafty shuffling.

I have no wish to linger here on this question, not because it
embarrasses me and I should like to avoid it, but because it seems to
me more in place to discuss it when considering the disciples of the
‘Parnassus,’ the ‘Décadents,’ and the Æsthetes, who have pushed the
doctrine to its extreme. I will for the present leave uncontradicted
the assertion of the Parnassians, that poetry has not to trouble itself
about morality. The poet ought to stand ‘beyond good and evil.’ But
that could only reasonably signify an absolute impartiality; it can
only amount to this--that the poet, in considering some action or
aspect, simply aspires to find himself confronted by a drama, which
he judges only for its beauty or ugliness, without even asking if it
is moral or not. A poet of this kind must necessarily see, then, as
many beautiful as ugly things, as many moral as immoral. For, taking
all in all, moral and beautiful things in humanity and Nature are at
least as frequent as the contrary, and must even preponderate. For we
consider as ugly, either what presents a deviation from laws which are
familiar to us, and to which we have adapted ourselves, or that in
which we recognise the manifestation of anything prejudicial to us; and
we regard as immoral all that is contrary to the prosperity, or even
the maintenance, of society. Now, the mere fact that we have looked to
find laws is a proof that phenomena corresponding to recognised laws,
and consequently agreeable to us, must be far more numerous than the
phenomena in contradiction to those laws, and therefore repulsive;
and so, too, the maintenance of society is a proof that conservative
and favourable, _i.e._, moral, forces must be more vigorous than
destructive, _i.e._, immoral, forces. Hence, in a poem which while it
did not trouble itself about morals, was nevertheless truly impartial,
as it pretended to be, morality would be represented on a scale at
least as large as, and even somewhat larger than, immorality. But in
the poetry of the Parnassians this is not the case. It delights almost
exclusively in depravity and ugliness. Théophile Gautier extols, in
_Mademoiselle de Maupin_, the basest sensuality, which, if it should
become the general rule, would carry humanity back to the condition
of savages living in sexual promiscuousness without individual love,
and without any family institutions whatever; Sainte-Beuve, in other
respects more romanticist than Parnassian, builds in his novel
_Volupté_ an altar to sexual pleasure, at which the ancient Asiatic
adorers of Ashtaroth could, without hesitation, have performed their
worship; Catulle Mendès, who began his literary career by being
condemned for a moral outrage (brought upon himself by his play _Le
Roman d’une Nuit_) exalts in his later works, of which I will not quote
the titles, one of the most abominable forms of unnatural license;
Baudelaire sings of carrion, maladies, criminals and prostitutes;
in short, if one contemplates the world in the mirror of Parnassian
poetry, the impression received is that it is composed exclusively
of vices, crimes and corruption without the smallest intermixture of
healthy emotions, joyous aspects of Nature and human beings feeling
and acting honestly. In perpetual contradiction to himself, as becomes
a truly degenerate mind, the same Baudelaire, who in one place does
not wish poetry to be confounded with morality, says in another place:
‘Modern art has an essentially devilish [_démoniaque_] tendency. And it
seems that this infernal side of his nature, which man takes a pleasure
in explaining to himself, increases daily, as if the devil amused
himself by magnifying it through artificial processes, in imitation
of the poultry-farmers, patiently cramming the human species in his
hen-yards to prepare for himself a more succulent nourishment.’[268]

There is no indifference here to virtue or vice; it is an absolute
predilection for the latter, and aversion for the former. Parnassians
do not at all hold themselves ‘beyond good or evil,’ but plunge
themselves up to the neck in evil, and as far as possible from good.
Their feigned ‘impartiality’ with regard to the drama of morality or
immorality is in reality a passionate partisanship for the immoral and
the disgusting. It was wrong, therefore, to think of characterizing
them by ‘impassibility.’ Just as they lack feeling only towards their
fellow-creatures, and not towards themselves, so they are only cold and
indifferent towards good, not towards evil; the latter attracts them,
on the contrary, as forcibly, and fills them as much with feelings of
pleasure, as the good attracts and rejoices the sane majority of men.

This predilection for evil has been discerned by many observers, and
a good number have endeavoured to explain it philosophically. In a
lecture on ‘Evil as the Object of Poetical Representation,’ Franz
Brentano says:[269]

‘Since what is presented in tragedy appears so little desirable and
cheerful, it suggests the idea that these explanations (of the pleasure
we find in it) are less to be sought in the excellence of the subject
than in some peculiar need of the public, which finds a response alone
in the things thus exhibited.... Can it be that man feels, from time
to time, the need of a melancholy emotion, and longs for tragedy as
for something which satisfies this need in the most efficacious way,
assisting him, so to speak, to weep heartily for once?... If for a
long time no passions, such as tragedies excite, have had sway in us,
the power to experience them demands anew, in some way, to manifest
itself, and it is tragedy which comes to our aid; we feel the emotions
painfully, it is true, but at the same time we experience a beneficial
alleviation of our need. I think I have observed similar facts a
hundred times--less in myself than in others, in those, for example,
who devour with avidity the newspaper report of the “latest murder.”’

Professor Brentano here confounds first of all, with a lamentable
levity, what is evil and what is saddening--two wholly different
concepts. The death of a beloved being, for example, is saddening,
but there is nothing evil in it, _i.e._, immoral, unless, by a subtle
quibble, it is proposed to interpret as an immorality the action of
natural forces in the dissolution of the individual. Further, he gives
as an explanation what is only a perfectly superficial paraphrase--Why
do we take pleasure in evil? Because ...we have evidently in us a
tendency to take pleasure in evil! _Opium facit dormire quia est in
eo virtus dormitiva._ M. Fr. Paulhan has treated the question more
seriously, but neither do we get very far with him. ‘A contemplative,
broad, inquisitive, penetrating mind,’ he says,[270] ‘with profound
moral tendencies, which can nevertheless sink into oblivion in great
part during scientific research or æsthetic contemplation; sometimes
also with a slight natural perversion, or simply a marked tendency
towards certain pleasures, whatever they may be, which are not an evil
in themselves, and may even be a good, but of which the abuse is an
evil--such are the foundations of the sentiment (love of evil) which is
occupying us. The idea of evil, by flattering a taste, finds a solid
point of support; and there is one reason more why it is agreeable--in
that it satisfies, ideally, an inclination which reason hinders from
being satisfied really to satiety.’

Here again is this sequence of ideas revolving in a circle, like a
cat at play biting its tail: we have a taste for evil, because we
find a taste for evil. The intellectual ineptitude which M. Paulhan
here reveals is so much the more surprising in that, some pages
above, he came very near the true solution of the enigma. ‘There are
morbid states,’ he there says, ‘where the appetites are depraved; the
patient eagerly swallows coal, earth, or things still worse. There
are others in which the will is vitiated, and the character warped
in some point. The pathological examples are striking, and the case
of the Marquis de Sade is one of the most characteristic.... One
sometimes finds enjoyment in the evils suffered by one’s self, just
as in those of others. The sentiments of voluptuousness, sorrow and
pity, which psychology has studied, appear to betray sometimes a
veritable perversion, and to contain as elements the love of sorrow
for sorrow itself.... Often one has to do with people who desire
their own weal primarily, and then the woe of others. One or other of
these psychical states is visible in many cases of wickedness; for
example, in the fact of a rich manufacturer falsely accusing a young
man, who is going to marry, of being affected by a venereal disease,
and maintaining his assertion _for the pleasure_ of doing so ... or,
again, of a young villain who relishes the pleasure of theft to the
point of crying: “Even if I were rich, I should always like to steal.”
Even the sight of physical suffering is not always disagreeable; many
people seek it.... This perversion is probably of all times and of all
countries.... It would seem that into the mind of a man of our times
there might enter a certain enjoyment in upsetting the order of nature,
which does not appear to have been manifested before with a similar
intensity. It is one of the thousand forms of recoiling on one’s self
which characterizes our advanced civilization.’ Here M. Paulhan touches
the kernel of the question, without remarking it or being arrested
by it. The love of evil is not a universally human attribute; it is
an ‘aberration’ and a ‘perversion,’ and ‘one of the thousand forms
of recoiling on one’s self,’ otherwise more briefly and more clearly
expressed as ego-mania.

The literature of penal legislation and mental therapeutics has
registered hundreds of cases of aberration in which the patient has
felt a passionate predilection for the evil and horrible, for sorrow
and death. I should like to quote only one characteristic example: ‘In
the autumn of 1884 there died, in a Swiss prison, Marie Jeanneret, a
murderess. After having received a good education she devoted herself
to the care of the sick, not for the love of doing good, but to
satisfy a mad passion. The sufferings, groans and distorted features
of the sick filled her with secret voluptuousness. She implored the
doctors, on her knees and with tears, to allow her to assist in
dangerous operations, in order to be able to gratify her cravings. The
death-agony of a human being afforded her the height of enjoyment.
Under the pretext of a disease of the eyes, she had consulted several
oculists, and had obtained from them belladonna and other poisons. Her
first victim, a woman, was her friend; others followed; the doctors,
to whom she had recommended herself as nurse, having no suspicions,
the less so because she frequently changed her residence. An attempt
failing in Vienna led to discovery; she had poisoned not less than nine
persons, but felt neither repentance nor shame. In prison her most
ardent wish was to fall dangerously ill, in order to satiate herself in
the looking-glass with the contortions of her own features.’[271]

Thus we recognise, in the light of clinical observation, the true
nature of the Parnassians. Their impassivity, in so far as it
is mere indifference to the sufferings of others, and to virtue
and vice, proceeds from their ego-mania, and is a consequence of
their obtuseness, which makes it impossible for them to receive a
sufficiently keen presentation of the external world, hence also of
sorrow, vice, or ugliness, so as to be able to respond by normal
reactions, by aversion, indignation, or pity. But in cases where
impassivity constitutes a declared predilection for what is evil and
disgusting, we can see the same aberration which makes of the imbecile
a cruel torturer of animals,[272] and of Marie Jeanneret, cited above,
a tenfold poisoner. The whole difference consists in the degree of
impulsion. If it is strong enough, its consequences are heartless acts
and crimes. If it is elaborated by diseased centres with insufficient
force, it can be satisfied by imagination alone, by poetic or artistic

Of course there have been attempts made to defend aberration as
something justified and voluntary, and even to erect it into an
intellectual distinction. Thus it is that M. Paul Bourget[273] puts
into the mouth of the ‘Décadents,’ with little artifices of style which
do not permit a moment’s doubt that he is expressing his own opinion,
the following argument: ‘We delight in what you call our corruptions
of style, and we delight at the same time the refined people of our
race and our time. It remains to be seen whether our exception is not
an aristocracy, and whether, in the æsthetic order, the majority of
suffrages represents anything else than the majority of ignorances....
It is a self-deception not to have the courage of one’s intellectual
pleasure. Let us delight, therefore, in our singularities of ideal
and of form, even if we must shut ourselves up in a solitude without

It seems scarcely necessary to show that by these arguments, in which
M. Bourget anticipates the whole delirious ‘philosophy’ of Nietzsche,
every crime can be glorified as an ‘aristocratic’ action. The assassin
has ‘the courage of his intellectual pleasure,’ the majority which does
not approve of him is a majority of the ‘ignorant,’ he delights in the
‘singularity’ of his ‘ideal,’ and for this reason must at the most
allow himself to be shut up in ‘a solitude without visitors,’ _i.e._,
to speak plainly, in a reformatory, if ‘the majority of ignorances’
does not have him hanged or guillotined. Has not the ‘Décadent’ Maurice
Barrès defended and justified Chambige, a specimen of the murderer for
love of murder, with Bourget’s theory?

This same repulsive theorist of the most abandoned anti-social
ego-mania denies also that one can speak of a mind as diseased or
healthy. ‘There is,’ he says,[274] ‘from the metaphysical observer’s
point of view, neither disease nor health of the soul; there are only
psychological states, for he perceives in our sufferings and in our
faculties, in our virtues and in our vices, in our volitions and in our
renunciations, only changing combinations, inevitable, and therefore
normal, subject to the known laws of the association of ideas. Only
prejudice, in which the ancient doctrine of final causes and the belief
in the definite aim of the universe reappear, can make us consider the
loves of Daphnis and Chloë in the valley as natural and healthy, and
the loves of a Baudelaire as artificial and unwholesome.’

To bring this silly sophistry down to its just value, common-sense has
only to recollect the existence of lunatic asylums. But common-sense
has not the right of suffrage among the rhetoricians of M. Paul
Bourget’s stamp. We reply to him, then, with a seriousness he does
not merit, that in fact every vital manifestation, those of the brain
as of any other organ, is the necessary and only possible effect
of the causes which occasion them, but that, according to the state
of the organ and of its elementary parts, its activity, necessary
and natural as such, can be useful or hurtful to the whole organism.
Whether the world has a purpose is a question that can altogether be
left indecisive, but the activity of each part of the organism has
nevertheless, if not the aim, at least unquestionably the effect, of
preserving the whole organism; if it does not produce this effect,
and if, on the contrary, it thwarts it, it is injurious to the whole
organism, and for such an injurious activity of any particular organ
language has coined the word ‘disease.’ The sophist who denies that
there may be disease and health must also logically deny that there
may be life and death, or, at least, that death may have some sort
of importance. For, as a matter of fact, given a certain activity of
its parts which we call morbid, the organism perishes, while with an
activity of another nature, which we qualify as healthy, it lives
and thrives. As long, then, as Bourget does not lay down the dogma
that pain is as agreeable as pleasure, decrepitude as satisfactory as
vigour, and death as desirable as life, he proves that he does not
know, or dares not draw from his premise, the just conclusion which
would immediately make the absurdity of it apparent.

The whole theory which must explain and justify the predilection for
evil has, besides, been invented as an after-thought. The inclination
for what is evil and disgusting existed first, and was not a
consequence of philosophical considerations and self-persuasion. We
have here merely another case of that method of our consciousness, so
often attested in the course of these inquiries, which consists of
inventing rational causes for the instincts and acts of the unconscious.

In the predilection of the Parnassians for the immoral, criminal and
ugly, we have to deal merely with an organic aberration, and with
nothing else. To pretend that inclinations of this kind exist in all
men, even in the best and sanest, and are merely stifled by him,
while the Parnassians give the rein to theirs, is an arbitrary and
unproved assertion. Observation and the whole march of the historical
development of humanity contradict it.

There may be repulsion and attraction in nature--no one denies it. A
glance at the magnetic poles, at the positive and negative electrodes,
suffices to establish this fact. We find this phenomenon again among
the lowest forms of life. Certain materials attract, others repel
them. There is no question here of an inclination or an expression of
the will. We must rather consider the process as purely mechanical,
having its reason probably in molecular relations which are still
unknown to us. Microbiology gives to the attitude of micro-organisms
towards attractive and repulsive matter the name of ‘chemotaxis’
or chimiotaxia, invented by Pfeffer.[275] In higher organisms the
conditions are naturally not so simple. Among them also, it is
true, the ultimate cause of inclinations and aversions is certainly
chimiotactic, but the effect of chimiotaxia must necessarily manifest
itself under another form. A simple cell such as a bacillus, for
example, is repelled directly when it penetrates into the radius of a
chimic body which repels it. But the cell constituting a portion of
a higher organism has not this liberty of movement. It cannot change
its place independently. If it is now chimiotactically repelled, it
cannot escape from the pernicious action, but must remain exposed to
it, and submit to the disturbances in its vital activity. If these are
sufficiently serious to injure the functions of the whole organism, the
latter obtains knowledge of it, endeavours to perceive their cause,
discovers it also, as a general rule, and does for the suffering cell
what the latter cannot do alone, namely, shields it from the repelling
action. The organism necessarily acquires experience in its defence
against pernicious influences. It learns to know the circumstances
in which they appear, and no longer permits matters to reach the
stage of the really chimiotactic effect, but for the most part evades
disturbing matters before they can exert a really direct repulsion. The
knowledge acquired by the individual becomes hereditary, transforms
itself into an organized faculty of the species, and the organism feels
subjectively, as a discomfort which may amount to pain, the warning
that a pernicious influence is acting upon it, and that it has to avoid
it. To escape from pain becomes one principal function of the organism,
which it cannot insufficiently provide against or neglect without
expiating that negligence by its ruin.

In the human being processes take place not otherwise than as they
have been here described. The hereditary organized experience of the
species warns him of the noxiousness of influences to which he is
frequently exposed. His outposts against naturally hostile forces are
his senses. Taste and smell give him, as to repulsive chimiotactic
matter, the impressions of nausea and of stench; the different kinds of
skin-sensations make him aware, through sensations of pain, heat, or
cold, that a given contact is unfavourable to him; eye and ear place
him on his guard, by loud, shrill, discordant sensations, against
the mechanical effects of certain physical phenomena. Finally, the
higher cerebral centres respond to recognised noxious influences of
a composite nature, or to the representation of them by an equally
composite reaction of aversion in different degrees of intensity, from
simple discomfort to horror, indignation, dismay, or fury.

The vehicle of this hereditary, organized, racial experience is the
unconscious life; to it is confided defence against simple, frequently
recurring noxious influences. Nausea at intolerable tastes, repugnance
to insufferable smells, the fear of dangerous animals, natural
phenomena, etc., have become for it an instinct to which the organism
abandons itself without reflection--_i.e._, without the intervention of
consciousness. But the human organism learns to distinguish and avoid
not only all that is directly prejudicial to itself; it acts in the
same way with regard to that which menaces it not as an individual, but
as a racial being, as a member of an organized society; antipathy to
influences injurious to the maintenance or prosperity of the society
becomes in him an instinct. But this enriching of organized unconscious
cognition represents a higher degree of development than many human
beings attain to. The social instincts are those that a man acquires
last of all, and, in conformity to a known law, he loses them first
when he retrogrades in his organic development.

Consciousness has occasion to declare the dangerous nature of
phenomena, and to defend the organism against it, only if these
phenomena are either quite new, or very rare, so that they cannot be
hereditarily recognised and dreaded; or if they enclose in themselves
many different elements, and do not act directly, but only by their
more or less remote consequences, so that to know them exacts a complex
activity of representation and judgment.

Thus aversion is always the instinctive, or conscious cognition of a
noxious influence. Pleasure, its opposite, is not merely, as has been
sometimes maintained, the absence of discomfort--_i.e._, a negative
state--but something positive. Every part of the organism has definite
needs which assert themselves as a conscious or unconscious tendency,
as an inclination or appetite; the satisfaction of these needs is felt
as a pleasure which can rise to a feeling of bliss. The first need of
each organ is to manifest itself in activity. Its simple activity is a
source of pleasure to it, so long as it does not go beyond its powers.
The activity of the cerebral centres consists in receiving impressions,
and in transforming them into representations and movements. This
activity produces in them feelings of pleasure; they have in
consequence a strong desire to receive impressions so as to be put into
activity by them, and experience feelings of pleasure.

This, broadly sketched, is the natural history of the feelings of
pleasure and pain. The reader who has mastered it will experience no
difficulty in comprehending the nature of aberration.

Unconscious life is subject to the same biological laws as
conscious life. The vehicle of the unconscious is the same nervous
tissue--although, it may be, another portion of the system--in
which consciousness is also elaborated. The unconscious is just as
little infallible as consciousness. It can be more highly developed
or retarded in its development; it can be more or less stupid or
intelligent. If the unconscious is incompletely developed, it
distinguishes badly and judges falsely, it deceives itself in the
knowledge of what is prejudicial or favourable to it, and instinct
becomes unreliable or obtuse. Then we get the phenomenon of
indifference to what is ugly, loathsome, immoral.

We know that among the degenerate divers arrested developments and
malformations appear. Particular organs or entire systems of organs
are arrested at a degree of development which corresponds to infancy,
or even to the fœtal life. If the highest cerebral centres of the
degenerate stop in their development at a very low stage, they become
imbeciles or idiots. If the arrest of development strikes the nervous
centres of unconscious life, the degenerate lose the instincts which,
in normal beings, find expression in nausea and disgust at certain
noxious influences; I might say, their unconscious life suffers from
imbecility or idiocy.

Again, we have seen in the preceding chapter that the impressionability
of the nerves and brain in the degenerate subject is blunted. Hence he
only perceives strong impressions, and it is only these which excite
his cerebral centres to that intellectual and motor activity which
produces in them feelings of pleasure. Now, disagreeable impressions
are naturally stronger than agreeable or indifferent impressions, for
if they were not stronger we should not feel them as painful, and
they would not induce the organism to make efforts to defend itself.
To procure, then, the feelings of pleasure which are linked with the
activity of the cerebral centres, to satisfy the need of functioning
which is peculiar to the cerebral centres as to all the other organs,
the degenerate person seeks impressions which are strong enough to
excite to activity his obtuse and inert centres. But such impressions
are precisely those which the healthy man feels as painful or
repugnant. Thus, the aberrations or perversions of the degenerate find
explanation. They have a longing for strong impressions, because these
only can put their brains into activity, and this desired effect on
their centres is only exercised by impressions that sane beings dread
because of their violence, _i.e._, painful, repugnant and revolting

To say that every human being has secretly a certain predilection
for the evil and the abominable is absurd: the only little spark of
truth contained in this foolish assertion is, that even the normal
human being becomes obtuse when fatigued, or exhausted by illness;
_i.e._, he falls into the state which, in the degenerate, is chronic.
Then he presents naturally the same phenomena as we have attested
in the case of the latter, although in a much lower degree. He may
find pleasure, then, in crime and ugliness, and in the former rather
than in the latter; for crimes are social injuries, while uglinesses
are the visible form of forces unfavourable to the individual; but
social instincts are feebler than the instincts of self-preservation.
Consequently they are sooner put to sleep, and for this reason the
repulsion against crime disappears more quickly than that against
ugliness. In any case, this state is also an aberration in the normal
being, but imputable to fatigue, and in him is not chronic, as in the
degenerate, nor does it amount to the hidden fundamental character of
his being, as the sophists who calumniate him pretend.

An uninterrupted line of development leads from the French romantic
school to the Parnassians, and all the germs of the aberrations which
confront us in full expansion among the latter can be distinguished
in the former. We have seen in the preceding book how superficial and
poor in ideas their poetry is, how they exalt their imagination above
the observation of reality, and what importance they assign to their
world of dreams. Sainte-Beuve, who at first joined their group, says
on this subject, with a complacency which proves he was not conscious
of expressing any blame: ‘The Romance School ... had a thought, a
cult, viz., love of art and passionate inquisitiveness for a vivid
expression, a new turn, a choice image, a brilliant rhyme: they wished
for every one of their frames a peg of gold. [A remarkably false
image, let it be said in passing. A rich frame may be desired for a
picture, but as to the nail which supports it, regard will be had to
its solidity and not to its preciousness.] Children if you will, but
children of the Muses, who never sacrifice to ordinary grace [_grâce

Let us hold this admission firmly, that the romantic writers were
children; they were so in their inaptitude to comprehend the world
and men, in the seriousness and zeal with which they gave themselves
up to their game of rhymes, in the artlessness with which they placed
themselves above the precepts of morality and good sense in use among
adults. Let us exaggerate this childishness a little (without allying
with it the wild and exuberant imagination of a Victor Hugo, and his
gift of lightning-like rapidity of association, evoking the most
startling antitheses), and we obtain the literary figure of Théophile
Gautier, whom the imbecile Barbey d’Aurevilly could name in the same
breath with Goethe,[277] evidently for the sole reason that the sound
of the great German poet’s name in French pronunciation has a certain
resemblance to that of Gautier, but of whom one of his admirers, M.
J. K. Huysmans, says:[278] ‘Des Esseintes [the hero of his novel]
became gradually indifferent to Gautier’s work; his admiration for that
incomparable painter had gone on diminishing from day to day, and now
he was more astonished than delighted by his indifferent descriptions.
The impression left by the objects was fixed on his keenly observant
eye, but it was localized there, and had not penetrated further into
his brain and flesh [?]; like a monstrous reflector, he was constantly
limited to reverberate his environment with an impersonal distinctness.’

When M. Huysmans regards Gautier as an impersonal mirror of reality,
he is the victim of an optical illusion. In verse as in prose, Gautier
is a mechanical worker, who threads one line of glittering adjectives
after another, without designing anything particular. His descriptions
never give a clear outline of the object he wishes to depict. They
recall some crude mosaic of the later Byzantine decadence, the
different stones of which are lapis-lazuli, malachite, chrysoprase and
jasper, and which yield, for this reason, an impression of barbarous
splendour, while scarcely any design is discernible. In his ego-mania,
lacking all sympathy with the external world, he does not suspect what
sorrows and joys its drama encloses, and just as he feels nothing in
the prospect before him, so neither can he awaken in the reader emotion
of any sort by his listless and affected attempts to render it. The
only emotions of which he is capable, apart from his arrogance and
vanity, are those connected with sex; hence, in his works we merely
find alternations between glacial coldness and lubricity.

If we exaggerate Théophile Gautier’s worship of form and
lasciviousness, and if to his indifference towards the world and
men we associate the aberration which caused it to degenerate into
a predilection for the bad and the loathsome, we have before us the
figure of Baudelaire. We must stop there awhile, for Baudelaire
is--even more than Gautier--the intellectual chief and model of the
Parnassians, and his influence dominates the present generation of
French poets and authors, and a portion also of English poets and
authors, to an omnipotent degree.

It is not necessary to demonstrate at length that Baudelaire was a
degenerate subject. He died of general paralysis, after he had wallowed
for months in the lowest depths of insanity. But even if no such
horrible end had protected the diagnosis from all attack, there would
be no doubt as to its accuracy, seeing that Baudelaire showed all the
mental stigmata of degeneration during the whole of his life. He was
at once a mystic and an erotomaniac,[279] an eater of hashish and
opium;[280] he felt himself attracted in the characteristic fashion by
other degenerate minds, mad or depraved, and appreciated, for example,
above all authors, the gifted but mentally-deranged Edgar Poe, and
the opium-eater Thomas de Quincey. He translated Poe’s tales, and
devoted to them an enthusiastic biography and critique, while from
the _Confessions of an Opium-Eater_, by De Quincey, he compiled an
exhaustive selection, to which he wrote extravagant annotations.

The peculiarities of Baudelaire’s mind are revealed to us in the
collection of his poems, to which he has given a title betraying at
once his self-knowledge and his cynicism: _Les Fleurs du Mal_--‘The
Flowers of Evil.’ The collection is not complete. There lack some
pieces which only circulate in manuscript, because they are too
infamous to bear the full publicity of a marketable book. I will take
my quotations, however, from the printed verses only, which are quite
sufficient to characterize their author.

Baudelaire hates life and movement. In the piece entitled _Les Hiboux_,
he shows us his owls sitting in a row, motionless, under the black
yews, and continues:

  ‘Leur attitude au sage enseigne
  Qu’il faut en ce monde qu’il craigne
  Le tumulte et le mouvement.

  L’homme ivre d’une ombre qui passe
  Porte toujours le châtiment
  D’avoir voulu changer de place.’

Beauty says of herself, in the piece of that name:

  ‘Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes;
  Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.’

He abhors the natural as much as he loves the artificial. Thus he
depicts his ideal world (_Rêve Parisien_):

  ‘De ce terrible paysage
  Que jamais œil mortel ne vit,
  Ce matin encore l’image,
  Vague et lointaine, me ravit....

  ‘J’avais banni de ces spectacles
  Le végétal irrégulier....

  ‘Je savourais dans mon tableau
  L’enivrante [!] monotonie
  Du métal, du marbre et de l’eau.

  ‘Babel d’escaliers et d’arcades
  C’était un palais infini,
  Plein de bassins et de cascades
  Tombant dans l’or mat ou bruni;

  ‘Et des cataractes pesantes,
  Comme des rideaux de cristal,
  Se suspendaient, éblouissantes,
  A des murailles de métal.

  ‘Non d’arbres, mais de colonnades
  Les étangs dormants s’entouraient,
  Où de gigantesques naïades,
  Comme des femmes, se miraient.

  ‘Des nappes d’eau s’épanchaient, bleues,
  Entre des quais roses et verts,
  Pendant des millions de lieues,
  Vers les confins de l’univers;

  ‘C’étaient des pierres inouïes
  Et des flots magiques; c’étaient
  D’immenses glaces éblouies
  Par tout ce qu’elles reflétaient.

  ‘Et tout, même la couleur noire,
  Semblait fourbi, clair, irisé....

  ‘Nul astre d’ailleurs, nuls vestiges
  De soleil, même au bas du ciel,
  Pour illuminer ces prodiges,
  Qui brillaient d’un feu personnel (!)

  ‘Et sur ces mouvantes merveilles
  Planait (terrible nouveauté!
  Tout pour l’œil, rien pour les oreilles!)
  Un silence d’eternité.’

Such is the world he represents to himself, and which fills him with
enthusiasm: not an ‘irregular’ plant, no sun, no stars, no movement,
no noise, nothing but metal and glass, _i.e._, something like a tin
landscape from Nuremberg, only larger and of more costly material,
a plaything for the child of an American millionaire suffering from
the wealth-madness of parvenus, with a little electric lamp in the
interior, and a mechanism which slowly turns the glass cascades,
and makes the glass sheet of water slide. Such must necessarily be
the aspect of the ego-maniac’s ideal world. Nature leaves him cold
or repels him, because he neither perceives nor comprehends her;
hence, where the sane man sees the picture of the external world,
the ego-maniac is surrounded by a dark void in which, at most,
uncomprehended nebulous forms are hovering. To escape the horror of
them he projects, as from a magic-lantern, coloured shadows of the
images which fill his consciousness; but these representations are
rigid, inert, uniform and infantile, like the morbid and weak cerebral
centres by which they are elaborated.

The incapacity of the ego-maniac to feel aright external impressions,
and the toil with which his brain works, are also the key of the
frightful tedium of which Baudelaire complains, and of the profound
pessimism with which he contemplates the world and life. Let us hear
him in _Le Voyage_:

  ‘Nous avons vu partout...
  Le spectacle ennuyeux de l’immortel péché:

  ‘La femme, esclave vile, orgueilleuse et stupide,
  Sans rire s’adorant et s’aimant sans dégôut;
  L’homme, tyran goulu, paillard, dur et cupide,
  Esclave de l’esclave et ruisseau dans l’égout;

  ‘Le bourreau qui jouit, le martyr qui sanglote;
  La fête qu’assaisonne et parfume le sang;...

  ‘Et les moins sots, hardis amants de la démence,
  Fuyant le grand troupeau parqué par le Destin,
  Et se réfugiant dans l’opium immense [!].
  --Tel est du globe entier l’éternel bulletin...

  ‘O Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps! levons l’ancre!
  Ce pays nous ennuie, O Mort! Appareillons!

  ‘Nous voulons...
  Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe?
  Au fond de l’Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau!’

This desperate cry towards the ‘new’ is the natural complaint of a
brain which longs to feel the pleasures of action, and greedily craves
a stimulation which his powerless sensory nerves cannot give him. Let a
sane man imagine the state of mind into which he would fall if he were
imprisoned in a cell where no ray of light, no noise, no scent from the
outer world would reach him. He would then have an accurate idea of
the chronic state of mind in the ego-maniac, eternally isolated by the
imperfection of his nervous system from the universe, from its joyous
sounds, from its changing scenes and from its captivating movement.
Baudelaire cannot but suffer terribly from ennui, for his mind really
learns nothing new and amusing, and is forced constantly to indulge in
the contemplation of his ailing and whimpering self.

The only pictures which fill the world of his thought are sombre,
wrathful and detestable. He says (_Un Mort joyeux_):

  ‘Dans une terre grasse et pleine d’escargots
  Je veux creuser moi-même une fosse profonde
  Où je puisse à loisir étaler mes vieux os
  Et dormir dans l’oubli comme un requin dans l’onde...
  Plutôt que d’implorer une larme du monde
  Vivant, j’aimerais mieux inviter les corbeaux
  A saigner tous les bouts de ma carcasse immonde.

  ‘O vers! noir compagnons sans oreille et sans yeux,
  Voyez venir à vous un mort libre et joyeux!’

In _La Cloche fêlée_, he says of himself:

  ‘... Mon âme est fêlée, et lorsqu’en ses ennuis
  Elle veut de ses chants peupler l’air froid des nuits
  Il arrive souvent que sa voix affaiblie

  Semble le râle épais d’un blessé qu’on oublie
  Au bord d’un lac de sang, sous un grand tas de morts.’


        ‘...on triste cerveau...
  C’est.. un immense caveau
  Qui contient plus de morts que la fosse commune.
  --Je suis un cimetière abhorré de la lune
  Où, comme des remords, se traînent de longs vers....’

_Horreur sympathique_:

  ‘Cieux déchirés comme des grèves,
  En vous se mire mon orgueil!
  Vos vastes nuages en deuil.

  ‘Sont les corbillards de mes rêves,
  Et vos lueurs sont le reflet,
  De l’Enfer où mon cœur se plaît!’

_Le Coucher du Soleil romantique_:

  ‘Une odeur de tombeau dans les ténèbres nage,
  Et mon pied peureux froisse, au bord du marécage,
  Des crapauds imprévus et de froids limaçons.’

_Dance macabre_: The poet speaking to a skeleton:

  ‘Aucuns t’appelleront une caricature,
  Qui ne comprennent pas, amants ivres de chair,
  L’élégance sans nom de l’humaine armature.
  Tu réponds, grand squelette, à mon goût le plus cher!...’

_Une Charogne_:

  ‘Rappelez-vous l’objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
    Ce beau matin d’été si doux:
  Au détour d’un sentier une charogne infâme
    Sur un lit semé de cailloux,

  ‘Les jambes en l’air, comme une femme lubrique
    Brûlante et suant les poisons,
  Ouvrait d’une façon nonchalante et cynique
    Son ventre plein d’exhalaisons....

  ‘Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe [!]
    Comme une fleur s’épanouir.
  La puanteur était si forte, que sur l’herbe
    Vous crûtes vous évanouir....

  ‘Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure,
    A cette horrible infection,
  Étoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
    Vous, mon ange et ma passion!

  ‘Oui! telle vous serez, ô la reine des grâces,
    Après les derniers sacrements,
  Quand vous irez, sous l’herbe et les floraisons grasses,
    Moisir parmi les ossements....’

That which pleases Baudelaire most are these pictures of death and
corruption which I could quote in still greater numbers if I did not
think that these examples sufficed. However, next to the frightful
and the loathsome it is the morbid, the criminal and the lewd, which
possess the strongest attraction for him.

_Le Rêve d’un Curieux_:

  ‘Connais-tu, comme moi, la douleur savoureuse?...’


  ‘Mon chat sur le carreau cherchant une litière
  Agite sans repos son corps maigre et galeux....’

_Le Vin du Solitaire_:

  ‘Un baiser libertin de la maigre Adeline....’

_Le Crépuscule du Soir_:

  ‘Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel; ...
  Et l’homme impatient se change en bête fauve....’

_La Destruction_:

  ‘Sans cesse à mes côtés s’agite le Démon....
  Je l’avale et le sens qui brûle mon poumon
  Et l’emplit d’un désir éternel et coupable....

  ‘Il me conduit....
  Haletant et brisé de fatigue, au milieu
  Des plaines de l’Ennui, profondes et désertes,

  ‘Et jette dans mes yeux....
  Des vêtements souillés, des blessures ouvertes,
  Et l’appareil sanglant de la Destruction!’

In _Une Martyre_ he describes complacently and in detail a bedroom in
which a young, presumably pretty courtesan has been murdered; the
assassin had cut off her head and carried it away. The poet is only
curious to know one thing:

  ‘L’homme vindicatif que tu n’as pu, vivante,
    Malgré tant d’amour, assouvir,
  Combla-t-il sur ta chair inerte et complaisante
    L’immensité de son désir?’

_Femmes damnées_, a piece dedicated to the worst aberration of
degenerate women, terminates with this ecstatic apostrophe to the
heroines of unnatural vice:

  ‘O vierges, ô démons, ô monstres, ô martyres,
  De la réalité grands esprits contempteurs,
  Chercheuses d’infini, dévotes et satyres,
  Tantôt pleines de cris, tantôt pleines de pleurs,

  Vous que dans votre enfer mon âme a poursuivies,
  Pauvres sœurs, je vous aime autant que je vous plains....’


  ‘Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l’incendie,
  N’ont pas encore brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
  Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
  C’est que notre âme, hélas! n’est pas assez hardie....’

But if he is not bold enough to commit crimes himself, he does not
leave a moment’s doubt that he loves them, and much prefers them to
virtue, just as he prefers the ‘end of autumns, winters, springs
steeped in mud,’ to the fine season of the year (_Brumes et Pluies_).
He is ‘hostile to the universe rather than indifferent’ (_Les sept
Vieillards_). The sight of pain leaves him cold, and if tears are shed
before him they only evoke in his mind the image of a landscape with
running waters.

_Madrigal triste_:

  ‘Que m’importe que tu sois sage?
  Sois belle! et sois triste! Les pleurs
  Ajoutent un charme au visage,
  Comme le fleuve au paysage.’

In the struggle between _Abel et Caïn_ he takes the part of the latter
without hesitation:

  ‘Race d’Abel, dors, bois et mange;
  Dieu te sourit complaisamment.

  ‘Race de Caïn, dans la fange
  Rampe et meurs misérablement.

  ‘Race d’Abel, ton sacrifice
  Flatte le nez du Séraphin.

  ‘Race de Caïn, ton supplice
  Aura-t-il jamais une fin?

  ‘Race d’Abel, vois tes semailles
  Et ton bétail venir à bien;

  ‘Race de Caïn, tes entrailles
  Hurlent la faim comme un vieux chien.

  ‘Race d’Abel, chauffe ton ventre
  A ton foyer patriarchal;

  ‘Race de Caïn, dans ton antre
  Tremble de froid, pauvre chacal!

  ‘Ah! race d’Abel, ta charogne
  Engraissera le sol fumant!

  ‘Race de Caïn, ta besogne
  N’est pas faite suffisamment.

  ‘Race d’Abel, voici ta honte:
  Le fer est vaincu par l’épieu! [?]

  ‘Race de Caïn, au ciel monte
  Et sur la terre jette Dieu!’

If he prays it is to the devil (_Les Litanies de Satan_):

  ‘Gloire et louange à toi, Satan, dans les hauteurs
  Du Ciel, où tu régnas, et dans les profondeurs
  De l’Enfer, où, vaincu, tu rêves en silence!
  Fais que mon âme un jour, sous l’Arbre de Science,
  Près de toi se repose....’

Here there mingles with the aberration that mysticism which is never
wanting in the degenerate. Naturally, the love of evil can only take
the form of devil-worship, or diabolism, if the subject is a believer,
if the supernatural is held to be a real thing. Only he who is rooted
with all his feelings in religious faith will, if he suffers from
moral aberration, seek bliss in the adoration of Satan, in impassioned
blasphemy of God and the Saviour, in the violation of the symbols of
faith, or will wish to incite unnatural voluptuousness by mortal sin
and infernal damnation, though humouring it in the _messe noire_, in
the presence of a really consecrated priest, and in a hideous travesty
of all the forms of the liturgy.

Besides the devil, Baudelaire adores only one other power, viz.,
voluptuousness. He prays thus to it (_La Prière d’un Païen_):

  ‘Ah! ne ralentis pas tes flammes!
  Réchauffe mon cœur engourdi,
  Volupté, torture des âmes!...
  Volupté, sois toujours ma reine!’

To complete the portrait of this mind, let us cite two more of his
peculiarities. He suffers first from images of perpetual anguish, as
his piece testifies (_Le Gouffre_), which is valuable as a confession:

  ‘... Tout est abîme,--action, désir, rêve,
  Parole! et sur mon poil qui tout droit se relève
  Mainte fois de la peur je sens passer le vent.

  ‘En haut, en bas, partout, la profondeur, la grève,
  Le silence, l’espace affreux et captivant...
  Sur le fonde de mes nuits, Dieu, de son doigt savant,
  Dessine un cauchemar multiforme et sans trêve.

  ‘J’ai peur du sommeil comme on a peur d’un grand trou,
  Tout plein de vague horreur, menant on ne sait où;
  Je ne vois qu’infini par toutes les fenêtres,

  ‘Et mon esprit, toujours du vertige hanté,
  Jalouse du néant l’insensibilité.’

Baudelaire describes here accurately enough that obsession of
degenerates which is called ‘fear of abysses’ (cremnophobia).[281]
His second peculiarity is his interest in scents. He is attentive to
them, interprets them; they provoke in him all kinds of sensations
and associations. He expresses himself thus on this subject in

  ‘Les parfums, les couleurs, et les sons se répondent.

  ‘Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
  Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
  --Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

  ‘Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
  Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
  Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.’

He loves woman through his sense of smell ... (‘Le parfum de tes
charmes étranges,’ _A une Malabaraise_), and never fails, in describing
a mistress, to mention her exhalations.

_Parfum exotique_:

  ‘Quand les deux yeux fermés, en un soir chaud d’automne,
  Je respire l’odeur de ton sein chaleureux,
  Je vois se dérouler des rivages heureux
  Qu’eblouissent les feux d’un soleil monotone.’

_La Chevelure_:

  ‘O toison, moutonnant jusque sur l’encolure!
  O boucles! O parfum chargé de nonchaloir!...

  ‘La langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique,
  Tout un monde lointain, absent, presque défunt,
  Vit dans tes profondeurs, forêt aromatique!’

Naturally, instead of good odours, he prefers the perfumes which affect
the healthy man as stinks. Putrefaction, decomposition and pestilence
charm his nose.

_Le Flacon_:

  ‘Il est de forts parfums pour qui toute matière
  Est poreuse. On dirait qu’ils pénètrent le verre...
  Parfois on trouve un vieux flacon qui se souvient,
  D’où jaillit toute vive une âme qui revient.

  ‘Voilà le souvenir enivrant qui voltige
  Dans l’air troublé; les yeux se ferment; le vertige
  Saisit l’âme vaincue et la pousse à deux mains
  Vers un gouffre obscurci de miasmes humains;

  ‘Il la terrasse au bord d’un gouffre séculaire,
  Où, Lazare odorant déchirant son suaire,
  Se meut dans son réveil le cadavre spectral
  D’un vieil amour ranci, charmant et sepulcral.

  ‘Ainsi, quand je serai perdu dans la memoire
  Des hommes, dans le coin d’une sinistre armoire
  Quand on m’aura jeté, vieux flacon désolé,
  Décrépit, poudreux, sale, abject, visqueux, fêlé,

  ‘Je serai ton cercueil, aimable pestilence!
  Le témoin de ta force et de ta virulence,
  Cher poison préparé par les anges!...’

We now know all the features which compose Baudelaire’s character.
He has the ‘cult of self’;[282] he abhors nature, movement and life;
he dreams of an ideal of immobility, of eternal silence, of symmetry
and artificiality; he loves disease, ugliness and crime; all his
inclinations, in profound aberration, are opposed to those of sane
beings; what charms his sense of smell is the odour of corruption;
his eye, the sight of carrion, suppurating wounds and the pain of
others; he feels happy in muddy, cloudy, autumn weather; his senses
are excited by unnatural pleasures only. He complains of frightful
tedium and of feelings of anguish; his mind is filled with sombre
ideas, the association of his ideas works exclusively with sad or
loathsome images; the only thing which can distract or interest him
is badness--murder, blood, lewdness and falsehood. He addresses his
prayers to Satan, and aspires to hell.

He has attempted to make his peculiarities pass for a comedy and
a studied pose. In a note placed at the head of the first edition
(1857) of the _Fleurs du Mal_, he says: ‘Among the following pieces,
the most characteristic ... has been considered, at least by men of
intellect, only for what it really is: the imitation of the arguments
of ignorance and fury. Faithful to his painful programme, the author
has had, like a good comedian, to fashion his mind to all sophisms,
as to all corruptions. This candid declaration will, doubtless, not
prevent honest critics from ranking him among the theologians of the
people,’ etc. Some of his admirers accept this explanation or appear to
accept it. ‘His intense disdain of the vulgar,’ murmurs Paul Bourget,
‘breaks out in extremes of paradox, in laborious mystification....
Among many readers, even the keenest, the fear of being duped by this
grand disdainer hinders full admiration.’[283] The term has become
a commonplace of criticism for Baudelaire; he is a ‘mystificateur’;
everything for him is only a deception; he himself neither feels nor
believes anything he expresses in his poetry. It is twaddle, and
nothing else. A rhetorician of the Paul Bourget sort, threshing straw,
and curling scraps of paper, may believe that an inwardly free man is
capable of preserving artificially, all his life long, the attitude of
a galley-slave or a madman, well knowing he is only acting a comedy.
The expert knows that the choice of an attitude, such as Baudelaire’s,
is a proof in itself of deep-seated cerebral disturbance.

Mental therapeutics has declared that persons who simulate insanity
with some perseverance, even with a rational object, as, for example,
in the case of certain criminals on their trial, in order to escape
punishment, are almost without exception really mad,[284] although
not to the degree they try to represent, just as the inclination to
accuse one’s self, or to boast, of imaginary crimes is a recognised
symptom of hysteria. The assertion of Baudelaire himself, that his
Satanism is only a studied _rôle_, has no sort of value whatever. As
is so frequently the case among the ‘higher degenerates,’ he feels in
his heart that his aberrations are morbid, immoral and anti-social,
and that all decent persons would despise him or take pity on him,
if they were convinced that he was really what he boasts of being in
his poems; he has recourse, consequently, to the childish excuse that
malefactors also often have on their lips, viz., ‘that it was not
meant seriously.’ Perhaps also Baudelaire’s consciousness experienced
a sincere horror of the perverse instincts of his unconscious life,
and he sought to make himself believe that with his Satanism he was
laughing at the Philistines. But such a tardy palliation does not
deceive the psychologist, and is of no importance for his judgment.



AS on the death of Alexander the Great his generals fell on the
conqueror’s empire, and each one seized a portion of land, so did the
imitators that Baudelaire numbered among his contemporaries and the
generation following--many even without waiting for his madness and
death--take possession of some one of his peculiarities for literary
exploitation. The school of Baudelaire reflects the character of its
master, strangely distorted; it has become in some sort like a prism,
which diffracts this light into its elementary rays. His delusion
of anxiety (anxiomania), and his predilection for disease, death
and putrefaction (necrophilia), have fallen, as we have seen in the
preceding book, to the lot of M. Maurice Rollinat. M. Catulle Mendès
has inherited his sexual aberrations and lasciviousness, and besides
all the newer French pornographists rely upon them for proving the
‘artistic raison d’être’ of their depravity. Jean Richepin, in _La
Chanson des Gueux_, has spied in him, and copied, his glorification
of crime, and, further, in _Les Blasphèmes_, has swelled Baudelaire’s
imprecations and prayers to the devil to the size of a fat volume,
in a most dreary and wearisome manner. His mysticism suckles the
Symbolists, who, after his example, pretend to perceive mysterious
relations between colours and the sensations of the other senses, with
this difference, that they hear colours while he smelt them; or, if
you will, they have an eye in their ear, while he saw with the nose.
In Paul Verlaine we meet again his mixture of sensuality and pietism.
Swinburne has established an English depot for his Sadism, compounded
of lewdness and cruelty, for his mysticism and for his pleasure in
crime, and I greatly fear that Giosué Carducci himself, otherwise so
richly gifted and original, must have turned his eyes towards the
_Litanies de Satan_, when he wrote his celebrated _Ode à Satan_.

The diabolism of Baudelaire has been specially cultivated by Villiers
de l’Isle-Adam and Barbey d’Aurevilly. These two men have, in addition
to the general family likeness of the degenerate, a series of special
features in common. Villiers and Barbey attributed to themselves, as
the deranged frequently do, a fabulous genealogy; the former aspired
to be a descendant of Count de l’Isle-Adam, the celebrated Marshal
and Grand-Master of Malta (who as such could not be married, be it
understood!), and he claimed one day, in a letter addressed to the
Queen of England, the surrender of Malta in virtue of his right of
heritage. Barbey annexed the aristocratic surname of d’Aurevilly, and
during the whole of his life spoke of his noble race--which had no
existence. Both made a theatrical display of fanatical Catholicism, but
revelled at the same time in studied blasphemies against God.[285] Both
delighted in eccentricities of costume and modes of life, and Barbey
had the habit of graphomaniacs, which we know already, of writing his
letters and his literary works with different coloured inks. Villiers
de l’Isle-Adam, and still more Barbey d’Aurevilly, created a class
of poetry to the worship of the devil, which recalls the craziest
depositions of witches of the Middle Ages when put to the torture.
Barbey especially may be said to have gone, in this respect, to the
limits of the imaginable. His book _Le Prêtre marié_ might be written
by a contemporary of witch-burners; but it is surpassed in its turn by
_Les Diaboliques_, a collection of crack-brained histories, where men
and women wallow in the most hideous license, continually invoking the
devil, extolling and serving him. All the invention in these ravings
Barbey stole with utter shamelessness from the books of the Marquis
de Sade, without a shade of shame; that which belongs properly to him
is the colouring of Catholic theology he gives to his profligacies.
If I only speak in general terms of the books mentioned here, without
entering into details, without summarizing the contents, or quoting
characteristic passages, it is because my demonstrations do not require
a plunge into this filth, and it is sufficient to point the finger from
afar at the sink of vice which testifies to Baudelaire’s influence on
his contemporaries.

Barbey, the imitator of Baudelaire, has himself found an imitator in
M. Joséphin Péladan, whose first novel, _Vice suprême_, occupies an
eminent place in the literature of diabolism. M. Péladan, who had not
yet promoted himself to the dignity of a first-class Assyrian king,
paraphrases in his book what he means by ‘_vice suprême_’: ‘Let us
deny Satan! Sorcery has always sorcerers ... superior minds which have
no need of conjuring-book, their thought being a page written by hell
for hell. Instead of the kid they have killed the good soul within
them, and are going to the Sabbath of the Word.’ [May the reader not
stumble over obscurities! What were Péladan if he were not mystical?]
‘They assemble to profane and soil the idea. Existing vice does not
satisfy them; they invent, they rival each other in seeking for, _new
evil_, and if they find it they applaud each other. Which is worst, the
Sabbath-orgies of the body or those of the mind, of criminal action
or of perverted thought? To reason, justify, to apotheosize evil, to
establish its ritual, to show the excellence of it--is this not worse
than to commit it? To adore the demon, or love evil, the abstract or
the concrete term of one and the same fact. There is blindness in the
gratification of instinct, and madness in the perpetration of misdeeds;
but to conceive and theorize exacts a calm operation of the mind which
is the _vice suprême_.’[286]

Baudelaire has expressed this much more concisely in one single verse:
‘_La conscience dans le Mal_’ (‘consciousness in evil’).[287]

The same Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who has copied his diabolism from
Baudelaire, has appropriated the predilection of the latter for the
artificial, and has raised it to a funny pitch in his novel _L’Ève
future_. In this half-fantastic half-satirical and wholly mad book,
he imagines, as the next development of humanity, a state in which
the woman of flesh and blood will be abolished, and be replaced by a
machine to which he allows (which is a little contradictory) the shape
of a woman’s body, and which it will be sufficient with the help of
a screw so to dispose, in order to obtain from it at once whatever
happens to be desired: love, caprices, infidelity, devotion, every
perversion and every vice. This is in sooth even more artificial than
Baudelaire’s tin and glass landscape!

A later disciple, M. Joris Karl Huysmans, is more instructive than
all those imitators of Baudelaire who have only developed the one or
the other side of him. He has undertaken the toilsome task of putting
together, from all the isolated traits which are found dispersed
in Baudelaire’s poems and prose writings, a human figure, and of
presenting to us Baudelairism incarnate and living, thinking and
acting. The book in which he shows us his model ‘Decadent’ is entitled
_A Rebours_ (‘Against the Grain’).

The word ‘décadent’ was borrowed by the French critics, in the fifties,
from the history of the declining Roman Empire, to characterize the
style of Théophile Gautier, and notably of Baudelaire. At the present
time the disciples of these two writers, and of their previous
imitators, claim it as a title of honour. Otherwise than with the
expressions ‘pre-Raphaelites’ and ‘Symbolists,’ we possess an exact
explanation of the sense which those who speak of ‘decadence’ and
‘decadents’ attach to these words.

‘The style of decadence,’ says Théophile Gautier,[288] ‘... is nothing
else than art arrived at that extreme point of maturity produced by
those civilizations which are growing old with their oblique suns[!]--a
style that is ingenious, complicated, learned, full of shades of
meaning and research, always pushing further the limits of language,
borrowing from all the technical vocabularies, taking colours from
all palettes, notes from all keyboards, forcing itself to express in
thought that which is most ineffable, and in form the vaguest and
most fleeting contours; listening, that it may translate them, to the
subtle confidences of the neuropath, to the avowals of ageing and
depraved passion, and to the singular hallucinations of the fixed idea
verging on madness. This style of decadence is the last effort of the
Word (_Verbe_), called upon to express everything, and pushed to the
utmost extremity. We may remind ourselves, in connection with it,
of the language of the Later Roman Empire, already mottled with the
greenness of decomposition, and, as it were, gamy (_faisandée_), and of
the complicated refinements of the Byzantine school, the last form of
Greek art fallen into deliquescence. Such is the inevitable and fatal
idiom of peoples and civilizations where factitious life has replaced
the natural life, and developed in man unknown wants. Besides, it is no
easy matter, this style despised of pedants, for it expresses new ideas
with new forms and words that have not yet been heard. In opposition
to the classic style, it admits of shading, and these shadows teem
and swarm with the larvæ of superstitions, the haggard phantoms of
insomnia, nocturnal terrors, remorse which starts and turns back at the
slightest noise, monstrous dreams stayed only by impotence, obscure
phantasies at which the daylight would stand amazed, and all that the
soul conceals of the dark, the unformed, and the vaguely horrible, in
its deepest and furthest recesses.’

The same ideas that Gautier approximately expresses in this rigmarole,
Baudelaire enumerates in these terms: ‘Does it not seem to the reader,
as it does to me, that the language of the later Latin decadence--the
departing sigh of a robust person already transformed and prepared for
the spiritual life--is singularly appropriate to express passion as it
has been understood and felt by the modern poetic world? Mysticism is
the opposite pole of that magnet in which Catullus and his followers,
brutal and purely epidermic poets, have only recognised the pole of
sensuality. In this marvellous language, solecism and barbarism appear
to me to convey the forced negligences of a passion which forgets
itself and mocks at rules. Words, received in a new acceptation,
display the charming awkwardness of the Northern barbarian kneeling
before the Roman beauty. Even a play on words, when it enters into
these pedantic stammerings, does it not display the wild and bizarre
grace of infancy?’[289]

The reader, who has the chapter on the psychology of mysticism present
to his mind, naturally at once recognises what is hidden behind the
word-wash of Gautier and Baudelaire. Their description of the state of
mind which the ‘decadent’ language is supposed to express is simply a
description of the disposition of the mystically degenerate mind, with
its shifting nebulous ideas, its fleeting formless shadowy thought,
its perversions and aberrations, its tribulations and impulsions.
To express this state of mind, a new and unheard-of language must
in fact be found, since there cannot be in any customary language
designations corresponding to presentations which in reality do not
exist. It is absolutely arbitrary to seek for an example and a model
of ‘decadent’ expression in the language of the Later Roman Empire. It
would be difficult for Gautier to discover in any writer whatever of
the fourth or fifth century the ‘mottled greenness of decomposition
and, as it were, gamy’ Latin which so greatly charms him. M. Huysmans,
monstrously exaggerating Gautier’s and Baudelaire’s idea, as is the way
with imitators, gives the following description of this supposed Latin
of the fifth century: ‘The Latin tongue, ... now hung [!], completely
rotten, ... losing its members, dropping suppurations, scarcely
preserving, in the total decay of its body, some firm parts which the
Christians detached in order to pickle them in the brine of their new

This debauch in pathological and nauseous ideas of a deranged mind with
gustatory perversion is a delirium, and has no foundation whatever in
philological facts. The Latin of the later period of decadence was
coarse and full of errors, in consequence of the increasing barbarity
in the manners and taste of the readers, the narrow-mindedness and
grammatical ignorance of the writers, and the intrusion of barbarous
elements into its vocabulary. But it was very far from expressing ‘new
ideas with new forms’ and from taking ‘colours from all palettes’;
it surprises us, on the contrary, by its awkwardness in rendering
the most simple thoughts, and by its profound impoverishment. The
German language has also had a similar period of decadence. After
the Thirty Years’ War, even the best writers, a Moscherosch, a
Zinkgref, a Schupp, were ‘often almost incomprehensible’ with ‘their
long-winded and involved periods,’ and ‘their deportment as distorted
as it was stiff’;[291] the grammar displayed the worst deformities,
the vocabulary swarmed with strange intruders, but the German of
those desolate decades was surely not ‘decadent’ in the sense of
Gautier’s, Baudelaire’s and Huysmans’ definitions. The truth is, that
these degenerate writers have arbitrarily attributed their own state
of mind to the authors of the Roman and Byzantine decadence, to a
Petronius, but especially to a Commodianus of Gaza, an Ausonius, a
Prudentius, a Sidonius Apollinaris, etc., and have created in their
own image, or according to their morbid instincts, an ‘ideal man of
the Roman decadence,’ just as Rousseau invented the ideal savage and
Chateaubriand the ideal Indian, and have transported him by their own
imagination into a fabulous past or into a distant country. M. Paul
Bourget is more honest when he refrains from fraudulently quoting the
Latin authors of the Latin decline, and thus describes the ‘decadence,’
independently of his Parnassian masters: ‘The word “decadence” denotes
a state of society which produces too great a number of individuals
unfit for the labours of common life. A society ought to be assimilated
to an organism. As an organism, in fact, it resolves itself into a
federation of lesser organisms, which again resolve themselves into
a federation of cells. The individual is the social cell. In order
that the whole organism should function with energy, it is necessary
that the component organisms should function with energy, but with a
subordinate energy. And in order that these inferior organisms should
themselves function with energy, it is necessary that their component
cells should function with energy, but with a subordinate energy. If
the energy of the cells becomes independent, the organisms composing
the total organism cease likewise to subordinate their energy to
the total energy, and the anarchy which takes place constitutes the
decadence of the whole.’[292]

Very true. A society in decadence ‘produces too great a number of
individuals unfit for the labours of common life’; these individuals
are precisely the degenerate; ‘they cease to subordinate their energy
to the total energy,’ because they are ego-maniacs, and their stunted
development has not attained to the height at which an individual
reaches his moral and intellectual junction with the totality, and
their ego-mania makes the degenerate necessarily anarchists, _i.e._,
enemies of all institutions which they do not understand, and to
which they cannot adapt themselves. It is very characteristic that
M. Bourget, who sees all this, who recognises that ‘decadent’ is
synonymous with inaptitude for regular functions and subordination
to social aims, and that the consequence of decadence is anarchy and
the ruin of the community, does not the less justify and admire the
decadents, especially Baudelaire. This is ‘la conscience dans le mal’
of which his master speaks.

We will now examine the ideal ‘decadent’ that Huysmans draws so
complacently and in such detail for us, in _A Rebours_. First, a word
on the author of this instructive book. Huysmans, the classical type of
the hysterical mind without originality, who is the predestined victim
of every suggestion, began his literary career as a fanatical imitator
of Zola, and produced, in this first period of his development,
romances and novels in which (as in _Marthe_) he greatly surpassed
his model in obscenity. Then he swerved from naturalism, by an
abrupt change of disposition, which is no less genuinely hysterical,
overwhelmed this tendency and Zola himself with the most violent
abuse, and began to ape the Diabolists, particularly Baudelaire. A red
thread unites both of his otherwise abruptly contrasted methods, viz.,
his lubricity. That has remained the same. He is, as a languishing
‘Decadent,’ quite as vulgarly obscene as when he was a bestial

_A Rebours_ can scarcely be called a novel, and Huysmans, in fact,
does not call it so. It does not reveal a history, it has no action,
but presents itself as a sort of portrayal or biography of a man whose
habits, sympathies and antipathies, and ideas on all possible subjects,
specially on art and literature, are related to us in great detail.
This man is called Des Esseintes, and is the last scion of an ancient
French ducal title.

The Duke Jean des Esseintes is physically an anæmic and nervous man
of weak constitution, the inheritor of all the vices and all the
degeneracies of an exhausted race. ‘For two centuries the Des Esseintes
had married their children to each other, consuming their remnant of
vigour in consanguineous unions.... The predominance of lymph in the
blood appeared.’ (This employment of technical expressions and empty
phrases, scientific in sound, is peculiar to many modern degenerate
authors and to their imitators. They sow these words and expressions
around them, as the ‘learned valet’ of a well-known German farce
scatters around him his scraps of French, but without being more
cognizant of science than the latter was of the French language.) Des
Esseintes was educated by the Jesuits, lost his parents early in life,
squandered the greater part of his patrimony in foolish carousing
which overwhelmed him with ennui, and soon retired from society, which
had become insupportable. ‘His contempt for humanity increased; he
understood at last that the world is composed for the most part of
bullies and imbeciles. He had certainly no hope of discovering in
others the same aspirations and the same hatreds, no hope of uniting
himself with a kindred spirit delighting in a diligent decrepitude [!]
as he did. Enervated, moody, exasperated by the inanity of interchanged
and accepted ideas, he became like a person aching all over, till at
last he was constantly excoriating his epidermis, and suffering from
the patriotic and social nonsense which was dealt out each morning in
the newspapers.... He dreamed of a refined Thebaid, of a comfortable
desert, a warm and unmoving ark, where he would take refuge far from
the incessant flood of human stupidity.’

He realizes this dream. He sells his possessions, buys Government stock
with the ruins of his fortune, draws in this way an annual income of
fifty thousand francs, buys himself a house which stands alone on a
hill at some distance from a small village near Paris, and arranges it
according to his own taste.

‘The artificial appeared to Des Esseintes as the distinguishing mark
of human genius. As he expressed it, the day of nature is past: by the
disgusting uniformity of its landscapes and skies, it has positively
exhausted the attentive patience of refined spirits. In sooth, what
platitude of a specialist who sees no further than his own line!
what pettiness of a tradeswoman keeping this or that article to the
exclusion of every other! what a monotonous stock of meadows and trees!
what a commonplace agency for mountains and seas!’ (p. 31).

He banishes, in consequence, all that is natural from his horizon, and
surrounds himself by all that is artificial. He sleeps during the day,
and only leaves his bed towards evening, in order to pass the night in
reading and musing in his brightly-lit ground-floor. He never crosses
the threshold of his house, but remains within his four walls. He will
see no one, and even the old couple who wait on him must do their work
while he is asleep, so as not to be seen by him. He receives neither
letters nor papers, knows nothing of the outer world. He never has
an appetite, and when by chance this is aroused, ‘he dips his roast
meat, covered with some extraordinary butter, into a cup of tea [oh,
the devil!], a faultless mixture of Si-a-Fayun, Mo-yu-tan and Khansky,
yellow teas brought from China and Russia by special caravans’ (p. 61).

His dining-room ‘resembled a ship’s cabin,’ with ‘its little French
window opening in the wainscot like a port-hole.’ It was built within a
larger room pierced by two windows, one of which was exactly opposite
the port-hole in the wainscot. A large aquarium occupied the whole
space between the port-hole and this window. In order, then, to give
light to the cabin, the daylight had to pass through the window, the
panes of which had been replaced by plate glass, and then through the
water. ‘Sometimes, in the afternoon, when by chance Des Esseintes was
awake and up, he set in motion the play of the pipes and conduits which
emptied the aquarium and filled it afresh with pure water, introducing
into it drops of coloured essences, thus producing for himself at
pleasure the green or muddy yellow, opalescent or silver, tones of a
real river, according to the colour of the sky, the greater or less
heat of the sun, the more or less decided indications of rain; in a
word, according to the season and the weather. He would then imagine
himself to be between-decks on a brig, and contemplated with curiosity
marvellous mechanical fish, constructed with clock-work, which passed
before the window of the port-hole, and clung to the sham weeds, or
else, while breathing the smell of the tar with which the room had been
filled before he entered, he examined the coloured engravings hung on
the walls representing steamers sailing for Valparaiso and La Plata,
such as are seen at steamship agencies, and at Lloyd’s’ (p. 27).

These mechanical fish are decidedly more remarkable than Baudelaire’s
landscapes in tin. But this dream of an ironmonger, retired from
business and become an idiot, was not the only pleasure of the Duc
des Esseintes, who despised so deeply the ‘stupidity and vulgarity of
men,’ although, of all his acquaintance, probably not one would have
stooped to ideas so asinine as these mechanical fish with clock-work
movements. When he wishes to do himself a particularly good turn,
he composes and plays a gustatory symphony. He has had a cupboard
constructed containing a series of little liqueur barrels. The taps of
all the barrels could be opened or shut simultaneously by an engine
set in motion by pressure on a knob in the wainscot, and under every
tap stood an ‘imperceptible’ goblet, into which, on the turning of the
cock, a drop fell. Des Esseintes called this liquor-cupboard his ‘mouth
organ.’ (Notice all these ridiculous complications to mix a variety of
liqueurs! As if it required all this deeply thought out mechanism!)
‘The organ was then open. The stops labelled “flute, horn, voix
céleste,” were drawn out ready for action. Des Esseintes drank a drop
here and there, played internal symphonies, and succeeded in procuring
in the throat sensations analogous to those that music offers to the
ear. Each liqueur corresponded in taste, according to him, to the
sound of an instrument. Dry curaçoa, for example, to the clarionet,
the tone of which is acescent and velvety; kümmel brandy to the oboë,
with its sonorous nasal sound; mint and anisette to the flute, which
is at the same time sugary and peppery, squeaking and sweet; while, to
complete the orchestra, kirsch rages with the blast of a trumpet; gin
and whisky scarify the palate with their shrill outbursts of cornets
and trombones; liqueur-brandy fulminates with the deafening crash of
the tuba; while Chios-raki and mastic roll on to the mucous membrane
like the thunder-claps of cymbals and kettledrums struck with the
arm!’ Thus he plays ‘string quartettes under the vault of his palate,
representing with the violin old eau-de-vie, smoky and subtle, sharp
and delicate; with the tenor simulated by strong rum;’ with vespetro
as violoncello, and bitters as double bass; green chartreuse was the
major, and benedictine the minor key,’ etc. (p. 63).

Des Esseintes does not only hear the music of the liqueurs: he sniffs
also the colour of perfumes. As he has a mouth organ, he possesses a
nasal picture-gallery, _i.e._, a large collection of flasks containing
all possible odorous substances. When his taste-symphonies no longer
give him pleasure, he plays an olfactory tune. ‘Seated in his
dressing-room before his table ... a little fever disturbed him, he
was ready for work.... With his vaporizers he injected into the room
an essence formed of ambrosia, Mitcham lavender, sweet peas, ess.
bouquet, an essence which, when it is distilled by an artist, deserves
the name by which it is known, viz., “extract of flowery meadow.”
Then, in this meadow, he introduced an exact fusion of tuberose, of
orange and almond flower, and forthwith artificially-created lilacs
sprang up, while limes winnowed each other, pouring down upon the earth
their pale emanations. Into this decoration, laid on in broad outlines
... he blew ... a light rain of human and quasi-feline essences,
savouring of skirts, and indicating the powdered and painted woman,
the stephanotis, ayapana, opoponax, cypress, champak, and sarcanthus:
on which he juxtaposed a suspicion of syringa, in order to instil into
the factitious atmosphere which emanated from them a natural bloom of
laughter bathed in sweat (!!), and of joys which riot boisterously in
full sunshine’ (pp. 154-157).

We have seen how slavishly M. Huysmans, in his drivel about tea,
liqueurs and perfumes, follows to the letter the fundamental principle
of the Parnassians--of ransacking technical dictionaries. He has
evidently been forced to copy the catalogues of commercial travellers
dealing in perfumes and soaps, teas and liqueurs, to scrape together
his erudition in current prices.

That Des Esseintes should be made ill by this mode of life is not
surprising. His stomach rejects all forms of food, and this renders
the highest triumph of his love for the artificial possible: he is
obliged to be nourished by means of peptonized injections, hence, in a
way, diametrically opposed to nature.

Not to be too prolix, I omit many details, _e.g._, an endless
description of tones associated with colours (pp. 17-20); of orchids
which he loves, because they have for him the appearance of eruptions,
scars, scabs, ulcers and cancers, and seem covered with dressings,
plastered with black mercurial axunge, green belladonna unguents (p.
120 _et seq._); an exposition of the mystical aspect of precious and
half-precious stones (pp. 57-60), etc. We will only acquaint ourselves
with a few more peculiarities of taste in this decadent type:

‘The wild spirit, the rough, careless talent of Goya captivated him;
but the universal admiration which Goya’s works had gained deterred
him somewhat, and for many years he had ceased having them framed....
Indeed, if the finest tune in the world becomes vulgar, insupportable,
as soon as the public hum it and barrel-organs seize upon it, the
work of art to which false artists are not indifferent, which is not
disputed by fools, which is not content with stirring up the enthusiasm
of some, even it becomes, by this very means, for the initiated
polluted, commonplace and almost repulsive’ (p. 134).

The reference to barrel-organs is a trick calculated to mislead the
inattentive reader. If a beautiful tune becomes insupportable as
played on barrel-organs, it is because the organs are false, noisy and
expressionless, _i.e._, they modify the very essence of the tune and
drag it down to vulgarity; but the admiration of the greatest fool
himself changes absolutely nothing in a work of art, and those who have
loved it for its qualities will again find all these qualities complete
and intact, even when the looks of millions of impassive Philistines
have crawled over it. The truth is, the decadent, bursting with silly
vanity, here betrays involuntarily his inmost self. The fellow has not,
in fact, the smallest comprehension of art, and is wholly inaccessible
to the beautiful as to all external impressions. To know if a work of
art pleases him or not, he does not look at the work of art--oh no!
he turns his back and anxiously studies the demeanour of the people
standing before it. Are they enthusiastic, the decadent despises the
work; do they remain indifferent, or even appear displeased, he admires
it with full conviction. The ordinary man always seeks to think, to
feel, and to do the same as the multitude; the decadent seeks exactly
the contrary. Both derive the manner of seeing and feeling, not from
their internal convictions, but from what the crowd dictate to them.
Both lack all individuality, and they are obliged to have their eyes
constantly fixed on the crowd to find their way. The decadent is,
therefore, an ordinary man with a _minus_ sign, who, equally with the
latter, only in a contrary sense, follows in the wake of the crowd,
and meanwhile makes things far more difficult for himself than the
ordinary man; he is also constantly in a state of irritation, while
the latter as constantly enjoys himself. This can be summed up in one
proposition--the decadent snob is an anti-social Philistine, suffering
from a mania for contradiction, without the smallest feeling for the
work of art itself.

Des Esseintes reads occasionally between his gustatory and olfactory
_séances_. The only works which please him are naturally those of the
most extreme Parnassians and Symbolists. For he finds in them (p. 266)
‘the death-struggle of the old language, after it had become ever
mouldier from century to century, was ending in dissolution, and in
the attainment of that deliquescence of the Latin language which gave
up the ghost in the mysterious concepts and enigmatical expressions of
St. Boniface and St. Adhelm. Moreover, the decomposition of the French
language had set in all at once. In the Latin language there was a long
transition, a lapse of 400 years, between the speckled and beautiful
speech of Claudian and Rutilius, and the gamy speech of the eighth
century. In the French language no lapse of time, no succession in
age, had taken place; the speckled (_tacheté_) and superb style of the
brothers De Goncourt and the gamy style of Verlaine and Mallarmé rubbed
elbows in Paris, existing at the same time and in the same century.’

We now know the taste of a typical decadent in all directions. Let us
cast another glance at his character, morals, sentiments and political

He has a friend, D’Aigurande, who one day thinks of marrying. ‘Arguing
from the fact that D’Aigurande possessed no fortune, and that the dowry
of his wife was almost nothing, he (Des Esseintes) perceived in this
simple desire an infinite perspective of ridiculous misfortunes.’ In
consequence (!) he encouraged his friend to commit this folly, and what
had to happen did happen: the young couple lacked money, everything
became a subject for altercations and quarrels; in short, the life of
both became insupportable. He amused himself out of doors; she ‘sought
by the expedients of adultery to forget her rainy and dull life.’ By
common consent they cancelled their contract and demanded a legal
separation. ‘My plan of battle was exact, Des Esseintes then said to
himself, experiencing the satisfaction of those strategists who see
their long-foreseen manœuvres succeeding.’

Another time, in the Rue de Rivoli, he comes upon a boy of about
sixteen years old, a ‘pale, cunning-looking’ child, smoking a bad
cigarette, and who asks him for a light. Des Esseintes offers him
Turkish aromatic cigarettes, enters into conversation with him, learns
that his mother is dead, that his father beats him, and that he works
for a cardboard-box maker. ‘Des Esseintes listened thoughtfully. “Come
and drink,” said he, and led him into a café, where he made him drink
some very strong punch. The child drank in silence. “Come,” said Des
Esseintes suddenly, “do you feel inclined for some amusement this
evening? I will treat you.”’ And he leads the unfortunate boy into a
disorderly house, where his youth and nervousness astonish the girls.
While one of these women draws the boy away, the landlady asks Des
Esseintes what was his idea in bringing them such an imp. The decadent
answers (p. 95): ‘I am simply trying to train an assassin. This boy
is innocent, and has reached the age when the blood grows hot; he
might run after the girls in his quarter, remain honest while amusing
himself.... Bringing him here, on the contrary, into the midst of a
luxury of which he had no conception, and which will engrave itself
forcibly on his memory, in offering him every fortnight such an
unexpected treat, he will get accustomed to these pleasures from which
his means debar him. Let us admit that it will require three months
for them to become absolutely necessary to him.... Well, at the end of
three months I discontinue the little _rente_ which I am going to pay
you in advance for this good action, and then he will steal in order to
live here.... He will kill, I hope, the good gentleman who will appear
inopportunely while he is attempting to break open his writing-table.
Then my aim will be attained; I shall have contributed, to the extent
of my resources, in creating a villain, one more enemy of that hideous
society which fleeces us.’ And he leaves the poor defiled boy on this
first evening with these words: ‘Return as quickly as possible to your
father.... Do unto others what you would not wish them to do to you;
with this rule you will go a long way. Good-evening. Above all, don’t
be ungrateful. Let me hear of you as soon as possible through the
police news.’

He sees the village children fighting for a piece of black bread
covered with curd cheese; he immediately orders for himself a similar
slice of bread, and says to his servant: ‘Throw this bread and cheese
to those children who are doing for each other in the road. Let the
feeblest be crippled, not manage to get a single piece, and, besides,
be well whipped by their parents when they return home with torn
breeches and black eyes; that will give them an idea of the life that
awaits them’ (p. 226).

When he thinks of society, this cry bursts from his breast: ‘Oh,
perish, society! Die, old world!’ (p. 293).

Lest the reader should feel curious as to the course of Des Esseintes’
history, let us add that a serious nervous illness attacks him in his
solitude, and that his doctor imperiously orders him to return to
Paris and the common life. Huysmans, in a second novel, ‘_Là-bas_,’
shows us what Des Esseintes eventually does in Paris. He writes a
history of Gilles de Rais, the wholesale murderer of the fifteenth
century, to whom Moreau de Tours’ book (treating of sexual aberrations)
has unmistakably called the attention of the Diabolist band, who are
in general profoundly ignorant, but erudite on this special subject
of erotomania. This furnishes M. Huysmans with the opportunity of
burrowing and sniffing with swinish satisfaction into the most horrible
filth. Besides this, he exhibits in this book the mystic side of
decadentism; he shows us Des Esseintes become devout, but going at the
same time to the ‘black mass’ with a hysterical woman, etc. I have no
occasion to trouble myself with this book, as repulsive as it is silly.
All I wished was to show the ideal man of decadentism.

We have him now, then, the ‘super-man’ (_surhomme_) of whom Baudelaire
and his disciples dream, and whom they wish to resemble: physically,
ill and feeble; morally, an arrant scoundrel; intellectually, an
unspeakable idiot who passes his whole time in choosing the colours
of stuffs which are to drape his room artistically, in observing the
movements of mechanical fishes, in sniffing perfumes and sipping
liqueurs. His raciest notion is to keep awake all night and to sleep
all day, and to dip his meat into his tea. Love and friendship are
unknown to him. His artistic sense consists in watching the attitude of
people before some work, in order immediately to assume the opposite
position. His complete inadaptability reveals itself in that every
contact with the world and men causes him pain. He naturally throws
the blame of his discomfort on his fellow-creatures, and rails at
them like a fish-wife. He classes them all together as villains and
blockheads, and he hurls at them horrible anarchical maledictions.
The dunderhead considers himself infinitely superior to other people,
and his inconceivable stupidity only equals his inflated adoration of
himself. He possesses an income of 50,000 francs, and must also have
it, for such a pitiable creature would not be in a position to draw
one sou from society, or one grain of wheat from nature. A parasite of
the lowest grade of atavism, a sort of human sacculus,[293] he would
be condemned, if he were poor, to die miserably of hunger in so far as
society, in misdirected charity, did not assure to him the necessaries
of life in an idiot asylum.

If M. Huysmans in his Des Esseintes has shown us the Decadent with all
his instincts perverted, _i.e._, the complete Baudelairian with his
anti-naturalism, his æsthetic folly and his anti-social Diabolism,
another representative of decadent literature, M. Maurice Barrès, is
the incarnation of the pure ego-mania of the incapacity of adaptation
in the degenerate. He has dedicated up to the present a series of four
novels to the _culte du moi_, and has annotated, besides, an edition
of the three first in a brochure much more valuable for our inquiry
than the novels themselves, inasmuch as all the sophisms by which
consciousness forces itself to explain _a posteriori_ the impulsions of
morbid unconscious life appear here conveniently summed up in a sort of
philosophical system.

A few words on M. Maurice Barrès. He first made himself talked
of by defending, in the Parisian press, his friend Chambige, the
Algerian homicide, a logical cultivator of the ‘Ego.’ Then he became
a Boulangist deputy, and later he canonized Marie Bashkirtseff, a
degenerate girl who died of phthisis, a victim to moral madness, with
a touch of the megalomania and the mania of persecution, as well as of
morbid erotic exaltation. He invoked her as ‘Our Lady of the wagon-lit’
(_Notre Dame du Sleeping_).[294]

His novels, _Sous l’[Œil des Barbares_, _Un Homme libre_, _Le Jardin
de Bérénice_, and _L’Ennemi des Lois_, are constructed after the
artistic formula established by M. Huysmans. The description of a
human being, with his intellectual life, and his monotonous, scarcely
modulated external destinies, gives the author a pretext for expressing
his own ideas on all possible subjects; on Leonardo da Vinci and
Venice;[295] on a French provincial museum and the industrial art of
the Middle Ages;[296] on Nero,[297] Saint Simon, Fourier, Marx, and
Lassalle.[298] Formerly it was the custom to utilize these excursions
into all possible fields of discussion as articles for newspapers or
monthly periodicals, and afterwards to collect them in book form. But
experience has taught that the public does not exhibit much interest
in these collections of essays, and the Decadents have adopted the
clever ruse of connecting them by means of a scarcely perceptible
thread of narrative, and presenting them to their readers as a novel.
The English novelists of the preceding century, then Stendhal, Jean
Paul and Goethe himself, have also made use of these insertions of the
author’s personal reflections in the course of the story; but with them
(with the exception, perhaps, of Jean Paul) these interpellations were
at least subordinated to the work of art as a whole. It was reserved
for M. Huysmans and his school to give them the chief place, and to
transform the novel from an epic poem in prose into a hybrid mixture of
_Essais_ of Montaigne, of _Parerga et Paralipomena_ of Schopenhauer,
and the effusions in the diary of a girl at a boarding-school.

M. Barrès makes it no secret that he has described his own life in his
novels, and that he considers himself a typical representative of a
species. ‘These monographs ... are,’ he says,[299] ‘a communication
of a type of young man already frequently met with, and which, I
feel sure, will become still more numerous among the pupils who are
now at the Lycée.... These books ... will eventually be consulted as

What is the nature of this type? Let us answer this question in the
author’s own words. The hero of the novels is ‘somewhat literary,
proud, fastidious and _désarmé_’ (_Examen_, p. 11); ‘a young
_bourgeois_ grown pale, and starving for all pleasures’ (p. 26);
‘discouraged by contact with men’ (p. 34); he is one of those ‘who find
themselves in a sad state in the midst of the order of the world ...
who feel themselves weak in facing life’ (p. 45). Can one imagine a
more complete description of the degenerate incapable of adaptation,
badly equipped for the struggle for existence, and for this reason
hating and fearing the world and men, but shaken at the same time by
morbid desires?

This poor shattered creature, who was necessarily rendered an
ego-maniac by the weakness of will in his imperfect brain, and the
perpetual turmoil of his unhealthy organs, raises his infirmities to
the dignity of a system which he proudly proclaims. ‘Let us keep to
our only reality, to our “I”’ (p. 18). ‘There is only one thing which
we know and which really exists.... This sole tangible reality, it is
the “I,” and the universe is only a fresco which it makes beautiful
or ugly. Let us keep to our “I.” Let us protect it against strangers,
against Barbarians’ (p. 45).

What does he mean by Barbarians? These are the ‘beings who possess
a dream of life opposed to that which he (the hero of one of his
books) forms of it. If they happen to be, moreover, highly cultured,
they are strangers and adversaries for him.’ A young man ‘obliged by
circumstances to meet persons who are not of his _patrie psychique_’
experiences ‘a shock.’ ‘Ah! what matters to me the quality of a
soul which contradicts some sensibility? I hate these strangers who
impede, or turn aside the development of such a delicate hesitating
and self-searching “I,” these Barbarians through whom more than one
impressionable young man will both fail in his career and not find his
joy of living’ (p. 23). ‘Soldiers, magistrates, moralists, teachers,’
these are the Barbarians who place obstacles in the way of the
development of the “I”’ (p. 43). In one word, the ‘I’ who cannot take
his bearings in the social order regards all the representatives and
defenders of that order as his enemies. What he would like would be ‘to
give himself up without resistance to the force of his instincts’ (p.
25), to distinguish ‘where lie his sincere curiosity, the direction of
his instinct, and his truth’ (p. 47). This idea of setting instinct,
passion and the unconscious life free from the superintendence of
reason, judgment and consciousness recurs hundreds of times in the
author’s novels. ‘Taste takes the place of morality’ (_L’Ennemi
des Lois_, p. 3). ‘As a man, and a free man, may I accomplish my
destiny, respect and favour my interior impulsion, without taking
counsel of anything outside me’ (p. 22). ‘Society enclosed by a line
of demarcation! You offer slavery to whoever does not conform to the
definitions of the beautiful and the good adopted by the majority. In
the name of humanity, as formerly in the name of God and the City, what
crimes are devised against the individual!’ (p. 200). ‘The inclinations
of man ought not to be forced, but the social system must be adapted
to them’ (p. 97). (It would be very much more simple to adapt the
inclinations of a single man to the social system which is a law to
millions of men, but this does not seem to suggest itself to our

It is absolutely logical that M. Barrès, after having shown us in his
three first novels or _idéologies_ the development of his ‘cultivator
of the _moi_,’ should make the latter become an anarchist and an
_ennemi des lois_. But he feels himself that the objection will be
justly raised, that society cannot exist without a law and an order
of some sort, and he seeks to forestall this objection by asserting
that everyone knows how to behave himself, that instinct is good and
infallible: ‘Do you not feel,’ he says (p. 177), ‘that our instinct
has profited by the long apprenticeship of our race amid codes and
religions?’ He admits then that ‘codes and religions’ have their use
and necessity, but only at a primitive period of human history. When
the instincts were still wild, bad and unreasonable, they required the
discipline of the law. But now they are so perfect that this guide and
master is no longer necessary to them. But there are still criminals.
What is to be done with them? ‘By stifling them with kisses and
providing for their wants they would be prevented from doing any harm.’
I should like to see M. Barrès obliged to use his method of defence
against a night attack of garrotters!

To allow one’s self to be carried away by instincts is, in other
words, to make unconscious life the master of consciousness, to
subordinate the highest nervous centres to the inferior centres.
But all progress rests on this, that the highest centres assume more
and more authority over the entire organism, that judgment and will
control and direct ever more strictly the instincts and passions, that
consciousness encroaches ever further on the domain of the unconscious,
and continually annexes new portions of the latter. Of course, instinct
expresses a directly felt need, the satisfaction of which procures a
direct pleasure. But this need is often that of a single organ, and
its satisfaction, however agreeable to the organ which demands it,
may be pernicious, and even fatal, to the total organism. Then there
are anti-social instincts, the gratification of which is not directly
injurious to the organism itself, it is true, but makes life in common
with the race difficult or impossible, worsening consequently its
vital conditions, and preparing its ruin indirectly. Judgment alone is
fitted to oppose these instincts by the representation of the needs
of the collective organism and of the race, and the will has the
task of ensuring the victory over suicidal instinct to the rational
representation. Judgment may be deceived, for it is the result of the
work of a highly differentiated and delicate instrument, which, like
all fine and complicated machinery, gets out of order more easily than
a simpler and rougher tool. Instinct, the inherited and organized
experience of the race, is as a rule more sure and reliable. This must
certainly be admitted. But what harm is done if judgment does make
a mistake for once in the opposition which it offers to instinct?
The organism is, as a rule, only deprived of a momentary feeling of
pleasure; it suffers therefore at most a negative loss; the will, on
the other hand, will have made an effort, and acquired strength by the
exercise, and this is for the organism a positive gain, which nearly
always at least balances those negative losses.

And then all these considerations take for granted the perfect health
of the organism, for in such a one only does the unconscious work as
normally as consciousness. But we have seen above that the unconscious
itself is subject to disease; it may be stupid, obtuse and mad, like
consciousness; it then ceases completely to be dependable; then the
instincts are as worthless guides as are the blind or drunken; then
the organism, if it gives itself up to them, must stagger to ruin and
death. The only thing which can sometimes save it in this case is the
constant, anxious, tense vigilance of the judgment, and as the latter
is never capable, by its own resources, of resisting a strong flood
of revolted and riotous instincts, it must demand reinforcements from
the judgment of the race, _i.e._, from some law, from some recognised

Such is the foolish aberration of the ‘cultivators of the “I.”’
They fall into the same errors as the shallow psychologists of the
eighteenth century, who only recognised reason; they only see one
portion of man’s mental life, _i.e._, his unconscious life; they wish
to receive their law only from instinct, but wholly neglect to notice
that instinct may become degenerate, diseased, exhausted, and thereby
be rendered as useless for legislative purposes as a raving lunatic or
an idiot.

Besides, M. Barrès contradicts his own theories at every step. While
he pretends to believe that instincts are always good, he depicts many
of his heroines, with the most tender expressions of admiration, as
veritable moral monsters. The ‘little princess’ in _L’Ennemi des Lois_
is a feminine Des Esseintes: she boasts of having been, as a child,
‘the scourge of the house’ (p. 146). She looks upon her parents as
her ‘enemies’ (p. 149). She loves children ‘less than dogs’ (p. 284).
Naturally, she gives herself at once to every man that strikes her eye,
for, otherwise, where would be the use of being a ‘cultivator of the
“Ego,”’ and an adept at the law of instinct? Such are the good beings
of M. Barrès, who no longer need laws, because they have ‘profited by
the long apprenticeship of our race.’

Yet a few more traits to complete the mental portrait of this Decadent.
He makes his ‘little princess’ relate: ‘When I was twelve years old,
I loved, as soon as I was alone in the country, to take off my shoes
and stockings and plunge my bare feet into warm mud. I passed hours in
this way, and that gave me a thrill of pleasure through all my body.’
M. Barrès resembles his heroine; he ‘experiences a thrill of pleasure
through all his body’ when he ‘plunges himself into warm mud.’

‘There is not a detail in the biography of Berenice which is not
shocking’--thus begins the third chapter of the _Jardin de Bérénice_.
‘I, however, retain of it none but very delicate sensations.’ This
Berenice was a dancer at the Eden Theatre in Paris, whom her mother and
elder sister had sold as a little child to some old criminals, and whom
a lover took away later from the prostitution which had already stained
her infancy. This lover dies and leaves her a considerable fortune.
The hero of the novel, who had known her as a gutter-child, meets
her at Arles, where he presents himself as the Boulangist candidate
for the Chamber, and he resumes his ancient relations with her. What
charms him most in their intercourse, and increases his pleasure in the
highest degree, is the idea of the intense love she felt for her dead
lover, and the abandonment with which she had reposed in his arms. ‘My
Berenice, who still bears on her pale lips and against her dazzling
teeth the kisses of M. de Transe [the lover in question].... The young
man who is no more has left her as much passion as can be contained
in a woman’s heart’ (p. 138). The feeling which M. Barrès seeks to
crown with the help of inflated, grandiloquent expressions is simply
the well-known excitement that hoary sinners feel at the sight of the
erotic exploits of others. All those who are conversant with Parisian
life know what is meant in Paris by a _voyeur_, or pryer. M. Barrès
reveals himself here as a metaphysical _voyeur_. And yet he would
wish to make us believe that his little street-walker, whose dirty
adventures he describes with the warmth of love and the enthusiasm of a
dilettante, is in reality a symbol; it is only as a Symbolist that he
claims to have formed her. ‘A young woman is seen about a young man.
Is it not rather the history of a soul with its two elements, female
and male?’ Or is it by the side of the ‘I’ which guards itself, wishes
to know and establish itself, also the imagination in a young and
sensitive person, for the taste pleasure and for vagabondage?[300] One
may well ask him, where is the ‘symbolism’ in the biographical details
of Petite Secousse, the name that he gives to his ‘symbol.’

Disease and corruption exercise the customary Baudelairian attraction
over him. ‘When Berenice was a little girl,’ he says, in the _Jardin
de Bérénice_ (p. 72), ‘I much regretted that she had not some physical
infirmity.... A blemish is what I prefer above everything ... flatters
the dearest foibles of my mind.’ And in one place (p. 282) an engineer
is scoffed at ‘who wishes to substitute some pond for carp for our
marshes full of beautiful fevers.’

The stigmata of degeneracy known as zoöphilia, or excessive love for
animals, is strongly shown in him. When he wishes particularly to edify
himself he runs ‘to contemplate the beautiful eyes of the seal, and to
distress himself over the mysterious sufferings of these tender-hearted
animals shown in their basin, brothers of the dogs and of us.’[301]
The only educator that M. Barrès admits is--the dog. ‘The education
which a dog gives is indeed excellent!... Our collegians, overloaded
with intellectual acquisitions, which remain in them as notions, not
as methods of feeling, weighted by opinions which they are unable
thoroughly to grasp, would learn beautiful ease from the dog, the
gift of listening, the instinct of their “I.”’[302] And it must not
be imagined that in such passages as these he is quizzing himself or
mocking the Philistine who may by inadvertence have become a reader of
the book. The part played by two dogs in the novel testifies that the
phrases quoted are meant in bitter earnest.

Like all the truly degenerate, M. Barrès reserves for the hysterical
and the demented all the admiration and fraternal love which he
has not expended on seals and dogs. We have already mentioned his
enthusiastic regard for poor Marie Bashkirtseff. His idea of Louis II.
of Bavaria is incomparable. The unfortunate King is, in his eyes, an
_insatisfait_ (_L’Ennemi des Lois_, p. 201); he speaks of ‘his being
carried away beyond his native surroundings, his ardent desire to make
his dream tangible, the wrecking of his imagination in the clumsiness
of execution’ (p. 203). Louis II. is ‘a most perfect ethical problem’
(p. 200). ‘How could this brother of Parsifal, so pure, so simple, who
set the prompting of his heart in opposition to all human laws--how
could he suffer a foreign will to interfere in his life? And it really
seems that to have drawn Dr. Gudden under water was his revenge upon
a barbarian who had wished to impose his rule of life upon him’ (p.
225). It is in such phrases that M. Barrès characterizes a madman,
whose mind was completely darkened, and who for years was incapable
of a single reasonable idea! This impudent fashion of blinking a fact
which boxed his ears on both sides; this incapacity to recognise the
irrationality in the mental life of an invalid, fallen to the lowest
degree of insanity; this obstinacy in explaining the craziest deeds as
deliberate, intentional, philosophically justified and full of deep
sense, throw a vivid light on the state of mind in the Decadent. How
could a being of this kind discern the pathological disturbance of his
own brain, when he does not even perceive that Louis II. was not ‘an
ethical problem,’ but an ordinary mad patient, such as every lunatic
asylum of any size contains by dozens?

We now understand the philosophy and moral doctrine of the Barrès type
of the ‘cultivators of the “I.”’ Only one word more on their conduct in
practical life. The hero of the _Jardin de Bérénice_, Philippe, is the
happy guest of Petite Secousse, in the house which her last lover had
left to her. After some time he wearies of the latter’s ‘educational
influence’; he leaves her, and strongly advises her to marry his
opponent in the election--which she does. ‘The enemy of the laws,’
an anarchist of the name of André Maltère, condemned to prison for
several months for a newspaper article eulogizing a dynamite attempt,
has become, by his trial, a celebrity of the day. A very rich orphan
offers him her hand, and the ‘little princess’ her love. He marries the
rich girl, whom he does not love, and continues to love the ‘little
princess,’ whom he does not marry. For this is what the ‘culture of
his “I”’ exacts. To satisfy his æsthetic inclinations and to ‘act’ by
word and pen, he must have money, and to relieve the needs of his heart
he must have the ‘little princess.’ After some months of marriage he
finds it inconvenient to dissimulate his love for the ‘little princess’
before his wife. He allows her then to guess at the needs of his heart.
His wife understands philosophy. She is ‘comprehensive.’ She goes
herself to the ‘little princess,’ takes her to the noble anarchist,
and from this moment Maltère lives rich, loved, happy, and satisfied
between heiress and mistress, as becomes a superior nature. M. Barrès
believes he has here created ‘a rare and exquisite type.’ He deceives
himself. The cultivators of the ‘I,’ like the Boulangist Philippe and
the anarchist André, meet by thousands in all large towns, only the
police know them under another name. They call them _souteneurs_. The
moral law of the brave anarchist has long been that of the gilded Paris
prostitutes, who from time immemorial have kept ‘_l’amant de cœur_,’ at
the same time as the ‘other,’ or the ‘others.’

Decadentism has not been confined to France alone; it has also
established a school in England. We have already mentioned, in the
preceding book, one of the earliest and most servile imitators of
Baudelaire--Swinburne. I had to class him among the mystics, for the
degenerative stigma of mysticism predominates in all his works. He has,
it is true, been train-bearer to so many models that he may be ranked
among the domestic servants of a great number of masters; but, finally,
he will be assigned a place where he has served longest, and that is
among the pre-Raphaelites. From Baudelaire he has borrowed principally
diabolism and Sadism, unnatural depravity, and a predilection for
suffering, disease and crime. The ego-mania of decadentism, its love of
the artificial, its aversion to nature, and to all forms of activity
and movement, its megalomaniacal contempt for men and its exaggeration
of the importance of art, have found their English representative among
the ‘Æsthetes,’ the chief of whom is Oscar Wilde.

Wilde has done more by his personal eccentricities than by his works.
Like Barbey d’Aurevilly, whose rose-coloured silk hats and gold lace
cravats are well known, and like his disciple Joséphin Péladan, who
walks about in lace frills and satin doublet, Wilde dresses in queer
costumes which recall partly the fashions of the Middle Ages, partly
the rococo modes. He pretends to have abandoned the dress of the
present time because it offends his sense of the beautiful; but this
is only a pretext in which probably he himself does not believe. What
really determines his actions is the hysterical craving to be noticed,
to occupy the attention of the world with himself, to get talked about.
It is asserted that he has walked down Pall Mall in the afternoon
dressed in doublet and breeches, with a picturesque biretta on his
head, and a sunflower in his hand, the quasi-heraldic symbol of the
Æsthetes. This anecdote has been reproduced in all the biographies of
Wilde, and I have nowhere seen it denied. But is a promenade with a
sunflower in the hand also inspired by a craving for the beautiful?

Phasemakers are perpetually repeating the twaddle, that it is a proof
of honourable independence to follow one’s own taste without being
bound down to the regulation costume of the Philistine cattle, and
to choose for clothes the colours, materials and cut which appear
beautiful to one’s self, no matter how much they may differ from the
fashion of the day. The answer to this cackle should be that it is
above all a sign of anti-social ego-mania to irritate the majority
unnecessarily, only to gratify vanity, or an æsthetical instinct of
small importance and easy to control--such as is always done when,
either by word or deed, a man places himself in opposition to this
majority. He is obliged to repress many manifestations of opinions and
desires out of regard for his fellow-creatures; to make him understand
this is the aim of education, and he who has not learnt to impose
some restraint upon himself in order not to shock others is called by
malicious Philistines, not an Æsthete, but a blackguard.

It may become a duty to combat the vulgar herd in the cause of truth
and knowledge; but to a serious man this duty will always be felt as a
painful one. He will never fulfil it with a light heart, and he will
examine strictly and cautiously if it be really a high and absolutely
imperative law which forces him to be disagreeable to the majority of
his fellow-creatures. Such an action is, in the eyes of a moral and
sane man, a kind of martyrdom for a conviction, to carry out which
constitutes a vital necessity; it is a form, and not an easy form, of
self-sacrifice, for it means the renunciation of the joy which the
consciousness of sympathy with one’s fellow-creatures gives, and it
exacts the painful overthrow of social instincts, which, in truth, do
not exist in deranged ego-maniacs, but are very strong in the normal

The predilection for strange costume is a pathological aberration of
a racial instinct. The adornment of the exterior has its origin in
the strong desire to be admired by others--primarily by the opposite
sex--to be recognised by them as especially well-shaped, handsome,
youthful, or rich and powerful, or as preeminent through rank or merit.
It is practised, then, with the object of producing a favourable
impression on others, and is a result of thought about others, of
preoccupation with the race. If, now, this adornment be, not through
mis-judgment but purposely, of a character to cause irritation to
others, or lend itself to ridicule--in other words, if it excites
disapproval instead of approbation--it then runs exactly counter to the
object of the art of dress, and evinces a perversion of the instinct of

The pretence of a sense of beauty is the excuse of consciousness for a
crank of the conscious. The fool who masquerades in Pall Mall does not
see himself, and, therefore, does not enjoy the beautiful appearance
which is supposed to be an æsthetic necessity for him. There would be
some sense in his conduct if it had for its object an endeavour to
cause others to dress in accordance with his taste; for them he sees,
and they can scandalize him by the ugliness, and charm him by the
beauty, of their costume. But to take the initiative in a new artistic
style in dress brings the innovator not one hair’s breadth nearer his
assumed goal of æsthetic satisfaction.

When, therefore, an Oscar Wilde goes about in ‘æsthetic costume’ among
gazing Philistines, exciting either their ridicule or their wrath, it
is no indication of independence of character, but rather from a purely
anti-socialistic, ego-maniacal recklessness and hysterical longing to
make a sensation, justified by no exalted aim; nor is it from a strong
desire for beauty, but from a malevolent mania for contradiction.

Be that as it may, Wilde obtained, by his buffoon mummery, a notoriety
in the whole Anglo-Saxon world that his poems and dramas would never
have acquired for him. I have no reason to trouble myself about these,
since they are feeble imitations of Rossetti and Swinburne, and of
dreary inanity. His prose essays, on the contrary, deserve attention,
because they exhibit all the features which enable us to recognise in
the ‘Æsthete’ the comrade in art of the Decadent.

Like his French masters, Oscar Wilde despises Nature. ‘Whatever
actually occurs is spoiled for art. All bad poetry springs from genuine
feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be

He is a ‘cultivator of the Ego,’ and feels deliciously indignant at
the fact that Nature dares to be indifferent to his important person.
‘Nature is so indifferent, so unappreciative. Whenever I am walking in
the park here, I always feel that I am no more to her than the cattle
that browse on the slope’ (p. 5).

With regard to himself and the human species, he shares the opinion of
Des Esseintes. ‘Ah! don’t say that you agree with me. When people agree
with me I always feel that I must be wrong’ (p. 202).

His ideal of life is inactivity. ‘It is only the Philistine who seeks
to estimate a personality by the vulgar test of production. This young
dandy sought to be somebody rather than to do something’ (p. 65).
‘Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.
The beautiful sterile emotions that art excites in us are hateful in
its eyes.... People ... are always coming shamelessly up to one ...
and saying in a loud, stentorian voice, “What are you doing?” whereas,
“What are you thinking?” is the only question that any civilized being
should ever be allowed to whisper to another.... Contemplation ...
in the opinion of the highest culture, is the proper occupation of
man.... It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and
relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits at ease
and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams’ (pp. 166-168). ‘The
sure way of knowing nothing about life is to try to make one’s self
useful’ (p. 175). ‘From time to time the world cries out against some
charming artistic poet, because, to use its hackneyed and silly phrase,
he has “nothing to say.” But if he had something to say, he would
probably say it, and the result would be tedious. It is just because he
has no new message that he can do beautiful work’ (p. 197).

Oscar Wilde apparently admires immorality, sin and crime. In a very
affectionate biographical treatise on Thomas Griffith Wainwright,
designer, painter, and author, and the murderer of several people, he
says: ‘He was a forger of no mean or ordinary capabilities, and as a
subtle and secret poisoner almost without rival in this or any age.
This remarkable man, so powerful with “pen, pencil, and poison,”’ etc.
(p. 60). ‘He sought to find expression by pen or poison’ (p. 61).
‘When a friend reproached him with the murder of Helen Abercrombie, he
shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yes; it was a dreadful thing to do,
but she had very thick ankles”’ (p. 86). ‘His crimes seem to have had
an important effect upon his art. They gave a strong personality to his
style, a quality that his early work certainly lacked’ (p. 88). ‘There
is no sin except stupidity’ (p. 210). ‘An idea that is not dangerous is
unworthy of being called an idea at all’ (p. 179).

He cultivates incidentally a slight mysticism in colours. ‘He,’
Wainwright, ‘had that curious love of green which in individuals is
always the sign of a subtle, artistic temperament, and in nations is
said to denote a laxity, if not a decadence of morals’ (p. 66).

But the central idea of his tortuously disdainful prattling, pursuing
as its chief aim the heckling of the Philistine, and laboriously
seeking the opposite pole to sound common-sense, is the glorification
of art. Wilde sets forth in the following manner the system of the
‘Æsthetes’: ‘Briefly, then, their doctrines are these: Art never
expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life, just as
Thought has, and develops purely on its own lines.... The second
doctrine is this: All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature,
and elevating them into ideals. Life and Nature may sometimes be used
as part of Art’s rough material, but before they are of any real
service to Art they must be translated into artistic conventions.
The moment Art surrenders its imaginative medium [?] it surrenders
everything. As a method Realism is a complete failure, and the two
things that every artist should avoid are modernity of form and
modernity of subject matter.[304] To us who live in the nineteenth
century, any century is a suitable subject for art except our own.
The only beautiful things are the things that do not concern us....
It is exactly because Hecuba is nothing to us that her sorrows are
so suitable a motive for a tragedy....’[305] (pp. 52-54). The third
doctrine is that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.
This results not merely from Life’s imitative instinct, but from the
fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and
that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize
that energy’ (p. 65).

On this third point--the influence of art on life--Wilde does not refer
to the fact, long ago established by me, that the reciprocal relation
between the work of art and the public consists in this, that the
former exercises suggestion and the latter submits to it.[306] What he
actually wished to say was that nature--not civilized men--develops
itself in the direction of forms given it by the artist. ‘Where, if
not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that
come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas-lamps and changing
the houses into monstrous shadows? To whom, if not to them and their
master, do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river,
and turn to faint forms of fading grace, curved bridge and swaying
barge? The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of
London during the last ten years is entirely due to this particular
school of Art’ (p. 40). If he simply wished to affirm that formerly
fog and mist were not felt to be beautiful, and that the artistic
rendering of them first drew to them the attention of the multitude,
nothing could be said in contradiction; he would have propounded just
a hackneyed commonplace with misplaced sententiousness. He asserts,
however, that painters have changed the climate, that for the last
ten years there have been fogs in London, because the Impressionists
have painted fogs--a statement so silly as to require no refutation.
It is sufficient to characterize it as artistic mysticism. Lastly,
Wilde teaches the following: ‘Æsthetics are higher than ethics. They
belong to a more spiritual sphere. To discern the beauty of a thing is
the finest point to which we can arrive. Even a colour-sense is more
important in the development of the individual than a sense of right
and wrong’ (pp. 210, 211).

Thus the doctrine of the ‘Æsthetes’ affirms, with the Parnassians, that
the work of art is its own aim; with the Diabolists, that it need not
be moral--nay, were better to be immoral; with the Decadents, that it
is to avoid, and be diametrically opposed to, the natural and the true;
and with all these schools of the ego-mania of degeneration, that art
is the highest of all human functions.

Here is the place to demonstrate the absurdity of these propositions.
This can, of course, be done only in the concisest manner. For to treat
fully of the relation of the beautiful to morals and truth to Nature,
of the conception of aim in artistic beauty, and of the rank held by
art among mental functions, it would be necessary to expound the whole
science of æsthetics, on which the somewhat exhaustive text-books
amount to a considerable number of volumes; and this cannot be my
purpose in this place. Hence I shall of necessity only recapitulate the
latest results in a series of the clearest and most obvious deductions
possible, which the attentive reader will be able without difficulty to
develop by his own reflection.

The ‘bonzes’ of art, who proclaim the doctrine of ‘art for art’s sake,’
look down with contempt upon those who deny their dogma, affirming that
the heretics who ascribe to works of art any aim whatsoever can be only
pachydermatous Philistines, whose comprehension is limited to beans and
bacon, or stock-jobbers with whom it is only a question of profit, or
sanctimonious parsons making a professional pretence of virtue. They
believe that they are supported in this by such men as Kant, Lessing,
etc., who were likewise of the opinion that the work of art had but
one task to perform--that of being beautiful. We need not be overawed
by the great names of these guarantors. Their opinion cannot withstand
the criticism to which it has been subjected during the last hundred
years by a great number of philosophers (I name only Fichte, Hegel and
Vischer), and its inadequacy follows from the fact, among others, that
it allows absolutely no place for the ugly as an object of artistic

Let us remind ourselves how works of art and art in general originated.

That plastic art originally sprang from the imitation of Nature is a
commonplace, open justly to the reproach that it does not enter deeply
enough into the question. Imitation is without doubt one of the first
and most general reactions of the developed living being upon the
impressions it receives from the external world. This is a necessary
consequence of the mechanism of the higher activity of the nervous
system. Every compound movement must be preceded by the representation
of this movement, and, conversely, no representation of movement can be
elaborated without at least a faint and hinted accomplishment of the
corresponding movement by the muscles. Upon this principle depends,
for example, the well-known ‘thought-reading.’ As often, therefore,
as a being (whose nervous system is developed highly enough to raise
perceptions to the rank of representations) acquires knowledge, _i.e._,
forms for itself a representation of any phenomenon whatever comprising
in itself a more or less molar form of movement (molecular movements,
and, _a fortiori_, vibrations of ether are not directly recognised as
changes of position in space), it has also a tendency to transform the
representation into a movement resembling it, and hence to imitate
the phenomenon, in that form, naturally, which, with its means, it
is capable of realizing. If every representation be not embodied in
perceptible movement, the cause is to be traced to the action of
the inhibitive mechanism of the brain, which does not permit every
representation at once to set the muscles into activity. In a state of
fatigue inhibition is relaxed, and, in fact, all sorts of unintentional
imitations make their appearance, as, for example, symmetrical
movements, such as the left hand involuntarily and aimlessly makes of
those executed by the right hand in writing, etc. There is also a rare
disease of the nerves[307] hitherto observed chiefly in Russia, and
especially in Siberia, there called _myriachit_, in which inhibition
becomes completely disorganized, so that the diseased persons are
forced at once to imitate any action seen by them, even if it be
disagreeable or pernicious to them. If, for example, they see someone
fall, they are compelled to throw themselves also to the ground, even
if they are standing in a muddy road.

Except in disease and fatigue, the action of inhibition is suspended
only when the excitation produced in the nervous system by an
impression is strong enough to vanquish it. If this impression is
disagreeable, or menacing, the movements set loose by it are those of
defence or flight. If, on the contrary, the impression is pleasant,
or if it is surprising without being disquieting, then the reaction
of the organism against it is a movement without objective aim, most
frequently a movement of imitation. Hence, among healthy men possessed
of well-working inhibitory mechanism in their nervous system, this
movement does not appear with every phenomenon, but only with such as
strike it forcibly, fix its attention, engage and stimulate it--in a
word, cause an emotion. Activity of imitation (and the plastic arts
are at bottom nothing but residuary traces of imitative movements)
has consequently an immediate organic aim, viz., the freeing of the
nervous system from an excitation set up in it by some visual cause. If
the excitation is not caused by the sight of any external phenomenon,
but by an internal organic state (_e.g._, sexual _erethism_), or by
a representation of an abstract nature (_e.g._, the joy of victory,
sorrow, or longing), it likewise transforms itself, it is true, into
movements; but these are naturally not imitative. They embody no motor
representation, but are in part such as have for their sole end the
relaxing of the nerve-centres overcharged with motor impulsions, as in
the dance, in outcries, song and music, and in part such as disburden
the centres of ideation, like declamation, lyric and epic poetry. If
artistic activity is frequently exercised and facilitated by habit, it
no longer requires emotions of extraordinary strength to provoke it. As
often, then, as man is excited by such external or internal impressions
as demand no action (conflict, flight, adaptation), but reach his
consciousness in the form of a mood, he relieves his nervous system of
this excitation through some kind of artistic activity, either by means
of the plastic arts or by music and poetry.

Hence imitation is not the source of the arts, but one of the media
of art; the real source of art is emotion. Artistic activity is not
its own end, but it is of direct utility to the artist; it satisfies
the need of his organism to transform its emotions into movement. He
creates the work of art, not for its own sake, but to free his nervous
system from a tension. The expression, which has become a commonplace,
is psycho-physiologically accurate, viz., the artist writes, paints,
sings, or dances the burden of some idea or feeling off his mind.

To this primary end of art--the subjective end of the self-deliverance
of the artist--a second must be added, viz., the objective end of
acting upon others. Like every other animal living in society and
partly dependent upon it, man has, in consequence of his racial
instinct, the aspiration to impart his own emotions to those of his
own species, just as he himself participates in the emotions of those
of his own species. This strong desire to know himself in emotional
communion with the species is sympathy, that organic base of the
social edifice.[308] In advanced civilization, where the original
natural motives of actions are partly obscured and partly replaced by
artificial motives, and the actions themselves receive an aim other
than the theoretical one proper to them, the artist is, it is true,
not limited to sharing his emotions with others, but creates his work
of art with the accessory purpose of becoming famous--a wish springing
none the less from social instincts, since it is directed towards
obtaining the applause of his fellow-creatures, or even of earning
money, a motive no longer social, but purely egoistic. This vulgarly
egoistic motive is still the only one influencing the countless
imitators who practise art, not from original strong desire, and as
the natural and necessary mode of expressing their emotions, but whose
artistic activity is caused by the envy with which they regard the
success of others in art.

Once we have established, as a fact, that art is not practised for its
own sake alone, but that it has a double aim, subjective and objective,
viz., the satisfaction of an organic want of the artist, and the
influencing of his fellow-creatures, then the principles by which every
other human activity pursuing the same end is judged are applicable to
it, _i.e._, the principles of law and morality.

We test every organic desire to see whether it be the outcome of
a legitimate need or the consequence of an aberration; whether
its satisfaction be beneficial or pernicious to the organism. We
distinguish the healthy from the diseased impulse, and demand that
the latter be combated. If the desire seeks its satisfaction in an
activity acting upon others, then we examine to see if this activity is
reconcilable with the existence and prosperity of society, or dangerous
to it. The activity imperilling society offends against law and custom,
which are nothing but an epitome of the temporary notions of society
concerning what is beneficial and what is pernicious to it.

Notions healthy and diseased, moral and immoral, social or anti-social,
are as valid for art as for every other human activity, and there is
not a scintilla of reason for regarding a work of art in any other
light than that in which we view every other manifestation of an

It is easily conceivable that the emotion expressed by the artist in
his work may proceed from a morbid aberration, may be directed, in
an unnatural, sensual, cruel manner, to what is ugly or loathsome.
Ought we not in this case to condemn the work and, if possible, to
suppress it? How can its right to exist be justified? By claiming
that the artist was sincere when he created it, that he gave back
what was really existing in him, and for that reason was subjectively
justified in his artistic expansion? But there is a candour which is
wholly inadmissible. The dipsomaniac and clastomaniac are sincere
when they respectively drink or break everything within reach. We do
not, however, acknowledge their right to satisfy their desire. We
prevent them by force. We put them under guardianship, although their
drunkenness and destructiveness may perhaps be injurious to no one but
themselves. And still more decidedly does society oppose itself to
the satisfaction of those cravings which cannot be appeased without
violently acting upon others. The new science of criminal anthropology
admits without dispute that homicidal maniacs, certain incendiaries,
many thieves and vagabonds, act under an impulsion; that through their
crimes they satisfy an organic craving; that they outrage, kill,
burn, idle, as others sit down to dinner, simply because they hunger
to do so; but in spite of this and because of this, it demands that
the appeasing of the sincere longings of these degenerate creatures
be prevented by all means, and, if needs be, by their complete
suppression. It never occurs to us to permit the criminal by organic
disposition to ‘expand’ his individuality in crime, and just as little
can it be expected of us to permit the degenerate artist to expand his
individuality in immoral works of art. The artist who complacently
represents what is reprehensible, vicious, criminal, approves of it,
perhaps glorifies it, differs not in kind, but only in degree, from the
criminal who actually commits it. It is a question of the intensity of
the impulsion and the resisting power of the judgment, perhaps also
of courage and cowardice; nothing else. If the actual law does not
treat the criminal by intention so rigorously as the criminal in act,
it is because criminal law pursues the deed, and not the purpose; the
objective phenomenon, not its subjective roots. The Middle Ages had
places of sanctuary where criminals could not be molested for their
misdemeanours. Modern law has done away with this institution. Ought
art to be at present the last asylum to which criminals may fly to
escape punishment? Are they to be able to satisfy, in the so-called
‘temple’ of art, instincts which the policeman prevents them from
appeasing in the street? I do not see how a privilege so inimical to
society can be willingly defended.

I am far from sharing Ruskin’s opinion that morality alone, and
nothing else, can be demanded of a work of art. Morality alone is
not sufficient. Otherwise religious tracts would be the finest
literature, and the well-known coloured casts of sacred subjects turned
out wholesale in Munich factories would be the choicest sculpture.
Excellence of form maintains its rights in all the arts, and gives to
the finest creation its artistic value. Hence the work need not be
moral. More accurately, it need not be designed expressly to preach
virtue and the fear of God, and to be destined for the edification
of devotees. But between a work without sanctified aim and one of
wilful immorality there is a world of difference. A work which is
indifferent from a moral point of view will not be equally attractive
or satisfying to all minds, but it will offend and repel no one. An
explicitly immoral work excites in healthy persons the same feelings of
displeasure and disgust as the immoral act itself, and the form of the
work can change nothing of this. Most assuredly morality alone does not
give beauty to a work of art. But beauty without morality is impossible.

We now come to the second argument with which the Æsthetes wish to
defend the right of the artist to immorality. The work of art, they
say, need only be beautiful. Beauty lies in the form. Hence the content
is a matter of indifference. This may be vice and crime; but it cannot
derogate from the excellences of form if these be present.

He alone can venture to advance such principles who is without the
least inkling of the psycho-physiology of the æsthetic feelings.
Everyone who has studied this subject in the least knows that two
kinds of the beautiful are distinguished--the sensuously-beautiful
and the intellectually-beautiful. We feel those phenomena to be
beautiful, the sense-perception of which is accompanied by a feeling
of pleasure--_e.g._, a particular colour, perhaps a pure red, or a
harmony; nay, even a single note with its severally indistinguishable
but synchronous overtones. The researches of Helmholtz[309] and
Blaserna[310] have thrown light on the cause of the feeling of
pleasure connected with certain acoustic perceptions, while those of
Brücke[311] have led to similar results with regard to the mechanism
of the feelings of pleasure following optical impressions. It is a
question of discernment by the sensory nerves of definite simple
numerical relations in the vibrations of matter or of ether. We know
less concerning the causes of the pleasures connected with smell
and touch; yet here also it seems to be a question of more or less
strong impressions, hence equally of quantities--_i.e._, of numbers.
The ultimate cause of all these feelings is that certain modes of
vibrations are in accord with the structure of the nerves, are easy for
them and leave them in order, while other modes disturb the arrangement
of the nerve particles, often costing the nerves an effort, often
dangerous to their existence or at least their functioning, to restore
them to their natural order. The former will be felt as pleasure, the
latter as discomfort, and even as pain. With the sensuously-beautiful
there can be no question of morality, for it exists as perception only,
and does not rise to the rank of representation.

Above the sensuously-beautiful stands the intellectually-beautiful,
no longer consisting of mere perceptions, but of representations, of
concepts and judgments, with their accompanying emotions elaborated in
the unconscious. The intellectually-beautiful must also awaken feelings
of pleasure, to be perceived as beautiful; and, as above explained,
with feelings of pleasure are united, in healthy, fully-developed human
beings equipped with the social instinct (altruism), only those ideas
the content whereof is conducive to the existence and prosperity of the
individual being, society, or species. Now, that which is favourable
to the life and prosperity of the individual and of the species is
precisely that which we call moral.

From this it results by an iron necessity that a work which awakens no
feelings of pleasure cannot be beautiful, and that it can awaken no
feelings of pleasure if it is not moral, and we arrive at the final
conclusion, that morality and beauty are in their innermost essence
identical. It were not false to assert that beauty is statical repose,
and morality beauty in action.

This is only apparently contradicted by the fact that what is
incontestably ugly and bad may also be agreeable, and hence awaken
feelings of pleasure. The mental process set up by percepts and ideas
is not, in this case, so simple and direct as with respect to the
beautiful and the good. Associations sometimes of a highly complex
nature must first be put into activity, finally, however, to lead to
the single great result, viz., the awakening of feelings of pleasure.
The well-known Aristotelian catharsis, purging or purification,
explains how tragedy, though it offers the spectacle of pain and ruin,
finally produces an agreeable effect. The representation of deserved
misfortune awakens ideas of justice, a moral, agreeable idea; and even
that of unmerited misfortune gives rise to pity, in itself a feeling
of pain, though, in its quality of a racial instinct, beneficial
and therefore not only moral, but, in its final essence, agreeable.
When Valdez, in his famous picture of the _Caridad de Sevilla_,
shows us an open coffin in which lies the corpse of an arch-bishop
in full vestments, swarming with worms, this spectacle is in itself
undeniably repulsive. Nevertheless it permits us at once to recognise
the emotion which the painter wished to express, viz., his feeling of
the nothingness of all earthly possessions and honours, the frailty
of man in the face of the primeval power of Nature. It is the same
emotion embodied by Holbein in his ‘Dance of Death,’ not so profoundly
and passionately as by the Spaniard with his stronger feelings, but
with self-mockery and bitterness. The same emotion is heard, somewhat
less gloomily and with more of a melancholy resignation, in Mozart’s
_Requiem_. In the idea of the contrast between the insignificance of
individual life and the vastness and eternity of Nature, there mingles
itself an element of the sublime, of which the idea, as the choicest
form of activity in the highest brain-centres, is united with feelings
of pleasure.

Another circumstance in the plastic arts has to be considered. In works
of sculpture and painting a broad separation is possible between the
form and the content, between the sensuous and the moral. A painting,
a group, may represent the most immoral and most criminal incident;
nevertheless, the individual constituent parts--the atmosphere, the
harmonies of colour, the human figures--may be beautiful in themselves,
and the connoisseur may derive enjoyment from them without dwelling on
the subject of the work. The engravings in the _Editions des fermiers
généraux_ of the last century, the works in marble and bronze of the
pornographic museum at Naples, are, in a measure, repulsively immoral,
because they represent unnatural vice. In themselves, however, they are
excellently executed, and are accessible to a mode of contemplation
which disregards their idea and keeps in view only the perfection of
their form. Here, therefore, the impression of the work of art is
a mixture of disgust for the subject treated, and enjoyment of the
beauty of the several figures and their attitudes--painted, drawn, or
modelled. The feeling of pleasure may preponderate, and the work, in
spite of its depravity, produce, not a repellent, but an attractive
effect. It is the same in nature. If that which is pernicious and
frightful is sometimes felt to be beautiful, it is because it contains
certain features and elements which have no cogent reference to the
frightful or pernicious character of the whole, and can hence in
themselves operate æsthetically. The hammer-headed viper is beautiful
on account of its metallic lustre; the tiger for its strength and
suppleness; the foxglove (_Digitalis_) for its graceful form and rich
rosy hue. The noxiousness of the snake does not lie in its copper-red
dorsal bands, nor the terribleness of the beast of prey in its
graceful appearance, nor the danger of the poisonous plant in the form
and colour of its blossoms. In these cases the sensuously-beautiful
outweighs the morally-repulsive, because it is more immediately
present, and, in the collective impression, allows the feelings of
pleasure to predominate. The spectacle of the display of strength and
resolution is equally a beautiful one, on account of the ideas of
organic efficiency awakened by it. Would this, however, be thought
beautiful if one could see how an assassin overpowers a victim who
is resisting violently, hurls him to the ground and butchers him?
Certainly not; for before such a picture it is no longer possible to
separate the display of strength, beautiful in itself, from its aim,
and to enjoy the former regardless of the latter.

In poetry this separation of the form from the content is far less
possible than in the plastic arts. The word can hardly in itself
produce an effect of sensuous beauty by its auditory or visual image,
even if it presents itself rhythmically regulated and strengthened by
the more expressive double sound of a rhyme. It operates almost solely
by its content, by the representations which it awakens. Hence it is
hardly conceivable that one can hear or read a poetical exposition
of criminal or vicious facts, without having present at each word a
representation of its content, and not of its form--_i.e._, of its
sound. In this case, therefore, the impression can no longer be a
composite one, as at the sight of a finely-painted portrayal of a
repulsive incident, but must be purely disagreeable. The pictures
of Giulio Romano, to which Pietro Aretino dedicated his _Sonetti
lussuriosi_, may be found beautiful by the admirers of the effeminate
style of that pupil of Raphael; the sonnets are only the more
disgusting. Who would experience feelings of pleasure from the perusal
of the writings of the Marquis de Sade, Andrea de Nercia or Liseux?
Only one species of human beings--that of the degenerate with perverted
instincts. Portrayals of crime and vice in art and literature have
their public; that we well know. It is the public of the gaols. Besides
dismally sentimental books, criminals read nothing so willingly as
stories of lust and violence;[312] and the drawings and inscriptions
with which they cover the walls of their cells have, for the most
part, their crimes as subjects.[313] But the healthy man feels himself
violently repelled by works of this kind, and it is impossible for him
to receive an æsthetic impression from them, be their form never so
conformable to the most approved rules of art.

In yet another case it is possible for that which is most ugly and
vicious in artistic portrayal to operate in the direction of the
morally beautiful. This is when it allows us to recognise the moral
purpose of the author and betrays his sympathetic emotion. For that
which we, consciously or unconsciously, perceive behind every artistic
creation is the nature of its creator and the emotion from which it
sprang, and our sympathy with, or antipathy for, the emotion of the
author has the lion’s share in our appreciation of the work. When
Raffaelli paints shockingly degraded absinthe-drinkers in the low
drinking dens of the purlieus of Paris, we clearly feel his profound
pity at the sight of these fallen human beings, and this emotion we
experience as a morally beautiful one. In like manner we have not a
momentary doubt of the morality of the artist’s emotions when we behold
Callot’s pictures of the horrors of war, or the bleeding, purulent
saints of Zurbaran, or the monsters of Breughel van der Hölle, or
when we read the murder scene in Dostojevsky’s _Raskolnikow_.[314]
These emotions are beautiful. Sympathy with them gives us a feeling
of pleasure. Against this feeling the displeasure caused by the
repulsiveness of the work cannot prevail. When, however, the work
betrays the indifference of the author to the evil or ugliness he
depicts, nay, his predilection for it, then the abhorrence provoked
by the work is intensified by all the disgust which the author’s
aberration of instinct inspires in us, and the aggregate impression is
one of keenest displeasure. Those who share the emotions of the author,
and hence are with him attracted and pleasurably excited by what is
repugnant, diseased and evil, are the degenerate.

The Æsthetes affirm that artistic activity is the highest of which
the human mind is capable, and must occupy the first place in the
estimation of men. How do they manage to establish this assertion from
their own standpoint? Why should I place a high value on the activity
of a fellow who with rapture describes the colours and odours of putrid
carrion; and why should I bestow my especial esteem on a painter who
shows me the libidinousness of a harlot? Because the amount of artistic
technique involved is difficult? If that is to be the decisive point,
then, to be logical, the Æsthetes must place the acrobat higher than
the artist of their species, since it is much more difficult to learn
the art of the trapezist than the rhyming and daubing which constitutes
the ‘art’ of the Æsthetes. Is it to be on account of sensations of
pleasure given by artists? First of all, those artists over whom the
Æsthetes grow so enthusiastic create in the healthy man no pleasure,
but loathing or boredom. But granted that they do provide sensations,
the first inquiry must then be of what sort these sensations are.
Every sensation, even if we for the moment find it agreeable, does not
inspire us with esteem for the person to whom we are indebted for it.
At the card-table, in the public-house and the brothel, a base nature
may procure sensations the intensity of which those offered by any work
of the Æsthetes is far from being able to rival. But even the most
dissolute drunkard does not in consequence hold the keepers of these
places of his pleasures in specially high esteem.

The truth is that the claim of the highest rank for art advanced by the
Æsthetes involves the complete refutation of their other dogmas. The
race estimates individual activities according to their utility for the
whole. The higher this develops itself, the more exact and profound
is the understanding it acquires of that which is really necessary
and beneficial to it. The warrior, who in a low grade of civilization
rightly plays the most prominent part, because society must live,
and to this end must defend itself against its enemies, recedes to a
more humble position as manners become more gentle, and the relations
between peoples cease to resemble those between beasts of prey, and
assume a human character. Once the race has attained in some degree
to a clear comprehension of its relation to nature, it knows that
knowledge is its most important task, and its profoundest respect is
for those who cultivate and enlarge knowledge--_i.e._, for thinkers and
investigators. Even in the monarchical state, which, conformably with
its own atavistic nature, gauges the importance of the warrior by the
standard of primitive men (and in the present condition of Europe, in
the presence of the scarcely restrained fury for war, among a whole
series of nations, the _raison d’être_ for this atavism cannot, alas!
be contested), the scholar, as professor, academician, counsellor, is a
constituent part of the governmental machine, and honours and dignities
fall far more to his lot than to the poet and artist. The enthusiasts
of the latter are youths and women--_i.e._, those components of the
race in whom the unconscious outweighs consciousness; for artist and
poet address themselves first of all to emotion, and this is more
easily excited in the woman and the adolescent than in the mature man;
their accomplishments are, moreover, more accessible to the multitude
than those of the scholar whom almost the best alone of his time can
follow, and whose importance is in general fully appreciated only by a
few specialists, even in our days of the popularization of science by
the press. State and society, however, seek to compensate him for the
evasion of this reward, by surrounding him with official forms of high

It is true that very great artists and poets, admitted pioneers, whose
influence is recognised as lasting, likewise receive their share of the
official honours disposed of by the organized commonwealth as such,
and these exceptional men obtain a more brilliant reward than any
investigator or discoverer; for together with the common distinctions
shared by them with the latter, they possess the wide popularity which
the investigator and discoverer must dispense withal. And why is the
artist sometimes placed, even by persons of good and serious minds, on
a level with, or even above, the man of science? Because these persons
value the beautiful more than the true, emotion more than knowledge?
No; but because they have the right feeling that art is equally a
source of knowledge.

It is so in three ways. Firstly, the emotion evoked by the work of art
is itself a means of obtaining knowledge, as Edmund R. Clay, James
Sully, and other psychologists have seen, without, however, dwelling
on the important fact. It constrains the higher centres to attend to
the causes of their excitations, and in this way necessarily induces a
sharper observation and comprehension of the whole series of phenomena
related to the emotion. Next, the work of art grants an insight into
the laws of which the phenomenon is the expression; for the artist, in
his creation, separates the essential from the accidental, neglects
the latter, which in nature is wont to divert and confuse the less
gifted observer, and involuntarily gives prominence to the former as
that which chiefly or solely occupies his attention, and is therefore
perceived and reproduced by him with especial distinctness. The
artist himself divines the idea behind the structure, and its inner
principle and connection, intelligible but not perceivable, in the
form, and discloses it in his work to the spectator. That is what
Hegel means when he calls the beautiful ‘the presence of the idea
in limited phenomenon.’ By means of his own deep comprehension of
natural law, the artist powerfully furthers the comprehension of it
by other men.[315] Finally, art is the only glimmer of light, weak
and dubious though it be, which projects itself into the future, and
gives us at least a dream-like idea of the outlines and direction of
our further organic developments. This is not mysticism, but a very
clear and comprehensible fact. We have seen above[316] that every
adaptation--_i.e._, every change of form and function of the organs--is
preceded by a representation of this change. The change must first be
felt and desired as necessary; then a representation of it becomes
elaborated in the higher or highest nerve-centres, and finally the
organism endeavours to realize this representation. This process
repeats itself in the same way in the race. Some state is disturbing
to it. It experiences feelings of discomfort from this state. It
suffers from it. From this results its desire to change the state. It
elaborates for itself an image of the nature, direction and extent of
this change. According to the older, mystic phrase, ‘it creates for
itself an ideal.’ The ideal is really the formative idea of future
organic development with a view to better adaptation. In the most
perfect individuals of the species it exists earlier and more distinct
than in the average multitude, and the artist ventures with uncertain
hand to make it accessible to sense through the medium of his work
of art long before it can be organically realized by the race. Thus
art vouchsafes the most refined and highest knowledge, bordering on
the marvellous, viz., the knowledge of the future. Not so definitely,
of course, nor so unequivocally, does art express the secret natural
law of being and becoming as science. Science shows the present, the
positive; Art prophesies the future, the possible, though stammeringly
and obscurely. To the former Nature unveils her fixed forms; to the
latter she grants, amidst shudderings, a rapid, bewildered glimpse of
the depths where what is yet formless is struggling to appear. The
emotion from which the divining work of art springs is the birth throe
of the quick and vigorous organism pregnant with the future.[317]

This art of presentiment is certainly the highest mental activity of
the human being. But it is not the art of the Æsthetes. It is the most
moral art, for it is the most ideal, a word only meaning that it is
parallel with the paths along which the race is perfecting itself--nay,
coincides with these.

By the most diverse methods we have always attained the same result,
viz., it is not true that art has nothing in common with morality.
The work of art must be moral, for its aim is to express and excite
emotions. In virtue of this aim it falls within the competence of
criticism, which tests all emotions by their utility or perniciousness
to the individual or the race; and if it is immoral, it must be
condemned like every other organic activity opposed to this aim. The
work of art must be moral, for it is intended to operate æsthetically.
It can only do this if it awakens feelings of pleasure, at least
ultimately; it provides such, only if it includes beauty in itself; but
beauty is in its essence synonymous with morality. Finally, the highest
work of art can, from its inmost nature, be none other than moral,
since it is a manifestation of vital force and health, a revelation
of the capacity for evolution of the race; and humanity values it so
highly because it divines this circumstance.

Concerning the last doctrine of the Æsthetes, viz., that art must shun
the true and the natural, this is a commonplace pushed to an absurdity,
and converted into its contrary. Perfect, actual truth and naturalness
need not be denied to art; they are impossible to it. For whereas
the work of art makes the artist’s idea tangible, an idea is never
an exact copy of a phenomenon of the external world. Before it can
become an idea in a human consciousness every phenomenon experiences
two very essential modifications--one in the afferent and receptive
organs of sense, the other in the centres elaborating sense-perceptions
into representations. These sensory nerves and centres of perception
change the modes of the external stimuli conformably with their own
nature; they give to these their particular colouring, as different
wind-instruments played by the same person give forth different
shades of sound with the same force of breath. The centres forming
representations modify in their turn the actual relation of the
phenomena to each other, in that they bring some into stronger relief,
and neglect others of really equal value. Consciousness does not take
cognizance of all the countless perceptions uninterruptedly excited
in the brain, but of those only to which it is attentive. But by the
simple fact of attention, consciousness selects individual phenomena,
and gives them an importance they do not possess in the unceasing
uniformity of universal movement.

But if the work of art never renders reality in its exact relations,
it can, on the other hand (and this is both a psychological and
æsthetical commonplace), never be constructed from constituents other
than those supplied by reality. The mode in which these constituents
are blended and united by the artist’s imagination permits the
recognition of another fact, as true and natural as any that is
habitually designated by us as real, to wit, the character, mode of
thought, and emotion of the artist. For what is imagination? A special
case of the general psychological law of association. In scientific
observation and judgment the play of association is most rigorously
supervised by attention; the will violently inhibits the propagation of
stimuli along the most convenient paths, and prevents the penetration
of mere similarities, contrasts, and contiguities in space or time
into consciousness, which is reserved for the images of immediate
reality transmitted by the senses. In artistic creation imagination
rules--that is to say, the inhibition exercised by the will is relaxed;
in accordance with the laws of association a presentation is allowed
to summon into consciousness representations which are similar,
contrasted, or contiguous in space or time. But inhibition is not
wholly inactive, and the will does not permit the union of reciprocally
exclusive representations into a concept; thus it prohibits the
elaboration of an intellectual absurdity, such as is yielded by purely
automatic association or fugitive ideation. The emotion of the artist
reveals itself in accordance with the way in which representations
supplied by association are grouped into concepts, for it causes
representations agreeing with it to be retained, and the indifferent or
contradictory to be suppressed. Even fantastic images, as extravagant
as a winged horse or a woman with lion’s paws, reveal a true emotion:
the former an aspiration proceeding from the spectacle of the bird
soaring light and free; the latter a horror of the power of sexuality
subjugating reason and conjuring up devouring passion. It would be
a grateful task for workers in the histology of psychology to trace
the emotions whence the best known fantastic figures of art and the
metaphors of poets have proceeded. Hence it may be said that every work
of art always comprises in itself truth and reality in so far as, if it
does not reflect the external world, it surely reflects the mental life
of the artist.

Hence, as we have seen, not one of the sophisms of the Æsthetes
withstands criticism. The work of art is not its own aim, but it has
a specially organic, and a social task. It is subject to the moral
law; it must obey this; it has claim to esteem only if it is morally
beautiful and ideal. And it cannot be other than natural and true,
in so far, at least, as it is the offprint of a personality, which
is also a part of nature and reality. The entire system takes as its
point of departure a few erroneous or imprudent assertions of thinkers
and poets commanding respect, but developed by the Parnassians and
Decadents in a way of which Lessing, Kant and Schiller never allowed
themselves to dream. This is no other than the well-known attempt to
explain and justify impulsions by motives more or less obvious and
invented _post facto_. The degenerate who, in consequence of their
organic aberrations, make the repulsive and ugly, vice and crime, the
subject-matter of plastic and literary works of art, naturally have
recourse to the theory that art has nothing in common with morality,
truth and beauty, since this theory has for them the value of an
excuse. And must not the excessive value set upon artistic activity
as such, without regard to the worth of its results, be highly
welcome to the limitless crowd of imitators who practise art, not
from an inner prompting, but from a foolhardy craving for the respect
surrounding real artists--imitators who have nothing of their own to
say, no emotion, not an idea, but who, with a superficial professional
dexterity easily acquired, falsify the views and feelings of masters in
all branches of art? This rabble, which claims for itself a top place
in the scale of intellectual rank, and freedom from the constraint of
all moral laws as its most noble privilege, is certainly baser than
the lowest scavenger. These creatures are of absolutely no use to the
commonwealth, and injure true art by their productions, whose multitude
and importunateness shut out from most men the sight of the genuine
works of art--never very numerous--of the epoch. They are weaklings
in will, unfitted for any activity requiring regular uniform efforts,
or else victims to vanity, wishing to be more famous than is possible
to a stone-breaker or a tailor. The uncertainty of comprehension and
taste among the majority of mankind, and the incompetency of most
professional critics, allow these intruders to make their nest among
the arts, and to dwell there as parasites their life long. The buyer
soon distinguishes a good boot from a bad one, and the journeyman
cobbler who cannot properly sew on a sole finds no employment. But that
a book or painting void of all originality is indifferent in quality,
and for that reason superfluous, is by no means so easily recognised
by the Philistine, or even by the man armed with the critical pen,
and the producer of such chaff can apply himself undisturbed to his
assiduous waste of time. These bunglers with pen, brush and modelling
spattle, strutting about in cap and doublet, naturally swear by the
doctrine of the Æsthetes, carry themselves as if they were the salt of
humanity, and make a parade of their contempt for the Philistine. They
belong, however, to the elements of the race which are most inimical to
society. Insensible to its tasks and interests, without the capacity
to comprehend a serious thought or a fruitful deed, they dream only of
the satisfaction of their basest instincts, and are pernicious--through
the example they set as drones, as well as through the confusion they
cause in minds insufficiently forewarned, by their abuse of the word
‘art’ to mean demoralization and childishness. Ego-maniacs, Decadents
and Æsthetes have completely gathered under their banner this refuse of
civilized peoples, and march at its head.



IN the course of the last two centuries the whole civilized world
has, with greater or less unanimity, repeatedly recognised a sort of
intellectual royalty in some contemporary, to whom it has rendered
homage as the first and greatest among living authors. For a great
part of the eighteenth century Voltaire, ‘_le roi Voltaire_,’ was the
‘poet laureate’ of all civilized nations. During the first third of the
present century this position was held by Goethe. After his death the
throne remained vacant for a score of years, when Victor Hugo ascended
it amidst the enthusiastic acclamations of the Latin and Slavonic
races, and with a feeble opposition from those of Teutonic origin, to
hold it until the end of his life.

At the present time voices have for some years been heard in all
countries claiming for Henrik Ibsen the highest intellectual honours
at the disposal of mankind. It is wished that the Norwegian dramatist
should, in his old age, be recognised as the world-poet of the closing
century. It is true that only a part of the multitude and of the
critical representatives of its taste acclaims him; but the fact that
it has entered anyone’s mind at all to see in him a claimant for the
throne of poetry makes a minute examination of his titles to the
position necessary.

That Henrik Ibsen is a poet of great verve and power is not for a
moment to be denied. He is extraordinarily emotive, and has the gift
of depicting in an exceptionally lifelike and impressive manner
that which has excited his feelings. (We shall see that these are
almost always feelings of hatred and rage, _i.e._, of displeasure.) A
natural capacity drew him towards the stage--a capacity for imagining
situations in which the characters are forced to turn inside out their
inmost nature; in which abstract ideas transform themselves into deeds,
and modes of opinion and of feeling, imperceptible to the senses, but
potent as causes, are made patent to sight and hearing in attitudes and
gestures, in the play of feature and in words. Like Richard Wagner, he
knows how to group events into living frescoes possessing the charm of
significant pictures; with this difference, however, that Ibsen works,
not like Wagner, with strange costumes and properties, architectural
splendour, mechanical magic, gods and fabulous beasts, but with
penetrating vision into the backgrounds of souls and the conditions of
humanity. Fairy-lore is not lacking in Ibsen either, but he does not
allow the imagination of the spectators to run riot in mere spectacles;
he forces them into moods, and binds them by his spell in circles of
ideas, through the pictures which he unrolls before them.

His strong desire to embody the thought occupying his mind in a single
picture, which can be surveyed at one view, also dictated to him the
set form of his drama--a form not invented, but largely perfected, by
him. His pieces are, as it were, final words terminating long anterior
developments. They are the sudden breaking into flame of combustible
materials accumulating during years, it may be during whole human
lives, or even generations, and of which the sudden flare brilliantly
illumines a wide extent of time and space. The incidents of the
Ibsen drama more frequently take place in a day, or at most in twice
twenty-four hours, and in this short space of time there are concentred
all the effects of the course of the world and of social institutions
on certain characters, in such a conspectus that the destinies of the
dramatis personæ become clear to us from the moment of their first
appearance. _The Doll’s House_, _Ghosts_, _Rosmersholm_, _The Pillars
of Society_, and _Hedda Gabler_ comprise about twenty-four hours; _An
Enemy of Society_, _The Wild Duck_, _The Lady from the Sea_, about
thirty-six hours. It is the return to the Aristotelian doctrine of the
unities of time and space with an orthodoxy compared with which the
French classicists of the age of Louis XIV. are heretics. I might well
term the Ibsenite technique a technique of fireworks, for it consists
in preparing long in advance a staging on which the suns, Roman
candles, squibs, fireballs and concluding fire-sheaves are carefully
placed in proper position. When all is ready the curtain rises, and the
artistically-constructed work begins to crackle, explosion following
explosion uninterruptedly with thunder and lightning. This technique
is certainly very effective, but hardly true. In reality events rarely
lead up to a catastrophe so brilliant and succinct. In Nature all is
slowly prepared, and unrolls itself gradually, and the results of
human deeds covering years of time do not compress themselves into a
few hours. Nature does not work epigrammatically. She cannot trouble
herself about Aristotelian unities, for she has always an infinity of
affairs of her own in progress at one and the same time. As a matter of
handicraft, one is certainly often forced to admire the cleverness with
which Ibsen guides and knots the threads of his plot. Sometimes the
labour is more successful than at other times, but it always implies a
great expenditure of textile skill. Whoever sets most store on truth in
a poem--that is, on the natural action of the laws of life--will often
enough bring away from Ibsen’s dramas an impression of improbability,
and of toilsome and subtle lucubrations.

The power with which Ibsen, in a few rapid strokes, sketches a
situation, an emotion, a dim-lit depth of the soul, is very much higher
than his skill, so much extolled, of foreshortening in time, which
may be said to be the poetic counterpart of the painter’s artifice
(difficult, but for the most part barren) of foreshortening in space.
Each of the terse words which suffice him has something of the nature
of a peep-hole, through which limitless vistas are obtained. The
plays of all peoples and all ages have few situations at once so
perfectly simple and so irresistibly affecting as the scenes--to cite
only a few--where Nora is playing with her children,[318] where Dr.
Rank relates that he is doomed to imminent death by his inexorable
disease,[319] where Frau Alving with horror discerns his dissolute
father[320] in her only son, where the housekeeper, Frau Helseth, sees
Rosmer and Rebecca die in each other’s arms,[321] etc.

Similarly, it must be acknowledged that Ibsen has created some
characters possessing a truth to life and a completeness such
as are not to be met with in any poet since Shakespeare. Gina
(in _The Wild Duck_) is one of the most profound creations of
world-literature--almost as great as Sancho Panza, who inspired it.
Ibsen has had the daring to create a female Sancho, and in his temerity
has come very near to Cervantes, whom no one has equalled. If Gina is
not quite so overpowering as Sancho, it is because there is wanting
in her his contrast to Don Quixote. Her Don Quixote, Hjalmar, is no
genuine, convinced idealist, but merely a miserable self-deluding
burlesquer of the ideal. None the less, no poet since the illustrious
Spanish master has succeeded in creating such an embodiment of plain,
jolly, healthy common-sense, of practical tact without anxiety as to
things eternal, and of honest fulfilment of all proximate, obvious
duties, without a suspicion of higher moral obligations, as this Gina,
_e.g._, in the scene where Hjalmar returns home after having spent the
night out.[322] Hjalmar also is a perfect creation, in which Ibsen
has not once succumbed to the cogent temptation to exaggerate, but
has exercised most entrancingly that ‘self-restraint’ in every word
which, as Goethe said, ‘reveals the master.’ Little Hedwig (again in
_The Wild Duck_), the aunt Juliane Tesman (in _Hedda Gabler_), perhaps
also the childishly egoistical consumptive Lyngstrand (in _The Lady
from the Sea_), are not inferior to these characters. It should,
however, be noticed that, with the exception of Gina, Hjalmar and
Hedwig, the lifelike and artistically delightful persons in Ibsen’s
dramas never play the chief parts, but move in subordinate tasks
around the central figures. The latter are not human beings of flesh
and blood, but abstractions such as are evoked by a morbidly-excited
brain. They are attempts at the embodiment of Ibsenite doctrines,
_homunculi_, originating not from natural procreation, but through the
black art of the poet. This is even admitted, although reluctantly and
with reservation, by one of his most raving panegyrists, the French
professor, Auguste Ehrhard.[323] Doubtless Ibsen takes immense pains
to rouge and powder into a semblance of life the talking puppets who
are to represent his notions. He appends to them all sorts of little
peculiarities for the purpose of giving them an individual physiognomy.
But this perpetually recurring imbecile ‘Eh?’ of Tesman[324] (in _Hedda
Gabler_), this ‘dash it all!’ and stealthy nibbling of sweetmeats by
Nora[325] (in _A Doll’s House_), this ‘smoking a large meerschaum’ and
champagne-drinking of Oswald (in _Ghosts_), do not delude the attentive
observer as to their being anything but automata. In spite of the
poet’s artifices, one sees, behind the thin varnish of flesh-colour,
the hinges and joints of the mechanism, and hears, above the tones of
the phonographs concealed in them, the creaking and grating of the

I have endeavoured to do justice to the high poetical endowment of
Ibsen, and shall sometimes be able in the course of this inquiry to
recognise this gift again. Is it this, however, which alone or chiefly
has gained for him his admirers in all lands? Do his retinue of fifers
and bagpipers prize him for his homely emotional scenes, and for his
truly lifelike accessory figures? No. They glorify something else
in him. They discover in his pieces world-pictures of the greatest
truth, the happiest poetic use of scientific methods, clearness and
incisiveness of ideas, a fiercely revolutionary desire for freedom,
and a modernity pregnant with the future. Now we will test and examine
these affirmations _seriatim_, and see if they can be supported
by Ibsen’s works, or are merely the arbitrary and undemonstrable
expressions of æsthetic wind-bags.

It is pretended that Ibsen is before all things exemplary in
truthfulness. He has even become the model of ‘realism.’ As a matter of
fact, since Alexandre Dumas père, author of _The Three Musketeers_ and
_Monte Cristo_, no writer has heaped up in his works so many startling
improbabilities as Ibsen. (I say improbabilities, because I dare not
say impossibilities; for, after all, everything is possible as the
unheard-of exploit of some fool, or as the extraordinary effect of
a unique accident.) Is it conceivable that (in _Ghosts_) the joiner
Engstrand, wishing to open a tavern for sailors, should call upon
his own daughter to be the odalisque of his ‘establishment’--this
daughter who reminds him that she has been ‘brought up in the house of
Madam Alving, widow of a lord-in-waiting,’ that she has been treated
‘almost as a child of the house’? Not that I imagine Engstrand to be
possessed of any moral scruples. But a man of this stamp knows that
one woman does not suffice for his house; and since he must engage
others, he would certainly not turn to his daughter, bred as she
was in the midst of higher habits of life, and knowing that, if she
wishes to lead a life of pleasure, it would not be necessary to become
straightway a prostitute for sailors. Is it conceivable that Pastor
Manders (_Ghosts_), a liberally educated clergyman in the Norway of
to-day, a country of flourishing insurance companies, banks, railways,
prosperous newspapers, etc., should dissuade Madam Alving from insuring
against fire the asylum she had just founded? ‘For my own part,’ he
says, ‘I should not see the smallest impropriety in guarding against
all contingencies.... I mean [by really responsible people] men in such
independent and influential positions that one cannot help allowing
some weight to their opinions.... People would be only too ready to
interpret our action as a sign that neither you nor I had the right
faith in a Higher Providence.’ Does Ibsen really wish to make anyone
believe that in Norway there are persons who have religious scruples
concerning insurance against fire? Has not this nonsensical idea come
into his head simply because he wishes to have the asylum burned down
and finally destroyed? For this purpose Madam Alving must have no money
to rebuild the asylum, it must not be insured, and hence Ibsen thought
it necessary to assign a motive for the omission of the insurance. A
poet who introduces a fire into his work, as a symbol and also as an
active agent--for it has the dramatic purpose of destroying the lying
reputation for charity of the defunct sinner Alving--should also have
the courage to leave unexplained the omission of the insurance, strange
as it may seem. Oswald Alving relates to his mother (_Ghosts_) that a
Paris doctor on examining him had told him he had a ‘kind of softening
of the brain.’ Now, I appeal to all the doctors of the world if they
have ever said plainly to a patient, ‘You have softening of the brain.’
To the family it perhaps may be revealed, to the patient never. Chiefly
because, if the diagnosis be correct, the invalid would not understand
the remark, and would certainly no longer be in a fit state to go alone
to the doctor. But for yet another reason these words are impossible.
In any case, Oswald’s disease could not have been a softening, but a
hardening, a callous, sclerotic condition of the brain.

In _A Doll’s House_ Helmer, who is depicted as somewhat sensual,
although prosaic, homely, practical, and commonplace, says to his
Nora: ‘Is that my lark who is twittering outside there?... Is the
little squirrel running about?... Has my little spendthrift bird been
wasting more money?... Come, come; my lark must not let her wings
droop immediately.... What do people call the bird who always spends
everything?... My lark is the dearest little thing in the world; but
she needs a very great deal of money.... And I couldn’t wish you to be
anything but exactly what you are--my own true little lark....’ And
it is thus that a husband, a bank director and barrister, after eight
years of married life, speaks to his wife, the mother of his three
children; and not in a momentary outburst of playful affection, but
in the full light of an ordinary day, and in an interminable scene
of seven pages (pp. 2-8), with a view to giving us an idea of the
habitually prevalent tone in this ‘doll’s home!’ I should much like to
know what my readers of both sexes who have been married at least eight
years think of this specimen of Ibsen’s ‘realism.’

In _The Pillars of Society_ all the characters talk about ‘society.’
‘You are to rise and support society, brother-in-law,’ says Miss
Hessel, ‘earnestly and with emphasis.’ ‘If you strike this blow, you
ruin me utterly, and not only me, but also a great and blessed future
for the community which was the home of your childhood.’ And a little
further on: ‘See, this I have dared for the good of the community!...
Don’t you see that it is society itself that forces us into these
subterfuges?’ The persons thus holding forth are a wholesale merchant
and consul, and a school-mistress who has long resided in America, and
has broad views. Can the word ‘society’ in the mouth of cultivated
people, when so used, have any other meaning than ‘social edifice?’
Well, but the characters in the piece, as it is again and again
repeated, employ the word ‘society’ in reference to the well-to-do
classes in a small seaside place in Norway--that is, to a clique of six
or eight families! Ibsen makes the readers of his piece believe that
it is a question of upholding the social edifice, and they learn with
astonishment that this only concerns the protection of a diminutive
coterie of Philistines in a northern Gotham.

The American ship _Indian Girl_ is undergoing repairs in Consul
Bernick’s dock. Her hull is quite rotten. If she is sent to sea she
will assuredly founder. Bernick, however, insists that she shall sail
in two days. His foreman Aune pronounces this impossible. Then Bernick
threatens Aune with dismissal, at which the latter yields, and promises
that ‘in two days the _Indian Girl_ will be ready to sail.’ Bernick
knows that he is sending the _Indian Girl’s_ crew of eighteen men to
certain death. And why does he commit this wholesale murder? He gives
the following explanation: ‘I have my reasons for hurrying on the
affair. Have you read this morning’s paper? Ah! then you know that the
Americans have been making disturbances again. The shameless pack put
the whole town topsy-turvy. Not a night passes without fights in the
taverns or on the street, not to speak of other abominations.... And
who gets the blame for all this disturbance? It is I--yes, I--that
suffer for it. These newspaper scribblers are always covertly carping
at us for giving our whole attention to the _Palm Tree_. And I, whose
mission it is to be an example to my fellow-citizens, must have such
things thrown in my teeth! I cannot bear it. It won’t do for me to have
my name bespattered in this way.... Not just now; precisely at this
moment I need all the respect and good-will of my fellow-citizens.
I have a great undertaking on hand, as you have probably heard; but
if evil-disposed persons succeed in shaking people’s unqualified
confidence in me, it may involve me in the greatest difficulties. So
I must silence these carping and spiteful scribblers at any price,
and that is why I give you till the day after to-morrow.’ This paltry
motive for the coldly-planned murder of eighteen men is so ridiculous
that even Ehrhard, who admires everything in Ibsen, dares not defend
it, and timidly remarks that ‘the author does not very well explain why
the anxiety for his reputation should require the sending to sea of a
vessel which he has not had time thoroughly to repair.’[326]

At the head of a delegation of his fellow-citizens, sent to thank
him for the establishment of a railway, Pastor Rörlund delivers an
address to Bernick in which the following passages occur: ‘We have
often expressed to you our gratitude for the broad moral foundation
upon which you have, so to speak, built up our society. This time we
chiefly hail in you the ... citizen, who has taken the initiative in
an undertaking which, we are credibly assured, will give a powerful
impetus to the temporal prosperity and well-being of the community....
You are in an eminent sense the pillar and corner-stone of this
community.... And it is just this light of disinterestedness shining
over all your actions that is so unspeakably beneficent, especially in
these times. You are now on the point of procuring for us--I do not
hesitate to say the word plainly and prosaically--a railway.... But
you cannot reject a slight token of your grateful fellow-citizens’
appreciation, least of all on this momentous occasion, when, according
to the assurances of practical men, we are standing on the threshold
of a new era.’ I have not interrupted by a single remark or note
of exclamation this unheard-of balderdash. It shall produce its
own unaided effect upon the reader. If this nonsense appeared in
a burlesque farce, it would be hardly funny enough, but otherwise
acceptable. Now, this claims to be ‘realistic’! We are to take Ibsen’s
word for it that Pastor Rörlund was sober when he made this speech! A
more insulting demand has never been made by an author on his readers.

In _An Enemy of Society_ the subject treats of a rather
incomprehensible bathing establishment, comprising at once mineral
waters, medicinal baths and sea-bathing. The doctor of the
establishment has discovered that the springs are contaminated with
typhoid bacilli, and insists that the water shall be taken from a place
higher up in the mountains, where it would not be polluted by sewage.
He is the more urgent in his demands, as without this precaution a
fatal epidemic will break out among the visitors. And to this the
burgomaster of the town is supposed to reply: ‘The existing supply
of water for the baths is once for all a fact, and must naturally be
treated as such. But probably the directors, at some future time, will
not be indisposed to take into their consideration whether, by making
certain pecuniary sacrifices, it may not be possible to introduce some
improvements.’ This is a question of a place which, as Ibsen insists,
has staked its future on the development of its youthful bathing
establishment; the place is situated in Norway, in a small district
where all the inhabitants are mutually acquainted, and where every
case of illness and death is noticed by all. And the burgomaster will
run the risk of having a number of the visitors at the establishment
attacked with typhoid, when he is forewarned that this will certainly
happen if the conduit pipes of the spring are not transferred. Without
having an exaggeratedly high opinion of the burgomaster mind in
general, I deny that any idiot such as Ibsen depicts is at the head of
the local administration of any town whatsoever in Europe.

Tesman, in _Hedda Gabler_, expects that his publication, _Domestic
Industries of Brabant during the Middle Ages_, will secure him a
professorship in a college. But he has a dangerous competitor in
Ejlert Lövborg, who has published a book on _The General March of
Civilization_. This work has already made a ‘great sensation,’ but the
sequel is far to surpass this, and ‘treats of the future.’ ‘But, good
gracious! we don’t know anything about that!’ someone objects. ‘No; but
there are several things though can be said about it, all the same....
It is divided into two sections. The first is about the civilizing
forces of the future, and the other is about the civilizing progress
of the future.’ Special stress is laid upon the fact that it lies
wholly outside the domain of science, and consists in mere prophecy.
‘Do you believe it impossible to reproduce such a work--that it cannot
be written a second time? No.... For the inspiration, you know....’ We
are acquainted, were it only through popular histories of morals such
as the _Democritus_ of Karl Julius Weber, with the strange questions
with which the casuists of the Middle Ages used to occupy themselves.
But that, in our century, such works as those of Tesman and Lövborg
could gain for their authors a professorship of any kind in either
hemisphere, or even the position of _privat docent_, is an infantile
invention, fit to raise a laugh in all academical circles.

In _The Lady from the Sea_ the mysterious sailor returns to find that
his old sweetheart has been for some years the wife of Dr. Wangel. He
urges her to follow him, saying she really belongs to him. The husband
is present at the interview. He shows the stranger that he is wrong in
wishing to carry off Ellida. He represents to the sailor that it would
be preferable if he addressed himself to him (the husband), and not
to the wife. He mildly remonstrates with the stranger for addressing
Ellida with the familiar ‘thou,’ and calling her by her Christian
name. ‘Such a familiarity is not customary with us, sir.’ The scene is
unspeakably comic, and would be worthy of reproduction in its entirety.
We will limit ourselves to quoting the conclusion:--

 STRANGER. To-morrow night I will come again, and then I shall look
 for you here. You must wait for me here in the garden, for I prefer
 settling the matter with you alone. You understand?

 ELLIDA (_in low, trembling tone_). Do you hear that, Wangel?

 WANGEL. Only keep calm. We shall know how to prevent this visit.

 STRANGER. Good-bye for the present, Ellida. So to-morrow night----

 ELLIDA (_imploringly_). Oh, no, no! Do not come to-morrow night! Never
 come here again!

 STRANGER. And should you, then, have a mind to follow me over seas?

 ELLIDA. Oh, don’t look at me like that!

 STRANGER. I only mean that you must then be ready to set out.

 WANGEL. Go up to the house, Ellida, etc.

And Ibsen depicts Wangel, not as a senile, debile old man, but in the
prime of life and in full possession of all his faculties!

All these crack-brained episodes are, however, far surpassed by the
scene in _Rosmersholm_, where Rebecca confesses to the doughty Rosmer
that she is consumed by ardent passion for him:--

 ROSMER. What have you felt? Speak so that I can understand you.

 REBECCA. It came over me--this wild, uncontrollable desire--oh, Rosmer!

 ROSMER. Desire? You! For what?

 REBECCA. For you.

 ROSMER (_tries to spring up_). What is this? [Idiot!]

 REBECCA (_stops him_). Sit still, dear; there is more to tell.

 ROSMER. And you mean to say--that you love me--in that way?

 REBECCA. I thought that it should be called love. Yes, I thought
 it was love; but it was not. It was what I said. It was a wild,
 uncontrollable desire.... It came upon me like a storm on the sea.
 It was like one of the storms we sometimes have in the North in the
 winter-time. It seizes you--and sweeps you along with it--whither it
 will. Resistance is out of the question.’

Rosmer, the object of this burning passion, is forty-three years
old, and has been a clergyman. This makes it somewhat droll, but not
impossible, for erotomaniacs can love all sorts of creatures, even
boots.[327] What, however, is inconceivable is the way in which the
nymphomaniac sets about satisfying her ‘wild, uncontrollable desire,’
this ‘storm upon the sea’ which ‘seizes you, and sweeps you along
with it.’ She had become the friend of Rosmer’s sickly wife, and had
for eighteen months tormented her by hinting that Rosmer is unhappy
because she has no children, that he loves her, the nymphomaniac, but
has controlled his passion as long as his wife is living. By means of
this poison, patiently and unceasingly dropped into her soul, she had
happily driven her to suicide. After a year and a half! To appease her
‘wild, uncontrollable passion’! This is exactly as if a man driven wild
by hunger should, with a view to satisfying his craving, devise a deep
plan for obtaining a field by fraud, so that he might grow wheat, have
it ground, and afterwards bake himself a splendid loaf, which would
then be Oh, so delicious! The reader may judge for himself if this is
the usual way in which famished persons, or nymphomaniacs over whom
passion ‘sweeps like a storm upon the sea,’ satisfy their impulses.

Such are the presentations of the world’s realities as figured to
himself by this ‘realist’! Many of his infantile or silly lucubrations
are petty, superficial details, and a benevolent friend, with
some experience of life and some common-sense, could easily have
preserved him in advance from making himself ridiculous. Others of
his inventions, however, touch the very essence of his poems and
convert these into out and out grotesque moonshine. In _The Pillars of
Society_, Bernick, the man who calmly plans the murder of eighteen men
to maintain his reputation as a capable dock-owner (we may remark, in
passing, the absurdity of this means for attaining such an end), all
at once confesses to his fellow-citizens, without any compulsion, and
solely on the advice of Miss Hessel, that he has been a villain and a
criminal. In _A Doll’s House_, the wife, who was only a moment before
playing so tenderly with her children, suddenly abandons these children
without a thought for them.[328] In _Rosmersholm_ we are to believe
that the nymphomaniac Rebecca, while in constant intercourse with the
object of her flame, has become chaste and virtuous, etc. Many of
Ibsen’s principal characters present this spectacle of impossible and
incomprehensible metamorphoses, so that they look like figures composed
of odd halves, which some bungling artisan has stuck together.

After the lifelike truthfulness of Ibsen, let us inquire into the
scientific character of his work. This reminds us of the civilization
of Liberian negroes. The constitution and laws of that West African
republic read very much like those of the United States of North
America, and on paper command our respect. But anyone living in Liberia
very soon recognises the fact that these black republicans are savages,
having no idea of the political institutions nominally existing
among them, of their code of laws, etc. Ibsen likes to give himself
the appearance of standing in the domain of natural science and of
profiting by its latest results. In his plays Darwin is quoted. He has
evidently dipped, though with a careless hand, into books on heredity,
and has picked up something about medical science. But the scanty,
ludicrously misunderstood stock phrases which have remained in his
memory are made use of by him much as my illustrative Liberian negro
uses the respectable paper collars and top-hats of Europe. The expert
can never preserve his gravity when Ibsen displays his scientific and
medical knowledge.

Heredity is his hobby-horse, which he mounts in every one of his
pieces. There is not a single trait in his personages, a single
peculiarity of character, a single disease, that he does not trace
to heredity. In _A Doll’s House_, Dr. Rank’s ‘poor innocent spine
must do penance for “his” father’s notions of amusement when he was
a lieutenant in the army.’ Helmer explains to Nora that ‘a misty
atmosphere of lying brings contagion into the whole family. Every
breath the children draw contains some germ of evil.... Nearly all
men who go to ruin early have had untruthful mothers.... In most
cases it comes from the mother; but the father naturally works in the
same direction.’ And again: ‘Your father’s low principles you have
inherited, every one of them. No religion, no morality, no sense of
duty.’ In _Ghosts_ Oswald has learned from the extraordinary doctor in
Paris who told him he had softening of the brain, that he had inherited
his malady from his father.[329] Regina, the natural daughter of the
late Alving, exactly resembles her mother.

 REGINA (_to herself_). So mother was that kind of woman, after all.

 MRS. ALVING. Your mother had many good qualities, Regina.

 REGINA. Yes; but she was one of that sort, all the same. Oh! I’ve
 often suspected it.... A poor girl must make the best of her young
 days.... And I, too, want to enjoy my life, Mrs. Alving.

 MRS. ALVING. Yes, I see you do. But don’t throw yourself away, Regina.

 REGINA. Oh! what must be, must be. If Oswald takes after his father, I
 take after my mother, I dare say.

In _Rosmersholm_ Rebecca’s nymphomania is explained by the fact that
she is the natural daughter of a Lapland woman of doubtful morals. ‘I
believe your whole conduct is determined by your origin,’ Rector Kroll
says to her (p. 82). Rosmer never laughs, because ‘it is a trait of his
family.’ He is ‘the descendant of the men that look down on us from
these walls’ (p. 80). His ‘spirit is deeply rooted in his ancestry’
(p. 80). Hilda, the stepdaughter of the ‘Lady from the Sea,’ says:
‘I should not wonder if some fine day she went mad.... Her mother
went mad, too. She died mad. I know that.’ In _The Wild Duck_ nearly
everyone has a hereditary mark. Gregers Werle, the malignant imbecile,
who holds and proclaims his passion for gossip as an ardent desire for
truth, inherits this craze from his mother.[330] Little Hedwig becomes
blind, like her father, old Werle.[331]

In the earlier philosophical dramas the same idea is constantly
repeated. Brand gets his obstinacy, and Peer Gynt his lively,
extravagant imagination, from the mother. Ibsen has evidently read
Lucas’s book on the first principles of heredity, and has borrowed from
it uncritically. It is true that Lucas believes in the inheritance even
of notions and feelings as complex and as nearly related to specific
facts as, _e.g._, the horror of doctors,[332] and that he does not
doubt the transmission of diseased deviations from the norm, _e.g._,
the appearance of blindness at a definite age.[333] Lucas, however,
whose merits are not to be denied, did not sufficiently distinguish
between that which the individual receives in its material genesis
from its parents, and that which is subsequently suggested by family
life and example, by continuous existence in the same conditions as
its parents, etc. Ibsen is the true ‘man of one book.’ He abides by
his Lucas. If he had read Weismann,[334] and, above all, Galton,[335]
he would have known that nothing is more obscure and apparently more
capricious, than the course of heredity. For the individual is, says
Galton, the result--the arithmetic mean--of three different quantities:
its father, its mother and the whole species, represented by the double
series, going back to the beginnings of all terrestrial life, of its
paternal and maternal progenitors. This third datum is the unknown
quantity--the _x_--in the problem. Reversions to distant ancestors may
make the individual wholly unlike its parents, and the influence of
the species so far exceed, as a general rule, those of the immediate
progenitors that children who are the exact cast of their father or
mother, especially with respect to the most complex manifestations
of personality, of character, capacities and inclinations, are the
greatest rarities. But Ibsen is not at all concerned about seriously
justifying his ideas on heredity in a scientific manner. As we shall
see later on, these ideas have their root in his mysticism; Lucas’s
work was for him only a lucky treasure-trove, which he seized on with
joy, because it offered him the possibility of scientifically cloaking
his mystic obsession.

Ibsen’s excursions in the domain of medical science, which he hardly
ever denies himself, are most delightful. In _The Pillars of Society_
Rector Rörlund glorifies the women of his côterie as a kind of ‘sisters
of mercy who pick lint.’ Pick lint! In an age of antiseptics and
aseptics! Let Ibsen only take into his head to enter any surgical ward
with his ‘picked lint’! He would be astonished at the reception given
to him and his lint. In _An Enemy of Society_ Dr. Stockmann declares
that the water of the baths with its ‘millions of bacilli is absolutely
injurious to health, whether used internally or externally.’ The only
bacilli which can be referred to in this scene, as throughout the whole
piece, are the typhoid bacilli of Eberth. Now, it may be true that
bathing in contaminated water may produce Biskra boils, and perhaps
béri-béri; but it would be difficult for Dr. Stockmann and Ibsen to
instance a single case of typhoid fever contracted through bathing in
water containing bacilli. In _A Doll’s House_ Helmer’s life ‘depended
on a journey abroad.’ That might be true for a European in the tropics,
or for anyone living in a fever-district. But in Norway there is no
such thing as an acute illness in which the life of the invalid depends
on ‘a journey abroad.’ Further on Dr. Rank says (p. 60): ‘In the last
few days I have had a general stock-taking of my inner man. Bankruptcy!
Before a month is over I shall be food for worms in the churchyard....
There is only one more investigation to be made, and when I have made
it I shall know exactly at what time dissolution will take place.’
According to his own declaration, Dr. Rank suffers from disease of
the dorsal marrow (it is true that he speaks of the dorsal column,
but the mistaken expression need not be taken too rigidly). Ibsen is
evidently thinking of consumption of the spinal marrow. Now, there
is in this disease absolutely no symptom which could with certainty
authorize the prediction of death three weeks beforehand; there is
no ‘general stock-taking of the inner man’ which the invalid, if he
were a doctor, could carry out on himself to gain a clear knowledge
of ‘when the dissolution’ was to take place; and there is no form of
consumption of the spinal marrow which would allow the invalid four
weeks before his death (not an accidental death, but one necessitated
by his disease) to go to a ball, drink immoderately of champagne, and
afterwards to take an affecting leave of his friends. Oswald Alving’s
illness in _Ghosts_ is, from a clinical standpoint, quite as childishly
depicted as that of Rank. From all that is said in the piece the
disease inherited by Oswald from his father can only be diagnosed
either as _syphilis hereditaria tarda_, or _dementia paralytica_.
The first of these diseases is out of the question, for Oswald is
depicted as a model of manly strength and health.[336] And even if,
in exceptional and extremely rare cases, the malady does not show
itself till after the victim is well on in his twenties, it yet betrays
itself from the earliest childhood by certain phenomena of degeneracy
which would prevent even a mother, blinded by love and pride, from
glorifying her son’s ‘outer self’ in the style of Mrs. Alving. Certain
minor features might perhaps indicate _dementia paralytica_, as, for
example, Oswald’s sensual excitability, the artless freedom with which
he speaks before his mother of the amours of his friends in Paris, or
gives expression to his pleasure at the sight of the ‘glorious’ Regina,
the levity with which, at the first sight of this girl, he makes plans
for his marriage, etc.[337] But together with these exact, though
subordinate, features there appear others infinitely more important,
which wholly preclude the diagnosis of _dementia paralytica_. There
is in Oswald no trace of the megalomania which is never absent in
the first stage of this malady; he is anxious and depressed, while
the sufferer from general paralysis feels extremely happy, and sees
life through rose-coloured spectacles. Oswald forebodes and dreads an
outburst of madness--a fact which I, for my part, have never observed
in a paralytic, nor found indicated by any clinicist whatever. Finally,
Oswald’s dementia declares itself with a suddenness and completeness
found in acute mania only; but the description given of Oswald in
the last scene--his immobility, his ‘dull and toneless’ voice, and
his idiotic murmuring of the words ‘the sun, the sun,’ repeated half
a dozen times--does not in the remotest degree correspond with the
picture of acute mania.

The poet has naturally no need to understand anything of pathology.
But when he pretends to describe real life, he ought to be honest.
He should not get out of his depth in scientific observation and
precision simply because these are demanded or preferred by the age.
The more ignorant the poet is in pathology, the greater is the test
of his veracity given by his clinical pictures. As he cannot, in his
lay capacity, draw on his imagination for them by combining clinical
experiences and reminiscences of books, it is necessary that he
shall have seen with his own eyes each case represented to depict it
accurately. Shakespeare was likewise no physician; and, besides, what
did the physicians of his time know? Yet we can to this day still
diagnose without hesitation the _dementia senilis_ of Lear, Hamlet’s
weakness of will through nervous exhaustion (_neurasthenic ‘aboalie’_),
the melancholia, accompanied with optical hallucination, of Lady
Macbeth. Why? Because Shakespeare introduced into his creations things
really seen. Ibsen, on the contrary, has freely invented his invalids,
and that this method could, in the hands of a layman, only lead to
laughable results, needs no proof. A moving or affecting situation
offers itself to his imagination--that of a man who clearly foresees
his near and inevitable death, and with violent self-conquest lifts
himself to the stoic philosophy of renunciation; or that of a young
man who adjures his mother to kill him when the madness he awaits with
horror shall break out. The situation is very improbable. Perhaps it
has never occurred. In any event, Ibsen has never witnessed it. But if
it occurred it would possess great poetic beauty, and produce a great
effect on the stage. Consequently Ibsen calmly turns out the novel and
unknown maladies of a Dr. Rank or an Oswald Alving, the progress of
which might make these situations possible. Such is the procedure of
the poet whose realism and accurate observation are so much vaunted by
his admirers.

His clearness of mind, his love of liberty, his modernity! Careful
readers of Ibsen’s works will not trust their eyes when they see these
words applied to him. We will at once put immediate and exhaustive
tests to the clearness of his thought. His love of liberty will
be revealed by analysis as anarchism; and his modernity amounts
essentially to this, that in his pieces railways are constructed
(_The Pillars of Society_), that there is a cackle about bacilli (_An
Enemy of the People_), that the struggles of political parties play a
part in them (_The League of the Young_, _Rosmersholm_)--all put on
superficially with a brush, without inner dependence upon the true
active forces in the poem. This ‘modern,’ this ‘apostle of liberty,’
has an idea of the press and its functions fit for a clerk in a
police-station, and he pursues journalists with the hatred, droll in
these days, of a tracker of demagogues in the third decade of this
century. All the journalists whom he sets before us--and they are
numerous in his pieces, Peter Mortensgaard in _Rosmersholm_, Haustad
and Billing in _An Enemy of the People_, Bahlmann in _The League of the
Young_--are either drunken ragamuffins or poor knock-kneed starvelings,
constantly trembling at the prospect of being thrashed or kicked out,
or unprincipled rascals who write for anyone who pays. He has so clear
a grasp of the social question that he makes a foreman mix with the
workmen and threaten a strike because machines are about to be used on
the wharves (_The Pillars of Society_)! He looks upon the masses with
the fine contempt of the great feudal landlords. When he mentions them
it is either with biting derision or a most aristocratic and arrogant

The greater part of his notions, moreover, belong to no time, but are
emanations from his personal perversity, and can, therefore, be neither
modern or not modern; the least uncouth of them, however, having
their root in a definite period, spring from the circle of ideas of a
Gothamist of the first third of the present century. The label ‘modern’
was arbitrarily attached to Ibsen by George Brandes (_Moderne Geister_,
Frankfurt, 1886), one of the most repulsive literary phenomena of the
century. George Brandes, a sponger on the fame or name of others, has
throughout his life followed the calling of a ‘human orchestra,’ who
with head, mouth, hands, elbows, knees, and feet, plays ten noisy
instruments at once, dancing before poets and authors, and, after the
hubbub, passes his hat round among the deafened public. For a quarter
of a century he has assiduously courted the favour of all who for
any reason had a following, and written rhetorical and sophistical
phrases about them, as long as he could find a market. Adorned with a
few feathers plucked from the stately pinions of Taine’s genius, and
prating of John Stuart Mill, whose treatise _On Liberty_ he has glanced
at, but hardly read, and certainly not understood, he introduced
himself among the youth of Scandinavia, and, abusing their confidence,
obtained by this means, has made their systematic moral poisoning the
task of his life. He preached to them the gospel of passion, and,
with truly diabolical zeal and obstinacy, confused all their notions,
giving to whatever he extolled that was mean and reprehensible the
most attractive and honourable names. It has always been thought weak
and cowardly to yield to base impulses condemned by judgment, instead
of combating and stifling them. If Brandes had said to the young,
‘Renounce your judgment! Sacrifice duty to your passions! Be ruled by
your senses! Let your will and consciousness be as feathers before the
storm of your appetites!’--the better among his hearers would have
spit at him. But he said to them: ‘To obey one’s senses is to have
character. He who allows himself to be guided by his passions has
individuality. The man of strong will despises discipline and duty, and
follows every caprice, every temptation, every movement of his stomach
or his other organs’; and these vulgarities, thus presented, no longer
had the repulsive character which awakens distrust and serves as a
warning. Proclaimed under the names of ‘liberty’ and ‘moral autonomy,’
debauchery and dissoluteness gain easy admission into the best circles,
and depravity, from which all would turn if it appeared as such,
seems to insufficiently informed minds attractive and desirable when
disguised as ‘modernity.’ It is comprehensible that an educator who
turns the schoolroom into a tavern and a brothel should have success
and a crowd of followers. He certainly runs the risk of being slain by
the parents, if they come to know what he is teaching their children;
but the pupils will hardly complain, and will be eager to attend
the lessons of so agreeable a teacher. By a similar method Brandes
acquitted himself of his educational functions. This is the explanation
of the influence he gained over the youth of his country, such as his
writings, with their emptiness of thought and unending tattle, would
certainly never have procured for him.

Brandes discovered in Ibsen a revolt against the prevailing moral law,
together with a glorification of bestial instincts, and accordingly
trumpeted his praises in spite of his astounding reactionary views, as
a ‘modern spirit,’ recommending Ibsen’s works, with a wink of the eye,
to the knowledge-craving youth, whom he served as _maître de plaisir_.
But this ‘modern,’ this ‘realist,’ with his exact ‘scientific’
observation, is in reality a mystic and an ego-maniacal anarchist. An
analysis of his intellectual peculiarities will enable us to discern a
resemblance to those of Richard Wagner, which is not surprising, since
a similarity in features is precisely a stigma of degeneracy, and for
this reason is common to many, or to all, higher degenerates.

Ibsen is the child of a rigorously religious race, and grew up in a
family of believers. The impressions of childhood have determined
the course of his life. His mind has never been able to iron out the
theological crease it got through nurture. The Bible and Catechism
became for him the bounds beyond which he has never passed. His
free-thinking diatribes against established Christianity (_Brand_,
_Rosmersholm_, etc.), his derision of the shackled pietism of
divines (Manders in _Ghosts_, Rörlund in _The Pillars of Society_,
the dean in _Brand_), are an echo of his teacher, the theosophist,
Sœren Kierkegaard (1815-55), a zealot certainly for quite another
Christianity than that ordained by the state, and provided with powers
of nomination and fixed salaries, but nevertheless an austere and
exclusive Christianity, demanding the whole being of man. Perhaps even
Ibsen looks upon himself as a free-thinker. Wagner did the same. But
what does that prove? He is not clear with regard to his own thought.

‘It is curious,’ writes Herbert Spencer,[339] ‘how commonly men
continue to hold, in fact, doctrines which they have rejected in name,
retaining the substance after they have abandoned the form. In theology
an illustration is supplied by Carlyle, who, in his student days,
giving up, as he thought, the creed of his fathers, rejected its shell
only, keeping the contents, and was proved by his conceptions of the
world, and man and conduct, to be still among the sternest of Scotch
Calvinists.’ If Spencer, when he wrote this, had known Ibsen, he would
perhaps have cited him as a second example. As Carlyle was always a
Scotch Calvinist, so Ibsen has always remained a Norwegian Protestant
of the school of Kierkegaard--that is to say, a Protestant with the
earnest mysticism of a Jacob Boehme, a Swedenborg, or a Pusey, which
easily passes over into the Catholicism of a St. Theresa or a Ruysbroek.

Three fundamental ideas of Christianity are ever present in his mind,
and about these as round so many axes revolves the entire activity
of his poetical imagination. These three unalterable central ideas,
constituting genuine obsessions, reaching up from the unconscious into
his intellectual life, are original sin, confession and self-sacrifice
or redemption.

Æsthetic chatterers have spoken of the idea of heredity influencing all
Ibsen’s works, an idea which cannot escape even the feeblest attention,
as something appertaining to modern science and Darwinism. As a matter
of fact, it is the ever-recurring original sin of St. Augustine, and
it betrays its theological nature, firstly by the circumstance that
it makes its appearance in conjunction with the two other theological
ideas of confession and redemption, and secondly, by the distinguishing
characteristic of hereditary transmission. As we have above seen,
Ibsen’s personages always inherit a disease (blindness, consumption
of the spinal marrow, madness), a vice (mendaciousness, levity,
lewdness, obduracy), or some defect (incapacity for enjoyment), but
never an agreeable or useful quality. Now what is good and wholesome is
just as frequently inherited as what is evil and diseased--even more
frequently, according to many investigators. Hence if Ibsen had really
wished to exhibit the operation of the law of heredity as understood
by Darwin, he would have offered us at least one example, if only one,
of the inheritance of good qualities. But not a single instance is to
be met with in all his dramas. What his beings possess of good, comes
one knows not whence. They have always inherited nothing but evil.
The gentle Hedvig in _The Wild Duck_ becomes blind like her father,
Werle. But from whom does she get her dreamy wealth of imagination, her
devoted loving heart? Her father is a cold egoist, and her mother a
clever, practical, prosaic housewife. Thus she can never have inherited
her fine qualities from either of her parents. From them she receives
only her eye-disease. With Ibsen heredity is only a visitation, a
punishment for the sins of the fathers; science knows of no such
exclusive heredity; theology alone knows it, and it is simply original

Ibsen’s second theological _motif_ is confession; in nearly all his
pieces such is the goal to which all the action tends; not, perchance,
forced by circumstances upon a dissimulating offender, not the
inevitable revelation of a hidden misdeed, but the voluntary outpouring
of a pent-up soul, the voluptuous, self-tormenting disclosure of an
ugly inner wound, the remorseful ‘My guilt, my deepest guilt!’ of the
sinner breaking down under the weight of his burdened conscience,
humbling himself to an avowal that he may find inward peace; in short,
genuine confession as required by the Church. In _A Doll’s House_,
Helmer informs his wife (p. 44): ‘Many a man can lift himself up
again morally if he openly recognises his offence and undergoes its
punishment.... Only just think how a man so conscious of guilt as
that must go about everywhere lying, and a hypocrite, and an actor;
how he must wear a mask towards his neighbour, and even his wife and
children.’ For him not the guilt, but the dissimulation, is the great
evil, and its true expiation consists in ‘public avowal’--_i.e._,
in confession. In the same piece Mrs. Linden, without any external
necessity, and simply in obedience to an inner impulse, makes the
following confession (p. 87): ‘I, too, have suffered shipwreck.... I
had no choice at the time’; while later on she develops the theory of
confession once more (p. 90): ‘Helmer must know everything; between
those two there must be the completest possible understanding, and that
can never come to pass while all these excuses and concealments are
going on.’

In _The Pillars of Society_ Miss Hessel exacts a confession in these
terms (p. 70):

 Here you are, the first man in the town, living in wealth and pride,
 in power and honour--you who have set the brand of crime upon an
 innocent man.

 BERNICK. Do you think I do not feel deeply how I have wronged him? Do
 you think I am not prepared to make atonement?

 LONA. How? By speaking out?

 BERNICK. Can you ask such a thing?

 LONA. What else can atone for such a wrong?

And Johan also says (p. 75):

 In two months I shall be back again.

 BERNICK. And then you will tell all?

 JOHAN. Then the guilty one must take the guilt upon himself.

Bernick actually makes the confession demanded of him from pure
contrition, for at the time he makes it all proofs of his crime are
destroyed, and he has nothing more to fear from other persons. His
confession is couched in most edifying terms (p. 108):

 I must begin by rejecting the panegyric with which you ... have
 overwhelmed me. I do not deserve it; for until to-day I have not been
 disinterested in my dealings.... I have no right to this homage; for
 ... my intention was to retain the whole myself.... My fellow-citizens
 must know me to the core ... that from this evening we begin a new
 time. The old, with its tinsel, its hypocrisy, its hollowness, its
 lying propriety, and its pitiful cowardice, shall lie behind us like
 a museum open for instruction.... My fellow-citizens, I will come out
 of the lie; it had almost poisoned every fibre of my being. You shall
 know all. Fifteen years ago _I_ was the guilty one, etc.

In _Rosmersholm_ there is hardly any other subject treated of than the
confession of all before all. In the very first visit of Kroll (p. 15)
Rebecca urges Rosmer to confess:

 REBECCA (_comes up close to Rosmer, and says rapidly and in a low
 voice, so that the Rector does not hear her_). Do it now!

 ROSMER (_also in a low voice_). Not this evening.

 REBECCA (_as before_). Yes, this very evening.

As he does not at once obey she will speak for him (p. 19):

 REBECCA. You must let me tell you frankly.

 ROSMER (_quickly_). No, no; be quiet. Not just now!

Rosmer soon does it himself (p. 28):

 KROLL. We two are in practical agreement--at any rate, on the great
 essential questions.

 ROSMER (_in a low voice_). No; not now.

 KROLL (_tries to jump up_). What is this?

 ROSMER (_holding him_). No; you must sit still. I entreat you, Kroll.

 KROLL. What can this mean? I don’t understand you. Speak plainly.

 ROSMER. A new summer has blossomed in my soul. I see with eyes grown
 young again; and so now I stand----

 KROLL. Where? where, Rosmer?

 ROSMER. Where your children stand.

 KROLL. You? you? Impossible! Where do you say you stand?

 ROSMER. On the same side as Laurits and Hilda.

 KROLL (_bows his head_). An apostate! Johannes Rosmer an apostate!...
 Is this becoming language for a priest?

 ROSMER. I am no longer a priest.

 KROLL. Well, but--the faith of your childhood----?

 ROSMER. Is mine no longer.... I have given it up. I _had_ to give it
 up.... Peace, and joy, and mutual forbearance must once more enter our
 souls. That is why I am stepping forward and openly avowing myself for
 what I am....

 REBECCA. There now; he’s on his way to his great sacrifice.

(We may here note the purely theological designation given to Rosmer’s

 ROSMER. I feel so relieved now it is over. You see, I am quite calm

Like Rosmer, Rebecca also confesses to Rector Kroll (p. 86):

 REBECCA. Yes, Herr Rector, Rosmer and I--we say _thou_ to each other.
 The relation between us has led to that.... Come, let us sit down,
 dear--all three of us--and then I will tell the whole story.

 ROSMER (_seats himself mechanically_). What has come over you,
 Rebecca? This unnatural calmness--what is it?

 REBECCA. I have only to tell you something.... Now it must out. It was
 not you, Rosmer. You are innocent; it was _I_ who lured Beata out into
 the paths of delusion ... that led to the mill-race. Now you know it,
 both of you....

 ROSMER (_after a pause_). Have you confessed all now, Rebecca?

No, not yet all. But she hastens to complete to Rosmer the confession
begun to Kroll (p. 98):

 ROSMER. Have you more confessions to make?

 REBECCA. The greatest of all is to come.

 ROSMER. The greatest?

 REBECCA. What you have never suspected. What gives light and shade to
 all the rest, etc.

In _The Lady from the Sea_, Ellida (p. 19) confesses to Arnholm the
story of her insensate betrothal with the foreign sailor. Arnholm so
little comprehends the need of this confession, made without rhyme or
reason, that he asks with astonishment: ‘What is your object, then, in
telling me that you were bound?’ ‘Because I must have someone in whom
to confide,’ is Ellida’s sole--and, moreover, sufficient--answer.

In _Hedda Gabler_ the inevitable confessions take place before the
commencement of the piece. ‘Yes, Hedda,’ Lövborg says (p. 123). ‘And
when I used to confess to you! Told you about myself--things that
nobody else knew in those days. Sat there and admitted that I had been
out on the loose for whole days and nights.... Ah, Hedda, what power
was it in you that forced me to acknowledge things like that?... Had
not you an idea that you could wash me clean if only I came to you in
confession?’ He confesses in order to receive absolution.

In _The Wild Duck_ confession is equally prominent, but it is
deliciously ridiculed. The scene in which Gina confesses to her husband
her early liaison with Werle is one of the most exquisite things in
contemporary drama (Act IV.).

 HJALMAR. Is it true--can it be true that--that there was an--an
 understanding between you and Mr. Werle, while you were in service

 GINA. That’s not true. Not at that time. Mr. Werle did come after me,
 I own it; and his wife thought there was something in it ... so that I
 left her service.

 HJALMAR. But afterwards, then!

 GINA. Well, then I went home. And mother--well, she wasn’t the woman
 you took her for, Ekdal; she kept on worrying and worrying at me about
 one thing and another. For Mr. Werle was a widower by that time.

 HJALMAR. Well, and then?

 GINA. I suppose you must know it. He didn’t give it up until he’d had
 his way.

 HJALMAR (_striking his hands together_). And this is the mother of my
 child! How could you hide this from me?

 GINA. It was wrong of me; I ought certainly to have told you long ago.

 HJALMAR. You should have told me at the very first; then I should have
 known what you were.

 GINA. But would you have married me all the same?

 HJALMAR. How can you suppose so?

 GINA. That’s just why I didn’t dare to tell you anything then. I’d
 come to care for you so much, you know; and I couldn’t go and make
 myself utterly miserable....

 HJALMAR. Haven’t you every day, every hour, repented of the spider’s
 web of deceit you had spun around me? Answer me that! How could you
 help writhing with penitence and remorse?

 GINA. My dear Ekdal, I’ve plenty to do looking after the house, and
 all the daily business----

Further on the idea of self-deliverance and purification through
confession is pitilessly travestied.

 GREGERS. Haven’t you done it yet?

 HJALMAR (_aloud_). It _is_ done.

 GREGERS. It _is_?... After so great a crisis--a crisis that’s to be
 the starting-point of an entirely new life--of a communion founded on
 truth, and free from falsehood of any kind.... Surely you feel a new
 consecration after the great crisis.

 HJALMAR. Yes, of course I do--that is, in a sort of way.

 GREGERS. For I’m sure there’s nothing in the world to compare with the
 joy of forgiving one who has erred, and raising her up to one’s self
 in love, etc.

On his way to the guillotine, Avinain, the French assassin, condensed
the experience of his life in the pithy saying, ‘Never confess.’ But
this is advice which only those of strong will and healthy minds
can follow. A lively idea vehemently demands to be transformed into
movement. The movement exacting the least effort is that of the small
muscles of the larynx, tongue, and lips, _i.e._, the organs of speech.
Anyone, therefore, having a specially lively idea experiences a strong
desire to relax those cell-groups of his brain in which this idea
is elaborated by allowing the transmission of their stimulus to the
organs of speech. In a word, he desires to speak out. And if he is
weak, if the inhibitive power of the will is not greater than the motor
impulse proceeding from the ideational centre, he will burst out into
speech, be the consequences what they may. That this psychological
law has always been known is proved by all literature, from the fable
of King Midas to Dostojewski’s _Raskolnikow_; and the Catholic Church
furnished one more proof of her profound knowledge of human nature
which she transformed the primitive Christian custom of confession
before the assembled congregation, which was to be a self-humiliation
and expiation, into auricular confession, which serves the purpose
of a safe and blissful alleviation and relaxation, and constitutes
for ordinary men a primary psychic need of the first order. It was
this sort of confession which Ibsen, probably unconsciously, had in
view. (‘Because I must have someone in whom I can confide,’ as Ellida
says.) Himself a degenerate, Ibsen can picture to himself only the
intellectual life of degenerates, in whom the mechanism of inhibition
is always disordered, and who, therefore, cannot escape from the
impulse to confess, when anything of an absorbing or exciting character
exists in their consciousness.

The third and most important theological obsession of Ibsen is the
saving act of Christ, the redemption of the guilty by a voluntary
acceptance of their guilt. This devolution of sin upon a lamb of
sacrifice occupies the same position in Ibsen’s drama as in Richard
Wagner’s. The _motif_ of the sacrificial lamb and of redemption
is constantly present in his mind, certainly not always clear and
comprehensible, but, conformably with the confusion of his thought,
diversely distorted, obscured, and, so to speak, in _contrapuntal_
inversion. Now Ibsen’s personages voluntarily and joyfully bear the
cross, in keeping with the Christ-idea; now it is put upon their
shoulders by force or artifice, which is, as theologians would say,
a diabolical mockery of this idea; now the sacrifice for another
is sincere, now mere hypocrisy; the effects Ibsen draws from the
incessantly recurring _motif_ are, agreeably with its form, now moral
and affecting, now comically base and repulsive.

In _The Pillars of Society_ there is a talk of some ‘scandal’ which
occurred years before the commencement of the piece. The husband of the
actress Dorf, on returning home one evening, found her with a stranger,
who, on his entrance, sprang out of the window. The affair caused
great excitement and indignation in the Norwegian Gotham. Immediately
afterwards Johan Tönnesen fled to America. Everyone looked upon him as
the ‘culprit.’ In reality, however, it was his brother-in-law, Bernick.
Johan had voluntarily incurred the blame of Bernick’s fault. On his
return from America the sinner and the sacrificial lamb discuss the
circumstance (p. 45):

 BERNICK. Johan, now we are alone, you must give me leave to thank you.

 JOHAN. Oh, nonsense!

 BERNICK. My house and home, my domestic happiness, my whole position
 as a citizen in society--all these I owe to you.

 JOHAN. Well, I am glad of it....

 BERNICK. Thanks, thanks all the same. Not one in ten thousand would
 have done what you then did for me.

 JOHAN. Oh, nonsense!... One of us had to take the blame upon him.

 BERNICK. But to whom did it lie nearer than to the guilty one?

 JOHAN. Stop! _Then_ it lay nearer to the innocent one. I was alone,
 free, an orphan.... You, on the other hand, had your old mother in
 life; and, besides, you had just become secretly engaged to Betty, and
 she was very fond of you. What would have become of her if she had
 come to know----?

 BERNICK. True, true, true; but ... but yet, that you should turn
 appearances against yourself, and go away----

 JOHAN. Have no scruples, my dear Karsten ... you had to be saved, and
 you were my friend.

Here the idea of the sacrificial lamb is normal and rational. But it is
soon afterwards introduced into the same piece in a distorted shape.
Bernick sends the rotten-keeled _Indian Girl_ to sea, to her certain
destruction, in spite of his foreman Aune’s opposition. While, however,
planning this wholesale murder, he also schemes for laying the burden
of his crime on the innocent Aune (p. 65):

 KRAP. ... There is rascality at work, Consul.

 BERNICK. I cannot believe it, Krap. I cannot, and will not believe
 such a thing of Aune.

 KRAP. I am sorry for it, but it is the plain truth.... All bogus! The
 _Indian Girl_ will never get to New York....

 BERNICK. But this is horrible! What do you think can be his motive?

 KRAP. He probably wants to bring the machines into discredit....

 BERNICK. And for that he would sacrifice all these lives?... But
 such a piece of villainy as this! Listen, Krap; this affair must
 be examined into again. Not a word of it to anyone.... During the
 dinner-hour you must go down there again; I must have perfect
 certainty.... We cannot make ourselves accomplices in a crime. I must
 keep my conscience unspotted, etc.

In _Ghosts_ the idea of the lamb of sacrifice is equally travestied.
The asylum founded by Mrs. Alving has been burnt. The joiner,
Engstrand, that theatrical villain, succeeds in persuading the idiotic
pastor, Manders, that he--Manders--was the cause of the fire. And
as the pastor is made desperate by the possible legal consequences,
Engstrand goes to him and says (p. 184):

 Jacob Engstrand isn’t the man to desert a noble benefactor in the hour
 of need, as the saying is [!].

 MANDERS. Yes; but, my good fellow, how----?

 ENGSTRAND. Jacob Engstrand may be likened to a guardian angel--he may,
 your reverence.

 MANDERS. No, no; I can’t accept that.

 ENGSTRAND. Oh, you will though, all the same. I know a man that’s
 taken others’ sins upon himself before now, I do.

 MANDERS. Jacob (_wrings his hand_). You are a rare character.

In _A Doll’s House_ the idea develops itself with great beauty. Nora
confidently expects that her husband, on hearing of her forgery, will
assume the blame, and she is resolved not to accept his sacrifice (p.

 NORA. I only wanted to tell you that, Christina; you shall be my
 witness.... In case there were to be anybody who wanted to take the
 ... the whole blame, I mean ... then you will be able to bear witness
 that it is not true, Christina. I know very well what I am saying; I
 am in full possession of my senses, and I say to you, Nobody else knew
 anything about it; I alone have done everything.... But a miracle will
 come to pass even yet ... but it is so terrible, Christina! It must
 not happen for anything in the world!

In the deepest excitement she looks for the expected miracle, the
renewal of Christ’s act of salvation in the narrow circumstances of a
small village--‘I am the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the
world.’ And, since the miracle does not come to pass, there takes place
the immense transformation in her nature which forms the real subject
of the piece. Nora explains this to her husband with the greatest
clearness (p. 116):

 ...The thought never once occurred to me that you could allow yourself
 to submit to the conditions of such a man. I was so firmly convinced
 that you would say to him, ‘Pray make the affair known to all the
 world’; and when that had been done ... then you would, as I firmly
 believed, stand before the world, take everything upon yourself, and
 say, ‘I am the guilty person.’ ... That was the miracle that I hoped
 and feared. And it was to hinder that that I wanted to put an end to
 my life.

In _The Wild Duck_ the idea of the sacrificial lamb recurs no less
than three times, and is the moving force of the whole piece. The
infringement of the forest laws, of which the elder Ekdal was
convicted, was not committed by him, but by Werle:

 WERLE. ... I was quite in the dark as to what Lieutenant Ekdal was

 GREGERS. Lieutenant Ekdal seems to have been in the dark as to what he
 was doing.

 WERLE. That may be. But the fact remains that he was found guilty, and
 I acquitted.

 GREGERS. Yes, of course I know that nothing was proved against you.

 WERLE. Acquittal is acquittal. Why do you rake up old troubles?...
 I’ve done all I could without positively exposing myself, and giving
 rise to all sorts of suspicion and gossip.... I’ve given Ekdal copying
 to do from the office, and I pay him far, far more for it than his
 work is worth.

Werle thus shuffles his fault on Ekdal, and the latter breaks down
under the weight of the cross. Afterwards, when Hjalmar learns that
little Hedwig is not his child, and disowns her, the idiot Gregers
Werle goes to the despairing maiden, and says:

 But suppose you were to sacrifice the wild duck, of your own free
 will, for his sake?

 HEDWIG (_rising_). The wild duck!

 GREGERS. Suppose you were to sacrifice, for his sake, the dearest
 treasure you have in the world?

 HEDWIG. Do you think that would do any good?

 GREGERS. Try it, Hedwig.

 HEDWIG (_softly, with flashing eyes_). Yes, I will try it.

Here, then, Hedwig is not to offer herself in sacrifice, but a pet
animal, thus abasing the idea from Christianity to paganism. Finally,
it crops up a third time. At the last moment Hedwig cannot make up her
mind to kill the duck, and prefers turning the pistol against her own
breast, thus purchasing with her own life that of the bird. This dismal
dénouement is worrying and foolish, because useless; the poetical
effect would have been fully attained if Hedwig, instead of dying, had
only slightly wounded herself; for in this way she would have furnished
equally strong proof that she was seriously determined to bear witness
to her love for her father by the sacrifice of her young life, and to
restore peace between him and her mother. But æsthetic criticism is not
my function; I willingly yield that to phrase-makers. All that I have
to indicate is the triple recurrence in _The Wild Duck_ of the idea of
the sacrificial lamb.

At its third appearance this idea suffers a significant transformation.
Hedwig sacrifices herself, not in expiation of an offence--for she
is ignorant of her mother’s guilt--but to accomplish a work of
love. Here the mystico-theological element of redemption recedes
into the background so far as to be almost imperceptible, and there
remains hardly more than the purely human element of the joy felt in
self-sacrifice for others--an impulse not rare among good women, and
which is a manifestation of the unsatisfied yearning for maternity
(often unknown to themselves), and at the same time one of the noblest
and holiest forms of altruism. Ibsen shows this impulse in many of
his female characters, the source of which in the religious mysticism
of the poet would not be at once noticed, if from the numerous
other conjugations of the root-idea of the sacrificial lamb we had
not already acquired the sure habit of recognising it even in its
obscurations. Hedwig constitutes a transition from the theological to
the purely human form of voluntary self-sacrifice. The over-strung
child carries renunciation to the orthodox extreme of yielding up her
life; Ibsen’s other women, to whose character Hedwig supplies the key,
go only to the point of lovingly active self-denial. They do not die
for others, but they live for others. In _A Doll’s House_ Mrs. Linden
has this hunger for self-sacrifice.

 I must work in order to endure life [she says to Krogstad--p. 87]. I
 have worked from my youth up, and work has been my one best friend.
 But now I am quite alone in the world--so terribly empty and forsaken.
 There is no happiness in working for one’s self. Nils, give me
 somebody and something to work for....

 KROGSTAD. What! you really could? Tell me, do you know my past?


 KROGSTAD. And do you know my reputation?

 MRS. LINDEN. Did you not hint it just now, when you said that with me
 you could have been another man?

 KROGSTAD. I am perfectly certain of it.

 MRS. LINDEN. Could it not yet be so?

 KROGSTAD. Christina, do you say this after full deliberation?...

 MRS. LINDEN. I need somebody to mother, and your children need a

Here the idea is not so disguised as to be unrecognisable. Krogstad
is a culprit and an outlaw. If Mrs. Linden offers to live for him,
it is certainly chiefly from the instinct of maternity. But in this
natural feeling there is also a tinge of the mystic idea of the
sinner’s redemption through disinterested love. In _The Lady from the
Sea_, Ellida wishes to return to her birthplace on the sea, Skjoldvik,
because she believes there is nothing for her to do in Wangel’s house.
At the announcement of her resolution her stepdaughter, Hilda, evinces
a profound despair. Then for the first time Ellida learns that Hilda
loves her; there is then born in her the thought that she has someone
to live for, and she says dreamily: ‘Oh, if there should be something
for me to do here!’ In _Rosmersholm_ Rebecca says to Kroll (p. 8):

 So long as Mr. Rosmer thinks I am of any use or comfort to him, why,
 so long, I suppose, I shall stay here.

 KROLL (_looks at her with emotion_). Do you know, it’s really fine for
 a woman to sacrifice her whole youth to others, as you have done.

 REBECCA. Oh, what else should I have had to live for?

In _The Pillars of Society_ there are two of these touching
self-sacrificing souls--Miss Martha Bernick and Miss Hessel. Miss
Bernick has reared the illegitimate child Dina, and has consecrated her
own life to her (p. 52):

 MARTHA. I have been a mother to that much-wronged child--have brought
 her up as well as I could.

 JOHAN. And sacrificed your whole life in so doing.

 MARTHA. It has not been thrown away.

She loves Johan, but as she sees that he is attracted by Dina she
unites the two. She explains herself in regard to the incident in an
exceedingly affecting scene with Johan’s half-sister (p. 95):

 LONA. Now we are alone, Martha. You have lost her, and I him.

 MARTHA. You him?

 LONA. Oh, I had half lost him already over there. The boy longed to
 stand on his own feet, so I made him think _I_ was longing for home.

 MARTHA. That was it? Now I understand why you came. But he will want
 you back again, Lona.

 LONA. An old stepsister--what can he want with her now? Men snap many
 bonds to arrive at happiness.

 MARTHA. It is so, sometimes.

 LONA. But now we two must hold together, Martha.

 MARTHA. Can I be anything to you?

 LONA. Who more? We two foster-mothers--have we not both lost our
 children? Now we are alone.

 MARTHA. Yes, alone. And therefore I will tell you--I have loved him
 more than all the world.

 LONA. Martha! (_seizes her arm_). Is this the truth?

 MARTHA. My whole life lies in the words. I have loved him, and waited
 for him. From summer to summer I have looked for his coming. And then
 he came, but he did not see me.

 LONA. Loved him! and it was you that gave his happiness into his hands.

 MARTHA. Should I not have given him his happiness, since I loved him?
 Yes, I have loved him. My whole life has been for him.... He did not
 see me.

 LONA. It was Dina that overshadowed you, Martha.

 MARTHA. It is well that she did! When he went away we were of the
 same age. When I saw him again--oh, that horrible moment!--it seemed
 to me that I was ten years older than he. He had lived in the bright,
 quivering sunshine, and drunk in youth and health at every breath; and
 here sat I, the while, spinning and spinning----

 LONA. The thread of his happiness, Martha.

 MARTHA. Yes, it was gold I spun. No bitterness! Is it not true, Lona,
 we have been two good sisters to him?

In _Hedda Gabler_ it is Miss Tesman, aunt of the imbecile Tesman, who
plays the pathetic part of the sacrificial mother. She has brought
him up, and when he marries gives him the largest part of her modest
income. ‘Oh, aunt,’ bleats the poor idiot (p. 18), ‘you will never be
tired of sacrificing yourself for me!’ ‘Do you think,’ replies the good
creature, ‘I have any other joy in this world than to smooth the way
for you, my dear boy--you who have never had a father or a mother to
look after you?’ And when subsequently the paralytic sister of Miss
Tesman is dead, Hedda and she hold this conversation (p. 196):

 HEDDA. It will be lonesome for you now, Miss Tesman.

 MISS TESMAN. The first few days, yes. But that won’t last very long.
 Dear Rina’s little room will not always be empty, that I know.

 HEDDA. Indeed! Who is going to move into it, eh?

 MISS TESMAN. Oh, there is always some poor invalid or other who needs
 to be looked after and tended, unfortunately.

 HEDDA. Will you really take such a burden upon you again?

 MISS TESMAN. Burden! God forgive you, child! that has never been a
 burden to me.

 HEDDA. But now, if a stranger should come, then surely----

 MISS TESMAN. Oh, one soon becomes friends with sick people. And I must
 positively have someone to live for, too.

The three Christo-dogmatic obsessions of original sin, confession,
and self-sacrifice, filling Ibsen’s dramas, as we have seen, from the
first line to the last, are not the only tokens of his mysticism. This
betrays itself by a whole series of other peculiarities, which shall be
briefly indicated.

At the head of these stands the astoundingly chaotic nature of his
thought. One cannot believe one’s eyes while reading how his fulsome
flatterers have had the audacity to extol him for the ‘clearness’ and
‘precision’ of his thought. Do these individuals, then, imagine that
no one capable of forming a judgment will ever read a line of Ibsen? A
clearly-defined thought is an extraordinary rarity in this Norwegian
dramatist. Everything floats and undulates, nebulous and amorphous,
such as we are accustomed to see in weak-brained degenerates. And
if he once succeeds, with toil and stress, in grasping anything and
expressing it in a moderately intelligible manner, he unfailingly
hastens, a few pages later, or in a subsequent piece, to say the exact
opposite. A talk is made of Ibsen’s ‘ideas on morality’ and of his
‘philosophy.’ He has not formulated a single proposition on morality, a
single conception of the world and life, that he has not himself either
refuted or fittingly ridiculed.

He seems to preach free love, and his eulogy of a licentiousness
unchecked by any self-control, regardless of contracts, laws, and
morality, has made of him a ‘modern spirit’ in the eyes of Georg
Brandes and similar protectors of those ‘youths who wish to amuse
themselves a little.’ Mrs. Alving (_Ghosts_, p. 158), calls a ‘crime’
the act of Pastor Manders in repulsing her, after she has quitted her
husband and thrown herself on the pastor’s neck. This highly-strung
dame pushes Regina into the arms of Oswald, her son, when in shameless
speech he informs her that it would give him pleasure to possess the
girl. And this very same Mrs. Alving speaks in terms of the deepest
indignation of her dead husband as ‘profligate’ (p. 146), and again
designates him in the presence of her son as a ‘broken-down man’
(in the original it is ‘et forfaldent Menneske,’ an epithet usually
bestowed on fallen women), and why? Because he had had wanton relations
with women! Well, but is it in Ibsen’s opinion permissible, or not
permissible, to gratify carnal lust as often as it is awakened? If
it is permissible, how does Mrs. Alving come to speak with scorn of
her husband? If it is not permissible, how dared she offer herself
to Pastor Manders, and be the procuress between Regina and her own
half-brother? Or does the moral law hold good for man only, and not
for woman? An English proverb says, ‘What’s sauce for the goose is
sauce for the gander.’ Ibsen evidently does not share the opinion of
popular lore. A woman who runs away from her legal husband and pursues
a lover (Mrs. Elvsted and Ejlert Lövborg, in _Hedda Gabler_), or who
offers to form an illicit connection with a man, although nothing
prevents their marrying without further ado like other rational
ratepayers (Mrs. Linden and Krogstad in _A Doll’s House_)--such women
have Ibsen’s entire approbation and sympathy. But if a man seduces a
maiden and liberally provides for her subsequent maintenance (Werle and
Gina in _The Wild Duck_), or, again, if he has illicit relations with
a married woman (Consul Bernick and the actress Dorf in _The Pillars
of Society_), then it is so heinous a crime that the culprit remains
branded his whole life, and is nailed by the poet to the pillory with
the cruelty of a mediæval executioner.

The same contradiction finds its expression in another and more general
form. At one time Ibsen contends with ferocious, impetuosity that
everyone is ‘a law unto himself’ alone, _i.e._, that he should obey
every one of his caprices, nay, even of his diseased impulsions; that,
as his commentators idiotically put it, he should (_sich auslebe_)
‘live out his life.’ In _The Pillars of Society_ Miss Bernick says to
Dina (p. 94):

 Promise me to make him [her betrothed] happy.

 DINA. I will not promise anything. I hate this promising; things must
 come as they can [_i.e._, as the circumstances of the moment may
 suggest to the wayward brain].

 MARTHA. Yes, yes; so they must. You need only remain as you are, true
 and faithful to yourself.

 DINA. That I will, Aunt Martha.

In _Rosmersholm_, Rosmer says admiringly of the scoundrel Brendel (p.
28): ‘At least he has had the courage to live his life his own way. I
don’t think that’s such a small matter after all.’ In the same piece
Rebecca complains (p. 97): ‘Rosmersholm has broken me.... Broken me
utterly and hopelessly. I had a fresh, undaunted will when I came here.
Now I have bent my neck under a strange law.’ And further on (p. 102):
‘It is the Rosmer view of life ... that has infected my will.... and
made it sick, enslaved it to laws that had no power over me before.’
Ejlert Lövborg laments in like fashion in _Hedda Gabler_. ‘But it is
_this_--that I don’t want to live that kind of life either. Not now,
over again. It is the courage of life and the defiance of life that
she’ (Thea Elvested, with her sweet, loving constraint) ‘has snapped in
me.’ Quite in opposition to these views, Ibsen, in his _Ghosts_, makes
Regina proclaim her ‘right to live out her life’ in these words (p.
189): ‘Oh! I really can’t stop out here in the country and wear myself
out nursing sick people ... a poor girl must make the best of her young
days.... I, too, want to enjoy my life, Mrs. Alving.’ Mrs. Alving
replies: ‘Alas! yes.’ This ‘alas’ is bewildering. Alas? Why ‘alas’?
Does she not obey her ‘law’ if she satisfies her ‘joy in living,’ and,
as she forthwith explains, enters the house of ill-fame for sailors
set up by the joiner Engstrand? How can Mrs. Alving utter this ‘alas,’
when she also was ‘obeying her law’ in offering herself as the mistress
of Pastor Manders, and since she wished to aid her son in ‘obeying his
law,’ when he had set his eyes on Regina? It is because Ibsen, in his
lucid moments, feels that there may be something of danger in ‘obeying
one’s law,’ and this ‘alas’ of Mrs. Alving escapes him as a confession.
In _The Wild Duck_ he ridicules his own dogma in the most liberal
style. In that piece there is one Molvig, a candidate for a University
degree, who also ‘obeys his law.’ This law prescribes that he shall
learn nothing, evade his examinations, and pass his nights in taverns.
The scoffer, Relling, asserts (p. 317) that it ‘comes over him like a
sort of possession; and then I have to go out on the loose with him.
Molvig is a demoniac, you see, ... and demoniac natures are not made to
walk straight through the world; they must meander now and then. And in
order that there shall be no doubt as to what Relling means by this,
he subsequently explains (p. 361): ‘“What the devil do you mean by
demoniac?” “It’s only a piece of hocus-pocus I’ve invented to keep up
a spark of life in him. But for that the poor harmless creature would
have succumbed to self-contempt and despair many a long year ago.”’

That is true. Molvig is a pitiable weakling, unable to conquer his
indolence and passion for drink; abandoned to his own devices, he would
recognise himself for the miserable creature he is, and despise himself
as profoundly as he deserves; but Relling arrives on the scene, and
gives his lack of character the title ‘demoniac,’ and now ‘the child
has a fine name,’ which Molvig can make a parade of to himself and
others. Ibsen does exactly the same thing as his Relling. The weakness
of will, incapable of resisting base and pitiable instincts, he praises
as the ‘will to live out one’s life,’ as the ‘freedom of a spirit who
obeys his own law only,’ and recommends it as the sole rule of life.
But, unlike Relling, he is for the most part ignorant of the fact that
he is practising a deception (which I by no means regard in Relling’s
light as pious and charitable), and believes in his own humbug. That
is, for the most part; not always. Here and there, as in _The Wild
Duck_, he recognises his error and scourges it severely; and his inmost
feeling is so little influenced by his self-deceptive phrase, fit for
a weak-willed degenerate, that he involuntarily and unconsciously
betrays, in all his productions, his deep abhorrence of men who ‘obey
their own law in order to live out their life.’ He punishes Chamberlain
Alving in his son, and makes him cursed by his widow because he has
‘lived out his life.’ He imputes it as a crime to Consul Bernick and
the merchant Werle that they have ‘lived out their life,’ the former
in sacrificing his brother-in-law Johan to protect himself, and for
his intrigue with Mrs. Dorf, the actress; and the latter for allowing
Ekdal to bear the blame of his fault, and for seducing Gina. He
surrounds with an aureole the glorified heads of Rosmer and Rebecca,
because they did not ‘live out their life,’ but, on the contrary, ‘died
their death,’ if I may put it so; because they obeyed, not ‘their own
law,’ but that of others, the universal moral law that annihilated
them. Whenever one of his characters acts in accordance with Ibsen’s
doctrine, and does what is agreeable to himself regardless of morals
and law, he experiences such contrition and self-torment that he is
unable to find calm and joy until he has disburdened his conscience by
confession and expiation.

‘This living out one’s life’ makes its appearance in Ibsen in the form
also of a rigid individualism. The ‘self’ is the only real thing;
the ‘I’ must be cherished and developed, as, indeed, Barrès preaches
independently of Ibsen. The first duty of every human being is to be
just to his ‘I,’ to satisfy its demands, to sacrifice to it every
consideration for others. When Nora wishes to abandon her husband, he
cries (p. 112):

 Only think what people will say about it!

 NORA. I cannot take that into consideration. I only know that to go is
 necessary for me.

 HELMER. Oh, it drives one wild! Is this the way you can evade your
 holiest duties?

 NORA. What do you consider my holiest duties?

 HELMER. ... Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?

 NORA. I have other duties equally sacred.

 HELMER. ... What duties do you mean?

 NORA. Duties towards myself.

 HELMER. Before all else you are a wife and a mother.

 NORA. I no longer think so. I think that before all else I am a human
 being just as you are, or, at least, I will try to become one.

In _Ghosts_ Oswald says to his mother with triumphant brutality (p.
192): ‘I can’t be much taken up with other people. I have enough to do
thinking about myself.’ How in the same piece Regina emphasizes her
‘I’ and its rights, we have already seen. In _An Enemy of the People_,
Stockmann proclaims the right of the ‘I’ in face of the majority, and
even the race, in these words (p. 283): ‘It is a hideous lie: the
doctrine that the multitude, the vulgar herd, the masses, are the pith
of the people--that, indeed, they are the people--that the common man,
that this ignorant, undeveloped member of society, has the same right
to condemn or to sanction, to govern and to rule, as the few people of
intellectual power.’ And (p. 312): ‘I only want to drive into the heads
of these curs that the Liberals are the worst foes of free men ...
that the considerations of expediency turn morality and righteousness
upside down until life is simply hideous.... Now I am one of the
strongest men upon earth.... You see the fact is that the strongest
man upon earth is he who stands most alone.’ But this very Stockmann,
who will hear nothing of ‘the multitude, the vulgar herd, the masses,’
as he reiterates with insufferable tautology, who feels, his ‘I’
powerful only in a majestic solitude, calls his fellow-citizens ‘old
women who think only of their families,[340] and not of the general
good.’ And in the very same piece (_A Doll’s House_), in which Ibsen
evidently bestows loud applause on Nora for declaring that ‘her only
duties were to herself,’ and that she ‘could have no consideration for
anyone else,’ he stigmatizes her husband as a pitiable, low-spirited
weakling, because on his wife’s confession of forgery he first of all
thinks of his own reputation only, and hence of his ‘duty to himself,’
his only consideration being for himself, and not for his wife. Here
there recurs the same phenomenon as in Ibsen’s notions concerning
sexual morality. Unchastity in a man is a crime, but in a woman is
permissible. In the same way the rude emphasizing of the ‘I’ is a
merit only in the woman. The man has no right to be an egoist. How,
for example, Ibsen rails at egoism through Bernick (in _The Pillars
of Society_), whom he makes say naïvely, in reference to his sister
Martha, that she ‘is quite insignificant’ (p. 49), and that he does not
wish to have her otherwise!

 You know, in a large house like ours, it is always well to have some
 steady-going person like her, whom one can put to anything that may
 turn up.

 JOHAN. Yes, but she herself?

 BERNICK. She herself? Why, of course she has enough to interest
 herself in--Betty and Olaf, and me, you know. People should not think
 of themselves first, and women least of all.

And how severely Ibsen condemns the egoism of Mrs. Elvsted’s husband
(_Hedda Gabler_), when he puts these bitter words into her mouth (p.
52): ‘He is not really fond of anybody but himself. Perhaps of the
children a little!’

But the most remarkable thing about this philosopher of individualism
is that he not only expressly condemns egoism in the man as a low
vice, but unconsciously also admires disinterestedness in the woman
as an angelic perfection. In _A Doll’s House_ (p. 113) he brags that
‘my most sacred duties are towards myself.’ And yet the only touching
and charming characters in his pieces with whom this inflexible
individualist is successful are the saintly women who live and die for
others only--these Hedwigs, Miss Bernicks, Miss Hessels, Aunt Tesmans,
etc., who never think of their ‘I,’ but make the sacrifice of all
their impulses and wishes to the welfare of others their sole task on
earth. This contradiction, violent to the point of absurdity, is very
well explained by the nature of Ibsen’s mind. His mystico-religious
obsession of voluntary self-sacrifice for others is necessarily
stronger than his pseudo-philosophic lucubration on individualism.

Among the ‘moral ideas’ of Ibsen are counted his professed thirst for
truth. At least enough has been said and written on this subject. ‘Only
just think,’ Helmer says to Nora (_A Doll’s House_, pp. 44, 45), ‘how a
man so conscious of guilt as that must go about everywhere lying, and a
hypocrite, and an actor; how he must wear a mask towards his neighbour,
and even his wife and children, his own children. That’s the worst,
Nora.... Because such a misty atmosphere of lying brings contagion
into the whole family.’ ‘Is there no voice in your mother’s heart
that forbids you to destroy your son’s ideals?’ asks Pastor Manders in
_Ghosts_ (p. 155), when Mrs. Alving has revealed to her son her defunct
husband’s ‘immorality.’ To which Mrs. Alving magniloquently replies,
‘But what about the truth?’ In _The Pillars of Society_, Lona Hessel
thus preaches to Consul Bernick (p. 57):

 Is it for the sake of the community, then, that for these fifteen
 years you have stood upon a lie?

 BERNICK. A lie?... You call that----

 LONA. I call it the lie--the threefold lie. First the lie towards me;
 then the lie towards Betty; then the lie towards Johan.... Is there
 not something within you that asks you to get clear of the lie?

 BERNICK. You would have me voluntarily sacrifice my domestic
 happiness, and my position in society?

 LONA. What right have you to stand where you are standing?

And subsequently (p. 70):

 LONA. A lie, then, has made you the man you now are?

 BERNICK. Whom did it hurt, then?...

 LONA. You ask whom it hurt? Look into yourself, and see if it has not
 hurt you.

Bernick then examines himself, and shortly before his confession there
takes place a highly edifying dialogue between him and the severe
guardian of his conscience (p. 98):

 BERNICK. Yes, yes, yes; it all comes of the lie....

 LONA. Then, why do you not break with all this lying?... What
 satisfaction does this show and deception give you?

 BERNICK. ... It is my son I am working for.... There will come a time
 when truth shall spread through the life of our society, and upon it
 he shall found a happier life than his father’s.

 LONA. With a lie for its groundwork? Reflect what it is you are giving
 your son for an inheritance.

In _An Enemy of the People_, words of truth are ever coming from the
mouths of the Stockmann family: ‘There’s so much falseness both at
home and at school,’ declaims their daughter, Petra. ‘At home you
mustn’t speak, and at school you have to stand there and lie to the
children.... We have to teach many and many a thing we don’t believe
ourselves.... If only I could afford it I’d start a school myself, and
things should be very different there.’ The courageous maiden quarrels
with an editor who wished to marry her about his want of veracity
(p. 255): ‘What I am angry with you for is that you have not acted
honestly towards my father. You told him it was only the truth and
the good of the community you cared about.... You are not the man you
pretend to be. And I shall never forgive you--never!’ ‘The whole of
our developing social life,’ cries the father Stockmann in his turn
(p. 242), ‘is rooted in a lie.’ And later on (p. 287) ‘Yes, I love my
native town so well I would rather ruin it than see it flourishing
upon a lie.... All men who live upon lies must be exterminated like
vermin. You’ll poison the whole country in time; you’ll bring it to
such a pass that the whole country will deserve to perish.’ Now, all
this would certainly be very fine, if we did not know that this fervent
worship of truth is only one of the forms under which there appears in
Ibsen’s consciousness the mystico-religious obsession of the sacrament
of confession, and also, if he were not careful, conformably with
his habit, to destroy any too hasty belief in the sincerity of his
phraseology by himself ridiculing it. In Gregers Werle he has created
the best caricature of his men of truth. Gregers speaks in exactly
the same terms as Lona Hessel, Petra Stockmann, and her father, but
in his mouth the words are intended to excite laughter: ‘And look at
this confiding nature, this great child,’ he says of his friend Hjalmar
(p. 41). ‘See him enveloped in a net of perfidy, living under the
same roof as a woman of that kind, not suspecting that his home, as
he calls it, rests upon a lie.... At length I see an object in life.’
This object consists in operating on Hjalmar’s moral cataract. And he
does it, too. ‘You are sunk in a poisoned quagmire, Hjalmar,’ Gregers
says to him (p. 101). ‘You have an insidious disease within you, and
you’ve sunk down to die in the dark.... Don’t be afraid; I will try to
help you up again. I, too, have a mission in life now.’ And shortly
afterwards he says to the father: ‘But Hjalmar I can rescue from all
the falsehood and deception that are bringing him to ruin.’ The scoffer
Relling treats no worse than he deserves the idiot who, in fulfilling
his ‘mission in life’ disturbs the peace between Hjalmar and his wife,
destroys their comfortable home, and drives Hedwig to her death.

 Yours is a complicated case ... that troublesome integrity-fever [he
 says to him--p. 360]....

 I’m fostering the life-illusion [literally ‘the life-lie’] in him.

 GREGERS. Life-illusion? Is that what you said?

 RELLING. Yes, I said illusion. For illusion, you know, is the
 stimulating principle.... Rob the average man of his life-illusion,
 and you rob him of his happiness at the same time.

Now, what is Ibsen’s real opinion? Is a man to strive for truth, or
to swelter in deceit? Is Ibsen with Stockmann or with Relling? Ibsen
owes us an answer to these questions, or, rather, he replies to them
affirmatively and negatively with equal ardour and equal poetic power.

Another ‘moral idea’ of Ibsen, about which his choristers chatter
most loudly, is that of ‘true marriage.’ It is certainly not easy to
discover what his mystic brain conceives by these mysterious words,
but it is nevertheless possible to guess it from the hundred obscure
notions in his plays. He does not seem to approve of the idea that
the woman should regard marriage as merely a means of maintenance. In
nearly all his pieces he comes to this conclusion with the monotony
peculiar to him. In _Ghosts_, Mrs. Alving ascribes her whole life’s
unhappiness to the fact that she married the chamberlain for his
money--that she sold herself. ‘The sums which I have spent upon the
orphanage year by year make up the amount--I have reckoned it up
precisely--the amount which made Lieutenant Alving a good match in his
day.... It was the purchase-money. I do not choose that money should
pass into Oswald’s hands’ (p. 149). In _The Lady from the Sea_, Ellida
sings the same song (p. 139): ‘It could bring nothing but unhappiness,
after the way in which we came together.... Yes, we are (doing so), or,
at least, we suppress the truth. For the truth ... is, that you came
out there and bought me.... I was not a bit better than you. I accepted
the bargain--sold myself to you. I was so helpless and bewildered, and
so absolutely alone. Oh, it was so natural I should accept the bargain
when you came and proposed to provide for me all my life.’ In almost
the same words Hedda says (_Hedda Gabler_, p. 86): ‘And then he would
go and make such a tremendous fuss about being allowed to provide for
me. I did not know why I should not accept it.’ She did not know why;
but her inner feverishness and restlessness, her final suicide, are the
consequence of her having allowed herself to be ‘provided for.’ The
regard paid to the ‘being provided for’ became also the lifelong misery
of another woman in the same piece--Mrs. Elvsted. She went originally
as ‘governess in the house of her future husband.’ She subsequently
undertook the management of the household. Then she allowed herself
to be married, although ‘everything around him is distasteful to me,’
and ‘we do not possess a thought in common.’ Ibsen condemns the man
who marries for money not less than the woman who allows herself to be
‘provided for.’ The cause of Bernick’s moral downfall (_The Pillars of
Society_, p. 56), is chiefly that he did not marry Lona Hessel, whom he
loved, but another. ‘It was for no new fancy that I broke with you; it
was entirely for the sake of the money.’

Hence one should not marry for gain. That is a principle to which every
rational and moral man will subscribe. But why should one marry? The
most reasonable answer can only be, ‘From inclination.’ But Ibsen will
have none of this either. The marriage of Nora and Helmer is purely a
love-match. It leads to a sudden rupture. Wangel (_The Lady from the
Sea_) has married Ellida from inclination. She expressly affirms it
(p. 108): ‘You had only seen me and spoken to me a few times. Then
you wanted me, and so....’ And then she feels herself a stranger to
him, and wishes to leave him. So Mrs. Alving, Ellida, Wangel, Hedda
Gabler, Mrs. Elvsted, marry from self-interest, and atone for it by the
happiness of their life. Nora marries for love, and becomes profoundly
unhappy. Consul Bernick marries a girl because she is rich, and pays
for this fault with his moral downfall. Dr. Wangel marries a girl
because she pleases him, and as a reward she wishes to quit him and
her home. What conclusion is to be drawn from all this? That marriage
from prudence is bad, and marriage from love no better? That marriage
in general is worth nothing, and should be abolished? That would be at
least an inference and a solution. It is not there that Ibsen arrives.
Inclination does not suffice, even if, as in the case of Nora, it is
reciprocal. Something else is still necessary--the man must become the
educator of his wife. He must help her intellectually. He must let her
participate in all his concerns, make of her a companion possessing
equal rights, and have unlimited confidence in her. Otherwise she
always remains a stranger in her house. Otherwise the marriage is no
‘true marriage.’ ‘I have no right to claim my husband wholly and solely
for myself,’ Ellida confesses (_The Lady from the Sea_, P. 57). ‘Why,
I, too, live in something from which others are shut out.’ In the same
piece Wangel blames himself in this way (p. 130): ‘I ought to have been
at once a father to her and a guide; I ought to have done my best to
develop and enlighten her mind. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of
that.... I preferred her just as she was.’ In _The Pillars of Society_
Mrs. Bernick bemoans (p. 141): ‘For many years I believed that I had at
one time possessed you and lost you again. Now I know that I have never
possessed you.’ And Lona Hessel draws the moral from this story (p. 97):

 And do you never think what she might have been to you--she, whom you
 chose in my stead?

 BERNICK. I know, at any rate, that she has been to me nothing of what
 I required.

 LONA. Because you have never shared your life-work with her; because
 you have never placed her in a free and true relation to you.

In _Rosmersholm_ Rector Kroll has treated his wife in the same way;
he has intellectually suppressed her, and is painfully surprised when
she finally revolts against the domestic tyrant who has extinguished
her mental light (p. 14). ‘My wife, who all her life long has shared
my opinions and concurred in my views both in great things and small,
is actually inclined to side with the children on many points. And
she blames me for what has happened. She says I tyrannize over the
children. As if it weren’t necessary to. Well, you see how my house is
divided against itself. But, of course, I say as little about it as
possible. It’s best to keep such things quiet.’

Upon this point also there may be complete agreement. Most assuredly
should marriage be not merely a union of bodies, but also a community
of minds; most assuredly should the man help and educate the wife
intellectually, although it is to be remarked that this _rôle_ of
teacher and guardian assigned with justice by Ibsen to the man,
decisively excludes the full intellectual equality of the two married
parties equally claimed by him. But how can one reconcile with these
notions about the true relation between the man and his wife Nora’s
words to her husband (_A Doll’s House_, p. 111): ‘I must first try to
educate myself. In that you are not the man to help me. I must set to
work alone. And that is why I am going away from you now.... I must
be thrown entirely upon myself’? We rub our eyes and ask ourselves if
we have read aright. What, then, is the duty of the husband in ‘true
marriage’? Shall he help his wife intellectually? Wangel, Mrs. Bernick,
Lona, Mrs. Kroll, say so. But Nora furiously denies it, and repels all
assistance. _Farà da se!_ She will educate and form herself. As though
this contradiction were not already sufficiently bewildering, Ibsen
still further mocks those pitiable souls, who would fain obtain rules
of morality from him, when, in _The Wild Duck_, he derides, as he is
wont, all that he has preached on the subject of ‘true marriage’ in
all the rest of his pieces. In that production a delicious dialogue
is brought about between the malevolent idiot Gregers and the scoffer
Relling (p. 337):

 GREGERS. [I want] to lay the foundations of a true marriage.

 RELLING. So you don’t find Ekdal’s marriage good enough as it is?

 GREGERS. No doubt it’s as good a marriage as most others, worse luck.
 But a _true_ marriage it has never been.

 HJALMAR. You have never had eyes for the claims of the ideal, Relling.

 RELLING. All rubbish, my boy! But, excuse me, Mr. Werle, how many ...
 true marriages have you seen in the course of your life?

 GREGERS. Scarcely a single one.

 RELLING. Nor I, either.

And still more incisive is the mockery contained in Hjalmar’s words
(p. 345): ‘Well, then, isn’t it exasperating to think that it’s not I,
but he (Werle, senior), who will realize the true marriage?... Isn’t
the marriage between your father and Mrs. Sœrby founded upon complete
confidence, upon entire and unreserved candour on both sides? They
hide nothing from each other. Their relation is based, if I may put it
so’ (!) ‘on mutual confession and absolution.’ Hence no one has yet
seen a ‘true marriage’; and when by chance this miracle does happen
it is fulfilled in the case of Mr. Werle and Mrs. Sœrby--Mr. Werle,
who confesses to his wife that he has seduced young girls and sent old
friends to prison in his place--Mrs. Sœrby, who confides to her husband
that she has had illicit relations with every imaginable sort of man.
It is a tame imitation of the scene in _Raskolnikow_ by Dostojewski,
where the assassin and the prostitute, after a contrite confession,
unite their soiled and broken lives; except that in Ibsen the scene
is stripped of its sombre grandeur and lowered to the ridiculous and

With Ibsen, when women discover that they are not living in ‘true
marriage,’ their husband suddenly becomes ‘a strange man,’ and, without
further ceremony, they abandon their home and their children, some,
like Nora, ‘to return to their birthplace,’ where ‘it will be easier
for me to get something to do of one sort or another’; others, like
Ellida, without giving a thought to what will become of them; others,
again, like Mrs. Alving and Hedda Gabler, to rush full speed to a lover
and throw themselves on his neck. Ibsen has even deliciously parodied
this last departure, and in a doubly grotesque fashion, for he assigns
the laughable _rôle_ of the tragic runaway to a man. ‘I must out into
the snow and tempest,’ declaims Hjalmar (_The Wild Duck_, p. 166),
‘and seek from house to house a shelter for my old father and myself.’
And he really goes, but naturally only to return home the next day,
crestfallen, but stout-hearted, to breakfast. Truly nothing more need
be said against the idiocy of Nora’s high-flown leave-taking, which has
become the gospel for the hysterical of both sexes, since Ibsen spared
us this trouble in creating his Hjalmar.

We have not yet done with Ibsen’s drivel on the subject of marriage. He
seems to exact that no girl should marry before she is fully matured,
and possesses an experience of life and a knowledge of the world and of
men (_A Dolls House_, p. 111):

 NORA. And I--how have I been prepared to educate the children?... For
 that task I am not ready.... I must first try to educate myself....
 I cannot be satisfied any longer with what most people say, and with
 what is in books.

 HELMER. You don’t understand the society in which you live.

 NORA. No, no more I do. But now I will set to work and learn it.

This necessary maturity the young girl best acquires by going in quest
of adventures, by becoming closely acquainted with the largest possible
number of persons, to make a trial, if possible, of a few men before
binding herself definitely. A young girl is thoroughly prepared for
marriage when she has attained to a respectable age, managed a few
households, perhaps also given birth to sundry children, and in this
way proved to herself and others that she understands the duties of
a housewife and a mother. Ibsen does not expressly say this, but it
is the only reasonable conclusion which can be deduced from the whole
series of his plays. The great reformer has no suspicion that he is
here preaching something long ago tried by mankind and rejected as
unsuitable, or not more suitable. Experimental marriage for a longer
or shorter period, the preference for brides endowed with a rich
experience in love-affairs and sundry children, all this has already
existed. Ibsen may learn all that he needs on this subject from
his half-compatriot, Professor Westermarck.[341] But he would be no
degenerate if he did not regard as progress the return to conditions
of the most primitive character long since gone by, and if he did not
mistake the far-away past for the future.

Let us recapitulate his marriage-canon as gained from his dramas. There
should be no marriage from interest (Hedda, Mrs. Alving, Bernick,
etc.). There should be no marriage from love (Nora, Wangel). A marriage
of prudence is not a true marriage. But to marry because each pleases
the other is equally good for nothing. To enter into matrimony with the
full approbation of reason, there should be first of all a thorough
knowledge of each other by the contracting parties (Ellida). The man
should be the woman’s instructor and educator (Wangel, Bernick). The
wife should not allow herself to be instructed and educated by the
husband, but acquire the necessary knowledge quite alone (Nora). If the
wife discovers that her marriage is not a ‘true marriage,’ she leaves
the husband, for he is a stranger (Nora, Ellida). She also abandons her
children, for children which she has had by a stranger are naturally
strangers also. She must, however, at the same time remain with the
husband, and endeavour to transform him from a stranger into her own
husband (Mrs. Bernick). Marriage is not intended permanently to unite
two beings. When anything in the one is not agreeable to the other,
they return the ring and go their respective ways (Nora, Mr. Alving,
Ellida, Mrs. Elvsted). If a man abandons his wife he commits a heinous
crime (Bernick, Werle). And, to sum up, there is no true marriage
(Relling). This is Ibsen’s doctrine concerning marriage. It leaves
nothing to be desired in the matter of clearness. It amply suffices for
the diagnosis of the state of the Norwegian poet’s intellect.

Independently of his religious obsessions and his bewildering
contradictions, Ibsen’s mysticism reveals itself, step by step, in
absurdities of which a healthy intellect would be incapable. We have
seen in _The Lady from the Sea_ that Ellida wishes to abandon her
husband, because her marriage is not a true one, and because her
husband has become a stranger to her. Why is he a stranger to her?
Because he has married her without mutual close acquaintance. ‘You
had only seen me and spoken a few words to me.’ She ought not to have
let herself be provided for. ‘Rather the meanest labour, rather the
most wretched surroundings, so long as they were the result of free
will, of free choice.’ From this one can only reasonably conclude that
Ellida is of the opinion no true marriage is possible, unless the
woman possesses a thorough knowledge of her suitor and has had full
freedom in her choice. She is convinced that these conditions existed
in the case of the first claimant for her hand. ‘The first--that might
have been a complete and real marriage.’ Now, the same Ellida, a few
pages before (78), says that she knew absolutely nothing concerning her
lover; she did not even know his name, and, as a matter of fact, he is
spoken of throughout the piece only as ‘the stranger.’

 WANGEL. What else do you know about him?

 ELLIDA. Only that he went to sea very young; and that he had been on
 long voyages.

 WANGEL. Is there nothing more?

 ELLIDA. No; we never spoke of such things.

 WANGEL. Of what did you speak, then?

 ELLIDA. About the sea!

And she betrothed herself to him

 Because he said I must.

 WANGEL. You must? Had you no will of your own, then?

 ELLIDA. Not when he was near.

So, then, Ellida is forced to abandon Wangel for the reason that,
previously to her marriage with him, she did not thoroughly know him,
and she must go to ‘the stranger,’ of whom she knows nothing. Her
marriage with Wangel is no marriage, because she did not enter into
it with perfect freedom of will, but the marriage with ‘the stranger’
will be ‘perfect and pure,’ although when she betrothed herself to him
she had ‘no will of her own.’ After this example of his mental maze,
it is truly humiliating to be obliged to waste more words concerning
the intellectual state of such a man. But since this man is foisted
by fools and fanatics to the rank of a great moralist and poet of the
future, the psychiatrical observer must not spare himself the labour of
referring to his other absurdities.

In this same _Lady from the Sea_, Ellida renounces her project of
leaving her husband Wangel, and going away with the ‘stranger,’ as soon
as Wangel says ‘with aching heart’: ‘Now you can choose your own path
in perfect freedom.’ She remains with Wangel. She chooses him. ‘Whence
came the change?’ asks Wangel and the reader with him. ‘Ah, don’t you
understand,’ Ellida gushingly replies, ‘that the change came--was bound
to come--when I could choose in freedom!’ (p. 141). This second choice,
then, is intended to form a complete contrast to the first, in which
Ellida plighted her troth to Wangel. But all the conditions, without a
single exception, have remained the same. Ellida is now free because
Wangel expressly gives her her freedom; but she was still freer on the
first occasion, because Wangel had as yet no rights over her, and did
not need to begin by setting her free. As little was external coercion
exercised on her at the betrothal as subsequently after marriage.
Her resolution depended then, as now, entirely on herself. If at the
betrothal she felt herself fettered, it was, as she herself explains,
because she was at that time poor, and allowed herself to be enticed
by the alluring prospect of being provided for. But in this respect
nothing has changed. She has come into no property since her marriage,
so far as we know from Ibsen. She is just as poor as she ever was. If
she quits Wangel, she will sink once more into the penury she found
insupportable when a young girl. If she remains with him, she is quite
as much provided for as she hoped to be when she betrothed herself
to him. Wherein, then, lies the contrast between her former want of
liberty and her present freedom to explain the change? There is none.
It exists in the confused thought of Ibsen alone. If the whole of this
piratical story about Ellida, Wangel, and the stranger is intended to
mean, or to prove, anything, it can only be that a woman must first
live a few years with her husband on trial before she can bind herself
definitively; and that her decision may be valid, she is to be free at
the end of the period of probation to go or to stay. The only meaning
of the piece is, therefore, pure idiocy--experimental marriage.

We find the same absurdity repeated, in the fundamental idea, in the
premises and deductions of nearly all his plays. In _Ghosts_ Oswald
Alving’s disease is represented as a chastisement for the sins of
his father, and for the moral weakness of his mother in marrying
for self-interest a man she did not love. Now, Oswald’s state is
the consequence of a complaint which may be contracted without any
depravity whatsoever. It is a silly antiquated idea of the bigoted
members of societies for the suppression of immorality that a
contagious disease is the consequence and punishment of licentiousness.
Doctors know better than that. They know hundreds--nay, thousands--of
cases where a young man is infected for his whole life, for no
other act than one which, with the views now prevailing, is looked
upon as venial. Even holy matrimony is no protection against such a
misfortune, to say nothing of the cases where doctors, nurses, etc.,
have contracted the malady in the discharge of their duties, and
without carnal transgression. Ibsen’s drivel proves nothing of that
which, according to him, it should prove. Chamberlain Alving might be
a monster of immorality without for that reason falling ill, or having
an insane son; and his son could be insane without more culpability
on the part of the father than is the case with all men who have been
unchaste before marriage. Ibsen, however, gives obtrusive evidence of
having had no wish to write a tract in praise of continence, by making
Mrs. Alving throw herself into the arms of Pastor Manders, and by
making the mother the intermediary of an illicit union out of wedlock
between the son and his own sister, putting, moreover, into the mouth
of Oswald a panegyric on concubinage--one of the most incredible things
met with in the incredible Ibsen. ‘What are they to do?’ replies Oswald
Alving to the horrified pastor. ‘A poor young artist--a poor young
girl. It costs a lot of money to get married.’ I can only suppose that
the innocent Norwegian villager has never with his own bodily eyes seen
a ‘free union,’ and that he has drawn his idea of one from the depths
of a nature filled with anarchistic rage against the existing order of
things. An inhabitant of any large town, having daily opportunities for
getting insight into dozens and hundreds of free unions, will burst
into hearty laughter over Ibsen’s infantine fantasies, worthy of a
lascivious schoolboy. In no country in the world does civil marriage
cost more than a trifling sum, very much less than the first repast
offered by a young fellow to the girl he has persuaded to live with
him; and religious marriage, far from costing anything, brings to the
bridal couple a donation in money, clothes, and household articles,
if they are indelicate enough to accept them. Pious societies, which
expend large sums of money in legalizing free unions, exist everywhere.
When persons form unions without the aid of the civil law or of
priests, it is probably never for the purpose of saving the expense of
marriage, but either from culpable levity, or because either one or
other of them makes a mental reservation not to bind him or herself,
but to enjoy something agreeable without undertaking any serious
duties; or, finally, in the few cases which a moral man may approve,
or, at least, excuse, because on one side or the other there exists
some legal obstacle above which they raise themselves, strong in love,
and justified in their own eyes by the earnestness of their intention
to be faithful to each other unto death.

But to return from this subordinate absurdity to the capital absurdity
of the piece. Chamberlain Alving is punished for his illicit indulgence
in carnal pleasure, in his own body, and in his children Oswald
and Regina. That is very edifying, and would, doubtless, meet with
approbation at a conference of clergymen, although nonsensical and
inaccurate to the highest degree. We will only mention in passing that
Ibsen constantly recommends and glorifies unchastity, the ‘living out
one’s life.’ But what inference does Mrs. Alving draw from the case of
her husband? That all should remain chaste and pure, an idea worked out
by Bjornson in his _Glove_? No. She is led by it to the conclusion that
the existing order of morals and the law are bad. ‘Oh, that perpetual
law and order!’ she exclaims (p. 154); ‘I often think it is that which
does all the mischief here in the world.... I can endure all this
constraint and cowardice no longer. It is too much for me. I must work
my way out to freedom.’ What in the world has Alving’s story to do
with ‘law and order?’ and how does ‘freedom’ enter into this _Credo_?
What connection with the piece have the silly speeches of this woman,
unless it be that they are lugged in to tickle the radical patrons
of the gallery into applause. In Tahiti neither ‘order’ nor ‘morals’
reign in the sense given them by Mrs. Alving. There the brown beauties
have all the ‘freedom’ to which Mrs. Alving wishes to ‘work her way
out,’ and the men so ‘live out their lives’ that ships’ officers,
not otherwise modest, avert their eyes with shame. And in that very
region Chamberlain Alving’s disease is so widespread that, according to
Ibsen’s medical theory, all the young Tahitians must be Oswalds.

But this is a constant habit of Ibsen’s, evidenced in all his pieces.
He puts into the mouth of his characters phrases used for effect by
orators in popular meetings of the lowest class, having nothing in the
least to do with the piece. ‘I don’t know what religion is,’ Nora says
in the well-known scene where she leaves her husband (p. 114). ‘... I
know nothing but what our clergyman told me when I was confirmed. He
explained that religion was this and that. When I have got quite away
from here and am all by myself, then I will examine that matter too.
I will see whether what our clergyman taught is true.... I have now
learnt, too, that the laws are different from what I thought they were;
but I can’t convince myself that they are right.’ Now her case has no
relation to the religious doctrine of Pastor Hansen and the excellence
or badness of the laws. No law in the world concedes the right to a
child to sign her father’s name to a cheque without his knowledge, and
all the laws of the world not only permit but compel a judge to inquire
into the motives of every misdemeanour, although Ibsen makes Krogstad
the mouthpiece of this idiocy (p. 39): ‘The laws inquire little into
motives.’ The whole of this scene, in view of which, however, the piece
was written, is foreign to the play, and does not originally spring
from it. If Nora wishes to abandon her husband, it can only be on the
supposition that she has discovered he does not love her so devotedly
as she had wished and hoped. The hysterical fool, however, utters
an inflammatory diatribe against religion, law, and society (which
are profoundly innocent of the weakness of character and absence of
love in her husband), and departs like a feminine Coriolanus shaking
her fist at her fatherland. In _The Pillars of Society_ Bernick,
wishing to confess his own baseness, introduces his avowal with the
words (p. 110): ‘Let everyone examine himself, and let us realize the
prediction that from this evening we begin a new time. The old, with
its tinsel, its hypocrisy, its hollowness, its lying propriety, and
its pitiful cowardice, shall lie behind us like a museum,’ etc. ‘Speak
for yourself, Bernick, speak for yourself,’ one might well call out to
the old wind-bag, who in this sermonizing tone thus generalizes his
own individual case. ‘I wish to speak of the great discovery that I
have made within the last few days,’ exclaims Stockmann in _An Enemy
of the People_, ‘the discovery that all our spiritual sources of life
are poisoned, and that our whole bourgeois society rests upon a soil
teeming with the pestilence of lies.’ That may in itself be true; but
nothing in the piece gives Stockmann the right to arrive reasonably
at this conclusion. Even in Plato’s republic it might happen that a
ragamuffin, more foolish for that matter than wicked, should refuse
to cleanse an infected spring, and only a fool could deduce from
this single fact, and from the conduct of a clique of Philistines in
an impossible Norwegian village, the general proposition that ‘our
whole bourgeois society rests upon a soil teeming with the pestilence
of lies.’ In _Rosmersholm_, Brendel says in an obscurely profound
prophetic tone, which shudders with foreboding (p. 23): ‘We live in a
tempestuous, an equinoctial age.’ This expression also, true enough
in itself, strikes one like a blow in the eye in the place where it
occurs, for _Rosmersholm_ has no connection with any definite period of
time; and it is not necessary to change a single essential word in the
piece, in order to transport it at pleasure to the Middle Ages, or the
age of the Roman emperors, to China, or the land of the Incas--to any
age or any land where there are hysterical wome