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Title: Degeneration

Author: Max Simon Nordau

Release date: February 9, 2016 [eBook #51161]

Language: English

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By the same Author.

Uniform with this Volume.



London: William Heinemann.




Translated from the Second Edition
of the German Work

Popular Edition

[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.












Dear and honoured Master,

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[viii] revered by numerous admirers as creators of a new art, and heralds of the coming centuries.

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[ix] 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.



BOOK IV.[xiii]







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[2] 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[3] 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[5] 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[6] 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.[7] 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[8] 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[9] 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[10] 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[11] 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,[12] 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 enjoyment.

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[13] 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,[14] 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[15] 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[16] 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[17] 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[19] 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[20] 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,[21] 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[22] 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[23] 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[24] 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[25] 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 neurasthenia.

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[26] 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[27] 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[28] 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[29] 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[30] 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[31] 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[32] 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[33] 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[35] 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[36] 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[37] 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[38] 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 later.[60]

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[40] what always happens if great expenses are met by small incomes; first the savings are consumed, then comes bankruptcy.

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 humanity.

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[41] 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[42] 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[43] 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.[44] 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[47] 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[48] 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[50] 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.[51] 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[52] 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,[53] 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[54] 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[55] 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[56] 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[57] 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[58] 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[59] 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[60] 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[61] 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 condition.

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.[62] 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[64] 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[65] 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[66] 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 muscles.




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[68] 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[69] 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[70] 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[71] 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[72] 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[73] 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[74] 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 restraints.

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[75] 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 colouring.

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[76] 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.[77] 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[78] 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[79] 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 feeble-minded.

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[80] 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[81] 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,[82] 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[83] 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 emotion.

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[84] 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 brush.

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[85] 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[86] 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[87] 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 understand.

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[88] 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[89] 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[93] 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 read.

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[96] 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 thus:

‘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 sisters:

‘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[97] 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[98] 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 Guenevere:


‘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 Paradise:

‘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 issues.[104]

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[101] 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[102] 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[103] 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,[104] 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 incapacity.

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[105] 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[106] 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 thoughts.’

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[107] 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[108] 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[109] 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[110] 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[111] 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[112] 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 decade.

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[113] 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.[114] 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[115] 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 interpretations.’

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[117] 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[118] 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[119] 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[120] 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[121] 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 Sagesse:

‘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,
[122]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[123] 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,[125]’ 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[126] 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[128] 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[129] 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 conditioned.’

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[130] 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[131] 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[132] 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

‘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


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[134] 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 mistress:

‘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[136] Episodes; Arthur Rimbaud, Les Illuminations; Albert Saint Paul, L’Echarpe d’Iris; Viélé-Griffin, Ancæus; and Charles Vignier, Centon.

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[137] 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[138] 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[139] 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[141] 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[142] 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[143] 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[145] 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[146] 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,[147] 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[149] 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 criticism.

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[150] 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[151] 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[152] 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[153] 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[154] 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 creed.

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[155] 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[156] 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[157] 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 contrary.

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,[158] 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.[159] 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[160] 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 vice.’

‘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 wife.’

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[162] 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[163] 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[164] 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[165] Christian, Ascetic, Rousseauistic and Communistic, of Leo Tolstoi.

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. [167]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[168] 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 word.

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[169] 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[170] 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[171] 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[172] his being, the characteristic emotionalism of a colour at once erotic and religiously enthusiastic.

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 victims.

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[173] 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[174] 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 drama.

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[175] 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 stage.

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[178] 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[179] 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[180] 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[181] 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 glance.

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[182] 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[183] 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[184] 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[185] 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[186] 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[187] 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[188] 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[189] 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[190] 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 waste.

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[191] 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[192] 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[193] 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 wardrobe.

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[194] 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 Nestroy.

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[195] 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[196] 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[197] 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[198] 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 presentation.

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[199] 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 aims.

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[200] 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[201] 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[202] 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[203] 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 Wagner’s.

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[204] 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[205] 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; 2te 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][206] 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[207] 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[208] 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[209] 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[210] 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[211] 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 Gudrune.

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[212] 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[213] 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[215] 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[216] 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[217] 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[218] 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[219] 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[220] 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: ‘RoseCroix.’ His novels he calls ‘éthopées,’ himself as their author ‘éthopoète,’ his dramas ‘wagneries,’ their table of contents ‘éumolpées.’

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[221] 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: Sin.’

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 enigma.

‘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 language.

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[223] 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[224] 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 Chambre).

‘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[227] 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 chaudes:

‘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 hot-house?’

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[228] 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 all!’

I have translated with the greatest exactness, and not omitted[229] 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 Ennui:

‘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[230] 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 together.

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[231] 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 limits.

‘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 myself.

‘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.[232] 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[233] 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[234] 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 Uglyane.

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 white.

[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 ... Bernardo.

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[236] 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[237] season of scheming and plotting has set in; but wait awhile.... Now, Maleine, ... you should be reasonable. Will you promise to be reasonable?

Maleine. Ay, my lord.

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

Maleine. Ay.

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

Maleine. No.

Marcellus. You do not yet give up Prince Hjalmar?

Maleine. No.

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 that—begone!

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.

Hjalmar. Away!

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 to-day.

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 dead!

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.[239] 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[240] 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 darkness.






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[242] 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[243]’ 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[244] 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[245] 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[247] 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[248] 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[249] 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.[250] 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 ‘not-I.’

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[251] 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 disturbance.[238]

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[252] 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[254] 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[255] 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[256] 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[257] 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[258] 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.[259] 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[260] 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[261] 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[262] 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,[263] 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[264] 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 themselves.

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[265] 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[266] 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[267] 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 impassiveness.

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[268] ‘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 follows:

‘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,[269] 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[270] 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.[271] 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[272]’ 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[273] 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[274] 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[275] 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[276] 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[278] 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 activity.

Of course there have been attempts made to defend aberration as something justified and voluntary, and even to erect it[279] 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 visitors.’

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[280] 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[281]’ 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[282] 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[283] 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 impressions.

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[284] 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 vulgaire].’[276]

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,[285] 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[286] 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[288] 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[289] 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[291] 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 Correspondances:

‘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[295] 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[296] 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,[297] 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[298] 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[299] 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[300] 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 language.’[290]

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[301] 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’;[302] 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 ‘Naturalist.’

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[303] 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[305] 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[306] 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,[307] 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 views.

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,[308] 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[309] 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[311] 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 documents.’

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,[312] 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 philosopher!)

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[313] 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 morality.

Such is the foolish aberration of the ‘cultivators of the “I.”’ They fall into the same errors as the shallow psychologists of[314] 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[315] 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[316] 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[317] 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[318] 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 man.

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 vanity.

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[319] 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 inartistic.’[303]

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[320] 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[321] 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[322] 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[323] 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 representation.

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[325] 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[326] work of art in any other light than that in which we view every other manifestation of an individuality.

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[327] 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[328] 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[329] 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[330] 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[331] 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[332] 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[333] evasion of this reward, by surrounding him with official forms of high esteem.

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[334] 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[335] 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[336] 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[337] 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[339] 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[340] 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[341] 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[342] 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.[343] 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 machinery.

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[344] 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[345] 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[346] 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....[347] 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[348] 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[350] 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[351] 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,[353] 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,[354] 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[355] 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[356] 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 disdain.[338]

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[357] 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 secondl