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l6o                  MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

In his closing years his study of Paul Valery may have sustained
him in the last distortions of his style. But to a mind so original
influences count for comparatively little; Rilke made himself in
utter loneliness of spirit and in restless mental torment.

Rainer Maria Rilke was born at Prague on December jrd to 4th
1875, at midnight, that hour in which the Saviour was born, for
which reason he was christened Maria as well as Rene. This second
name he himself changed, in 1899, to Rainer, because this name
was 'beautiful, simple, and German'. His birth was premature-
this may explain something of his shrinking delicacy throughout
his life. It has been shown that there is no foundation for the
romantic fancy he himself nursed so pathetically that he was the
last scion of a noble family of Carinthia, a long line of officers; on
the father's side his ancestors were peasant proprietors in Bohemia,
on the mother's burghers of Prague. There is no need to regret
the illusion, for in the ripeness of time it was the inspiration of
one lovely poem in honour of an imaginary ancestor (Die Weise
von Liebe und Toddes Cornets JLi!ke}y and, in 1906, of his Selbstbildnis,
much more attractive than the best portraits the photographers
could manage:

Des alien lange adligen GesMechtes

Feststebendes im Augenbogenbau.

Im Blicke noch der Kindheit Angst und B/au

und Demut da und dort, nicht eines Knechtes,

doch eines Dienenden und einer Frau.

Der Mund ah Mundgemacht, gross und genau>

nicht uberredend, aber ein Gerechtes

Aussagendes. Die Stirne ohm Schlechtes

undgern im Schat ten stiller Niederscbau . . ,

It may, too, have been an illusion that his mother was cruel to
him in his childhood; as the daughter of an Imperial Councillor
she was of somewhat better class than her husband, a railway
official, from whom she separated in 1884. It is known that till he
was five she brought him up as a girl, with a girl's long hair and
clothes, and gave him dolls to play with. The boy was educated
at the Cadets* Schools of St. Polten and Weisskirchen in Moravia.
At Weisskirchen he was bullied by the more robust boys, and his
spiritual suffering marked him for life; at first he humbled himself