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The New Spirit. 
By Havelock Ellis. 

" En portant a leur plus haut degie" ses sentiments les phn 
intimes, on devient le chef de file d'un grand nombre d'autres 
hommes. Pour acque"rir une valeur typique, il faut etre le plus 
indlviduel qu'il est possible." 


London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 
24 Warwick Lane, Paternoster Row, 



Preface vii 

Introduction i 

Diderot 34 

Heine 68 

Whitman 89 

Ibsen 133 

Tolstoi 174 

Conclusion 228 


No alterations have been made in this edition. 
It is true that three of the figures here studied 
were living when the book was written ; but 
their genius had matured, their work was for the 
most part done. Nothing they could produce 
would seriously modify one's conception of 
them as aboriginal personal forces, the outcome 
of the past, the initiators of the future. Apart 
from this, it seems to me a mistake to manipu- 
late or add to one's own completed work. If 
I were to re-write it, I should doubtless write it 
differently ; the Conclusion, for instance, which 
is earliest in date, seems to me now rather 
formal and metaphysical. But for the most 
part I have nothing seriously to alter or to omit. 
I have sometimes been asked why, in a 
discussion of some of the new influences of the 
past century, I have left out representative men 
who have made so great a stir in the world. 
Goethe, it may possibly be true, stalks through 
every page, but where are Kant, Hegel, Auguste 
Comte, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer ? I 
cannot remember ever proposing to include 
these names. The reason may be clearer if I 

viii Preface. 

mention other names I once wished to include, 
although — partly doubting my competence to 
discuss them, partly fearing that their introduc- 
tion might seem to interfere with the unity of 
the book — I ultimately refrained. 

One was Burne Jones. I shall never forget 
how, as a youth in the Public Library at Sydney, 
I turned over the leaves of a volume of etchings 
and suddenly alighted on " Merlin and Vivien." 
Something I knew of Botticelli, Lippi and the 
rest, and I had brooded over their antique 
mystery and charm ; but here were all the 
mystery and the charm brought down among 
us from the world where saints stand stiff and 
aureoled, and angels walk tip-toe on lily cups. 
The fifteenth century artists of Flanders and 
Venice and Florence introduced us into a 
frankly supernatural world, and they delighted 
like children to scatter rich fruits on the golden 
floors, and to stick peacocks' feathers into the 
bejewelled walls. It is a rarer and subtler art 
to suggest that infinitely remote world while 
accepting the austere conditions of our own 
earth. The pale ghosts of Puvis de Chavannes' 
frescoes are a far-off suggestion of this art ; and 
one thinks too of the modern magician who has 
brought before us the twinkling of Salome's feet 
by the red blood from the Baptist's head, 
curdling amid the flowers ; the rich-robed 
daughters of Apollo among the olives ; the 

Preface. ix 

mystic elephant in solemn festival, gathering the 
lotus with his trunk as his feet plash slowly in 
the clear waters of the sacred lake. But the 
shadowy art of Puvis, the wayward and limited 
art of Gustavo Moreau, come short of the con- 
sistent and completely realised art which has 
been attained by the painter who stands forth 
in the eyes of Europe as the greatest imagina- 
tive artist of England. It is a new synthesis of 
the world of nature and the world of dreams. 
The three women who dance in the foreground 
of " The Mill " tell us of a country where human 
joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, are set to a 
different measure, and sung in unknown keys. 
A strange and troublous art, it seems sometimes, 
— like the sinuous melodies of Renan, which seem 
to belong to some far-haunted past, and yet 
contain the intimate secrets of our own hearts, — 
but it fascinates and holds us as though music 
became visible before our eyes. It opens before 
us a new and delightful pathway into the land 
of dreams. 

Another was Auguste Rodin. To mould the 
human figure has been an amusement for man 
since ever he carved wood or indented clay. It 
was left for the sculptors of Egypt and of 
Greece and of Italy to form human figures of 
stone, not as a mere symbol of the reality, but 
as a revelation of their own moods and visions 
of beauty or passion ; and since then the 

x Preface. 

amusement has fallen back into convention 
and symbol, although the plastic representation 
of the modern human body, etiolated and 
hidden, offers fewer difficulties than its repre- 
sentation in painting which Millet and Degas 
have in varying ways striven to achieve. Now 
even the great sculptors of old only suggest to 
us beauty or grace or strength that has become 
conventional; they reveal nothing. In this 
man's work the form that is closest to us of all 
forms in the world, that we cling to from the 
day of birth, and that remains with us, half-seen 
or divined, until the day of death, has been 
revealed anew, just as new aspects of light have 
been revealed by Claude Monet. It is the 
ancient, human way-worn and passion-used form, 
rendered with pathetic truth, and yet we feel 
that we have never truly seen the human body 
before. We marvel how expression can be 
carried so far without passing the bounds of 
nature and simplicity. It is far from the 
method of Michelangelo, Rodin's immediate 
predecessor, with whom it has been the fashion 
to compare him. Michelangelo's stupendous 
fantasy twisted the human body into the 
strange or lovely shapes of his own inverted 
dreams. In Rodin's work, it is through a 
relentless love of nature that we are led to a 
new and intimate vision of the body. The 
quiet artist in his simple work-room has been 

Preface. xi 

building up through long years his great Gate 
of Hell ; it is the gate of the joy and beauty 
and terror of life, expressed otherwise than 
those sober stories of the old world so charm- 
ingly told on that gate that was thought worthy 
of Heaven. But through this gate we are led to 
a new insight of that figure in the world which 
is closest to us and most precious, such an 
insight, it may well be, as Pheidias and Donatello 
brought to the men of their time. 

Another personality that I desired to analyse, 
and perhaps the greatest, was Richard Wagner. 
The Leipzig youth, who hated the tawdry tinsel 
of the theatre, and was so little of a musical 
prodigy that he could never learn to play the 
piano, impelled by a strange instinct has yet 
wrought music and the stage to a poetic height 
never before approached. Just as our arts rise 
cut of our industries, so the manifold art of 
Wagner — woven of music and poetry and 
drama — rises to something that is beyond art. 
Wagner has made the largest impersonal syn- 
thesis yet attainable of the personal influences 
that thrill our lives, and has built it on the 
broadest physiological basis of our senses, so 
that faith has here become sight. Such harmony 
is what we are accustomed to call Heaven, and 
such art — to the mere musician cacophony and 
confusion — is truly called religion. It will take 
some time yet before we understand its place 

xii Preface. 

in life as a new expression of the human soul. 
Generations must pass before it will be possible 
for a greater artist, by a still wider sensory 
appeal, to lift us to any higher Heaven. 

It is not the men of one idea — important as 
these are — who most truly represent the spirit 
of an age. Such men most often represent the 
spirit of some earlier generation, which in them 
has become definitely crystallised. It is the 
men whose ideas are still free in pungent, 
penetrating, often confused solution that we 
may count nearest to the natural forces of an 
age, and it is these that are most interesting to 
analyse. In such men the feebler instincts of 
their fellows are concentrated, and the flaming 
energy of their spirits attracts few, repels most, 
of their fellows. It is, no doubt, because of this 
high degree of emotional exaltation that these 
men bring us to religion. It all comes to 
religion. I would point out to those who think 
that this result needs apology, that such men 
do not bring before us the pale, animistic 
children of dreams, who for so many ages have 
sought with their shadowy arms to beckon men 
away from the world to a home on the other 
side of the sky, but the robust children of our 
working life, the offspring of our living energies 
and emotions, the harmonised satisfaction of all 
that we have lived, of all that we have felt. 

So the "new spirit" brings us to one of the 

Preface. xiii 

most ancient modes of human emotion. I 
sought to emphasise this in my Introduction 
as well as in the Conclusion, not altogether 
successfully for some of my readers, who have 
been led to credit me with virtues of modernity 
to which I can make no claim. So far from 
being " an apostle of modernity," the " new 
spirit" that I am concerned with is but a 
quickening in the pulse of life such as may 
take place in any age, though my tracings are 
only of a recent acceleration. The greatest 
manifestation of the new spirit that I know of 
took place long since in the zoological history 
of the race when the immediate ancestor of man 
began to walk on his hind legs, so developing 
the skilful hands and restless brain that brought 
sin into the world. That strange and perilous 
method of locomotion — which carried other 
diseases and disabilities in its train, more con- 
crete than sin — marked a revolutionary outburst 
of new life worth contemplating. Yet even 
among the later and minor movements of life 
it is not the most recent that to me personally 
are the most attractive. The Eiffel Tower does 
not thrill me like the gray towers of Chartres ; 
I find the streets of Zaragoza more interesting 
than those of Manchester. And, on the other 
hand, there are modernities which seem to me 
old, very old, older than life itself. 

To say this is no doubt to confess that the 

xiv Preface. 

personal element has a large place in this study 
of the " New Spirit." And it is true that, how- 
ever honest a piece of mechanism your sphyg- 
mograph may be, if it is alive there is a very 
considerable personal equation which you must 
make up your mind to reckon with. I believe I 
am not altogether incapable of slinging facts at 
the head of the British Goliath (with purely 
benevolent intentions), but on this occasion I 
wrote for my own pleasure : let me apologise to 
Goliath for any annoyance I may so have caused 
him. I wished to speak for once, so far as 
might be, in my own voice, glad if here and 
there a reader cared to follow my impatient 
track, furnishing from the stores of his own 
knowledge and intelligence what was lacking 
in commentaries and pieces justificatives. I 
wished at the outset to take a bird's-eye view 
of the world as it presented itself to me per- 
sonally, only indicating by mere hints those 
parts of the field in which I was more specially 
concerned. And I wished also to indicate — 
perhaps once for all — my own faith in those 
large facts of nature which are unaffected by 
personal equation, and which harmonise all our 
petty individual activities. Nature is bent on 
her own ends, and with infinite ingenuity uses 
all our energies to carry out her idea of increas- 
ing and multiplying the countless forms of life. 
Death itself is but an accidental after-thought, 

Preface. xv 

a beneficial adaptation — as Weismann would 
have us express it — only affecting the body, 
that servant of the immortal germ-cells which 
has grown so large and arrogant since the days 
when we Metazoa were young in the world. 
That is the one master-thought of Nature, or — 
shall we say? — her systematised delusion, her 
de'lire a forme chroniquc. But the malady, if it 
is one, is incurable. A friend of mine, under 
the influence of nitrous oxide, once found him- 
self face to face with the Almighty. Being a 
man of earnest and philosophic temperament, 
he took advantage of the opportunity to demand 
passionately the meaning and aim of this tangled 
skein of things in which we find ourselves : 
" Why have You placed us here ? For what 
purpose have You submitted us to all this strife 
and misery? What is the solution of the riddle 
of life?" And then, uttered in a characteristic 
bass, came in one word the awful reply which 
my friend will never forget : " Procreation" I 
fear that that voice is, or might well have been, 

And yet why should one " fear " ? We have 
our brief triumph. Seeking out many curious 
things, we learn to know and to enjoy the earth. 
Nature's naughty children — whether artists or 
scientists or mystics — we may stand aside, con- 
template her great object, and impudently 
elevate our fingers to our nose. It amuses us, 

xvi Preface. 

and scarcely hurts her. She cannot refuse us 
the by-play of her own adaptations. For it all 
comes of that primitive manifestation of the 
new spirit, the " Fall," which raised us on to 
our hind limbs and enabled us to drink of the 
cider of Paradise. 

H. E. 

7 th October, 1892. 


FROM our earliest days we look out into the 
world with wide-eyed amazement, trying to 
discover for ourselves what it is like. Instinc- 
tively we must spend a great part of our lives in 
searching and probing into the nature and drift 
of the things among which, by a volition not our 
own, we were projected. To-day, when we stand, 
as it were, at the beginning of a new era, and when 
we have been celebrating the centenary of the 
most significant event in modern history, an indi- 
vidual who, for his own guidance, has done his 
part in this searching and probing, may perhaps 
be allowed to present some of the results, not 
claiming to be an expert, not desiring to impose 
on others any private scheme of the universe. 
The pulse of life runs strong and fast ; I have 
tried to bring a sensitive lever to that pulse 
here and there, to determine and record, as deli- 
cately as I could, its rhythms : the papers I now 
present might be called a bundle of sphygmo- 
graphic tracings. 

A large part of one's investigations into the 
spirit of one's time must be made through the 
medium of literary personalities. I have se- 

xviii Preface. 

lected five such typical individuals ; it is the in- 
timate thought and secret emotions of such men 
that become the common property of after gene- 

Whenever a great literary personality comes 
before us with these imperative claims, it is our 
business to discover or divine its fundamental 
instincts; we ought to do this with the same 
austerity and keen-eyed penetration as, if we 
were wise, we should exercise in choosing the 
comrades of our daily life. He poses well in 
public ; he has said those brave words on the 
platform ; he has written those rows of eloquent 
books — but what (one asks oneself) is all that to 
me ? I want to get at the motive forces at 
work in the man ; to know what his intimate 
companions thought of him ; how he acted in 
the affairs of every day, and in the great crises 
of his life ; the fashion of his face and form, the 
tones of his voice. How he desired to appear is 
of little importance ; I can perhaps learn all 
that it imports me to know from a single in- 
voluntary gesture, or one glance into his eyes. 

This is the attitude in which I have recorded, 
as impersonally as may be, these impressions of 
the world of to-day, as revealed in certain signi- 
ficant personalities ; by searching and proving 
all things, to grip the earth with firmer foot- 

H. E. 


xviii Preface. 

lected five such typical individuals ; it is the in- 
timate thought and secret emotions of such men 
that become the common property of after gene- 

Whenever a great literary personality comes 
before us with these imperative claims, it is our 
business to discover or divine its fundamental 
instincts; we ought to do this with the same 
austerity and keen-eyed penetration as, if we 
were wise, we should exercise in choosing the 
comrades of our daily life. He poses well in 
public ; he has said those brave words on the 
platform ; he has written those rows of eloquent 
books — but what (one asks oneself) is all that to 
me ? I want to get at the motive forces at 
work in the man ; to know what his intimate 
companions thought of him ; how he acted in 
the affairs of every day, and in the great crises 
of his life ; the fashion of his face and form, the 
tones of his voice. How he desired to appear is 
of little importance ; I can perhaps learn all 
that it imports me to know from a single in- 
voluntary gesture, or one glance into his eyes. 

This is the attitude in which I have recorded, 
as impersonally as may be, these impressions of 
the world of to-day, as revealed in certain signi- 
ficant personalities ; by searching and proving 
all things, to grip the earth with firmer foot- 

H. E. 




There is a memorable period in the history of 
Europe which we call the Renaissance. We do 
well to give pre-eminence to that large efflo- 
rescence of latent life, but we forget sometimes 
that there have been many such new expansions 
of the human spirit since that primitive outburst 
of Christianity which is the most interesting of 
all in modern times. The tree of life is always 
in bloom somewhere, if we only know where to 
look. What a great forgotten renascence that 
is which in the middle of the twelfth century 
centres around the name of Abelard ! It was 
nothing less than the new birth of the intellect. 
Abelard had made anew the discovery that 
reason, too, is the gift of God, and faith was no 
longer blind ; from all Europe thousands of 
students gathered around the great teacher who 
dwelt in his rough hermitage on the desert 
plains of Troycs. It was in the strength of 

2 The New Spirit. 

that feast that men wove scholastic cobwebs 
so diligently that the human spirit itself 
seemed for awhile suffocated. It was a great 
renascence of life, a hundred years later, in the 
wonderful thirteenth century, when Francis of 
Assisi revealed anew in his own person the 
ideal charm of Jesus, and a group of fine spirits, 
his fellows, who bore the Everlasting Gospel, — '- 
Jean de Parme, Pierre d'Olive, Fra Dolcino 
and the rest, — sought to rebuild the edifice of 
Christendom on the foundation of the Gospels, 
only in the end to deluge the world with a plague 
of grey friars. And then a great wave, with 
Luther on its crest, swept across Europe, reached 
at last the coast of England, and left on its 
shores, as a dreary monumental symbol, St. 
Paul's Cathedral. There is another great vital 
expansion about the time of the French Revolu- 
tion. Since then, and chiefly as a result of that 
final triumph of the middle-class throughout 
Europe, of which the French Revolution was the 
decisive seal, the energy of Europe, and of 
England especially, has found its main outlets 
in the development of a huge commercial struc- 
ture, now, in the opinion of many, slowly and 
fearfully toppling down. The nineteenth century 
has seen the rise and fall of middle-class supre- 
macy. What has been the result of it ? 

One naturally turns first to literature to see 
the reflection of the life of a period. The man 

Introduction. 3 

who seems in the eyes of all Englishmen, so far 
as one can make out, to have represented during 
this century the claims of humanity, of dignity, 
of what is called the spiritual side of life, was 
Carlyle ; and Carlylc has been likened again 
and again to the Joels and Jeremiahs of that 
most material Hebrew race. The whole of his 
long day was spent in crying out to a faithless 
and perverse generation. Therefore Carlyle never 
attained the serenity and hilarity of those two 
great spirits, Goethe and Emerson, between whom 
he stood midway. Nor is it surprising that he 
was often blinded by the smoke and heat of a 
land that had become one huge Black Country, 
and that he fought against freedom, and some- 
times mistook his friends for enemies. Nor 
again is it surprising that of the two great poets 
who occupy the centre of the century, one found 
inspiration in the blunders of a Crimean war and 
the royal representative of respectable middle- 
class chivalry, while the other gave himself up 
to marvellous feats of psychological gymnastic. 
Matthew Arnold, for his part, resolved the dis- 
cords of his time in the austere calm of Stoicism ; 
the calm of souls 

" who weigh 
Life well and find it wanting, nor deplore ; 
Hut in disdainful silence turn away, 
Stand mute, self-centred, stern, and dream no more:" 

practically, however, Arnold found it neces- 

4 The New Spirit. 

sary neither to turn away nor to be silent. 
There was yet another solution for sensitive 
souls : to hide the heart in a nest of roses away 
from the world, just as Schopenhauer, who in 
Germany represented in more philosophic ves- 
ture this same vague unrest, resolved it by the 
aid of his profound religious sense in refined and 
aesthetic joy. That is the solution sought in 
what seems to me one of the most exquisite 
and significant books of the century, " Marius 
the Epicurean." For Marius, life is made up of 
a few rare and lovely visions. All the rough 
sorrow and gladness of the world, its Dantesque 
bitterness or its Rabelaisian joy, only reaches 
him through a long succession of mirrors, and 
every strong human impulse as an attenuated 
echo. This serious, sweet, and thoughtful book 
is the summary of the " sensations and ideas" of 
the finest natures of an era ; as in certain of the 
distinguished opium-eaters of the beginning of 
the century, Coleridge or De Ouincey, we see 
a refined development of the passive sensory 
sides of the human organism with corresponding 
atrophy of the motor sides. It is clearly im- 
possible to go any farther on that road. 

There is no renascence of the human spirit 
unless some mighty leverage has been at work 
long previously. Such forces work underground, 
slowly and coarsely and patiently, during barren 
periods, and they meet with much contempt as 

Introduction. 5 

destructive of mail's finer and higher nature ; 
but, in the end, it is by these that the finer and 
higher is lifted to new levels. No great spiritual 
eruption can take place without the aid of such 
levers. What forces have been at work during 
the century that is now drawing to a close ? 
Three, I think, stand clearly forth. 

At the end of the sixteenth century, it was 
above all the sudden expansion of the world 
that inspired human effort and aspiration. In 
later days science has carried on the same move- 
ment by revealing world within world. A chief 
element in the spirit of the French Revolution 
was, as Taine pointed out, that scientific activity 
which centred around Newton. In our own time 
the impulse has come from scientific discoveries 
much more revolutionary, far-reaching, and rela- 
tive to life, than any of Newton's. The conception 
of evolution has penetrated every department of 
organic science, especially where it touches man. 
Darwin personally, to whom belongs the chief 
place of honour in the triumph of a movement 
which began with Aristotle, has been a trans- 
forming power by virtue of his method and 
spirit, his immense patience, his keen observa- 
tion, his modesty and allegiance to truth ; no 
one has done so much to make science — that is 
to say, all inquiry into the traceable causes or 
relations of things — so attractive. The great 
and growing sciences of to-day are the sciences 

6 The New Spirit. 

of man — anthropology, sociology, whatever we 
like to call them, including also that special and 
older development, now become a new thing, 
though still retaining its antiquated name of 
Political Economy. It is difficult for us to-day 
to enter into the state of mind of those who once 
termed this the dismal science ; if the question 
of a man's right to a foothold on the earth is not 
interesting, what things are interesting ? Our 
hopes for the evolution of man, and our most 
indispensable guide, are bound up with all that 
we can learn of man's past and all that we can 
measure of his present. It was by a significant 
coincidence that that great modern science which 
has man himself for its subject was created by 
Broca, when he founded the Societe d'Anthro- 
pologie of Paris in the same memorable year of 
1859 which first saw "The Origin of Species." 
Man has been brought into a line with the rest 
of life ; a mysterious chasm has been filled up ; 
a few fruitful hints have been received which 
help to make the development of all life more 
intelligible. This has, on the one hand, given a 
mighty impulse to the patient study of nature 
and to the accumulation of facts now seen to 
bear such infinite possibilities of farther advance ; 
just as the discovery of America in the sixteenth 
century produced a like spirit of adventure which 
led men to all parts of the globe. On the other 
hand, this devotion to truth, this instinctive 

Introduction. 7 

search after the causes of things, has become 
what may be called a new faith. The fruits 
of this scientific spirit are sincerity, patience, 
humility, the love of nature and the love of 
man. "Wisdom is to speak truth and con- 
sciously to act according to nature." So spake 
the old Ephesian, Heraclitus, to whom, rather 
than to Socrates, men are now beginning to look 
back as the exponent of the true Greek spirit ; 
and so also speaks modern science. It is a 
faith that has become a living reality to many ; 
Clifford, for instance, as revealed in his "Lectures 
and Essays," has long been a brilliant and in- 
spiring member, often called typical, of the 
company of those who are filled with the scien- 
tific spirit. Huxley, one of the most militant 
and indefatigable exponents of the scientific 
spirit during the past half century, has lately 
set forth its aim, which has been that of his own 
life : — " To promote the increase of natural 
knowledge and to forward the application of 
scientific methods of investigation to all the 
problems of life to the best of my ability, in 
the conviction, which has grown with my growth 
and strengthened with my strength, that there 
is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind 
except veracity of thought and of action, and 
the resolute facing of the world as it is, when 
the garment of make-believe, by which pious 
hands have hidden its uglier features, is stripped 

8 The New Spirit. 

off." It is important to note that this spirit is 
becoming widely diffused ; it would be easy to 
point to manifestations in various departments 
of this open-eyed, sensitive observation, not pre- 
tending to know prematurely, ready to throw 
away all prepossessions and to follow Nature 
whithersoever her caprices lead, without crying 
" Out upon her ! " It is impossible to forecast 
the magnitude of the results that will flow from 
this growing willingness to search out the facts 
of things, and to found life upon them, broadly 
and simply, rather than to shape it to the form 
of unreasoned and traditional ideals. There was 
long abroad in the world a curious dread of all 
attempts to face simply and sincerely the facts 
of life. This audacious frankness and scarcely 
less audacious humility aroused horror and sus- 
picion ; and those who marched at the front 
heard with considerable pain many members of 
the rear black-guard hurling "Materialist ! " and 
other such terms of scorn at their backs. The 
sting has now died out of these terms. We 
know that wherever science goes the purifying 
breath of spring has passed and all things are 
re-created. We realize that it is, above all, by 
following the light that is shed by the low and 
neglected things — the " survivals " — of the world, 
that the reasonable path of progress becomes 
clear. We cried for the moon for so many 
thousand vears before we conquered the world. 

Introduction. g 

We know at last that it must he among our chief 
ethical rules to sec that we build the lofty struc- 
ture of human society on the sure and simple 
foundations of man's organism. 

These three great movements are clearly 
allied, and certainly the practical applications 
of this scientific spirit, of which there is more to 
say immediately, will rest very largely in the 
hands of women. The great wave of emanci- 
pation which is now sweeping across the civi- 
lized world means nominally nothing more than 
that women should have the right to educa- 
tion, freedom to work, and political enfran- 
chisement — nothing in short but the bare ordi- 
nary rights of an adult human creature in a 
civilized democratic state. But many other 
changes will follow in the train of these very 
simple and matter-of-fact changes, and it is no 
wonder that many worthy people look with 
dread upon the slow invasion by women of all 
the concerns of life — which are, after all, as 
much their own concerns as anyone's — as nothing 
less than a new irruption of barbarians. These 
good people are unquestionably right. The 
development of women means a reinvigoration 
as complete as any brought by barbarians to an 
effete and degenerating civilization. When we 
turn to those early societies, which are as lamps 
to us in our social progress, we find that the arts 
of life are in the possession of women. There- 

io The New Spirit. 

fore when the torch of science is placed in the 
hands of women we must expect them to use it 
as a guide with audacious simplicity and direct- 
ness, because of those instincts for practical life 
which they have inherited. 

The rise of women — who form the majority 
of the race in most civilized countries — to 
their fair share of power, is certain. Whether 
one looks at it with hope or with despair 
one has to recognize it. For my own part I 
find it an unfailing source of hope. One can- 
not help feeling that along the purely masculine 
line no striking social advance is likely to be 
made. Men are idealists, in search of wealth 
usually, sometimes of artistic visions ; they have 
little capacity for social organization. It is 
sometimes said that the fundamental inferiority 
of women is shown by the very few surpassing 
women of genius in the world's history. In 
their anxiety to combat this argument women 
have even enlisted Semiramis and Dido into 
their ranks. But it is a fact. For all great 
solitary and artistic achievements — the writing 
of Divine Comedies, the painting of Transfigura- 
tions, the construction of systems of metaphy- 
sic, the inauguration of new religions — men are 
without rivals ; the more abstract and unsocial 
an art is, the easier it is for men to attain 
eminence in it ; in music and in the art of 
erecting philosophies men have had, least of all, 

Introduction. T I 

any occasion to fear the rivalry of women. Such 
things arc precious, although it may be that 
what we call "genius" is something abnormal 
and distorted, like those centres of irritation 
which result in the pearls we likewise count so 
precious. Women are comparatively free from 
"genius." Yet it might probably be maintained 
that the average level of women's intelligence is 
fully equal to that of men's. Compare the men 
and women among settlers in the Australian 
bush, or wherever else men and women have 
been set side by side to construct their social 
life as best they may, and it will often be to the 
disadvantage of the men. In practical and 
social life — even perhaps, though this is yet 
doubtful, in science — women will have nothing 
to fear. The most important mental sexual 
difference lies in the relative and absolute pre- 
ponderance in women of the lower, that is, the 
more important and fundamental nervous cen- 
tres. 1 What new forms the influence of women 
will give to society we cannot tell. Our most 
strenuous efforts will be needed to see to it that 
women gain the wider experience of life, the 
larger education in the full sense of the word, 
the entire freedom of development, without 

1 The detailed analysis of the elements which women, 
by the facts of their constitution, must bring to the 
organization of life, cannot be entered into in this volume. 
I hope to deal with it in part elsewhere. 

i 2 The Neiu Spirit. 

which their vast power of interference in social 
organization might have disastrous as well as 
happy results. 

We most of us began in youth with literature ; 
the seeds of art and imagination found a kindly 
soil in childhood and puberty ; and we spent 
our enthusiasm on Scott or Shelley, on Gautier 
or Swinburne. As we grew older we tired of 
these, developing instincts that craved other 
satisfaction, discovering sometimes even that 
our idols had clay feet. Then we turned to 
the things that had seemed to us before so dull 
and stupid that we had scarcely looked at them ; 
we began to be fascinated by economics and the 
growth of society, the problem of surplus value 
turns out to be full of attraction, and the historic 
development of the relationship between men 
and women as charming as any novel. In the 
same way the men of 1859, who were nurtured 
on " The Origin of Species," naturally and rightly 
turned their militant energies against theology 
and fought over the book of Genesis. To-day, 
when social rather than theological questions 
seem to be the legitimate outcome of the scien- 
tific spirit, and when all things connected with 
social organization have become the matters of 
most vital interest to those who are really alive 
to the time in which they live, even in youth 
such questions begin to grow enchanting, and 
those who are older feel the same fascination ; 

Introduction. 1 3 

the man who shared with Darwin the honour of 
initiating a new scientific era becomes a land 
nationalise^ William Morris a socialist, and the 
poet laureate who sixty years earlier had sung 
fantastic poems of a coming Utopia grasps at 
length the concrete problems with which we 
have to deal. All this is hopeful, for we have 
scarcely yet got to the bottom of the questions 
raised by the growth of democracy. 

The influence of science on life is an accom- 
plished fact, and we can distinctly trace its 
gradual development ; the influence of women 
is on the eve of attaining its outward consumma- 
tion, and it is not altogether impossible to fore- 
cast some of the changes which it will involve. 
But the influence of democracy, more talked of 
than either of the others, is much more vague, 
complex, and uncertain. Once it was thought 
that we had but to give a vote to every adult — 
outside the asylum and perhaps the prison — and 
democracy would be achieved. This crude notion 
has long since become ridiculous. We see now 
that the vote and the ballot-box do not make 
the voter free from even external pressure ; and, 
which is of much more consequence, they do not 
necessarily free him from his own slavish in- 
stincts. We see that enfranchisement does not 
mean freedom, since the enfranchised are capable 
of running in a brainless and compact mob after 
any man who is clever enough to gain despotic 

14 The Neiv Spirit. 

influence over them. This is not democracy, 
though it is doubtless a step towards it. If we 
test the intelligence of the enfranchised by 
examining the persons whom they elect as their 
representatives, we soon realize the trifling 
character of the step. Even the free and gene- 
rously democratic colonies of Australia show 
few brilliant results by this test. It is hard to 
get rid of the old distinction between a govern- 
ing class and a governed, and to recognize 
that every man must be a member of the govern- 

If democracy means a state in which every 
man shall be a freeman, neither in economic 
nor intellectual nor moral subjection, two pro- 
cesses at least are needed to render democracy 
possible — on the one hand a large and many- 
sided education ; on the other the reasonable 
organization of life. 

The conception of education has within recent 
times undergone a curious development. Some 
of us can still remember the time when the 
word "education" meant as a matter of course 
the rudiments of intellectual education only, 
and when such education was regarded as a 
panacea for many evils ; this kind of education 
has, in consequence, we may take it, been virtu- 
ally secured to every child in all civilized coun- 
tries. To this kind of education, however, it is 
no longer possible to attribute any satisfying 

Introduction* 1 5 

sort of virtue. It may produce a very inferior 
order of clerk ; but education — the reasonable 
development of the individual — it cannot de- 
serve to be called ; it merely puts a certain 
rude intellectual instrument into the hands of a 
still thoroughly uneducated person. Education, 
as we understand it now, must be founded on 
the harmonious exercise of body, senses, and 
emotions, as well as intellect ; the whole en- 
vironment is the agent of education. That is 
why we are now extending the meaning of the 
word indefinitely. Fresh air, good food, manual 
training, the cultivation of the art instincts, 
physical exercise and abundant recreation, 
wholesome home relationships — these are a few 
of the things which we now recognize as essen- 
tial parts of the rational education of every boy 
and girl, and which we are seeking to obtain for 
all. Nor is education in this sense incompatible 
with intellectual development ; on the contrary, 
it is the only sound foundation for such develop- 
ment. There is here no need for fear. We seem, 
indeed, to be rapidly approaching a period in 
which the excessive intension of knowledge, its 
confinement to a few persons, will give way to a 
marked extension of knowledge. Such a pro- 
cess is in the lines of our democratic advance. 
It is for the advantage of the men of science 
who have paid for the seclusion of extreme 
specialism by incapacity to understand popular 

1 6 The New Spirit. 

movements and popular needs ; it is to the 
advantage of all that there should be no impas- 
sable gulf between those who know and those 
who are ignorant. It is well to sacrifice much, 
if we may thereby help to diffuse the best things 
that are known and thought in the world, and 
make the scientific attitude, even more than 
scientific results, a common possession. 

It is clear that education thus understood 
leads directly to the other great factor of 
democracy. Education is impossible without 
social organization : no advanced stage of social 
organization is possible without a complex and 
diffused education ; they lead up to each other 
and go hand in hand. The average working man, 
in England at all events, is not an enthusiast for 
schemes of technical education ; as things stand, 
such schemes constitute a method for supplying 
the capitalist with cheap instruments, and the 
working man cannot be expected to view with 
enthusiasm his own depreciation in the market. 
At the same time his lack of education leads 
him to overrate the value of a tawdry intellec- 
tual equipment, and he views with little anxiety 
the growth of a race of inferior clerks, for whom 
the world has few uses. 

In England the love of independent individual 
initiative and the dislike of all harmonious social 
organization is certainly stronger than elsewhere; 
it is intimately associated with the best and worst 

Introduction. 17 

qualities of the race, and it has spread over all 
the countries we have overrun. For three 
hundred years this tendency has had a free 
field. But during the last fifty years a new 
instinct of social organization has been slowly 
developing and gaining strength. Trades unions 
have been one of the most potent influences in 
this direction. All our factory legislation has 
been a sign of its growth, and the same move- 
ment has given enthusiasm to the County Coun- 
cil. There are very few things in our daily life 
which this spirit of social organization is not 
embracing or promising to embrace. The old 
bugbear of " State interference " (a real danger 
under so many circumstances) vanishes when a 
community approaches the point at which the 
individual himself becomes the State. It might 
be added that under no circumstances could the 
temper oi" the English people tolerate any con- 
siderable amount of " State interference." The 
communalization oi' certain social functions cor- 
responds — without being an exact analogy — to 
the process by which physiological actions be- 
come automatic. As it becomes a State func- 
tion commerce will cease to absorb the best 
energy and enterprise of the world, and will 
become merely mechanical. 

It may not be out of place to point out that 
while this process of socialization is rapidly de- 
veloping, individual development so far from 

1 8 The New Spirit. 

stopping, is progressing no less rapidly. It is 
too often forgotten that the former is but the 
means to secure the latter. While we are socia- 
lizing all those things of which all have equal 
common need, we are more and more tending 
to leave to the individual the control of those 
things which in our complex civilization con- 
stitute individuality. We socialize what we call 
our physical life in order that we may attain 
greater freedom for what we call our spiritual life. 
The growth of social organization is now be- 
ginning to open up possibilities which a few 
years ago would have seemed Utopian. It can- 
not remain limited within merely national bounds. 
It is concerned with the things of which all have 
a common need, and the interests of nations are 
here inextricably intertwined. This must sooner 
or later result in the formation of international 
tribunals, and this again will have decisive results 
in relation to war — a method of dispute rapidly 
becoming antiquated. Twenty-eight millions of 
men, ready to be put into the field (is not this a 
suggestive euphemism ?) at a moment's notice, 
in a corner of the world ! Take a plebiscite of 
the adult population of Europe, of whose life- 
blood these twenty-eight millions are, to-morrow 
— and what would the regime of militarism be 
worth ? We must certainly expect to see the 
same process repeated between nations which 
has everywhere taken place among individuals. 

Introduction. 1 9 

When a strong power to which appeal can be 
made is established, individuals cease to fight 
and become litigants ; this was seen in the 
Middle Ages, and again, as Maine pointed out, 
when a strong British executive was established 
in India. As soon as a sufficiently strong tri- 
bunal is formed, nations who once went to war 
must in the same way become litigants. This 
again will have its reaction on democracy and 
social life. 

Along another line we may observe the ap- 
proaching disappearance of war. The wars of 
modern times have, to a large extent, had com- 
mercial causes at their roots. The downfall of 
unrestricted competition, and the organization of 
industrialism, will remove this cause of war. In 
the profoundly interesting movement, witnessed 
to-day in the direction of trusts and syndicates, 
wc see the natural and inevitable transition to a 
new era. Like all transitions, it can only be 
effected with much friction. From one point of 
view it is the last barricade of capitalism ; from 
a wider stand-point it is the forging of a huge 
instrument to be taken up eventually by a vast 
international community who will thus control 
the means of providing for themselves by methods 
of simple and uneventful routine. 

Before international organization can be 
realized there seems little doubt that a period of 
protective national organization must intervene, 

20 The New Spirit. 

At present there is a floating population of the 
weakest and less capable — unable to emigrate to 
a new country — always flowing from a poorer 
country into a less poor country, and bearing 
with them the seeds of vagrancy and crime. No 
progress is possible if every little redeemed patch 
is at once flooded from over sea. It must be 
remembered also, that the dykes necessary to 
regulate the floating population are required 
even in the interests of the poorer countries. 
We are approaching a time when the general 
spread of information, especially by means of 
newspapers, will render it impossible for any 
country to tolerate the fact that the general 
level of its people's existence should exceed in 
wretchedness that of any other nation. The 
evolution of a better state can only take place 
by the pressure resulting from the presence of 
these outcast elements of society. To reject 
them is but to disguise the condition of a nation 
and to imperil its destiny. 

The destiny and fate of nations has always 
fascinated the popular imagination, and the 
destinies of nations are now shaping themselves 
before our eyes with singular clearness. Within 
a measurable period of time France will have 
become a beautiful dream ; all Frenchmen will 
be Belgians or Italians, the races which have 
already in large measure taken possession of 
the country ; it is a process which Frenchmen 

Introduction. 2 1 

themselves observe and chronicle with painful 
interest. But France has already accomplished 
a great work among the nations. Of wider 
significance is the development of Russia. For 
various reasons the position of Russia is peculiar. 
The youngest of European nations in civilization, 
with a strong Asiatic element by position and 
race, Russia is approaching the task of social 
organization with a different endowment from 
that possessed by any other nation. This racial 
endowment, while imparting a curious freshness 
to its methods of dealing with European problems, 
especially fits it for its great mission of domina- 
ting Asia. To the English it has never been 
easy to find a modus viveiidi with lower races, 
or races which we are pleased to consider lower ; 
the very qualities which give us insular indepen- 
dence and toughness of fibre, unfit us for the 
other task. But the Russian temperament, as 
is now generally recognized, is peculiarly adap- 
ted for mingling harmoniously even with the 
fiercest yellow races and bringing them into 
relation with the best European influences; all 
those who care for humanity view with satisfac- 
tion the growing influence of Russia in the East, 
an influence which, we may reasonably hope, 
will overspread the continent. A very large 
field indeed is still left for the other great 
expanding race of the world. The English- 
speaking races have in their hands the greater 

22 The New Spirit. 

part of North America, and nearly all Australia, 
and here their special qualities find ample scope. 
This division gives no ground for quarrel ; the 
Russians have never had much capacity for 
emigration in the English sense, and the English 
are beginning to learn by bitter experience that 
they are not suited for the mission of civilizing 
Asia ; the Spanish races have, as a field for their 
renascence, now so rapidly taking place, nearly 
the whole of the rich continent of South 
America ; while those slow, yet tenacious and 
admirable colonists, the Germans, will be able 
to gain ground in that African continent to 
which they are most attracted, and which was 
long ago claimed by the Dutch for this division 
of the Teutonic race. If we English are certain 
to make little progress where, as in Asia, the 
great task is conciliation, when it is a question 
of stamping out a lower race — then is our time ! 
It has to be done ; it is quite clear that the 
fragile Red men of America and the strange 
wild Blacks of Australia must perish at the 
touch of the White man. On the whole we 
stamp them out as mercifully as may be, sup- 
plying our victims liberally with missionaries 
and blankets. 

It is the English race, not England, that is 
thus possessing so large a part of the earth. 
And it is interesting to observe that both the 
races — almost the latest of the great European 

Introduction. 23 

nations to emerge from barbarism — that now 
promise to dominate the world are by tempera- 
ment disinclined for monarchic government. 
With the Russians their despotic Empire has 
been an exotic which they may have worshipped 
at a distance, but which, except as a symbol of 
the ideal, has had little influence on their lives. 
We can only determine the institutions that 
will develop healthfully in a country by a care- 
ful and patient study of that nation's origin. 
Why is the parliamentary system a dubious 
success in France, and the jury an acknowledged 
failure in Italy ? One watches anxiously to see 
whether Russia will find the methods of national 
progress in the brilliant but fatal examples of a 
foreign Western civilization or in the fundamen- 
tal instincts of its own race. The English have 
always been impatient of kings and governors, 
and have taken every opportunity to establish 
republican government. We see this in the 
United States. In Australia the race is de- 
veloping its most intensely democratic instincts, 
and the Australians will certainly not tolerate 
any attempt to draw them closer to any country 
outside their own land. England has, during 
the present century, owing to special conditions, 
occupied a position in the world enormously 
disproportioned to its size. These special con- 
ditions are now rapidly ceasing; the Suez Canal, 
which has dealt so decisive a blow to the com- 

24 The New Spirit. 

mcrcial greatness of England, has made it more 
difficult than ever for us to maintain the artificial 
position of advantage which we possessed as 
distributors ; so that England, as a distributing 
power, is being reduced by the failure of the 
Cape route to the same condition as Venice was 
reduced to by its discovery. Nor is it merely 
as a distributing power that England is losing 
its position ; it is losing its position — relatively, 
that is — as one of the great producing powers of 
the world. There will soon be no reason why the 
coarse products of a great part of the earth should 
be sent all the way to a small northern country 
to be returned in a more or less ugly and adul- 
terate manufactured condition. We witness to- 
day the wonderful development of India as a 
centre of production. In the colonies the begin- 
nings are small, but they are rapidly increasing; 
in these matters it is the first step that costs ; 
while a well-marked tendency to protection, not 
likely on the whole to diminish, tends to make 
both America and Australia self-dependent, and, 
in the East, Japan is becoming a controlling force 
that has to be reckoned with. We are still, 
indeed, far from the time when the chief industry 
of England will be the Fremdenindustrie, but we 
may already trace the development of England 
as a museum of antiquities and as a Holy Land 
for the whole English-speaking race. Every- 
where, for those who have been born in the 


Introduction. 2 5 

colonics, England is a remote land of glamour 
and tradition, a land of sacred associations and 
strange old-world customs, and the most radical 
colonist is a conservative where the old country 
is concerned. Everyone who has lived in the 
colonies has come upon this attitude of senti- 
ment, perhaps with a shock of surprise; nor is it 
easy at once for a prosaic Londoner to realize 
the feelings of the man who arrives for the first 
time in the land of his fathers and beholds Fen- 
church Street and Cheapside through an atmos- 
phere of old romance. Yet this emotional atti- 
tude will develop mightily with the development 
of English-speaking nations, and will but be 
strengthened by the dying down of England's 
political and commercial activity. Every country 
must succumb at last, but to succumb to its own 
children is a happier fate than ever befell any 
great country of old. 

It has been necessary to take this brief survey 
of the influences that are now modifying the 
face of the civilized world, for it is in this theatre 
and under these conditions that the three great 
modern forces that we shall meet with through- 
out this book are acting. What impresses one 
is the vast resonance which now accompanies 
every human achievement, because of the com- 
munalization and extension of the methods of 
intercourse. It has become one of the chief 
tasks of science to attain unity, unity of standard 

26 TJie New Spirit. 

and measure and nomenclature; this has been 
the object of numberless conferences. It is to 
attain this end that the efforts to manufacture a 
universal language have obtained some support, 
fruitless as they have hitherto been. It was by 
a wholesome instinct that men formerly clung 
to Latin as the universal language of educated 
Christendom ; the humanizing intercourse which 
by means of a common language broke through 
the barriers of race, forms one of the most 
charming features of the early Middle Ages. 
The equally wholesome instinct of individual 
development has intervened ; but the other again 
becomes dominant, and the universal language 
becomes more and more inevitable every day. 
Around it will centre the chief struggle and the 
chief triumph of the scientific spirit. 

The very splendour and inevitable impetus of 
these modern movements is producing, here and 
there among us, a reasonable reaction, a reaction 
against the hurry and excitement of modern life. 
And yet, perhaps, less a reaction than their 
natural outcome and development. 

It is by art and religion that men have always 
sought rest. Art is a world of man's own making, 
in which he finds harmonious development, a 
development that satisfies because framed to 
the measuring-rod of his most delicate senses. 
Religion is the anodyne cup — indeed of our own 
blood — at which we slake our thirst when our 

Introduction. 27 

hearts are torn by personal misery, or weary and 
distracted by life's heat and restless hurry. At 
times, the great motor instincts of our nature, 
impelling us by a force that we cannot measure 
or control, cause us to break up our dainty house 
of art, or to dash down bravely the cup of healing. 
Hut we shall always return to them again ; they, 
too, represent an instinct at the root of our being. 
In the recognition of this harmony lies the secret 
of wise living. 

Religion is hidden by many a strange garment, 
but its heart is the same, and built firmly into 
the human structure. The old mystic spoke 
truly when he defined God as an unutterable 
sigh. Now and again we must draw a deep 
breath of relief — and that is religion. That no 
intellectual belief or opinion is necessarily bound 
up with religion, it is nowadays unnecessary to 
show. To how many has Schopenhauer — an in- 
different philosopher, but a great master of the 
secrets of religion — brought from afar, into the 
light of the modern world, the mysteries of the 
soul that seeks for consolation ? A weary and 
distracted creature, at war even with himself, he 
was of those for whom the Kingdom of Heaven 
is especially made ; he sought and found, and 
moulded into the sweet harmonies of his prose, 
the things that make for rest and for consola- 
tion — and who is not sometimes weary and dis- 
tracted, and in need of rest ? We English, it is 

2S The New Spirit. 

true, are not an aboriginally religious people ; 
we are great in practical life, and we are mar- 
vellous poets ; but while we have an immense 
appetite for imported religion, we have never 
ourselves even produced one of those manuals 
of piety which, since the days of Lao-tsze, have 
become the common possession of the devout 
everywhere. One little Encheiridion alone 
there is, so far as I know, in which, during 
recent years, an English writer has brought 
echoes of old times, of exhilaration or of peace, 
into forms which enable the children of to-day 
to be at one with those of former days. " Quid 
nobis cum generibus et speciebus ? " asked the 
author of the " Imitation." Hugo de St. Victor 
was driven to religion by the barrenness of dia- 
lectics : "Truth cannot be discovered by ratio- 
cination," he said ; "it is by what he is that man 
finds truth." To-day, Edward Carpenter escapes 
from the burden of science to find joy for awhile 
in the perennial fountain which springs up within, 
and which the measuring-rod of science has 
never meted. " Towards Democracy " has a 
quality of its own, which many have tasted with 
delight, and which will probably give it place 
with those sources of joy known to few, but well 
loved of those few. 

For religion is a mystery, into which not all 
of us are initiated. The road to the Kingdom 
of Heaven, as it was well said of old time, is 

Introduction. 29 

narrow, and blessed are they who, having reached 
it, stay but a little while ! To drink deep of that 
cup is to have all the motor energies of life para- 
lyzed. Art remains to give us the same joy and 
refreshment, in more various, wholesome, and 
acceptable forms. For art is nothing less than 
the world as we ourselves make it, the world 
re-moulded nearer to the heart's desire. In 
this construction of a world around us, in har- 
monious response to all our senses, we have at 
once a healthy exercise for our motor activities, 
and the restful satisfaction of our sensory needs. 
Art, as no mere passive hyperesthesia to external 
impressions, or exclusive absorption in a single 
sense, but as a many-sided and active delight in 
the wholeness of things, is the great restorer of 
health and rest to the energies distracted by our 
turbulent modern movements. Thus understood, 
it has the firmest of scientific foundations ; it is 
but the reasonable satisfaction of the instinctive 
cravings of the organism, cravings that are not 
the less real for being often unconscious. Its 
satisfaction means the presence of joy in our 
daily life, and joy is the prime tonic of life. It 
is the gratification of the art-instinct that makes 
the wholesome stimulation of labour joyous ; it 
is in the gratification of the art-instinct that 
repose becomes joyous. The fanatical com- 
mercialism that has filled so much of our century 
made art impossible — so impossible that beyond 

30 The New Spirit. 

one or two voices, raised to hysterical scream, 
no one dared to protest against it. The satis- 
faction of the art-instinct is now one of the most 
pressing of social needs. In England, William 
Morris probably stands first among those who 
have perceived this weighty fact. A man of 
immense energies and varied activities, one of 
the greatest modern masters of English speech 
and poet-craft, an ardent advocate of the most 
advanced social ideas of his time, he has slowly 
felt his way to the realization of the truth, that 
the secret of good living is even economically 
involved in the communalization of art. Our 
most glorious dreamer, he has placed this con- 
ception at the foundation of his lovely and sub- 
stantial visions. 

It is true, indeed, that we have already an art 
in which for the great mass of people to-day 
our desires and struggles and ideals arc faith- 
fully mirrored. The great art of the century 
has been fiction. It is common, among some 
writers, to speak contemptuously of novels, but 
the mass of contemporary fiction has a value 
that is little realized, and perhaps is not likely to 
be realized, for some time to come. There is a 
very large and wonderful and little-read col- 
lection of fiction, the " Acta Sanctorum," in which 
the whole life and soul of a remote period are 
laid bare to us. It is, like our own fiction, a 
fiction that is more than half reality, and it has 

Introduction. 3 1 

often seemed to me that the novels of this cen- 
tury will in the future be found to have precisely 
the same value as the " Acta Sanctorum." For the 
novel is contemporary moral history in a deeper 
sense than the De Goncourts meant. ^lany 
novels of to-day will be found to express the 
distinctive features of our age as truly as the 
distinctive features of another age, its whole 
inner and outer life, are expressed in Gothic 

William Morris looks back wistfully towards 
the popular art of the Middle Ages, and deals out 
scorn to the novel ; he is unjust to our modern 
popular art. Yet, by a wholesome instinct. For 
fiction is, more than any other art, the art of a 
period of repression. The world's great ages 
have never much cared to rehearse themselves 
in the brooding solitudes that the story-teller 
demands. Our faces now are turned in another 

I have tried to obtain and present here a faint 
tracing of the evolution of the modern spirit, as 
it strikes a contemporary. In the subsequent 
chapters we shall be able to trace it yet more 
distinctly, at different stages, and in various 
phases. Diderot, eclipsed once, is seen now, as, 
in a manifold sense which may be claimed for 
no other man, the initiator of our own day in all 
its varied manifestations, and, above all, in its 
practical scientific spirit. In Heine we see the 

32 The New Spirit. 

most characteristic, if not the finest, artist of 
the second quarter of our century, the melodious 
embodiment of all its discords, the impersonation 
of a transition which we have all passed through, 
and which draws us to him with cords of a pe- 
culiarly personal tenderness. Whitman repre- 
sents, for the first time since Christianity swept 
over the world, the re-integration, in a sane and 
whole-hearted form, of the instincts of the entire 
man, and therefore he has a significance which 
we can scarcely over-estimate. Goethe had 
done something of this in a more artistic and 
intellectual shape ; it is from no lack of love or 
reverence for Goethe that I have chosen the 
American, a democrat rather than an aristocrat, 
the very roughness of whose grasp of life serves 
but to reveal the genuine instinct of the modern 
Greek. All that is finest in aristocracy we see 
revealed in Ibsen, a keen and sombre figure 
that reminds one perpetually of Dante — the 
same curt and awful contempt for lies and 
for shams, the same vision of a Heaven beyond. 
Into such Kingdoms of Heaven it needs but a 
child to enter, and when I see this man with 
that little diamond wedge of sincerity and the 
mighty Thor's hammer of his art, I feel as 
though no mountain of error could resist the 
new spirit that he represents. In Tolstoi we 
see the manifestation of another great modern 
force ; no keenness or clearness here indeed in 

Introduction. 33 

the interpretation of life, though such a marvel- 
lous power of presentation ; yet a massive 
elemental force, groping slowly and incohe- 
rently towards the light, so interesting to us 
because we seem to be conscious of the heart 
of a whole nation, the great nation of the future, 
towards which all eyes are turned. 

Certainly old things are passing away ; not 
the old ideals only, but even the regret they 
leave behind is dead, and we are shaping in- 
stinctively our new ideals. Yet we are at peace 
with the past. The streams of hot lava flow 
forth and cover the world ; the lava is but the 
minute fragments of former life. We marvel at 
the prodigality of nature, but how marvellous, 
too, the economy ! ' The old cycles are for ever 
renewed, and it is no paradox that he who would 
advance can never cling too close to the past. 
The thing that has been is the thing that will 
be again ; if we realize that, we may avoid many 
of the disillusions, miseries, insanities, that for 
ever accompany the throes of new birth. Set 
your shoulder joyously to the world's wheel : 
you may spare yourself some unhappiness if, 
beforehand, you slip the book of Ecclesiastcs 
beneath your arm. 


34 The New Spirit. 


Of the three intellectual heroes of the Revo- 
lution, Diderot exercised the least apparent in- 
fluence ; he was, for the most part, too far ahead 
of his time, and his tremendous energies were 
frequently either concealed or dissipated along 
innumerable channels. The humane Voltaire, 
short-sighted, but so keen within his range, whose 
sarcasm was always on the side of benevolence ; 
the morbid, wrong-headed, suffering Rousseau, 
who spent his life in bringing to birth an exquisite 
emotional thrill which is now a common posses- 
sion — these two men stood out in the eyes of all, 
then and long after, as the standard-bearers of 
revolution. On the other hand, Diderot's great 
German contemporary, Goethe, the only man 
with whom he may fairly be compared, has dur- 
ing most part of this century seemed to us the 
inaugurator of the spiritual activities of the 
modern world. Goethe is still full of meaning ; it 
will be long before we have exhausted " Wilhelm 
Meister " or " Faust." Perhaps, now that we arc 
so anxious to reform the world before reforming 
ourselves, we need more than ever the example 
of Goethe's self-culture and self-restraint, of his 
wise reverence for temperance and harmony. 

Diderot. 35 

But even Goethe, with that peaceful Weimar 
atmosphere about him, seems to us a little 
antique and remote from our modern ways. 
Diderot, on the other hand, who grew up and 
lived among the various and turbulent activities 
of the city that was in his time the focus of 
European life, appears before us now as a spirit 
of the latter nineteenth century, at one with our 
aspirations to-day. It was fitting that his works 
should wait until our own time for the most 
adequate and complete publication yet possible, 
and that he should now first receive full and 
ungrudging appreciation. 1 " At the distance of 
some centuries Diderot will appear prodigious ; 
men will look from afar at that universal head 
with admiration mingled with astonishment, as 
we to-day look at the heads of Plato and Aris- 
totle." So Rousseau wrote, at the end of his 
life, of the friend whose unwearying kindness he 

1 The handsome edition of Diderot's "CEuvres" in 
some twenty volumes, edited by Assdzat and Tourneux, 
contains nearly a fourth of previously unpublished mate- 
rial, much of considerable interest. The centenairc 
edition of his " CEuvres Choisies," comprised in one 
moderate-sized volume, includes all that most people 
need read of Diderot's works, and is, on the whole, a 
most varied and judicious selection, made by such com- 
petent editors as Letourneau, Lefevre, Guyot, Ve"ron, Sec. 
Mr. Morley's well-known work on Diderot and the 
Encyclopaedists has done more than anything else to 
create an intelligent English interest in the matter. 

36 The New Spirit. 

— almost alone among human beings — had at 
last wearied out ; to-day the prophecy seems in 
a fair way of fulfilment. 

The whole life of Diderot, all his actions and 
all his words, everything that he wrote, bears 
the impress of his ever-flaming enthusiasm. 
That " air vif, ardent et fou," which, in his own 
words, marked him in early life, meets us at 
every turn. As a boy at the Jesuit College he 
wished to go out into the world. "But what 
do you wish to be ? " asked over and over again 
that most excellent of fathers, the cutler of 
Langres. And the young Diderot persisted 
that he wanted to be nothing : " mais rien, mais 
rien du tout." He was not the last youth who, 
feeling the stirring of a deep instinct, would not, 
and could not, shut himself down to one narrow 
path of life. But to the men of this stamp 
" nothing " means " everything." Then ten 
years passed, ten years, as his daughter wrote, 
passed " sometimes in good society, sometimes 
in indifferent, not to say bad, society, given up 
to work, to pain, to pleasure, to weariness, to 
want, sometimes intoxicated with gaiety, some- 
times drowned in bitter reflection." He taught 
mathematics : if the scholar was apt, he taught 
him all day ; if he was a fool, he left him. " He 
was paid in books, in furniture, in linen, in 
money, or not at all." When teaching failed he 
had to earn money how he could — as by supply- 

Diderot. 3 7 

ing a missionary with a stock of sermons. Once 
he had to starve for a few days. That was 
not the least instructive experience to the 
youth, for he resolved that, whenever he could 
help it, no fellow-creature should suffer the like. 
There could have been no better education. 
It was the seed-time of all his energies, of his 
encyclopaedic knowledge, of his manifold hold 
on life, of his extraordinary capacity. He found 
time in the midst of it to fall in love with and 
marry a pious, honest, and affectionate girl who 
happened to be living in a room near him, but 
who was so ignorant that she once scolded him 
for the amount (very far from excessive) that he 
took for his writings ; she could not imagine 
that mere writing could be worth so much. 
That he was not always faithful to her scarcely 
needs to be told ; that could, perhaps, have been 
otherwise at no period, least of all in eighteenth- 
century Paris. There is a deep pathos in the 
brief story of her long life and her devotion to 
the husband whose own energies were at the 
service of any human being, however poor or 
disreputable, who cared to climb up the stairs 
to his room. In the early days of poverty she 
would make little sacrifices to procure a cup of 
coffee or similar trifling luxury for her husband ; 
and during his last illness, though she would 
have given her life, her daughter wrote, to make 
him a Christian, yet realizing how deeply rooted 

38 The New Spirit. 

his convictions were, she shielded him from the 
efforts of the orthodox, and would not leave the 
parish cure alone with him for an instant ; at his 
death, the daughter adds, she "regretted the 
unhappiness he had caused her as another would 
have regretted happiness." But we do not 
regret unhappiness ; it is but another way of 
saying that life is complex and full of mitiga- 
tion. In tenderness Diderot was never deficient; 
he was clearly a man of deep family affection ; 
he seems to have inherited this from his father ; 
so judicious a critic as Sainte-Beuve remarks 
that of the whole group of philosophes — not 
eminent, perhaps, in this respect — Diderot was 
the one who " most piously cultivated the rela- 
tions of father, of son, of brother, and who best 
felt and practised family morality," and we con- 
stantly come across traces of this " piety." He 
tells us with great glee how, when he was once 
walking through his native Langres, a townsman 
came up to him and said, " Monsieur Diderot, 
you are a good man, but, if you think that you 
will ever be equal to your father, you are mis- 
taken." His eldest sister seems to have had 
something of his own downrightness and soli- 
dity ; he loves her, he says, not because she is 
his sister, but because he " likes excellent things." 
His only brother was an ecclesiastic and a bigot, 
but Diderot dwells on the inexhaustible charity 
by which this rather eccentric man had im- 

Diderot. 39 

poverished himself. At the latter part of his 
life Diderot's letters are full of proof of his 
tender love for his daughter, of the care and 
thought he devoted to her education, of the 
gentleness with which he sought to open to her 
the mysteries of the world. 

At the age of twenty-eight Diderot conceived 
the plan of that " Encyclopaedia" which became 
the central activity of his life. A few years 
later he published his first work, a free transla- 
tion of Shaftesbury's "Essay on Merit and 
Virtue " which indicates well the philosophical 
point from which he set out. It was followed, 
a year after, by the "Pensees Philosophiques, 
a few brief pages, full of condensed and vigorous 
satire on the theologians and of robust faith in 
man and nature. Perhaps the most memorable 
is that in which he imagines that a man, be- 
trayed by his wife, his children, his friends, 
retired into a cavern to meditate some awful 
revenge against the human race, a perpetual 
source of dread and misery ; at last the misan- 
thrope rushed out of his cavern shouting, "God! 
God i " and his fatal desire was accomplished : 
this account of the matter at all events indicates 
how little, even at this early period of his life, 
Diderot sympathized with the fashionable Deism 
of his day. The book was condemned to be 
burned by command of Parliament, but it was 
subsequently reinforced by still more audacious 

40 The New Spirit. 

additions. So began characteristically, if with 
something of the reckless impetuosity of youth, 
a series of writings, far too long even to name 
here, many that were only published at his 
death, some that are only now being published, 
a large number that have probably been lost 
altogether — all marked by the same prodigious 
wealth and variety and eloquence. Yet they 
lie apart from the great work of his life. The 
" Encyclopaedia " occupied thirty years ; the 
appearance of the first volume was retarded by 
Diderot's imprisonment at Vincennes, and it 
appeared in 175 1 ; the last appeared in 1772. 
The "Encyclopaedia" was more than an ency- 
clopaedia ; it was not founded on that of Cham- 
bers, by which it was suggested, nor is it repre- 
sented by our own estimable " Encyclopaedia 
Britannica." It was not a simple summary of 
the knowledge of the time, for the benefit of a 
community trained to appreciate the value of 
science. It was in the words of the prospectus, 
"a general picture of the efforts of the human 
spirit in every field, in every age." It was the 
frank and audacious application to the whole of 
knowledge of new ideas, for the first time loudly 
proclaimed to a society slowly crumbling to 
ruin, but still by no means powerless. It was 
an evangelistic enterprise among infidels, with 
dangers on every side, and where one holds 
one's life in one's hands. We may still appre- 

Diderot. 4 1 

date the significance of such a struggle. The 
future in every age belongs to those who can 
sec farther ahead than their fellows, and who 
fight their way towards the vision that they sec ; 
but the risks are equally great under any con- 
dition of society, and some sort of Bastille or 
Vincennes is always at hand. 

Diderot was certainly of all men most fitted 
to organize and uphold this great work and to 
carry it to triumphal completion. He said once 
of himself that he belonged to his windy country- 
side of Langres ; " the man of Langres has a 
head on his shoulders like the weathercock on 
the top of the church spire — it is never fixed at 
one point." He was scarcely just to himself; 
with all his emotional vivacity and his readiness 
to receive new impressions, there was in him 
also an infinite patience and a tenacity to hold 
on to the end in spite of all. Both his versatility 
and his patience were called for here. He was 
indefatigable, for ever animating the waverers, 
stimulating the slow-paced, fighting Avith timid 
publishers, himself having a hand in everything, 
ever ready to suggest new ideas or to spend 
months in studying the details of machines or 
factories, or anything else that had to be done ; 
knowing all the time that at every moment he 
might be exiled or imprisoned. The personal 
qualities of the man, even more than his varied 
abilities, carried him through. Someone speaks 

42 The New Spirit. 

of "his eyes on fire and the prophetic air which 
seemed always announcing the enthusiasm of 
actual labour; " wehearof his "eloquence fouguese 
et entrainante ;" and, with this, of his feminine 
sensibility, his wit and tact and fertility of 
resource. We divine these qualities in his head 
as it has come down to us, though his charac- 
teristics do not easily lend themselves to brush 
or chisel. He has himself some remarks on 
this point. In his Salons he comes upon his 
own portrait by Van Loo, and, after some good- 
humoured criticism, he adds: "But what will 
my grandchildren say when they come to com- 
pare my sad books with that smiling, mincing, 
effeminate old flirt? My children, I warn you 
that I am not like that. I had a hundred diffe- 
rent faces in one day, according to the thing 
that affected me. I was calm, sad, dreaming, 
tender, violent, passionate, enthusiastic, but I 
was never as you see me there. I had a large 
forehead, very bright eyes, tolerably large 
features, a head quite like that of an ancient 
orator, a bonhomie which approached stupidity, 
and an old-fashioned rusticity. I wear a mask 
which deceives the artist, whether it is that there 
are too many things mixed together, or that the 
mental impressions which trace themselves on 
my face succeed one another so rapidly that the 
painter's task becomes more difficult than he 
expected. I have never been well done except 

Diderot. 43 

by a poor devil called Garand, who caught rue- 
as it happens to a fool who utters a ban mot" 
Meister, Grimm's secretary, who knew Diderot 
well, says of him : " The artist who would seek 
an ideal head for Plato or Aristotle could hardly 
meet a modern head more worth his study than 
Diderot's. His large forehead, uncovered and 
slightly rounded, bore the imposing imprint of 
his large, luminous, and fertile spirit. The great 
physiognomist, Lavater, thought he detected 
there some traces of timidity and lack of enter- 
prise, and this intuition, founded only on such 
portraits as he could see, has always seemed to 
me that of a keen observer. 1 His nose was of 
masculine beauty, the contour of his upper 
eyelid full of delicacy, the habitual expression 
of his eyes sensitive and gentle ; but when he 
became excited they gleamed with fire; his 
mouth revealed an interesting mixture of refine- 
ment, of grace, of bonhomie; and, whatever 
indifference there might be about his bearing, 
there was naturally in the carriage of his head, 
especially when he began to talk, much energy 
and dignity. Enthusiasm seemed to have be- 
come the most natural attitude of his voice, of 
his soul, of all his features. When his mental 
attitude was cold and calm, one might find in 
him constraint, awkwardness, timidity, even a 

1 " Timid and awkward in his own cause," says Meister 
elsewhere, " he was scarcely ever so in that of others." 

44 The New Spirit. 

sort of affectation ; he was only truly Diderot, 
he was only truly himself, when his thoughts 
transported him beyond himself." 

It was the inexhaustible profusion and gene- 
rosity of Diderot's genius which seems to have 
impressed men chiefly. A small literary man 
of the time wrote his impression of Diderot, as 
he appeared in later life, with what is probably 
but a very mild touch of good-natured carica- 
ture : — " Some time ago I had a desire to write 
a book. I sought solitude in order to meditate. 
A friend lent me an apartment in a charming 
house amid delightful scenery. Hardly had I 
arrived when I learnt that M. Diderot occupied 
a room in the same house. I do not exaggerate 
when I say that my heart beat violently ; I for- 
got all my literary projects, and thought only of 
seeing the great man whose genius I so much 
admired. I entered his room with the dawn, and 
he seemed no more surprised to see me than it. 
He spared me the trouble of stammering awk- 
wardly the object of my visit. He guessed it 
apparently by my air of admiration. He spared 
me likewise the long windings of a conversation 
which must be led to poetry and prose. Hardly 
was it mentioned than he rose, fixed his eyes 
upon me, and, it was quite clear, did not see me 
at all. He began to speak, at first very low and 
fast, so that though I was quite close to him I 
could scarcely hear or follow him. I saw at 

Diderot. 45 

once that my part in the conversation would be 
limited to silent admiration, a part which it costs 
me little to play. Gradually his voice rose and 
became distinct and sonorous ; he had been 
almost immovable ; now his gestures became 
frequent and animated. He had never seen me 
before, and when we were standing he put his 
arms round me ; when we were seated he struck 
my thighs as though they were his own. If the 
rapid courses of his talk brought in the word 
' law,' he made me a plan of legislation ; if the 
word ' theatre ' came in, he offered me the choice 
between five or six plans of dramas. A propos 
of the relation between the scene and the dia- 
logue, he recalls that Tacitus is the greatest 
painter of antiquity, and recites or translates for 
me the Annals or the History. But how terrible 
that the barbarians should have buried in the 
ruins of architectural masterpieces so many of 
Tacitus's chefs-d'oeuvre! Thereupon he grows 
as tender over those lost beauties as though he 
had known them. But if the excavations at 
Herculaneum should reveal fresh Annals and 
Histories ! And this hope transports him with 
joy. But how often in the process of discovery 
ignorant hands have destroyed the masterpieces 
preserved in tombs ! And here he dissertates 
like an Italian engineer on methods of excava- 
tion. Then his imagination turns to ancient 
Italy, and he recalls how the arts of Athens had 

46 The New Spirit. 

softened the terrible virtues of the conquerors 
of the world. He turns to the happy days of 
Laelius and Scipio, when even the conquered 
assisted with delight in the triumphs of the 
conquerors. He acts for me an entire scene of 
Terence ; he almost sings several songs of 
Horace. He concludes by actually singing a song 
full of grace and wit, an impromptu of his own 
at a supper, and recites for me a very agreeable 
comedy of which, to save the trouble of copying, 
he has had a single copy printed. Then a number 
of people entered the room. The noise of chairs 
makes him break off his enthusiastic monologue. 
Then he distinguishes me in the midst of the 
company, and comes up to me as to a person 
whom one has previously met with pleasure. 
He reminds me that we have talked about many 
very interesting things — law, drama, history ; he 
acknowledges that there was much to be learnt 
from my conversation, and makes me promise to 
cultivate an acquaintance the value of which he 
appreciates. At parting he gives me two kisses 
on the forehead, and snatches his hand from 
mine with genuine sorrow." Diderot is recorded 
to have laughed heartily at this sketch when he 
saw it in the "Mercure" of 1779: "I must be 
an eccentric sort of fellow ; but is it such a great 
fault to have preserved amid all the friction of so- 
ciety some vestiges of the angularity of nature?" 
These impressions are confirmed by those of 

Diderot. 4 7 

the Empress Catherine, whose delicate generosity 
in buying Diderot's library and appointing him 
librarian smoothed the last years of his life. 
She wrote to Mme. Geoffrin : "Your Diderot 
is an extraordinary man. I emerge from inter- 
views with him with thighs bruised and quite 
black. I have been obliged to put a table be- 
tween us to protect myself and my members." 
He could not understand, his daughter remarks, 
that one must not behave the same way in a 
palace as in a barn. It must be added, in justice 
to Diderot, that Catherine was no lover of cere- 
mony, as she certainly let Diderot know. 

He was the same to everybody ; not more 
ready to furnish the Empress with the plan of a 
university on the largest scale, and in accordance 
with the most advanced ideas, than to write 
laughingly Avis an public for a new pomade to 
promote the luxuriant growth of the hair. He 
was equally ready to throw out the brilliant sug- 
gestions which Helvetius and Holbach worked 
into their books " De l'Esprit " and the " Sys- 
teme de la Nature," and to assist some poor 
devil in tatters who, once at least, after he had 
long fed and clothed him, turned out to be a 
police spy ; he was none the less bountiful to 
every comer. Now we see him devising inge- 
nious ruses to obtain succour for a nobleman's 
forsaken mistress ; again finding a manager for 
Voltaire's comedy, the " Depositaire,"or revising 

48 The New Spirit. 

Galiani's " Dialogues " on the wheat trade. The 
Dauphin dies ; a monument must be erected to 
him in Sens Cathedral ; Diderot is sought out 
and speedily submits five designs. All the men 
of talent and all the people in distress found 
their way to Diderot ; dedicatory epistles for 
needy musicians, plots of comedies for play- 
wrights deficient in invention, prefaces, dis- 
courses — no one went away disappointed who 
climbed up to that fourth-floor door in the 
corner house of the Rue St. Benoit and the Rue 

Some of his benevolent schemes were certainly 
of a rather dubious character ; there seems to 
linger about them a touch of the sanctification 
of means by ends which we may, if we like, 
attribute to his Jesuit education. In his comedy, 
" Est-il bon ? Est-il mediant ? " — no doubt the 
best of his plays — he has satirized himself in 
the person of the hero, Hardouin, a man who 
gets into terrible scrapes with his friends from 
the questionable devices by which he tries to 
serve them ; obtaining, for instance, a pension 
for a widow lady by pretending that her child 
is illegitimate, and causing an obdurate mother 
to acquiesce eagerly in the marriage of her 
daughter by delicately suggesting that she has 
already been seduced. We find Diderot carrying 
on various benevolent little intrigues of this kind 
when we read his letters to Mile. Voland. 

Diderot. 49 

These letters to Mile. Voland form the most 
characteristic and intimately personal record of 
himself that Diderot left. He was forty years 
old when the correspondence began, and it lasted 
for more than twenty years. Of Sophie Voland 
almost nothing is known ; we only catch glimpses 
of her as a woman of wide sympathies and 
decided intelligence, neither very young nor 
pretty, and wearing spectacles ; she lived with 
her family, who were clearly more orthodox 
and conventional than herself, and must not, as 
Diderot frequently hints, see everything that he 
writes. Of the depth and reality of his affection 
for her there is no doubt ; his editors have dis- 
cussed the question as to whether this affection 
was throughout of the nature of friendship only, 
or whether, according to the phrase of Sainte- 
Beuve, an hour's passion had served as the 
golden key to the most precious and intimate 
secrets of friendship. This may be as it will ; 
Diderot had found some one in whose presence 
he could show himself, without reserve or pre- 
caution, on every side of his manifold nature, 
and he was always tenderly grateful to the 
woman who had procured him this sweetest of 
pleasures. " My Sophie is both man and woman," 
he wrote to her, " when she pleases ; " as such he 
always addressed her, pouring out recklessly all 
that happened to be in his head, narrating the 
incidents of the day, telling what he was thinking 

50 The New Spirit. 

about or projecting, repeating current scandal or 
sometimes not quite decent story, flashing in- 
stinctively into wise or witty reflection ; always 
with a swift, almost unconscious pen, forgetting 
now and again what he has already said. It is 
only in these letters, where he is, as he says, 
"rendering an account of all the moments of a 
life that belongs to you," that we realize the 
personal charm, the exuberant strength and at 
the same time the weakness of the man who in 
the midst of his manifold energies bursts out : "A 
delicious repose, a sweet book to read, a walk in 
some open and solitary spot, a conversation in 
which one discloses all one's heart, a strong 
emotion that brings the tears to one's eyes and 
makes the heart beat faster, whether it comes of 
some tale of generous action or of a sentiment 
of tenderness, of health, of gaiety, of liberty, of 
indolence — there is the true happiness, nor shall 
I ever know any other." 

The " Encyclopaedia " seems to us to-day but 
a small portion of the achievement of Diderot's 
life, though it represents the part that he played 
in relation to the science of his time. His place 
in science has sometimes been wrongly stated. 
It has been said, for instance, that he anticipated 
Lamarck and Darwin. It is true that he wrote, 
"The need produces the organ ; the organization 
determines the function," and that this contains 
the germ of Lamarck's doctrine ; and again, 

Diderot. 5 1 

" The world is the abode of the strong," and 
that this may be said to be the germ of the 
doctrine of natural selection ; but at both points 
he was simply putting into epigrammatic form 
the conceptions of the greatest scientific genius 
of his age and country, Buffon, the only man of 
that time who was cast in the same massive 
mould, and to whom Diderot could turn with 
fraternal delight and admiration. It is to Buffon 
also, and not to Diderot, that the honour of 
anticipating Lyell belongs. It is in his Baconian 
thoughts on the interpretation of nature, and 
again in such a comprehensive collection of 
data as his notes on physiology, discovered of 
recent years, that Diderot's searching and inqui- 
sitive scientific spirit appears. He frequently 
startles us by the way in which he vividly 
realizes and follows out to their legitimate con- 
clusions those floating ideas of his time which 
we are working out to-day. Above all, and 
from the first, he clearly grasps the fundamental 
value of the human body and its processes in 
'the interpretation of mental phenomena ; in one 
of his comparatively early works, the " Lettre 
sur les Aveugles," he remarks that he has never 
doubted that "our most purely intellectual ideas 
are closely related to the conformation of our 
bodies." " How difficult it is," he says else- 
where, "to be a good philosopher and a good 
moralist without being anatomist, naturalist 

5 2 The New Spirit. 

physiologist, and doctor." Holding firmly by 
this clue, he was constantly trying to fathom 
the mysteries of the soul and to picture the 
processes of life ; it is because he has realized 
that this can only be done fruitfully from the 
physiological side that the " Reve de d'Alem- 
bert," his most brilliant effort in this direction, 
is interesting after the lapse of a century. 

He brought the same eager, impressionable 
spirit to his novels and stories. It is indeed no 
great step from " Le Reve de d'Alembert " to 
" Le Neveu de Rameau," and from that to " La 
Religieuse." Whatever he undertook he carried 
out with the whole energy and enthusiasm of 
his nature, and while this takes from the artistic 
symmetry of his work, it adds to its vitality and 
significance. It is owing to this quality that 
" Les Bijoux Indiscrets," a frivolous novel in the 
style of the younger Crebillon, pointless and in- 
decent, written, at the age of thirty-five, mainly 
to obtain money for his mistress, Mme. de 
Puisieux, contains passages which have been con- 
sidered among the finest he ever wrote, and by 
its reflections on the reform of the theatre, its 
criticisms of manners, and philosophical insight 
served avowedly as the point of departure for 
Lessing's famous " Dramaturgic" It was not 
until he read Richardson that Diderot produced 
any very noteworthy work in fiction; his admira- 
tion for the English novelist was extreme, but 

Diderot. 5 3 

certainly not out of proportion to Richardson's 
historic importance. Richardson not only marks 
the first real landmark in the evolution of the 
English novel ; he is the point of departure of 
the modern French novel, and Diderot, more 
than any one else, helped to make his influence 
felt in France. Very soon after falling under 
the spell of the great English story-teller and 
writing his" Eloge de Richardson," Diderot pro- 
duced his most famous novel, " La Religieuse." 
It is clear how much Richardson influenced this 
minute study, in autobiographic form, of the life 
and sufferings of a young girl forced into a con- 
vent with its uncongenial atmosphere and petty 
persecutions. It was a distinct artistic achieve- 
ment, the more remarkable as it was certainly 
intended as an attack on the small vices of a 
community of women isolated from the world. 
Even those parts of this attack which have been 
considered questionable are always in the tone 
of the unsuspecting young girl who writes them, 
and only become offensive when a modern 
editor removes them in order to substitute 
asterisks ; compare these passages with the 
more ostentatious propriety and zeal for virtue 
of a modern Parisian in " Mademoiselle Giraud 
ma Femme." A year later Diderot wrote an 
unquestionable artistic masterpiece, only pre- 
served for us by a happy chance, " Le Neveu 
de Rameau," a dialogue of unfailing spirit be- 

54 The New Spirit. 

tween himself and a strange social parasite 
whom he is analyzing. Some years later he 
fell under the influence of Sterne; "Jacques le 
Fataliste," so attractive to Goethe and many 
others, was the result. But he had no great 
affinity for the sinuous humour of Sterne, and, 
while he threw himself into it with his usual 
energy, the result, though Shandean enough, is 
less happy than his great Richardsonian effort. 
Yet " Jacques le Fataliste" contains the " Histoire 
de Mme. de la Pommeraye," and this little kistoire t 
when disentangled from the manifold episodes 
which interrupt the hostess of the inn who tells 
it, is Diderot's most perfect and most charac- 
teristic effort as a story-teller. Even in his 
novels it is the directness and the veracity of his 
scientific spirit, united to his emotional impres- 
sionability, which gives significance to his work. 
The same features mark his plays, though here 
the result has ceased to be pleasing, and we may 
be permitted to-day not to read through the 
" Fils Naturel " and the " Pere de Famille." Yet 
we must not forget that from them is dated the 
modern drama, with the notes of sincerity and 
simple realism, peculiar then to Diderot, which 
nowadays have become a more common posses- 
sion. Diderot's dramas produced a great and 
immediate effect in Germany, on Goethe and 
Schiller as well as on Iffland and Kotzebue, 
and the "Pere de Famille" was translated by 

Diderot. 5 5 

As a critic of the stage Diderot has, perhaps, 
attracted exaggerated attention, though he has 
not escaped misunderstanding, most people's 
knowledge of his opinions on this head begin- 
ning and ending with the " Paradoxe sur le 
Comedien." Diderot at first attributed, as from 
the nature of his temperament he was sure to 
do, the chief part in acting to emotion and 
sensibility ; in time he outgrew this youthful 
opinion, and in the "Paradoxe" he emphasized 
as strongly as he could the part of study and 
reflection in the actor's art, a part which must 
always be of the first importance, notwithstand- 
ing all the tears shed by charming actresses, 
and carefully bottled for controversial purposes. 
Diderot was far too sane and many-sided to 
see only one aspect of so complex an art as 
the actor's ; it is, as he says, " study, reflection, 
passion, sensibility, the true imitation of nature," 
which go to make up good acting. An inte- 
resting and too brief series of letters to Mile. 
Jodin is well worth reading from this point 
of view. Mile. Jodin, the daughter of an 
old friend of his, was a rather wild and im- 
petuous young lady of some talent who 
had suddenly adopted the life of an actress. 
Diderot performed many small services both for 
her and her mother, and wrote letters full of 
wise and, it appears, much-needed counsel as 
to her conduct both on and off the stage. 
" Mademoiselle," he writes, " there is nothing 

56 The New Spirit. 

good in this world but that which is true ; be 
true, then, on the stage, true off the stage. . . . 
An actor who has nothing but sense and judg- 
ment is cold ; one who has nothing but verve 
and sensibility is mad. It is a certain tempera- 
ment of mingled good sense and warmth which 
makes men sublime ; on the stage and in the 
world he who shows more than he feels makes 
us laugh instead of touching us." 

Diderot inaugurated modern art criticism by 
the notices of the pictures in the Salon, which he 
wrote during many years for " Grimm's Corre- 
spondence." One cannot help regretting that he 
was not born among a greater group of artists. 
Chardin we still esteem, and Greuze is at the 
height of his popularity, but it is difficult to take 
more than an antiquarian interest in Boucher, 
and who cares now for Loutherbourg or Van 
Loo ? Even before Joseph Vernet, whose variety, 
freshness, and love of nature appealed so strongly 
to Diderot, it sometimes requires an effort to be 
sympathetic. Diderot now and then criticizes 
with severity — as occasionally when he is deal- 
ing with Boucher — but the tone of his criticism, 
as generally happens with contemporary criti- 
cism, seems to us to-day pitched altogether too 
high. In one respect, at all events, it is unlike 
most old appreciations of now neglected pic- 
tures ; it is generally delightful to read, perhaps 
sometimes more delightful than the picture can 

Diderot. 5 7 

ever have seemed. One suspects that Diderot 
treated pictures like books ; Holbach, having 
read a book he had warmly recommended, came 
to him to say that the book contained nothing of 
which he had spoken. "Well," replied Diderot, 
" if it wasn't there it ought to have been there." 

Everything that Diderot touched he vitalized. 
There were few things that he left untouched. 
There were very few roads of modern life on 
which he was not an enthusiastic and often 
audacious pioneer. He seems to have known 
instinctively the things that we are laboriously 
learning. So it is with politics, sexual morality, 
various social and politico-economical questions, 
education, philosophy. He touched all the social 
questions which absorb our attention to-day. 
He approached the problem of the place of the 
workers in society in the same temper in which 
we approach it to-day, and the practical know- 
ledge of industries and industrial life which he 
had obtained in order to write some of his most 
remarkable articles in the "Encyclopaedia" gave 
him some right to be heard. 

His views on education, chiefly expressed in 
the "Plan d'une Universite pour le Gouverne- 
ment de Russie," are on a level with the most ad- 
vanced views to-day. The education he demands 
is free and compulsory, and he is in favour of 
giving children free meals at school. He cen- 
sures classical teaching, advocates professional 

53 The New Spirit. 

education and instruction in the natural sciences, 
" the study of things rather than the study of 
words." " I think," he says, " that we should 
give in our schools something of all the know- 
ledge necessary to a citizen, from legislation to 
the mechanical arts, and in these mechanical 
arts I include the occupations of the lowest class 
of citizens. The spectacle of human industry is 
in itself large and satisfying, and it is good to 
know the different ways in which each contributes 
to the advantages of society. This kind of know- 
ledge is attractive to children, who are naturally 
inquisitive." Certainly, from more than one point 
of view, such an element in education would 
have an important social significance. 

Of the functions and position of women — in 
most countries, he remarks, that of idiot children 
— he speaks often, shrewdly indeed, yet with 
peculiar sympathy. The most important expres- 
sion of his opinions on sexual morality is con- 
tained in the " Supplement au Voyage de Bou- 
gainville." Bougainville, the first Frenchman to 
sail round the world, had visited the lovely island 
of Tahiti, and brought back a strange and vivid 
picture of the idyllic innocence and frank license 
that existed there. Diderot was aroused to set 
forth his views on sexual questions with that 
union of fiery enthusiasm, uncompromising 
thoroughness, and saving grace of humorous 
good sense which always characterizes him. He 

Diderot. 59 

imagines a dialogue between the chaplain of 
Bougainville's expedition and Orou, a Tahitian, 
who is anxious to know why the chaplain refuses 
to conform to the customs of the country. The 
worthy chaplain represents the morality of civi- 
lized Europe, and Orou, with a few questions 
concerning this morality, easily succeeds in con- 
founding him and in pouring keen ridicule on 
the inconsistencies of European morals. With 
reference to rules of conduct which vary with the 
country and the time, Diderot makes Orou say, 
"We must have a surer rule, and what shall this 
rule be? Do you know any other than the good 
of the community and the advantage of the in- 
dividual?" "You were unhappy," he remarks 
again to the chaplain, "when I presented to you 
last night my two daughters and my wife ; you 
exclaimed, 'But my religion! my office!' Do 
you wish to know what in every time and place 
is good and bad ? Concern yourself with the 
nature of things and of actions, and with your 
relations to your fellows. Consider the influence 
of your conduct on yourself and on the com- 
munity. You are mad if you think that there is 
anything in the universe, above or below, which 
can add to or take from the laws of nature." 
That rule, he explains, is the polar star on the 
path of life, and the invention of crimes, punish- 
ments, and remorse will only obscure it. " In 
founding morality on the relationships which 

60 The Nezv Spirit. 

must always exist between men, the religious 
law becomes perhaps superfluous ; and the civil 
law should only be the enunciation of the law 
of nature, which we bear engraved on our hearts, 
and which must always be the strongest." At 
the end Diderot intervenes with a counsel of 
moderation and practical wisdom: "What shall 
we do, then ? We will protest against foolish 
laws until they are reformed : meanwhile we will 
submit. He who by his private authority breaks 
a bad law, authorizes others to break good laws. 
There is less inconvenience in being mad with 
the mad than in being wise by oneself. Let us 
say to ourselves, let us proclaim incessantly, that 
shame, punishment, and ignominy have been 
attached to actions which in themselves are 
innocent. But do not let us commit them ; for 
shame, punishment, and ignominy are themselves 
the worst of evils." 

" Every century has its own spirit ; that of 
ours seems to be liberty." So in 1776, when 
men were beginning to say that it was time to 
burn philosophers instead of their books, and a 
boy of eighteen was actually burned, Diderot 
wrote to Voltaire, in the famous letter in which 
he announced that in spite of all he would stay 
in Paris, among the enemies of liberty, to carry 
on his own mission. Timidity in political 
matters was excusable in Diderot's day, and 
existed even amonsr the men of his own set. 

Diderot. 6 1 

Helvctius, for instance, advocated the advan- 
tages of paternal government and benevolent des- 
potism ; with his usual keen and vigorous good 
sense, Diderot shows how unreal these advan- 
tages are. When we give a ruler absolute power 
to do good, we cannot prevent him assuming 
also an absolute power to do evil. Moreover, 
as Diderot insisted, it is not possible to make 
people good against their wills, nor is it desirable 
to treat men like sheep. " If they say, 'We are 
well enough here,' or if, even, they say, 'We are 
not well here, but we will stay,' let us try to en- 
lighten them, to undeceive them, to bring them 
to saner views by persuasion, but never by force." 
" The arbitrary government of a just and en- 
lightened prince is always bad." He insists, 
again and again, that we must never let our 
pretended masters do good to us against our 
wills. "Whenever you see the sovereign autho- 
rity in a country extending beyond the region of 
police, you may say that that country is badly 
governed." Diderot, Goethe, Adam Smith, Bec- 
caria, Mill, to mention but a few typical names, 
threw all the weight of their influence, some- 
times with passionate emphasis, on the side of 
individuality and freedom, and their teaching 
reached its final consecration when Darwin ac- 
cepted as his central theory the fruitful idea of 
Malthus. They felt, and rightly felt, that they 
were taking the step that was most needed. 

62 The New Spirit. 

Those who advocated solidarity and social co- 
operation mostly went to the wall. Now it is 
the turn of the social instincts, and we must 
expect them to work themselves out to the 
utmost. We have to see to it that the truth to 
which Diderot and the rest fought their way is 
not meanwhile lost. The general will is itself 
to-day in danger of becoming a benevolent 
despotism, and perhaps the time will never 
arrive when such warnings as these will be quite 
out of date. When it is a question of the oppres- 
sion of our fellows, we cannot always afford to 
wait until the offender listens to the voice of 
persuasion; him, at least, we must bring within 
"the region of police: " beyond that lies danger. 

"Et si j'ai quelque volontd, 
C'est que chacun fasse la sienne." 

So Diderot wrote in some impromptu verses at 
a convivial gathering over which he once pre- 
sided ; it was a summary of his views on many 
matters. " I am convinced," he wrote, " that 
there can be no true happiness for the human 
race except in a social state in which there is 
neither king nor magistrate, nor priest nor laws, 
nor meum nor tuum, nor property in goods or 
land, nor vices nor virtues." This is the anarchism 
that stands at the end of all social progress, but 
as an attainable social state it is still certainly, 
as Diderot adds, "diablement ideal." He had 

Diderot. 63 

no faith in moralization by Act of Parliament. 
" There will then be prostitutes ? — Assuredly. — 
Mistresses? — -Why not? — Girls seduced? — I ex- 
pect there will. — Husbands and wives not always 
faithful ?— I fear so. But at least," he adds, " I 
shall be spared all those vices which misery, 
luxury, and poverty produce. The rest may be 
as it will be." 

Diderot's robust faith in nature, that finest 
fruit of the scientific spirit, comes out again and 
again, here and elsewhere. " The evil-doer is 
one whom we must destroy, not punish " : that 
is the great truth, held by a large number of 
the foremost men to-day, which is not even yet 
accepted. "Never to repent and never to reproach 
others : these are the first steps to wisdom." 
And, again : " In the best and most happily 
constituted man there remains always much of 
the animal ; before becoming a misanthrope, 
consider whether you have the right." Not many 
men have had so much reason as Diderot for 
becoming misanthropic ; few men have had in 
them less of the misanthrope. " My life is not 
stolen from me," he writes ; " I give it. ... A 
pleasure which is for myself alone touches me 
slightly. It is for myself and for my friends that 
I read, that I reflect, that I write, that I meditate, 
that I hear, that I observe, that I feel. ... I 
have consecrated to them the use of all my 
senses, and that is perhaps the reason why every- 

64 The New Spirit. 

thing is a little enriched in my imagination and 
conversation ; sometimes they reproach me, un- 
grateful as they are. Ungrateful ! would I could 
make hundreds ungrateful every day ! " He never 
seems to waver in his faith in men, nor in the 
determination, with which, indeed, that faith 
must ever be bound up, to look every fact of 
nature squarely in the face. The words with 
which his letters to Sophie Voland close seem 
to be the constant refrain throughout all his 
work : "There is nothing good in this world but 
that which is true." 

It cannot be said that Diderot performed any 
one great and paramount achievement. The 
most brilliant of his fragments — the " Reve de 
d'Alembert " or " Le Neveu de Rameau " — is 
but a magnificent improvisation. He made no 
memorable contribution to our knowledge of 
the world. Nor was his genius of what may 
be called the wedge-shaped order — the genius 
of the man who, with every nerve strained to 
the solution of one mystery, never rests until 
the heart of it is cloven. His genius was essen- 
tially fermentative. He knew by a native instinct 
every promising germ of thought, and he knew 
how to make it fruitful. He was, as Voltaire 
called him, Pantophile, the man who loved and 
was interested in everything. His extreme sensi- 
tiveness to impressions was the source of his 
strength and of his weakness. In his sane, 

Diderot. 65 

massive, and yet so sensitive temperament, as- 
pirations keen and lyrical as Shelley's seem to 
blend harmoniously with laughter broad and 
tolerant as Rabelais's. The latent elements in 
him of fantastic extravagance were held in 
check by a bourgeois good sense in which we 
seem to recognize the shrewd old cutler of 
Langres. There is a profound democratic in- 
stinct in him ; his never-failing faith in nature 
and man seems to be a part of this ; it is a faith 
that may possibly be foolish, but for all those 
who are born men it is the most reasonable 
faith, and it has commended itself most to those 
who have been oftenest disillusioned. 

There can be no doubt that the immediate 
effect of the Revolution of 1789 was to kill the 
spirit that Diderot represented — the spirit of 
scientific advance, active even to audacity, and 
allied with a firm faith in man and in social 
development. The party of progress were not 
able to recognize progress in the form of the 
Revolution, and the more obviously dominating 
movement of the century that is now closing 
has been the Counter-Revolution, corresponding 
in many respects to that Counter-Reformation 
which dominated Catholic countries during the 
seventeenth century. Putting aside a few stray 
enthusiasts, like Shelley or Owen, attractive 
personalities with little grasp of practical life, 
the men who have directed European thought, 

66 The New Spirit. 

especially in England, have been men whose 
imaginations were profoundly impressed, and 
their mental equilibrium considerably disturbed, 
by that brief convulsion of France ; and they 
developed a curious timidity and distrust, visible 
even when they had the courage to adopt a short- 
sighted optimism. It is very interesting now to 
turn back to the essay in which Carlyle, perhaps 
the most brilliant and distinguished representa- 
tive of the Counter- Revolution, recorded his esti- 
mate of Diderot. How curiously old-fashioned 
seem to us to-day its mitigated admiration, its 
vague mysticism, its sneers at Diderot's loquacity, 
his generosity, his dyspepsia — sneers that, in the 
light of Carlyle's own life, have aroused feelings 
of pain, and even indignation, among some who 
in their youth looked up to Carlyle as to a sort 
of venerable prophet — its absolute failure to 
perceive that here was a man not to be stifled 
by a handful of transcendental phraseology. Yet 
this was at the time accepted as an adequate and 
even generous account of the matter. To-day 
we are again in the same position as Diderot, 
and we are able to see in him the significance, 
hidden from Carlyle, of the light of science fear- 
lessly brought to illuminate the whole of life. 

When men begin to say that everything has 
been done, the men come who say that there 
has yet nothing been done. We have con- 
gratulated ourselves that many sciences of 

Diderot. 67 

nature and of man are in the main settled, but 
we are always compelled to begin again, and on 
a larger and perhaps simpler scale. In many 
fields of physical and social knowledge— from 
electricity at the one end to criminology at the 
other — we are now laying anew great foundations, 
and the walls are being raised so rapidly that it 
is sometimes hard to know where we are, or to 
realize what is being done. When science is 
thus renewing itself, and men are on every hand 
seeking how, by means of science, they may 
enlarge and ennoble life, the spirit that moved 
Diderot is again making itself felt. It is worth 
while to realize his fellowship for a few moments, 
and to sun ourselves, if we can bear it, in his 
inspiring enthusiasm. 

68 The New Spirit. 



Heine gathers up and focuses for us in one 
vivid point all those influences of his own time 
which are the forces of to-day. He appears 
before us, to put it in his own way, as a youth- 
ful and militant Knight of the Holy Ghost, 
tilting against the spectres of the past and 
liberating the imprisoned energies of the human 
spirit. His interest from this point of view lies, 
largely, apart from his interest as a supreme 
lyric poet, the brother of Catullus and Villon 
and Burns ; we here approach him on his pro- 
saic — his relatively prosaic — side. 

One hemisphere of Heine's brain was Greek, 
the other Hebrew. He was born when the 
genius of Goethe was at its height ; his mother 
had absorbed the frank earthliness, the sane and 
massive Paganism, of the Roman Elegies, and 
Heine's ideals in all things, whether he would 
or not, were always Hellenic — using that word 
in the large sense in which Heine himself used 
it — even while he was the first in rank and the 
last in time of the Romantic poets of Germany. 
He sought, even consciously, to mould the 
modern emotional spirit into classic forms. He 
wrought his art simply and lucidly, the aspira- 

Heine. 69 

tions that pervade it are everywhere sensuous, 
and yet it recalls oftener the turbulent temper 
of Catullus than any sercner ancient spirit. 

For Heine arose early in active rebellion 
against a merely passive classicism ; in the 
same way that fiercer and more ardent cries, as 
from the East, pierce through the songs of 
Catullus. The mischievous Hermes was irri- 
tated by the calm and quiet activities of the 
aged Zeus of Weimar. And then the earnest 
Hebrew nature within him, liberated by Hegel's 
favourite formu'a of the divinity of man, came 
into play with its large revolutionary thirsts. 
Thus it was that he appeared before the world 
as the most brilliant leader of a movement of 
national or even world-wide emancipation. The 
greater part of his prose works, from the youth- 
ful "Reisebilder" onwards, and a considerable 
portion of his poetic work, record the energy 
with which he played this part. 

But whether the Greek or the Hebrew element 
happened to be most active in Heine, the ideal 
that he set up for life generally was the equal 
activity of both sides — in other words, the har- 
mony of flesh and spirit. It is this thought 
which dominates " The History of Religion 
and Philosophy in Germany," his finest achieve- 
ment in this kind. That book was written at 
the moment when Heine touched the highest 
point of his enthusiasm for freedom and his 

jo The New Spirit. 

faith in the possibility of human progress. It 
is a sort of programme for the immediate future 
of the human spirit, in the form of a brief and 
bold outline of the spiritual history of Germany 
and Germany's great emancipators, Luther, 
Lessing, Kant, and the rest. It sets forth in 
a fresh and fascinating shape that Everlasting 
Gospel which, from the time of Joachim of 
Flora downwards, has always gleamed in 
dreams before the minds of men as the successor 
of Christianity. Heine's vision of a democracy 
of cakes and ale, founded on the heights of 
religious, philosophical, and political freedom, 
may still spur and thrill us, — even now-a-days, 
when we have wearied of stately bills of fare 
for a sulky humanity that will not feed at our 
bidding, no, not on cakes and ale. Heine is 
wise enough to see, however imperfectly, that it 
is unreasonable to expect the speedy erection of 
any New Jerusalem ; for, as he expresses it in 
his own way, the holy vampires of the Middle 
Ages have sucked away so much of our life- 
blood that the world has become a hospital. A 
sudden revolution of fever-stricken or hysterical 
invalids can effect little of permanent value ; 
only a long and invigorating course of the tonics 
of life can make free from danger the open-air of 
nature. "Our first duty," he asserted in this 
book, " is to become healthy." 

Heine confesses that he too was anions the 

Heine. 7 1 

sick and decrepit souls. In reality he was at no 
period so full of life and health, so harmoniously- 
inspired and upborne by a great enthusiasm. He 
laughs a little at Goethe ; he fails to see that the 
l'hidian Zeus, at whose confined position he jests, 
was the greatest liberator of them all ; but for the 
most part his mocking sarcasm is here silent. It 
was not until ten years later, when the subtle 
seeds of disease had begun to appear, and when, 
too, he had perhaps gained a clearer insight into 
the possibilities of life, that Heine realized that the 
practical reforming movements of his time were 
not those for which his early enthusiasm had been 
aroused. With the slow steps of that consuming 
disease, and after the revolution of 1 848, he ceased 
to recognize as of old any common root for his 
various activities, or to insist on the fundamental 
importance of religion. Everything in the world 
became the sport of his intelligence. The brain 
still functioned brilliantly in the atrophied body ; 
the swift lightning-like wit still struck unerringly ; 
it spared not even himself. The " Confessions " 
are full of irony, covering all things with laughter 
that is half reverence, or with reverence that is 
more than half laughter — and woe to the reader 
who is not at every moment alert ! In the ro- 
mantic, satirical poem of " Atta Troll," written 
at the commencement of the last period, this, 
his final altitude, is most completely revealed. 
It needs a little study to-day, even for a German, 

72 The New Spirit. 

but it is well worth that study. The history of 
a dancing bear who escapes from servitude, 
"Atta Troll" is a protest against the radical 
party, with their narrow conceptions of progress, 
their tame ideal of bourgeois equality, their little 
watchwords, their solemnity, their indignation at 
the human creatures who smile " even in their 
enthusiasm." All these serious concerns of the 
tribunes of the people are bathed in soft laughter 
as we listen to the delicious child-like monotonous 
melody in which the old bear, surrounded by his 
family, mumbles or mutters of the future. " Atta 
Troll " is not, as many have thought, a sneer at 
the most sacred ideals of men. It is, rather, the 
assertion of those ideals against the individuals 
who would narrow them down to their own petty 
scope. There are certain mirrors, Heine said, 
so constructed that they would present even 
Apollo as a caricature. But we laugh at the 
caricature, not at the god. It is well to show, 
even at the cost of some misunderstanding, that 
above and beyond the little ideals of our im- 
mediate political progress, there is built a yet 
larger idea) city, of which also the human spirit 
claims citizenship. The defence of the inalien- 
able rights of the spirit, Heine declares, had been 
the chief business of his life. 

In the history of Germany, it was her two 
great intellectual liberators, Luther and Lcssing, 
to whom Heine looked up with the most un- 

Heine. 73 

qualified love and reverence. By his later vindi- 
cation of the rights of the spirit, not less than by 
his earlier fight for religious and political progress, 
he may be said to have earned for himself a place 
below, indeed, but not so very far below, those 
hearty and sound-cored iconoclasts. 


To reach the root of the man's nature we must 
glance at the chief facts of his life. He was born 
at Diisseldorf, on the Rhine, then occupied by the 
French, probably on the 13th of December, 1799. 
He came, by both parents, of that Jewish race 
which is, as he said once, the dough whereof gods 
arc kneaded. The family of his mother, Betty 
van Geldern, had come from Holland a century 
earlier ; Betty herself received an excellent edu- 
cation ; she shared the studies of her brother, 
who became a physician of repute ; she spoke 
and read English and French ; her favourite 
books were Rousseau's " Emile " and Goethe's 
elegies. For novels or poetry generally she cared 
little. She preferred logic to sentiment and was 
careful of the precise value of words. Some letters 
written during her twenty-fourth year reveal a 
frank, brave, and sweet nature ; she was a bright, 
attractive little person, and had many wooers. 
In the summer of 1796 Samson Heine, bearing 
a letter of introduction, entered the house of the 

74 The New Spirit. 

Van Gelderns. He was the son of a Jewish 
merchant settled in Hanover, and he had just 
made a campaign in Flanders and Brabant, in 
the capacity of commissary with the rank of 
officer, under Prince Ernest of Cumberland. He 
was a large and handsome man, with soft blonde 
hair and beautiful hands ; there was something 
about him, said his son, a little characterless, 
almost feminine ; " he was a great child." After 
a brief courtship he married Betty, and settled 
at Diisseldorf as an agent for English velveteens. 
Harry (so he was named after an Englishman) 
was the first child. From his rather weak and 
romantic father came whatever was loose and 
unbalanced in Heine's temperament, and his in- 
eradicable instinct for posing ; it was his mother, 
with her strong and healthy nature, well de- 
veloped both intellectually and emotionally, and 
her great ambitions for her son, who, as he him- 
self said, played the chief part in the history of 
his evolution. 

Harry was a quick child ; his senses were keen, 
though he was not physically strong ; he loved 
reading, and his favourite books were " Don 
Quixote " and " Gulliver's Travels." He used 
to make rhymes with his only and much-loved 
sister Lotte, and at the age of ten he wrote a 
ghost-poem which his teachers considered a 
masterpiece. At the Lyceum he worked well, 
at night as well as by day. Only once, at the 

Heine. 75 

public ceremony at the end of a school year, he 
came to grief ; he was reciting a poem, when his 
eyes fell on a beautiful, fair-haired girl in the 
audience ; he hesitated, stammered, was silent, 
fell down fainting. So early he revealed the ex- 
treme cerebral irritability of a nature absorbed 
in dreams and taken captive by visions. It was 
not long after this, at the age of seventeen, when 
his rich uncle at Hamburg was trying in vain to 
set him forward on a commercial career, that 
Heine met the woman who aroused his first and 
last profound passion, always unsatisfied except 
in so far as it found exquisite embodiment in his 
poems. He never mentioned her name ; it was 
not till after his death that the form standing 
behind this Maria, Zuleima, Evelina of so many 
sweet, strange, or melancholy songs was known 
to be that of his cousin, Amalic Heine. 

With his uncle's help he studied law at Bonn, 
Gottingen, and Berlin. At Berlin he fell under 
the dominant influence of Hegel, the vanquisher 
of the romantic school of which Schelling was 
the philosophic representative. Heine afterwards 
referred to this period as that in which he "herded 
swine with the Hegelians ; " it is certain that 
Hegel exerted great and permanent influence 
over him. At Berlin, in 1821, appeared his first 
volume of poems, and then he began to take his 
true place. 

At this period he is described as a good-natured 

y6 The New Spirit. 

and gentle youth, but reserved, not caring to 
show his emotions. He was of middle height 
and slender, with rather long light brown hair 
(in childhood it was red, and he was called 
" Rother Harry ") framing the pale and beard- 
less oval face, the bright, blue, short-sighted eyes, 
the Greek nose, the high cheek bones, the large 
mouth, the full — half cynical, half sensual — lips. 
He was not a typical German ; like Goethe, he 
never smoked; he disliked beer, and until he 
went to Paris he had never tasted sauerkraut. 

For some years he continued, chiefly at Got- 
tingen, to study law. But he had no liking and 
no capacity for jurisprudence, and his spasmodic 
fits of application at such moments as he realized 
that it was not good for him to depend on the 
generosity of his rich and kind-hearted uncle 
Solomon, failed to carry him far. A new idea, 
a sunny day, the opening of some flower-like lied, 
a pretty girl — and the Pandects were forgotten. 

Shortly after he had at last received his doctor's 
diploma he went through the ceremony of bap- 
tism in hope of obtaining an appointment from 
the Prussian Government. It was a step which 
he immediately regretted, and which, far from 
placing him in a better position, excited the 
enmity both of Christians and Jews, although 
the Heine family had no very strong views on 
the matter ; Heine's mother, it should be said, 
was a Deist, his father indifferent, but the Jewish 

Heine. 77 

rites were strictly kept up. He still talked of 
becoming an advocate, until, in 1826, the publi- 
cation of the first volume of the " Reisebilder " 
gave him a reputation throughout Germany by 
its audacity, its charming and picturesque man- 
ner, its peculiarly original personality. The 
second volume, bolder and better than the first, 
was received with delight very much mixed with 
horror, and it was prohibited by Austria, Prussia, 
and many minor states. At this period Heine 
visited England ; he was then disgusted with 
Germany and full of enthusiasm for the "land of 
freedom," an enthusiasm which naturally met 
with many rude shocks, and from that time dates 
the bitterness with which he usually speaks of 
England. He found London— although, owing 
to a clever abuse of uncle Solomon's generosity, 
exceedingly well supplied with money— "fright- 
fully damp and uncomfortable ; " only the poli- 
tical life of England attracted him, and there 
were no bounds to his admiration of Canning. 
He then visited Italy, to spend there the happiest 
days of his life ; and having at length realized 
that his efforts to obtain any government ap- 
pointment in Germany would be fruitless, he emi- 
grated to Paris. There, save for brief periods, 
he remained until his death. 

This entry into the city which he had called 
the New Jerusalem was an important epoch in 
Heine's life. He was thirty-one years of age, 

78 The New Spirit. 

still youthful, and eager to receive new impres- 
sions ; he was apparently in robust health, not- 
withstanding constant headaches ; Gautier de- 
scribes him as in appearance a sort of German 
Apollo. He was still developing, as he con- 
tinued to develop, even up to the end ; the 
ethereal loveliness of the early poems vanished, 
it is true, but only to give place to a closer grasp 
of reality, a larger laughter, a keener cry of pain. 
He was now heartily welcomed by the extraor- 
dinarily brilliant group then living and working 
in Paris, including Victor Hugo, George Sand, 
Balzac, Michelet, Alfred de Musset, Gautier, 
Chopin, Louis Blanc, Dumas, Sainte-Beuve, 
Quinet, Berlioz, and he entered with eager de- 
light into their manifold activities. For a 
time also he attached himself rather closely 
to the school of Saint-Simon, then headed by 
Enfantin; he was especially attracted by their 
religion of humanity, which seemed the reali- 
zation of his own dreams. Heine's book on 
"Religion and Philosophy in Germany" was 
written at Enfantin's suggestion, and the first 
edition dedicated to him ; Enfantin's name was, 
he said, a sort of shibboleth, indicating the 
most advanced party in the "liberation war of 
humanity." In 1855 he withdrew the dedica- 
tion ; it had become an anachronism ; Enfantin 
was no longer ransacking the world in search of 
la fcmme litre ; the martyrs of yesterday no 

Heine. 79 

longer bore a cross — unless it were, he added 
characteristically, the cross of the Legion of 

A few years after his arrival in Paris Heine 
entered on a relationship which occupied a large 
place in his life. Mathilde Mirat, a lively gri- 
sette of sixteen, was the illegitimate daughter 
of a man of wealth and position in the provinces, 
and she had come up from Normandy to serve 
in her aunt's shoe-shop. Heine often passed 
this shop, and an acquaintance, at first carried 
on silently through the shop-window, gradu- 
ally ripened into a more intimate relationship. 
Mathilde could neither read nor write; it was 
decided that she should go to school for a time ; 
after that they established a little common house- 
hold, one of those menages parisiens, recognized 
as almost legitimate, for which Heine had 
always had a warm admiration, because, as he 
said, he meant by " marriage " something quite 
other than the legal coupling effected by parsons 
and bankers. As in the case of Goethe, it was 
not until some years later that he went through 
the religious ceremony, as a preliminary to a 
duel in which he had become involved by his 
remarks on Borne's friend, Madame Strauss ; 
he wished to give Mathilde an assured position 
in case of his death. After the ceremony at 
St. Sulpice he invited to dinner all those of his 
friends who had contracted similar relations, in 

80 The New Spirit. 

order that they might be influenced by his 
example. That they were so influenced is not 

It is not difficult to understand the strong 
and permanent attraction that drew the poet, 
who had so many intellectual and aristocratic 
women among his friends, to this pretty, laughter- 
loving grisette. It lay in her bright and wild 
humour, her childlike impulsiveness, not least 
in her charming ignorance. It was delightful to 
Heine that Mathilde had never read a line of 
his books, did not even know what a poet was, 
and loved him only for himself. He found in 
her a continual source of refreshment. 

He had need of every source of refreshment. 
In the years that followed his formal marriage 
in 1 841, the dark shadows, within and without, 
began to close round him. Although he was 
then producing his most mature work, chiefly in 
poetry — "Atta Troll," " Romancero," "Deutsch- 
land " — his income from literary sources re- 
mained small. Mathilde was not a good house- 
keeper ; and even with the aid of a considerable 
allowance from his uncle Solomon, Heine was 
frequently in pecuniary difficulties, and was con- 
sequently induced to accept a small pension 
from the French Government, which has some- 
times been a matter of concern to those who 
care for his fame. As years passed, the enmities 
that he suffered from or cherished increased 

Heine. 8 1 

rather than diminished, and his bitterness found 
expression in his work. Even Mathilde was not 
an unalloyed source of joy ; the charming child 
was becoming a middle-aged woman, and was 
still like a child. She could not enter into 
Heine's interests ; she delighted in theatres and 
circuses, to which he could not always accom- 
pany her : and he experienced the pangs of an 
unreasonable jealousy more keenly than he cared 
to admit. Then uncle Solomon died, and his 
son refused, until considerable pressure was 
brought to bear on him, to continue the allow- 
ance which his father had intended Heine to 
receive. This was a severe blow, and the ex- 
citement it produced developed the latent seeds 
of his disease. It came on with symptoms of 
paralysis, which even in a few months gave him, 
he says, the appearance of a dying man. During 
the next two years, although his brain remained 
clear, the long pathological tragedy was un- 

He went out for the last time in May, 1848. 
Half blind and half lame, he slowly made his 
way out of the streets, filled with the noise of 
revolution, into the silent Louvre, to the shrine 
dedicated to " the goddess of beauty, our dear 
lady of Milo." There he sat long at her feet; he 
was bidding farewell to his old gods ; he had 
become reconciled to the religion of sorrow ; 
tears streamed from his eyes, and she looked 

82 The New Spirit. 

down at him, compassionate but helpless: "Dost 
thou not see, then, that I have no arms, and can- 
not help thee ? " 

"On eut dit un Apollon germanique" — so Gau- 
tier said of the Heine of 1835 ; twenty years later 
an English visitor wrote of him — " He lay on a 
pile of mattresses, his body wasted so that it 
seemed no bigger than a child under the sheet 
which covered him — his eyes closed, and the face 
altogether like the most painful and wasted 
' Ecce Homo ' ever painted by some old German 

His sufferings were only relieved by ever 
larger doses of morphia ; but although still more 
troubles came to him, and the failure of a bank 
robbed him of his small savings, his spirit re- 
mained unconquered. " He is a wonderful man," 
said one of his doctors ; "he has only two anxie- 
ties — to conceal his condition from his mother, 
and to assure his wife's future." His literary 
work, though it decreased in amount, never 
declined in power ; only, in the words of his 
friend Berlioz, it seemed as though the poet was 
standing at the window of his tomb, looking 
around on the world in which he had no longer 
a part. 

He saw a few friends, of whom Ferdinand 
Lassalle, with his exuberant power and enthu- 
siasm, was the most interesting to him, as the 
representative of a new age and a new social 

Heine. 83 

faith ; and the most loved, that girl-friend who 
sat for hours or days at a time by the " mattress- 
grave" in the Rue d'Amsterdam, reading to him 
or writing his letters or correcting proofs. To 
the last the loud, bright voice of Mathilde, when 
he chanced to hear it, scolding the servants or 
in other active exercise, often made him stop 
speaking, while a smile of delight passed over 
his face. He died on the 16th of February, 1856. 
He was buried, silently, in Montmartre, accord- 
ing to his wish ; for, as he said, it is quiet there. 


Throughout and above all, Heine was a 
poet. From first to last he was led by three 
angels who danced for ever in his brain, and 
guided him, singly or together, always. They 
were the same as in " Atta Troll " he saw in the 
moonlight from the casement of Uraka's hut — 
the Greek Diana, grown wanton, but with the 
noble marble limbs of old ; Abunde, the blonde 
and gay fairy of France ; Herodias, the dark 
Jewess, like a palm of the oasis, with all the 
fragrance of the East between her breasts : " O, 
you dead Jewess, I love you most, more than 
the Greek goddess, more than that fairy of the 
North." ' 

1 " C'est le Bible, plus que tout autre livre," a well- 
known French critic wrote, " qui a fa<jonne" le g^nie 

84 The New Spirit. 

Those genii of three ideal lands danced for 
ever in his brain, and that is but another way of 
indicating the opposition that lay at the root of 
his nature. From one point of view, it may 
well be, he continued the work of Luther and 
Lessing, though he was less great-hearted, less 
sound at core, though he had not that ele- 
ment of sane Philistinism which marks the 
Shakespeares and Goethes of the world. But he 
was, more than anything else, a poet, an artist, 
a dreamer, a perpetual child. The practical re- 
formers among whom at one time he placed 
himself, the men of one idea, were naturally 
irritated and suspicious ; there was a flavour of 
aristocracy in such idealism. In the poem called 
" Disputation " a Capuchin and a Rabbi argued 
before the King and Queen at Toledo concern- 
ing the respective merits of the Christian and 
Jewish religions. Both spoke at great length 
and with great fervour, and in the end the King 
appealed to the beautiful Queen by his side. 
She replied that she could not tell which of 

poetique de Heine, en lui donnant sa forme et sa couleur. 
Ses ve'ritables maitres, ses vrais inspirateurs sont les 
glorieux inconnus qui ont e"crit l'Ecclesiaste et les Pro- 
verbes, le Cantique des cantiques, le livre de Job et ce 
chef-d'eeuvre d'ironie discrete intitule" : le livre du pro- 
phete Jonas. Celui qui s'appelait un rossignol Allemand 
niche" dans la perruque de Voltaire fut a la fois le moins 
eVange"lique des hommes et le plus vraiment biblique des 
pontes modernes." 


Heme. 85 

them was right, but that she did not like the 
smell of either ; and Heine was generally of the 
Queen's mind. He sighed for the restoration of 
Barbarossa, the long-delayed German Empire, 
and his latest biographer asserts that he would 
have greeted the discovery of Barbarossa under 
the disguise of the King of Prussia, with Bis- 
marckian insignia of blood and iron, as the 
realization of all his dreams. It is doubtful, 
however, whether the meeting would be very 
cordial on either side. It would probably be 
the painful duty of the Emperor, as of the Em- 
peror of the vision in " Deutschland," to tell 
Heine, in very practical language, that he was 
wanting in respect, wanting in all sense of 
etiquette ; and Heine would certainly reply to 
the Emperor, as under the same circumstances 
he replied to the visionary Barbarossa, that that 
gentleman had better go home again, that during 
his long absence Emperors had become unne- 
cessary, and that, after all, sceptres and crowns 
made admirable playthings for monkeys. 

"We are founding a democracy of gods," he 
wrote in 1834, "all equally holy, blessed and glo- 
rious. You desire simple clothing, ascetic morals, 
and unseasoned enjoyments ; we, on the con- 
trary, desire nectar and ambrosia, purple mantles, 
costly perfumes, pleasure and splendour, dances 
of laughing nymphs, music and plays. — Do not 
be angry, you virtuous republicans ; we answer 


86 The New Spirit. 

all your reproaches in the words of one of 
Shakespeare's fools : ' Dost thou think, because 
thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes 
and aje ? ' " What could an austere republican, 
a Puritanic Liberal, who scorned the vision of 
roses and myrtles and sugar-plums all round, 
say to this ? Borne answered, " I can be indul- 
gent to the games of children, indulgent to the 
passions of a youth, but when on the bloody day 
of battle a boy who is chasing butterflies gets 
between my legs ; when at the day of our greatest 
need, and we are calling aloud on God, the 
young coxcomb beside us in the church sees only 
the pretty girls, and winks and flirts — then, in 
spite of all our philosophy and humanity, we may 
well grow angry. . . . Heine, with his sybaritic 
nature, is so effeminate that the fall of a rose-leaf 
disturbs his sleep ; how, then, should he rest 
comfortably on the knotty bed of freedom ? 
Where is there any beauty without a fault ? 
Where is there any good thing without its 
ridiculous side ? Nature is seldom a poet and 
never rhymes ; let him whom her rhymeless 
prose cannot please turn to poetry ! " Borne was 
right ; Heine was not the man to plan a success- 
ful revolution, or defend a barricade, or edit a popu- 
lar democratic newspaper, or represent adequately 
a radical constituency — all this was true. Let us be 
thankful that it was true ; Bornes are ever with us, 
and we are grateful : there is but one Heine. 

Heine. 8 7 

The same complexity of nature that made 
Heine an artist made him a humorist. But it 
was a more complicated complexity now, a 
cosmic game between the real world and the 
ideal world ; he could go no farther. The young 
Catullus of 1825, with his fiery passions crushed 
in the wine-press of life and yielding such divine 
ambrosia, soon lost his faith in passion. The 
militant soldier in the liberation-war of humanity 
of 1835 soon ceased to flourish his sword. It 
was only with the full development of his hu- 
mour, when his spinal cord began to fail and he 
had taken up his position as a spectator of life, 
that Heine attained the only sort of unity pos- 
sible to him — the unity that comes of a recog- 
nized and accepted lack of unity. In the lam- 
bent flames of this unequalled humour — " the 
smile of Mephistopheles passing over the face of 
Christ " — he bathed all the things he counted 
dearest ; to its service he brought the secret of 
his poet's nature, the secret of speaking with a 
voice that every heart leaps up to answer. It is 
scarcely the humour of Aristophanes, though it 
is a greater force, even in moulding our political 
and social ideals, than Borne knew ; it is oftener 
a modern development of the humour of the 
mad king and the fool in " Lear " — that humour 
which is the last concentrated word of the human 
organism under the lash of Fate. 

And if it is still asked why Heine is so modern, 

88 The New Spirit. 

it can only be said that these discords out of which 
his humour exhaled are those which we have 
nearly all of us known, and that he speaks with 
a voice that seems to arise from the depth of our 
own souls. He represents our period of transi- 
tion ; he gazed, from what seemed the vulgar 
Pisgah of his day, behind on an Eden that was 
for ever closed, before on a promised land he 
should never enter. While with clear sight he 
announced things to come, the music of the past 
floated up to him ; he brooded wistfully over the 
vision of the old Olympian gods, dying, amid 
faint music of cymbals and flutes, forsaken, in 
the mediaeval wilderness ; he heard strange 
sounds of psaltries and harps, the psalms of 
Israel, the voice of Princess Sabbath, across the 
waters of Babylon. — In a few years this signifi- 
cance of Heine will be lost ; that it is not yet 
lost the eagerness with which his books are read 
and translated sufficiently testifies, 

Whitman. 89 


If we put aside imaginative writers — Hawthorne, 
Poe, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain — America has 
produced three men of world-wide significance. 1 
These three belong to the same corner of the 
continent ; they form a culminating series, and 
at the same time they complement each other. 
It is difficult to consider one of them without 
throwing a glance at the others. 

Emerson comes first. In Emerson, after two 
hundred years, Puritanism seems, for the first 
time, to have found voice. The men of Banbury 
and Amsterdam were too much distracted by 
the outer world to succeed in finding adequate 
artistic expression for the joys that satisfied 
them and the spirit that so powerfully moved 
them. They have been the sport of their enemies, 
and have come down to us in literature as a set 
of sour fanatics. It was not until the seed was 
carried over sea, to germinate slowly and peace- 

1 The significance of Lowell, a great writer unques- 
tionably, seems to be chiefly national. 

90 The Neiv Spirit. 

fully in New England, that at length it broke into 
flower, and that we know clearly that union of 
robust freedom and mystic exaltation which lies 
at the heart of Puritanism. In his calm and aus- 
tere manner — born of the blood that had passed 
through the veins of six generations of Puritan 
ministers — Emerson overturned the whole of 
tradition. " A world in the hand," he said, with 
cheery, genial scepticism, " is worth two in the 
bush." With gentle composure, with serene 
hilarity, perhaps with an allusion to the roses 
that " make no mention of former roses," he 
posited the absolute right of the individual to 
adjudicate in religion, in marriage, in the State. 
Even he himself, while able, like Spinoza and 
Goethe, to live by self-regulating laws that are 
death to men of less sanity, could not always in 
his peaceful haunts at Concord recognize or allow 
the fruits of his doctrines. 

Emerson was a man of the study ; he seems 
to have known the world as in a camera obscura 
spread out before him on a table. He .never 
seems to come, or to be capable of coming, into 
direct relations with other men or with Nature. 
Thoreau, an original and solitary spirit, born 
amid the same influences as Emerson, but of 
different temperament, resolved to go out into 
the world, to absorb Nature and the health of 
Nature : " I wished to live deliberately, to front 
only the essential facts of life, and see if I could 

IV hit man. 91 

not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I 
came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did 
not wish to live what was not life, living is so 
dear ; nor did I wish to practise resignation, un- 
less it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep 
and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so 
sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all 
that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave 
close, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to 
its lowest terms." So he went into Walden 
Woods and built himself a hut, and sowed beans, 
and grew strangely familiar with the lives of 
plants and trees, of birds and beasts and fishes, 
and with much else besides. This period of self- 
dependent residence by Walden Pond has usually 
been regarded as the chief episode in Thoreau's 
life. Doubtless it was, in the case of a man who 
spent his whole life in a small New England 
town, and made the very moderate living that 
he needed by intermittent work at pencil-making, 
teaching, land-surveying, magazine-writing, fence- 
building, or whitewashing. Certainly it was this 
experience which gave form and character to the 
activities of his life, and the book in which he 
recorded his experiences created his fame. But 
in the experience itself there was nothing of 
heroic achievement. One would rather say that 
in the Walden episode Thoreau has vindicated 
the place of such an experience in all educa- 
tion. Every one, for some brief period in early 

92 The New Spirit. 

life, should be thrown on his own resources in 
the solitudes of Nature, to enter into harmo- 
nious relations with himself, and to realize the 
full scope of self-reliance. For the man or 
woman to whom this experience has never been 
given, the world must hold many needless mys- 
teries and not a few needless miseries. 

There was in this man a curious mingling of 
wildness and austerity, which Mr. Burroughs, in 
the most discriminating estimate of him yet 
made, traces to his ancestry. On the paternal 
side he was French ; his privateering grandfather 
came from Jersey : " that wild revolutionary 
cry of his, and that sort of restrained ferocity 
and hirsuteness are French." But on the mother's 
side he was of Scotch and New English Puritan 
stock. In person he was rather undersized, with 
"huge Emersonian nose," and deep-set bluish- 
grey eyes beneath large overhanging brows ; 
prominent pursed-up lips, a weak receding chin, 
" a ruddy weather-beaten face, which reminds 
one of some shrewd and honest animal's." He 
was a vigorous pedestrian ; he had sloping 
shoulders, long arms, short legs, large hands 
and feet — the characteristics, for the most part, 
of an anthropoid ape. His hands were fre- 
quently clenched, and there was an air of con- 
centrated energy about him ; otherwise nothing 
specially notable, and he was frequently sup- 
posed " a pedlar of small wares." He possessed, 

Whitman. 93 

as his friend Emerson remarked, powers of 
observation which seemed to indicate additional 
senses : " he saw as with microscope, heard as 
with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photo- 
graphic register of all he saw and heard." 

It has been claimed for Thoreau by some of 
his admirers, never by himself, that he was a 
man of science, a naturalist. Certainly, in some 
respects, he had in him the material for an 
almost ideal naturalist. His peculiar powers of 
observation, and habits of noting and recording 
natural facts, his patience, his taste for spending 
his days and nights in the open air, seem to 
furnish everything that is required. Nor would 
his morbid dislike of dissection have been any 
serious bar, for the least worked but by no 
means the least important portion of natural 
history is the study of living forms, and for this 
Thoreau seems to have been peculiarly adapted ; 
he had acquired one of the rarest of arts, that of 
approaching birds, beasts and fishes, and exciting 
no fear. There are all sorts of profoundly in- 
teresting investigations which only such a man 
can profitably undertake. But that right ques- 
tion which is at least the half of knowledge was 
hidden from Thoreau ; he seems to have been abso- 
lutely deficient in scientific sense. His bare, imper- 
sonal records of observations are always dull and 
unprofitable reading ; occasionally he stumbles 
on a good observation, but, not realizing its sig- 

94 The New Spirit. 

nificance, he never verifies it or follows it up. 
His science is that of a fairly intelligent school- 
boy — a counting of birds' eggs and a running 
after squirrels. Of the vital and organic rela- 
tionships of facts, or even of the existence of 
such relationships, he seems to have no per- 
ception. Compare any of his books with, for 
instance, Belt's " Naturalist in Nicaragua," or 
any of Wallace's books : for the men of science, 
in their spirit of illuminating inquisitiveness, all 
facts are instructive ; in Thoreau's hands they 
are all dead. He was not a naturalist : he was 
an artist and a moralist. 

He was born into an atmosphere of literary 
culture, and the great art he cultivated was that 
of framing sentences. He desired to make sen- 
tences which would " suggest far more than they 
say," which would " lie like boulders on the page, 
up and down or across, not mere repetition, but 
creation, and which a man might sell his ground 
or cattle to build," sentences "as durable as a 
Roman aqueduct." Undoubtedly he succeeded ; 
his sentences frequently have all the massive 
and elemental qualities that he desired. They 
have more ; if he knew little of the architectonic 
qualities of style, there is a keen exhilarating 
breeze blowing about these boulders, and when 
we look at them they have the grace and audacity, 
the happy, natural extravagance of fragments 
of the finest Decorated Gothic on the site of a 

Whitman. 95 

fourteenth century abbey. He was in love with 
the things that are wildest and most untamable in 
Nature, and of these his sentences often seem to 
be a solid artistic embodiment, the mountain side, 
" its sublime gray mass, that antique, brownish- 
gray, Ararat colour," or the " ancient, familiar, 
immortal cricket sound," the thrush's song, his 
ranz des vdches, or the song that of all seemed 
to rejoice him most, the clear, exhilarating, 
braggart, clarion-crow of the cock. Thoreau's 
favourite reading was among the Greeks, Pindar, 
Simonides, the Greek Anthology, especially 
^Eschylus, and a later ancient, Milton. There 
is something of his paganism in all this, his cult 
of the aboriginal health-bearing forces of Nature. 
His paganism, however unobtrusive, was radical 
and genuine. It was a paganism much earlier 
than Plato, and which had never heard of 

Thoreau was of a piece ; he was at harmony 
with himself, though it maybe that the elements 
that went to make up the harmony were few. 
The austerity and exhilaration and simple 
paganism of his art were at one with his 
morality. He was, at the very core, a preacher ; 
the morality that he preached, interesting in 
itself, is, for us, the most significant thing 
about him. Thoreau was, in the noblest sense 
of the word, a Cynic. The school of Antis- 
thcnes is not the least interesting of the Socratic 

g6 The New Spirit. 

schools, and Thoreau is perhaps the finest flower 
that that school has ever yielded. He may not 
have been aware of his affinities, but it will help 
us if we bear them in mind. The charm that 
Diogenes exercised over men seems to have 
consisted in his peculiarly fresh and original 
intellect, his extravagant independence and self- 
control, his coarse and effective wit. Thoreau 
sat in his jar at Walden with the same origi- 
nality, independence, and sublime contentment ; 
but his wisdom was suave and his wit was never 
coarse — exalted, rather, into a perennial humour, 
flashing now and then into divine epigram. 
A life in harmony with Nature, the culture of 
joyous simplicity, the subordination of science 
to ethics — these were the principles of Cynicism, 
and to these Thoreau was always true. " Every 
day is a festival," said Diogenes, andMetrocles re- 
joiced that he was happier than the Persian king. 
" I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it 
all to myself," said Thoreau, " than be crowded 
on a velvet cushion." " Cultivate poverty like 
a garden herb, like sage. ... It is life near the 
bone, where it is sweetest. . . . Money is not re- 
quired to buy one necessary of the soul." He 
had " travelled much in Concord." " Mcthinks I 
should be content to sit at the back-door in 
Concord under the poplar tree for ever." Such 
utterances as these strewn throughout Thoreau's 
pages — and the saying in the last days of the 

]] 'hitman. 97 

dying man to the youth who would talk to him 
about a future world, " One world at a time "— 
are full, in the uncorrupted sense, of the finest 
Cynicism. Diogenes, seeing a boy drink out of 
his hand, threw away his cup; Thorcau had an 
interesting mineral specimen as a parlour orna- 
ment, but it needed dusting every day, and he 
threw it away : it was not worth its keep. The 
Cynics seem to have been the first among the 
(I reeks to declare that slavery is opposed to 
nature. Thorcau not only carried his indepen- 
dence so far as to go to prison rather than pay 
taxes to Church or State — " the only govern- 
ment that 1 rec< ignize is the power that establishes 
justice in the land" — but in 1859, when John 
Brown lay in prison in Virginia, Thorcau was 
the one man in' America to recognize the great- 
ness of the occasion and to stand up publicly on 
his side : " Think of him ! — of his rare quali- 
ties ! — such a man as it takes ages to make, 
and ages to understand ; no mock hero, nor the 
representative of any party. A man such as the 
sun may not rise upon again in this benighted 
land. To whose making went the costliest 
material, the finest adamant ; sent to be the 
redeemer of those in captivity ; and the only 
use to which you can put him is to hang him at 
the end of a rope ! " 

Every true Cynic is, above all, a moralist and 
a preacher. Thorcau could never be anything 

98 The New Spirit. 

else ; that was, in the end, his greatest weakness. 
This unfailing ethereality, this perpetual chal- 
lenge of the acridity and simplicity of Nature, 
becomes at last hypernatural. Thoreau break- 
fasts on the dawn : it is well ; but he dines 
on the rainbow and sups on the Aurora borealis. 
Of Nature's treasure more than half is man. 
Thoreau, with his noble Cynicism, had, as he 
thought, driven life into a corner, but he had 
to confess that of all phenomena his own race 
was to him the most mysterious and undis- 
coverable. He writes finely : " The whole duty 
of man may be expressed in one line : Make to 
yourself a perfect body ; " but this appears to be 
a purely intellectual intuition. He had a fine 
insight into the purity of sex and of all natural 
animal functions, from which we excuse our- 
selves of speaking by falsely saying they are 
trifles. " We are so degraded that we cannot 
speak simply of the necessary functions of 
human nature;" but he is not bold to justify his 
insight. He welcomed Walt Whitman , at the 
very first, as the greatest democrat the wor ld 
had_seen, but he himself remained a natural 
aristocrat. " He was a man devoid of com- 
passion," remarks Mr. Burroughs, " devoid of 
sympathy, devoid of generosity, devoid of 
patriotism, as those words are generally un- 
derstood." He had learnt something of the 
mystery of Nature, but the price of his know- 

Whitman. 99 

ledge was ignorance of his fellows. The chief 
part of life he left untouched. 

Yet all that he had to give he gave fully and 
ungrudgingly ; and it was of the best and rarest. 
We shall not easily exhaust the exhilaration of 
it. " We need the tonic of wildness." Thoreau 
has heightened for us the wildness of Nature, and 
his work— all written, as we need not be told, in 
the open air— is full of this tonicity; it is a sort 
of moral quinine, and, like quinine under certain 
circumstances, it leaves a sweet taste behind. 


Whitman has achieved the rarest of all distinc- 
tions : he has been placed while yet alive by the 
side of the world's greatest moral teachers, 
beside Jesus and Socrates — 

" the latter Socrates, 
Greek to the core, yet Yankee too." 

And his biographer records briefly his conviction 
that this man was " perhaps the most advanced 
nature the world has yet produced." Yet the 
facts of his life are few and simple. He was born 
in May, 18 19, on the shores of the great south 
bay of Long Island. Like Bret Harte, who has 
given classic expression to the young life of 
Western America, Whitman is half Dutch, and 
this ancestral fact is significant. The well-known 

ioo The New Spirit. 

portrait prefixed to "Leaves of Grass " shows him 
with an expression like his father's ; in later lift- 
he bears a singular resemblance to his mother as 
she is represented in Bucke's book. He himself, 
we are told, makes much of the women of his 
ancestry. " I estimate three leading sources and 
formative stamps of my own character," — in 
his own words — " the maternal nativity-stock 
brought hither from far-away Netherlands, for 
one (doubtless the best); the subterranean te- 
nacity and central bony structure (obstinacy, 
wilfulness) which I get from my paternal English 
elements, for another ; and the Long Island 
birth-spot, sea-shores, childhood's scenes, absorp- 
tions, with teeming Brooklyn and New York — 
with, I suppose, my experiences afterwards 
in the Secession outbreak — for third." His 
mother, he wrote, was to him " the ideal woman, 
practical, spiritual, of all of earth, life, love, to me 
the best." 

For thirty years the youth set himself to learn 
the nature of the world. There could be no 
better education ; he has described its elemen- 
tary stages, by barnyard and roadside, in "There 
was a child went forth." The same large recep- 
tiveness still went with him, as he was by turn 
teacher, printer, journalist, government clerk, and 
always, and above all, loafer. He loafed year 
after year in Broadway, on Fulton Ferry, on the 
omnibuses talking to the drivers, in the workshops 

Whitman. 101 

talking to the artisans. His physical health was 
perfect ; he earned enough to live on ; he felt 
himself the equal of highest or lowest ; he drank 
of the great variegated stream of life before him 
from every cup. His culture was, in its own way, 
as large and as sincere as Goethe's. Of books, 
indeed, he knew little ; he was equally ignorant 
of science, of philosophy, of the fine arts ; he 
appears to have been content — for his own ends 
wisely content — with elemental and mostly 
ancient utterances of the race, as the Bible, 
Homer, Shakespeare, the Nibelungenlied. And 
by-and-by, in 1855, when this new personality, 
with its wide and deep roots, had become or- 
ganized, Walt Whitman, at the age of thirty- 
six, himself printed and published a little book 
called "Leaves of Grass." 

After this there was but one fresh formative 
influence in Whitman's life, but without it his 
life and his work would both have suffered an 
immense lack. What had chiefly characterized 
him so far had been his audacious nonchalance, 
the frank and absolute egotism of a healthy 
Olympian schoolboy. In i860 the Civil War 
began ; from 1862 to 1865 Whitman nursed the 
sick and wounded at Washington. During that 
period of three years (broken by an attack of 
hospital malaria, the first illness of his life, con- 
tracted in the discharge of these self-imposed 
duties) he visited and tended nearly 100,000 men, 

102 The New Spirit. 

and the personal presence of the man, his inex- 
haustible love and sympathy, were of even more 
worth than the manifold small but precious 
services that he was enabled to render. He has 
himself given a simple and noble record of his 
work in the "Memoranda" included in "Speci- 
men Days and Collect," and in " Drum Taps," 
a still more precious and intimate record of his 
experiences. From this period a deep tenderness, 
a divine compassion for all things human, is never 
absent from Whitman's work ; it becomes more 
predominant than even his superb egotism. It 
is this element in his large emotional nature, 
brought to full maturity by these war experi- 
ences, which so many persons have felt thrilling 
through the man's whole personality, and which 
probably explains in some measure the devotion 
he has inspired. Whitman went to Washington 
young, in the perfection of virile physical energy 
("He is a J/#/2,"said the shrewd Lincoln, to whom 
Whitman was unknown, as he chanced to see him 
through a window once) ; he came away old and 
enfeebled, having touched the height of life, to 
walk henceforth a downward path. Physically 
impressive, however, at that time and always, 
he remained. He is described, after this time 
(chiefly by Dr. Bucke), as six feet in height, 
weighing nearly two hundred pounds ; with eye- 
brows highly arched ; eyes light blue, rather 
small, dull and heavy (this point is of some 

Whitman. 103 

interest, bearing in mind that with exceptional 
creative imagination large bright eyes are asso- 
ciated) ; full-sized mouth, with full lips ; large 
handsome ears, and senses exceptionally acute. 
The peculiar complexion of his face, Bucke de- 
scribed as a bright maroon tint ; that of his body 
"a delicate but well-marked rose colour," unlike 
the English or Teutonic stock ; his gait an 
elephantine roll. " No description," his Bos- 
wellian biographer, Dr. Bucke, again speaks (and 
Mr. Kennedy, a later and equally Boswellian 
biographer, supplies confirmatory details), " can 
give anyidea of the extraordinary physical attrac- 
tiveness of the man," even upon those who came 
in contact with him for a moment. In 1 873 he had 
a stroke of paralysis (left hemiplegia), and for 
three years there seemed little promise of re- 
covery. The return to health was slow and in- 
complete. In those years he spent much time 
bathing, or naked in the open air — "hanging 
clothes on a rail near by, keeping old broad- 
brim straw on head and easy shoes on feet " — 
and considered that that counted for much in his 
restoration to health. " Perhaps," he adds, "he 
or she to whom the free exhilarating ecstasy of 
nakedness in nature has never been eligible, has 
not really known what purity is — nor what faith 
or art or health really is." 

It is not possible to apprehend this man's 
work unless the man's personality is appre- 

1 04 The New Spirit. 

bended. Every great book contains the precious 
life-blood of a master-spirit, and no book throbs 
with a more vivid personal life than " Leaves of 
Grass." It is the whole outcome of a whole 
man, audacious and unrepentant, who has here 
set down the emotional reverberations of a 
manifold life. " For only," according to his own 
large saying, 

" For only at last, after many years, after chastity, friend- 
ship, procreation, prudence and nakedness, 

After treading ground and breasting river and lake, 

After a loosened throat, after absorbing eras, tempera- 
ments, races, after knowledge, freedom, crimes, 

After complete faith, after clarifying^ elevations, and 
removing obstructions, 

After these and more, it is just possible there comes to a 
man, a woman, the divine power to speak words." 


Of art, in the conventional sense of the word, 
there is not much in Whitman. If we wish to 
approach him as an artist, J. F. Millet probably 
helps us to understand him, more than any 
other artist in foreign fields and lands. Millet 
has a deep and close relationship to Whitman. 
At first sight, their work is curiously unlike : 
Whitman, in a great new country, delighting in 
every manifestation of joy and youth and hope ; 
Millet, the child of an older and colder country, 

Whitman. 105 

in love with age and suffering and toil. Yet in 
essentials it is identical. Even personally, it is 
said, Millet recalled Whitman. 1 Judging from 
the representations of him, Millet, in his prime, 
was a colossal image of manly beauty — deep- 
chested, muscular, erect, the quiet, penetrating 
blue eyes, the delicately expressive eyelids, the 
large nose and dilating sensitive nostrils, the 
firm mouth and jaw, the thick and dark brown 
beard. The consumptive artist — a Keats or a 
Thoreau — craves for health and loveliness ; he 
turns shuddering from all that is not pleasant. 
It is only these men, heroic incarnations of 
health, who are strong enough to look sanely 
upon age and toil and suffering, and equal to the 
prodigious expense of spirit of writing " Leaves 
of Grass" with a heart laden with memories of 
Washington hospitals. 

Millet and Whitman have, each in his own 
domain, made the most earnest, thorough, and 
successful attempts of modern times to bring the 
Greek spirit into art, the same attempt which 
Jan Steen, a great artist whom we scarcely yet 
rate at his proper value, made in seventeenth 
century Holland. It is not by the smooth 
nudities of a Bouguereau or a Leighton that we 
reach Hellenism. The Greek spirit is the simple, 

1 See an interesting paper of " Recollections of J. F. 
Millet" in the " Century," May, 1889, to which I am in- 
debted for several of the painter's utterances here quoted. 

1 06 The New Spirit. 

natural, beautiful interpretation of the life of the 
artist's own age and people under his own sky, 
as shown especially in the human body. It 
cannot be the same in two ages or in two lands. 
One little incident mentioned by Madame Millet 
to a friend is suggestive, "of Millet compelling 
her to wear the same shirt for an uncomfortably 
long time ; not to paint the dirt, as his early 
critics would have us believe, but that the rough 
linen should simplify its folds and take the form 
of the body, that he might give a fresher and 
stronger accent to those qualities he so loved, 
the garment becoming, as it were, a part of the 
body, and expressing, as he has said, even more 
than the nude, the larger and simpler forms of 
Nature." There is the genuine Hellenic spirit, 
working in a different age and under a different 
sky. Millet felt that for him it was not true to 
paint the naked body, and at the same time that 
the body alone was the supremely interesting 
thing to paint. In the "Sower" we see this spirit 
expressed in the highest form which Millet 
ever reached — the grace of natural beauty and 
strength, in no remote discobolus or gladiator, 
but in the man of his own country and clime, a 
peasant like himself, whose form he had studied 
from his own in the mirror in his own studio. 
The coarse clothes and rough sabots play the 
same part in Millet's work as the bizarre, uncouth 
words and varied technical phraseology in 

Whitman. 107 

Whitman's ; one may call them accidental, but 
they arc inevitable and necessary accidents. 
" One must be able," Millet said, " to make use 
of the trivial for the expression of the sublime." 
They both insisted that the artist must deal 
with the average and typical, not with the ex- 
ceptional. They both tried to bring the large- 
ness and simplicity of Nature into their work, 
and to suggest more than they expressed. They 
both refused to believe any part of Nature 
could be other than lovely. "The man who 
finds any phase or effect in Nature not beauti- 
ful," said Millet sternly, " the lack is in his own 

It is not as an artist that Whitman is chiefly 
interesting to us. It is true that he has written 
" Out of the Cradle endlessly rocking," " When 
Lilacs last in the Dooryard bloomed," " This 
Compost," and other fragments from which may 
be gained a simple and pure aesthetic joy. Fre- 
quently, also, we come across phrases which 
reveal a keen perception of the strangeness and 
beauty of things, lines that possess a simplicity 
and grandeur scarcely less than Homeric ; thus, 
"the noiseless splash of sunrise;" or of the 
young men bathing, who "float on their backs, 
their white bellies bulge to the sun." But such 
results are accidental, and outside the main pur- 
pose. For that very reason they have at times 
something of the divine felicity, unforeseen and 


108 The New Spirit. 

incalculable, of Nature ; yet always, according 
to a rough but convenient distinction, it is the 
poetry of energy rather than the poetry of art. 
When Whitman speaks prose, the language of 
science, he is frequently incoherent, emotional, 
unbalanced, with no very just and precise sense 
of the meaning or words or the structure of 
reasoned language. 1 It is clear that in this 
man the moral in its largest sense — that is to 
say, the personality and its personal relations 
— is more developed than the scientific ; and that 
on the aesthetic side the artist is merged in the 
mystic, wrapt in emotional contemplation of a 
cosmic whole. What we see, therefore, is a mani- 
fold personality seeking expression for itself in a 
peculiarly flexible and responsive medium. It is 
a deep as well as a superficial resemblance that 
these chants bear to the Scriptures of the old 
Hebrews — as Isaiah or the Book of Job — wherein 
also the writer becomes an artist, and also absorbs 
all available science, but where his purpose is the 

1 I think this defective scientific perception is perhaps 
as responsible as any failure of moral insight for the 
vigorous manner in which an element of " manly love " 
flourishes in " Calamus " nnd elsewhere. Whitman is 
hardy enough to assert that he expects it will to a large 
extent take the place of love between the sexes. " Manly 
love," even in its extreme form, is certainly Greek, as is 
the degradation of women with which it is always corre- 
lated ; yet the much slighter degradation of women in 
modern times Whitman sincerely laments. 

Whitman. 109 

personal expression of a moral and religious con- 
ception of life and the world. Whitman has 
invented a name for the person who occupies 
this rare and, in the highest degree, significant 
position ; he calls him the " Answerer." It is 
not the function of answerers, like that of philo- 
sophers, to arrange the order and limits of ideas, 
for they have to settle what ideas are or are not 
to exist ; nor is it theirs, like the singers, to cele- 
brate the ostensible things of the world, or to 
seek out imaginative forms, for they are "not 
followers of beauty, but the august masters of 
beauty." The answerer is, in short, the maker 
of ideals. 

Whitman will not minimize the importance of 
the answerer's mission. " I, too," he exclaims, 
"following many and followed by many, in- 
augurate a religion." If we wish to understand 
Walt Whitman, we must have some conception 
of this religion. We shall find that two great 
and contradictory conceptions dominate his 
work ; although in his thoughts, as in his modes 
of expression, it is not possible to find any 
strongly marked progression. 

The " Song of Myself " is the most complete 
utterance of Whitman's first great conception of 

" I have said that the soul is not more than the body, 
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul ; 
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is." 

iio The New Spirit. 

The absolute unity of matter and spirit, and 
all which that unity involves, is the dominant 
conception of this first and most characteristic 
period. "If the body were not the soul," he 
asks, " what is the soul ? " This is Whitman's 
naturalism ; it is the re-assertion of the Greek 
attitude on a new and larger foundation. " Let 
it stand as an indubitable truth, which no inquiries 
can shake, that the mind of man is so entirely 
alienated from the righteousness of God, that he 
cannot conceive, desire, or design anything but 
what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure and iniqui- 
tous ; that his heart is so thoroughly environed 
by sin that it can breathe out nothing but cor- 
ruption and rottenness." That is the fundamental 
thought of Christian tradition set down in the 
" Institutes," clearly and logically, by the genius 
of Calvin. It is the polar opposite of Whitman's 
thought, and therefore for Whitman the moral 
conception of duty has ceased to exist. 

" I give nothing as duties, 

What others give as duties I give as living impulses. 

(Shall I give the heart's action as a duty ?) " 

Morality is thus the normal activity of a healthy 
nature, not the product either of tradition or 
of rationalism. 

"Whatever tastes sweet to the most perfect 
person, that is finally right " — this, it has been 
said, is the maxim on which Whitman's morality 

Whitman. 1 1 1 

is founded, and it is the morality of Aristotle. 
But no Greek ever asserted and illustrated it 
with such emphatic iteration. 

From the days when the Greek spirit found its 
last embodiment in the brief songs, keen or 
sweet, of the "Anthology," the attitude which 
Whitman represents in the " Song of Myself" 
has never lacked representatives. Throughout 
the Middle Ages those strange haunting echoes 
to the perpetual chant of litany and psalm, the 
Latin student-songs, float across all Europe with 
their profane and gay paganism, their fresh erotic 
grace, their " In taberna quando sumus," their 
"Ludo cum Caecilia/ 1 their "Gaudeamus igitur." 
In the sane and lofty sensuality of Boccaccio, as 
it found expression in the history of Alaciel and 
many another wonderful story, and in Gottfried 
of Strasburg's assertion of human pride and 
passion in " Tristan and Isolde," the same strain 
changed to a stronger and nobler key. Then 
came the great wave of the Renaissance through 
Italy and France and England, filling art and 
philosophy with an exaltation of physical life, 
and again later, in the movements that centre 
around the French Revolution, an exaltation of 
arrogant and independent intellectual life. But 
all these manifestations were sometimes partial, 
sometimes extravagant ; they were impulses of 
the natural man surging up in rebellion against 
the dominant Christian temper ; they were, for 

1 1 2 The Neiv Spirit. 

the most part consciously, of the nature of reac- 
tions. We feel that there is a fatal lack about 
them which Christianity would have filled ; only 
in Goethe is the antagonism to some extent 
reconciled. Beneath the vast growth of Chris- 
tianity, for ever exalting the unseen by the easy 
method of pouring contempt on the seen, and 
still ever producing some strange and exquisite 
flower of ascesis — some Francis or Theresa or 
Fenelon — a slow force was working underground. 
A tendency was making itself felt to find in the 
theoretically despised physical — in those every- 
day stones which the builders of the Church had 
rejected — the very foundation of the mysteries 
of life ; if not the basis for a new vision of the 
unseen, yet for a more assured vision of the 

No one in the last century expressed this 
tendency more impressively and thoroughly, 
with a certain insane energy, than William 
Blake — the great chained spirit whom we see 
looking out between the bars of his prison- 
house with those wonderful eyes. Especially in 
" The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," in which 
he seems to gaze most clearly " through narrow 
chinks of his cavern," he has set forth his con- 
viction that " first the notion that man has a 
body distinct from his soul is to be expunged," 
and that "if the doors of perception were cleansed, 
everything would appear to man, as it is, in- 

Whitman, 1 1 3 

finite." This most extraordinary book is, in his 
own phraseology, the Bible of Hell. 

Whitman appeared at a time when this stream 
of influence, grown mighty, had boldly emerged. 
At the time that " Leaves of Grass" sought the 
light Tourgueneff was embodying in the typical 
figure of Bassaroff the modern militant spirit of 
science, positive and audacious — a spirit marked 
also, as Hinton pointed out, by a new form of 
asceticism, which lay in the denial of emotion. 
Whitman, one of the very greatest emotional 
forces of modern times, who had grown up apart 
from the rigid and technical methods of science, 
face to face with a new world and a new civiliza- 
tion, which he had eagerly absorbed so far as it 
lay open to him, had the good inspiration to 
fling himself into the scientific current, and so to 
justify the demands of his emotional nature ; to 
represent himself as the inhabitant of a vast and 
co-ordinated cosmos, tenoned and mortised in 
granite : 

" All forces have been steadily employed to complete and 

delight me, 
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul." 

That Whitman possessed no trained scientific 
instinct is unquestionably true, but it is impos- 
sible to estimate his significance without under- 
standing what he owes to science. Something, 
indeed, he had gained from the philosophy of 

1 1 4 The New Spirit. 

Hegel — with its conception of the universe as a 
single process of evolution, in which vice and 
disease are but transient perturbations — with 
which he had a second-hand acquaintance, that 
has left distinct, but not always well assimilated 
marks on his work ; but, above all, he was in- 
debted to those scientific conceptions which, 
like Emerson, he had absorbed or divined. 
It is these that lie behind " Children of 

This mood of sane and cheerful sensuality, 
rejoicing with a joy as massive and calm-eyed 
as Boccaccio's, a moral-fibred joy that Boccaccio 
never knew, in all the manifestations of the flesh 
and blood of the world — saying, not : " Let us 
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," but, with 
Clifford : " Let us take hands and help, for this 
day we are alive together" — is certainly Whit- 
man's most significant and impressive mood. 
Nothing so much reveals its depth and sincerity 
as his never-changing attitude towards death. 
We know the " fearful thing " that Claudio, in 
Shakespeare's play, knew as death : 

" to die and go we know not where ; 
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot ; 
. . . . to be worse than worst 
Of those that lawless and uncertain thoughts 
Imagine howling ! " 

And all the Elizabethans in that age of splendid 

Whitman. 1 1 5 

and daring life— even Raleigh and Bacon— felt 
that same shudder at the horror and mystery of 
death. Always they felt behind them some 
vast mediaeval charnel-house, gloomy and awful, 
and the sunniest spirits of the English Renais- 
sance quail when they think of it. There was 
in this horror something of the child's vast and 
unreasoned dread of darkness and mystery, and 
it scarcely survived the scientific and philosophic 
developments of the seventeenth century. Whit- 
man's attitude is not the less deep-rooted and 
original. For he is not content to argue, haughtily 
indifferent, with Epicurus and Epictetus, that 
death can be nothing to us, because it is no evil 
to lose what we shall never miss. Whitman 
will reveal the loveliness of death. We feel con- 
stantly in " Leaves of Grass " as to some extent 
we feel before the " Love and Death " and some 
other pictures of one of the greatest of English 
artists. " I will show," he announces, " that 
nothing can happen more beautiful than death." 
It must not be forgotten that Whitman speaks 
not merely from the standpoint of the most 
intense and vivid delight in the actual world, but 
that he possessed a practical familiarity with 
disease and death which has perhaps never 
before fallen to the lot of a great writer. At 
the end of the " Song of Myself " he bequeaths 
himself to - the dust, to grow from the grass he 

1 1 6 The New Spirit. 

"If you want me again, look for me under your boot- 
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, 
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, 
And filter and fibre your blood." 

And to any who find that dust but a poor 
immortality, he would say with Schopenhauer, 
" Oho ! do you know, then, what dust is ? " The 
vast chemistry of the earth, the sweetness that 
is rooted in what we call corruption, the life 
that is but the leavings of many deaths, is nobly 
uttered in "This Compost," in which he reaches 
beyond the corpse that is good manure to sweet- 
scented roses, to the polished breasts of melons ; 
or again, in the noble elegy, " Pensive on her 
dead gazing," on those who died during the 
war. In his most perfectly lyrical poem, " Out 
of the Cradle endlessly rocking," Whitman has 
celebrated death — "that strong and delicious 
word" — with strange tenderness; and never has 
the loveliness of death been sung in a more sane 
and virile song than the solemn death-carol in 
" When Lilacs last in the Dooryard bloomed " : 

" Dark mother, always gliding near with soft feet, 
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome ? 
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all, 
I bring thee a song, that when thou must indeed come, 
come unfalteringly. 

Whitman. 1 1 7 

" Over the tree-tops I float thee a song, 

Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields 

and the prairies wide, 
Over the dense-packed cities all and the teeming wharves 

and ways, 
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death." 

Whitman's second great thought on life lies 
in his egoism. His intense_se nse of individuali ty 
was marked from the first ; it is emphatically 
asserted in the " Song of Myself" — 

" And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's 
sell is"; — " 

where it lies side by side with his first great 
thought. But even in the " Song of Myself" it 
asserts a separate existence : 

" This day before dawn I ascended a hill and looked at 

the crowded heaven, 
And I said to my spirit, When we become the enf older s 

of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of 

everything in them, shall we be filled and satisfied 

then ? 
And my spirit said, No, we but level that lift to pass and 

continue beyond." 

Id the end he once, at least, altogether denies 
his first thought ; he alludes to that body which 
he had called the equal of the soul, or even the 
soul itself, as excrement : 

•• Myself discharging my excrementitious body to be 

burned, or reduced to powder, or buried, 
My real body doubtless left to me for other spheres." 

ri8 The New Spii'it. 

The first great utterance was naturalistic ; 
this egoism is spiritualistic. It is the sublime 
apotheosis of Yankee self-reliance. " I only am 
he who places over you no master, owner, better, 
God, beyond what waits intrinsically in your- 
self." This became the dominant conception in 
Whitman's later work, and fills his universe at 
length. Of a God, although he sometimes uses 
the word to obtain emphasis, he at no time had 
any definite idea. Nature, also, was never a 
living vascular personality for him ; when it is 
not a mere aggregate of things, it is an order, 
sometimes a moral order. Also he wisely re- 
fuses with unswerving consistency to admit an 
abstract Humanity; of "man" he has nothing 
to say ; there is nothing anywhere in the universe 
for him but individuals, undying, everlastingly 
aggrandizing individuals. This egoism is prac- 
tical, strenuous, moral ; it cannot be described 
as religious. Whitman is lacking — and in this 
respect he comes nearer to Goethe than to any 
other great modern man — in what may be 
possibly the disease of " soul," the disease that 
was so bitterly bewailed by Heine. Whitman 
was congenitally deficient in " soul ; " he is a 
kind of Titanic Undine. " I never had any par- 
ticular religious experiences," he told Buckc, 
" never felt the need of spiritual regeneration ; " 
and although he describes himself as " pleased 
with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist 

Whitman. 1 1 9 

preacher, impressed seriously at the camp- 
meeting," we know what weight to give to this 
utterance when we read elsewhere, of animals: 

" They do not sweat and whine about their condition, 
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, 
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, 
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania 

of owning things, 
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived 

thousands of years ago, 
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth." 

We may detect this lack of "soul" in his 
attitude towards music ; for, in its highest de- 
velopment, music is the special exponent of 
the modern soul in its complexity, its passive 
resignation, its restless mystical ardours. That 
Whitman delighted in music is clear ; it is 
equally clear, from the testimony of his writings 
and of witnesses, that the music he delighted in 
was simple and joyous melody as in Rossini's 
operas ; he alludes vaguely to symphonies, but 

" when it is a grand opera, 
Ah ! this indeed is music — this suits me." 

ThatWhitman could have truly appreciated Beet- 
hoven, or understood Wagner's " Tannhauser," 
is not conceivable. 

With Whitman's egoism is connected his 
strcnuousness. There is a stirring sound of 
trumpets always among these " Leaves of Grass." 

1 20 The New Spirit. 

This man may have come, as he tells us, to in- 
augurate a new religion, but he has few or no 
marks upon him of that mysticism — that Eastern 
spirit of glad renunciation of the self in a larger 
se lf — which is of the essence of religion. He is 
at the head of a band of sinewy and tan-faced 
pioneers, with pistols in their belts and sharp- 
edged axes in their hands : „ 

" And he going with me leaves peace and routine behind 

And stakes his life to be lost at any moment." 

This strenuousness finds expression in the 
hurried jolt and bustle of the lines, always 
alert, unresting, ever starting afresh. Passages 
of sweet and peaceful flow are hard to find in 
" Leaves of Grass," and the more precious when 
found. Whitman hardly succeeds in the expres- 
sion of joy ; to feel exquisitely the pulse of 
gladness a more passive and feminine sen- 
sibility is needed, like that we meet with in 
" Towards Democracy ; " we must not come to 
this focus of radiant energy for repose or con- 

This egoism, this strenuousness, reaches at the 
end to heights of sublime audacity. When we 
read certain portions of " Leaves of Grass " we 
seem to see a vast phalanx of Great Companions 
passing for ever along the cosmic roads, stalwart 
Pioneers of the Universe. There are superb 



young men, athletic girls, splendid and savage 
old men — for the weak seem to have perished 
by the roadside — and they radiate an infinite 
energy, an infinite joy. It is truly a tremendous 
diastole of life to which the crude and colossal 
extravagance of this vision bears witness ; we 
weary soon of its strenuous vitality, and crave 
for the systole of life, for peace and repose. It 
is not strange that the immense faith of the 
prophet himself grows hesitant and silent at 
times before "all the meanness and agony with- 
out end," and doubts that it is an illusion and 
" that may-be identity beyond the grave a beau- 
tiful fable only." Here and again we meet this 
access of doubt, and even amid the faith of the 
"Prayer of Columbus" there is a tremulous, 
pathetic note of sadness. 

Yet there is one keen sword with which Whit- 
man is always able to cut the knot of this doubt— 
the sword of love. He has but to grasp love and 
comradeship, and he grows indifferent to the 
problem of identity beyond the grave. " He 
a-hold of my hand has completely satisfied me." 
He discovers at last that love and comradeship- 
adhesiveness— is, after all, the main thing, " base 
and finale, too, for all metaphysics ; " deeper than 
religion, underneath Socrates and underneath 
Christ. With a sound insight he finds the roots 
of the most universal love in the intimate and 
physical love of comrades and lovers. 

1 2 2 The New Spirit. 

" I mind how once we lay, such a transparent summer 

How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently 

turned over upon me, 
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged 

your tongue to my bare-stript heart, 
And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you 

held my feet. 

" Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and know- 
ledge that pass all the argument of the earth, 

And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my 

And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my 

And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and 
the women my sisters and lovers, 

And that a kelson of the creation is love." 


This " love " of Whitman's is a very personal 
matter ; of an abstract Man, a solidaire Humanity, 
he never speaks ; it dees not appear ever to have 
occurred to him that so extraordinary a concep- 
tion can be formulated ; his relations to men 
generally spring out of his relations to particular 
men. He has touched and embraced his fellows' 
flesh ; he has felt thruughout his being the mys- 
terious reverberations of the contact : 

" There is something in staying close to men and women 
and looking on them, and in the contact and odour 
of them, that pleases the soul well, 

Whitman. 123 

All things please the soul, but these please the soul 

This personal and intimate fact is the centre 
from which the whole of Whitman's morality 
radiates. Of an abstract Humanity, it is true, 
he has never thought ; he has no vision of Nature 
as a spiritual Presence ; God is to him a word 
only, without vitality ; to Art he is mostly indif- 
ferent ; yet there remains this great moral kernel, 
springing from the sexual impulse, taking prac- 
tical root in a singularly rich and vivid emotional 
nature, and bearing within it the promise of a 
city of lovers and friends. 

This moral element is one of the central 
features in Whitman's attitude towards sex and 
the body generally. For the lover there is nothing 
in the loved one's body impure or unclean ; a 
breath of passion has passed over it, and all 
things are sweet. For most of us this influence 
spreads no farther ; for the man of strong moral 
instinct it covers all human things in infinitely 
widening circles ; his heart goes out to every 
creature that shares the loved one's delicious 
humanity ; henceforth there is nothing human 
that he cannot touch with reverence and love. 
" Leaves of Grass " is penetrated by this moral 
clement. How curiously far this attitude is from 
the old Christian way we realize when we turn to 
those days in which Christianity was at its height, 
and see how Saint Bernard with his mild and 

124 The Nezv Spirit. 

ardent gaze looked out into the world of Nature 
and saw men as " stinking spawn, sacks of dung, 
the food of worms." 

But there is another element in Whitman's 
attitude — the artistic. It shows itself in a two- 
fold manner. Whitman came of a vigorous 
Dutch stock ; these Van Velsors from Holland 
have fully as large a part in him as anything his 
English ancestry gave him, and his Dutch race 
shows itself chiefly in his artistic manner. The 
supreme achievement in art of the Dutch is their 
seventeenth century painting. What marked 
those Dutch artists was the ineradicable convic- 
tion that every action, social or physiological, of 
the average man, woman, child, around them 
might be, with love and absolute faithfulness, 
phlegmatically set forth. In their heroic earthli- 
ness they could at no point be repulsed ; colour 
and light may aureole their work, but the most 
commonplace things of Nature shall have the 
largest nimbus. That is the temper of Dutch art 
throughout ; no other art in the world has the 
same characteristics. In the art of Whitman 
alone do we meet with it again, impatient indeed 
and broken up into fragments, pierced through 
with shafts of light from other sources, but still 
constant and unmistakable. The other artistic 
element in Whitman's attitude is modern ; it is 
almost the only artistic element by which, un- 
consciously perhaps, he allies himself to modern 

Whitman. 125 

traditions in art instead of breaking through them 
by his own volcanic energy — a curious research 
for sexual imagery in Nature, imagery often 
tinged by bizarre and mystical colour. Rossetti 
occasionally uses sexual imagery with rare 
felicity, as in "Nuptial Sleep" : 

" And as the last slow sudden drops are shed 
From sparkling eaves when all the storm has fled, 
So singly flagged the pulses of each heart." 

With still greater beauty and audacity Whitman, 
in " I sing the body electric," celebrates the last 
abandonment of love : 

" Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into 

the prostrate dawn, 
Undulating into the willing and yielding day, 
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-fleshed day." 

Or, again, in the marvellously keen " Faces " — 
so realistic and so imaginative — when the " lily's 
face" speaks out her longing to be filled with 
albescent honey. This man has certainly felt 
the truth of that deep saying of Thoreau's, that 
for him to whom sex is impure there are no 
flowers in Nature. He cannot help speaking of 
man's or woman's life in terms of Nature's life, of 
Nature's life in terms of man's ; he mingles them 
together with an admirably balanced rhythm, as 
in " Spontaneous Me." All the functions of 
man's or woman's life are sweet to him because 

, The New Spirit. 

u = aV our of the things 

, 0(tl «-o, and .enroas, of U» painng of 

patches of morbid colour whitman 's atti- 

There is a third «' ^ W ^^ 

tude. It is clear that hetad 
wh at may be vaguely ca ed £« ^ a s - g . 
in that frank grasp of the body ition 

nificance to be measu edby tb P^ .„ 
it aroused, and by tl e tenaat y bel . 

the latest volume £ ^ «* Jg^ of those 
Boughs," he sun ms,sts £ t the p^ ^ 
lines so g.ves breath tc , havg been 

th e bulk of the P' e « os ™,t s omitted. He has 
left unwritten were those me „ A Memo _ 

himself admirably set t hisfo ^ ^ and 

randum at a Venture in op after 

CoUec t." in religmn and £**£, possibility 

a great ^\^ Bu t the region of sex is 
of liberty and sincerity, o a 

stiU , like our moral am social ^ existbarba . 

Ur ge extent ""^'"'^ai Christianity has 
r ous traditions which "« words f Pliny 
helped to perpetuate, so that 

Whitman. 1 2 7 

regarding the contaminating touch of a woman, 
who has always been regarded as in a peculiar 
manner the symbol of sex— " Nihil facile re- 
periabatur mulierum profiuvio magis monstri- 
ficum" — are not even yet meaningless. Why 
should the sweetening breath of science be 
guarded from this spot ? Why should not " free- 
dom and faith and earnestness " be introduced 
here? Our attitude towards this part of life 
affects profoundly our attitude towards life alto- 
gether. To realize this, read Swift's " Strephon 
and Chloe," which enshrines, vividly and un- 
shrinkingly, in a classic form, a certain emo- 
tional way of approaching the body. It narrates 
the very trivial experiences of a man and woman 
on their bridal night. The incidents are nothing ; 
they are perfectly innocent ; the interesting fact 
about them is the general attitude which they 
enfold. The unquestioning faith of the man is 
that in setting down the simple daily facts of 
human life he has drowned the possibilities of 
love in filth. And Swift here represents, in an 
unflinchingly logical fashion, the opinions, more 
or less realized, more or less disguised, of most 
people even to-day. Cannot these facts of our 
physical nature be otherwise set down ? Why 
may we not " keep as delicate around the bowels 
as around the head and heart ? " That is, in 
effect, the question which, in "A Memorandum 
at a Venture," Whitman tells us that he under- 

1 28 The New Spirit. 

took to answer. This statement of it was pro- 
bably an afterthought ; else he would have 
carried out his attempt more thoroughly and 
more uncompromisingly. 

For I doubt if even Whitman has fully realized 
the beauty and purity of organic life ; the scien- 
tific element in him was less strong than the 
moral, or even the artistic. While his genial 
poetic manner of grasping things is of prime 
importance, the new conceptions of purity are 
founded on a scientific basis which must be 
deeply understood. Swift's morbid and exag- 
gerated spiritualism, a legacy of medievalism — 
and the ordinary " common-sense " view is but 
the unconscious shadow of mediaeval spiritualism 
— is really founded on ignorance, in other words, 
on the traditional religious conceptions of an 
antique but still surviving barbarism. 

From our modern standpoint of science, open- 
ing its eyes anew, the wonderful cycles of normal 
life are for ever clean and pure, the loathsomeness, 
if indeed anywhere, lies in the conceptions of 
hypertrophied and hyperaesthetic brains. Some 
who have striven to find a vital natural meaning 
in the central sacrament of Christianity have 
thought that the Last Supper was an attempt to 
reveal the divine mystery of food, to consecrate 
the loveliness of the mere daily bread and wine 
which becomes the life of man. Such sacraments 
of Nature are everywhere subtly woven into the 

Whitman. 129 

texture of men's bodies. All loveliness of the 
body is the outward sign of some vital use. 

Doubtless these relationships have been some- 
times perceived and their meaning realized by a 
sort of mystical intuition, but it is only of recent 
years that science has furnished them with a 
rational basis. The chief and central function 
of life — the omnipresent process of sex, ever 
wonderful, ever lovely, as it is woven into the 
whole texture of our man's or woman's body — 
is the pattern of all the process of our life. At 
whatever point touched, the reverberation, mul- 
tiplexly charged with uses, meanings, and emo- 
tional associations of infinite charm, to the sen- 
sitive individual more or less conscious, spreads 
throughout the entire organism. We can no 
longer intrude our crude distinctions of high and 
low. We cannot now step in and say that this 
link in the chain is eternally ugly and that is 
eternally beautiful. For irrational disgust, the 
varying outcome of individual idiosyncrasy, 
there is doubtless still room ; it is incalculable, 
and cannot be reached. But that rational dis- 
gust which was once held to be common property 
has received from science its death-blow. In the 
growth of the sense of purity, which Whitman, 
not alone, has annunciated, lies one of our chief 
hopes for morals, as well as for art. 

1 30 The A T ew Spirit. 


Behind "Leaves of Grass" stands the per- 
sonality of the man Walt Whitman ; that is the 
charm of the book and its power. It is, in his 
own words, the record of a Person. A man 
has here sought to give a fresh and frank 
representation of his nature — physical, intel- 
lectual, moral, aesthetic — as he received it, and 
as it grew in the great field of the world. 
Sometimes there is an element in this record 
which, while perhaps very American, reminds 
one of the great Frenchman who shouted so 
lustily through his huge brass trumpet, seated 
on the apex of the universe in the Avenue 
d'Eylau. The noble lines to " You felons on 
trial in Courts" accompany "To him that was 
crucified." Such rhetorical flourishes do not 
impair the value of this revelation. The self- 
revelation of a human personality is the one 
supremely precious and enduring thing. All art 
is the search for it. The strongest and most 
successful of religions were avowedly founded 
on personalities, more or less dimly seen. The 
intimate and candid record of personality alone 
gives quickening energy to books. Herein is 
the might of " Leaves of Grass." 

In our overstrained civilization the tendency 
in literature — and in life as it acts on literature 

Whitman. I3 1 

and is again reacted on by it — is, on the one 
hand, towards an artificial mode of presentment, 
that is, a divorce between the actual and the 
alleged, a divorce which, in the language of 
satire, is often called hypocrisy. On the other 
hand, the tendency is towards a singleness of 
aim and ideal indeed, but a thin, narrow, super- 
refined ideal, at the same time rather hysterical 
and rather prim. In youth we cannot see through 
these Tartuffes and Precieuses; when we become 
grown men and women we feel a great thirst for 
Nature, for reality in literature, and we slake 
it at such fountains as this of " Leaves of Grass." 
Like Antaeus of old we bow down to touch 
the earth, to come in contact with the great 
primal energies of Nature, and to grow strong. 
We realize that the structure of the world is 
indeed built most gloriously on the immense 
pillars of Hunger and Love, and we will not 
seek to deny or to attenuate its foundations. 
Presenting a truth so abstract in fresh and living 
concrete language, this man, as an Adam in a 
new Paradise, which is the very world itself, 
walks again upon the earth, sometimes with 
calm complaisance, sometimes " deliriating " 
wildly : 

" P.ehold me where I pass, hear my voice, approach, 
Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as 

1 pass, 
Be not afraid of my body." 

132 The New Spirit. 

He has tossed " a new gladness and roughness " 
among men and women. He has opened a fresh 
channel of Nature's force into human life — the 
largest since Wordsworth, and more fit for human 
use — "the amplitude of the earth, and the coarse- 
ness and sexuality of the earth, and the great 
charity of the earth, and the equilibrium also." 
And in his vigorous masculine love, asserting 
his own personality he has asserted that of all — 
" By God ! I will accept nothing which all can- 
not have their counterpart of on the same terms." 
Charging himself in every place with content- 
ment and triumph, he embraces all men, as 
St. Francis in his sweet, humble, Christian way 
also embraced them, in the spirit of audacity, 
and rankness, and pride. So that all he has 
written is summed up in one ejaculation : " How 
vast, how eligible, how joyful, how real is a 
human being, himself or herself 1 " 

Ibsen. 133 


Tiik Scandinavian peoples hold to day a position 
not unlike that held at the beginning of the 
century by Germany. They speak, in various 
modified forms, a language which the rest of 
the world have regarded as little more than 
barbarous, and are looked upon generally as an 
innocent and primitive folk. Yet they contain 
centres of intense literary activity ; they have 
produced novels of a peculiarly fresh and pene- 
trating realism ; and they possess, moreover, a 
stage on which great literary works may be per- 
formed, and the burning questions of the modern 
world be scenically resolved. It is natural that 
Norway, with its historical past and literary 
traditions, should be the chief centre of this 
activity, and that a Norwegian should stand 
forth to-day as the chief figure of European 
significance that has appeared in the Teutonic 
world of art since Goethe. 

To understand Norwegian art — whether in its 
popular music, with its extremes of melancholy 
or hilarity, or in its highly-developed literature 
■—we must understand the peculiar character of 
the land which has produced this people. It is 
a land having, in its most characteristic regions, 

134 The New Spirit. 

a year of but one day and night — the summer a 
perpetual warm sunlit day filled with the aroma 
of trees and plants, and the rest of the year a 
night of darkness and horror ; a land which is 
the extreme northern limit of European civiliza- 
tion, on the outskirts of which the great primi- 
tive gods still dwell ; and where elves and fairies 
and mermaids are still regarded, according to 
the expression of Jonas Lie, as tame domestic 
animals. Such an environment must work 
mightily on the spirit and temper of the race. 
As one of the persons in Bjornson's " Over 
JEvne " observes — " There is something in Na- 
ture here which challenges whatever is ex- 
traordinary in us. Nature herself here goes 
beyond all ordinary measure. We have night 
nearly all the winter ; we have day nearly all 
the summer, with the sun by day and by night 
above the horizon. You have seen it at night 
half-veiled by the mists from the sea ; it often 
looks three, even four, times larger than usual. 
And then the play of colours on sky, sea, and 
rock, from the most glowing red to the softest 
and most delicate yellow and white! And then 
the colours of the Northern Lights on the winter 
sky, with their more suppressed kind of wild 
pictures, yet full of unrest and for ever changing! 
Then the other wonders of Nature ! These mil- 
lions of sea-birds, and the wandering processions 
of fish, stretching for miles ! These perpend i- 

lb sen. 135 

cular cliffs that rise directly out of the sea! 
They are not like other mountains, and the 
Atlantic roars round their feet. And the ideas 
of the people are correspondingly unmeasured. 
Listen to their legends and stories." 

So striking are the contrasts in the Norwegian 
character that they have been supposed to be 
due to the mingling of races ; the fair-haired, 
blue-eyed Norwegian of the old Sagas, silent 
and deep-natured, being modified, now (espe- 
cially in the north) by the darker, brown-eyed 
Lapp, with his weakness of character, vivid 
imagination, and tendency to natural mysticism, 
and, again (especially in the east), by the daring, 
practical, energetic Finn. 

However this may be, among the Norwegian 
poets and novelists various qualities often meet 
together in striking opposition ; wild and fan- 
tastic imagination stands beside an exact realism 
and a loving grasp of nature ; a tendency to mys- 
ticism and symbol beside a healthy naturalism. 
We find these characteristics variously combined 
in Ibsen ; in Bjornson, with his virile strength 
and generous emotions, amid which a mystic 
influence now and then appears ; in Jonas Lie, 
with his subtle and delicate spirit, so intimately 
national ; in Kielland, a realistic novelist of most 
dainty and delicate art, beneath which may be 
heard the sombre undertone of his sympathy 
with the weak and the oppressed. Of these 

136 The New Spirit. 

writers, and others only less remarkable, one 
alone is at all well known in England, and even 
he is known exclusively by his early work, 
especially by that most delightful of peasant 
stories, "Arne." In Germany the Scandinavian 
novelists and dramatists have received much 
attention, and are widely known through excel- 
lent and easily accessible translations. Yet our 
English race and speech are even more closely 
allied to the northern ; our land is studded with 
easily recognizable Scandinavian place-names 
and Scandinavian colonies, whose dialects are 
full of genuine Scandinavian words unknown to 
literary English. It is not likely that this in- 
difference to the social, political, and literary 
history of our northern kinsmen can last much 

About 1720 a Danish skipper, one Peter Ibsen, 
came over from Moen ' to Bergen and settled 
there. He married the daughter of a German 
who had likew'f JT.Llalt^Vom nii'ovvn coun- 

( - - * ' ***** ' o 

„ty : ~tKese were the poet's great-great-grand- 
parents. Peter Ibsen had a son, Henrik Petersen 
Ibsen, who was also a ship's captain. He mar- 
ried a lady whose name is given as Wenche 

1 This island, I may note in passing, is the home of a 
black-haired race, very unlike the typical Norsemen, and 
which has been identified with those " black strangers " 
spoken of by the Irish chroniclers who described the 
Viking invasions. 

Ibsen. 137 

Dischington, the daughter of a Scotchman 
naturalized in Norway. This Henrik Ibsen 
settled in Skien, and had a son of the same 
name who married a German wife. All these 
Ibsens were sailors. Henrik Ibsen's son, Knud 
Ibsen, the dramatist's father, like his father mar- 
ried a wife of German extraction, Maria Cornelia 
Altenburg, the daughter of a merchant who had 
begun life as a sailor. 

This ancestry is very significant. It will 
be seen that Ibsen is on both sides predomi- 
nantly German, and that in his German and 
Danish blood there is an interesting Scotch 
strain. The tendency to philosophic abstrac- 
tion and the strenuous earnestness, mingling 
with the more characteristically northern imagi- 
native influences, are explained by this German 
and Scotch ancestry ; it explains also the pecu- 
liarly isolated and yet cosmopolitan attitude 
which marks Ibsen — why it is that his works 
have been so enthusiastically received and so 
easily naturalized in Germany, and why, now that 
they are beginning to be known, they promise 
to make so deep an impression in our own land. 

Ibsen's mother possessed a shy, silent, and 
solitary nature, which she imparted to her son. 
One of her daughters thus describes her : " She 
\\ as a quiet, lovable woman, the soul of the 
house, devoted to her husband and children. 
She was always sacrificing herself. There was 

138 The Nezu Spirit. 

no bitterness or reproach in her." The father 
was of cheerful disposition, a man of sociable 
tastes, popular in his circle, but also feared, for 
he had a keen wit, and, like his son, he could use 
it unmercifully. 

Knud Ibsen's eldest son, Henrik, 1 was born at 
Skien, a busy little town of some 3,000 inhabi- 
tants occupied in the timber trade, on the 20th 
March, 1828. " I was born," the dramatist writes 
in some reminiscences published by Mr. Jaeger 
for the first time, " in a house in the market- 
place, Stockmann's house it was then called. 
The house lay right opposite the church with 
its high steps and large tower. To the right, 
in front of the church, stood the town pil- 
lory, and to the left the town-hall, the lock- 
up, and the 'madhouse.' The fourth side of 
the market-place was occupied by the Latin 
school and the town school. The church lay 
free in the middle. This prospect was the first 
view of the earth that presented itself to my 
eyes. All buildings ; no green, no rural open 
landscape." It was in the church tower that the 

1 Many books and pamphlets dealing with his life and 
works have appeared in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. 
The chief of these are Vasenius's " Henrik Ibsen, ett 
Skaldeportratt," Stockholm, 1882; Passarge's "Henrik 
Ibsen : Ein Beitrag zur ncusten Gcschichte der norwe- 
gischen Nationalliteratur," Lcipsic, 18S3 ; and II. Jaeger's 
" Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1888,"' Copenhagen. The last-named, 
now translated, is by far the bebt. 

Ibsen. 139 

baby Henrik received his first conscious ana 
deep impression. The nursemaid took him up 
and held him out (to the horror of his mother 
below), and he never forgot that new and 
strange vision of the world from above. Ibsen 
goes on to describe the attractions which were 
held for him in the gloomy town-hall and the 
pillory, unused for many years, a red-brown 
post of about a man's height, with a great round 
knob which had originally been painted black, 
but which then looked like a human face. In 
front of the post hung an iron chain, and in that 
an iron ring which seemed like two small arms 
ready to clasp the child's neck on the least pro- 
vocation. And then there was the town-hall. 
That, too, had high steps like the church, and 
underneath it was the gaol with its barred 
windows : " inside the bars I have seen many 
pale and dark faces." And then there was the 
" madhouse," which in its time had really been 
used to confine lunatics. That also was barred, 
but inside the bars the little window was filled by 
a massive iron plate with small round holes like a 
sieve. This place was said to have been the abode 
of a famous criminal who had been branded. 

These early impressions of the dramatist — the 
church tower, the pillory, the barred windows, 
the pale criminals — are of no little interest. 
They help to explain for us the sombre and 
tnigic cast, purely human and reflective, of 

1 40 The New Spirit. 

Ibsen's character. They explain, too, the absence 
in his work of the sea and the forest, of those 
things which give such a sweet, wild aroma, now 
and again, to the work of Bjornson and Lie. 
The little town, with its active commercial life 
and its equally active religious life — for Skien 
was a centre of pietistic influence — was such a 
place as is brought before us in "De Unges 
Forbund " and in " Samfundets Stotter," and it 
was a fit birthplace for the author of " Brand." 

Knud Ibsen belonged to the aristocracy of 
Skien, and his house was a centre of its social 
life. When Henrik was eight years old there 
was an end of this, for his father became a bank- 
rupt. After the catastrophe the family retired 
to a small and humble home outside Skien, 
where they lived with a frugality which was in 
marked contrast with their former life. There 
can be no doubt that this sudden change of cir- 
cumstances, and the insight which it brought 
into the social cleavage of a provincial town, 
counted for much in Ibsen's development. It is 
certain that at this period his marked indivi- 
duality began to be perceived. He did not play 
like the other children ; while they romped in 
the yard, he retired into a little inclosure in an 
alley that led to the kitchen, and barricaded 
himself against the heedless incursions of the 
younger members of the family. Merc he kept 
guard, not only in summer, but in the depth of 

Ibsen. 141 

winter. It is clear that even at this early age 
Ibsen had reached the point of proud isolation 
and defiance of his fellow-citizens which Stock- 
mann ultimately attained. One of his sisters 
describes how they used to throw stones and 
snowballs at his retreat to make him come out 
to join their play, but when he could no longer 
withstand the attack and yielded to the assailants, 
he could display no skill in any kind of sport, 
and soon retired again to his den. Reading 
appears to have been one of his chief occupa- 
tions there, and Jaeger assures us that the words 
which many years afterwards Ibsen put into the 
mouth of the little girl Hedwig, who is so pathetic 
and tender a figure in one of his latest dramas, 
" Vildanden," contain a reminiscence of child- 
hood. "And do you read the books?" asked 
Gregers. " Oh, yes, when I can. But most of 
them are English, and I can't read those. But 
then I can look at the pictures. There is one big 
black book, called Harryson's ' History of 
London ;' it must be a hundred years old, and 
that has such a number of pictures in it. First 
there is a picture of Death with an hourglass 
and a girl. I think that is hideous. But then 
there are all sorts of other pictures, with 
churches and castles and streets and great 
ships that sail on the sea." He also amused 
himself with pencil and colour-box. Meanwhile 
he went to school, going through the usual 

142 The Nezv Spirit. 

course and learning a little Latin ; he appears 
to have taken a special interest in the Biblical 
instruction. At fourteen he was confirmed, and 
the time came for him to make his way in the 

At this period he wished to become a painter ; 
he devoted himself with zeal to drawing, and an 
interest in painting has remained with him, the 
formation of an excellent little collection of 
Renaissance pictures becoming in later life one 
of his chief hobbies. In the existing state of the 
family means, this career was out of the ques- 
tion, and he was sent to an apothecary at Grim- 
stad, a little town containing at that time not 
more than 800 inhabitants. The apothecary's 
shop, Jaeger remarks, is the place where all the 
loungers meet in the evening to discuss the 
events of the day, and doubtless the apothecary's 
shop was an element in the education of the 
future dramatist. In his interesting preface to 
the second edition of "Catilina" he has himself 
described the five years of development that he 
went through in this little town. He did not 
wish to become a chemist ; he would become a 
student and study medicine. At the same time 
his poetical activity and the eventful year of 
1848 came to arouse in the silent, solitary boy a 
healthy interest in the outside world. 

It was while reading Sallust and Cicero for 
his matriculation examination that he conceived, 

Ibsen. 143 

and wrote at midnight, his first play, "Catilina." 
With the help of two enthusiastic young friends 
the tragedy was published and some thirty 
copies sold — a result which did not permit of 
the proposed tour in the East on which the three 
friends had decided to expend the profits of the 
sale. Ibsen was now in his twenty-second year, 
and he came up to Christiania to carry on his 
studies at the school of Heltberg, who seems to 
have had a singularly stimulating influence on 
young men, and at the university. Here Ibsen 
was the comrade of Bjornson, Jonas Lie, and 
others who have since become famous. At a 
later date Bjornson condensed his youthful im- 
pression of his friend in two vigorous lines : 

" Tense and lean, the colour of gypsum, 
Behind a vast coal-black beard, Henrik Ibsen." 

The period now arrived at which Ibsen's 
career was definitely settled. He had been 
making several unsuccessful literary attempts at 
Christiania, having finally abandoned the inten- 
tion to study medicine, when, in 185 1, the 
famous violinist, Ole Bull, who has done so 
much to give artistic shape and energy to the 
modern Norwegian spirit, gave him an appoint- 
ment at the National Theatre which he had 
recently established at Bergen. Ibsen's prentice 
hand was now trained by the writing of several 
dramas not included among his published works \ 

144 The New Spirit. 

and, like Shakespeare and Moliere in somewhat 
similar circumstances, he here acquired his mas- 
tery of the technical demands of dramatic form. 
In 1855 his apprenticeship may be said to have 
ended, and he produced "Fru Inger til Ostraat" 
(Dame Inger of Ostraat), an historical prose 
drama of great energy and concentration. In 
1858 he married Susanna Thoresen, the daugh- 
ter of a Bergen clergyman, whose second wife, 
Magdalene Thoresen, is a well-known authoress. 
At the same period he was appointed artistic 
director of the Norwegian theatre at Christiania, 
a post previously occupied by Bjornson, who 
had just inaugurated the Norwegian peasant 
novel by the publication of " Synnove Sol- 
bakken." In 1864, having acquired the means, 
Ibsen found it desirable to quit the somewhat pro- 
vincial and uncongenial atmosphere of his native 
country, and has since lived in Rome, in Ischia, 
in Dresden, and at other places, but mainly at 
Munich, producing on an average a drama every 
two years. In 1885 he revisited Norway. Time 
had brought its revenges, and he was enthusias- 
tically received everywhere. At Drontheim he 
made a remarkable speech to a club of working- 
men. "Mere democracy," he said, "cannot 
solve the social question. An element of aristo- 
cracy must be introduced into our life. Of course 
I do not mean the aristocracy of birth or of the 
purse, or even the aristocracy of intellect. I mean 

Ibsen* 145 

the aristocracy of character, of will, of mind. That 
only can free us. From two groups will this aris- 
tocracy I hope for come to our people — from 
our women and our workmen. The revolution in 
the social condition, now preparing in Europe, is 
chiefly concerned with the future of the workers 
and the women. In this I place all my hopes 
and expectations ; for this I will work all my 
life and with all my strength." In private con- 
versation, it is said, Ibsen describes himself as a 
Socialist, although he has not identified himself 
with any definite school of Socialism. 

In personal appearance he is rather short, but 
impressive and very vigorous. He has a pecu- 
liarly broad and high forehead, with small, keen, 
blue-grey eyes " which seem to penetrate to the 
heart of things." His firm and compressed 
mouth is characteristic of " the man of the iron 
will," as he has been called by a fellow-country- 
man. Altogether it is a remarkable and signi- 
ficant face, clear-seeing and alert, with a decisive 
energy of will about it that none can fail to 
recognize. It is far indeed from the typical 
"pure, extravagant, yearning, questioning artist's 
face." In middle age it recalled, rather, the faces 
of some of our most distinguished surgeons; as 
is perhaps meet in the case of a writer who has 
used so skilful and daring a scalpel to cut to the 
core of social diseases. In society, although he 
likes talking to the common people, Ibsen is 

146 The New Spirit. 

usually reserved and silent ; or his conversation 
deals with the most ordinary topics ; " he talks 
like a wholesale tradesman," it has been said. 

Ibsen's dramas (excluding two or three which 
have not been published) may be conveniently 
divided into three groups, but the division is a 
rough one, for the groups merge one into another ; 
Ibsen's artistic development has been gradual 
and continuous. — 1. Historical and Legendary 
Dramas, chiefly in Prose : The youthful " Catilina " 
(written in i85o,but revisedatalaterperiod), which 
stands by itself, and contains the germ of much of 
his later work; "Fru Inger til Ostraat" (Dame 
Inger of Ostraat), 1855, an effective melodramatic 
play of great technical skill ; " Gildet paa Solhaug " 
(The Feast at Solhaug), an historical play of the 
fourteenth century, written in 1855, and reprinted 
in 1883, with a preface explaining its genesis; 
" Hsermaendene paa Helgeland " (The Warriors 
at Helgeland), 1858, a noble version of the 
Volsunga-Saga, here brought down to more his- 
torical times, so as to present a vivid and human 
picture of the Viking period; "Kongs-emnerne " 
(The Pretenders), 1864, dealing with Norwegian 
history in the twelfth century ; " Keiser og 
Galilaeer" (Emperor and Galilean), finished in 
1873, but begun many years earlier. 2. Dramatic 
Poems : " Kjaerlighedens Komedie " (Love's 
Comedy), 1862; " Brand," 1866; "Peer Gynt," 
1S67. 3. Social Dramas : "De Ungcs Forbund" 

Ibsen. 147 

(The Young Men's League), 1S69; "Samfundets 
Stotter" (The Pillars of Society), 1877; "Et 
Dukkehjem" (A Doll's House), 1879; " Gen- 
gangere " (Ghosts), 1881 ; "En Folkefiende " 
(An Enemy of Society), 1 882 ; " Vildanden " (The 
Wild Duck), 1884 ; " Rosmersholm," 1886 ;" Fruen 
fra Havet" (The Lady from the Sea), 1888. 

" Hacrmaendene paa Helgeland " is Ibsen's 
first great drama ; it has, indeed, been called the 
most perfect of his plays. The antique form and 
substance which he imposed upon himself com- 
pelled him to a severe self-restraint ; the style 
also of the drama, which is in prose, is austerely 
simple and strong. Yet there is at the same time 
a curious and undisguised modern note about this 
work, and we feel throughout the presence of that 
spirit which gives life to Ibsen's plays of to-day. 
The strong, passionate figure of Hjordis fills most 
of the field, however finely the lesser figures are 
moulded. She is the Brunhild of the ancient 
story, yet she is the same woman who is the 
heroine and the hero of all Ibsen's social dramas ; 
a strong and passionate woman, instinct with 
suppressed energy to which the natural outlets 
have been closed, and which is transformed into 
volcanic outbreaks of disaster. "A woman, a 
woman," she says to Dagny, who is shocked at 
a remark about using the armour and weapons 
of a man, and mixing among men, " there is no 
one who knows what a woman can do." Her 

148 The New Spirit. 

father having been slain, she is brought as 
a young girl into the conqueror's household. 
She finds a temporary satisfaction in the exer- 
cise of her physical strength. When the mild 
and honourable warrior Sigurd comes with his 
feeble friend Gunnar, both fall in love with 
her, and she, without speaking it, returns 
Sigurd's love. She promises to give herself 
to him who can perform the greatest feat of 
strength, and Sigurd, by a ruse, wins her for his 
friend Gunnar, himself taking to wife the gentle 
Dagny. Henceforth there is something strange 
and incalculable in all the deeds of Hjordis, and 
a concentrated bitterness in her words. When 
afterwards she learns that Sigurd had once loved 
her, the proud and reserved woman offers in vain 
to put on helmet and breastplate and to follow 
him through the earth. " I have been homeless 
in the world from the day that you took another 
to wife. Ill was that deed of yours. All good 
gifts may a man give to his trothful friend, — all, 
but not the woman he holds dear. When he does 
that deed, he breaks the thread that the Norns 
have spun, and wastes two lives." Hjordis is 
the woman of the social dramas, but it has not 
yet occurred to her that she has a life of her own. 
" Emperor and Galilean," l although historical 

1 It may be noted that this was the first of Ibsen's 
dramas to be translated into English, by Miss Catherine 
Ray, in 1 876. To Mr. Gossc belongs the honour of having 

Ibsen. 149 

and written in prose, is very unlike " Haermaen- 
dene paa Helgeland"; it belongs, indeed, in date 
as well as in character, almost as much to the 
second group. It is made up of two five-act 
dramas, presenting a series of brilliant and 
powerful scenes in the life of the Emperor Julian, 
lacking, however, dramatic unity and culminating 
interest. It is probable that the disconnected 
character of the work, and its undue length, is 
owing to the long period which intervened be- 
tween its commencement in Norway and its 
completion at Rome. It is, in its parts, un- 
doubtedly a fascinating work ; we trace Julian's 
life from his youth as a student of philosophy to 
his death as Emperor conquered by the Galilean. 
The interest of his life lies in his various rela- 
tions to the growing Christianity and decaying 
Paganism by which he is surrounded. Julian 
realizes the possibility of a third religion — " the 
reconciliation between nature and spirit, the re- 
turn to nature through spirit : that is the task for 
humanity." But he imagines that he is himself 
the divine representative of this new religion. 
His friend Maximus prophesies at the end "The 
third kingdom shall come ! The spirit of man 

first introduced Ibsen to English readers, in an article in 
the " Fortnightly," in 1874. The first of his social dramas 
to be translated into English was " The Doll's House" 
(under the title of "Nora"), by Miss Frances Lord in 

150 The New Spirit. 

shall take its inheritance once more." Julian 
failed because he was weak and vain, and be- 
cause the age was against him ; he dies with 
the cry on his lips, " Thou hast conquered, O 
Galilean ! " 

" Love's Comedy," the earliest of the poems of 
the second group, is the first work in which Ibsen's 
characteristic modern tone appears, not again to 
vanish. It is a satire on the various conventional 
phases of love, exquisite in form but compara- 
tively slight in texture. In "Brand " Ibsen pro- 
duced a poem which for imagination and sombre 
energy stands alone. It is perhaps the most 
widely known of all his works ; in Germany it 
has already found four translators, and there is 
reason to hope that before long a translation 
will appear in England. "Brand" is the tragedy 
of will and self-sacrifice in the service of the 
ideal — a narrow ideal, but less narrow, Ibsen 
seems sometimes to hint, than the ideals of most 
of us. The motto on which Brand acts in. all 
the crises of his life is, " All or nothing ; " and 
with him it means in every case the crushing of 
some human emotion or relationship for the ful- 
filment of a religious duty. Soon after the 
commencement of the poem Brand became the 
pastor of a gloomy little northern valley, between 
mountains and glaciers, into which the sun seldom 
penetrates. He is accompanied by his wife Agnes, 
a pathetic image of love and devotion. A child 

Ibsen. 151 

is born to them, but soon dies in this sun- 
forsaken valley. There are few passages in 
literature of more penetrating pathos than the 
scene in the fourth act in which, one Christmas 
eve, the first anniversary of the child's death, 
Brand persuades Agnes to give her Alf's clothes 
— the last loved relics — to a beggar-woman who 
comes to the door with her child during a snow- 
storm. Soon Agnes also dies. In the end, stoned 
by his flock, Brand makes his way, bleeding, up 
into the mountains. Here, amid the wild rocks 
and his own hallucinations, he is met by a mad 
girl who mistakes him for the thorn-crowned 
Christ. This scene, in which, overwhelmed at 
last by an avalanche, Brand dies amid his broken 
ideals, attains an imaginative height not else- 
where reached in modern literature, and for the 
like of which wc have to look back to the great 
scene on the heath in " Lear." Here and else- 
where, however, Ibsen brings in supernatural 
voices, which scarcely heighten the natural gran- 
deur of the scene, and which seem out of place 
altogether in a poem so entirely modern. 
" Brand " brings before us a wealth of figures 
and of discussions, carried on in brief, clear, 
musical, though irregular, metrical form, and it 
would be impossible to analyze so complex a 
work within moderate compass. 

"Peer Gynt," is regarded in his own country as 
Ibsen's most important achievement, for it is a 

1 5 2 The New Spirit. 

great modern national epic, the Scandinavian 
" Faust." A successful attempt has even been 
made to represent it on the stage, the incidental 
music being composed by Grieg. The name of its 
hero and many incidents in his career have their 
home in old Norwegian folk-lore, and Ibsen has 
himself declared that Peer Gynt is intended 
as the representative of the Norwegian people. 
Peer is the child of imagination who lives in a 
world in which fantasy and reality can scarcely 
be distinguished. He is an egoist with colossal 
ambitions ; at the same time he is by no means 
wanting in worldly wisdom ; he goes to America, 
and makes a large fortune (later on suddenly 
lost) by the importation of slaves and the ex- 
portation of idols to China, a trade which he 
reconciles to his conscience by opening up 
another branch of business for supplying mis- 
sionaries (at a considerable profit) with Bibles 
and rum. The whole is a series of scenes and 
adventures, often fantastic or symbolic in cha- 
racter, always touched by that profound irony 
which is Ibsen's most marked feature. One 
scene is so original and penetrative that it stands 
alone in literature. It is that scene of peculiarly 
Norwegian essence -in which Peer Gynt enters 
the hut in which his mother lies dying, with the 
fire on the hearth and the old tom-cat on a stool 
at the bottom of the bed. He talks to her in 
the tone of the days of childhood, reminding her 

Ibsen. 153 

how they used to play at driving to the fairy- 
tale castle of Soria Moria. He sits at the foot of 
the bed, throws a string round the stool on which 
the cat lies, takes a stick in his hand, imagines 
a journey to Heaven — the altercation with St. 
Peter at the gate, the deep bass voice of God 
declaring that Mother Aase shall enter free — 
and lulls her to death with the stories with which 
she had once lulled him to sleep. At a much 
later date in his career Peer finds himself in a 
madhouse at Cairo, where he is assured that his 
own guiding principle of the self-sufficiency of 
the individual, without regard for the actions or 
opinions of others, is carried out to its extreme 
limits. He is here acclaimed as emperor and 
crowned with a garland of straw. Thus are his 
dreams of power fulfilled. In the end he returns, 
a white-haired old man, to be eagerly welcomed 
by the faithful Solveig, whom, as a girl, he had 
forsaken, and who is now an old woman, still 
waiting for him with the kingdom of love that he 
had missed. The poem ends with the picture of 
Solveig singing over her lover a cradle-song of 
death. The failure of an over-mastering imagi- 
nation and weak will to attain the love that alone 
satisfies, that is the last lesson of this marvellous 
work, so full of manifold meaning. 

It is certainly by the third and latest group — 
the Social Dramas — that Ibsen has attracted most 
attention both in his own country and abroad. 

154 The New Spirit. 

They are all written in mature life, and he has 
here devoted his early acquired mastery of the 
technical requirements of the drama, as well as 
the later acquired experiences of men, to a keen 
criticism of the social life of to-day. He him- 
self, it is said, regards these plays as his chief 
title to remembrance. It is scarcely possible to 
say so much as this when we think of " Haer- 
msendene paa Helgeland," of " Brand," and of 
" Peer Gynt." But it certainly does not befit us 
of to-day to complain that Ibsen has devoted his 
most mature art to work which has a significance 
which to-day at all events cannot be over-esti- 
mated. That significance may be very easily 
set forth ; the spirit that works through Ibsen's 
latest dramas is the same that may be detected 
in his earliest, " Catilina ; " it is an eager insis- 
tance that the social environment shall not ciamp 
the reasonable freedom of the individual, to- 
gether with a passionately intense hatred of all 
those conventional lies which are commonly re- 
garded as " the pillars of society." But this 
impulse that underlies nearly all Ibsen's dramas 
of the last group is always under the control of 
a great dramatic artist. The dialogue is brief 
and incisive; every word tells, and none is super- 
fluous ; there is no brilliant play of dialogue for 
its own sake. " The illusion I wish to produce," 
he has himself said, " is that of truth itself. I 
want to produce upon the reader the impression 

Ibsen. 1 5 5 

that what he is reading is actually taking place 
before him." In the hands of a meaner artist 
such an attempt would be fatal; to Ibsen it 
has brought greater strength. If there is fault to 
find in the construction of Ibsen's prose dramas, 
it lies in their richness of material ; the sub- 
sidiary episodes arc frequently dramas in them- 
selves, although duly subordinate to the main 
purpose of the play. The care lavished on the 
development and episodes of these dramas is 
equalled by the reality and variety of the persons 
presented. These are never mere embodied 
" humours " or sarcastic caricatures ; the ter- 
rible keenness of Ibsen's irony comes of the 
simple truth and moderation with which he de- 
scribes these social humbugs who are yet so 
eminently reasonable and like ourselves. Every 
figure brought before us, even the most insig- 
nificant, is an organic and complex personality, 
to be recognized without trick or catchword. 

"The Young Men's League," the earliest of the 
series, deals with the rise and progress of one 
Stensgaard. He is a man whose character is 
essentially vulgar and commonplace, but who is 
undoubtedly clever, and whose ambition it is to 
gain political success. At the same time he is 
short-sighted, conceited, absolutely wanting in 
tact. He is even unstable, save in the great 
central aim of his life, which he seeks to bring 
about by the formation of a compact majority 

156 . The New Spirit. 

of voters, of which the nucleus is the Young 
Men's League. Stensgaard is always at his best 
as an orator ; he is a Numa Roumestan, genial, 
almost childishly open-hearted, with a flow of 
facile emotion and a great mastery of phrases. 
We leave him under a cloud of contempt but 
nowise defeated ; and we are given to under- 
stand that he is on his way to the highest offices 
of state. In this vivid and skilful portrait of 
the representative leader of semi-democratized 
societies, Ibsen has given his chief utterance on 
current political methods. It is scarcely favour- 
able. He realizes that government by party 
mobs, each headed by a Stensgaard — a phase in 
the progress towards complete democratization 
illustrated in England to-day — is by no means 
altogether satisfactory. " A party," remarks Dr. 
Stockmann, in " An Enemy of Society," "is like 
a sausage-machine : it grinds all the heads to- 
gether in one mash." Something more funda- 
mental even than party government is needed, 
and in some words written in 1870 Ibsen has 
briefly expressed what he conceives to be the 
pith of the matter: — 

" The coming time — how all our notions will 
fall into the dust then ! And truly it is high 
time. All that we have lived on up till now has 
been the remnants of the revolutionary dishes 
of the last century, and we have been long 
enough chewing these over and over again. 

Ibsen. 157 

Our ideas demand a new substance and a new 
interpretation. Liberty, equality, and fraternity 
are no longer the same things that they were in 
the days of the blessed guillotine ; but it is just 
this that the politicians will not understand, and 
that is why I hate them. These people only 
desire partial revolutions, revolutions in exter- 
nals, in politics. But these are mere trifles. 
There is only one thing that avails — to revolu- 
tionize people's minds." 

He is not an aristocrat of the school of Carlyle, 
eager to put everything beneath the foot of a 
Cromwell or a Bismarck. The great task for 
democracy is, as Rosmer says in " Rosmers- 
holm," "to make every man in the land a 
nobleman." " The State must go ! " Ibsen wrote 
to G. Brandes in 1870. " That will be a revolu- 
tion which will find me on its side. Undermine 
the idea of the State, set up in its place spon- 
taneous action, and the idea that spiritual rela- 
tionship is the only thing that makes for unity, 
and you will start the elements of a liberty 
which will be something worth possessing." 
It is only by the creation of great men and 
women, by the enlargement to the utmost of 
the reasonable freedom of the individual, that 
the realization of Democracy is possible. And 
herein, as in other fundamental matters, Ibsen is 
at one with the American, with whom he would 
appear at first sight to have little in common. 

1 58 The New Spirit. 

" Where the men and women think lightly of 
the laws ; . . . where the populace rise at once 
against the never-ending audacity of elected 
persons ; . . . where outside authority enters 
always after the precedence of inside authority ; 
where the citizen is always the head and ideal ; 
where children are taught to be laws to them- 
selves ; . . . there the great city stands ! " ex- 
claims Walt Whitman. 

In "The Pillars of Society" — which was se- 
parated from " The Young Men's League " by 
the appearance of " Emperor and Galilean " — 
Ibsen pours delicious irony on those conventional 
lies which are regarded as the foundations of 
social and domestic life. Here also he pre- 
sents us with one of the most eminent of the 
group of " governors, teachers, spiritual pas- 
tors and masters " that throughout these plays 
strive to act as the pillars of the social system. 
Straamand in " Love's Comedy," Manders in 
''Ghosts," the schoolmaster, Rorlund, here, with 
many minor figures scattered through other plays, 
notwithstanding slight differences, are closely 
allied. The clergyman is for Ibsen the supreme 
representative and exponent of conventional 
morality. Yet the dramatist never falls into 
the mistake of some of his Scandinavian con- 
temporaries who make their clerical figures 
mere caricatures. Here, as always, it is because 
it is so reasonable and truthful that Ibsen's irony 

Ibsen. 159 

is so keen. Rorlund is honest and conscientious, 
but the thinnest veils of propriety are impene- 
trable to him ; he can see nothing but the 
obvious and external aspects of morality ; he is 
incapable of grasping a new idea, or of sym- 
pathizing with any natural instinct or generous 
emotion ; it is his part to give utterance, im- 
pressive with the sanction of religion, to the 
traditional maxims of the society he morally 
supports. Pastor Manders, in " Ghosts," is less 
fluent than Rorlund, and of stronger character. 
His training and experience have fitted him to 
deal in all dignity with the proprieties and con- 
ventions of social morality ; but when he is in 
the presence of the realities of life, or when a 
generous human thought or emotion flashes 
out before him, he shrinks back, shocked and 
cowed. He is then, as Mrs. Alving says, 
nothing but a great child. That Ibsen is, in 
his clerical personages, as some have said, 
covertly attacking Protestantism, it is not neces- 
sary to assert. It is the traditional morality, of 
which the priesthood everywhere are the chief 
and authorized exponents, with which he is 
chiefly concerned. His attitude towards Chris- 
tianity generally we may perhaps gather from 
the intensity of feeling with which Julian, in 
" Emperor and Galilean," expresses his pas- 
sionate repugnance to its doctrine of the evil 
of human nature and its policy of suppression. 

1 60 The Nciv Spirit. 

"You can never understand it, you," he con- 
tinues, " who have never been in the power of 
this God-Man. It is more than a doctrine which 
he has spread over the world ; it is a charm 
which has fettered the senses. Whoever falls 
once into his hands — I think he never becomes 
free again. We are like vines planted in a 
foreign soil ; plant us back again and we 
should perish ; yet we languish in this new 

"A Doll's House" contains Ibsen's most 
elaborate portrait of a woman, and it is his 
chief contribution to the elucidation of the ques- 
tions relating to the social functions and position 
of women in the modern world. It is the tragedy 
of marriage, and on this ground it has excited 
much discussion, and is perhaps the most widely 
known of Ibsen's social dramas. As a work of 
art it is probably the most perfect of them. He 
has here thrown off the last fragments of that 
conventionality in treatment which frequently 
mars the two previous plays, and has reached 
the full development of his own style. The 
play is an organic whole, all its parts are inti- 
mately bound together, and every step in the 
development is vital and inevitable. Nora her- 
self, the occupant of the doll's house, is a being 
whose adult instincts have been temporarily 
arrested by the influences which have made her 
an overgrown child. She is the daughter of a 

Ibsen. 1 6 1 

frivolous official of doubtful honesty ; she has 
been fed on those maxims of conventional 
morality of which Rorlund is so able an ex- 
ponent ; and her chief recreation has been in 
the servants' room. She is now a mother, and 
the wife of a man who shields her carefully from 
all contact with the world. He refrains from 
sharing with her his work or his troubles ; he 
fosters all her childish instincts ; she is a source 
of enjoyment to him, a precious toy. He is a 
man of aesthetic tastes, and his love for her has 
something of the delight that one takes in a 
work of art. Nora's conduct is the natural out- 
come of her training and experience. She tells 
lies with facility ; she flirts almost recklessly to 
attain her own ends ; when money is concerned 
her conceptions of right are so elementary that 
she forges her father's name. But she acts from 
the impulses of a loving heart ; her motives are 
always good ; she is not conscious of guilt. Her 
education in life has not led her beyond the 
stage of the affectionate child with no sense of 
responsibility. But the higher instincts are 
latent within her ; and they awake when the 
light of day at length penetrates her doll's house, 
and she learns the judgment of the world, of 
which her husband now stands forth as the stern 
interpreter. In the clash and shock of that 
moment she realizes that her marriage has been 
no marriage, that she has been living all these 

1 62 The New Spirit. 

years with a "strange man," and that she is no 
fit mother for her children. She leaves her 
home, not to return until, as she says, to live 
with her husband will be a real marriage. Will 
she ever return ? — The Norwegian poets, it has 
been said, like to end their dramas, as such end 
in life, with a note of interrogation. 

Nora is one of a group of women, more or less 
highly developed, who are distributed throughout 
Ibsen's later plays. They stand, in their stagnant 
conventional environment, as, either instinctively 
or intelligently, actually or potentially, the repre- 
sentatives of freedom and truth ; they contain 
the promise of a new social order. The men in 
these plays, who are able to estimate their social 
surroundings at a just value, have mostly been 
wounded or paralyzed in the battle of life ; they 
stand by, half-cynical, and are content to be 
merely spectators. But the women — Selma, 
Lona, Nora, Mrs. Alving, Rebecca — are full of 
unconquerable energy. There is a new life in 
their breasts that surges, often tumultuously, 
into very practical expression. 

As " The Doll's House " is the tragedy of 
marriage, so "Ghosts" is the tragedy of heredity. 
This wonderful play is the logical outcome and 
continuation of " The Doll's Hous'\" Mrs. 
Alving is a Nora who had resolved to cling to 
her husband in spite of all, and here is the result. 
She is a woman of energy and intellect, who lias 

Ibsen. 163 

managed the estate, and devoted herself success- 
full)' to the task of creating an artificial odour of 
sanctity around the memory of her late husband. 
At the same time she has been gradually throwing 
aside the precepts of the morality in which she 
has been educated, and has learned to think for 
herself. When her son Oswald returns home, in 
reality dying of disease that has been latent from 
his birth, he seems to her the ghost of his father. 
His own life has been free from excess, but he 
now drinks too much ; and he begins to make 
love to the girl who is really his half-sister, 
exactly as his father had done to her mother in 
the same place. The scene finally closes over 
the first clear signs of his madness. The irony 
of the play is chiefly brought about by the in- 
voluntary agency of Pastor Manders, the con- 
summate flower of conventional morality, and 
n the few hours which the action covers the 
tragedy of heredity is slowly and relentlessly 
Unfolded, with the vanity of all efforts to conceal 
or suppress the great natural forces of life. 

In " Ghosts," it seems to me, Ibsen reached 
the highest point of his art. He deals here with 
commonplace characters and everyday scenes ; 
most of the action is conveyed in mere drawing- 
room dialogue ; but we feel how the clearness and 
completeness of this play, itstragic intensity, its im- 
mense concentration, have at the back the whole 
of Ibsen's various achievement. When we reach 

164 The New Spirit. 

the end we experience that prolonged shudder 
of horror, in which, as Aristotle said, the purifi- 
cation of tragedy lies, and we involuntarily recall 
whatever is most awful in literature, the " Ores- 
teia" of y£schylus, Shakespeare's "Macbeth," 
Shelley's " Cenci." It is only on more intimate 
acquaintance that we are able to look beyond 
the horror of it, and that we realize here, better 
than elsewhere, how Ibsen has absorbed the 
scientific influences of his time, the attitude of 
unlimited simplicity and trust in the face of 
reality. " I almost think," Mrs. Alving says, 
" that we are all of us ghosts, Pastor Manders, 
It is not only what we have inherited from 
our father and mother that ' walks ' in us,— it is 
all sorts of dead ideas and lifeless old beliefs 
and so forth. They have no vitality, but they 
cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid 
of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper I 
seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. 
There must be ghosts all the country over, as 
thick as the sand of the sea." There is the ab- 
solute acceptance of facts, however disagreeable. 
But, beside it, is the hope that lies in the skilful 
probing of the wound that the ignorant have 
foolishly smothered up ; the hope also that 
lies in a glad trust of nature and of natural 
instincts Nowhere else in Ibsen's work can 
we feel so strong and invigorating a breath of 
new life. 

Ibsen. 165 

"An Enemy of Society " is closely connected 
in its origin with "Ghosts." When "Ghosts" 
was published it aroused fierce antagonism. 
Such a subject was not suited, it was said, to 
artistic treatment. The discussion was foolish 
enough ; the wise saying of Goethe still remains 
true, that " no real circumstance is unpoetic so 
long as the poet knows how to use it." All the 
worthy people, however, in whose name Pastor 
Manders is entitled to speak, declared, further, 
that the play was immoral — as it certainly is 
from their point of view — and it was some time 
before its first representation on the stage, with 
the distinguished northern actor, Lindberg, in 
the part of Oswald. Ibsen had expected a storm, 
but the storm was even greater than he had 
anticipated ; and in the history of Dr. Stock- 
mann he has given an artistic version of his own 
experiences at this time. It is pleasant that the 
only figure in these plays that we can intimately 
associate with Ibsen himself is that of the manly 
and genial Stockmann. When he discovers 
that the water at the Baths, of which he is the 
medical director, and which are the chief cause 
of the town's prosperity, are infected and pro- 
ducing disastrous results to the invalids, he 
resolves that the matter shall at once be made 
known and remedied. It is in the shock of the 
universal disapprobation that this resolution 
arouses that our genial and homely doctor is 

1 66 The Netv Spirit. 

lifted into heroism, and becomes the mouthpiece 
of truths with far-reaching significance. The 
great scene in the fourth act, in which he calls a 
public meeting as the only remaining way to 
make his discovery public, and, amid general 
clamour, sets forth his opinions, is one of the 
most powerful and genuinely dramatic that Ibsen 
has ever written. 

" The Wild Duck " is, as a drama, the least 
remarkable of Ibsen's plays of this group. There 
is no central personage who absorbs our atten- 
tion, and no great situation. For the first time 
also we detect a certain tendency to mannerism, 
and the dramatist's love of symbolism, here 
centred in the wild duck, becomes obtrusive and 
disturbing. Yet this play has a distinct and 
peculiar interest for the student of Ibsen's works. 
The satirist who has so keenly pursued others 
has never spared himself; in the lines that he 
has set at the end of the charming little volume 
in which he has collected his poems, he declares 
that, " to write poetry is to hold a doomsday over 
oneself." Or, as he has elsewhere expressed it : 
" All that I have written corresponds to some- 
thing that I have lived through, if not actually 
experienced. Every new poem has served as a 
spiritual process of emancipation and purifica- 
tion." In both " Brand " and " Peer Gynt " we 
may detect this process. In "The Wild Duck" 
Ibsen has set himself on the side of his enemies, 

Ibsen. 167 

and written, as a kind of anti-mask to " The 
Doll's House" and "The Pillars of Society," a 
play in which, from the standpoint to which the 
dramatist has accustomed us, everything is 
topsy-turvy. Gregers Werle is a young man, 
possessing something of the reckless will-power 
of Brand, who is devoted to the claims of 
the ideal, and who is doubtless an enthusiastic 
student of Ibsen's social dramas. On returning 
home after a long absence he learns that his 
father has provided for a cast-off mistress by 
marrying her to an unsuspecting man who is an 
old friend of Gregers'. He resolves at once 
that it is his duty at all costs to destroy the 
element of falsehood in this household, and to 
lay the foundations of a true marriage. His 
interference ends in disaster; the weak average 
human being fails to respond properly to "the 
claims of the ideal ; " while Werle's father, the 
chief pillar of conventional society in the play, 
spontaneously forms a true marriage, founded 
on mutual confessions and mutual trust. If the 
play may be regarded, not quite unfairly, as a 
burlesque of possible deductions from the earlier 
plays, it witnesses also, like " Ghosts," to Ibsen's 
profound conviction that all vital development 
must be spontaneous and from within, condi- 
tioned by the nature of the individual. 

In " The Wild Duck " Ibsen approaches in 
his own manner, without, however, much insis- 

1 68 The New Spirit. 

tencc, the moral aspects of the equality of the 
sexes. Is a woman, who has had no relation- 
ships with a man before marriage, entitled to 
expect the same in her husband ? Is a man, who 
has had relationships with other women before 
marriage, entitled to complain if his wife has 
also had such relationships ? These are the 
sort of questions which the Scandinavian and 
Danish dramatists — Bjornson, Eduard Brandes, 
Charlotte Edgren, Benzon — seem never tired 
of discussing. Eduard Brandes makes his ad- 
mirable little drama " Et Besog," published about 
the same time as " Vildanden," hang on this 
problem, and although he brings no new idea 
into the play, he settles the question in the 
same spirit as his great fellow-dramatist. " En 
Hanske," also published about the same time, 
gives us Bjornson's contribution to the question. 
In this play a young woman is in love with a 
young man who, as she learns accidentally at 
the moment of formally engaging herself to 
him, has had previous relationships with other 
women. At the same time she discovers that 
her own father, an amiable old elegant, has been 
frequently unfaithful to his wife, and that her 
mother still carries about a suppressed bitter- 
ness. The girl realizes that life is not like what 
she has been brought up to believe ; she rejects 
her lover, and after some unexpected and quite 
unnecessary brutalities from him, flings her 

Ibsen. 169 

glove in his face. All Bjornson's genial vivacity 
and emotional expansiveness come out in the 
earlier scenes of this play, and there is some 
pleasant comedy, especially when the easy- 
going father tries to lecture his daughter, to the 
accompaniment of her acute comments and the 
wife's sarcastic exclamations, on a wife's privi- 
leges. " Mere," he says, " is woman's noblest 
calling." " As what ? " asks the daughter. " As 
what ? — Have you not listened ? As — as the 
ennobling influence in marriage, as that which 

makes man purer, as, as " " Soap ? " " Soap ? 

what on earth makes you think of soap ? " " You 
make out that marriage is a great laundry for 
men. We girls are to stand ready, each at her 
wash-tub, with her piece of soap. Is that how 
you mean it ? " On this ground, however, it is 
difficult to avoid comparisons with Ibsen, and 
we miss here both the artistic and moral grip of 
the greater dramatist. Ibsen's solution of the 
matter in " The Wild Duck " seems to be that 
there can be no true marriage without mutual 
knowledge and mutual confession. 

In " Rosmcrsholm," social questions have 
passed into the background : they are present, 
indeed, throughout ; and to some extent they 
cause the tragedy of the drama, as the number- 
less threads that bind a man to his past, and 
that cut and oppress him when he strives to take a 
step forward. But on this grey background the 

T 70 The New Spirit. 

passionate figure of Rebecca West forms a vivid 
and highly-wrought portrait. Ibsen has rarely 
shown such intimate interest in the development 
of passion. The whole life and soul of this ardent, 
silent woman, whom we see in the first scene 
quietly working at her crochet, while the house- 
keeper prepares the supper, are gradually re- 
vealed to us in brief flashes of light between the 
subsidiary episodes, until at last she ascends and 
disappears down the inevitable path to the mill 
stream. The touches which complete this picture 
are too many and too subtle to allow of analysis ; 
in the last scene Ibsen's concentrated prose 
reaches as high a pitch of emotional intensity as 
he has ever cared to attain. 

" The Lady from the Sea " seems to carry us 
into an atmosphere rather different from that of 
the early social dramas. An element of melo- 
drama mingles here with the social interest, and 
makes this play one of the least characteristic, 
but certainly one of the most dramatically effec- 
tive of the group. Ellida, a morbid, romantic 
young woman, whose mother died insane, has 
met before her marriage the second mate of an 
American ship, a "stranger;" he attracts her 
with all the charm of the wild life of the sea and 
the fascination of the unknown. Having per- 
petrated a more or less justifiable homicide, the 
second mate is compelled to flee, not before he 
has gone through a form of betrothal with Ellida. 

Ibsen. 171 

Subsequently she marries a well-meaning, com- 
monplace widower, but she wanders helplessly 
and uselessly through life, like a mermaid among 
the children of men, still held, in spite of herself, 
by the old fascination of the sea. At length the 
mysterious " stranger " turns up again, resolved, 
if she wishes, to carry her off in spite of every- 
thing. She feels that she must be free — free to 
go or free to stay. The husband, naturally, re- 
fuses to hear of this, proposes to send the man 
about his business. At length he consents to 
allow her to choose as she will. Then at once 
she feels able to decide against the "stranger," 
who leaps over the wall and disappears. The 
charm is broken for ever, and she has the chance 
to make something of her life. The moral is 
evident : without freedom of choice there can be 
no real emancipation or development. 

The men of our own great dramatic period 
wrote plays which are the expression of mere 
gladness of heart and childlike pleasure in the 
splendid and various spectacle of the world. 
Hamlet and FalstafT", the tragic De Flores and 
the comic Simon Eyre, they are all merely parts 
of the play. It is all play. The breath of 
Ariosto's long song of delight and Boccaccio's 
virile joy in life was still on these men, and for 
the organization of society, or even for the de^ 
vclopment and fate of the individual save as a 
spectacle, they took little thought. In the modern 

i 72 The New Spirit. 

world this is no longer possible ; rather, it is only 
possible for an occasional individual who is com- 
pelled to turn his back on the world. Ibsen, 
like Aristophanes, like Moliere, and like Dumas 
to-day, has given all his mature art and his 
knowledge of life and men to the service of 
ideas. "Overthrowing society means an inverted 
pyramid getting straight" — one of the audacious 
sayings of James Hinton — might be placed as a 
motto on the title-page of all Ibsen's later plays. 
His work throughout is the expression of a great 
soul crushed by the weight of an antagonistic 
social environment into utterance that has caused 
him to be regarded as the most revolutionary of 
modern writers. 

An artist and thinker, whose gigantic strength 
has been nourished chiefly in solitude, whose 
works have been, as he himself says in one of 
his poems, " deeds of night," written from afar, 
can never be genuinely popular. Everything 
that he writes is received in his own country 
with attention and controversy ; but he is mis- 
taken for a cynic and pessimist ; he is not loved 
in Norway as Bjornson is loved, although Bjorn- 
son, in the fruitful dramatic activity of his second 
period, has but followed in Ibsen's steps; — just 
as Goethe was never so well understood and 
appreciated as Schiller. Bjornson, with his 
genial exuberance, his popular sympathies and 
hopes, never too far in advance of his fellows, 

Ibseti. 173 

invigorates and refreshes like one of the forces of 
nature. Pie represents the summer side of his 
country, in its bright warmth and fragrance. 
Ibsen, standing alone in the darkness in front, 
absorbed in the problems of human life, indif- 
ferent to the aspects of external nature, has 
closer affinities to the stern winter-night of Nor- 
way. But there is a mighty energy in this man's 
work. The ideas and instincts, developed in 
silence, which inspire his art, are of the kind that 
penetrate men's minds slowly. Yet they pene- 
trate surely, and arc proclaimed at length in the 

1 74 The New Spirit* 



RUSSIA is the natural mediator between Europe 
and Asia. It happens with the regularity of an 
ethnic law that every race partakes of the cha- 
racteristics of neighbouring races. The extinct 
Tasmanian, by his curious aberrations from the 
Australian type and approximation to that of 
Polynesia, furnished an unexpected anthropo- 
logical problem that is still unsolved. Every- 
where the same mysterious blending or transi- 
tion may be witnessed. Apart from complexion, 
it has been said, many a Russian peasant might 
pass in Lahore or Benares as a native of the 
Ganges valley. Whatever the ethnologist may 
say, one way or another, as to the racial ele- 
ments of the country, anyone who approaches 
the study of Russian men and Russian things 
perpetually meets with traits that are not fami- 
liar to him as European, but which he may have 
already learnt to know as Asiatic. Nor is it only 
in the little traits of character and daily life that 
these Eastern influences appear ; the language 
itself has close Oriental affinities, and the old 
Sclavonic is nearly related to Sanscrit. In 

Tolstoi. 175 

trying to make Russia plain to ourselves, it is 
constantly necessary to sound this keynote. 

A nation's instincts are revealed in its art. 
The complex history of the origin and develop- 
ment of Russian art is full of interest. " Russia," 
as Viollet le Due wrote in his charming book, 
" L' Art russe," " has been a laboratory in which 
the arts coming from all parts of Asia have 
united to assume an intermediate form between 
the eastern and western worlds." The art of 
Russia has three great sources, the Scythian, 
the Byzantine, and the Mongolian, but when 
these are analyzed it is found that each of them 
consists largely, when not entirely, of Oriental 
elements. Not less than nine-tenths of these 
component elements, Persian, Greek, Hindu, 
Finnic, and other, may, in Viollet le Due's 
opinion, be set down as Eastern. Sometimes 
the art of Russia seems to have been almost 
effaced by Byzantine or Hindu influences, yet 
it ultimately assimilated all these Eastern in- 
fluences until it reached its highest point of deve- 
lopment at the end of the sixteenth century. 
In the gilded bulbous domes we see Hindu 
influence. Persian influence was peculiarly 
strong ; the beautiful Holy Gate of the Church 
of St. John at Rostoff, the work of sixteenth 
century Russian artists, is of thoroughly Persian 
character. All that Russia took from Central 
Asia and Persia strengthened her art, though it 

176 The Nav Spirit. 

retained its own characteristics, shown partly by 
the love of splendour peculiar to a youthful and 
semi-barbaric race, as in the fantastic magnifi- 
cence of that " gigantic madrepore," the Church 
of Vassili Blagennoi in the Kremlin at Moscow; 
partly by a freedom of conception and variety of 
execution in which the native spirit found 
expression. Gothic art, with its whole gamut 
of notes, from divine aspiration to grotesque 
humour, remained absolutely alien. When Peter 
the Great introduced Latin and Teutonic in- 
fluences, and German, Italian, English, above 
all, French elements poured into the country, an 
" official Russia " grew up, speaking a foreign 
language and having no contact with the nation. 
Russia remained the same, but the dissolution of 
Russian art was ensured. 

The genuine Russian spirit seems not to have 
emerged distinctively into the region of great art 
until it was brought into the peculiarly modern 
and western shape of the novel by Gogol, 
the Ukranian Cossack. "Dead Souls" is the 
first great Russian example of the modern story- 
teller's art, and still the most popular. Oriental 
influences have ceased ; in Gogol we find wes- 
tern, especially English, influences, but, unlike 
the literary tendencies of the last century, they 
are duly subordinated to elements that are 
essentially Russian. The direct simplicity of the 
Russian, his love of minute realistic detail, which 

Tolstoi. 1 7 7 

seems to be expressed even in the ancient form 
of the Russian cross, his quietism, his profound 
human sympathy, have all found adequate voice 
in the modern Russian novel. The Russian 
painters of to-day, and the artists in bronze, 
with their simple realism and constant research 
for the expression of life in action, have but fol- 
lowed in the steps of the Russian novel, which 
has, as its supreme representatives, Tourgueneff, 
Dostoieffski, and Tolstoi. Tourgueneff, so delicate 
and sensitive in his realism, with its atmosphere 
of ineffable melancholy, a Corot among novelists, 
as De Vogue calls him, is great not only by the 
breadth and insight of his art, but by the unique 
position he holds in the development of Russian 
literature. The " Stories by a Hunter," published 
a few years before the emancipation of the serfs, 
to which they are supposed to have contributed, 
turned the Russian novel in the direction of 
peasant life. The study of the peasant which 
occupies so much attention in Russia to-day is 
much more than a mere fashion, for the peasant 
in Russia represents by far the chief element in 
the population ; certainly the interest in him has 
already left an ineffaceable mark on those great 
Russian novelists whose influence is world-wide. 
Tolstoi, Grcgorovitch, Tchedrine, and others, 
have drawn the moojik with the breadth and 
faithfulness of Millet, in every attitude of god- 
like strength, of pathetic resignation, of abject 

178 The New Spirit. 

vice. In Dostoieffski, as in the poet Nekrassoff, 
this democratic element is more fundamental than 
in either Tourgueneff or Tolstoi. Dostoieffski's 
profound science of the human heart could never 
get near enough to its primitive and instinctive 
elements. There are two or three scenes in 
" Recollections of the Dead House," of Dan- 
tesque awfulness, which seem to bring nearer 
to us than anything else the very flesh and spirit 
of humanity. Such is that scene of the convicts 
in the bath-room, close and crowded, until, on 
the reddened backs, beneath the stress of the 
heat and the steam, stand out clearly the old scars 
of whips and rods. In all Dostoieffski's books 
we are constantly irritated and fascinated by this 
same strange penetrating odour of humanity. 

Russian art has always been very closely 
allied with religion, and the Russian is very reli- 
gious. Ever since, a thousand years ago, the 
Muscovites swam by thousands into their rivers, 
headed by the chiefs, to receive Christian bap- 
tism, they seem to have taken great interest in 
religion. But their religion has a distinctive 
character. It has no clear demarcation from 
ordinary life, a characteristic that is reflected in 
the similarity of religious and secular art in 
Russia. More than this, unlike both the favourite 
religions of the Indian and of the Teutonic races, 
it is not largely mystical ; it is simply a mystical 
communism. Sympathy and the need of com- 

Tolstoi. 1 79 

radeship, which seem to be deeply rooted in 
the national character, are the characteristics of 
Russian religion. " Pity for a fallen creature is 
a very national trait," wrote Gogol, and among 
the great Russian novelists, Dostoieffski, who is 
the most intensely Russian, is throughout pene- 
trated by the passion of pity. This spirit shows 
itself in the remarkable sympathy with which, 
in Russian popular stories, the devil is treated. 
"He is represented," Stepniak remarks, "as the 
enemy of man, doing his best to drag him down 
into hell. But as this is his trade he cannot help 
it, and the people bear him no malice. He is a 
good devil after all." Of the three persons of 
the Christian Trinity, the second, most asso- 
ciated with images of love, appeals most to the 
Russian popular imagination. God the Father, 
as an austere personage, lacking in sympathy, 
is, on the other hand, regarded with indifferent, 
not to say hostile, feelings. This was well 
exemplified by the innocent remark of a vene- 
rable moojik in a remote part of the country: 
"What ! Is the old fellow alive still ?" 

The Russian has yet changed but little. The 
Scythians, as we see them in the realistic repousse 
work of the Nikopol vase of twenty-three cen- 
turies ago, are the Russian moejiks of to-day ; the 
features and the dress have scarcely changed. 
They are, as Herodotus described them, a race 
very tenacious of their customs. The sorcerer 

1 80 The New Spirit. 

still holds his own among them, while the ortho- 
dox pope, it is well known, is regarded with no 
reverence, but rather as a tradesman.] Propitiatory 
sacrifices, it is said, are still paid by fishermen 
to the river-gods, and families in the same way 
try to keep on good terms with the household 
deities. The ancient communistic land customs 
still flourish, together with the ineradicable belief 
that the land must be the property of everyone. 
In some parts of the country it is not uncommon 
for a poor man to help himself to the corn of a 
rich man, the loan being repaid with interest in 
subsequent years. The deeply-rooted indifference 
of the people to external laws appears in the 
difficulty with which they have been induced to 
accept an officially recognized marriage cere- 
mony, and in the indulgence which is still felt 
towards liberty, which is not always licence, in 
such matters. In some parts of Russia, even to- 
day, it is said, a kind of Pervigilium Veneris is 
held periodically ; the young people ascend a 
mountain to sing and to dance, after which it is 
de rigueur to separate and to spend the night in 
couples. The primitive matter-of-fact simplicity 
of the people, as well as their indifference to law 
and authority, is shown in an incident that is 
said to have occurred only a few years ago. The 
peasants in a certain village decided that it was 
not desirable for their widowed pope to live alone, 
but the priest of the Greek Church is not allowed 

Tolstoi. 1 8 1 

to re-marry ; therefore the peasants, having ob- 
tained the consent of a soldier's widow to be the 
pope's mistress, insisted on introducing her into 
his house. 1 Such incidents often took place in 
the western Europe of five centuries ago. 

We have to bear in mind these characteristics 
when we try to understand the great religious 
movements that are going on in Russia. In all 
these sects we see the tenacity with which the 
Russian people have clung to their inborn practi- 
cal instincts of communism, fraternity, and sexual 
freedom. This religious movement is but another 
aspect of the spirit that shows itself in Nihilism, 
and it is a wider, deeper, and more interesting 
aspect. Both represent a profound antagonism 
to the State and to the official western methods 
of social organization promulgated by the State. 
Religious nonconformity dates far back into the 
Middle Ages, but to Peter the Great is owing 
the first great development of Russian sects. 
That Tzar, with his hatred of all things Russian, 
was naturally regarded by pious and patriotic 
Russians as Antichrist, and they perished, in 
thousands at a time, by their own hands, rather 
than submit to the western notions which, knout 

1 I take this, and much of what follows, from N. 
Tsakni's interesting book, " La Russie Sectaire." It is 
scarcely necessary to refer the English reader to the 
valuable series of works in which Stepniak has set forth 
the condition of modern Russia. 

1 82 The New Spirit. 

in hand, he tried to force upon them. On the soil 
of poverty, wretchedness and disease, which dis- 
tinguishes Russia to-day from the rest of Europe, 
these religious sects have everywhere sprung up 
and flourished; some of an ascetic type, with 
Asiatic tendencies, belonging more especially to 
the north of Russia, such as those frantic devotees, 
the Skoptsy, who mutilate themselves after the 
manner of the Phrygian worshippers of Cybele ; 
or of those sects, belonging more to the south, 
and rapidly gaining ground over the others, who 
desire to lead a life of reason and love, such as 
the Doukhobory, who recognize no more divinity 
in Jesus than resides in all men, deny all dogmas, 
ceremonies, authority, give equal rights to every 
man and woman, treat children with the same 
respect as the aged, practise free marriages, and 
are in their daily lives both more moral and more 
prosperous than their neighbours. One of the 
most recent of these sects is the Soutaiefftsky, 
that first became generally known about 1880. 
Basil Soutaieff, an uneducated mason, belonging 
to the centre of Russia, from his early years 
pondered and dreamed over the misery of the 
world. To obtain light he visited the priests, 
and one referred him to the Gospels. His zeal 
induced him to learn to read, and he studied the 
New Testament eagerly. One day he carried to 
the church the body of a young son for burial. 
The pope asked fifty kopecks for the ceremony ; 

Tolstoi. 183 

Soutaieff had only thirty, and the pope began to 
bargain with him over the corpse. Soutaieff in- 
dignantly took up the body and buried it in his 
own garden. From that time dated his criticism 
of the Church, and side by side grew up also a 
criticism of the world. He observed in his own 
trade the tricks of commerce and the perpetual 
^ flfort to amass money and to deceive the worker. 
1 [e abandoned his work as a mason and returned 
from St. Petersburg to the country to cultivate 
the earth, distributing to the poor the money he 
had previously earned. But in the country he 
found, from pope to peasant, the same vices as in 
the town, and with no wish to found a new sect, 
he became, by example as well as by precept, the 
teacher of a religion of universal love and pity. 

Soutaieff rejects all ceremonies, including 
baptism and marriage (for which he substitutes 
a simple blessing and exhortation to a just life), 
and all those external manifestations of religion 
which render men hypocritical. At the same 
time he rejects all faith in angels or devils, or in 
the supernatural generally, and is absolutely in- 
different to the question of a future life. We 
have to occupy ourselves with the establishment 
of happiness and justice on this earth; what 
happens above, he says, I cannot tell, never 
having been there ; perhaps there is nothing but 
eternal darkness. 

He recognizes that the moral regeneration of 

1 84 The New Spirit. 

men is closely connected with social and econo- 
mic questions. Private property is the source 
of the hatreds, jealousies, and miseries of men. 
The proprietors must give up the land of which 
they have arbitrarily gained possession, and work 
for their living. But this end is to be gained, not 
by violence, but by persuasion ; men will recog- 
nize the hypocrisy and injustice of their lives, 
and those who persist in evil will be shut out 
from the fraternal community. Soutaieft refused, 
at one period at all events, to pay taxes. Once 
he went to St. Petersburg to explain the state of 
things to the Emperor; great was his indignation 
when not only was an interview refused, but he 
was summarily expelled from the city. Soutaieff 
and his disciples refuse military service, for the 
men of all nations and religions are brothers : 
why should they quarrel ? 

This is the substance of Soutaieffs teaching. 
Large numbers of persons come to hear him, 
sometimes out of curiosity, more often as dis- 
ciples. He leads the life of a simple peasant. 
One evening, it is said, on going to his barn, he 
found several men carrying away sacks of flour. 
Without saying a word, he entered the barn 
and found a sack that the robbers had not jet 
carried off. He pursued them, and on catching 
up with them, he said : " My brothers, you must 
be in need of bread; take the sack that you 
have forgotten." The following day the robbers 

Tolstoi. i $5 

brought back the flour, and asked Soutaieffs 

He has himself summed up his teaching. 
"What is truth?" a hearer once asked him. 
" Truth," answered Soutaieff with conviction, 
"truth is love, in a common life." 


Every artist writes his own autobiography. 
Even Shakespeare's works contain a life of him- 
self for those who know how to read it. There 
is little difficulty in reading Tolstoi's; moreover, 
it is very copious, and possesses the additional 
advantage of being written from at least two 
distinct points of view. It is seldom necessary 
to consult any other authority for the essential 
facts of his life and growth. " Childhood, Boy- 
hood, and Youth," the earliest of his large 
books, and one of the most attractive, tells us 
all that we need to know of his early life. 
An English critic has remarked that, if Tolstoi 
has here described his boyhood, he must have 
been a very commonplace child. The early 
life of men of genius is rarely a record of pre- 
cocities. The boy here described so minutely, 
with his abnormal sensitiveness, his shy awkward- 
ness and profound admiration of the commc il 
faitt, his perpetual self-analysis, his brooding 
dreams, his amusing self-conceit, bears in him 
the germs of a great artist much more certainly 

i S6 TJie New Spirit, 

than any small monster of perfection. It is 
scarcely necessary to say that the autobiography 
here is not one of incident, as some persons have 
foolishly supposed ; it is neither complete nor 
historically accurate. Tolstoi uses his material 
as an artist, but the material is himself. The 
artist craves to express the inward experiences 
of his past life, of which he can scarcely speak. 
He invents certain imaginary events, or re- 
arranges actual events as a frame into which he 
fits his own inward experiences. Whatever is 
most poignant and vivid in the novelist's art is 
so produced ; and you say to him, "This is so 
real ; you are narrating your own history." He 
will be able to reply laughingly, " Oh, no ! my 
life is not at all like that." Imagination is a 
poor substitute for experience. There is suffi- 
cient external evidence extant, even if it were 
possible to doubt the internal, that Tolstoi is 
here throughout drawing on his own youthful 
experiences. Like Irteneff, young Tolstoi fol- 
lowed Franklin's injunctions as to the use of 
"Rules of Life;" his favourite books are the 
same ; like him, also, he early developed a love 
of metaphysics, owing to which, young Irteneff 
says, " I lost one aftei the other the convictions 
which, for the happiness of my own life, I 
never should have dared to touch." All the 
slight indications in the " Confessions" of young 
Tolstoi's spiritual experiences agree with young 

Tolstoi. 187 

IrtenefTs. Even the plain face, "exactly like 
that of a common peasant," the small grey eyes 
and thick lips and wide nose, that caused the 
boy of the story to look at himself in the glass 
with such sorrow and aversion, to pray so fer- 
vently to God to be made handsome, correspond 
exactly to those of the real hero. No sign of the 
boy's early development is left untouched. We 
feel that this book, in which the artist is first fully 
revealed, was the outcome of an overmastering 
impulse to give expression to the accumulated 
experiences of an intense and sensitive child- 
hood, now receding for ever into the past. 

Descended from a well-known minister and 
friend of Peter the Great, and belonging to a 
family that has been eminent for two hundred 
years in war, diplomacy, literature, and art, Lyof 
Tolstoi was born in 1828, the youngest of four 
sons; his mother, the Princess Marie Volkonsky, 
was the daughter of a general in Catherine's 
time, and, according to friends of the novelist's 
family, she resembled the Marie Bolkonsky of 
'• War and Peace." Both parents were, he says, 
in the general esteem, " good, cultivated, gentle, 
and devout." He was early left an orphan, his 
mother dying when he was not yet two years of 
age, his father when he was nine. At the age of 
fifteen he went to the University of Kazan ; he 
left it suddenly to settle on the estate at Yas- 
naya Polyana which had fallen to him. In 185 1, 

1 88 The New Spirit. 

at the age of twenty-three, he became a yunker 
(the usual position of a nobleman entering the 
army, doing the work of a common soldier and 
associating with the officers) in the artillery at the 
Caucasus; he was stationed on the Terek. This 
expedition to the Caucasus was a memorable 
event in young Tolstoi's life. It determined 
finally his artistic vocation. A centre of military 
activity on the most interesting frontier of the 
empire, it is a land of wonderful scenery and 
strange primitive customs, hallowed with asso- 
ciation with Poushkin and Gogol. Tolstoi's elder 
and most loved brother Nikolai had just come 
home on leave from the Caucasus; it was natural 
that young Lyof, who had never yet left the 
neighbourhood ot Moscow, should be attracted 
to a land which held for him a fascination so 
manifold. Under the influence of this strange 
and new environment he became, almost at once, 
a great artist, and " Childhood, Boyhood, and 
Youth " was written in 1852. 

Tolstoi's critics have sometimes regretted that 
he never continued this story. The only pos- 
sible continuation of " Childhood, Boyhood, and 
Youth" is "The Cossacks." The young Irteneff 
of the end of the former book corresponds as 
closely as possible with the Olyenin who is 
analyzed at the beginning of the latter. A (c\v 
years only have intervened. These years he 
long after summed up briefly and too sternly in 

Tolstoi. 189 

the " Confessions " : "I cannot think of those 
years without horror, disgust, and pain of heart. 
There was no vice or crime that in those days I 
would not have committed. Lying, theft, plea- 
sure of all sorts, intemperance, violence, murder 
—I have committed all. I lived on my estate, 
I consumed in drink or at cards what the labour 
of the peasants had produced. I punished them, 
and sold them, and deceived them ; and for all 
that I was praised." Tolstoi condemns himself 
without mercy, as Bunyan condemned himself 
in his "Grace Abounding;" even in the " Con- 
fessions" he admits that at this time his aspira- 
tions after good were the central element in his 
nature, and it was out of desire to benefit his 
peasants that he left the university prematurely 
to settle on his estate. 

Tolstoi's spiritual autobiography is carried on 
as accurately as anyone need desire in " The 
Cossacks." It was in the Caucasus that he first 
powerfully realized what nature is, and natural life ; 
he was, for the first time, forced to consider his 
own relation to such life. Lukashka, the healthy, 
coarse young Cossack soldier, Maryana, the beau- 
tiful robust Cossack girl, and the delightful figure 
of Uncle Jeroshka, the old hunter, display their 
vivid and active life before Olyenin, the child 
of civilization. He lives constantly in the pre- 
sence of the " eternal and inaccessible mountain 
snows and a majestic woman endowed with the 

1 90 The New Spirit. 

primitive beauty of the first woman ; " he feels 
the contrast between this and the life of cities : 
" happiness is to be with Nature, to see her, 
to hold converse with her ; " and he longs to 
mingle himself with the life of Maryana. In 
vain. " Now if I could only become a Cossack 
like Lukashka, steal horses, get tipsy on 
red wine, shout ribald songs shoot men down, 
and then while drunk creep in through the 
window where she was, without a thought of 
what I was doing or why I did it, that would be 
another thing, then we should understand one 
another, then I might be happy. . . . She fails 
to understand me, not because .she is beneath 
me, not at all ; it would be out of the nature of 
things for her to understand me. She is light- 
hearted ; she is like Nature, calm, tranquil, 
sufficient to herself. But I, an incomplete 
feeble creature, wish her to understand my 
ugliness and my anguish." The book is full 
of strongly-drawn pictures of the beauty of 
natural strength and health ; sometimes recalling 
Whitman at his best. They are strange, these 
resemblances between three great typical artists 
of to-day, so far apart, so little known to each 
other, Millet, Whitman, and Tolstoi. In "The 
Cossacks " Tolstoi gives his first statement of 
that problem of man's natural function in life 
which he has been seeking to solve ever since. 
Here he has no sort of solution to offer ; 

Tolstoi. 19 1 

"some voice seemed to bid him wait, not de- 
cide hastily." 

In 1854 Tolstoi was transferred at his own 
request to the Crimea, to obtain command of a 
mountain battery, doing good service at the 
battle of the Tchernaya. At this period also he 
wrote his " Sketches of Sebastopool." By this 
time he had attracted considerable attention as 
a writer, and by command of the Emperor, who 
said that " the life of that young man must be 
looked after," he was, much to his own annoy- 
ance, removed to a place of comparative safety. 

When peace was made, Tolstoi, then twenty- 
six years of age, left the army and settled in St. 
Petersburg, where he was warmly received by the 
chief literary circle of the capital, then includ- 
ing Tourgueneff, Gregorovitch, and Ostroffsky; 
the first, who was a comparatively near neigh- 
bour at Yasnaya Polyana, becoming one of his 
most intimate friends. During the following ten 
years he wrote little, but travelled in Germany, 
France, and Italy, and devoted himself to the 
education of the serfs on his estate, marrying in 
1862 the young and beautiful daughter of a 
German military doctor at Tula. Although he 
wrote little, he was enlarging his conception of 
art and studying literature. He admired English 
novels, both for their art and naturalism, and 
among French novelists he preferred Dumas 
and Paul de Kock, whom he called the French 

192 The New Spirit. 

Dickens. Schopenhauer was a favourite vvritet 
at this period. He found his chief recreations 
in that love of sport in all its forms which has 
left such vivid and delightful traces through- 
out his work. In his portraits he appears with 
a shaggy bearded face, with large prominent 
irregular features, and rather a stern fixed and 
reserved expression ; the deep eyes are watch- 
ful yet sympathetic, and at the same time 
melancholy, and the thick lips are sensitive. 
His acquaintances described him as not easy to 
approach, very shy and rather wild {trh-farouche 
et trh-sauvagc), but those who approached him 
found him " extremely amiable." In his later 
" Confessions " he thus summarizes his view of 
things, and that of the group to which he 
belonged, during this literary period of his life, 
more especially with reference to the earlier 
part of it. "The view of life of my literary 
comrades lay in the opinion that in general life 
developed itself ; that in this development we, 
the men of intellect, took the chief part, and 
among the men of intellect we, artists and poets, 
stood first. Our vocation was to instruct people. 
The very natural question, ' What do I know 
and what can I teach,' was unnecessary, for, 
according to the theory, one needed to know 
nothing. The artist, the poet, taught uncon- 
sciously. I held myself for a wonderful artist and 
poet, and very naturally appropriated this theory. 

Tolstoi. 193 

I was paid for it, I had excellent food, a good 
habitation, women, society ; I was famous. . . . 
When I look back to that time, to my state of 
mind then, and to that oi the 'people I lived 
with (there are thousands of them, even now), it 
seems to me melancholy, horrible, ludicrous ; I 
feci as one feels in a lunatic asylum. We were 
all then convinced that we must talk, talk, write 
and print as quickly as possible and as much as 
possible ; because it was necessary for the good 
of humanity." This is by no means a satisfac- 
tory or final account of the matter. 

" War and Peace," Tolstoi's longest and most 
ambitious work, which began to appear in 1865, 
is from the present point of view of compara- 
tively slight interest. His art had now become 
more complex, and this was a serious attempt to 
give life to various aspects of a great historical 
period. Much of himself, certainly, we find scat- 
tered through the work, especially in Pierre 
BesoukhofT, though it is unnecessary to say that 
a very large part of Pierre's experiences had no 
counterpart in Tolstoi's; the not very life-like 
or interesting Masonic episode, for instance, has 
clearly been read up. Pierre, however, appears 
before us, from first to last, as Tolstoi appears 
before us, a seeker. 

"Anna Karenina" is full of biographic mate- 
rial of intense interest. In Vronsky, doubtless 
much of his earlier experience, and in Levine, 

194 The Neiv Spirit. 

his own inner history at that time, are written 
clearly enough. From this standpoint the book 
has the vivid interest of a tragedy ; we see the 
man whose efforts to solve the mystery of life 
we can trace through all that he ever wrote, 
still groping, but now more restlessly and 
eagerly, with growing desperation. The nets are 
drawn tight around him, and when we close the 
book we see clearly the inevitable fate of which 
he is still unconscious. 

I once lived on the road to the cemetery of a 
large northern town. All day long, it seemed to 
me, the hearses were trundling along their dead 
to the grave, or gallopping gaily back. When I 
Avalked out I met men carrying coffins, and if I 
glanced at them, perhaps I caught the name of 
the child I saw two days ago in his mother's 
lap ; or I was greeted by the burly widower of 
yesterday, pipe in mouth, sauntering along to 
arrange the burial of the wife who lay, I knew, 
upstairs at home, thin and haggard and dead. 
The road became fantastic and horrible at last ; 
even such a straight road to the cemetery, it 
seemed, was the whole of life, a road full of the 
noise of the preparation of death. How daintily 
soever we danced along, each person, laugh- 
ing so merrily or in such downright earnest, 
was merely a corpse, screwed down in an 
invisible coffin, trundled along as rapidly as 
might be to the grave-edge. — It was at such a 

Tolstoi. 195 

point of view that Tolstoi arrived in his fiftieth 

"When I had ended my book 'Anna Karc- 
nina,'" he wrote in his "Confessions," "my 
despair reached such a height that I could do 
nothing but think, think, of the horrible condi- 
tion in which I found myself. . . . Questions 
never ceased multiplying and pressing for 
answers, and like lines converging all to one 
point, so these unanswerable questions pressed 
to one black spot. And with horror and a con- 
sciousness of my weakness, I remained standing 
before this spot. I was nearly fifty years old 
when these unanswerable questions brought me 
into this terrible and quite unexpected position. 
I had come to this, that I — a healthy and happy 
man — felt that I could no longer live. . . . 
Bodily, I was able to work at mowing hay as 
well as a peasant. Mentally, I could work for 
eighteen hours at a time without feeling any ill 
consequence. And yet I had come to this, that 
I could no longer live. ... I only saw one 
thing — Death. Everything else was a lie." 

The greater part of the " Confessions" is occu- 
pied with the analysis of this mental condition, 
and with the earlier stages of his deliverance, for 
when he wrote the book he was scarcely yet quite 
free. The direction in which light was to break 
in upon him is very clear even to the reader of 
"Anna Karenina." It seemed to him at length 

196 The New Spirit. 

that the awful questions which had oppressed 
him so long had been solved for thousands ol 
years by millions upon millions of persons who 
had never reasoned about them at all. " From 
the time when men first began to live anywhere," 
he says in the "Confessions," "they already 
knew the meaning of life, and they carried on 
this life so that it reached me. Everything in 
me and around me, corporeal and incorporeal, is 
the fruit of their experiences of life; even the 
means by which I judge and condemn life, all 
this is not mine, but brought forth by them. I 
myself have been born, bred, grown up, thanks 
to them. They have dug out the iron, have 
tamed cattle and horses, have taught how to till 
the ground, and how to live together and to 
order life ; they have taught me to think and to 
reason. And I, their production, receiving my 
meat and drink from them, instructed by their 
thoughts and words, have proved to them they 
are an absurdity ! ... It is clear that I have only 
called absurd what I do not understand." 

When he had made this great discovery the 
rest followed, slowly, but simply and naturally. 
First, he understood the meaning of God. He 
had all his life been seeking God. Now, one day 
in early spring, he was in the wood, trying to 
catch among the tones of the forest the cry of the 
snipe, listening and waiting, and thinking of the 
things he had been thinking of for the last three 

Tolstoi. • 197 

years, especially of this question of God. There 
was no God — that he knew was an intellectual 
truth. But is the knowledge of God an intellec- 
tual matter ? And it seemed to him that he 
realized that God is life, and that to live is to 
know God. " And from that moment the con- 
sciousness of God, as known by living, has re- 
mained with me." 

Following up this clue, he proceeded to attend 
church regularly, and to fulfil all the orthodox 
ceremonies. This, however, was a failure. He 
could not get rid of the consciousness that these 
things were — " bosh." He turned from the church 
to the Gospels. At this point the "Confessions" 
end. In the year 1879, m which he wrote that 
book, he heard of, and met, Soutaieff. 

One evening a beggar woman had knocked at 
Soutaieff' s door, asking shelter for the night. 
She was given food and a place of rest. Next 
morning all the family went to work in the field. 
The woman took the opportunity of collecting 
all the valuables she could lay her hands on, and 
fled. Some peasants at work saw her, stopped 
her, examined her bundle, and having bound her 
hands, led her before the local authorities. Sou- 
taieff heard of this, and soon arrived. " Why 
have you arrested her ? " he asked. " She is a 
thief; she must be punished," they cried. "Judge 
not, and you will not be judged," he said solemnly; 
" we are all guilty at some point. What is the 

198 The New Spirit. 

good of condemning her ? She will be put in 
prison, and what advantage will that be ? It 
would be much better to give her something to 
eat, and to let her go in the grace of God." 
Such curiously Christ-like stories as this of the 
peasant-teacher reached Tolstoi, and made a deep 
impression on him. They were in the line of his 
mental development, and threw light on his own 
experiences. The influence of Soutaieff appears 
in "What then must we do?" — a further chapter 
in the history of Tolstoi's development, and per- 
haps the most memorable of his attempts at the 
solution of social questions. 

What then must we do ? It was the question the 
people asked of John the Baptist, and we know 
his brief and practical answer. It was the question 
that pressed itself for solution on Tolstoi when 
he began to investigate the misery of Moscow, 
and to start philanthropic plans for its ameliora- 
tion. He tells us in this narrative, which has a 
dramatic vividness of its own that will not bear 
abbreviation, how he was gradually forced, by 
his own well-meaning attempts and mistakes, to 
abandon his philanthropic projects, and to realize 
that he himself and all other respectable and 
well-to-do people were the direct causes of the 
misery of poverty. 

He investigated the worst parts of the city, 
finding more comfort and happiness amidst rags 
than he had expected, and only discovering one 

Tolstoi. I9O 

hopelessly useless class — the class of those who 
had seen better days, who had been brought up 
in the notions that he himself had been brought 
up in as to the relative position of those who 
are workers and those who are not workers. 

He met with a prostitute who stayed at home 
musing the child of a dying woman. He asked 
her if she would not like to change her life — to 
become, he suggested at random, a cook. She 
laughed: "A cook? I cannot even bake bread;" 
but he detected in her face an expression of con- 
tempt for the occupation of a cook. "This woman, 
who, like the widow of the Gospel, had in the 
simplest way sacrificed all that she possessed for 
a dying person, thought, like her companions, 
that work was low and contemptible. Therein 
was her misfortune. But who of us, man or 
woman, can save her from this false view of life? 
Where among us are the people who are con- 
vinced that a life of labour is more honourable 
than one of idleness, who live according to such 
a conviction, and value and respect men accord- 
ingly?" He came across another prostitute who 
had brought up her daughter of thirteen to the 
same trade. He determined to save the child, 
to put her in the hands of some compassionate 
ladies, but it was impossible to persuade the 
woman that she had not done the best for the 
daughter whom she had cared for all her life 
and brought up to the same occupation as her- 

200 The New Spirit, 

self; and he realized that it was the mother 
herself who had to be saved from a false view of 
life, according to which it was right to live with- 
out bearing children and without working, in the 
service of sensuality. " When I had considered 
this, I understood that the majority of ladies 
whom I would have called on to save this girl, 
not only themselves live without bearing children 
and without working, but also bring up their 
daughters to live such a life ; the one mother 
sends her daughter to the public-house, the other 
to the ball. But both mothers possess the same 
view of life, namely, that a woman must be fed, 
clothed, and taken care of, to satisfy the wanton- 
ness of a man. How, then, could our ladies 
improve this woman and her daughter ? " He 
was anxious to befriend a bright boy of twelve, 
and took him into his own house among the 
servants, pending some better arrangement to 
give him work. At the end of a week this un- 
grateful little boy ran away, and was subse- 
quently found at the circus, acting as conductor 
to an elephant, for thirty kopecks a day. " To 
make him happy and to improve him I had 
taken him into my house, where he saw — what ? 
My children — older, younger, and the same age 
as himself — who not only did not work for them- 
selves, but in every way gave work to others : 
they spoiled everything they came in contact 
with, over-ate themselves with sweets and deli- 

Tolstoi. 20 1 

cacies, broke crockery, and threw to the dogs 
what to this boy would seem dainties. ... I 
ought to have understood how foolish it was on 
my part — I who brought up my children in 
luxury to do nothing — to try to improve other 
people and their children, who lived in what I 
called ' dens,' but three-fourths of whom worked 
for themselves and for others." His experience 
was the same throughout, and he brings his usual 
keen insight to the analysis of his mental atti- 
tude when he gave money in charity, and to the 
mental attitude of the recipients of his charity. 
He found also that, even if his charity were to 
rival that of the poor, he would have to give 
3,000 roubles to make a gift proportioned to 
the three kopecks bestowed by a peasant, or to 
sacrifice his whole living for days at a time, like 
the prostitute who nursed the dying woman's 

It seemed to him that he was like a man trying 
to draw another man out of a swamp, while he 
himself was standing on the same shifting and 
treacherous ground ; every effort only served to 
show the character of the ground that he stood 
upon himself. When he was at the Night Shelter 
at Moscow, and looked at the wretched crowd 
who sought admission, he recalled his impres- 
sion when he had seen a man guillotined at 
Paris thirty years previously, and with his whole 
being had understood that murder would always 

202 The New Spirit. 

be murder, and that he had his share in the guilt. 
" So, at the sight of the hunger, cold, and degra- 
dation of thousands of men, I understood, not 
with my reason, but with my heart and my whole 
being, that the existence of ten thousand such 
men in Moscow, while I and other thousands 
eat daintily, clothe our horses and cover our 
floors — let the learned say as much as they will 
that it is inevitable — is a crime, committed not 
once but constantly, and that I with my luxury 
do not merely permit the crime, but take a direct 
part in it. The difference in the two impressions 
consisted only in this — that before the guillotine 
all I could have done would have been to cry 
out to the murderers that they were doing evil, 
and to try to prevent them. Even then I should 
have known beforehand that the deed would not 
have been prevented. But here I could have 
given, not merely a warm drink or the little 
money that I had about me, but I could have 
given the coat from my body, and all that I 
had in my house. I did not do so, and there- 
fore I felt, and still feel, and shall never cease to 
feel, that I am a partaker in that never-ceasing 
crime, so long as I have superfluous food and 
another has none, so long as I have two coats 
and another has none." 

" My Religion," the best known of Tolstoi's 
social works, contains — not, indeed, the latest or 
the final statement, for Tolstoi is not a man to 

Tolstoi. 203 

stand still — the clearest, most vigorous and com- 
plete statement of his beliefs. He here frankly 
admits that he has arrived by the road of his 
own experience at convictions similar to those 
of Jesus as expressed in the Sermon on the 
Mount. That he has nothing to say in favour 
of the Christianity of to-day, which approves of 
society as it now is, with its prison cells, its fac- 
tories, its houses of infamy, its parliaments, one 
need scarcely point out. He has nothing but 
contempt for "faith" which he regards as merely 
a kind of lunacy. " But reason, which illuminates 
our life and impels us to modify our actions, is 
not an illusion, and its authority can never be 
denied. . . . Jesus taught men to do nothing 
contrary to reason. It is unreasonable to go 
out to kill Turks or Germans ; it is unreason- 
able to make use of the labours of others that 
you and yours may be clothed in the height 
of fashion and maintain that source of etmui, a 
drawing-room; it is unreasonable to take people, 
already corrupted by idleness and depravity, and 
devote them to further idleness and depravity 
within prison walls : all this is unreasonable — 
and yet it is the life of the European world." 
The doctrine of Jesus is hard, men say. But 
how much harder, exclaims Tolstoi, is the doc- 
trine of the world ! " In my own life," he says, 
"(an exceptionally happy one, from a worldly 
point of view), I can reckon up as much suffer- 

204 The New Spirit. 

ing caused by following the doctrine of the 
world as many a martyr has endured for the 
doctrine of Jesus. All the most painful moments 
of my life — the orgies and duels in which I 
took part as a student, the wars in which I 
have participated, the diseases that I have en- 
dured, and the abnormal and unsupportable 
conditions under which I now live — all these are 
only so much martyrdom exacted by fidelity 
to the doctrine of the world." And what of 
those less happily situated ? " Thirty millions 
of men have perished in wars, fought in behalf 
of the doctrine of the world ; thousands of mil- 
lions of beings have perished, crushed by a social 
system organized on the principle of the doctrine 
of the world. . . . You will find, perhaps to your 
surprise, that nine-tenths of all human suffering 
endured by men is useless, and ought not to 
exist — that, in fact, the majority of men are 
martyrs to the doctrine of the world." 

Tolstoi sums up his own doctrine under a very 
few heads : — Resist not evil — Judge not — Be 
not angry — Love one woman. His creed is 
entirely covered by these four points. " My 
Religion" is chiefly occupied by the exposition 
of what they mean, and in his hands they mean 
much. They mean nothing less than the aboli- 
tion of the State and the country. He is as 
uncompromising as Ibsen in dealing with the 
State. "It is a humbug, this State," he remarked 

Tolstoi. 205 

to Mr. Stead. " What you call a Government is 
mere phantasmagoria. What is a State ? Men 
I know ; peasants and villages, these I see ; but 
governments, nations, states, what are these but 
fine names invented to conceal the plunder- 
ing of honest men by dishonest officials ?" Law, 
tribunals, prisons, become impossible with the 
disappearance of the State ; and with the disap- 
pearance of the country, and of " that gross im- 
posture called patriotism," there can be no more 

In place of these great and venerable pillars 
of civilization, what ? The first condition of 
happiness, he tells us, is that the link between 
man and nature shall not be broken, that he 
may enjoy the sky above him, and the pure 
air and the life of the fields. This involves 
the nationalization of the land, or rather, to 
avoid centralizing tendencies, its communali- 
zation. " I quite agree with George," he re- 
marked, "that the landlords may be fairly 
expropriated without compensation, as a matter 
of principle. But as a question of expediency, 
I think compensation might facilitate the neces- 
sary change. It will come, I suppose, as the 
emancipation of slaves came. The idea will 
spread. A sense of the shamefulness of private 
ownership will grow. Someone will write an 
'Uncle Tom's Cabin' about it; there will be 
agitation, and then it will come, and many who 

206 The New Spirit. 

own land will do as did those who owned serfs, 
voluntarily give it to their tenants. But for the 
rest, a loan might be arranged, so as to prevent 
the work being stopped by the cry of confisca- 
tion. Of course I do not hold with George 
about the taxation of the land. If you could 
get angels from Heaven to administer the taxes 
from the land, you might do justice and prevent 
mischief. I am against all taxation." The 
second condition of happiness is labour, the 
intellectual labour that one loves because one 
has chosen it freely, and the physical labour 
that is sweet because it produces the muscular 
joy of work, a good appetite, and tranquil sleep. 
The third condition of happiness is love. Every 
healthy man and woman should have sexual 
relationships ; and Tolstoi makes no distinction 
between those that are called by the name of 
marriage and those that are not so called ; in 
either case, however, he would demand that they 
shall be permanent. The fourth condition is 
unrestrained fellowship with men and women 
generally, without distinction of class. The fifth 
is health, though this seems largely the result of 
obedience to the others. These are the five 
points of Tolstoi's charter. They seem simple 
enough, but he is careful to point out that most 
of them are closed to the rich. The rich man is 
hedged in by conventions, and cannot live a 
simple and natural life. A peasant can associate 

Tolstoi. 207 

on equal terms with millions of his fellows ; the 
circle of equal association becomes narrower and 
narrower the higher the social rank, until we 
come to kings and emperors, who have scarcely- 
one person with whom they may live on equal 
terms. " Is not the whole system like a great 
prison, where each inmate is restricted to asso- 
ciation with a few fellow-convicts?" The rich 
may, indeed, work, but even then their work 
usually consists in official and administrative 
duties, or the observance of arduous social con- 
ventions which are odious to them : " I say 
odious, for I never yet met with a person of this 
class who was contented with his work, or took 
as much satisfaction in it as the man who shovels 
the snow from his doorstep." From this stand- 
point Tolstoi has never since greatly varied. 

Such as he is now he is known throughout the 
civilized world. He lives at his old home at 
Yasnaya Polyana, surrounded by less luxury 
than may be found in many a Siberian cottage, 
writing or shoemaking or ploughing, or kneading 
clay in a tub to build incombustible cottages, or 
spending the day in spreading manure over the 
land of some poor widow. Such we see him in 
his portraits, in the coarse blouse and the leather 
belt that he has always worn, with the massive, 
earnest, suffering, baffled face, as of a blind but 
unconquered Samson. 

2o8 The New Spirit. 


With Tolstoi the artist we have here little 
concern. Yet from the first he has been an 
artist, and in spite of himself he is an artist to 
the last. We cannot pass by his art. One 
realizes this curiously in reading "What then 
must we do?" A profoundly sincere record 
without doubt of deeply-felt experiences and of 
a mental revolution, it is yet the work of an 
artist, a tragedy broadly and solemnly unfolding 
the misery of the world, the impotence of every 
scheme or impulse of charity, the light that 
comes only from freedom and self-development. 
Let us read, again, that little popular tract — 
"Does a man need much land?" — brimming 
over with meaning, about the man who gained 
permission to possess as much land as he could 
walk round from sunrise to sunset. Can he get 
so much into the circuit, not omitting this fine 
stretch of land, and this other? His constantly 
growing desires, his efforts, are told in brief, 
stern phrase, his feverish and failing strain to 
reach the goal, that at sunset is reached, and the 
man drops down dead. Then the curt and un- 
accentuated conclusion: " Pakhom's man took 
the hoe, dug a grave for him, made it just long 
enough from head and foot — three arshins — and 
buried him." All the tragedy of the nineteenth 

Tolstoi. 209 

century is pressed together into those half-dozen 
pages by the strong, relentless hand of the great 
artist who deigns to point no moral. From the 
early and delicious sketch of the frail musician, 
Albert, down to the sombre and awful " Death 
of Ivan Ilyitch," Tolstoi has produced an im- 
mense body of work that must be considered, 
above all, as art. One reads this body of work with 
ever-growing delight and satisfaction. Gogol 
was a finer artist than Dickens, but there are 
too many suggestions about him of Dickens 
and the English novelists. Tourgueneff, a very 
great artist — how great, those little prose-poems, 
" Senilia," would alone suffice to show — an artist 
who thrilled to every touch, suffered from the 
excess of his sensitiveness, and perhaps also 
from an undue absorption in the western world. 
In Dostoieffski there is nothing of the west ; he 
is intimately and intensely personal, with an 
even morbid research of all the fibres of organic 
misery in human nature. In all his work we 
seem to hear the groans of the prison-house, 
the house of the dead in Siberia. When we 
have read the wonderful book in which he 
has recorded the life of his years there, we 
know the source of all his inspiration. Read- 
ing all these authors, we are constantly aware 
of the neurotic element in Russian life and 
Russian character, the restless, diseased ele- 
ment that is revealed to us in cold scientific 

2 1 o The New Spirit. 

analysis by Tarnowsky and S. P. Kowalevski 
and Dmitri Drill. It is not so when we turn to 
Tolstoi. In him we find not merely the insight 
and the realistic observation, but a breadth and 
sanity and wholeness that the others mostly 
fail to give us. His art is so full and broad and 
true that he seems able to do for his own time 
and country what Shakespeare with excess 
of poetic affluence did for his time, and Balzac 
for his. He is equal to every effort, he omits 
nothing that imports, he describes everything 
with the same calm ease and simplicity. It 
makes no difference whether, within the limits 
of a slight sketch, he is tracing delicately the 
life of the drunken artist, Albert, or producing 
the largest literary canvas of modern times, 
"War and Peace." In "Family Happiness" 
he analyzes passion, marriage, parenthood, the 
cycle of life, in a simple narration, a few chap- 
ters, yet nothing is omitted, and one shudders 
at the awful ease with which to this man these 
things seem to yield their secret. In " Ivan 
Ilyitch" he analyzes death and the house 
of death, quietly, completely, with a hand that 
never falters. He writes as a man who has 
touched life at many points, and tasted most 
that it has to offer, its joys and its sorrows, but 
he gazes upon it, even from the first, with the 
luminous and passionless calm of old age. His 
art is less perfect than Flaubert's, but Flaubert's 

Tolstoi. 2 1 1 

intense personal note, the ferocious nihilism of 
the Norman, is absent. He holds life up to the 
light, simply, and says : " This is what it is !" 

For one who cannot read Tolstoi in the origi- 
nal, and who misses the style so much praised 
by those who are more privileged, Tolstoi seems 
an uncompromising realist. He has therefore 
often been compared with Zola, the prodigious 
representative and champion of Latin realism. 
In vain Zola himself disclaims this position ; it 
is he more than any other who has influenced 
the novel, especially in the Latin countries, in 
the direction, if not of realism, at all events in 
that of anti-idealism; not Balzac or Stendhal, who 
have reached sure summits of fame, but have 
ceased to be living influences ; not the De Gon- 
courts, whose style cannot be imitated ; least of 
all Flaubert, an idealist of idealists, whose pro- 
found art and marmoreal style are of the sort 
that it takes generations even to understand. It 
is interesting, doubtless, to put Tolstoi beside 
Zola, but the resemblance is not deep. Zola is 
the avowed prophet of a formula. He has read 
and pondered the " Introduction a l'etude de la 
Medicine Experimentale," in which the great phy- 
siologist, Claude Bernard, expounded the prin- 
ciples of the experimental method as applied to 
the sciences of physical life. He has asked him- 
self : " Can we not apply this same method to the 
psychological life ? Can we not have an experi- 

2 1 2 The New Spirit. 

mental novel ?" " We seek the causes of social 
evil," he declares in " Le Roman Experimental," 
a collection of essays not less instructive than 
his novels, and more interesting; "we present 
the anatomy of classes and of individuals, in 
order to explain the aberrations which are pro- 
duced in society and in man. This obliges us 
often to work on bad subjects, and to descend 
into the midst of human miseries and follies. 
But we bring the documents necessary to be 
known by those who would dominate good and 
evil. Here is what we have seen, observed, ex- 
plained in all sincerity. Now it is the turn of the 
legislators!" To bring the scientific spirit of the 
age into the novel : it was a brilliant idea, and 
Zola forthwith set to work, with his immense 
energy and unshakeable resolution, to draw up a 
prods-verbal of human life — for this is the most 
that the "experimental method" comes to in the 
novel — which has not ceased to this day. 

But, one asks oneself, what is reality ? Zola has 
frankly explained how a novel ought to be written ; 
how one must get one's human documents, study 
them thoroughly, accumulate notes, systemati- 
cally frequent the society of the people one is 
studying, watch them, listen to them, minutely 
observe and record all their surroundings. But 
have we got reality then ? Does the novelist I 
casually meet, and who has opportunities to take 
notes of my conversation and appearance, to 

Tolstoi. 213 

examine the furniture of my house and to collect 
gossip about me, know anything whatever of the 
romance or tragedy which to me is the reality of 
my life, these other things being but shreds or 
tatters of life ? Or if my romance or tragedy has 
got into a law-court or a police-court, is he really 
much nearer then ? The unrevealable motives, 
the charm, the mystery, were not deposed to by 
the policeman who was immediately summoned, 
nor by the servant-girl who looked through the 
key-hole. Certain disagreeable details : do they 
make up reality ? To select the most beautiful 
and charming woman one knows, and to set a 
detective artist on her track, to follow her about 
everywhere, to keep an opera-glass fixed upon 
her, to catch fragments of her conversation, to 
enter her house, her bedroom, to examine her 
dirty linen,— would Helen of Troy emerge beau- 
tiful from this proch-verbalf And on which side 
would be most reality? Nature seems to resent 
this austere method of approaching her, and when 
we have closed our hands the reality has slipped 
through our fingers. A great artist, a Shake- 
speare or a Goethe, is not afraid of any fact, 
however repulsive it may seem, so long as it is 
significant. But it must be significant. Without 
sympathy and a severe criticism of details, the 
truly illuminating facts will be missed or lost in 
the heap. It is interesting to note that Zola 
himself recognizes this, and admits that he has 

2 1 4 The New Spirit. 

been carried away by his delight and enthusiasm 
in attempting to vindicate for Art the whole of 
Nature. Whatever is really fine in Zola's work 
—"La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret," or the last 
chapters of " Nana " — is fine because the man 
of a formula is for awhile subordinated to the 

Zola may work as hard as he will in the cause 
of the formula ; he remains, above all, a man of 
massive temperament and peculiarly strong indi- 
viduality. That is the real secret of his influence. 
A youth, developed in the poverty and hunger of 
a garret on the outskirts of Paris, who was fas- 
cinated by the great city he has lovingly painted, 
as it was there spread out before him, in " Une 
Page d'Amour," and condemned to see it only 
from the outside, — here was material for that 
irony, unending and absolutely pitiless, that runs 
through the whole of the vast Rougon-Macquart 
drama of the world. He is an austere moralist, 
with no tenderness for human weakness, " un 
tragique qui se fache," as he calls himself, a Re- 
publican in spirit long before the Republic was 
proclaimed, a hater of all hypocrisies and empty 
prettinesses and fine phrases and elegant cir- 
cumlocutions, a fighting man ready to fight to 
the last, with rude weapons but in fair combat. 
He represents the revolt against the French 
romantic movement — "une 6meute de rh^tori- 
ciens," he calls it — which found its supreme 

Tolstoi. 2 1 5 

incarnation in Victor Hugo. The Forty Im- 
mortals may have laughed serenely, but when 
Zola declared that he was carrying on the classic 
tradition he was not altogether wrong. The 
classic tradition of France is marked by a very 
vivid sense of life ; it has a close grip of the 
practical and material side of things, a whole- 
some contempt for all pretence, and sometimes 
a certain rather rank savour of audacity. Zola 
will scarcely stand beside Rabelais and Mon- 
taigne and Moliere ; the artist in him is too 
much crushed by ideas, and he has altogether 
run too much to seed ; but he is fighting on the 
same side, and he has been proved to possess 
one quality which leaves little more to be said, 
effectiveness. Whatever the value of his work, he 
has turned the tide of novel literature, wherever 
his influence has spread, from frivolous inanities 
to the painstaking study of the facts of human 
life. Whatever we may think for the moment, 
that is a very wholesome and altogether moral 

As for great art, that is neither here nor there. 
Shakespeare, Goethe, Flaubert, — for such men 
the extremes of poetry and of realism are equally 
welcome. Tolstoi, it is clear, is more of a realist 
than a poet, but his realism is of the kind that 
grows naturally out of the experiences of a man 
who has lived a peculiarly full and varied life. 
It is life sur Ic vif, not studied from a garret 

2 1 6 The New Spirit. 

window. Nothing is omitted, nothing is super- 
fluous ; the narrative seems to lead the narrator 
rather than the narrator it, and through all we 
catch perpetually what seems an almost acci- 
dental fragrance of poetry. See the account of 
the storm in the " Childhood, Boyhood, and 
Youth," or of the child in the raspberry bush, or of 
the mowing, or the horse-race, in "Anna Karen- 
ina," with their peculiar, intangible yet vivid 
reality. But these things, it may be said, are 
poetry, the effluence of some divine moment of 
life, the record of some unforgetable thrill of blood 
and brain. Compare, then, the account of a child- 
birth in "Anna Karenina" (there is an earlier and 
less successful attempt in "War and Peace") with 
a similar scene which is the central episode in 
Zola's " La Joie de Vivre." The latter, doubtless, 
is instructive from its fidelity; every petty detail 
is coldly and minutely set forth. Its artistic 
value is difficult to estimate ; it can scarcely be 
large. Zola presents the subject from the point 
of view of a disinterested and impossible spec- 
tator ; in Tolstoi's scene we have frankly the 
husband's point of view. There is no room here 
for instructive demonstration of the mechanism 
of birth, of all its physical details and miseries. 
It is real life, but at such a moment real life is 
excitement, emotion, and the result is art. 
What, again, can be more unpromising than a 
novel about a remote historical war ? But read 

Tolstoi. 2 1 7 

" War and Peace " to sec how lifelike, how vivid 
and fascinating, the narrative becomes in the 
hands of a man who has known the life of a 
soldier and all the chances of war. 

Tolstoi is not alone among Russian novelists 
in the character of his realism. Gogol's " Dead 
Souls" hassomethingof the wholesome naturalism 
as well as of the broad art and the good-natured 
satire of Fielding. He is perpetually insisting 
on the importance to the artist of those " little 
things which only seem little when narrated in a 
book, but which one finds very important in 
actual life." In his letters on "Dead Souls" 
Gogol wrote : " Those who have dissected my 
literary faculties have not discovered the essen- 
tial feature of my nature. Poushkin alone per- 
ceived it. He always said that no author has 
been gifted like me to bring into relief the 
triviality of life, to describe all the platitude of a 
commonplace man, to make perceptible to all 
eyes the infinitely little things which escape our 
vision. That is my dominating faculty." Tour- 
gueneff declared that the novel must cast aside 
all hypocrisy, sentimentality, and rhetoric for 
the simple yet nobler aim of becoming the his- 
tory of life. Dostoicffski, that tender-hearted 
student of the perversities of the human heart, 
so faithful in his studies that he sometimes seems 
to forget how great an artist he is, justifies him- 
self thus : " What is the good of prescribing to 

2 1 8 The New Spirit. 

art the roads that it must follow ? To do so is 
to doubt art, which develops normally, according 
to the laws of nature, and must be exclusively- 
occupied in responding to human needs. Art 
has always shown itself faithful to nature, and 
has marched with social progress. The ideal of 
beauty cannot perish in a healthy society ; we 
must then give liberty to art, and leave her to 
herself. Have confidence in her ; she will reach 
her end, and if she strays from the way she will 
soon reach it again ; society itself will be the 
guide. No single artist, not Shakespeare him- 
self, can prescribe to art her roads and aims." 
Tolstoi but followed in the same path when, in 
one of the earliest of his books, the " Sebastopol 
Sketches," he wrote : " The hero of my tale, 
whom I love with all the strength of my soul, 
whom I have tried to set forth in all his beauty, 
and who has always been, is, and always will be, 
most beautiful, is — Truth." 

It is, after all, impossible to disentangle Tol- 
stoi's art from the man himself and the ideas 
and aspirations that have stirred him. When 
we consider his history and development we arc 
sometimes reminded of our own William Morris. 
They are both men of massive and sanguine 
temperament, of restless energy, groping their 
way through life with a vague sense of dissatis- 
faction ; both pure artists through the greater 
part of their career, and both artists still, when 

Tolstoi. 2 1 9 

late in life, and under the influence of rather 
sectarian ideas, they think that they have at 
length grasped the pillars of the heathen temple 
of society in which they have so long been 
groping, and are ready to wreak on it the pent- 
up unrest of their lives. But they go to work in 
not quite the same way. Both, it is true, having 
apparently passed through a very slight religious 
phase in early life, have had this experience in 
later life, and in both it has taken on a social 
character ; both, also, have sought their inspira- 
tion, not so much in a possible future deduced 
from the present, as in the past experiences of 
the race. Tolstoi with his semi-oriental quietism 
has returned to the rationalistic aspects of the 
social teaching of Jesus. Morris, who regards 
Iceland rather than Judaea as the Holy Land of 
the race, looks to Scandinavian antiquity for 
light on the problems of to-day. It is on the 
robust Scandinavian spirit of independence and 
comfortable well-to-do intolerance of all oppres- 
sion and domination that Morris relies for the 
redemption of his own time and people. So far 
from identifying art, as Tolstoi is inclined to do, 
with the evil and luxury of the world, Morris 
finds in art a chief hope for the world. It is not, 
therefore, surprising that his art has suffered 
little from the fervour of his convictions, while 
his varied artistic activities have given him 
a wholesome grip on life. His new beliefs, on 

2 20 The New Spirit. 

the other hand, have given new meaning to his 
art. His mastery of prose has only been ac- 
quired under the stress of his convictions. It is 
prose of massive simplicity, a morning fresh- 
ness, unconscious and effortless. There is about 
it something of the peculiar charm of the finest 
Norman architecture. The " Dream of John 
Ball," a strong unpretentious piece of work, 
penetrated at every point by profound social 
convictions, yet with the artist's touch through- 
out, may be read with a delight which the 
complex and artificial prose we are accustomed 
to cannot give. England, it is said, is pre- 
dominantly a Scandinavian country ; Morris is 
significant because he gives expression in an 
extreme form to the racial instincts of his own 
people, just as Tolstoi expresses in equally 
extreme form the deepest instincts of his 
Sclavonic race. 

Against the " Dream of John Ball," we may 
place the work produced at the same time by 
the Russian's keener and more searching hand, 
" The Dominion of Darkness." This sombre 
and awful tragedy is a terribly real and merci- 
less picture of the worst elements in peasant 
life, a picture of avarice and lust and murder. 
Only one pious, stuttering, incoherent moojik, 
whose employment is to clean out closets, ap- 
pears as the representative of mercy and justice. 
So thick is the gloom that it seems the artistic 

Tolstoi. 22 1 

effect would have been heightened if the con- 
cluding introduction of the officers of an external 
and official justice had been omitted, and the 
curtain had fallen on the tragic merriment of 
the wedding feast. The same intense earnest- 
ness taking, almost unconsciously, an artistic 
shape, reveals itself in the little stories of which 
in recent years Tolstoi has produced so many, 
some indeed comparatively ineffective, but others 
that are a fascinating combination of simplicity, 
realism, imaginative insight, brought to the ser- 
vice of social ideas. Such is " What men live 
by," the story of the angel who disobeyed God, 
and was sent to earth to learn that it is only in 
appearance that men are kept alive through care 
for themselves, but that in reality they are kept 
alive through love. 

Tolstoi's voice is heard throughout the vast 
extent of Russia, not by the rich only, but by 
the peasant. That is why his significance is so 
great. Sometimes the religious censure pro- 
hibits his books ; sometimes it allows them ; in 
either case they are circulated. Published at a 
few halfpence, these little books are within the 
reach of the poorest, and Tolstoi gives free per- 
mission to anyone to reproduce or translate any 
of his books. His drama, " The Dominion of 
Darkness, or when a bird lets himself be caught 
by one foot he is lost," was intended for the 
public who frequent the open-air theatres of 

222 The New Spirit, 

fairs, and eighty thousand copies were sold 
during the first week, although certainly not 
altogether among the audience he would have 
preferred. The stories for children are circu- 
lated in scores of editions of twenty thousand 
copies each. Tolstoi has nothing to teach that 
he has not learnt from peasants, and which thou- 
sands of peasants might not have taught him. 
He has used his character and genius as a sound- 
ing-board to enable his voice to reach millions 
of persons, many of whom, even the most intel- 
ligent, are not aware that he is but repeating 
the lessons he has learnt from unlettered moojiks. 

Now his voice has reached the countries of 
the West, and it sounds here far more un- 
familiar than in a land so stirred by popular 
religious movements as Russia. " My Religion," 
that powerful argument ad hominem to the Chris- 
tian from one who accepts both the letter and the 
spirit of Jesus's simplest and least questionable 
teaching, has had an especially large circulation 
in the West. Such a challenge has never before 
been scattered broadcast among the nations. 
What, one wonders, will be the outcome ? 

To most people the simplicity of the challenger 
is a cause of astonishment. After the assassina- 
tion of Alexander II. and the sentence on the 
assassins, Tolstoi wrote to the present Tzar im- 
ploring him not to begin his reign with judicial 
murder, and he was deeply and genuinely dis- 

Tolstoi. 223 

appointed at the inevitable reception of his 
appeal. Count Tolstoi, the author of " War 
and Peace " and " Anna Karenina," made the 
same mistake as the simple peasant Soutaieff. 
That little incident throws much light on his 
mental constitution. It is the attitude of a 
child, absorbed wholly in one thing at a time, 
unable to calculate the nature and the strength 
of opposing forces. It is the same fact of 
mental structure which leads the world-re- 
nowned novelist to delight to learn from chil- 
dren, to be mortified when they do not like his 
stories, and to experience one of the greatest 
excitements of life when he thinks he detects 
the dawn of genius in a child of ten. The same 
characteristic appears in his treatment of science. 
He had heard, he told Mr. Kennan, that a Rus- 
sian scientist had completely demolished the 
Darwinian theory. In " Life," one of his latest 
books, this tendency has carried him far away 
into a sterile and hopeless region of mystical 
phraseology. He dismisses scientific men briefly 
as the Scribes. It has not occurred to him 
apparently that this book, "Life," is a book of 
science. And, certainly, if science could pro- 
duce nothing better than " Life," the language 
that Tolstoi uses regarding it were not one whit 
too strong. This childlike simplicity is not 
peculiar to Tolstoi ; it is more or less the atti- 
tude of every true Russian, of the peasant who 

224 The Nezv Spirit. 

sets up the kingdom of Heaven, as of the 
Nihilist who thinks he can emancipate his 
country by destroying a few Tzars. It is a 
weakness that must often mean failure because 
it cannot estimate the strength of difficulties. 
At the same time it is a power. It is by this 
intense concentration on one desired object, 
this heroic inability to see opposition, that the 
highest achievement becomes possible. 

Whatever Tolstoi's limitations and failures of 
perception, those things which he believes he 
has seen he grasps with inexorable tenacity. 
The violence and misery of the world — that is a 
reality ; a reality, he feels, which must be fought 
at all costs. Mr. Kennan tells how he pressed 
home on Tolstoi the cases of extreme brutality 
and oppression that he had known practised on 
political prisoners in Siberia, and how, though 
Tolstoi's eyes filled with tears as he imagined 
the horrors described, he still pointed out in 
detail how, by opposing violence to violence 
in the cases cited, the misery of the world would 
be increased : " At the time when you interposed 
there was only one centre of evil and suffering. 
By your violent interference you have created 
half-a-dozen such centres. It does not seem to 
me, Mr. Kennan, that that is the way to bring 
about the reign of peace and good-will on earth." 1 

1 See the interesting paper, "A Visit to Count Tolstoi," 
in "Century," June, 18S7. 

Tolstoi. 225 

Tolstoi possesses that social imagination 
which, though growing among us, is still so rare. 
If at the dinner where cheerful guests prolong 
their enjoyment, there were placed behind each 
chair a starved, ragged figure, with haggard and 
haunting face — would not the meal be broken up 
as speedily as if every guest had found the 
sword of Dionysius hanging by a thread above 
his head ? Yet it is only a lack of imagination 
which prevents us from seeing through the few 
layers of bricks that screen us off from these 
realities. For him who has seen it there is little 
rest, " so long as I have superfluous food and 
another has none, so long as I have two coats 
and another has none." 

With tears in his voice, and in words whose 
intense reality pierces through the translation, 
though this, we are told, cannot reproduce the 
graphic vividness of the original, Tolstoi speaks 
to us through his life and his work as he once 
spoke to the interviewer w r ho came to him : 

" People say to me, ' Well, Lef Nikolaivitch, 
as far as preaching goes, you preach ; but how 
about your practice ? ' The question is a per- 
fectly natural one ; it is always put to me, and 
it always shuts my mouth. ' You preach,' it is 
said, ' but how do you live ? ' I can only reply 
that I do not preach — passionately as I desire 
to do so. I might preach through my actions, 
but my actions are bad. That which I say is not 

226 The New Spirit. 

preaching ; it is only my attempt to find out the 
meaning and the significance of life. People 
often say to me, ' If you think that there is no 
reasonable life outside the teachings of Christ, 
and if you love a reasonable life, why do you not 
fulfil the Christian precepts ? ' I am guilty and 
blameworthy and contemptible because I do not 
fulfil them ; but at the same time I say, — not in 
justification, but in explanation, of my inconsis- 
tency, — Compare my previous life with the life 
I am now living, and you will see that I am 
trying to fulfil. I have not, it is true, fulfilled 
one eighty-thousandth part, and I am to blame 
for it ; but it is not because I do not wish to 
fulfil all, but because I am unable. Teach me 
how to extricate myself from the meshes of 
temptation in which I am entangled, — help me, 
— and I will fulfil all. I wish and hope to do it 
even without help. Condemn me if you choose, 
— I do that myself, — but condemn me, and not 
the path which I am following, and which I 
point out to those who ask me where, in my 
opinion, the path is. If I know the road home, 
and if I go along it drunk, and staggering from 
side to side, does that prove that the road is not 
the right one ? If it is not the right one, show 
me another. If I stagger and wander, come to 
my help, and support and guide me in the right 
path. Do not yourselves confuse and mislead 
me and then rejoice over it and cry, ' Look at 

Tolstoi. 227 

him ! He says he is going home, and he is 
floundering into the swamp ! ' You are not evil 
spirits from the swamp ; you are also human 
beings, and you also are going home. You know 
that I am alone, — you know that I cannot wish 
or intend to go into the swamp, — then help me ! 
My heart is breaking with despair because we 
have all lost the road ; and while I struggle with 
all my strength to find it and keep in it, you, 
instead of pitying me when I go astray, cry 
triumphantly, ' See ! He is in the swamp with 
us I 

228 The New Spirit. 


Tolstoi brings us face to face with religion. 
If we think of it, every personality we have 
considered has brought us subtly in contact 
with that ineluctable shape. It is strange : men 
seek to be, or to seem, atheists, agnostics, cynics, 
pessimists ; at the core of all these things lurks 
religion. We may find it in Diderot's mighty 
enthusiasm, in Heine's passionate cries, in Ibsen's 
gigantic faith in the future, in Whitman's not 
less gigantic faith in the present. We see the 
same in the music-dramas of Wagner, in Zola's 
pathetic belief in a formula, in Morris's worship 
of an ideal past, in the aspirations of every 
Socialist who looks for the return of those bar- 
barous times in which all men equally were 
fed and clothed and housed. The men who 
have most finely felt the pulse of the world, and 
have, in their turn, most effectively stirred its 
pulse, are religious men. 

One is forced to ask oneself at last : How can 
I make clear to myself this vast and many- 
shaped religious element of life ? It will not let 
me pass it by. Can I — without any attempt to 
theorize or to explain — reduce it to some common 
denominator, so that I may at least gain the 

Conclusion. 229 

satisfaction that comes of the clear and harmo- 
nious presentation of a complex fact ? When we 
have settled the question of the evolution of 
religion, another more fundamental question may- 
still be asked : What is the nature of the im- 
pulse that underlies, and manifests itself in, 
that sun-worship, nature-worship, fetich-worship, 
ghost-worship, to which, with occasional appeal 
to the vast reservoir of sexual and filial love, we 
may succeed in reducing religious phenomena ? 
On the one hand, this impulse must begin to 
develop at least as early as the earliest appear- 
ance of worship ; on the other hand, we cannot 
ascertain its distinctive characters unless we also 
examine and compare its more specialized forms. 
What is there in common between the religious 
attitude of the child of to-day, enfranchized from 
creeds, and that of, let us say, Lao-tsze, the 
child of a day that is twenty-five centuries old ; 
or between these and the far more primitive 
adoration of the Dravidian for his cattle ? If the 
vague term "religion," which, as commonly used, 
contains at least three elements — moral, scientific, 
emotional — covers any distinct and persistent 
human impulse, what is the nature and scope of 
that impulse ? I wish to represent to myself, as 
precisely and as broadly as may be, man's reli- 
gious relation. 

When we look out into the universe we see 
a vast medium, the world, gradually merging 

230 The New Spirit. 

itself indistinctly in a practical infinite, and in 
the centre a certain limited number of souls, 
souls like the theoretical atoms of the physicist, 
never under any circumstances touching. Let 
two souls approach ever so nearly, there is yet a 
subtle chasm, through which 

" The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea " 

still flows. These souls are made up essentially 
of mind and body. There can be no change of 
consciousness without a corresponding change 
in the vascular circulation. There can be no 
thrill of body in a soul without a correlated 
thrill of mind. Matter and mind in the soul 
are co-extensive. When we speak of the 
" spirit " as ruling the body, or as yielding to 
it, we are, it must be remembered, using a tra- 
ditional method of speech which had its origin 
in a more primitive theory, just as we still speak 
of sun-rise. In the soul the spiritual can no 
more be subordinated to the material, strictly 
speaking, than in water the oxygen be subor- 
dinated to the hydrogen. The old dispute for 
supremacy between mind and matter no longer 
has any significance. Both matter and mind 
are in the end equally unknown : exeunt in 

The soul is born and then dies. What do we 
mean by birth and death ? According to the 
old Hebrew conception a spirit was created out 

Conclusion. 231 

of nothing and put into a mould of matter, and 
then at death again passed back into nothing. 
But to-day this conception is impossible. Ex 
nikilo fii/iil fit. It is clear that both the ele- 
ments that make up the soul must be, under 
some form, equally eternal. By a marvellous 
cosmic incident, our little planet has broken 
forth into a strange and beautiful efflorescence. 
We rise from the world, whom we are, on 
this variegated jet of organic life, to fall back 
again to our true life, by whatever unknown 
ways and under whatever change of form, con- 
scious, it may be, but, as before birth, no longer 
with any self to be conscious of, no longer 

Now souls, although they always remain iso- 
lated, are acted upon by the world and by other 
souls, and when so acted upon they yield an 
emotional response. And for the present pur- 
pose these actions may be divided into two 
classes, corresponding to the two classes of 
sympathetic nerve fibres — vaso-constrictor and 
vaso-dilator — which control the vascular system, 
the rougher daily contacts of life, which contract 
though they strengthen the soul with their legacy 
of strong desires and griefs, and the incom- 
parably rarer contacts at which the soul for a 
while and in varying degrees expands with a 
glad sense of freedom. As every bodily change 
in the compacted soul is correlated with a men- 

232 The New Spirit. 

tal change, these responses may be spoken of 
indifferently in mental or material terms. We 
know that they are on the bodily side vaso- 
motorial ; that a thrill of joy is accompanied by 
a change in arterial tension, and we can there- 
fore use this expression of the part as the symbol 
. of the whole. It is this enlarged diastole of the 
soul that we call religion. 

" The whole theory of the universe is directed 
unerringly to one single individual, — namely, to 
You." From the religious standpoint this is 
essentially true. The soul is situated at the 
centre of the world, exposed to a practically 
infinite number of appeals, to which it is capable 
of yielding a practically infinite number of re- 
sponses or initiations. Every moment a stream 
of influences is striking against the soul and 
producing a multitudinous stream of responses, 
new stops growing, as it were, beneath the 
player's touch. We know that for the most 
part the harsh and jarring discords predominate, 
that a soul that answers to the world's touch 
with a music that is ever large and harmonious, 
is so rare that we call it by some divine ideal 
word. Yet the field of the soul's liberation is a 
large one, whether we look at it on the physical 
or on the mental side. The simplest functions 
of physiological life may be its ministers. 
Everyone who is at all acquainted with the 
Persian mystics, knows how wine may be re- 

Conclusion. 233 

garded as an instrument of religion. Indeed, 
in all countries and in all ages, some form of 
physical enlargement — singing, dancing, drink- 
ing, sexual excitement — has been intimately 
associated with worship. Even the momentary 
expansion of the soul in laughter is, to however 
slight an extent, a religious exercise. I do not 
fear to make this assertion ; the expansions of 
the soul differ indefinitely in volume and quality. 
If this is but a low rung of the ladder along 
which pass the angels of our gladness, at the 
other end is that vision of divine self-sacrifice, 
so marked in the more highly developed re- 
ligions, which has sustained through sorrow and 
defeat some of the world's loftiest spirits. They 
differ, as much as we will, in degree, but be- 
tween them what hint by which to draw a line ? 
Whenever an impulse from the world strikes 
against the organism, and the resultant is not 
discomfort or pain, not even the muscular 
contraction of strenuous manhood, but a joy- 
ous expansion or aspiration of the whole soul 
— there is religion. It is the infinite for which 
we hunger, and we ride gladly on every little 
wave that promises to bear us towards it. 1 

When we try to classify the chief of these 

1 It may be said that religion, as even the etymology of 
the word witnesses, has been a force on the side of re- 
pression. That also is true ; it cannot indeed be too 
strongly emphasized. Only in the strength of that 

234 The New Spirit. 

affections of the soul according to the impulses 
that arouse them, we find that they may be 
conveniently divided into four classes : — (i.) 
Those caused by the liberation of impulses stored 
up in the soul. (2.) Those caused by impulses 
from other souls. (3.) Those caused by im- 
pulses from the world, as distinct from souls. 
(4.) Those caused by an intuition of union with 
the world. 

(1.) Here we are, above all, concerned with art. 
It is not necessary here to distinguish between 
the emotion of the artist and that of him who 
merely follows the artist, passing his hand as it 
were over the other's work, and receiving, in a 
less degree it may be, the same emotion. We 
are all artists potentially. The secret of the 
charm of art is that it presents to us an external 
world which is manifestly of like nature with the 
spul. " Non merita nome di Creatore," ac- 
cording to Tasso's saying, "se non Iddio ed il 
Poeta." The work of art — poem, statue, music — 
succeeds in being what every philosophy attempts 
to be. Neither change nor death can touch it ; 
also it is immeasurable ; we feel that wc are in 

joyous expansion could men have acted and suffered 
such intolerable torture in the service of religion. (It 
must be remembered, however, that in certain stages of 
civilization religion is largely identified with morality). 
It is necessary to generalize from the most various and 
highly specialized cases in order to arrive at a reasonable 

Conclusion. 235 

the presence of the infinite. No art has ever 
succeeded in embodying those visions of the 
infinite which are commonly regarded as speci- 
fically religious— so that even to-day we respond 
with a thrill of dilatation— as the old fragmen- 
tary art of Egypt in the ruined temples of the 
Thcbaid. Greek art, also, is a manifestation of 
the infinite ; we may lose ourselves among those 
subtle curves of man's or woman's body. A 
Gothic cathedral of the thirteenth century is an 
embodiment of the infinite world itself. The 
soul responds expansively to all these things. 
When that response is wanting, and the art 
therefore, however interesting, is not religious— 
as in the art of Pompeii and the Italian post- 
Raphaelite art— it will generally be found tech- 
nically inferior. The subject, one may note, has 
little or nothing to do with the matter. A re- 
presentation of God the Father rarely evokes 
any religious response. De Hooge, by means of 
mere sunlight and the rubbish of a back-yard, 
awakes in us an enlarging thrill of joy. In 
music the most indefinite and profound mysteries 
of the soul are revealed and placed outside us as 
a gracious and marvellous orb ; the very secret 
of the soul is brought forth and set in the audible 
world. That is why no other art smites us with 
so powerfully religious an appeal as music ; no 
other art tells us such old forgotten secrets about 

236 The New Spirit. 

" O ! what is this that knows the road I came ? " 
It is in the mightiest of all instincts, the primi- 
tive sexual traditions of the races before man 
was, that music is rooted. 

There are perhaps two instincts, a motor and 
a sensory, lying at the bottom of art and the 
delight in art. All the constructive instincts of 
living things, from bees and ants and worms and 
birds upwards, have gone to mould our delight 
in the fashioning of a whole, and in the contem- 
plation of its fashion. The same process was 
carried on into human life. The primitive potter 
who took clay and wrought with her hands, and 
dinted with her nails, the cup or pot or jar, 
wrought it through long ages ever more lovely 
and perfect, embodying therein all that she knew 
of the earth's uses and saw of its beauty, and by a 
true instinct she called her work a living creature. 
The baskets that early men wove, and the 
weapons that they carved for themselves, and 
their rhythmical cries in war-dance or worship, 
are part of a chain that presents itself again in 
Gothic cathedrals or Greek and Elizabethan 

Even stronger than this motor instinct of art 
is the sensory delight in beauty which has its 
root in the attraction of sex. Not indeed the 
only root ; all the things in the world that give 
light and heat and food and shelter and help 
gather around themselves some garment of love- 

Conclusion. 237 

liness, and so become the stuff of art ; the sun 
and the reindeer are among the very first things 
to which men tried to give artistic expression. 
But the sexual instinct is more poignant and 
overmastering, more ancient than any as a 
source of beauty. Colour and song and strength 
and skill — such are the impressions that male 
and female have graved on each other's hearts in 
their moments of most intense emotional exalta- 
tion. Their reflections have been thrown on the 
whole world. When the youth awakes to find a 
woman is beautiful, he finds, to his amazement, 
that the world also is beautiful. Who can say 
in what lowly organism was stored the first of 
those impressions of beauty, the reflections of 
sexual emotion, to which all creators of beauty — ■ 
whether in the form of the Venus of Milo, the 
Madonna di San Sisto, Chopin's music, Shelley's 
lyrics — can always appeal, certain of response ? 
One might name finally as the highest, most 
complex summit of art reached in our own 
time — a summit on which art is revealed in 
its supreme religious form — Wagner's " Parsifal." 
These things sprang from love, as surely as 
the world would have been wellnigh barren of 
beauty had the sexual method of reproduction 
never replaced all others. Beauty is the child 
of love ; the world, at least all in it worth living 
for, was the creation of love. 

Yet another art, more subtle and complex, has 

238 The New Spirit. 

played a large part in the history of religion — 
the art of metaphysic. The savage finds reli- 
gious gratification in the exercise of his coarser 
senses, in singing or dancing or drinking ; the 
man of large and refined intellectual develop- 
ment, a Plato, a Spinoza, a Kant, finds it in phi- 
losophy. Such men, indeed, are few, but by 
force of intelligence they have been enabled to 
thrust their pictures of the world on inferior 
minds ; their arts have become articles. But 
every man who has reached the stage of develop- 
ment in which he can truly experience the joy 
of the philosophic emotion will construct his own 
philosophy. A philosophy is the house of the 
mind, and no two philosophies can be alike 
because no two minds are alike. But the emo- 
tion is the same, the emotion of expansive joy 
in a house not built with hands, in which the 
soul has made for herself a large and harmonious 

(2.) It is true that souls remain for ever apart. 
The lover seeks to be absorbed altogether in the 
heaven of the loved personality, but in the end 
the heaven remains unsealed. 

" Adfigunt avide corpus junguntque salivas 

oris et itispirant pressantes dentibus ora, 


And yet a large or lovely personality is not 

the less an outlook towards the infinite. We 

cannot think of certain men of immense range 

Conclusion. 239 

or power or sweetness — St. Francis, Leonardo, 
Napoleon, Darwin — without experiencing a 
movement of liberation. To pronounce the 
names of such men is of the nature of an act of 
worship. I cannot for a moment think of 
Shakespeare without a thrill of exultation at 
such gracious plenitude of power. No person, 
probably, ever made so ardent a personal ap- 
peal to men as Jesus. He discovered a whole 
new world of emotional life, a new expansion of 
joy, a kingdom in which slave and harlot took 
precedence of priest and king. To the men for 
whom that new emotional world was fresh and 
living, torture and shame and death counted as 
nothing beside so large a possession of inward 
gladness. The weakest and lowest became 
heroes and saints in the effort to guard a pearl 
of so great price. There are few more inspir- 
ing figures in the history of man than the white 
body of the slave-girl Blandina, that hung from 
the stake day after day with the beasts in the 
amphitheatre at Lyons, torn and bleeding, yet, 
instar generosi cnjusdam athletce, with the un- 
dying cry on her lips, Christiana sum ! It is 
open to everyone to give liberating impulses to 
his fellows. It is the distinction of Jesus that 
he has, for us, permanently expanded the 
bounds of individuality. We all breathe deeper 
and freer because of that semi-ideal carpenter's 
son. " Fiat experimentum in corpore vi/i," said 

240 The New Spirit. 

the physician in the old story, by the bedside of 
a wretched patient. " Non est corpus tarn vile 
pro quo mortuus est Christus," unexpectedly re- 
turned the dying man. The charm of Jesus can 
never pass away when it is rightly apprehended. 
But it is not alone the large mystery of excep- 
tional personalities which calls out this response. 
To certain finely-tempered spirits no human thing 
is too mean to fail in making this emotional ap- 
peal. The chief religious significance of Walt 
Whitman lies in his revelation of the emotional 
value of the entire common human personality 
and all that belongs to it. The later Athenians 
(as also Goethe) placed above all things the 
harmonious development of the individual in 
its higher forms. It still remained to show 
the loveliness of the complete ordinary per- 
sonality. Whitman's " Song of Myself " cannot 
in this respect be over-estimated. 1 

1 The late William Cyples, in his charming and neg- 
lected magnum opus, " The Process of Human Ex- 
perience " (p. 462), rightly traces this form of religion to 
the feeling generated between lovers, friends, parent and 
children. " A few have at intervals walked in the world," 
he adds, " who have, each in his own original way, found 
out this marvel. ... It has proved sufficient for them 
even to wish enough to help their race ; instantly these 
secret delights have risen in their hearts. Straightway 
man in general has become to them so sweet a thing 
that the infatuation has seemed to the rest of their fellows 
to be a celestial madness. Beggars' rags to their un- 

Conclusion. 241 

(3.) There is a religion of science. It is rarer 
than has sometimes been supposed, and among 
men of science, probably, it is seldom found. 
Strauss's " Old Faith and New " is one of the 
chief attempts by a man of science to present 
the scientific attitude as food for the religious 
consciousness. The result is dreary in the ex- 
treme, in the end almost ludicrous. Herbert 
Spencer's attitude towards the Unknowable is 
a distinct though faint approximation to the 
religious relationship. Positivism, with its 
quasi-scientific notions, was founded on a 
curiously narrow conception of the nature of 

hesitating lips grew fit for kissing, because humanity 
had touched the garb ; there were no longer any menial 
acts, but only welcome services. It was the humblest, 
the easiest, the readiest of duties to lay down life for the 
ignorant, the ill-behaved, the unkind, — for any and all 
who did but wear the familiar human shape. That this 
ecstasy of humanity should rise so much higher than any 
other is according to the plain working of the law of 
accumulation of finer consciousness by complexity in the 
occasioning activity. Remember by how much man is 
the subtlest circumstance in the world ; at how many 
points he can attach relationships ; how manifold and 
perennial he is in his results. All other things are 
dull, meagre, tame beside him. If the most part of us 
are only as dross to one another, in place of being of this 
priceless value, it can only be from the lack of mutual 
services among us. Without these how can we but want 
sufficient adaptiveness of mood,— how can we help groan- 
ing under the weight of instincts half organized or wholly 
unfulfilled ? " 


242 The New Spirit. 

religion, and its religious sterility is probably 
inevitable. The man of science has little to do 
with magnificent generalizations ; he is con- 
cerned chiefly with the patient investigation of 
details ; it is but rarely that he feels called upon, 
like Kepler or Newton, for any emotional re- 
sponse to the grandeur and uniformity of law. 
Yet to many this vision of universal law has 
come as a light moving over chaos, a glad new 
discovery of the vastness and yet the homeliness 
of the world. 

An aesthetic emotion is not necessarily re- 
ligious, even within the field of inanimate 
nature. So also the elusive tints, the subtle 
perfumes of things, so far from liberating the 
soul, may excite a tormenting desire to grasp 
and appropriate what is so lovely and so in- 
tangible. Still, there is a distinct class of emo- 
tions aroused by nature which is of the religious 
order. A large expanse of air or sea or undulat- 
ing land, or the placid infinity of the star-lit 
sky, seems necessary to impart that enlarging 
and pacifying sense of nature alike to poets and 
peasants. Some sight or sound of nature, either 
habitually, or under some special conditions in 
the percipient, may strike upon the soul and 
liberate it at once from the bonds of common- 
place actuality. Perhaps no modern man has 
better expressed the religious aspects of nature 
than Thoreau. Of the American wood-thrush 

Conclusion. 243 

Thoreau can rarely speak without using the lan- 
guage of religion. " All that was ripest and 
fairest in the wilderness and the wild man is 
preserved and transmitted to us in the strain of 
the wood-thrush. . . . Whenever a man hears 
it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. 
Wherever he hears it, there is a new world and 
a free country, and the gates of heaven are not 
shut against him. Most other birds sing, from 
the level of my ordinary cheerful hours, a carol, 
but this bird never fails to speak to me out of 
an ether purer than that I breathe, of immortal 
vigour and beauty." Generally, however, this 
emotion appears to be associated, not so much 
with isolated beautiful objects, as with great 
vistas in which beauty may scarcely inhere — 

" all waste 
And solitary places ; where we taste 
The pleasure of believing what we see 
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be." 

It is indeed myself that I unconsciously project 
into the large and silent world around me ; the 
exhilaration I feel is a glad sense of the vast 
new bounds of my nature. That is why, at the 
appearance of another human being, I sink 
back immediately into the limits of my own 
normal individuality. I am no longer conter- 
minous with the world around me ; I cannot 
absorb or control another individuality like my 
own. I become a self-conscious human being 

244 The New Spirit. 

in the presence of another self-conscious human 

(4.) The supreme expression of the religious 
consciousness lies always in an intuition of union 
with the world, under whatever abstract or con- 
crete names the infinite not-self may be hidden. 
The perpetual annunciation of this union has 
ever been the chief gladness of life. It comes in 
the guise of a KaOapvis of egoism, a complete re- 
nunciation of the limits of individuality — of all 
the desires and aims that seem to converge in 
the single personality — and a joyous acceptance 
of what has generally seemed an immense ex- 
ternal Will, now first dimly or clearly realized. 
In every age this intuition has found voice — voice 
that has often grown wild and incoherent with 
the torrent of expansive emotion that impelled 
it. It is this intuition which is the " emptiness " 
of Lao-tsze, the freedom from all aims that 
centre in self: " It is only by doing nothing that 
the kingdom can be made one's own." This is 
the great good news of the Upanishads : the 
dtman, the soul, may attain to a state of yoga, of 
union, with the supreme dtman; free, henceforth, 
from doubts and desires which pass over it as 
water passes over the leaf of the lotus without 
wetting it ; acting, henceforth, only as acts the 
potter's wheel when the potter has ceased to 
turn it : " If I know that my own body is not 
mine, and yet that the whole earth is mine, and 

Conclusion. 245 

again that it is both mine and thine — no harm 
can happen then." The Buddhist's Nirvana, 
whether interpreted as a state to be attained 
before or after death, has the same charm ; it 
opens up the kingdom of the Universe to man ; 
it offers to the finite a home in the infinite. This 
is the great assertion of Christ, " I and my 
Father are one; " and whenever Christianity has 
reached its highest expression, from Paul's day 
to our own, it has but sung over again the old 
refrain of joy at the " new birth " into eternal 
life — the union, as it is said, of the soul through 
Christ with God — a tender Father, a great sus- 
taining Power on which the soul may rest and 
be at peace : 

" E la sua volontade e nostra pace." 

And that again is but in another form the 
Sufiism of Jelal-ed-din — the mystic union of the 
human bridegroom with the Divine Bride. Even 
the austere Imperial Stoic becomes lyrical as 
this intuition comes to him : " Everything is 
harmonious with me which is harmonious to 
thee, O Universe ! " As far back as we can 
trace, the men of all races, each in his own way 
and with his own symbols, have raised this shout 
of exultation. There is no larger freedom for 

It seemed well to name at least the chief im- 

246 The New Spirit. 

plications contained in a broadly generalized 
statement of man's religious relation to the 
universe. It is important to remember that they 
are but an individual mode of representation. I 
can only say that I am conscious of myself in 
varying attitudes or relations. The terms of 
those relationships, stated with however much 
probability, will ever remain matter for dispute. 
Moreover, various attitudes reveal various meta- 
physical implications. 

The scientific attitude, for example, has a 
series of implications of its own. In its solvents 
all things are analyzed and atomized; the "soul" 
of our religious world — the vast pulsating centre, 
at the bottom of which, according to the pro- 
found saying of the old mystic, lies that unutter- 
able sigh which we call God — is resolved into a 
momentary focus of ever-shifting rays of force ; 
it is but an incident in a huge evolution of 
shifting forces which we may, if we like, personify 
as Nature, but which, none the less, we cannot 
conceive as a whole. The scientific attitude has 
its own implications, and their far-reaching sig- 
nificance, their immense value for the individual 
and for the race, can scarcely be overrated. 

Again, the moral attitude is equally distinct. 
The criminal after a successful piece of villainy 
may feel a thrill of ecstasy. It is indeed well 
known that criminals in every country are the 
children of (more or less superstitious) religion. 

Conclusion. 247 

We may regard morality as grounded in the 
sense of personality, gradually extending by 
imagination and sympathy to every individual. 
Or we may regard it as springing, in a sense of 
adhesiveness, from the family and resulting rela- 
tionships, and thence growing into a conscious- 
ness of the oneness of all human interests, the 
individuals finding themselves to be, according 
to that Stoic conception which has moulded 
European laws and is still a leavening influence 
in European ethics, members one with another 
in the same natural body of humanity. In any 
case, as a moral being the individual finds him- 
self dependent on other individuals, and with a 
duty, therefore, laid upon him to live harmo- 
niously with those individuals ; there being no 
response forthcoming to the demands of his own 
nature unless he also responds to the demands 
of other natures. Religion, however, knows 
nothing of the scientific "nature" or of the 
ethical " man ; " its impulse is from within and 
of free grace. 

At the dawn of civilization, it is true, religion 
and morals are inextricably mingled ; they only 
become disentangled by a gradual evolution. 
The Toda who regards as sacred an ancient 
cattle-bell is obeying an impulse of adoration 
whose foundation is, probably, largely ethical, 
for the bull is intimately connected with the 
beginnings of civilization. A religious impulse 

248 The New Spirit. 

will sometimes have an ethical element ; morals 
will sometimes find an ally in religion. But 
religion with its internal criterion and morals 
with its more external criterion remain essentially 
distinct, sometimes antagonistic : " to reject reli- 
gion," Thoreau said, "is the first step towards 
moral excellence." That is but a puny religion 
that is based on morals ; on the other hand, the 
morals that rests on religion will sooner or later 
collapse with it in a common ruin. That has 
been too often seen. Religions change : every 
man is free to have his own, or to have none. 
No man, scarcely even a Crusoe, is free to have 
no morals, and the ideal morality cannot widely 
vary for any two societies. 

Yet religion cannot live nobly without science 
or without morals. It is only by a strenuous 
devotion to science, by a perpetual reference to 
the moral stmcture of life, that religion — so made 
conscious of its nature and its limits — can be 
rendered healthful. 

" None can usurp this height .... 

But those to whom the miseries of the world 

Are misery, and will not let them rest ; " 

so spake Moneta to Keats, among all English 
poets the purest artist. 

A man takes sides with religion, or with 
science, or with morals ; oftener he spends the 
brief moments of his existence in self-preserva- 
tion, fighting now on one side, now on the other. 

Conclusion. 249 

But for a little while we are allowed to enter the 
house of life and to gather around its fire. Why 
pull each other's hair and pinch each other's 
arms like naughty children ? Well would it be 
to warm ourselves at the fire together, to clasp 
hands, to gain all the joy that comes of com- 
radeship, before we are called out, each of us, 
into the dark, alone. 

The other elements fall away from religion, 
leaving the emotional, deeper and more funda- 
mental than either of the others ; just as the 
brain itself is controlled by the sympathetic 
system which outlives it and holds in its hands 
the centres of life. That element underlay the 
crude imaginings of the primitive man who first 
created a spiritual world out of the stuff of his 
dreams and his primitive delight in the most 
marvellous object he saw, the sun, that as he 
truly divined is the source not only of light but 
of life ; just as it underlies also our more com- 
plex imaginings to-day. In religion, we are ap- 
pealing not to any narrow or superficial element 
of the man, but to something which is more 
primitive than the intellectual efflorescence of 
the brain, the central fire of life itself. 

Our supreme business in life — not as we made 
it, but as it was made for us when the world 
began — is to carry and to pass on as we received 
it, or better, the sacred lamp of organic being 
that we bear within us. Science and morals are 

250 The New Spirit. 

subservient to the reproductive activity ; that is 
why they are so imperative. The rest is what we 
will, play, art, consolation — in one word, religion. 
If religion is not science or morals, it is the 
sum of the unfettered expansive impulses of our 
being. Life has been defined as, even physically 
and chemically, a tension. All our lives long we 
are struggling against that tension, but we can 
truly escape from it only by escaping from life 
itself. Religion is the stretching forth of our 
hands toward the illimitable. It is an intuition 
of the final deliverance, a half-way house on the 
road to that City which we name mysteriously 



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11 We seem at last to be shown men and women as they are ; and at first it 
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ODES OF HORACE Translations by Sir Stephen de Vere, Bt. 

OSSIAN Edited by George Eyre-Todd. 

ELFIN MUSIC Edited by Arthur Edward Waite. 

SOUTHEY Edited by Sidney R. Thompson. 

CHAUCER Edited by Frederick Noel Paton. 

POEMS OF WILD LIFE Edited by Charles G. D. Roberts, M. A. 

PARADISE REGAINED Edited by J. Bradshaw, M. A., LL.D. 

CRABBE Edited by E. Lamplough. 

DORA GREENWELL Edited by William Dorling. 

FAUST Edited by Elizabeth Craigmyle. 

AMERICAN SONNETS Edited by William Sharp. 

LANDOR'S POEMS Edited by Ernest Radford. 

GREEK ANTHOLOGY Edited by Graham R. Tomson. 

HUNT AND HOOD Edited by J. Harwood Panting. 

HUMOROUS POEMS Edited by Ralph H. Caine. 

LYTTON'S PLAYS Edited by R. Farquharson Sharp. 

GREAT ODES Edited by William Sharp. 

MEREDITH'S POEMS Edited by M. Betham-Edwards. 

PAINTER-POETS Edited by Kineton Parkes. 

WOMEN POETS Edited by Mrs. Sharp. 

LOVE LYRICS Edited by Percy Hulburd. 


MINOR SCOTCH LYRICS Edited by Sir George Douglas. 

CAVALIER LYRISTS Edited by Will H. Dircks. 

GERMAN BALLADS . . ~ Edited by Elizabeth Craigmyle. 

SONGS OF BER ANGER Translated by William Toynbee. 

POEMS OF THE HON. RODEN NOEL. With an Introduction by 
Robert Buchanan. 

Quarto, cloth elegant, gilt edges, emblematic design on 

cover, Gs. May also be had in a variety 

of Fancy Bindings. 


Music of the Poets 



This is a unique Birthday Book. Against each date are 
given the names of musicians whose birthday it is, together 
with a verse quotation appropriate to the character of their 
different compositions or performances. A special feature of 
the book consists in the reproduction in fac-simile of auto- 
graphs, and autographic music, of living composers. Three 
sonnets by Mr. Theodore Watts, on the "Fausts" of Berlioz, 
Schumann, and Gounod, have been written specially for thi3 
volume. It is illustrated with designs of various musical 
instruments, etc.; autographs of Rubenstein, Dvorak, Grieg, 
Mackenzie, Villiers Stanford, etc., etc. 

" To musical amateurs this will certainly prove the most at- 
tractive birthday book ever published."— Manchester Guardian. 

" One of those happy ideas that seems to have been yearning 
for fulfilment. . . . The book ought to have a place on every 
music stand." — Scottish Leader. 

London : Walter Scott, 24 Warwick Lane, Paternoster Row. 

Nausr JUN1SI&. 

University of Toronto 








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