The strength of symbolism lay in this demand for a complete sincerity of utterance. Its revolt against science was at the same time a vindication of truth, an effort to get nearer to reality both by shedding off the incrustations of habitual phrase and by calling into play the obscure affinities by which it can be magically evoked. In the subtleties of suggestion latent in sensations the symbolists were real discoverers. But the way had already been pointed in famous verses by Baudelaire:
'Earth is a Temple, from whose pillared mazes Murmurs confused of living utterance rise; Therein Man thro' a forest of symbols paces, That contemplate him with familiar eyes.
As prolonged echoes, wandering on and on, At last in one far tenebrous depth unite, Impalpable as darkness, and as light, Scents, sounds, and colours meet in unison.'
There Baudelaire had touched a chord that was to sound loud and long; for what else than this thought of all the senses meeting in union inspired the music drama of Wagner?—only one of his points of kinship, as we shall see, with symbolism.
Thus the symbolists, in quest of reality, touched it only through the inner life. There they are, in their fashion, realists. 'A landscape', said Albert Samain, 'is a state of soul.' The landscape may be false, but the state of soul is veracious. What interests them in life is the image of life, not lucidly reflected but exquisitely transformed. Yet the vision of the world caught in that transforming mirror was not without strange revealing glimpses, invisible, like stars mirrored in a well, to the plain observer. They could hear the music of the spheres; or in the language of Samain's sonnet
'Feel flowing through them, like a pouring wave, The music-tide of universal Soul; Hear in their heart the beating pulse of heaven.'
In the earlier poetry of Maurice Maeterlinck, the inner life imposes a more jealous sway. The poet sits not before a transforming mirror, where the outer world is disguised, but in a closed chamber, where it is only dreamed of, and it fades into the incoherence and the irrelevance of a dream. But the chamber is of rare beauty, and in its hushed and perfumed twilight, dramas of the spirit are being silently and almost imperceptibly enacted, more tragic than the loud passion and violence of the stage. He has written an essay on Silence,—silence that, like humility, holds for him a 'treasure' beyond the reach of eloquence or of pride; for it is the dwelling of our true self, the spiritual core of us, 'more profound and more boundless than the self of the passions or of pure reason.' And so there is less matter for drama in 'a captain who conquers in battle or a husband who avenges his honour than in an old man, seated in his arm-chair waiting patiently with his lamp beside him, giving unconscious ear to all the eternal laws that reign about his house, interpreting without comprehending, the silence of door and window, and the quivering voice of the light; submitting with bent head to the presence of his soul and his destiny.'
It is on this side that symbolism discloses its kinship with the Russian novel,—with the mystic quietism of Tolstoy and the religion of self-sacrifice in Dostoievsky; and its sharp antagonism to the Nietzschean gospel of daemonic will and ruthless self-assertion, just then being preached in Germany. The two faiths were both alive and both responded to deep though diverse needs of the time; but the immediate future, as we shall see, belonged to the second. They had their first resounding encounter when Nietzsche held up his once venerated master Wagner to scorn as the chief of 'decadents' because he had turned from the superhuman heroism of Siegfried and the boundless passion of Tristram to glorify the mystic Catholicism of the Grail and the loveliness of the 'pure fool' Parzifal.
Outside France symbolism found eager response among young poets, but rather as a literary than as an ethical doctrine. In Germany Dehmel, the most powerful personality among her recent poets, began as a disciple of Verlaine; in Italy, D'Annunzio wove esoteric symbols into the texture of the more than Nietzschean supermanliness of his supermen and superwomen. More significant than these, however, was the symbolism of what we call the Celtic school of poets in Ireland. For here both their artistic impressionism and their mystic spirituality found a congenial soil. The principal mediating force was Mr. Arthur Symons, friend of Verlaine and of Yeats, and himself the most penetrating interpreter of Symbolism, both as critic and as poet. And to the French influence was added that of Blake, a poet too great to be included in any school, but allied to symbolism by his scorn for 'intellect' and for rhetoric, and by his audacities of figured speech. But Mr. Yeats and 'A.E.', the leaders of the 'Celtic' group, are in no sense derivation voices. They had the great advantage over the French of a living native folklore and faery lore. Hence their symbolism, no less subtle, and no less steeped in poetic imagining, has not the same air of literary artifice, of studio fabrication, of cultured Bohemianism; it breathes of the old Irish hills, holy with old-world rites, and the haunted woods, and the magical twilight and dewy dawns. And beneath all the folklore, and animating it, is the passion for Ireland herself, the mother, deathless and ever young, whom neither the desolation of the time nor the decay of hope can touch:
'Out-worn heart in a time out-worn Come clear of the nets of wrong and right; Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight; Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.
Your mother Eire is always young, Dew ever shining and twilight grey; Tho' hope fall from you and love decay Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.
Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill; For there the mystical brotherhood Of sun and moon and hollow and wood And river and stream work out their will.'
For that, the French had only the Fauns of a literary neo-classicism. The passion for France was yet indeed to find a voice in poetry. But this was reserved for the more trumpet-tongued tones of the contemporary phase to which I now turn.
III. 'CREATIVE EVOLUTION'
1. Philosophic Analogies
Nothing is more symptomatic of the incipient twentieth century than the drawing together of currents of thought and action before remote or hostile. The Parnassians were an exclusive sect, the symbolists an eccentric and often disreputable coterie; Claudel, D'Annunzio, Rudyard Kipling, speak home to throngs of everyday readers, are even national idols, and our Georgians contrive to be bought and read without the least surrender of what is most poetic in their poetry. And the analogies between philosophic thinking and poetic creation become peculiarly striking. Merely to name Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, and Benedetto Croce is to become vividly aware of these analogies and of the common bent from which they spring. All three—whether with brilliant rhetoric, or iron logic, or a blend of both—use their thinking power to deride the theorizing intelligence in comparison with the creative intuition which culminates in poetry. To define the scope and province of this intuition is the purport of Croce's epoch-making Aesthetics, the basis and starting-point of his illumining work, in Critica, as a literary critic. Bergson is the dominant figure in a line of French thinkers possessed with the conviction that life, a perpetual streaming forth of creative energy, cannot be caught in the mechanism of law, adapted to merely physical phenomena, which at best merely gives us generalizations and lets the all-important particulars—the individual living thing—slip through the meshes; whereas intuition—the eye fixed on the object—penetrates to the very heart of this individual living thing, and only drops out the skeleton framework of abstract laws. Philosophy, in these thinkers, was deeply imbued with the analogies of artistic creation. 'Beauty,' said Ravaisson, 'and especially beauty in the most divine and perfect form, contains the secret of the world.' And Bergson's Creative Evolution embodied a conception of life and of the world profoundly congenial to the artistic and poetic temper of his time. For he restated, it has been well said, the two great surviving formulas of the nineteenth century, evolution and the will to live, in terms precisely suited to the temper of the age just dawning. The will to live became a formula of hope and progress; evolution became a formula of vital impulse, of creative purpose, not of mechanical 'struggle for existence'.
The idea that aesthetic experience gives a profounder clue than logical thought to the inner meaning of things was as old as Plato. It was one of the crowning thoughts of Kant; it deeply coloured the metaphysics of Schelling. And Nietzsche developed it with brilliant audacity when in his Birth of Tragedy (1872) he contrasted scornfully with the laboured and ineffectual constructions of the theoretic man, even of Socrates the founder of philosophy, the radiant vision of the artist, the lucid clarity of Apollo. 'His book gave the lie to a thousand years of orderly development', wrote the great Hellenist Wilamowitz, Nietzsche's old schoolfellow, indignant at his rejection of the labours of scholastic reason. But it affirmed energetically the passion of his own time for immediate and first-hand experience.
And it did more. Beside and above Apollo, Nietzsche put Dionysus; beside vision and above it, rage. Of the union of these two Tragedy was born. And Nietzsche's glorification of this elemental creative force also responded to a wider movement in philosophy, here chiefly German. His Dionysiac rage is directly derived from that will in which Schopenhauer saw the master faculty of man and the hidden secret of the universe; and the beginning of Schopenhauer's fame, about 1850, coincides with a general rehabilitation of will as the dominant faculty in the soul and in the world, at the cost of the methodic orderly processes of understanding; a movement exhibited in the psychological innovations of Wundt and Muensterberg, in the growth of the doctrine that what a thing is is determined by what it can; that value is in fact the measure, and even the meaning, of existence; that will can arm impotence, create faith, and master disease; and in the call of the colossal will-power which created the German empire and launched her on the career of industrial greatness. Nietzsche's Superman is, above all, a being of colossal and masterful will, and Zarathustra, the prophet of superhumanity, is only an incarnation of the will that for Schopenhauer moved the world. The moment at which the prestige of will began definitely to overcome that of reasoning is marked, as Aliotta has pointed out, by the appearance of James's Will to Believe, just when agnosticism seemed triumphant.
Nietzsche and Bergson thus, with all their obvious and immense divergences, concurred in this respect, important from our present point of view, that their influence tended to transfer authority from the philosophic reason to those 'irrational' elements of mind which reach their highest intensity in the vision and 'rage' of the poet. James's vindication of drunken exaltation as a source of religious insight was not the least symptomatic passage of his great book. And both concurred, however remote their methods or their speech, in conceiving reality as creation, creation in which we take part—a conception which again, in the hands of the constructive religious thinker, led directly to the type of faith announced in that last—the Jamesian—'Variety' of religious experience, which represents us as indispensable fellow-workers and allies of a growing and striving God.
2. The New Freedom
No reader of the poetry of our time can mistake the kinship of its prevailing temper with that which lies at the root of these philosophies. Without trying to fit its infinite variety to any finite formula, we may yet venture to find in it, as Mr. McDowall has found in our Georgian poetry in particular, a characteristic union of grip and detachment; of intense and eager grasp upon actuality as it breaks upon us in the successive moments of the stream of time, and yet an inner independence of it, a refusal to be obsessed by its sanctions and authorities, a tacit assumption that everything, by whatever length of tradition consecrated, must come before the bar of the new century to be judged by its new mind. 'Youth is knocking at the door,' as it is said of Hilda in the symbolical Master Builder, and doubtless in every generation the philistines or Victorians in possession have had occasion to make that remark. The difference in our time is rather that youth comes in without knocking, and that instead of having to work slowly up to final dominance against the inertia of an established literary household, it has spontaneously, like Hilda Wrangel, taken possession of the home, rinding criticism boundlessly eulogistic, the public inexhaustibly responsive, and philosophy interpreting the universe, as we have seen, precisely in sympathy with its own naive intuitions. No wonder that youth at twenty is writing its autobiography or having its biography written, and that at twenty-five it makes a show of laying down the pen, like Max Beerbaum, with the gesture of one rising sated from the feast of life: 'I shall write no more.'
The fact that youth finds itself thus at home in the world explains the difference in temper between the new poets of freedom and the old. The wild or wistful cry of Shelley for an ideal state emancipated from pain and death is as remote from their poetry as his spiritual anarchy from their politics; they can dream and see visions, in Scott's phrase, 'like any one going', but their feet are on the solid ground of actuality and citizenship, and the actuality comes into and colours their poetry no less than their vision. When Mr. Drinkwater looks out of his 'town window' he dreams of the crocus flaming gold in far-off Warwick woods; but he does not repudiate the drab inglorious street nor the tramway ringing and moaning over the cobbles, and they come into his verse. And I find it significant of the whole temper of the new poetry to ordinary life no less than that of ordinary men and women to the new poetry, that he has won a singularly intimate relationship with a great industrial community. He has not fared like his carver in stone. But then the eagles of his carving, though capable of rising, like Shelley's, to the sun, are the Cromwells and Lincolns who themselves brought the eagle's valour and undimmed eye into the stress and turmoil of affairs.
No doubt a fiercer note of revolt may be heard at times in the poetry of contemporary France, and that precisely where devotion to some parts of the heritage of the past is most impassioned. The iconoclastic scorn of youth's idealism for the effeteness of the 'old hunkers', as Whitman called them, has rarely rung out more sharply than in the closing stanzas of Claudel's great Palm Sunday ode. All the pomp and splendour of bishops and cardinals is idle while victory yet is in suspense: that must be won by youth in arms.
'To-morrow the candles and the dais and the bishop with his clergy coped and gold embossed, But to-day the shout like thunder of an equal, unofficered host Who, led and kindled by the flag alone, With one sole spirit swollen, and on one sole thought intent, Are become one cry like the crash of walls shattered and gates rent: 'Hosanna unto David's son!'
Needless the haughty steeds marble-sculptured, or triumphal arches, or chariots and four, Needless the flags and the caparisons, the moving pyramids and towers, and cars that thunder and roar,— 'Tis but an ass whereon sits Christ; For to make an end of the nightmare built by the pedants and the pharisees, To get home to reality across the gulf of mendacities, The first she-ass he saw sufficed!
Eternal youth is master, the hideous gang of old men is done with, we Stand here like children, fanned by the breath of the things to be, But victory we will have to-day! Afterwards the corn that like gold gives return, afterwards the gold that like corn is faithful and will bear, The fruit we have henceforth only to gather, the land we have henceforth only to share, But victory we will have to-day!'
In the same spirit Charles Peguy—like Claudel, be it noted, a student of Bergson at the Ecole Normale—found his ideal in the great story of the young girl of Domremy who saved France when all the pomp and wisdom of generals had broken down. And in our own poetry has not Mr. Bottomley rewritten the Lear story, with the focus of power and interest transferred from the old king—left with not an inch of king in him—to a glorious young Artemis-Goneril?
But among our English Georgians this tense iconoclastic note is rare. Their detachment from what they repudiate is not fanatical or ascetic; it is conveyed less in invective than in paradox and irony; their temper is not that which flies to the wilderness and dresses in camel hair, but of mariners putting out to the unknown and bidding a not unfriendly good-bye at the shore. The temper of adventure is deeply ingrained in the new romance as in the old; the very word adventure is saturated with a sentiment very congenial to us both for better and worse; it quickens the hero in us and flatters the devil-may-care.
In its simplest form the temper of adventure has given us the profusion of pleasant verses which we know as the poetry of 'vagabondage' and 'the open road'. The point is too familiar to be dwelt on, and has been admirably illustrated and discussed by Mr. McDowall. George Borrow, prince of vagabonds, Stevenson, the 'Ariel', with his 'Vagabond-song'—
'All I seek the heaven above, And the road below me',
and a few less vocal swallows, anticipated the more sustained flights and melodies of to-day, while Borrow's wonderful company of vagabond heroes and heroines is similarly premonitory of the alluring gipsies and circus-clowns of our Georgian poetry. Sometimes a traditional motive is creatively transformed; as when Father Time, the solemn shadow with admonitory hour-glass, appears in Mr. Hodgson's poem as an old gipsy pitching his caravan 'only a moment and off once again'.
Elsewhere a deeper note is sounded. It is not for nothing that Jeanne d'Arc is the saint of French Catholic democracy, or that Peguy, her poet, calls the Incarnation the 'sublime adventure of God's Son'. That last adventure of the Dantesque Ulysses beyond the sunset thrills us to-day more than the Odyssean tale of his triumphant home-return, and D'Annunzio, greatly daring, takes it as the symbol of his own adventurous life. Francis Thompson's most famous poem, too, represents the divine effort to save the erring soul under the image of the hound's eager chase of a quarry which may escape; while Yeats hears God 'blowing his lonely horn' along the moonlit faery glades of Erin. And Meredith, who so often profoundly voiced the spirit of the time in which only his ripe old age was passed, struck this note in his sublime verses on revolutionary France—
'soaring France That divinely shook the dead From living man; that stretched ahead Her resolute forefinger straight And marched toward the gloomy gate Of Earth's Untried.'
It is needless to dwell upon the affinity between this temper of adventure in poetry and the teaching of Bergson. That the link is not wholly fortuitous is shown by the interesting Art Poetique (1903) of his quondam pupil, Claudel, a little treatise pervaded by the idea of Creative-evolution.
It was natural in such a time to assume that any living art of poetry must itself be new, and in fact the years immediately before and after the turn of the century are crowded with announcements of 'new' movements in art of every kind. Beside Claudel's Art Poetique we have in England the New Aestheticism of Grant Allen; in Germany the 'new principle' in verse of Arno Holz. And here again the English innovators are distinguished by a good-humoured gaiety, if also by a slighter build of thought, from the French or Nietzschean 'revaluers'. Rupert Brooke delightfully parodies the exquisite hesitances and faltering half-tones of Pater's cloistral prose; and Mr. Chesterton pleasantly mocks at the set melancholy of the aggressive Decadence in which he himself grew up:
'Science announced nonentity, and art adored decay, The world was old and ended, but you and I were gay.'
Like their predecessors in the earlier Romantic school, the new adventurers have notoriously experimented with poetic form. France, the home of the most rigid and meticulous metrical tradition, had already led the way in substituting for the strictly measured verse the more loosely organized harmonies of rhythmical prose, bound together, and indeed made recognizable as verse, in any sense, solely by the rhyme. With the Symbolists 'free verse' was an attempt to capture finer modulations of music than the rigid frame of metre allowed. With their successors it had rather the value of a plastic medium in which every variety of matter and of mood could be faithfully expressed. But whether called verse or not, the vast rushing modulations of rhythmic music in the great pieces of Claudel and others have a magnificence not to be denied. And the less explicitly poetic form permits matter which would jar on the poetic instinct if conveyed through a metrical form to be taken up as it were in this larger and looser stride.
In Germany, on the other hand, the rhythmic emancipation of Whitman was carried out, in the school of Arno Holz, with a revolutionary audacity beyond the example even of Claudel. Holz states with great clearness and trenchancy what he calls his 'new principle of lyric'; one which 'abandons all verbal music as an aim, and is borne solely by a rhythm made vital by the thought struggling through it to expression'. Rhyme and strophe are given up, only rhythm remains.
Of our Georgian poetry, it must suffice to note that here, too, the temper of adventure in form is rife. But it shows itself, characteristically, less in revolutionary innovation than in attempts to elicit new and strange effects from traditional measures by deploying to the utmost, and in bold and extreme combinations, their traditional resources and variations, as in the blank verse of Mr. Abercrombie and Mr. Bottomley. This, and much beside in Georgian verse, has moods and moments of rare beauty. But, on the whole, verse-form is the region of poetic art in which Georgian poetry as a whole is least secure.
3. The New Realism
We see then how deeply rooted this new freedom is in the passion for actuality; not the dream but the waking and alert experience throbs and pulses in it. We have now to look more closely into this other aspect of it. Realism is a hard-worked term, but it may be taken to imply that the overflowing vitality of which poetry is one expression fastens with peculiar eagerness upon the visible and tangible world about us and seeks to convey that zest in words. Our poets not only do not scorn the earth to lose themselves in the sky; they are positive friends of the matter-of-fact, and that not in spite of poetry, but for poetry's sake; and Pegasus flies more freely because 'things' are 'in the saddle' along with the poet.
That this matter-of-factness is loved by poets, for poetry's sake, marks it off once for all from the photographic or 'plain' realism of Crabbe. But it is also clearly distinct from the no less poetic realism of Wordsworth. Wordsworth's mind is conservative and traditional; his inspiration is static; he glorifies the primrose on the river brink by seeing its transience in the light of something far more deeply interfused which does not change nor pass away. Romance, in a high sense, lies about his greatest poetry. But it is a romance rooted in memory, not in hope—the 'glory of the grass and splendour of the flower' which he had seen in childhood and imaginatively re-created in maturity; a romance which change, and especially the intrusions of industrial man, dispelled and destroyed. Whereas the romance of our new realism rests, in good part, precisely in the sense that the thing so vividly gripped is not or need not be permanent, may turn into something else, has only a tenancy, not a freehold, in its conditions of space and time, a 'toss-up' hold upon existence, as it were, full of the zest of adventurous insecurity. A pessimistic philosophy would dissipate this romance, or strip it of all but the mournful poetry of doom. Mr. Chesterton glorifies the dust which may become a flower or a face, against the Reverend Peter Bell for whom dust is dust and no more, and Hamlet who only remembers that it once was Caesar. If our realism is buoyant, if it had at once the absorbed and the open mind, this is, in large part, in virtue of the temper which finds reality a perpetual creation. Every moment is precious and significant, for it comes with the burden and meaning of something that has never completely been before; and goes by only to give place to another moment equally curious and new. This is the deeper ground of our present fashion of paradox; what Mr. Chesterton, its apostle, means when he says that 'the great romance is reality'; for paradox, the unexpected, is, in a reality so framed, the bare and sober truth. Hence the frequency, in our new poetry, of pieces founded deliberately upon, as Mr. McDowall points out, paradox: the breaking in of some utter surprise upon a humdrum society, as in Mr. de la Mare's Three Jolly Farmers, or Mr. Abercrombie's End of the World, or Mr. Munro's Strange Meetings.
Moreover, in this incessantly created reality we are ourselves incessantly creative. That may seem to follow as a matter of course; but it corresponds with the most radical of the distinctions between our realism and that of Wordsworth. When Mr. Wells tells us that his most comprehensive belief about the universe is that every part of it is ultimately important, he is not expressing a mystic pantheism which feels every part to be divine, but a generous pragmatism which holds that every part works. The idea of shaping and adapting will, of energy in industry, of mere routine practicality in office or household, is no longer tabooed, or shyly evaded; not because of any theoretic exaltation of labour or consecration of the commonplace, but because merely to use things, to make them fulfil our purposes, to bring them into touch with our activities, itself throws a kind of halo over even very humble and homely members of the 'divine democracy of things'. Rupert Brooke draws up a famous catalogue of the things of which he was a 'great lover'. He loved them, he says, simply as being. And no doubt, the simple sensations of colour, touch, or smell counted for much. But compare them with the things that Keats, a yet greater lover of sensations, loved. You feel in Brooke's list that he liked doing things as well as feasting his passive senses; these 'plates', 'holes in the ground,' 'washen stones,' the cold graveness of iron, and so forth. One detects in the list the Brooke who, as a boy, went about with a book of poems in one hand and a cricket-ball in the other, and whose left hand well knew what his right hand did. That takes us far from the dream of eternal beauty, which a Greek urn or a nightingale's song brought to Keats, and the fatal word 'forlorn', bringing back the light of common day, dispelled. The old ethical and aesthetic canons are submerged in a passion for life which finds a good beyond good and evil, and a beauty born of ugliness more vital than beauty's self. 'The worth of a drama is measured', said D'Annunzio, 'by its fullness of life', and the formula explains, if it does not justify, those tropical gardens, rank with the gross blooms of 'superhuman' eroticism and ferocity, to which he latterly gave that name. And we know how Maeterlinck has emerged from the mystic dreams and silences of his recluse chamber to unfold the dramatic pugnacities of Birds and Bees.
Even the downright foulness and ugliness which some people find so puzzling in poets with an acute delight in beauty, like Mr. Masefield, come into it not from any aesthetic obtuseness, but because these uglinesses are full of the zest of drama, of things being done or made, of life being lived. When Masefield sounded his challenge to the old aesthetics:
'Others may sing of the wine and the wealth and the mirth, Mine be the dirt and the dross, the dust and scum of the earth',
he knew well, as The Everlasting Mercy and The Widow of Bye Street showed, that dirt and dross, if wrought into tragedy, can win a higher beauty than the harmonies of idyll. Even the hideous elder women in Mr. Bottomley's Lear's Wife, or his Regan—an ill-conditioned girl, sidling among the 'sweaty, half-clad cook-maids' after pig-killing, 'smeary and hot as they', participate in this beauty and energy of doing.
Poetry, in these cases, wins perhaps at most a Pyrrhic victory over reluctant matter. It is otherwise with the second of the great Belgian poets.
In the work of Verhaeren, the modern industrial city, with its spreading tentacles of devouring grime and squalor, its clanging factories, its teeming bazaars and warehouses, and all its thronging human population, is taken up triumphantly into poetry. Verhaeren is the poet of 'tumultuous forces', whether they appear in the roar and clash of 'that furnace we call existence', or in the heroic struggles of the Flemish nation for freedom. And he exhibits these surging forces in a style itself full of tumultuous power, Germanic rather than French in its violent and stormy splendour, and using the chartered licence of the French 'free verse' itself with more emphasis than subtlety.
4. The Cult of Force
In Verhaeren, indeed, we are conscious of passing into the presence of power more elemental and unrestrained than the civil refinement of our Georgians, at their wildest, allows us to suspect. The tragic and heroic history of his people, and their robust art, the art of Rembrandt, and of Teniers, vibrates in the Flemish poet. He has much of the temperament of Nietzsche, and if not evidently swayed by his ideas, or even aware of them, and with a generous faith in humanity which Nietzsche never knew, he thinks and imagines with a kindred joy in violence:
'I love man and the world, and I adore the force Which my force gives and takes from man and the universe.'
And it is no considerable step from him to the poets who in this third phase of our period have unequivocally exulted in power and burnt incense or offered sacrifice before the altar of the strong man. The joy in creation which, we saw, gives its romance to so much of the realism of our time, now appears accentuated in the fiercer romance of conflict and overthrow. Thanks largely to Nietzsche, this romance acquired the status of an authoritative philosophy—even, in his own country, that of an ethical orthodoxy.
The German people was doubtless less deeply and universally imbued with this faith than our war-prejudice assumes. But phenomena such as the enormous success of a cheap exposition of it, Rembrandt als Erzieher (1890) by a fervent Bismarckian, and of the comic journal Simplicissimus (founded 1895) devoted to systematic ridicule of the old-fashioned German virtues of tenderness and sympathy, indicated a current of formidable power and compass, which was soon to master all the other affluents of the national stream.
But older, and in part foreign, influences concurred to colour and qualify, while they sustained, the Nietzschean influence,—the daemonic power of Carlyle, the iron intensity and masterful reticence of Ibsen. This was the case especially, as is well known, in the drama. Gerhardt Hauptmann, who painted the tragedy of the self-emancipated superman,—as Mr. Shaw about the same time showed us his self-achieved apotheosis,—was no doubt the most commanding (as Mr. Shaw was the most original) figure in the European drama of the early century.
In poetry, the contributory forces were still more subtly mingled, and the Nietzschean spirit, which blows where it listeth, often touched men wholly alien from Nietzsche in cast of genius and sometimes stoutly hostile to him. Several of the most illustrious were not Germans at all. Among the younger men who resist, while they betray, his spell, is the most considerable lyric poet of the present generation in Germany. Richard Dehmel's vehement inspiration from the outset provoked comparison with Nietzsche, which he warmly resented.
He began, in fact, as a disciple of Verlaine, and we may detect in the unrestraint of his early erotics the example of the French poet's fureur d'aimer. But Dehmel's more strongly-built nature, and perhaps the downright vigour of the German language, broke through the tenuities of la nuance. It was not the subtle artistry of the Symbolists, but the ethical and intellectual force of the German character, which finally drew into a less anarchic channel the vehement energy of Dehmel. Nietzsche had imagined an ethic of superhuman will 'beyond good and evil'. The poet, replied Dehmel, had indeed to know the passion which transcends good and evil, but he had to know no less the good and evil themselves of the world in and by which common men live. And if he can cry with the egoism of lawless passion, in the Erloesungen, 'I will fathom all pleasure to the deepest depths of thirst, ... Resign not pleasure, it waters power',—he can add, in the true spirit of Goethe and of the higher mind of Germany, 'Yet since it also makes slack, turn it into the stuff of duty!'
If Nietzsche provoked into antagonism the sounder elements in Dehmel, he was largely responsible for destroying such sanity as the amazing genius of Gabriele D'Annunzio had ever possessed. In D'Annunzio the sensuality of a Sybarite and the eroticism of a Faun go along with a Roman tenacity and hardness of nerve. The author of novels which, with all their luxurious splendour, can only be called hothouses of morbid sentiment, has become the apostle of Italian imperialism, and more than any other single man provoked Italy to throw herself into the great adventure of the War. Unapproached in popularity by any other Italian man of letters, D'Annunzio discovered Nietzsche, and hailed him—a great concession—as an equal. When Nietzsche died, in 1900, D'Annunzio indicted a lofty memorial ode to the Titanic Barbarian who set up once more the serene gods of Hellas over the vast portals of the Future. Nietzsche indeed let loose all the Titan, and all consequently that was least Hellenic, in the fertile genius of the Italian; his wonderful instinct for beauty, his inexhaustible resources of style are employed in creating orgies of superhuman valour, lust, and cruelty like some of his later dramas, and hymns intoxicated with the passion for Power, like the splendid Ode in which the City of the Seven Hills is prophetically seen once more the mistress of the world, loosing the knot of all the problems of humanity. His poetic autobiography, the first Laude (1901)—counterpart of Wordsworth's Prelude and its very antipodes—culminates in a prayer 900 lines long to Hermes, god of the energy which precipitates itself on life and makes it pregnant with invention and discovery, of the iron will 'which chews care as a laurel leaf'—the god of the Superman. And so he discovers the muse of the Superman, the Muse of Energy, a tenth Muse whose first poet he modestly disclaims to be, if he may only be, as he would have us interpret his name, her Announcer.
If D'Annunzio emulates Nietzsche, the two great militant poets of Catholic France would have scorned the comparison. Charles Peguy's brief career was shaped from his first entrance, poor and of peasant birth, at a Paris Lycee, to his heroic death in the field, September 1914, by a daemonic force of character. His heroine, glorified in his first book, was Jeanne d'Arc, who attempted the impossible, and achieved it. In writing, his principle—shocking to French literary tradition—was to speak the brutal truth brutalement. As a poet he stood in the direct lineage of Corneille, whose Polyeucte he thought the greatest of the world's tragedies. As a man, he embodied with naive intensity the unsurpassed inborn heroism of the French race.
Claudel, even more remote as a thinker from Nietzsche than Peguy, exhibits a kindred temper in the ingrained violence of his art. His stroke is vehement and peremptory; he is an absolutist in style as in creed. It is the style of one who apprehends the visible world with an intensity as of passionate embrace, such as the young Browning expresses in Pauline. 'I would fain have seen everything,' he cries, 'possessed and made it my own, not with eyes and senses only, but with mind and spirit.' And after he was converted he saw and painted supernatural things with the same carnal and robust incisiveness. The half-lights of Symbolist mysticism are remote from his hard glare. As a dramatist he drew upon and exaggerated that which in Aeschylus and Shakespeare seems to the countrymen of Racine nearest to the limit of the terrible and the brutal permissible in art: a princess nailed by the hands like a sparrow-hawk to a pine by a brutal peasant; the daughter of a noble house submitting to a loathed marriage with a foul-mouthed plebeian in order to save the pope.
And if we look, finally, for corresponding phenomena at home, we find them surely in the masculine, militant, and in the French sense brutal poetry of W.E. Henley and Rudyard Kipling. If any modern poets have conceived life in terms of will, and penetrated their verse with that faith, it is the author of 'I am the Captain of my Soul', the 'Book of the Sword', and 'London Voluntaries', friend and subject of the great kindred-minded sculptor Rodin, the poet over whose grave in St. Paul's George Wyndham found the right word when he said—marking him off from the great contemplative, listening poets of the past—'His music was not the still sad music of humanity; it was never still, rarely sad, always intrepid.' And we know how Kipling, after sanctioning the mischievous superstition that 'East and West can never meet', refuted it by producing his own 'two strong men'.
5. The New Idealism
We have now seen something of that power, at once of grip and of detachment with which the dominant poetry of this century faces what it thinks of as the adventure of experience, its plunge into the ever-moving and ever-changing stream of life. How then, it remains to ask, has it dealt with those ideal aspirations and beliefs which one may live intensely and ignore, which in one sense stand 'above the battle', but for which men have lived and died. With a generation which holds so lightly by tradition, which revises and revalues all accepted values, these aspirations and beliefs might well drop out of its poetry. On the other hand, these same aspirations and beliefs might overcome the indifference to tradition by ceasing to be merely traditional, by being immersed and steeped in that moving stream of life, and interwoven with the creative energies of men. The inherited faiths were put to this dilemma, either to become intimately alive and creative in poetry or to be of no concern for it. Some of them failed in the test. England has still devotees of Protestantism, but Protestant religion has hardly inspired noble poetry since Milton. Nationality, on the other hand, has during the last century inspired finer poetry than at any time since the sixteenth, and that because it has been brought down from the region of political abstractions and ideologies into intimate union with heart and brain, imagination and sense. This is true also of Catholicism and of Socialism, and, if fitfully and uncertainly yet, of the ideal of international fraternity, of humanity. And to all these ideals, to all ideals, came finally the terrific, the overwhelming test of the War,—a searching, annihilating, purifying flame, in which some shrivelled away, some were stripped of the illusive glitter that concealed their mass of alloy, and some, purged of their baser constituents, shone out with a lustre unapproached before.
What is the distinctive note of this new poetry of nationality? And for the moment I speak of the years before the War. May we not say that in it the ideal of country is saturated with that imaginative grip of reality in all its concrete energy and vivacity which I have called the new realism? The nation is no abstraction, whether it be called Britannia, or Deutschland ueber Alles. It is seen, and felt; seen in its cities as well as in its mountains, in the workers who have made it, as well as in the heroes who have defended it; in its roaring forges as well as in its idyllic woodlands and its tales of battles long ago; and all these not as separate strands in a woven pattern, but as waters of different origin and hue pouring along together in the same great stream.
Emile Verhaeren, six years before the invasion, had seen and felt his country, living body and living soul, with an intensity which made it seem unimaginable that she should be permanently subdued. He well called his book Toute la Flandre, for all Flanders is there. Old Flanders,—Artevelde and Charles Temeraire—whose soul was a forest of huge trees and dark thickets,
'A wilderness of crossing ways below, But eagles, over, soaring to the sun,'—
Van Eyck and Rubens—'a thunder of colossal memories'; then the great cities, with their belfries and their foundries, and their warehouses and laboratories, their antique customs and modern ambitions; and the rivers, the homely familiar Lys, where the women wash the whitest of linen, and the mighty Scheldt, the Escaut, the 'hero sombre, violent and magnificent', 'savage and beautiful Escaut', whose companionship had moulded and made the poet, whose rhythms had begotten his music and his best ideas.
None of our English poets have rendered England in poetry with the same lyric intensity in its whole compass of time and space, calling up into light and music all her teeming centuries and peopled provinces. Yet the present generation has in some respects made a nearer approach to such achievement than its predecessors. A century of growing historic consciousness has not passed over us in vain; and if any generic distinction is to be found between our recent, often penetrating and beautiful, poetry of the English countryside and the Nature description of Wordsworth or of Ruskin, it is in the ground-tone of passion and memory that pervades it for England herself. Wordsworth wrote magnificently of England threatened with invasion, and magnificently of the Lake Country, Nature's beloved haunt. But the War sonnets and the Lake and mountain poetry come from distinct strains in his genius, which our criticism may bring into relation, but our feeling insists on keeping apart. His Grasmere is a province of Nature—her favoured province—rather than of England; it is in the eye of Nature that the old Cumberland beggar lives and dies; England only provides the obnoxious workhouses to which these destitute vagrants were henceforth to be consigned. Is it not this that divides our modern local poetry from his? Mr. Belloc's Sussex is tenderly loved for itself; yet behind its great hills and its old-world harbours lies the half-mystic presence of historic England. And in Edward Thomas's wonderful old Wiltshireman, Lob, worthy I think to be named with the Cumberland Beggar,
'An old man's face, by life and weather cut And coloured,—rough, brown, sweet as any nut,— A land face, sea-blue eyed,'—
you read the whole lineage of sterling English yeomen and woodlanders from whom Lob springs.
This note is indeed relatively absent from the work of the venerable master who has made 'Wessex' the most vividly realized of all English provinces to-day, and whose prose Egdon Heath may well be put at the head of all the descriptive poetry of our time. But Mr. Hardy, in this respect, belongs to an earlier generation than that into which he happily survives.
Sometimes this feeling is given in a single intense concentrated touch. When Rupert Brooke tells us of
'Some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,'
do we not feel that the solidarity of England with the English folk and of the English folk with the English soil, is burnt into our imaginations in a new and distinctive way?
But the poetry of shires and provinces reacts too upon the poetry of nationality. It infuses something of the more instinctive and rudimentary attachments from which it springs into a passion peculiarly exposed to the contagion of rhetoric and interest. Some of the most strident voices among living nationalist poets have found an unexpected note of tenderness when they sang their home province. Mr. Kipling charms us when he tells, in his close-knit verse, of the 'wooded, dim, Blue goodness of the Weald'. And the more strident notes of D'Annunzio's patriotism are also assuaged by the tenderness and depth of his home feeling. We read with some apprehension his dedication of La Nave to the god of seas:
'O Lord, who bringest forth and dost efface The ocean-ruling Nations, race by race, It is this living People, by Thy grace Who on the sea Shall magnify Thy name, who on the sea Shall glorify Thy name, who on the sea With myrrh and blood shall sacrifice to Thee At the altar-prow, Of all earth's oceans make our sea, O Thou! Amen!
But he dedicated a noble drama, the Figlia d'Iorio, in a different tone, 'To the land of the Abruzzi, to my Mother, to my Sisters, to my brother in exile, to my father in his grave, to all my dead and all my race in the mountains and by the sea, I dedicate this song of the ancient blood.'
The growth of democratic as of national feeling during the later century naturally produced a plentiful harvest of eloquent utterance in verse. With this, merely as such, I am not here concerned, even though it be as fine as the Socialist songs of William Morris or Edward Carpenter. But the Catholic Socialism of Charles Peguy,—itself an original and, for most of his contemporaries, a bewildering combination—struck out a no less original poetry,—a poetry of solidarity. Peguy's Socialism, like his Catholicism, was single-souled; he ignored that behind the one was a Party, and behind the other a Church. It was his bitterest regret that a vast part of humanity was removed beyond the pale of fellowship by eternal damnation. It was his sublimest thought that the solidarity of man includes the damned. In his first version of the Jeanne d'Arc mystery, already referred to, he tells how Jesus, crucified,
Saw not his Mother in tears at the cross-foot Below him, saw not Magdalen nor John, But wept, dying, only for Judas' death. The Saviour loved this Judas, and though utterly He gave himself, he knew he could not save him.
It was the dogma of damnation which for long kept Peguy out of its fold, that barbarous mixture of life and death, he called it, which no man will accept who has won the spirit of collective humanity. But he revolted not because he was tolerant of evil; on the contrary to damn sins was for him a weak and unsocial solution; evil had not to be damned but to be fought down. Whether this vision of Christ weeping because he could not save Judas was un-Christian, or more Christian than Christianity itself, we need not discuss here; but I am sure that the spirit of a Catholic democracy as transfigured in the mind of a great poet could not be more nobly rendered.
But Peguy's powerful personality set its own stamp upon whatever he believed, and though a close friend of Jaures, he was a Socialist who rejected almost all the ideas of the Socialist school. As little was his Catholicism to the mind of the Catholic authorities. And his Catholic poetry is sharply marked off from most of the poetry that burgeoned under the stimulus of the remarkable revival of Catholic ideas in twentieth-century France. I say of Catholic ideas, for sceptical poets like Remy de Gourmont played delicately with the symbols of Catholic worship, made 'Litanies' of roses, and offered prayers to Jeanne d'Arc, walking dreamily in the procession of 'Women Saints of Paradise', to 'fill our hearts with anger'. The Catholic adoration of women-saints is one of the springs of modern poetry. At the close of the century of Wordsworth and Shelley, the tender Nature-worship of Francis of Assisi contributed not less to the recovered power of Catholic ideas in poetry, and this chiefly in the person of two poets, in France and in England, both of whom played half-mystically with the symbolism of their names, Francis Thompson and Francis Jammes. The child-like naivete of S. Francis is more delicately reflected in Jammes, a Catholic W.H. Davies, who casts the idyllic light of Biblical pastoral over modern farm life, and prays to 'his friends, the Asses' to go with him to Paradise, 'For there is no hell in the land of the Bon Dieu.'
But the most powerful creative imagination to-day in the service of Catholic ideas is certainly Paul Claudel. I pass by here the series of dramas, where a Catholic inspiration as fervent as Calderon's is enforced with Elizabethan technique and Elizabethan violence of terror, cruelty, and pity. From the ferocious beauty of L'Otage turn rather to the intense spiritual hush before the altar of some great French church at noon, where the poet, not long after the first decisive check of the invaders on the Marne, finds himself alone, before the shrine of Marie. Here too, his devotion finds a speech not borrowed from the devout or from their poetry:
'It is noon. I see the Church is open. I must enter. Mother of Jesus Christ, I do not come to pray.
I have nothing to offer and nothing to ask. I come only, Mother, to gaze at you.
To gaze at you, to weep for happiness, to know That I am your son and that you are there.
Nothing at all but for a moment when all is still, Noon! to be with you, Marie, in this place where you are.
To say nothing, to gaze upon your face, To let the heart sing in its own speech.'
There the nationalist passion of Claudel animates his Catholic religion, yet does not break through its confines. But sometimes the strain of suffering and ruin is too intense for Christian submission, and he takes his God to task truculently for not doing his part in the contract; we are his partner in running the world, and see, he is asleep!
'There is a great alliance, willy-nilly, between us henceforth, there is this bread that with no trembling hand We have offered you, this wine that we have poured anew, Our tears that you have gathered, our brothers that you share with us, leaving the seed in the earth, There is this living sacrifice of which we satisfy each day's demand, This chalice we have drunk with you!'
Yet the devout passion emerges again, with notes of piercing pathos:
'Lord, who hast promised us for one glass of water a boundless sea, Who knows if Thou art not thirsty too? And that this blood, which is all we have, will quench that thirst in Thee, We know, for Thou hast told us so. If indeed there is a spring in us, well, that is what is to be shown, If this wine of ours is red, If our blood has virtue, as Thou sayest, how can it be known Otherwise than by being shed?'
(4) Effects of the War upon Poetry
Thus could the great Catholic poet sing under pressure of the supreme national crisis of his country. Poetry at such times may become a great national instrument—a trumpet whence Milton or Wordsworth, Arndt or Whitman, blow soul-animating strains. The war of 1914 was for all the belligerent peoples far more than a stupendous military event. It shattered the patterns of our established mentality, and compelled us to seek new adjustments and support in the chaotically disorganized world. The psychical upheaval was most violent in the English-speaking peoples, where the military shock was least direct; for here a nation of civilians embraced suddenly the new and amazing experience of battle. Here too, the imaginatively sensitive minds who interpret life through poetry, and most of all the youngest and freshest among them, themselves shared in the glories and the throes of the fight as hardly one of the signers of our most stirring battle poetry had ever done before. How did this new and amazing experience react upon their poetry? This, our final question, is perhaps the crucial one in considering the tendencies of recent European poetry.
In the first place it enormously stimulated and quickened what was deepest and strongest in the energies and qualities which had been apparent in our latter day poetry before. They had sought to clasp life, to live, not merely to contemplate, experience; and here indeed was life, and death, and both to be embraced. Here was adventure indeed, but one whose grimness made romance cheap, so that in this war-poetry, for the first time in history, the romance and glamour of war, the pomp and circumstance of military convention, fall entirely away, and the bitterest scorn of these soldier-poets is bestowed not on the enemy, but on those contemplators who disguised its realities with the camouflage of the pulpit and the editorial arm-chair. Turn, I will not say from Campbell or from Tennyson, but from Rudyard Kipling or Sir H. Newbolt, to Siegfried Sassoon, and you feel that you have got away from a literary convention, whether conveyed in the manners of the barrack-room or of the public-school, to something intolerably true, and which holds the poet in so fierce a grip that his song is a cry.
But if the war has brought our poets face to face with intense kinds of real experience, which they have fearlessly grasped and rendered, its grim obsession has not made them cynical, or clogged the wings of their faith and their hope. I will not ask how the war has affected the idealism of others, whether it has left the nationalism of our press or the religion of our pulpits purer or more gross than it found them. But of our poetry at least the latter cannot be said. In Rupert Brooke the inspiration of the call obliterated the last trace of dilettante youth's pretensions, and he encountered darkness like a bride, and greeted the unseen death not with a cheer as a peril to be boldly faced, but as a great consummation, the supreme safety. How his poetry would have reacted to the actual experience of war we can only guess. But in others, his friends and comrades, the fierce immersion in the welter of ruin and pain and filth and horror and death brought only a more superb faith in the power of man's soul to rise above the hideous obsession of his own devilries, to retain the vision of beauty through the riot of foul things, of love through the tumult of hatreds, of life through the infinity of death. True this was not a new power: poetry to be poetry must always in some measure possess it. What was individual to the poets was that this power of mastering actuality went along in them with the fierce and eager immersion in it; the thrill of breathing the
'calm and serene air Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot Which men call earth,'
with the thrill of seeing and painting in all its lurid colouring the volcanic chaos of this 'stir and smoke' itself. Thus the same Siegfried Sassoon who renders with so much close analytic psychology the moods that cross and fluctuate in the dying hospital patient, or the haunted fugitive, as he flounders among snags and stumps, to feel at last the strangling clasp of death, can as little as the visionary Shelley overcome the insurgent sense that these dead are for us yet alive, made one with Nature.
He visits the deserted home of his dead friend—
'Ah, but there was no need to call his name, He was beside me now, as swift as light ... For now, he said, my spirit has more eyes Than heaven has stars, and they are lit by love. My body is the magic of the world, And dark and sunset flame with my spilt blood.'
And so the undying dead
'Wander in the dusk with chanting streams, And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms upflung, To hail the burning heaven they left unsung.'
Further, this war poetry, while reflecting military things with a veracity hardly known before, is yet rarely militant. We must not look for explicit pacifist or international ideas; but as little do we find jingo patriotism or hymns of hate. The author of the German hymn of hate was a much better poet than anyone who tried an English hymn in the same key, and the English poets who could have equalled its form were above its spirit. Edith Cavell's dying words 'Patriotism is not enough' cannot perhaps be paralleled in these poets, but they are continually suggested. They do not say, in the phrase of the old cavalier poet, that we should love England less if we loved not something else more, or that something is wanting in our love for our country if we wrong humanity in its name. But the spirit which is embodied in these phrases breathes through them; heroism matters more to them than victory, and they know that death and sorrow and the love of kindred have no fatherland. They 'stand above the battle' as well as share in it, and they share in it without ceasing to stand above it. The German is the enemy, they never falter in that; and even death does not convert him into a friend. But for this enemy there is chivalry, and pity, and a gleam, now and then, of reconciling comradeship.
'He stood alone in some queer sunless place Where Armageddon ends,'—
the Englishman whom the Germans had killed in fight, to be themselves slain by his friend, the speaker. Their ghosts throng around him,—
'He stared at them, half wondering, and then They told him how I'd killed them for his sake, Those patient, stupid, sullen ghosts of men: At last he turned and smiled; smiled—all was well Because his face would lead them out of hell.'
Finally, the poet himself glories in his act; he knows that he can beat into music even the crashing discords that fill his ears; he knows too that he has a music of his own which they cannot subdue or debase:
'I keep such music in my brain No din this side of death can quell, Glory exulting over pain, And beauty garlanded in hell.'
To have found and kept and interwoven these two musics—a language of unflinching veracity and one of equally unflinching hope and faith—is the achievement of our war-poetry. May we not say that the possession together of these two musics, of these two moods, springing as they do from the blended grip and idealism of the English character, warrants hope for the future of English poetry? For it is rooted in the greatest, and the most English, of the ways of poetic experience which have gone to the making of our poetic literature—the way, ultimately, of Shakespeare, and of Wordsworth. But that temper of catholic fraternity which finds the stuff of poetry everywhere does not easily attain the consummate technique in expression of a rarer English tradition, that of Milton, and Gray, and Keats. Beauty abounds in our later poets, but it is a beauty that flashes in broken lights, not the full-orbed radiance of a masterpiece. To enlarge the grasp of poetry over the field of reality, to apprehend it over a larger range, is not at once to find consummate expression for what is apprehended. The flawless perfection of the Parnassians—of Heredia's sonnets—is nowhere approached in the less aristocratically exclusive poetry of to-day. But the future, in poetry also, is with the spirit which found the aristocracy of noble art not upon exclusions, negations, and routine, but upon imagination, penetration, discovery, and catholic openness of mind.
SOME BOOKS FOR CONSULTATION
Pellissier, Le Mouvement Litteraire au XIXme Siecle.
Brunetiere, La Poesie Lyrique au XIXme Siecle.
Eccles, F.Y., A Century of French Poets.
Vigie-Lecocq, La Poesie Contemporaine.
Phelps, Advance of English Poetry in the Twentieth Century.
Muret, La Litterature Italienne d'aujourd'hui.
Ladenarde, G. Carducci.
Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
Jackson, The Eighteen Nineties.
Aliotta, The Idealist Reaction against Science.
Soergel, Die deutsche Litteratur unserer Zeit.
Bithell, Contemporary German Poetry (Translated).
Halevy, Charles Peguy.
[Footnote 3: The temper of the two realists was no doubt widely different. 'C'est en haine du realisme', wrote Flaubert, 'que j'ai entrepris ce roman. Mais je n'en deteste pas moins la fausse idealite, dont nous sommes berces par le temps qui court' (Corresp. 3, 67).]
[Footnote 4: Causeries du Lundi, 1850 f.]
[Footnote 5: Histoire de la litterature anglaise, 1863.]
[Footnote 6: But a Wilde who wrote no De Profundis and no Ballad of Reading Gaol.]
[Footnote 7: La Forge: dedicated to Gaston Paris, the greatest forgeron of his generation in the love of Old French.]
[Footnote 8: Rime Nuove: Classicismo e Romantismo.]
[Footnote 9: Midi.]
[Footnote 10: La Paix des Dieux.]
[Footnote 11: For this and the other verse-translations the writer is responsible.]
[Footnote 12: Even the 'music' was far removed from the simplicity of pure song. The song of these poets was an incantation. Nay, painting itself witnessed a corresponding revolt against the 'eloquence' of the pseudo-realists—the 'far away dirty reasonableness', as Manet dubbed it, which missed the essential vision by using the worn-down accepted phrases of the public.]
[Footnote 13: Au jardin de l'Infante: Veillee.]
[Footnote 14: To some types of Irish imagination French Naturalism, it is true, was no less congenial; hence the rift between the realist and the spiritual Irishmen delightfully played on in Max Beerbaum's cartoon of Yeats presenting the Faery Queene to George Moore.]
[Footnote 15: Aliotta, The Idealistic Revolt, p. 116. Cf. the account of the analogous views of Boutroux and Renouvier in the same chapter.]
[Footnote 16: Keats, no doubt, also aspired to the life of action. But in him the two moods were disparate, even in conflict; in Brooke they were seemingly fused.]
[Footnote 17: Eighteenth-century observation, in the person of Goldsmith, had found no worthier epithet for the great Flemish river than 'lazy', and the modern tourist is likely to find this by far the more 'characteristic'. But which had the best chance of seeing truly, the life-long companion and lover, or the stranger, sad, lonely, and longing for home?]
[Footnote 18: Les Saintes du Paradis.]
[Footnote 19: Cf. for instance the situation of Signe, in the grip of the brutal prefet, with that of Beatrice, in The Changeling, in the hands of De Flores.]
The scientific study of history began a hundred years ago in the University of Berlin. Preparatory work of the highest importance had been accomplished by laborious collectors like Baronius and Muratori, keen-sighted critics such as Mabillon and Wolf, and brilliant narrators like Gibbon and Voltaire. But it was not till Niebuhr, Boeckh, and above all Ranke preached and practised the critical use of authorities and documentary material that historical scholarship entered on the path which it has pursued with ever-increasing success for the last three generations. It is my task to-day to direct your attention to some of its main achievements during the last half-century.
The outstanding feature of our time has been the immense increase in the material available for the knowledge and interpretation of every stage and chapter in the life of humanity. Primitive civilization has been definitely brought within the circle of historical study. The discoveries of Boucher des Perthes, Pitt-Rivers, and their successors have thrown back the opening of the human drama tens if not hundreds of thousands of years, and we recreate prehistoric man from skull and weapon, language and legend. Anthropology has become a science, and the habits and beliefs of our savage ancestors have been rendered intelligible by the piercing insight of Tylor and Sir James Frazer. In its boundless erudition, its constructive imagination, and its wealth of suggestion, the Golden Bough stands forth as perhaps the most notable contribution of the age to our knowledge of the evolution of the human race.
Among the most sensational events of the nineteenth century was the resurrection of the Ancient East. We now know that Greece and Rome, far from standing near the beginning of recorded history, were the heirs of a long series of civilizations. Our whole perspective has been changed or should be changed by the discovery. The ancient world thus revealed by the partnership of philology and archaeology ceases to be merely the vestibule to Christian Europe, and becomes in point of duration the larger part of human history.
The story opens with Champollion's decipherment of the bilingual tablet discovered more than a century ago at the Rosetta mouth of the Nile. The key once fitted to the lock, the whole civilization of ancient Egypt lay open to the explorer. A secure chronological basis was supplied by Lepsius, and systematic excavation was commenced by Mariette, who was named by the Khedive Director of Antiquities and established the Cairo Museum. The work of the three great founders of Egyptology has been carried forward during the last half-century by an international army of scholars. The interpretation of the ancient scripts has reached a technical mastery unknown to the pioneers, and the genius of Brugsch unlocked the door to demotic, which Champollion had never thoroughly mastered. But the triumphs of philology have been surpassed by the conquests of the spade. The closest friend of Mariette's later years was Maspero, who succeeded him as Director of Antiquities, and whose most sensational find was the tombs of the Kings near Thebes. Equally eminent as excavator, philologist, and historian, Maspero was the first to popularize Egyptology in France, as Flinders Petrie, the greatest excavator since Mariette, has popularized it in England. Until twenty years ago the curtain rose on the pyramid-builders of the Fourth dynasty. We have now not only recovered the earlier dynasties, but neolithic and palaeolithic Egypt emerges from the primitive cemeteries. The immense accession of new material has enabled Eduard Meyer to construct something like a definite chronology; but though marvellous progress has been made in our knowledge of the Early, Middle, and New Empires, a great gap remains between the sixth and the eleventh dynasties, and the period of the Hyksos is still tantalizingly obscure. Egyptian history in the light of the latest discoveries may be best studied in the judicial pages of Breasted, the foremost of American Egyptologists.
The revelation of Assyrian civilization through Rawlinson's decipherment of cuneiform and the excavations of Botta and Layard in the middle of the nineteenth century was followed by a concerted attack on Babylonia. It was clear from the Nineveh tablets that most of the literary treasures of Assyria were merely copies of Babylonian originals; and when in 1877 de Sarzec, French Vice-Consul at Basra, bored into the mounds at Tello, the ancient Lagash, in Southern Babylonia, the most eager anticipations were surpassed. Texts had been found which Rawlinson pronounced to be pre-Semitic; but for the purpose of history the Sumerians were discovered at Tello. When de Sarzec died in 1901 he had opened a new chapter of history. The palaces of Sargon and Sennacherib, at which the world had marvelled in the 'forties, appeared relatively modern beside the vast antiquity of the Chaldean city. The chain of human experience lengthened before our eyes when it was realized that as Assyrian culture derived from Babylonia, so a large part of Babylonian culture, including the art of writing, was inherited by the Semites from the Sumerians.
While de Sarzec was busy at Tello, an American expedition was sent to Nippur under the lead of Peters and Hilprecht; and the long array of magnificent volumes which embody the results of the mission, including the thousands of tablets found in the temple library, constitutes the most important source of our knowledge of Northern Babylonia. Still more recently a German mission under Koldewey commenced the systematic excavation of Babylon itself; but its operations were interrupted by the outbreak of the Great War. Though no monuments have been brought to light in Babylonia comparable in magnificence to those of Khorsabad and Nineveh, Babylonian culture towers above its neighbour. Since the discovery in the royal library of Nineveh of a cylinder containing the story of the Flood, no find has aroused such world-wide interest as that of the Code of Hammurabi, unearthed by de Morgan at Susa in 1901. The massive block of diorite, eight feet high, containing 282 paragraphs of laws, revealed in a flash a complex, refined, and orderly civilization. After expelling the Elamites about 2250 B.C. Hammurabi united North and South Babylonia into a single State, and, desiring that uniform laws should prevail, issued the code which bears his name. During the last decade the exploration of Assyria has been resumed after a long interval, and the city of Assur, the first capital, has been unearthed by the German Oriental Society. We thus learn of Assyria before the days of its greatness, when it was still a subject province under Babylonian Viceroys.
The history of the lands watered by the Tigris and the Euphrates, which was almost a blank half a century ago, may now be tentatively reconstructed. The vast mass of official correspondence, judicial decisions, and legal documents, taken in conjunction with the evidences of religion, science, and art, reveal a startlingly modern society a thousand years before Rameses and two thousand years before Pericles. Babylonia proves to have been to the ancient East what Rome was one day to be to Europe. The Tel-el-Amarna letters prove the unchallenged supremacy of its culture over vast areas, and the revelation of the religious debt of the Jews sets the Old Testament in a new frame. So rapid is the pace of excavation and interpretation that all but the most recent narratives of the Ancient East are out of date. If we master Leonard King's sumptuous volumes on Babylonia and the latest edition of the first volume of Eduard Meyer's incomparable History of Antiquity, we need go no farther afield.
Scarcely if at all less remarkable has been the discovery of an advanced civilization in Crete in the second and third millenniums before Christ. While in Egypt and Mesopotamia the frontiers of knowledge were pushed back, in Crete an unknown world was brought to light. Its romantic interest was intensified by the establishment of an historic foundation for one of the most celebrated legends of the ancient world. How the Minotaur devoured the tribute of youths and maidens in the labyrinth, how Ariadne, daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a sword to slay the Minotaur and a thread to retrace his steps, was known to every Greek child and has thrilled the imagination of the centuries. The exploration of the city called by Homer 'Great Knossus' was among the ambitions of Schliemann; but it was carried out by Sir Arthur Evans, whose labours have outlined a series of chapters in Cretan history extending two thousand years before the destruction of the palace about the year 1400. Though the Minoan language still defies attack, the frescoes, sculptures, and objects of art tell their tale of a luxurious and peace-loving community, closely connected with Egypt and forming one of the main sources of the Greek culture of a later age.
Most of us are old enough to remember the thrill of excitement when Susa and Knossus, if not Tello or Thebes, yielded up their romantic secrets; but the generation now growing to manhood may experience similar emotions as it watches the ghost of the Hittite Empire materialize before its eyes. The meagre references in the Old Testament have been supplemented by Assyrian and Egyptian inscriptions, revealing an important Power in Northern Syria and Asia Minor for a thousand years before it was swallowed up by Assyria. During the last twenty years Hittite remains, marked by crude vigour rather than by a sense of beauty, have been discovered all over Asia Minor and in the northern reaches of the great Mesopotamian plain. In 1911 the British Museum undertook the excavation of Carchemish on the Euphrates, the capital of the North Syrian sector of the Empire; but the most precious results have been achieved by Winckler at Boghaz Keui, the capital of the Cappadocian portion of the Hittite dominions, which yielded a library of 20,000 tablets of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, now stored in the museum at Constantinople. A few bilingual inscriptions have furnished valuable clues; but the world still eagerly awaits the coming of a new Champollion to unlock the doors of the treasure-house. Winckler himself died in 1913; but in 1915 the Austrian Professor Hrozny startled the world by proclaiming his conviction that Hittite was an Indo-European language. Whether or no his contention is confirmed, orientalists of both hemispheres are hot in pursuit, and it is no rash prophecy that within a decade scholars will read Hittite as they now read cuneiform and hieroglyphics, and new chapters of incalculable importance will be added to the story of the Ancient East.
The recovery of the political and religious history of the empires surrounding Palestine has run parallel with the application of critical methods to the Jewish scriptures. To read Ewald's History of the People of Israel, which was regarded as dangerous by pious folk in the middle of last century, is to realize the progress of Semitic studies. The great revolution in our conception of the Old Testament which rendered Ewald out of date was accomplished by Wellhausen's Prolegomena to the History of Israel. That the arrangement of the Canon was utterly misleading, that the Prophets were earlier than the priestly code and that the Psalms for the most part were later than both, was proclaimed in the writings and lectures of Vatke and Graf, Kuenen and Reuss; but it was not till their discoveries were confirmed and elaborated by Wellhausen that they won their way, and it was generally recognized that their reconstruction alone rendered the religious development of the Jews intelligible. This outline was shortly after filled in by Stade in the first critical history of Israel; but his emphasis on the falsity of tradition was overdone, and subsequent critics, while accepting the late redaction of the law, have argued that parts of it are far older, in substance if not in form, than Wellhausen and his disciple were prepared to allow.
The history of the Jews owes much less to archaeological research on the arena of their historic life than Egypt or Mesopotamia. No splendid buildings or sculptures have been brought to light, and the inscriptions are few. But British, American, and German excavators have flashed light far back into the third millennium, and a partial excavation of Jerusalem has revealed a network of prehistoric tunnels and aqueducts. The historic life of Gezer has been minutely revealed by Macalister, with the strata of seven cities reaching back to the neolithic age. The most piquant result of his excavations has been to rehabilitate the Philistines, the makers of the most artistic objects found in the debris of two thousand years. Far more light, however, has been thrown on the religious customs and beliefs of the Jews by discoveries beyond their borders. The notion firmly held by our fathers that Israel was one of the oldest of civilizations and formed a world by itself has vanished into thin air; for an older and vaster civilization has been discovered to which she owed not only her science but the larger part of her religion. The dimension of the debt to Babylonia has been and continues to be fiercely argued by conservative and radical critics; but its recognition has sufficed to revolutionize the study of early Israel and to provide a new background for the religious history of the world. The relation of the beliefs and practices of the Jews to those of other branches of the Semitic family was boldly explored by Robertson Smith, and has lately been illuminated by the epoch-making volumes of Sir James Frazer on the Folklore of the Old Testament.
The history of Greece, like the history of the Jews, presents a very different aspect to that which was offered to the readers of Grote, Thirlwall, and even Curtius. Schliemann's discoveries at Troy, Tiryns, and Mycenae unearthed Mycenaean civilization and gave an incalculable impetus to archaeological research; but the brilliant amateur was almost pathetically incompetent to interpret the treasures he had brought to light, and much of his work has had to be done again by Doerpfeld. Despite the achievements of archaeology, however, the period before Solon remains very dark. Barely second in importance to the discoveries of Schliemann was the Aristotelian treatise on the Constitution of Athens, which was given to the world in 1891 by Sir Frederick Kenyon and has been most authoritatively interpreted by Wilamowitz, the greatest of living Hellenists. With the growing mass of new literary material, inscriptions, coins, and papyri, the exploration of sites, the recovery of innumerable objects of art and fresh light streaming from Asia Minor and Crete, new attempts to write the history of Greece have been made. Professor Bury's narrative, at once scientific and popular, has summarized for English readers the assured results of research; but the most authoritative survey is that contained in the Greek volumes of Eduard Meyer's vast survey of antiquity. 'For the great tasks of history', he writes, 'salvation is only to be found when it becomes conscious of its universal character, in ancient as well as in modern times. Only by treating Greece in connection with the Mediterranean peoples can its real nature be seized.' This colossal task, which proved beyond the strength of Duncker, has been performed by the Berlin Professor, the only scholar of our time who could have accomplished it single-handed. The dazzling picture of Athenian democracy painted by Grote has faded away; and Beloch, following in the footsteps of Droysen, dwells with greater satisfaction on the diffusion of Greek influence through the conquests of Alexander.
Greek culture has received no less attention than Greek politics. The Homeric problem continues to exert an irresistible attraction. Every expert from Wilamowitz to Gilbert Murray and Walter Leaf adds to our comprehension of the epic; but no positive results have been established, and Holm uttered the gloomy prophecy that we shall never know whether Homer existed, who he was, or what he wrote. On the other hand we have gained a deeper insight into the early mind and soul of Greece, thanks in large measure to a group of English scholars with Jane Harrison at their head. Rohde's Psyche, the most illuminating treatise on any branch of Greek religion, has traced the conception of immortality through the ages. The later editions of Zeller's Philosophy of the Greeks, first published in 1851, kept pace with the progress of scholarship, and remains one of the glories of German scholarship. The more recent work of the Austrian Gomperz has won almost equal popularity, without placing its predecessor on the shelf. In the realm of literature the most interesting event has been the recovery of the poems of Bacchylides and Herondas, fragments of Sappho and Pindar, Euripides and Sophocles and Menander; and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, which have already produced undreamed-of treasures, may well have in store for us further glad surprises. The attempt to assess the influence of economic factors, courageously undertaken by Boeckh and somewhat neglected after his death, has in recent years been renewed, with the fruitful results familiar to us in Zimmern's realistic picture of Athens in the fifth century.
The history of Roman studies since Niebuhr is largely the record of the activity of a single man. The most personal and popular of Mommsen's works, the Roman History till the death of Caesar, the greatest effort of his genius though not of his scholarship, was published as far back as 1854, and carried his name all over the world. He next turned to special departments of research, pouring forth in rapid succession his treatises on Chronology, Coinage, the Digest, and above all the Staatsrecht, the largest and in his opinion the most important of his works, and perhaps the greatest constitutional treatise in historical literature. Meanwhile the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, which he edited for the Berlin Academy, was the main occupation and the most enduring monument of his life. He had devoted himself to Latin epigraphy and had edited the Sammite and Neapolitan inscriptions before the publication of the Roman History. The first instalment of the Corpus appeared in 1863, and the great scholar lived to hail the appearance of nearly twenty volumes, half of them edited by himself. The Inscriptions rendered possible a history of the Empire, and the whole world hoped that the master would write it; but he contented himself with a survey of the provinces. The closing years of his life were devoted to a gigantic treatise on Roman Criminal Law, and to editions of Jordanes, Cassiodorus, the Theodosian Code and the Liber Pontificalis, thus enlarging the sphere of his operations till Rome was swallowed up in the Middle Ages. His publications extended over sixty years. There is no immaturity in his early works and no decline in the later. The imaginative and critical faculties met and balanced, large vision mating with a genius for detail. The complete assimilation and reproduction of a classical civilization of which scholars have dreamed ever since Scaliger has been achieved by Mommsen alone. Rome before Mommsen was like modern Europe before Ranke. We may truly say of him, as was said of Augustus, that he found it of brick and left it of marble.
Mommsen, like Ranke, was the founder of a school; and his inspiration has been felt by every worker in the field of Roman studies. His successors naturally confine themselves to some special province or period. Gaetano de Sanctis is far advanced in the most ambitious history of the Republic that has been attempted in the last half-century. Ferrero's Greatness and Decline of Rome, though frowned on by scholars, aroused world-wide interest by interpreting the fall of the Republic in terms of economics and psychology. The political and social crises which fill the century from Sulla to Augustus, he argues, were due to the change of customs caused by the augmentation of wealth, expenditure, and needs. Of greater value are the attempts to fill in different sections of the vast canvas of Imperial Rome, such as Gardthausen's monumental survey of the reign of Augustus, Camille Jullian's volumes on Gaul, and Professor Haverfield's slender monographs on Britain. Roman life and culture have been diligently explored; but the extreme paucity of materials makes the recovery of the atmosphere of the early Republic almost impossible. The most daring attempt was made by Fustel de Coulanges in La Cite Antique, which offered a complete interpretation of early society in terms of religion. Less harmonious but more convincing pictures of religious life have been painted by Warde Fowler, while the civilization of the Empire has been successively analysed in the fascinating and authoritative works of Friedlaender, Boissier, and Dill. Meanwhile archaeology contributes a steady stream of new material. Boni's excavations in the Forum and on the Palatine have produced sensational results. The unveiling of Pompeii moves slowly forward, and that of Ostia, the port of Rome, has begun. The resurrection of Herculaneum should be witnessed by the next generation if not by our own.
A more difficult because a more controversial problem than the Roman Empire is its contemporary, the early Christian Church. In the middle decades of last century Baur treated the rise of Christianity as an historical phenomenon, leaving his hearers to determine for themselves whether it was human or divine; but his influence proved more enduring than his writings. Weiszaecker, his successor at Tuebingen, in his Apostolic Age, described with consummate scholarship and passionless serenity the life and organization of the early Christian communities. The necessity of a careful study of the soil out of which Christianity has grown is now generally recognized, and great scholars such as Schuerer and Pfleiderer have re-created the religious atmosphere into which Christ was born. The constitution of the primitive Church, too long hotly discussed by the champions of rival sects, has been studied with welcome impartiality by Lightfoot and Hatch. But no man, alive or dead, can boast of such achievements as Harnack. His History of Dogma, his vast survey of Christian Literature till Eusebius, his narrative of the Expansion of Christianity before the conversion of Constantine, are inseparable companions of the student who means business. The treasures of the catacombs have been revealed by De Rossi, to whom we also owe the publication of the Christian Inscriptions of Rome. The history of the early Christian communities in the outlying provinces of the Empire has been enriched by Ramsay's explorations in Asia Minor. While the best work naturally goes into monographs, comprehensive narratives are occasionally attempted by scholars of the first class. Renan's sparkling volumes have enjoyed immense popularity, and some of them may still be read with profit; but, like his History of the Jews, they belong rather to literature than to science. If we desire a readable summary of the scholarship of the last half-century we may turn to the Volumes of the Catholic Duchesne or, better still, to those of the late Professor Gwatkin.
Imperial Rome and the Christian Church meet and blend in the Byzantine Empire, the later history of which appeared to Gibbon 'a tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery'. Its services to civilization and the greatness of many of its rulers were revealed to the world by Finlay, whose narrative was acclaimed by Freeman as the most considerable work of English historical literature since the Decline and Fall. In the half-century that has elapsed since its completion, the exploration of a thousand years has gone busily forward. The lead was taken in France by Rambaud, Schlumberger, and Diehl, the latter of whom was rewarded for his efforts by his appointment as first occupant of the Chair created in Paris in 1899. Greater than any of the three was Krumbacher, the prince of German Byzantinists, for whom a Chair was founded at Munich in 1892, and whose encyclopaedic survey of Byzantine literature is beyond comparison the most important single work in this field of historical study. England is worthily represented by Professor Bury, whose narrative of the Empire has already reached the ninth century.
Byzantium has emerged from the scholarship of two generations no longer decadent and inert but the mother of great statesmen and soldiers, the home of culture while Central and Western Europe was plunged in darkness, the rampart of Christian Europe for a thousand years against the Arab and Turk, the educator of the Slavonic races. Freeman truly remarked that Constantinople was for ages the seat of the only regular and systematic Government in the world. Its administrative machine was the most elaborate yet invented by man, and the Court was to mediaeval Europe what Versailles was to the rulers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was indeed a bureaucratic despotism in which liberty was unknown, and, except in art, its spirit was imitative; but to preserve Greek culture during the barbarism of the Middle Ages and to defend it against the repeated assaults of Islam was to deserve well of civilization.
While the Byzantine Empire carried over important elements from the classical world, Western and Central Europe passed under the dominion of ideas which were as foreign to those of Greece and Rome as they are to the conceptions of to-day. We have outgrown the blind contempt of the eighteenth century and the gushing enthusiasm of the Romantic Movement; but it is still a difficult task to form a just estimate of the character of the thousand years that began with Augustine and ended with Macchiavelli. It is true that our materials grow from year to year; that the criticism of original authorities as taught in the Ecole des Chartes has become something like an exact science; that thanks to Lord Bryce the Holy Roman Empire has become intelligible; that the structure and function of institutions have been patiently analysed by Waitz and Stubbs, Fustel de Coulanges and Vinogradoff, Maitland and Gierke; that literature and art, scholasticism and the Universities, have found their chroniclers and interpreters; that every ruler and every State, every treaty and every council, may be studied in monographs innumerable. But the Middle Ages were above all the reign of the Catholic Church; and we are still far from agreement as to the merits and influence of that venerable institution which, be it human or divine, occupies a unique place in the story of civilization.
In the middle decades of last century the history of the mediaeval Church was related from very different standpoints in the widely-read works of Neander and Milman; but it was only with the opening of the Vatican archives by Pope Leo XIII in 1881 that it became possible to set forth the whole story of the Papacy and to understand the working of the machinery of Catholicism. So vast is the accumulation of official acts and documents, and such technical training is required for the task, that we shall have to wait many years till the material is surveyed in its entirety and its results made available for the use of the historian. Some idea of the value of the Registers may be gained from the Master of Balliol's pregnant lectures on Church and State in the Middle Ages, based on the 8,000 documents of the eleven years of the rule of Innocent IV in the middle of the thirteenth century. The study of these documents, he tells us, stirred him to admiration of the organization of the Papacy, and convinced him of its enormous superiority over its secular contemporaries as a centre not merely of religion but of law and government; but he adds that he derived an equally profound impression of the abuses which ate into the heart of the system, of the growing bitterness which it inspired, and of the devastating effects of the passion to erect a powerful principality in the heart of Italy.