IVORY APES AND PEACOCKS
IVORY APES AND PEACOCKS
JOSEPH CONRAD, WALT WHITMAN, JULES LAFORGUE, DOSTOIEVSKY AND TOLSTOY, SCHOENBERG, WEDEKIND, MOUSSORGSKY, CEZANNE, VERMEER, MATISSE, VAN GOGH, GAUGUIN, ITALIAN FUTURISTS, VARIOUS LATTER-DAY POETS, PAINTERS, COMPOSERS AND DRAMATISTS
BY JAMES HUNEKER
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1917
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER, 1915
To JOHN QUINN
"Every three years once came the ships of Tarshish bringing gold and silver, ivory and apes, and peacocks." —II Chronicles 9. 21.
PAGE I. THE GENIUS OF JOSEPH CONRAD 1
II. A VISIT TO WALT WHITMAN 22
III. THE BUFFOON OF THE NEW ETERNITIES: JULES LAFORGUE 32
IV. DOSTOIEVSKY AND TOLSTOY, AND THE YOUNGER CHOIR OF RUSSIAN WRITERS 52
V. I. ARNOLD SCHOENBERG 89 II. MUSIC OF TO-DAY AND TO-MORROW 104
VI. FRANK WEDEKIND 121
VII. THE MAGIC VERMEER 141
VIII. RICHARD STRAUSS AT STUTTGART 153
IX. MAX LIEBERMANN AND SOME PHASES OF MODERN GERMAN ART 173
X. A MUSICAL PRIMITIVE: MODESTE MOUSSORGSKY 190
XI. NEW PLAYS BY HAUPTMANN, SUDERMANN, AND SCHNITZLER 203
XII. KUBIN, MUNCH, AND GAUGUIN: MASTERS OF HALLUCINATION 222
XIII. THE CULT OF THE NUANCE: LAFCADIO HEARN 240
XIV. I. THE MELANCHOLY OF MASTERPIECES 249 II. THE ITALIAN FUTURIST PAINTERS 262
XV. IN THE WORKSHOP OF ZOLA 275
XVI. A STUDY OF DE MAUPASSANT 288
XVII. PUVIS DE CHAVANNES 301
XVIII. THREE DISAGREEABLE GIRLS 311
IVORY APES AND PEACOCKS
THE GENIUS OF JOSEPH CONRAD
In these piping days when fiction plays the handmaid or prophet to various propaganda; when the majority of writers are trying to prove something, or acting as venders of some new-fangled social nostrums; when the insistent drums of the Great God Reclame are bruising human tympani, the figure of Joseph Conrad stands solitary among English novelists as the very ideal of a pure and disinterested artist. Amid the clamour of the market-place a book of his is a sea-shell which pressed to the ear echoes the far-away murmur of the sea; always the sea, either as rigid as a mirror under hard, blue skies or shuddering symphonically up some exotic beach. Conrad is a painter doubled by a psychologist; he is the psychologist of the sea—and that is his chief claim to originality, his Peak of Darien. He knows and records its every pulse-beat. His genius has the rich, salty tang of an Elizabethan adventurer and the spaciousness of those times. Imagine a Polish sailor who read Flaubert and the English Bible, who bared his head under equatorial few large stars and related his doings in rhythmic, sonorous, coloured prose; imagine a man from a landlocked country who "midway in his mortal life" began writing for the first time and in an alien tongue, and, added to an almost abnormal power of description, possessed the art of laying bare the human soul, not after the meticulous manner of the modern Paul Prys of psychology, but following the larger method of Flaubert, who believed that actions should translate character—imagine these paradoxes and you have partly imagined Joseph Conrad, who has so finely said that "imagination, and not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life."
He has taken the sea-romance of Smollett, Marryat, Melville, Dana, Clark Russell, Stevenson, Becke, Kipling, and for its well-worn situations has substituted not only many novel nuances, but invaded new territory, revealed obscure atavisms and the psychology lurking behind the mask of the savage, the transpositions of dark souls, and shown us a world of "kings, demagogues, priests, charlatans, dukes, giraffes, cabinet ministers, bricklayers, apostles, ants, scientists, Kaffirs, soldiers, sailors, elephants, lawyers, dandies, microbes, and constellations of a universe whose amazing spectacle is a moral end in itself." In his Reminiscences Mr. Conrad has told us, with the surface frankness of a Pole, the genesis of his literary debut of Almayer's Folly, his first novel, and in a quite casual fashion throws fresh light on that somewhat enigmatic character—reminding me in the juxtaposition of his newer psychologic procedure and the simple old tale, of Wagner's Venusberg ballet, scored after he had composed Tristan und Isolde. But, like certain other great Slavic writers, Conrad has only given us a tantalising peep into his mental workshop. We rise after finishing the Reminiscences realising that we have read once more romance, in whose half-lights and modest evasions we catch fleeting glimpses of reality. Reticence is a distinctive quality of this author; after all, isn't truth an idea that traverses a temperament?
That many of his stories were in the best sense "lived" there can be no doubt—he has at odd times confessed it, confessions painfully wrung from him, as he is no friend of the interviewer. The white-hot sharpness of the impressions which he has projected upon paper recalls Taine's dictum: "les sensations sont des hallucinations vraies." Veritable hallucinations are the seascapes and landscapes in the South Sea stories, veritable hallucinations are the quotidian gestures and speech of his anarchists and souls sailing on the winds of noble and sinister passions. For Conrad is on one side an implacable realist.... Unforgetable are his delineations of sudden little rivers never charted and their shallow, turbid waters, the sombre flux of immemorial forests under the crescent cone of night, and undergrowth overlapping the banks, the tragic chaos of rising storms, hordes of clouds sailing low on the horizon, the silhouettes of lazy, majestic mountains, the lugubrious magic of the tropical night, the mysterious drums of the natives, and the darkness that one can feel, taste, smell. What a gulf of incertitudes for white men is evoked for us in vivid, concrete terms. Unforgetable, too, the hallucinated actions of the student Razumov the night Victor Haldin, after launching the fatal bomb, seeks his room, his assistance, in that masterpiece, Under Western Eyes. But realist as Conrad is, he is also a poet who knows, as he says himself, that "the power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense." (Reason is a poor halter with which to lead mankind to drink at the well of truth.) He woos the ear with his singing prose as he ravishes the eye with his pictures. In his little-known study of Henry James he wrote: "All creative art is magic, is evocation of the unseen in forms persuasive, enlightening, familiar, and surprising," and finally, "Fiction is history, human history, or it is nothing." Often a writer tells us more of himself in criticising a fellow craftsman than in any formal aesthetic pronunciamiento. We soon find out the likes and dislikes of Mr. Conrad in this particular essay, and also what might be described as the keelson of his workaday philosophy: "All adventure, all love, every success, is resumed in the supreme energy of renunciation. It is the utmost limit of our power." No wonder his tutor, half in anger, half in sorrow, exclaimed: "You are an incorrigible, hopeless Don Quixote."
I suppose a long list might be made of foreigners who have mastered the English language and written it with ease and elegance, yet I cannot recall one who has so completely absorbed native idioms, who has made for himself an English mind (without losing his profound and supersubtle Slavic soul), as has Joseph Conrad. He is unique as stylist. He first read English literature in Polish translations, then in the original; he read not only the Bible and Shakespeare, but Dickens, Fenimore Cooper, and Thackeray; above all, Dickens. He followed no regular course, just as he belongs to no school in art, except the school of humanity; for him there are no types, only humans. (He detests formulae and movements.) His sensibility, all Slavic, was stimulated by Dickens, who was a powerful stimulant of the so-called "Russian pity," which fairly honeycombs the works of Dostoievsky. There is no mistaking the influence of the English Bible on Conrad's prose style. He is saturated with its puissant, elemental rhythms, and his prose has its surge and undertow. That is why his is never a "painted ship on a painted ocean"; by the miracle of his art his water is billowy and undulating, his air quivers in the torrid sunshine, and across his skies—skies broken into new, strange patterns—the cloud-masses either float or else drive like a typhoon. His rhythmic sense is akin to Flaubert's, of whom Arthur Symons wrote: "He invents the rhythm of every sentence, he changes his cadence with every mood, or for the convenience of every fact; ... he has no fixed prose tune." Nor, by the same token, has Conrad. He seldom indulges, as does Theophile Gautier, in the static paragraph. He is ever in modulation. There is ebb and flow in his sentences. A typical paragraph of his shows what might be called the sonata form: an allegro, andante, and presto. For example, the opening pages of Karain (one of his best stories, by the way) in Tales of Unrest:
"Sunshine gleams between the lines of those short paragraphs [he is writing of the newspaper accounts of various native risings in the Eastern Archipelago]—sunshine and the glitter of the sea. A strange name wakes up memories; the printed words scent the smoky atmosphere of to-day faintly, with the subtle and penetrating perfume as of land-breezes breathing through the starlight of bygone nights; a signal-fire gleams like a jewel on the high brow of a sombre cliff; great trees, the advanced sentries of immense forests, stand watchful and still over sleeping stretches of open water; a line of white surf thunders on an empty beach, the shallow water foams on the reefs; and green islets scattered through the calm of noonday lie upon the level of a polished sea like a handful of emeralds on a buckler of steel."
There is no mistaking the coda of this paragraph—selected at random—beginning at "and"; it suggests the author of Salammbo, and it also contains within its fluid walls evocations of sound, odour, bulk, tactile values, the colour of life, the wet of the waves, and the whisper of the wind. Or, as a contrast, recall the rank ugliness of the night when Razumov visits the hideous tenement, expecting to find there the driver who would carry to freedom the political assassin, Haldin. Scattered throughout the books are descriptive passages with few parallels in our language. Indeed, Conrad often abuses his gift, forgetting that his readers do not possess his tremendously developed faculty of attention.
Invention he has to a plentiful degree, notwithstanding his giving it second place in comparison with imagination. His novels are the novels of ideas dear to Balzac, though tinged with romance—a Stendhal of the sea. Gustave Kahn called him un puissant reveur, and might have added, a wonderful spinner of yarns. Such yarns—for men and women and children! At times yarning seemingly for the sake of yarning—true art-for-art, though not in the "precious" sense. From the brilliant melochromatic glare of the East to the drab of London's mean streets, from the cool, darkened interiors of Malayan warehouses to the snow-covered allees of the Russian capital, or the green parks on the Lake of Geneva, he carries us on his magical carpet, and the key is always in true pitch. He never saves up for another book as Henry James once said of some author, and for him, as for Mr. James, every good story is "both a picture and an idea"; he seeks to interpret "the uncomposed, unrounded look of life with its accidents, its broken rhythms." He gets atmosphere in a phrase; a verbal nuance lifts the cover of some iniquitous or gentle soul. He contrives the illusion of time, and his characters are never at rest; even within the narrow compass of the short story they develop; they grow in evil or wisdom, are always transformed; they think in "character," and ideality unites his vision with that of his humans. Consider the decomposition of the moral life of Lord Jim and its slow recrudescence; there is a prolonged duel between the will and the intelligence. Here is the tesselation of mean and tragic happenings in the vast mosaic we call Life. And the force of fatuity in the case of Almayer—a book which has for me the bloom of youth. Sheer narrative could go no further than in The Nigger of the Narcissus (Children of the Sea), nor interior analysis in The Return.
What I once wrote of Henry James might be said of Joseph Conrad: "He is exquisitely aware of the presence of others." And this awareness is illustrated in Under Western Eyes and Nostromo—the latter that astonishing rehabilitation of the humming life on a South American seaboard. For Nostromo nothing is lost save honour; he goes to his death loving insensately; for Razumov his honour endures till the pressure put upon it by his love for Haldin's sister cracks it, and cracks, too, his reason. For once the novelist seems cruel to the pathological point—I mean in the punishment of Razumov by the hideous spy. I hope this does not betray parvitude of view-point. I am not thin-skinned, and Under Western Eyes is my favourite novel, but the closing section is lacerating music for the nerves. And what a chapter!—that thunder-storm driving down the valley of the Rhone, the haggard, haunted face of the Russian student forced, despite his convictions, to become an informer and a supposed anarchist (curious students will find the first hint of the leitmotiv of this monumental book in An Anarchist—A Set of Six; as Gaspar Ruiz may be looked on as a pendant to Nostromo). Under Western Eyes is a masterpiece of irony, observation, and pity. I once described it as being as powerful as Dostoievsky and as well written as Turgenieff. The truth is that it is Conrad at his best, although I know that I may seem to slight the Eastern tales. It has the colour and shape and gait of the marvellous stories of Dostoievsky and Turgenieff—with an absolutely original motive, and more modern. A magical canvas!
Its type of narrative is in the later style of the writer. The events are related by an English teacher of languages in Geneva, based on the diary of Razumov. It is a favourite device of Conrad's which might be described as, structurally progressing from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. His novel, Chance, is a specific instance of his intricate and elliptical method. Several personages of the story relate in almost fugal manner, the heroine appearing to us in flashes as if reflected by some revolving mirror. It is a difficult and elusive method, but it presents us with many facets of character and is swift and secular. If Flaubert in Sentimental Education originated a novel structure in fiction, Conrad may claim the same honour; his edifice, in its contrapuntal presentation of character and chapter suspensions, is new, tantalisingly, bewilderingly, refreshingly, new. The colour is toned down, is more sober than the prose of the Eastern stories. Sometimes he employs the personal pronoun, and with what piquancy as well as poignancy may be noted in the volume Youth. This contains three tales, the first, which gives the title-key, has been called the finest short story in English, although it is difficult to discriminate. What could be more thrilling, with a well-nigh supernatural thrill (and the colouring of Baudelairian cruelty and blood-lust) than The Heart of Darkness, or what more pathetic—a pathos which recalls Balzac's Pere Goriot and Turgenieff's A Lear of the Steppe, withal still more pity-breeding—than The End of the Tether? This volume alone should place Conrad among the immortals.
That he must have had a "long foreground" we find after studying the man. Sailing a ship is no sinecure, and for Conrad a ship is something with human attributes. Like a woman, it must be lived with to be understood, and it has its ways and whims and has to be petted or humoured, as in The Brute—that monstrous personification of the treacherous sea's victim. Like all true artists, Conrad never preaches. His moral is in suffusion, and who runs may read. We recognise his emotional calibre, which is of a dramatic intensity, though never over-emphasising the morbid. Of his intellectual grasp there is no question. He possesses pathos, passion, sincerity, and humour. Wide knowledge of mankind and nature he has, and in the field of moral power we need but ask if he is a Yes-Sayer or a No-Sayer, as the Nietzschians have it. He says Yes! to the universe and of the eternal verities he is cognisant. For him there is no "other side of good and evil." No writers of fiction, save the very greatest, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dostoievsky, or Turgenieff, have so exposed the soul of man under the stress of sorrow, passion, anger, or as swimming, a midget, in the immensities of sky, or burrowing, a fugitive, in suffocating virgin forests. The soul and the sea—they are the beloved provinces of this sailor and psychologue. But he also recognises the relativity of things. The ineluctable vastness and sadness of life oppress him. In Karain we read: "Nothing could happen to him unless what happens to all—failure and death." His heroes are failures, as are heroes in all great poetry and fiction, and their failure is recorded with muffled irony. The fundamental pessimism of the Slavic temperament must be reckoned with. But this pessimism is implied, and life has its large as well as its "little ironies." In Chance, which describes the hypertrophy of a dolorous soul, he writes:
"It was one of those dewy, starry nights, oppressing our spirit, crushing our pride, by the brilliant evidence of the awful loneliness, of the hopeless, obscure magnificence of our globe lost in the splendid revelation of a glittering, soulless universe.... Daylight is friendly to man toiling under a sun which warms his heart; and cloudy, soft nights are more kindly to our littleness."
To match that one must go to Thomas Hardy, to the eloquent passage describing the terrors of infinite space in Two on a Tower. However, Conrad is not often given to such Hamlet-like moods. The shock and recoil of circumstances, the fatalities of chance, and the vagaries of human conduct intrigue his intention more than the night side of the soul. Yet, how well he has observed the paralysis of will caused by fear. In An Outpost of Progress is the following: "Fear always remains. A man may destroy everything within himself, love and hate and belief, and even doubt; but as he clings to life he cannot destroy fear: the fear, subtle, indestructible, and terrible that pervades his being, that lurks in his heart; that watches on his lips the struggle of his last breath...."
It has been said that women do not read him, but according to my limited experience I believe the contrary. (Where, indeed, would any novelist be if it were not for women?) He has said of Woman: "She is the active partner in the great adventure of humanity on earth and feels an interest in all its episodes." He does not idealise the sex, like George Meredith, nor yet does he describe the baseness of the Eternal Simpleton, as do so many French novelists. He is not always complimentary: witness the portrait of Mrs. Fyne in Chance, or the mosaic of anti-feminist opinions to be found in that story. That he succeeded better with his men is a commonplace of all masculine writers, not that women always succeed with their sex, but to many masters of imaginative literature woman is usually a poet's evocation, not the creature of flesh and blood and bones, of sense and sentiment, that she is in real life. Conrad opens no new windows in her soul, but he has painted some full-length portraits and made many lifelike sketches, which are inevitable. From the shining presence of his mother, the assemblage of a few traits in his Reminiscences, to Flora de Barral in Chance, with her self-tortured temperament, you experience that "emotion of recognition" described by Mr. James. You know they live, that some of them go on marching in your memory after the book has been closed. Their actions always end by resembling their ideas. And their ideas are variegated.
In Under Western Eyes we encounter the lovely Natalie Haldin, a sister in spirit to Helena, to Lisa, to any one of the Turgenieff heroines. Charm is hers, and a valiant spirit. Her creator has not, thus far, succeeded in bettering her. Only once does he sound a false note. I find her speech a trifle rhetorical after she learns the facts in the case of Razumov (p. 354). Two lines are superfluous at the close of this heart-breaking chapter, and in all the length of the book that is the only flaw I can offer to hungry criticism. The revolutionary group at Geneva—the mysterious and vile Madame de S——, the unhappy slave, Tekla, the much-tried Mrs. Haldin, and the very vital anarchist, surely a portrait sur le vif, Sophia Antonovna, are testimonies of the writer's skill and profound divination of the human heart. (He has confessed that for him woman is "a human being, very much like myself.") The dialogue between Razumov, the spiritual bankrupt, and Sophia in the park is one of those character-revealing episodes that are only real when handled by a supreme artist. Its involutions and undulations, its very recoil on itself as the pair face their memories, he haunted, she suspicious, touch the springs of desperate lives. As an etching of a vicious soul, the Eliza of Chance is arresting. We do not learn her last name, but we remember her brutal attack on little Flora, an attack that warped the poor child's nature. Whether the end of the book is justified is apart from my present purpose, which is chiefly exposition, though I feel that Captain Anthony is not tenderly treated. But "there is a Nemesis which overtakes generosity, too, like all the other imprudences of men who dare to be lawless and proud...." And this sailor, the son of the selfish poet, Carleon Anthony, himself sensitive, but unselfish, paid for his considerate treatment of his wife Flora. Only Hardy could have treated the sex question with the same tact as Conrad (he has done so in Jude the Obscure).
In his sea tales Conrad is a belated romanticist; and in Chance, while the sea is never far off, it is the soul of an unhappy girl that is shown us; not dissected with the impersonal cruelty of surgeon psychologists, but revealed by a sympathetic interpreter who knows the weakness and folly and tragedy of humanity.
The truth is, Conrad is always an analyst; that sets him apart from other writers of sea stories. Chance is different in theme, but not as different in treatment as in construction. His pattern of narration has always been of an evasive character; here the method is carried to the pitch of polyphonic intricacy. The richness of interest, the startling variety, and the philosophic largeness of view—the tale is simple enough otherwise for a child's enjoyment—are a few of its qualities. Coventry Patmore is said to be the poet alluded to as Carleon Anthony, and there are distinct judgments on feminism and the new woman, some wholesome truths uttered at a time when man has seemingly shrivelled up in the glorified feminine vision of mundane things. The moral is to be found on page 447. "Of all the forms offered to us by life it is the one demanding a couple to realise it fully which is the most imperative. Pairing off is the fate of mankind. And if two beings thrown together, mutually attracted, resist the necessity, fail in understanding, and stop voluntarily short ... they are committing a sin against life."
The Duel (published in America under the title of A Point of Honor) is a tour de force in story-telling that would have made envious Balzac. Then there is Winnie Verloc in the Secret Agent, and her cockney sentiment and rancours. She is remarkably "realised," and is a pitiful apparition at the close. The detective Verloc, her husband, wavers as a portrait between reality and melodrama. The minor female characters, her mother and the titled lady patron of the apostle Michaelis, are no mere supernumeraries.
The husband and wife in The Return are nameless but unforgetable. It is a profound parable, this tale. The man discovered in his judgment of his foolish wife that "morality is not a method of happiness." The image in the mirrors in this tale produces a ghastly effect. I enjoyed the amateur anarchist, the English girl playing with bombs in The Informer; she is an admirable foil for the brooding bitterness of the ruined Royalist's daughter in that stirring South American tale, Gaspar Ruiz. Conrad knows this continent of half-baked civilisations; life grows there like rank vegetations. Nostromo is the most elaborate and dramatic study of the sort, and a wildly adventurous romance into the bargain. The two women, fascinating Mrs. Gould and the proud, beautiful Antonia Avellanos, are finely contrasted. And what a mob of cutthroats, politicians, and visionaries! "In real revolutions the best characters do not come to the front," which statement holds as good in Paris as in Petrograd, in New York, or in Mexico. The Nigger of the Narcissus and Nostromo give us the "emotion of multitude."
A genuinely humorous woman is the German skipper's wife in Falk, and the niece, the heroine who turns the head of the former cannibal of Falk—this an echo, doubtless, from the anecdote of the dog-eating granduncle B—— of the Reminiscences—is heroic in her way. Funniest of all is the captain himself. Falk is almost a tragic figure. Amy Foster—in the same volume—is pathetic, and Bessie Carvil, of To-morrow, might have been signed by Hardy. In Youth the old sea-dog's motherly wife is the only woman. As for the impure witch in The Heart of Darkness, I can only say that she creates a new shudder. How she appeals to the imagination! The soft-spoken lady, bereft of her hero in this narrative, who lives in Brussels, is a specimen of Conrad's ability to make reverberate in our memory an enchanting personality, and with a few strokes of the brush. We cannot admire the daughter of poor old Captain Whalley in The End of Tether, but she is the propulsive force of his actions and final tragedy. For her we have "that form of contempt which is called pity." That particular story will rank with the best in the world's literature. Nina Almayer shows the atavistic "pull" of the soil and opposes finesse to force, while Alice Jacobus in 'Twixt Land and Sea (A Smile of Fortune) is half-way on the road back to barbarism. But Nina will be happy with her chief. In depicting the slow decadence of character in mixed races and the naive stammerings at the birth of their souls, Conrad is unapproachable.
In the selection of his titles he is always happy; how happy, may be noted in his new book, Victory. It is not a war book, though it depicts in his most dramatic manner the warring of human instincts. It was planned several years ago, but not finished until the writer's enforced stay in his unhappy native land, Poland. Like Goethe or Stendhal, Conrad can write in the midst of war's alarums about the hair's-breadth 'scapes of his characters. But, then, the Polish is the most remarkable race in Europe; from leading forlorn hopes to playing Chopin the Poles are unequalled. Mr. Conrad has returned to his old habitat in fiction. An ingenious map shows the reader precisely where his tragic tale is enacted. It may not be his most artistic, but it is an engrossing story. Compared with Chance, it seems a cast-back to primitive souls; but as no man after writing such an extraordinary book as Chance will ever escape its influence (after his Golden Bowl, Mr. James was quite another James), so Joseph Conrad's firmer grasp on the burin of psychology shows very plainly in Victory; that is, he deals with elemental causes, but the effects are given in a subtle series of reactions. He never drew a girl but once like Flora de Barral; and, till now, never a man like the Swede, Axel Heyst, who has been called, most appropriately, "a South Sea Hamlet." He has a Hamletic soul, this attractive young man, born with a metaphysical caul, which eventually strangles him. No one but Conrad would dare the mingling of such two dissociated genres as the romantic and the analytic, and if, here and there, the bleak rites of the one, and the lush sentiment of the other, fail to modulate, it is because the artistic undertaking is a well-nigh impossible one. Briefly, Victory relates the adventures of a gentleman and scholar in the Antipodes. He meets a girl, a fiddler in a "Ladies' Orchestra," falls in love, as do men of lofty ideals and no sense of the practical, goes off with her to a lonely island, there to fight for her possession and his own life. The stage-setting is magnificent; even a volcano lights the scene. But the clear, hard-blue sky is quite o'erspread by the black bat Melancholia, and the silence is indeed "dazzling." The villains are melodramatic enough in their behaviour, but, as portraits, they are artfully different from the conventional bad men of fiction. The thin chap, Mr. Jones, is truly sinister, and there is a horrid implication in his woman-hating, which vaguely peeps out in the bloody finale. The hairy servant might be a graduate from The Island of Doctor Moreau of Mr. Wells—one of the beast folk; while the murderous henchman, Ricardo, is unpleasantly put before us. I like the girl; it would have been so easy to spoil her with moralising; but the Baron is the magnet, and, as a counterfoil, the diabolical German hotel keeper. There is too much arbitrary handling at the close for my taste. Only in the opening chapters of Victory does Mr. Conrad pursue his oblique method of taletelling; the pomp and circumstance of a lordly narrative style roll to a triumphant conclusion. This Polish writer easily heads the present school of English fiction.
His most buoyant and attractive girl is Freya Nelson (or Nielsen) in the volume alluded to; she, however, is pure Caucasian, and perhaps more American than European. Her beauty caresses the eye. The story is a good one, though it ends unhappily—another cause for complaint on the part of the sentimentalists who prefer molasses to meat. But this is a tale which is also literature. Conrad will never be coerced into offering his readers sugar-coated tittle-tattle. And at a period when the distaff of fiction is too often in the hands of men the voice of the romantic realist and poetic ironist, Joseph Conrad, sounds a dynamic masculine bass amid the shriller choir. He is an aboriginal force. Let us close with the hearty affirmation of Walt Whitman: "Camerado! this is no book, who touches this, touches a man."
A VISIT TO WALT WHITMAN
My edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is dated 1867, the third, if I am not mistaken, the first appearing in 1855. Inside is pasted a card upon which is written in large, clumsy letters: "Walt Whitman, Camden, New Jersey, July, 1877." I value this autograph, because Walt gave it to me; rather I paid him for it, the proceeds, two dollars (I think that was the amount), going to some asylum in Camden. In addition, the "good grey poet" was kind enough to add a woodcut of himself as he appeared in the 1855 volume, "hankering, gross, mystical, nude," and another of his old mother, with her shrewd, kindly face. Walt is in his shirt-sleeves, a hand on his hip, the other in his pocket, his neck bare, the pose that of a nonchalant workman—though in actual practice he was always opposed to work of any sort; on his head is a slouch-hat, and you recall his line: "I wear my hat as I please, indoors or out." The picture is characteristic, even to the sensual mouth and Bowery-boy pose. You almost hear him say: "I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones." Altogether a different man from the later bard, the heroic apparition of Broadway, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Chestnut Street. I had convalesced from a severe attack of Edgar Allan Poe only to fall desperately ill with Whitmania. Youth is ever in revolt, age alone brings resignation. My favourite reading was Shelley, my composer among composers, Wagner. Chopin came later. This was in 1876, when the Bayreuth apotheosis made Wagner's name familiar to us, especially in Philadelphia, where his empty, sonorous Centennial March was first played by Theodore Thomas at the Exposition. The reading of a magazine article by Moncure D. Conway caused me to buy a copy, at an extravagant price for my purse, of The Leaves of Grass, and so uncritical was I that I wrote a parallel between Wagner and Whitman; between the most consciously artistic of men and the wildest among improvisators. But then it seemed to me that both had thrown off the "shackles of convention." (What prison-like similes we are given to in the heady, generous impulses of green adolescence.) I was a boy, and seeing Walt on Market Street, as he came from the Camden Ferry, I resolved to visit him. It was some time after the Fourth of July, 1877, and I soon found his little house on Mickle Street. A policeman at the ferry-house directed me. I confess I was scared after I had given the bell one of those pulls that we tremblingly essay at a dentist's door. To my amazement the old man soon stood before me, and cordially bade me enter.
"Walt," I said, for I had heard that he disliked a more ceremonious prefix, "I've come to tell you how much the Leaves have meant to me." "Ah!" he simply replied, and asked me to take a chair. To this hour I can see the humble room, but when I try to recall our conversation I fail. That it was on general literary subjects I know, but the main theme was myself. In five minutes Walt had pumped me dry. He did it in his quiet, sympathetic way, and, with the egoism of my age, I was not averse from relating to him the adventures of my soul. That Walt was a fluent talker one need but read his memoirs by Horace Traubel. Witness his tart allusion to Swinburne's criticism of himself: "Isn't he the damnedest simulacrum?" But he was a sphinx the first time I met him. I do recall that he said Poe wrote too much in a dark cellar, and that music was his chief recreation—of which art he knew nothing; it served him as a sounding background for his pencilled improvisations. I begged for an autograph. He told me of his interest in a certain asylum or hospital, whose name has gone clean out of my mind, and I paid my few dollars for the treasured signature. It is now one of my literary treasures.
If I forget the tenor of our discourse I have not forgotten the immense impression made upon me by the man. As vain as a peacock, Walt looked like a Greek rhapsodist. Tall, imposing in bulk, his regular features, mild, light-blue or grey eyes, clear ruddy skin, plentiful white hair and beard, evoked an image of the magnificently fierce old men he chants in his book. But he wasn't fierce, his voice was a tenor of agreeable timbre, and he was gentle, even to womanliness. Indeed, he was like a receptive, lovable old woman, the kind he celebrates so often. He never smoked, his only drink was water. I doubt if he ever drank spirits. His old friends say "No," although he is a terrible rake in print. Without suggesting effeminacy, he gave me the impression of a feminine soul in a masculine envelope. When President Lincoln first saw him he said: "Well, he looks like a man!" Perhaps Lincoln knew, for his remark has other connotations than the speech of Napoleon when he met Goethe: "Voila un homme!" Hasn't Whitman asked in Calamus, the most revealing section of Leaves: "Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?" He also wrote of Calamus: "Here the frailest leaves of me.... Here I shade down and hide my thoughts. I do not express them. And yet they expose me more than all my other poems." Mr. Harlan, Secretary of the Interior, when he dismissed Walt from his department because of Leaves, did not know about the Calamus section—I believe they were not incorporated till later—but Washington was acquainted with Walt and his idiosyncrasies, and, despite W. D. Connor's spirited vindication, certain rumours would not be stifled. Walt was thirty-six when Leaves appeared; forty-one when Calamus was written.
I left the old man after a hearty hand-shake, a So long! just as in his book, and returned to Philadelphia. Full of the day, I told my policeman at the ferry that I had seen Walt. "That old gas-bag comes here every afternoon. He gets free rides across the Delaware," and I rejoiced to think that a soulless corporation had some appreciation of a great poet, though the irreverence of this "powerful uneducated person" shocked me. When I reached home I also told my mother of my visit. She was plainly disturbed. She said that the writings of the man were immoral, but she was pleased at my report of Walt's sanity, sweetness, mellow optimism, and his magnetism, like some natural force. I forgot, in my enthusiasm, that it was Walt who listened, I who gabbled. My father, who had never read Leaves, had sterner criticism to offer: "If I ever hear of you going to see that fellow you'll be sorry!" This coming from the most amiable of parents, surprised me. Later I discovered the root of his objection, for, to be quite frank, Walt did not bear a good reputation in Philadelphia, and I have heard him spoken of so contemptuously that it would bring a blush to the shining brow of a Whitmaniac. Yet dogs followed him and children loved him. I saw Walt accidentally at intervals, though never again in Camden. I met him on the streets, and several times took him from the Carl Gaertner String Quartet Concerts in the foyer of the Broad Street Academy of Music to the Market Street cars. He lumbered majestically, his hairy breast exposed, but was a feeble old man, older than his years; paralysis had maimed him. He is said to have incurred it from his unselfish labours as nurse in the camp hospitals at Washington during the Civil War; however, it was in his family on the paternal side, and at thirty he was quite grey. The truth is, Walt was not the healthy hero he celebrates in his book. That he never dissipated we know; but his husky masculinity, his posing as the Great God Priapus in the garb of a Bowery boy is discounted by the facts. Parsiphallic, he was, but not of Pan's breed. In the Children of Adam, the part most unfavourably criticised of Leaves, he is the Great Bridegroom, and in no literature, ancient or modern, have been the "mysteries" of the temple of love so brutally exposed. With all his genius in naming certain unmentionable matters, I don't believe in the virility of these pieces, scintillating with sexual images. They leave one cold despite their erotic vehemence; the abuse of the vocative is not persuasive, their raptures are largely rhetorical. This exaltation, this ecstasy, seen at its best in William Blake, is sexual ecstasy, but only when the mood is married to the mot lumiere is there authentic conflagration. Then his "barbaric yawp is heard across the roofs of the world"; but in the underhumming harmonics of Calamus, where Walt really loafs and invites his soul, we get the real man, not the inflated hum-buggery of These States, Camerados, or My Message, which fills Leaves with their patriotic frounces. His philosophy is fudge. It was an artistic misfortune for Walt that he had a "mission," it is a worse one that his disciples endeavour to ape him. He was an unintellectual man who wrote conventionally when he was plain Walter Whitman, living in Brooklyn. But he imitated Ossian and Blake, and their singing robes ill-befitted his burly frame. If, in Poe, there is much "rant and rococo," Whitman is mostly yawping and yodling. He is destitute of humour, like the majority of "prophets" and uplifters, else he might have realised that a Democracy based on the "manly love of comrades" is an absurdity. Not alone in Calamus, but scattered throughout Leaves, there are passages that fully warrant unprejudiced psychiatrists in styling this book the bible of the third sex.
But there is rude red music in the versicles of Leaves. They stimulate, and, for some young hearts, they are as a call to battle. The book is a capital hunting-ground for quotations. Such massive head-lines—that soon sink into platitudinous prose; such robust swinging rhythms, Emerson told Walt that he must have had a "long foreground." It is true. Notwithstanding his catalogues of foreign countries, he was hardly a cosmopolitan. Whitman's so-called "mysticism" is a muddled echo of New England Transcendentalism; itself a pale dilution of an outworn German idealism—what Coleridge called "the holy jungle of Transcendental metaphysics." His concrete imagination automatically rejected metaphysics. His chief asset is an extraordinary sensitiveness to the sense of touch; it is his distinguishing passion, and tactile images flood his work; this, and an eye that records appearances, the surface of things, and registers in phrases of splendour the picturesque, yet seldom fuses matter and manner into a poetical synthesis. The community of interest between his ideas and images is rather affiliated than cognate. He has a tremendous, though ill-assorted vocabulary. His prose is jolting, rambling, tumid, invertebrate. An "arrant artist," as Mr. Brownell calls him, he lacks formal sense and the diffuseness and vagueness of his supreme effort—the Lincoln burial hymn—serves as a nebulous buffer between sheer over-praise and serious criticism. He contrives atmosphere with facility, and can achieve magical pictures of the sea and the "mad naked summer night." His early poem, Walt Whitman, is for me his most spontaneous offering. He has at times the primal gift of the poet—ecstasy; but to attain it he often wades through shallow, ill-smelling sewers, scales arid hills, traverses dull drab levels where the slag covers rich ore, or plunges into subterrene pools of nocturnal abominations—veritable regions of the "mother of dead dogs." Probably the sexlessness of Emerson's, Poe's, and Hawthorne's writings sent Whitman to an orgiastic extreme, and the morbid, nasty-nice puritanism that then tainted English and American letters received its first challenge to come out into the open and face natural facts. Despite his fearlessness, one must subscribe to Edmund Clarence Stedman's epigram: "There are other lights in which a dear one may be regarded than as the future mother of men." Walt let in a lot of fresh air on the stuffy sex question of his day, but, in demanding equal sexual rights for women, he meant it in the reverse sense as propounded by our old grannies' purity leagues. Continence is not the sole virtue or charm in womanhood; nor, by the same token, is unchastity a brevet of feminine originality. But women, as a rule, have not rallied to his doctrines, instinctively feeling that he is indifferent to them, notwithstanding the heated homage he pays to their physical attractions. Good old Walt sang of his camerados, capons, Americanos, deck-hands, stagecoach-drivers, machinists, brakemen, firemen, sailors, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, and he associated with them; but they never read him or understood him. They prefer Longfellow. It is the cultured class he so despises that discovered, lauded him, believing that he makes vocal the underground world; above all, believing that he truly represents America and the dwellers thereof—which he decidedly does not. We are, if you will, a commonplace people, but normal, and not enamoured of "athletic love of comrades." I remember a dinner given by the Whitman Society about twenty years ago, at the St. Denis Hotel, which was both grotesque and pitiable. The guest of honour was "Pete" Doyle, the former car-conductor and "young rebel friend of Walt's," then a middle-aged person. John Swinton, who presided, described Whitman as a troglodyte, but a cave-dweller he never was; rather the avatar of the hobo. As John Jay Chapman wittily wrote: "He patiently lived on cold pie, and tramped the earth in triumph." Instead of essaying the varied, expressive, harmonious music of blank verse, he chose the easier, more clamorous, and disorderly way; but if he had not so chosen we should have missed the salty tang of the true Walt Whitman. Toward the last there was too much Camden in his Cosmos. Quite appropriately his dying word was le mot de Cambronne. It was the last victory of an organ over an organism. And he was a gay old pagan who never called a sin a sin when it was a pleasure.
THE BUFFOON OF THE NEW ETERNITIES: JULES LAFORGUE
"Jules Laforgue: Quelle joie!" —J.-K.-HUYSMANS.
All victories are alike; defeat alone displays an individual profile. And the case of Jules Laforgue wears this special aspect. Dying on the threshold of his twenty-seventh year, coming too old into a world too young, his precocity as poet and master of fantastic prose has yet not the complexion of a Chatterton or a Keats. In his literary remains, slender enough as to quantity, there is little to suggest a fuller development if he had lived. Like his protagonist Arthur Rimbaud—surely the most extraordinary poetic apparition of the nineteenth century—Jules Laforgue accomplished his destiny during the period when most poets are moulding their wings preparatory to flight. He flew in youth, flew moonward, for his patron goddess was Selene, he her faithful worshipper, a true lunalogue. His transcendental indifferentism saved him from the rotten-ripe maturity of them that are born "with a ray of moonlight in their brains," as Villiers de l'Isle Adam hath it. And Villiers has also written: "When the forehead alone contains the existence of a man, that man is enlightened only from above his head; then his jealous shadow, prostrate under him, draws him by the feet, that it may drag him down into the invisible." Like Watteau, Laforgue was "condemned" from the beginning to "a green thought in a green shade." The spirit in him, the "shadow," devoured his soul, pulverised his will, made of him a Hamlet without a propelling cause, a doubter in a world of cheap certitudes and insolent fatuities, but barred him proffering his pearls to pigs. He came before Nietzsche, yet could he have said with Zarathustra: "I love the great despisers because they are the great adorers, they are arrows of longing for the other shore." Now Laforgue was a great despiser.
But he made merry over the ivory, apes, and peacocks of existence. He seems less French than he is in his self-mockery, yet he is a true son of his time and of his country. This young Hamlet, who doubted the constancy of his mother the moon, was a very buffoon; I am the new buffoon of dusty eternities, might have been his declaration; a buffoon making subtle somersaults in the metaphysical blue. He was a metaphysician complicated by a poet. Von Hartmann it was who extorted his homage. "All is relative," was his war-cry on schools and codes and generalisations. His urbanity never deserted him, though it was an exasperated urbanity. His was an art of the nerves. Arthur Symons has spoken of his "icy ecstasy" and Maurice Maeterlinck described his laughter as "laughter of the soul." Like Chopin or Watteau, he danced on roses and thorns. All three were consumptives and the aura of decay floats about their work; all three suffered from the nostalgia of the impossible. The morbid decadent aquafortist that is revealed in the corroding etchings of Laforgue is germane to men in whom irony and pity are perpetually disputing. We think of Heine and his bitter-sweetness. Again with Zarathustra, Laforgue could say: "I do not give alms. I am not poor enough for that." He possesses the sixth sense of infinity. A cosmical jester, his badinage is well-nigh dolorous. His verse and prose form a series of personal variations. The lyric in him is through some temperamental twist reversed. Fantastic dreams overflow his reality, and he always dreams with wide-open eyes. Watteau's l'Indifferent! A philosophical vaudevillist, he juggles with such themes as a metaphysical Armida, the moon and her minion, Pierrot; with celestial spasms and the odour of mortality, or the universal sigh, the autumnal refrains of Chopin, and the monotony of love. "Life is quotidian!" he has sung, and women are the very symbol of sameness, that is their tragedy—or comedy. "Stability thy name is Woman!" exclaims the Hamlet of this most spiritual among parodists.
One never gets him with his back to the wall. He vanishes in the shining cloud of a witty abstraction when cornered. His prose is full of winged neologisms, his poetry heavy with the metaphysics of ennui. Remy de Gourmont speaks of his magnificent work as the prelude to an oratorio achieved in silence. Laforgue, himself, called it an intermezzo, and in truth it is little more. His intellectual sensibility and his elemental soul make for mystifications. As if he knew the frailness of his tenure on life, he sought azure and elliptical routes. He would have welcomed Maeterlinck's test question: "Are you of those who name or those who only repeat names?" Laforgue was essentially a namer—with Gallic glee he would have enjoyed renaming the animals as they left the Noachian ark; yes, and nicknaming the humans, for he is a terrible disrespecter of persons and rank and of the seats of the mighty.
Some one has said that a criticism is negative if it searches for what a writer lacks instead of what he possesses. We should soon reach a zero if we only registered the absence of "necessary" traits in our poet. He is so unlike his contemporaries—with a solitary exception—that his curious genius seems composed of a bundle of negatives. But behind the mind of every great writer there marches a shadowy mob of phrases, which mimics his written words, and makes them untrue indices of his thoughts. These shadows are the unexpressed ideas of which the visible sentences are only eidolons; a cave filled with Platonic phantoms. The phrase of Laforgue has a timbre capable of infinite prolongations in the memory. It is not alone what he says, nor the manner, but his power of arousing overtones from his keyboard. His aesthetic mysticism is allied with a semi-brutal frankness. Feathers fallen from the wings of peri adorn the heads of equivocal persons. Cosmogonies jostle evil farceurs, and the silvery voices of children chant blasphemies. Laforgue could repeat with Arthur Rimbaud: "I accustomed myself to simple hallucinations: I saw, quite frankly, a mosque in place of a factory, a school of drums kept by the angels; post-chaises on the road to heaven, a drawing-room at the bottom of a lake; the title of a vaudeville raised up horrors before me. Then I explained my magical sophisms by the hallucination of words! I ended by finding something sacred in the disorder of my mind" [translation by Arthur Symons]. But while Laforgue with all his "spiritual dislocation" would not deny the "sacred" disorder, he saw life in too glacial a manner to admit that his were merely hallucinations. Rather, correspondences, he would say, for he was as much a disciple of Baudelaire and Gautier in his search for the hidden affinity of things as he was a lover of the antique splendours in Flaubert's Asiatic visions. He, too, dreamed of quintessentials, of the sheer power of golden vocables and the secret alchemy of art. He, too, promenaded his incertitudes, to use a self-revealing phrase of Chopin's. An aristocrat, he knew that in the country of the idiot the imbecile always will be king, and, "like many a one who turned away from life, he only turned away from the rabble, and cared not to share with them well and fire and fruit." His Kingdom of Green was consumed and became grey by the regard of his coldly measuring eye. For him modern man is an animal who bores himself. Laforgue is an essayist who is also a causeur. His abundance is never exuberance. Without sentiment or romance, nevertheless, he does not suggest ossification of the spirit. To dart a lance at mythomania is his delight, while preserving the impassibility of a Parnassian. His travesties of Hamlet, Lohengrin, Salome, Pan, Perseus enchant, their plastic yet metallic prose denotes the unique artist; above all they are modern, they graze the hem of the contemporaneous. From the sublime to the arabesque is but a semitone in his antic mind. Undulating in his desire to escape the automatic, doubting even his own scepticism, Jules Laforgue is a Hamlet a rebours. Old Fletcher sings:
"Then stretch our bones in a still, gloomy valley, Nothing's so dainty sweet as lovely melancholy."
He seems to have been of an umbrageous character. His life was sad and simple. He was born August 20, 1860, at Montevideo—"Ville en amphitheatre, toits en terrasses, rues en daumiers, rade enorme"—of Breton parentage. He died at Paris, 1887. Gustave Kahn, the symbolist poet, describes Laforgue in his Symbolistes and Decadents as a serious young man, with sober English manners and an extreme rectitude in the matter of clothes. Not the metaphysical Narcissus that was once Maurice Barres—whose early books show the influence of Laforgue. He adored the philosophy of the Unconscious as set forth by Von Hartmann, was erudite, collected delicate art, thought much, read widely, and was an ardent advocate of the Impressionistic painters. I have a pamphlet by Mederic Dufour, entitled Etude sur l'AEthetique de Jules Laforgue: une Philosophie de l'Impressionisme, which is interesting, though far from conclusive, being an attack on the determinism of Taine, and a defence of Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley. But then we only formulate our preferences into laws. The best thing in it is the phrase: "There are no types, there is only humanity," to the wisdom of which we must heartily subscribe. From 1880 to 1886 Laforgue was reader to the Empress Augusta at Berlin and was admired by the cultivated court circle, as his letters to his sister and M. Ephrussi, his friend, testify. He was much at home in Germany and there is no denying the influence of Teutonic thought and spirit on his susceptible nature. Naturally prone to pessimism (he has called himself a "mystic pessimist") as was Amiel, the study of Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Hartmann solidified the sentiment. He met an English girl, Leah Lee, by name, and after giving her lessons in French, fell in love, and in 1887 married her. It is interesting to observe the sinister dandy in private life, as a tender lover, a loving brother. This spiritual dichotomy is not absent in his poetry. He holds back nothing in his self-revelations, except the sad side, though there is always an exquisite tremulous sensibility in his baffling art. A few months after his marriage he was attacked by the fatal malady, as was his unfortunate wife, and he was buried on his twenty-seventh birthday. Gustave Kahn notes that few followed him to the grave. He was unknown except to some choice spirits, the dozen superior persons of Huysmans, scattered throughout the universe. His wife survived him only a short time. Little has been written of him, the most complete estimate being that of Camille Mauclair, with an introduction by Maeterlinck—who calls his Hamlet more Hamlet than Shakespeare's. In addition to these, and Dufour, Kahn, De Gourmont and Felix Feneon, we have in English essays by George Moore, Arthur Symons, Philip Hale, the critic of music, and Aline Gorren. Mr. Moore introduced Laforgue in company with Rimbaud to the English reading world and Mr. Symons devoted to him one of his sensitive studies in The Symbolist Movement in Literature. Mr. Hale did the same years ago for American readers in a sympathetic article, The Fantastical Jules Laforgue. He also translated with astonishing fidelity to the letter and spirit of the author, his incomparable Lohengrin, Fils de Parsifal. I regret having it no longer in my possession so that I might quote from its delicious prose. As to the verse, I know of few attempts to translate the untranslatable. Perhaps Mr. Symons has tried his accomplished hand at the task. How render the sumptuous assonance and solemn rhythms of Marche Funebre: O convoi solennel des soleils magnifiques?
"Je ne suis qu'un viveur lunaire Qui faits des ronds dans les bassins Et cela, sans autre dessin Que devenir un legendaire...."
Sings our poet in the silver-fire verse of L'Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune, wherein he asks—Mais ou sont les Lunes d'Antan. This Pierrot lunaire, this buffoon of new and dusty eternities, wrote a sort of vers libres, which, often breaking off with a smothered sob, modulates into prose and sings the sorrows and complaints of a world peopled by fantastic souls, clowns, somnambulists, satyrs, poets, harlots, dainty girls, Cheret posters, pierrots, kings of pyschopathic tastes, blithe birds, and sad-coloured cemeteries. The poet is a mocking demon who rides on clouds dropping epigrams earthward, the earth that grunts and sweats beneath the sun or cowers and weeps under the stellar prairies. He mockingly calls himself "The Grand Chancellor of Analysis." Like Nietzsche he dances when his heart is heavy, and trills his roundelays and his gamut of rancorous flowers with an enigmatic smile on his lips. It is a strange and disquieting music, a pageantry of essences, this verse with its resonance of emerald. Appearing in fugitive fashion, it was gathered into a single volume through the efforts of friends and with the Moralites legendaires comprises his life-work, for we can hardly include the Melanges posthumes, which consist of scraps and fragments (published in 1903) together with some letters, not a very weighty addition to the dead poet's fame. His translations of Walt Whitman I've not seen. Perhaps his verse is doomed; it was born with the hectic flush of early dissolution, but it is safe to predict that as long as lovers of rare literature exist the volume of prose will survive. It has for the gourmet of style an unending charm, the charm en sourdine of its creator, to whom a falling leaf or an empire in dissolution was of equal value. "His work," wrote Mr. Symons, "has the fatal evasiveness of those who shrink from remembering the one thing which they are unable to forget. Coming as he does after Rimbaud, turning the divination of the other into theories, into achieved results, he is the eternally grown-up nature to the point of self-negation, as the other is the eternal enfant terrible." Tout etait pour le vieux dans le meilleur des mondes, Laforgue would have cried in the epigram of Paul Bourget.
The prose of Jules Laforgue recalls to me his description of the orchestra in Salome, the fourth of the Moralites legendaires. Sur un mode allegre et fataliste, un orchestre aux instruments d'ivoire improvisait une petite overture unanime. That his syllables are of ivory I feel, and improvised, but his themes are pluralistic, the immedicable and colossal ennui of life the chiefest. Woman—the "Eternal Madame," as Baudelaire calls her—is a being both magical and mediocre; she is also an escape from the universal world-pain. La fin de l'homme est proche ... Antigone va passer du menage de la famille au menage de la planete (prophetic words). But when lovely woman begins to talk of the propagation of the ideal she only means the human species. With Lessing he believes: "There is, at most, but one disagreeable woman in the world; a pity then that every man gets her for himself."
It is rather singular to observe in the writings of Marinetti, the self-elected leader of the so-called Futurists, the hopeless deliquescence of the form invented by Louis Bertrand in his Gaspard de la Nuit, and developed with almost miraculous results in Baudelaire and terminating with Huysmans, Maeterlinck, and Francis Poictevin ("Paysages"). Rimbaud had intervened. In his Illuminations we read that "so soon as the Idea of the Deluge had sunk back into its place, a rabbit halted amid the sainfoin and the small swinging bells, and said its prayers to the rainbow through the spider's web. Oh! The precious stones in hiding, the flowers already looking out ... Madame X established a piano in the Alps.... The caravans started. And the Splendid Hotel was erected upon the chaos of ice and night of the Pole" (from the translation by Aline Gorren). This, apparently mad sequence of words and dissociation of ideas, has been deciphered by M. Kahn, and need not daunt any one who has patience and ingenuity. I confess I prefer Laforgue, who at his most cryptic is never so wildly tantalising as Rimbaud.
Moralites legendaires contains six sections. I don't know which to admire the most, the Hamlet or the Lohengrin, the Salome or the Persee et Andromede. Le Miracle des Roses is of an exceeding charm, though dealing with the obvious, while Pan et la Syrinx has a quality which I can recall nowhere else in literature; perhaps in the cadences charged with the magic and irony of Chopin, or in the half-dreams of Watteau, colour and golden sadness intermingled, may evoke the spiritual parodies of Laforgue, but in literature there is no analogue, though Pan is of classic flavour despite his very modern Weltanschauung. Syrinx is a woodland creature nebulous and exquisite. Pursued by Pan—the Eternal Male in rut—she does not succumb to his pipes, and after she has vanished in the lingering wind, he blows sweeter music through his seven reeds. The symbol is not difficult to decipher. And who would not succumb to the languorous melancholy of Andromede, not chained to a rock but living on the best of terms with her monster, who calls her Bebe! The sea bores her profoundly. She looks for Perseus, who doesn't come; the sea, always the sea without a moment's weakness; in brief, not the stuff of which friends are made! When the knight appears and kills her monster, he loses his halo for Andromede, who cherishes her monstrous guardian. Perseus, a prig disgusted by the fickleness of the Young Person, flees, and the death of the monster brings to life a lovely youth—put under the spell of malignant powers—who promptly weds his ward. In Lohengrin, Son of Parsifal, the whole machinery of the Wagner opera is transposed to the key of lunar parody. What ambrosia from the Walhalla of topsyturvy is this Elsa with her "eyes hymeneally illumined" as she awaits her saviour. He appears and they are married. Alas! The pillow of the nuptial couch becomes a swan that carries off Lohengrin weary of the tart queries made by his little bride concerning love and sex and other unimportant questions of daily life. This Elsa is a sensual goose. She is also a stubborn believer in the biblical injunction: "Crescite et multiplicamini," and she would willingly allow the glittering stranger Knight to brise le sceau de ses petites solitudes, as the Vicar of Diane-Artemis phrases it. The landscapes of these tales are fantastically beautiful, and scattered through the narrative are fragments of verse, vagrant and witty, that light up the stories with a glowworm phosphorescence.
Salome and her celebrated eyebrows is a spiritual sister of Flaubert's damsel, as Elsa is nearly related to his Salammbo. She dwells in the far-off Iles Blanches Esoteriques, and she, too, is annoyed by the stupidity of the sea, always new, always respectable! She is the first of the Salomes since Flaubert who has caught some of her prototype's fragrance. (Oscar Wilde's attempt proved mediocre. He introduced a discordant pathological note, but the music of Richard Strauss may save his pasticcio. It interprets the exotic prose of the Irishman with tongues of fire; it laps up the text, encircles it, underlines, amplifies, comments, and in nodules of luminosity, makes clear that which is dark, ennobles much that is vain, withal it never insists on leading; the composer appears to follow the poet.) Laforgue's Salome tries to sport with the head of John the Baptist, stumbles, loses her footing, and falls from the machicolated wall on jagged rocks below, as the head floats out to sea, miraculously alight. There are wit and philosophy and the hint of high thoughts in Salome, though her heart like glass is cold, empty, and crystalline.
The subtitle of Hamlet, which heads the volume, is—Or, the Results of Filial Devotion—and the story, as Mr. Hale asserts, is Laforgue's masterpiece. Here is a Hamlet for you, a prince whose antics are enough to disturb the dust of Shakespeare and make the angels on high weep with hysterical laughter. Not remotely hinting at burlesque, the character is delicately etched. By the subtle withdrawal of certain traits, this Hamlet behaves as a man would who has been trepanned and his moral nature removed by an analytical surgeon. He is irony personified and is the most delightful company for one weary of the Great Good Game around and about us, the game of deceit, treachery, politics, love, social intercourse, religion, and commerce. Laforgue's Hamlet sees through the hole in the mundane millstone and his every phrase is like the flash of a scimitar.
It is the irony of his position, the irony of his knowledge that he is Shakespeare's creation and must live up to his artistic paternity; the irony that he is au fond a cabotin, a footlight strutter, a mouther of phrases metaphysical and a despiser of Ophelia (chere petite glu he names her) that are all so appealing. Intellectual braggart, this Hamlet resides after his father Horwendill's "irregular decease" in a tower hard by the Sound, from which Helsingborg may be seen. An old, stagnant canal is beneath his windows. In his chamber are waxen figures of his mother, Gerutha, and his uncle-father, Fengo. He daily pierces their hearts with needles after a bad old-fashioned mediaeval formula of witchcraft. But it avails naught. With a fine touch he seeks for his revenge by having enacted before their Majesties of Denmark his own play. They incontinently collapse in mortal nausea, for they are excellent critics.
Such a play scene, withal Shakespearian! "Stability thy name is woman!" he exclaims bitterly, for he fears love with the compromising domesticity of marriage. It is his rigorous transvaluation of all moral values and conventionalities that proclaims this Hamlet a man of the future. No half-way treaties with the obvious in life, no crooking the pregnant hinges of his opinions to the powers that be. An anarch, pure and complex, he despises all methods. What soliloquies, replete with the biting, cynical wisdom of a disillusionised soul!
"Ah," he sighs, "there are no longer young girls, they are all nurses. Ophelia loves me because, as Hobbes claims: 'Nothing is more agreeable in our ownership of goods than the thought that they are superior to the goods of others.' Now I am socially and morally superior to the 'goods' of her little friends. She wishes to make me, Hamlet, comfortable. Ah, if I could only have met Helen of Narbonne!" A Hamlet who quotes the author of The Leviathan is a Hamlet with a vengeance.
To him enter the players William and Kate. He reads them his play. Kate's stage name is Ophelia. "Comment!" cries Hamlet, "encore une Ophelia dans ma potion!" William doesn't like the play because his part is not "sympathetic." After they retire Hamlet indulges in a passionate outburst reproaching the times with its hypocrisy and des hypocrites et routinieres jeunes filles. If women but knew they would prostrate themselves before him as did the weeping ones upon the body of the dead Adonis! The key of this discourse is high-pitched and cutting. Laforgue, a philosopher, a pessimist, makes his art the canvas for his ironic temperament. The Prince's interview with Ophelia is full of soundless mirth. And how he lavishes upon his own deranged head offensive abuse: "Piteous provincial! Cabotin! Pedicure!" This last is his topmost term of contempt.
His parleying with the grave-diggers is another stroke of wit. One of them tells him that Polonius is carried off by apoplexy—a bust has been erected to his memory bearing the inscription, "Words! Words! Words!" He also learns that Yorick was his half-brother, the son of a gipsy woman. Ophelia dies—he hears this with mixed feelings—and he is informed that the young Prince Hamlet is quite mad. The grave-digger is a philosopher, he thinks that Fortinbras is at hand, that the best investment for his money will be in Norwegian bonds. The funeral cortege approaches. Hamlet hides.
His soliloquy upon the skull of Yorick has been partly done into English by Mr. Symons.
"Alas, poor Yorick! As one seems to hear in this little shell, the multitudinous roar of the ocean, so I hear the whole quenchless symphony of the universal soul, of whose echoes this box was its cross-roads. There's a solid idea!... Perhaps I have twenty or thirty years to live, and I shall pass away like the others. Like the others? O Totality, the misery of being there no longer! Ah! I would like to set out to-morrow and search all through the world for the most adamantine processes of embalming. They, too, were the little people of History, learning to read, trimming their nails, lighting the dirty lamp every evening, in love, gluttonous, vain, fond of compliments, handshakes, and kisses, living on bell-town gossip, saying, 'What sort of weather shall we have to-morrow? Winter has really come.... We have had no plums this year.' Ah! Everything is good, if it would not come to an end. And thou, Silence, pardon the earth; the little madcap hardly knows what she is doing; on the day of the great summing-up before the Ideal, she will be labelled with a piteous idem in the column of the miniature evolutions of the Unique Evolution, in the column of negligible quantities.... To die! Evidently, one does without knowing it, as, every night, one enters upon sleep. One has no consciousness of the passing of the last lucid thought into sleep, into swooning, into death. Evidently. But to be no more, to be here no more, to be ours no more! Not even to be able, any more, to press against one's human heart, some idle afternoon, the ancient sadness contained in one little chord on the piano!"
And this "secular sadness" pursues the heartless Hamlet to the cemetery; he returns after dark in company with the buxom actress Kate. They have eloped.
But the fatal irresolution again overtakes him. He would see Ophelia's tomb for the last time, and as he attempts to decipher its inscription, Laertes—idiot d'humanite, the average sensible man—approaches and the pair hold converse. It is a revelation of the face of foolishness. Laertes reproaches Hamlet. He has by his trifling with Ophelia caused her death. Laertes calls him a poor demented one, exclaims over his lack of moral sense, and winds up by bidding the crazy Prince leave the cemetery. Quand on finit par folie, c'est qu'on a commence par le cabotinage. (Which is a consoling axiom for an actor.) Hamlet with his naive irony calmly inquires:
"And thy sister!" This is too much for the distracted brother, who poignards the Prince. Hamlet expires with Nero's cry on his lips:
"Ah! Ah! Qualis ... artifex ... pereo!" And, as the author remarks: "He rendered to immutable nature his Hamletic soul." William enters and, discovering his Kate, gives her a sound beating; not the first or the last, as she apprises us. The poem ends with this motto: Un Hamlet de moins; la race n'en est pas perdue, qu'on se le dise! Which is chilly truth.
The artistic beauty of the prose, its haunting assonance, its supple rhythms make this Hamlet impossible save in French. Nor can the fine edge of its wit, its multiple though masked ironies, its astounding transposition of Shakespearian humour and philosophy be aught else than loosely paraphrased. Laforgue's Hamlet is of to-morrow, for every epoch orchestrates anew its own vision of Hamlet. The eighteenth century had one; the nineteenth had another; and our generation a fresher. But we know of none so vital as this fantastic thinker of Laforgue's. He must have had his ear close to the Time Spirit, so aptly has he caught the vibrations of his whirring loom, so closely to these vibrations has he attuned the key-note of his twentieth-century Hamlet.
DOSTOIEVSKY AND TOLSTOY AND THE YOUNGER CHOIR OF RUSSIAN WRITERS
"It is terrible to watch a man who has the Incomprehensible in his grasp, does not know what to do with it, and sits playing with a toy called God." —Letter to his brother Michael.
In his Criticism and Fiction, Mr. Howells wrote: "It used to be one of the disadvantages of the practice of romance in America, which Hawthorne more or less whimsically lamented, that there were few shadows and inequalities in our broad level of prosperity; and it is one of the reflections suggested by Dostoievsky's novel, The Crime and the Punishment, that whoever struck a note so profoundly tragic in American fiction would do a false and mistaken thing—as false and as mistaken in its way as dealing in American fiction with certain nudities which the Latin peoples seem to find edifying."
Who cares nowadays for the hard-and-fast classifications of idealist, realist, romanticist, psychologist, symbolist, and the rest of the phrases, which are only so much superfluous baggage for literary camp-followers. All great romancers are realists, and the converse may be true. You note it in Dumas and his gorgeous, clattering tales—improbable, but told in terms of the real. For my part, I often find them too real, with their lusty wenches and heroes smelling of the slaughter-house. Turn now to Flaubert, master of all the moderns; you may trace the romancer dear to the heart of Hugo, or the psychologist in Madame Bovary, the archaeological novel in Salammbo, or cold, grey realism as in L'Education Sentimentale, while his very style, with its sumptuous verbal echoes, its resonant, rhythmic periods—is not all this the beginning of that symbolism carried to such lengths by Verlaine and his followers? Shakespeare himself ranged from gross naturalism to the quiring of cherubim.
Walter Scott was a master realist if you forget his old-fashioned operatic scenery and costumes. It is to Jane Austen we must go for the realism admired of Mr. Howells, and justly. Her work is all of a piece. The Russians are realists, but with a difference; and that deviation forms the school. Taking Gogol as the norm of modern Russian fiction—Leo Wiener's admirable anthology surprises with its specimens of earlier men—we see the novel strained through the rich, mystic imagination of Dostoievsky; viewed through the more equable, artistic, and pessimistic temperament of Turgenieff, until it is seized by Leo Tolstoy and passionately transformed to serve his own didactic purposes. Realism? Yes, such as the world has never before seen, and yet at times as idealistic as Shelley. It is not surprising that Mr. John M. Robertson wrote, as far back as 1891: "In that strange country where brute power seems to be throttling all the highest life of the people ... there yet seems to be no cessation in the production of truthful literary art ... for justice of perception, soundness and purity of taste, and skill of workmanship, we in England, with all our freedom, can offer no parallel."
Perhaps "freedom" is the reason.
And what would this critic have said of the De Profundis of Maxim Gorky? Are there still darker depths to be explored? Little wonder Mr. Robertson calls Kipling's "the art of a great talent with a cheap culture and a flashy environment." Therefore, to talk of such distinctions as realism and romance is sheer waste of time. It is but a recrudescence of the old classic vs. romantic conflict. Stendhal has written that a classicist is a dead romanticist. It still holds good. But here in America, "the colourless shadow land of fiction," is there no tragedy in Gilead for souls not supine? Some years ago Mr. James Lane Allen, who cannot be accused of any hankerings after the flesh-pots of Zola, made an energetic protest against what he denominated the "feminine principle" in our fiction. He did not mean the books written by women—in sooth, they are for the most part boiling over with the joy of life—but he meant the feminism of so much of our novel writing put forth by men.
The censor in Russia by his very stringency caused a great fictional literature to blossom, despite his forbidding blue pencil. In America the sentiment of the etiolated, the brainless, the prudish, the hypocrite is the censor. (Though something might be said now about the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction.) Not that Mr. Howells is strait-laced, prudish, narrow in his views—but he puts his foot down on the expression of the tragic, the unusual, the emotional. With him, charming artist, it is a matter of temperament. He admires with a latitude quite foreign to English-speaking critics such diverse genius as Flaubert, Tolstoy, Turgenieff, Galdos, Jane Austen, Emilia Pardo Bazan, Mathilde Serao—greater than any modern woman writer of fiction—Henry James, and George Moore. But he admires each on his or her native heath. That their particular methods might be given universal application he does not admit. And when he wrote the above about Dostoievsky New York was not so full of Russians and Poles and people from southeastern Europe as it is now. Dostoievsky, if he were alive, would find plenty of material, tragedy and comedy alike, on our East Side.
The new translation of Dostoievsky in English by Constance Garnett is significant. A few years ago Crime and Punishment was the only one of his works well known. The Possessed, that extraordinary study of souls obsessed by madness and crime, The Brothers Karamazov, The House of the Dead, and The Idiot are to-day in the hands of American readers who indorse what Nietzsche said of the Russian master: "This profound man ... has perceived that Siberian convicts, with whom he lived for a long time (capital criminals for whom there was no return to society), were persons carved out of the best, the hardest and the most valuable material to be found in the Russian dominions.... Dostoievsky, the only psychologist from whom I had anything to learn." George Moore once had dubbed the novelist, "Gaboriau with psychological sauce." Since then, Mr. Moore has contributed a charming introduction to Poor Folk, yet there is no denying the force and wit of his hasty epigram. Dostoievsky is often melodramatic and violent; his "psychology" vague and tortuous.
And in the letters exchanged between Nietzsche and Georg Brandes, the latter writes of Dostoievsky after his visit to Russia: "He is a great poet but a detestable fellow, altogether Christian in his emotions, and quite sadique at the same time. All his morality is what you have christened 'Slave's' morality.... Look at Dostoievsky's face: half the face of a Russian peasant, half the physiognomy of a criminal, flat nose, little penetrating eyes, under lids trembling with nervousness, the forehead large and well-shaped, the expressive mouth telling of tortures without count, of unfathomable melancholy, of morbid desires, endless compassion, passionate envy. An epileptic genius whose very exterior speaks of the stream of mildness that fills his heart, of the wave of almost insane perspicuity that gets into his head, finally the ambition, the greatness of endeavour, and the envy that small-mindedness begets.... His heroes are not only poor and crave sympathy, but are half imbeciles, sensitive creatures, noble drabs, often victims of hallucinations, talented epileptics, enthusiastic seekers after martyrdom, the very types that we are compelled to suppose probable among the apostles and disciples of the early Christian era. Certainly no mind stands further removed from the Renaissance."
Of all Dostoievsky's portraits after Sonia, the saintly prostitute, that of Nastasia Philipovna in The Idiot is the most lifelike and astounding. The career of this half-mad girl is sinister and tragic; she is half-sister in her temperamental traits to Paulina in the same master's admirable story The Gambler. Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov is another woman of the demoniac type to which Nastasia belongs. Then there are high-spirited, hysterical girls such as Katarina in Karamazov, Aglaia Epanchin in The Idiot, or Liza in The Possessed (Besi). The border-land of puberty is a favourite theme with the Russian writer. And consider the splendidly fierce old women, mothers, aunts, grandmothers (Granny in The Gambler is a full-length portrait worthy of Hogarth) and befuddled old men—retired from service in state and army; Dostoievsky is a masterly painter of drunkards, drabs, and neuropaths. Prince Mushkin (or Myshkin) the semi-idiot in The Idiot is depicted with surpassing charm. He is half cracked and an epileptic, but is one of the most lovable young men in fiction. Thinking of him, you recall what Nietzsche wrote of Christ: "One regrets that a Dostoievsky did not live in the neighbourhood of this most interesting decadent, I mean some one who knew just how to perceive the thrilling charm of such a mixture of the sublime, the sickly, and the childish." Here is a "moral landscape of the dark Russian soul," and an exemplification in the Prince Myshkin of The Idiot, who is evidently an attempt to portray a latter-day Christ.
Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, like Rogozhin in The Idiot, Stavrogin in The Possessed were supermen before Nietzsche, but all half mad. A famous alienist has declared that three-fourths of Dostoievsky's characters are quite mad. This is an exaggeration, though there are many about whom the aura of madness and melancholy hovers. Dostoievsky himself was epileptic; poverty and epilepsy were his companions through a life crowded with unhappiness. (Born 1822, died 1881.) He was four years in Siberia, condemned though innocent as a member of the Petrachevsky group. He tells us that the experience calmed his nerves. His recollections of his Dead House are harrowing, and make the literature of prison life, whether written by Hugo, Zola, Tolstoy, or others, like the literary exercise of an amateur. It is this sense of reality, of life growing like grass over one's head, that renders the novels of Dostoievsky "human documents." Calling himself a "proletarian of letters" this tender-hearted man denied being a psychologist—which pre-eminently he was: "They call me a psychologist; it is not true. I am only a realist in the highest sense of the word, i. e., I depict all the soul's depths."
If he has shown us the soul of the madman, drunkard, libertine, the street-walker, he has also exposed the psychology of the gambler.
He knew. He was a desperate gambler and in Baden actually starved in company with his devoted wife. These experiences may be found depicted in The Gambler.
He has been called the "Bossuet of the detraques," but I prefer that other and more appropriate title, the Dante of the North. His novels are infernos. How well Nietzsche studied him; they were fellow spirits in suffering. All Dostoievsky is in his phrase: "There are no ugly women"—put in the mouth of the senile, debauched Karamazov, a companion portrait to Balzac's Baron Hulot. His love for women has a pathological cast. His young girls discuss unpleasant matters. Even Frank Wedekind is anticipated in his Spring's Awakening by the Russian in The Brothers Karamazov: "How can Katarina have a baby if she isn't married?" cries one of the youngsters, a question which is the very nub of the Wedekind play. "Two parallel lines may meet in eternity," which sounds like Ibsen's query: "Two and two may make five on the planet Jupiter." He was deeply pious, nevertheless a questioner. His books are full of theological wranglings. Consider the "prose-poem" of the Grand Inquisitor and the second coming of Christ. Or such an idea as the "craving for community of worship is the chief misery of man, of all humanity from the beginning of time." We recognise Nietzsche in Dostoievsky's "the old morality of the old slave man," and a genuine poet in "the secret of the earth mingles with the mystery of the stars." His naive conception of eternity as "a chamber something like a bathhouse, long neglected, and with spider's webs in its corners" reminds us of Nietzsche when he describes his doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence. The Russian has told us in memorable phrases of the blinding, intense happiness, a cerebral spasm, which lasts the fraction of a second at the beginning of an epileptic attack. For it he declares, for that brief moment during which paradise is disclosed, he would sacrifice a lifetime. Little wonder in the interim of a cold, grey, miserable existence he suffered from what he calls "mystic fear," the fear of fear, such as Maeterlinck shows us in The Intruder. As for the socialists he says their motto is: "Don't dare to believe in God, don't dare to have property, fraternity or death, two millions of heads!"
The foundational theme of his work is an overwhelming love for mankind, a plea for solidarity which too often degenerates into sickly sentimentalism. He imitated Dickens, George Sand, and Victor Hugo—the Hugo of Les Miserables. He hated Turgenieff and caricatured him in The Possessed. It is true that in dialogue he has had few superiors; his men and women talk as they would talk in life and only in special instances are mouthpieces for the author's ideas—in this quite different from so many of Tolstoy's characters. Merejkowski has said without fear of contradiction that Dostoievsky is like the great dramatists of antiquity in his "art of gradual tension, accumulation, increase, and alarming concentration of dramatic action." His books are veritably tragic. In Russian music alone may be found a parallel to his poignant pathos and gloomy imaginings and shuddering climaxes. What is more wonderful than Chapter I of The Idiot with its adumbration of the entire plot and characterisation of the book, or Chapter XV and its dramatic surprises.
His cardinal doctrine of non-resistance is illustrated in the following anecdote. One evening while walking in St. Petersburg, evidently in meditation a beggar asked for alms. Dostoievsky did not answer. Enraged by his apparent indifference, the man gave him such a violent blow that he was knocked off his legs. On arising he picked up his hat, dusted his clothes, and walked away; but a policeman who saw the attack came running toward the beggar and took him to the lock-up. Despite his protest Dostoievsky accompanied them. He refused to make a charge, for he argued that he was not sure the prisoner was the culpable one; it was dark and he had not seen his face. Besides, he might have been sick in his mind; only a sick person would attack in such a manner. Sick, cried the examining magistrate, that drunken good-for-nothing sick! A little rest in jail would do him good. You are wrong, contradicted the accused, I am not drunk but hungry. When a man has eaten, he doesn't believe that another is starving. True, answered Dostoievsky, this poor chap was crazy with hunger. I shan't make a complaint. Nevertheless the ruffian was sentenced to a month's imprisonment. Dostoievsky gave him three roubles before he left. Now this kind man was, strange as it may seem, an anti-Semite. His diary revealed the fact after his death. In life he kept this prejudice to himself. I always think of Dostoievsky as a man in shabby clothes mounting at twilight an obscure staircase in some St. Petersburg hovel, the moon shining dimly through the dirty window-panes, and cobwebs and gloom abounding. "I love to hear singing to a street organ; I like it on cold, dark, damp autumn evenings, when all the passers-by have pale, green, sickly faces, or when wet snow is falling straight down; the night is windless ... and the street lamps shine through it," said Raskolnikov. Here is the essential Dostoievsky.
And his tenacious love of life is exemplified in Raskolnikov's musing: "Where is it I've read that some one condemned to death says or thinks an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he would only have room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live than to die at once." We feel the repercussion of his anguish when death was imminent for alleged participation in a nihilistic conspiracy. Or, again, that horrid picture of a "boxed eternity": "We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it's one little room, like a bath-house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that's all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it is that." The grotesque and the sinister often nudge elbows in these morbid, monstrous pages.
His belief in the unchanging nature of mankind is pure fatalism. "Afterwards I understand ... that men won't change and that nobody can alter it and that it's not worth wasting efforts over it.... Whoever is strong in mind and spirit will have power over them. He who despises most things will be a lawgiver among them, and he who dares most of all will be most in right. Any one who is greatly daring is right in their eyes. So it has been till now, and so it always will be." Thus Rodion, the student to the devoted Sonia. It sounds like Nietzsche avant la lettre. Or the cynicism of: "Every one thinks of himself, and he lives most gaily who knows best how to deceive himself." He speaks of his impending exile to Siberia: "But I wonder shall I in those fifteen or twenty years grow so meek that I shall humble myself before people and whimper at every word that I am a criminal. Yes, that's it, that's it, that's what they are sending me there for, that's what they want. Look at them running to and fro about the streets, every one of them a scoundrel and a criminal at heart, and worse still, an idiot. But try to get me off and they'd be wild with righteous indignation. Oh, how I hate them all!" (The above excerpts are from the admirable translation by Constance Garnett.)
As for his own mental condition, Dostoievsky gives us a picture of it in Injury and Insult: "As soon as it grew dusk I gradually fell into that state of mind which so often overmasters me at night since I've been ill, and which I shall call mystic fear. It is a crushing anxiety about something which I can neither define nor even conceive, which does not actually exist, but which perhaps is about to be realised, at this very moment, to appear and rise up before me like an inexorable, horrible misshapen fact." This "frenzied anguish" is a familiar stigma of epilepsy. Its presence denotes the approach of an attack.