Youth and Egolatry
By PIO BAROJA
Translated from the Spanish By Jacob S. Fassett, Jr. and Frances L. Phillips
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION BY H. L. MENCKEN
ON INTELLECTUAL LOVE EGOTISM
I. FUNDAMENTAL IDEAS
The bad man of Itzea Humble and a wanderer Dogmatophagy Ignoramus, Ignorabimus Nevertheless, we call ourselves materialists In defense of religion Arch-European Dionysus or Apollonian Epicuri de grege porcum Evil and Rousseau's Chinaman The root of disinterested evil Music as a sedative Concerning Wagner Universal musicians The folk song On the optimism of eunuchs
II. MYSELF, THE WRITER
To my readers thirty years hence Youthful writings The beginning and end of the journey Mellowness and the critical sense Sensibility On devouring one's own God Anarchism New paths Longing for change Baroja, you will never amount to anything (A Refrain) The patriotism of desire My home lands Cruelty and stupidity The anterior image The tragi-comedy of sex The veils of the sexual life A little talk The sovereign crowd The remedy
III. THE EXTRARADIUS
Rhetoric and anti-rhetoric The rhythm of style Rhetoric of the minor key The value of my ideas Genius and admiration My literary and artistic inclinations My library On being a gentleman Giving offence Thirst for glory Elective antipathies To a member of several academies
IV. ADMIRATIONS AND INCOMPATIBILITIES
Cervantes, Shakespeare, Moliere The encyclopedists The romanticists The naturalists The Spanish realists The Russians The critics
V. THE PHILOSOPHERS
VI. THE HISTORIANS
The Roman historians Modern and contemporary historians
VII. MY FAMILY
Family mythology Our History
VIII. MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD
San Sebastian My parents Monsignor Two lunatics The hawk In Madrid In Pamplona Don Tirso Larequi A visionary rowdy Sarasate Robinson Crusoe and the Mysterious Island
IX. AS A STUDENT
Professors Anti-militarism To Valencia
X. AS A VILLAGE DOCTOR
Dolores, La Sacristana
XI. AS A BAKER
My father's disillusionment Industry and democracy The vexations of a small tradesman
XII. AS A WRITER
Bohemia Our own generation Azorin Paul Schmitz Ortega y Gasset A pseudo-patron
XIII. PARISIAN DAYS
Estevanez My versatility according to Bonafoux
XIV. LITERARY ENMITIES
The enmity of Dicenta The posthumous enmity of Sawa Semi-hatred on the part of Silverio Lanza
XV. THE PRESS
Our newspapers and periodicals Our journalists Americans
Votes and applause Politicians Revolutionists Lerroux An offer Socialists Love of the workingman The conventionalist Barriovero Anarchists The morality of the alternating party system On obeying the law The sternness of the law
XVII. MILITARY GLORY
The old-time soldier Down goes prestige Science and the picturesque What we need today Our armies A word from Kuroki, the Japanese
EPILOGUE Palinode and fresh outburst of ire
APPENDICES Spanish politicians On Baroja's anarchists Note
Pio Baroja is a product of the intellectual reign of terror that went on in Spain after the catastrophe of 1898. That catastrophe, of course, was anything but unforeseen. The national literature, for a good many years before the event, had been made dismal by the croaking of Iokanaans, and there was a definite defaitiste party among the intelligentsia. But among the people in general, if there was not optimism, there was at least a sort of resigned indifference, and so things went ahead in the old stupid Spanish way and the structure of society, despite a few gestures of liberalism, remained as it had been for generations. In Spain, of course, there is always a Kulturkampf, as there is in Italy, but during these years it was quiescent. The Church, in the shadow of the restored monarchy, gradually resumed its old privileges and its old pretensions. So on the political side. In Catalonia, where Spain keeps the strangest melting-pot in Europe and the old Iberian stock is almost extinct, there was a menacing seething, but elsewhere there was not much to chill the conservative spine. In the middle nineties, when the Socialist vote in Germany was already approaching the two million mark, and Belgium was rocked by great Socialist demonstrations, and the Socialist deputies in the French Chamber numbered fifty, and even England was beginning to toy gingerly with new schemes of social reform, by Bismarck out of Lassalle, the total strength of the Socialists of Spain was still not much above five thousand votes. In brief, the country seemed to be removed from the main currents of European thought. There was unrest, to be sure, but it was unrest that was largely inarticulate and that needed a new race of leaders to give it form and direction.
Then came the colossal shock of the American war and a sudden transvaluation of all the old values. Anti-clericalism got on its legs and Socialism got on its legs, and out of the two grew that great movement for the liberation of the common people, that determined and bitter struggle for a fair share in the fruits of human progress, which came to its melodramatic climax in the execution of Francisco Ferrer. Spain now began to go ahead very rapidly, if not in actual achievement, then at least in the examination and exchange of ideas, good and bad. Parties formed, split, blew up, revived and combined, each with its sure cure for all the sorrows of the land. Resignationism gave way to a harsh and searching questioning, and questioning to denunciation and demand for reform. The monarchy swayed this way and that, seeking to avoid both the peril of too much yielding and the worse peril of not yielding enough. The Church, on the defensive once more, prepared quickly for stormy weather and sent hurried calls to Rome for help. Nor was all this uproar on the political and practical side. Spanish letters, for years sunk into formalism, revived with the national spirit, and the new books in prose and verse began to deal vigorously with the here and now. Novelists, poets and essayists appeared who had never been heard of before—young men full of exciting ideas borrowed from foreign lands and even more exciting ideas of their own fashioning. The national literature, but lately so academic and remote from existence, was now furiously lively, challenging and provocative. The people found in it, not the old placid escape from life, but a new stimulation to arduous and ardent living. And out of the ruck of authors, eager, exigent, and the tremendous clash of nations, new and old, there finally emerged a prose based not upon rhetorical reminiscences, but responsive minutely to the necessities of the national life. The oratorical platitudes of Castelar and Canovas del Castillo gave way to the discreet analyses of Azorin (Jose Martinez Ruiz) and Jose Ortega y Gasset, to the sober sentences of the Rector of the University of Salamanca, Miguel de Unamuno, writing with a restraint which is anything but traditionally Castilian, and to the journalistic impressionism of Ramiro de Maeztu, supple and cosmopolitan from long residence abroad. The poets now jettisoned the rotundities of the romantic and emotional schools of Zorrilla and Salvador Rueda, and substituted instead the precise, pictorial line of Ruben Dario, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and the brothers Machado, while the socialistic and republican propaganda which had invaded the theatre with Perez Galdos, Joaquin Dicenta, and Angel Guimera, bore fruit in the psychological drama of Benavente, the social comedies of Linares Rivas, and the atmospheric canvases which the Quinteros have painted of Andalusia.
In the novel, the transformation is noticeable at once in the rapid development of the pornographic tale, whose riches might bring a blush to the cheek of Boccaccio, and provide Poggio and Aretino with a complete review; but these are stories for the barrack, venturing only now and then upon the confines of respectability in the erotic romances of Zamacois and the late enormously popular Felipe Trigo. Few Spaniards who write today but have written novels. Yet the gesture of the grand style of Valera is palsied, except, perhaps, for the conservative Quixote, Ricardo Leon, a functionary in the Bank of Spain, while the idyllic method lingers fitfully in such gentle writers as Jose Maria Salaverria, after surviving the attacks of the northern realists under the lead of Pereda, in his novels of country life, and of the less vigorous Antonio de Trueba, and of Madrid vulgarians, headed by Mesonero Romanos and Coloma. The decadent novel, foreshadowed a few years since by Alejandro Sawa, has attained full maturity in Hoyos y Vinent, while the distinctive growth of the century is the novel of ideas, exact, penetrating, persistently suggestive in the larger sense, which does not hesitate to make demands upon the reader, and this is exemplified most distinctively, both temperamentally and intellectually, by Pio Baroja.
It would be difficult to find two men who, dealing with the same ideas, bring to them more antagonistic attitudes of mind than Baroja and Blasco Ibanez. For all his appearance of modernism, Blasco really belongs to the generation before 1898. He is of the stock of Victor Hugo—a popular rhapsodist and intellectual swashbuckler, half artist and half mob orator—a man of florid and shallow certainties, violent enthusiasms, quack remedies, vast magnetism and address, and even vaster impudence—a fellow with plain touches of the charlatan. His first solid success at home was made with La Barraca in 1899—and it was a success a good deal more political than artistic; he was hailed for his frenzy far more than for his craft. Even outside of Spain his subsequent celebrity has tended to ground itself upon agreement with his politics, and not upon anything properly describable as a critical appreciation of his talents. Had The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse been directed against France instead of in favour of France, it goes without saying that it would have come to the United States without the imprimatur of the American Embassy at Madrid, and that there would have appeared no sudden rage for the author among the generality of novel-readers. His intrinsic merits, in sober retrospect, seem very feeble. For all his concern with current questions, his accurate news instinct, he is fundamentally a romantic of the last century, with more than one plain touch of the downright operatic.
Baroja is a man of a very different sort. A novelist undoubtedly as skilful as Blasco and a good deal more profound, he lacks the quality of enthusiasm and thus makes a more restricted appeal. In place of gaudy certainties he offers disconcerting questionings; in place of a neat and well-rounded body of doctrine he puts forward a sort of generalized contra-doctrine. Blasco is almost the typical Socialist—iconoclastic, oratorical, sentimental, theatrical—a fervent advocate of all sorts of lofty causes, eagerly responsive to the shibboleths of the hour. Baroja is the analyst, the critic, almost the cynic. If he leans toward any definite doctrine at all, it is toward the doctrine that the essential ills of man are incurable, that all the remedies proposed are as bad as the disease, that it is almost a waste of time to bother about humanity in general. This agnostic attitude, of course, is very far from merely academic, monastic. Baroja, though his career has not been as dramatic as Blasco's, has at all events taken a hand in the life of his time and country and served his day in the trenches of the new enlightenment. He is anything but a theorist. But there is surely no little significance in his final retreat to his Basque hillside, there to seek peace above the turmoil. He is, one fancies, a bit disgusted and a bit despairing. But if it is despair, it is surely not the despair of one who has shirked the trial.
The present book, Juventud, Egolatria, was written at the height of the late war, and there is a preface to the original edition, omitted here, in which Baroja defends his concern with aesthetic and philosophical matters at such a time. The apologia was quite gratuitous. A book on the war, though by the first novelist of present-day Spain, would probably have been as useless as all the other books on the war. That stupendous event will be far more soundly discussed by men who have not felt its harsh appeal to the emotions. Baroja, evading this grand enemy of all ideas, sat himself down to inspect and co-ordinate the ideas that had gradually come to growth in his mind before the bands began to bray. The result is a book that is interesting, not only as the frank talking aloud of one very unusual man, but also as a representation of what is going on in the heads of a great many other Spaniards. Blasco, it seems to me, is often less Spanish than French; Valencia, after all, is next door to Catalonia, and Catalonia is anything but Castilian. But Baroja, though he is also un-Castilian and even a bit anti-Castilian, is still a thorough Spaniard. He is more interested in a literary feud in Madrid than in a holocaust beyond the Pyrenees. He gets into his discussion of every problem a definitely Spanish flavour. He is unmistakably a Spaniard even when he is trying most rigorously to be unbiased and international. He thinks out everything in Spanish terms. In him, from first to last, one observes all the peculiar qualities of the Iberian mind—its disillusion, its patient weariness, its pervasive melancholy. Spain, I take it, is the most misunderstood of countries. The world cannot get over seeing it through the pink mist of Carmen, an astounding Gallic caricature, half flattery and half libel. The actual Spaniard is surely no such grand-opera Frenchman as the immortal toreador. I prescribe the treatment that cured me, for one, of mistaking him for an Iberian. That is, I prescribe a visit to Spain in carnival time.
Baroja, then, stands for the modern Spanish mind at its most enlightened. He is the Spaniard of education and worldly wisdom, detached from the mediaeval imbecilities of the old regime and yet aloof from the worse follies of the demagogues who now rage in the country. Vastly less picturesque than Blasco Ibanez, he is nearer the normal Spaniard—the Spaniard who, in the long run, must erect a new structure of society upon the half archaic and half Utopian chaos now reigning in the peninsula. Thus his book, though it is addressed to Spaniards, should have a certain value for English-speaking readers. And so it is presented.
H. L. MENCKEN.
ON INTELLECTUAL LOVE
Only what is of the mind has value to the mind. Let us dedicate ourselves without compunction to reflecting a little upon the eternal themes of life and art. It is surely proper that an author should write of them.
I cultivate a love which is intellectual, and of a former epoch, besides a deafness to the present. I pour out my spirit continually into the eternal moulds without expecting that anything will result from it.
But now, instead of a novel, a few stray comments upon my life have come from my pen.
Like most of my books, this has appeared in my hands without being planned, and not at my bidding. I was asked to write an autobiographical sketch of ten or fifteen pages. Ten or fifteen pages seemed a great many to fill with the personal details of a life which is as insignificant as my own, and far too few for any adequate comment upon them. I did not know how to begin. To pick up the thread, I began drawing lines and arabesques. Then the pages grew in number and, like Faust's dog, my pile soon waxed big, and brought forth this work.
At times, perhaps, the warmth of the author's feeling may appear ill- advised to the reader; it may be that he will find his opinions ridiculous and beside the mark on every page. I have merely sought to sun my vanity and egotism, to bring them forth into the air, so that my aesthetic susceptibilities might not be completely smothered.
This book has been a work of mental hygiene.
Egotism resembles cold drinks in summer; the more you take, the thirstier you get. It also distorts the vision, producing an hydropic effect, as has been noted by Calderon in his Life is a Dream.
An author always has before him a keyboard made up of a series of I's. The lyric and satiric writers play in the purely human octave; the critic plays in the bookman's octave; the historian in the octave of the investigator. When an author writes of himself, perforce he plays upon his own "I," which is not exactly that contained in the octave of the sentimentalist nor yet in that of the curious investigator. Undoubtedly at times it must be a most immodest "I," an "I" which discloses a name and a surname, an "I" which is positive and self-assertive, with the imperiousness of a Captain General's edict or a Civil Governor's decree.
I have always felt some delicacy in talking about myself, so that the impulsion to write these pages of necessity came from without.
As I am not generally interested when anybody communicates his likes and dislikes to me, I am of opinion that the other person most probably shares the same feelings when I communicate mine to him. However, a time has now arrived when it is of no consequence to me what the other person thinks.
In this matter of giving annoyance, a formula should be drawn up and accepted, after the manner of Robespierre: the liberty of annoying another begins where his liberty of annoying you leaves off.
I understand very well that there may be persons who believe that their lives are wholly exemplary, and who thus burn with ardour to talk about them. But I have not led an exemplary life to any such extent. I have not led a life that might be called pedagogic, because it is fitted to serve as a model, nor a life that might be called anti-pedagogic, because it would serve as a warning. Neither do I bring a fistful of truths in my hand, to scatter broadcast. What, then, have I to say? And why do I write about myself? Assuredly, to no useful purpose.
The owner of a house is sometimes asked:
"Is there anything much locked up in that room?"
"No, nothing but old rubbish," he replies promptly.
But one day the owner opens the room, and then he finds a great store of things which he had not remembered, all of them covered with dust; so he hauls them out and generally they prove to be of no service at all. This is precisely what I have done.
These pages, indeed, are a spontaneous exudation. But are they sincere? Absolutely sincere? It is not very probable. The moment we sit for a photographer, instinctively we dissemble and compose our features. When we talk about ourselves, we also dissemble.
In as short a book as this the author is able to play with his mask and to fix his expression. Throughout the work of an entire lifetime, however, which is of real value only when it is one long autobiography, deceit is impossible, because when the writer is least conscious of it, he reveals himself.
The Bad Man of Itzea
When I first came to live in this house at Vera del Bidasoa, I found that the children of the district had taken possession of the entryway and the garden, where they misbehaved generally. It was necessary to drive them away little by little, until they flew off like a flock of sparrows.
My family and I must have seemed somewhat peculiar to these children, for one day, when one little fellow caught sight of me, he took refuge in the portal of his house and cried out:
"Here comes the bad man of Itzea!"
And the bad man of Itzea was I.
Perhaps this child had heard from his sister, and his sister had heard from her mother, and her mother had heard from the sexton's wife, and the sexton's wife from the parish priest, that men who have little religion are very bad; perhaps this opinion did not derive from the priest, but from the president of the Daughters of Mary, or from the secretary of the Enthronization of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; perhaps some of them had read a little book by Father Ladron de Guevara entitled, Novelists, Good and Bad, which was distributed in the village the day that I arrived, and which states that I am irreligious, a clerophobe, and quite shameless. Whether from one source or another, the important consideration to me was that there was a bad man in Itzea, and that that bad man was I.
To study and make clear the instincts, pride, and vanities of the bad man of Itzea is the purpose of this book.
HUMBLE AND A WANDERER
Some years ago, I cannot say just how many, probably twelve or fourteen, during the days when I led, or thought I led, a nomadic life, happening to be in San Sebastian, I went to visit the Museum with the painter Regoyos. After seeing everything, Soraluce, the director, indicated that I was expected to inscribe my name in the visitor's register, and after I had done so, he said:
"Place your titles beneath."
"Titles!" I exclaimed. "I have none."
"Then put down what you are. As you see, the others have done the same."
I looked at the book. True enough; there was one signature, So-and-So, and beneath, "Chief of Administration of the Third Class and Knight of Charles III"; another, Somebody Else, and beneath was written "Commander of the Battalion of Isabella the Catholic, with the Cross of Maria Cristina."
Then, perhaps slightly irritated at having neither titles nor honours (burning with an anarchistic and Christian rancour, as Nietzsche would have it), I jotted down a few casual words beneath my signature:
"Pio Baroja, a humble man and a wanderer."
Regoyos read them and burst out laughing.
"What an idea!" exclaimed the director of the Museum, as he closed the volume.
And there I remained a humble man and a wanderer, overshadowed by Chiefs of Administration of all Classes, Commanders of all Branches of the Service, Knights of all kinds of Crosses, rich men returned from America, bankers, etc., etc.
Am I a humble man and a wanderer? Not a bit of it! There is more literary phantasy in the phrase than there is truth. Of humility I do not now, nor have I ever possessed more than a few rather Buddhistic fragments; nor am I a wanderer either, for making a few insignificant journeys does not authorize one to call oneself a wanderer. Just as I put myself down at that time as a humble man and a wanderer, so I might call myself today a proud and sedentary person. Perhaps both characterizations contain some degree of truth; and perhaps there is nothing in either.
When a man scrutinizes himself very closely, he arrives at a point where he does not know what is face and what is mask.
If I am questioned concerning my ideas on religion, I reply that I am an agnostic—I always like to be a little pedantic with philistines—now I shall add that, more than this, I am a dogmatophagist.
My first impulse in the presence of a dogma, whether it be political, moral, or religious, is to cast about for the best way to masticate, digest, and dispose of it.
The peril in an inordinate appetite for dogma lies in the probability of making too severe a drain upon the gastric juices, and so becoming dyspeptic for the rest of one's life.
In this respect, my inclination exceeds my prudence. I have an incurable dogmatophagy.
Such are the words of the psychologist, DuBois-Reymond, in one of his well-known lectures. The agnostic attitude is the most seemly that it is possible to take. Nowadays, not only have all religious ideas been upset, but so too has everything which until now appeared most solid, most indivisible. Who has faith any longer in the atom? Who believes in the soul as a monad? Who believes in the objective validity of the senses?
The atom, unity of the spirit and of consciousness, the validity of perception, all these are under suspicion today. Ignoramus, ignorabimus.
NEVERTHELESS, WE CALL OURSELVES MATERIALISTS
Nevertheless, we call ourselves materialists. Yes; not because we believe that matter exists as we see it, but because in this way we may contradict the vain imaginings and all those sacred mysteries which begin so modestly, and always end by extracting the money from our pockets.
Materialism, as Lange has said, has proved itself the most fecund doctrine of science. Wilhelm Ostwald, in his Victory of Scientific Materialism, has defended the same thesis with respect to modern physics and chemistry.
At the present time we are regaled with the sight of learned friars laying aside for a moment their ancient tomes, and turning to dip into some manual of popular science, after which they go about and astonish simpletons by giving lectures.
The war horse of these gentlemen is the conception entertained by physicists at the present-day concerning matter, according to which it has substance in the precise degree that it is a manifestation of energy.
"If matter is scarcely real, then what is the validity of materialism?" shout the friars enthusiastically.
The argument smacks of the seminary and is absolutely worthless.
Materialism is more than a philosophical system: it is a scientific method, which will have nothing to do either with fantasies or with caprices.
The jubilation of these friars at the thought that matter may not exist, in truth and in fact is in direct opposition to their own theories. Because if matter does not exist, then what could God have created?
IN DEFENSE OF RELIGION
The great defender of religion is the lie. Lies are the most vital possession of man. Religion lives upon lies, and society maintains itself upon them, with its train of priests and soldiers—the one, moreover, as useless as the other. This great Maia of falsehood sustains all the sky borders in the theatre of life, and, when some fall, it lifts up others.
If there were a solvent for lies, what surprises would be in store for us! Nearly everybody who now appears to us to be upright, inflexible, and to hold his chest high, would be disclosed as a flaccid, weak person, presenting in reality a sorry spectacle.
Lies are much more stimulating than truth; they are also almost always more tonic and more healthy. I have come to this conclusion rather late in life. For utilitarian and practical ends, it is clearly our duty to cultivate falsehood, arbitrariness, and partial truths. Nevertheless, we do not do so. Can it be that, unconsciously, we have something of the heroic in us?
I am a Basque, if not on all four sides, at least on three and a half. The remaining half, which is not Basque, is Lombard.
Four of my eight family names are Guipuzcoan, two of them are Navarrese, one Alavese, and the other Italian. I take it that family names are indicative of the countries where one's ancestors lived, and I take it also that there is great potency behind them, that the influence of each works upon the individual with a duly proportioned intensity. Assuming this to be the case, the resultant of the ancestral influences operative upon me would indicate that my geographical parallel lies somewhere between the Alps and the Pyrenees. Sometimes I am inclined to think that the Alps and the Pyrenees are all that is European in Europe. Beyond them I seem to see Asia; below them, Africa.
In the riparian Navarrese, as in the Catalans and the Genovese, one already notes the African; in the Gaul of central France, as well as in the Austrian, there is a suggestion of the Chinese.
Clutching the Pyrenees and grafted upon the Alps, I am conscious of being an Arch-European.
DIONYSIAN OR APOLLONIAN?
Formerly, when I believed that I was both humble and a wanderer, I was convinced that I was a Dionysian. I was impelled toward turbulence, the dynamic, the theatric. Naturally, I was an anarchist. Am I today? I believe I still am. In those days I used to enthuse about the future, and I hated the past.
Little by little, this turbulence has calmed down—perhaps it was never very great. Little by little I have come to realize that if following Dionysus induces the will to bound and leap, devotion to Apollo has a tendency to throw the mind back until it rests upon the harmony of eternal form. There is great attraction in both gods.
EPICURI DE GREGE PORCUM
I am also a swine of the herd of Epicurus; I, too, wax eloquent over this ancient philosopher, who conversed with his pupils in his garden. The very epithet of Horace, upon detaching himself from the Epicureans, "Epicuri de grege porcum," is full of charm.
All noble minds have hymned Epicurus. "Hail Epicurus, thou honour of Greece!" Lucretius exclaims in the third book of his poem.
"I have sought to avenge Epicurus, that truly holy philosopher, that divine genius," Lucian tells us in his Alexander, or the False Prophet. Lange, in his History of Materialism, sets down Epicurus as a disciple and imitator of Democritus.
I am not a man of sufficient classical culture to be able to form an authoritative opinion of the merits of Epicurus as a philosopher. All my knowledge of him, as well as of the other ancient philosophers, is derived from the book of Diogenes Laertius.
Concerning Epicurus, I have read Bayle's magnificent article in his Historical and Critical Dictionary, and Gassendi's work, De Vita et Moribus Epicuri. With this equipment, I have become one of the disciples of the master.
Scholars may say that I have no right to enrol myself as one of the disciples of Epicurus, but when I think of myself, spontaneously there comes to my mind the grotesque epithet which Horace applied to the Epicureans in his Epistles, a characterization which for my part I accept and regard as an honour: "Swine of the herd of Epicurus, Epicuri de grege porcum."
EVIL AND ROUSSEAU'S CHINAMAN
I do not believe in utter human depravity, nor have I any faith in great virtue, nor in the notion that the affairs of life may be removed beyond good and evil. We shall outgrow, we have already outgrown, the conception of sin, but we shall never pass beyond the idea of good and evil; that would be equivalent to skipping the cardinal points in geography. Nietzsche, an eminent poet and an extraordinary psychologist, convinced himself that we should be able to leap over good and evil with the help of a springboard of his manufacture.
Not with this springboard, nor with any other, shall we escape from the polar North and South of the moral life.
Nietzsche, a product of the fiercest pessimism, was at heart a good man, being in this respect the direct opposite of Rousseau, who, despite the fact that he is forever talking about virtue, about sensibility, the heart, and the sublimity of the soul, was in reality a low, sordid creature.
The philanthropist of Geneva shows the cloven hoof now and then. He asks: "If all that it were necessary for us to do in order to inherit the riches of a man whom we had never seen, of whom we had never even heard, and who lived in the furthermost confines of China, were to press a button and cause his death, what man living would not press that button?"
Rousseau is convinced that we should all press the button, and he is mistaken, because the majority of men who are civilized would do nothing of the kind. This, to my mind, is not to say that men are good; it is merely to say that Rousseau, in his enthusiasm for humanity, as well as in his aversion to it, is wide of the mark. The evil in man is not evil of this active sort, so theatrical, so self-interested; it is a passive, torpid evil which lies latent in the depths of the human animal, it is an evil which can scarcely be called evil.
THE ROOT OF DISINTERESTED EVIL
Tell a man that an intimate friend has met with a great misfortune. His first impulse is one of satisfaction. He himself is not aware of it clearly, he does not realize it; nevertheless, essentially his emotion is one of satisfaction. This man may afterward place his fortune, if he has one, at the disposition of his friend, yes, even his life; yet this will not prevent his first conscious reaction upon learning of the misfortune of his friend, from being one which, although confused, is nevertheless not far removed from pleasure. This feeling of disinterested malice may be observed in the relations between parents and children as well as in those between husbands and wives. At times it is not only disinterested, but counter-interested.
The lack of a name for this background of disinterested malice, which does exist, is due to the fact that psychology is not based so much upon phenomena as it is upon language.
According to our current standards, latent evil of this nature is neither of interest nor significance. Naturally, the judge takes account of nothing but deeds; to religion, which probes more deeply, the intent is of importance; to the psychologist, however, who attempts to penetrate still further, the elemental germinative processes of volition are of indispensable significance.
Whence this foundation of disinterested malice in man? Probably it is an ancestral legacy. Man is a wolf toward man, as Plautus observes, and the idea has been repeated by Hobbes.
In literature, it is almost idle to look for a presentation of this disinterested, this passive evil, because nothing but the conscious is literary. Shakespeare, in his Othello, a drama which has always appeared false and absurd to me, emphasizes the disinterested malice of Iago, imparting to him a character and mode of action which are beyond those of normal men; but then, in order to accredit him to the spectators, he adds also a motive, and represents him as being in love with Desdemona.
Victor Hugo, in L'Homme qui Rit, undertook to create a type after the manner of Iago, and invented Barkilphedro, who embodies disinterested yet active malice, which is the malice of the villain of melodrama.
But that other disinterested malice, which lurks in the sodden sediment of character, that malice which is disinterested and inactive, and not only incapable of drawing a dagger but even of writing an anonymous note, this no writer but Dostoievski has had the penetration to reveal. He has shown us at the same time mere inert goodness, lying passive in the soul, without ever serving as a basis for anything.
MUSIC AS A SEDATIVE
Music, the most social of the arts, and that undoubtedly which possesses the greatest future, presents enormous attractions to the bourgeoisie. In the first place, it obviates the necessity of conversation; it is not necessary to know whether your neighbor is a sceptic or a believer, a materialist or a spiritualist; no possible argument can arise concerning the meaning and metaphysics of life. Instead of war, there is peace. The music lover may argue, but his conceptions are entirely circumscribed by the music, and have no relation whatever either to philosophy or to politics as such. The wars are small wars, and spill no blood. A Wagnerite may be a freethinker or a Catholic, an anarchist or a conservative. Even painting, which is an art of miserable general ideas, is not so far removed from intelligence as is music. This explains why the Greeks were able to attain such heights in philosophy, and yet fell to such depths in music.
Music has an additional merit. It lulls to sleep the residuum of disinterested malice in the soul.
As a majority of the lovers of painting and sculpture are second-hand dealers and Jews in disguise, music lovers, for the most part, are a debased people, envious, embittered and supine.
I am one of those who do not understand music, yet I am not completely insensible to it. This does not prevent me, however, from entertaining a strong aversion to all music lovers, and especially to Wagnerites.
When Nietzsche, who apparently possessed a musical temperament, set Bizet up against Wagner, he confessed, of course, premeditated vindictiveness. "It is necessary to mediterraneanize music," declares the German psychologist. But how absurd! Music must confine itself to the geographical parallel where it was born; it is Mediterranean, Baltic, Alpine, Siberian. Nor is the contention valid that an air should always have a strongly marked rhythm, because, if this were the case, we should have nothing but dance music. Certainly, music was associated with the dance in the beginning, but a sufficient number of years have now elapsed to enable each of these arts to develop independently.
As regards Nietzsche's hostility to the theatocracy of Wagner, I share it fully. This business of substituting the theatre for the church, and teaching philosophy singing, seems ridiculous to me. I am also out of patience with the wooden dragons, swans, stage fire, thunder and lightning.
Although it may sound paradoxical, the fact is that all this scenery is in the way. I have seen King Lear in Paris, at the Theatre Antoine, where it was presented with very nearly perfect scenery. When the King and the fool roamed about the heath in the third act, amid thunder and lightning, everybody was gazing at the clouds in the flies and watching for the lightning, or listening to the whistling of the wind; no one paid any attention to what was said by the characters.
German music is undoubtedly the most universal music, especially that of Mozart and Beethoven. It seems as if there were fewer particles of their native soil imbedded in the works of these two masters than is common among their countrymen. They bring out in sharp relief the cultural internationalism of Germany.
Mozart is an epitome of the grace of the eighteenth century; he is at once delicate, joyous, serene, gallant, mischievous. He is a courtier of whatever country one will. Sometimes, when listening to his music, I ask myself: "Why is it that this, which must be of German origin, seems to be part of all of us, to have been designed for us all?"
Beethoven, too, like Mozart, is a man without a country. As the one manipulates his joyous, soft, serene rhythms, the other throbs and trembles with obscure meanings and pathetic, heartrending laments, the source of which lies hidden as at the bottom of some mine.
He is a Segismund who complains against the gods and against his fate in a tongue which knows no national accent. A day will come when the negroes of Timbuktu will listen to Mozart's and Beethoven's music and feel that it belongs to them, as truly as it ever did to the citizens of Munich or of Vienna.
THE FOLK SONG
The folk song lies at the opposite pole from universal music. It is music which smacks most of the soil whereon it has been produced. By its very nature it is intelligible at all times to all persons in the locality, if only because music is not an intellectual art; it deals in rhythms, it does not deal in ideas. But beyond the fact of its intelligibility, music possesses different attractions for different people. The folk song preserves to us the very savour of the country in which we were born; it recalls the air, the climate that we breathed and knew. When we hear it, it is as if all our ancestors should suddenly present themselves. I realize that my tastes may be barbaric, but if there could only be one kind of music, and I were obliged to choose between the universal and the local, my preference would be wholly for the latter, which is the popular music.
ON THE OPTIMISM OF EUNUCHS
In a text book designed for the edification of research workers—a specimen of peculiarly disagreeable tartuffery—the histologist, Ramon y Cajal, who, as a thinker, has always been an absolute mediocrity, explains what the young scholar should be, in the same way that the Constitution of 1812 made it clear what the ideal Spanish citizen should be.
So we know now the proper character of the young scholar. He must be calm, optimistic, serene ... and all this with ten or twelve coppers in his pocket!
Some friends inform me that in the Institute for Public Education at Madrid, where an attempt is made to give due artistic orientation to the pupils, they have contrived an informal classification of the arts in the order of their importance; first comes painting; then, music; and, last, literature.
Considering carefully what may be the reasons for such a sequence, it would appear that the purpose must be to deprive the student of any occasion for becoming pessimistic. Certainly nobody will ever have his convictions upset by looking at ancient cloths daubed over with linseed oil, nor by the bum-ta-ra of music. But, to my mind, in a country like Spain, it is better that our young men should be dissatisfied than that they should go to the laboratory every day in immaculate blouses, chatter like proper young gentlemen about El Greco, Cezanne and the Ninth Symphony, and never have the brains to protest about anything. Back of all this correctness may be divined the optimism of eunuchs.
MYSELF, THE WRITER
TO MY READERS THIRTY YEARS HENCE
Among my books there are two distinct classes: Some I have written with more effort than pleasure, and others I have written with more pleasure than effort.
My readers apparently are not aware of this distinction, although it seems evident to me. Can it be that true feeling is of no value in a piece of literature, as some of the decadents have thought? Can it be that enthusiasm, weariness, loathing, distress and ennui never transpire through the pages of a book? Indubitably none of them transpire unless the reader enters into the spirit of the work. And, in general, the reader does not enter into the spirit of my books. I cherish a hope which, perhaps, may be chimerical and ridiculous, that the Spanish reader thirty or forty years hence, who takes up my books, whose sensibilities, it may be, have been a little less hardened into formalism than those of the reader of today, will both appreciate and dislike me more intelligently.
As I turn over the pages of my books, now already growing old, I receive the impression that, like a somnambulist, I have frequently been walking close to the cornice of a roof, entirely unconsciously, but in imminent danger of falling off; again, it seems to me that I have been travelling paths beset with thorns, which have played havoc with my skin.
I have maintained myself rather clumsily for the most part, yet at times not without a certain degree of skill.
All my books are youthful books; they express turbulence; perhaps their youth is a youth which is lacking in force and vigour, but nevertheless, they are youthful books.
Among thorns and brambles there lies concealed a tiny Fountain of Youth in my soul. You may say that its waters are bitter and saline, instead of being crystalline and clear. And it is true. Yet the fountain flows on, and bubbles, and gurgles and splashes into foam. That is enough for me. I do not wish to dam it up, but to let the water run and remove itself. I have always felt kindly toward anything that removes itself.
THE BEGINNING AND END OF THE JOURNEY
I formerly considered myself a young man of protoplasmic capabilities, and I entertained very little enthusiasm for form until after I had talked with some Russians. Since then I have realized that I was more clean cut, more Latin, and a great deal older than I had supposed.
"I see that you belong to the ancient regime," a Frenchwoman remarked to me in Rome.
"Yes," she insisted. "You are a conversationalist. You are not an elegant, sprucely dressed abbe; you are an abbe who is cynical and ill- natured, who likes to fancy himself a savage amid the comfortable surroundings of the drawing-room."
The Frenchwoman's observation set me to thinking.
Can it be that I am hovering in the vicinity of Apollo's Temple without realizing it?
Possibly my literary life has been merely a journey from the Valley of Dionysus to the Temple of Apollo. Now somebody will tell me that art begins only on the bottom step of the Temple of Apollo. And it is true. But there is where I stop—on the bottom step.
MELLOWNESS AND THE CRITICAL SENSE
Whenever my artistic conscience reproaches me, I always think: If I were to undertake to write these books today, now that I am aware of their defects, I should never write them. Nevertheless, I continue to write others with the same old faults. Shall I ever attain that mellowness of soul in which all the vividness of impression remains, yet in which it has become possible to perfect the expression? I fear not. Most likely, when I reach the stage of refining the expression, I shall have nothing to say, and so remain silent.
In my books, as in most that are modern, there is an indefinable resentment against life and against society.
Resentment against life is of far more ancient standing than resentment against society.
The former has always been a commonplace among philosophers.
Life is absurd, life is difficult of direction, life is a disease, the better part of the philosophers have told us.
When man turned his animosity against society, it became the fashion to exalt life. Life is good; man, naturally, is magnanimous, it was said. Society has made him bad.
I am convinced that life is neither good nor bad; it is like Nature, necessary. And society is neither good nor bad. It is bad for the man who is endowed with a sensibility which is excessive for his age; it is good for a man who finds himself in harmony with his surroundings.
A negro will walk naked through a forest in which every drop of water is impregnated with millions of paludal germs, which teems with insects, the bites of which produce malignant abcesses, and where the temperature reaches fifty degrees Centigrade in the shade.
A European, accustomed to the sheltered life of the city, when brought face to face with such a tropical climate, without means of protection, would die.
Man needs to be endowed with a sensibility which is proper to his epoch and his environment; if he has less, his life will be merely that of a child; if he has just the right measure, it will be the life of an adult; if he has more, he will be an invalid.
ON DEVOURING ONE'S OWN GOD
It is said that the philosopher Averroes was wont to remark: "What a sect these Christians are, who devour their own God!"
It would seem that this divine alimentation ought to make men themselves divine. But it does not; our theophagists are human—they are only too human, as Nietzsche would have it.
There can be no doubt but that the Southern European races are the most vivacious, the most energetic, as well as the toughest in the world. They have produced all the great conquerors. Christianity, when it found it necessary to overcome them, innoculated them with its Semitic virus, but this virus has not only failed to make them weaker, but, on the contrary, it has made them stronger. They appropriated what suited them in the Asiatic mentality, and proceeded to make a weapon of their religion. These cruel Levantine races, thanks only to Teutonic penetration, are at last submitting to a softening process, and they will become completely softened upon the establishment in Europe of the domination of the Slav.
Meanwhile they maintain their sway in their own countries.
"They are quite inoffensive," we are told.
Nonsense! They would burn Giordano Bruno as willingly now as they did in the old days.
There is a great deal of fire remaining in the hearts of our theophagists.
In an article appearing in Hermes, a magazine published in Bilbao, Salaverria assumes that I have been cured of my anarchism, and that I persist in a negative and anarchistic attitude in order to retain my literary clientele; which is not the fact. In the first place, I can scarcely be said to have a clientele; in the second place, a small following of conservatives is much more lucrative than a large one of anarchists. It is true that I am withdrawing myself from the festivals of Pan and the cult of Dionysus, but I am not substituting for them, either outwardly or inwardly, the worship of Yahveh or of Moloch. I have no liking for Semitic traditions—none and none whatever! I am not able, like Salaverria, to admire the rich simply because they are rich, nor people in high stations because they happen to occupy them.
Salaverria assumes that I have a secret admiration for grand society, generals, magistrates, wealthy gentlemen from America, and Argentines who shout out: "How perfectly splendid!" I have the same affection for these things that I have for the cows which clutter up the road in front of my house. I would not be Fouquier-Tinville to the former nor butcher to the latter; but my affection then has reached its limit. Even when I find something worthy of admiration, my inclination is toward the small. I prefer the Boboli Gardens to those of Versailles, and Venetian or Florentine history to that of India.
Great states, great captains, great kings, great gods, leave me cold. They are all for peoples who dwell on vast plains which are crossed by mighty rivers, for the Egyptians, for the Chinese, for the Hindus, for the Germans, for the French.
We Europeans who are of the region of the Pyrenees and the Alps, love small states, small rivers, and small gods, whom we may address familiarly.
Salaverria is also mistaken when he says that I am afraid of change. I am not afraid. My nature is to change. I am predisposed to develop, to move from here to there, to reverse my literary and political views if my feelings or my ideas alter. I avoid no reading except that which is dull; I shall never retreat from any performance except a vapid one, nor am I a partisan either of austerity or of consistency. Moreover, I am not a little dissatisfied with myself, and I would give a great deal to have the pleasure of turning completely about, if only to prove to myself that I am capable of a shift of attitude which is sincere.
Some months since three friends met together in an old-fashioned bookshop on the venerable Calle del Olivo—a writer, a printer, and myself.
"Fifteen years ago all three of us were anarchists," remarked the printer.
"What are we today?" I inquired.
"We are conservatives," replied the man who wrote. "What are you?"
"I believe that I have the same ideas I had then."
"You have not developed if that is so," retorted the writer with a show of scorn.
I should like to develop, but into what? How? Where am I to find the way?
When sitting beside the chimney, warming your feet by the fire as you watch the flames, it is easy to imagine that there may be novel walks to explore in the neighbourhood; but when you come to look at the map you find that there is nothing new in the whole countryside.
We are told that ambition means growth. It does not with me. Ortega y Gasset believes that I am a man who is constitutionally unbribable. I should not go so far as to say that, but I do say that I do not believe that I could be bribed in cold blood by the offer of material things. If Mephistopheles wishes to purchase my soul, he cannot do it with a decoration or with a title; but if he were to offer me sympathy, and be a little effusive while he is about it, adding then a touch of sentiment, I am convinced that he could get away with it quite easily.
LONGING FOR CHANGE
Just as the aim of politicians is to appear constant and consistent, artists and literary men aspire to change.
Would that the desire of one were as easy of attainment as that of the other!
To change! To develop! To acquire a second personality which shall be different from the first! This is given only to men of genius and to saints. Thus Caesar, Luther, and Saint Ignatius each lived two distinct lives; or, rather, perhaps, it was one life, with sides that were obverse and reverse.
The same thing occurs sometimes also among painters. The evolution of El Greco in painting upsets the whole theory of art.
There is no instance of a like transformation either in ancient or modern literature. Some such change has been imputed to Goethe, but I see nothing more in this author than a short preliminary period of exalted feeling, followed by a lifetime dominated by study and the intellect.
Among other writers there is not even the suggestion of change. Shakespeare is alike in all his works; Calderon and Cervantes are always the same, and this is equally true of our modern authors. The first pages of Dickens, of Tolstoi or of Zola could be inserted among the last, and nobody would be the wiser.
Even the erudite rhetorical poets, the Victor Hugos, the Gautiers, and our Spanish Zorrillas, never get outside of their own rhetoric.
BAROJA, YOU WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING
"Baroja does not amount to anything, and I presume that he will never amount to anything," Ortega y Gasset observes in the first issue of the Spectator.
I have a suspicion myself that I shall never amount to anything. Everybody who knows me has always thought the same.
When I first went to school in San Sebastian, at the age of four—and it has rained a great deal since that day—the teacher, Don Leon Sanchez y Calleja, who made a practice of thrashing us with a very stiff pointer (oh, these hallowed traditions of our ancestors!), looked me over and said:
"This boy will prove to be as sulky as his brother. He will never amount to anything."
I studied for a time in the Institute of Pamplona with Don Gregorio Pano, who taught us mathematics; and this old gentleman, who looked like the Commander in Don Juan Tenorio, with his frozen face and his white beard, remarked to me in his sepulchral voice:
"You are not going to be an engineer like your father. You will never amount to anything."
When I took therapeutics under Don Benito Hernando in San Carlos, Don Benito planted himself in front of me and said:
"That smile of yours, that little smile ... it is impertinent. Don't you come to me with any of your satirical smiles. You will never amount to anything, unless it is negative and useless."
I shrugged my shoulders.
Women who have known me always tell me: "You will never amount to anything."
And a friend who was leaving for America volunteered:
"When I return in twenty or thirty years, I shall find all my acquaintances situated differently: one will have become rich, another will have ruined himself, this fellow will have entered the cabinet, that one will have been swallowed up in a small town; but you will be exactly what you are today, you will live the same life, and you will have just two pesetas in your pocket. That is as far as you will get."
The idea that I shall never amount to anything is now deeply rooted in my soul. It is evident that I shall never become a deputy, nor an academician, nor a Knight of Isabella the Catholic, nor a captain of industry, nor alderman, nor Member of the Council, nor a common cheat, nor shall I ever possess a good black suit.
And yet when a man has passed forty, when his belly begins to take on adipose tissue and he puffs out with ambition, he ought to be something, to sport a title, to wear a ribbon, to array himself in a black frock coat and a white waistcoat; but these ambitions are denied to me. The professors of my childhood and my youth rise up before my eyes like the ghost of Banquo, and proclaim: "Baroja, you will never amount to anything."
When I go down to the seashore, the waves lap my feet and murmur: "Baroja, you will never amount to anything." The wise owl that perches at night on our roof at Itzea calls to me: "Baroja, you will never amount to anything," and even the crows, winging their way across the sky, incessantly shout at me from above: "Baroja, you will never amount to anything."
And I am convinced that I never shall amount to anything.
THE PATRIOTISM OF DESIRE
I may not appear to be a very great patriot, but, nevertheless, I am. Yet I am unable to make my Spanish or Basque blood an exclusive criterion for judging the world. If I believe that a better orientation may be acquired by assuming an international point of view, I do not hold it improper to cease to feel, momentarily, as a Spaniard or a Basque.
In spite of this, a longing for the accomplishment of what shall be for the greatest good of my country, normally obsesses my mind, but I am wanting in the patriotism of lying.
I should like to have Spain the best place in the world, and the Basque country the best part of Spain.
The feeling is such a natural and common one that it seems scarcely worth while to explain it.
The climate of Touraine or of Tuscany, the Swiss lakes, the Rhine and its castles, whatever is best in Europe, I would root up, if I had my say, and set down here between the Pyrenees and the Straits of Gibraltar. At the same time, I should denationalize Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoi and Dostoievski, making them Spaniards. I should see that the best laws and the best customs were those of our country. But wholly apart from this patriotism of desire, lies the reality. What is to be gained by denying it? To my mind nothing is to be gained.
There are many to whom the only genuine patriotism is the patriotism of lying, which in fact is more of a matter of rhetoric than it is of feeling.
Our falsifying patriots are always engaged in furious combat with other equally falsifying internationalists.
"Nothing but what we have is of any account," cries one party.
"No, it is what the other fellow has," cries the other.
Patriotism is telling the truth as to one's country, in a sympathetic spirit which is guided and informed by a love of that which is best.
Now some one will say: "Your patriotism, then, is nothing but an extension of your ego; it is purely utilitarian."
Absolutely so. But how can there be any other kind of patriotism?
MY HOME LANDS
I have two little countries, which are my homes—the Basque provinces, and Castile; and by Castile I mean Old Castile. I have, further, two points of view from which I look out upon the world: one is my home on the Atlantic; the other is very like a home to me, on the Mediterranean.
All my literary inspirations spring either from the Basque provinces or from Castile. I could never write a Gallegan or a Catalan novel.
I could wish that my readers were all Basques and Castilians.
Other Spaniards interest me less. Spaniards who live in America, or Americans, do not interest me at all.
CRUELTY AND STUPIDITY
It appears from an article written by Azorin in connection with a book of mine, that, to my way of thinking, there are two enormities which are incredible and intolerable. They are cruelty and stupidity.
Civilized man has no choice but to despise these manifestations of primitive, brute existence.
We may be able to tolerate stupidity and lack of comprehension when they are simple and wholly natural, but what of an utter obtuseness of understanding which dresses itself up and becomes rhetorical? Can anything be more disagreeable?
When a fly devours the pollen greedily from the pyrethrum, which, as we know, will prove fatal to him, it becomes clear at once that flies have no more innate sagacity than men. When we listen to a conservative orator defending the past with salvos of rhetorical fireworks, we are overwhelmed by a realization of the complete odiousness of ornamental stupidity.
With cruelty it is much the same. The habits of the sphex surprise while bull fights disgust us. The more cruelty and stupidity are dressed up, the more hateful they become.
THE ANTERIOR IMAGE
I wrote an article once called, "The Spaniard Fails to Understand." While I do not say it was good, the idea had some truth in it. It is a fact that failure to understand is not exclusively a Spanish trait, but the failing is a human one which is more accentuated among peoples of backward culture, whose vitality is great.
Like a child the Spaniard carries an anterior image in his mind, to which he submits his perceptions. A child is able to recognize a man or a horse more easily in a toy than in a painting by Raphael or by Leonardo da Vinci, because the form of the toy adapts itself more readily to the anterior image which he has in his consciousness.
It is the same with the Spaniard. Here is one of the causes of his want of comprehension. One rejects what does not fit in with one's preconceived scheme of things.
I once rode to Valencia with two priests who were by no means unknown. One of them had been in the convent of Loyola at Azpeitia for four years. We talked about our respective homes; they eulogized the Valencian plain while I replied that I preferred the mountains. As we passed some bare, treeless hills such as abound near Chinchilla, one of them—the one, in fact, who had been at Loyola—remarked to me:
"This must remind you of your own country."
I was dumbfounded. How could he identify those arid, parched, glinting rocks with the Basque landscape, with the humid, green, shaded countryside of Azpeitia? It was easy to see that the anterior image of a landscape existing in the mind of that priest, provided only the general idea of a mountain, and that he was unable to distinguish, as I was, between a green mountain overgrown with turf and trees, and an arid hillside of dry rocks.
An hypothesis explaining the formation of visual ideas has been formulated by Wundt, which he calls the hypothesis of projection. It attributes to the retina an innate power of referring its impressions outward along straight lines, in directions which are determined.
According to Mueller, who has adopted this hypothesis, what we perceive is our own retina under the category of space, and the size of the retinal image is the original unit of measurement applied by us to exterior objects.
The Spaniard like a child, will have to amplify his retinal image, if he is ever to amount to anything. He will have to amplify it, and, no doubt, complicate it also.
THE TRAGI-COMEDY OF SEX
It is very difficult to approach the sex question and to treat it at once in a clear and dignified manner. And yet, who can deny that it furnishes the key to the solution of many of the enigmas and obscurities of psychology?
Who can question that sex is one of the bases of temperament?
Nevertheless, the subject may be discussed permissibly in scientific and very general terms, as by Professor Freud. What is unpardonable is any attempt to bring it down to the sphere of the practical and concrete.
I am convinced that the repercussion of the sexual life is felt through all the phenomena of consciousness.
According to Freud, an unsatisfied desire produces a series of obscure movements in consciousness which eat at the soul as electricity is generated in a storage battery, and this accumulation of psychic energy must needs produce a disturbance in the nervous system.
Such nervous disturbances, which are of sexual origin, produced by the strangulation of desires, shape our mentality.
What is the proper conduct for a man during the critical years between the ages of fourteen and twenty-three? He should be chaste, the priests will say, shutting their eyes with an hypocritical air. He can marry afterwards and become a father.
A man who can be chaste without discomfort between fourteen and twenty- three, is endowed with a most unusual temperament. And it is one which is not very common at present. As a matter of fact, young men are not chaste, and cannot be.
Society, as it is well aware of this, opens a little loophole to sexuality, which is free from social embarrassment—the loophole of prostitution.
As the bee-hive has its workers, society has its prostitutes.
After a few years of sexual life without the walls, passed in the surrounding moats of prostitution, the normal man is prepared for marriage, with its submission to social forms and to standards which are clearly absurd.
There is no possibility of escaping this dilemma which has been decreed by society.
The alternative is perversion or surrender.
To a man of means, who has money to spend, surrender is not very difficult; he has but to follow the formula. Prostitution among the upper classes does not offend the eye, and it reveals none of the sores which deface prostitution as it is practised among the poor. Marriage, too, does not sit heavily upon the rich. With the poor, however, shame and surrender walk hand in hand.
To practise the baser forms of prostitution is to elbow all that is most vile in society, and to sink to its level oneself. Then, to marry afterwards without adequate means, is a continual act of self-abasement. It is to be unable to maintain one's convictions, it is to be compelled to fawn upon one's superiors, and this is more true in Spain than it is elsewhere, as everything here must be obtained through personal influence.
Suppose one does not submit? If you do not submit you are lost. You are condemned irretrievably to perversions, to debility, to hysteria.
You will find yourself slinking about the other sex like a famished wolf, you will live obsessed by lewd ideas, your mind will solace itself with swindles and cheats wherewith to provide a solution of the riddle of existence, you will become the mangy sheep that the shepherd sets apart from the flock.
Ever since early youth, I have been clearly conscious of this dilemma, and I have determined and said: "No; I choose the abnormal—give me hysteria, but submission, never!"
So derangement and distortion have come to my mind.
If I could have followed my inclinations freely during those fruitful years between fifteen and twenty-five, I should have been a serene person, a little sensual, perhaps, and perhaps a little cynical, but I should certainly not have become violent.
The morality of our social system has disturbed and upset me.
For this reason I hate it cordially, and I vent upon it in full measure, as best I may, all the spleen I have to give.
I like at times to disguise this poison under a covering of art.
THE VEILS OF THE SEXUAL LIFE
I am unable to feel any spontaneous enthusiasm for fecundity such as that which Zola sings. Moreover, I regard the whole pose as a superstition. I may be a member of an exhausted race,—that is quite possible,—but between the devotion to our species which is professed by these would-be re-peoplers of countries, and the purely selfish preoccupation of the Malthusians, my sympathies are all with the latter. I see nothing beyond the individual in this sex question—beyond the individual who finds himself inhibited by sexual morality.
This question must be faced some day and cleared up, it must be seen divested of all mystery, of all veils, of all deceit. As the hygiene of nutrition has been studied openly, in broad daylight, so it must be with sex hygiene.
As a matter of fact, the notion of sin, then, that of honour, and, finally, dread of syphilis and other sexual diseases, rest like a cloud on the sexual life, and they are jumbled together with all manner of fantastic and literary fictions.
Obviously, rigid sexual morality is for the most part nothing more than the practice of economy in disguise. Let us face this whole problem frankly. A man has no right to let his life slip by to gratify fools' follies. We must have regard to what is, with Stendhal. It will be argued of course that these veils, these subterfuges of the sexual life, are necessary. No doubt they are to society, but they are not to the individual. There are those who believe that the interests of the individual and of society are one, but we, who are defenders of the individual as against the State, do not think so.
A LITTLE TALK
Myself: I often think I should have been happier if I had been impotent.
My Hearers: How can you say such a terrible thing?
Myself: Why not? To a man like me, sex is nothing but a source of misery, shame and cheap hypocrisy, as it is to most of us who are obliged to get on without sufficient means under this civilization of ours. Now you know why I think that I should have been better off if I had been impotent.
UPON THE SUPPOSED MORALITY OF MARRIAGE
Single life is said to be selfish and detestable. Certainly it is immoral. But what of marriage? Is it as moral as it is painted?
I am one who doubts it.
Marriage, like all other social institutions of consequence, is surrounded by a whole series of common assumptions that cry out to be cleared up.
There is a pompous and solemn side to marriage, and there is a private museum side.
Marriage poses as an harmonious general concord in which religion, society, and nature join.
But is it anything of the kind? It would appear to be doubtful. If the sole purpose of marriage is to rear children, a man ought to live with a woman only until she becomes pregnant, and, after that moment, he ought not to touch her. But here begins the second part. The woman bears a baby; the baby is nourished by the mother's milk. The man has no right to co-habit with his wife during this period either, because it will be at the risk of depriving the child of its natural source of nutriment.
In consequence, a man must either co-habit with his wife once in two years, or else there will be some default in the marriage.
What is he to do? What is the moral course? Remember that three factors have combined to impose the marriage. One, the most far-reaching today, is economic; another, which is also extremely important, is social, and the third, now rapidly losing its hold, but still not without influence, is religious. The three forces together attempt to mould nature to their will.
Economic pressure and the high cost of living make against the having of children. They encourage default.
"How are we to have all these children?" the married couple asks. "How can we feed and educate them?"
Social pressure also tends in the same direction. Religious morality, however, still persists in its idea of sin, although the potency of this sanction is daily becoming less, even to the clerical eye.
If nature had a vote, it would surely be cast in favour of polygamy. Man is forever sexual, and in equal degree, until the verge of decrepitude. Woman passes through the stages of fecundation, pregnancy, and lactation.
There can be no doubt but that the most convenient, the most logical and the most moral system of sexual intercourse, naturally, is polygamy.
But the economic subdues the natural. Who proposes to have five wives when he cannot feed one?
Society has made man an exclusively social product, and set him apart from nature.
What can the husband and wife do, especially when they are poor? Must they overload themselves with children, and then deliver them up to poverty and neglect because God has given them, or shall they limit their number?
If my opinion is asked, I advise a limit—although it may be artificial and immoral.
Marriage presents us with this simple choice: we may either elect the slow, filthy death of the indigent workingman, of the carabineer who lives in a shack which teems with children, or else the clean life of the French, who limit their offspring.
The middle class everywhere today is accepting the latter alternative. Marriage is stripping off its morality in the bushes, and it is well that it should do so.
THE SOVEREIGN CROWD
A strong man may either dominate and subdue the sovereign crowd when he confronts it, as he would a wild beast, or he may breathe his thoughts and ideas into it, which is only another form of domination.
As I am not strong enough to do either, I shun the sovereign masses, so as not to become too keenly conscious of their collective bestiality and ill temper.
Every man fancies that he has something of the doctor in him, and considers himself competent to advise some sort of a cure, so I come now with a remedy for the evils of life. My remedy is constant action. It is a cure as old as the world, and it may be as useful as any other, and doubtless it is as futile as all the rest. As a matter of fact, it is no remedy at all.
The springs of action lie all within ourselves, and they derive from the vigour and health which we have inherited from our fathers. The man who possesses them may draw on them whenever he will, but the man who is without them can never acquire them, no matter how widely he may seek.
The extraradius of a writer may be said to be made up of his literary opinions and inclinations. I wish to expose the literary cell from the nucleus out and to unfold it, instead of proceeding in from the covering.
The term may seem pedantic and histological, but it has the attraction to my mind of a reminiscence of student days.
RHETORIC AND ANTI-RHETORIC
If I were to formulate my opinions upon style, I should say: "Imitations of other men's styles are bad, but a man's own style is good."
There is a store of common literary finery, almost all of which is in constant use and has become familiar.
When a writer lays hands on any of this finery spontaneously, he makes it his own, and the familiar flower blossoms as it does in Nature.
When an author's inspiration does not proceed from within out, but rather from without in, then he becomes at once a bad rhetorician.
I am one of those writers who employ the least possible amount of this common store of rhetoric. There are various reasons for my being anti- rhetorical. In the first place I do not believe that the pages of a bad writer can be improved by following general rules; if they do gain in one respect, they lose inevitably in another.
So much for one reason; but I have others.
Languages display a tendency to follow established forms. Thus Spanish tends toward Castilian. But why should I, a Basque, who never hears Castilian spoken in my daily life in the accents of Avila or of Toledo, endeavour to imitate it? Why should I cease to be a Basque in order to appear Castilian, when I am not? Not that I cherish sectional pride, far from it; but every man should be what he is, and if he can be content with what he is, let him be held fortunate.
For this reason, among others, I reject Castilian turns and idioms when they suggest themselves to my mind. Thus if it occurs to me to write something that is distinctively Castilian, I cast about for a phrase by means of which I may express myself in what to me is a more natural way, without suggestion of our traditional literature.
On the other hand, if the pure rhetoricians, of the national school, who are castizo—the Mariano de Cavias, the Ricardo Leons—should happen to write something simply, logically and with modern directness, they would cast about immediately for a roundabout way of saying it, which might appear elaborate and out of date.
THE RHYTHM OF STYLE
There are persons who imagine that I am ignorant of the three or four elementary rules of good writing, which everybody knows, while others believe that I am unacquainted with syntax. Senor Bonilla y San Martin has conducted a search through my books for deficiencies, and has discovered that in one place I write a sentence in such and such fashion, and that in another I write something else in another, while in a third I compound a certain word falsely.
With respect to the general subject of structural usage which he raises, it would be easy to cite ample precedent among our classic authors; with respect to the word misticidad occurring in one of my books, I have put it into the mouth of a foreigner. The faults brought to light by Senor Bonilla are not very serious. But what of it? Suppose they were?
An intelligent friend once said to me:
"I don't know what is lacking in your style; I find it acrid." I feel that this criticism is the most apt that has yet been made.
My difficulty in writing Castilian does not arise from any deficiency in grammar nor any want of syntax. I fail in measure, in rhythm of style, and this shocks those who open my books for the first time. They note that there is something about them that does not sound right, which is due to the fact that there is a manner of respiration in them, a system of pauses, which is not traditionally Castilian.
I should insist upon the point at greater length, were it not that the subject of style is cluttered up with such a mass of preconceptions, that it would be necessary to redefine our terminology, and then, after all, perhaps we should not understand one another. Men have an idea that they are thinking when they operate the mechanism of language which they have at command. When somebody makes the joints of language creak, they say: "He does not know how to manage it." Certainly he does know how to manage it. Anybody can manage a platitude. The truth is simply this: the individual writer endeavours to make of language a cloak to fit his form, while, contrarywise, the purists attempt to mould their bodies till they fit the cloak.
RHETORIC OF THE MINOR KEY
Persons to whom my style is not entirely distasteful, sometimes ask:
"Why use the short sentence when it deprives the period of eloquence and rotundity?"
"Because I do not desire eloquence or rotundity," I reply. "Furthermore, I avoid them." The vast majority of Spanish purists are convinced that the only possible rhetoric is the rhetoric of the major key. This, for example, is the rhetoric of Castelar and Costa, the rhetoric which Ricardo Leon and Salvador Rueda manipulate today, as it has been inherited from the Romans. Its purpose is to impart solemnity to everything, to that which already has it by right of nature, and to that which has it not. This rhetoric of the major key marches with stately, academic tread. At great, historic moments, no doubt it is very well, but in the long run, in incessant parade, it is one of the most deadly soporifics in literature; it destroys variety, it is fatal to subtlety, to nice transitions, to detail, and it throws the uniformity of the copybook over everything.
On the other hand, the rhetoric of the minor key, which seems poor at first blush, soon reveals itself to be more attractive. It moves with a livelier, more life-like rhythm; it is less bombastic. This rhetoric implies continence and basic economy of effort; it is like an agile man, lightly clothed and free of motion.
To the extent of my ability I always avoid the rhetoric of the major key, which is assumed as the only proper style, the very moment that one sits down to write Castilian. I should like, of course, to rise to the heights of solemnity now and then, but very seldom.
"Then what you seek," I am told, "is a familiar style like that of Mesonero Romanos, Trueba and Pereda?"
No, I am not attracted by that either.
The familiar, rude, vulgar manner reminds me of a worthy bourgeois family at the dinner table. There sits the husband in his shirt sleeves, while the wife's hair is at loose ends and she is dirty besides, and all the children are in rags.
I take it that one may be simple and sincere without either affectation or vulgarity. It is well to be a little neutral, perhaps, a little grey for the most part, so that upon occasion the more delicate hues may stand out clearly, while a rhythm may be employed to advantage which is in harmony with actual life, which is light and varied, and innocent of striving after solemnity.
A modern poet, in my opinion, has illustrated this rhetoric of the minor key to perfection.
He is Paul Verlaine.
A style like Verlaine's, which is non-sequent, macerated, free, is indispensable to any mastery of the rhetoric of the minor key. This, to me, has always been my literary ideal.
THE VALUE OF MY IDEAS
From time to time, my friend Azorin attempts to analyse my ideas. I do not pretend to be in the secret of the scales, as such an assumption upon my part would be ridiculous. As the pilot takes advantage of a favourable wind, and if it does not blow, of one that is unfavourable, I do the same. The meteorologist is able to tell with mathematical accuracy in his laboratory, after a glance at his instruments, not only the direction of the prevailing wind, but the atmospheric pressure and the degree of humidity as well. I am able only, however, to say with the pilot: "I sail this way," and then make head as best I may.
GENIUS AND ADMIRATION
I have no faith in the contention of the Lombrosians that genius is akin to insanity, neither do I think that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains. Lombroso, for that matter, is as old-fashioned today as a hoop skirt.
Genius partakes of the miraculous. If some one should tell me that a stick had been transformed into a snake by a miracle, naturally I should not believe it; but if I should be asked whether there was not something miraculous in the very existence of a stick or of a snake, I should be constrained to acknowledge the miracle.
When I read the lives of the philosophers in Diogenes Laertius, I arrive at the conclusion that Epicurus, Zeno, Diogenes, Protagoras and the others were nothing more than men who had common sense. Clearly, as a corollary, I am obliged to conclude that the people we meet nowadays upon the street, whether they wear gowns, uniforms or blouses, are mere animals masquerading in human shape.
Contradicting the assumption that the great men of antiquity were only ordinary normal beings, we must concede the fact that most extraordinary conditions must have existed and, indeed, have been pre-exquisite, before a Greece could have arisen in antiquity, or an Athens in Greece, or a man such as Plato in Athens.
By very nature, the sources of admiration are as mysterious to my mind as the roots of genius. Do we admire what we understand, or what we do not understand? Admiration is of two kinds, of which the more common proceeds from wonder at something which we do not understand. There is, however, an admiration which goes with understanding.
Edgar Poe composed several stories, of which The Goldbug is one, in which an impenetrable enigma is first presented, to be solved afterwards as by a talisman; but, then, a lesson in cryptography ensues, wherein the talisman is explained away, and the miraculous gives place to the reasoning faculties of a mind of unusual power.
He has done something very similar in his poem, The Raven, where the poem is followed by an analysis of its gestation, which is called The Philosophy of Composition. Would it be more remarkable to write The Raven by inspiration, or to write it through conscious skill? To find the hidden treasure through the talisman of The Goldbug, or through the possession of analytical faculties such as those of the protagonist of Poe's tale?
Much consideration will lead to the conclusion that one process is as marvellous as the other.
It may be said that there is nothing miraculous in nature, and it may be said that it is all miraculous.
MY LITERARY AND ARTISTIC INCLINATIONS
Generally speaking, I neither understand old books very well, nor do I care for them—I have been able to read only Shakespeare, and perhaps one or two others, with the interest with which I approach modern writers.
It has sometimes seemed to me that the unreadableness of the older authors might be made the foundation of a philosophic system. Yet I have met with some surprises.
One was that I enjoyed the Odyssey.
"Am I a hypocrite?" I asked myself.
I do not find old painters to be as incompatible as old authors. On the contrary, my experience has been that they are the reverse. I greatly prefer a canvas by Botticelli, Mantegna, El Greco or Velazquez to a modern picture.
The only famous painter of the past for whom I have entertained an antipathy, is Raphael; yet, when I was in Rome and saw the frescos in the Vatican, I was obliged again to ask myself if my attitude was a pose, because they struck me frankly as admirable.
I do not pretend to taste, but I am sincere; nor do I endeavour to be consistent. Consistency does not interest me.
The only consistency possible is a consistency which comes from without, which proceeds from fear of public opinion, and anything of this sort appears to me to be contemptible.
Not to change because of what others may think, is one of the most abject forms of slavery.
Let us change all we can. My ideal is continual change—change of life, change of home, of food, and even of skin.
Among the things that I missed most as a student, was a small library. If I had had one, I believe I should have dipped more deeply into books and into life as well; but it was not given me. During the period which is most fruitful for the maturing of the mind, that is, during the years from twelve to twenty, I lived by turns in six or seven cities, and as it was impossible to travel about with books, I never retained any.
A lack of books was the occasion of my failure to form the habit of re- reading, of tasting again and again and of relishing what I read, and also of making notes in the margin.
Nearly all authors who own a small library, in which the books are properly arranged, and nicely annotated, become famous.
I am not sentimentalizing about stolid, brazen note-taking, such as that with which the gentlemen of the Ateneo debase their books, because that merely indicates barbarous lack of culture and an obtuseness which is Kabyline.
Having had no library in my youth, I have never possessed the old favourites that everybody carries in his pocket into the country, and reads over and over until he knows them by heart.
I have looked in and out of books as travellers do in and out of inns, not stopping long in any of them. I am very sorry but it is too late now for the loss to be repaired.
ON BEING A GENTLEMAN
Viewed from without, I seem to impress some as a crass, crabbed person, who has very little ability, while others regard me as an unhealthy, decadent writer. Then Azorin has said of me that I am a literary aristocrat, a fine and comprehensive mind.
I should accept Azorin's opinion very gladly, but personality needs to be hammered severely in literature before it leaves its slag. Like metal which is removed from the furnace after casting and placed under the hammer, I would offer my works to be put to the test, to be beaten by all hammers.
If anything were left, I should treasure it then lovingly; if nothing were left, we should still pick up some fragments of life.
I always listen to the opinions of the non-literary concerning my books with the greatest interest. My cousin, Justo Goni, used to express his opinion without circumlocution. He always carried off my books as they appeared, and then, a long time after, would give his opinion.