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unprofessional and neglected by the learned in his lifetime, who, after his death, rose to the first rank in the estimation of the latter. One has never heard of a philosophy which, after first delighting the man in the street, ultimately forced itself upon the admiration of more vigorous intellects. Contrast the attention given to the doctrine of M. Bergson, for instance, with that given to M. Maeterlinck. You may think with awe-if you are easily awed-of the army of men and women who devoutly keep M. Maeterlinck's books on their shelves, you will not be able to bring in one really great name in support of his philosophical fame. Read the Maeterlinckian bibliography-one of those displays which go far to keep the timid in bondage; you will notice at once, first of all, that French names are remarkably scarce in it, and in the second place that not one first-rate critic appears in the list. You will, it is true, discover the names of Jules Lemaître and Mr. Archer among an ocean of nobodies, but Mr. Archer as well as M. Lemaître have only concerned themselves with M. Maeterlinck as a playwright, and ignore him as a philosopher.
In fact, the success of M. Maeterlinck's philosophical books is of exactly the same order as the success of any second-rate novel or drama, and can be accounted for by very similar causes. There is, I am only too glad to admit, in La Sagesse et la Destinée one idea which has been helpful to many discouraged souls-though why they should have waited to find it there I cannot conceive; it is the notion that Destiny is only a word, and that our free will can insert causes of its own in the so-called chain of fatality-the worldold idea of which the French proverb Aide-toi, le Ciel t'aidera,' is only a variant-but it is not the chief cause of M. Maeterlinck's influence. That cause lies in the snobbishness of the crowd -I mean the reading, not the working, crowd-and in its susceptibility to the cheap advantages which make so many commonplace though apparently distinguished preachers successful. M. Maeterlinck is far from having a sound philosophical grounding; even in easier provinces he is content with little, and his study of Emily Brontë, for instance, is a monument of superficiality; but he makes a tremendous display of philosophical erudition, and that invariably dazzles the uneducated. He thinks the Biographia Literaria an exceptionally abstruse work, but he quotes off-hand from Plotinus' Enneads. Just because he has translated Ruysbroeck, and put prefaces to translations of Novalis and Emerson, people regard him reverently as a specialist in mystics, and hardly dare look up to a man who lives on such heights. Add that the reflection of his real on his imaginary merits comes into play here as everywhere, and that a man who knows so much about bees cannot be ignorant in any realm.
Besides this cause there exists another which I think even more active. One cannot exaggerate the sensitiveness of the class of readers whom M. Maeterlinck chiefly reaches to the outward qualities of style. Even in his best, I should say, his prettiest books, even in La Vie des Abeilles, M. Maeterlinck is not a great artist in words. He is far too conscious of style, and the consequence is that we are conscious of it too, and our pleasure loses proportionately. But he has one quality not unfrequent in writers endowed with more artistic ambition than artistic capacity, and which would ultimately make them really great writers if we had three lives to grow in instead of one. It is a pleasure in writing which gives them a sort of sincerity even where they are insincere, and which may well cause irritation to an experienced reader but only delights an inexperienced one. It is an attitude, often a pose, but it engenders a certain unity which results in rhythm, and rhythm, no doubt, is one of the true writer's virtues. That rhythm in M. Maeterlinck's philosophical books belongs to words rather than thought, which stamps it at once with inferiority. Yet it is there all the same, and acts so powerfully on most readers as to influence them as if they had read quite a different book. It is like the delivery which positively transforms certain speeches.
Take that poor string of youthful essays, Le Trésor des Humbles. The quality I am speaking of appears in the very title. It is only one of those numberless pretty titles which lady writers will often discover more easily than the greatest artists: but who will deny the power of a title? Two words on the back of a book which we do not even open will tune our soul for hours to a mood, or start a train of thought which many a lecture could not create. What we hear, read, or even do matters little in that fascinating condition. Le Trésor des Humbles is one of those titles. It is a poem in itself. Those simple but rich syllables speak of hidden life cheerfully accepted, of the fraternity of the poor and lowly who envy not the rich, and would rather keep together close enough to be warm-as Renan says of the collegia funeraria-of Patience and her inexhaustible treasures. That title is poetical and true, happy and courageous, philosophical and Christian. How many poor souls must have longed for the pages it promises! Now supposing you know nothing about M. Maeterlinck except that he is a famous man: if you open the book in the mood thus conjured, the display of recondite erudition, the vagueness of the doctrine, the metaphors both familiar and yet apparently new, the subdued tone of speech as if the author's voice were full of suppressed sighs, the lulling rhythm of page after page, along with the sober philosophical attitude implied throughout, will caress and soothe you so
much that you may remain to the last under the initial spell of the title, imagining all the time that the author must preach that which you expected from him, and putting down inconsistencies to your lack of familiarity with such difficult pursuits. M. Maeterlinck's prose acts like music, quite independently from thought and meaning: it can be made to say as many things as the bells.
Were it not for this harmonious vagueness there is little doubt that M. Maeterlinck's books would be less popular than they are, even with the many women and the comparatively few men who at present dote upon them. The doctrine they hold, so to speak in solution, would appear too negative, and in some cases too remote from what we call morals to appeal to thousands who in its poetical presentment cannot see it clearly.
What are in fact the distinctly Maeterlinckian doctrines, those which M. Maeterlinck never succeeded in expounding in a satisfactory manner in his books, but which, however, are his doctrines? I am afraid they are clearer to those who are not enthusiastic about M. Maeterlinck than to his admirers.
There is, first of all, what some call the philosophy of the soul, the not very healthy spiritualism diffused through several chapters of Le Trésor des Humbles, especially those entitled ' Le Réveil de l'Ame,' 'Silence,' and 'Le Tragique Quotidien,' and embodied in most of the writer's plays. Although M. Maeterlinck's philosophy-I mean M. Maeterlinck's philosophical reading-is chiefly Monistic and of poor quality, it coexists in his mind with the highest notion of the influence of the soul. It would be useless to try and imagine any metaphysics based upon the idea. M. Maeterlinck is nothing more than a spiritualist in the ordinary sense of the word-a man who believes in soul communication apart from the language. In Le Trésor des Humbles he prophesied the almost immediate liberation of the soul from the trammels of language, and the beginning of her reign through the establishment of silence. Mutual comprehension and mutual love in the whole universe were to follow. Needless to say that this prophecy was a very young man's dream and probably talk. The realm of the soul, to-day as then, remains confined to the dark rooms in which spirits play in curtains or at best bring you roses.
Then, there is the doctrine of accepted humility, which appears everywhere in Le Trésor des Humbles, and, strangely enough, appears pretty often in La Sagesse et la Destinée as well. Everybody can be great and good-in fact, is great and good. We are told not to despise ourselves even if we are conscious of grief at our neighbour's happiness, and encouraged to think, conversely, that the sister of charity who catches typhus at a bedside may have a shabby, vindictive soul.
Finally, clad in thousands of metaphors through La Sagesse et la Destinée, comes the Ibsenian teaching of self-realisation. Self-denial is an absurdity, happiness is a duty.
These are the Maeterlinckian doctrines, or at any rate, the tentatively expressed Maeterlinckian tendencies; nothing very novel, to be sure. Now, I do not think that if all this were clearly instead of vaguely put it would be agreeable to three in ten of M. Maeterlinck's devoted readers. A moral philosophy in which God is only a name, from which the notion of immortality and that of selfsacrifice are absent, and through which the anarchism inherent in the search for happiness at all costs is on the contrary omnipresent, only appeals to the unhappy few. And those few will not tarry long in the Maeterlinckian groves where every rivulet is swollen with tears they will laugh at all this namby-pambiness and go straight to Nietzsche.
So there will remain only the devotees of the soul and mysteriousness, and those of humility. A small band that of the former. When you have tried a few times to live in your body as a snail in its shell, occasionally putting out a feeler into infinity and drawing back home with such illuminating certitudes as the following: 'I am alive-I am myself and not anybody else-the world exists-how strange it all is!' the art of thinking latent in Le Trésor des Humbles appears really too like a joke. It would be delightful to retain a child's power of wonderment in a man's intelligence, but the power alone is no treasure.
The lovers of humility are more numerous, as most men, as they get on in life, become more or less conscious of failure. A not inconsiderable part of M. Maeterlinck's adherents come to him in hopes of healing intellectual or even literary disappointment. Their soreness feels soothed by his encouragement-no matter how frigid sometimes, and unsympathetic, and aloof-and his obscurity suits their own incapacity to be clear.
But the immense majority of M. Maeterlinck's anonymous disciples belongs to the army of men and women-mostly women -who long for an ideal yet never succeed in formulating it; who would like to be great morally, yet feel confusedly that they will never have sufficient energy for the fights in which moral greatness is acquired; above all, who have neither the stamina nor the hardness implied in resolute Ibsenism; they are mildly selfish and mildly loving, and the wishy-washy egotism and pity mixed up in about equal proportions in the Maeterlinckian creed find in them a ready response. Le Trésor des Humbles and La Sagesse et la Destinée make them feel good without enforcing real goodness upon them. Those books produce hypocrites, but hypocrites under chloroform, or I should say under opium, who have no unpleasant
consciousness. This accounts for the comparative non-recognition of M. Maeterlinck in France. The French are learning hypocrisy, no doubt, but their chief fault is still cynicism, which is far superior. You will only find Maeterlinckian French among either deteriorated Tolstoists, who were deteriorated Catholics before being that, or among the worldings with whose fathers and mothers unbelief was a fashion, as some sort of belief is a fashion with themselves. The real Maeterlinckian world consists of English and American dissenters whom Calvinism has bruised more or less, or of Church of England people who have been staggered by higher criticism in the third solution; above all, of vaguely metaphysical Germans, and of Swedes possessed of that ultra-refined Sehnsucht which they call langta. One may add a sprinkling of those omnivorous readers whose husbands talk Greek, Armenian, or Turkish, but who invariably choose to dream in French. Maeterlinckianism never thrives where there is manliness or warmth; it is never productive of anything strong and great. Wherever you find apparent exceptions you will have no difficulty in discovering that either the doctrine is not understood or some stronger creed underlies it.
If I had more space I would like to point out in M. Maeterlinck's composition and in his works a markedly sensuous streak which his admirers do not seem consciously to notice, but which no veil of metaphors can conceal. He makes constant references to love, and sometimes it would seem to be the purest and most ethereal kind of love; but in the books as in the play we see Monna Vanna too plainly beneath her cloak. There are too many women in M. Maeterlinck's philosophies-too much flitting from one to the other; two many amorous meetings in his azure blue amidst the shower of 'stars too remote.' Free love, no matter how sidereally hinted at, will be terrestrial; its introduction in spiritual books shows the progress we have made since a soldierly uncle of Madame de Sévigné's defined good books as those which teach us to live purely and die bravely.
To conclude, M. Maeterlinck is neither by his method of writing, nor by his ideas, nor by the effects of these ideas, anything like an apostle or a sage. He is most distinctly a literary man, and, as the reader must have seen for himself, a literary man of no superior degree. There never is literary excellence where there is
In the first editions of his well-known Histoire de la Littérature Française, M. Lanson, of the Sorbonne, only mentioned M. Maeterlinck in a foot-note in which he described his style as 'complicated, contorted, and naïvely pretentious'; in the later editions that note has been suppressed and the name of M. Maeterlinck merely appears in a list of Belgian writers between M. Mokel and M. Rodenbach.