The Richard Wagner Cult

By Max Nordau

1895

 

Richard Wagner (7551 bytes)

The Wagner Library

Edition 1.1

Table of Contents

About this Title

Source

The Richard Wagner Cult
By Max Nordau

Degeneration
Pages 171-213
Published in 1895

Reading Information

This title contains approximately 20370 words.
Estimated reading time between 58 and 102 minutes.

Degeneration

Book II. Mysticism

[171]

Chapter V. The Richard Wagner Cult

WE have seen in a previous chapter that the whole mystic movement of the period has its roots in romanticism, and hence originally emanates from Germany. In England German romanticism was metamorphosed into pre-Raphaelitism, in France the latter engendered, with the last remains of its procreative strength, the abortions of symbolism and neo-Catholicism, and these Siamese twins contracted with Tolstoism a mountebank marriage such as might take place between the cripple of a fair and the wonder of a show-booth. While the descendants of the emigrant (who on his departure from his German home already carried in him all the germs of subsequent tumefactions and disfigurements), so changed as to be almost unrecognisable, grew up in different countries, and set about returning to their native land to attempt the renewal of family ties with their home-staying connections, Germany gave birth to a new prodigy, who was in truth only reared with great trouble to manhood, and for long years received but little notice or appreciation, but who finally obtained an incomparably mightier attractive force over the great fools' fair of the present time than all his fellow-competitors. This prodigy is 'Wagnerism.' It is the German contribution to modern mysticism, and far outweighs all that the other nations combined have supplied to that movement. For Germany is powerful in everything, in evil as in good, and the magnitude of its elementary force manifests itself in a crushing manner in its degenerate, as well as in its ennobling, efforts.

Richard Wagner is in himself alone charged with a greater abundance of degeneration than all the degenerates put together with whom we have hitherto become acquainted. The stigmata of this morbid condition are united in him in the most complete and most luxuriant development. He displays in the general constitution of his mind the persecution mania, megalomania and mysticism; in his instincts vague philanthropy, anarchism, a craving for revolt and contradiction; in his writings all the signs of graphomania, namely, incoherence, fugitive ideation, and a tendency to idiotic punning, and, as the groundwork of [172] his being, the characteristic emotionalism of a colour at once erotic and religiously enthusiastic.

For Wagner's persecution mania, we have the testimony of his most recent biographer and friend, Ferdinand Praeger, who relates that for years Wagner was convinced that the Jews had conspired to prevent the representation of his operas—a delirium inspired by his furious anti-Semitism. His megalomania is so well known through his writings, his verbal utterances, and the whole course of his life, that a bare reference to it is sufficient. It is to be admitted that this mania was essentially increased by the crazy procedure of those who surrounded Wagner. A much firmer equilibrium than that which obtained in Wagner's mind would have been infallibly disturbed by the nauseous idolatry of which Bayreuth was the shrine. The Bayreuther Blätter is a unique phenomenon. To me, at least, no other instance is known of a newspaper which was founded exclusively for the deification of a living man, and in every number of which, through long years, the appointed priests of the temple have burned incense to their household god, with the savage fanaticism of howling and dancing dervishes, bent the knee, prostrated themselves before him, and immolated all opponents as sacrificial victims.

We will take a closer view of the graphomaniac Wagner. His Collected Writings and Poems form ten large thick volumes, and among the 4,500 pages which they approximately contain there is hardly a single one which will not puzzle the unbiased reader, either through some nonsensical thought or some impossible mode of expression. Of his prose works (his poems will be treated of further on), the most important is decidedly The Art-work of the Future. (01) The thoughts therein expressed—so far as the wavering shadows of ideas in a mystically emotional degenerate subject may be so called—occupied Wagner during his whole life, and were again and again propounded by him in ever new terms and phraseology. The Opera and the Drama, Judaism in Music, On the State and Religion, The Vocation of the Opera, Religion and Art, are nothing more than amplifications of single passages of The Art-work of the Future. This restless repetition of one and the same strain of thought is itself characteristic in the highest degree. The clear, mentally sane author, who feels himself impelled to say something, will once for all express himself as distinctly and impressively as it is possible for him to do, and have done with it. He may, perhaps, return to the subject, in order to clear up misconceptions, repel attacks, and fill up lacunæ; but he will [173] never wish to rewrite his book, wholly or in part, two or three times in slightly different words, not even if in later years he attains to the insight that he has not succeeded in finding for it an adequate form. The crazed graphomaniac, on the contrary, cannot recognise in his book, as it lies finished before him, the satisfying expression of his thoughts, and he will always be tempted to begin his work afresh, a task which is endless, because it must consist in giving a fixed linguistic form to ideas which are formless.

The fundamental thought of the Art-work of the Future is this: The first and most original of the arts was that of dancing; its peculiar essence is rhythm, and this has developed into music; music, consisting of rhythm and tone, has raised (Wagner says 'condensed') its phonetic element to speech, and produced the art of poetry; the highest form of poetry is the drama, which for the purpose of stage-construction, and to imitate the natural scene of human action, has associated itself with architecture and painting respectively; finally, sculpture is nothing but the giving permanence to the appearance of the actor in a dead rigid form, while acting is real sculpture in living, flowing movement. Thus all the arts group themselves around the drama, and the latter should unite them naturally. Nevertheless they appear at present in isolation, to the great injury of each and of art in general. This reciprocal estrangement and isolation of the different arts is an unnatural and decadent condition, and the effort of true artists must be to win them back to their natural and necessary conjunction with each other. The mutual penetration and fusion of all arts into a single art will produce the genuine work of art. Hence the work of art of the future is a drama with music and dance, which unrolls itself in a landscape painting, has for a frame a masterly creation of architectural art designed for the poetico-musical end, and is represented by actors who are really sculptors, but who realize their plastic inspirations by means of their own bodily appearance.

In this way Wagner has set forth for himself the evolution of art. His system calls for criticism in every part. The historical filiation of the arts which he attempts to establish is false. If the original reciprocal connections of song, dance and poetry be granted, the development of architecture, painting and sculpture is certainly independent of poetry in its dramatic form. That the theatre employs all the arts is true, but it is one of those truths which are so self-evident that it is generally unnecessary to mention them, and least of all with profound prophetic mien and the grand priestly gestures of one proclaiming surprising revelations. Everyone knows from experience that the stage is in a theatrical building, that it displays painted [174] decorations which represent landscapes or buildings, and that on it there is speaking, singing and acting. Wagner secretly feels that he makes himself ridiculous when he strains himself to expound this trite matter of first experience in the Pythian mode, with an enormous outlay of gush and exaltation . . .; hence he exaggerates it to such a degree as to turn it into an absurdity. He not only asseverates that in the drama (more correctly speaking, the opera, or the musical drama, as Wagner prefers to call it) different arts co-operate, but he asserts that it is only through this co-operation that each individual art is advanced to its highest capacity of expression, and that the individual arts must and will surrender their independence as an unnatural error, in order to continue to exist only as collaborators of the musical drama.

The first asseveration is at least doubtful. In the cathedral of Cologne architecture produces an impression without the representation of a drama; the accompaniment of music would add nothing whatever to the beauty and depth of Faust and Hamlet; Goethe's lyric poetry and the Divina Commedia need no landscape-painting as a frame and background; Michael Angelo's Moses would hardly produce a deeper impression surrounded by dancers and singers; and the Pastoral Symnphony does not require the accompaniment of words in order to exercise its full charm. Schopenhauer, although Wagner admired him as the greatest thinker of all time, expresses himself very decidedly on this point. 'The grand opera,' he says, (02) 'is, properly speaking, no product of pure artistic sense, but rather of the somewhat barbaric conception of elevating æsthetic enjoyment through accumulation of means, simultaneity of quite different impressions, and intensification of the effect through the multiplication of the operating masses and forces; while, on the other hand, music, as the mightiest of all arts, is able by itself alone completely to occupy the mind which is susceptible to it; indeed, its loftiest productions, to be appropriately grasped and enjoyed, demand a mind wholly undivided and undiverted, so that it may yield itself up to them, and lose itself in them, in order completely to understand their incredible inwardness of language. Instead of this, in highly complicated operatic music the mind is besieged at the same time by way of the eye, by means of the most variegated pomp, the most fantastic pictures, and the liveliest impressions of light and colour; while over and above this it is occupied with the story of the piece. . . Strictly speaking, then, one may call opera an unmusical invention for the benefit of unmusical minds, into which music must only be smuggled by means of a medium [175] foreign to it, that is, as a sort of accompaniment to a long spun-out, insipid love-story, and its poetical thin broth; for the libretto of an opera does not tolerate concise poetry, full of genius and thought.' This is an absolute condemnation of the Wagnerian idea of the musical drama as the collective art-work of the future. It might seem, it is true, that certain recent experiments in psychophysics had come to the help of Wagner's theory of the reciprocal enhancement of the simultaneous effects of different arts. Charles Féré  (03) has, in fact, shown that the ear hears more keenly when the eye is simultaneously stimulated by an agreeable (dynamogenous) colour; but, in the first place, this phenomenon may also be interpreted thus: that the keenness of hearing is enhanced not by the visual impression as such, not simply as sense excitation, but only through its dynamogenous quality, which arouses the whole nervous system as well to a more lively activity. And then the question in Féré's experiments is merely one of simple sense-perceptions, whereas the musical drama is supposed to awaken a higher cerebral activity, to produce presentations and thoughts, together with direct emotions; in which case each of the arts acting in concert will produce, in consequence of the necessary dispersion of the attention to it, a more feeble effect than if it appealed by itself alone to sense and intellect.

Wagner's second assertion, that the natural evolution of each art necessarily leads it to the surrender of its independence and to its fusion with the other arts, (04) contradicts so strongly all experience and all the laws of evolution, that it can at once be characterized as delirious. Natural development always proceeds from the simple to the complex—not inversely; progress consists in differentiation, i.e., in the evolution of originally similar parts into special organs of different structure and independent functions, and not in the retrogression of differentiated beings of rich specialization to a protoplasm without physiognomy.

[176]

The arts have not arisen accidentally; their differentiation is the consequence of organic necessity; once they have attained independence, they will never surrender it. They can degenerate, they can even die out, but they can never again shrink back into the germ from which they have sprung. The effort to return to beginnings is, however, a peculiarity of degeneration, and founded in its deepest essence. The degenerate subject is himself on the downward road from the height of organic development which our species has reached; his imperfect brain is incapable of the highest and most refined operations of thought; he has therefore a strong desire to lighten them, to simplify the multifariousness of phenomnena and make them easier to survey; to drag everything animate and inanimate down to lower and older stages of existence, in order to make them more easy of access to his comprehension. We have seen that the French Symbolists, with their colour-hearing, wished to degrade man to the indifferentiated sense-perceptions of the pholas or oyster. Wagner's fusion of the arts is a pendant to this notion. His Art-work of the Future is the art-work of times long past. What he takes for evolution is retrogression, and a return to a primeval human, nay, to a pre-human stage.

Still more extraordinary than the fundamental idea of the book is its linguistic form. For example, let us estimate the following remarks on musical art (p. 68): 'The sea separates and unites countries; thus musical art separates and unites the two extreme poles of human art, dancing and poetry. It is the heart of man; the blood which takes its circulation from it gives to the outward flesh its warm living colour; but it nourishes with am undulating, elastic force the nerves of the brain which are directed inward' [!!]. 'Without the activity of the heart, the activity of the brain would become a piece of mechanical skill [!], the activity of the external limbs am equally mechanical, emotionless procedure.' 'By means of the heart the intellect feels itself related to the entire body [!]; the mere sensuous man rises to intellectual activity' [!]. 'Now, the organ of the heart [!] is sound, and its artistic language is music.' What here floated before the mind of Wagner was a comparison, in itself senseless, between the function of music as the medium of expression for the feelings, and the function of the blood as the vehicle of nutritive materials for the organism. But as his mystically-disposed brain was not capable of clearly grasping the various parts of this intricate idea, and of arranging them in parallel lines, he entangled himself in the absurdity of an 'activity of the brain without activity of the heart'; of a 'relation between the intellect and the whole body through the heart,' etc., and finally attains to the pure twaddle of calling 'sound' the 'organ of the heart.'

[177]

He wishes to express the very simple thought that music cannot communicate definite images and judgments, but merely feelings of a general character; and for this purpose devises the following rigmarole (p. 88): 'It is never able . . . of itself alone to bring the human individual, determined as to sensation and morals, to an exactly perceptible, distinctive representation; it is in its infinite involution always and only feeling; it appears as an accompaniment of the moral deed, not as the deed itself; it can place feelings and dispositions side by side, not develop in necessary sequence one disposition from another; it is lacking in moral will' [!].

Let the reader further bury himself in this passage (p. 159): 'It is only and exactly in the degree to which the woman of perfected womanliness, in her love for the man, and through her absorption into his being, shall have developed the masculine element as well as this womanliness, and brought it with the purely womanly element in herself to a complete consummation; in other words, in the degree in which she is not only the man's mistress, but also his friend, is the man able to find perfect satisfaction in a woman's love.'

Wagner's admirers asseverate that they understand this string of words thrown together at random. Indeed, they find them remarkably clear! This, however, should not surprise us. Readers who through weakness of mind or flightiness of thought are incapable of attention always understand everything. For them there exists neither obscurity nor nonsense. They seek in the words over which their absent gaze flits superficially, not the author's thoughts, but a reflection of their own rambling dreams. Those who have lived lovingly observant in children's nurseries must have frequently seen the game in which a child takes a book, or printed paper, and, holding it before his face, generally upside down, begins gravely to read aloud, often the story told him by his mamma yesterday before he dropped asleep, or, more frequently, the fancies which at the moment are buzzing in his little head. This is somewhat the procedure of these blessed readers who understand everything. They do not read what is in the books, but what they put into them; and as far as the process and result of this mental activity are concerned, it is certainly very much a matter of indifference what the author has actually thought and said.

The incoherence of Wagner's thought, determined as it is by the excitations of the moment, manifests itself in his constant contradictions. At one time (p. 187) he asserts, 'The highest aim of mankind is the artistic; the most highly artistic is the drama;' and in a footnote (p. 194) he exclaims, 'These easy-going creatures are fain to see and hear everything, except the real, undisfigured human being who stands exhorting at the exit [178] of their dreams. But it is exactly this very humnan being whom we must now place in the foreground.' It is evident that one of these affirmations is diametrically opposed to the other. The 'artistic' 'dramatic' man is not the 'real' man, and it will be imnpossible for him, who looks upon it as his task to occupy himself with the real man, to recognise art as 'the highest aim of man,' and to regard his 'dreams' as the most distinguished of his activities.

In one passage (p. 206) he says: 'Who, therefore, will be the artist of the future? Unquestionably the poet. But who will be the poet? Incontestably the interpreter. Again, however, who will be the interpreter? Necessarily the association of all artists.' If this has any sense at all, it can only be that in the future the people will jointly write and act their dramas; and that Wagner really meant this he proves in the passage (p. 225) where he meets the objection he anticipated, that therefore the mob is to be the creator of the art-work of the future, with the words, 'Bear in mind that this mob is in no way a normal product of real human nature, but rather the artificial result of your unnatural civilization; that all the devices and abominations which disgust you in this mob are only the desperate movements of the fight which real human nature is carrying on against its cruel oppressor, modern civilization.' Let us contrast with these expressions the following passage from the treatise, What is German? (05): 'The fact that from the bosom of the German race there have sprung Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven, too easily seduces the greater number of persons of mediocre gifts into regarding these great minds as belonging by right to them, and to attempt, with the complacency of a demagogue, to persuade the masses that they themselves are Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven.' But who, if not Wagner himself, has thus persuaded the masses, proclaiming them to be the 'artists of the future'? And this very madness, which he himself recognises as such in the remark quoted, has made a great impression on the multitude. They have taken literally what Wagner, with the 'complacency of a demagogue,' has persuasively said to them. They have really imagined themselves to be the 'artists of the future,' and we have lived to see societies formed in many places in Germany who wanted to build theatres of the future, and themselves to perform works of the future in them! And these societies were joined not only by students or young commercial employés in whom a certain propensity for acting plays comes as a malady of adolescence, and who persuade themselves that they are serving the 'ideal' when with childish vanity and in grotesque [179] theatrical costume they gesticulate and declaim before their touched and admiring relatives and acquaintances. Nay, old burgesses, bald and bulky, abandoned their sacred skat, and even the thrice-holy morning tankard, and prepared themselves devoutly for noble dramatic achievements! Since the memorable occasion on which Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout, and Starveling rehearsed their admirable Pyramus and Thisbe, the world has seen no similar spectacle. Emotional shopkeepers and enthusiastic counter-jumpers got Wagner's absurdities on the brain, and the provincials and Philistines whom his joyful message had reached actually set about with their united strength to carry on the work of Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven.

In the passages quoted, in which, in the most used-up style of Rousseau, he glorifies the masses, speaks of 'unnatural culture,' and calls 'modern civilization' 'the cruel oppressor of human nature,' Wagner betrays that mental condition which the degenerate share with enlightened reformers, born criminals with the martyrs of human progress, namely, deep, devouring discontent with existing facts. This certainly shows itself otherwise in the degenerate than in reformers. The latter grow angry over real evils only, and make rational proposals for their remedy which are in advance of the time: these remedies may presuppose a better and wiser humanity than actually exists, but, at least, they are capable of being defended on reasonable grounds. The degenerate subject, on the other hand, selects among the arrangements of civilization such as are either immaterial or distinctly suitable, in order to rebel against them. His fury has either ridiculously insignificant aims or simply beats the air. He either gives no earnest thought to improvement, or hatches astoundingly mad projects for making the world happy. His fundamental frame of mind is persistent rage against everything and everyone, which he displays in venomous phrases, savage threats, and the destructive mania of wild beasts. Wagner is a good specimen of this species. He would like to crush 'political and criminal civilization,' as he expresses it. In what, however, does the corruption of society and the untemableness of the condition of everything reveal themselves to him? In the fact that operas are played with tripping airs, and ballets are performed! And how shall humanity attain its salvation! By performing the musical drama of the future! It is to be hoped that no criticism of this universal plan of salvation will be demanded of me.

Wagner is a declared anarchist. He distinctly develops the teaching of this faction in the Art-work of the Future (p. 217): 'All men have but one common need . . . the need of living and being happy. Herein lies the natural bond between all men. . . . It is only the special needs which, according to time, place, and [180] individuality, make themselves known and increase, which in the rational condition of future humanity can serve as a basis for special associations. . . These associations will change, will take another form, dissolve and reconstitute themselves according as those needs change and reappear.' (06) He does not conceal the fact that this 'rational condition of future humanity 'can be brought about only by force' (p. 228). 'Necessity must force us, too, through the Red Sea if we, purged of our shame, are to reach the Promised Land. We shall not be drowned in it; it is destructive only to the Pharaohs of this world, who have once already been swallowed up—man and horse . . . the arrogant, proud Pharaohs who then forgot that once a poor shepherd's son with his shrewd advice had saved their land from starvation.'

Together with this anarchistic acerbity, there is another feeling that controls the entire conscious and unconscious mental life of Wagner, viz., sexual emotion. He has been throughout his life an erotic (in a psychiatric sense), and all his ideas revolve about woman. The most ordinary incitements, even those farthest removed from the province of the sexual instinct, never fail to awaken in his consciousness voluptuous images of an erotic character, and the bent of the automatic association of ideas is in him always directed towards this pole of his thought. In this connection let this passage be read from the Art-work of the Future (p. 44), where he seeks to demonstrate the relation between the art of dancing, music, and poetry: 'In the contemplation of this ravishing dance of the most genuine and noblest muses, of the artistic man [?], we now see the three arm-in-arm lovingly entwined up to their necks; then this, then that one, detaching herself from the entwinement, as if to display to the others her beautiful form in complete separation, touching the hands of the others only with the extreme tips of her fingers; now the one, entranced by a backward glance at the twin forms of her closely entwined sisters, bending towards them; then two, carried away by the allurements of the one [!] greeting her in homage; finally all, in close embrace, breast to breast, limb to limb, in an ardent kiss of love, coalescing in one blissfully living shape. This is the love and life, the joy and wooing of art,' etc. (Observe the word-play: Lieben und Leben, Freuen und Freien!) Wagner here visibly loses the thread of his argument; he neglects what he really wishes to say, and revels in the picture of the three dancing [181] maidens, who have arisen before his mind's eye, following with lascivious longing the outline of their forms and their seductive movements.

The shameless sensuality which prevails in his dramatic poems has impressed all his critics. Hanslick (07) speaks of the 'bestial sensuality' in Rheingold, and says of Siegfried: 'The feverish accents, so much beloved by Wagner, of an insatiable sensuality, blazing to the uttermost limits—this ardent moaning, sighing, crying, and sinking to the ground, move us with repugnance. The text of these love-scenes becomes sometimes, in its exuberance, sheer nonsense.' Compare in the first act of the Walküre, (08) in the scene between Siegmund and Sieglinde, the following stage directions: 'Hotly interrupting'; 'embraces her with fiery passion'; 'in gentle ecstasy'; 'she hangs enraptured upon his neck'; 'close to his eyes'; 'beside himself'; 'in the highest intoxication,' etc. At the conclusion, it is said, 'The curtain falls quickly,' and frivolous critics have not failed to perpetrate the cheap witticism, 'Very necessary, too.' The amorous whinings, whimperings and ravings of Tristan und Isolde, the entire second act of Parsifal, in the scene between the hero and the flower-girls, and then between him and Kundry in Klingsor's magic garden, are worthy to rank with the above passages. It certainly redounds to the high honour of German public morality, that Wagner's operas could have been publicly performed without arousing the greatest scandal. How unperverted must wives and maidens be when they are in a state of mind to witness these pieces without blushing crimson, and sinking into the earth for shame! How innocent must even husbands and fathers be who allow their womankind to go to these representations of 'lupanar' incidents! Evidently the German audiences entertain no misgivings concerning the actions and attitudes of Wagnerian personages; they seem to have, no suspicion of the emotions by which they are excited, and what intentions their words, gestures and acts denote; and this explains the peaceful artlessness with which these audiences follow theatrical scenes during which, among a less childlike public, no one would dare lift his eyes to his neighbour or endure his glance.

With Wagner amorous excitement assumes the form of mad delirium. The lovers in his pieces behave like tom-cats gone mad, rolling in contortions and convulsions over a root of valerian. They reflect a state of mind in the poet which is well known to the professional expert. It is a form of Sadism. It is the love of those degenerates who, in sexual transport, become like wild [182] beasts. (09) Wagner suffered from 'erotic madness,' which leads coarse natures to murder for lust, and inspires 'higher degenerates' with works like Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Tristan und Isolde.

Wagner's graphomania is shown not only by the substance, but also by the outward form of his writings. The reader will have been able to remark in the quotations given what a misuse Wagner makes of italics. He often has whole half-pages printed in spaced letters. Lombroso expressly establishes this phenomenon among graphomaniacs. (10) It is sufficiently explained by the peculiarity of mystical thought, so often set forth in this work. No linguistic form which the mystically degenerate subject can give to his thought-phantoms satisfies him; he is always conscious that the phrases he is writing do not express the mazy processes of his brain; and as he is forced to abandon the attempt to embody these in words, he seeks, by means of notes of exclamation, dashes, dots, and blanks, to impart to his writings more of mystery than the words themselves can express.

The irresistible propensity to play on words—another peculiarity of graphomaniacs and imbeciles—is developed to a high degree in Wagner. I will here give only a few examples from the Art-work of the Futurep. 56: 'Thus it [the science of music] acquires through sound, which has become speech. . . its most exalted satisfaction, and at the same time its most satisfying exaltation.' P. 91: 'Like a second Prometheus, who from Thon (clay) formed men, Beethoven had striven to form them from Ton (music). Not from clay or music (Thon or Ton), but from both of these substances, should man, the image of Zeus, the dispenser of life, be created.' Special attention may, however, be called to the following astounding passage (p. 103): 'If fashion or custom permitted us again to adopt, in speech and writing, the genuine and true use of [183] Tichten for Dichten (to compose poetry), we should thus obtain, in the united names of the three primitive human arts, Tanz-, Ton-, and Tichtkunst (dancing, music, and poetry), a beautifully significant, sensuous image of the essence of this trinity of sisters, viz., a perfect alliteration. . . . This alliteration would, moreover, be peculiarly characteristic, on account of the position held in it by Tichtkunst (poetry), for only as its last member would Tichtkunst transform the alliteration into rhyme,' etc.

We now come to the mysticism of Wagner, which permeates all his works, and has become one of the chief causes of his influence over his contemporaries—at least, outside Germany. Although he is irreligious through and through, and frequently attacks positive religions, their doctrines and their priests, there have, nevertheless, remained active in him from childhood (passed in an atmosphere of Christian Protestant views and religious practices) ideas and sentiments which he subsequently transformed so strangely in his degenerate mind. This phenomenon, viz., the persistence, in the midst of later doubts and denials, of early-acquired Christian views, operating as am ever-active leaven, singularly altering the whole mind, and at the same time themselves suffering manifold decomposition and deformation—may be frequently observed in confused brains. We shall meet it, for example, in Ibsen. At the foundation of all Wagner's poems and theoretical writings there is to be found a more or less potent sediment of the Catechism, distorted as to its doctrines; and in his most luxuriant pictures, between the thick, crude colours, we get glimpses of strange and hardly recognisable touches, betraying the fact that the scenes are brutally daubed on the pale background of Gospel reminiscences.

One idea, or, more accurately, one word, has remained especially deeply fixed in his mind, and pursued him throughout his whole life as a real obsession, viz., the word 'redemption.' True, it has not with him the value it possesses in the language of theology. To the theologian 'redemption,' this central idea of the whole Christian doctrine, signifies the sublime act of superhuman love, which freely takes upon itself the greatest suffering, and gladly bears it, that it may free from the power of evil those whose strength is insufficient for such a task. So understood, redemption presupposes three things. Firstly, we must assume a dualism in nature, most distinctly developed in the Zend religion; the existence of a first principle of good and one of evil, between which mankind is placed, and becomes the cause of their strife. Secondly, the one who is to be redeemed must be free from all conscious and wilful fault; he must he the victim of superior forces which he is himself incapable of warding off. Thirdly, in order that the redeemer's act may be a true act of [184] salvation and acquire power to deliver, he must, in the fulfilment of a clearly recognised and purposed mission, offer himself in sacrifice. It is true that a tendency has often asserted itself to think of redemption as an act of grace, in which not only the victims, but also sinners, may participate; but the Church has always recognised the immorality of such a conception, and has expressly taught that, in order to receive redemption, the guilty must himself strive for it, through repentance and penance, and not passively await it as a completely unmerited gift.

This theological redemption is not redemption in Wagner's sense. With him it has never any clearly recognisable import, and serves only to denote something beautiful and grand, which he does not more closely specify. At the outset the word has evidently made a deep impression on his imagination, and he subsequently uses it like a minor chord, let us say a, c, e, which is likewise without definite significance, but, nevertheless, awakens emotion and peoples consciousness with floating presentations. With Wagner someone is constantly being 'redeemed.' If (in the Art-work of the Future) the art of painting ceases to paint pictures, and produces thenceforth only decorations for the theatre, this is its 'redemption.' In the same way the music accompanying a poem is a 'redeemed ' music. Man is 'redeemed' when he loves a woman, and the people is 'redeemed' when it plays at the drama. His compositions also turn upon 'redemption. Nietsche (11) has already remarked this, and makes merry over it, if with repulsively superficial witticisms. 'Wagner,' he says, 'has meditated on nothing so much as on redemption' (a wholly false assertion, since Wagner's redemption-twaddle is certainly no result of meditation, but only a mystical echo of childish emotions); 'his opera is the opera of redemption. With him someone is always wanting to be redeemed—now a male, now a female. . . . Who, if not Wagner, teaches us that innocence has a predilection for redeeming interesting sinners (the case of Tannhäuser)? Or that even the Wandering Jew will be redeemed and become sedentary when he marries (the case of The Flying Dutchman)? Or that depraved old wantons prefer to be redeemed by chaste youths (the case of Kundry)? Or that beauteous maidens like best to be redeemed by a knight who is a Wagnerian (the case in Meistersinger)? Or that even married women like to be redeemed by a knight (the case of Isolde)? Or that the ancient god, after having morally compromised himself in every respect, is redeemed by a free-thinker and an immoral character (the case in the Niebelungen)? How particularly admirable is this last profundity! Do you understand it? As for me, defend me from understanding it.'

The work of Wagner which may be truly termed 'the opera [185] of redemption' is Parsifal. Here we may catch Wagner's mind in its most nonsensical vagaries. In Parsifal two persons are redeemed: King Amfortas and Kundry. The King has allowed himself to become infatuated with the charms of Kundry, and has sinned in her arms. As a punishment, the magic spear which had been entrusted to him has been taken from him, and he wounded by this sacred weapon. The wound gapes and bleeds unceasingly, and causes him dreadful suffering. Nothing can heal it but the spear itself which gave it. But 'the pure fool who through compassion knows' can alone wrest the spear from the wicked magician, Klingsor. Kundry, when a young maiden, had seen the Saviour on the path of his Passion, and had laughed at him. As a penalty for her act she is doomed to live for ever, longing in vain for death, and seducing to sin all men who approach her. Only if a man is able to resist her allurements can she be redeemed from her curse. (One man has, in fact, resisted her, the magician Klingsor. Yet this victorious resistance has not redeemed her as it ought. Why? Wagner does not reveal this by a single syllable.) It is Parsifal who brings redemption to the two accursed ones. The 'pure fool' has no inkling that he is predestined to redeem Amfortas and Kundry, and he neither undergoes any suffering nor exposes himself to any serious danger in accomplishing the act of salvation. It is true that, in forcing his way into the enchanted garden, he is obliged to have a small bout with its knights, but this skirmish is far more a pleasure than an effort for him, for he is far stronger than his adversaries, and, after some playful passes, puts them to flight, bleeding and beaten. He certainly resists the beauty of Kundry, and this is meritorious, yet it hardly constitutes an act of deadly self-sacrifice. He obtains the magic spear without any effort. Klingsor hurls it at him to slay him, but the weapon 'remains floating above his head,' and Parsifal has only to stretch out his hand to take it at his convenience, and then to fulfil his mission.

Every individual feature of this mystical piece is in direct contrast to the Christian idea of redemption, which has nevertheless inspired it. Amfortas is in need of redemption through his own weakness and guilt, not on account of an invincible fate, and he is redeemed without any assistance on his part beyond whining and moaning. The salvation he is awaiting and ultimately obtains has its source completely outside his will and consciousness. He has no part in its attainment. Another effects it for him, and bestows it on him as a gift. The redemption is a purely external affair, a lucky windfall, and not the reward of an inward moral struggle. Still more monstrous are the conditions of Kundry's redemption. Not only is she not allowed to labour for her own salvation, but she is compelled to employ [186] all her strength to prevent it; for her redemption depends on her being despised by a man, and the task to which she has been condemned is to turn to account all the seductive power of beauty and passionate solicitation to win over the man. She must by all possible means thwart the man by whom her redemption is to come, from becoming her redeemer. If the man yields to her charms, then the redemption is frustrated, not through her fault, though by her action; if the man resists the temptation, she obtains redemption without deserving it, because in spite of her opposing effort. It is impossible to concoct a situation more absurd and at the same time more immoral. Parsifal the redeemer is, in fine, from beginning to end, a mystic re-incarnation of 'Hans in Luck' in the German fairy-tale. He succeeds in everything without personal effort. He sets out to kill a swan, and finds the Grail and the royal crown. His redeemership is no self-sacrifice, but a benefice. The favour of Heaven has called himn to an enviable, honourable office—on what powerful recommendation Wagner does not disclose. But a closer examination reveals worse things. Parsifal, the 'pure fool,' is simply a precipitate of confused reminiscences of Christology. Powerfully struck by the poetical elements of the Saviour's life and sufferings, Wagner has been impelled to externalize his impressions and emotions, and has created Parsifal, whom he causes to experience some of the most affecting scenes of the Gospel, and who in his hands becomes (partly, perhaps, without his being aware of it) at once a foolish and frivolous caricature of Jesus Christ. In the mystical work, the temptation of the Saviour in the desert is transformed into the temptation of Parsifal by Kundry. The scene in the Pharisee's house, where the Magdalene anoints the Saviour's feet, is reproduced exactly: Kundry bathes and anoints Parsifal's feet, and dries them with her unbound hair; and the 'pure fool' plagiarizes the words of Christ, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee,' in this exclamation: 'Thus I accomplish my first office; be baptized and believe on the Redeemer.' That the ordinary theatre-goer is not shocked by this misused application of the Christ legend—nay, that in the distorted fragments of the Gospel he is able to revive some of the emotions it perhaps at one time excited in him—is conceivable. But it is incomprehensible that earnest believers, and especially zealous fanatics, have never perceived what a profanation of their most sacred ideas is perpetrated by Wagner, when he endows his Parsifal with traits of the Christ Himself.

We may mention only one of the other absurd details of the Parsifal. The aged Titurel has succumbed to the earthly penalty of death, but through the Saviour's mercy continues to live in the grave. The sight of the Grail continually renews for a time his waning vital strength. Titurel seems to attach a great value to [187] this comfortless life-in-death existence. 'By the mercy of the Saviour I live in the tomb,' he joyously cries from his coffin, demanding with impetuous vehemence that the Grail be shown him, in order that his life may thereby be prolonged. 'Am I to-day to see once more the Grail and live?' he asks in anguish, and because he receives no immediate answer thus laments, 'Must I die unaccompanied by the Deliverer?' His son, Amfortas, hesitates, whereupon the old man gives his orders: Unveil the Grail! The benediction!' And when his wishes are complied with, he exults: ' Oh, sacred bliss! How bright the Lord doth greet us to-day!' Subsequently Amfortas has for some time neglected the unveiling of the Grail, and hence Titurel has had to die. Amfortas is in despair. 'My father! highly blessed of heroes! . . . I, who alone was fain to die, to thee have I given death!' From all this it undoubtedly results that all the persons concerned see in life, even if it be the shadowy and empty life of a being already laid in his coffin an exceedingly precious possession, and in death a bitter misfortune. And this takes place in the same piece in which Kundry endures eternal life as a frightful curse, and passionately longs for death as a most delicious salvation! Is a more ridiculous contradiction conceivable? Moreover, the Titurel episode is a denial of all the premises of Parsifal, constructed as it is on the foundation of the religious idea of personal persistence after death. How can death frighten the man who is convinced that the bliss of paradise awaits him? We are here in the presence of the same non-comprehension of his own assumptions which has already struck us in Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Tolstoi. But this is precisely the peculiarity of morbidly mystic thought. It unites mutually exclusive ideas; it shuns the law of consistency, and imperturbably combines details which are dumfounded at finding themselves in company. We do not observe this phenomenon in one who is a mystic through ignorance, mental indolence, or imitation. He may take an absurd idea as a point of departure for a train of thought; but the latter unrolls itself rationally and consistently, and suffers no gross contradiction among its particular members.

As Christology inspired Wagner with the figures of Parsifal, so did the Eucharist inspire him with the most effective scene of the piece—the love-feast of the Grail. It is the mise-en-scène of the Catholic Mass, with the heretical addition of one Protestant feature—the partaking by the communicants of the elements in both kinds. The unveiling of the Grail corresponds to the elevation of the Host. The acolytes take the form of the choir of boys and youths. In the antiphonal songs and the actions of Amfortas, we find approximations to all four parts of the Mass. The knights of the Grail intone a sort of stunted [188] introit, the long plaint of Amfortas: 'No! Let it not be unveiled! Oh, may no one, no one, fathom the depths of this torment!' etc., may be regarded as a Confiteor. The boys sing the offertory ('Take ye my blood for the sake of our love!' etc.). Amfortas proceeds to the consecration; all partake in the Communion, and there is even a parodied reminiscence of the 'Ite, missa est' in Gurnemanz's exclamation, 'Go out hence upon thy way!' Since Constantine the Great, since the elevation of Christianity to the rank of a State religion, no poet has dared do what Wagner has done; he has drawn theatrical effects from the incomparable rich emotional content of the function of the Mass. He felt profoundly the symbolism of the Lord's Supper; it provoked in him a powerful mystical excitement, and the need arose in him of endowing the symbolical event with a dramatic form, and of sensuously experiencing in all its details and in its entirety that which in the sacrifice of the Mass is only indicated, condensed, and spiritualized. He wished to see and feel in his own person how the elect enjoy, amid violent emotions, the body of Christ and His redeeming blood; and how super-terrestrial phenomena, the purple gleaming of the Grail and the downward hovering dove (in the final scene), etc., make palpable the real presence of Christ and the divine nature of the Eucharist. Just as Wagner has borrowed from the Church his inspiration for the scenes in the Grail, and then for his own purposes has popularized the liturgy in the style of the Biblia Pauperum, so does the audience find again the cathedral and high mass on his stage, and import into the piece all the emotions left in their soul by Church ceremonies. The real priest in his sacerdotal robes, the remembrance of his gestures, of the hand-bell and the genuflexions of the servers, the blue reek and perfume of the incense, the pealing of the organ and the play of chequered sunlight through the stained windows of the church—these are, in the heart of the public, Wagner's collaborators; and it is not his art which lulls them into mystic ecstasy, but the fundamental mood inculcated in the vast majority of white races by two centuries of Christian sentiment.

Mysticism is, as we know, always accompanied by eroticism, especially in the degenerate, whose emotionalism has its chief source in morbidly excited states of the sexual centres. Wagner's imagination is perpetually occupied with woman. But he never sees her relation to man in the form of healthy and natural love, which is a benefit and satisfaction for both lovers. As with all morbid erotics (we have already remarked this in Verlaine and Tolstoi), woman presents herself to him as a terrible force of nature, of which man is the trembling, helpless victim. The woman that he knows is the [189] gruesome Astarté of the Semites, the frightful man-eating Kali Bhagawati of the Hindoos, an apocalyptic vision of smiling blood-thirstiness, of eternal perdition and infernal torment, in demoniacally beautiful embodiment. No poetical problem has so profoundly moved him as the relation between man and this his ensnaring destroyer. He has approached this problem from all sides, and has given it different solutions corresponding to his instincts and views of morality. The man frequently succumbs to the temptress, but Wagner revolts against this weakness, of which he is himself only too conscious, and in his chief works makes the man offer a desperate, but finally victorious, resistance. Not, however, by his own strength does man tear himself from the paralyzing charm of woman. He must receive supernatural aid. This proceeds most frequently from a pure and unselfish virgin, who forms the antithesis to the sphinx with soft woman's body and lion's paws. In conformity with the psychological law of contrast, Wagner invents as a counterpart to the terrible woman of his inmost perception an angelic woman, who is all love, all devotion, all celestial mildness; a woman who asks for nothing and gives all; a woman soothing, caressing and healing; in a word, a woman for whom an unhappy creature pants as he writhes, consumed by flames, in the white-hot flames of Belit. Wagner's Elizabeth, Elsa, Senta, and Gertrude are extremely instructive manifestations of erotic mysticism, in which the half-unconscious idea is struggling for form, viz., that the safety of the sexually crazy degenerate lies in purity, continence, or in the possession of a wife having no sort of individuality, no desire and no rights, and hence incapable of ever proving dangerous to the man.

In one of his first compositions, as in his last, in Tannhäuser as in Parsifal, he treats of the combat between man and his corruptress, the fly versus the spider, and in this way testifies that for thirty-three years, from youth to old age, the subject has never been absent from his mind. In Tannhäuser it is the beautiful devil Venus herself who ensnares the hero, and with whom he has to wage a desperate conflict for the salvation of his soul. The pious and chaste Elizabeth, this dream-being, woven of moonlight, prayer, and song, becomes his 'redeemer.' In Parsifal the beautiful devil is named Kundry, and the hero escapes the danger with which she threatens his soul only because he is 'the pure fool,' and is in a state of grace.

In the Walküre Wagner's imagination surrenders itself to unbridled passion. He here represents the ardent man wildly and madly abandoning himself to his appetite, without regard to the dictates of society, and without attempting to resist the furious impetuosity of his instinct. Siegmund sees Sieglinde, and thenceforth has but one idea—to possess her. That she is [190] another's wife—nay, that he recognises her as his own sister—does not check him for a moment. Those considerations are as feathers before the storm. He pays for his night of pleasure by his death the following morning. For with Wagner love is always a fatality, and ever round its pillow blaze the flames of hell. And as he has not made manifest in Sieglinde the images of carnage and annihilation evoked in him by his idea of woman, he personifies these separately in the Walküre. Their appearance in the drama is for him a psychological need. The traits inseparable in his mind from his conception of woman, and ordinarily united by him in a single figure, are here separated and raised to the dignity of independent types. Venus, Kundry, are seducer and destroyer in one person. In the Walküre Sieglinde is only the seducer, but the destroyer grows into a horde of gruesome Amazons, who drink the blood of battling men, revel in the spectacle of murderous blows, and rush with wild, exulting cries across the corpse-strewn waste.

Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Tristan und Isolde are exact repetitions of the essential content of the Walküre. It is always the dramatic embodiment of the same obsession of the terrors of love. Siegfried sees Brunhilde in the midst of her fire-circle, and both instantly fall into each other's arms in a rage of love; but Siegfried must expiate his happiness with his life, and falls under the steel of Hagen. The mere death of Siegfried does not suffice for Wagner's imagination as the inevitable consequence of love; destiny must show itself more terribly. The castle of Asgard itself breaks out in flames, and the slave of love in dying drags to his own perdition all the gods of heaven along with him. Tristan und Isolde is the echo of this tragedy of passion. Here also is the complete annihilation of the sentiment of duty and self-conquest, by the springing up of love both in Tristan and Isolde; and here also is death as the natural end towards which love is hurried. To express his fundamental mystic thought, that love is an awful fatality wherewith the unapproachable powers of destiny yisit the poor mortal incapable of resistance, he has resort to a childishly clumsy device; he introduces into his compositions love-philtres of potent spell, now to explain the birth of the passion itself, and to indicate its superhuman nature, as in Tristan und Isolde; now to withdraw all the moral life of the hero from the control of his will, and show him as the plaything of super-terrestrial forces, as in the Götterdämmerung.

Thus Wagner's poems give us a deep insight into the world of ideas of an erotically emotional degenerate nature. They reveal the alternating mental conditions of a most reckless sensuality, of a revolt of moral sentiment against the tyranny of appetite, of the ruin of the higher man and his despairing repentance. As has [191] already been said, Wagner is an admirer of Schopenhauer and his philosophy. Like his master, he persuaded himself that life is a misfortune, and non-existence salvation and happiness. Love, as the constantly active incitement to the maintenance of the species and continuance of life, with all its accompanying sufferings, was bound to seem to him the source of all evil; and, on the other hand, the highest wisdom and morality, to consist in the victorious resistance of this incitement, in chastity, sterility, the negation of the will to perpetuate the species. And while his judgment bound him to these views, his instincts attracted him irresistibly to woman, and forced him during his whole life to do all that flouted his convictions and condemned his doctrine. This discord between his philosophy and his organic inclinations is the inner tragedy of his mental life, and his poems form a unique whole, recounting the process of the internal conflict. He sees a woman, at once loses himself, and is absorbed in her charms (Siegmund and Sieglinde, Siegfried and Brunhilde, Tristan and Isolde). This is a great sin, demanding expiation; death alone is an adequate punishment (final scenes in the Walkure, Gotterdammerung, Tristan und Isolde). But the sinner has a timid and feeble excuse: 'I could not resist. I was the victim of superhuman powers. My seducer was of the race of the gods' (Sieglinde, Brunhilde). 'Magic philtres deprived me of my reason' (Tristan, Siegfried in his relations with Gutrune). How glorious to be strong enough to vanquish the devouring monster of appetite within! How radiant and exalted the figure of a man able to plant his foot on the neck of the demon woman! (Tannhauser and Parsifal). And, on the other hand, how beautiful and adorable the woman who should not set ablaze the hell-fire of passion in man, but aid him in quenching it; who should not exact of him a revolt against reason, duty, and honour, but be an example to him of renunciation and self-discipline; who, instead of enslaving him, should, as his loving handmaid, divest herself of her own nature, to blend herself with his; in a word, a woman who would leave him safe in his defencelessness, because she herself would be unarmed! (Elizabeth, Elsa, Senta, Gutrune). The creation of these forms of woman is a sort of De Profundis of the timid voluptuary, who feels the sting of the flesh, and implores aid to protect him from himself.

Like all the degenerates, Wagner is wholly sterile as a poet, although he has written a long series of dramatic works. The creative force capable of reproducing the spectacle of universal normal life is denied him. He has recourse to his own mystico-erotic emotions for the emotional content of his pieces, and the external incidents forming their skeleton are purely the fruits of reading, the reminiscences of books which have made an impression [192] on him. This is the great difference between the healthy and the degenerate poet who receives his sentiments at second-hand. The former is able to 'plunge into full human life,' as Goethe says; to seize it, and either make it enter all breathing and palpitating into a poem which itself thus becomes a part of natural life, or else remould it with idealizing art, suppressing its accidental, accessory features, so as to make prominent the essential; and in this way convincingly to reveal law behind enigmatically bewildering phenomena. The degenerate subject, on the contrary, can do nothing with life; he is blind and deaf to it. He is a stranger in the midst of healthy men. He lacks the organs necessary for the comprehension of life—nay, even for its perception. To work from a model does not lie within his powers. He can only copy existing sketches, and then colour them subjectively with his own emotions. He can see life only when it lies before him on paper in black and white. While the healthy poet resembles the chlorophyllic plant, which dives into the soil, and, by the honest labour of its own roots, procures for itself the nutritive materials out of which it constructs its blossoms and fruit, the degenerate poet has the nature of a parasitic plant, which can only live on a host, and receives its nutriment exclusively from the juices already elaborated by the latter. There are modest parasites and proud parasites. Their range extends from the insignificant lichen to the wondrous raffiesia, the flower of which, a yard in breadth, illumines the sombre forests of Sumatra with the wild magnificence of its blood-red colour. Wagner's poems have in them something of the carrion stench and uncanny beauty of this plant of rapine and corruption. With the single exception of the Meistersinger, they are grafted on the Icelandic sagas, the epics of Gottfried of Strassburg, Wolfram of Eschenbach, and the singer of the Wartburg war in the Manessian manuscript, as on so many trunks of half-dead trees, and they draw their strength from these. Tannhäuser, the Niebelungen Tetralogy, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, and Lohengrin, are constructed entirely from materials supplied him by ancient literature. Rienzi he derives from written history, and the Fliegender Holländer from the tradition already utilized a hundred times. Among popular legends, that of the Wandering Jew has made the deepest impression on his mind, on account of its mysticism. He has elaborated it once in the Fliegender Holländer; a second time transposed it feature for feature into a feminine form in the person of Kundry, not without weaving into this inversion some reminiscences of the legend of Herodias. All this is patchwork and dilettantism. Wagner deceives himself (probably unconsciously) as to his incapacity for creating human beings, representing, not men, but gods and demigods, demons and spectres, whose deeds are not to be explained by human [193] motives, but by mysterious destinies, curses and prophecies, fatal and magic forces. That which passes before our eyes in Wagner's pieces is not life, but spectres, witches' sabbaths, or dreams. He is a dealer in old clothes, who has bought at second-hand the cast-off garments of fairy-tales, and makes of them (often not without clever tailoring) new costumes, in which we may recognise, strangely jumbled and joined, rags of ancient gala stuffs and fragments of damascened suits of armour. But these masquerading suits do not serve for clothes to a single being of flesh and blood. Their apparent movements are produced exclusively by the hand of Wagner, who has slipped into the empty doublets and sleeves, and behind the flowing trains and dangling robes, and kicks about in them with epileptic convulsions, that he may awaken in the spectator the impression of a ghostly animation in this obsolete wardrobe.

Healthy geniuses have also, no doubt, allied themselves with popular tradition or history, like Goethe in Faust and Tasso. But what a difference between the respective treatment by a healthy poet and a degenerate one of that which they find, of that which is given! To the former it is a vessel which he fills with genuine, fresh life, so that the new contents become the essential part; to the latter, on the contrary, the outside is and remains the chief thing, and his own activity consists at best in choking the receptacle with the chaff of nonsensical phrases. The great poets, too, lay claim to the cuckoo's privilege of laying their egg in a strange nest. But the bird which issues from the egg is so much larger, handsomer and stronger than the original denizens, that the latter are mercilessly driven from their home and the former remains the sole possessor. When the great poet puts his new wine into old bottles, he doubtless shows a little indolence, a little poverty of invention and a not very high-minded reckoning on the reader's pre-existing emotions. But he cannot be held too rigorously accountable for this small amount of stinginess, because, after all, he gives us so much that is his own. Imagine Faust deprived of all the portions drawn from old popular books; there would still remain nearly everything; there would remain all of the man who thirsts for knowledge and seeks for it; all the struggle between his baser instincts craving for satisfaction, and the higher morality rejoicing in renunciation; in brief, just that which makes the work one of the loftiest poems of humanity. If, on the other hand, Wagner's old ancestral marionettes are stripped of their armour and brocades, there remains nothing, or, at best, only air and a musty smell. Assimilating minds have hundreds of times felt tempted to modernize Faust. The undertaking is so sure of success that it is superfluous; Faust in dress-coat would be no other than the unaltered embodiment of Goethe's own [194] Faust. But imagine Lohengrin, Siegmund, Tristan, Parsifal, as contemporaries! They would not even serve for burlesque, in spite of the Tannhäuser lampoon by the old Viennese poet Nestroy.

Wagner swaggered about the art-work of the future, and his partisans hailed him as the artist of the future. He the artist of the future! He is a bleating echo of the far-away past. His path leads back to deserts long since abandoned by all life. Wagner is the last mushroom on the dunghill of romanticism. This 'modern' is the degraded heir of a Tieck, of a La Motte-Fouqué—nay more, sad to say, of a Johann Friedrich Kind. The home of his intellect is the Dresden evening paper. He derives his subsistence from the legacy of mediæval poems, and dies of starvation when the remittance from the thirteenth century fails to arrive.

The subject alone of the Wagnerian poems can raise a claim to serious consideration. As for their form, it is beneath criticism. The absurdity of his style, his shallowness, the awkwardness of his versification, his complete inability to clothe his feelings and thoughts in anything like adequate language—these have been so often pointed out and exposed in detail that I may spare myself the trouble of dwelling on these points. But one faculty among the essential constituents of dramatic endowment cannot be denied him—that of picturesque imagination. It is developed in him to the point of genius. Wagner as a dramatist is really a historical painter of the highest rank. Nietzsche (in his skit, Der Fall Wagner (12)) perhaps means the same when, without stopping at this important assertion, he calls Wagner, not only 'magnetizer' and 'collector of gew-gaws,' but also a 'fresco-painter.' This he is in a degree never yet attained by any other dramatic author in the whole world of literature. Every action embodies itself for him in a series of most imposing pictures, which, when they are composed as Wagner has seen them with his inner eye, must overwhelm and enrapture the beholder. The reception of the guests in the hall of the Wartburg; the arrival and departure of Lohengrin in the boat drawn by the swan; the gambols of the Rhine maidens in the river; the defiling of the gods over the rainbow-bridge towards the castle of Asgard; the bursting of the moonlight into Hunding's hut; the ride of the Walküre over the battlefield; Brunhilde in the circle of fire; the final scene in Gotterdammerung, where Brunhilde flings herself on to her horse and leaps into the midst of the funeral-pyre, while Hagen throws himself into the surging Rhine, and the heavens are aflame with the glow from the burning palace of the gods; the love-feast of the knights in the castle of the Grail; the obsequies of Titurel and the healing of Amfortas—these are pictures to [195] which nothing hitherto in art approaches. It is on account of this gift for inventing incomparably imposing spectacles that Nietzsche has termed Wagner a 'comedian.' The word signifies nothing, and, in so far as it may contain a tinge of contempt, is unjust. Wagner is no comedian, but a born painter. If he had been a healthy genius, endowed with intellectual equilibrium, that is what he would undoubtedly have become. His inner vision would have forced the brush into his hand, and constrained him to realize it on canvas, by means of colour. Leonardo da Vinci had the same gift. It made him the greatest painter the world had yet known, and at the same time the unsurpassed deviser and organizer of fêtes, pageants, triumphs, and allegorical plays, which, perhaps more than his genius as a painter, won for him the admiration of his princely patrons Ludovico Moro, Isabella of Aragon, Cæsar Borgia, Charles VIII., Louis XII., Francis I. But Wagner, as is the case with all the degenerate, did not see clearly into his own nature. He did not understand his natural impulses. Perhaps also, with the feeling of his own deep organic feebleness, he dreaded the heavy labour of drawing and painting, and, conformably with the law of least effort, his instinct sought vent in the theatre, where his inner visions were embodied by others—the decorative painters, machinists, and actors—without requiring him to exert himself. His pictures have unquestionably a large share in the effect produced by his pieces. They are admired without an inquiry into how far their introduction is warranted by the rational course of the drama. However nonsensical as part of an action, they justify their appearance, from an artistic standpoint, by their intrinsic beauty, which makes of them independent æsthetical phenomena. Through their enormous aggrandizement by the media of the stage, their pictorial allurements are perceptible even to the eye of the most crass Philistine, whose sense were otherwise dead to them.

Of Wagner the musician, more important to all appearance than Wagner the author, dramatic poet and fresco-painter, I treat lastly, because this task will give us a clear proof of his degeneration, although this is very much more evident in his writings than in his music, where certain stigmata of degeneration are not so prominent, and where others appear as its unmistakable advantages. The incoherence in words, noticeable at once to an attentive person, does not exhibit itself in music unless it is excessively strongly marked; the absurdity, the contradictions, the twaddle, are hardly apparent in the language of tones, because it is not the function of music to express an exact meaning, and emotionalism is not in it an indication of disease, since emotion is music's proper essence.

We know, moreover, that high musical talent is compatible [196] with a very advanced state of degeneration—nay, even with pronounced delusion, illusion, and idiocy. Sollier (13) says: 'We have to deal with certain aptitudes very often manifested with great intensity by idiots and imbeciles. . . . That for music especially is often met with. . . . Although this may seem disagreeable to musicians, it nevertheless proves that music is the least intellectual of all the arts.' Lombroso (14) remarks: 'It has been observed that the aptitude for music has been displayed almost involuntarily and unexpectedly among many sufferers from hypochondria and mania, and even among the really insane.' He cites, with other cases, a mathematician attacked with melancholia, who improvised on the piano; a woman seized with megalomania, who 'sang very beautiful airs, at the same time improvising two different themes on the piano'; a patient 'who composed very beautiful new and melodious tunes,' etc.; and he adds in explanation that those who are afflicted with megalomania and general paralysis surpass other mental invalids in musical talent, 'and from the very same cause as that of their unusual aptitude for painting, viz., their violent mental excitation.'

Wagner the musician emicounters his most powerful attacks from musicians themselves. He himself bears witness to it: (15) 'Both my friends (Ferd. Hiller and Schumann) believed that they very soon discovered me to be a musician of no remarkable endowment. My success also has seemed to them to be due to the libretti written by myself.' In other language, the same old story—musicians regarded him as a poet, and poets as a musician. It is of course convenient to explain a posteriori the decisive judgments of men who were at once prominent professionals and sincere friends of Wagner by saying (after he had attained success) that his tendency was too novel to be immediately appreciated, or even understood, by them. This solution, however, hardly applies to Schumann, as he was a friend to all innovations, and audacities, even differing from his own, rather attracted than shocked him. Rubinstein (16) still makes important reservations in regard to Wagner's music; and among serious contemporary musical critics who have witnessed the birth, development and triumph of the Wagner cult, Hanslick remained a long time recalcitrant, until at last, though not very valiantly, he struck his colours in face of the overpowering fanaticism of hysterical Wagnerphiles. What Nietzsche (in his Der Fall Wagner) says against Wagner as a musician is unimportant, since the brochure of abjuration is quite as insanely delirious as [197] the brochure of deification (Wagner in Bayreuth) written twelve years before.

In spite of the unfavourable judgments of many of his professional brethren, Wagner is incontestably an eminently gifted musician. This coolly-expressed recognition will certainly seem grotesque to Wagnerian fanatics, who place him above Beethoven. But a serious inquirer into truth need not trouble himself about the impressions provoked by Wagner among these persons. In the first period of his productivity Wagner much oftener achieved compositions of beauty than subsequently, and among these many may be termed pearls of musical literature, and will for a long time enjoy even the esteem of serious and rational people. But Wagner the musician had to confront a life-long enemy, who forcibly prevented the full unfolding of his gifts, and this enemy was Wagner the musical theorist.

In his graphomaniacal muddle he concocted certain theories, which represent so many fits of æsthetic delirium. The most important of these are the dogmas of the leit-motif and of the unending melody. Everyone now undoubtedly knows what Wagner understood by the former. The expression has passed into all civilized languages. The leit-motif in which the threshed-out discarded 'programme music was bound logically to culminate, is a sequence of tones supposed to express a definite conception, and appears in the orchestration whenever the composer intends to recall to the auditor the corresponding conception. By the leit-motif Wagner transforms music into dry speech. The orchestration, leaping from leit-motif to leit-motif no longer embodies general emotions, but claims to appeal to memory and to reason, and communicate sharply defined presentations. Wagner combines a few notes into a musical figure, as a rule not even distinct or original, and makes this arrangement with the auditor:—'This figure signifies a combat, that a dragon, a third a sword,' etc. If the auditor does not agree to the stipulation, the leit-motifs lose all significance, for they possess in themselves nothing which compels us to grasp the meaning arbitrarily lent them; and they cannot have anything of this kind in them, because the imitative powers of music are by its nature limited to purely acoustical phenomena, or at most to those optical phenomena ordinarily accompanied by acoustical phenomena. By imitating thunder, music can express the notion of a thunderstorm; by the imitation of the tones of a bugle, it can call up that of an army in such a way that the listener can hardly have a doubt as to the significance of the corresponding sequences of tones. On the other hand, it is absolutely denied to music, with the means at its disposal, to produce an unequivocal embodiment of the visible and tangible world, let alone that of abstract thought. Hence the [198] leit-motifs are at best cold symbols, resembling written characters, which in themselves say nothing, and convey to the initiated and the learned alone the given import of a presentation.

Here again is found the phenomenon already repeatedly indicated by us as a mark of the mode of thought among the degenerate—the unconscious moon-struck somnambulous way in which they transgress the most firmly-established limits of the particular artistic domain, annul the differentiation of the arts arrived at by long historical evolution, and lead them back to the period of the lacustrines, nay, of the most primitive troglodytes. We have seen that the pre-Raphaelites reduce the picture to a writing which is no longer to produce its effect by its pictorial qualities, but must express am abstract idea; and that the Symbolists make of the word, that conventional vehicle of a conception, a musical harmony, by whose aid they endeavour to awaken not an idea, but a phonetic effect. In precisely the same way Wagner wishes to divest music of its proper essence, and to transform it from a vehicle of emotion into a vehicle of rational thought. The disguise produced by this interchange of costumes is in this way complete. Painters proclaim themselves writers; poets behave like the composers of symphonies; the musician plays the poet. Pre-Raphaelites wishing to record a religious apothegm do not make use of writing, which leaves nothing to be desired in the way of convenience, and by which they would be distinctly understood, but plunge into the labour of a highly-detailed painting, costing them much time, and which, in spite of its wealth of figures, is far from speaking so clearly to the intelligence as a single line of rational writing. Symbolists desirous of awakening a musical emotion do not compose a melody, but join meaningless, though ostensibly musical words, capable, perhaps, of provoking amusement or vexation, but not the intended emotion. When Wagner wishes to express the idea of 'giant,' 'dwarf,' 'tarn-cap which makes the wearer invisible,' he does not say in words universally understood 'giant,' 'dwarf,' 'tarn-cap' (which makes the wearer invisible), but replaces these excellent words by a series of notes, the sense of which no one will divine without a key. Is anything more needed to expose the complete insanity of this confusion of all the means of expression, this ignorance of what is possible to each art?

It is Wagner's ambition to imitate those facetious students who teach their dog to say 'papa.' He wants to perform the trick of making music say the names 'Schulze' and 'Müller' (= Smith and Jones). The score should, when necessary, supply the place of the directory. Language does not suffice him. He creates for himself a volapük, and demands that his hearers should learn it. No admission without hard work! Those who [199] have not assimilated the vocabulary of the Wagnerian volapük cannot understand his operas. It is useless to go to the trouble of a journey to Bayreuth if one cannot talk fluently in leit-motifs. And how pitiable after all is the result of this delirious effort! H. von Wolzogen, the writer of the Thematische Leitfaden (Thematic Guide) to the Niebelungen Tetralogy, finds in all these four prodigious works only ninety leit-motifs. A language of ninety words, however inflated they may be, such as 'motif of the weary Siegmund,' 'motif of the mania for vengeance, 'motif of bondage,' etc.! with such a vocabulary it would be impossible even to exchange ideas about the weather with a native of Tierra del Fuego. A page of Sanders' lexicon contains more means of expression than Wolzogen's entire dictionary of the Wagnerian leit-motif language. The history of art knows no more astounding aberration than this leit-motif craze. To express ideas is not the function of music; language provides for that as completely as could be desired. When the word is accompanied by song or orchestra it is not to make it more definite, but to re-enforce it by the intervention of emotion. Music is a kind of sounding-board, in which the word has to awake something like an echo from the infinite. But such an echo of presentiment and mystery does not ring out from leit-motifs coldly pasted together, as if by the labour of a conscientious registrar.

With the 'unending melody,' the second of Wagner's tenets, it is the same as with the leit-motif It is a product of degenerate thought; it is musical mysticism. It is the form in which incapacity for attention shows itself in music. In painting, attention leads to composition; the absence of it to a uniformly photographic treatment of the whole field of vision as with the pre-Raphaelites. In poetry, attention results in clearness of ideas, consistency of statement, the suppression of the unimportant, and the giving emphasis to the essential; its absence leads to twaddle as with the graphomaniacs, and to a painful prolixity in consequence of the indiscriminate recording of all perceptions as with Tolstoi. Finally, in music attention expresses itself in completed forms, i.e., in well-defined melodies; its absence, on the contrary, by the dissolution of form, the obliteration of its boundary lines, and thus by unending melodies as with Wagner. This parallelism is not an arbitrary play of ideas, but an exact picture of the corresponding mental processes among the different groups of degenerate subjects, producing in the different arts different manifestations according to their specific means and aims.

Let us grasp what melody is. It is the regular grouping of notes in a highly expressive series of tones. Melody in music corresponds to what in language is a logically-constructed [200] sentence, distinctly presenting an idea, and having a clearly-marked beginning and ending. The dreamy rambling of half-formed nebulous thoughts as little allows the mintage of sentences of this kind, as does the fleeting agitation of the vague bewildered emotion lead to the composition of a melody. The emotions, too, have their own grades of distinctness. They, too, can appear as chaotic, or as well-regulated states. In the one case they stand out in the consciousness which grasps their composition and their purpose as discriminable modes strongly illuminated by the attention; in the other case they are a disturbing enigma to consciousness, and perceived by it merely as a generic excitement, as a sort of subterranean trembling and rumbling of unknown origin and tendency. If the emotions are intelligible, they will be fain to manifest themselves in a form at once the most expressive and most easily grasped. If, on the contrary, they are a generic continuous state, without determined cause and discoverable aim, the music presenting them to the senses will be as blurred and as nebulously fluctuating in form as themselves. Melody may be said to be an effort of music to say something definite. It is clear that an emotion unconscious of its cause and its aims, and unillummnated by attention, will not raise its musical expression to the height of melody, precisely because it has nothing definite to say.

A completed melody is a late acquisition of music, obtained by it only after long evolution. In its historic, and still more in its prehistoric, beginnings, the art of music knew it not. Music springs originally from song, and the rhythmic noise (i.e., noise repeated in equal or regular intervals of time) of accompanying stamping, knocking, or clapping of the hands; and song is nothing but speech grown louder and moving in wider intervals through emotional excitement. I should like to cite only one passage from the almost unlimited literature on this hackneyed subject. Herbert Spencer, in his well-known treatise on The Origin and Function of Music, (17) says: 'All music is originally vocal. . . . The dance-chants of savage trmbes are very monotonous, and in virtue of their monotony are much more nearly allied to ordinary speech than are the songs of civilized races. . . . The early poems of the Greeks, which, be it remembered, were sacred legends embodied in that rhythmical, metaphorical language which strong feeling excites, were not recited, but chanted; the tones and the cadences were made musical by the same influences which made the speech poetical. . . . This chanting is believed to have been not what we call singing, but nearly allied to our recitative; far simpler, indeed, if we may judge from the fact that the early Greek lyre, which had but [201] four strings, was played in unison with the voice, which was therefore confined to four motes. . . . That recitative—beyond which, by the way, the Chinese and Hindoos seem never to have advanced—grew naturally out of the modulations and cadences of strong feeling, we have, indeed, still current evidence. There are even now to be met with occasions on which strong feeling vents itself in this form. Whoever has been present when a meeting of Quakers was addressed by one of their preachers (whose practice it is to speak only under the influence of religious emotion) must have been struck by the quite unusual tones, like those of a subdued chant, in which the address was made.'

Recitative, which is nothing but speech intensified, and allows no recognition of completed forms of melody, is therefore the most ancient form of music; it is the degree of development reached by the art of music among savages, the ancient Greeks, and contemporary races in Eastern Asia. Wagner's 'unending melody' is nothing but recitative, richly harmonized and animated, but, nevertheless, recitative. The name bestowed by him on his pretended invention must not mislead us. In the mouth of the degenerate a word has never the meaning ascribed to it by universal language. Wagner calmly applies the term 'melody'—with a distinguishing adjective—to a form which is actually the negation and suppression of melody. He designates unending melody as an advance in music, while it is really a return to its primeval starting-point. Here there recurs in Wagner what we have so often laid stress upon in the preceding chapters, viz., that by a strange optical illusion the degenerate regard their atavism, their morbid reversion to the most remote and lowest grades of evolution, as an ascent into the future.

Wagner was led to his theory of unending melody by his limited capacity for the invention of finite, that is of real, melodies. His weakness in melodic creation has struck all impartial musicians. In youth his power in this direction was more abundant, and he succeeded in creating some superb melodies (in Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Fliegender Holländer). With increasing age this power became more and more impoverished, and in proportion as the torrent of melodic invention dried up in him, he accentuated his theory of unending melody with ever more obstinacy and asperity. Always there reappears the well-known device of concocting a theory a posteriori as a plausible ground for, and palliation of, what is done through unconscious organic necessity. Wagner was incapable of distinguishing the individual personages of his operas by a purely musical characterization, and therefore he invented the leit-motif. (18) Experiencing a great difficulty, especially with [202] advancing age, in creating true melodies, he set up the postulate of the unending melody.

All the other crotchets of his musical theory also find their explanation in this clear consciousness of definite incompetency. In the Art-work of the Future he overwhelms the theory of counterpoint and the contrapuntists—those dull pedants who abase the most vital of all arts to a desiccated, dead mathematics—with a scorn intended to be biting, but producing the effect of an echo of Schopenhauer's invectives against the German philosophers. Why? Because, as an inattentive mystic, abandoned to amorphous dreams, he must feel intolerably oppressed by the severe discipline and fixed rules of the theory of composition, which gave a grammar to the musical babbling of primeval times, and made of it a worthy medmum for the expression of the emotions of civilized men. He asserts that pure instrumental music ended with Beethoven; that progress after him is impossible; that 'musical declamation'is the only path along which the art of music can further develop itself. it may be that, after Beethoven, instrumental music will make no progress for decades, or for centuries. He was such a stupendous genius that it is, in fact, difficult to imagine how he can be surpassed, or even equalled. Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, produce a similar impression; and, in truth, these geniuses have not yet been surpassed. It is also conceivable that there are limits which it is impossible for any given art to pass at all, so that a very great genius says the last word for it, and after that no progress can be made in it. In such a case, however, the aspirant should humbly say: 'I know that I cannot do better than the supreme master of my art; I am therefore contented to labour as one of the epigoni in the shadow of his greatness, content if my work expresses some peculiarities of my individuality.' He ought not in presumptuous self-conceit to affirm: 'There is no sense in emu lating the eagle-flight of the mighty one; progress now lies alone in the flapping of my bats'-wings.' But this is exactly what Wagner does. Not being himself endowed with any great gift for pure instrumental music, as his few symphonic works suffice to prove, he decrees in the tone of infallibility: 'Instrumental music ended with Beethoven. It is an error to seek for anything on this well-browsed field. The future of music lies in the accompaniment of the word, and I am he who is to show you the way into that future.'

Here Wagner simply makes a virtue of his necessity, and of [203] his weakness a title of glory. The symphony is the highest differentiation of musical art. In it music has wholly discarded its relationship with words, and attained its highest independence. Hence the symphony is the most musical of all that music can produce. To disown it is to disown that music is a special, differentiated art. To place above the symphony music as an accompaniment of words is to raise the handmaiden to a higher rank than her free-born mistress. It will never occur to a composer, whose inmost being is charged with musical feeling and thought, to seek words instead of musical themes for the expression of that in him which is yearning for embodiment. For ifit does occur to him, it is a proof that in his inmost being he is a poet or an author, and not a musician. The choruses in the Ninth Symphony are not to be cited as proof of the inaccuracy of this assertion. In that case Beethoven was overmastered by an emotion so powerful and univocal, that the more general and equivocal character of purely musical expression could no longer suffice for him, and he was unconditionally compelled to call in the aid of words. In the deeply significant Biblical legend, even Balaam's ass acquired the power of speech when he had something definite to say. The emotion which becomes clearly conscious of its content and aim ceases to be a mere emotion, and transforms itself into presentation, notion and judgment, but these express themselves, not in music, but in articulate language. When Wagner, as a fundamental principle, placed music as an accompaniment to words above that which is purely instrumental, and not as a medium for the expression of thought—for in regard to that there can be no difference of opinion—but as a musical form properly so called, he only proved that, in the inmost depths of his nature, and by virtue of his organic disposition, he was not a musician, but a confused mixture of a poet feeble in style, and a painter lazy of brush, with a Javanese 'gamelang' accompaniment buzzing in between. This is the case with most 'higher degenerates,' except that the separate fragments of their strangely intermingled hybrid talent are not so strong and great as Wagner's.

The musical productions in which Wagner has been most successful—the Venusberg music; the E flat, G, B flat, 'Wigala-Weia' of the Rhinemaidens, repeated one hundred and thirtysix times; the Walküre ride; the fire incantation; the murmur of the forest; the Siegfried idyl; the Good - Friday spell; magnificent compositions, and highly praised with justice—show precisely the peculiarly unmusical character of his genius. All these pieces have one thing in common that they depict. They are not an inner emotion crying out from the soul in music, but the mental vision of the gifted eye of a painter, which Wagner, with [204] gigantic power, but also with gigantic aberration, strives to fix in tones instead of lines and colours. He avails himself of natural sounds or noises, either imitating them directly, or awakening ideas of them through association, reproducing the ripple and roar of waves, the sough of the tree-top and the song of wild birds, which are in themselves acoustic; or, by an acoustic parallelism, the optical phenomena of the movements in the dance of voluptuous female forms, the tearing along of fiercely snorting steeds, the blazing and flickering of flames, etc. These creations are not the outgrowth of emotional excitement, but have been produced by external impressions conveyed through the senses; they are not the utterance of a feeling but a reflection—i.e., something essentially optical. I might compare Wagner's music, at its very best, to the flight of flying-fishes. It is an astonishing and dazzling spectacle, and yet unnatural. It is a straying from a native to an alien element. Above all, it is something absolutely barren and incapable of profiting either normal fishes or normal birds.

Wagner has felt this himself very forcibly; he was quite clear on the point that no one could build further on the foundation of his tone-paintings; for with reference to the efforts of musicians eagerly desirous of founding a Wagner school, he complains (19) that 'younger composers were most irrationally putting themselves to trouble in imitating him.'

A searching examination has thus shown us that this pretended musician of the future is an out-and-out musician of long-ago. All the characteristics of his talent point not forward, but far behind us. His leit-motif abasing music to a conventional phonetic symbol, is atavism; his unending melody is atavism, leading back the fixed form to the vague recitative of savages; atavism, his subordination of highly differentiated instrumental music to music-drama, which mixes music and poetry, and allows neither of the two art-forms to attain to independence; even his peculiarity of almost never permitting more than one person on the stage to sing and of avoiding vocal polyphony is atavism. As a personality he will occupy an important place in music; as an initiator, or developer of his art, hardly any, or a very narrow one. For the only thing that musicians of healthy capacity can learn from him is to keep song and accompaniment in opera closely connected with the words, to declaim with sincerity and propriety, and to suggest pictorial ideas to the imagination by means of orchestral effects. But I dare not decide whether the latter is an enlargement or an upheaval of the natural boundaries of musical art, and in any event disciples [205] of Wagner must use his rich musical palctte with caution if they are not to be led astray.

Wagner's mighty influence on his contemporaries is to be explained, neither by his capacities as author and musician, nor by any of his personal qualities, with the exception, perhaps, of that 'stubborn perseverance in one and the same fundamental idea' which Lombroso (20) cites as a characteristic of graphomaniacs, but by the peculiarities in the life of the present nervous temperament. His earthly destiny resembles that of those strange Oriental plants known as 'Jericho roses' (Anastatica asteriscus), which, dingy-brown in colour, leathery and dry, roll about, driven by every wind, until they reach a congenial soil, when they take root and blossom into full-blown flowers. To the end of his life Wagner's existence was conflict and bitterness, and his boastings had no other echo than the laughter not only of rational beings, but, alas! of fools also. It was not until he had long passed his fiftieth year that he began to know the intoxication of universal fame; and in the last decade of his life he was installed among the demi-gods. It had come to this, that the world had, in the interval, become ripe for him—and for the madhouse. He had the good fortune to endure until the general degeneration and hysteria were sufficiently advanced to supply a rich and nutritious soil for his theories and his art.

The phenomenon repeatedly established and verified in these pages, that lunatics fly to each other as iron filings to the magnet, is quite strikingly observable in Wagner's life. His first great patroness was the Princess Metternich, daughter of the well-known eccentric Count Sandor, and whose own eccentricities formed material for the chronicle of the Napoleonic Court. His most enthusiastic disciple and defender was Franz Liszt, whom I have elsewhere characterized (see my Ausgewählte Pariser Briefe; 2te Auflage; Leipzig, 1887, p. 172), and of whom I will therefore only briefly remark that he bore in his nature the greatest resemblance to Wagner. He was an author (his works, filling six thick volumes, have an honourable place in the literature of graphomaniacs), composer, erotomaniac and mystic, all in an incomparably lower degree than Wagner, whom he surpassed only in a prodigiously developed talent for pianoforte-playing. Wagner was an enthusiastic admirer of all graphomaniacs who caine in his way—e.g., of that A. Gleizès expressly cited by Lombroso (21) as a lunatic, but whom Wagner praises in most exuberant terms; (22) [206] and he even gathered round him a court of select graphomaniacs among whom may be mentioned Nietzsche, whose insanity compelled his confinement in a madhouse; H. von Wolzogen, whose Poetische Laut-Symbolik might have been written by the most exquisite of French 'Symbolists' or ' Instrumentists'; (23) Henri Porges, E. von Hagen, etc. But the most important relations of this kind were with the unhappy King Louis II. In him Wagner found the soul he needed. In him he met with a full comprehension of all his theories and his creations. It may be safely asserted that Louis of Bavaria created the Wagner Cult. Only when the King became his protector did Wagner and his efforts become of importance for the history of civilization; not, perhaps, because Louis II. offered Wagner the means of realizing the boldest and most sumptuous of his artistic dreams, but chiefly because he placed the prestige of his crown in the service of the Wagnerian movement. Let us for a moment consider how deeply monarchical is the disposition of the vast majority of the German people; how the knees of the beery Philistine tremble as he reverentially salutes even an empty court carriage and how the hearts of well-bred maidens flutter with ineffable inspiration at the sight of a prince! And here was a real king, handsome as the day, young, surrounded by legends, whose mental infirmity was at that time regarded by all sentimentalists as sublime 'idealism,' displaying unbounded enthusiasm for an artist, and reviving on a far larger scale the relations between Charles Augustus and Goethe! From that moment it was natural that Wagner should become the idol of all loyal hearts. To share in the royal taste for the ideal ' was a thing to be proud of. Wagner's music became provisionally a royal Bavarian music, adorned with crown and escutcheon, till it should subsequently become an imperial German music. At the head of the Wagnerian movement there walks, as is fit, an insane king. Louis II. was able to bring Wagner into vogue with the entire German nation (excepting, of course, those Bavarians who were revolted by the King's prodigalities); nevertheless, no amount of grovelling obsequiousness could by itself have produced a fanaticism for Wagner. That the mere Wagner-fashion might attain to this height another factor was necessary—the hysteria of the age.

Although not so widespread as in France and England, this [207] hysteria is not wanting in Germany, where during the last quarter of a century it has continued to gain ground. Germany has been longer protected from it than the civilized nations of the West by the smaller development of large industry and by the absence of large cities properly so called. In the last generation, however, both of these gifts have been abundantly accorded her, and two great wars have done the rest to make the nervous system of the people susceptible to the pernicious influences of the city and the factory system.

The effect of war on the nerves of the participants has never been systematically investigated; and yet how highly important and necessary a work this would be! Science knows what disorders are produced in man by a single strong moral shock, e.g., a sudden mortal danger; it has recorded hundreds and thousands of cases in which persons saved from drowning, or present at a fire on shipboard, or in a railway accident, or who have been threatened with assassination, etc., have either lost their reason, or been attacked by grave and protracted, often incurable, nervous illnesses. In war hundreds of thousands are exposed to all these fearful impressions at the same time. For months cruel mutilation or sudden death menaces them at every step. They are frequently surrounded by the spectacle of devastation, conflagration, the most appalling wounds, and heaps of corpses frightful to behold. Moreover, the greatest demands are made on their strength; they are forced to march until they break down, and cannot count on having adequate nourishment or sufficient sleep. And shall there not appear among these hundreds of thousands the effect which is proved to result from a single one of the occurrences which take place by thousands during war? Let it not be said that in a campaign a soldier becomes callous to the horrors encompassing him. That merely signifies that they cease to excite the attention of his consciousness. They are nevertheless perceived by the senses and their cerebral centres, and therefore leave their traces in the nervous system. That the soldier does not at the moment notice the deep shock—nay, even shattering—he has experienced, equally proves nothing. 'Traumatic hysteria,' 'railway spine,' the nervous maladies consequent on a moral shock, are also frequently unobserved until months after the event occasioning them.

In my belief, it can scarcely be doubted that every great war is a cause of hysteria among multitudes, and that far the larger number of soldiers, even completely unknown to themselves, bring home from a campaign a somewhat deranged nervous system. Of course this is much less applicable to the conquerors than to the conquered, for the feeling of triumph is one of the most pleasurable the human brain can experience, and the force-producing ('dynamogenous') effect of this pleasurable [208] feeling is well qualified to counteract the destructive influences of the impressions produced by war. But it is difficult for it to entirely annul these impressions, and the victors, like the vanquished, no doubt leave a large part of their nervous strength and moral health on the battle-field and in the bivouac.

The brutalization of the masses after every war has become a commonplace. The expression originates in the perception that after a campaign the tone of the people becomes fiercer and rougher, and that statistics show more acts of violence. The fact is correctly stated, but the interpretation is superficial. If the soldier on returning home becomes more short-tempered, and even has recourse to the knife, it is not because the war has made him rougher, but because it has made him more excmtable. This increased excitability is, however, only one of the forms of the phenomenon of nervous debility.

Hence under the action of the two great wars in connection with the development of large industries and the growth of large towns, hysteria among the German people has, since 1870, increased in am extraordinary manner, and we have very nearly overtaken the unenviable start which the English and French had over us in this direction. Now, all hysteria, like every form of insanity, and for that matter like every disease, receives its special form from the personality of the invalid. The degree of culture, the character, propensities and habits of the deranged person give the derangement its peculiar colour. Among the English, always piously inclined, degeneration and hysteria were bound to appear both mystical and religious. Among the French, with their highly developed taste and widespread fondness for all artistic pursuits, it was natural that hysteria should take an artistic direction, and lead to the notorious extravagances in their painting, literature and music. We Germans are in general neither very pious nor very cultivated in matters of art. Our comprehension of the beautiful in art expresses itself, for the most part, in the idiotic 'Reizend!' (charming), and 'Entzückend!' (ravishing), squeaked in shrill head-tones and with upturned eyes by our well-bred daughters at the sight of a quaintly-shaved poodle, and before the Darmstadt Madonna by Holbein, indiscriminately; and in the grunts of satisfaction with which the plain citizen pumps in his beer at a concert of his singing club. Not that we are by nature devoid of a sense of the beautiful—I believe, on the contrary, that in our deepest being we have more of it than most other nations—but owing to unfavourable circumstances this sense has not been able to attain development. Since the Thirty Years' War we have been too poor, we have had too hard a combat with the necessities of life, to have anything over for any sort of luxury; and our ruling classes, profoundly [209] Latinized and slaves to French fashion, were so estranged from the masses, that for the last two centuries the latter could have no part in the culture, taste, or æsthetic satisfactions of the upper strata of society, separated from them by an impassable gulf. As, therefore, the large majority of the German people had no interest in art, and troubled themselves little about it, German hysteria could not assume an artistic, æsthetic form.

It assumed other forms, partly abominable, partly ignoble and partly laughable. German hysteria manifests itself in anti-Semitism, that most dangerous form of the persecution-mania, in which the person believing himself persecuted becomes a savage persecutor, capable of all crimes (the persécuté persécuteur of the French mental therapeutics). (24) Like hypochondriacs and 'hémorroïdaires,' the German hysterical subject is anxiously concerned about his precious health. His crazes hinge on the exhalations of his skin and the functions of his stomach. He becomes a fanatic for Jaeger vests, and for the groats which vegetarians grind for themselves. He gets vehemently affected over Kneipp's douches and barefoot perambulations on wet grass. At the same time, he excites himself with morbid sentimentalism (the 'Zoophilia' of Magnan) concerning the sufferings of the frog, utilized in physiological experiments, and through all this anti-Semitic, Kneippish, Jaegerish, vegetarian, and anti-vivisection insanity, there rings out the fundamental note of a megalomaniacal, Teutonomaniacal Chauvinism, against which the noble Emperor Frederick vainly warned us. As a rule, all these derangements appear simultaneously, and in nine out of ten cases it is safe to take the proudly strutting wearer of Jaeger's garments for a Chauvinist, the Kneipp visionary for a groats-dieted maniac, and the defender of the frog, thirsting for the professor's blood, for an anti-Semitist.

Wagner's hysteria assumed the collective form of German hysteria. With a slight modification of Terence's Homo sum, he could say of himself, 'I am a deranged being, and no kind of derangement is a stranger to me.' He could as an anti-Semitist give points to Stoecker. (25) He has an inimitable mastery of Chauvinistic phraseology. (26) Was he not able to convince his hypnotized hysterical following that the heroes of his pieces were primeval German figures—these Frenchmen and Brabanters, these Icelanders and Norwegians, these women of Palestine—all the fabulous beings he had fetched from the [210] poems of Provence and Northern France, and from the Northern saga, who (with the exception of Tannhäuser and the Meistersinger) have not a single drop of German blood or a single German fibre in their whole body? It is thus that, in public exhibitions, a quack hypnotist persuades his victims that they are eating peaches instead of raw potatoes. Wagner became an advocate for vegetarianism, and as the frumt needed for the nourishment of the people in accordance with this diet exists in abundance only in warm regions of the earth, he promptly advised 'the direction of a rational emigration to lands resembling the South American peninsula, which, it has been affirmed, might, through its superabundant productivity, supply nourishment for the present population of the entire globe.' (27) He brandishes his knightly sword against the physiologists who experiment on animals. (28) He was not an enthusiast for wool, because personally he preferred silk; and this is the only hiatus in the otherwise complete picture. He did not live to witness the greatness of the reverend Pastor Kneipp, otherwise he probably would have found words of profound significance for the primitive German sanctity of wet feet, and the redeeming power vested in the knee-douche.

When, therefore, the enthusiastic friendship of King Louis had given Wagner the necessary prestige, and directed the universal attention of Germany to him; when the German people had learned to know him and his peculiarities, then all the mystics of the Jewish sacrifice of blood, of woollen shuts, of the vegetable menu, and sympathy cures, were compelled to raise their pæans in his honour, for he was the embodiment of all their obsessions. As for his music, they simply threw that into the bargain. The vast majority of Wagner fanatics understood nothing of it. The emotional excitement which the works of their idol made them experience did not proceed from the singers and the orchestra, but in part from the pictorial beauty of the scenic tableaux, and in a greater measure from the specific craze each brought with him to the theatre, and of which each worshipped Wagner as the spokesman and champion.

I do not, however, go so far as to assert that skat (29) patriotism, and the heroic idealism of natural cures, rice with fruit, 'away with the Jews!' and flannel, alone made the hearts of Wagner-bigots beat faster in blissful emotion when they were listening to his music. This music was certainly of a nature to fascinate the hysterical. Its powerful orchestral effects produced in them hypnotic states (at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris the [211] hypnotic state is often induced by suddenly striking a gong), and the formlessness of the unending melody was exactly suited to the dreamy vagaries of their own thought. A distinct melody awakens and demands attention, and is hence opposed to the fugitive ideation of the weak brains of the degenerate. A flowing recitative, on the contrary, without beginning or end, makes no sort of demand on the mind—for most auditors trouble themselves either not at all, or for a very short time, about the hide-and-seek play of the leit-motif—one can allow one's self to be swayed and carried along by it, and to emerge from it at pleasure, without any definite remembrance, but with a merely sensual feeling of having enjoyed a hot, nervously exciting tone-bath. The relation of true melody to the unending melody is the same as that of a genre or historical painting to the wayward arabesques of a Moorish mural decoration, repeated a thousand times, and representing nothing definite; and the Oriental knows how favourable the sight of his arabesques is to 'Kef'—that dreamy state in which Reason is lulled to sleep, and crazy imagination alone rules as mistress of the house.

Wagner's music initiated hysterically-minded Germans into the mysteries of Turkish Kef. Nietzsche may make sport of this subject with his idiotic play on words 'Sursum—bum-bum,' and with his remarks about the German youth who seeks for 'Ahnung' (presentiments); but the fact is not to be denied that a part of Wagner's devotees—those who brought a diseased mysticism with them to the theatre—found in him their satisfaction; for nothing is so well qualified to conjure up 'presentiments,' i.e., ambiguous, shadowy border-land presentations, as a music which is itself born of nebulous adumbrations of thought.

Hysterical women were won over to Wagner chiefly by the lascivious eroticism of his music, but also by his poetic representation of the relation of man to woman. Nothing enchants an 'intense' woman so much as demoniacal irresistibleness on the part of the woman, and trembling adoration of her supernatural power on the part of the man. In contrast to Frederick William I., who cried in anger, 'You should not fear, but love me,' women of this sort would rather shout to every man, 'You are not to love me, but to lie, full of dread and terror, in the dust at my feet.' 'Frau' Venus, Brunhilde, Isolde, and Kundry have won for Wagner much more admiration among women than have Elizabeth, Elsa, Senta, and Gudrune.

After Wagner had once conquered Germany, and a fervent faith in him had been made the first article in the catechism of German patriotism, foreign countries could not long withstand his cult. The admiration of a great people has an extraordinary power of conviction. Even its aberrations it forces with irresistible [212] suggestion on other nations. Wagner was one of time foremost conquerors in the German wars. Sadowa and Sedan were fought in his behalf. The world, nolens volens, had to take up its attitude with regard to a man whom Germany proclaimed its national composer. He began his triumphal march round the globe draped in the flag of Imperial Germany. Germany's enemies were his enemies, and this forced even such Germans as withstood his influence to take his side against foreign lands. 'I beat my breast: I, too, have fought for him against the French in speech and writing. I also have defended him against the pastrycooks who hissed his Lohengrin in Paris.' How was one to get off this duty? Hamlet thrusts at the arras, well knowing that Polonius stands there; hence any son or brother of Polonius is bound resolutely to attack Hamlet. Wagner had the good fortune to play the part of the tapestry to the French Hamlets, giving them the pretext for thrusting at the Polonius of Germany. As a result, the attitude in the Wagner question of every German was rigidly prescribed for him.

To the zeal of Germans all manner of other things added their aid in favouring the success of Wagner abroad. A minority, composed in part of really independent men of honorably unprejudiced minds, but in part also of degenerate minds with a morbid passion for contradiction, took sides with him just because he was blindly and furiously maligned by the Chauvinist majority, who were a prey to national hatred. 'It is contemptible,' cried the minority, 'to condemn an, artist because he is a German. Art has no fatherland. Wagner's music should not be judged with the memory of Alsace-Lorraine.' These views are so reasonable and noble, that those who entertained them must have rejoiced in them and been proud of them. On listening to Wagner, they had the clear feeling, 'We are better and cleverer than the Chauvinists,' and this feeling necessarily placed them at the outset in such an agreeable and benevolent mood, that his music seemed much more beautiful than they would have found it if they had' not been obliged first to stifle their vulgar and base instincts, and fortify those which were more elevated, free and refined. They erroneously ascribed to Wagner's music the emotions produced by their self-satisfaction.

The fact that only in Bayreuth could this music be heard, unfalsified and in its full strength, was also of great importance for the esteem in which it was held. If it had been played in every theatre, if, without trouble and formalities, one could have gone to a representation of Wagner as to one of Il Trovatore, Wagner would not have obtained his most enthusiastic public from foreign countries. To know the real Wagner it was necessary to journey to Bayreuth. This could be done only at long [213] intervals and at specified times; seats and lodgings had to be obtained long in advance, and at great expenditure of trouble. It was a pilgrimage requiring much money and leisure; hence 'hoi polloi' were excluded from it. Thus, the pilgrimnage to Bayreuth became a privilege of the rich and well-bred, and to have been to' Bayreuth came to be a great social distinction among the snobs of both worlds. The journey was a thing to make a great parade of and be haughty over. The pilgrim no longer belonged to the vulgar crowd, but to the select few; he became a hadji! Oriental sages so well know the peculiar vanity of the hadjis', that one of their proverbs contains an express warning against the pious man who has been thrice to Mecca.

Hence the pilgrimage to Bayreuth became a mark of aristocracy, and an appreciation of Wagner's music, in spite of his nationality, was regarded as evidence of intellectual pre-eminence. The prejudice in his favour was created, and provided one went to him in this mood, there was no reason why Wagner should not have the same influence on hysterical foreigners as on hysterical Germans. Parsifal was especially fitted completely to subjugate the French neo-Catholics and Anglo-American mystics who marched behind the banner of the Salvation Army. It was with this opera that Wagner chiefly triumphed among his non-German admirers. Listening to the music of Parsifal has become the religious act of all those who wish to receive the Communion in musical form.

These are the explanatory causes of Wagner's conquest, first of Germany, and then of the world. The absence of judgment and independence among the multitude, who chant the antiphony in the Psalter; the imitation of musicians possessed of no originality, who witnessed his triumph, and, like genuine little boys wanting 'to be taken,' clung to his coat-tails—these did what was still needed to lay the world at his feet. As it is the most widely diffused, so is Wagnerism the most momentous aberration of the present time. The Bayreuth festival theatre, the Bayreuther Blätter, the Parisian Revue Wagnérienne, are lasting monuments by which posterity will be able to measure the whole breadth and depth of the degeneration and hysteria of the age.

Notes

01

Richard Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft . Leipzig, 1850. The numbering of the pages given in quotations from this work refers to the edition here indicated.

02

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, Kurze Phil. Schriften. Leipzig, 1888, Band II., p. 465.

03

Charles Féré, Sensation et Mouvement. Paris, 1887.

04

Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, p. 169: 'It is only when the desire of the artistic sculptor has passed into the soul of the dancer, of the mimic interpreter, of him who sings and speaks, that this desire can be conceived as satisfied. It is only when the art of sculpture no longer exists, or has followed another tendency than that of representing human bodies—when it has passed, as sculpture, into architecture—when the rigid solitude of this one man carved in stone will have been resolved into the infinitely flowing plurality of veritable, living men . . . it is only then, too, that real plastic will exist.' And on p. 182: 'That which it [painting] honestly exerts itself to attain, it attains in . . . greatest perfection . . . when it descends from canvas and chalk to ascend to the tragic stage . . . But landscape-painting will become, as the last and most finished conclusion of all the fine arts, the life-giving soul, properly speaking, of architecture; it will teach us thus to organize the stage for works of the dramatic art of the future, in which, itself living, it will represent the warm background of nature for the use of the living, and not for the imitated man.'

05

Richard Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen. Leipzig, 1883, Band X., p. 68.

06

Compare also, in Das Bühnenweihfestspiel in Bayreuth, 1882 (Gesammelte Schriften, Band X., p. 384): 'This [the 'sure rendering of all events on, above, under, behind, and before the stage'] anarchy accomplishes, because each individual does what he wishes to do, namely (?), what is right.'

07

Edward Hanslick, Musikalische Stationen. Berlin, 1880, pp. 220, 243.

08

Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, Band VI., p. 3 ff.

09

In a book on degeneration it is not possible wholly to avoid the subject of eroticism, which includes precisely the most characteristic and conspicuous phenomena of degeneration. I dwell, however, on principle as little as possible on this subject, and will, therefore, in reference to the characterization of Wagner's erotic madness, quote only one clinical work: Dr. Paul Aubry, 'Observation d'Uxoricide et de Libéricide suivis du Suicide du Meurtrier,' Archives de l'Anthropologie criminelle, vol. vii., p. 326: 'This derangement [erotic madness] is characterized by an inconceivable fury of concupiscence at the moment of approach.' And in a remark on the report of a murder perpetrated on his wife and children by an erotic maniac—a professor of mathematics in a public school—whom Aubrey had under his observation, he says, 'Sa femme qui parlait facilement et à tous des choses que l'on tient ordinairement le plus secrètes, disait que son mari était comme un furieux pendant l'acte sexuel.' See also Ball, La Folie érotique. Paris, 1891, p. 127.

10

Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 229: 'When the expression of their ideas eludes their grasp . . . they resort . . . to the continual italicizing of words and sentences,' etc.

11

Friedrich Nietsche, Der Fall Wagner. Leipzig, 1889.

12

Der Fall Wagner. Ein Musikanten-Problem. 2te Auflage. Leipzig, 1889.

13

Sollier, op. cit., p. 101.

14

Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 214 et seq.

15

Wagner, Ges. Schriften, Band X., p. 222.

16

Rubinstein, Musiciens modernes. Traduit du russe par M. Delines. Paris, 1892.

17

The Origin and Function of Music: Essays, Scientific, Political and Speculative. London: Williams and Norgate, 1883; vol. i., p. 213 et seq.

18

E. Hanslick, Op. cit., p. 233: 'As the dramatis personæ in "music drama" are not distinguished by the character of the melodies they sing, as in ancient opera (Don Juan and Leporello, Donna Anna and Zerlina, Max and Caspar), but all resemble each other in the physiognomic pathos of the tones of their speech, Wagner aims at replacing this characteristic by so-called leit-motifs in the orchestra.

19

Wagner, Ueber die Anwendung der Musik auf das Drama. Ges. Schriften, Band X., p. 242.

20

Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 225.

21

Ibid., op. cit., p. 226.

22

Wagner, Religion und Kunst. Ges. Schr., Band X., p. 307, note: 'The author here expressly refers to A. Gleizès' book, Thalysia oder das Heil der Menschheit. . . . Without an exact knowledge of the results, recorded in this book, of the most careful investigations, which seem to have absorbed the entire life of one of the most amiable and profound of Frenchmen, it might be difficult to gain attention for.., the regeneration of the human race.'

23

'Alberich's seductive appeal to the water-sprites makes prominent the hard, mordant sound of N, so well corresponding in its whole essence to the negative power in the drama, inasmuch as it forms the sharpest contrast to the soft W of the water-spirits. Then when he prepares to climb after the maidens, the alliance of the Gl and Schl with the soft, gliding F marks most forcibly the gliding off the slippery rock. In the appropriate Pr (Fr), Woglinde as it were shouts "Good luck to you!" (Prosit) when Alberich sneezes.'—Cited by Hanslick, Musikalische Stationen, p. 255.

24

Legrand du Saulle terms the persecutor who believes himself persecuted, 'persécuté actif.' See his fundamental work: Le Délire des Persécutions. Paris, 1871, p. 194.

25

Wagner, Das Judenthum in der Musik. Ges. Schr. Band V., p. 83. Aufklärungen über das Judenthum in der Musik. Band VIII., p. 299.

26

Wagner, Deutsche Kunst und Deutsche Potitik. Ges. Schr. Band VIII., p. 39. Was ist Deutsche? Band X., p. 51 et passim.

27

Wagner, Religion und Kunst. Ges. Schr. Band X., p. 311.

28

Offenes Schreiben an Herrn Ernst von Weber, Verfasser der Schrift: 'Die Folterkammern der Wissenschaft.' Ges. Schr. Band X., p. 251. 

29

A game of cards to which Teutomaniacs are much addicted.