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leine.com Frote paris Paris
ART. III. 1. Théâtre :
La Princesse Maleine. 1 vol. Paris.
Aglavaine et Sélysette. 1 vol. Paris.
Le Trésor des Humbles. 1 vol. Paris.
La Sagesse et la Destinée. 1 vol. Paris. Tn the developements of a literature, no less than in other 1 developements of social or political life, the reactionist movement is a phase of growth or decay of which contemporary opinion can least estimate the force or predict the abiding influence. The utmost criticism may hazard with safety is to analyse the works of the leaders of such literary movements, and to discriminate, if possible, how far their sentiment is genuinely reactionary in the sense of a living revival of the spirit of the past, or whether it is a mere counterfeit of reaction—a resuscitation only of forms and methods of language under whose arbitrarily adopted guise, mystical or symbolical, the spirit of the present emphasises its novelty, the modernité of to-day's fashion, in spiritual plagiarisms of dead centuries.
Amongst such leaders of sentiment M. Maurice Maeterlinck—so far as England is concerned-best represents a foremost school of reaction: the school of the modern mystic. He may be regarded as the pioneer of its ideas in ethics, its methods in art, an interpreter of the contrary currents which thread themselves through the broad tide of scientific materialism ; and as such M. Maeterlinck has won the suffrages of a certain growing section of English readers.
The prose volumes in which he has set forth his attitude of mind towards life, belief, and morals have been widely read even by those to whom the doctrines and sentiments of M. Maeterlinck's elected masters in mysticism-Ruysbroeck l’Admirable and Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) ---are equally alien both as modes of thought and as modes of feeling. As a playwright he has become the accepted exponent of a dramatic, or rather of a dramatically pictorial, art, for his dramas are dramas of imagination, not action, ostensibly founded upon a basis of transcendental mysticism, and expressed in the figures and metaphors of the modern symbolist. In two volumes he has translated fragments of the writings
-the remote religious and devotional works of the Catholic ascetic of the fourteenth century, the secular mysticism, metaphysical and spiritual, of the philosopher of the eighteenth -of Ruysbroeck and Novalis.* From these, and from other sources akin to these, he has evolved, and to a considerable extent popularised, a scheme of metaphysical idealism, coloured by an imaginative intellectual sensuality—a scheme too vague to be called a system, too restrictedly personal to be called a doctrine, which may be provisionally defined in his plays as the creed of an emotional morality in action, in his essays as the creed of an intuitive morality in repose.
Three leading themes, in their relation to mysticism, engross his attention pre-eminently, if not exclusivelyhuman life as a spiritual earth-existence, with its two greatest of crises, love and death. It is life in its wisdom and unwisdom, exteriorly cast in the mould of an outward destiny, interiorly fashioned after a far other pattern by la destinée intime, whose agent is the ultimate and essential soul of man. It is love and death regarded—the before and after are for the most part ignored-from the standpoint of their mortal limitations. And how, having attained by intuition and introspection to some true perception of the intrinsic nature of life, to meet its attendant outward circumstances and incidents is the problem, or rather the enigma, M. Maeterlinck sets before his readers, both in his dramas, his essays, and in the introductory studies prefacing his translations of the “Noces Spirituelles and Les Disciples à Saïs.'
It is impossible to formulate rigidly intentions, points of view, conceptions left purposely and of necessity undefined. The abstract ideas treated belong to a region of thought and feeling for which language, with all its resources of utterance, affords, by the confession of those who employ it, but an imperfect and purely symbolic equivalent. Many • thoughts are too delicate to be thought, many more to be • spoken,' Novalis, who, perhaps, of all men came nearest to the expression of the impossible, avowed openly, and M. Maeterlinck re-echoes the assertion, « Il n'est pas possible . de parler clairement de ces choses. Yet, leaving on one side hypothetical theories appertaining to altitudes of mind or conditions of consciousness foreign to the general
L'Ornement des Noces Spirituelles de Ruysbroeck,' traduit du Flamand ; 'Les Disciples à Saïs, etc., de Novalis, traduit de l'Allemand.
experience of mankind, theories neither challenging nor admitting of analysis, his application, or perhaps more accurately his applied interpretation, of some doctrines of elder mysticism to some conditions of modern thought and human life has an aspect neither vague nor indefinable. Words may be inadequate to pourtray the operations, inspiration, and intentions ascribed to l'âme intime of the few elect, but it is possible to trace the concrete influence-or defect of influence of such doctrines transposed into new keys, upon M. Maeterlinck's judgements, his valuations and appraisements of emotions and incidents common to the undistinguished many. If, to put it otherwise, the inaccessible and secret wisdom transcending reason and understanding, coming only as a special revelation to the illuminated, eludes all verbal formulas, we may still investigate what growthshealthful or poisonous, good or evil-germinate in the atmosphere of light which surrounds the chosen spirit. We cannot pretend to see the feet of the forerunners of mystic thought—the feet of messengers who pass in the night—but we may track the footprints left on earth and snow and sand, and divine in their direction a goal. And whether such analysis incline the reader of M. Maeterlinck's works to echo the applause of those docile disciples who descry in him the apostle of a new creed of emotional morals, or whether it tend to increase the number of those who inarticulately but resentfully detect in his writings-to use a harsh term-an element of philosophic charlatanism, from either point of view it may readily be conceded that, as apostle or charlatan of mysticism, he is, amongst contemporary writers, almost its foremost literary artist.
To a certain extent the task both of criticism and appreciation is simplified by the limitations of M. Maeterlinck's outlook. His window opens with a narrow aperture upon the world, and although the vistas that lie open to his gaze stretch into the infinite they are straitly bounded to right and to left. To Novalis, nature-in the ordinary acceptation of the word-with its multitudinous forms of living things, formed a constant background and textbook of speculation and divination, and if at times his mind wandered far, to his heart it was always present. Inanimate for him it never was. Stones, to his fancy, die into plants ; plants, in their turn, die into animal life. Maladies are but processes of transition into higher phases of being; human-kind is but the elder, spirit-endowed, brother of one great family of creation's children. Are
not, he asks, the herbs daughters, and the beasts sons of earth, our mother; do not they also touch unseen horizons ? * Le monde des fleurs est un infini lointain.' 'Il y a 'maintes fleurs en ce monde qui ne sont d'origine supra* terrestre. And are they not the sleeping-place of the sleepless, the rest of unrest? “La sieste du royaume
spirituel est le monde floral. And as he found in earth joy, no less did he draw a continual stimulus to reflection from the intellectual, physical, and social aspects of the human race. History, science, art, all serve him as the basis of thought; each had the power of awakening or arresting his sympathetic attention, and of kindling the fantastic fires of his imaginative faculties. Beside him M. Maeterlinck, both as thinker and artist, is curiously restricted. His interests are concentrated upon the moods of humanity alone, his sympathies are absorbed in the contemplation of men's emotions, griefs, and desires. Moreover these are surveyed, almost exclusively, in relation, on the one hand, to that remote dweller within the threshold of life to whom he awards the distinction of láme intérieure, in relation, on the other hand, to those outward events, the results of chance or law, which, allied with the instincts of l'âme extérieure, fashion the mortal destiny of each individual personality.
In very truth it might be said that that veiled soul of the soul, equally (and immeasurably) distant from the outerthe sense-soul of the body and from the body itself, constitutes the background of every thought and of every action expressed or pourtrayed. Mystics old and new, genuine and spurious, have one and all recognised, and attempted some manner of definition, negative or affirmative, of this ultimate principle of spirituality. The soul is • bi-partite; it has its higher and lower portions,' and the higher sees the divine images,' without intermediaries of word or symbol. There is in the soul something which ' is above the soul. Sometimes I have called it a power,
sometimes an uncreated light, sometimes a divine spark.' * 'L'âme est en rapport avec l'esprit comme le corps avec
l'univers.'t And, expressed or implied, the assumption of that trinity of personality, body, sense-soul, and spirit-soulwhatever be the exact nomenclature adopted-lies at the root of all M. Maeterlinck's conceptions, and is, further, the
* Dionysius the Areopagite. Lectures, 1899).
Eckhart (quoted in the Bampton
rational source of much which appears paradoxical, of much which is incoherent, in his presentments of life and character.
For, while the lives of the body, the sense-soul and the spirit-soul, are lived simultaneously-run, as Novalis expresses it, on parallel lines—the three, although wedded now more now less intimately, are not fused. Their histories are always separable, sometimes incongruous. What is true of all as allied may be false of either as independent. Moreover, exteriorily, action, thought, emotion may proceed from actual sources, alternating with ideal sources. Il y a 'une série d'événements idéaux parallèles à la réalité ... 'ils coincident rarement;'* and if now here, now there the double train of events, inward and outward, tend, under pressure of the will, to correspondence in kind (chez celui
qui a beaucoup d'esprit en un certain sens tout devient 'unique'*), more often the sense-soul and body, the two sympathetic members of the triumvirate, go their own way. When they abide swayed by the secret decrees of the divinely illuminated inner principle, coloured by its hidden prompting, they combine to bend the path of destiny itself towards the goal of wisdom. But, when severed by the action of the insurgent will of the outer personality from the benign influence of that soul of the soul, they fall, with passions darkened and distorted, a helpless prey to all those catastrophes of chance that lie in wait for their undoing. They perpetrate sins, are guilty of crimes which the soul, royally seated within that impregnable fortress of the goodly
will that never assented unto sin, ne never shall,' † ignores to all eternity ; sins, crimes, to which the soul may say, 'I know you not:''ils ont été commis à mille lieues de son trône.
Yet, whatever abstract doctrines of recondite mysticism lie at the base of M. Maeterlinck's philosophy of life spiritual and life material, the position he consistently occupies is far more characteristic of an apostle of emotional morality than of a doctor of a theoretic and dogmatic transcendentalism. In his prose works his exposition of faith is as definite a picture of the modes of feeling induced by the mental attitude of modern mysticism as, it may be, is possible. Accepting as groundwork the hypothesis of an intuitive perception of truth—founded on les raisons senti'mentales '—he proceeds to inquire, by a purposely frag
of Juliana of Norwich.