« PreviousContinue »
no less than by their associated images, is pre-eminently his in prose, drama, and lyric:
Vous savez, Seigneur, ma misère !
* Voyez aussi ma lassitude,
Ouvrez-moi, Seigneur, votre voie,
Semble de l'herbe sous la glace.' * But how far in his death dramas, how far in the general drift of his love dramas M. Maeterlinck as artist has betrayed the cause of M. Maeterlinck as moralist, the apostle of that wisdom which should transmute the shafts of la fatalité noire into arrows of light, each reader--and M. Maeterlinck's work admits of no second-hand appreciation derived from a brief study in literary criticism-must decide for himself. To those whose faith allows that earth has her joys, instincts their health, hearts their gaiety, nature (without the aid of philosophy) its healings, the senses their clean-handed pleasures, time its mercies, hope its fulfilments; who see that green mosses overgrow every ruin, that even the blanks of life, those blanks which tell of joys lost, with those dimly outlined vacancies which tell of joys never possessed, are in due season obliterated, and that years inevitably effect that gradual transformation which changes pain into the memory of pain, his writings will always suggest the reflexion that if there may be such a place as a fool's paradise there is no less certainly a corresponding locality—a wise man's hell.
And if the pessimism of the artist has in truth betrayed the philosophy of the sage, as a mystic, M. Maeterlinck has removed us to another clime from the world where Ruysbroeck and his fellows prayed and fasted, saw hardwon visions with eyes shut to earth's pleasures, learnt the secrets of the soul in lives of abstinence, mortification, and asceticism. And to bystanders, although the mysticism of
the past may, possibly must, in its deepest sense, remain a closed page of spiritual and physical experience, and although they may not arrogate to themselves any very lucid comprehension of the creed, called mystic, of to-day, it will still seem, experience prompting to incredulity, improbable that contrary roads--the road of the ascetic and that of the non-ascetic—should lead to one and the self-same goal. To them M. Maeterlinck will appear a citizen of another spiritual commonwealth, where M. Stéphane Mallarmé with M. Villiers de l'Isle Adam are fitly cited as master mystics, where such jarring comparisons can be drawn without protest as those M. Maeterlinck has suggested between
les tristesses transies' of a Ruysbroeck and those of a François Villon or a Paul Verlaine, the libertine genius of the fifteenth century, and the yet sorrier wreck of genius, bemired with every stain of the street, of our own day. As an artist he has chosen, with the right of an artist, to reproduce what is most in affinity with the genius of his art. It would seem that, setting life by a dream and as art it matters little whether in relation to actuality we call that dream a mask or a symbol-he has found life wanting, and has elected to paint the dream in that species of idealism defined by M. Mallarmé qui refuse les matériaux naturels 'et, comme brutale, une pensée directe les ordonnant; pour . ne garder de rien que la suggestion. But his dreams are dreamt in some disease of sleep.
C'est des fleurs sans couleur aucune,
Et les malades au soleil.' As an artist he has penetrated his dreams—his art-with sadness. But his sadnesses are not, any more than those of a Verlaine or a Villon, the sadnesses of the Salve Regina, of the exules filii Heve, who, if they regarded themselves as prisoners in this vale of tears, yet held in secure hands of faith the key of their prison-house. Sadness-M. Maeterlinck himself has reiterated the lesson-even the greatest, does not mould the strong man, but is moulded by him. It is as clay to the potter; out of it he fashions the weights or the wings of life. M. Maeterlinck has fashioned the weights.
His shield of life is a field sable; its flag floats for ever at half-mast high. The escutcheon of love is a twilight emblazoned with dying flames; Death might be imaged as a gateway into the mist; the record of Time is marked as the hours of the dial only by the shadow that passes until the shadow itself is lost in the night. M. Maeterlinck is so great an artist that it is impossible to forgive him for not being a greater.
ART. IV.-1. Hansard. Fourth series. Vol. 66 (for 1899),
pp. 971-1051, and Vol. 88 (for 1900), pp. 397–476. 2. Report of Select Committee of the House of Commons on
Members of Parliament (Personal Interest), 274 of 1896. The chief trustee of public welfare is, in this country, 1 Parliament, and with Parliament rests the responsibility of seeing that the interests of the whole community are not subordinated to those of any portions of it. The British nation, possessing, as it does, sound political instinct, has always shown a laudable jealousy lest Parliament, and that Committee of Parliament which controls the administration of affairs in the public offices, should deviate under the sway of external magnetic influences from the line of common welfare. In times when the Court was potent, and again in the day of the territorial aristocracy, precautions were taken to hold in check these disturbing forces. The vacation of seats and obligation to re-election of members of the House of Commons who accepted certain posts under the Crown, and the rule forbidding Peers to intervene in elections, are vestiges of defences against past dangers. Like the ruins of the Roman Wall, these are now merely signs of the directions from which hostile approach was feared in former days. They have lost their raison d'être, and are felt to be obsolete and no better than incumbrances which should be abolished, if anyone were energetic enough to take the trouble. It is now the Prime Minister, himself in a sense a nominee of the House of Commons, and not the King, who confers ministerial appointments, and Peers, quá Peers, could not exercise influence over elections beyond that of other persons endowed with average wealth, intelligence, and local popularity.
Yet power itself is an immortal, subtle, and Proteus-like spirit, and only quits one body to take possession of another. If kings and many-acred aristocrats have lost that predominant ability which they once had to confer upon those who did their behests a larger share than mere labour or merit can obtain in the good things of this world, that ability has passed into the hands of a less visibly shining, but more dangerous order of men. England has undergone a vast change during the last hundred years. The population has become mainly urban instead of mainly rural, the shareholder and bondholder have waxed, and the squire and farmer have waned ; agriculture has almost become a
lation change 2048 order er handsome of thisere
thof Lon of the country of Lontions bathis
ta speculathint as to ociety, bundant
national plaything or luxury; the staple manufacturing industries which succeeded to the leading place already show signs of having passed their point of culmination; financing, investing, money-lending under the guise of joint-stock company business, these are the arts now in the ascendant. The great business of London consists in exhaling capital from itself into the ends of the world, and inhaling the returns of interest; the rest of the country tends to become an appurtenance, garden, or playground of London. The times have changed, and powers and dominations have changed with them. The great squire, ruling over his wheat lands and by means of his rents, is on his way to join the feudal baron amid the shadows of the past. The present holder of the shifting energy of wealth is frequently a man of obscure and sometimes alien appearance, who has an office in a City lane, a richly furnished and well-tabled house in the West End, and a large villa in the Home Counties. His seductions lie not in the gift of sparkling Court places or the freedom of high-born society, but in the power of giving a smoking-room hint as to the right investment, that of turning a speculation so as to benefit an ally without any investment at all, or that of putting a friend into a 'good thing' in the way of a directorship. From time to time there is a crash and a revelation, and then behind some noble Faust appears the figure of the modern Mephistopheles, who, not to win a soul, but to exploit a name, has allured his victim by the temptation of addition to pleasures or relief from distress.
One can see from which direction now blows the wind of influence by observing the present objective of the jealousy of the House of Commons. The arrow-head on the vane points no longer toward Court or aristocracy, but towards the City and the great joint-stock company offices. There is a feeling of danger in the air, exaggerated no doubt, somewhat like that, also exaggerated, which prevailed in the brief period of the plunder of the treasuries of India, when a returned Nabob, like Paul Benfield, the hero of the drama of the Nabob of Arcot's Debts,' sent eight members to Parliament, and when Burke was moved to say in the House :
• We are well aware, in providing for the affairs of the East, with what an adult strength of abuse, and of wealth and influence growing out of that abuse, his Majesty's Commons had in the last Parliament, and we still have, to struggle. We are sevsible that the influence of that wealth, in a much larger degree and measure than at any former