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"LE TEMPLE ENSEVELI"
IN 1902, a year after "La Vie des Abeilles" and four years after "La Sagesse et la Destinée," appeared" Le Temple Enseveli." Like" Le Trésor des Humbles" it is divided into distinct but related chapters, having, as titles, "La Justice," "L'Évolution du Mystère," "La Règne de la Matière," "Le Passé," "La Chance," "L'Avenir." Of these "Le Passé" and "La Chance" were written in 1901, and the others appeared in The Fortnightly Review in 1899 and 1900, while only one chapter of "La Vie des Abeilles" had been separately published. Maeterlinck's popularity was increasing; he must have begun to feel that a public lay delighted and expectant about the waters that flowed, full of tranquillity and refreshment, from his fountain-pen. Whether for this reason, or because he was gaining in maturity, his manner was changing. "Le Temple Enseveli" begins with the words "Je parle pour ceux qui ne croient pas à l'existence d'un juge unique." He speaks with a certain confidence, if not authority. His style has less silence as well as fewer dots than it had in "Le Trésor," and probably few strangers to Maeterlinck's development could see in "Trois petits Drames pour Marionnettes" and" Le Temple Enseveli" the work of one and the same man, if it had not been that "L'Évolution du Mystère" contains some criticism of the early plays. The early essays were addressed more to the unconsciousness than to the reason, and they demonstrated nothing. They were likely to stir and encourage those who were not afraid or ashamed of mist and uncertainty: they were certain to be treated as sacramental by coteries and to be brusquely ridiculed by the "no nonsense" school. "Le Temple Enseveli" is different. It addresses everybody and not merely kindred souls, and it does not avoid the intelligence. It says everything, and there is no undertone of silence. It is a work of pure intelligence: intuition and pretence of intuition are absent, and if that bevy of predestined school-fellows was mentioned in it we should expect to hear that 5© per cent. were still living and that the others were not to be traced.
The manner alone has changed. Maeterlinck's mind is occupied or obsessed by the same thoughts, but his curiosity and desire to investigate have increased. If he speaks with more firmness and confidence it is not because he knows more, but because he is older and less pathetic and less easily disturbed. His self-consciousness is the same. At the end of the chapter on the young queens in "La Vie des Abeilles" he reminds us, with a touch of his earlier mystery, that we who judge this "extraordinary fluid" of life are ourselves animated by it, like the friendly and indifferent and hostile forms round about us; and now again in "La Justice" he comes to an unanswerable question, saying that we ourselves "form part of the mystery we seek to solve." Man, now as a part of Nature, and now as distinct from Nature, is his never-forgotten subject.
His way of thinking is in the main and in many details like that of Richard Jefferies in "The Story of my Heart." In the ninth chapter of that book and onwards Jefferies asseverates that "in human affairs everything happens by chance; that is, in defiance of human ideas, and without any direction of an intelligence." This gives him ground for hope, because "if the present condition of things were ordered by a superior power, there would be no possibility of improving it for the better in spite of that power," and so, "acknowledging that no such direction exists, all things become plastic to our will." Nothing, he says, has been done for us in the past; nothing will be done. Man has made the good, and he is responsible for the evil; he can prevent disease, misery, and perhaps death; but he has idled and malingered. We must now deliberately begin "to roll back the tide of death, and to set our faces steadily to the future of life," and he exhorts every one "to do their utmost to think outside and beyond our present circle of ideas." And he does not believe in the reason alone.
"Often," he says, "I have argued with myself that such and such a course was the right one to follow, while in the intervals of thinking about it an undercurrent of unconscious impulse has desired me to do the reverse or to remain inactive, and sometimes it has happened that the supersensuous reasoning has been correct, and the most faultless argument wrong. I presume this supersensuous reasoning, proceeding independently in the mind, arises from perceptions too delicate for analysis."
These things are the stuff also of Maeterlinck's thought. He is more careful and subtle; Jefferies is more forcible and passionate, writing "as a dying man to dying men."
Maeterlinck is not quite able to decide which is more important, that man is part of Nature, or that man has separated and fenced himself against Nature. As in "Monna Vanna" he makes Marco say that "Life is right," so in "La Justice" he says that "the lake is right" and not the "curious incident" of the fountain which man causes it to feed. He feels that what we call justice is ours and ours alone, saying that our bodies were made for the earth, as our minds were made for justice, and that this human justice is opposed to instincts planted in us by nature. But he knows also that this justice is equally "natural." He looks on benevolently at Nature's cruelty and injustice, not knowing whether she be "just or unjust" from a universal point of view, and therefore not condemning her; but we are not to imitate her -- our only safety is in human justice. The individual man is opposed to Nature, to his own natural instincts, and also at many points to his own species, which is like "the great unerring lake" of the comparison just mentioned. He is not disturbed even by "the probable futility" of mankind in the history of the solar system. Sadly but eloquently he writes:
"Laissons la force regner dans l'univers et l'équité dans notre coeur. Si la race est irrésistiblement et, je pense, justement injuste, si la foule même paraît avoir des droits que n'a pas l'homme isolé, et commet parfois de grands crimes inévitables et salutaires, le devoir de chaque individu dans la race, le devoir de tout homme dans la foule, est de demeurer juste au centre de toute la conscience qu'il parvient à réunir et à maintenir en lui-même. Nous n'aurons qualité pour abandonner ce devoir que lorsque nous saurons toutes les raisons de la grande injustice apparente; et celles qu'on nous donne: la conservation de l'espèce, la reproduction et la sélection des plus forts, des plus habiles et des 'mieux adaptés,' ne sont pas suffisantes à déterminer un changement si effroyable. Certes, chacun de nous doit tâcher d'être le plus fort, le plus habile, et de s'adapter le mieux possible aux nécessités de la vie qu'il ne peut transformer; mais à considérer les qualités qui le font vaincre, manifestant sa puissance morale et son intelligence, et le rendent réellement heureux, le plus habile, le plus fort, et le 'mieux adapté,' c'est jusqu'ici le plus humain, le plus honnéte et le plus juste."
Like Jefferies, he is struck by the fact that a just man drowns as easily as an unjust; like Jefferies, he inclines not to call poverty an irremediable ill, and asks if it is not we men who condemn "three-fourths of mankind" to misery. But even as to storms and the like, he believes that he has found a human power of foreknowing them: he asserts in "La Chance" that most ships, trains, mines, and factories, when destroyed, contain fewer persons than is usual with them on days of no danger. Not that he believes the mind of man constructed to forecast the future, for he says himself that, when attempting to do so, it can rarely produce anything "very salutary or very enduring." Maeterlinck sees two very different facts, and, instead of harmonizing them, he draws attractive, but perhaps incompatible, conclusions from both. In the same way he bids us in one place to labour to improve our standing in this indifferent universe; and in another seeks to discover an unlucky race:
"Ils prennent infailliblement le train qui déraillera, passent à l'heure voulue sous la tour qui s'écroule, entrent dans la maison oû déjà le feu couve, traversent la forêt que l'éclair va percer, portent ce qu'ils possèdent au banquier qui va fuir, font le pas et le geste qu'il ne fallait point faire, aiment la seule femme qu'ils eussent dû éviter. Au rebours, s'il s'agit de bonheur, lorsque accourent les autres, attirés par la voix profonde des forces bienveillantes, ils passent sans l'entendre, et jamais prévenus, livrés aux seuls conseils de leur intelligence, le vieux guide, très sage mais à peu près aveugle, qui ne connait que les petits sentiers au pied de la montagne, ils s'égarent dans un monde que la raison humaine n'a pas encore compress."
These men, he says with characteristic refinement, have a right to complain against destiny, because they have not been given the instinct which could have preserved them; but, he adds, "the universe is not hostile to them. Calamities do not pursue them; it is they who go towards calamity." For he assumes that these people are guided solely by intellect, and not by instinct. But this is a matter of opinion, and cases might be brought forward to show that many who perish in accidents were never in one before in the course of lives which may have been long, or fortunate, or both; and that, of those who avoid fatal or great accidents, many have met countless little ones or have been wretched without a single definable misfortune except that of birth. But Maeterlinck still allows some power to what he calls chance, and to the superiority of intellect to instinct or unconsciousness upon occasion. Like Jefferies, he believes that this unconsciousness may be developed. He suggests that" the history of our fortune is the history of our unconscious being," and that this belief is more encouraging than the old one that the stars, for example, were interested in our lives. It would thus be a "proud consolation" in the direst misfortunes, he thinks, to know that they come from within and that they were "perhaps only recording the necessary form of our own personality." If only, he seems to believe, if only we could be certain that an event was necessary we should not suffer by it; but at present this is far from being universally true. His conclusion to this very cunning essay on luck reminds us altogether of Jefferies in its appeal to men to follow all paths leading "from our consciousness to our unconsciousness," because the secret of life lies hidden at the end of those paths.
This same power of man to control events is the chief subject of the essay on the past. He touches no questionable matter, but is content to point out that our past, or its practical value and effect, depends upon what we are and is inevitably changed by this; and what now produces this change without our voluntary co-operation or conscious knowledge can at last, he trusts, be counted among the faculties to be commanded and not obeyed by man. If a man controls his past to-day he does not know how it is done, while very many are controlled by it in such a way that it is above all their other gods. Maeterlinck says that we should consult the past only when we are strong; we should choose from it and forbid the rest "never to cross our threshold" except under command. A characteristic winged passage follows about the past:
"Comme tout ce qui ne vit en somme qu'aux dépens de notre force spirituelle, il prendra tôt l'habitude d'obéir. Peut-être essayera-t-il d'abord de résister. Il aura recours aux ruses, aux prières. Il voudra nous tenter et nous attendrir. Il nous fera voir des espoirs dèçus, des joies qui ne reviendront plus, des reproches mérités, des affections brisées, de l'amour qui est mort, de la haine qui expire, de la foi gaspillée, de la beauté perdue, tout ce qui fur un jour le merveilleux ressort de notre ardeur à vivre, et tout ce que ses ruines recèlent maintenant de tristesses qui nous rappellent, et de bonheurs défunts. Mais nous passerons outre, sans retourner la tête, écartant de la main la foul des souvenirs, comme le sage Ulysse, dans la nuit Cimmérienne, à l'aide de son épée, écartait du sang noir qui devait les faire revivre et leur rendre un instant la parole, toutes les ombres des morts -- même celle de sa mère-qu'il n'avait pas mission d'interroger. Nous irons droit à telle joie, à tel regret, à tel remords dont le conseil est nécessaire; nous irons poser des questions très précises à telle injustice, soit que nous voulions réparer celle-ci s'il est encore possible de le faire; soit que nous venions demander au spectacle de telle autre que nous avons commise et dont les victimes ne sont plus, la force indispensable pour nous élever au-dessus des injustices que nous nous sentons encore capables de commettre aujourd'hui."
The lover of images who wrote that is Maeterlinck, and no other. Too rarely, for a book whose chief argument should be the convinced spirit of a man, do we feel such certainty. As in "Joyzelle," he utters a caution against hasty conclusions, though in another place he bids us accept the hypothesis most encouraging to "our existence in this life." The metaphysician is admirable, but what of the man? He speaks out at times in strong but general terms. For example, in "La Justice" he mentions three among perplexing cases where the spirit of a race has demanded something offensive to the individual sense of human justice: the war of the United States with Spain; the case of Dreyfus; and the war of Great Britain in the Transvaal. The case of Dreyfus he calls that of "an innocent man sacrificed to the preponderating interests of his country": the Boer war is "iniquitous." Again, in somewhat remote terms, he asks whether there may not be something in the social conditions of to-day as disconcerting to posterity as the injustice to women revealed in "The Arabian Nights": and a little later he alludes to the sense of injustice towards those who are very poor, which must chill the aspirations of the comfortable class to a better life, when even the leisure which sets it free "to think more fraternally of the injustice others endure" is a fruit of this great "anonymous injustice." Thereupon Maeterlinck holds up, as a proof of development in the individual sense of justice, the calmness with which Marcus Aurelius acknowledged and passed by the enormous "anonymous injustice" of his own day. It was, he believes, a calmness beyond the reach of men with anything like the same sensitiveness in our day. He quotes the following passage from the Fourth Book of the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius, with the comment that we are now concerned with other matters than this perfect ease and tranquillity:
"They seek for themselves private retiring places, as country villages, the sea-shore, mountains; yea, thou thyself art wont to long much after such places. But all this, thou must know, proceeds from simplicity in the highest degree. At what time soever thou wilt, it is in thy power to retire into thyself, and to be at rest, and free from all businesses. A man cannot any whither retire better than to his own soul; he especially who is beforehand provided of such things within, which whensoever he doth withdraw himself to look in, may presently afford unto him perfect ease and tranquillity."
But there is proof that acquaintance with the great "anonymous injustice" need not destroy the tranquillity of self-culture in a sensitive mind. A book of uncommon consistency and many beauties, written with a still more uncommon curious seeking after felicity, Mr. Robert de la Condamine's "The Upper Garden," contains the following passage:
"Am I, by serving others, the lepers, decadents who choke the hospitals and swoon in the streets, am I, by ministering to those who are only worthy of annihilation, so to reduce my soul until it is purged of all its own responsibilities and fit at length for the ultimate pure nothing, the characterless ether? Rather will I suffer for the welfare of my spirit's pleasure than be drugged by the disease of others. Rather will I develop my soul and reject all those things that will not do it honour by the increase of sensation and the fullness of material for its possession; and, if I fail, I choose to be destroyed through the fault of too great an attempt, and, having risen for a moment to overpowering pinnacles, rather will I travail with a purpose that is too divine than I will squander my powers, however weak and ridiculous they may be, upon needs of which I and all others are ignorant. Rather than debase my personality before the multitude of the blind and the dumb and the diseased, I will develop what spirit I can muster and be lost. Though I may deal with it but weakly, rather will I be wrapped and shrouded in the doom which my power shall earn for itself than I will spend my care on the personalities of all these others who are strangers veiled in mists that yield to no explorer, that are impossible of penetration."
This may be too deliberate and emphatic to be quite sincere in its extremity. It is in the nature of a challenge or a retort. Behind its distemper lies a desire as definite and accessible as the emperor's; only, the writer has had to exert his will in order to be indifferent to the mass of life which he shuts out from his "upper garden." Other examples might be given, and I am not sure that later men will regard with any great awe, if with credulity, the voice of concern and pity descending out of almost divinely remote altitudes in the writings of Maeterlinck himself. Even so he writes of bees; even so, perhaps, would his imagined observer from another world regard us. He speaks in one excellent passage in "L'Évolution du Mystère" of ideas, such as those relating to evolution, natural selection, etc., which have not yet "turned into feelings" except in the minds of a few men like John Davidson; and also of ideas which are "purely ideas." His own ideas are often too remote from feelings. Seldom can he move us by a phrase like: "And truly there goes a great deal of providence to produce a man's life unto threescore." His tone is a shade too noble. For example, he speaks of the crime of the slavery and degradation of women in "The Arabian Nights" as "infinitely more revolting, infinitely more monstrous" than any poverty:
" l'esclavage, et surtout l'asservissement de la femme qui, si haute qu'elle soit, et dans le moment même oû elle parle aux hommes de bonté et de justice, et leur ouvre les yeux sur leur devoirs les plus touchants et les plus généreux, ne voit pas labîme oû elle se trouve et ne se dit pas qu'elle n'est qu'un simple instrument de plaisir, qu'on achète, qu'on revend, ou qu'on donne à n'importe quel maitre répugnant et barbare, dans un moment d'ivresse, d'ostentation ou de reconnaissance."
Nearly always, when writing of women, he uses this noble tone. But it is an insignificant trick of temper, or perchance a genuine, human accent, which sounds in a very different phrase in "La Chance " -- " the chance-governed heart of women." He is speaking of a good but unfortunate man, who had many virtues and a pleasing appearance; yet, in spite of a loving disposition he was sacrificed by "the chance-governed heart" of women to men far less worthy of being loved. This man is referred to by Maeterlinck as a friend, and it may well be that his warmth has betrayed him into a touch of nature in this phrase, and in another where he speaks of "the paltry snares" prepared for his friend by "malicious fortune" at every step. He is a little less noble, and perhaps a little more natural, in a few other places. "La Règne de la Matière," for example, reveals that he sees a definite though a small reason for hope in the peasant who prefers a book in the orchard on Sunday to the beershop, in the citizen who prefers "a reposeful afternoon" to the racecourse, in the workman who takes a country walk or watches the sunset from the walls of the city instead of singing "obscene or ridiculous" songs in the street. In the same essay he declares calmly in favour of a vegetarian diet and of abstention from alcohol on the ground that they mean a physical and moral improvement; but I should conclude that he had himself not given up meat or alcohol. These things are not to be despised, but they do not make up the personality which could unite and illumine the great subtlety of "La Justice" and the great wisdom of "L'Évolution du Mystère." The essays are invaluable as contemporary opinion, and the style makes them irresistible; but they lack foundation. When Maeterlinck was a young man he wrote with the intensity and narrowness incident to youth; he was a hundred things which could not have been guessed from his writings. He has lost the narrowness and most of the intensity, but I cannot feel that he has yet, in "Le Temple Enseveli," reached a steadfast, whole, and mature expression. He is many things, but he is not yet one. A man, not a writer, of this type would probably be called deficient in character.
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