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"LE DOUBLE JARDIN"
"LE DOUBLE JARDIN" was published in 1904, and it is still farther than its predecessor from "Le Trésor des Humbles" and "La Sagesse et la Destinée." The subject and method of the five long essays in "Le Temple Enseveli" gave the book a kind of unity, but "Le Double Jardin" has none. There are sixteen essays, and English translations of most, if not all, had already been published in a dozen different magazines and newspapers. The subjects are a bulldog, Monte Carlo, duelling, the appendicitis of Edward the Seventh, universal suffrage, the modern drama, Rome (for which fortune-telling is substituted in the English edition), a ride in a motor-car, the coming of spring, the bee's temper, field flowers and garden flowers, sincerity, a lady, and the present day. These prove him by far the most brilliant of essayists in this generation, never tedious or banal, always adroit, ingenious, cheerful, impressive, and picturesque.
Naturally enough, these being the subjects and the public that of the magazines, Maeterlinck now reveals more and more of his own tastes and interests. The essay in praise of duelling, for example, reveals him as a man of refinement, who sees vulgarity in the movements of boxing and something repugnant in its effects. "Le Drame Moderne" reveals him as an optimist looking forward to a time when men will have one duty-to do "the least possible harm and love others as we love ourselves." The essay on fortune-telling, or foretelling of the future, reveals him going to test the power of clairvoyants, seers, and mediums. "En Automobile" reveals him as an enthusiastic motorist willing to talk about his motor-car to the public as a "dreadful hippogriff." "Les Sources des Printemps" reveals him as a luxurious lover of nature who finds the cosmopolitan life of the Riviera "somewhat hateful." "Le Mort d'un Petit Chien" reveals him as a genial lover of dogs, who says that in a few days they get into their heads a conception of the universe, while a man takes "thirty or forty" years; who then asks whether, in the eyes of an all-knowing God, the dog's conception would not have the same weight and value as man's. Everywhere, in fact, he appears as a genial man with no extraordinary tastes, who differs from other men chiefly by his subtle refinements of thought and his exuberance and grace of style. From the beginning, however remote, he was never disturbing or exacting; now he is almost uniformly sunny and encouraging, as when he says that "in those problems in which all life's enigmas converge, the crowd which is wrong is almost always justified as against the wise man who is right." He condemns no man. While in one place he seems to look forward to a time when men will be a little lower than the angels, in another he bids us remember that we are "beings of prey and strife," and must be careful not to destroy "the qualities of primitive man, for it was not without reason that Nature placed them there." He could probably be all things to all men and to all editors. I should like to see him writing upon bantams for The Feathered World; it would be the most beautiful chapter ever written upon bantams, just as "Éloge de l'Épée" is the most beautiful upon duelling, unless we except Mr. Joseph Conrad's story of "A Point of Honour," which is undoubtedly more instructive. A friend of mine who admires Maeterlinck, but had had too much of "La Sagesse et la Destinde," once dreamed that he was a child again and was corrected at the luncheon-table for his ill-behaviour; whereto he replied, with a consciousness of being unanswerable: "L'avare seul sait se distraire, et il communique au monde extérieur la cause de sa joie." He communicated it to me as an exquisitely Maeterlinckian product of his unconsciousness, and I feel sure that, if he lives long enough, Maeterlinck will achieve this same apology for the poor avaricious man. He finds what is admirable everywhere, and what is mysterious. The terminology of motoring, for example, he pauses to admire:
"Admirons en passant la terminologie spontanée et bizarre, mais non pas sotte, qui est comme la langue de la force nouvelle. L'avance à l'allumage (qui correspond dans un autre ordre de phénomènes à l'avance à l'admission des locomotives), est un terme très juste, et il serait fort difficile d'exprimer plus simplement et plus sensiblement ce qu'il avait h dire .... D'où sortent-ils, ces mots qui naissent tout à coup, au moment nécessaire, pour fixer dans la vie les êtres ignores hier? On ne le salt jamais. Ils s'évadent des ateliers, des usines, des boutiques; ils sont les derniers échos de cette voix commune et anonyme qui a donné un nom aux arbres et aux fruits, au pain et au vin, à la vie et à la mort; et quand les savants les regardent et les interrogent, le plus souvent il est heureusement trop tard pour qui'ils y changent rien."
Again, in his essay on sincerity, he asserts, in his quiet way, that "every man has the right to be what he is"; and, as to faults, he is not as sure as Joyzelle that the greatest fault becomes, by confession, a truth more beautiful than innocence, but he is sure that it is "younger, more vivid, more visible, more active, and more loving." His tender sense of the mystery of life reaches one of its highest points in this same essay:
"Il n'est pas indispensable qu'on se corrige des fautes avouées; car il y a des fautes nécessaires à notre existence et It notre caractère. Beaucoup de nos défauts sont les racines mêmes de nos qualités. Mais la connaissance et l'aveu de ces fautes et de ces défauts précipite chimiquement le venin qui n'est plus au fond du coeur qu'un sel inerte dont on peut étudier à loisir les cristaux innocents."
The simile is characteristically impressive, but the experience of some might lead them to think that it is inaccurately used to describe the effect of admitting faults, if it were not, however, adroitly qualified by the remark that this effect depends on the maker and the receiver of the admission. His is a possible view of sincerity, and with his customary skill he carries it rapidly out of the thick air of experience into the crystal inane, and a section of morals for angels or marionettes is the charming result. Reading this, it is hard to avoid an imperious impatience that Maeterlinck should so seldom attempt in fiction or drama to show us these morals at work, and that, when he does, he should so encumber them with secrecy and external mystery. In "Le Temple Enseveli," and now again in "Le Double Jardin," he repeats what he says in "Le Trésor des Humbles," that the modern stage has no need of the old violence and magnificence. "It is in a small room," he says, "round a table, close to the fire, that the joys and sorrows of mankind are decided." His own use of a silent, small room in "L'Intruse" and" Intérieur" is perfectly justified, but these plays are hidden away by the castles in the moon of the early plays, the marvels of" Barbe Bleue" and "Joyzelle," and the brilliant Renaissance setting of "Monna Vanna." He returns again to the question in "Les Rameaux d'Olivier." There he says that we are now emerging from a great religious period, and that the "gloomy and threatening" background of human life is disappearing. With good reason he believes that, nevertheless, the justice, the goodness, and "the quality of the general conscience" have increased. But he asks to what religion this improvement can be attributed. He thinks it due in part to increased knowledge, by means of which "the universe is beginning to penetrate into the conception which we form of it." Before this age of science he thinks that men were merely "prosing," with logic or imagination as their instrument, instead of knowledge and inquiry. True, we now have no fixed morality, no defined consolation, promise, or hope. The sense of our littleness has grown, and the power which enables us to perceive it has also grown. But then, if the importance of the individual is diminishing, that of humanity has increased, and the feeling of the greatness of humanity "is fashioning our morality" and preparing great changes. We are, perhaps, to have that sense of race which in the honey-bee swallows up egoism. Furthermore, Maeterlinck sees many new reasons for hope. The greatest dangers to man upon the earth "seem past"; he even hints that we shall have the respite of a few centuries, necessary for learning how to avoid collision with a stray star. We may even learn to understand gravitation. In short, we have grounds for magnificent expectations:
"Car nous sommes dans l'état magnifique oh Michel-Ange a peint, sur ce prodigieux plafond de la chapelle Sixtine, les prophètes et les justes de l'Ancien Testament: nous vivons dans l'attente; et peut-être dans les derniers moments de l'attente. L'attente, en effet, a des degrés qui vont d'une sorte de résignation vague et qui n'espère pas encore au tressaillement que suscitent les mouvements les plus proches de l'objet attendu. Il semble que nous entendions ces mouvements: bruit de pas surhumains, porte énorme qui s'ouvre, souffle qui nous caresse ou lumière qui vient, on ne salt; mais l'attente à ce point est un instant de vie ardent et merveilleux, la plus belle période du bonheur, sa jeunesse, son enfance."
This magnificent expectation is clad in suitable magnificence by Maeterlinck, but the matter of it is fit rather to give a sad pride than either consolation or tranquillity. This is not a new subject, and we are justly exacting in our criticism of whoever handles it. It used to be said that science was destroying poetry and religion -- as if science could destroy anything that was still worth having! Poetry itself has continued to be indifferent to the assertion, and to offer refutation only by its triumphant existence. Mr. Charles M. Doughty, Mr. Yeats, Mr. W. H. Davies, Mr. Walter de la Mare -- to name only the first poets that come into my mind -- do so refute it. As to religion, an interesting book has lately been written -- " The Ascending Effort," by Mr. George Bourne -- upon a text from a speech by Sir Francis Galton upon Eugenics, where he said that "if the principles he was advocating were to become effective, they ' must be introduced into the national conscience, like a new religion.'" Mr. Bourne is not particularly concerned with Eugenics, but with the whole problem of art and science, of the vitalizing of science, of the broadening of art, and of the relations between the two. The word "religion" used by Sir Francis Galton does not, he thinks, stand for any one doctrine, but for "a certain activity of the vital energies," which is the same sort of activity in all religions:
"In partial manifestation, and under various names, the vital activity required is already familiar to us. We recognize it in reverence, faithfulness, sympathy, admiration: forms which lend themselves to treatment, and by known methods. And although it may be difficult to specialize our efforts so that enthusiasm shall flow in one particular direction, still, as enthusiasm is a form of vital force, the task is one for which we cannot pretend to lack the means. The means are summed up in the one word Art. The energies of the race may always be warmed by art."
Mr. Bourne's argument that "the intoxicating power of art" is what is needed to give effect to the doctrines of science is impressively supported by the reasoning and restrained emotion of a man whom we learn to trust, though when he says that" Art must adapt itself to the new philosophy" we can only reply that there are no "musts" in the future, but an infinite "may." This book has probably been the life-work of an artist without the slightest tinge of professionalism, and seems to be the meeting-place of all or many of the forces in a keen, sober, and mature life. It has a force of personality behind it stronger than that behind Maeterlinck's eloquence, but in neither forecast is there force enough to atone altogether for the lack of any showing how the thing will or may be done.
John Davidson's later work, his crude and furious pamphlets
in verse, showed how a brave poet could fail and could cease to be a poet
in attempting to do with his one mind what no one mind had ever done before
-- to face contemporary life and science and invent a new cosmogony better
suited to its needs. His King Mammon told his wife, in phrases that might
have been Maeterlinck's:
|Nothing is greater anywhere than us:
We form the matter of the farthest star,
The matter of the earth, the sea, the sky.
Addressing his soldiers, this King longs to be top of
Everest, and heard of all men:
|The parasites that in our bodies burrow;
The lily and the rose, whose passionate breath
Perfumes our love-thoughts with the scent of love;
The tawny brutes whose anguished roar appals
The desert and the jungle -- they that suck
The steaming blood and tear the shuddering flesh
Of timid, browsing beasts . . .
The woodland and the mountain and the sea;
The myriad suns that pave the Milky Way . . .
All these -- all that, is us, is you and me,
The conscience of the infinite universe.
No supernatural thought must cloud your minds.
Nor is such a roaring hot Utopia more encouraging than the frigid quiet of Vernon Lee's book on "Gospels of Anarchy": "I propose nothing, because I do not know. All I feel sure of is, that if people want a change sufficiently, strongly, and persistently, that change will work out its means in one way or another"; though even she is willing to believe that "the more we let nature work for us, the more we employ our instincts and tendencies, instead of thwarting them, the less will be the waste and the greater the achievement." Maeterlinck says materially little more than this, but he communicates a sense of the mystery and greatness of man and of human life which does some, perhaps, of the very work which he is powerless to define.
On the whole he is confident, and might be called an optimist if the word retained any value. He is confident about the future of the world and of man. He believes in universal suffrage, and is sure that "the harmonious use of liberty is acquired only by a long misuse of its benefits." Speaking on this subject, he varies a favourite phrase by saying that the natural appetite of a democracy, like that of every living thing, knows what is "indispensable to the mystery of life." He believes that the crannies are widening in the wall between reason, that knows "scarcely anything," and instinct "which knows all, but cannot make use of the knowledge." In the portrait of a lady he shows that he can still write of women with enthusiasm while averting his face, and he speaks of one who has for ornament all the passions and weaknesses of woman, asking how she could be beautiful if she did not know mirrors. It is worth noticing that something of the early Maeterlinck survives. For example, he writes of the fears of his dog in the solitude of night just as he used to write of men:
"On se sent très petit et très faible en présence du mystère. On sait que l'ombre est peuplée d'ennemis qui se glissent et attendent. On suspecte les arbres, le vent qui passe et les rayons de la lune. On voudrait se cacher et se faire oublier en retenant son souffle."
And to make the dog's friendliness more impressive he emphasizes the solitude of man upon this planet in something like his old manner. It can be seen in the chapter on field-flowers, where he speaks of the pale earliest spring blossoms as "anæmic captives" and as "convalescent patients," out of the "prisons" under the earth. The very early Maeterlinck may perhaps be at the bottom of a phrase which speaks of birds, precious stones, and woman together as "ornaments of our planet," teaching man that things may be at once useless and beautiful -- phrases such as now and then suggest a man rather different from the noble and exalted prose-writer of most of these essays. And in a passage already quoted, where he speaks of the great expectations of humanity and the images of superhuman footsteps sounding, of a great door opening and light appearing to imprisoned men, we are reminded of the light coming to Maleine in her tower or to Alladine and Palomides in their dungeon. Instead of ghastly, concealed queens and sunless castles he now sees life as threatened by the morality of nature, "horrible" and "monstrous," which would destroy men if they practised it entirely. When it suits him he will write as if he had never scorned the false old mysteries with which poets yet chill our blood; will speak, for instance, of Edward the Seventh, lying ill of appendicitis, as an" illustrious" victim of "a whim" of fate "hovering between the crown and death." The whole essay is a tissue of gaudy and almost tawdry eloquence: the king, who had not been crowned though he was king in every sense, is described as about to attain "the sole object, the essential moment" of his life; and it is surmised that this" royal tragedy" proves the impotence of man's love, prayers, and "finest moral forces" against the will of nature. These tones remind me of one whom I had never thought to connect in any way with Maeterlinck. Preaching upon the occasion of the sudden death of the Duke of Albany in 1884, and taking as his text, "For what is life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away," the late C. H. Spurgeon began his sermon:
"When a prince dies they toll the great bell of the cathedral that all the city may hear it, and that for miles round the tidings may be spread. Swift messengers of the press bear the news through the length and breadth of the land, and all men's ears' are made to tingle. A royal death is a national warning. A death in any one of our families is a loud call to our household, a call which I trust we hear; but a death in the royal family has a voice to the whole nation. It will be heard, it must be heard. In this great city the crowds who care not to come to the house of God, will nevertheless hear of this lamented death, and think of it, and speak of it each man to his fellow. Death is an orator whose solemn periods demand attention, especially when he preaches froth the steps of the throne."
There are many differences between these two orators, but they agree alike in their theatrical use of the two panoplied phantoms, Royalty and Death. It was in this same spirit that, in "Le Temple Enseveli," Maeterlinck spoke of an event which seemed to begin a series of pitiful events as "no less tragic than that of Thyestes," and of his destiny hovering "like an enormous vulture" over the victim. He is easily carried away by these things into a thrilling but ultimately absurd eloquence. Nowhere is he more completely carried away than in the essay in praise of duelling as a method of securing justice such as no judge or magistrate can enforce. Nobody claims that anything more than a stiff and indelicate kind of justice is to be had from the law, nor denies that a sword or other deadly weapon seems, upon some occasions and for the moment, to some temperaments and in some countries, to be likely to give to one party as full a satisfaction as possible.
Maeterlinck himself has already pointed out incidentally some of its injustices -- for example, to our "unlucky" friend who was a good swordsman. But Maeterlinck likes the beauty of the sword-he contrasts it with the vulgarity of the fist-and he composes a eulogy. The sword decides, "from the point of view of inexplicable life," whether a man is wrong or right. He admits that it might be better, in most cases decided by duelling, for the law to intervene, and yet he thinks the present state of things good "for those capable of defending themselves," because hereby initiative and personal character are preserved. This man, who is so sensible of the mystery and subtlety of life and the unintelligible gloom of nature, now for the sake of argument asserts that most of the wrongs done in the world are due to" the certainty of impunity" and to the superabundance of" good-natured souls" in the world. But this inconsistency is hardly to be noticed in a piece of reckless and occasional advocacy, composed perhaps in a genial hour for a society to promote duelling. The sword, he points out, enables the little man to confront and obtain justice from the enormous man. All that is necessary is to reach a general average of skill. The passage following is too brilliant not to quote it for those who have not great imagination or the good fortune to dream in the manner of Maeterlinck, like my friend:
"Cette moyenne atteinte, nous pouvons confier notre vie à la pointe de la frêle mais redoutable lame. Elle est la magicienne qui établit aussitôt des rapports nouveaux entre deux forces que nul n'aurait songé à comparer. Elle permet au nain qui à raison de tenir tête au colosse qui a tort. Elle conduit gracieusement sur des sommets plus clairs l'énorme violence aux comes de taureau; et voici que la bête primitive est obligée de s'arrêter devant une puissance qui n'a plus rien de commun avec les vertus basses, informes et tyranniques de la terre, je veux dire: le poids, la masse, la quantité, la cohésion stupide de la matière. Entre elle et le poing il y a l'épaisseur d'un univers, un océan de siècles et presque la distance de l'animal l'homme. Elle est fer et esprit, acier et intelligence. Elle asservit le muscle à la pensée, et contraint la pensée à respecter le muscle qui la sert. Elle est idéale et positive, chimérique et pleine de bons sens. Elle est éblouissante et nette comme l'éclair, insinuante, insaisissable et multiforme, comme un rayon de lune ou de soleil. Elle est fidèle et capricieuse, noblement rusée, loyalement perfide. Elle fleurit d'un sourire la rancune et la haine. Elle transfigure la brutalité. Grâce à elle, comme par un féerique pont suspendu sur l'abîme de ténèbres, la raison, le courage, l'assurance du bon droit, la patience, le mépris du danger, le sacrifice à l'amour, à l'idée -- tout un monde moral, entre en maitre dans le chaos originel, le dompte et l'organise. Elle est, par excellence, l'arme de l'homme; celle qui, toutes les autres éprouvées et elle-même inconnue, devrait être inventée, parce qu'elle sert le mieux les facultés les plus diverses, les plus purement humaines, et qu'elle est l'instrument le plus direct, le plus maniable et le plus loyal de son intelligence, de sa force et de sa justice defensives."
Maeterlinck concludes that the swords force the destinies of the two duellists to judge them. What he means is that, if a man dies by his opponent's sword, his death was inevitable: he may not have been wrong in the matter which was being decided, but on the whole he must have been in the wrong because his unconsciousness has not found a way of saving him. "Life," as he has said elsewhere," life is right."
The essay on chrysanthemums is of a like eloquence. He loves the chrysanthemum and takes a "brother's interest" in it because of its singular submissiveness to the perverse multiplication of forms. He concludes by saying that "perhaps," "if" plants are to reveal "one of the worlds that we are awaiting," the chrysanthemum will do it as the dog will "probably" reveal another. But for this passage the essay would be an entirely brilliant specimen of the studied rhapsodies of description which he began in "La Vie des Abeilles." For the most part these descriptions are sensuous, and devoted to the very surfaces of beautiful or sublime objects; but they owe part of their quality to a highly characteristic, quite unmistakable use of the pathetic fallacy. Every one will recognize Maeterlinck in the comparison of the rare pink of chrysanthemums with that on the lips and brows of a "veiled and afflicted virgin praying on a tomb." The chapters on field-flowers and old-fashioned garden flowers are perfect examples of this descriptive work. As in all his writings, the soft, sensuous grace is unmitigated except by astonishing brilliancy. Though so fine, and probably studied, these essays are very simple, being no more than a chain of beautiful details, wrought with no pattern, but gaining such unity as they have from a lively, æsthetic impetus and from the slightest and most picturesque of reflections. The essay on field-flowers is hardly more than a number of old, pretty names and a still greater number of adjectives almost as pretty. At the end of one chain of names he writes:
"On récite un poème de grâce et de lumière en les énumérant. On leur a réservé les sons les plus aimables, les plus purs, les plus clairs et toute l'allégresse musicale de la langue. On dirait les dramatis personae, les coryphées et les figurantes d'une immense féerie, plus belle, plus imprévue et plus surnaturelle que celles qui se déroulent dans l'îsle de Prospéro, à la cour de Thésée ou dans la forêt des Ardennes. Et les jolies actrices de la comédie muette et infinie: déesses, anges, démones, princesses et sorcières, vierges et courtisanes, reines et pastourelles, portent aux plis de leurs noms le magique reflet d'innombrables aurores, d'innombrables printemps contemplés par des hommes oubliés, comme elles y portent aussi le souvenir de milliers d'émotions profondes ou légères qu'éprouvèrent devant elles des générations disparues sans laisser d'autre trace."
He is as courtly as Herrick, and as dainty and lacking in wildness. Whether he writes of garden or field he never suggests anything but the delicacy of the hortus inclusus and the conservatory. For, in spite of his feeling for the majesty of mysterious Nature, he could never write, like Mr. W. H. Hudson, of the "mysterious, unheard-of retributions that revengeful deity Nature" may meditate against those who have spoiled "her ancient, beautiful order." He likes flowers, above all, for their long human associations. He bids us consider how much we should lose in expressing happiness if we had not flowers to help us:
"Une des cimes bénies de notre âme serait presque muette si les fleurs, depuis des siècles, n'avaient alimenté de leur beauté la langue que nous parlons et les pensées qui tentent de fixer les heures les plus précieuses de la vie. Tout le vocabulaire, toutes les impressions de l'amour sont imprégnés de leur haleine, nourris de leur sourire. Quand nous aimons, les souvenirs de toutes les fleurs que nous avons vues et respirées, accourent peupler de leurs délices reconnues la conscience d'un sentiment dont le bonheur, sans elles, n'aurait plus de forme que l'horizon de la mer ou du ciel. Elles ont accumulé en nous, depuis notre enfance, et dès avant celle-ci, dans l'âme de nos pères, un immense trésor, le plus proche de nos joies, off nous allons puiser, chaque fois que nous voulons nous rendre plus sensibles les minutes clémentes de la vie. Elles ont créé et répandu dans notre monde sentimental l'atmosphère odorante off se complait l'amour."
In none of his work so much as in these descriptions can his Flemish brightness, precision and domesticity be seen. We have nothing in our literature that can be more nearly compared with them than the "Frondes Agrestes" and "Love's Meinie" of Ruskin; but Maeterlinck's essays have a gaiety and simple sensuousness which these have not.
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