two words "decadent" and "symbolistic"
have no legitimate meaning in America; they are cant
terms of reproach and contempt, used when the speaker
wishes to be at once convincing, damnatory, and final.
Their only equivalent is "degenerate," which
is less vague but more insulting. And, of course, M.
Maeterlinck was a degenerate also.) This was stupid,
but natural. One cannot expect the average critic, "in
the hurry of a great newspaper office," to use
words in their proper significance.
while ten persons read M. Maeterlinck's shadowy dramas
and felt vaguely that a new power had come to work in
literature, a hundred heard of him only as "one
of the modern French school."
some ways it is unfortunate the M. Maeterlinck's essays
were not given to the world before his plays. It can
make no difference in the long run, but they would have
served to introduce him to us in his true person more
quickly. The essay in itself is so familiar a form of
art that the most novel ideas and doctrines may be advanced
in it without arousing ridicule. It makes a sober and
rational appeal to the reader through channels he is
accustomed to use; whereas any presentation of the same
ideas or doctrines in a novel, artistic form is much
less comprehensible at first sight. We are apt to be
so absorbed in the novelty of the artistic method that
the novelty of the inner philosophy of the work becomes
more confusing than ever; and the new writer labors
under a double disadvantage in attempting to win his
audience. This was M. Maeterlinck's difficulty in making
himself heard in his dramas. He was there giving a concrete
shape to his mystic philosophy. He was, as it were,
giving us examples of a theory of life with which we
were unacquainted; leaving his audience the painful
task of deducing that theory for themselves. The dramas
presented us with the very novel combination of an extremely
realistic and simple manner coupled with an extremely
delicate and spiritualized sentiment. The artistic form
was so original and strange to us that we became engrossed
with that alone and the underlying psychology on which
the plays were based-a psychology itself original and
strange-escaped us altogether.
now comes a book of essays and unfolds the dramatist's
theory of life explicitly to us, making use of a familiar
method in doing so.
Treasure of the Humble" is in truth an extended
commentary on its author's remarkable dramatic achievements.
It is much more than that, of course, but its first
interest to the public will be the light it throws on
those wonderful creations-not directly, but incidentally-by
giving us the point of view from which they were composed.
Treasure of the Humble" is made up of ten essays.
Their very titles are indicative of their trend: Silence,
The Awakening of the Soul, The Predestined, Mystic Mortality,
On Women, The Tragical in Daily Life, The Star, The
Invisible Goodness, The Deeper Life, The Inner Beauty.
One sees at once the spiritual character of these papers
from their names, but one does not see their singleness
of purpose. For in reality they are so many chapters
of a single work. Their central thought is developed
in The Awakening of the Soul. M. Maeterlinck opens that
essay in these significant words: "A time will
come, perhaps-and many things there are that herald
its approach-a time will come, perhaps, when our souls
will know of each other without the intermediary of
the senses. Certain it is that there passes not a day
but the soul adds to its ever-widening domain. It is
very much nearer to our visible self, and takes a far
greater part in all our actions, than was the case two
or three centuries ago..It would seem as though humanity
were on the point of struggling from beneath the crushing
burden of matter than weighs it down. A spiritual influence
is abroad that soothes and comforts..Men are nearer
to themselves, nearer to their brothers; in the look
of their eyes, in the love of their hearts, there is
deeper earnestness and tenderer fellowship. Their understanding
of women, children, animals, plants-nay, of all things-becomes
more pitiful and profound..Truly there are centuries
in which the soul lies dormant and slumbers undisturbed.
But today it is clearly making a mighty effort. Its
manifestations are everywhere, and they are strangely
urgent, pressing, imperious even, as though the order
had been given and no time must be lost.. For the soul
is like a dreamer, enthralled by sleep, who struggles
with all his might to move an arm or raise an eyelid."
you perceive at once are the sayings of a mystic philosopher,
dealing with that mysterious part of our nature which
men have called the soul and which we fain would believe
is immortal. His entire interest is in this higher life
of human beings, in its slight and obscure manifestations,
its laws and nurture, its beauty, inviolability and
power, so little understood and so seldom observed.
In the essay on Silence he reveals to us in a startling
way the domain and province of the soul, and in the
essay on The Inner Beauty the sources of its nourishment.
is nothing in the whole world," he says in this
latter paper, "that can vie with the soul in its
eagerness for beauty, or in the ready power wherewith
it adopts beauty into itself. There is nothing in the
world capable of such spontaneous uplifting, of such
speedy ennoblement; nothing that offers more scrupulous
obedience to the pure and noble commands it receives.
There is nothing in the world that yields deeper submission
to the empire of a thought that is loftier than other
thoughts. And on this earth of ours there are but few
souls that can withstand the dominion of the soul that
has suffered itself to become beautiful.. If at this
moment you think or say something that is too beautiful
to be true in you, if you have but endeavored to think
or say it today, on the morrow it will be true. We must
try to be more beautiful than ourselves; we shall never
distance our soul."
few sentences serve to show M. Maeterlinck's philosophic
standpoint. He is in his transcendentalism a follower
of our own Emerson, of whom he speaks lovingly more
than once. In one respect, however, he differs from
that serene thinker; he is a fatalist. And in this particular
direction, it seems to me, he pushes his theory too
far-is somewhat too precise and definite. And the two
essays on The Star, and The Predestined, are less convincing
than the rest of the work, not because they are less
suggestive, but because they are more explicit and,
I think, less true.
it is in the essay on The Tragical in Daily Life that
we get the clearest notion of M. Maeterlinck's purpose
and aim in writing his own somnambulistic dramas-to
use an adjective which he himself has applied to Ibsen's
is a tragic element in the life of everyday that is
far more real, far more penetrating, far more akin to
the true self that is in us than the tragedy that lies
in great adventure.. It goes beyond the determined struggle
of man against man, and desire against desire; it goes
beyond the eternal conflict of duty and passion. Its
province is rather to reveal to us how truly wonderful
is the mere act of living, and to throw light upon the
existence of the soul, self-contained in the midst of
ever-restless immensities; to hush the discourse of
reason and sentiment, so that above the tumult may be
heard the solemn uninterrupted whisperings of man and
his destiny. It is its province to point out to us the
uncertain dolorous footsteps of the being, as he approaches,
or wanders from, his truth, his beauty, or his God."
as we read these profound words, a flood of light is
thrown on the movements and actions of those shadowy
puppets whom M. Maurice Maeterlinck himself has created
and set upon his misty stage. Think of "The Intruder"
or "The Blind." How strange these miniature
tragedies at first seemed to us! How vague, how unusual!
how purposeless! What could this writer mean, with his
bleak simplicity, and his terrible unrelieved note of
tragedy imparted into the commonest incidents of life!
But now we see more clearly what he had in mind to accomplish;
and how supremely well he accomplished it. Surely in
the serious dialogue of those elemental characters of
his, as they move softly through the velvet twilight
of their stageland, Mr. Maeterlinck has recorded something
of the "solemn uninterrupted whisperings of man
and his destiny." We are aware from their speech,
even before we know the situation, that they are beings,
no more remarkable than ourselves, but confronting some
portentous and impending doom. And although they are
only caught in a coil of circumstance common to all
mankind, and talk together in the homeliest phrases
of our daily intercourse, we gather in the pause of
their speech, as it were, an intimation of dread, a
cold apprehension of disaster, an intense realization
of the swift, irremeable march of fate. They do not
give a ruddy and vital presentation of life,-these unearthly,
ventriloqual tragedies of the soul,-their purpose is
nothing of the sort. They do aim to impress upon us
the constant and undominated mastery of the human soul
under all conditions, and the importance of recognizing
its needs and its power. Now the needs and the power
of the soul are exercised in a region where definite
language and absolute conclusion are inoperative and
insufficient, the region of Hamlet's doubts and Lady
Macbeth's terrors. And it is all the experiences of
the soul, so great, so continual, so unobserved-through
a territory on the outskirts of the mind-that Mr. Maeterlinck
has set himself to study and portray. For this purpose
he has employed a new method, the method of suggestion
and implication; or rather, I ought to say, he has employed
an old method so exclusively as to make it a new mode
of treatment in art. For there is in all great literature
a recognition of the presence of the soul; but it is
uncommon for a thinker to devote himself so exclusively
to the interpretation of its still, small voice. The
result of his study we have in the "Treasure of
the Humble," the definite illustrations of his
philosophy he has given us in his plays.
two achievements, supplementing each other as they do,
mark M. Maurice Maeterlinck, even for us in America,
who follow fresh thought so tardily, and give to art
such a secondary place in our esteem, as a profound
student, the devotee of a lofty philosophy, and a writer
of scrupulous delicacy and power.