VOL. I., A COMMUNICATION TO MY FRIENDS
All my books are a confession.
Built his great heart into these sculptured stones.
— The Golden Legend.
"If this Communication to my Friends had been penned as a fiction it would probably have long ago been greeted as one of the most notable psychological studies ever written. * * * The most remarkable of the features of this work is the boldness that prompted an artist to stop short in the middle of his career and tell the world that was scoffing at him what he felt and how he worked. From * * * such a work the word 'self ' is inseparable; but the extraordinary thing about it is that the author has had the daring to write of himself from an 'objective' standpoint, to record his weaknesses, and his faculties, too, as though he were another man. No other eyes have ever seen Wagner, the man and artist, so clearly as he has seen himself in this Communication."
In these few words from the translator's preface we are at once given the right keynote necessary for a true appreciation of this remarkable human document, a document which more than any other has earned for its writer the epithet of "Egotist."
At the outset Wagner defines his Friends as those who do not seek to separate the Artist from the Man, which he calls "as brainless an attempt as the divorce of soul from body." This is a common device of crafty enemies, who are forced to acknowledge genius and therefore separate off the personality and tear it to pieces. Where we cannot understand the actions of a greater than ourselves we had better not try to explain the problem on this basis. A true understanding must, as Wagner says, "be grounded upon sympathy, i. e., upon a. fellow-pain and fellow-feeling with the veriest human aspect of his life."
In these days when education means cramming the brain with a mass of facts, it is interesting to find that such a process is not necessary to high mental and artistic development — nay, may even be a hindrance to it.
In giving some details of his early life Wagner tells a pretty story of the birth of Smith Wieland's sire. The three Norns (Goddesses of Fate) attended to bestow their gifts. One gave Strength, another Wisdom, but the third bestowed upon the child "the ne'er contented mind that ever broods the New." The parents foolishly rejected this third gift, and so Wieland's father went through life so fatally content that he never made an effort to do anything. But now we see the meaning of the gift:
"That one rejected gift, 'the ne'er contented, mind, that ever broods the New,' the youngest Norn holds out to all of us when we are born, and through it alone might we each one day become a 'Genius'; but now, in our craze for education 'tis Chance alone that brings this gift within our grasp — the accident of not becoming educated. Secure against the refusal of a father, who died beside my cradle, perchance the Norn, so often chased away, stole gently to it and there bestowed on me her gift, which never left poor, untrained me, and made Life and Art and mine own self my only quite anarchic educators."
Passing over some details which appear in the "Autobiographic Sketch," (2) we arrive at the period when Wagner was in Paris and in the direst poverty, after failing to get a hearing for Rienzi. In the psychological experience he here lays bare to us we can see how by force of outward circumstances the man of ambition was crushed, and the real artist and servant of humanity came to the front. He tells us that he was now starting on a new path of "Revolution against our modern Public Art," and that "it was the feeling of the necessity of my revolt that turned me first into a writer." It was at this time that he contributed the brilliant series of articles to the Gazette Musicale, which proved that he was easily foremost among his literary contemporaries there. But with the exercise of one small section of his protean genius he could not feel content. He needed Poetry and Music. Out of his sorrowful plight arose the simple, but deeply moving, drama of The Flying Dutchman, the first of his tragedies of the Soul, based upon the Mythos of the Folk. He speaks of music at this time as "the good angel which preserved me as an artist. * * * I cannot conceive the spirit of Music as aught but Love. Filled with its hallowed might, and with waxing power of insight into human life, I saw set before me no mere formalism to criticise, but clean through the formal semblance the force of sympathy displayed to me its background, the Need-of-Love, downtrodden by that loveless formalism. * * * Thus I revolted out of sheer love, not out of spite or envy; and thus did I become an artist and not a carping man of letters."
We now pass on to some most interesting and valuable hints as to the real meaning of his earlier dramas. In studying these we shall see at once how much they were a part of his very life. Just as Faust was the distillation of Goethe's life-experience, so it is with the great cycle of Wagner's dramas.
It will be useful here to quote a passage from Iris correspondence with August Roeckel regarding these earlier works." (3) "The period since which I have wrought from my inner intuition [Italics mine. — B. C.] began with the Flying Dutchman; Tannhauser and Lohengrin followed, and if any poetic principle is expressed in them it is the high tragedy of Renunciation, of well-motived and at last imperative and alone-redeeming Denial of the Will [i.e., the personal desires]. It is this deep trait that gave my poetry, my music, the consecration without which they could never have possessed any truly stirring power they now may exercise."
Now let us learn at his hands the inner meaning of the Flying Dutchman.
"The figure of the Flying Dutchman is a mythical creation of the Folk; a primal trait of human nature speaks out from it with heart-enthralling force. This trait, in its most universal meaning, is the longing after rest from amid the storms of life." The same meaning is shown in the Legends of Ulysses and the Wandering Jew, both being blended in the figure of the Dutch mariner after "the sea became the soil of life." Condemned to battle forever with the waves (of life) Vanderdecken longs, like Ahasuerus, for Death. And here we light upon a very important element in Wagner's symbology — the figure of the "Eternal Womanly." The Dutchman may gain his redemption at the hands of — "a Woman who, of very love, shall sacrifice herself for him. The yearning for death thus spurs him on to seek this Woman; but she is no longer the home-tending Penelope of Ulysses, as courted in the days of old, but the quintessence of womankind: and yet the still unmanifest, the longed-for, the dreamt-of, the infinitely womanly Woman — let me out with it in one word: the Woman of the Future."
How broad and universal this conception of womanhood was in Wagner's mind we can see still more clearly a little further on, where he speaks of his yearning at that time for his German home-land:
"It was the longing of my Flying Dutchman for das Weib — not, as I have said before, for the wife who waited for Ulysses, but for the redeeming Woman, whose features had never presented themselves to me in any clear-marked outline, but who hovered before my vision as the element of Womanhood in its widest sense."
Why have all poets and thinkers, who worked from their "inner intuition," given this lofty place of redeemer to the truly womanly? What of Dante's Beatrice? Why is Tennyson's Sir Galahad led to the Holy Grail by the "wan sweet maiden" who had seen it first? Why do the Maoris in their secret religious teachings call the Intuition the "inner or concealed woman," and so on, in a thousand cases more?
Surely these things are intended to leach us that in Woman there is that divine quality which can make her the inspirer of Man if both will only recognize it, rising above the faults and limitations and petty desires of the lower nature. Therefore it has been truly said that a man has never achieved anything great without the influence of Woman to back him (as Rudyard Kipling says in "Under the Deodars"), and he who ventures to underrate her, whether as friend or foe, has yet to learn one of the most important lessons of life.
One of the greatest women and mystic philosophers of modern times has expressed herself as follows in an article addressed to a body of French mystics:
"We have permitted ourselves to say that many French Kabbalists have often expressed the opinion that the Eastern school could never be worth much, no matter how it may pride itself on possessing secrets unknown to Europeans, because it admits women into its ranks.
"To this we might answer by repeating the fable told by Bro. Jos. N. Nutt, Grand Master of the Masonic Lodges of the U. S. for women, to show what women would do if they were not shackled by males — whether as men or as god.
"A lion passing close by a monument representing an athletic and powerful figure of a man tearing the jaws of a lion, said: 'If the scene which this represents had been executed by a lion, the two figures would have changed places.' The same remark holds good for Woman. If only she were allowed to represent the phases of human life she would distribute the parts in reverse order. She it was who first took Man to the Tree of Knowledge, and made him know Good and Evil; and if she had been let alone and allowed to do that which she wished, she would have led him to the Tree of Life and thus rendered him immortal." (4)
Richard Le Gallienne, the eminent poet and writer, takes the same view of the third chapter of Genesis in "A Vindication of Eve," a poem which appeared in the Cosmopolitan Magazine for June last.
From his earliest years Wagner looked instinctively to women for that intuitional help which they alone can give. Appealed to in their higher nature, they responded, as they nearly always will, and so it was that many noble women were among the first to recognize his great mission and to uphold his hands from first to last. Speaking of one of his earliest attempts at an opera, he says in the "Autobiographic Sketch": "The text book found no favor with my sister; I destroyed its every trace." Brother reader, would you or I destroy a pet poem on the opinion of a sister, a wife, or even a sweetheart? I fear our natural egotism would be too much for us!
Again in the Communication he records the ennobling influence exercised upon his artistic faculties by the great operatic artiste, Madame Schroder-Devrient: "The remotest contact with this extraordinary woman electrified me; for many a long year, down even to the present day, I saw, I heard, I felt her near me, whenever the impulse to artistic production seized me." And further on he speaks of "the extraordinary and lasting impression which the artistic genius of this in every respect exceptional woman had made upon me in my youth. Now, after an interval of eight years, I came into personal contact with her, a contact prompted and governed by the deep significance of her art to me. * * * She was dramatic through and through in the fullest sense of the word. She was born for intercourse, for blending with the Whole. * * * It is only at the present that I have learnt to value her instinctive judgment."
Here, again, are a few sentences from his letters to his beloved friend and helper, Franz Liszt:
"The contact with a sympathetic, noble female nature is to me an infinitely joyful feeling, and that feeling I should like to gain as a blessing for my impending work."
Writing of the success of the Flying Dutchman, he said: "With the women I have made a great hit;" and again, about Lohengrin: "All the women are in my favor."
Again, at a time of great difficulty, he said: "My dearest Franz, give me the heart, the spirit, the mind of a woman in which I could wholly sink myself, which could quite comprehend me. How little should I then ask of this world." (5)
The so-called "man of the world" will smile at what he will call an amiable weakness in Wagner. He belongs to the class so well described by Leo Tolstoi: "The lord of creation — man; who, in the name of his love, kills one-half of the human race! Of woman, who ought to be his helpmate in the movement of Humanity towards freedom, he makes, for the sake of his pleasures, not a helpmate but an enemy."
His boasted knowledge of Woman is in reality limited to those types who ignorantly or deliberately cater to his vanity and sensuality, so that it has passed into a proverb among women that a man can always be swayed through either his vanity or his appetites. Thus, to take one of the greatest specimens of this type — Goethe — we find it said of him: "'His women are the worshipping, loving type. He has never drawn the highest type of womanhood. His nature and system of morals placed her beyond his knowledge. If he came in contact with such women they were not the ones who fell down and worshipped him; and so in his richly stored workshop there are no materials out of which he can create her." (6)Yet almost at the gate of death he would seem to have learnt his lesson, for Faust closes with the lines:
Here it is done;
The Woman-Soul leadeth us
Upward and on!"
Let the "man of the world" pause a moment and reflect that Wagner was not only a mighty genius, but that he fought single-handed for half a century against terrific odds in carrying out his reforms. No evidence of weakness there! Rather, was he not wise enough to recognize that divine Womanly to which the majority are blind, and great enough to place it upon its throne?
In giving so much space to a consideration of this subject, my object is to try and give a clear idea of the position of a great soul on a question which I hold to be of vital importance. And let us always bear in mind that Wagner, as a philosopher and mystic, did not muddle himself up in a merely personal view. The Womanly was to him a great principle or element in Nature, present to some extent in man's consciousness, but specialized in women as such, just as the Manly (Will, Intellect, etc.) is specialized in Men. But he speaks of Beethoven and others being both man and woman in their creative art. Wagner was conspicuously so himself, but as "man" he needed woman's help; and this is a fact in all human activity, although it acts unconsciously in the great majority of cases. Cherchez la femme! Oh, how universally true! And yet only partially in the satirical or reproachful sense.
A few more words about the Flying Dutchman must close this article. We have seen that it began a new era, in the Poet-Composer's life. He forsook History for Myth; he ceased to concoct opera-texts and string together arias, duets, ballads and choruses. He became a Tone-Poet whose Music and Poetry were absolutely dictated by the nature of the dramatic material. And behind all were the magnificent motives we have outlined above. Hence it is that his creations have that peculiar power which is the hallmark of Aeschylus find Shakespeare.
1. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. London: Kegan, Paul. (return to text)
2. See UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD, February, 1899. (return to text)
3. Also quoted in Theosophy, September, 1897. (return to text)
4. "Alchemy in the Nineteenth Century." Translated from the French of H. P. Blavatsky, in Theosophical Siftings, Vol. II., 1891. (return to text)
5. Wagner-Liszt Correspondence. 1841-61. New York: Scribner. (return to text)
6. New York Times, Aug. 26, 1899. (return to text)
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