Page images

they point in a direction different from that of the prevalent tendencies of their own time. They would both address all men without discrimination, but each of them thinks and speaks in a language intelligible, or at any rate attractively meaningful, only to an auditor somewhat select. Both are essentially poets, without the special order of genius to cast their utterances in adequate poetic form. Both are noble and sincere, but the one is perhaps too excellently wise and vaguely profound, the other too Auent and self-assured, to be quite readily approachable or freely companionable. Both are men of power, and both have conspicuous (though hardly regrettable) limitations. As mystic idealists they are of close kin; as makers of literature, though in some degree comparable, they stand far apart. The one is a moral liberator of vigorously imaginative intellect to whom æsthetic ends are never a temptation or a self-sufficing delight; the other is a conscious and original literary artist who finds his inspiration in the ideas germinated by a youthfully exploratory and frankly amateur philosophy.

Perhaps the most immediately striking point of resemblance between these two teacher-poets is their glorification of the precept of self-reliance. In Emerson

In Emerson “everything vibrates to that iron string.” “A man should learn," he declares with the conviction, at once proud and humble, of one conscious of his own high spiritual gifts, "to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.” That gleam is the inflowing of God, or of Nature, which is the manifestation of God, or of the Over-Soul, which is the One, God and Nature and Soul of Man. If we will but learn to detect this light, Emerson assures us, we shall know that art, religion, political economy, institutions of all kinds, education of all forms--we shall know that whatever in the artificial world moves the passions or enters the mind can have no rightful dominance over the soul and can permanently color or discolor only the soul that fails to be master of itself. Man's spirit being infinite, all knowledge, all beauty lies within him, awaiting his discovery. Furthermore,

“ Save his own soul he has no star, And sinks, except his own soul guide, Helmless in middle turn of tide."

The words are Swinburne's, but they might almost have been Emerson's, and Maeterlinck is merely another voice proclaiming the same salvation. The only temple of justice lies buried in the heart of man. The poorest of human creatures, the most dull, most evil, most blind has yet within his soul a fountain of invisible goodness, may find there the inexhaustible "treasure of the humble," and entertains unawares that "unknown guest, that infinite consciousness which knows no time or space, no birth or death, no good or evil, but comprehends all those mysteries before which the finite intellect stands perpetually helpless and amazed. In the eyes of Maeterlinck and Emerson the life well lived is that in which the intellect is actively recognized to be no more than “a kind of phosphorescence playing over the inner sea" of the unfathomable and boundless soul, that in which the individual becomes more and more skilful in seizing those moments when his intuitive sense is alert to the truth that lies beyond the reach of all his lesser faculties.

The closer students of Emerson, however, especially Professor Woodberry, have pointed out that the American mystic's doctrine of self-reliance is really one of “God-reliance.” The “egoistic will" is under the control of the “Over-Will” as the individual soul is merely a microcosmic representation, or outflowing, or division of the Over-Soul. The human will is as frail and captious and misleading as the intellect. It is only that inmost eye, intuitive vision, that can perceive, realize, apprehend the true, the beautiful, the good, that is, those universals sought and embraced by the whole soul, which is itself universal by nature. Hence Emerson, with all his romantic enthusiasm over the dignity and supreme value of the individual self, is yet, as the “friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit,' one who counsels against particular ends, one who urges that in the affections we should seek to attain impersonal love, one who concerns himself not so much with particular reforms as with broad, general ideals of betterment-betterment for Man rather than for men and women, enlightenment for the human soul rather than for human souls. Maeterlinck the essayist is similarly concerned with universals. Maeterlinck the dramatist is more concerned with particulars, with the problems

that assail the spiritual self in the crucial moments of experience, in the hour of disillusioned love, the hour of bereavement, the hour of death. But in all his prose volumes he is intent, like Emerson, on securing for the individual who would "live in the spirit" liberty from all the impediments of tradition, precedent, convention, dogma, and whatever obstructs the progress of the soul towards the complete discernment of itself as the seat of true judgment and all living and deathless beauty. This passion for spiritual freedom carries him also into a large and well-beaten field of speculation which stirred Emerson's curiosity hardly at all: as to the immortality of the soul Maeterlinck admits no doubt; as to its nature he reasons with an engaging and fortifying plausibility. Our “unknown guest,” which abides in us but transcends our physical, our temporal self, points to a consciousness after death that we have as yet no means of grasping, a consciousness that may be called cosmic, or simply infinite, or figuratively divine, and a consciousness which there is no reason to fear but every reason to desire. The idea of it would appear to be virtually the same as the idea of Emerson's Over-Soul.

For the mature Maeterlinck the idea of fate has no more terror or beauty than for Emerson. The author of La Sagesse et la Destinée is a very different sort of thinker, dreamer, and “interpreter” from the author of La Princesse Maleine, Les Aveugles, and Pélléas et Mélisande. There are, to be sure, powers about us and in us, the mysterious faculties of our “unknown guest,” that we have as yet no means of understanding, and forces which, the more we master them, the more helplessly we are mastered by themsuch forces as those liberated by our ingenuity in the invention and manufacture of the implements of war. But we carry within us a mysterious microcosmic epitome of all knowledge and all wisdom which, let it be fully discovered, makes us rulers of fortune, or destiny. “Be her empire never so great over all things external, she always must halt when she finds on the threshold a silent guardian of the inner life." Or as Emerson expresses it: “If we must accept Fate, we are not less compelled to affirm liberty, the significance of the individual, the grandeur of duty, the power of character.” “Fate . .

is a

name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought;-for causes which are unpenetrated.” There is really nothing external to us, for—"The smallest candle fills a mile with its rays, and the papillæ of a man run out to every star.” But this is not the whole of Emerson's conception. There is a sense in which fate is all-powerful. "For if we give it the high sense in which the poets use it, even thought itself is not above Fate: that too must act according to eternal laws..

“In its last and loftiest ascensions, insight itself, and the freedom of the will, is one of its obedient members.” But fate is attended and antagonized by power, because the world is a dual world of balance, of compensation. “To hazard the contradiction, freedom is necessary.” Intellect, moral sentiment, and will, which is created by insight and affection working together, annul fate, for “a part of Fate is the freedom of man.” Maeterlinck is enamored, one may say, of the same time-worn idea. Emerson expresses it in epigrammatic sentences that glow in his prose pages and in his poetry like small live coals. Maeterlinck visualizes it in dramatic form or half-sings it in Auent, discursive paragraphs. Arielle, the "docile and familiar little fairy, the “inner force," the “subliminal self” of the sage magician Merlin, in Joyzelle, is the “neglected power which slumbers in every soul,” that inmost understanding which creates destiny and masters the world.

In general, the mysticism of Maeterlinck is much more argumentative than that of Emerson. The latest of his essays, those published in America as a volume with the title The Unknown Guest, have in large part a sober scientific plainness far removed in tone and effect from the luxuriantly imaginative ornateness of his first book, Le Trésor des Humbles, and the tendency through the four or five intervening volumes is toward a carefully rationalized coherence of thought and temperateness of expression. Maeterlinck delights in studying metaphysical problems with the same sort of calm laboratory scrutiny that he devotes to the life and intelligence of bees or of Aowers. The essays on the past, luck, "the psychology of accident,” spiritualistic and theosophical doctrines and records of strange phenomena, the Elberfeld horses, and the findings of the Society for

Psychical Research-these in particular are marked by an attitude of mind, an organization of ideas, and a moderation of style different from anything to be found in Emerson. All of these writings are the product of a temperament that is essentially mystical, but in the imperfect, relative way of all seers whose vision consists in a compromise or a coöperation between direct spiritual perception and mathematically strict rational inquiry. The seer who is consistently aud completely mystical, as Professor Santayana shows in his critical appreciation of Emerson, must be one who rejects everything relative, imagination as well as intellect, common sense, poetry, conscience-because nothing relative can seize the absolute, the one, the universal for which the mystic hungers and which he believes that he divines. Perhaps Ruysbroeck the Admirable in his most exalted moments, or William Blake in his times of most complete severance from all normal human experience, was not far from meeting the qualifications of this thoroughly consistent mystic. But in general the “ interpreter,” especially in the modern world, who believes that “we live only by virtue of our transcendental being” will be very much of a relativist. He may be an abstruse and esoteric thinker like Coleridge or like Browning; a visionary like Shelley or Francis Thompson; a moral idealist and disillusionist like Ibsen; a very well-poised, very humanly wise, and very keenly humorous philosopher like William James. He may be a "good morning shepherd” like Emerson or a placid devotee of the mysterious like Maeterlinck. In any case he will be a relativist in whom cautious and canny intellect, venturous and self-regaling imagination, moral intensity, æsthetic sensibility, and practical good sense are variously mixed by the play of circumstance and temperament. Maeterlinck inclines to be more argumentative than Emerson, not because there is more mind in his mysticism, but because there is less inspired assurance and no such genius for the flow of half-isolated images and ideas as the American sage possesses to a degree wholly unique.

Though neither Emerson nor Maeterlinck is, in the proper signification of the term, a philosopher, though neither of them has built up a body of doctrine or a comprehensively systematized order of ideas, yet both concern themselves, in one place

« PreviousContinue »