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In a poem, finely conceived but a trifle sentimental, she expressed her thankfulness for the experience of these two years. Malwida had recognized Romain as her European brother, just as Tolstoi had recognized a disciple. Twenty years before the world had heard of Rolland, his life was moving on heroic paths. Greatness cannot be hid. When any one is born to greatness, the past and the present send him images and figures to serve as exhortation and example.
From every country and from every race of Europe, voices rise to greet the man who is one day to speak for them all. T HE two years in Italy, a time of free receptivity and creative enjoyment, were over. A summons now came from Paris; the Normal School, which Rolland had left as pupil, required his services as teacher. The parting was a wrench, and Malwida von Meysenbug's farewell was designed to convey a symbolical meaning.
She invited her young friend to accompany her to Bayreuth, the chief sphere of the activities of the man who, with Tolstoi, had been the leading inspiration of Rolland during early youth, the man whose image had been endowed with more vigorous life by Malwida's memories of his personality.
Rolland wandered on foot across Umbria, to meet his friend in Venice. Together they visited the palace in which Wagner had died, and thence journeyed northward to the scene of his life's work. I likewise wished the experience to be a consecration upon the threshold of manhood, with its prospective labors and its inevitable struggles and disillusionments.
Olivier had entered the country of Jean Christophe! On the first morning of their arrival, before introducing her friend at Wahnfried, Malwida took him into the garden to see the master's grave. Rolland uncovered as if in church, and the two stood for a while in silence meditating on the hero, to one of them a friend, to the other a leader. In the evening they went to hear Wagner's posthumous work Parsifal. This composition, which, like the visit to Bayreuth, is strangely interconnected with the genesis of Jean Christophe , is as it were a consecrational prelude to Rolland's future.
For life was now to call him from these great dreams. Malwida gives a moving description of their good-by. Once more I went to hear Parsifal with Rolland, who was about to return to France in order to play an active part in the work of life. It was a matter of deep regret to me that this gifted friend was not free to lift himself to 'higher spheres,' that he could not ripen from youth to manhood while wholly devoted to the unfolding of his artistic impulses.
But I knew that none the less he would work at the roaring loom of time, weaving the living garment of divinity. The tears with which his eyes were filled at the close of the opera made me feel once more that my faith in him would be justified. Thus I bade him farewell with heartfelt thanks for the time filled with poesy which his talents had bestowed on me. I dismissed him with the blessing that age gives to youth entering upon life.
Although an epoch that had been rich for both was now closed, their friendship was by no means over. For years to come, down to the end of her life, Rolland wrote to Malwida once a week. These letters, which were returned to him after her death, contain a biography of his early manhood perhaps fuller than that which is available in the case of any other notable personality. Inestimable was the value of what he had learned from this encounter. He had now acquired an extensive knowledge of reality and an unlimited sense of human continuity.
Whereas he had gone to Rome to study the art of the dead past, he had found the living Germany, and could enjoy the companionship of her undying heroes. The triad of poesy, music, and science, harmonizes unconsciously with that other triad, France, Germany, and Italy. Once and for all, Rolland had acquired the European spirit. Before he had written a line of Jean Christophe , that great epic was already living in his blood.
T HE form of Rolland's career, no less than the substance of his inner life, was decisively fashioned by these two years in Italy. As happened in Goethe's case, so in that with which we are now concerned, the conflict of the will was harmonized amid the sublime clarity of the southern landscape. Rolland had gone to Rome with his mind still undecided. By genius, he was a musician; by inclination, a poet; by necessity, a historian. Little by little, a magical union had been effected between music and poesy.
In his first dramas, the phrasing is permeated with lyrical melody. Simultaneously, behind the winged words, his historic sense had built up a mighty scene out of the rich hues of the past. Discovering for the first time what was to be henceforward his favorite theme, he showed how, in this apparently abstract sphere, the nations cultivate their individual characteristics, while never ceasing to develop unawares the higher unity wherein time and national differences are unknown.
A great power for understanding others, in association with the faculty for writing so as to be readily understood, constitutes the essence of his activities. Here, moreover, in the element with which he was most familiar, his emotional force was singularly effective.
More than any teacher before him did he make the science he had to convey, a living thing. Dealing with the invisible entity of music, he showed that the greatness of mankind is never concentrated in a single age, nor exclusively allotted to a single nation, but is transmitted from age to age and from nation to nation. Thus like a torch does it pass from one master to another, a torch that will never be extinguished while human beings continue to draw the breath of inspiration.
There are no contradictions, there is no cleavage, in art. Consequently, history is compelled to maintain the tie between all the thoughts of the human spirit. Many of those who heard Rolland's lectures at the School of Social Science and at the Sorbonne, still speak of them to-day with undiminished gratitude.
Only in a formal sense was history the topic of these discourses, and science was merely their foundation. It is true that Rolland, side by side with his universal reputation, has a reputation among specialists in musical research for having discovered the manuscript of Luigi Rossi's Orfeo , and for having been the first to do justice to the forgotten Francesco Provenzale the teacher of Alessandro Scarlatti who founded the Neapolitan school. But their broad humanist scope, their encyclopedic outlook, makes his lectures on The Beginnings of Opera frescoes of whilom civilizations.
In interludes of speaking, he would give music voice, playing on the piano long-lost airs, so that in the very Paris where they first blossomed three hundred years before, their silvery tones were now reawakened from dust and parchment. At this date, while Rolland was still quite young, he began to exercise upon his fellows that clarifying, guiding, inspiring, and formative influence, which since then, increasingly reinforced by the power of his imaginative writings and spread by these into ever widening circles, has become immeasurable in its extent.
Nevertheless, throughout its expansion, this force has remained true to its primary aim. From first to last, Rolland's leading thought has been to display, amid all the forms of man's past and man's present, the things that are really great in human personality, and the unity of all single-hearted endeavor.
It is obvious that Romain Rolland's passion for music could not be restricted within the confines of history. He could never become a specialist. The limitations involved in the career of such experts are utterly uncongenial to his synthetic temperament. For him the past is but a preparation for the present; what has been merely provides the possibility for increasing comprehension of the future.
This collection contains the first portrait of Hugo Wolf ever published in France, together with striking presentations of Richard Strauss and Debussy. He was never weary of looking for new creative forces in European music; he went to the Strasburg musical festival to hear Gustav Mahler, and visited Bonn to attend the Beethoven festival. Nothing seemed alien to his eager pursuit of knowledge; his sense of justice was all-embracing.
From Catalonia to Scandinavia he listened for every new wave in the ocean of music. He was no less at home with the spirit of the present than with the spirit of the past. During these years of activity as teacher, he learned much from life. New circles were opened to him in the Paris which hitherto he had known little of except from the window of his lonely study.
His position at the university and his marriage brought the man who had hitherto associated only with a few intimates and with distant heroes, into contact with intellectual and social life. Elsewhere, in the drawing-rooms, he moved among financiers, bourgeois, officials, persons drawn from all strata of city life, including the cosmopolitans who are always to be found in Paris.
Involuntarily, during these years, Rolland the romanticist became an observer. His idealism, without forfeiting intensity, gained critical strength. The experiences garnered it might be better to say, the disillusionments sustained in these contacts, all this medley of commonplace life, were to form the basis of his subsequent descriptions of the Parisian world in La foire sur la place and Dans la maison. Occasional journeys to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and his beloved Italy, gave him opportunities for comparison, and provided fresh knowledge.
More and more, the growing horizon of modern culture came to occupy his thoughts, thus displacing the science of history. The wanderer returned from Europe had discovered his home, had discovered Paris; the historian had found the most important epoch for living men and women—the present.
He was inspired with a restrained passion for activity. In all times and scenes, alike in the past and in the present, his inspiration discerned greatness. The impulse now grew strong within him to give his imaginings life. But this will to greatness encountered a season of petty things.
At the date when Rolland began his life work, the mighty figures of French literature had already passed from the stage: Victor Hugo, with his indefatigable summons to idealism; Flaubert, the heroic worker; Renan, the sage.
The stars of the neighboring heaven, Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche, had set or become obscured. Extant art, even the serious art of a Zola or a Maupassant, was devoted to the commonplace; it created only in the image of a corrupt and enfeebled generation.
Political life had become paltry and supine. Philosophy was stereotyped and abstract. There was no longer any common bond to unite the elements of the nation, for its faith had been shattered for decades to come by the defeat of Rolland aspired to bold ventures, but his world would have none of them. He was a fighter, but his world desired an easy life.
He wanted fellowship, but all that his world wanted was enjoyment. Suddenly a storm burst over the country. France was stirred to the depths. The entire nation became engrossed in an intellectual and moral problem. Rolland, a bold swimmer, was one of the first to leap into the turbulent flood. Betwixt night and morning, the Dreyfus affair rent France in twain. There were no abstentionists; there was no calm contemplation. The finest among Frenchmen were the hottest partisans. For two years the country was severed as by a knife blade into two camps, that of those whose verdict was "guilty," and that of those whose verdict was "not guilty.
To-day we find it difficult to understand how this accusation of espionage brought against an artillery captain could involve all France in a crisis. The passions aroused transcended the immediate cause to invade the whole sphere of mental life. Every Frenchman was faced by a problem of conscience, was compelled to make a decision between fatherland and justice. Thus with explosive energy the moral forces were, for all right-thinking minds, dragged into the vortex.
Rolland was among the few who from the very outset insisted that Dreyfus was innocent The apparent hopelessness of these early endeavors to secure justice were for Rolland a spur to conscience. Under the pseudonym Saint-Just he published a dramatic parable, Les loups , wherein he lifted the problem from the realm of time into the realm of the eternal. This was played to an enthusiastic audience, among which were Zola, Scheurer-Kestner, and Picquart. The more definitely political the trial became, the more evident was it that the freemasons, the anti-clericalists, and the socialists were using the affair to secure their own ends; and the more the question of material success replaced the question of the ideal, the more did Rolland withdraw from active participation.
His enthusiasm is devoted only to spiritual matters, to problems, to lost causes. In the Dreyfus affair, just as later, it was his glory to have been one of the first to take up arms, and to have been a solitary champion in a historic moment. This differed from the championship of Dreyfus in that it was not stormy and clamorous, but involved a tranquil heroism which made it resemble rather the way of the cross. The friends were painfully aware of the corruption and triviality of the literature then dominant in Paris.
To attempt a direct attack would have been fruitless, for this hydra had the whole periodical press at its service. Nowhere was it possible to inflict a mortal blow upon the many-headed and thousand-armed entity. They resolved, therefore, to work against it, not with its own means, not by imitating its own noisy activities, but by the force of moral example, by quiet sacrifice and invincible patience. For fifteen years they wrote and edited the " Cahiers de la quinzaine.
It was read by students and by a few men of letters, by a small circle growing imperceptibly. Throughout an entire decade, all Rolland's works appeared in its pages, the whole of Jean Christophe , Beethoven , Michel-Ange , and the plays. Though during this epoch the author's financial position was far from easy, he received nothing for any of these writings—the case is perhaps unexampled in modern literature.
To fortify their idealism, to set an example to others, these heroic figures renounced the chance of publicity, circulation, and remuneration for their writings; they renounced the holy trinity of the literary faith. But it remains an imperishable monument of French idealism and artistic comradeship.
A third time Rolland's intellectual ardor led him to try his mettle in the field of action. A third time, for a space, did he enter into a comradeship that he might fashion life out of life. A group of young men had come to recognize the futility and harmfulness of the French boulevard drama, whose central topic is the eternal recurrence of adultery issuing from the tedium of bourgeois existence.
They determined upon an attempt to restore the drama to the people, to the proletariat, and thus to furnish it with new energies. Impetuously Rolland threw himself into the scheme, writing essays, manifestoes, an entire book. Above all, he contributed a series of plays conceived in the spirit of the French revolution and composed for its glorification. The other plays were likewise staged.
But the daily press, obviously scenting a hostile force, did its utmost to chill the enthusiasm. The other participators soon lost their zeal, so that ere long the fine impetus of the young group was spent. Rolland was left alone, richer in experience and disillusionment, but not poorer in faith.
Although by sentiment Rolland is attached to all great movements, the inner man has ever remained free from ties. He gives his energies to help others' efforts, but never follows blindly in others' footsteps.
Whatever creative work he has attempted in common with others has been a disappointment; the fellowship has been clouded by the universality of human frailty. The Dreyfus case was subordinated to political scheming; the People's Theater was wrecked by jealousies; Rolland's plays, written for the workers, were staged but for a night; his wedded life came to a sudden and disastrous end—but nothing could shatter his idealism.
When contemporary existence could not be controlled by the forces of the spirit, he still retained his faith in the spirit. In hours of disillusionment he called up the images of the great ones of the earth, who conquered mourning by action, who conquered life by art. He left the theater, he renounced the professorial chair, he retired from the world. Since life repudiated his single-hearted endeavors he would transfigure life in gracious pictures.
His disillusionments had but been further experience. During the ensuing ten years of solitude he wrote Jean Christophe , a work which in the ethical sense is more truly real than reality itself, a work which embodies the living faith of his generation.
F OR a brief season the Parisian public was familiar with Romain Rolland's name as that of a musical expert and a promising dramatist. Thereafter for years he disappeared from view, for the capital of France excels all others in its faculty for merciless forgetfulness. He was never spoken of even in literary circles, although poets and other men of letters might be expected to be the best judges of the values in which they deal. If the curious reader should care to turn over the reviews and anthologies of the period, to examine the histories of literature, he will find not a word of the man who had already written a dozen plays, had composed wonderful biographies, and had published six volumes of Jean Christophe.
The " Cahiers de la quinzaine " were at once the birthplace and the tomb of his writings. He was a stranger in the city at the very time when he was describing its mental life with a picturesqueness and comprehensiveness which has never been equaled. At forty years of age, he had won neither fame nor pecuniary reward; he seemed to possess no influence; he was not a living force.
In his own person he experienced the fate which he has depicted in such moving terms, the tragedy of French idealism. A period of seclusion is, however, needful as a preliminary to labors of such concentration. Force must develop in solitude before it can capture the world.
Only a man prepared to ignore the public, only a man animated with heroic indifference to success, could venture upon the forlorn hope of planning a romance in ten volumes; a French romance which, in an epoch of exacerbated nationalism, was to have a German for its hero. In such detachment alone could this universality of knowledge shape itself into a literary creation. Nowhere but amid tranquillity undisturbed by the noise of the crowd could a work of such vast scope be brought to fruition.
For a decade Rolland seemed to have vanished from the French literary world. Mystery enveloped him, the mystery of toil. Through all these long years his cloistered labors represented the hidden stage of the chrysalis, from which the imago is to issue in winged glory.
It was a period of much suffering, a period of silence, a period characterized by knowledge of the world—the knowledge of a man whom the world did not yet know. T WO tiny little rooms, attic rooms in the heart of Paris, on the fifth story, reached by a winding wooden stair. From below comes the muffled roar, as of a distant storm, rising from the Boulevard Montparnasse. Often a glass shakes on the table as a heavy motor omnibus thunders by. The windows command a view across less lofty houses into an old convent garden.
In springtime the perfume of flowers is wafted through the open window. No neighbors on this story; no service. Nothing beyond the help of the concierge, an old woman who protects the hermit from untimely visitors. The workroom is full of books. They climb up the walls, and are piled in heaps on the floor; they spread like creepers over the window seat, over the chairs and the table. Interspersed are manuscripts. The walls are adorned with a few engravings.
We see photographs of friends, and a bust of Beethoven. The deal table stands near the window; two chairs, a small stove. Nothing costly in the narrow cell; nothing which could tempt to repose; nothing to encourage sociability. A student's den; a little prison of labor. Amid the books sits the gentle monk of this cell, soberly clad like a clergyman. He is slim, tall, delicate looking; his complexion is sallow, like that of one who is rarely in the open.
His face is lined, suggesting that here is a worker who spends few hours in sleep. His whole aspect is somewhat fragile—the sharply-cut profile which no photograph seems to reproduce perfectly; the small hands, his hair silvering already behind the lofty brow; his moustache falling softly like a shadow over the thin lips. Everything about him is gentle: his voice in its rare utterances; his figure which, even in repose, shows the traces of his sedentary life; his gestures, which are always restrained; his slow gait.
His whole personality radiates gentleness. The casual observer might derive the impression that the man is debilitated or extremely fatigued, were it not for the way in which the eyes flash ever and again from beneath the slightly reddened eyelids, to relapse always into their customary expression of kindliness. The eyes have a blue tint as of deep waters of exceptional purity. That is why no photograph can convey a just impression of one in whose eyes the whole force of his soul seems to be concentrated.
The face is inspired with life by the glance, just as the small and frail body radiates the mysterious energy of work. This work, the unceasing labor of a spirit imprisoned in a body, imprisoned within narrow walls during all these years, who can measure it?
The written books are but a fraction of it. The ardor of our recluse is all-embracing, reaching forth to include the cultures of every tongue, the history, philosophy, poesy, and music of every nation. He is in touch with all endeavors. He receives sketches, letters, and reviews concerning everything. He is one who thinks as he writes, speaking to himself and to others while his pen moves over the paper. With his small, upright handwriting in which all the letters are clearly and powerfully formed, he permanently fixes the thoughts that pass through his mind, whether spontaneously arising or coming from without; he records the airs of past and recent times, noting them down in manuscript books; he makes extracts from newspapers, drafts plans for future work; his thriftily collected hoard of these autographic intellectual goods is enormous.
The flame of his labor burns unceasingly. Rarely does he take more than five hours' sleep; seldom does he go for a stroll in the adjoining Luxembourg; infrequently does a friend climb the five nights of winding stair for an hour's quiet talk; even such journeys as he undertakes are mostly for purposes of research. Repose signifies for him a change of occupation; to write letters instead of books, to read philosophy instead of poetry. His solitude is an active communing with the world.
His free hours are his only holiday, stolen from the long days when he sits in the twilight at the piano, holding converse with the great masters of music, drawing melodies from other worlds into this confined space which is itself a world of the creative spirit.
W E are in the year There is a cry, and a man who was incautiously crossing the street lies beneath the wheels. He is borne away wounded and with broken limbs, to be nursed back to life. Nothing can better exemplify the slenderness, as yet, of Romain Rolland's fame, than the reflection how little his death at this juncture would have signified to the literary world. There would have been a paragraph or two in the newspapers informing the public that the sometime professor of musical history at the Sorbonne had succumbed after being run over by a motor.
A few, perhaps, would have remembered that fifteen years earlier this man Rolland had written promising dramas, and books on musical topics. Among the innumerable inhabitants of Paris, scarce a handful would have known anything of the deceased author. Thus ignored was Romain Rolland two years before he obtained a European reputation; thus nameless was he when he had finished most of the works which were to make him a leader of our generation—the dozen or so dramas, the biographies of the heroes, and the first eight volumes of Jean Christophe.
A wonderful thing is fame, wonderful its eternal multiplicity. Every reputation has peculiar characteristics, independent of the man to whom it attaches, and yet appertaining to him as his destiny. Fame may be wise and it may be foolish; it may be deserved and it may be undeserved.
On the one hand it may be easily attained and brief, flashing transiently like a meteor; on the other hand it may be tardy, slow in blossoming, following reluctantly in the footsteps of the works. Sometimes fame is malicious, ghoulish, arriving too late, and battening upon corpses. Strange is the relationship between Rolland and fame.
From early youth he was allured by its magic; but charmed by the thought of the only reputation that counts, the reputation that is based upon moral strength and ethical authority, he proudly and steadfastly renounced the ordinary amenities of cliquism and conventional intercourse. He knew the dangers and temptations of power; he knew that fussy activity could grasp nothing but a cold shadow, and was impotent to seize the radiant light. Never, therefore, did he take any deliberate step towards fame, never did he reach out his hand to fame, near to him as fame had been more than once in his life.
Indeed, he deliberately repelled the oncoming footsteps by the publication of his scathing La foire sur la place , through which he permanently forfeited the favor of the Parisian press. Fame loved Rolland, who loved fame from afar, unobtrusively. The seeds must lie for a while in the darkness, enduring patiently, until the time comes for germination. A small community of admirers had formed after the publication of Beethoven. They followed Jean Christophe in his pilgrimage. The faithful of the " Cahiers de la quinzaine " won new friends.
Without any help from the press, through the unseen influence of responsive sympathies, the circulation of his works grew. Translations were published. Paul Seippel, the distinguished Swiss author, penned a comprehensive biography. Rolland had found many devoted admirers before the newspapers had begun to print his name. The crowning of his completed work by the Academy was nothing more than the sound of a trumpet summoning the armies of his admirers to a review.
All at once accounts of Rolland broke upon the world like a flood, shortly before he had attained his fiftieth year. In he was still unknown; in he had a wide reputation. With a cry of astonishment, a generation recognized its leader, and Europe became aware of the first product of the new universal European spirit.
There is a mystical significance in Romain Rolland's rise to fame, just as in every event of his life. Fame came late to this man whom fame had passed by during the bitter years of mental distress and material need. Nevertheless it came at the right hour, since it came before the war. Rolland's renown put a sword into his hand. At the decisive moment he had power and a voice to speak for Europe. He stood on a pedestal, so that he was visible above the medley.
In truth fame was granted at a fitting time, when through suffering and knowledge Rolland had grown ripe for his highest function, to assume his European responsibility. Reputation, and the power that reputation gives, came at a moment when the world of the courageous needed a man who should proclaim against the world itself the world's eternal message of brotherhood. T HUS does Rolland's life pass from obscurity into the light of day. Progress is slow, but the impulsion comes from powerful energies.
The movement towards the goal is not always obvious, and yet his life is associated as is none other with the disastrously impending destiny of Europe. Regarded from the outlook of fulfillment, we discern that all the ostensibly counteracting influences, the years of inconspicuous and apparently vain struggle, have been necessary; we see that every incident has been symbolic.
The career develops like a work of art, building itself up in a wise ordination of will and chance. We should take too mean a view of destiny, were we to think it the outcome of pure sport that this man hitherto unknown should become a moral force in the world during the very years when, as never before, there was need for one who would champion the things of the spirit.
The year marks the close of Romain Rolland's private life. Henceforth his career belongs to the world; his biography becomes part of history; his personal experiences can no longer be detached from his public activities. The solitary has been forced out of his workroom to accomplish his task in the world.
The man whose existence has been so retired, must now live with doors and windows open. His every essay, his every letter, is a manifesto. His life from now onward shapes itself like a heroic drama. From the hour when his most cherished ideal, the unity of Europe, seemed bent on its own destruction, he emerged from his retirement to become a vital element of his time, an impersonal force, a chapter in the history of the European spirit.
Just as little as Tolstoi's life can be detached from his propagandist activities, just so little is there justification in this case for an attempt to distinguish between the man and his influence. Since , Romain Rolland has been one with his ideal and one with the struggle for its realization.
No longer is he author, poet, or artist; no longer does he belong to himself. He is the voice of Europe in the season of its most poignant agony. He has become the conscience of the world. For here we have a passion that springs from the weariness of an entire country, a faith that springs from the disillusionment of a humiliated nation. The shadow of was cast across the youth of the French author.
The significance and greatness of his work taken as a whole depend upon the way in which it constitutes a spiritual bridge between one great war and the next. It arises from a blood-stained earth and a storm-tossed horizon on one side, reaching across on the other to the new struggle and the new spirit.
It originates in gloom. A land defeated in war is like a man who has lost his god. Divine ecstasy is suddenly replaced by dull exhaustion; a fire that blazed in millions is extinguished, so that nothing but ash and cinder remain. There is a sudden collapse of all values. Enthusiasm has become meaningless; death is purposeless; the deeds, which but yesterday were deemed heroic, are now looked upon as follies; faith is a fraud; belief in oneself, a pitiful illusion.
The impulse to fellowship fades; every one fights for his own hand, evades responsibility that he may throw it upon his neighbor, thinks only of profit, utility, and personal advantage. Lofty aspirations are killed by an infinite weariness. Nothing is so utterly destructive to the moral energy of the masses as a defeat; nothing else degrades and weakens to the same extent the whole spiritual poise of a nation. Such was the condition of France after ; the country was mentally tired; it had become a land without a leader.
The best among its imaginative writers could give no help. They staggered for a while, as if stunned by the bludgeoning of the disaster. It is not within the power of men already mature to make headway against a national catastrophe. Zola, Flaubert, Anatole France, and Maupassant, needed all their strength to keep themselves erect on their own feet.
They could give no support to their nation. Their experiences had made them skeptical; they no longer possessed sufficient faith to give a new faith to the French people. But the younger writers, those who had no personal memories of the disaster, those who had not witnessed the actual struggle and had merely grown up amid the spiritual corpses left upon the battlefield, those who looked upon the ravaged and tormented soul of France, could not succumb to the influences of this weariness.
The young cannot live without faith, cannot breathe in the moral stagnation of a materialistic world. For them, life and creation mean the lighting up of faith, that mystically burning faith which glows unquenchably in every new generation, glows even among the tombs of the generation which has passed away.
To the newcomers, the defeat is no more than one of the primary factors of their experience, the most urgent of the problems their art must take into account. They feel that they are naught unless they prove able to restore this France, torn and bleeding after the struggle.
It is their mission to provide a new faith for this skeptically resigned people. Such is the task for their robust energies, such the goal of their aspiration. Not by chance do we find that among the best in defeated nations a new idealism invariably springs to life; that the poets of such peoples have but one aim, to bring solace to their nation that the sense of defeat may be assuaged.
How can a vanquished nation be solaced? How can the sting of defeat be soothed? The writer must be competent to divert his readers' thoughts from the present; he must fashion a dialectic of defeat which shall replace despair by hope. These young authors endeavored to bring help in two different ways. Some pointed towards the future, saying: "Cherish hatred; last time we were beaten, next time we shall conquer. For thirty years, with the hammers of verse and prose, they fashioned the wounded pride of the French nation that it might become a weapon to strike the hated foe to the heart.
For thirty years they talked of nothing but yesterday's defeat and to-morrow's triumph. Ever afresh did they tear open the old wound. Again and again, when the young were inclining towards reconciliation, did these writers inflame their minds anew with exhortations in the heroic vein.
From hand to hand they passed the unquenchable torch of revenge, ready and eager to fling it into Europe's powder barrel. The other type of idealism, that of Rolland, less clamant and long ignored, looked in a very different direction for solace, turning its gaze not towards the immediate future but towards eternity. It did not promise a new victory, but showed that false values had been used in estimating defeat. For writers of this school, for the pupils of Tolstoi, force is no argument for the spirit, the externals of success provide no criterion of value for the soul.
In their view, the individual does not conquer when the generals of his nation march to victory through a hundred provinces; the individual is not vanquished when the army loses a thousand pieces of artillery. The individual gains the victory, only when he is free from illusion, and when he has no part in any wrong committed by his nation.
In their isolation, those who hold such views have continually endeavored to induce France, not indeed to forget her defeat, but to make of that defeat a source of moral greatness, to recognize the worth of the spiritual seed which has germinated on the blood-drenched battlefields. Of such a character, in Jean Christophe , are the words of Olivier, the spokesman of all young Frenchmen of this way of thinking. Speaking to his German friend, he says: "Fortunate the defeat, blessed the disaster!
Not for us to disavow it, for we are its children It is you, my dear Christopher, who have refashioned us The defeat, little as you may have wished it, has done us more good than evil. You have rekindled the torch of our idealism, have given a fresh impetus to our science, and have reanimated our faith We owe to you the reawakening of our racial conscience Picture the young Frenchmen who were born in houses of mourning under the shadow of defeat; who were nourished on gloomy thoughts; who were trained to be the instruments of a bloody, inevitable, and perhaps useless revenge.
Such was the lesson impressed upon their minds from their earliest years: they were taught that there is no justice in this world; that might crushes right. A revelation of this character will either degrade a child's soul for ever, or will permanently uplift it. Thus are the masses of the people For Rolland this elite, reconciling France with the world, will in days to come fulfil the mission of his nation. In ultimate analysis, his thirty years' work may be regarded as one continuous attempt to prevent a new war—to hinder the revival of the horrible cleavage between victory and defeat.
His aim has been, not to teach a new national pride, but to inculcate a new heroism of self-conquest, a new faith in justice. Thus from the same source, from the darkness of defeat, there have flowed two different streams of idealism. In speech and writing, an invisible struggle has been waged for the soul of the new generation. The year marked the defeat of the ideas of Romain Rolland. Thus defeat was not merely an experience imposed on him in youth, for defeat has likewise been the tragic substance of his years of mature manhood.
But it has always been his peculiar talent to create out of defeat the strongest of his works, to draw from resignation new ardors, to derive from disillusionment a passionate faith. He has ever been the poet of the vanquished, the consoler of the despairing, the dauntless guide towards that world where suffering is transmuted into positive values and where misfortune becomes a source of strength.
That which was born out of a tragical time, the experience of a nation under the heel of destiny, Rolland has made available for all times and all nations. The hero of one of his first writings, the Girondist Hugot in Le triomphe de la raison , discloses the author's own ardent faith when he declares: "Our first duty is to be great, and to defend greatness on earth.
This will to greatness lies hidden at the heart of all personal greatness. What distinguishes Romain Rolland from others, what distinguishes the beginner of those days and the fighter of the thirty years that have since elapsed, is that in art he never creates anything isolated, anything with a purely literary or casual scope.
Invariably his efforts are directed towards the loftiest moral aims; he aspires towards eternal forms; strives to fashion the monumental. His goal is to produce a fresco, to paint a comprehensive picture, to achieve an epic completeness. He does not choose his literary colleagues as models, but takes as examples the heroes of the ages.
He tears his gaze away from Paris, from the movement of contemporary life, which he regards as trivial. Tolstoi, the only modern who seems to him poietic, as the great men of an earlier day were poietic, is his teacher and master. Despite his humility, he cannot but feel that his own creative impulse makes him more closely akin to Shakespeare's historical plays, to Tolstoi's War and Peace , to Goethe's universality, to Balzac's wealth of imagination, to Wagner's promethean art, than he is akin to the activities of his contemporaries, whose energies are concentrated upon material success.
He studies his exemplars' lives, to draw courage from their courage; he examines their works, in order that, using their measure, he may lift his own achievements above the commonplace and the relative. His zeal for the absolute is almost a religion. Without venturing to compare himself with them, he thinks always of the incomparably great, of the meteors that have fallen out of eternity into our own day.
He dreams of creating a Sistine of symphonies, dramas like Shakespeare's histories, an epic like War and Peace ; not of writing a new Madame Bovary or tales like those of Maupassant. The timeless is his true world; it is the star towards which his creative will modestly and yet passionately aspires. Among latter-day Frenchmen none but Victor Hugo and Balzac have had this glorious fervor for the monumental; among the Germans none has had it since Richard Wagner; among contemporary Englishmen, none perhaps but Thomas Hardy.
Neither talent nor diligence suffices unaided to inspire such an urge towards the transcendent. A moral force must be the lever to shake a spiritual world to its foundations. The moral force which Rolland possesses is a courage unexampled in the history of modern literature. The quality that first made his attitude on the war manifest to the world, the heroism which led him to take his stand alone against the sentiments of an entire epoch, had, to the discerning, already been made apparent in the writings of the inconspicuous beginner a quarter of a century earlier.
A man of an easy-going and conciliatory nature is not suddenly transformed into a hero. Courage, like every other power of the soul, must be steeled and tempered by many trials. Among all those of his generation, Rolland had long been signalized as the boldest by his preoccupation with mighty designs. Not merely did he dream, like ambitious schoolboys, of Iliads and pentalogies; he actually created them in the fevered world of to-day, working in isolation, with the dauntless spirit of past centuries.
Not one of his plays had been staged, not a publisher had accepted any of his books, when he began a dramatic cycle as comprehensive as Shakespeare's histories. He had as yet no public, no name, when he began his colossal romance, Jean Christophe. He likewise embroiled himself with the critics, when, in La foire sur la place , he pilloried the cheapjackery of Parisian journalism and French dilettantism with a severity which had been unknown westward of the Rhine since the publication of Balzac's Les illusions perdues.
This young man whose financial position was precarious, who had no powerful associates, who had found no favor with newspaper editors, publishers, or theatrical managers, proposed to remold the spirit of his generation, simply by his own will and the power of his own deeds. Instead of aiming at a neighboring goal, he always worked for a distant future, worked with that religious faith in greatness which was displayed by the medieval architects—men who planned cathedrals for the honor of God, recking little whether they themselves would survive to see the completion of their designs.
This courage, which draws its strength from the religious elements of his nature, is his sole helper. T HE will to greatness involuntarily finds expression in characteristic forms. Rarely does Rolland attempt to deal with any isolated topic, and he never concerns himself about a mere episode in feeling or in history.
His creative imagination is attracted solely by elemental phenomena, by the great "courants de foi," whereby with mystical energy a single idea is suddenly carried into the minds of millions of individuals; whereby a country, an epoch, a generation, will become kindled like a firebrand, and will shed light over the environing darkness.
He lights his own poetic flame at the great beacons of mankind, be they individuals of genius or inspired epochs, Beethoven or the Renaissance, Tolstoi or the Revolution, Michelangelo or the Crusades. Yet for the artistic control of such phenomena, widely ranging, deeply rooted in the cosmos, overshadowing entire eras, more is requisite than the raw ambition and fitful enthusiasm of an adolescent.
If a mental state of this nature is to fashion anything that shall endure, it must do so in boldly conceived forms. The cultural history of inspired and heroic periods, cannot be limned in fugitive sketches; careful grounding is indispensable. Above all does this apply to monumental architecture. Here we must have a spacious site for the display of the structures, and terraces from which a general view can be secured.
That is why, in all his works, Rolland needs so much room. He desires to be just to every epoch as to every individual. He never wishes to display a chance section, but would fain exhibit the entire cycle of happenings. He would fain depict, not episodes of the French revolution, but the Revolution as a whole; not the history of Jean Christophe Krafft, the individual modern musician, but the history of contemporary Europe.
He aims at presenting, not only the central force of an era, but likewise the manifold counterforces; not the action alone, but the reaction as well. For Rolland, breadth of scope is a moral necessity rather than an artistic. Since he would be just in his enthusiasm, since in the parliament of his work he would give every idea its spokesman, he is compelled to write many-voiced choruses.
That he may exhibit the Revolution in all its aspects, its rise, its troubles, its political activities, its decline, and its fall, he plans a cycle of ten dramas. The Renaissance needs a treatment hardly less extensive. Jean Christophe must have three thousand pages. To Rolland, the intermediate form, the variety, seems no less important than the generic type.
He is aware of the danger of dealing exclusively with types. What would Jean Christophe be worth to us, if with the figure of the hero there were merely contrasted that of Olivier as a typical Frenchman; if we did not find subsidiary figures, good and evil, grouped in numberless variations around the symbolic dominants. If we are to secure a genuinely objective view, many witnesses must be summoned; if we are to form a just judgment, the whole wealth of facts must be taken into consideration.
It is this ethical demand for justice to the small no less than to the great which makes spacious forms essential to Rolland. This is why his creative artistry demands an all-embracing outlook, a cyclic method of presentation. Each individual work in these cycles, however circumscribed it may appear at the first glance, is no more than a segment, whose full significance becomes apparent only when we grasp its relationship to the focal thought, to justice as the moral center of gravity, as a point whence all ideas, words, and actions appear equidistant from the center of universal humanity.
The circle, the cycle, which unrestingly environs all its wealth of content, wherein discords are harmoniously resolved—to Rolland, ever the musician, this symbol of sensory justice is the favorite and wellnigh exclusive form. The work of Romain Rolland during the last thirty years comprises five such creative cycles. Too extended in their scope, they have not all been completed. The first, a dramatic cycle, which in the spirit of Shakespeare was to represent the Renaissance as an integral unit much as Gobineau desired to represent it, remained a fragment.
Even the individual dramas have been cast aside by Rolland as inadequate. Both are unfinished, but the fragments are of imperishable value. The fourth cycle, the Vie des hommes illustres , a cycle of biographies planned to form as it were a frieze round the temple of the invisible God, is likewise incomplete. The ten volumes of Jean Christophe alone succeed in rounding off the full circle of a generation, uniting grandeur and justice in the foreshadowed concord.
Above these five creative cycles there looms another and later cycle, recognizable as yet only in its beginning and its end, its origination and its recurrence. It will express the harmonious connection of a manifold existence with a lofty and universal life-cycle in Goethe's sense, a cycle wherein life and poesy, word and writing, character and action, themselves become works of art. But this cycle still glows in the process of fashioning.
We feel its vital heat radiating into our mortal world. T HE young man of twenty-two, just liberated from the walls of the Parisian seminary, fired with the genius of music and with that of Shakespeare's enthralling plays, had in Italy his first experience of the world as a sphere of freedom. He had learned history from documents and syllabuses. Now history looked at him with living eyes out of statues and figures; the Italian cities, the centuries, seemed to move as if on a stage under his impassioned gaze.
Give them but speech, these sublime memories, and history would become poesy, the past would grow into a peopled tragedy. During his first hours in the south he was in a sublime intoxication. Not as historian but as poet did he first see Rome and Florence. Here, at least, it used to be, in the days of the Renaissance, when these cathedrals grew heavenward amid the storms of battle, and when Michelangelo and Raphael were adorning the walls of the Vatican, what time the popes were no less mighty in spirit than the masters of art—for in that epoch, after centuries of interment with the antique statues, the heroic spirit of ancient Greece had been revived in a new Europe.
Simultaneously, as I have already recounted, witnessing a number of performances by Ernesto Rossi, he came to realize his own dramatic talent. Not now, as of old, in the Clamecy loft, was he chiefly allured by the gentle feminine figures. The strongest appeal, to his early manhood, was exercised by the fierceness of the more powerful characters, by the penetrating truth of a knowledge of mankind, by the stormy tumult of the soul.
In France, Shakespeare is hardly known at all by stage presentation, and but very little in prose translation. Rolland, however, now attained as intimate an acquaintanceship with Shakespeare as had been possessed a hundred years earlier, almost at the same age, by Goethe when he conceived his Oration on Shakespeare. This new inspiration showed itself in a vigorous creative impulse.
Rolland penned a series of dramas dealing with the great figures of the past, working with the fervor of the beginner, and with that sense of newly acquired mastery which was felt by the Germans of the Sturm und Drang era. These plays remained unpublished, at first owing to the disfavor of circumstances, but subsequently because the author's ripening critical faculty made him withhold them from the world. The first, entitled Orsino , was written at Rome in In the same year, , he wrote Gli Baglioni.
This is the only one of the early plays which the author acknowledges to-day, though by an unfortunate mischance the manuscript has been lost. Next came Jeanne de Piennes , which remains unpublished In he wrote La Montespan and Les trois amoureuses. Thus before the era of the more important works there were composed no less than twelve dramas, equaling in bulk the entire dramatic output of Schiller, Kleist, or Hebbel.
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