Frederik van Eeden.

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COPYRIGHT, igog, igio, igii, igi2, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY




Introduction vii

PART I. In the Old World

I. Dreams of Youth 3

II. Poet and Doctor 28

III. A Literary Experiment .... 50

IV. Curing by Suggestion .... 64
V. The Influence of Some Friends . . 82

VI. The Great Strike 91

VII. The Breakdown 117

PART II. In the New World

I. The Scheme for America . . . . 141
II. Co-production: Its Moral Motives and

Results 153

III. What I Said to the American People . 176

IV. What I Said to American Business Men 195
V. A Lay Sermon on the Plain. "What I

Would Say to the Average American

Reader" 208

VI. Conclusion 229

Appendix I 251

Appendix II 259



THE following pages want some apology.
They are autobiographical in a degree not
corresponding with my intention nor
justified by the eventfulness, the adventurousness,
the narrative importance of my life. Yet, as the
editors of this book kindly suggested, they may
have a value and an interesting quality, by showing
how private events brought me to my present at-
titude and convictions. I tell these individual
particulars reluctantly, for what really is of worth
and value is only their general significance. Things
personal are bound to vanish, and the less attention
we pay them the better, and in telling this story I
beg to observe that I do not think my facts im-
portant in themselves but only instructive in show-
ing the influence that outward and personal events
exist on our inward struggle for light, for freedom,
and for universality.





HOLLAND, in the middle of the nineteenth
century, was in a peculiar condition. It
had gone over heights of wealth and glory,
and through depths of misery and humiliation; it
had seen its commerce ruined by England; it had
been brutally bullied and exploited by Napoleon;
it had lost its fleet, its colonies, its influence; it had
seen the houses of its towns stand empty, and the
number of its subsidized paupers increased terribly.
Only by the grace of mightier powers it had been
put upon its legs again, and established as a "buf-
ferstate" between Germany and England. It had
all the qualities of an old man rumbling and musing
over the vicissitudes of life, sneering mildly at the
hopes and illusions of younger people. Its patriot-
ism, though still alive and kept up in a formal and
rhetorical way, had a sour taste of skepticism in it;
its great art seemed lost and it considered the in-
terest of the foreigner principally from the lu-
crative sides after the manner of the old peasant
that welcomes the pedler who is interested in his



crockery and china; its architecture was a horrid
imitation of Italian Renaissance; its literature had
for its best quality a mild and gentle irony, a pro-
vincial humour.

Then, in the sixties, we woke up. The revival
was due largely to the pushing influence of the
powerfully rising antagonist of France and England
the great "Hinterland," Germany. We were
in the way of Germany in her path to the sea,
and we had to stir, whether we wanted to or

This waking up was anticipated, however, by a
hidden and unnoticed revival of our special art,
the art of painting. We had our splendid artistic
dreams just before we woke up at a new daybreak.
A group of mighty painters, the brothers Maris,
Anton Mauve, Jozef Israels, began their work, and
in the sixties had already made their masterpieces,
although their fame was not established before the
end of the century.

Now, when we consider the progress of architec-
ture over the whole world, it seems as if the low
watermark of taste was reached about that time
in all countries. The time of the second French
Empire, the time of the crinoline, was also the
period in which the ugliest buildings ever made by
human hand were erected in Europe and America.
Then by some mysterious reason the pendulum
swung back and another Renaissance began.


What we had to struggle for in Holland was to
get out of provincialism and narrow, self-satisfied
dulness, to return into the great universal current
of life; we did not recognize real art when we saw it.

When I was born the great masterpieces of my
famous townsman, Frans Hals, now the principal
pride of Haarlem, had just been recovered from the
mould and dust of some dark attic, where they had
been lying rolled up, if you please for about
a century, as worthless rags. Most striking it is to
observe that Jozef Israels, the Nestor of modern
Dutch painters, who is over eighty now, and still
vigorously working, had to go through a very
long struggle before he could break the bonds of
conventionalism and bad taste, reach artistic free-
dom, and become the man of world-wide renown
he is now.

It was hard and painful work to get out of the
mire of dulness, laxity, and complacency in which
we struggled. My whole life up to this day has
been one long and difficult progress from provincial-
ism to universality, carried on in the hope of sharing
the renewed vitality of the human race of this most
eventful and significant age.

As a nation we were not poor. We had been
humiliated and impoverished, but we had still some
sources of wealth left; there was Java of our colonies;
and there was interest on the money we had lent
to foreigners. We were not penniless but worse,


we were a nation of a few well-to-do rentiers and of
many paupers living by charity. Rich and poor
were satisfied in their lot, and had lost all inclina-
tion for improvement.

When you come to my native town, Haarlem, the
most curious things to see besides the paintings
of Hals are the so-called Hofies. Hofies are chari-
table institutions founded by some wealthy donor
who gave his name to the foundation, as a sure way
to gain salvation in Heaven, and a long and hon-
oured reputation on earth. Poor old people live
there in neat little ivy-covered mansions grouped
round a quiet green square where there are flowers
and a well. There were more than twenty of these
"havens of rest" in Haarlem when I was a boy.
I like to think of the picturesque quiet, the atmos-
phere of pensive peacefulness of these secluded
squares, where old women with their pussies on
the floor beside them, and their canaries hanging
in the windows, looked on the rare visitor from
behind their well-scoured panes.

Around Haarlem, flower-growing has become at
this day a most prosperous trade, extending rapidly,
and bringing in millions of dollars. For generations
my ancestors had been florists and at the time of
my birth my grandfather held the estate owned now
by the well-known firm Krelage & Son. He was
representative of the condition of his trade and of
his country at the time.


He was rather well-off and had no cares. He
was a modest, mild, gentle, humorous man with a
considerable literary talent and no sense of business
at all. He loved his hyacinths and his tulips, but
especially his dahlias, which were then called
Georginas and his great delight was not to sell
them at a good price, but to sit among them on a
sunny day to muse and smoke.

He left us many unpublished volumes of drama
and poetry, all written out by himself in clear and
neat handwriting, without a mistake or correction.
Moreover, he left the estate in a very low condition.
In his narrow, timid, tender frame of mind he
educated his children timidly and sentimentally.
My father, his only son, was allowed no sport, no
physical exercise; he could not swim, or ride, or
skate for fear it would hurt his constitution. For
when all incentive for progress and development is
stifled by the quiet and comfort of a contem-
plative life, what is the use of running risks,
courting dangers, and exposing your health? My
grandfather felt no terror of the abyss of dulness
and provincialism into which he and his race were
slowly sinking.

In my father, however, the spark of life and energy
began to scintillate again. The worst thing I can
say of him is that he had not the quality of heroism.
If he had possessed it, he would have been one of the
great men of his country, even of the world. For


he was an extremely clever man, a profound and
original thinker, a well-known scientist, a good
author, and, moreover, a practical and energetic

To those who knew him superficially his sense
of humour was his prominent quality. His sar-
castic irony, his Voltairean spirit, made his con-
versation so brilliant and paradoxical that many
even of our respectable Dutchmen did not take him
seriously. His professed human ideal was the
"laughing philosopher," and he founded a club
called the "Democritus," in which every member
had always to speak in rhyme; the greatest nonsense
was most appreciated, provided there was wit in it.
All worldly events, no matter how serious, were
there matters for jokes and farcical poems. My
father's study as it is still left piously untouched
showed an almost incredible collection of cartoons,
masks, caricatures, and funny bric-a-brac.

Yet this passionate jester possessed a deeply
earnest and religious mind. He discovered the
merits of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche long before
their works were known in their own country, and
he entered into correspondence with both phi-
losophers. He was a great reader and admirer of
Plato, Lucretius, Spinoza, and of the religious
mystic, Madame de la Motte-Guyon. His fa-
vourite book was that old treasure of oriental wis-
dom: Bhagavad-Githa. He was the real free-


thinker, able to find the pold of {pith in tfre ore of
every religion.

From a bulb-grower he became a botanist. He
had a disdain for all cultivated plants, which he
called coarse, gaudy, pretentious, strong-scented
things, bred to suit the taste of vulgar and com-
monplace people; and he turned all his love and
interest to the wild plants of his country, the
"weeds," as he called them. He wrote the Flora
Batava, a compendium of all our native plants, and
a manual of popular botany, called "Weeds," which
is still read all over Holland, besides other scientific
and philosophical writings.

In the meantime he did good practical work
for the welfare of his country, and was especially
interested in our large colonies. "Holland has
forty million inhabitants," he used to say, refer-
ring to the population of Java, "and a grave
under the palms is better than a useless life at

What he did was a great advance on the ancestral
laxity. Privately he made a large collection of
colonial products, armory, and works of art, which
formed the foundation of what has now become the
National Colonial Institute. He started also a
museum for applied art, with a school attached to
it; he was the first to introduce the Scandinavian
Sloyd, the educational manual work, from Sweden
into Holland; and he did all he could to further the


scientific exploration of our neglected American
possession, Surinam.

My father did not like his contemporaries, though
he did so much for their benefit. He loved nature
passionately and sneered sarcastically at man.
"Man is a blot on nature," he said. "Look at his
build. Did you ever see such a clumsy arrange-
ment? Everything hung up on a spinal cord, like
an umbrella-stand with a top-heavy globe upper-
most. A perfect being ought to be spherical."
And then he made funny drawings of a society of
globular beings. One of his last sayings was a grim
Voltairean joke at the expense of man: "The
creator made an awful blundering mess of human-
ity," he said, " and if I happen to meet him, you may
be sure I will tell him so straight to his face."

My first years were spent at the bulb farm, in a
long one-storied house just outside the gate of
Haarlem. There was then still a real mediaeval
gate, which was shut at nine in the evening. I
remember how we used to hurry out from town to
get there before nine; for otherwise we had to pay
a penny to the gate-keeper for opening the door.

The farm was a delicious place for a dreamy,
romantic sort of child. The endless square beds of
gayly coloured fragrant flowers, the long airy barns
where the bulbs, laid out to dry, spread their pe-
culiar pungent smell; the hothouses, the orchard
it was a little world full of interest and wonder.


Haarlem is situated on what is called in Holland
a "river," though I could never tell in which direc-
tion the water is flowing. We, like other respectable
families, had a little tea-house on the border of that
river, whereto we went on Saturday afternoons. I
can still see our little procession, father, mother, and
the two boys carrying baskets with victuals, fol-
lowed by the family cat with tail erect. There on
the riverside we drank tea, plucked raspberries, and
enjoyed life, I do not remember exactly how. But
everything was eminently peaceful and provincial.

My father with his philosopher's disdain for bus-
iness and commercialism, and his botanical con-
tempt for cultivated flowers, soon sold the farm
and removed to a spacious, old-fashioned house in
town. Rural life, to my great regret, was at an end,
and I have hated town-life ever since. My father
took me with him on his botanical excursions around
Haarlem; and in the woods and parks of private
country-seats, and especially in the uncultivated
dunes between the town and the sea, we had our
dreams of unspoiled nature.

To an American our wilderness would seem but a
small area, but to my father and me it was a whole
world of savage and lovely scenery. We had our
Switzerland there, with her lakes and mountains to
explore, and we knew the spots where rare flowers
grew. And my father's boyish delight, his real
ecstasy, in discovering a new plant, or in the punctual


reappearance of an expected flower at some secret
spot known only to us, was a thing never to be

There and then, like him, I began to love nature
above humanity. This wonderful distinction be-
tween the totality of animals and plants, including
earth and sea and sun and stars, which we call
"Nature," and which is always beautiful and
sympathetic even in its cruelty and inexorableness,
and that particular and so much less sympathetic
animal which we call man was a puzzle to me from
my earliest years. I questioned my father constantly
and he answered patiently as best he could. I es-
pecially remember his hardly perceptible smile, im-
mediately subdued in order not to hurt my childish
pride,whenl,aboyof ten, walking hand in hand with
him, started the conversation in this way: "Now,
father, let us talk again on nature and humanity."

In fact, I did not like towns, nor schools which
were then indeed, by some incomprehensible or-
dinance, the barest, ugliest, most unattractive
buildings in town. I did not like my fellow man.
Of course I had my class chum, and, earlier, my
sweetheart; but these were glorious exceptions, and,
I am sorry to say, cruel deceptions also. To all
other human creatures I felt very strange, like an
exile among foreigners, and I was aware that this
was my father's feeling also. But where he laughed
and jested and sneered, I felt more inclined to kick


and cry. It was to me a serious puzzle of sad and
mysterious significance; it was no matter for amuse-
ment at all.

I found man coarse, vulgar, brutal, and eminently
ugly. There was no self-conceit or self-elation in
this feeling; I did not consider myself an exception
and was not at all conscious of being finer than they.
But my feelings were hurt by the individuals of my
own race, constantly, and I could not help it.

Perhaps all this will be called morbid. But here
I beg the kind reader to consider. Morbidity is
a deviation from the healthy, normal constitution
of man. Ought a healthy, normal human being
to be vulgar, coarse, egotistic, dirty, uncivilized,
dull, ugly? And if not, is it then a token of mor-
bidity to be very keenly conscious of these defects ?
Will not the healthy mind be more keenly aware
of them than the unhealthy? Compare mankind
with any other race. Take wild flowers or animals
- take violets, rabbits, sea-gulls, swallows, butter-
flies. All are subject to diseases. But out of every
thousand individuals, how many will you find ab-
normal, deformed? Hardly a dozen. Every moth,
every fly, is perfection in its kind.

And now look at man. You will find the pro-
portion exactly reversed. How many out of a thou-
sand are well-formed, beautiful, noble-minded, gen-
erous, wise, honest, high-spirited? How many are
perfection in their kind?


Human perfection means more, is more difficult
to reach, you will say. Very well, but we were talk-
ing of morbidity i.e., abnormality, deviation from
the healthy. You know Luther Burbank, the great
breeder, the improver of races, the creator of new
forms. Suppose we came to him with a race in the
same condition as mankind in its present stage, and
asked him to improve it what would he have
to do?

The answer is clear. He would have to select
and to destroy destroy, destroy, kill, burn, stamp
out just as he did with millions of weeds. Out
of every thousand he would have to select a dozen,
perhaps one or two, and destroy the rest. He would
select the well-built, the beautiful of countenance,
the high-minded, the noble-spirited and from
these few he would breed a new race. Then we
should see for the first time a really healthy human-
ity. We should see undreamed wonders of mate-
rial prosperity united with spiritual elevation and
brotherly love, we should see the kingdom of God
remarkably close by. For this is our latest scien-
tific discovery in the matter of heredity and breed-
ing, that a race can be improved only from the
inside that is to say, not by improving outer con-
ditions for a great many, but by breeding carefully
from a few select parents.

Of course I do not advocate this wholesale de-
struction as a practical measure. It would offer


some difficulties, and would find much opposition,
especially in a democratic age like ours. We have
to trust in the final efficacy of a much longer, round-
about method, consisting principally of education,
self-control, and self-insight.

But I wanted to point out that morbidity must
not be spoken of where there is incipient recovery.
For self-insight, consciousness of disease, is the first
condition for restoration of health

I might have been called "morbid" if my sen-
sitiveness had led me to bitter despair and hate. If
I had become an enemy of society, if I had become
a monk, a hermit, a crank, an anarchist, an apache,
a cambrioleur, a robber, a tramp, or a burglar, I
might with justice have been accused.

As I grew older, I began to disagree with my
father because of his light-hearted, jocular way of
taking such a serious matter as life. Here came
in some qualities of my maternal ancestry. My
mother was descended from an old Dutch family
that counted many clergymen of the Dutch Re-
formed Church among its members. Her own father
was a tall, earnest, sturdy preacher. Her brother,
a man of the same stamp, went to South Africa as
a clergyman and was the only preacher of the Trans-
vaal who responded at the call of the insurgent
Boers, and joined the meeting at Paardekraal where
war was declared against England in 1880, Decem-
ber 1 2th. Another of her brothers went to Java as


a soldier, and was wounded and won the cross in the
war against the Balinese. I remember my pride
in his beautiful uniform; I remember his scarred,
martial, sunburned face when he came home on
furlough. And I remember my despair a few months
later, when I ran across the street crying and sob-
bing loudly, in order to tell my poor grandmother
the sad news, just arrived, that he was shot and

I was born a philosopher like my father, but be-
cause of my inheritance from my mother I did not
want to be only a laughing philosopher, I wanted
to be a fighting one.

When asked what my profession would be, my
answer was: "poet and painter." My father used
to amuse the family, or rather to amuse himself,
at the cost of the family, by making facetious rhymes
at every festive occasion or gathering. And I was,
at an early age, considered a worthy successor in
his quality as a family rhymer. Drawing carica-
tures and landscapes was my favourite occupation.
Yet I never thought of these activities as a means
of "making a living."

Money-getting was a thing that did not enter
much into our conversation or our thoughts. My
parents lived extremely simply and soberly rather
too primitively as it seems to me now. Money-
matters were not considered interesting. There
was a spirit of thrift, especially in my mother,


but that of accumulation seemed absent. When
my love for nature and natural science awoke, I
wished to become a zoologist. And, in imitation of
my father, I made collections of beetles, butter-
flies, shells, birds' eggs, and other naturalia.

During the fourteenth year of my life I was
unable to read or write, because of a painful disease
of the eyes, which obliged me to stay in a dark room.
I spent that year quite patiently shut off from the
world, dictating verses to my mother and dream-
ing. With all its physical suffering, this year is
not at all unpleasant in my memory.

When I recovered, I began to raise silkworms
as an occupation that needed no exertion of the
eyes. Soon I filled the spacious attic of our house
with large, low, open wooden boxes in which my
thousands of cream-white caterpillars gnawed their
mulberry leaves; and I was busy the whole day in
keeping them clean and in collecting their daily
food from all the mulberry trees I could reach in or
near Haarlem. When you entered the room the
sound of their voracious feeding was like a summer
rain on the foliage. Then thousands of little paper
boxes had to be made and hung up on strings, and
the worms, as they became ready to spin, were
selected and housed to let them make their cocoons.
I had the satisfaction to get a prize medal for my
home-made silk.

To complete the cure of my eyes I went to a Ger-


man watering-place. And there I came in touch
with English people. I have a suspicion that some
of my Anglo-Saxon readers, when I expressed my
juvenile dissatisfaction with humanity, said some-
thing like this: "Of course, poor boy! to be born
and bred among Dutchmen! not the right place,
indeed, for learning to admire humanity! How
different it would all have been to him if he had
been born in England or at least in some Anglo-
Saxon country."

In fact, when I had made my first English friends,
and had seen English children, who happened to
be remarkably pretty, I began to reconsider my
verdict on humanity. If there existed a country
where such lovely and graceful beings were the rule,
and where the plain and vulgar ones were the
exception, then I felt I could live there and be happy.
Gladly I would prefer their company to that of my
school friends and my caterpillars.

I decided to go to England and have a look at
English people and a taste of the English hospitality
that was kindly offered me by my new friends.
The necessity to get money for my passage to Lon-
don aroused in me an atavistic renewal of the an-
cestral business capacity. I sold a watch chain
for outlay capital and started at once a little
trade in soap, buying it from a factory and
selling it to friends and relations. In a few
weeks I had what I wanted I think about


forty dollars and I went to England. After
the goal was reached, the soap business collapsed
at once and for good.

I have my doubts whether it is needless to say
that I did not find Happy Humanity in Great
Britain and returned home disappointed. What
struck me most in England was not the healthier
race and the finer human individuals though
these were surely more conspicuous there than in
my own degraded fatherland but the intense self-
complacency, the general feeling of racial superi-
ority, the want of insight into defects of their own

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