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Pen and sunlight sketches of Omaha and environs: Handsomely illustrated online

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Rhine.

Second Scene

From the bed of the river we rise into cloudy re-
gions, and finally come out into the clear in a meadow,
where Wotan, the god of gods, and his consort Fricka
lie sleeping. Wotan, you will observe, has lost one eye ;
and you will presently learn that he plucked it out
voluntarily as the price to be paid for his alliance with
Fricka, who in return has brought to him as her dowry
all the powers of Law. The meadow is on the brink
of a ravine, beyond which, towering on distant heights,
stands Godhome, a mighty castle, newly built as a



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14 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene ii

house of state for the one-eyed god and his all-ruling
wife. Wotan has not yet seen this castle except in his
dreams : two giants have just built it for him whilst
he slept ; and the reality is before him for the first
time when Fricka wakes him. In that majestic burg he
is to rule with her and through her over the humble
giants, who have eyes to gape at the glorious castles
their own hands have built from his design, but no
brains to design castles for themselves, or to compre-
hend divinity. As a god, he is to be great, secure, and
mighty ; but he is also to be passionless, afFectionless,
wholly impartial ; for Godhead, if it is to live with
Law, must have no weaknesses, no respect for persons.
All such sweet littlenesses must be left to the humble
stupid giants to make their toil sweet to them ; and
the god must, after all, pay for Olympian power
the same price the dwarf has paid for Plutonic
power.

Wotan has forgotten -this in his dreams of great-
ness. Not so Fricka. What she is thinking of is this
price that Wotan has consented to pay, in token
whereof he has promised this day to hand over to the
giants Fricka's sister, the goddess Freia, with her
golden love-apples. When Fricka reproaches Wotan
with having selfishly forgotten this, she finds that he,
like herself, is not prepared to go through with his
bargain, and that he is trusting to another great
world-force, the Lie (a European Power, as Lassalle
said), to help him to trick the giants out of their re-
ward. But this force does not dwell in Wotan himself,
but in another, a god over whom he has triumphed.



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Scene II The Rhine Gold 15

one Loki, the god of Intellect, Argument, Imagina-
tion, Illusion, and Reason. Loki has promised to de-
liver him from his contract, and to cheat the giants
for him; but he has not arrived to keep his word:
indeed, as Fricka bitterly points out, why should not
the Lie fail Wotan, since such failure is the very
essence of him ?

The giants come soon enough ; and Freia flies to
Wotan for protection against them. Their purposes are
quite honest ; and they have no doubt of the god's faith.
There stands their part of the contract fulfilled, stone on
stone, port and pinnacle, all faithfully finished fi-om
Wotan's design by their mighty labor. They have come
undoubtingly for their agreed wage. Then there hap-
pens what is to them an incredible, inconceivable thing.
The god begins to shuffle. There are no moments in
life more tragic than those in which the humble com-
mon man, the manual worker, leaving with implicit
trust all high affairs to his betters, and reverencing
them wholly as worthy of that trust, even to the extent
of accepting as his rightful function the saving of
them from all roughening and coarsening drudgeries,
first discovers that they are corrupt, greedy, unjust
and treacherous. The shock drives a ray of prophetic
light into one giant's mind, and gives him a moment-
ary eloquence. In that moment he rises above his
stupid gianthood, and earnestly warns the Son of
Light that all his power and eminence of priesthood,
godhood, and kingship must stand or fall with the
unbearable cold greatness of the incorruptible law-
giver. But Wotan, whose assumed character of law-



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1 6 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene ii

giver is altogether false to his real passionate nature,
despises the rebuke ; and the giant's ray of insight is
lost in the murk of his virtuous indignation.

In the midst of the wrangle, Loki comes at last,
excusing himself for being late on the ground that
he has been detained by a matter of importance which
he has promised to lay before Wotan. When pressed
to give his mind to the business immediately in hand,
and to extricate Wotan from his dilemma, he has
nothing to say except that the giants are evidently
altogether in the right. The castle has been duly
built : he has tried every stone of it, and found the
work firstrate: there is nothing to be done but pay
the price agreed upon by handing over Freia to the
giants. The gods are furious ; and Wotan passionately
declares that he only consented to the bargain on
Loki's promise to find a way for him out of it. But
Loki says no : he has promised to seek a way out
if any such way exist, but not to find a way if
there is no way. He has wandered over the whole
earth in search of some treasure great enough to buy
Freia back from the giants ; but in all the world he
has found nothing for which Man will give up Woman.
And this, by the way, reminds him of the matter he
had promised to lay before Wotan. The Rhine maidens
have complained to him of Alberic's theft of their
gold; and he mentions it as a curious exception to
his universal law of the unpurchasable preciousness
of love, that this gold-robber has forsworn love for
the sake of the fabulous riches of the Plutonic empire
and the mastery of the world through its power.



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Scene II The Rhine Gold 1 7

No sooner is the tale told than the giants stoop
lower than the dwarf. Alberic forswore love only
when it was denied to him and made the instrument
for cruelly murdering his self-respect. But the giants,
with love within their reach, with Freia and her golden
apples in their hands, offer to give her up for the
treasure of Alberic. Observe, it is the treasure alone
that they desire. They have no fierce dreams of
dominion over their superiors, or of moulding
the world to any conceptions of their own. They
are neither clever nor ambitious: they simply covet
money. Alberic's gold : that is their demand, or
else Freia, as agreed upon, whom they now carry
off as hostage, leaving Wotan to consider their
ultimatum.

Freia gone, the gods begin to wither and age : her
golden apples, which they so lightly bargained away,
they now find to be a matter of life and death to
them; for not even the gods can live on Law and
Godhead alone, be their castles ever so splendid. Loki
alone is unaffected: the Lie, with all its cunning
wonders, its glistenings and shiftings and mirages, is
a mere appearance : it has no body and needs no food.
What is Wotan to do ? Loki sees the answer clearly
enough : he must bluntly rob Alberic. There is nothing
to prevent him except moral scruple; for Alberic,
after all, is a poor, dim, dwarfed, credulous creature
whom a god can outsee and a lie can outwit. Down, "*
then, Wotan and Loki plunge into the mine where
Alberic*s slaves are piling up wealth for him under
the invisible whip.



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1 8 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene iii

Third Scene

This gloomy place need not be a mine : it might
just as well be a match-factory, with yellow phos-
phorus, phossy jaw, a large dividend, and plenty of
clergymen shareholders. Or it might be a whitelead
factory, or a chemical works, or a pottery, or a rail-
way shunting yard, or a tailoring shop, or a little gin-
sodden laundry, or a bakehouse, or a big shop, or any
other of the places where human life and welfare are
daily sacrificed in order that some greedy foolish
creature maybe able to hymn exultantly to his Plutonic

idol:

Thou mak'st me eat whilst others starve,
And sing while others do lament :
Such unto me Thy blessings are.
As if I were Thine only care.

In the mine, which resounds with the clinking
anvils of the dwarfs toiling miserably to heap up
treasure for their master, Alberic has set his brother
Mime — more familiarly, Mimmy — to make him a
helmet. Mimmy dimly sees that there is some magic
in this helmet, and tries to keep it ; but Alberic wrests
r it from him, and shows him, to his cost, that it is the
veil of the invisible whip, and that he who wears it
can appear in what shape he will, or disappear from
view altogether. This helmet is a very common article
in our streets, where it generally takes the form of a
tall hat. It makes a man invisible as a shareholder, and
changes him into various shapes, such as a pious
Christian, a subscriber to hospitals, a beftefactor of the



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Scene III The Rhine Gold 19

poor, a model husband and father, a shrewd, practical,
independent Englishman, and what not, when he is
really a pitiful parasite on the commonwealth, con-
suming a great deal, and producing nothing, feeling
nothing, knowing nothing, believing nothing, and
doing nothing except what all the rest do, and that
only because he is afraid not to do it, or at least pre-
tend to do it.

When Wotan and Loki arrive, Loki claims Alberic
as an old acquaintance. But the dwarf has no faith in
these civil strangers : Greed instinctively mistrusts In-
tellect, even in the garb of Poetry and the company
of Godhead, whilst envying the brilliancy of the one
and the dignity of the other. Alberic breaks out at
them with a terrible boast of the power now within
his grasp. He paints for them the world as it will be
when his dominion over it is complete, when the soft
airs and green mosses of its valleys shall be changed
into smoke, slag, and filth ; when slavery, disease, and
squalor, soothed by drunkenness and mastered by the
policeman's baton, shall become the foundation of
society; and when nothing shall escape ruin except such
pretty places and pretty women as he may like to buy
for the slaking of his own lusts. In that kingdom of
evil he sees that there will be no power but his own.
These gods, with their moralities and legalities and
intellectual subtlety, will go under and be starved out
of existence. He bids Wotan and Loki beware of it ;
and his " Hab' Acht ! " is hoarse, horrible, and sinis-
ter. Wotan is revolted to the very depths of his being:
he cannot stifle the execration that bursts from him.



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20 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene ill

But Loki is unafFected : he has no moral passion : in-
dignation is as absurd to him as enthusiasm. He finds
it exquisitely amusing — having a touch of the comic
spirit in him — that the dwarf, in stirring up the moral
fervor of Wotan, has removed his last moral scruple
about becoming a thief. Wotan will now rob the
dwarf without remorse ; for is it not positively his high-
est duty to take this power out of such evil hands and
use it himself in the interests of Godhead ? On the
loftiest moral grounds, he lets Loki do his worst.

A little cunningly disguised flattery makes short
work of Alberic. Loki pretends to be afraid of him ;
and he swallows that bait unhesitatingly. But how, en-
quires Loki, is he to guard against the hatred of his
million slaves ? Will they not steal from him, whilst he
sleeps, the magic ring, the symbol of his power, which
he has forged from the gold of the Rhine ? " You
think yourself very clever," sneers Alberic, and then
begins to boast of the enchantments of the magic
helmet. Loki refiises to believe in such marvels with-
out witnessing them. Alberic, only too glad to show
ofF his powers, puts on the helmet and transforms
himself into a monstrous serpent. Loki gratifies him
by pretending to be frightened out of his wits, but
ventures to remark that it would be better still if the
helmet could transform its owner into some tiny crea-
ture that could hide and spy in the smallest cranny.
Alberic promptly transforms himself into a toad. In an
instant Wotan's foot is on him ; Loki tears away the
helmet ; they pinion him, and drag him away a prisoner
up through the earth to the meadow by the castle.



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Scene IV The Rhine Gold 21

Fourth Scene

There, to pay for his freedom, he has to summon
his slaves from the depths to place all the treasure they
have heaped up for him at the feet of Wotan. Then
he demands his liberty; but Wotan must have the
ring as well. And here the dwarf, like the giant
before him, feels the very foundations of the world
shake beneath him at the discovery of his own base
cupidity in a higher power. That evil should, in its
loveless desperation, create malign powers which God-
head could not create, seems but natural justice to him.
But that Godhead should steal those malign powers
from evil, and wield them itself, is a monstrous per-
version ; and his appeal to Wotan to forego it is almost
terrible in its conviction of wrong. It is of no avail.
Wotan falls back again on virtuous indignation. He
reminds Alberic that he stole the gold from the Rhine-
daughters, and takes the attitude of the just judge com-
pelling a restitution of stolen goods. Alberic, knowing
perfectly well that the judge is taking the goods to put
them in his own pocket, has the ring torn from his
finger, and is once more as poor as he was when he
came slipping and stumbling among the slimy rocks
in the bed of the Rhine.

This is the way of the world. In older times, when
the Christian laborer was drained dry by the knightly
spendthrift, and the spendthrift was drained by the
Jewish usurer. Church and State, religion and law,
seized on the Jew and drained him as a Christian duty.
When the forces of lovelessness and greed had built



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22 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene iv

up wonderful modern capitalist systems, working by
invisible force, for robbing the poor, defacing the
earth, and forcing themselves as a universal curse even
on the generous and humane, then religion and law
and intellect, which would never themselves have dis-
covered such systems, their natural bent being towards
welfare, economy, and life, instead of towards corrup-
tion, waste, and death, have nevertheless not scrupled
to seize by fraud and force these powers of evil on
pretence of using them for good. And it inevitably
happens that when the Church, the Law, and all the
Talents have made common cause to rob the people,
the Church is far more vitally harmed by that un-
faithfulness to itself than its more mechanical confeder-
ates ; so that finally they turn on their discredited ally
and rob the Church, with the cheerful co-operation of
Loki, as in France and Italy for instance.

The twin giants come back with their hostage,
in whose presence Godhead blooms again. The gold is
ready for them ; but now that the moment has come
for parting with Freia the gold does not seem so tempt-
ing ; and they are sorely loth to let her go. Not unless
there is gold enough to utterly hide her fi-om them —
not until the heap has grown so that they can see
nothing but gold — until money has come between
them and every human feeling, will they part with her.
There is not gold enough to accomplish this : however
cunningly Loki spreads it, the glint of Freia's hair is
still visible to Giant Fafnir, and the magic helmet
must go on the heap to shut it out. Even then Fafnir's
brother, Fasolt, can catch a beam from her eye through



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Scene IV The Rhine Gold 23

a chink, and is rendered incapable thereby of forswear-
ing her. There is nothing to stop that chink but the
ring ; and Wotan is as greedily bent on keeping that
as Alberic himself was ; nor can the other gods per-
suade him that Freia is worth it, since for the highest
god, love is not the highest good, but only the uni-
versal delight that bribes all living things to travail
with renewed life. Life itself, with its accomplished
marvels and its infinite potentialities, is the only force
that Godhead can worship. Wotan does not yield until
he is reached by the voice of the fruitful earth, that
before he or the dwarfs or the giants or the Law or
the Lie or any of these things were, had the seed of
them all in her bosom, and the seed perhaps of some-
thing higher even than himself, that shall one day
supersede him and cut the tangles and alliances and
compromises that already have cost him one of his
eyes. When Erda, the First Mother of life, rises from
her sleeping-place in the heart of the earth, and warns
him to yield the ring, he obeys her ; the ring is added
to the heap of gold ; and all sense of Freia is cut off
from the giants.

But now what Law is left to these two poor stupid
laborers whereby one shall yield to the other any of
the treasure for which they have each paid the whole
price in surrendering Freia ? They look by mere habit
to the god to judge for them ; but he, with his heart
stirring towards higher forces than himself, turns with
disgust from these lower forces. They settle it as two
wolves might; and Fafnir batters his brother dead
with his stafF. It is a horrible thing to see and hear.



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24 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene iv

to anyone who knows how much blood has been shed
in the world in just that way by its brutalized toilers,
honest fellows enough until their betters betrayed them.
Fafnir goes ofF with his booty. It is quite useless to
him. He has neither the cunning nor the ambition to
establish the Plutonic empire with it. Merely to pre-
vent others from getting it is the only purpose it
brings him. He piles it in a cave ; transforms him-
self into a dragon by the helmet ; and devotes his life
to guarding it, as much a slave to it as a jailor is to his
prisoner. He had much better have thrown it all back
into the Rhine and transformed himself into the short-
est-lived animal that enjoys at least a brief run in the
sunshine. His case, however, is far too common to be
surprising. The world is overstocked with persons who
sacrifice all their affections, and madly trample and
batter down their fellows to obtain riches of which,
when they get them, they are unable to make the
smallest use, and to which they become the most
, miserable slaves.

The gods soon forget Fafnir in their rejoicing over
Freia. Donner, the Thunder god, springs to a rocky
summit and calls the clouds as a shepherd calls his
flocks. They come at his summons ; and he and the
castle are hidden by their black legions. Froh, the
Rainbow god, hastens to his side. At the stroke of
Donner's hammer the black murk is riven in all
directions by darting ribbons of lightning ; and as the
air clears, the castle is seen in its fullest splendor,
accessible now by the rainbow bridge which Froh has
cast across the ravine. In the glory of this moment



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Scene IV The Rhine Gold 25

Wotan has a great thought. With all his aspirations
to establish a reign of noble thought, of righteous-
ness, order, and justice, he has found that day that
there is no race yet in the world that quite spontane-
ously, naturally, and unconsciously realizes his ideal.
He himself has found how far short Godhead falls of
the thing it conceives. He, the greatest of gods, has
been unable to control his fate : he has been forced
against his will to choose between evils, to make
disgraceful bargains, to break them still more dis-
gracefully, and even then to see the price of his disgrace
slip through his fingers. His consort has cost him half
his vision ; his castle has cost him his afFections ; and
the attempt to retain both has cost him his honor.
On every side he is shackled and bound, dependent
on the laws of Fricka and on the lies of Loki, forced
to traffic with dwarfs for handicraft and with giants
for strength, and to pay them both in false coin. After
all, a god is a pitiful thing. But the fertility of the
First Mother is not yet exhausted. The life that came
from her has ever climbed up to a higher and higher
organization. From toad and serpent to dwarf, from
bear and elephant to giant, from dwarf and giant to
a god with thoughts, with comprehension of the
world, with ideals. Why should it stop there ? Why
should it not rise from the god to the Hero ? to the
creature in whom the god's unavailing thought shall
have become effective will and life, who shall make
his way straight to truth and reality over the laws of
Fricka and the lies of Loki with a strength that over-
comes giants and a cunning that outwits dwarfs. Yes:



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26 The Perfect Wagnerite Scene iv

Erda, the First Mother, must travail again, and breed
him a race of heroes to deliver the world and himself
from his limited powers and disgraceful bargains.
This is the vision that flashes on him as he turns to the
rainbow bridge and calls his wife to come and dwell
with him in Valhalla, the home of the gods.

They are all overcome with Valhalla's glory ex-
cept Loki. He is behind the scenes of this joint reign
of the Divine and the Legal. He despises these gods
with their ideals and their golden apples. "I am
ashamed," he says, "to have dealings with these futile
creatures." And so he follows them to the rainbow
bridge. But as they set foot on it, from the river
below rises the wailing of the Rhine-daughters for
their lost gold. " You down there in the water," cries
Loki with brutal irony: "you used to bask in the
glitter of your gold : henceforth you shall bask in the
splendor of the gods." And they reply that the truth
is in the depths and the darkness, and that what
blazes on high there is falsehood. And with that the
gods pass into their glorious stronghold.



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WAGNER AS REVOLUTIONIST

Before leaving this explanation of The Rhine Gold,
I must have a word or two about it with the reader.
It is the least popular of the sections of The Ring.
The reason is that its dramatic moments lie quite
outside the consciousness of people who^e joys and
sorrows are all domestic and personal, and whose
religions and political ideas are purely conventional
and superstitious. To them it is a struggle between
half a dozen fairytale personages for a ring, involving
hours of scolding and cheating, and one long scene in
a dark, gruesome mine, with gloomy, ugly music,
and not a glimpse of a handsome young man or
pretty woman. Only those of wider consciousness can ^
follow it breathlessly, seeing in it the whole tragedy
of human history and the whole horror of the
dilemmas from which the world is shrinking today.
At Bayreuth I have seen a party of English tourists,
after enduring agonies of boredom from Alberic, rise
in the middle of the third scene, and almost force
their way out of the dark theatre into the sunlit pine-
wood without. And I have seen people who were
deeply affected by the scene driven almost beside



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28 The Perfect Wagnerite

themselves by this disturbance. But it was a very
natural thing for the unfortunate tourists to do, since
in this Rhine Gold prologue there is no interval
between the acts for escape. Roughly speaking, people
who have no general ideas, no touch of the concern of
the philosopher and statesman for the race, cannot
enjoy The Rhine Gold as a drama. They may find
compensations in some exceedingly pretty music, at
times even grand and glorious, which will enable them
to escape occasionally from the struggle between
Alberic and Wotan; but if their capacity for music
should be as limited as their comprehension of the
world, they had better stay away.

And now, attentive Reader, we have reached the
point at which some foolish person is sure to interrupt
us by declaring that The Rhine Gold is what they call
" a work of art " pure and simple, and that Wagner
never dreamt of shareholders, tall hats, whitelead
factories, and industrial and political questions looked
at from the socialistic and humanitarian points of view.
We need not discuss these impertinences : it is easier to
silence them with the facts of Wagner's life. In 1 843 he
obtained the position of conductor of the Opera at Dres-
den at a salary of £22^ a year, with a pension. This
was a first-rate permanent appointment in the service
of the Saxon State, carrying an assured professional
position and livelihood with it. In 1848, the year of
revolutions, the discontented middle class, unable to
move the Church-and-State governments of the day,
helpless in the bonds of custom, caste, and law, by
appeals to morality or constitutional agitation for



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Wagner as Revolutionist 29

Liberal reforms, made common cause with the starv-
ing wage-working class, and resorted to armed re-


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