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bellion, which reached Dresden in 1 849. Had Wagner
been the mere musical epicure and political mugwump
that the term " artist " seems to suggest to so many critics
and amateurs — that is, a creature in their own lazy
likeness — he need have taken no more part in the
political struggles of his day than Bishop took in the
English Reform agitation of 1832, or Sterndale Ben-
nett in the Chartist or Free Trade movements. What
he did do was first to make a desperate appeal to the
King to cast off his bonds and answer the need of the
time by taking true kingship on himself and leading
his people to the redress of their intolerable wrongs
(fancy the poor monarch's feelings!), and then, when
the crash came, to take his side with the right and the
poor against the rich and the wrong. When the in-
surrection was defeated, three leaders of it were especi-
ally marked down for vengeance : August Roeckel, an
old friend of Wagner's, to whom a well-known set of
his letters were written ; Michael Bakoonin, afterwards
a famous apostle of revolutionary Anarchism; and
Wagner himself. Wagner escaped to Switzerland :
Roeckel and Bakoonin suffered long terms of imprison-
ment. Wagner was of course utterly ruined, pecuniar-
ily and socially (to his own intense relief and satisfac-
tion) ; and his exile lasted twelve years. His first idea
was to get his Tannhauser produced in Paris. With
the notion of explaining himself to the Parisians he
wrote a pamphlet entitled Art and Revolution, a glance
through which will show how thoroughly the socialistic



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30 The Perfect Wagnerite

side of the revolution had his sympathy, and how com-
pletely he had got free from the influence of the estab-
lished Churches of his day. For three years he kept
pouring forth pamphlets — some of them elaborate
treatises in size and intellectual rank, but still essenti-
ally the pamphlets and manifestoes of a born agitator
— on social evolution, religion, life, art and the in-
fluence of riches. In 1853 the poem of The Ring was
privately printed; and in 1854, five years after the
Dresden insurrection. The Rhine Gold score was com-
pleted to the last drum tap.

These facts are on official record in Germany, where
the proclamation summing up Wagner as " a politi-
cally dangerous person " may be consulted to this day.
The pamphlets are now accessible to English readers
in the translation of Mr Ashton Ellis. This being so,
any person who, having perhaps heard that I am a
Socialist, attempts to persuade you that my interpreta-
tion of The Rhine Gold is simply " my socialism "
read into the works of an artist who simply borrowed
an idle tale from an old saga to make an opera book
with, may safely be dismissed from your consideration
as an ignoramus.

If you are now satisfied that The Rhine Gold is an
allegory, do not forget that an allegory is never quite
consistent except when it is written by someone with-
out dramatic faculty, in which case it is unreadable.
There is only one way of dramatizing an idea ; and that
is by putting on the stage a human being possessed by
that idea, yet none the less a human being with all the
human impulses which make him akin and therefore



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Wagner as Revolutionist 3 1

interesting to us. Bunyan, in his Pilgrim's Progress,
does not, like his unread imitators, attempt to personify
Christianity and Valour : he dramatizes for you the
life of the Christian and the Valiant Man. Just so,
though I have shown that Wotan is Godhead and King-
ship, and Loki Logic and Imagination without living
Will (Brain without Heart, to put it vulgarly) ; yet in
the drama Wotan is a religiously moral man, and Loki
a witty, ingenious, imaginative and cynical one. As to
Fricka, who stands for State Law, she does not assume
her allegorical character in The Rhine Gold at all, but
is simply Wotan's wife and Freia's sister : nay, she con-
tradicts her allegorical selfby conniving at all Wotan's
rogueries. That, of course, is just what State Law would
do ; but we must not save the credit of the allegory
by a quip. Not until she reappears in the next play
(The Valkyries) does her function in the allegorical
scheme become plain.

One preconception will bewilder the spectator
hopelessly unless he has been warned against it or is
naturally free from it. In the old-fashioned orders of
creation, the supernatural personages are invariably
conceived as greater than man, for good or evil. In
the modern humanitarian order as adopted by Wagner,
Man is the highest. In The Rhine Gold, it is pre-
tended that there are as yet no men on the earth. There
are dwarfs, giants, and gods. The danger is that you
will jump to the conclusion that the gods, at least,
are a higher order than the hianan order. On the
contrary, the world is waiting for Man to redeem it
from the lame and cramped government of the gods.



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32 The Perfect Wagnerite

Once grasp that ; and the allegory becomes simple
' enough. Really, of course, the dwarfs, giants, and
gods are dramatizations of the three main orders of
men :. to wit, the instinctive, predatory, lustful, greedy
people ; the patient, toiling, stupid, respectful, money-
worshipping people ; and the intellectual, moral,
talented people who devise and administer States and
Churches. History shows us only one order higher
than the highest of these: namely, the order of
Heroes.

Now it is quite clear — though you have perhaps
never thought of it — that if the next generation of
Englishmen consisted wholly of Julius Caesars, all
our political, ecclesiastical, and moral institutions
would vanish, and the less perishable of their ap-
purtenances be classed with Stonehenge and the
cromlechs and round towers as inexplicable relics of
a bygone social order. Julius Caesars would no more
trouble themselves about such contrivances as our
codes and churches than a Fellow of the Royal Society
will touch his hat to the squire and listen to the
village curate's sermons. This is precisely what must
happen some day if life continues thrusting towards
higher and higher organization as it has hitherto done.
As most of our English professional men are to
Australian bushmen, so, we must suppose, will the
average man of some future day be to Julius Caesar.
Let any man of middle age, pondering this prospect,
consider what has happened within a single generation
to the articles of faith his father regarded as eternal,
nay, to the very scepticisms and blasphemies of his



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Wagner as Revolutionist 33

youth (Bishop Colenso's criticism of the Pentateuch,
for example !) ; and he will begin to realize how much
of our barbarous Theology and Law the man of the
future will do without. Bakoonin, the Dresden re-
volutionary leader with whom Wagner went out in
1849, put forward later on a program, often quoted
with foolish horror, for the abolition of all institutions,
religious, political, juridical, financial, legal, academic,
and so on, so as to leave the will of man free to find its
own way. All the loftiest spirits of that time were
burning to raise Man up, to give him self-respect, to
shake him out of his habit of grovelling before the
ideals created by his own imagination, or attributing
the good that sprang from the ceaseless energy of the
life within himself to some superior power in the
clouds, and of making a fetish of self-sacrifice to
justify his own cowardice.

Farther on in The Ring we shall see the Hero
arrive and make an end of dwarfs, giants, and gods.
Meanwhile, let us not forget that godhood means to
Wagner infirmity and compromise, and manhood
strength and integrity. Above all, we must understand
— for it is the key to much that we are to see —
that the god, since his desire is toward a higher and
fuller life, must long in his inmost soul for the advent
of that greater power whose first work, though this
he does not see as yet, must be his own undoing.

In the midst of all these far-reaching ideas, it is
amusing to find Wagner still full of his ingrained
theatrical professionalism, and introducing eflFects
which now seem old-fashioned and stagey with as



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34 The Perfect Wagnerite

much energy and earnestness as if they were his
loftiest inspirations. When Wotan wrests the ring
from Alberic, the dwarf delivers a lurid and blood-
curdling stage curse, calling down on its every future
possessor care, fear, and death. The musical phrase
accompanying this outburst was a veritable harmonic
and melodic bogey to mid-century ears, though time
has now robbed it of its terrors. It sounds again when
Fafnir slays Fasolt, and on every subsequent occasion
when the ring brings death to its holder. This episode
must justify itself purely as a piece of stage sen-
sationalism. On deeper ground it is superfluous and
confusing, as the ruin to which the pursuit of riches
leads needs no curse to explain it ; nor is there any
sense in investing Alberic with providential powers
in the matter.



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THE VALKYRIES

Before the curtain rises on the Valkyries, let us see
what has happened since it fell on The Rhine Gold.
The persons of the drama will tell us presently ; but
as we probably do not understand German, that may
not help us.

Wotan is still ruling the world in glory from his
giant-built castle with his wife Fricka. But he has no
security for the continuance of his reign, since Alberic
may at any moment contrive to recover the ring, the
full power of which he can wield because he has for-
sworn love. Such forswearing is not possible to Wotan:
love, though not his highest need, is a higher than
gold : otherwise he would be no god. Besides, as we
have seen, his power has been established in the world
by and as a system of laws enforced by penalties.
These he must consent to be bound by himself; for a
god who broke his own laws would betray the fact
that legality and conformity are not the highest rule
of conduct — a discovery fatal to his supremacy as
Pontiff and Lawgiver. Hence he may not wrest the
ring unlawfully from Fafnir, even if he could bring
himself to forswear love.



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36 The Perfect Wagnerite

In this insecurity he has hit on the idea of forming
a heroic bodyguard. He has trained his love children
as war-maidens (Valkyries) whose duty it is to sweep
through battle-fields and bear away to Valhalla the
souls of the bravest who fall there. Thus reinforced
by a host of warriors, he has thoroughly indoctrinated
them, Loki helping him as dialectician-in-chief, with
the conventional system of law and duty, supernatural
religion and self-sacrificing idealism, which they be-
lieve to be the essence of his godhood, but which is
really only the machinery of the love of necessary
power which is his mortal weakness. This process secures
their fanatical devotion to his system of government ;
but he knows perfectly well that such systems, in spite
of their moral pretensions, serve selfish and ambitious
tyrants better than benevolent despots, and that, if
once Alberic gets the ring back, he will easily out-
Valhalla Valhalla, if not buy it over as a going concern.
The only chance of permanent security, then, is the
appearance in the world of a hero who, without any
illicit prompting from Wotan, will destroy Alberic
and wrest the ring from Fafnir. There will then, he
believes, be no further cause for anxiety, since he does
not yet conceive Heroism as a force hosltile to God-
head. In his longing for a rescuer, it does not occur
to him that when the Hero comes, his first exploit
must be to sweep the gods and their ordinances from
the path of the heroic will.

Indeed, he feels that in his own Godhead is the

ferm of such Heroism, and that from himself the
lero must spring. He takes to wandering, mostly'



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The Valkyries 37

in search of love, from Fricka and Valhalla. He seeks
the First Mother; and through her womb, eternally
fertile, the inner true thought that made him first a
god is reborn as his daughter, uncorrupted by his am-
bition, unfettered by his machinery of power and his
alliances with Fricka and Loki. This daughter, the
Valkyrie Brynhild, is his true will, his real self (as he
thinks) : to her he may say what he must not say to
anyone, since in speaking to her he but speaks to him-
self. "Was Keinem in Worten unausgesprochen," he
says to her, "bleib es ewig: mit mir nur rath' ich,
red' ich zu dir."

But from Brynhild no hero can spring until there
is a man of Wotan's race to breed with her. Wotan
wanders further; and a mortal woman bears him
twins : a son and a daughter. He separates them by
letting the girl fall into the hands of a forest tribe
which in due time gives her as wife to a fierce chief,
one Hunding. With the son he himself leads the life
of a wolf, and teaches him the only power a god can
teach, the power of doing without happiness. When
he has given him this terrible training, he abandons
him, and goes to the bridal feast of his daughter Sieg-
linda and Hunding. In the blue cloak of the wan-
derer, wearing the broad hat that flaps over the socket
of his forfeited eye, he appears in Hunding's house,
the middle pillar of which is a mighty tree. Into that
tree, without a word, he strikes a sword up to the hilt,
so that only the might of a hero can withdraw it.
Then he goes out as silently as he came, blind to the
truth that no weapon from the armory of Godhead



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3 8 The i Perfect Wagnerite Act i

can serve the turn of the true Human Hero. Neither
Hunding nor any of his guests can move the sword ;
and there it stays awaiting the destined hand. That is
the history of the generations between The Rhine
Gold and The Valkyries.

The First Act

This time, as we sit looking expectantly at the
curtain, we hear, not the deep booming of the Rhine,
but the patter of a forest downpour, accompanied by
the mutter of a storm which soon gathers into a roar
and culminates in crashing thunderbolts. As it passes
off, the curtain rises ; and there is no mistaking whose
forest habitation we are in ; for the central pillar is a
mighty tree, and the place fit for the dwelling of a
fierce chief. The door opens ; and an exhausted man
reels in : an adept fi-om the school of unhappiness.
, Sieglinda finds him lying on the hearth. He explains
that he has been in a fight ; that his weapons, not being
as strong as his arms, were broken ; and that he had to
fly. He desires some drink and a moment's rest ; then
he will go ; for he is an unlucky person, and does not
want to bring his ill-luck on the woman who is suc-
coring him. But she, it appears, is also imhappy ; and
a strong sympathy springs up between them. When
her husband arrives, he observes not only this sym-
pathy, but a resemblance between them, a gleam of
the snake in their eyes. They sit down to table ; and
the stranger tells them his unlucky story. He is the
son of Wotan, who is known to him only as Wolfing,



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Act I The Valkyries 39

of the race of the Volsungs. The earliest thing he re-
members is returning from a hunt with his father to
find their home destroyed, his mother murdered, and
his twin-sister carried ofF. This was the work of a
tribe called the Neidings, upon whom he and Wolfing
thenceforth waged implacable war until the day when
his father disappeared, leaving no trace of himself but
an empty wolfskin. The young Volsung was thus
cast alone upon the world, finding most hands against
him, and bringing no good luck even to his friends.
His latest exploit has been the slaying of certain
brothers who were forcing their sister to wed against
her will. The result has been the slaughter of the
woman by her brothers' clansmen, and his own narrow
escape by flight.

His luck on this occasion is even worse than he
supposes ; for Hunding, by whose hearth he has taken
refuge, is clansman to the slain brothers and is bound
to avenge them. He tells the Volsung that in the
morning, weapons or no weapons, he must fight for
his life. Then he orders the woman to bed, and follows
her himself, taking his spear with him.

The unlucky stranger, left brooding by the hearth,
has nothing to console himself with but an old promise
of his father's that he shall find a weapon to his hand
when he most needs one. The last flicker of the dying
fire strikes on the golden hilt of the sword that sticks
in the tree; but he does not see it; and the embers
sink into blackness. Then the woman returns. Hund-
ing is safely asleep : she has drugged him. She tells
the story of the one-eyed man who appeared at her



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40 The Perfect Wagnerite Actii

forced marriage, and of the sword. She has always
felt, she says, that her miseries will end in the arms of
the hero who shall succeed in drawing it forth. The
stranger, diffident as he is about his luck, has no mis-
givings as to his strength and destiny. He gives her his
affection at once, and abandons himself to the charm
of the night and the season ; for it is the beginning of
Spring. They soon learn from their confidences that
she is his stolen twin-sister. He is transported to find
that the heroic race of the Volsungs need neither
perish nor be corrupted by a lower strain. Hailing the
sword by the name of Nothung (or Needed), he
plucks it from the tree as her bride-gift, and then,
crying " Both bride and sister be of thy brother ; and
blossom the blood of the Volsungs!" clasps her as
the matethe Spring has brought him.

The Second Act

So far, Wotan's plan seems prospering. In the
mountains he calls his war-maiden Brynhild, the child
borne to him by the First Mother, and bids her see
to it that Hunding shall fall in the approaching com-
bat. But he is reckoning without his consort, Fricka.
What will she, the Law, say to the lawless pair who
have heaped incest on adultery.'* A hero may have
defied the law, and put his own will in its place ; but
can a god hold him guiltless, when the whole power
of the gods can enforce itself only by law.'* Fricka,
shuddering with horror, outraged in every instinct,
comes clamoring for punishment. Wotan pleads the



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Act II The Valkyries 41

general necessity of encouraging heroism in order to
keep up the Valhalla bodyguard; but his remon-
strances only bring upon him torrents of reproaches
for his own unfaithfulness to the law in roaming
through the world and begetting war-maidens, "wolf-
cubs," and the like. He is hopelessly beaten in the
argument. Fricka is absolutely right when she de-
clares that the ending of the gods began when he
brought this wolf-hero into the world ; and now, to
save their very existence, she pitilessly demands his
destruction. Wotan has no power to refuse: it is
Fricka's mechanical force, and not his thought, that
really rules the world. He has to recall Brynhild ; take
back his former instructions ; and ordain that Hund-
ing shall slay the Volsung.

But now comes another difficulty. Brynhild is the
inner thought and will of Godhead, the aspiration
from the high life to the higher that is its divine ele-
ment, and only becomes separated from it when its
resort to kingship and priestcraft for the sake of tem-
poral power has made it false to itself. Hitherto,
Brynhild, as Valkyrie or hero chooser, has obeyed
Wotan implicitly, taking her work as the holiest and
bravest in his kingdom ; and now he tells her what he
could not tell Fricka — what indeed he could r>ot tell
to Brynhild, were she not, as she says, his own will —
the whole story of Alberic and of that inspiration
about the raising up of a hero. She thoroughly ap-
proves of the inspiration ; but when the story ends in
the assumption that she too must obey Fricka, and
help Fricka's vassal, Hunding, to undo the great work



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42 The Perfect Wagnerite Actii

and strike the hero down, she for the first time hesi-
tates to accept his command. In his fury and despair
he overawes her by the most terrible threats of his
anger ; and she submits.

Then comes the Volsung Siegmund, following his
sister bride, who has fled into the mountains in a re-
vulsion of horror at having allowed herself to bring
her hero to shame. Whilst she is lying exhausted and
senseless in his arms, Brynhild appears to him and
solemnly warns him that he must presently leave the
earth with her. He asks whither he must follow her.
To Valhalla, to take his place there among the heroes.
He asks, shall he find his father there? Yes. Shall he
find a wife there ? Yes : he will be waited on by beauti-
ful wish-maidens. Shall he meet his sister there? No.
Then, says Siegmund, I will not come with you. She
tries to make him understand that he cannot help
himself. Being a hero, he will not be so persuaded : he
has his father's sword, and does not fear Hunding.
But when she tells him that she comes from his father,
and that the sword of a god will not avail in the hands
of a hero, he accepts his fate, but will shape it with
his own hand, both for himself and his sister, by slay-
ing her, and then killing himself with the last stroke
of the sword. And thereafter he will go to Hell, rather
than to Valhalla.

How now can Brynhild, being what she is, choose
her side freely in a conflict between this hero and the
vassal of Fricka? By instinct she at once throws
Wotan's command to the winds, and bids Siegmund
nerve himself for the combat with Hunding, in which



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Act III The Valkyries 43

she pledges him the protection of her shield. The horn
of Hunding is soon heard; and Siegmund's spirits rise
to fighting pitch at once. The two meet ; and the
Valkyrie's shield is held before the hero. But when
he delivers his sword-stroke at his foe, the weapon
shivers on the spear of Wotan, who suddenly appears
between them; and the first of the race of heroes falls
with the weapon of the Law's vassal through his
breast. Brynhild snatches the fragments of the broken
sword, and flies, carrying ofi^ the woman with her on
her war-horse ; and Wotan, in terrible wrath, slays
Hunding with a wave of his hand, and starts in pursuit
of his disobedient daughter.

The Third Act

On a rocky peak, four of the Valkyries are waiting
for the rest. The absent ones soon arrive, galloping
through the air with slain heroes, gathered from the
battle-field, hanging over their saddles. Only, Bryn-
hild, who comes last, has for her spoil a live woman.
When her eight sisters learn that she has defied Wotan,
they dare not help her ; and Brynhild has to rouse
Sieglinda to make an effort to save herself, by re-
minding her that she bears in her the seed of a hero,
and must face everything, endure anything, sooner
than let that seed miscarry. Sieglinda, in a transport
of exaltation, takes the fragments of the sword and
flies into the forest. Then Wotan comes ; the sisters
fly in terror at his command ; and he is left alone with
Brynhild.



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44 The Perfect Wagnerite Act iii

Here, then, we have the first of the inevitable
moments which Wotan did not foresee. Godhead has
now established its dominion over the world by a
mighty Church, compelling obedience through its ally
the Law, with its formidable State organization of
force of arms and cunning of brain; It has submitted
to this alliance to keep the Plutonic power in check
— built it up primarily for the sake of that soul in
itself which cares only to make the highest better and
the best higher ; and now here is that very soul
separated from it and working for the destruction of
its indispensable ally, the lawgiving State. How is the
rebel to be disarmed ? Slain it cannot be by Godhead,
since it is still Godhead's own very dearest soul. But
hidden, stifled, silenced it must be ; or it will wreck
the State and leave the Church defenceless. Not un-
til it passes completely away from Godhead, and is
reborn as the soul of the hero, can it work anything
but the confusion and destruction of the existing
order. How is the world to be protected against it in
the meantime ? Clearly Loki's help is needed here :
it is the Lie that must, on the highest principles, hide
the Truth. Let Loki surround this mountain top with
the appearance of a consuming fire; and who will dare
penetrate to Brynhild ? It is true that if any man will
walk boldly into that fire, he will discover it at once
to be a lie, an illusion, a mirage through which he
might carry a sack of gimpowder without being a


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Online LibraryBraun Illustrating Company Phoenix Publishing CompanyPen and sunlight sketches of Omaha and environs: Handsomely illustrated → online text (page 3 of 10)