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

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penny the worse. Therefore let the fire seem so terrible
that only the hero, when in the fulness of time he appears
upon earth, will venture through it ; and the problem



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Act III The Valkyries 45

is solved. Wotan, with a breaking heart, takes leave
of Brynhild; throws her into a deep sleep; covers her
with her long warshield; summons Loki, who comes
in the shape of a wall of fire surrounding the mountain
peak; and turns his back on Brynhild for ever.

The allegory here is happily not so glaringly
obvious to the younger generations of our educated
classes as it was forty years ago. In those days, any
child who expressed a doubt as to the absolute truth
of the Church's teaching, even to the extent of asking
why Joshua told the sun to stand still instead of telling
the earth to cease turning, or of pointing out that a
whale's throat would hardly have been large enough
to swallow Jonah, was unhesitatingly told that if it
harboured such doubts it would spend all eternity
after its death in horrible torments in a lake of burn-
ing brimstone. It is difficult to write or read this
nowadays without laughing; yet no doubt millions of
ignorant and credulous people are still teaching their
children that. When Wagner himself was a little child,
the fact that hell was a fiction devised for the in-
timidation and subjection of the masses, was a well-
kept secret of the thinking and governing classes. At
that time the fires of Loki were a very real terror to
all except persons of exceptional force of character
and intrepidity of thought. Even thirty years after
Wagner had printed the verses of The Ring for
private circulation, we find him excusing himself
from perfectly explicit denial of current superstitions,
by reminding his readers that it would expose him to
prosecution. In England, so many of our respectable



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46 The Perfect Wagnerite Act iii

voters are still grovelling in a gloomy devil worship,
of which the fires of Loki are the main bulwark, that
no Government has yet had the conscience or the
courage to repeal our monstrous laws against " blas-
phemy."



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SIEGFRIED

SiEGLiNDA, when she flies into the forest with the
hero's son unborn in her womb, and the broken
pieces of his sword in her hand, finds shelter in the
smithy of a dwarf, where she brings forth her child
and dies. This dwarf is no other than Mimmy, the
brother of Alberic, the same who made for him the
magic helmet. His aim in life is to gain possession of
the helmet, the ring, and the treasure, and through
them to obtain that Plutonic mastery of the world
under the beginnings of which he himself writhed
during Alberic's brief reign. Mimmy is a blinking,
shambling, ancient creature, too weak and timid to
dream of taking arms himself to despoil Fafnir, who
still, transformed to a monstrous serpent, broods on
the gold in a hole in the rocks. Mimmy needs the
help of a hero for that; and he has craft enough to
know that it is quite possible, and indeed much in
the ordinary way of the world, for senile avarice and
craft to set youth and bravery to work to win empire
for it. He knows the pedigree of the child left on his
hands, and nurses it to manhood with great care.
His pains are too well rewarded for his comfort.



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48 The Perfect Wagnerite Acti

The boy Siegfried, having no god to instruct him in
the art of unhappiness, inherits none of his father's ill
luck, and all his father's hardihood. The fear against
which Siegmund set his face like flint, and the woe which
he wore down, are unknown to the son. The father
was faithful and grateful: the son knows no law but
his own humor; detests the ugly dwarf who has
nursed him; chafes furiously under his claims for
some return for his tender care; and is, in short,
a totally unmoral person, a born anarchist, the ideal
of Bakoonin, an anticipation of the " overman " of
[ Nietzsche. He is enormously strong, full of life and
fun, dangerous and destructive to what he dislikes,
and affectionate to what he likes; so that it is fortunate
that his likes and dislikes are sane and healthy. Al-
together an inspiriting young forester, a son of the
morning, in whom the heroic race has come out into
the sunshine from the clouds of his grandfather's
majq|tic entanglements with law, and the night of his
father's tragic struggle with it.

The First Act



Mimmy's smithy is a cave; in which he hides from
the light like the eyeless fish of the American caverns.
Before the curtain rises the music already tells us that
we are groping in darkness. When it does rise Mimmy
is in difficulties. He is trying to make a sword for
his nursling, who is now big enough to take the field
against Famir. Mimmy can make mischievous swords;
but it is not with dwarfmade weapons that heroic



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Act I Siegfried 49

man will hew the way of his own will through re-
ligions and governments and plutocracies and all the
other devices of the kingdom of the fears of the un-
heroic. As fast as Mintmy makes swords, Siegfried
Bakoonin smashes them, and then takes the poor old
swordsmith by the scruiF of the neck and chastises
him wrathfully. The particular day on which the
curtain rises begins tvith one of these trying domestic
incidents. Mimmy his jus^ done his best with a new
sword of surpassing excellence. Siegfried returns home
in rare spirits with a wild bear, to the extreme terror
of the wretched dwarf. When the bear is dismissed,
the new sword is produced. It is promptly smashed, as
usual, with, also, the usual effects on the temper of
Siegfried, who is .quite boundless in his criticisms of
the smithes boasted skill, and declares that he would
smash the sword's maker too if he were not too dis-
gusting to be handled.

Mimmy falls back on his stock defence: a «tring
of maudlin reminders of the care with which he has
nursed the little boy into manhood. Siegfried replies
candidly that the strangest thing about all this care is
that instead of making him grateful, it inspires him
with a lively desire to wring the dwarf's neck. Only,
he admits that he always comes back to his Mimmy,
though he loathes him more than any living thing in
the forest. On this admission the dwarf attempts to
build a theory of filial instinct. He explains that he is
Siegfried's father, and that this is why Siegfried can-
not do without him. But Siegfried has learned from his
forest companions, the birds and foxes and wolves.



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50 The Perfect Wagnerite Acti

that mothers as well as fathers go to the making ot
children. Mimmy, on the desperate ground that man
is neither bird nor fox, declares that he is Siegfried's
father and mother both. He is promptly denounced
as a filthy liar, because the birds and foxes are ex-
actly like their parents, whereas Siegfried, having
often watched his own image in the water, can testify
that he is no more like Mimmy than a toad is like
a trout. Then, to place the conversation on a plane
of entire frankness, he throttles Mimmy until he is
speechless. When the dwarf recovers, he is so daunted
that he tells Siegfried the truth about his birth, and
for testimony thereof produces the pieces of the sword
that broke upon Wotan's spear. Siegfried instantly
orders him to repair the sword on pain of an un-
merciful thrashing, and rushes off into the forest, re-
joicing in the discovery that he is no kin of Mimmy's,
and need have no more to do with him when the
sword is mended.

Poor Mimmy is now in a worse plight than ever;
for he has long ago found that the sword utterly
defies his skill: the steel will yield neither to his ham-
mer nor to his furnace. Just then there walks into his
cave a Wanderer, in a blue mantle, spear in hand,
with one eye concealed by the brim of his wide hat.
Mimmy, not by nature hospitable, tries to drive him
away; but the Wanderer announces himself as a wise
man, who can tell his host, in emergency, what it most
concerns him to know. Mimmy, taking this oflFer in
high dudgeon, because it implies that his visitor's wits
are better than his own, oflFers to tell the wise one



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Act I Siegfried 5 1

something that he does not know: to wit, the way to
the door. The imperturbable Wanderer's reply is to
sit down and challenge the dwarf to a trial of wit.
He wagers his head against Mimmy's that he will
answer any three questions the dwarf can put to him.

Now here were Mimmy's opportunity, had he only
the wit to ask what he wants to know, instead of pre-
tending to know everything already. It is above all
things needful to him at this moment to find out how
that sword can be mended; and there has just dropped
in upon him in his need the one person who can tell
him. In such circumstances a wise man would hasten
to show to his visitor his three deepest ignorances, and
ask him to dispel them. The dwarf, being a crafty
fool, desiring only to detect ignorance in his guest,
asks him for information on the three points on which
he is proudest of being thoroughly well instructed
himself. His three questions are. Who dwell under
the earth ? Who dwell on the earth ? and Who dwell
in the cloudy heights above ? The Wanderer, in reply,
tells him of the dwarfs and of Alberic ; of the earth,
and the giants Fasolt and Fafnir ; of the gods and of
Wotan : himself, as Mimmy now recognizes with awe.

Next, it is Mimmy's turn to face three questions.
What is that race, dearest to Wotan, against which
Wotan has nevertheless done his worst ? Mimmy can
answer that: he knows the Volsungs, the race of heroes
born of Wotan's infidelities to Fricka, and can tell
the Wanderer the whole story of the twins and their
son Siegfried. Wotan compliments him on his know-
ledge, and asks further with what sword Siegfried will



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52 The Perfect Wagnerite Acti

slay Fafnir ? Mimmy can answer that too: he has the
whole history of the sword at his fingers' ends. Wotan
hails him as the knowingest of the knowing, and then
hurls at him the question he should himself have
asked: Who will mend the sword? Mimmy, his head
forfeited, confesses with loud lamentations that he
cannot answer. The Wanderer reads him an ap-
propriate little lecture on the folly of being too clever
to ask what he wants to know, and informs him that
a smith to whom fear is unknown will mend Nothung.
To this smith he leaves the forfeited head of his host,
and wanders oflF into the forest. Then Mimmy's
nerves give way completely. He shakes like a man in
delirium tremens, and has a horrible nightmare, in
the supreme convulsion of which Siegfried, returning
from the forest, presently finds him.

A curious and amusing conversation follows. Sieg-
fried himself does not know fear, and is impatient to
acquire it as an accomplishment. Mimmy is all fear :
the world for him is a phantasmagoria of terrors. It is
not that he is afraid of being eaten by bears in the
forest, or of burning his fingers in the forge fire. A
lively objection to being destroyed or maimed does
not make a man a coward : on the contrary, it is the
r beginning of a brave man's wisdom. But in Mimmy,
fear is not the eflFect of danger : it is a natural quality
I of him which no security can allay. He is like many a
1 poor newspaper editor, who dares not print the truth,
\ however simple, even when it is obvious to himself
i^ and all his readers. Not that anything unpleasant would
happen to him if he dicj — not, indeed, that he could



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Act I Siegfried 53

fail to become a distinguished and influential leader of
opinion by fearlessly pursuing such a course, but solely
because he lives in a world of imaginary terrors, rooted
in a modest and gentlemanly mistrust of his own
strength and worth, and consequently of the value
of his opinion. Just so is Mimmy afraid of any-
thing that can do him any good, especially of the
light and the fresh air. He is also convinced that any-
body who is not sufficiently steeped in fear to be con-
stantly on his guard, must perish immediately on his
first sally into the world. To preserve Siegfried for the
enterprise to which he has destined him he makes a
grotesque attempt to teach him fear. He appeals to his
experience of the terrors of the forest, of its dark places,
of its threatening noises, its stealthy ambushes, its sin-
ister flickering lights, its heart-tightening ecstasies of
dread.

All this has no other effect than to fill Siegfried with
wonder and curiosity ; for the forest is a place of de-
light for him. He is as eager to experience Mimmy's
terrors as a schoolboy to feel what an electric shock
is like. Then Mimmy has the happy idea of describing
Fafnir to him as a likely person to give him an ex-
emplary fright. Siegfried jumps at the idea, and, since
Mimmy cannot mend the sword for him, proposes to
set to work then and there to mend it for himself.
Mimmy shakes his head, and bids him see now how
his youthful laziness and frowardness have found him
out — how he would not learn the smith's craft from
Professor Mimmy, and therefore does not know how
even to begin mending the sword. Siegfried Bakoonin's



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54 The Perfect Wagnerite Actii

retort is simple and crushing. He points out that the
net result of Mimmy's academic skill is that he can
neither make a decent sword himself nor even set one
to rights when it is damaged. Reckless of the remon-
strances of the scandalized professor, he seizes a file,
and in a few moments utterly destroys the fragments
of the sword by rasping them into a heap of steel fil-
ings. Then he puts the filings into a crucible ; buries
it in the coals ; and sets to at the bellows with the
shouting exultation of the anarchist who destroys only
to clear the ground for creation. When the steel is
melted he runs it into a mould ; and lo ! a sword-blade
in the rough. Mimmy, amazed at the success of this
violation of all the rules of his craft, hails Siegfried
as the mightiest of smiths, professing himself barely
worthy to be his cook and scullion; and forthwith
proceeds to poison some soup for him so that he may
murder him safely when Fafnir is slain. Meanwhile
Siegfried forges and tempers and hammers and rivets,
uproariously singing the while as nonsensically as the
Rhine-daughters themselves. Finally he assails the anvil
on which Mimmy's swords have been shattered, and
cleaves it with a mighty stroke of the newly forged
Nothung.

The Second Act

In the darkest hour before the dawn of that night,
we find ourselves before the cave of Fafnir ; and there
we find Alberic, who can find nothing better to do
with himself than to watch the haunt of the dragon,
and eat his heart out in vain longing for the gold and



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Act II Siegfried 55

the ring. The wretched Fafnir, once an honest giant,
can only make himself terrible enough to keep his gold
by remaining a venomous reptile. Why he should not
become an honest giant again, and clear out of his
cavern, leaving the gold and the ring and the rest of
it for anyone fool enough to take them at such a price,
is the first question that would occur to anyone except
a civilized man, who would be too ac\istomed to that
sort of mania to be at all surprised at it.

To Alberic in the night comes the Wanderer,
whom the dwarf, recognizing his despoiler of old,
abuses as a shameless thief, taunting him with the help-
less way in which all his boasted power is tied up with
the laws and bargains recorded on the haft of his spear,
which, says Alberic truly, would crumble like chafF in
his hands if he dared use it for his own real ends.
Wotan, having already had to kill his own son with it,
knows that very well ; but it troubles him no more ;
for he is now at last rising to abhorrence of his own
artificial power, and looking to the coming hero, not
for its consolidation but its destruction. When Alberic
breaks out again with his still unquenched hope of one
day destroying the gods and ruling the world through
the ring, Wotan is no longer shocked. He tells Alberic
that Brother Mime approaches with a hero whom God-
head can neither help nor hinder. Alberic may try his luck
against him without disturbance from Valhalla. Per-
haps, he suggests, if Alberic warns Fafnir, and offers
to deal with the hero for him, Fafnir may give him
the ring. They accordingly wake up the dragon, who
condescends to enter into bellowing conversation, but



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56 , The Perfect Wagnerite Act 11

tis proof against their proposition, strong in the magic of
property. " I have and hold/' he says : " leave me to sleep."
Wotan, with a wise laugh, turns to Alberic. " That
shot missed," he says : " no use abusing me for it.
And now let me tell you one thing. All things happen
according to their nature; and you cant alter them."
And so he leaves him. Alberic, raging with the sense
that his old enemy has been laughing at him, and yet
prophetically convinced that the last word will not
be with the god, hides himself as the day breaks, and
his brother approaches with Siegfried.

Mimmy makes a final attempt to frighten Siegfried
by discoursing of the dragon's terrible jaws, poisonous
breath, corrosive spittle, and deadly, stinging tail.
Siegfried is not interested in the tail : he wants to know
whether the dragon has a heart, being confident of his
ability to stick Nothung into it if it exists. Reassured
on this point, he drives Mimmy away, and stretches
himself under the trees, listening to the morning chatter
of the birds. One of them has a great deal to say to
him ; but he cannot understand it ; and after vainly
trying to carry on the conversation with a reed which
he cuts, he takes to entertaining the bird with tunes
on his horn, asking it to send him a loving mate such
as all the other creatures of the forest have.. His tunes
wake up the dragon ; and Siegfried makes merry over
the grim mate the bird has sent him. Fafnir is highly
scandalized by the irreverence of the young Bakoonin.
He loses his temper ; fights ; and is forthwith slain, to
his own great astonishment.

In such conflicts one learns to interpret the messages



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Act III Siegfried 57

of Nature a little. When Siegfried, stxing by the dragon's
vitriolic blood, pops his finger into his mouth and tastes
it, he understands what the bird is saying to him, and^
instructed by it concerning the treasures within his
reach, goes into the cave to secure the gold, the ring
and the wishing cap. Then Mimmy returns, and is
confronted by Alberic. The two quarrel furiously over
the sharing of the booty they have not yet secured,
until Siegfried comes from the cave with the ring and
the helmet, not much impressed by the heap of gold,
and disappointed because he has not yet learned to fear.
He has, however, learnt to read the thoughts of such
a creature as poor Mimmy, who, intending to over-
whelm him with flattery and fondness, only succeeds
in making such a self-revelation of murderous envy
that Siegmed smites him with Nothung and slays him,
to the keen satisfaction of the hidden Alberic. Caring
nothing for the gold, which he leaves to the care
of the slain ; disappointed in his fancy for learning
fear ; and longing for a mate, he casts himself wearily
down, and again appeals to his friend the bird, who
tells him of a woman sleeping on a mountain peak
within a fortress of fire that only the fearless can pene-
trate. Siegfried is up in a moment with all the tumult
of spring in his veins, and follows the flight of the bird
as it pilots him to the fiery mountain.

The Third Act

To the root of the mountain comes also the Wan-
derer, now nearing his doom. He calls up the First



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58 The Perfect Wagnerite Actiii

Mother from the depths of the earth, and begs counsel
from her. She bids him confer with the Norns (the
Fates). But they are of no use to him : what he seeks
is some foreknowledge of the way of the Will in its
perpetual strife with these helpless Fates who can only
spin the net of circumstance and environment round
the feet of men. Why not, says Erda then, go to the
daughter I bore you, and take counsel with her ? He
has to explain how he has cut himself off from her, and
set the fires of Loki between the world and her counsel.
In that case the First Mother cannot help him : such
a separation is part of the bewilderment that is ever the
first outcome of her eternal work of thrusting the life
energy of the world to higher and higher organization.
She can show him no way of escape from the destruc-
tion he foresees. Then from the innermost of him breaks
the confession that he rejoices in his doom, and now
himself exults in passing away with all his ordinances
and alliances, with the spear-sceptre which he has only
wielded on condition of slaying his dearest children
with it, with the kingdom, the power and the glory
which will never again boast themselves as "world
without end." And so he dismisses Erda to her sleep
in the heart of the earth as the forest bird draws near,
piloting the slain son's son to his goal.

Now it is an excellent thing to triumph in the victory
of the new order and the passing away of the old; but
if you happen to be part of the old order yourself,
you must none the less fight for your life. It seems
hardly possible that the British army at the battle of
Waterloo did not include at least one Englishman in-



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Act III Siegfried 59

telligent enough to hope, for the sake of his country
and humanity, that Napoleon might defeat the allied
sovereigns ; but such an Englishman would kill a
French cuirassier rather than be killed by him just
as energetically as the silliest soldier ever encouraged,
by people who ought to know better, to call his
ignorance, ferocity and folly, patriotism and duty.
Outworn life may have become mere error; but it still
claims the right to die a natural death, and will raise
its hand against the millennium itself in self-defence
if it tries to come by the short cut of murder. Wotan
finds this out when he comes face to face with Sieg-
fried, who is brought to a standstill at the foot of
the mountain by the disappearance of the bird. Meet-
ing the Wanderer there, he asks him the way to
the mountain where a woman sleeps surrounded by
fire. The Wanderer questions him, and extracts his
story from him, breaking into fatherly delight when
Siegfried, describing the mending of the sword, re-
marks that all he knew about the business was that
the broken bits of Nothung would be of no use to
him unless he made a new sword out of them right over
again from the beginning. But the Wanderer's interest
is by no means reciprocated by Siegfried. His majesty
and elderly dignity are thrown away on the young
anarchist, who, unwilling to waste time talking,
bluntly bids him either show him the way to the
mountain, or else "shut his muzzle." Wotan is a
little hurt. " Patience, my lad," he says: " if you were
an old man I should treat you with respect." " That
would be a precious notion," says Siegfried. " All my



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6o The Perfect Wagnerite Act ill

life long I was bothered and hampered by an old man
until I swept him out of my way. I will sweep you in
the same fashion if you dont let me pass. Why do
you wear such a big hat; and what has happened to
one of your eyes ? was it knocked out by somebody
whose way you obstructed ? " To which Wotan replies
allegorically that the eye that is gone — the eye that
his marriage with Fricka cost him — is now looking
at him out of Siegfried's head. At this, Siegfried gives
up the Wanderer as a lunatic, and renews his threats
of personal violence. Then Wotan throws off the
mask of the Wanderer; uplifts the world-governing
spear; and puts forth all his divine awe and grandeur as
the guardian of the mountain, round the crest of which
the fires of Loki now break into a red background
for the majesty of the god. But all this is lost on
Siegfried Bakoonin. " Aha ! " he cries, as the spear is
levelled against his breast: " I have found my father's
foe"; and the spear falls in two pieces under the
stroke of Nothung. "Up then," says Wotan: "I
cannot withhold you," and disappears forever from
the eye of man. The fires roll down the mountain ;
but Siegfried goes at them as exultantly as he went at
the forging of the sword or the heart of the dragon,
and shoulders his way through them, joyously sound-
ing his horn to the accompaniment of their crackling


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Online LibraryBraun Illustrating Company Phoenix Publishing CompanyPen and sunlight sketches of Omaha and environs: Handsomely illustrated → online text (page 4 of 10)