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and seething. And never a hair of his head is singed.
Those frightful flames which have scared mankind
for centuries from the Truth, have not heat enough
in them to make a child shut its eyes. They are mere
phantasmagoria, highly creditable to Loki's imaginative



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Act III Siegfried 6i

stage-management ; but nothing ever has perished or
will perish eternally in them except the Churches which
have been so poor and faithless as to trade for their
power on the lies of a romancer.



BACK TO OPERA AGAIN



And now, O Nibelungen Spectator, pluck up ; for all
allegories come to an end somewhere ; and the hour
of your release from these explanations is at hand.
The rest of what you are going to see is opera, and
nothing but opera. Before many bars have been played,
Siegfried and the wakened Brynhild, newly become
tenor and soprano, will sing a concerted cadenza;
plunge on from that to a magnificent love duet ; and
end with a precipitous allegro a capelluy driven head-
. long to its end by the impetuous semiquaver triplets
of the famous finales to the first act of Don Giovanni
or the coda to the Leonore overture, with a specifically
contrapuntal theme, pointes d'orguCy and a high C for
the soprano all complete.

What is more, the work which follows, entitled
Night Falls on The Gods, is a thorough grand opera.
In it you shall see what you have so far missed, the
opera chorus in full parade on the stage, not presum-
ing to interfere with the prima donna as she sings her
death sorig over the footlights. Nay, that chorus will
have its own chance when it first appears, with a good
roaring strain in C major, not, after all, so very
diflferent from, or at all less absurd than the choruses



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62 The Perfect Wagnerite Act ill

of courtiers in La Favorita or " Per te immenso giu-
bilo " in Lucia. The harmony is no doubt a little
developed, Wagner augmenting his fifths with a G
sharp where Donizetti would have put his fingers in
his ears and screamed for G natural. But it is an opera
chorus all the same; and along with it we have
theatrical grandiosities that recall Meyerbeer and
Verdi : pezzi d'insieme for all the principals in a row,
vengeful conjurations for trios of them, romantic death
song for the tenor : in short, all manner of operatic
conventions.

Now it is probable that some of us will have been
so talked by the more superstitious Bayreuth pilgrims
into regarding Die G5tterdammerung as the mighty
climax to a mighty epic, more Wagnerian than all the
other three sections put together, as not to dare
notice this startling atavism, especially if we find the
trio-conjurations more exhilarating than the meta-
physical discourses of Wotan in the three true music
dramas of The Ring. There is, however, no real atavism
involved. Die G5tterdammerung, though the last of
The Ring dramas in order of performance, was the
first in order of conception, and was indeed the root
from which all the others sprang.

The history of the matter is as follows. All
Wagner's works prior to The Ring are operas. The
last of them, Lohengrin, is perhaps the best known
of modern operas. As performed in its entirety at
Bayreuth, it is even more operatic than it appears at
Covent Garden, because it happens that its most old-
fashioned features, notably some of the big set con-



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Act III Siegfried 63

certed pieces for principals and chorus (pezzi d^insieme
as I have called them above), are harder to perform
than the more modern and characteristically Wagnerian
sections, and for that reason were cut out in prepar-
ing the abbreviated fashionable version. Thus Lohen-
grin came upon the ordinary operatic stage as a more
advanced departure from current operatic models than
its composer had made it. Still, it is unmistakably an
opera, with chorus, concerted pieces, grand finales,
and a heroine who, if she does not sing florid varia-
tions with flute obbligato, is none the less a very
perceptible prima donna. In everything but musical
technique the change from Lohengrin to The Rhine
Gold is quite revolutionary.

The explanation is that Night Falls on The Gods
came in between them, although its music was not
finished until twenty years after that of The Rhine
Gold, and thus belongs to a later and more masterful
phase of Wagner's harmonic style. It first came into
Wagner's head as an opera to be entitled Siegfried's
Death, founded on the old Niblung Sagas, which
oflFered to Wagner the same material for an eflFective
theatrical tragedy as they did to Ibsen. Ibsen's Vikings
in Helgeland is, in kind, what Siegfried's Death was
originally intended to be : that is, a heroic piece for the
theatre, without the metaphysical or allegorical compli-
cations of The Ring. Indeed, the ultimate catastrophe
of the Saga cannot by any perversion of ingenuity be
adapted to the perfectly clear allegorical design of
The Rhine Gold, The Valkyries, and Siegfried.



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SIEGFRIED AS PROTESTANT

The philosophically fertile element in the original
project of Siegfried's Death was the conception of
Siegfried himself as a type of the healthy man raised
to perfect confidence in his own impulses by an in-
tense and joyous vitality which is above fear, sickliness
of conscience, malice, and the makeshifts and moral
crutches of law and order which accompany them.
Such a character appears extraordinarily fascinating
and exhilarating to our guilty and conscience-ridden
generations, however little they may understand him.
The world has always delighted in the man who is
delivered from conscience. From Punch and Don Juan
down to Robert Macaire, Jeremy Diddler and the ^
pantomime clown, he has always drawn large audiences;
but hitherto he has been decorously given to the devil
at the end. Indeed eternal punishment is sometimes
deemed too high a compliment to his nature. When
the late Lord Lytton, in his Strange Story, introduced
a character personifying the joyousness of intense
vitality, he felt bound to deny him the immortal soul
which was at that time conceded even to the humblest
characters in fiction, and to accept mischievousness,



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Siegfried as Protestant 65

cruelty, and utter incapacity for sympathy as the in-
evitable consequence of his magnificent bodily and
mental health.

In short, though men felt all the charm of abound-
ing life and abandonment to its impulses, they dared
not, in their deep self-mistrust, conceive it otherwise
than as a force making for evil вАФ one which must
lead to universal ruin unless checked and literally
mortified by self-renunciation in obedience to super-
human guidance, or at least to some reasoned sys-
tem of morals. When it became apparent to the
cleverest of them that no such superhuman guidance
existed, and that their secularist syst;ems had all the
fictitiousness of "revelation" without its poetry, there
was no escaping the conclusion that all the good that
man had done must be put down to his arbitrary will
as well as all the evil he had done ; and it was also
obvious that if progress were a reality, his beneficent
impulses must be gaining on his destructive ones. It
was under the influence of these ideas that we began
to hear about the joy of life where we had formerly
heard about the grace of God or the Age of Reason,
and that the boldest spirits began to raise the question
whether churches and laws and the like were not doing
a great deal more harm than good by their action in
limiting the freedom of the human will. Four hundred
years ago, when belief in God and in revelation was

freneral throughout Europe, a similar wave of thought
ed the strongest-hearted peoples to affirm that every
man's private judgment was a more trustworthy in-
terpreter of God and revelation tlian the Church. This



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66 The Perfect Wagnerite

was called Protestantism ; and though the Protestants
were not strong enough for their creed, and soon set
up a Church of their own, yet the movement, on the
whole, has justified the direction it took. Nowadays
the supernatural element in Protestantism has perished;
and if every man's private judgment is still to be
justified as the most trustworthy interpreter of the
will of Humanity (which is not a more extreme pro-
position than the old one about the will of God)
Protestantism must take a fresh step in advance, and
become Anarchism. Which it has accordingly done,
Anarchism being one of the notable new creeds of the
eighteenth and -nineteenth centuries.

The weak place which experience finds out in the
Anarchist theory is its reliance on the progress already
achieved by " Man." There is no such thing as Man
in the world : what we have to deal with is a multitude
of men, some of them great rascals, some of them great
statesmen, others both, with a vast majority capable of
managing their personal affairs, but not of compre- ,
bending social organization, or grappling with the
problems created by their association in enormous
numbers. If " Man " means this majority, then " Man "
has made no progress : he has, on the contrary, re-
sisted it. He will not even pay the cost of existing in-
stitutions : the requisite money has to be filched from
him by "indirect taxation." Such people, like Wagner's
giants, must be governed by laws ; and their assent to
such government must be secured by deliberately
filling them with prejudices and practising on their
imaginations by pageantry and artificial eminences and



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Siegfried as Protestant 67

dignities. The government is of course established by
the few who are capable of government, though, its
mechanism once complete, it may be, and generally
is, carried on uninteUigently by people who are in-
capable of it, the capable people repairing it from
time to time when it gets too far behind the continu-
ous advance or decay of civilization. All these capable
people are thus in the position of Wotan, forced to
maintain as sacred, and themselves submit to, laws
which they privately know to be obsolescent make-
shifts, and to affect the deepest veneration for creeds
and ideals which they ridicule among themselves with
cynical scepticism. No individual Siegfried can rescue
them from this bondage and hypocrisy ; in fact, the
individual Siegfried has come often enough, only to
find himself confronted with the alternative of govern-
ing those who are not Siegfrieds or risking destruction
at their hands. And this dilemma will persist until
Wotan's inspiration comes to our governors, and they
see that their business is not the devising of laws and
institutions to prop up the weaknesses of mobs and
secure the survival of the unfittest, but the breeding
of men whose wills and intelligences may be depended
on to produce spontaneously the social wellbeing
our clumsy laws now aim at and miss. The majority
of men at present in Europe have no businessrto be
alive ; and no serious progress will be^made imtil we
adSress ourselves earnestly and scientifically to the
task of producing trustworthy human material for
society. In short, it is necessary toT)reed a race of
men in whom the life-giving impulses predominate.



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68 The Perfect Wagnerite

1 before the New Protestantism becomes politically prac-

Lticable.^

The most inevitable dramatic conception, then, of
the nineteenth century, is that of a perfectly naive
hero upsetting religion, law and order in all directions,
and establishing in their place the unfettered action of
Humanity doing exactly what it likes, and producing
order instead of confusion thereby because it likes to
do what is necessary for the good of the race. This
conception, already incipient in Adam Smith's Wealth
of Nations, was certain at last to reach some great
artist, and be embodied by him in a masterpiece. It
was also certain that if that master happened to be a
German, he should take delight in describing his hero
as the Freewiller of Necessity, thereby beyond measure
exasperating Englishmen with a congenital incapacity
for metaphysics.

PANACEA QUACKERY, OTHERWISE IDEALISM

Unfortunately, human enlightenment does not pro-
gress by nicer and nicer adjustments, but by violent
corrective reactions which invariably send us clean over
our saddle and would bring us to the ground on the
other side if the next reaction did not send us back
again with equally excessive zeal. Ecclesiasticism and
Constitutionalism send us one way. Protestantism and

r ^ The necessity for breeding the governing class from a selected stock has

I always been recognized by Aristocrats, however erroneous their methods of selec-

1 tion. We have changed our system from Aristocracy to Democracy without

I considering that we were at the same time changing, as regards our governing

', class, from Selection to Promiscuity. Those who have taken a practical part in

^ modern politics best know how farcical the result is.



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Siegfried as Protestant 69

Anarchism the other ; Order rescues us from confusion
and lands us in Tyranny ; Liberty then saves the situa-
tion and is presently found to be as great a nuisance
as Despotism. A scientifically balanced application of
these forces, theoretically possible, is practically in-
compatible with human passion. Besides, we have the
same weakness in morals as in medicine : we cannot
be cured of running after panaceas, or, as they are
called in the sphere of morals, ideals. One generation
sets up duty, renunciation, self-sacrifice as a panacea.
The next generation, especially the -women, wake up
at the age of forty or thereabouts to the fact that their
lives have been wasted in the worship of this ideal, and,
what is still more aggravating, that the elders who
imposed it on them did so in a fit of satiety with their
own experiments in the other direction. Then that de-
frauded generation foams at the mouth at the very
mention of duty, and sets up the alternative panacea
of love, their deprivation of which seems to them to
have been the most cruel and mischievous feature of
their slavery to duty. It is useless to warn them that
this reaction, if prescribed as a panacea, will prove as
great a failure as all the other reactions have done ;
for they do not recognize its identity with any reaction
that ever occurred before. Take for instance the hack-
neyed historic example of the austerity of the Common-
wealth being followed by the licence of the Restora-
tion. You cannot persuade any moral enthusiast to
accept this as a pure oscillation from action to reaction.
If he is a Puritan he looks upon the Restoration as a
national disaster : if he is an artist he regards it as the



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70 The Perfect Wagnerite

salvation of the country from gloom, devil worship
and starvation of the affections. The Puritan is ready
to try the G)mmonwealth again with a few modern
improvements : the Amateur is equally ready to try
the Restoration with modern enlightenments. And so
for the present we must be content to proceed by re-
actions, hoping that each will establish some perman-
ently practical and beneficial reform or moral habit that
will survive the correction of its excesses by the next
reaction.

DRAMATIC ORIGIN OF WOTAN

We can now see how a single drama in which Wotan
does not appear, and of which Siegfried is the hero,
expanded itself into a great fourfold drama of which
Wotan is the hero. You cannot dramatize a reaction
by personifying the reacting force only, any more than
Archimedes could lift the world without a fulcrum for
his lever. You must also personify the established power
against which the new force is reacting ; and in the con- .
flict between them you get your drama, conflict being
the essential ingredient in all drama. Siegfried, as the
hero of Die Gotterdammerung, is only the primo ten-
ore robust of an opera book, deferring his death, after
he has been stabbed in the last act, to sing rapturous
love strains to the heroine exactly like Edgardo in
Donizetti's Lucia. In order to make him intelligible
in the wider significance which his joyous, fearless, con-
scienceless heroism soon assumed in Wagner's imagina-
tion, it was necessary to provide him with a much
vaster dramatic antagonist than the operatic villain



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Siegfried as Protestant 71

Hagen. Hence Wagner had to create Wotan as the
anvil for Siegfried's hammer ; and since there was no
room for Wotan in the original opera book, Wagner
had to work back to a preliminary drama reaching
primarily to the very beginnings of human society.
And since, on this world-embracing scale, it was clear
that Siegfried must come into conflict with many baser
and stupider forces than those lofty ones of super-
natural religion and political constitutionalism typified
by Wotan and his wife Fricka, these minor antagon-
ists had to be dramatized also in the persons of Alberic,
Mime, Fafnir, Loki, and the rest. None of these appear
in Night Falls on The Gods save Alberic, whose weird
dream-coUoquy with Hagen, eflTective as it is, is as
purely theatrical as the scene of the Ghost in Hamlet,
or the statue in Don Giovanni. Cut the conference of
the Norns and the visit of Valtrauta to Brynhild out
of Night Falls on The Gods, and the drama remains
coherent and complete without them. Retain them,
and the play becomes connected by conversational refer-
ences with the three music dramas; but the connection
establishes no philosophic coherence, no real identity
between the operatic Brynhild of the Gibichung episode
(presently to be related) and the daughter of Wotan
and the First Mother.



THE LOVE PANACEA

We shall now find that at the point where The
Ring changes from music drama into opera, it also
ceases to be philosophic, and becomes didactic. The



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72 The Perfect Wagnerite

philosophic part is a dramatic symbol of the world as
Wagner observed it. In the didactic part the philosophy
degenerates into the prescription of a romantic nostrum
for all human ills. Wagner, only mortal after all,
succumbed to the panacea mania when his philosophy
was exhausted, like any of the rest of us.

The panacea is by no means an original one. Wagner
was anticipated in the year 1 8 1 9 by a young country
gentleman from Sussex named Shelley, in a work of
extraordinary artistic power and splendor. Prometheus
Unbound is an English attempt at a Ring ; and when
it is taken into account that the author was only 27,
whereas Wagner was 40 when he completed the poem
of The Ring, our vulgar patriotism may find an envious
satisfaction in insisting upon the comparison. Both
works set forth the same conflict between humanity
and its gods and governments, issuing in the redemp-
tion of man from their tyranny by the growth of his
will into perfect strength and self-confidence ; and both
finish by a lapse into panacea-mongering didacticism
by the holding up of Love as the remedy for all evils
and the solvent of all social difficulties.

The differences between Prometheus Unbound and
The Ring are as interesting as the likenesses. Shelley,
caught in the pugnacity of his youth and the first im-
petuosity of his prodigious artistic power by the first
fierce attack of the New Reformation, gave no quarter
to the antagonist of his hero. His Wotan, whom he
calls Jupiter, is the almighty fiend into whom the
Englishman's God had degenerated during two cen-
turies of ignorant Bible worship and shameless com-



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Siegfried as Protestant 73

mercialism. He is Alberic, Fafnir, Loki and the am-
bitious side of Wotan all rolled into one melodramatic
demon who is finally torn from his throne and hurled
shrieking into the abyss by a spirit representing that
conception of Eternal Law which has been replaced
since by the conception of Evolution. Wagner, an
older, more experienced man than the Shelley of 1 8 1 9,
understood Wotan and pardoned him, separating him
tenderly from all the compromising alliances to which
Shelley fiercely held him ; making the truth and hero-
ism which overthrow him the children of his inmost
heart ; and representing him as finally acquiescing in
and working for his own supersession and annihilation.
Shelley, in his later works, is seen progressing towards
the same tolerance, justice, and humility of spirit, as
he advanced towards the middle age he never reached.
But there is no progress from Shelley to Wagner as
regards the panacea, except that in Wagner there is a
certain shadow of night and death come on it : nay,
even a clear opinion that the supreme good of love is
that it so completely satisfies the desire for life, that
after it the Will to Live ceases to trouble us, and we
are at last content to achieve the highest happiness of
death.

This reduction of the panacea to absurdity was not
forced upon Shelley, because the love which acts as a
universal solvent in his Prometheus Unbound is a
sentiment of affectionate benevolence which has noth-
ing to do with sexual passion. It might, and in fact does,
exist in the absence of any sexual interest whatever.
The words mercy and kindness connote it less ambigu- .



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74 The Perfect Wagnerite

ously than the word love. But Wagner sought always
for some point of contact between his ideas and the
physical senses, so that people might not only think
or imagine them in the eighteenth century fashion, but
see them on the stage, hear them from the orchestra,
and feel them through the infection of passionate
emotion. Dr. Johnson kicking the stone to confute
Berkeley is not more bent on common-sense concrete-
ness than Wagner : on all occasions he insists on the
need for sensuous apprehension to give reality to ab-
stract comprehension, maintaining, in fact, that reality
has no other meaning. Now he could apply this pro-
cess to poetic love only by following it back to its
alleged origin in sexual passion, the emotional pheno-
mena of which he has expressed in music with a frank-
ness and forcible naturalism which would possibly have
scandalized Shelley. The love duet in the first act of
The Valkyries is brought to a point at which the con-
ventions of our society demand the precipitate fall of
the curtain ; whilst the prelude to Tristan and Isolde
is such an astonishingly intense and faithful translation
into music of the emotions which accompany the union
of a pair of lovers, that it is questionable whether the
great popularity of this piece at our orchestral concerts
really means that our audiences are entirely catholic in
their respect for life in all its beneficently creative
functions, or whether they simply enjoy the music with-
out understanding it.

But however offensive and inhuman may be the
superstition which brands such exaltations of natural
passion as shameful and indecorous, there is at least



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Siegfried as Protestant 75

as much common sense in disparaging love as in set-
ting it up as a panacea. Even the mercy and loving-
kindness of Shelley do not hold good as a universal
law of conduct : Shelley himself makes extremely short
work of Jupiter, just as Siegfried does of Fafnir,
Mime, and Wotan ; and the ract that Prometheus is
saved from doing the destructive part of his work by
the intervention of that very nebulous personification
of Eternity called Demogorgon, does not in the least
save the situation, because, flatly, there is no such
person as Demogorgon, and if Prometheus does not
pull down Jupiter himself, no one else will. It would
be exasperating, if it were not so funny, to see these
poets leading their heroes through blood and destruc-
tion to the conclusion that, as Browning's David puts
it (David of all people !), " All's Love ; yet all's Law."
Certainly it is clear enough that such love as that
implied by Siegfried's first taste of fear as he cuts
through the mailed coat of the sleeping figure on the
mountain, and discovers that it is a woman; by her
fierce revolt against being touched by him when his
terror gives way to ardor ; by his manly transports ot
victory ; and by the womanly mixture of rapture and
horror with which she abandons herself to the passion
which has seized on them both, is an experience which
it is much better, like the vast majority of us, never to
have passed through, than to allow it to play more
than a recreative holiday part in our lives. It did not 1 j
play a very large part in Wagner's own laborious life, J f
and does not occupy more than two scenes of The


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Online LibraryBraun Illustrating Company Phoenix Publishing CompanyPen and sunlight sketches of Omaha and environs: Handsomely illustrated → online text (page 5 of 10)