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G5tterdammerung, retaining the traditional plot of
murder and jealousy, and with it, necessarily, his orig-
inal second act, in spite of the incongruity of its Sieg-
fried and Brynhild with the Siegfried and Brynhild of
the allegory. As to the legendary matter about the
world-ash and the destruction of Valhalla by Loki, it
fitted in well enough; for though, allegorically, the
blow by which Siegfried breaks the god's spear is the
end of Wotan and of Valhalla, those who do not see
the allegory, and take the story literally, like children,
are sure to ask what becomes of Wotan after Siegfried
gets past him up the mountain ; and to this question
the old tale told in Night Falls on The Gods is as good
an answer as another. The very senselessness of the
scenes of the Norns and of Valtrauta in relation to the
three foregoing dramas, gives them a highly eflFective



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92 The Perfect Wagnerite Act iii

air of mystery ; and no one ventures to challenge their
consequentiality, because we are all more apt to pre-
tend to understand great works of art than to confess
that the meaning (i? any) has escaped us. Valtrauta,
however, betrays her irrelevance by explaining that the
gods can be saved by the restoration of the ring to the
Rhinedaughters. This, considered as part of the previ-
ous allegory, is nonsense ; so that even this scene, which
has a more plausible air of organic connection with The
Valkyries than any other in Night Falls on The Gods,
is as clearly part of a different and earlier conception
as the episode which concludes it, in which Siegfried
actually robs Brynhild of her ring, though he has no
recollection of having given it to her. Night Falls on
The Gods, in fact, was not even revised into any real
coherence with the world-poem which sprang from it ;
and that is the authentic solution of all the contro-
versies which have arisen over it. .

The Third Act

The hunting party comes off duly. Siegfried strays
from it and meets the Rhine Maidens, who almost
succeed in coaxing the ring from him. He pretends to
be afraid of his wife ; and they chaff him as to her
beating him and so forth ; but when they add that the
ring is accursed and will bring death upon him, he
discloses to them, as unconsciously as Julius Caesar dis-
closed it long ago, that secret of heroism, never to let
your life be shaped by fear of its end.^ So he keeps the

^ " We must learn to die, and to die in the fullest sense of the word. The fear
of the end is the source of all lovelessness j and this fear is generated only when love



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Act III Night Falls on The Gods 93

ring ; and they leave him to his fate. The hunting party
now finds him ; and they all sit down together to make
a meal by the river side, Siegfried telling them mean-
while the story of his adventures. When he approaches
the subject of Brynhild, as to whom his memory is a
blank, Hagen pours an antidote to the love philtre into
his drinking horn, whereupon, his memory returning,
he proceeds to narrate the incident of the fiery moun-
tain, to Gunther's intense mortification. Hagen then
plunges his spear into the back of Siegfried, who falls
dead on his shield, but gets up again, after the old
operatic custom, to sing about thirty bars to his love
before allowing himself to be finally carried oflF to the
strains of the famous Trauermarsch.

The scene then changes to the hall of the Gibichungs
by the Rhine. It is night; and Gutruna, unable to
sleep, and haunted by all sorts of vague terrors, is wait-
ing for the return of her husband, and wondering whether
a ghostly figure she has seen gliding down to the river
bank is Brynhild, whose room is empty. Then comes
the cry of Hagen, returning with the hunting party to
announce the death of Siegfried by the tusk of a wild
boar. But Gutruna divines the truth ; and Hagen does
not deny it. Siegfried's body is brought in ; Gunther
claims the ring ; Hagen will not suflFer him to take it ;
they fight ; and Gunther is slain. Hagen then attempts
to take it ; but the dead man's hand closes on it and
raises itself threateningly. Then Brynhild comes ; and

begins to wane. How came it that this love, the highest blessedness to all things
living, was so far lost sight of by the human race that at last it came to this : all
that mankind did, ordered, and established, was conceived only in fear of the end ?
My poem sets this forth." — Wagner to Roeckel, 25th Jan. 1854.



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94 The Perfect Wagnerite Actiii

a funeral pyre is raised whilst she declaims a prolonged
scena, extremely moving and imposing, but yielding
nothing to resolute intellectual criticism except a very
powerful and elevated exploitation of theatrical pathos,
psychologically identical with the scene of Cleopatra
and the dead Anthony in Shakespear's tragedy. Finally
she flings a torch into the pyre, and rides her war-
horse into the flames. The hallof theGibichungs catches
fire, as most halls would were a cremation attempted
in the middle of the floor (I permit myself this gibe
purposely to emphasize the excessive artificiality of the
scene) ; but the Rhine overflows its banks to allow the
three Rhine Maidens to take the ring from Siegfried's
finger, incidentally extinguishing the conflagration as
it does so. Hagen attempts to snatch the ring from
the Maidens, who promptly drown him ; and in the
distant heavens the Gods and their castle are seen perish-
ing in the fires of Loki as the curtain falls.

FORGOTTEN ERE FINISHED

In all this, it will be observed, there is nothing new.
The musical fabric is enormously elaborate and gorge-
ous ; but you cannot say, as you must in witnessing
the Rhine Gold, The Valkyries, and the first two
acts of Siegfried, that you have never seen any-
thing like it before, and that the inspiration is entirely
original. Not only the action, but most of the poetry,
might conceivably belong to an Elizabethan drama.
The situation of Cleopatra and Antony is unconsciously
reproduced without being bettered, or even equalled



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Act III Night Falls on The Gods 95

in point of majesty and musical expression. The loss of
all simplicity and dignity, the impossibility of any cred-
ible scenic presentation of the incidents, and the ex-
treme staginess of the conventions by which these im-
possibilities are got over, are no doubt covered from
the popular eye by the overwhelming prestige of Die
G5tterdammerung as part of so great a work as The
Ring, and by the extraordinary storm of emotion and
excitement which the music keeps up. But the very
qualities that intoxicate the novice in music enlighten
the adept. In spite of the fulness of the composer's
technical accomplishment, the finished style and effort-
less mastery of harmony and instrumentation displayed,
there is not a bar in the work which moves us as the
same themes moved us in The Valkyries, nor is any-
thing but external splendor added to the life and
hximor of Siegfried.

In the original poem, Brynhild delays her self-
immolation on the pyre of Siegfried to read the
assembled choristers a homily on the efficacy of the
Love panacea. "My holiest wisdoni's hoard," she says,
"now I make known to the world. I believe not in
property, nor money, nor godliness, nor hearth and
high place, nor pomp and peerage, nor contract and
custom, but in Love. Let that only prevail ; and ye
shall be blest in weal or woe." Here the repudiations
still smack of Bakoonin;.but the saviour is no longer
the, volition of the full-grown spirit of Man, the Free
Wilier of Necessity, sword in hand, but simply Love,
and not even Shelleyan love, but vehement sexual
passion. It is highly significant of the extent to which



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96 The Perfect Wagnerite Act iii

this uxorious commonplace lost its hold of Wagner
(after disturbing his conscience, as he confesses to
Roeckel, for years) that it disappears in the full score of
Night Falls on The Gods, which was not completed until
he was on the verge of producing Parsifal, twenty years
after the publication of the poem. He cut the homily
out, and composed the music of the final scene with
a flagrant recklessness of the old intention. The rigor-
ous logic with which representative musical themes are
employed in the earlier dramas is here abandoned with-
out scruple ; and for the main theme at the conclusion
he selects a rapturous passage sung by Sieglinda in the
third act of The Valkyries (p. 43, ante) when Brynhild
inspires her with a sense of her high destiny as the
mother of the unborn hero. There is no dramatic logic
whatever in the recurrence of this theme to express the
transport in which Brynhild immolates herself. There
is of course an excuse for it, inasmuch as both women
have an impulse of self-sacrifice for the sake of Sieg*-
fried ; but this is really hardly more than an excuse ;
since the Valhalla theme might be attached to Alberic
on the no worse ground that both he and Wotan are
inspired by ambition, and that the ambition has the
same object, the possession of the ring. The common
sense of the matter is that the only themes which had
fully retained their significance in Wagner's memory
at the period of the composition of Night Falls on The
Gods are those which are mere labels of external feat-
ures, such as the Dragon, the Fire, the Water and so
on. This particular theme of Sieglinda's is, in truth, of
no great musical merit : it might easily be the pet



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Act III Night Falls on The Gods 97

climax of a popular sentimental ballad : in fact, the
gushing effect which is its sole valuable quality is so
cheaply attained that it is hardly going too far to call
it the most trumpery phrase in the entire tetralogy.
Yet, since it undoubtedly does gush very emphaticaUy,
Wagner chose, for convenience' sake, to work up this
final scene with it rather than with the more dis-
tinguished, elaborate and beautiful themes connected
with the love of Brynhild and Siegfried.

He would certainly not have thought this a matter
of no consequence had he finished the whole work ten
years earlier. It must always be borne m mind that the
poem of The Ring was complete and printed in 1853,
and represents the sociological ideas which, after ger-
minating in the European atmosphere for many years,
had been brought home to Wagner, who was intensely
susceptible to such ideas, by the crash of 1849 ^^
Dresden. Now ;io man whose mind is alive and active,
as Wagner's was to the day of his death, can keep his
political and spiritual opinions, much less his philo-
sophic consciousness, at a standstill for quarter of a
century until he finishes an orchestral score. When
Wagner first sketched Night Falls on The Gods he was
35. When he finished the score for the first Bayreuth
festival in 1876 he had turned 60. No wonder he had
lost his old grip of it and left it behind him. He even
tampered with The Rhine Gold for the sake of theat-
rical eflfect when stage-managing it, making Wotan
pick up and brandish a sword to give visible point to
his -sudden inspiration as to the raising up of a hero.
The sword had first to be discovered by Fafnir among



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98 The Perfect Wagnerite Act iii

the Niblung treasures and thrown away by him as use-
less. There is no sense in this device ; and its adoption
shows the same recklessness as to the original intention
which we find in the music of the last act of The Dusk
of the Gods.^ The Ring was forgotten before it was
finished. Constancy has never been a great man's virtue.

^ Die Gbtterdammerung means literally Godtgloaming. The English versions
of the opera are usually called The Dusk of the Gods, or The Twilight of the
Gods. I have pxirposely introduced the ordinary title in the sentence above for
the reader's information.



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WAGNER^S OWN EXPLANATION

And now, having given my explanation of The
Ring, can I give Wagner's explanation of it ? If I could
(and I can) I should not by any means accept it as
conclusive. Nearly half a century has passed since the
tetralogy was written ; and in that time the purposes
of many half instinctive acts of genius have become
clearer to the common man than they were to the
doers. Some years ago, in the course of an explanation
of Ibsen's plays, I pointed out that it was by no means
certain or even likely that Ibsen was as definitely con-
scious of his thesis as I. All the stupid people, and
some critics who, though not stupid, had not themselves
written what the Germans call "tendency" works, saw
nothing in this but a fantastic affectation of the extra- '
vagant self-conceit of knowing more about Ibsen than
Ibsen himself. Fortunately, in taking exactly the same
position now with regard to Wagner, I can claim his
own authority to support me. "How," he wrote to
Roeckel on the 23rd August 1856, "can an artist ex-
pect that what he has felt intuitively should be perfectly
realized by others, seeing that he himself feels in the
presence of his work, if it is true Art, that he is con-



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lOO The Perfect Wagnerite

fronted by a riddle, about which he, too, might have
illusions, just as another might?"

The truth is, we are apt to deify men of genius, ex-
actly as we deify the creative force of the universe, by
attributing to logical design what is the result of blind
instinct. What Wagner meant by "true Art" is the
operation of the artist's instinct, which is just as blind
as any other instinct. Mozart, asked for an explanation
of his works, said frankly "How do I know?" Wag-
ner, being •a philosopher and critic as well as a com-
poser, was always looking for moral explanations of
what he had created ; and he hit on several very strik-
ing ones, all different. In the same way one can con-
ceive Henry the Eighth speculating very brilliantly
about the circulation of his own blood without getting
as near the truth as Harvey did long after his death. .

None the less, Wagner's own explanations are of
exceptional interest. To begin with, there is a consider-
able portion of The Ring, especially the portraiture of
our capitalistic industrial system from the socialist's
point of view in the slavery of the Niblungs and the
tyranny of Alberic, which is unmistakable, as it dra-
matizes that portion of human activity which lies well
within the territory covered by our intellectual con-
sciousness. All this is concrete Home Office business,
so to speak : its meaning was as clear to Wagner as it
is to us. Not so that part of the work which deals with
the destiny of Wotan. And here, as it happened,
Wagner's recollection of what he had been driving at
was completely upset by his discovery, soon after the
completion of The Ring poem, of Schopenhaur's



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Wagner's own Explanation loi

famous treatise "The World as Will and Representa-
tion." So obsessed did he become with this masterpiece
of philosophic art that he declared that it contained
the intellectual demonstration of the conflict of human
forces which he himself had demonstrated artistically
in his great poem. "I must confess," he writes to
Roeckel, "to having arrived at a clear understanding
of my own works of art through the help of another,
who has provided me with the reasoned conceptions
corresponding to my intuitive principles."

Schopenhaur, however, had done nothing of the
sort. Wagner's determination to prove that he had
been a Schopenhaurite all along without knowing it
only shows how completely the fascination of the great
treatise on The Will had run away with his memory.
It is easy to see how this happened. Wagner says of
himself that "seldom has there taken place in the soul
of one and the same man so profound a division and
estrangement between the intuitive or impulsive part
of his nature and his consciously or reasonably formed
ideas." Now since Schopenhaur's great contribution to
modern thought was to educate us into clear conscious-
ness of this distinction — a distinction familiar, in a
fanciful way, to the Ages of Faith and Art before the
Renascence, but afterwards swamped in the Rational-
ism of that movement — it was inevitable that Wagner
should jump at Schopenhaur's metaphysiology (I use
a word less likely to be mistaken than metaphysics) as
the very thing for him. But metaphysiology is one
thing, political philosophy another. The political philo-
sophy of Siegfried is exactly contrary to the political



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I02 The Perfect Wagnerite

philosophy of Schopenhaur, although the same clear
metaphysiological distinction between the instinctive
part of man (his Will) and his reasoning faculty
(dramatized in The Ring as Loki) is insisted on in
both. The difference is that to Schopenhaur the Will
is the universal tormentor of man, the author of that
great evil, Life ; whilst reason is the divine gift that is
finally to overcome this life-creating will and lead,
through its abnegation, to cessation and peace, anni-
hilation and Nirvana. This is the doctrine of Pessi-
mism. Now Wagner was, when he wrote The Ring, a
most sanguine revolutionary Meliorist, contemptuous
of the reasoning faculty, which he typified in the
shifty, unreal, delusive Loki, and full of faith in the
life-giving Will, which he typified in the glorious
Siegfried. Not until he read Schopenhaur did he be-
come bent on proving that he had always been a
Pessimist at heart, and that Loki was the most sensible
and worthy adviser of Wotan in The Rhine Gold.

Sometimes he faces the change in his opinions
frankly enough. "My Niblung drama," he writes to
Roeckel, "had taken form at a time when I had built
up with my reason an optimistic world on Hellenic
principles, believing that nothing was necessary for the
realization of such a world but that men should wish
it. I ingeniously set aside the problem why they did
not wish it. I remember that it was with this definite
creative purpose that I conceived the personality of
Siegfried, with the intention of representing an exist-
ence free from pain." But he appeals to his earlier
works to show that behind all these artificial optimistic



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Wagner's own Explanation 103

ideas there was always with him an intuition of " the
sublime tragedy of renunciation, the negation of the
will." In trying to explain this, he is full of ideas
philosophically, and full of the most amusing contra-
dictions personally. Optimism, as an accidental excur-
sion into the barren paths of reason on his own part,
he calls "Hellenic." In others he denounces it as rank
Judaism, the Jew having at that time become for him
the whipping boy for all modern humanity. In a letter
from London he expounds Schopenhaur to Roeckel
with enthusiasm, preaching the renunciation of the
Will to Live as the redemption from all error and
vain pursuits : in the next letter he resumes the subject
with unabated interest, and finishes by mentioning
that on leaving London he went to Geneva and under-
went "a most beneficial course of hydropathy." Seven
months before this he had written as follows : "Believe
me, I too was once possessed by the idea of a country
life. In order to become a radically healthy human
being, I went two years ago to a Hydropathic Estab-
lishment, prepared to give up Art and everything if I
could once more become a child of Nature. But, my
good friend, I was obliged to laugh at my own naivete
when I found myself almost going mad. None of us
will reach the promised land : we shall all die in the
wilderness. Intellect is, as some one has said, a sort of (,
disease : it is incurable."

Roeckel knew his man of old, and evidently pressed
him for explanations of the inconsistencies of The
Ring with Night Falls on The Gods. Wagner defended
himself with unfailing cleverness and occasional petu-



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I04 The Perfect Wagnerite

lances, ranging from such pleas as "I believe a true
instinct has kept me from a too great definiteness ; for
it has been borne in on me that an absolute disclosure
of the intention disturbs true insight," to a volley of
explanations and commentaries on the explanations.
He gets excited and annoyed because Roeckel will not
admire the Brynhild of Night Falls on The Gods ; re-
invents the Tarnhelm scene ; and finally, the case being
desperate, exclaims, "It is wrong of you to challenge
me to explain it in words : you must feel that some-
thing is being enacted that is not to be expressed in
mere words."



THE PESSIMIST aS AMORIST

Sometimes he gets very far away from Pessimism
indeed, and recommends Roeckel to solace his cap-
tivity, not by conquering the will to live at liberty,
but by "the inspiring influences of the Beautiful."
The next moment he throws over even Art for Life.
"Where life ends," he says, very wittily, "Art be-
gins. In youth we turn to Art, we know not why ;
and only when we have gone through with Art and
come out on the other side, we learn to our cost that
we have missed Life itself." His only comfort is that
he is beloved. And on the subject of love he lets him-
self loose in a manner that would have roused the
bitterest scorn in Schopenhaur, though, as we have
seen (p. 74), it is highly characteristic of Wagner.
"Love in its most perfect reality," he says, "is only
possible between the sexes: it is only as man and



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Wagner's own Explanation 105

woman that human beings can truly love. Every other
manifestation of love can be traced back to that one
absorbingly real feeling, of which all other affections
are but an emanation, a connection, or an imitation.
It is an error to look on this as only one of the forms
in which love is revealed, as if there were other forms
coequal with it, or even superior to it. He who after
the manner of metaphysicians prefers unreality to real-
ity^ and derives the concrete from the abstract — in
short, puts the word before the fact — may be right in
esteeming the idea of love as higher than the expres-
sion of love, and may affirm that actual love made
manifest in feeling is nothing but the outward and
visible sign of a pre-existent, non-sensuous, abstract
love; and he will do well to despise that sensuous
function in general. In any case it were safe to bet
that such a man had never loved or been loved as
human beings can love, or he would have understood
that in despising this feeling, what he condemned was
its sensual expression, the outcome of man's animal
nature, and not true human love. The highest satis-
faction and expression of the individual is only to be
found in his complete absorption, and that is only
possible through love. Now a human being is both
man and woman: it is only when these two are united
that the real human being exists ; and thus it is only
by love that man and woman attain to the full measure
of humanity. But when nowadays we talk of a human
being, such heartless blockheads are we that quite in-
voluntarily we only think of man. It is only in the
union of man and woman by love (sensuous and



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io6 The Perfect Wagnerite

supersensuous) that the human being exists; and as
the human being cannot rise to the conception of any-
thing higher than his own existence — his own being —
so the transcendent act of his life is this consummation
of his humanity through love."

It is clear after this utterance from the would-
be Schopenhaurian, that Wagner's explanations of his
works for the most part explain nothing but the mood
in which he happened to be on the day he advanced
them, or the train of thought suggested to his very
susceptible imagination and active mind by the points
raised by his questioner. Especially in his private
letters, where his outpourings are modified by his
dramatic consciousness of the personality of his corre-
spondent, do we find him taking all manner of positions,
and putting forward all sorts of cases which must be
taken as clever and suggestive special pleadings, and
not as serious and permanent expositions of his works.
These works must speak for themselves : if The Ring
says one thing, and a letter written afterwards says
that it said something else. The Ring must be taken
to confute the letter just as conclusively as if the two
had been written by different hands. However, no-
body fairly well acquainted with Wagner's utterances
as a whole will find any unaccountable contradic-
tions in them. As in all men of his type, our manifold
nature was so marked in him that he was like several


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