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personage. St. Paul assuredly had good reason for
his belief that Jesus had lived and had suffered on
the Cross, and St. Paul was a contemporary whose
good faith it is impossible to doubt. On the other
hand, the oldest mention of Moses occurs four or
five centuries after he was supposed to have lived
and led the Israelites out of Egypt. No one could
state the case against Moses more forcibly. Renan
even asserts that the whole story of the Exodus Itself
may be a fable, and that all we can feel sure of
is the bare fact that the Jews left Egypt and took
possession of the Holy Land. Nothing could be
clearer or In closer accord with truth;, but as soon
as Rcnan begins his narrative he forgets his scep-
ticism and tells us of the "burning bush," and the
way the bitter waters of Marah were rendered drink-
able; he will even point out the place where the
leaders of the expedition appear to him to have
formed precise plans for the conquest of Canaan.
Renan Is a sceptic backed by an artist, and as artist
he must have affirmations and beliefs, visions even;


and so extraordinary contradictions creep into his
work. He is like one of those lunatics who is
utterly indifferent to money and yet persists in amass-
ing false coins and collecting spurious notes on the
"Bank of Invention." As a sceptic and critic he
will tell you that the history of Samson has suffered
by being touched up {d'etranges retouches) ; twenty
pages further on the artist assures you that the story
has not been touched at all {n'a pas ete retoiichee) .

The truth is Renan has the creative imagination
of a poet, and he uses the fact as a springboard by
means of which he may rise higher into the blue.

His real creed is to be found in his philosophic
Dialogues ; they start with what he regards as
"Certainties," then pass to "Probabilities," and
finally rise to "Dreams." But Kenan's most cher-
ished "certainties" would be "dreams" to less
imaginative natures. It seems certain to him that
"this world has a purpose and a goal," that "we
are the playthings of a higher egotism which uses
men as pawns in a game," and that "we are often
duped cunningly by nature to fulfil some purpose
which transcends. all our imagining." It is a "cer-
tainty" forsooth that nature "is moving towards
some end"; it is a "probability" that such motion
is a progress not only through the ages, but from
"world to world."

And if you ask him for the inspiring cause of
this evolutionary process or for the objective to


which we are tending, he will confuse things with
words, and assert that "this cause is the desire to
be, the thirst for consciousness, the necessity that
the ideal should be realized." ("Cette cause fut le
desir d'etre, la soif de conscience, la necessite qu'il
y avait a ce que I'ideal fut represente.") He insists
that the "evolution of the ideal is at once the object
and moving cause of the universe. The pure idea
is only a potentiality; matter in itself is powerless;
the idea can only reach consciousness by incarnating
itself in matter." And then, if you please, he calmly
sums up: "everything comes from matter; but it is
the idea which is the soul, the animating principle
which aspires to self-realization, and thus reaches to
life — Voila Dieul" To try to criticize such Hege-
lian rhapsody would be just as profitable as the at-
tempt to dissect moonbeams. But that Foila Dieu is
beyond price, a jewel of French art.

It must be perfectly plain to any careful student
that Renan's mind is saturated with opposing and
contradictory hypotheses: at one moment he is in
love with the "idea" of Hegel, at the next with
the Darwinian theory of evolution, and then he
falls back into the crudest anthropomorphism and
talks of "the object and purpose of the universe"
as if he had just been listening to a sermon by

But this net-like eclecticism is characteristic of
the age, and, curiously enough, in his "Dreams"


Renan reaches beyond his own time to the thought
of our day. Starting with the Idea that the object
of the universe Is an ever more complete self-con-
sciousness, an ever increasing vltallzatlon of matter
by thought, Renan, with his poetic Imagination, is
forced to realize this abstract purpose by clothing
the general consciousness In a personality who, con-
centrating In himself all human knowledge, becomes
in some sort superhuman. Renan invented the
Superman before Nietzsche. But It is a mere sup-
position that science and its applications will fall
to the control of an ever smaller number of people
as Renan believes. None of the myriad discoveries
of our time has this esoteric character; none of the
military Inventions tends to concentrate power in the
hands of an individual; the Superman is just as
subjective a fancy as "the aim and purpose of the
universe," which can be traced from aeon to aeon,
and from planet to planet. The whole thing is
a bubble blown by a supersubtle sceptic who will
console himself for the shortcomings and obscurities
of reality by accepting his fancies for facts.

And just as In Renan's philosophy one Is forced
to find the sceptic-artist utterly Indifferent to truth,
so In his plays the artist nature reveals itself with
entire frankness. Again and again one is brought
up with a shock by his extraordinary, abnormal
sensuality. Here are really the two poles between
which the man swings. He was a hopeless un-


believer, and at the same time given over to all
pleasures, pleasures of thought, pleasures of senti-
ment (his heroes love to weep like women) , pleasures
of the senses. As we have seen, he was gross in
body, ii^dolent physically; altogether unable to appre-
ciate finely either an athlete or a saint, much less
a hero. His plays show us this side of him with
astonishing naivete. One needs only to turn over
the leaves of L'Abhesse de Jouarre to find Renan
in his habit as he lived. In this play he lets himself
go and reaches the nadir of absurdity. The Abbess,
who gives herself for the first time in prison to the
man she loves, declares in the morning that "fate
never accords twice to any human being such
pleasure" as she has enjoyed. Her assertion is as
general as her experience is limited. The play does
not need further description: it is an object-lesson
in the ludicrous weaknesses of abnormal sensuality.
Renan believed that if the inhabitants of the
world were informed that they were destined to
perish within two or three days, every Man Jack of
us would rush at some Jill or other, and insist on
embracing her at the supreme moment; "the last
sigh would become a kiss," he says, "and we should
all 'die of pleasure.' " Nothing could be more
ridiculously absurd or further from English notions.
Some men would meet death in prayer; some in
cheering their loved ones ; some with smiling courage ;
others with cursings and despair, or in sullen


patience. It Is safe to say that not one in a hundred
would carry out Kenan's preposterous forecast.

He takes himself for a measure of the ideal,
and he is not justified. The reason of his failure
is unmistakable. First of all, he is a Frenchman,
and the French are somewhat obsessed by the sense
of sex, apt to be too much given to sensual delights.
Then, too, Renan was brought up as a priest, and
his natural desires thereby subjected to unnatural
restraint. In consequence of this he seems to have
found sex-attraction quite irresistible; he Is weaker
even than the ordinary Frenchman; he does not only
yield to temptation; he seeks it out.

There is one sentence of Renan's which I regard
as his most characteristic confession. He declares
that "modern philosophy will find its last expression
in the drama, or, rather, in the opera : for music
and the illusions of the lyric stage are admirably
adapted to continue the thought into the vague
region which lies beyond the reach of words."

("La philosophic modern aura de meme sa der-
niere expression dans un drame, ou plutot dans un
opera; car la musique et les illusions de la scene
lyrique serviraient admirablement a continuer la
pensee, au moment oij la parole ne suffit plus a

I always think that if Renan had had any gift
for music he would have expressed himself most
fully in some modern opera. In reahty he was


a sort of sister-soul to Gounod, and might have
written the passion-music of another Faust.

His limitations can best be seen in his work on
St. Paul. For there he is face to face with a real
person, and we can judge him as against a known
standard. Paul is not only a real historical person-
age; but he lends reality to the other chief actors
in the world-drama, to Peter and James and John,
even to Jesus Himself — all owe something to Paul's
intense vitality. For Paul is something more than
an historical figure and contemporary witness of
the Gospel story; he is his own biographer, and has
revealed himself in certain of the Epistles with an
extraordinary particularity and vividness. We know
his beliefs and his opinions on the most important
questions; we can see them growing even, for his
letters were dictated, and have therefore all the
characteristics of familiar and passionate speech.
Paul has given us a series of photographs of his
very soul, all the truer and more interesting because
they are unstudied and unconscious; we know his
indignations and his lovingkindness, his blessings,
and his cursings, his bold self-assertion and profound
humility, the flaming spirit of him, and the great
tender heart.

His style is the man. What eloquence there is
in the unadorned, bare enumeration of his labors
and sufferings; what lyric power in his apocalypse
of the resurrection; what grace and charm and


sweet-thoughted poetry In his praise of charity
(love). And yet, when not upborne on the broad
wings of some Intense emotion, what a style ! Is
there anything In all literature so Inchoate, so bar-
barous? What a mixture of conflicting metaphors
and repetitions; of violent assertions and of hair-
splitting quibbles; here an elaborate argument
broken off In the middle and left unfinished; there
antitheses of thought dragged in by assonances of
language; quotations from the Old Testament tossed
together with stories of travel and shipwreck, all
foaming before us like a mountain-torrent In spate — -.
headlong, muddy, irresistible.

Yet no one has pictured himself In every line as
this man has done. We recognize his very voice,
his Jewish accent, his contempt of grammar, his
harping on one or two favorite words; his vehe-
ment, abrupt, magnificent talk like hot scoriae shot
through with veins of gold. He moves before us
and casts a shadow; the little, stout, bow-legged
Jew, with the bald head and black beard, the
prominent, hooked nose and thick eyebrows, and
the glowing, inspiring eyes ; are we not told that at
one moment he seemed like a man and at another
had "the face of an angel."

In a thousand pages Boswell has not managed
to show us Johnson as clearly as Paul discovers
himself to us In a couple of letters. There is no
man In history or In literature so well known to


us, no other figure of such intense vitality, moving
in so searching a light.

Renan has his own way of classifying great men,
and Paul does not find favor In his sight. "In the
sacred procession of humanity," he says, "the good
man comes first, and after him the servant of
Truth, the savant, or philosopher, and then the
priest of Beauty, the artist or the poet. . . .
Jesus appears to us with a halo, an ideal of good-
ness and beauty. But what was Paul? He was not
a saint. The dominant trait of his character is
not goodness; he was proud, harsh, obstinate; he
defended himself and asserted himself; he used
wounding words; he thought himself always in the
right; stuck to his own opinion and alienated many.
He was not a savant. . . . He
was not a poet. . . . What was he? A great
man of action: a fearless, enthusiastic, conquering
spirit, a missionary, a zealot. . . . But the
man of action, even at his highest when struggling
for a noble cause Is not so close to God as he who
spends himself In the service of the Good, the True,
or the Beautiful, . . . Paul Is inferior to Peter
or to St. Francis. . . . He Is like Luther; the
same violence of speech, the same passion, the same
energy, the same noble independence, the same
fanatical attachment to a thesis which he regards
as absolute and eternal truth."

Interesting as all this is, it is Inadequate and


unfair: a judgment of Paul to-day must at least
found Itself on the judgment of the past eighteen
centuries: we are prepared for a modification of
that judgment; but not for a contradiction of it.
And what is the judgment of the centuries about
Paul? Let us listen to Scherer, who is a safer guide
on such a matter than Renan. After telling us that
Paul gave himself much trouble and wasted a great
deal of eloquence in order to put himself among the
disciples of Jesus, Scherer decides that Paul was
"greater than any of the twelve," and he adds
boldly, grounding himself on that secular judgment
of which I have spoken, "posterity regards Paul as
the bravest of the soldiers of Christ, the first of
the Apostles, the immortal missionary to the Gen-

Renan knows all this; no one better, but the
knowledge does not conciliate him : he is an amiable,
pleasure-loving unbeliever, a French artist, who
touches sainthood, so to speak, only through soft

The daring and force of Paul; his devotion to
the truth as shown for example in his reproof of
Peter, and in his touching confession of his own
nervous weakness and sexual impotence; his im-
mitigable resolution, his stubborn-proud poverty, and
self-denial are all Intolerable to Renan.

"Paul was too aggressive," he cries again and


again; "he had not the persuasiveness, the tender-
ness, the gentleness of Jesus."

That is true to some extent; but, as Scherer has
well said, "Paul is the complement of Jesus: Paul
is nearer to us; he is of our flesh and our spirit,
and we are accordingly better able to measure his

Renan does not overlook the great chapter on
Charity, or Paul's constant solicitude for the faith-
ful, but he will not accept anything as proof of the
great Apostle's exceeding tenderness of heart.

In fine, Renan's portrait of Jesus is, as I have
tried to show, a French portrait; but still it is
a portrait inspired by sympathy and a certain com-
prehension; his picture of Paul is a caricature; he
had no love for the heroic fighter, no understanding
of his unique value and importance. Without Paul,
Christianity, it seems to me, might have perished
in obscurity as a flower too fragile-fair for this harsh,
unfriendly world.

Renan does not even notice the most astonishing
thing in Paul's history — the confession in which Paul
discovers his own defect relentlessly. Paul was con-
verted by Jesus Himself. The first thing he should
have done, one imagines, was to hurry to Jerusalem
to interview the disciples, to talk with the brethren
and, above all, with the mother of the Master, and
thus collect at first hand every scrap of evidence,
every particle of knowledge that could throw light


upon the Divine Figure. It would then have been
his duty and his joy to have set forth the whole story
in the most complete and convincing way.

Paul did nothing of the sort; he went off into the
desert, he tells us, for three years by himself; as an
unbeliever would say, to evolve Jesus out of his
own internal consciousness. And when at length
he went to Jerusalem it was only for a casual visit
of a fortnight and not as a pilgrimage to the Holy
of Hohes.

What a book Paul could have written about Jesus,
the Christ, with the knowledge he might have
gathered had he wished; Paul with his passionate
soul and his genius for expression! He was the
greatest man then living on this earth, and he might
have given us a book as much finer than the New
Testament as the New is finer than the Old: The
Life of Jesus by Paul would have been the Gospel
of humanity for three or four thousand years. It
was Paul whom Dante should have charged with
"the great refusal."

This confession of Paul makes several things plain
to us. First of all, he must have known a good
deal about Jesus and his preaching, even when he
was persecuting His followers. Again and again
he must have been pierced by this shaft of divine
wisdom and by that; suddenly he was stricken to the
heart. He needed no further knowledge : Jesus had
taught him to take love as the supreme, the infallible


guide, and in a moment he had learned the lesson;
the light blinded him. Paul then must have been
nearly on Christ's level — a fact surely borne out by
the divine chapter on Charity. It was Paul who
took, the gold of Christ's Gospel, mixed it with hard
alloy, broke it up into convenient forms, and so gave
it currency among men.

I always avoided talking to Renan about Paul:
I did not want to dispute with him again, so I con-
tented myself with praise of his learning, and the
immense labors he had undergone, and left It at

It was impossible not to be grateful to him for
what he had done: why should one be annoyed
with him for being what he was? His Life of Jesus
is there and holds the field till a better shall appear,
and a better is not likely to be written for many
a year to come.

For both as a scientific historian and an artist-
writer, Renan is In the first rank. I have dealt
mainly with his shortcoming as an artist, for every
one is acquainted with his extraordinary achieve-
ment, and in the same way I have tried to show
some of the mistakes into which his duality of nature
led him. It is only fair therefore to remark that
now and again the scientific spirit of our time found
perfect expression in his pages. He has a passage
on the immortality of the soul, which might be


recommended to all those who are Inclined to take
their desires as a forecast of fulfilment. He says :

"The belief in the splrltuahty of the soul and
in a personal Immortality, far from being a product
of profound reflection, Is at bottom a relic of the
childish conceptions of the savage who Is incapable
of careful analysis of a mental process. Primitive
man In his naive realism Imagines a soul In whatever
moves; he speaks therefore of the spirit of the fire
or the spirit of lightning."

Immortality to Renan Is nothing more than the
shadow cast by desire, and the Happy Hunting
Grounds, or the jewellers' Heaven, are only the
mirage of unsatisfied appetite.

The truth about Renan holds praise enough for
most mortals. He approached his great task with
an extraordinary stock of learning and a far rarer
fount of admiration and loving sympathy, and though
born a pleasure-loving sceptic In an incredulous age
and of a faithless people, he nevertheless came Into
more Intimate relations with Jesus the Christ than
any of the Fathers of the Church, and has given
us a better picture of the Divine Master than can
be found anywhere outside the Bible — "By their
fruits ye shall know them."


"Opposition makes the wise man mad." — Blake.

IT was the report of the trial with Ruskin which
first made me familiar with the name of
Whistler. His answers under cross-examination
pleased me mightily; proved he was a man of cour-
age and capacity. The condemnation of his work by
popular painters convinced me that he would not
have been attacked so bitterly by the mediocrities
had he not been a man of genius. Ruskin's prepos-
terous fling, and its success and the favor shown
him by the crowd filled me with contempt for the
critic whom till then I had admired, to a certain
extent, for his beautiful rhythmic prose.

When I first settled in London in the early eighties
I was eager to meet Whistler: though I didn't
dream at that time that he was a genius in the high
sense of the word, the English leader of a new
artistic renascence. With the bias of the writer,
I thought the intellectual leaders should be men of
letters and should handle the greatest medium, that
of words, and not merely color and form.

Naturally, therefore, I first came to know



Whistler through his Hterary talent and wit, and
without this ladder would probably not have reached
comprehension for a long time; but even at first
my opinion of him was far higher than the opinions
I heard about me. He was always quarrelling,
I was told, a peculiar little fellow, inordinately con-
ceited, and bitter without reason — "a tongue like a
whiplash, and very American," was the usual sum-
mary verdict.

At first sight I was struck, as I imagine every
one was struck, by his appearance; an alert, wiry
little person of five feet four or five; using a single
eyeglass and very neatly dressed, though always
with something singular in his attire — the artist's
self-conscious protest which gave him a certain exotic
flavor and individuality. He wore his abundant
curly black hair rather long, and just over the fore-
head a little lock of quite white hair like a plume;
in the street a French top hat — a stove-pipe, as it is
called — with a straight brim which shouted: "I'm
French, and proud of it !" at the passers by.

The second or third time I met him I noticed that
his features were well shaped: both chin and fore-
head broad; the eyes remarkable, piercing, and
aggressive; a greying black moustache, inclined to
curl tightly, added a note of defiance. Though they
were not really alike, the expression of his face
reminded me of Edmond de Goncourt and Tour-
genief's description of his eyes: "luisants et sombres


et pas bons du tout" (shining, sombre eyes, anything
but kindly). Whistler's eyes were grey-blue and
gimlet-keen — "anything but kindly," and the mous-
tache and carriage intensified the cocky challenge of
the fighter: Whistler always reminded me of a

In every assembly he always stood apart; with
a certain perky distinction; an unsparing, frank critic:
one talked to him, drew him out expecting incisive,
caustic comment.

One day he asked me to breakfast: I accepted,
for he piqued my curiosity; I wanted to know more
of him, felt certain he had something new to say;
and I was eager to hear. At the breakfast I met
five or six society people — notably Lady Archie
Campbell, a very enthusiastic admirer of the master.
In the course of the breakfast some one asked Whis-
tler what he thought of Frank Holl, the English
portrait painter who had had some vogue, it
appeared, a little earlier.

"A talent, not a genius, Holl, quite English, you
know; content with the colored photograph kind of
thing that all the old fellows did, and some of 'em
did better. Art's not imitation, that's clear, eh?"
and his eyes probed.

The wilfulness and quickness of the man were
at odds with the drawling American accent; he
puzzled me a little, but even then I was ready to


go with him a good way; art, I thought, was Inter-
pretation, not merely imitation, and I said so.

"That's It," Whistler took me up abruptly, "a
personal Interpretation or impression, blessed with
beauty and brevity, eh?" and again his eyes bored in.

His talk was suggestive; but a little one-sided, I
thought, not realizing then fully how much greater
in art the half Is than the whole.

Somewhat later I asked him a little maliciously
what he thought of Oscar Wilde.

"I have his scalp," he laughed, "but am not proud
of it: Oscar is Imitator, not artist."

"He may outgrow that," I remarked.

"The sponge is always sponging," was Whistler's
quick retort.

He was taken away by Lady Archie Campbell,
who wanted to tell him how much she admired the
portrait of a girl In his studio. He took us to see
it, frankly Interested without a trace of pose or self-
consciousness; though he showed a marked deference
to the great lady which amused me. As soon as
he knew you a little he couldn't help telling you
that he had been a student at West Point, a military
cadet; he took the romantic, chivalric view of things
by preference; yet he spoke of his work with curious
detachment. In jerked-out phrases, astoundingly sin-
cere in their simplicity, and astoundingly veracious
as well.

"One wants the spirit, the aroma, don't ye know?"

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