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Each in Crown 8vo, Cloth, Designed Cover, gilt top, 53. net.

By the same Author

The Life of the Bee [Sixth Edition.

The Treasure of the Humble

With an Introduction by A. B. WALKLEY.

[Fourth Edition.

The Buried Temple

The Mystery of Justice The Evolution of
Mystery The Kingdom of Matter The
Past Luck.

Aglavaine and Selysette : A Drama in
Five Acts

With an Introduction by J. W. MACKAIL. Globe
8vo, half-cloth, 33. 6d. net. [Second Edition.

Sister Beatrice and Ardiane and Barbe

Two Plays translated by BERNARD MIALL. With
an Introduction. Globe 8vo, half-cloth, 3 8. 6d. net.

By Alfred Sutro

The Cave of Illusion : A Drama in Four

With an Introduction by MAURICE MAETERLINCK.
Crown 8vo, half-buckram, 33. 6d. net.

Wisdom and

* G ORG g > T\ b b R.

Wisdom and
Destiny ~

*By Maurice Maeterlinck

Translated by Alfred Sutro JT

London: George Allen, Luskin House
156 Charing Cross Road mcmiii


PDBLISHED IN October 1898
SECOND EDITION, September 1901
THIRD EDITION, October 1901
FOURTH EDITION, September 1903

At the Ballantyne Press




/ dedicate to you this book, which is, as it were, your
work. There is a collaboration loftier and more real
than that of the pen : it is the collaboration of thought
and example. And thus I have not been compelled
laboriously to imagine the thoughts and actions of an
ideal sage, or to frame in my heart the moral of a
beautiful, but shadowy dream. I had only to listen to
your words, and to let my eyes follow you attentively
in life ; for then they were following the words, the
movements, the habits, of wisdom itself.



r T"'HIS essay on Wisdom and Destiny
1 was to have been a thing of some
twenty pages, the work of a fortnight ;
but the idea took root, others flocked to
it, and the volume has occupied M.
Maeterlinck continuously for more than
two years. It has much essential kin-
ship with the " Treasure of the Humble,"
though it differs therefrom in treatment ;
for whereas the earlier work might perhaps
be described as the eager speculation of
a poet athirst for beauty, we have here
rather the endeavour of an earnest thinker
to discover the abode of truth. And if
the result of his thought be that truth and
happiness are one, this was by no means
the object wherewith he set forth. Here
he is no longer content with exquisite
visions, alluring or haunting images ; he

Wisdom and Destiny

probes into the soul of man and lays bare
all his joys and his sorrows. It is as
though he had forsaken the canals he
loves so well the green, calm, motionless
canals that faithfully mirror the silent
trees and moss -covered roofs and had
adventured boldly, unhesitatingly, on the
broad river of life.

He describes this book himself, in a
kind of introduction that is almost an
apology, as " a few interrupted thoughts
that entwine themselves, with more or
less system, around two or three sub-
jects." He declares that there is nothing
it undertakes to prove ; that there are
none whose mission it is to convince.
And so true is this, so absolutely honest
and sincere is the writer, that he does not
shrink from attacking, qualifying, modi-
fying, his own propositions; from ad-
vancing, and insisting on, every objection
that flits across his brain ; and if such
proposition survive the onslaught of its
adversaries, it is only because, in the
deepest of him, he holds it for absolute


truth. For this book is indeed a con-
fession, a naive, outspoken, unflinching
description of all that passes in ^his mind ;
and even those who like not his theories
still must admit that this mind is strangely

There have been many columns filled
and doubtless will be again with in-
genious and scholarly attempts to place
a definitive label on M. Maeterlinck, and
his talent ; to trace his thoughts to their
origin, clearly denoting the authors by
whom he has been influenced ; in a mea-
sure to predict his future, and accurately
to establish the place that he fills in
the hierarchy of genius. With all this
I feel that I have no concern. Such
speculations doubtless have their use and
serve their purpose. I shall be content
if I can impress upon those who may
read these lines, that in this book
the man is himself, of untrammelled
thought ; a man possessed of the rare
faculty of seeing beauty in all things,
and above all in truth ; of the still

Wisdom and Destiny

rarer faculty of loving all things, and,
above all, life.

Nor 13. this merely a vague and, at
bottom, a more or less meaningless state-
ment. For, indeed, considering this essay
only, that deals with wisdom and destiny,
at the root of it its fundamental prin-
ciple, its guiding, inspiring thought is
love. " Nothing is contemptible in this
world save only scorn," he says ; and for
the humble, the foolish, nay, even the
wicked, he has the same love, almost the
same admiration, as for the sage, the saint,
or the hero. Everything- that exists fills
him with wonder, because of its existence,
and of the mysterious force that is in it ;
and to him love and wisdom are one,
"joining hands in a circle of light." For
the wisdom that holds aloof from man-
kind, that deems itself a thing apart,
select, superior, he has scant sympathy
it has " wandered too far from the watch-
fires of the tribe." But the wisdom that
is human, that feeds constantly on the
desires, the feelings, the hopes and the


fears of man, must needs have love ever
by its side ; and these two, marching
together, must inevitably find themselves,
sooner or later, on the ways that lead to
goodness. "There comes a moment in
life," he says, " when moral beauty seems
more urgent, more penetrating, than in-
tellectual beauty ; when all that the mind
has treasured must be bathed in the great-
ness of soul, lest it perish in the sandy
desert, forlorn as the river that seeks in
vain for the sea." But for unnecessary
self-sacrifice, renouncement, abandonment
of earthly joys, and all such " parasitic
virtues," he has no commendation or
approval ; feeling that man was created
to be happy, and that he is not wise who
voluntarily discards a happiness to-day for
fear lest it be taken from him on the
morrow. " Let us wait till the hour of
sacrifice sounds till then, each man to
his work. The hour will sound at last
let us not waste our time in seeking it on
the dial of life."

In this book, morality, conduct, life are

Wisdom and Destiny

surveyed from every point of the compass,
but from an eminence always. Austerity
holds no place in his philosophy ; he finds
room even " for the hours that babble
aloud in their wantonness." But all those
who follow him are led by smiling wisdom
to the heights where happiness sits en-
throned between goodness and love, where
virtue rewards itself in the " silence that
is the walled garden of its happiness."

It is strange to turn from this essay
to Serres Chaudes and La Princesse
Maleine^ M. Maeterlinck's earliest efforts
the one a collection of vague images
woven into poetical form, charming,
dreamy, and almost meaningless ; the
other a youthful and very remarkable
effort at imitation. In the plays that
followed the Princesse Maleine there was
the same curious, wandering sense of,
and search for, a vague and mystic
beauty :

: That fair beauty which no eye can see,
Of that sweet music which no ear can measure."


In a little poem of his, Et sil reve-
nait, the last words of a dying girl,
forsaken by her lover, who is asked by
her sister what shall be told to the faith-
less one, should he ever seek to know of
her last hours :

" Et s'il m'interroge encore
Sur la derniere heure ?
Dites lui que j'ai souri
De peur qu'il ne pleure . . ."

touch, perhaps, the very high-water mark
of exquisite simplicity and tenderness
blent with matchless beauty of expres-
sion. Pelldas et Melisande was the cul-
minating point of this, his first, period
a simple, pathetic love-story of boy
and girl love that was pure and almost
passionless. It was followed by three
little plays " for marionettes," he de-
scribes them on the title-page ; among
them being La Mort de Tintagiles*
the play he himself prefers of all that he
has written. And then came a curious
change : he wrote Aglavaine et Sely-
sette. The setting is familiar to us :

Wisdom and Destiny

the sea-shore, the ruined tower, the seat
by the well ; no less than the old grand-
mother and little Yssaline. But Agla-
vaine herself is strange : this woman who
has lived and suffered ; this queenly,
majestic creature, calmly conscious of her
beauty and her power ; she whose over-
powering, overwhelming love is yet deli-
berate and thoughtful. The complexities
of real life are vaguely hinted at here :
instead of Golaud, the mediaeval, tyran-
nous husband, we have Selysette, the meek,
self-sacrificing wife ; instead of the in-
stinctive, unconscious love of Pelleas and
Melisande, we have great burning passion.
But this play, too, was only a stepping-
stone a link between the old method
and the new that is to follow. For there
will probably be no more plays like
Pelle'as et Mdlisande^ or even like Agla-
vaine et Selysette. Real men and women,
real problems and disturbance of life
it is these that absorb him now. His
next play will doubtless deal with a
psychology more actual, in an atmosphere


less romantic ; and the old familiar scene
of wood, and garden, and palace corridor
will be exchanged for the habitual abode
of men.

I have said it was real life that absorbed
him now, and yet am I aware that what
seems real to him must still .appear vague
and visionary to many. It is, however,
only a question of shifting one's point
of view, or, better still, of enlarging it.
Material success in life, fame, wealth
these things M. Maeterlinck passes in-
differently by. There are certain ideals
that are dear to many on which he looks
with the vague wonder of a child. The
happiness of which he dreams is an inward
happiness, and within reach of successful
and unsuccessful alike. And so it may
well be that those content to buffet with
their fellows for what are looked on as
the prizes of this world, will still write
him down a mere visionary, and fail to
comprehend him. The materialist who
complacently defines the soul as the "in-
tellect plus the emotions" will doubtless

Wisdom and Destiny

turn away in disgust from M. Maeterlinck's
constant references to it as the seat of
something mighty, mysterious, inexhaust-
ible in life. So, too, may the rigid
follower of positive religion, to whom
the Deity is a power concerned only with
the judgment, reward, and punishment of
men, protest at his saying that " God,
who must be at least as high as the
highest thoughts He has implanted in the
best of men, will withhold His smile
from those whose sole desire has been to
please Him ; and they only who have
done good for sake of good, and as
though He existed not ; they only who
have loved virtue more than they loved
God Himself, shall be allowed to stand
by His side." But, after all, the genuine
seeker after truth knows that what seemed
true yesterday is to-day discovered to be
only a milestone on the road ; and all
who value truth will be glad to listen to
a man who, differing from them perhaps,
yet tells them what seems true to him.
And whereas in the "Treasure of the


Humble" he looked on life through a
veil of poetry and dream, here he stands
among his fellow-men, no longer trying
to " express the inexpressible," but, in all
simplicity, to tell them what he sees.

"Above all, let us never forget that
an act of goodness is in itself an act of
happiness. It is the flower of a long
inner life of joy and contentment ; it
tells of peaceful hours and days on the
sunniest heights of our soul." This
thought lies at the root of his whole
philosophy goodness, happiness, love,
supporting each other, intertwined, re-
warding each other. " Let us not think
virtue will crumble, though God Him-
self seem unjust. Where could the virtue
of man find more everlasting foundation
than in the seeming injustice of God ? "
Strange that the man who has written
these words should have spent all his
school life at a Jesuit college, subjected
to its severe, semi - monastic discipline ;
compelled, at the end of his stay, to
go, with the rest of his fellows, through

Wisdom and Destiny

the customary period of " retreat," last-
ing ten days, when the most eloquent
of the fathers would, one after the other,
deliver sermons terrific to boyish imagi-
nation, sermons whose unvarying burden
was Hell and the wrath of God to be
avoided only by becoming a Jesuit priest.
Out of the eighteen boys in the "rhe-
torique " class, eleven eagerly embraced
this chance of escape from damnation.
As for M. Maeterlinck himself fortu-
nately a day-boarder only one can fancy
him wandering home at night, along the
canal banks, in the silence broken only
by the pealing of church bells, brooding
over these mysteries . . . but how long
a road must the man have travelled who,
having been taught the God of Fra
Angelico, himself arrives at the concep-
tion of a " God who sits smiling on a
mountain, and to whom our gravest
offences are only as the naughtiness of
puppies playing on the hearth-rug."

His environment, no less than his
schooling, helped to give a mystic tinge


to his mind. The peasants who dwelt
around his father's house always possessed
a peculiar fascination for him ; he would
watch them as they sat by their door-
way, squatting on their heels, as their
custom is grave, monotonous, motion-
less, the smoke from their pipes almost
the sole sign of life. For the Flemish
peasant is a strangely inert creature, his
work once done as languid and lethargic
as the canal that passes by his door.
There was one cottage into which the
boy would often peep on his way home
from school, the home of seven brothers
and one sister, all old, toothless, worn
working together in the daytime at their
tiny farm ; at night sitting in the gloomy
kitchen, lit by one smoky lamp all
looking straight before them, saying not
a word ; or when, at rare intervals, a
remark was made, taking it up each in
turn and solemnly repeating it, with per-
haps the slightest variation in form. It was
amidst influences such as these that his
boyhood was passed, almost isolated from

Wisdom and Destiny

the world, brooding over lives of saints
and mystics at the same time that he
studied, and delighted in, Shakespeare
and the Elizabethans, Goethe and Heine.
For his taste has been catholic always;
he admires Meredith as he admires
Dickens, Hello and Pascal no less than
Schopenhauer. And it is this catholicity,
this open mind, this eager search for
truth, that have enabled him to emerge
from the mysticism that once enwrapped
him to the clearer daylight of actual ex-
istence ; it is this faculty of admiring all
that is admirable in man and in life that
some day, perhaps, may take him very far.
It will surprise many who picture him
as a mere dreamy decadent, to be told
that he is a man of abiding and abundant
cheerfulness, who finds happiness in the
simplest of things. The scent of a flower,
the flight of sea-gulls around a cliff,
a cornfield in sunshine these stir him
to strange delight. A deed of bravery,
nobility, or of simple devotion ; a
mere brotherly act of kindness ; the


unconscious sacrifice of the peasant who
toils all day to feed and clothe his children
these awake his warm and instant sym-
pathy. And with him, too, it is as with
De Quincey when he says, " At no time
of my life have I been a person to hold
myself polluted by the touch or approach
of any creature that wore a human shape";
and more than one unhappy outcast, con-
demned by the stern law of man, has been
gladdened by his ready greeting and wel-
come. But, indeed, all this may be read
of in his book I desired but to make it
clear that the book is truly a faithful mirror
of the man's own thoughts, and feelings,
and actions. It is a book that many
will love all those who suffer, for it
will lighten their suffering ; all those who
love, for it will teach them to love more
deeply. It is a book with its faults,
doubtless, as every book must be ; but it
has been written straight from the heart,
and will go to the heart of many. . .



T N this book there will often be men-
tion of wisdom and destiny, of happi-
ness, justice, and love. There may seem
to be some measure of irony in thus
calling forth an intangible happiness
where so much real sorrow prevails ;
a justice that may well be ideal in the
bosom of an injustice, alas ! only too
material ; a love that eludes the grasp
in the midst of palpable hatred and
callousness. The moment may seem but
ill-chosen for leisurely search, in the
hidden recess of man's heart, for motives
of peace and tranquillity; occasions for

Wisdom and Destiny

gladness, uplifting, and love; reasons
for wonder and gratitude seeing that
the vast bulk of mankind, in whose
name we would fain lift our voice, have
not even the time or assurance to drain
to the dregs the misery and desolation
of life. Not to them is it given to linger
over the inward rejoicing, the profound
consolation, that the satisfied thinker has
slowly and painfully acquired, that he
knows how to prize. Thus has it often
been urged against moralists, among them
Epictetus, that they were apt to concern
themselves with none but the wise alone.
In this reproach is some truth, as some
truth there must be in every reproach
that is made. And indeed, if we had
only the courage to listen to the sim-
plest, the nearest, most pressing voice
of our conscience, and be deaf to all
else, it were doubtless our solitary
duty to relieve the suffering about us

Wisdom and Destiny

to the greatest extent in our power.
It were incumbent upon us to visit and
nurse the poor, to console the afflicted ; to
found model factories, surgeries, dispen-
saries, or at least to devote ourselves, as
men of science do, to wresting from nature
the material secrets which are most essen-
tial to man. But yet, were the world at
a given moment to contain only persons
thus actively engaged in helping each other,
and none venturesome enough to dare
snatch leisure for research in other direc-
tions, then could this charitable labour
not long endure ; for all that is best in
the good that at this day is being done
round about us, was conceived in the
spirit of one of those who neglected,
it may be, many an urgent, immediate
duty in order to think, to commune with
themselves, in order to speak. Does it
follow that they did the best that was to
be done ? To such a question as this who

Wisdom and Destiny

shall dare to reply ? The soul that is
meekly honest must ever consider the
simplest, the nearest duty to be the
best of all things it can do ; but yet
were there cause for regret had all men
for all time restricted themselves to the
duty that lay nearest at hand. In each
generation some men have existed who
held in all loyalty that they fulfilled the
duties of the passing hour by pondering
on those of the hour to come. Most
thinkers will say that these men were
right. It is well that the thinker should
give his thoughts to the world, though
it must be admitted that wisdom befinds
itself sometimes in the reverse of the
sage's pronouncement. This matters but
little, however ; for, without such pro-
nouncement, the wisdom had not stood
revealed ; and the sage has accomplished
his duty.

Wisdom and Destiny

5 2.

To-day misery is the disease of man-
kind, as disease is the misery of man. And
even as there are physicians for disease,
so should there be physicians for human
misery. But can the fact that disease is, un-
happily, only too prevalent, render it wrong
for us ever to speak of health ? which
were indeed as though, in anatomy the
physical science that has most in common
with morals the teacher confined himself
exclusively to the study of the deformities
that greater or lesser degeneration will
induce in the organs of man. We have
surely the right to demand that his theo-
ries be based on the healthy and vigorous
body ; as we have also the right to demand
that the moralist, who fain would see
beyond the present hour, should take as
his standard the soul that is happy, or
that at least possesses every element of

Wisdom and Destiny

happiness, save only the necessary con-

We live in the bosom of great injustice ;
but there can be, I imagine, neither cruelty
nor callousness in our speaking, at times,
as though this injustice had ended, else
should we never emerge from our circle.

It is imperative that there should be
some who dare speak, and think, and act
as though all men were happy ; for other-
wise, when the day comes for destiny to
throw open to all the people's garden of
the promised land, what happiness shall
the others find there, what justice, what
beauty or love ? It may be urged, it is
true, that it were best, first of all, to
consider the most pressing needs, yet is
this not always wisest ; it is often of
better avail from the start to seek
that which is highest. When the waters
beleaguer the home of the peasant in
Holland, the sea or the neighbouring river

Wisdom and Destiny

having swept down the dyke that pro-
tected the country, most pressing is it
then for the peasant to safeguard his
cattle, his grain, his effects ; but wisest
to fly to the top of the dyke, summoning
those who live with him, and from thence
meet the flood, and do battle. Humanity
up to this day has been like an invalid
tossing and turning on his couch in
search of repose ; but therefore none the
less have words of true consolation come
only from those who spoke as though
man were freed from all pain. For,
as man was created for health, so was
mankind created for happiness ; and to
speak of its misery only, though that
misery be everywhere and seem everlast-
ing, is only to say words that fall lightly
and soon are forgotten. Why not speak
as though mankind were always on the eve
of great certitude, of great joy ? Thither,
in truth, is man led by his instinct, though

Wisdom and Destiny

he never may live to behold the long-
wished-for to-morrow. It is well to be-
lieve that there needs but a little more
thought, a little more courage, more love,
more devotion to life, a little more eager-
ness, one day to fling open wide the portals
of joy and of truth. And this thing may
still come to pass. Let us hope that one
day all mankind will be happy and wise ;
and though this day never should dawn,
to have hoped for it cannot be wrong.
And in any event, it is helpful to speak of
happiness to those who are sad, that thus
at least they may learn what it is that
happiness means. They are ever inclined
to regard it as something beyond them,
extraordinary, out of their reach. But if
all who may count themselves happy
were to tell, very simply, what it was
that brought happiness to them, the
others would see that between sorrow

and joy the difference is but as between

Wisdom and Destiny

a gladsome, enlightened acceptance of life
and a hostile, gloomy submission; between
a large and harmonious conception of life,
and one that is stubborn and narrow. " Is
that all ? " the unhappy would cry. " But
we too have within us, then, the elements
of this happiness." Surely you have
them within you ! There lives not a
man but has them, those only excepted
upon whom great physical calamity has
fallen. But speak not lightly of this
happiness. There is no other. He is
the happiest man who best understands
his happiness ; for he is of all men
most fully aware that it is only the lofty
idea, the untiring, courageous, human
idea, that separates gladness from sorrow.
Of this idea it is helpful to speak, and
as often as may be ; not with the view
of imposing our own idea upon others,
but in order that they who may listen
shall, little by little, conceive the desire

Wisdom and Destiny

to possess an idea of their own. For in
no two men is it the same. The one
that you cherish may well bring no
comfort to me ; nor shall all your
eloquence touch the hidden springs of

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