If there is anything which should make an American sick and disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain and Max O’Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and an all around tough. The squabble arose apropos of Paul Bourget’s new book on America, Outre Mer, a book which deals more fairly and generously with this country than any book yet written in a foreign tongue. Mr. Clemens did not like the book, and like all men of his class, and limited mentality, he cannot criticise without becoming personal and insulting. He cannot be scathing without being a blackguard. He tried to demolish a serious and well considered work by publishing a scurrilous, slangy and loosely written article about it. In this article Mr. Clemens proves very little against Mr. Bourget and a very great deal against himself. He demonstrates clearly that he is neither a scholar, a reader or a man of letters and very little of a gentleman. His ignorance of French literature is something appalling. Why, in these days it is as necessary for a literary man to have a wide knowledge of the French masterpieces as it is for him to have read Shakespeare or the Bible. What man who pretends to be an author can afford to neglect those models of style and composition. George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James excepted, the great living novelists are Frenchmen.
Mr. Clemens asks what the French sensualists can possibly teach the great American people about novel writing or morality? Well, it would not seriously hurt the art of the classic author of “Puddin’ Head Wilson” to study Daudet, De Maupassant, Hugo, and George Sand, whatever it might do to his morals. Mark Twain is a humorist of a kind. His humor is always rather broad, so broad that the polite world can justly call it coarse. He is not a reader nor a thinker nor a man who loves art of any kind. He is a clever Yankee who has made a ‘good thing’ out of writing. He has been published in the North American Review and in the Century, but he is not and never will be a part of literature. The association and companionship of cultured men has given Mark Twain a sort of professional veneer, but it could not give him fine instincts or nice discriminations or elevated tastes. His works are pure and suitable for children, just as the work of most shallow and mediocre fellows. House dogs and donkeys make the most harmless and chaste companions for young innocence in the world. Mark Twain’s humor is of the kind that teamsters use in bantering with each other, and his laugh is the gruff ‘haw-haw’ of the backwoodsman. He is still the rough, awkward, good-natured boy who swore at the deck hands on the river steamer and chewed uncured tobacco when he was three years old. Thoroughly likeable as a good fellow, but impossible as a man of letters. It is an unfortunate feature of American literature that a hostler with some natural cleverness and a great deal of assertion receives the same recognition as a standard American author that a man like Lowell does. The French academy is a good thing after all. It at least divides the sheep from the goats and gives a sheep the consolation of knowing that he is a sheep.
It is rather a pity that Paul Bourget should have written Outre Mer, thoroughly creditable book though it is. Mr. Bourget is a novelist, and he should not content himself with being an essayist, there are far too many of them in the world already. He can develop strong characters, invent strong situations, he can write the truth and he should not drift into penning opinions and platitudes. When God has made a man a creator, it is a great mistake for him to turn critic. It is rather an insult to God and certainly a very great wrong to man.
Nebraska State Journal, May 5, 1895
I got a letter last week from a little boy just half-past seven who had just read “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” He said: “If there are any more books like them in the world, send them to me quick.” I had to humbly confess to him that if there were any others I had not the good fortune to know of them. What a red-letter-day it is to a boy, the day he first opens “Tom Sawyer.” I would rather sail on the raft down the Missouri again with “Huck” Finn and Jim than go down the Nile in December or see Venice from a gondola in May. Certainly Mark Twain is much better when he writes of his Missouri boys than when he makes sickley romances about Joan of Arc. And certainly he never did a better piece of work than “Prince and Pauper.” One seems to get at the very heart of old England in that dearest of children’s books, and in its pages the frail boy king, and his gloomy sister Mary who in her day wrought so much woe for unhappy England, and the dashing Princess Elizabeth who lived to rule so well, seem to live again. A friend of Mr. Clemens’ once told me that he said he wrote that book so that when his little daughters grew up they might know that their tired old jester of a father could be serious and gentle sometimes.
The Home Monthly, May 1897 … .
My tantalized spirit
Here blandly reposes,
Forgetting, or never
Regretting its roses,
Its old agitations
Of myrtles and roses.
For now, while so quietly
Lying, it fancies
A holier odor
About it, of pansies—
A rosemary odor
Commingled with pansies.
With rue and the beautiful
—Edgar Allan Poe.
The Shakespeare society of New York, which is really about the only useful literary organization in this country, is making vigorous efforts to redress an old wrong and atone for a long neglect. Sunday, Sept. 22, it held a meeting at the Poe cottage on Kingsbridge road near Fordham, for the purpose of starting an organized movement to buy back the cottage, restore it to its original condition and preserve it as a memorial of Poe. So it has come at last. After helping build monuments to Shelley, Keats and Carlyle we have at last remembered this man, the greatest of our poets and the most unhappy. I am glad that this movement is in the hands of American actors, for it was among them that Poe found his best friends and warmest admirers. Some way he always seemed to belong to the strolling Thespians who were his mother’s people.
Among all the thousands of life’s little ironies that make history so diverting, there is none more paradoxical than that Edgar Poe should have been an American. Look at his face. Had we ever another like it? He must have been a strange figure in his youth, among those genial, courtly Virginians, this handsome, pale fellow, violent in his enthusiasm, ardent in his worship, but spiritually cold in his affections. Now playing heavily for the mere excitement of play, now worshipping at the shrine of a woman old enough to be his mother, merely because her voice was beautiful; now swimming six miles up the James river against a heavy current in the glaring sun of a June midday. He must have seemed to them an unreal figure, a sort of stage man who was wandering about the streets with his mask and buskins on, a theatrical figure who had escaped by some strange mischance into the prosaic daylight. His speech and actions were unconsciously and sincerely dramatic, always as though done for effect. He had that nervous, egotistic, self-centered nature common to stage children who seem to have been dazzled by the footlights and maddened by the applause before they are born. It was in his blood. With the exception of two women who loved him, lived for him, died for him, he went through life friendless, misunderstood, with that dense, complete, hopeless misunderstanding which, as Amiel said, is the secret of that sad smile upon the lips of the great. Men tried to befriend him, but in some way or other he hurt and disappointed them. He tried to mingle and share with other men, but he was always shut from them by that shadow, light as gossamer but unyielding as adamant, by which, from the beginning of the world, art has shielded and guarded and protected her own, that God-concealing mist in which the heroes of old were hidden, immersed in that gloom and solitude which, if we could but know it here, is but the shadow of God’s hand as it falls upon his elect.
We lament our dearth of great prose. With the exception of Henry James and Hawthorne, Poe is our only master of pure prose. We lament our dearth of poets. With the exception of Lowell, Poe is our only great poet. Poe found short story writing a bungling makeshift. He left it a perfect art. He wrote the first perfect short stories in the English language. He first gave the short story purpose, method, and artistic form. In a careless reading one can not realize the wonderful literary art, the cunning devices, the masterly effects that those entrancing tales conceal. They are simple and direct enough to delight us when we are children, subtle and artistic enough to be our marvel when we are old. To this day they are the wonder and admiration of the French, who are the acknowledged masters of craft and form. How in his wandering, laborious life, bound to the hack work of the press and crushed by an ever-growing burden of want and debt, did he ever come upon all this deep and mystical lore, this knowledge of all history, of all languages, of all art, this penetration into the hidden things of the East? As Steadman says, “The self training of genius is always a marvel.” The past is spread before us all and most of us spend our lives in learning those things which we do not need to know, but genius reaches out instinctively and takes only the vital detail, by some sort of spiritual gravitation goes directly to the right thing.
Poe belonged to the modern French school of decorative and discriminating prose before it ever existed in France. He rivalled Gautier, Flaubert and de Maupassant before they were born. He clothed his tales in a barbaric splendor and persuasive unreality never before heard of in English. No such profusion of color, oriental splendor of detail, grotesque combinations and mystical effects had ever before been wrought into language. There are tales as grotesque, as monstrous, unearthly as the stone griffens and gargoyles that are cut up among the unvisited niches and towers of Notre Dame, stories as poetic and delicately beautiful as the golden lace work chased upon an Etruscan ring. He fitted his words together as the Byzantine jewelers fitted priceless stones. He found the inner harmony and kinship of words. Where lived another man who could blend the beautiful and the horrible, the gorgeous and the grotesque in such intricate and inexplicable fashion? Who could delight you with his noun and disgust you with his verb, thrill you with his adjective and chill you with his adverb, make you run the whole gamut of human emotions in a single sentence? Sitting in that miserable cottage at Fordham he wrote of the splendor of dream palaces beyond the dreams of art. He hung those grimy walls with dream tapestries, paved those narrow halls with black marble and polished onyx, and into those low-roofed chambers he brought all the treasured imagery of fancy, from the “huge carvings of untutored Egypt” to “mingled and conflicting perfumes, reeking up from strange convolute censers, together with multitudinous, flaring and flickering tongues of purple and violet fire.” Hungry and ragged he wrote of Epicurean feasts and luxury that would have beggared the purpled pomp of pagan Rome and put Nero and his Golden House to shame.
And this mighty master of the organ of language, who knew its every stop and pipe, who could awaken at will the thin silver tones of its slenderest reeds or the solemn cadence of its deepest thunder, who could make it sing like a flute or roar like a cataract, he was born into a country without a literature. He was of that ornate school which usually comes last in a national literature, and he came first. American taste had been vitiated by men like Griswold and N. P. Willis until it was at the lowest possible ebb. Willis was considered a genius, that is the worst that could possibly be said. In the North a new race of great philosophers was growing up, but Poe had neither their friendship nor encouragement. He went indeed, sometimes, to the chilly salon of Margaret Fuller, but he was always a discord there. He was a mere artist and he had no business with philosophy, he had no theories as to the “higher life” and the “true happiness.” He had only his unshapen dreams that battled with him in dark places, the unborn that struggled in his brain for birth. What time has an artist to learn the multiplication table or to talk philosophy? He was not afraid of them. He laughed at Willis, and flung Longfellow’s lie in his teeth, the lie the rest of the world was twenty years in finding. He scorned the obtrusive learning of the transcendentalists and he disliked their hard talkative women. He left them and went back to his dream women, his Berenice, his Ligeia, his Marchesa Aphrodite, pale and cold as the mist maidens of the North, sad as the Norns who weep for human woe.
The tragedy of Poe’s life was not alcohol, but hunger. He died when he was forty, when his work was just beginning. Thackeray had not touched his great novels at forty, George Eliot was almost unknown at that age. Hugo, Goethe, Hawthorne, Lowell and Dumas all did their great work after they were forty years old. Poe never did his great work. He could not endure the hunger. This year the Drexel Institute has put over sixty thousand dollars into a new edition of Poe’s poems and stories. He himself never got six thousand for them altogether. If one of the great and learned institutions of the land had invested one tenth of that amount in the living author forty years ago we should have had from him such works as would have made the name of this nation great. But he sold “The Masque of the Red Death” for a few dollars, and now the Drexel Institute pays a publisher thousands to publish it beautifully. It is enough to make Satan laugh until his ribs ache, and all the little devils laugh and heap on fresh coals. I don’t wonder they hate humanity. It’s so dense, so hopelessly stupid.
Only a few weeks before Poe’s death he said he had never had time or opportunity to make a serious effort. All his tales were merely experiments, thrown off when his day’s work as a journalist was over, when he should have been asleep. All those voyages into the mystical unknown, into the gleaming, impalpable kingdom of pure romance from which he brought back such splendid trophies, were but experiments. He was only getting his tools into shape getting ready for his great effort, the effort that never came.
Bread seems a little thing to stand in the way of genius, but it can. The simple sordid facts were these, that in the bitterest storms of winter Poe seldom wrote by a fire, that after he was twenty-five years old he never knew what it was to have enough to eat without dreading tomorrow’s hunger. Chatterton had only himself to sacrifice, but Poe saw the woman he loved die of want before his very eyes, die smiling and begging him not to give up his work. They saw the depths together in those long winter nights when she lay in that cold room, wrapped in Poe’s only coat, he, with one hand holding hers, and with the other dashing off some of the most perfect masterpieces of English prose. And when he would wince and turn white at her coughing, she would always whisper: “Work on, my poet, and when you have finished read it to me. I am happy when I listen.” O, the devotion of women and the madness of art! They are the two most awesome things on earth, and surely this man knew both to the full.
I have wondered so often how he did it. How he kept his purpose always clean and his taste always perfect. How it was that hard labor never wearied nor jaded him, never limited his imagination, that the jarring clamor about him never drowned the fine harmonies of his fancy. His discrimination remained always delicate, and from the constant strain of toil his fancy always rose strong and unfettered. Without encouragement or appreciation of any sort, without models or precedents he built up that pure style of his that is without peer in the language, that style of which every sentence is a drawing by Vedder. Elizabeth Barrett and a few great artists over in France knew what he was doing, they knew that in literature he was making possible a new heaven and a new earth. But he never knew that they knew it. He died without the assurance that he was or ever would be understood. And yet through all this, with the whole world of art and letters against him, betrayed by his own people, he managed to keep that lofty ideal of perfect work. What he suffered never touched or marred his work, but it wrecked his character. Poe’s character was made by his necessity. He was a liar and an egotist; a man who had to beg for bread at the hands of his publishers and critics could be nothing but a liar, and had he not had the insane egotism and conviction of genius, he would have broken down and written the drivelling trash that his countrymen delighted to read. Poe lied to his publishers sometimes, there is no doubt of that, but there were two to whom he was never false, his wife and his muse. He drank sometimes too, when for very ugly and relentless reasons he could not eat. And then he forgot what he suffered. For Bacchus is the kindest of the gods after all. When Aphrodite has fooled us and left us and Athene has betrayed us in battle, then poor tipsy Bacchus, who covers his head with vine leaves where the curls are getting thin, holds out his cup to us and says, “forget.” It’s poor consolation, but he means it well.
The Transcendentalists were good conversationalists, that in fact was their principal accomplishment. They used to talk a great deal of genius, that rare and capricious spirit that visits earth so seldom, that is wooed by so many, and won by so few. They had grand theories that all men should be poets, that the visits of that rare spirit should be made as frequent and universal as afternoon calls. O, they had plans to make a whole generation of little geniuses. But she only laughed her scornful laughter, that deathless lady of the immortals, up in her echoing chambers that are floored with dawn and roofed with the spangled stars. And she snatched from them the only man of their nation she had ever deigned to love, whose lips she had touched with music and whose soul with song. In his youth she had shown him the secrets of her beauty and his manhood had been one pursuit of her, blind to all else, like Anchises, who on the night that he knew the love of Venus, was struck sightless, that he might never behold the face of a mortal woman. For Our Lady of Genius has no care for the prayers and groans of mortals, nor for their hecatombs sweet of savor. Many a time of old she has foiled the plans of seers and none may entreat her or take her by force. She favors no one nation or clime. She takes one from the millions, and when she gives herself unto a man it is without his will or that of his fellows, and he pays for it, dear heaven, he pays!
“The sun comes forth and many reptiles spawn,
He sets and each ephemeral insect then
Is gathered unto death without a dawn,
And the immortal stars awake again.”
Yes, “and the immortal stars awake again.” None may thwart the unerring justice of the gods, not even the Transcendentalists. What matter that one man’s life was miserable, that one man was broken on the wheel? His work lives and his crown is eternal. That the work of his age was undone, that is the pity, that the work of his youth was done, that is the glory. The man is nothing. There are millions of men. The work is everything. There is so little perfection. We lament our dearth of poets when we let Poe starve. We are like the Hebrews who stoned their prophets and then marvelled that the voice of God was silent. We will wait a long time for another. There are Griswold and N. P. Willis, our chosen ones, let us turn to them. Their names are forgotten. God is just. They are,
“Gathered unto death without a dawn.
And the immortal stars awake again.”
The Courier, October 12, 1895
You can afford to give a little more care and attention to this imaginative boy of yours than to any of your other children. His nerves are more finely strung and all his life he will need your love more than the others. Be careful to get him the books he likes and see that they are good ones. Get him a volume of Poe’s short stories. I know many people are prejudiced against Poe because of the story that he drank himself to death. But that myth has been exploded long ago. Poe drank less than even the average man of his time. No, the most artistic of all American story tellers did not die because he drank too much, but because he ate too little. And yet we, his own countrymen who should be so proud of him, are not content with having starved him and wronged him while he lived, we must even go on slandering him after he has been dead almost fifty years. But get his works for this imaginative boy of yours and he will tell you how great a man the author of “The Gold Bug” and “The Masque of the Red Death” was. Children are impartial critics and sometimes very good ones. They do not reason about a book, they just like it or dislike it intensely, and after all that is the conclusion of the whole matter. I am very sure that “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Black Cat” will give this woolgathering lad of yours more pleasure than a new bicycle could.
The Home Monthly, May 1897 … .
Their mania for careless and hasty work is not confined to the lesser men. Howells and Hardy have gone with the crowd. Now that Stevenson is dead I can think of but one English speaking author who is really keeping his self-respect and sticking for perfection. Of course I refer to that mighty master of language and keen student of human actions and motives, Henry James. In the last four years he has published, I believe, just two small volumes, “The Lesson of the Master” and “Terminations,” and in those two little volumes of short stories he who will may find out something of what it means to be really an artist. The framework is perfect and the polish is absolutely without flaw. They are sometimes a little hard, always calculating and dispassionate, but they are perfect. I wish James would write about modern society, about “degeneracy” and the new woman and all the rest of it. Not that he would throw any light on it. He seldom does; but he would say such awfully clever things about it, and turn on so many side-lights. And then his sentences! If his character novels were all wrong one could read him forever for the mere beauty of his sentences. He never lets his phrases run away with him. They are never dull and never too brilliant. He subjects them to the general tone of his sentence and has his whole paragraph partake of the same predominating color. You are never startled, never surprised, never thrilled or never enraptured; always delighted by that masterly prose that is as correct, as classical, as calm and as subtle as the music of Mozart.
The Courier, November 16, 1895
It is strange that from “Felicia” down, the stage novel has never been a success. Henry James’ “Tragic Muse” is the only theatrical novel that has a particle of the real spirit of the stage in it, a glimpse of the enthusiasm, the devotion, the exaltation and the sordid, the frivolous and the vulgar which are so strangely and inextricably blended in that life of the green room. For although Henry James cannot write plays he can write passing well of the people who enact them. He has put into one book all those inevitable attendants of the drama, the patronizing theatre goer who loves it above all things and yet feels so far superior to it personally; the old tragedienne, the queen of a dying school whose word is law and whose judgments are to a young actor as the judgments of God; and of course there is the girl, the aspirant, the tragic muse who beats and beats upon those brazen doors that guard the unapproachable until one fine morning she beats them down and comes into her kingdom, the kingdom of unborn beauty that is to live through her. It is a great novel, that book of the master’s, so perfect as a novel that one does not realize what a masterly study it is of the life and ends and aims of the people who make plays live.
Nebraska State Journal, March 29, 1896 … .
A Creole ‘Bovary’ is this little novel of Miss Chopin’s. Not that the heroine is a creole exactly, or that Miss Chopin is a Flaubert—save the mark!—but the theme is similar to that which occupied Flaubert. There was, indeed, no need that a second “Madame Bovary” should be written, but an author’s choice of themes is frequently as inexplicable as his choice of a wife. It is governed by some innate temperamental bias that cannot be diagrammed. This is particularly so in women who write, and I shall not attempt to say why Miss Chopin has devoted so exquisite and sensitive, well-governed a style to so trite and sordid a theme. She writes much better than it is ever given to most people to write, and hers is a genuinely literary style; of no great elegance or solidity; but light, flexible, subtle and capable of producing telling effects directly and simply. The story she has to tell in the present instance is new neither in matter nor treatment. “Edna Pontellier,” a Kentucky girl, who, like “Emma Bovary,” had been in love with innumerable dream heroes before she was out of short skirts, married “Leonce Pontellier” as a sort of reaction from a vague and visionary passion for a tragedian whose unresponsive picture she used to kiss. She acquired the habit of liking her husband in time, and even of liking her children. Though we are not justified in presuming that she ever threw articles from her dressing table at them, as the charming “Emma” had a winsome habit of doing, we are told that “she would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart, she would sometimes forget them.” At a creole watering place, which is admirably and deftly sketched by Miss Chopin, “Edna” met “Robert Lebrun,” son of the landlady, who dreamed of a fortune awaiting him in Mexico while he occupied a petty clerical position in New Orleans. “Robert” made it his business to be agreeable to his mother’s boarders, and “Edna,” not being a creole, much against his wish and will, took him seriously. “Robert” went to Mexico but found that fortunes were no easier to make there than in New Orleans. He returns and does not even call to pay his respects to her. She encounters him at the home of a friend and takes him home with her. She wheedles him into staying for dinner, and we are told she sent the maid off “in search of some delicacy she had not thought of for herself, and she recommended great care in the dripping of the coffee and having the omelet done to a turn.”Only a few pages back we were informed that the husband, “M. Pontellier,” had cold soup and burnt fish for his dinner. Such is life. The lover of course disappointed her, was a coward and ran away from his responsibilities before they began. He was afraid to begin a chapter with so serious and limited a woman. She remembered the sea where she had first met “Robert.” Perhaps from the same motive which threw “Anna Keraninna” under the engine wheels, she threw herself into the sea, swam until she was tired and then let go.
“She looked into the distance, and for a moment the old terror flamed up, then sank again. She heard her father’s voice, and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was a hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”
“Edna Pontellier” and “Emma Bovary” are studies in the same feminine type; one a finished and complete portrayal, the other a hasty sketch, but the theme is essentially the same. Both women belong to a class, not large, but forever clamoring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God put into it. Mr. G. Barnard Shaw would say that they are the victims of the over-idealization of love. They are the spoil of the poets, the Iphigenias of sentiment. The unfortunate feature of their disease is that it attacks only women of brains, at least of rudimentary brains, but whose development is one-sided; women of strong and fine intuitions, but without the faculty of observation, comparison, reasoning about things. Probably, for emotional people, the most convenient thing about being able to think is that it occasionally gives them a rest from feeling. Now with women of the “Bovary” type, this relaxation and recreation is impossible. They are not critics of life, but, in the most personal sense, partakers of life. They receive impressions through the fancy. With them everything begins with fancy, and passions rise in the brain rather than in the blood, the poor, neglected, limited one-sided brain that might do so much better things than badgering itself into frantic endeavors to love. For these are the people who pay with their blood for the fine ideals of the poets, as Marie Delclasse paid for Dumas’ great creation, “Marguerite Gauthier.” These people really expect the passion of love to fill and gratify every need of life, whereas nature only intended that it should meet one of many demands. They insist upon making it stand for all the emotional pleasures of life and art, expecting an individual and self-limited passion to yield infinite variety, pleasure and distraction, to contribute to their lives what the arts and the pleasurable exercise of the intellect gives to less limited and less intense idealists. So this passion, when set up against Shakespeare, Balzac, Wagner, Raphael, fails them. They have staked everything on one hand, and they lose. They have driven the blood until it will drive no further, they have played their nerves up to the point where any relaxation short of absolute annihilation is impossible. Every idealist abuses his nerves, and every sentimentalist brutally abuses them. And in the end, the nerves get even. Nobody ever cheats them, really. Then “the awakening” comes. Sometimes it comes in the form of arsenic, as it came to “Emma Bovary,” sometimes it is carbolic acid taken covertly in the police station, a goal to which unbalanced idealism not infrequently leads. “Edna Pontellier,” fanciful and romantic to the last, chose the sea on a summer night and went down with the sound of her first lover’s spurs in her ears, and the scent of pinks about her. And next time I hope that Miss Chopin will devote that flexible, iridescent style of hers to a better cause.
Pittsburg Leader, July 8, 1899
This truly remarkable book is printed on dirty gray blotting paper, on each page of which is a mere dot of print over a large I of vacancy. There are seldom more than ten lines on a page, and it would be better if most of those lines were not there at all. Either Mr. Crane is insulting the public or insulting himself, or he has developed a case of atavism and is chattering the primeval nonsense of the apes. His “Black Riders,” uneven as it was, was a casket of polished masterpieces when compared with “War Is Kind.” And it is not kind at all, Mr. Crane; when it provokes such verses as these, it is all that Sherman said it was.
The only production in the volume that is at all coherent is the following, from which the book gets its title:
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky,
And the affrighted steed ran on alone.
Do not weep,
War is kind.
Hoarse booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them.
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
Do not weep, babe, for war is kind,
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at the breast, gulped and died.
Do not weep,
War is kind.
Swift-blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing,
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright, splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep,
War is kind.
Of course, one may have objections to hearts hanging like humble buttons, or to buttons being humble at all, but one should not stop to quarrel about such trifles with a poet who can perpetrate the following:
Thou art my love,
And thou art the beard
On another man’s face—
Woe is me.
Thou art my love,
And thou art a temple,
And in this temple is an altar,
And on this temple is my heart—
Woe is me.
Thou art my love,
And thou art a wretch.
Let these sacred love-lies choke thee.
For I am come to where I know your lies as truth
And your truth as lies—
Woe is me.
Now, if you please, is the object of these verses animal, mineral or vegetable? Is the expression, “Thou art the beard on another man’s face,” intended as a figure, or was it written by a barber? Certainly, after reading this, “Simple Simon” is a ballade of perfect form, and “Jack and Jill” or “Hickity, Pickity, My Black Hen,” are exquisite lyrics. But of the following what shall be said:
Now let me crunch you
With full weight of affrighted love.
—I doubted you—
And in this short doubting
My love grew like a genie
For my further undoing.
Beware of my friends,
Be not in speech too civil,
For in all courtesy
My weak heart sees specters,
Mists of desire
Arising from the lips of my chosen;
Be not civil.
This is somewhat more lucid as evincing the bard’s exquisite sensitiveness:
Ah, God, the way your little finger moved
As you thrust a bare arm backward.
And made play with your hair
And a comb, a silly gilt comb
—Ah, God, that I should suffer
Because of the way a little finger moved.
Mr. Crane’s verselets are illustrated by some Bradley pictures, which are badly drawn, in bad taste, and come with bad grace. On page 33 of the book there are just two lines which seem to completely sum up the efforts of both poet and artist:
“My good friend,” said a learned bystander,
“Your operations are mad.”
Yet this fellow Crane has written short stories equal to some of Maupassant’s.
Pittsburg Leader, June 3, 1899
After reading such a delightful newspaper story as Mr. Frank Norris’ “Blix,” it is with assorted sensations of pain and discomfort that one closes the covers of another newspaper novel, “Active Service,” by Stephen Crane. If one happens to have some trifling regard for pure English, he does not come forth from the reading of this novel unscathed. The hero of this lurid tale is a newspaper man, and he edits the Sunday edition of the New York “Eclipse,” and delights in publishing “stories” about deformed and sightless infants. “The office of the ‘Eclipse’ was at the top of an immense building on Broadway. It was a sheer mountain to the heights of which the interminable thunder of the streets rose faintly. The Hudson was a broad path of silver in the distance.” This leaves little doubt as to the fortunate journal which had secured Rufus Coleman as its Sunday editor. Mr. Coleman’s days were spent in collecting yellow sensations for his paper, and we are told that he “planned for each edition as for a campaign.” The following elevating passage is one of the realistic paragraphs by which Mr. Crane makes the routine of Coleman’s life known to us:
Suddenly there was a flash of light and a cage of bronze, gilt and steel dropped magically from above. Coleman yelled “Down!” * * * A door flew open. Coleman stepped upon the elevator. “Well, Johnnie,” he said cheerfully to the lad who operated the machine, “is business good?” “Yes, sir, pretty good,” answered the boy, grinning. The little cage sank swiftly. Floor after floor seemed to be rising with marvelous speed; the whole building was winging straight into the sky. There was soaring lights, figures and the opalescent glow of ground glass doors marked with black inscriptions. Other lights were springing heavenward. All the lofty corridors rang with cries. “Up!” “Down!” “Down!” “Up!!” The boy’s hand grasped a lever and his machine obeyed his lightest movement with sometimes an unbalancing swiftness.
Later, when Coleman reached the street, Mr. Crane describes the cable cars as marching like panoplied elephants, which is rather far, to say the least. The gentleman’s nights were spent something as follows:
“In the restaurant he first ordered a large bottle of champagne. The last of the wine he finished in somber mood like an unbroken and defiant man who chews the straw that litters his prison house. During his dinner he was continually sending out messenger boys. He was arranging a poker party. Through a window he watched the beautiful moving life of upper Broadway at night, with its crowds and clanging cable cars and its electric signs, mammoth and glittering like the jewels of a giantess.
“Word was brought to him that poker players were arriving. He arose joyfully, leaving his cheese. In the broad hall, occupied mainly by miscellaneous people and actors, all deep in leather chairs, he found some of his friends waiting. They trooped upstairs to Coleman’s rooms, where, as a preliminary, Coleman began to hurl books and papers from the table to the floor. A boy came with drinks. Most of the men, in order to prepare for the game, removed their coats and cuffs and drew up the sleeves of their shirts. The electric globes shed a blinding light upon the table. The sound of clinking chips arose; the elected banker spun the cards, careless and dextrous.”
The atmosphere of the entire novel is just that close and enervating. Every page is like the next morning taste of a champagne supper, and is heavy with the smell of stale cigarettes. There is no fresh air in the book and no sunlight, only the “blinding light shed by the electric globes.” If the life of New York newspaper men is as unwholesome and sordid as this, Mr. Crane, who has experienced it, ought to be sadly ashamed to tell it. Next morning when Coleman went for breakfast in the grill room of his hotel he ordered eggs on toast and a pint of champagne for breakfast and discoursed affably to the waiter.
“May be you had a pretty lively time last night, Mr. Coleman?”
“Yes, Pat,” answered Coleman. “I did. It was all because of an unrequitted affection, Patrick.” The man stood near, a napkin over his arm. Coleman went on impressively. “The ways of the modern lover are strange. Now, I, Patrick, am a modern lover, and when, yesterday, the dagger of disappointment was driven deep into my heart, I immediately played poker as hard as I could, and incidentally got loaded. This is the modern point of view. I understand on good authority that in old times lovers used to languish. That is probably a lie, but at any rate we do not, in these times, languish to any great extent. We get drunk. Do you understand Patrick?”
The waiter was used to a harangue at Coleman’s breakfast time. He placed his hand over his mouth and giggled. “Yessir.”
“Of course,” continued Coleman, thoughtfully. “It might be pointed out by uneducated persons that it is difficult to maintain a high standard of drunkenness for the adequate length of time, but in the series of experiments which I am about to make, I am sure I can easily prove them to be in the wrong.”
“I am sure, sir,” said the waiter, “the young ladies would not like to be hearing you talk this way.”
“Yes; no doubt, no doubt. The young ladies have still quite medieval ideas. They don’t understand. They still prefer lovers to languish.”
“At any rate, sir, I don’t see that your heart is sure enough broken. You seem to take it very easy.”
“Broken!” cried Coleman. “Easy? Man, my heart is in fragments. Bring me another small bottle.”
After this Coleman went to Greece to write up the war for the “Eclipse,” and incidentally to rescue his sweetheart from the hands of the Turks and make “copy” of it. Very valid arguments might be advanced that the lady would have fared better with the Turks. On the voyage Coleman spent all his days and nights in the card room and avoided the deck, since fresh air was naturally disagreeable to him. For all that he saw of Greece or that Mr. Crane’s readers see of Greece Coleman might as well have stayed in the card room of the steamer, or in the card room of his New York hotel for that matter. Wherever he goes he carries the atmosphere of the card room with him and the “blinding glare of the electrics.” In Greece he makes love when he has leisure, but he makes “copy” much more ardently, and on the whole is quite as lurid and sordid and showy as his worst Sunday editions. Some good bits of battle descriptions there are, of the “Red Badge of Courage” order, but one cannot make a novel of clever descriptions of earthworks and poker games. The book concerns itself not with large, universal interests or principles, but with a yellow journalist grinding out yellow copy in such a wooden fashion that the Sunday “Eclipse” must have been even worse than most. In spite of the fact that Mr. Crane has written some of the most artistic short stories in the English language, I begin to wonder whether, blinded by his youth and audacity, two qualities which the American people love, we have not taken him too seriously. It is a grave matter for a man in good health and with a bank account to have written a book so coarse and dull and charmless as “Active Service.” Compared with this “War was kind,” indeed.
Pittsburg Leader, November 11, 1899
A new and a great book has been written. The name of it is “McTeague, a Story of San Francisco,” and the man who wrote it is Mr. Frank Norris. The great presses of the country go on year after year grinding out commonplace books, just as each generation goes on busily reproducing its own mediocrity. When in this enormous output of ink and paper, these thousands of volumes that are yearly rushed upon the shelves of the book stores, one appears which contains both power and promise, the reader may be pardoned some enthusiasm. Excellence always surprises: we are never quite prepared for it. In the case of “McTeague, a Story of San Francisco,” it is even more surprising than usual. In the first place the title is not alluring, and not until you have read the book, can you know that there is an admirable consistency in the stiff, uncompromising commonplaceness of that title. In the second place the name of the author is as yet comparatively unfamiliar, and finally the book is dedicated to a member of the Harvard faculty, suggesting that whether it be a story of San Francisco or Dawson City, it must necessarily be vaporous, introspective and chiefly concerned with “literary” impressions. Mr. Norris is, indeed, a “Harvard man,” but that he is a good many other kinds of a man is self-evident. His book is, in the language of Mr. Norman Hapgood, the work of “a large human being, with a firm stomach, who knows and loves the people.”
In a novel of such high merit as this, the subject matter is the least important consideration. Every newspaper contains the essential material for another “Comedie Humaine.” In this case “McTeague,” the central figure, happens to be a dentist practicing in a little side street of San Francisco. The novel opens with this description of him:
“It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day, McTeague took his dinner at two in the afternoon at the car conductor’s coffee joint on Polk street. He had a thick, gray soup, heavy, underdone meat, very hot, on a cold plate; two kinds of vegetables; and a sort of suet pudding, full of strong butter and sugar. Once in his office, or, as he called it on his sign-board, ‘Dental Parlors,’ he took off his coat and shoes, unbuttoned his vest, and, having crammed his little stove with coke, he lay back in his operating chair at the bay window, reading the paper, drinking steam beer, and smoking his huge porcelain pipe while his food digested; crop-full, stupid and warm.”
McTeague had grown up in a mining camp in the mountains. He remembered the years he had spent there trundling heavy cars of ore in and out of the tunnel under the direction of his father. For thirteen days out of each fortnight his father was a steady, hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazed with alcohol. His mother cooked for the miners. Her one ambition was that her son should enter a profession. He was apprenticed to a traveling quack dentist and after a fashion, learned the business.
“Then one day at San Francisco had come the news of his mother’s death; she had left him some money—not much, but enough to set him up in business; so he had cut loose from the charlatan and had opened his ‘Dental Parlors’ on Polk street, an ‘accommodation street’ of small shops in the residence quarter of the town. Here he had slowly collected a clientele of butcher boys, shop girls, drug clerks and car conductors. He made but few acquaintances. Polk street called him the ‘doctor’ and spoke of his enormous strength. For McTeague was a young giant, carrying his huge shock of blonde hair six feet three inches from the ground; moving his immense limbs, heavy with ropes of muscle, slowly, ponderously. His hands were enormous, red, and covered with a fell of stiff yellow hair; they were as hard as wooden mallets, strong as vices, the hands of the old-time car boy. Often he dispensed with forceps and extracted a refractory tooth with his thumb and finger. His head was square-cut, angular; the jaw salient: like that of the carnivora.
“But for one thing McTeague would have been perfectly contented. Just outside his window was his signboard—a modest affair—that read: ‘Doctor McTeague. Dental Parlors. Gas Given;’ but that was all. It was his ambition, his dream, to have projecting from that corner window a huge gilded tooth, a molar with enormous prongs, something gorgeous and attractive. He would have it some day, but as yet it was far beyond his means.”
Then Mr. Norris launches into a description of the street in which “McTeague” lives. He presents that street as it is on Sunday, as it is on working days; as it is in the early dawn when the workmen are going out with pickaxes on their shoulders, as it is at ten o’clock when the women are out purchasing from the small shopkeepers, as it is at night when the shop girls are out with the soda-fountain tenders and the motor cars dash by full of theatre-goers, and the Salvationists sing before the saloon on the corner. In four pages he reproduces the life in a by-street of a great city, the little tragedy of the small shopkeeper. There are many ways of handling environment—most of them bad. When a young author has very little to say and no story worth telling, he resorts to environment. It is frequently used to disguise a weakness of structure, as ladies who paint landscapes put their cows knee-deep in water to conceal the defective drawing of the legs. But such description as one meets throughout Mr. Norris’ book is in itself convincing proof of power, imagination and literary skill. It is a positive and active force, stimulating the reader’s imagination, giving him an actual command, a realizing sense of this world into which he is suddenly transplanted. It gives to the book perspective, atmosphere, effects of time and distance, creates the illusion of life. This power of mature, and accurate and comprehensive description is very unusual among the younger American writers. Most of them observe the world through a temperament, and are more occupied with their medium than the objects they see. And temperament is a glass which distorts most astonishingly. But this young man sees with a clear eye, and reproduces with a touch firm and decisive, strong almost to brutalness. Yet this hand that can depict so powerfully the brute strength and brute passions of a “McTeague,” can deal very finely and adroitly with the feminine element of his story. This is his portrait of the little Swiss girl, “Trina,” whom the dentist marries:
“Trina was very small and prettily made. Her face was round and rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the half-opened eyes of a baby; her lips and the lobes of her tiny ears were pale, a little suggestive of anaemia. But it was to her hair that one’s attention was most attracted. Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils and braids, a royal crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara, heavy, abundant and odorous. All the vitality that should have given color to her face seemed to have been absorbed by that marvelous hair: It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed the temples of this little bourgeoise.”
The tragedy of the story dates from a chance, a seeming stroke of good fortune, one of those terrible gifts of the Danai. A few weeks before her marriage “Trina” drew $5 000 from a lottery ticket. From that moment her passion for hoarding money becomes the dominant theme of the story, takes command of the book and its characters. After their marriage the dentist is disbarred from practice. They move into a garret where she starves her husband and herself to save that precious hoard. She sells even his office furniture, everything but his concertina and his canary bird, with which he stubbornly refuses to part and which are destined to become very important accessories in the property room of the theatre where this drama is played. This removal from their first home is to this story what Gervaise’s removal from her shop is to L’Assommoir; it is the fatal episode of the third act, the sacrifice of self-respect, the beginning of the end. From that time the money stands between “Trina” and her husband. Outraged and humiliated, hating her for her meanness, demoralized by his idleness and despair, he begins to abuse her. The story becomes a careful and painful study of the disintegration of this union, a penetrating and searching analysis of the degeneration of these two souls, the woman’s corroded by greed, the man’s poisoned by disappointment and hate.
And all the while this same painful theme is placed in a lower key. Maria, the housemaid who took care of “McTeague’s” dental parlors in his better days, was a half-crazy girl from somewhere in Central America, she herself did not remember just where. But she had a wonderful story about her people owning a dinner service of pure gold with a punch bowl you could scarcely lift, which rang like a church bell when you struck it. On the strength of this story “Zercow,” the Jew junk man, marries her, and believing that she knows where this treasure is hidden, bullies and tortures her to force her to disclose her secret. At last “Maria” is found with her throat cut, and “Zercow” is picked up by the wharf with a sack full of rusty tin cans, which in his dementia he must have thought the fabled dinner service of gold.
From this it is a short step to “McTeague’s” crime. He kills his wife to get possession of her money, and escapes to the mountains. While he is on his way south, pushing toward Mexico, he is overtaken by his murdered wife’s cousin and former suitor. Both men are half mad with thirst, and there in the desert wastes of Death’s Valley, they spring to their last conflict. The cousin falls, but before he dies he slips a handcuff over “McTeague’s” arm, and so the author leaves his hero in the wastes of Death’s Valley, a hundred miles from water, with a dead man chained to his arm. As he stands there the canary bird, the survivor of his happier days, to which he had clung with stubborn affection, begins “chittering feebly in its little gilt prison.” It reminds one a little of Stevenson’s use of poor “Goddedaal’s” canary in “The Wrecker.” It is just such sharp, sure strokes that bring out the high lights in a story and separate excellence from the commonplace. They are at once dramatic and revelatory. Lacking them, a novel which may otherwise be a good one, lacks its chief reason for being. The fault with many worthy attempts at fiction lies not in what they are, but in what they are not.
Mr. Norris’ model, if he will admit that he has followed one, is clearly no less a person than M. Zola himself. Yet there is no discoverable trace of imitation in his book. He has simply taken a method which has been most successfully applied in the study of French life and applied it in studying American life, as one uses certain algebraic formulae to solve certain problems. It is perhaps the only truthful literary method of dealing with that part of society which environment and heredity hedge about like the walls of a prison. It is true that Mr. Norris now and then allows his “method” to become too prominent, that his restraint savors of constraint, yet he has written a true story of the people, courageous, dramatic, full of matter and warm with life. He has addressed himself seriously to art, and he seems to have no ambition to be clever. His horizon is wide, his invention vigorous and bold, his touch heavy and warm and human. This man is not limited by literary prejudices: he sees the people as they are, he is close to them and not afraid of their unloveliness. He has looked at truth in the depths, among men begrimed by toil and besotted by ignorance, and still found her fair. “McTeague” is an achievement for a young man. It may not win at once the success which it deserves, but Mr. Norris is one of those who can afford to wait.
The Courier, April 8, 1899
If you want to read a story that is all wheat and no chaff, read “Blix.” Last winter that brilliant young Californian, Mr. Norris, published a remarkable and gloomy novel, “McTeague,” a book deep in insight, rich in promise and splendid in execution, but entirely without charm and as disagreeable as only a great piece of work can be. And now this gentleman, who is not yet thirty, turns around and gives us an idyll that sings through one’s brain like a summer wind and makes one feel young enough to commit all manner of indiscretions. It may be that Mr. Norris is desirous of showing us his versatility and that he can follow any suit, or it may have been a process of reaction. I believe it was after M. Zola had completed one of his greatest and darkest novels of Parisian life that he went down to the seaside and wrote “La Reve,” a book that every girl should read when she is eighteen, and then again when she is eighty. Powerful and solidly built as “McTeague” is, one felt that there method was carried almost too far, that Mr. Norris was too consciously influenced by his French masters. But “Blix” belongs to no school whatever, and there is not a shadow of pedantry or pride of craft in it from cover to cover. “Blix” herself is the method, the motives and the aim of the book. The story is an exhalation of youth and spring; it is the work of a man who breaks loose and forgets himself. Mr. Norris was married only last summer, and the march from “Lohengrin” is simply sticking out all over “Blix.” It is the story of a San Francisco newspaper man and a girl. The newspaper man “came out” in fiction, so to speak, in the drawing room of Mr. Richard Harding Davis, and has languished under that gentleman’s chaperonage until he has come to be regarded as a fellow careful of nothing but his toilet and his dinner. Mr. Davis’ reporters all bathed regularly and all ate nice things, but beyond that their tastes were rather colorless. I am glad to see one red-blooded newspaper man, in the person of “Landy Rivers,” of San Francisco, break into fiction; a real live reporter with no sentimental loyalty for his “paper,” and no Byronic poses about his vices, and no astonishing taste about his clothes, and no money whatever, which is the natural and normal condition of all reporters. “Blix” herself was just a society girl, and “Landy” took her to theatres and parties and tried to make himself believe he was in love with her. But it wouldn’t work, for “Landy” couldn’t love a society girl, not though she were as beautiful as the morning and terrible as an army with banners, and had “round full arms,” and “the skin of her face was white and clean, except where it flushed into a most charming pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks.” For while “Landy Rivers” was at college he had been seized with the penchant for writing short stories, and had worshiped at the shrines of Maupassant and Kipling, and when a man is craft mad enough to worship Maupassant truly and know him well, when he has that tingling for technique in his fingers, not Aphrodite herself, new risen from the waves, could tempt him into any world where craft was not lord and king. So it happened that their real love affair never began until one morning when “Landy” had to go down to the wharf to write up a whaleback, and “Blix” went along, and an old sailor told them a story and “Blix” recognized the literary possibilities of it, and they had lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and “Landy” because he was a newspaper man and it was the end of the week, didn’t have any change about his clothes, and “Blix” had to pay the bill. And it was in that green old tea house that “Landy” read “Blix” one of his favorite yarns by Kipling, and she in a calm, off-handed way, recognized one of the fine, technical points in it, and “Landy” almost went to pieces for joy of her doing it. That scene in the Chinese restaurant is one of the prettiest bits of color you’ll find to rest your eyes upon, and mighty good writing it is. I wonder, though if when Mr. Norris adroitly mentioned the “clack and snarl” of the banjo “Landy” played, he remembered the “silver snarling trumpets” of Keats? After that, things went on as such things will, and “Blix” quit the society racket and went to queer places with “Landy,” and got interested in his work, and she broke him of wearing red neckties and playing poker, and she made him work, she did, for she grew to realize how much that meant to him, and she jacked him up when he didn’t work, and she suggested an ending for one of his stories that was better than his own; just this big, splendid girl, who had never gone to college to learn how to write novels. And so how, in the name of goodness, could he help loving her? So one morning down by the Pacific, with “Blix” and “The Seven Seas,” it all came over “Landy,” that “living was better than reading and life was better than literature.” And so it is; once, and only once, for each of us; and that is the tune that sings and sings through one’s head when one puts the book away.
The Courier, January 13, 1900
An Heir Apparent.
Last winter a young Californian, Mr. Frank Norris, published a novel with the unpretentious title, “McTeague: a Story of San Francisco.” It was a book that could not be ignored nor dismissed with a word. There was something very unusual about it, about its solidity and mass, the thoroughness and firmness of texture, and it came down like a blow from a sledge hammer among the slighter and more sprightly performances of the hour.The most remarkable thing about the book was its maturity and compactness. It has none of the ear-marks of those entertaining “young writers” whom every season produces as inevitably as its debutantes, young men who surprise for an hour and then settle down to producing industriously for the class with which their peculiar trick of phrase has found favor. It was a book addressed to the American people and to the critics of the world, the work of a young man who had set himself to the art of authorship with an almighty seriousness, and who had no ambition to be clever. “McTeague” was not an experiment in style nor a pretty piece of romantic folly, it was a true story of the people—having about it, as M. Zola would say, “the smell of the people”—courageous, dramatic, full of matter and warm with life. It was realism of the most uncompromising kind. The theme was such that the author could not have expected sudden popularity for his book, such as sometimes overtakes monstrosities of style in these discouraging days when Knighthood is in Flower to the extent of a quarter of a million copies, nor could he have hoped for pressing commissions from the fire-side periodicals. The life story of a quack dentist who sometimes extracted molars with his fingers, who mistreated and finally murdered his wife, is not, in itself, attractive. But, after all, the theme counts for very little. Every newspaper contains the essential subject matter for another Comedie Humaine. The important point is that a man considerably under thirty could take up a subject so grim and unattractive, and that, for the mere love of doing things well, he was able to hold himself down to the task of developing it completely, that he was able to justify this quack’s existence in literature, to thrust this hairy, blonde dentist with the “salient jaw of the carnivora,” in amongst the immortals.
It was after M. Zola had completed one of the greatest and gloomiest of his novels of Parisian life, that he went down by the sea and wrote “La Reve,” that tender, adolescent story of love and purity and youth. So, almost simultaneously with “McTeague,” Mr. Norris published “Blix,” another San Francisco story, as short as “McTeague” was lengthy, as light as “McTeague” was heavy, as poetic and graceful as “McTeague” was somber and charmless. Here is a man worth waiting on; a man who is both realist and poet, a man who can teach
“Not only by a comet’s rush,
But by a rose’s birth.”
Yet unlike as they are, in both books the source of power is the same, and, for that matter, it was even the same in his first book, “Moran of the Lady Letty.” Mr. Norris has dispensed with the conventional symbols that have crept into art, with the trite, half-truths and circumlocutions, and got back to the physical basis of things. He has abjured tea-table psychology, and the analysis of figures in the carpet and subtile dissections of intellectual impotencies, and the diverting game of words and the whole literature of the nerves. He is big and warm and sometimes brutal, and the strength of the soil comes up to him with very little loss in the transmission. His art strikes deep down into the roots of life and the foundation of Things as They Are—not as we tell each other they are at the tea-table. But he is realistic art, not artistic realism. He is courageous, but he is without bravado.
He sees things freshly, as though they had not been seen before, and describes them with singular directness and vividness, not with morbid acuteness, with a large, wholesome joy of life. Nowhere is this more evident than in his insistent use of environment. I recall the passage in which he describes the street in which McTeague lives. He represents that street as it is on Sunday, as it is on working days, as it is in the early dawn when the workmen are going out with pickaxes on their shoulders, as it is at ten o’clock when the women are out marketing among the small shopkeepers, as it is at night when the shop girls are out with the soda fountain tenders and the motor cars dash by full of theater-goers, and the Salvationists sing before the saloon on the corner. In four pages he reproduces in detail the life in a by-street of a great city, the little tragedy of the small shopkeeper. There are many ways of handling environment—most of them bad. When a young author has very little to say and no story worth telling, he resorts to environment. It is frequently used to disguise a weakness of structure, as ladies who paint landscapes put their cows knee-deep in water to conceal the defective drawing of the legs. But such description as one meets throughout Mr. Norris’ book is in itself convincing proof of power, imagination and literary skill. It is a positive and active force, stimulating the reader’s imagination, giving him an actual command, a realizing sense of this world into which he is suddenly transported. It gives to the book perspective, atmosphere, effects of time and distance, creates the illusion of life. This power of mature and comprehensive description is very unusual among the younger American writers. Most of them observe the world through a temperament, and are more occupied with their medium than the objects they watch. And temperament is a glass which distorts most astonishingly. But this young man sees with a clear eye, and reproduces with a touch, firm and decisive, strong almost to brutalness.
Mr. Norris approaches things on their physical side; his characters are personalities of flesh before they are anything else, types before they are individuals. Especially is this true of his women. His Trina is ‘very small and prettily made. Her face was round and rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the half-opened eyes of a baby; her lips and the lobes of her tiny ears were pale, a little suggestive of anaemia. But it was to her hair that one’s attention was most attracted. Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils and braids, a royal crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara, heavy, abundant and odorous. All the vitality that should have given color to her face seems to have been absorbed by that marvelous hair. It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed the temples of this little bourgeoise.’ Blix had ’round, full arms,’ and ‘the skin of her face was white and clean, except where it flushed into a most charming pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks.’ In this grasp of the element of things, this keen, clean, frank pleasure at color and odor and warmth, this candid admission of the negative of beauty, which is co-existent with and inseparable from it, lie much of his power and promise. Here is a man catholic enough to include the extremes of physical and moral life, strong enough to handle the crudest colors and darkest shadows. Here is a man who has an appetite for the physical universe, who loves the rank smells of crowded alley-ways, or the odors of boudoirs, or the delicate perfume exhaled from a woman’s skin; who is not afraid of Pan, be he ever so shaggy, and redolent of the herd.
Structurally, where most young novelists are weak, Mr. Norris is very strong. He has studied the best French masters, and he has adopted their methods quite simply, as one selects an algebraic formula to solve his particular problem. As to his style, that is, as expression always is, just as vigorous as his thought compels it to be, just as vivid as his conception warrants. If God Almighty has given a man ideas, he will get himself a style from one source or another. Mr. Norris, fortunately, is not a conscious stylist. He has too much to say to be exquisitely vain about his medium. He has the kind of brain stuff that would vanquish difficulties in any profession, that might be put to building battleships, or solving problems of finance, or to devising colonial policies. Let us be thankful that he has put it to literature. Let us be thankful, moreover, that he is not introspective and that his intellect does not devour itself, but feeds upon the great race of man, and, above all, let us rejoice that he is not a ‘temperamental’ artist, but something larger, for a great brain and an assertive temperament seldom dwell together.
There are clever men enough in the field of American letters, and the fault of most of them is merely one of magnitude; they are not large enough; they travel in small orbits, they play on muted strings. They sing neither of the combats of Atriedes nor the labors of Cadmus, but of the tea-table and the Odyssey of the Rialto. Flaubert said that a drop of water contained all the elements of the sea, save one—immensity. Mr. Norris is concerned only with serious things, he has only large ambitions. His brush is bold, his color is taken fresh from the kindly earth, his canvas is large enough to hold American life, the real life of the people. He has come into the court of the troubadours singing the song of Elys, the song of warm, full nature. He has struck the true note of the common life. He is what Mr. Norman Hapgood said the great American dramatist must be: ‘A large human being, with a firm stomach, who knows and loves the people.'” Willa Cather, Stories, Reviews, & Essays; several reviews from 1895-1900
The present discussions are a further development of some trains of thought which I opened up in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and to which, as I remarked there, my attitude was one of a kind of benevolent curiosity. In the following pages these thoughts are linked to various facts of analytic observation and an attempt is made to arrive at new conclusions from this conjunction; in the present work, however, there are no fresh borrowings from biology, and on that account it stands closer to psycho-analysis than does Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It is more in the nature of a synthesis than of a speculation and seems to have had an ambitious aim in view. I am conscious, however, that it does not go beyond the roughest outline and with that limitation I am perfectly content.In these pages things are touched on which have not yet been the subject of psychoanalytic consideration, and it has not been possible to avoid trenching upon some theories which have been put forward by non-analysts or by former analysts on their retreat from analysis. I have elsewhere always been ready to acknowledge what I owe to other workers; but in this instance I feel burdened by no such debt of gratitude. If psycho-analysis has not hitherto shown its appreciation of certain things, this has never been because it overlooked their achievement or sought to deny their importance, but because it followed a particular path, which had not yet led so far. And finally, when it has reached them, things have a different look to it from what they have to others.
CONSCIOUSNESS AND WHAT IS UNCONSCIOUS
In this introductory chapter there is nothing new to be said and it will not be possible to avoid repeating what has often been said before. The division of the psychical into what is conscious and what is unconscious is the fundamental premiss of psycho-analysis; and it alone makes it possible for psycho-analysis to understand the pathological processes in mental life, which are as common as they are important, and to find a place for them in the framework of science. To put it once more, in a different way: psycho-analysis cannot situate the essence of the psychical in consciousness, but is obliged to regard consciousness as a quality of the psychical, which may be present in addition to other qualities or may be absent.If I could suppose that everyone interested in psychology would read this book, I should also be prepared to find that at this point some of my readers would already stop short and would go no further; for here we have the first shibboleth of psycho-analysis. To most people who have been educated in philosophy the idea of anything psychical which is not also conscious is so inconceivable that it seems to them absurd and refutable simply by logic. I believe this is only because they have never studied the relevant phenomena of hypnosis and dreams, which—quite apart from pathological manifestations—necessitate this view. Their psychology of consciousness is incapable of solving the problems of dreams and hypnosis.
Being conscious‘ is in the first place a purely descriptive term, resting on perception of the
most immediate and certain character. Experience goes on to show that a psychical element (for instance, an idea) is not as a rule conscious for a protracted length of time. On the contrary, a state of consciousness is characteristically very transitory; an idea that is conscious now is no
longer so a moment later, although it can become so again under certain conditions that are
easily brought about. In the interval the idea was ‘we do not know what.’ We can say that it was latent, and by this we mean that it was capable of becoming conscious at any time. Or, if we say that is was unconscious, we shall also be giving a correct description of it. Here ‘unconscious‘ coincides with latent and capable of becoming ‘conscious‘. The philosophers would no doubt object: No, the term ‘unconscious’ is not applicable here; so long as the idea was in a state of latency it was not anything psychical at all.‘ To contradict them at this point would lead to nothing more profitable than a verbal dispute.
But we have arrived at the term or concept of the unconscious along another path, by
considering certain experiences in which mental dynamics play a part. We have found—that is,
we have been obliged to assume—that very powerful mental processes or ideas exist (and here
a quantitative or economic factor comes into question for the first time) which can produce all
the effects in mental life that ordinary ideas do (including effects that can in their turn become
conscious as ideas), though they themselves do not become conscious. It is unnecessary to repeat in detail here what has been explained so often before. It is enough to say that at this point psycho-analytic theory steps in and asserts that the reason why such ideas cannot become conscious is that a certain force opposes them, that otherwise they could become conscious, and that it would then be apparent how little they differ from other elements which are admittedly psychical. The fact that in the technique of psycho-analysis a means has been found by which the opposing force can be removed and the ideas in question made conscious renders this theory irrefutable. The state in which the ideas existed before being made conscious is called by us repression, and we assert that the force which instituted the repression and maintains it is perceived as resistance during the work of analysis.
Thus we obtain our concept of the unconscious from the theory of repression. The repressed is the prototype of the unconscious for us. We see, however, that we have two kinds of
unconscious—the one which is latent but capable of becoming conscious, and the one which is repressed and which is not, in itself and without more ado, capable of becoming conscious. This
piece of insight into psychical dynamics cannot fail to affect terminology and description. The
latent, which is unconscious only descriptively, not in the dynamic sense, we call preconscious;
we restrict the term unconscious to the dynamically unconscious repressed; so that now we have three terms, conscious (Cs.), preconscious (Pcs.), and unconscious (Ucs.), whose sense is no longer purely descriptive. The Pcs. is presumably a great deal closer to the Cs. than is the Ucs., and since we have called the Ucs. psychical we shall with even less hesitation call the latent Pcs. psychical. But why do we not rather, instead of this, remain in agreement with the philosophers and, in a consistent way, distinguish the Pcs. as well as the Ucs. from the conscious psychical? The philosophers would then propose that the Pcs. and the Ucs. should be described as two species or stages of the ‘psychoid‘, and harmony would be established. But endless difficulties in exposition would follow; and the one important fact, that these two kinds of ‘psychoid‘ coincide in almost every other respect with what is admittedly psychical, would be forced into the background in the interests of a prejudice dating from a period in which these psychoids, or the most important part of them, were still unknown.
We can now play about comfortably with our three terms, Cs., Pcs., and Ucs., so long as we do not forget that in the descriptive sense there are two kinds of unconscious, but in the dynamic
sense only one. For purposes of exposition this distinction can in some cases be ignored, but in
others it is of course indispensable. At the same time, we have become more or less accustomed to this ambiguity of the unconscious and have managed pretty well with it. As far as I can see, it is impossible to avoid this ambiguity; the distinction between conscious and unconscious is in the last resort a question of perception, which must be answered ‘yes‘ or ‘no,’ and the act of perception itself tells us nothing of the reason why a thing is or is not perceived.
No one has a right to complain because the actual phenomenon expresses the dynamic factor ambiguously. A new turn taken by criticisms of the unconscious deserves consideration at this point. Some investigators, who do not refuse to recognize the facts of psycho-analysis but who are unwilling to accept the unconscious, find a way out of the difficulty in the fact, which no
one contests, that in consciousness (regarded as a phenomenon) it is possible to distinguish a great variety of gradations in intensity or clarity. Just as there are processes which are very vividly, glaringly, and tangibly conscious, so we also experience others which are only faintly, hardly even noticeably conscious; those that are most faintly conscious are, it is argued, the ones to which psycho-analysis wishes to apply the unsuitable name unconscious‘. These too, however (the argument proceeds), are conscious or in consciousness‘, and can be made fully and intensely
conscious if sufficient attention is paid to them.
In so far as it is possible to influence by arguments the decision of a question of this kind which depends either on convention or on emotional factors, we may make the following comments. The reference to gradations of clarity in consciousness is in no way conclusive and has no more evidential value than such analogous statements as: ‘There are so very many gradations in illumination—from the most glaring and dazzling light to the dimmest glimmer—therefore there is no such thing as darkness at all‘; or, ‘There are varying degrees of vitality, therefore there is no such thing as death.‘ Such statements may in a certain way have a meaning, but for practical purposes they are worthless. This will be seen if one tries to draw particular conclusions from them, such as, ‘there is therefore no need to strike a light‘, or, ‘therefore all organisms are immortal.’ Further, to include what is unnoticeable‘ under the concept of what is
conscious‘ is simply to play havoc with the one and only piece of direct and certain knowledge that we have about the mind. And after all, a consciousness of which one knows nothing seems to me a good deal more absurd than something mental that is unconscious. Finally, this attempt to equate what is unnoticed with what is unconscious is obviously made without taking into account the dynamic conditions involved, which were the decisive factors in forming the psychoanalytic view.
For it ignores two facts: first, that it is exceedingly difficult and requires very great effort
to concentrate enough attention on something unnoticed of this kind; and secondly, that when this has been achieved the thought which was previously unnoticed is not recognized by consciousness, but often seems entirely alien and opposed to it and is promptly disavowed by it. Thus, seeking refuge from the unconscious in what is scarcely noticed or unnoticed is after all only a derivative of the preconceived belief which regards the identity of the psychical and the conscious as settled once and for all.
In the further course of psycho-analytic work, however, even these distinctions have proved to be inadequate and, for practical purposes, insufficient. This has become clear in more ways than one; but the decisive instance is as follows. We have formed the idea that in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes; and we call this his ego. It is to this ego that consciousness is attached; the ego controls the approaches to motility—that is, to the discharge of excitations into the external world; it is the mental agency which supervises all its own constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it exercises the censorship on dreams. From this ego proceed the repressions, too, by means of which it is sought to exclude certain trends in the mind not merely from consciousness but also from other forms of effectiveness and activity. In analysis these trends which have been shut out stand in opposition to the ego, and the analysis is faced with the task of removing the resistances which the ego displays against concerning itself with the repressed. Now we find during analysis that, when we put certain tasks before the patient, he gets into difficulties; his associations fail when they should be coming near the repressed. We then tell him that he is dominated by a resistance; but he is quite unaware of the fact, and, even if he guesses from his unpleasurable feelings that a resistance is now at work in him, he does not know what it is or how to describe it. Since, however, there can be no question but that this resistance emanates from his ego and belongs to it, we find ourselves in an unforeseen situation. We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed—that is, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious. From the point of view of analytic practice, the consequence of this discovery is that we land in endless obscurities and difficulties if we keep to our habitual forms of expression and try, for instance, to derive neuroses from a conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. We shall have to substitute for this antithesis another, taken from our insight into the structural conditions of the mind—the antithesis between the coherent ego and the repressed which is split off from it.
For our conception of the unconscious, however, the consequences of our discovery are even more important. Dynamic considerations caused us to make our first correction; our insight into the structure of the mind leads to the second. We recognize that the Ucs. does not coincide with the repressed; it is still true that all that is repressed is Ucs., but not all that is Ucs. Is repressed. A part of the ego, too—and Heaven knows how important a part—may be Ucs., undoubtedly is Ucs. And this Ucs. belonging to the ego is not latent like the Pcs.; for if it were, it could not be activated without becoming Cs., and the process of making it conscious would not encounter such great difficulties. When we find ourselves thus confronted by the necessity of postulating a third Ucs., which is not repressed, we must admit that the characteristic of being unconscious begins to lose significance for us. It becomes a quality which can have many meanings, a quality which we are unable to make, as we should have hoped to do, the basis of far-reaching and inevitable conclusions. Nevertheless we must beware of ignoring this characteristic, for the property of being conscious or not is in the last resort our one beacon-light in the darkness of depth-psychology.
II THE EGO AND THE ID
Pathological research has directed our interest too exclusively to the repressed. We should like to learn more about the ego, now that we know that it, too, can be unconscious in the proper sense of the word. Hitherto the only guide we have had during our investigations has been the distinguishing mark of being conscious or unconscious; we have finally come to see how ambiguous this can be. Now all our knowledge is invariably bound up with consciousness. We can come to know even the Ucs, only by making it conscious. But stop, how is that possible?What does it mean when we say making something ‘conscious‘? How can that come about? We already know the point from which we have to start in this connection. We have said that consciousness is the surface of the mental apparatus; that is, we have ascribed it as a function to a system which is spatially the first one reached from the external world—and spatially not only in the functional sense but, on this occasion, also in the sense of anatomical dissection.
Our investigations too must take this perceiving surface as a starting-point. All perceptions which are received from without (sense-perceptions) and from within—what we call sensations and feelings—are Cs. from the start. But what about those internal processes which we may—roughly and inexactly—sum up under the name of thought-processes? They represent displacements of mental energy which are effected somewhere in the interior of the apparatus as this energy proceeds on its way towards action. Do they advance to the surface, which causes consciousness to be generated? Or does consciousness make its way to them?
This is clearly one of the difficulties that arise when one begins to take the spatial or ‘topographical‘ idea of mental life seriously. Both these possibilities are equally unimaginable, there must be a third alternative.
I have already, in another place, suggested that the real difference between a Ucs. and a Pcs. idea (thought) consists in this: that the former is carried out on some material which remains unknown, whereas the latter (the Pcs.) is in addition brought into connection with word-presentations. This is the first attempt to indicate distinguishing marks for the two systems, the Pcs. and the Ucs., other than their relation to consciousness. The question, ‘How does a thing become conscious?‘ would thus be more advantageously stated: ‘How does a thing become preconscious?‘ And the answer would be: ‘Through becoming connected with the word-presentations corresponding to it.‘
These word-presentations are residues of memories; they were at one time perceptions, and like all mnemic residues they can become conscious again. Before we concern ourselves further with their nature, it dawns upon us like a new discovery that only something which has once been a Cs. perception can become conscious, and that anything arising from within (apart from feelings) that seeks to become conscious must try to transform itself into external perceptions: this becomes possible by means of memory-traces.
We think of the mnemic residues as being contained in systems which are directly adjacent to the system Pcpt.-Cs., so that the cathexes of those residues can readily extend from within on to the elements of the latter system. We immediately think here of hallucinations, and of the fact that the most vivid memory is always distinguishable both from a hallucination and from an external perception; but it will also occur to us at once that when a memory is revived the cathexis remains in the mnemic system, whereas a hallucination, which is not distinguishable from a perception, can arise when the cathexis does not merely spread over from the memory-trace on to the Pcpt. element, but passes over to it entirely.
Verbal residues are derived primarily from auditory perceptions, so that the system Pcs. has, as it were, a special sensory source. The visual components of word-presentations are secondary, acquired through reading, and may to begin with be left on one side; so may the motor images of words, which, except with deaf-mutes, play the part of auxiliary indications. In essence a word is after all the mnemic residue of a word that has been heard.
We must not be led, in the interests of simplification perhaps, to forget the importance of optical mnemic residues, when they are of things, or to deny that it is possible for thought-processes to become conscious through a reversion to visual residues, and that in many people this seems to be the favoured method. The study of dreams and of preconscious phantasies as shown in Varendonck‘s observations can give us an idea of the special character of this visual thinking. We learn that what becomes conscious in it is as a rule only the concrete subject-matter of the thought, and that the relations between the various elements of this subject-matter, which is what specially characterizes thoughts, cannot be given visual expression.
Thinking in pictures is, therefore, only a very incomplete form of becoming conscious. In some way, too, it stands nearer to unconscious processes than does thinking in words, and it is
unquestionably older than the latter both ontogenetically and phylogenetically.
To return to our argument: if, therefore, this is the way in which something that is in itself unconscious becomes preconscious, the question how we make something that is repressed (pre)conscious would be answered as follows. It is done by supplying Pcs. intermediate links through the work of analysis. Consciousness remains where it is, therefore; but, on the other hand, the Ucs. does not rise into the Cs.
Whereas the relation of external perceptions to the ego is quite perspicuous, that of internal perceptions to the ego requires special investigation. It gives rise once more to a doubt whether we are really right in referring the whole of consciousness to the single superficial system Pcpt-Cs.
Internal perceptions yield sensations of processes arising in the most diverse and certainly also in the deepest strata of the mental apparatus. Very little is known about these sensations and feelings; those belonging to the pleasure/unpleasure series may still be regarded as the best examples of them. They are more primordial, more elementary, than perceptions arising externally and they can come about even when consciousness is clouded. I have elsewhere expressed my views about their greater economic significance and the metapsychological reasons for this. These sensations are multilocular, like external perceptions; they may come from different places simultaneously and may thus have different or even opposite qualities.
Sensations of a pleasurable nature have not anything inherently impelling about them, whereas unpleasurable ones have it in the highest degree. The latter impel towards change, towards discharge, and that is why we interpret unpleasure as implying a heightening and pleasure a lowering of energic cathexis. Let us call what becomes conscious as pleasure and unpleasure a quantitative and qualitative ‘something‘ in the course of mental events; the question then is whether this ‘something‘ can become conscious in the place where it is, or whether it must first be transmitted to the system Pcpt.
Clinical experience decides for the latter. It shows us that this ‘something‘ behaves like a repressed impulse. It can exert driving force without the ego noticing the compulsion. Not until there is resistance to the compulsion, a holdup in the discharge-reaction, does the ‘something‘ at once become conscious as unpleasure. In the same way that tensions arising rom physical needs can remain unconscious, so also can pain—a thing intermediate between external and internal perception, which behaves like an internal perception even when its source is in the external world. It remains true, therefore, that sensations and feelings, too, only become conscious through reaching the system Pcpt.; if the way forward is barred, they do not come into being as sensations, although the ‘something‘ that corresponds to them in the course of excitation is the same as if they did. We then come to speak, in a condensed and not entirely correct manner, of unconscious feelings‘, keeping up an analogy with unconscious ideas which is not altogether justifiable. Actually the difference is that, whereas with Ucs ideas connecting links must be created before they can be brought into the Cs., with feelings, which are themselves transmitted directly, this does not occur. In other words: the distinction between Cs. and Pcs, has no meaning where feelings are concerned; the Pcs. here drops out—and feelings are either conscious or unconscious. Even when they are attached to word-presentations, their becoming conscious is not due to that circumstance, but they become so directly.
The part played by word-presentations now becomes perfectly clear. By their interposition internal thought processes are made into perceptions. It is like a demonstration of the theorem that all knowledge has its origin in external perception. When a hypercathexis of the process of thinking takes place, thoughts are actually perceived—as if they came from without and are consequently held to be true.
After this clarifying of the relations between external and internal perception and the superficial system Pcpt.-Cs., we can go on to work out our idea of the ego. It starts out, as we see, from the system Pcpt., which is its nucleus, and begins by embracing the Pcs., which is adjacent to the mnemic residues. But, as we have learnt, the ego is also unconscious.
Now I think we shall gain a great deal by following the suggestion of a writer who, from personal motives, vainly asserts that he has nothing to do with the rigours of pure science. I am speaking of Georg Groddeck, who is never tired of insisting that what we call our ego behaves
essentially passively in life, and that, as he expresses it, we are ‘lived‘ by unknown and uncontrollable forces. We have all had impressions of the same kind, even though they may not have overwhelmed us to the exclusion of all others, and we need feel no hesitation in finding a place for Groddeck‘s discovery in the structure of science. I propose to take it into account by calling the entity which starts out from the system Pcpt. and begins by being Pcs. ‘the ego‘, and by following Groddeck in calling the other part of the mind, into which this entity extends and which behaves as though it were Ucs., ‘the id‘.
We shall soon see whether we can derive any advantage from this view for purposes either of description or of understanding. We shall now look upon an individual as a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego, developed from its nucleus the Pcpt. System. If we make an effort to represent this pictorially, we may add that the ego does not completely envelop the id, but only does so to the extent to which the system Pcpt. Forms its surface, more or less as the germinal disc rests upon the ovum. The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it.
But the repressed merges into the id as well, and is merely a part of it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression; it can communicate with the ego through the id. We at once realize that almost all the lines of demarcation we have drawn at the instigation of pathology relate only to the superficial strata of the mental apparatus—the only ones known to us. The state of things which we have been describing can be represented diagrammatically; though it must be remarked that the form chosen has no pretensions to any special applicability, but is merely intended to serve for purposes of exposition. We might add, perhaps, that the ego wears a cap of ‘hearing’—on one side only, as we learn from cerebral anatomy. It might be said to wear it awry.
It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs.; in a sense it is an extension of the surface-differentiation. Moreover, the ego seems to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to instinct. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions. All this falls into line with popular distinctions which we are all familiar with; at the same time, however, it is only to be regarded as holding good on the average or ‘ideally‘.
The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it. Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id‘s will into action as if it were its own.
Another factor, besides the influence of the system Pcpt., seems to have played a part in bringing about the formation of the ego and its differentiation from the id. A person‘s own body, and above all its surface, is a place from which both external and internal perceptions may spring. It is seen like any other object, but to the touch it yields two kinds of sensations, one of which may be equivalent to an internal perception. Psycho-physiology has fully discussed the manner in which a person‘s own body attains its special position among other objects in the world of perception. Pain, too, seems to play a part in the process, and the way in which we gain new knowledge of our organs during painful illnesses is perhaps a model of the way by which in general we arrive at the idea of our body.
The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface. If we wish to find an anatomical analogy for it we can best identify it with the cortical homunculus‘ of the anatomists, which stands on its head in the cortex, sticks up its heels, faces backwards and, as we know, has its speech-area on the left-hand side.
The relation of the ego to consciousness has been entered into repeatedly; yet there are some important facts in this connection which remain to be described here. Accustomed as we are to taking our social or ethical scale of values along with us wherever we go, we feel no surprise at hearing that the scene of the activities of the lower passions is in the unconscious; we expect, moreover, that the higher any mental function ranks in our scale of values the more easily it will find access to consciousness assured to it. Here, however, psycho-analytic experience disappoints us. On the one hand, we have evidence that even subtle and difficult intellectual operations which ordinarily require strenuous reflection can equally be carried out preconsciously and without coming into consciousness. Instances of this are quite incontestable; they may occur, for example, during the state of sleep, as is shown when someone finds, immediately after waking, that he knows the solution to a difficult mathematical or other problem with which he had been wrestling in vain the day before.
I was quite recently told an instance of this which was, in fact, brought up as an objection against my description of the ‘dream-work.’ There is another phenomenon, however, which is far stranger. In our analyses we discover that there are people in whom the faculties of self-criticism and conscience—mental activities, that is, that rank as extremely high ones—are unconscious and unconsciously produce effects of the greatest importance; the example of resistance remaining unconscious during analysis is therefore by no means unique. But this new discovery, which compels us, in spite of our better critical judgement, to speak of an ‘unconscious sense of guilt,’ bewilders us far more than the other and sets us fresh problems, especially when we gradually come to see that in a great number of neuroses an unconscious sense of guilt of this kind plays a decisive economic part and puts the most powerful obstacles in the way of recovery. If we come back once more to our scale of values, we shall have to say that not only what is lowest but also what is highest in the ego can be unconscious. It is as if we were thus supplied with a proof of what we have just asserted of the conscious ego: that it is first and foremost a body-ego.” Sigmund Freud, The Ego & the Id; 1923:
The hypothesis of this report, of course, is that this second set of goals and objectives both has received inadequate attention among chroniclers and, clearly, may have equal or greater heft in explicating why the Modern Nuclear Project has been humanity’s fate. Perhaps our survival will keep intertwining with this path: yet without a single doubt, we also must acknowledge that avoiding Homo Sapiens extinction may instead require abandoning this pathway that in any event has so obviously emerged from the class interests and moneyed predominance of the likes of these five children of millions and magnates of empire.
Frederick Soddy emerged from great wealth. His family members were grocery moguls. In a sense, the arc of Soddy’s career—from nuclear chemistry to political economy—delineates his kin’s evolution from the sale of nutrients to the banking of massive fortunes.The focus of the young chemist’s efforts revolved around the heavier elements. In this realm of nature, of little interest prior to the machinery and theories that accompanied electricity’s conjunction with magnetism induced, oddities soon began to appear. Some of this strangeness would take till the doorstep of World War Two to puzzle out, but of one thing Soddy quickly became certain: Radium was a treasure chest of energy, though we now might ponder the metaphor of Pandora’s closet.
In his monumental and seminal work, The Interpretation of Radium, Soddy attests to all of these ideas as he extolled the 91st member of the Periodic Table. One might write volumes about each of Soddy’s chapters, so informative and dense with thought and wonder were they all. He especially demonstrates the last sensibility, the awestruck apprehension of being in the presence of holy orders.
He makes this clear from the outset. For example, in the original Preface he notes the material’s “application not (being) confined to the physical sciences, but ha(ving) a wide and general bearing on our whole outlook upon nature.”
The Preface to the Third Edition, penned in 1912, confirms and expands on this assertion of revolutionary implications. In Chapter One, “The New Science,” he writes that no homey analogy can do Uranium’s potential justice, “because in these latest developments science has broken fundamentally new ground.”
He then continues as follows. “The phenomena with which I am concerned…belong to the newly born science of radioactivity and to the spontaneous disintegration of elements which the study of radioactivity has revealed to us. …see(ing) the first definite and considerable step into the ultimate nature of…atoms, which in one sense is not merely an extension of existing knowledge or principles, but a radical new departure. …concerned with the knowledge of the elementary atoms themselves of a character so fundamental and intimate that the old laws of chemistry and physics, concerned almost wholly with external relationships, do not suffice.”
And he carries such ideation through to a climactic crescendo, in Chapter Ten, as “this interpretation of Radium is drawing to a close.” First, he presents the deconstruction of the physics and chemistry of Maxwell.
“The aspects which matter has presented to us in the past is but a consummate disguise, concealing latent energies and hidden activities beneath a hitherto impenetrable mask. The ultra-material potentialities of radium are the common possession of all the world to which in our ignorance we used to refer as mere inanimate matter.”
He goes on to lionize, in tones foretelling the nuclear engineers and other atomic priests of the present. “Is it not wonderful to reflect that in this little bottle (with less than a pound of Uranium) there lies asleep and waiting to be evolved the energy of at least one hundred sixty tons of coal?…The store of energy in Uranium would be worth a thousand times as much as the Uranium itself, if only it were under our control and could be harnessed to do the world’s work in the same way as the energy in coal has been harnessed and controlled.”
Near the final pages, Soddy waxes eloquent.
“When we have learned how to transmute the elements at will the one into the other, then, and not until then, will the key to this hidden treasure house of Nature be in our hands. …(I)t has come to be recognized that in the discovery of radioactivity, or rather, of the subatomic power and processes of which radioactivity is but the outward and visible manifestation, we have penetrated one of Nature’s innermost secrets. …A race which could transmute matter would have little need to earn its bread by the sweat of its brow. …(S)uch a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling garden of Eden. …It is a legitimate aspiration to believe that one day (w)e will attain the power to regulate…the primary fountains of energy which Nature now so jealously reserves for the future.”
The language here bespeaks the realm of the sacred, at the same time that the arrogation of ‘Nature’s’ essence to paltry human hands also suggests the sacrilegious. In this vein, an observer needs to realize that all of this priestly poking about for new knowledge was impossible outside of the context of a bargained-for-exchange.
Moreover, at every level of the manifestation of the Modern Nuclear Project, a humble cash-out of the lofty ideals was on the minds of all the players, with the exception of the very rare ‘dear Max Planck’ whom Einstein extolled fifteen thousand words back. In the event, if for no other reason than that the instruments to interact with atoms were expensive, almost everybody pondered where to get money and how to monetize the work.
The equipment that Soddy lovingly describes, coated with gold and utilizing chemicals of the most arcane complexity and routinely high cost, was only conceivable under the most advanced material and economic conditions. Truly, given what people have learned about Uranium’s transit through human culture, a Faustian bargain may have been in play, from the inception, when bankers and barons and industrialists watched over the scurrying laboratory wizards attempting to tame all that is.
Furthermore, Soddy and his cohorts were aware of this everyday intersection between their Faustian searches and their repeated mention of value and scarcity and the potential for unfathomable increase . That their efforts necessitated the concerted support of the highest levels of public and private wealth follows as ineluctably as light follows facing the sun.
In another interesting turn suggestive of confirmation of the core import of these fiscal matters, Frederick Soddy himself became a devotee of political economy after he won his Nobel Prize in 1921. The Role of Money is merely one of dozens of papers and monographs that Soddy produced in this area of thought during the 1920’s and ’30’s.
The University of Toronto’s Thaddeus Trenn introduces the student to this career component in his long article, “The Central Role of Energy in Frederick Soddy’s Economics.” Soddy thus not only produced multiple volumes of what contemporary thinkers call Ecological Political Economy or Energy Political Economy, but he has reached across the decades to garner some of today’s investigators as colleagues.
Trenn quotes Soddy, who sounds like a contemporary ‘Peak Oil’ proponent. “The fact remains that, if the supply of energy failed, modern civilization would come to an end as abruptly as does the music of an organ deprived of wind. [But] … the still unrecognized ‘energy problem’ . . . awaits the future.”
The lively Brit goes on to plug Uranium as the basis for human renovation, or, should one prefer, ‘renaissance.’ “[The human control of atomic energy could] virtually provide anyone who wanted it with a private sun of his own.”
That these promises have proved nonsensical is immaterial; that the risks have come to appear monstrous matters less than nothing; Soddy’s is the vision of the entrepreneur or venture capitalist at the pinnacle of the bourgeois order. As the clock continues to tick on the imposition of a ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ on all humankind, his remains the stubborn, and purportedly farsighted, folly of finance that predominates right this second in the Modern Nuclear Project.
On the basis of soda ash—both the industrial and the home products—Ernest Solvay’s paternal line had lined the pockets of many of Belgium’s wealthiest individuals. He was one of Europe’s richest men. Moreover, he viewed the chemical techniques that had created his fortune as a beckoning to unlock still deeper mysteries of matter.The Solvay Conferences grew out of this intersection of capital and inquiry. For over a century, every couple of years or so, Ernest Solvay’s drive in this arena has continued to create physics efforts and chemical insights. The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry has impacted scholarship and practical machinations of these fields at the same time.
While one might devote many volumes just to such important individual conferences as the 1927 Institute on Protons and Electrons, where the buzz was all about the potential for additional particles—the neutron waited in the wings, as it were—today’s materials will merely whet the reader’s interest about the process that this scion of plutocracy developed as an invitation-only gathering of nuclear cognoscenti. Einstein was a ubiquitous presence, as were Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and others.
The contents of the sessions at a Solvay event were not open to the public. The luminaries there have indicated subsequently that many aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project were under discussion at these closed door sessions.
Some who are wont to view the work of the world in these circumstances as conspiratorial are wont to concoct all manner of theories about such events.
“Project Lightbulb started out as an experimentation with electrons and photons and how they can affect they way we perceive space and time. Some say Project Lightbulb was commissioned in highest secrecy during the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927. Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were Noble Prize winners including Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Marie Curie, Erwin Schrödinger, and many others.”
Whatever the possible proofs or refutations of such views, that Solvay’s great wealth—and his strategic focus on bringing nuclear physicists and chemists together to talk shop privately on a regular basis—without a single doubt did contribute to such obvious ‘conspiracies’ as the Manhattan Engineering District, the development of thermonuclear weapons, the transfer of nuclear techniques to nations such as Britain and France and Israel and more.
These are not theories. And with more time and resources, the underlying events of Solvay’s work could stand as a multi-volume treatise about the political-economic, social, and imperial aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project generally.
ROCKEFELLER FAMILY INTERESTS
If the Solvay family network in relation to nuclear issues would necessitate at least one big, fat volume, the same coverage of the clan that synthesizes oil and money and monopoly and empire would require a small library of dense monographs to cover the same ground. Wherever one looks in the nooks and crannies and foyers and common areas of The Modern Nuclear Project, individual Rockefeller’s show up; their foundations and other ‘non-profit’ arms span the globe; their employees and functionaries have a seat at every table that matters.This is true whether one is looking at Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, Glenn Seaborg, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, Ernest Lawrence, Edward Teller, or half a thousand other ‘leading lights’ in atomic research. The oil family’s interests hypothetically stemmed from the potential to use radium in cancer therapy and like possibilities. But high energy physics had other offshoots that might captivate such actors as these.
The New York Times summarized this trend in an analytical article centering on Rockefeller’s beneficence to science. Its headline stands as a precis for the wider trend: “Scientific Giving Is Now Big American Business.” As well, the oil giant’s generosity was among the leading sources of early funding for decoding the meaning and possibilities of Uranium.
Such monographs as Ben Martin’s The Political Economy of Science, Technology, and Innovation make this point more generally. Additionally, one may turn to radical critics of scientism, who insist on a holistic accounting of science and its specific techniques, to expand and further deepen this contention about the interwoven strands of money, politics, and the understanding and exploitation of nature. Philip Murowski’s Science Bought and Sold: Essays in the Economics of Science is merely one of hundreds of examples of such interpretations.
As with most of what the Spindoctor manages to produce, more time and resources might garner results both more monumental and more pointedly revealing. More will show up in future installments, in any event.
Having seen a fair swath of the pies in which Alfred Loomis had his fingers in the OVERTURE, a tiny precis of what else an investigator might plumb shows up here. Just as with all of the above moneybags with an intense interest in the Modern Nuclear Project, so too with the estimable Mr. Loomis: further research would likely pay huge dividends.The National Archives fulfills the assertion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ about this. It depicts merry hilarity among a special group of men: Meeting in the Radiation Laboratory on the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) campus to discuss the 184-inch cyclotron; left to right: Ernest O Lawrence, Arthur H Compton, Vannevar Bush, James B Conant, Karl T Compton, and Alfred Loomis, March 29, 1940.
Loomis’ heritage of cash, his vocation to study science, his proclivity to make investment coups in the electrical utilities industry, and his compulsion to be a part of the electromagnetic spectrum investigation mean that he is a man of the atom. He is a core member of the Modern Nuclear Project.
The final table of the hypothetical “World Series of Nuclear Poker” could easily include these five men. Truman’s constant use of a poker metaphor – that the Trinity Test and atomic bombs were an “ace in the hole” – in many ways is perfectly apt. Taking others’ things, controlling outcomes, ending up with all the money, are what empire and capital and the Modern Nuclear Project share in common with the game of poker.Alexander Sachs seamlessly fits in with this group. The Atomic Archive makes this point briefly. “On october 11, 1939, Alexander Sachs, Wall Street economist and longtime friend and unofficial adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met with the President to discuss a letter written by Albert Einstein the previous August. Einstein had written to inform Roosevelt that recent research on chain reactions utilizing uranium made it probably that large amounts of power could be produced by a chain reaction and that, by harnessing this power, the construction of extremely powerful bombs was conceivable. Einstein believed the German government was actively supporting research in this area and urged the United States government to do likewise. Sachs read from a cover letter he had prepared and briefed Roosevelt on the main points contained in Einstein’s letter. Initially the President was noncommittal and expressed concern over locating the necessary funds, but at a second meeting over breakfast the next morning Roosevelt became convinced of the value of exploring atomic energy.”
As a savvy investor and member of capital’s inner circle, Sachs had a longstanding interest in fission and the atomic and subatomic realms. This is typical of the upper reaches of the upper crust, then and now. Further investigation, forthcoming in the next installment of this series, will show this much more extensively and powerfully than what has appeared thus far.
If a reader recalls Einstein’s observation that somewhere between a large and an overwhelming majority of scientists have very practical reasons for choosing their careers, the accomplishments and meaning of these five characters conceivably comes crisply into focus. Plutocratic wealth was in play here. Fascination with the workings of the natural world without a single doubt represented to some measurable degree among these men an interest of at least similar intensity with the forming of commodities, the making of money, the accouterments of power and empire, and other such indicia of upper class imprimatur and social entitlement and worldly success.
The Modern Nuclear Project, as Soddy’s integration of energy and political economy make especially transparent, summed up for this group of central actors in the fields of money and war and empire a mandatory turn. Nature provided the potential for bombs that at one fell swoop might incinerate hundreds of thousands or even millions of victims. Physical law underlay the capacity to boil water with the same energies that achieved these refinements in mass murder. But the social, political, and economic selection of that particular direction flowed undeniably from the social and political and economic priorities that these titans brought to the fields of knowledge and the arenas of science.
That other options were available—and well-established and understood—is possible to demonstrate too. The rare rebel points out that this assertion is true. Just before he died, Thomas Edison spoke to a scoffing Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. ‘We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.’
Whatever else he was, Mr. Edison was no dummy. But he was also not a banker, nor did he particularly favor untrammeled control from such social sets. This hegemony, then, may account for the paths that our sort have trod down a primrose path laden with Plutonium and plunder, plutocracy and inequality.” Jim Hickey, “Financial and Social Imperatives: the Political Economy of the Nuclear Age;” The Southeast Review of Media, Culture, & Politics, 2015:
For, in the next few days and weeks, a jury will convene to decide whether he gets a death sentence or life.
As someone who lived a lifetime on Death Row, my opposition is unequivocal. Even in a case such as this, my opposition to the State taking life doesn’t falter. Even in this case, of a witless white supremacist, a killer of 9 Black Christian souls.
If I know anything, it’s Death Row. I’ve seen it drive men stark, raving mad.
That said, my one opinion carries no real weight in this case, for unless I miss my guess, no juror will ever hear these words. They will decide his fate after he delivers his own closing arguments, which will hardly endear him to his jurors.
A death verdict for Roof strengthens the repressive powers of the State, and gives it the false patina of ‘justice.’ If a death sentence fails it helps show the inherent injustice of the death penalty. It would help all the men and women on Death Row.
My decision to oppose death for Roof wasn’t an easy one; but I believe it’s the right one.
No matter his beliefs, decades on Death Row, as well as in solitary, are mind-frying experiences. Nothing he has experienced in his brief life can prepare him for such outcomes.
For life, in prison, is no picnic.” Mumia Abu-Jamal, “For Dylann Roof, Life!” 2016