- Lecture VIII: The Nineteenth Century
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742 ] Lecture VIII The Nineteenth Century: Summary and Comparison For several generations, we have been told by philosophers and half-philosophers , that if you cease to believe in Good and Evil, they do not exist. Good and Evil are concepts which have had their birth and their development , according to Westermarck and others – remember that Westermarck is a Scandinavian and therefore a Lutheran – and concepts which have or have had at best economic, genetic, or hygienic justifications.1 We have not been so often told, what is equally true, that if we do believe in Good and Evil then they do exist. One generation doubted, one disbelieved, and the present generation has forgotten, that Good and Evil can be real. Most of the literature of England, and part of the literature of France, in the nineteenth century, is based on the doubt or disbelief in Good and Evil. I name at random Alfred de Musset, Charles Dickens, Thackeray and Thomas Hardy. On the other hand a great part of French literature – and this is why in my opinion the French literature of the nineteenth century is above the English literature of the same period – requires a background of Good and Evil, even if these abstractions do not appear on the front of the stage. I name Stendhal and Balzac. Baudelaire was preoccupied with the problem. As for moral detachment – George Eliot, the author of [Amos Barton],2 could give points on detachment to Flaubert, who was in his way and in his time as much occupied with moral realities – contrasted with social realities – as was Dante himself. The rebirth of Good and Evil in the nineteenth century is often abortive and never led to a full growth. Its ancestry is mixed, but by an odd accident, Byron (I believe) had something to do with it. With Byron, if you like, everything was pose, but the existence of a pose implies the possibility of a reality to which the pose pretends. One of the constant byproducts of this revival of morality is Satanism; but even Satanism – the cultivation of Evil – in any of its curious forms, in part of Baudelaire, in Barbey d’Aurevilly, in Huysmans, in Wilde’s Pen, Pencil and Poison – is a derivative or an imitation of spiritual life.3 The present age, which is far better behaved and far less moral than the so-called “Nineties,” is also far more Victorian. [ 743 Clark Lecture viiI: the nineteenth century Byron influenced Poe, and Poe – a writer almost completely unappreciated by Anglo-Saxon readers –4† influenced Baudelaire. I do not suggest thattheinfluenceofPoeistheonlyconsiderableinfluenceuponBaudelaire, or that other influences did not lead him to his moral view of the world. Baudelaire and D’Aurevilly begat Huysmans, the author of En Route (and begetter, upon Walter Pater, of Oscar Wilde); Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier produced Mallarmé, who begat Valéry; Baudelaire, I believe, plus certain other influences produced Laforgue and Corbière, who are responsible for Jean Cocteau and Blaise Cendrars;5 and Baudelaire with other influences produced Rimbaud, who produced the contemporary surréalistes . If there were world enough and time it would be my duty to show where the metaphysical element begins, how it is manifested, and where it ends, in this genealogy; Baudelaire is much more than a metaphysical poet, Cocteau or Breton much less;6 I will merely pick out two intermediate figures : Laforgue and Corbière. The foregoing is merely intended to state the theory that the real metaphysical poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries springs from the belief in Good and Evil, and consists in a conscious and deliberate contrast and confusion of the moral and intellectual with the non-moral and unintellectual. In the post-metaphysical poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the contrast and confusion no longer exist, one of the terms has been suppressed, and you get Le Panama, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel,7 and Le Poisson soluble.8 Or you get the purely conceited, the stuffed bird of Paradise.9 Jules Laforgue was a young man who died at the age of twenty-seven in the year 1877. He was “reader” to a German Princess, and in Berlin picked up some of the language and a good deal of the philosophy, especially Kant, Schopenhauer and Hartmann, married an English girl (some of whose language he also acquired) became tuberculous and died in poverty. I believe the widow died soon after.10 I think the first note about...