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- My Life, Volume I - 93/107 -

where he preached communism, and thence wandered over France and Germany back to the borderland of the Slav world, from which quarter he looked for the regeneration of humanity, because the Slavs had been less enervated by civilisation. His hopes in this respect were centred in the more strongly pronounced Slav type characteristic of the Russian peasant class. In the natural detestation of the Russian serf for his cruel oppressor the nobleman, he believed he could trace a substratum of simple- minded brotherly love, and that instinct which leads animals to hate the men who hunt them. In support of this idea he cited the childish, almost demoniac delight of the Russian people in fire, a quality on which Rostopschin calculated in his strategic burning of Moscow. He argued that all that was necessary to set in motion a world-wide movement was to convince the Russian peasant, in whom the natural goodness of oppressed human nature had preserved its most childlike characteristics, that it was perfectly right and well pleasing to God for them to burn their lords' castles, with everything in and about them. The least that could result from such a movement would be the destruction of all those things which, rightly considered, must appear, even to Europe's most philosophical thinkers, the real source of all the misery of the modern world. To set these destructive forces in action appeared to him the only object worthy of a sensible man's activity. (Even while he was preaching these horrible doctrines, Bakunin, noticing that my eyes troubled me, shielded them with his outstretched hand from the naked light for a full hour, in spite of my protestations.) This annihilation of all civilisation was the goal upon which his heart was set. Meanwhile it amused him to utilise every lever of political agitation he could lay hands on for the advancement of this aim, and in so doing he often found cause for ironical merriment. In his retreat he received people belonging to every shade of revolutionary thought. Nearest to him stood those of Slav nationality, because these, he thought, would be the most convenient and effective weapons he could use in the uprooting of Russian despotism. In spite of their republic and their socialism a la Proudhon, he thought nothing of the French, and as for the Germans, he never mentioned them to me. Democracy, republicanism, and anything else of the kind he regarded as unworthy of serious consideration.

Every objection raised by those who had the slightest wish to reconstruct what had been demolished, he met with overwhelming criticism. I well remember on one occasion that a Pole, startled by his theories, maintained that there must be an organised state to guarantee the individual in the possession of the fields he had cultivated. 'What!' he answered; 'would you carefully fence in your field to provide a livelihood for the police again!' This shut the mouth of the terrified Pole. He comforted himself by saying that the creators of the new order of things would arise of themselves, but that our sole business in the meantime was to find the power to destroy. Was any one of us so mad as to fancy that he would survive the desired destruction? We ought to imagine the whole of Europe with St. Petersburg, Paris, and London transformed into a vast rubbish-heap. How could we expect the kindlers of such a fire to retain any consciousness after so vast a devastation? He used to puzzle any who professed their readiness for self-sacrifice by telling them it was not the so- called tyrants who were so obnoxious, but the smug Philistines. As a type of these he pointed to a Protestant parson, and declared that he would not believe he had really reached the full stature of a man until he saw him commit his own parsonage, with his wife and child, to the flames.

I was all the more perplexed for a while, in the face of such dreadful ideas, by the fact that Bakunin in other respects proved a really amiable arid tender-hearted man. He was fully alive to my own anxiety and despair with regard to the risk I ran of forever destroying my ideals and hopes for the future of art. It is true, he declined to receive any further instruction concerning these artistic schemes, and would not even look at my work on the Nibelungen saga. I had just then been inspired by a study of the Gospels to conceive the plan of a tragedy for the ideal stage of the future, entitled Jesus of Nazareth. Bakunin begged me to spare him any details; and when I sought to win him over to my project by a few verbal hints, he wished me luck, but insisted that I must at all costs make Jesus appear as a weak character. As for the music of the piece, he advised me, amid all the variations, to use only one set of phrases, namely: for the tenor, 'Off with His head!'; for the soprano, 'Hang Him!'; and for the basso continue, 'Fire! fire!' And yet I felt more sympathetically drawn towards this prodigy of a man when I one day induced him to hear me play and sing the first scenes of my Fliegender Hollander. After listening with more attention than most people gave, he exclaimed, during a momentary pause, 'That is stupendously fine!' and wanted to hear more.

As his life of permanent concealment was very dull, I occasionally invited him to spend an evening with me. For supper my wife set before him finely cut slices of sausage and meat, which he at once devoured wholesale, instead of spreading them frugally on his bread in Saxon fashion. Noticing Minna's alarm at this, I was guilty of the weakness of telling him how we were accustomed to consume such viands, whereupon he reassured me with a laugh, saying that it was quite enough, only he would like to eat what was set before him in his own way. I was similarly astonished at the manner in which he drank wine from our ordinary-sized small glasses. As a matter of fact he detested wine, which only satisfied his craving for alcoholic stimulants in such paltry, prolonged, and subdivided doses; whereas a stiff glass of brandy, swallowed at a gulp, at once produced the same result, which, after all, was only temporarily attained. Above all, he scorned the sentiment which seeks to prolong enjoyment by moderation, arguing that a true man should only strive to still the cravings of nature, and that the only real pleasure in life worthy of a man was love.

These and other similar little characteristics showed clearly that in this remarkable man the purest impulses of an ideal humanity conflicted strangely with a savagery entirely inimical to all civilisation, so that my feelings during my intercourse with him fluctuated between involuntary horror and irresistible attraction. I frequently called for him to share my lonely wanderings. This he gladly did, not only for the sake of necessary bodily exercise, but also because he could do so in this part of the world without fear of meeting his pursuers. My attempts during our conversations to instruct him more fully regarding my artistic aims remained quite unavailing as long as we were unable to quit the field of mere discussion. All these things seemed to him premature. He refused to admit that out of the very needs of the evil present all laws for the future would have to be evolved, and that these, moreover, must be moulded upon quite different ideas of social culture. Seeing that he continued to urge destruction, and again destruction, I had at last to inquire how my wonderful friend proposed to set this work of destruction in operation. It then soon became clear, as I had suspected it would, and as the event soon proved, that with this man of boundless activity everything rested upon the most impossible hypotheses. Doubtless I, with my hopes of a future artistic remodelling of human society, appeared to him to be floating in the barren air; yet it soon became obvious to me that his assumptions as to the unavoidable demolition of all the institutions of culture were at least equally visionary. My first idea was that Bakunin was the centre of an international conspiracy; but his practical plans seem originally to have been restricted to a project for revolutionising Prague, where he relied merely on a union formed among a handful of students. Believing that the time had now come to strike a blow, he prepared himself one evening to go there. This proceeding was not free from danger, and he set off under the protection of a passport made out for an English merchant. First of all, however, with the view of adapting himself to the most Philistine culture, he had to submit his huge beard and bushy hair to the tender mercies of the razor and shears. As no barber was available, Rockel had to undertake the task. A small group of friends watched the operation, which had to be executed with a dull razor, causing no little pain, under which none but the victim himself remained passive. We bade farewell to Bakunin with the firm conviction that we should never see him again alive. But in a week he was back once more, as he had realised immediately what a distorted account he had received as to the state of things in Prague, where all he found ready for him was a mere handful of childish students. These admissions made him the butt of Rockel's good-humoured chaff, and after this he won the reputation among us of being a mere revolutionary, who was content with theoretical conspiracy. Very similar to his expectations from the Prague students were his presumptions with regard to the Russian people. These also afterwards proved to be entirely groundless, and based merely on gratuitous assumptions drawn from the supposed nature of things. I consequently found myself driven to explain the universal belief in the terrible dangerousness of this man by his theoretical views, as expressed here and elsewhere, and not as arising from any actual experience of his practical activity. But I was soon to become almost an eye- witness of the fact that his personal conduct was never for a moment swayed by prudence, such as one is accustomed to meet in those whose theories are not seriously meant. This was shortly to be proved in the momentous insurrection of May, 1849.

The winter of this year, up to the spring of 1849, passed in a many-sided development of my position and temper, as I have described them, that is to say, in a sort of dull agitation. My latest artistic occupation had been the five-act drama, Jesus of Nazareth, just mentioned. Henceforth I lingered on in a state of brooding instability, full of expectation, yet without any definite wish. I felt fully convinced that my activity in Dresden, as an artist, had come to an end, and I was only waiting for the pressure of circumstances to shake myself free. On the other hand, the whole political situation, both in Saxony and the rest of Germany, tended inevitably towards a catastrophe. Day by day this drew nearer, and I flattered myself into regarding my own personal fate as interwoven with this universal unrest. Now that the powers of reaction were everywhere more and more openly bracing themselves for conflict, the final decisive struggle seemed indeed close at hand. My feelings of partisanship were not sufficiently passionate to make me desire to take any active share in these conflicts. I was merely conscious of an impulse to give myself up recklessly to the stream of events, no matter whither it might lead.

Just at this moment, however, an entirely new influence forced itself in a most strange fashion into my fortunes, and was at first greeted by me with a smile of scepticism. Liszt wrote announcing an early production in Weimar of my Tannhauser under his own conductorship--the first that had taken place outside Dresden--and he added with great modesty that this was merely a fulfilment of his own personal desire. In order to ensure success he had sent a special invitation to Tichatschek to be his guest for the two first performances. When the latter returned he said that the production had, on the whole, been a success, which surprised me very much. I received a gold snuff-box from the

My Life, Volume I - 93/107

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