21 SEPTEMBER 1912, Page 8

A N American critic says " Strindberg is the greatest sub-

jectivist of all time." Certainly neither Augustine, Rousseau, nor Tolstoi has laid bare his soul to the finest fibre with more ruthless sincerity than the great Swedish realist. He fulfilled to the letter the saying of Robertson of Brighton, " Woman and God are two rocks on which a man must either anchor or be wrecked." His four autobiographical works, "The Son of a Servant," " The Confessions of a Fool," "Inferno," and "Legends," are four segments of an immense curve, tracing his progress from the childish pietism of his early years through a period of atheism and rebellion to the sombre faith in a " God that punishes" of the sexagenarian. During his atheistic period he had to leave Sweden because of an attack on the doctrines of the Established Church. In his spiritual wanderings he grazed the edge of madness, and madmen often see deeper into things than ordinary folk. At the close of the "Inferno" he thus sums up the lesson of his life's pilgrimage. " Such then is my life : a sign, an example to serve for the improvement of others ; a proverb to show the nothingness of fame and popularity ; a proverb to show young men how they ought not to live ; a proverb, because I who thought myself a prophet, am now revealed as a braggart."

It is strange that though the names of Ibsen and Nietzsche have long been familiar in England, Strindberg, whom Ibsen is reported to have called " One greater than I," as he pointed to his portrait, and with whom Nietzsche corresponded, is only just beginning to attract attention, though for a long time past most of his works have been accessible in German. Even now not much more is known about him than that he was a pessimist, a misogynist, and writer of Zolaesque novels. To quote a Persian proverb, " they see the mountain, but not the mine within it." No man admired a good wife and mother more than he did, but ho certainly hated the Cory- bantic " emancipated " women of the present time. No man had a keener appreciation of the gentle joys of domesticity, and the intensity of his misogyny was in strict proportion to the keenness of his disappointment. The " Inferno " relates how grateful and even reverential he was to the nurse who tended him in hospital and to his mother-in-law. He felt profoundly the charm of innocent childhood, and paternal instincts were strong in him. All his life he had to struggle with four terrible inner foes—doubt, suspicion, fear, sen- suality. His doubts destroyed his early faith, his ceaseless suspicions made it impossible for him to be happy iu friend- ship or love, his fear of the " invisible powers," as he calls them, robbed him of all peace of mind, and his sensuality dragged him repeatedly into the mire. A "strange mixture of a man," indeed, whose soul was the scene of an internecine life-long warfare between diametrically opposed forces. Yet he never ceased to struggle blindly upwards, and Goethe's words were verified in him : " Wer immer strebend sich bemiiht, Den konnen wir erlosen."

He never relapsed into the stagnant cynicism of the outworn debauchee, nor did he with Nietzsche try to explain away con- science as an old wife's tale.

Conscience persistently tormented him, and finally drove him back to believe in God—not the collective Karma of the Theosophists, which he expressly repudiated, nor to any new god expounded in New Thought magazines, but to the tran- scendent God who judges and requites, though not at the end of every week. It seems almost as if there were lurking an old Hebrew vein in him, so frequently in his later works does Le express himself in the language of psalmists and prophets. "The Psalms of David express my feelings best, and Jehovah is my God," he says in the "Inferno."

At one time he seems to have been nearly entering the Roman Catholic Church, but even after he had recovered his belief, his inborn independence of spirit would not let him attach himself to any religious body. His fellow-countryman Swedenborg seems to have influenced him more deeply than anyone else, and to him he attributes his escape from madness.

His work "Inferno" may certainly serve a useful purpose in calling attention to the fact that, whatever may be the case hereafter, there are certainly hells on earth, hells into which the persistently selfish inevitably come. Because our fathers dwelt with exaggerated emphasis on inextinguishable fires and insatiable worms in some remote future, some good folk seem to suppose that there is no such thing as retribution, or that we may sow thorns and reap wheat. Strindberg knew better. He had reaped the whirlwind, and we seem to feel it sometimes blowing through his pages.

In the " Blue Books," or collections of thoughts which he wrote towards the end of his life, the storm has subsided. The sun shines and the sea is calm, though strewn with wreckage. He uses some very strong language towards his former com- rades, the free-thinkers, whom he calls "denizens of the dung- hill." One bitterness remains. He cannot forgive woman. She has injured him too deeply. All his life long she has been "a cleaving mischief in his way to virtue." He married three times, and each marriage was a failure. His first wife, a baroness separated from her husband, he accuses of having re- peatedly betrayed him. His second wife was an Austrian. In the "Inferno " he calls her " my beautiful jailoress who kept incessant watch over my secret thoughts." His third was an actress from whom he parted by mutual consent. All his attempts to set up a home had failed, and he found himself finally relegated to solitude. One of his later works bears the title "Lonely." His solitude was relieved by visits from his children, and he was especially fond of his youngest daughter, giving her free use of his library. On May 14th, 1912, he died in Stockholm, after a lingering illness, of cancer, an added touch of tragedy being the fact that his first wife died, not far away, shortly before him.

He was an enormous reader, and seems to have possessed a knowledge almost as encyclopaedic as Browning's. While Assistant Librarian in the Royal Library at Stockholm, he .studied Chinese and wrote a work on the relations between Sweden and China ; he was a skilled chemist and botanist,

and wrote treatises on both these sciences. He was a mystic, but had a certain dislike of occultism and theosophy. A German critic, compariug him with Ibsen, says that, whereas Ibsen is a spent force, Strindberg's writings contain germs which are still undeveloped. He is a lurid and menacing planet in the literary sky, and some time must elapse before his true position is fixed. To the present writer his career seems best summed up in the words of Mrs. Browning:

"He testified this solemn truth, by frenzy desolated, Nor man nor nature satisfies whom only God created ;"

or in those of Augustine : "Fecisti nos ad Te, Dwaine, et irrequietum eat cor nostrum doneo requiescat in To."

C. F.