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THE PENITENCE OF RAJAH YAYATI.
THE poet whom an able critic has declared to be, after Goethe,
pre-eminently the modern poet, first and chief amongst singers to apply the modern spirit to literature, Heinrich Heine, has been pleased in one of his wayward moods to describe himself as • Prince of the Ganges. He is seated upon a tavern bench, and in his hand is a glass of red Rhine wine, when freely flow his tears, for he beholds once again his dear and cherished native land—the sacred Ganges with her blue waters, the eternal Himalayas, the gigantic forests of palms and banyans, beneath which pass slowly troops of sage elephants and white-robed pilgrims. Flowers, strange as creations of a dream, gaze upon him with quiet pity; marvellous birds of golden plumage shrilly utter screams of joy; around him, in the Eastern sunshine, leap and chatter the nimble apes; and from the distant pagodas comes to him the droning chant of the pious Brahmans. ... But the vision fades; here he is outside a tavern at Venice, and his tears are dropping into his glass of Rhenish wine. “Madam, I have deceived you,' he hastens to explain (he is relating this fable in the ears of the charming lady whose eyes remind him of violets) :
I am not the Prince of the Ganges. Never have I dreamed dreams beneath the palms of India, never have I beheld the sacred river, nor the lotus flowers reflected in the purifying waters; never fallen in prayer before the god Juggernat, whose diamonds are so deserving of reverence. But my origin is from Hindostan, and this is why I feel myself perfectly at home in the immense melodious forests of Valmiki.... I also consider myself entitled to believe that the whole Maha-Bharata, with its two hundred thousand verses, was but a love song, an amorous allegory addressed, some few thousand or more years since, by my remote ancestor to my fascinating remote ancestress.
The last observation is somewhat unfortunate, since we are afraid we must conclude from it that Heine had never read the MalaBharata. Only a very insignificant proportion of these two hundred thousand verses have love for their theme. And it is plainty impossible to suppose that the writer of the most perfect love songs in the world could have, intentionally, accused an ancestor of his own, though never so remote, of attempting to win his lady's heart by tales of fierce battle and long metaphysical discourses. But although Heine may have taken few rambles therein, that he should have felt himself perfectly at home in the immense melodious forest of old Indian poetry is quite what one would have expected. Immeasurable indeed, at first sight, would seem the distance between this wild luxuriant jungle and the cultured rose garden of modern romance: there, the atmosphere of miracles still undisturbed; bere, the very starlight infiltrate with realism ; there, a thousand years but as yesterday, not able to steal from a maiden the bloom of youth, or to quench the penitential ardour of an ascetic worthy of the name; here, life indeed swifter than a weaver's shuttle, the rising and setting of each day's sun before one ; there, man still bound up in the universal brotherhood, nature's latest-born son and spokesman celebrating the story of her life in hymns of joy and lamentation, singing the dirge of the dying sun, lending words to the storm's wailings, and a voice to the dumb earth, lying parched in seasons of drought; here, man supreme, and nature used scornfully to illustrate his moods; the very roses blooming to crown his pleasures, and the songs of nightingales burthened with the pain and passion of human love. And yet beneath these miraculous palms, and sacred peepuls, and love-consecrate acacias, the modern poet, i.e. the poet possessed by modern ideas, would meet a familiar spirit, in fantastic and picturesque disguise no doubt, and, in the dreamy East, childlike and naïve still, whereas in the cold clear West she has become selfconscious and cynical; but at heart the same, profoundly free, profoundly fearless; familiar and even playful with her gods, with man, divided between compassion and reverence; for the rest untroubled by any supernatural terrors; but always troubled with, or at any rate always mindful of, the world-sorrow, age waiting upon youth, fatigue following after pleasure, love ending in loss, and life vanishing in death.
Heinrich Heine, of course, in the expression we have quoted, was merely recording in his own whimsical way the impression made on him by an idea which had not, at that time, become too hackneyed to influence the imagination. The common origin of the Aryan
. races now ranks amongst those respectable and well-established doctrines which neither provoke dispute nor impart inspiration. In becoming respectable, we may safely conclude the creed of the philologists would have lost all attraction for such a consistent revolutionist as Heine; and we can easily imagine that if, for instance in our own case, too much were said of our place in the IndoEuropean family, we should have him reminding us that the three rulers we have chosen to rule over us, viz. our religion, our banker, and our prime minister, are of Semitic and not Aryan extraction; whilst the present fashion by which our young maidens dress their hair in pigtails suggests a reminiscence probably Turanian. Heine himself, as we know, had claims to Semitic as well as Aryan origin ; but we wholly fail to follow Mr. Arnold when he discovers in the Voltaire of Germany the spirit of Judæa, the intensity and the longings which cannot be uttered, which belong to the Hebrew character. Heine's spiritual inheritance was that of his own century, and cannot properly be connected with his nationality, whether Teutonic or Hebraic. But this nineteenth century, of which he was 80 true a son, has its own 'intensity,' its own unutterable longings; and inasmuch as Heine with all his genius and brilliancy failed to enter No. 612 (. CXXXII. X. s.)
into this earnest and living side of modern idealism, he failed, also, as Mr. Arnold rightly admits elsewhere, to be an adequate interpreter of the modern world. And it is precisely in the religious and emotional phase of modern thought-the new ideas as distinguished either from the old, drawn from Semitic sources, or from scepticism and active antagonism directed against historical faith-that we find this impressive spiritual resemblance to the ideal tone and standard of old Indian poetry. It must not be supposed that we are attempting to prove any Aryan inheritance of religious and poetical sentiment, flowing down to us from the vital sources where our forefathers drank. Standing where we now do, the great streams of human thought, and poetry, and speculation are broken up into rivers no longer, but form one mighty sea. We refuse to limit our claims in this great ocean, or to trace out any special current-the whole is our inheritance. And of the treasures these waters wash up to our feet, we take what gifts we will-preserving some as curious relics merely, and others as beautiful tokens of worlds swept out of life; but receiving others, again, as messages miraculously addressed to ourselves-heart messages of which our own hearts hold the key, borne across these trackless waters from the unseen shores that lie beyond the furthermost horizon; proving that the men who once dwelt there were not only of like passions with ourselves, but of like spirit also.
'We children of this latter day,' says an eminent scholar and eloquent writer, the late Emanuel Deutsch, 'look upon all literature, religious, legal, and otherwise, whensoever and wheresoever produced, as part and parcel of humanity. We, in a manner, feel a kind of responsibility for it. We seek to understand the phase of culture which begot these items of our inheritance-the spirit that moves upon their face.' No one more forcibly than Mr. Deutsch, need we add, no one with more enthusiasm and reverence, has shown us the 'spirit moving on the face' of Semitic religious faith, as we have it under its three great phases of Judaism, Mahommedanism, and Christianity. Monotheism in its severe purity, compunction, the loathing consciousness of sin (sin, not as any special infraction of the moral law, but as a pervading taint upon man and nature, the inherent inevitable guilt, against which David cries out in his grief,
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me!'), and, as a natural consequence of this sense of guilt, yearnings for spiritual deliverance, for assurance of God's pardon, and His aid to escape the wrath to come-here we have the essential principles of all the Semitic religions. In his fine Essay upon Islam Mr. Deutsch draws the grand contrast between the voice of Mahomet and that of the Arabian poets, who, before his time, had sung' of valour and generosity; of love, and strife, and revenge; of their noble tribe and ancestors; of beautiful women; or of early graves upon which weeps the morning's cloud; and the fleeting nature of life, which comes and goes as the waves of the desert sand; as the tents of
a caravan; as a flower that shoots up and dies, while the white stars will rise and set everlastingly, and the mountains will rear their heads heavenward, and never grow old.'
* Mohammed,' continues Mr. Deutsch, sang none of these. No loveminstrelsy, his; pot the joys of this world, nor sword, nor camel, nor jealousy, nor human vengeance, nor the glories of tribe or ancestor, nor the unmeaning swiftly and for ever extinguished existence of man, were his themes. He preached Islam. And he preached it by rending the skies above, and tearing open the ground below; by adjuring heaven and hell, the living and the dead. The Arabs have ever been proficient in the art of swearing; but such swearing had never been heard in or out of Arabia. By the foaming waters and by the grim darkness, by the flaming sun and the setting stars, by Mount Sinai and by Him who spanned the firmament, by the human soul and the small voice, by the Kaaba and by the Book, by the moon and the dawn and the angels, by the ten nights of dread mystery, and by the day of judgment. That day of judgment, at the approach whereof the earth shaketh, and the mountains are scattered into dust, and the seas blaze up in fire, and the children's hair grows white with anguish ; and like locust swarms the souls arise out of their graves, and Allah cries to Hell, “ Art thou filled full ? ” and Hell cries to Allah, “ More, more, give me more,
. . while Paradise opens its blissful gates to the righteous, and glory ineffable awaits them, both men and women.'
Here we have the spirit, not of Islam only, grand, terrible, soul-appalling-in truth an angel with a 'flaming sword, turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life.
In the less sombre but more dreamy Aryan world, no "flaming sword' keeps the way of the Tree of Life: the path stands open. But here also man has risen above primitive innocence and content. Of the fruit of both trees has he tasted, until, in truth, his eyes are opened and he knows, not only good and evil, but the secret of life and death. He is not driven forth from Eden, nor is the ground accursed for his sake; but the awakened spirit within him sees the fair garden to be but a picture of the senses, which, gazed at fixedly, melts into nothingness; whilst, as at the first, the earth is without form and void, and darkness upon the face of the deep. And his own existence he sees to be a dream, an illusion; and concerning his bodily existence he is warned, not wrathfully by an offended God, but compassionately by the indwelling soul—Dust thou art, and to dust must return.'
Life in this view, or the picture painted of it by consciousness, is only a vision. And hence an atmosphere of melancholy and of yearning, tenderness and pity, is spread over this solid-seeming world, with its swelling seas and mighty mountains, and vast forests teeming with innumerable animals, and rich cities crowded with men and women -all a dream! But it must be borne in mind that the dreamer is the soul ; and this divine reality asserts itself in the very recognition of the fleeting visionary nature of all appearances. So then there is no bitterness, no despair ; nor is the vision troubled by haunting phantoms or ignoble terrors. Nature may be but a fair apparition,
evoked by the soul; but there is no plague spot on her bosom. Human life may be but a bubble floating on the ocean of existence, but it is not overshadowed by menaces nor distracted by remorse. Here is no sense of native impurity, no wrestling of the spirit with the flesh; here are no temptations of the devil, no hideous forebodings of the wrath to come-the burning pit where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched-no appalling visions of the Pale Horse and the dreadful rider Death, and of Hell following him.
For better, or for worse, as we may take it, the angel with the flaming sword is fading out of our modern skies. But the still blue heavens of the Aryan world never knew the dark shadow of the spreading wings. Here, for symbols, were only the shifting clouds, appearing out of the air, and melting into the element from which they were born; and above the clouds, the stars, bright as with tears, for sympathy with the little destiny of man.'
To the Eastern sage, then, as to the modern idealist, the call (for here, too, there is a call-a moment of awakening from dull contentment and from selfish aims) declares itself, not by a sudden conviction of sin, and that holy fear' which the Psalmist declares to be the beginning of wisdom, but by a recognition of the fleeting nature of the individual life as such, and a longing to break through the prison walls of self into the larger universe, where death has no dominion; where a generation swept away, a nation scattered, a planet dissipated in space, are as the fallen leaves of one vanished summer, and where the one eternal fact is Life-Life, not indeed 'the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,' but in constant change, in unresting movement, outward, upward, onward. So far, then, we may trace the dreamy mysticism of India and the cosmic emotion' of the modern world flowing in parallel streams. Humanitarianism, the enthusiasm of humanity,' and the 'pathetic fallacy,' which carries this ' enthusiasm through the domain of Nature down to her very plants and stones, have their counterpart in the infinite compassion and infinite reverence of the gentle Brahman; infinite compassion, which touches the most powerful and successful rajah as it does the meanest insect for are not both dying? infinite reverence, which reaches the insect as it does the rajah-for do not both share in the quenchless life of Brahm? But, now, when we come to the effects of these kindred inspirations upon the conduct and thoughts of men, we must expect to find all the difference which distinguishes life, and the value of life, under an Eastern and a Western sky. George Eliot, in her noble poem of Jubal,' has, consciously or unconsciously, given us a modern parable in place of an ancient legend. Here death (the sudden recognition of death) proves
the tear-watered seed
Of various life, and action-shaping need.
Man, ceasing to believe himself immortal, is kindled to new eagerness, to new intensity: more beautiful to him, because of the death