EMPEROR AND GALILEAN.
In a speech delivered at Copenhagen in 1898, Ibsen said: “It is now thirty-four years since I journeyed southward by way of Germany and Austria, and passed through the Alps on May 9. Over the mountains the clouds hung like a great dark curtain. We plunged in under it, steamed through the tunnel, and suddenly found ourselves at Miramare, where the beauty of the South, a strange luminosity, shining like white marble, suddenly revealed itself to me, and left its mark on my whole subsequent production, even though it may not all have taken the form of beauty.” Whatever else may have had its origin in this memorable moment of revelation, Emperor and Galilean certainly sprang from it. The poet felt an irresistible impulse to let his imagination loose in the Mediterranean world of sunshine and marble that had suddenly burst upon him. Antiquity sprang to life before his mental vision, and he felt that he must capture and perpetuate the shining pageant in the medium of his art. We see throughout the play how constantly the element of external picturesqueness was present to his mind. Though it has only once or twice found its way to the stage,1 it is nevertheless—for good and for ill—a great piece of scene-painting.
It did not take him long to decide upon the central figure for his picture. What moved him, as it must move every one who brings to Rome the smallest scintilla of imagination, was the spectacle of a superb civilisation, a polity of giant strength and radiant beauty, obliterated, save for a few pathetic fragments, and overlaid by forms of life in many ways so retrograde and inferior. The Rome of the sixties, even more than the Rome of to-day, was a standing monument to the triumph of mediævalism over antiquity. The poet who would give dramatic utterance to the emotions engendered by this spectacle must almost inevitably pitch upon the decisive moment in the transition—and Ibsen found that moment in the reaction of Julian. He attributed to it more “world-historic” import than the sober historian is disposed to allow it. Gaetano Negri2 shows very clearly (what, indeed, is plain enough in Gibbon) that Julian’s action had not the critical importance which Ibsen assigns to it. His brief reign produced, as nearly as possible, no effect at all upon the evolution of Christianity. None the less is it true that Julian made a spiritual struggle of what had been, to his predecessors, a mere question of politics, one might almost say of police. Never until his day did the opposing forces confront each other in full consciousness of what was at stake; and never after his day had they even the semblance of equality requisite to give the struggle dramatic interest. As a dramatist, then—whatever the historian may say—Ibsen chose his protagonist with unerring instinct. Julian was the last, and not the least, of the heroes of antiquity.
Ibsen had been in Rome only two or three months when he wrote to Björnson (September 16, 1864): “I am busied with a long poem, and have in preparation a tragedy, Julianus Apostata, a piece of work which I set about with intense gusto, and in which I believe I shall succeed. I hope to have both finished next spring, or, at any rate, in the course of the summer.” As regards Julianus Apostata, this hope was very far astray, for nine years elapsed before the play was finished.3 Not till May 4, 1866, is the project again mentioned, when Ibsen writes to his friend, Michael Birkeland, that, though the Danish poet, Hauch, has in the meantime produced a play on the same theme, he does not intend to abandon it. On May 21, 1866, he writes to his publisher, Hegel, that, now that Brand is out of hand, he is still undecided what subject to tackle next. “I feel more and more disposed,” he says, “to set to work in earnest at Kejser Julian, which I have had in mind for two years.” He feels sure that Hauch’s conception of the subject must be entirely different from his; and he does not intend to read Hauch’s play. On July 22, 1866, he writes from Frascati to Paul Botten-Hansen that he is “wrestling with a subject and knows that he will soon get the upper hand of the brute.” His German editors take this to refer to Emperor and Galilean, and they are probably right; but it is not quite certain. The work he actually produced was Peer Gynt; and we know that he had a third subject in mind at the time. We hear no more of Julian until October 28, 1870, when, in his autobiographic letter to Peter Hansen, he writes from Dresden: “… Here I live in a tediously well-ordered community. What will become of me when at last I actually reach home! I must seek salvation in remoteness of subject, and think of attacking Kejser Julian.”
This was, in fact, to be his next work; but two years and a half were still to pass before he finally “got the upper hand of the brute.” On January 18, 1871, he writes to Hegel: “Your supposition that Julian is so far advanced that it may go to the printers next month arises from a misunderstanding. The first part is finished; I am working at the second part; but the third part is not even begun. This third part will, however, go comparatively quickly, and I confidently hope to place the whole in your hands by the month of June.” This is the first mention we have of the division into three parts, which he ultimately abandoned. If Hegel looked for the manuscript in June, he looked in vain. On July 12 Ibsen wrote to him: “Now for the reason of my long silence: I am hard at work on Kejser Julian. This book will be my chief work, and it is engrossing all my thoughts and all my time. That positive view of the world which the critics have so long been demanding of me, they will find here.” Then he asks Hegel to procure for him three articles on Julian by Pastor Listov, which had appeared in the Danish paper, Fædrelandet, and inquires whether there is in Danish any other statement of the facts of Julian’s career. “I have Neander’s German works on the subject; also D. Strauss’s; but the latter’s book contains nothing but argumentative figments,4 and that sort of thing I can do myself. It is facts that I require.” His demand for more facts, even at this stage of the proceedings, shows that his work must still have been in a pretty fluid state.
Two months later (September 24, 1871) Ibsen wrote to Brandes, who had apparently been urging him to “hang out a banner” or nail his colours to the mast: “While I have been busied upon Julian, I have become, in a way, a fatalist; and yet this play will be a sort of a banner. Do not be afraid, however, of any tendency-nonsense: I look at the characters, at the conflicting designs, at history, and do not concern myself with the ‘moral’ of it all. Of course, you will not confound the moral of history with its philosophy; for that must inevitably shine forth as the final verdict on the conflicting and conquering forces.” On December 27 (still from Dresden) he writes to Hegel: “My new work goes steadily forward. The first part, Julian and the Philosophers, in three acts, is already copied out…. I am busily at work upon the second part, which will go quicker and be considerably shorter; the third part, on the other hand, will be somewhat longer.” To the same correspondent, on April 24, 1872, he reports the second part almost finished. “The third and last part,” he says, “will be mere child’s play. The spring has now come, and the warm season is my best time for working.” To Brandes, on May 31, he writes, “I go on wrestling with Julian”; and on July 23 (from Berchtesgaden) “That monster Julian has still such a grip of me that I cannot shake him off.” On August 8 he announces to Hegel that he has “completed the second part of the trilogy. The first part, Julian and the Philosophers, a play in three acts, will make about a hundred printed pages. The second part, Julian’s Apostasy, a play in three acts, of which I am now making a fair copy, will be of about equal length. The third play, Julian on the Imperial Throne, will run to five acts, and my preparations for it are so far advanced that I shall get it out of hand very much quicker than the others. What I have done forms a whole in itself, and could quite well be published separately; but for the sake of the complete impression I think it most advisable that all three plays should appear together.”
Two months later (October 14) the poet is back in Dresden, and writes as follows to a new and much-valued friend, Mr Edmund Gosse: “I am working daily at Julianus Apostata, and … hope that it may meet with your approval. I am putting into this book a part of my own spiritual life; what I depict, I have, under other forms, myself gone through, and the historic theme I have chosen has also a much closer relation to the movements of our own time than one might at first suppose. I believe such a relation to be indispensable to every modern treatment of so remote a subject, if it is, as a poem, to arouse interest.” In a somewhat later letter to Mr. Gosse he says: “I have kept strictly to history…. And yet I have put much self-anatomy into this book.”
In February 1873 the play was finished. On the 4th of that month Ibsen writes to his old friend Ludvig Daae that he is on the point of beginning his fair copy of what he can confidently say will be his “Hauptwerk,” and wants some guidance as to the proper way of spelling Greek names. Oddly enough, he is still in search of facts, and asks for information as to the Vita Maximi of Eunapius, which has not been accessible to him. Two days later (February 6) he writes to Hegel: “I have the great pleasure of being able to inform you that my long work is finished—and more to my satisfaction than any of my earlier works. The book is entitled Emperor and Galilean, a World-Drama in Two Parts. It contains: Part First, Caesar’s Apostasy; play in five acts (170 pp.); Part Second, The Emperor Julian, play in five acts (252 pp.)…. Owing to the growth of the idea during the process of composition, I shall have to make another fair copy of the first play. But it will not become longer in the process; on the contrary, I hope to reduce it by about twenty pages…. This play has been to me a labour of Hercules—not the actual composition: that has been easy—but the effort it has cost me to live myself into a fresh and visual realisation of so remote and so unfamiliar an age.” On February 23, he writes to Ludvig Daae, discussing further the orthography of the Greek names, and adding: “My play deals with a struggle between two irreconcileable powers in the life of the world—a struggle which will always repeat itself. Because of this universality, I call the book ‘a world-historic drama.’ For the rest, there is in the character of Julian, as in most that I have written during my riper years, more of my own spiritual experience than I care to acknowledge to the public. But it is at the same time an entirely realistic piece of work. The figures stood solidly before my eyes in the light of their time—and I hope they will so stand before the readers’ eyes.”
The book was not published until the autumn (October 16, 1873). On September 8, Ibsen wrote to Brandes that he was daily expecting its appearance. “I hear from Norway,” he went on, “that Björnson, though he cannot know anything about the book, has declared it to be ‘Atheism,’ adding that it was inevitable it should come to that with me. What the book is or is not I won’t attempt to decide; I only know that I have energetically seen a fragment of the history of humanity, and what I saw I have tried to reproduce.” On the very day of the book’s appearance, he again writes to Brandes from Dresden: “The direction public affairs have taken in these parts gives this poem an actuality I myself had not foreseen.”
A second edition of Emperor and Galilean appeared in December 1873. In the following January Ibsen writes to Mr. Gosse, who had expressed some regret at his abandonment of verse: “The illusion I wished to produce was that of reality. I wished to leave on the reader’s mind the impression that what he had read had actually happened. By employing verse I should have counteracted my own intention…. The many everyday, insignificant characters, whom I have intentionally introduced, would have become indistinct and mixed up with each other had I made them all speak in rhythmic measure. We no longer live in the days of Shakespeare…. The style ought to conform to the degree of ideality imparted to the whole presentment. My play is no tragedy in the ancient acceptation. My desire was to depict human beings and therefore I would not make them speak the language of the gods.” A year later (January 30, 1875) he thus answers a criticism by George Brandes: “I cannot but find an inconsistency between your disapproval of the doctrine of necessity contained in my book, and your approval of something very similar in Paul Heyse’s Kinder der Welt. For in my opinion it comes to much the same thing whether, in writing of a person’s character, I say ‘It runs in his blood’ or ‘He is free—under necessity.’”
An expression in the same letter throws light on the idea which may be called the keystone of the arch of thought erected in this play. “Only entire nations,” Ibsen writes, “can join in great intellectual movements. A change of front in our conception of life and of the world is no parochial matter; and we Scandinavians, as compared with other European nations, have not yet got beyond the parish-council standpoint. But nowhere do you find a parish-council anticipating and furthering ‘the third empire.’” To the like effect runs a passage in a speech delivered at Stockholm, September 24, 1887: “I have sometimes been called a pessimist: and indeed I am one, inasmuch as I do not believe in the eternity of human ideals. But I am also an optimist, inasmuch as I fully and confidently believe in the ideals’ power of propagation and of development. Especially and definitely do I believe that the ideals of our time, as they pass away, are tending towards that which, in my drama of Emperor and Galilean, I have designated as ‘the third empire.’ Let me therefore drain my glass to the growing, the coming time.”
The latest (so far as I know) of Ibsen’s references to this play is perhaps the most significant of all. It occurs in a letter to the Danish-German scholar Julius Hoffory, written from Munich, February 26, 1888: “Emperor and Galilean is not the first work I wrote in Germany, but doubtless the first that I wrote under the influence of German spiritual life. When, in the autumn of 1868, I came from Italy to Dresden, I brought with me the plan of The League of Youth, and wrote that play in the following winter. During my four years’ stay in Rome, I had merely made various historical studies, and taken sundry notes, for Emperor and Galilean; I had not sketched out any definite plan, much less written any of it. My view of life was still, at that time, National-Scandinavian, wherefore I could not master the foreign material. Then, in Germany, I lived through the great time, the year of the war, and the development which followed it. This brought with it for me, at many points, an impulse of transformation. My conception of world-history and of human life had hitherto been a national one. It now widened into a racial conception; and then I could write Emperor and Galilean.”
I have now brought together those utterances of Ibsen’s which relate the external history of the great double-drama, and give us some insight into the spiritual influences which inspired and shaped it. We have seen that, at the time of its completion, he confidently regarded it as his masterpiece. It is the habit of many artists always to think their last work their best; but there is nothing to show that this was one of Ibsen’s foibles. Moreover, even towards the end of his life, when the poet was asked by Professor Schofield, of Harvard, what work he considered his greatest, he replied, Emperor and Galilean. If this was his deliberate and lasting opinion, we have here another curious instance of the tendency, so frequent among authors, to capricious over-valuation of one or another of their less successful efforts. Certainly we should be very sorry to miss this splendid fresco of the decadent Empire from the list of Ibsen’s works; but neither technically nor intellectually—unless I am very much mistaken—can it rank among his masterpieces.
Of all historical plays it is perhaps the most strictly historical. Apart from some unimportant chronological rearrangements, the main lines of Julian’s career are reproduced with extraordinary fidelity. The individual occurrences of the first play are for the most part invented, and the dialogue freely composed; but the second play is a mere mosaic of historical or legendary incidents, while a large part of the dialogue is taken, almost word for word, either from Julian’s own writings, or from other historical or quasi-historical documents. I will try to distinguish briefly between the elements of history and fiction in the first play: in the second there is practically no fiction save the fictions of Gregory and the ecclesiastical historians.
The details of the first act have no historical foundation. Gallus was not appointed Caesar on any such occasion as Ibsen describes; and there seems to be no hint of any intrigue between him and Helena. The character of Agathon is fictitious, though all that is related of Julian’s life in Cappadocia is historical. The meeting with Libanius is an invention; and it was to Nicomedia, not to Pergamus, that Julian was sent shortly after the elevation of his brother to the second place in the Empire.
The chronological order of the events on which the second and third acts are founded is reversed by Ibsen. Julian fell under the influence of Maximus before ever he went to Athens. Eunapius relates his saying, “I go where torches light themselves, and where statues smile,” or words to that effect; but they were spoken at Pergamus to Chrysantius, a Neo-Platonist, who, while deprecating the thaumaturgic methods of Maximus, averred that he himself had witnessed this marvel. For the details of the symposium at Ephesus there is no foundation, though Gregory and others relate weird legends of supernatural experiences which Julian underwent at the instance of Maximus. Not till after the disgrace and death of Gallus did Julian proceed to Athens, where he did not study under Libanius. Indeed, I cannot discover that he ever personally encountered Libanius before his accession to the throne. It is true that Gregory and Basil were his fellow students at Athens; but the tender friendship which Ibsen represents as existing between them is certainly imaginary.
All the military events at Paris, and the story of Julian’s victory over Knodomar, are strictly historical. Helena, however, did not die at Paris, but at Vienne, after her husband had assumed the purple. Her death was said to have been indirectly due to a jealous machination of the Empress Eusebia; but the incident of the poisoned fruit is quite fictitious, and equally so are the vague enormities revealed in the dying woman’s delirium. From the fact that Julian is strangely silent about his wife, we may conjecture that their marriage was not a happy one; but this is all the foundation Ibsen had to build upon.5
For the scene in the Catacombs at Vienne there is nothing that can fairly be called a historic basis. It is true that, after assuming the purple, Julian did at one time endanger his position by shutting himself away from his soldiery; it is true, or at least it is related, that Julian “brought from Greece into Gaul the high priest of the mysteries—the Hierophant, as he was called [not Maximus]—and did not decide to rebel until he had, with the greatest secrecy, accomplished the prescribed sacred rites.” There is also a vague, and probably mythical, report of his having gone through some barbarous ceremony of purification, in order to wipe out the stain of his baptism. On such slight suggestions did Ibsen build up the elaborate fabric of his fifth act. The character of Sallust, like that of Oribases, is historical: but of any approach to double-dealing on the part of the excellent Sallust there is no hint. As there is no foundation for the infidelity of the living Helena, so there is no foundation for the part played by Helena dead in determining Julian’s apostasy.
While Ibsen invents, however, he does not falsify; it is when he ceases to invent (paradoxically enough) that falsification sets in. In all essentials, this first play is a representation of the youth of Julian as just as it is vivid. His character is very truly portrayed—his intellectual and moral earnestness, his superstition, his vanity, his bravery, his military genius. The individual scenes are full of poetic and dramatic inspiration. There may be some question, indeed, as to the artistic legitimacy of the employment of the supernatural in the third act; but of its imaginative power there can be no doubt. The drama progresses in an ever-ascending scale of interest, from the idyllic-spectacular opening, through the philosophic second act, the mystic third act, the stirring and terrible fourth act, up to the magnificent poetic melodrama of the fifth. In a slightly old-fashioned, romantic style, the play is as impressive to the imagination as it is, in all essentials, faithful to historic fact.
When Julian has ascended the throne, a wholly different method of treatment sets in. We could almost guess from internal evidence, what Ibsen’s letters prove to be the fact—that he underwent a decisive change of mental attitude during the process of composition. The original first part, we see (that is to say the three-act play which was to have been called Julian and the Philosophers), was finished some time before January 18, 1871, on which date he tells Hegel that he is already at work on the second part. But January 18, 1871, was the very day on which, at Versailles, the King of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor; so that the first part must have been written before the Imperialisation of Germany was even to be foreseen. While the poet was engaged upon the second part of the “trilogy” he then designed, he was doubtless brooding over the great event of January 18, and gradually realising its nature and consequences. That change in his mental attitude was taking place, which in his letter to Hoffory (p. xvi.) he described as the transition from a national to a racial standpoint. While in January he “confidently hopes” to have the whole play finished in June, July finds him, to all appearance, no further advanced, and (very significantly) asking for “facts,” documents of detail, whereof, in writing the first play, he had felt no need. At the same time he tells Hegel that the critics will find in the play that positive view of the world for which they have long been clamouring—a Weltanschauung, we may fairly conjecture, at which he has arrived during the six months’ interval since his last letter.
What, then, was that “positive view”? It can have been nothing else than the theory of the “third empire,” which is to absorb both Paganism and Christianity, and is to mark, as it were, the maturity of the race, in contrast to its Pagan childhood and its Christian adolescence. (Compare the scene between Julian and Maximus at the end of Part II. Act III.) The analogy between this theory and the Nietzschean conception of the “Overman” need not here be emphasised. It is sufficient to note that Ibsen had come to conceive world-history as moving, under the guidance of a Will which works through blinded, erring, and sacrificed human instruments, towards a “third empire,” in which the jarring elements of flesh and spirit shall be reconciled.
It may seem like a play on the word “empire” to connect this concept with the establishment in January 1871 of a political confederation of petty States, compared with which even Julian’s “orbis terrarum” was a world-empire indeed. But there is ample proof that in Ibsen’s mind political unification, the formation of large aggregates inspired by a common idea, figured as a preliminary to the coming of the “third empire.” In no other sense can we read the letters to Hoffory and Brandes cited above (p. xv.); and I give in a footnote6 a reference to other passages of similar tenor. “But Julian,” it may be said, “represented precisely the ideal of political cohesion which was revived in the unification of Germany; why, then, should Ibsen, in writing the second play, have (so to speak) turned against his hero?” The reason, I think, was that Ibsen had come to feel that a loose political unity could be of little avail without the spiritual fusion implied in a world-religion; and this fusion it was Julian’s tragic error to oppose. He was a political imperialist by inheritance and as a matter of course; but what he really cared for, the point on which he bent his will, was the restoration of polytheism with all its local cults. And here Ibsen parted company with him. He sympathised to the full with Julian’s rebellion against certain phases of Christianity—against book-worship, death-worship, other-worldliness, hypocrisy, intolerance. He had himself gone through this phase of feeling. During his first years in Rome, he had seen the ruins of the ancient world of light and glory sicklied o’er with the pale cast of mediaevalism; and he had ardently sympathised with Julian’s passionate resentment against the creed which had defamed and defaced the old beauty in the name of a truth that was so radically corrupted as to be no longer true. In this mood he had conceived and in great measure executed the First Part, as we now possess it. But further study of detail, in the light of that new political conception which had arisen out of the events of 1870-71, had shown him that the secret of Julian’s failure lay in the hopeless inferiority of the religion he championed to the religion he attacked. That religion, with all its corruptions, came to seem a necessary stage in the evolution of humanity; and the poet asked himself, perhaps, whether he, any more than Julian, had even now a more practical substitute to offer in its place. In this sense, I take it, we must read his repeated assertion that he had put into the play much of his own “spiritual experience.” In the concept of the “third empire” he found, I repeat, the keystone to his arch of thought, to which everything else must be brought into due relation. He re-wrote (it seems probable) the scene of the symposium (Part I. Act III.) in order to emphasise this idea; and it entirely dominated and conditioned the whole of the second play.
But what was the effect of the concept? It was to make Julian a plaything in the hands of some power, some implicitly-postulated World-Will, working slowly, deviously, but relentlessly, towards a far-off, dimly-divined consummation. Christianity, no doubt, was also an instrument of this power; but it was an instrument predestined (for the moment) to honourable uses, while its opponent was fated to dishonour. Thus the process of the second part is a gradual sapping of Julian’s intelligence and power of moral discrimination; while the World-Will, acting always on the side of Christianity, becomes indistinguishable from the mechanical Providence of the vulgar melodramatist.
Whatever we may think of the historical or philosophical value of the theory of the “third empire,” there can be little doubt that its effect upon the play has been artistically disastrous. It has led Ibsen to cog the dice against Julian in a way from which even a Father of the Church might have shrunk. He has not only accepted uncritically all the invectives of Gregory, and the other Christian assailants of “Antichrist,” but he has given to many historic events a fictitious twist, and always to Julian’s disadvantage.7
It would need a volume to apply to each incident of the Second Part the test of critical examination. I must be content with a rough outline of the distorting effect of the poet’s preoccupation with his “world-historic” idea.
In the first place, he makes Julian much more of a persecutor than even his enemies allege him to have been. Nothing is more certain than that Julian was sincerely convinced of the inefficacy of violence as a means of conversion, and keenly alive to the impolicy of conferring upon his opponents the distinction of martyrdom. Tried by the standards of his age, he was a marvellously humane man. Compared with his uncle, Constantine, his cousin Constantius, his brother Gallus—to go no further back among wearers of the purple—he seems like a being of another race. It is quite true, as his enemies allege, that his clemency was politic as well as humane; but, whatever its motives, it was real and consistent. Gregory, while trying to make him out a monster, explicitly and repeatedly complains that he denied to Christians the crown of martyrdom. Saint Jerome speaks of his “blanda persecutio”—persecution by methods of mildness. The worst that can be alleged against him is a lack of diligence in punishing popular outrages upon the Christians (generally of the nature of reprisals) which occurred here and there under his rule. That he incited to such riots is nowhere alleged; and it is difficult to judge whether his failure to repress them was due to malicious inertia or to actual lack of power. The policing of the empire cannot have been an easy matter, and Julian was occupied, during the whole of his brief reign, in concentrating his forces for the Persian expedition. It cannot be pretended that his tolerance rose to the pitch of impartiality. He favoured Pagans, and he more or less oppressed Christians; though a considerable part of his alleged oppression lay in the withdrawal of extravagant privileges conferred on them by his predecessors. In his attempt to undo some of the injustices that Christians had committed during their forty years of predominance—such as the seizure of temple glebes and so forth—he was doubtless guilty, on his own account, of more than one injustice. Wrong breeds wrong, and, in a time of religious dissolution and reconstruction, equity is always at the mercy of passion, resentment and greed. There was even, in some of Julian’s proceedings, a sort of perfidy and insolence that must have been peculiarly galling to the Christians. It would not be altogether unjust to accuse him of having instituted against the new religion a campaign of chicanery; but that is something wholly different from a campaign of blood. The alleged “martyrdoms” of his reign are few in number,8 are recounted by late and prejudiced authorities, are accompanied by all the manifestly fabulous details characteristic of such stories, and are none of them, with the smallest show of credibility, laid to the account of Julian himself.
But what is the impression we receive from Ibsen? We are given to understand that Julian drifted into a campaign of sanguinary atrocity, full of horrors as great as those recorded or imagined of the persecutions under Decius or Diocletian. It is made to seem, moreover, that he was personally concerned in some of the worst of these horrors. We are asked to conceive his life as being passed with the mingled shrieks and psalms of his victims ringing in his ears. He is made to gloat in imagination over their physical agonies. (“Where are the Galileans now? Some under the executioner’s hands, others flying through the narrow streets, ashy pale with terror, their eyes starting from their heads,” &c. &c.; p. 314). He is haunted in his last hours by ghastly visions of whole troops of martyrs. Moreover, his persecutions are made particularly hateful by the fact that they either fall upon or threaten his personal friends. The companion of his childhood, Agathon (a fictitious personage), is goaded by remorseless cruelty to that madness which eventually makes him the assassin of Antichrist. Gregory of Nazianzus is first made (what he never was) Julian’s most cherished comrade, and is then shown as doing what he never did—playing a noble and heroic part in personally defying the tyrant. Mad and monstrous designs are attributed to Julian, such as that of searching out (with the aid of tortures) and destroying all the writings of the Christians. This trait appears to be suggested by a letter from Julian to the Prefect of Egypt enjoining him to collect and preserve all the books which had belonged to George, Bishop of Alexandria: “He had many of them concerning philosophy and rhetoric, and many of them that contained the doctrines of the impious Galileans. I would willingly see the last named all destroyed, if I did not fear that some good and useful books might, at the same time, be destroyed by mistake. Make, therefore, the most minute search concerning them. In this search the secretary of George may be of great help to you…. But if he try to deceive you in this affair, submit him immediately to the torture.” It is needless to remark upon the difference between a rhetorical wish that all the Christian books in a particular library might be destroyed, and an actual attempt to annihilate all the Christian writings in the world. Thus not only are the clearest evidences of Julian’s abstention from violence disregarded, but all sorts of minor incidents are misrepresented to his disadvantage.
A particularly grave injustice to his character meets us almost on the threshold of the Second Part. The execution of the Treasurer, Ursulus, by the military tribunal which Julian appointed on coming to the throne, is condemned by all historians and was regretted by Julian himself. No doubt he was culpably remiss in not preventing it; but Ibsen, without the slightest warrant, gives his conduct a peculiarly odious character in making it appear that he deliberately sacrificed the old man to his resentment of a blow administered to his vanity in the matter of the Eastern Ambassadors. There is nothing whatever to connect Ursulus with this incident.
The failure of Julian’s effort to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem is a matter of unquestioned history. It is impossible now to determine, though it is easy to conjecture, what natural accidents were magnified by fanaticism into supernatural intervention. But what does Ibsen do? He is not even content with the comparatively rational account of the matter given by Gregory within a few months of its occurrence. He adopts Ammian’s later and much exaggerated account; he makes Jovian, who had nothing to do with the affair, avouch it with the authority of an eye-witness; and, to give the miracle a still more purposeful significance, he represents it as the instrument of the conversion of Jovian, who was to be Julian’s successor, and the undoer of his work. Under ordinary circumstances, this would be a quite admissible re-arrangement of history, designed to save the introduction of another character. But the very fact that the poet is, throughout the play, so obviously sacrificing dramatic economy and concentration to historic accuracy, renders this heightening of the alleged miracle something very like a falsification of evidence. It arises, of course, from no desire to be unjust to Julian, for whom Ibsen’s sympathy remains unmistakable, but from a determination to make him the tragic victim of a World-Will pitilessly using him as an instrument to its far-off ends.
But this conception of a vague external power interfering at all sorts of critical moments to baffle designs of which, for one reason or another, it disapproves, belongs to the very essence of melodrama. Therefore the incident of the Temple of Jerusalem brings with it painful associations of The Sign of the Cross; and still more suggestive of that masterpiece is the downfall of the Temple of Apollo at Daphne which brings the second act of the Second Part to a close. Here the poet deliberately departs from history for the sake of a theatrical effect. The temple of Apollo was not destroyed by an earthquake, nor in any way that even suggested a miracle. It was simply burnt to the ground; and though there was no evidence to show how the conflagration arose, the suspicion that it was the work of Christians cannot be regarded as wholly unreasonable.
An incident of which Ibsen quite uncritically accepts the accounts of Julian’s enemies is his edict imposing what we should now call a test on the teachers in public (municipal) schools. This was probably an impolitic act; but an act of frantic tyranny it certainly was not. Homer and Hesiod were in Julian’s eyes sacred books. They were the Scriptures of his religion; and he decreed that they should not be expounded to children, at the public expense, by “atheists” who (unless they were hypocrites as well) were bound to cast ridicule and contempt on them as religious documents. It is not as though Christians of that age could possibly have been expected to treat the Olympian divinities with the decent reverence with which even an agnostic teacher of to-day will speak of the Gospel story. Such tolerance was foreign to the whole spirit of fourth-century Christianity. It was nothing if not intolerant; and the teacher would have been no good Christian who did not make his lessons the vehicle of proselytism. There is something a little paradoxical in the idea that tolerance should go the length of endowing the propagation of intolerance. It is quite false to represent Julian’s measure as an attempt to deprive Christians of all instruction, and hurl them back into illiterate barbarism. He explicitly states that Christian children are as welcome as ever to attend the schools.
As the drama draws to a close, Ibsen shows his hero at every step more pitifully hoodwinked and led astray by the remorseless World-Will. He regains, towards the end, a certain tragic dignity, but it is at the expense of his sanity. “Quos deus vult perdere prius dementat.” Now, there is no real evidence for the frenzied megalomania, the “Cäsarenwahn,” which the poet attributes to Julian. It is not even certain that his conduct of the Persian expedition was so rash and desperate as it is represented to be. Gibbon (no blind partisan of Julian’s) has shown that there is a case to be made even for the burning of the fleet. The mistake, perhaps, lay, not so much in burning it, as in having it there at all. Even as events fell out, the result of the expedition was by no means the greatest disaster that ever befell the Roman arms. The commonplace, self-indulgent Jovian brought the army off, ignominiously indeed, but in tolerable preservation. Had Julian lived, who knows but that the burning of the ships might now have ranked as one of the most brilliant audacities recorded in the annals of warfare?
It would be too much, perhaps, to expect any poet to resist the introduction of the wholly unhistoric “I am hammering the Emperor’s coffin,” and “Thou hast conquered, Galilean!” They certainly fell in too aptly with Ibsen’s scheme for him to think of weighing their evidences. But one significant instance may be noted of the way in which he twists things to the detriment either of Julian’s character or of his sanity. In the second scene of the fifth act, he makes Julian contemplate suicide by drowning, in the hope that, if his body disappeared, the belief would spread abroad that he had been miraculously snatched up into the communion of the gods. Now Gregory, it is true, mentions the design of suicide; but he mentions it as an incident of Julian’s delirium after his wound. Gregory’s virulence of hatred makes him at best a suspected witness; but even he did not hold Julian capable of so mad a fantasy before his intellect had been overthrown by physical suffering and fever.
Thus from step to step, throughout the Second Part, does Ibsen disparage and degrade his hero. It is not for me to discuss the value of the conception of the “third empire” to which poor Julian was sacrificed. But one thing we may say with confidence—namely, that the postulated World-Will does not work by such extremely melodramatic methods as those which Ibsen attributes to it. So far as its incidents are concerned, the Second Part might have been designed by a superstitious hagiologist, or a melodramatist desirous of currying favour with the clergy. Nay, it might almost seem as though the spirit of Gregory of Nazianzus—himself a dramatist after a fashion—had entered into Ibsen during the composition of the play. Certainly, if the World-Will decreed that Julian should be sacrificed in the cause of the larger Imperialism, it made of Ibsen, too, its instrument for completing the immolation.
In translating Kejser og Galilæer I was enabled (by arrangement) to avail myself of occasional aid from Miss Catherine Ray’s version of the play, published in 1876. To Miss Ray belongs the credit of having been the first English translator of Ibsen, as Mr. Gosse was his first expositor. The text of my earlier rendering has been very carefully revised for the present edition.
One difficulty has encountered me at every turn. The Norwegians use only one word—Riget (German das Reich)—to cover the two ideas represented in English by “empire” and “kingdom.” In most cases “empire” is clearly the proper rendering, since it would be absurd to speak in English of the Roman or the Byzantine Kingdom. But it would be no less impossible to say, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thine is the empire and the power and the glory.” In the scene with Maximus in Ephesus, and in several other passages, I have used the word “empire” where “kingdom,” in its Biblical sense, would have been preferable, were it not necessary to keep the analogy or contrast between the temporal and the spiritual “empire” clearly before the reader’s mind. But at the end of the fifth act of Caesar’s Apostasy, where the Lord’s Prayer is interwoven with the dialogue, I have been forced to fall back on “kingdom.” The reader, then, will please remember that these two words stand for one word—Riget—in the original.
The verse from Homer quoted by Julian in the third act of the second play occurs in the twentieth book of the Odyssey (line 18). Ibsen prints the sentence which follows it as a second hexameter line; but either he or one of his authorities has apparently misread the passage in the treatise, Against the Cynic Heraclius, on which this scene is founded. No such line occurs in Homer; and in the attack on Heraclius, the phrase about the mad dog appears as part of the author’s text, not as a quotation. I have ventured, therefore, to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and print the phrase as Julian’s own.
- It was acted at the Leipzig Stadttheater, December 5, 1896, and at the Belle-Alliance Theater, Berlin, on the occasion of the poet’s seventieth birthday, in March 1898. It must, of course, have been enormously cut down.
- Julian the Apostate. 2 vols. London, 1905.
- The poem was never finished at all. It is doubtless that of which a fragment has been recovered and is about to be published (1907).
- It was, in fact, a pamphlet aimed at Frederick William IV. of Prussia, and entitled A Romanticist on the Throne of the Caesars.
- I may, perhaps, be excused for quoting at this point an extract from a review of Negri’s Julian the Apostate, in which I tried to summarise the reasons of Julian’s hatred of Christianity: “Firstly, he was unmoved by the merits of the Christian ethic, even where it coincided with his own, because he saw it so flagrantly ignored by the corrupt Christianity of his day. A puritan in the purple, he was morally too Christian to be a Christian of the fourth-century Church. Secondly, he hated the pessimism of Christianity—that very throwing-forward of its hopes to the life beyond the grave which so eminently fitted it to a period of social catastrophe and dissolution. He found its heaven and hell vulgar and contemptible, and regarded the average Christian as a sort of spiritual brandy-tippler, who rejected, for a crude stimulant and anodyne, the delicate lemonade of Neo-Platonic polytheism. Thirdly, he resented what he called the ‘atheism’ of Christianity, its elimination of the divine from Nature, leaving it inanimate and chilly. Fourthly, like the earlier Emperors, he deemed Christianity anti-social, and the Christian potentially and probably, if not actually, a bad citizen of the Empire. Fifthly, he hated the aggressive intolerance of Christianity, its inability to live and let live, its polemical paroxysms, and iconoclastic frenzies…. These were the main elements in his anti-Christianity; and yet they are not, taken together, quite sufficient to account for the measureless scorn with which he invariably speaks of ‘Galileans.’ One cannot but feel that Christianity must have done him some personal injury, not clearly known to us. Was he simply humiliated by the hypocrisy he had had to practise in his boyhood and youth? Or was Ibsen right in divining some painful mystery behind his certainly unsatisfactory relations with his Christian consort, Helena?”
- For the letter to Hoffory, see Correspondence, Letter 198. The letter to Brandes is numbered 115. See also letters to Hegel (177) and to Brandes (206). I may also refer to an extract from Ibsen’s commonplace book, published in the Die neue Rundschau, December 1906, in which he says, “We laugh at the four-and-thirty fatherlands of Germany: but the four-and-thirty fatherlands of Europe are equally ridiculous. North America is content with one, or—for the present—with two.” For a somewhat fuller treatment of this subject, see the Nineteenth Century and After, February 1907.
- He has also, I think, taken too seriously Julian’s ironic self caricature in the Misopogon.
- Between fifteen and twenty are enumerated by Allard (Julien l’Apostat), a writer who gravely reproduces the most extravagant figments of the hagiographers.