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A Visit to Maeterlinck
By Edward A. Steiner
"Whoever turns his outer sense
VERY visitor to Maeterlinck's literary domain sees this Latin motto plainly displayed over the portals. It is rather discouraging to one who, though he be not a professional interviewer, has a longing to see and hear the man whose dramas have led him over new and shadowy paths of human experience, whose philosophical essays have led him into the hushed presence of the unknown God, and who has disclosed to him in a minute study of the bee the order and justice which govern this universe.
Judging him from his somber thoughts, one would imagine Maeterlinck to be a world-tired hermit who had fathomed the depth of all human woe, and who was now living in a lone castle listening to the faint voice within him, a voice which the author has made vibrant, and which has been heard and understood the world over by the elect, who have grown weary of the coarse, metallic voice of the modern realist, who have been frozen by the cold north blast of Ibsen, or been satiated by the sensuousness of the modern French school.
To find Maeterlinck's real environment one has to travel from the highway of pleasure and business to Ghent, an old haunt of the mystics, where earth's sounds are faint upon the streets, although the cobblestones in the pavements have been placed with the noisiest and most pointed part toward the sky. Cabmen, carmen, and even bookmen knew but little of the new glory resting upon their old city, and to find the home where Maeterlinck was born was difficult enough to make even the greatest skeptic believe that the adage about the " prophet in his own country" was spoken by inspired lips.
How little honor Maeterlinck has in his own country is proved by the fact that his photograph could not be found in any art store of his country, and, still greater oblivion, he is not immortalized on a souvenir postal card. This last mournful fact only recent Continental travelers can appreciate.
After exhausting my small stock of Flemish and of change, I found the houi,e, which turns its most prosaic, whitewashed side streetward, and which, like the true mystic.hasall its beauty within. Glimpses of green, a ripple of falling water, patches of gay autumn color, birds and bees, the clip-clap of wooden shoes worn by the servants—these were Maeterlinck's environment, into which he was born in 1862.
His parents were pious Roman Catholics, and in the old spirit-haunted cathedral the fancy of the boy first took wing and flew far, far away from the padre's sermon and the monotonous Hail Marys I
Superstitious neighbors said, " The boy has the second sight," and although he did not begin life as a mystic philosopher, but as a plain, realistic lawyer, the superstitious neighbors for once had guessed the truth. Not even in sleepy Brabant has a silent mystic much chance of succeeding in the law, and so the business fell upon a brother and a cousin, who are now on the road to wealth and political fame. Instead of reading his Flemish Blackstone, Maeterlinck read the English Shakespeare and the American Emerson, so that these two authors are much to blame for the fact that Belgium is rid of a poor lawyer and the world the possessor of a dramatist of the highest rank and a philosopher who has kindled a torch which leads men from blatant noise to wholesome silence and from weariness to rest.
I was startled to hear him say the very words spoken to me by many men so different from him: "Emerson was my guide and teacher." Tolstoi. Nietzsche, Hauptmann, and Ibsen have said the same thing; wherever I come into strange lands as a hero-worshiper, the greatest