RICHARD WAGNER. ON STATE AND RELIGION
TRANSLATED BY WILLIAM ASHTON ELLIS
Proofed and formatted by JP MOURLON, Paris, France
'ÜBER STAAT UND RELIGION'
The article on 'State and Religion' was written at the request of King Ludwig II. of Bavaria, in the same year in which Richard Wdgner was summoned to his intimate companionship. It does not appear to have been printed, at least for public circulation, until nine years later (1873), when it was includaeda in Vol. viii. of the Gesammelte Schriften. Undoubtedly to its intimate character we owe those deeper glimpses into Wagner's inmost thought, such as we meet so often in his private correspondence.
A HIGHLY-PRIZED young friend desires me to tell him whether, and if so in what way, my views on State and Religion have changed since the composition of my art-writings in the years 1849 to 1851.
As a few years ago, at the instigation of a friend in France, I was persuaded to re-survey my views on Music and Poetry, and assemble them in one concise synopsis (namely the preface to a French prose-translation of some of my opera-poems (1) ), so it might not be unwelcome to me to clear and summarise my thoughts upon that other side as well, were it not that precisely here, where everyone considers he has a right to his opinion, a definite utterance becomes more and more difficult the older and more experienced one grows. For here is shewn again what Schiller says: 'ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst' ('Life is earnest, Art is gay'). Perhaps, however, it may. be said of me that, having taken Art in such special earnest, I ought to be able to find without much difficulty the proper mood for judging Life. In truth I believe the best way to inform my young friend about myself, will be to draw his foremost notice to the earnestness of my artistic aims; for it was just this earnestness, that once constrained me to enter realms apparently so distant as State and Religion. What there I sought, was really never aught beyond my art-that art which I took so earnestly, that I asked for it a basis and a sanction in Life, in State, and lastly in Religion. That these I could not find in modern life, impelled me to search out the cause in my own fashion; I had to try to make plain to myself the tendence of the State, in order to account for the disdain with which I found my earnest art-ideal regarded everywhere in public life.
But it certainly was characteristic of my inquiry, that it never led me down to the arena of politics proper; that is to say, the politics of the day remained as entirely untouched by me, as, despite the commotion of those times, they never truly touched myself. (2) That this or that form of Government, the jurisdiction of this or that party, this or that alteration in the mechanism of our State affairs, could furnish my art-ideal with any veritable furtherance, I never fancied; therefore whoever has really read my art-writings, must rightly have accounted me unpractical; but whoever has assigned me the rôle of a political revolutionary, with actual enrolment in the lists of such, manifestly knew nothing at all about me, and judged me by an outer semblance of events which haply might mislead a police-officer, but not a statesman. Yet this misconstruction of the character of my aims is entangled also with my own mistake: through taking Art in such uncommon earnest, I took Life itself too lightly; and just as this avenged itself upon my personal fortunes, so my views thereon were soon to be given another tinge. To put the matter plainly, I had arrived at a reversal of Schiller's saying, and desired to see my earnest art embedded in a gladsome life; for which Greek life, as we regard it, had thus to serve me as a model.
From all my imaginary provisions for the entry of the Artwork into Public Life, it is evident that I pictured them as a summons to self-collection (Sammelung) from amid the distractions of a life which was to be conceived, at bottom, merely as a gladsome occupation (heitere Beschäftigung), and not as a fatiguing toil. Hence the political movements of that time did not attract my serious attention until they touched the purely social sphere, and thus appeared to offer prospects of the realisation of my ideal premises-prospects which, I admit, for some time occupied my earnest thought. The line my fancy followed was an organisation of public life in common, as also of domestic life, such as must lead of itself to a beauteous fashioning of the human race. The calculations of the newer Socialists therefore lost my sympathy from the moment they seemed to end in systems that took at first the repellent aspect of an organisation of Society for no other purpose but an equally-allotted toil. (3) However, after sharing the horror which this aspect kindled in aesthetically-cultured minds, (4) a deeper glance into the proposed condition of society made me believe I detected something very different from what had hovered before the fancy of those calcu lating Socialists themselves. I found to wit that, when equally divided among all, actual labour, with its crip pling burthen and fatigue, would be downright done away with, leaving nothing in its stead but an occupation, which necessarily must assume an artistic character of itself. A clue to the character of this occupation, as substitute for actual labour, was offered me by Husbandry, among other things; this, when plied by every member of the commonalty [or 'parish'-Gemeinde], I conceived as partly developed into more productive tillage of the Garden, partly into joint observances for times and seasons of the day and year, which, looked at closer, would take the character of strengthening exercises, (5) ay, of recreations and festivities. Whilst trying to work out all the bearings of this transformation of one-sided labour, with its castes in town and country, into a more universal occupation lying at the door of every man, (6) I became conscious on the other hand that I was meditating nothing so intensely new, but merely pursuing problems akin to those which so dearly had busied our greatest poets themselves, as we may see in 'Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre.' I, too, was therefore picturing to myself a world that I deemed possible, but the purer I imagined it, the more it parted company with the reality of the political tendencies-of-the-day around me; so that I could say to myself, my world will never make its entry until the very moment when the present world has ceased-in other words, where Socialists and Politicians came to end, should we commence. (7) I will not deny that this view became with me a positive mood (Stimmung): the political relations of the beginning of the bygone 'fifties kept everyone in a state of nervous tension, sufficient to awake in me a certain pleasurable feeling which might rightly seem suspicious to the practical politician.
Now, on thinking back, I believe I may acquit myself of having been sobered from the aforesaid mood-not unlike a spiritual intoxication-first and merely through the turn soon taken by European politics. It is an attribute of the poet, to be riper in his inner intuition (Anschauung) of the essence of the world than in his conscious abstract knowledge: precisely at that time I had already sketched, and finally completed, the poem of my 'Ring des Nibelungen.' With this conception I had unconsciously admitted to myself the truth about things human. Here everything is tragic through and through, and the Will, that fain would shape a world according to its wish, at last can reach no greater satisfaction than the breaking of itself in dignified annulment (8) It was the time when I returned entirely and exclusively to my artistic plans, and thus, acknowledging Life's earnestness with all my heart, withdrew to where alone can 'gladsomeness' abide.-
My youthful friend will surely not expect me to give a categorical account of my later views on Politics and State: under any circumstances they could have no practical importance, and in truth would simply amount to an expression of my horror of concerning myself professionally with matters of the sort. No; he can merely be wishful to learn how things so remote from its ordinary field of action may shape themselves in the brain of a man like myself, cut out for nothing but an artist, after all that he has gone through and felt. But lest I might appear to have meant the above as a disparagement, I must promptly add that whatever I might have to put forward would strictly and solely be a witness to my having arrived at a full valuation of the great, nay, terrible earnest of the matter. The artist, too, may say of himself: 'My kingdom is not of this world;' and, perhaps more than any artist now living, I may say this of myself, for very reason of the earnestness wherewith I view my art. Amid that's the hardship of it; for with this beyond-the-worldly realm of ours we stand amid a world itself so serious and so careworn, that it deems a fleeting dissipation its only fitting refuge, whereas the need for earnest elevation (Erhebung) has quite become a stranger to it.-
Life is earnest, and-has always been.
Whoever would wholly clear his mind on this, let him but consider how in every age, and under ever freshly- shaped, but ever self-repeating forms, this life and world have spurred great hearts and spacious minds to seek for possibility of its bettering; and how 'twas always just the noblest, the men who cared alone for others' weal and offered willingly their own in pledge, that stayed without the slightest influence on the lasting shape of things. The small success of all such high endeavours would shew him plainly that these world-improvers were victims to a fundamental error, and demanded from the world itself a thing it cannot give. Should it even seem possible that much might be ordered more efficiently in man's affairs, yet the said experiences will teach us that the means and ways of reaching this are never rightly predetermined by the single thinker; never, at least, in a manner enabling