The Wrack of the Storm Part 1

The Wrack of the Storm.

by Maurice Maeterlinck.


The reader taking up this volume will, for the first time in the work of one who hitherto had cursed no man, find words of hatred and malediction. I would gladly have avoided them, for I hold that he who takes upon himself to write pledges himself to say nothing that can derogate from the respect and love which we owe to all men. I have had to utter these words; and I am as much surprised as saddened at what I have been constrained to say by the force of events and of truth. I loved Germany and numbered friends there, who now, dead or living, are alike dead to me. I thought her great and upright and generous; and to me she was ever kindly and hospitable. But there are crimes that obliterate the past and close the future. In rejecting hatred I should have shown myself a traitor to love.

I tried to lift myself above the fray; but, the higher I rose, the more I saw of the madness and the horror of it, of the justice of one cause and the infamy of the other. It is possible that one day, when time has wearied remembrance and restored the ruins, wise men will tell us that we were mistaken and that our standpoint was not lofty enough; but they will say it because they will no longer know what we know, nor will they have seen what we have seen.


NICE, 1916.


The present volume contains, in the chronological order in which they were produced, all the essays published and all the speeches delivered by M. Maeterlinck since the beginning of the war, upon which, as will be perceived, each one of them has a direct bearing. They are printed as written; and they throw an interesting light upon the successive phases of the author's psychology during the Titanic and hideous struggle that has affected the mental attitude of us all.

_In Italy_ forms the preface to M. Jules Destree's book, _En Italie avant la guerre, 1914-15_. Of the remaining essays, some have appeared in various English and American periodicals; others are now printed in translation for the first time.

I have also had M. Maeterlinck's leave to include in this volume his first published work, _The Massacre of the Innocents_. This powerful sketch in the Flemish manner saw the light originally in the _Pleade_, in 1886, and may at the present time, to use the author's own words in a note to myself, be regarded as "a sort of vague symbolic prophecy." An English version by Mrs. Edith Wingate Rinder was printed in the _Dome_ in 1899; another has since been issued by an English and by an American firm of publishers; but the only authorized translation to appear in book form is that now added as an epilogue to _The Wrack of the Storm_.


CHELSEA, 1916.




At these moments of tragedy, none should be allowed to speak who cannot shoulder a rifle, for the written word seems so monstrously useless, so overwhelmingly trivial, in front of this mighty drama which shall for a long time, it may be for ever, free mankind from the scourge of war: the one scourge among all that cannot be excused, that cannot be explained, since alone among all it issues entire from the hands of man.


But it is while this scourge is upon us, while we have our being in its very centre, that we shall do well to balance the guilt of those who have committed this inexpiable crime. It is now, while we are in the thick of the horror, undergoing it, feeling it, that we have the energy, the clear-sightedness needed to judge it; from the depths of the most fearful injustice justice is best perceived. When the hour shall have come for settling accounts--and it will not long delay--we shall have forgotten much of what we have suffered and a blameworthy pity will creep over us and cloud our eyes. This is the moment, therefore, for us to frame our inexorable resolution. After the final victory, when the enemy is crushed--as crushed he will be--efforts will be made to enlist our sympathy, to move us to pity. We shall be told that the unfortunate German people were merely the victims of their monarch and their feudal caste; that no blame attaches to the Germany we know, which is so sympathetic and so cordial--the Germany of quaint old houses and open-hearted greeting, the Germany that sits under its lime-trees beneath the clear light of the moon--but only to Prussia, hateful, arrogant Prussia; that the homely, peace-loving, Bavarian, the genial and hospitable dwellers on the banks of the Rhine, the Silesian and Saxon and I know not who besides--for all these will suddenly have become whiter than snow and more inoffensive than the sheep in an English fold--that they all have merely obeyed, have been compelled to obey orders which they detested but were unable to resist. We are face to face with reality now; let us look at it well and pronounce our sentence; for this is the moment when we hold the proofs in our hands, when the elements of crime are hot before us and shout out the truth that soon will fade from our memory. Let us tell ourselves now, therefore, now, that all that we shall be told hereafter will be false; and let us unflinchingly adhere to what we decide at this moment, when the glare of the horror is on us.


It is not true that in this gigantic crime there are innocent and guilty, or degrees of guilt. They stand on one level, all those who have taken part in it. The German from the North has no more special craving for blood and outrage than he from the South has special tenderness or pity. It is, very simply, the German, from one end of his country to the other, who stands revealed as a beast of prey which the firm will of our planet finally repudiates. We have here no wretched slaves dragged along by a tyrant king who alone is responsible. Nations have the government which they deserve, or rather, the government which they have is truly no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality and mentality of the nation. If eighty million innocent people select and support a monstrous king, those eighty million innocent people merely expose the inherent falseness and superficiality of their innocence; and it is the monster they maintain at their head who stands for all that is true in their nature, because it is he who represents the eternal aspirations of their race, which lie far deeper than their apparent and transient virtues. Let there be no suggestion of error, of having been led astray, of an intelligent people having been tricked or misled. No nation can be deceived that does not wish to be deceived; and it is not intelligence that Germany lacks. In the sphere of intellect such things are not possible; nor in the region of enlightened, reflecting will. No nation permits herself to be coerced to the one crime that man cannot pardon. It is of her own accord that she hastens towards it; her chief has no need to persuade, it is she who urges him on.


We have forces here quite different from those on the surface, forces that are secret, irresistible and profound. It is these that we must judge, these that we must crush under our heel, once and for all; for they are the only ones that will not be improved or softened or brought into line by experience or progress, or even by the bitterest lesson. They are unalterable and immovable, their springs lie far beneath hope or influence; and they must be destroyed as we destroy a nest of wasps, since we know that these never can change into a nest of bees. And, even though individually and singly the Germans were all innocent and merely led astray, they would be none the less guilty in the mass. This is the guilt that counts, that alone is actual and real, because it lays bare, underneath their superficial innocence, the subconscious criminality of all.


No influence can prevail on the unconscious or the subconscious. It never evolves. Let there come a thousand years of civilization, a thousand years of peace, with all possible refinements of art and education, the subconscious element of the German spirit, which is its unvarying element, will remain absolutely the same as it is to-day and would declare itself, when the opportunity came, under the same aspect, with the same infamy. Through the whole course of history, two distinct willpowers have been noticed that would seem to be the opposed, elemental manifestations of the spirit of our globe, the one seeking only evil, injustice, tyranny and suffering, while the other strives for liberty, the right, radiance and joy. These two powers stand once again face to face; our opportunity is now to annihilate the one that comes from below. Let us know how to be pitiless that we may have no more need for pity. It is a measure of organic defence. It is essential that the modern world should stamp out Prussian militarism as it would stamp out a poisonous fungus that for half a century had disturbed and polluted its days. The health of our planet is in question. To-morrow the United States of Europe will have to take measures for the convalescence of the earth.


[Footnote 1: Translated by Alfred Sutro.]





Of all the heroes of this stupendous war, heroes who will live in the memory of man, one assuredly of the most unsullied, one of those whom we can never love enough, is the great young king of my little country.

He was indeed at the critical hour the appointed man, the man for whom every heart was waiting. With sudden beauty he embodied the mighty voice of his people. He stood, upon the moment, for Belgium, revealed unto herself and unto others. He had the wonderful good fortune to realize and bestow a conscience in one of those dread hours of tragedy and perplexity when the best of consciences waver.

Had he not been at hand, there is no doubt but that all would have happened differently; and history would have lost one of her fairest and noblest pages. Certainly Belgium would have been loyal and true to her word; and any government would have been swept away, pitilessly and irresistibly, by the indignation of a people that had never, however far we probe into the past, played false. But there would have been much of that confusion and irresolution inevitable in a host suddenly threatened with disaster. There would have been vain talking, mistaken measures, excusable but irreparable vacillations; and, above all, the much-needed words, the precise and final words, would not have been spoken and the deeds, than which we can picture none more resolute, none greater, would not have been done at the right moment.

Thanks to the king, the peerless act shines forth and is maintained complete, unfaltering; and the path of heroism is straight and clearly defined and splendid as that of Thermopylae indefinitely extended.


But what he has suffered, what he suffers day by day only those can understand who have had the privilege of access to this hero: the most sensitive and the gentlest of men, silent and reserved; a man of controlled emotions, modest with a timidity that is at once baffling and delightful; loving his people less as a father loves his children than as a son loves his adoring mother. Of all that cherished kingdom, his pride and his joy, the seat of his happiness, the centre of his love and his security, there is left intact but a handful of cities, which are threatened at every moment by the foulest invader that the world has ever borne.

All the others--so quaint or so beautiful, so bright, so serene, happy to be there, so inoffensive--jewels in the crown of Peace, models of pure and upright family life, homes of loyal and dutiful industry, of ready, ever-smiling geniality, with the natural welcome, the ever-proffered hand and the ever-open heart: all the others are dead cities, of which not one stone is left upon another; and the very country-side, one of the fairest in this world, with its gentle pastures, is now no more than one vast field of horror.

Treasures have perished that were numbered among the noblest and dearest possessions of mankind; monuments have disappeared which nothing can replace; and the half of a nation, among all nations the most attached to its old simple habits, its humble homes, is at present wandering along the roads of Europe. Thousands of innocent people have been massacred; and of those who remain nearly all are doomed to poverty and hunger.

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