THE MADNESS OF STRINDBERG
The mirror that Strindberg held up to Nature was a cracked one. It was cracked in a double sense—it was crazy. It gave back broken images of a world which it made look like the chaos of a lunatic dream. Miss Lind-af-Hageby, in her popular biography of Strindberg, is too intent upon saying what can be said in his defence to make a serious attempt to analyse the secret of genius which is implicit in those “115 plays, novels, collections of stories, essays, and poems” which will be gathered into the complete edition of his works shortly to be published in Sweden. The biography will supply the need of that part of the public which has no time to read Strindberg, but has plenty of time to read about him. It will give them a capably potted Strindberg, and will tell them quietly and briefly much that he himself has told violently and at length in The Son of a Servant, The Confession of a Fool, and, indeed, in nearly everything he wrote. On the other hand, Miss Lind’s book has little value as an interpretation. She does not do much to clear up the reasons which have made the writings of this mad Swede matter of interest in every civilized country in the world. She does, indeed, quote the remark of Gorki, who, at the time of Strindberg’s death, compared him to the ancient Danubian hero, Danko, “who, in order to help humanity out of the darkness of problems, tore his heart out of his breast, lit it, and holding it high, led the way.” “Strindberg,” Miss Lind declares, “patiently burnt his heart for the illumination of the people, and on the day when his body was laid low in the soil, the flame of his self-immolation was seen, pure and inextinguishable.” This will not do. “Patiently” is impossible; so is “pure and inextinguishable.” Strindberg was at once a man of genius (and therefore noble) and a creature of doom (and therefore to be pitied). But to sum him up as a spontaneous martyr in the greatest of great causes is to do injustice to language and to the lives of the saints and heroes. He was a martyr, of course, in the sense in which we call a man a martyr to toothache. He suffered; but most of his sufferings were due, not to tenderness of soul, but to tenderness of nerves.