Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/278

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268
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

fewer listeners, while the most intellectual ecclesiastics, feeling the same influence, have shrunk from the dogmatic and mystical extravagances of their predecessors.

 


LITERARY NOTICES.

Degeneration. By Max Nordau. D. Appleton & Co. 1895. Price, $3.50.

Severe diseases require severe remedies, and the rapidly increasing tolerance of literary, artistic, dramatic, and musical works that have a tendency to apotheosize various vices and defects of the higher mental faculties, demands the trenchant criticism that this volume affords. Years ago, in the comic opera of Patience, Mr. Gilbert satirized the impression created by the aesthetic vagaries of certain contemporaries in the lines—

"If this young man understands these things that
are certainly too deep for me,
Why, what an exceedingly deep young man this
deep young man must be!"

And too often the self-proclaimed prophet of some new dispensation in art or letters is taken seriously by a number of persons; and worse, in consequence of causes familiar to those experienced in the treatment of nervous diseases, finds a number of imitators.

Dr. Nordau, who is a pupil of Lombroso, has in this volume applied to certain writers and artists the same rigid rules of psychical investigation that were used by the Italian savant in his investigations into the factors and features of the degeneration of the criminal classes. Pronounced as the antithesis may be in a comparison of two such groups, there are yet fundamental points of resemblance that are depicted in this volume.

With tremendous diligence the author has perused the works of Rosetti, Swinburne, Verlaine, Maeterlinck, Tolstoi, Wagner, Peladan, Rollinet, Baudelaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Ibsen, Zola, and many other more or less known authors and artists, and he furnishes numerous quotations from their works to support his estimate of their mental condition. The characteristics of degeneration and hysteria manifest themselves "in mysticism, which is an expression of the inaptitude for attention, for clear thought and control of the emotions, and has for its cause the weakness of the higher cerebral centers; in egomania, which is an effect of the faulty transmission by the sensory nerves, of obtuseness in the centers of perception, of aberration of instincts from a craving for sufficiently strong impressions, and of the great predominance of organic sensations over representative consciousness; and in false realism, which proceeds from confused aesthetic theories, and characterizes itself by pessimism and the irresistible tendency to licentious ideas, and the most vulgar and unclean modes of expression."

In the last analysis there is in the degenerate a brain incapable of normal working, and its aberrant functions are manifested in feebleness of will, inattention, a predominance of emotion, a lack of knowledge, an absence of sympathy or interest in the world and humanity, and decay of the notion of duty and morality.

The author is not a pessimist; he does not believe that the degenerates will have more than an ephemeral existence and a limited following; that, like the dancing mania of the middle ages, a number of persons may be participants, but the majority of the people will be unaffected; and that true art and literature will still live and have their being when the whim and caprice of the moment have, like the iridescent soap bubble, broken, leaving nothing but some soapy moisture.

The volume is very interesting, and, while the author often writes with a vehemence that seems too prejudiced to be the expression of sober judgment, his arraignment of the accused and his evidences of their culpability justify his stern indictment.

The book is a strong one, and it is likely to prove suggestive and helpful to many who may think that the so-called art and literature of the future, as expressed by certain mentally defective individuals of to-day, are worthy of their careful study and imitation.

The Making of the Body. By Mrs. S. A. Barnett. London and New York: Longmans, Green & Co. Pp. 288.

The method of this manual is entirely novel. It is the outcome of practical expe-