Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Anglo-German publicist, playwright, cultural critic, race theorist and philosopher of science.

Sept. 9th, 1855 — Jan. 9th, 1927

Biography


Biografie in het Nederlands
Timeline 1855—1939
Photo gallery
Bibliography & Books online
Quotations of H. S. Chamberlains
Reviews and comments by contemporaries
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Childhood
Donati's comet, 1858    Houston Stewart Chamberlain was born on September 9th, 1855, in Southsea, England. His mother, Eliza Jane Hall, died before he was a year old and he was raised by his grandmother in France. Chamberlain's father, Captain William Charles Chamberlain, (later Rear-Admiral), had planned a military career for his son, and at 11 years old he was sent to a boarding school for future army and navy officers. But the young Chamberlain was more interested in studying music, literature and astronomy, and the prospect of serving as an officer in India or elsewhere in the British Empire held no attractions for him.

(To the right: The comet Donati's appearance in 1858 made a big impression on the 3-year-old Chamberlain, and he attributed to it his lasting interest in natural phenomena. Click here for pictures of the comet and for Chamberlain's memories of its appearance.)

Health resorts
    By the age of 14 Chamberlain was in poor health. Doctors wrongly suspected that he had a disease of the respiratory organs, and he left England to visit one health resort after another — Bad Ems, Montreux and Cannes. He was accompanied by his aunt and a Prussian private teacher, Otto Kuntze, who taught his studious pupil German and interested him in German history, literature and philosophy. In 1874 Chamberlain's father arrived in Switzerland to persuade him to finish his studies in England, but Chamberlain refused. By now, his bad experiences in England had coupled with his French upbringing to alienate him from his fatherland. It was in Cannes that he met his first wife, Anna Horst, whom he married in 1878.

Study
    Chamberlain moved to Florence to study botany at the university. As things turned out, though, Florence offered so many artistic impressions that Chamberlain spent seven months there in a kind of cultural shock:

„I will never forget that one evening, when, while I was aimlessly wandering through the city, I suddenly and unexpectedly came across the Piazza della Signoria: the impression of beauty was so overwhelming that I was seized with giddiness and I had to withdraw into a portico in order to lean and recover myself.“ (13)

He was caught in a comparable situation later on when he read the works of Shakespeare (a „Shakespeare-intoxication“, as he called it), heard Richard Wagner's music, and when he saw Albrecht Dürer's self-portrait in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, 1896. In 1879 Chamberlain enrolled in the faculty of natural sciences at the University of Geneva, where he obtained his bachelor's degree. He then moved to Dresden and began work on a dissertation about the rise of plant saps. But his illness flared up again, and this time the doctors diagnosed neurasthenia — a popular disease at the time. Chamberlain had to rest, and while recuperating he began studying history, philosophy, literature and music, as well as writing his first essay in German.

The writing demon
    Chamberlain moved to Vienna in 1889 to continue his research into plant physiology. But on the morning of January 19th, 1892, he was captivated by something he called the „writing demon“. It was a demon that couldn't be ignored, according to Chamberlain, and it controlled him so much that, after writing a piece, he often didn't recognise it as his own work. Some occultists have assumed that Chamberlain was clairvoyant and possessed by demons. But he himself was adamant that this entity was a kind of alter ego like Socrates' daimon (1). Henceforward Chamberlain was determined to become a writer.

The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century
    Chamberlain's most important work is  Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), 1899. The book's central idea is that Western civilization's moral, cultural, scientific and technological superiority comes largely from the positive influence of the Germanic race (Slavs and Celts included) on the progress of history down the ages:

„Certain anthropologists would fain teach us that all races are equally gifted; we point to history and answer: that is a lie! The races of mankind are markedly different in the nature and also in the extent of their gifts, and the Germanic races belong to the most highly gifted group, the group usually termed Aryan. Is this human family united and uniform by bonds of blood? Do these stems really all spring from the same root? I do not know and I do not much care...“ (30).

Opponents of the Germanic race would be the Roman Catholic Church („the shield- and armour-bearer of all Anti-Germanic movements“ (31)), Jewry, the Jesuit Order and other obscure forces, who fought and still fight a racial war, „the war still waged among us between those elements that advance and those that retard culture“ (12). Although the book was received with reservation (to say the least) by the Church and in Jewish circles, it became a best-seller in Germany, was translated into English and French, and had an important influence on its contemporaries. In his review of The Foundations George Bernard Shaw wrote:
„It is a masterpiece of really scientific history. It does not make confusion, it clears it away. He is a great generalizer of thought, as distinguished from the crowd of our mere specialists. It is certain to stir up thought. Whoever has not read it will be rather out of it in political and sociological discussions for some time to come.“ (2)
And President Theodore Roosevelt, although not an admirer of Chamberlain's work, wrote:
„... a man who can write such a really beautiful and solemn appreciation of true Christianity, of true acceptance of Christ's teachings and personality, as Mr. Chamberlain has done, [...] represents an influence to be reckoned with and seriously to be taken into account.“ (3)

Count Gobineau

Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau. Click to enlarge.    A predecessor of Chamberlain was Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau (1816–1882), who argued for the superiority of Nordic Aryans in his Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (1853–55) (14) but also forecast their decline owing to mingling with other races: „Nous ne descendons pas du singe, mais nous y allons“ (We do not descend from the ape, but are headed in that direction). But Chamberlain used his biological training to refute the latter (4), although he agreed with Charles Darwin about uncontrolled racial mixing: „Free crossing obliterates characters“ (5). Count Gobineau, incidentally, was a friend of Richard Wagner.

The non-Jewish Jesus
    A recurring theme in Chamberlain's work is that Jesus was not a Jew (17). He has no hard proof, he admits, but he does offer some circumstantial evidence. To wit:

  • King Solomon sold Galilee to the king of Tyrus (1 Kings 9:11) because the region was scarcely inhabited by Jews.
  • Jesus was born, not in Jewish Judaea, but in foreign Galilee, and Gelil haggoyim means „district of heathens“.
  • Jesus himself denounces Jews: Matthew 8:12: „...but the children of the kingdom [i.e., the Jews] shall be cast out into outer darkness...“; John 8:47: „He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan...“; Matthew 23:33: „Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers...“
    According to Chamberlain, Christianity developed into a murderous totalitarian system because of two factors — the Catholic Church's emergence from racial chaos after the fall of the Roman empire; and the laws of the Old Testament, which can be attributed to Jewish influence. Only after centuries of Roman Catholic terror did the Germanic forces, embodied by Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther and others, turn Christianity into the religion that Jesus had envisioned. In Chamberlain's day, Emperor Wilhelm II was convinced by these theories and even argued that the Old Testament should be removed from the Bible (with the exception of a few psalms) to sever any remaining links between Christianity and Judaism (18).

Brahmanism
    Another recurring theme in Chamberlain's work is the similarity between Germanic thinking and Indian brahmanism, the ancient Indo-Aryan philosophy. He often cites the Upanishads, the Vedas and other sacred Hindu texts to illustrate this idea, and he wrote a whole book, Arische Weltanschauung ( Aryan World View) on the subject. In this book he expressed the opinion that knowledge of the Indo-Aryan philosophy would serve as a counter-balance against a Semitic world-view, and that the Indian sages would show the Westerner the goal of his civilization (25).

Richard Wagner
    Chamberlain became fascinated by the composer Richard Wagner. He attended the première and the following five performances of Wagner's Parsifal in Bayreuth during July 1882. Wagner died the following year before the two men had ever met, but his genius had a lasting influence on Chamberlain. In 1896 he published his second Wagner-book (Richard Wagner), a popular and important work, still regarded as a classic. He became honorary member of the Viennese Akademische Wagnerverein. During his life he wrote an estimated 50 essays about Wagner and his music. One of these, Künstlerische Dankbarkeit, which compared Wagner and Franz Liszt, was read by Liszt's daughter, Cosima Wagner, and in 1888 she invited Chamberlain to a meeting. Thus began a lasting friendship, and the two carried on an extensive  correspondence until 1908. In that year Chamberlain married his second wife, Eva, the daughter of Richard and Cosima Wagner.

Emperor Wilhelm II
    Germany's Emperor Wilhelm II invited Chamberlain to his palace at Potsdam. Wilhelm was delighted by the Englishman who had praised the Germanic race to the skies, and in a letter to Chamberlain he wrote: „It was God who sent the German people your book and you personally to me“ (6). Chamberlain became Wilhelm II's friend and counsellor. In one of his letters Chamberlain advised the Emperor:

„Deutschland [...] kann dahin gelangen, die gesamte Erdkugel (teils unmittelbar politisch, teils mittelbar, durch Sprache, Kultur, Methoden) zu beherrschen, wenn es nur gelingt, beizeiten den 'neuen Kurs' einzuschlagen, und das heißt, die Nation zum endgültigen Bruch mit den angloamerikanischen Regierungsidealen zu bringen. Die Freiheit, die Deutschland braucht, ist die [...] unbeschränkte Freiheit des Denkens, der Religion, der Wissenschaft — nicht die Freiheit, sich selber schlecht zu regieren.“
(„Germany [...] can achieve complete control of the world (partly by direct political means, partly by language, culture, methods), only if it succeeds in taking a new direction in time, which means the final rupture with Anglo-American ideals of government. The freedom that Germany needs is the [...] unlimited freedom of thought, of religion, of science — not the freedom to rule itself badly.“) (19)
The First World War
Russian army surrenders — Tannenberg 1914    After England allied with the Entente forces in World War I (1914–1918), a disappointed Chamberlain accused his fatherland of treason to the Germanic race. During the war he wrote a series of Kriegsaufsätze as German propaganda; highly successful war-essays, which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The earnings went to the Red Cross. More than once he mentions in his essays the coming of a future leader, „the man with the lion's heart“ (26). In his essay Der Wille zum Sieg, 1916, he wrote: „Die Deutschen stehen bereit; ihnen fehlt nur der vom heiligen Geist eingesetzte Führer“ — The Germans are ready for it; all that is missing is a God-sent Führer (27). Furthermore he lays in his essays the foundation for what came to be known as the „Dolchstoßlegende“, the dagger-blow legend, that would play an important role in post-war Germany: the idea that some infamous („Niederträchtige“) elements within Germany would like to see Germany losing the war, and strive after the destruction of the empire (28). In contradistinction to what certain historians claim, this point of view isn't entirely unjustified: it was felt within anti-imperial circles that if Germany would win, Kaiser Wilhelm's position would be stronger than ever, and „life would become impossible“: „Wenn Deutschland den Krieg gewinnt, dann bleibt das wilhelminische System und dann ist das Leben unmöglich“. A prominent representative of this movement was Albert Einstein (29).

To the right: The Russian army, defeated by von Hindenburg, surrenders. Tannenberg 1914. Click here for more WW1 photo's.

In 1915 H. S. Chamberlain received the Iron Cross for services to the German empire. Having shown his loyalty to Germany, Chamberlain became a German citizen in 1916. But Germany lost the war and had to sign the Treaty of Versailles — a treaty intended to ruin Germany economically and ensure that it could never fight a major war again, although the treaty also had a financial aspect:

„The occupation of German territory by the Allied troops should be accompanied by the destruction of all the large industries within the sphere of occupation. It is held that if it were known and felt here and in France that such a scheme of organised destruction was to be carried out on German territory, capital would be at once stimulated in steady streams in aid of the home industries, which would profit enormously by the course taken“ (7)

    This ill-fated plan was indeed carried out. The ensuing hyperinflation and chaos in Germany made an excellent playground for extremist political groups. And by the time the Allies alleviated their measures it was already too late: Adolf Hitler won the elections for the Reichstag on March 5th, 1933.

The Third Reich
    Many argue that Chamberlain's work influenced Adolf Hitler, although the precise links are unclear. The two men did meet in Bayreuth on September 30th, 1923, on a so-called „German day“. Chamberlain, who was by now elderly, ill and embittered, regarded Hitler as Germany's future saviour, and after this meeting he wrote to Hitler: „In no way do you resemble the descriptions depicting you as a fanatic. I even believe that you are the absolute opposite of a fanatic. [...] The fanatic wants to persuade people, you want to convince them, and to convince only.“ (8)

This letter meant a success for Hitler, because the famous writer's approval would certainly attract new members to his nascent political movement (22). After staging an unsuccessful coup that began in a beer-hall, Hitler was imprisoned in Landsberg, where he wrote his political manifesto, Mein Kampf. Unfortunately, Hitler's letters from Landsberg to Chamberlain are now lost, and no one knows what Hitler told his fellow-author about writing the book. Mein Kampf refers just once to Chamberlain:

„...die offiziellen Stellen der Regierung gingen an den Erkenntnissen eines H. S. Chamberlain genau so gleichgültig vorüber, wie es heute noch geschieht. Diese Leute sind zu dumm, selbst etwas zu denken...“
(„Those who had the government of the country in their hands were quite as indifferent to principles of civil wisdom laid down by thinkers like H. S. Chamberlain as our political leaders now are. These people are too stupid to think for themselves...“) (16) 
The title of Mein Kampf echoes Der Kampf, the third section of Chamberlain's Foundations, which discusses the physical and intellectual battle of Germanics against Roman Catholic imperialism and Jewish theocracy, although this supposed echo might be coincidental. At any rate, Hitler condemned nationalist German scholars who would write and write but never act:
„Nobody of common sense would appoint to a leading post [...] some Teutonic Methuselah who had been ineffectively preaching some idea for a period of forty years, until himself and his idea had entered the stage of senile decay. [...] It is typical of such persons that they rant about ancient Teutonic heroes [...] whereas in reality they themselves are the woefullest poltroons imaginable.“ (20)
It is possible that Hitler didn't have Chamberlain in mind here, and that he had a genuine respect for a fellow-Wagnerite. But Hitler did disagree with Chamberlain's opinions about Germanic Christianity. „The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene,“ Hitler said in one of his Table Talks, „was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.“ Hitler added, in another conversation, that, „in my opinion, H. S. Chamberlain was mistaken in regarding Christianity as a reality upon the spiritual level.“

Chamberlain was convinced of a Jewish threat to the Germanic world, and that Jewry poses „a danger to every culture“. (9) But he opposed a violent solution to the „Jewish question“ — „we may not even injure a single hair on their heads...“, he insisted (21) — and he didn't believe in Jewish world-conspiracies:

„...doch glaube ich, dass wir geneigt sind, unsere eigenen Kräfte [...] sehr zu unterschätzen und den jüdischen Einfluss sehr zu überschätzen. Hand in Hand damit geht die geradezu lächerliche und empörende Neigung, den Juden zum allgemeinen Sündenbock für alle Laster unserer Zeit zu machen...
(„...yet I think that we are inclined to under-estimate our own powers [...] and to exaggerate the importance of the Jewish influence. Hand in hand with this goes the perfectly ridiculous and revolting tendency to make the Jews the general scapegoat for all the vices of our time...“) (11)
According to Chamberlain's biographer, prof. Geoffrey G. Field, „Hitler, Hess, Goebbels, Eckart, Himmler, von Schirach, and above all Rosenberg (10) had read Chamberlain and professed to have been influenced by him. Hans Kerrl, the Minister for Church Affairs, and Hans Schemm, the Bayreuth schoolmaster who became Bavarian Kultusminister, were also firm admirers, while Nazi intellectuals such as Hans F. K. Günther, Alfred Bäumler, Walter Frank, Ernst Krieck, and the Nobel physicist Philipp Lenard showered him with filial respect.“ (24)

Other admirers were Lord Redesdale, Winston Churchill, D. H. Lawrence, the American senator Albert J. Beveridge, Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer, and the Dutch mystic philosopher P. H. Hugenholtz. (15)

In May 1926 Hitler visited the old writer for the last time. A passage in Goebbels' diary describes the meeting:

„Erschütterende Szene: Chamberlain auf einem Ruhebett. Gebrochen, lallend, die Tränen stehen ihm in den Augen. Er hält meine Hand und will mich nicht lassen. Wie Feuer brennen seine großen Augen. Vater unseres Geistes, sei gegrüßt. Bahnbrecher, Wegbereiter! Ich bin im Tiefsten aufgewühlt. Abschied. Er lallt, will sprechen, es geht nicht — und dann weint er wie ein Kind! Langer, langer Händedruck! Leb wohl! Du bist bei uns, wenn wir verzweifeln wollen. Draußen klatscht Regen! Ich hab das Bedürfnis zu schreien, zu weinen.“
(„Shattering scene: Chamberlain on a couch. Broken, mumbling, tears are in his eyes. He holds my hand and won't let me go. His big eyes burn like fire. Greetings to you, spiritual father. Trailblazer, pioneer! I am deeply upset. Leave-taking. He mumbles, wants to speak, can't — and then weeps like a child! Long, long handshake! Farewell! You stand by us when we are near despair. Outside the rain patters! I want to cry out, to weep.“) (23)
Houston Stewart Chamberlain died of his nervous disease a few months later, on January 9th, 1927, in Bayreuth. He was 71 years old. The last book he had written was Mensch und Gott (Man and God), a plea for a new Christianity without dogmas and sacraments. Upon his gravestone were engraved the words of Luke 17:21: „Das Reich Gottes ist inwendig in euch“. The Kingdom of God is within you.

 
 
    Notes
    1. See Lebenswege meines Denkens, p. 151. See also p. 3 and p. 123. 
    2. Published in Fabian News, June 1911. Shaw also described The Foundations as „the greatest Protestant Manifesto ever written, as far as I know“ (A Treatise on Parents and Children, Chapter 58.) 
    3. Published in The Outlook and also included in History as Literature, 1913.
    4. See The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I, p. 263. 
    5. Charles Darwin, Animals and Plants under Domestication, chap. XV and chap. XIX.
    6. For the entire letter from the Emperor, see Briefe 1882–1924 und Briefwechsel mit Kaiser Wilhelm II, vol. 2, p. 141.
    7. Published in the English magazine The Engineer, Sept. 25th, 1914, Vol. 118, No. 3065, p. 295. 
    8. For the entire letter to Hitler, see Briefe 1882–1924 und Briefwechsel mit Kaiser Wilhelm II, vol. 2, p. 124. For a translation into English see the site of www.worldfuturefund.org
    9. See The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I, p. 482.
    10. Alfred Rosenberg, Reichsleiter of the Nazi Party, was sentenced to death in Nürnberg in 1946 for crimes against humanity. His book, Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (The Myth of the 20th Century) was influenced by Chamberlain's Die Grundlagen des 19. Jahrhunderts. 
    11. See The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I, p. lxxviii.
    12. See The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I. p. 532.
    13. Sounds like Stendhal's syndrome to me, but I'm no psychiatrist, of course. See Lebenswege meines Denkens, p. 85.
    14. A scanned version of Gobineau's Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines is available at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. La Genèse du 19me siècle is also held there. 
    15. Lord Redesdale also translated Chamberlain's book Immanuel Kant, and Chamberlain credited him with the translation of the Grundlagen, although this book was officially translated by John Lees. See Chamberlain's letter to Emperor Wilhelm II, Dec. 18th, 1913. Winston Churchill: see G. G. Field's Evangelist of race, p. 463. David Herbert Lawrence: see Emile Delavenay's D. H. Lawrence: the man and his work: the formative years 1885-1919. Senator Albert J. Beveridge: see Chamberlain's letter to H. Bruckmann, Feb. 11th, 1915. Albert Schweitzer: see Schweitzer's book Aus meinem Leben und Denken, p. 30.  Petrus H. Hugenholtz: see Hugenholtz' book Ethisch Pantheisme. It is said that the Russian philosopher V. V. Rozanov and the American horror-writer H. P. Lovecraft had read the Foundations and had approved of it, but I haven't found evidence for those claims yet.
    16. See Mein Kampf, vol. I, chap. 10, p. 296; in the English translation by James Murphy, published by Hurst and Blackett, London, 1939, vol. I, chap. 10, p. 153. 
    17. See for instance the sections The Galileans and Christ not a Jew from The Foundations, or Betrachtung über Jesu Verhältnis zu dem Juden from his book Mensch und Gott, p. 110. Note also that Chamberlain never wrote that Jesus was an „Aryan“, a „Teuton“ or a „German“, as his critics professed (and still profess). See for instance the Jewish anthropologist M. Fishberg, who wrote (The Jews, a Study of Race and Environment, 1911) that „H. S. Chamberlain is even convinced that Jesus was an 'Aryan' or 'Teuton'“. „Why not a Berliner?“ was Chamberlain's dry comment (La Genèse du XIXme siècle, p. 299).
    18. See the remarks from Emperor Wilhelm II in Chamberlain's book, Mensch und Gott, inserted in Briefe 1882–1924 und Briefwechsel mit Kaiser Wilhelm II, p. 265 and p. 273. 
    19. See Briefe 1882–1924 und Briefwechsel mit Kaiser Wilhelm II, letter of February 20th, 1902. 
    20. See Mein Kampf, in the English translation published by Hurst and Blackett, vol. 1, chap. 12, p. 204. 
    21. In a letter to Baron J. von Uexküll, January 8th, 1919. 
    22. See prof. Geoffrey G. Field's Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, p. 438: „According to Stolzing-Cerny, Hitler rejoiced like a child“. Stolzing-Cerny was an editor of the Völkischer Beobachter, party organ of the NSDAP.
    23. See Das Tagebuch von Joseph Goebbels 1925/26, p. 77, redirected by Helmut Heiber, Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart.
    24. See G. G. Field's Evangelist of Race, p. 452.
    25. See Arische Weltanschauung, p. 33 ff., or my translation, Aryan World-view, p. 33 ff.
    26. H. S. Chamberlain used the expression „Mann mit dem Löwenherzen“ — man with the lion's heart — in his essays Deutschlands Kriegsziel, 1916, and Der Wille zum Sieg, 1916. His essay Demokratie und Freiheit, 1917, is dedicated to this future leader. He refers to Martin Luther's Über den Nutzen der Historien, where the same phrase is used, although Luther meant not a leader figure, but a man who dares to write the truth, come what may.
    27. I left the word „Führer“ untranslated for obvious reasons. It means „leader“, nothing more.
    28. See for instance Die Zuversicht, 1915, or Das eine und das andere Deutschland, 1917, translated into English (The one and the other Germany), or Die deutsche Vaterlandspartei, 1916.
    29. See Abraham Pais' Einstein woonde hier, p. 117, Dutch translation of Einstein lived here, 1994.
    30. See The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I, p. 542. „Certain anthropologists“: Chamberlain is referring to the gentlemen of the Allgemeine Versammlung der deutschen anthropologischen Gesellschaft, who had written, 1892, that „The development of culture is manifestly the common achievement of all these types. All European races, so far as we have penetrated into the secret of the nature of race, are equally gifted for every task of culture.“
    31. See The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I p. 557.

 
 
Biografie in het Nederlands
Timeline 1855—1939
Photo gallery
Bibliography & Books online
Quotations of H. S. Chamberlains
Reviews and comments by contemporaries
About this site

 
















 

 

Last update: September 22nd, 2013