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Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
THE first fifty years of Romain Rolland's life were passed in inconspicuous and almost solitary labors. Thenceforward, his name was to become a storm center of European discussion. Until shortly before the apocalyptic year, hardly an artist of our days worked in such complete retirement, or received so little recognition. Since that year, no artist has been the subject of so much controversy. His fundamental ideas were not destined to make themselves generally known until there was a world in arms bent upon destroying them. Envious fate works ever thus, interweaving the lives of the great with tragical threads. She tries her powers to the uttermost upon the strong, sending events to run counter to their plans, permeating their lives with strange allegories, imposing obstacles in their path—that they may be guided more unmistakably in the right course. Fate plays with them, plays a game with a sublime issue, for all experience is precious. Think of the greatest among our contemporaries; think of Wagner, Nietzsche, Dostoievsky, Tolstoi, Strindberg; in the case of each of them, destiny has superadded to the creations of the artist's mind, the drama of personal experience. Notably do these considerations apply to the life of Romain Rolland. The significance of his life's work becomes plain only when it is contemplated as a whole. It was slowly produced, for it had to encounter great dangers; it was a gradual revelation, tardily consummated. The foundations of this splendid structure were deeply dug in the firm ground of knowledge, and were laid upon the hidden masonry of years spent in isolation. Thus tempered by the ordeal of a furnace seven times heated, his work has the essential imprint of humanity. Precisely owing to the strength of its foundations, to the solidity of its moral energy, was Rolland's thought able to stand unshaken throughout the war storms that have been ravaging Europe. While other monuments to which we had looked up with veneration, cracking and crumbling, have been leveled with the quaking earth, the monument he had builded stands firm "above the battle," above the medley of opinions, a pillar of strength towards which all free spirits can turn for consolation amid the tumult of the world.