Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/159

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

makes it significant. A decade or two makes now such an addition to the body of facts that come into the range of human knowledge that the effect may be complete subversion of previously entertained opinions except in the case of men whose sentiments are so strong that they cling to what they have believed the more tenaciously the more it is assailed. Public opinion as a whole shapes itself in agreement with the new facts. It is new facts and fuller interpretation of the old facts, not merely a refluent wave of human feeling, that is responsible for the current trend away from individualism.

Ibsen died in nineteen hundred and six, and so he must be reckoned as of both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. He was an old man then, however, over twenty years older than Nietzsche was when he died, and naturally the real body of Ibsen's work was done by the end of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, he was a man whose thoughts looked forward to our day as Emerson's did not and as Nietzsche's did not. He was an individualist as they were, but he was not an extremist, he was not a man to see the world from one view-point only, he was not narrow or intellectually provincial. That he went with the current ideas of his time as fully as either Emerson or Nietzsche, however, is easily apparent, and it is quite as clear that he was intensely an individualist. What could be more thoroughly individualistic than the words with which Dr. Stockmann ends "An Enemy of the People"? "You see," he tells his wife and children after the utter defeat of all his plans for the good of the community, "You see, the fact is that the strongest man upon earth is he who stands most alone." The two plays that probably more than any others have interested the general reading and play-going public, "Ghosts" and "A Doll's House," are both of them declarations—positive and negative, of the same thing, the right of the individual to develop his own life in his own way according to the needs of his own nature without too close a regard for the demands of society. When at the end of "A Doll's House" Nora is leaving her husband and children and Hehner protests that before all else she is wife and mother, she answers: "I no longer think so. I think that before all else I am a human being just as you are; or at least, I have to try to become one." It is in fact just the individualism in this play and in these words that has made it in a sense the distinctive and notable play of the nineteenth century. It is a human cry for emancipation, for freedom, for self-realization, and it is a cry that Ibsen reiterates again and again through his dramas, demanding that man shall realize himself, but also that he shall realize his best self. It is his peculiar virtue as an individualist that he is held back more or less by the feeling that no man realizes his best self without taking his fellows very largely into account. That is the summing up of his word in "Brand."