Titu Maiorescu - Eminescu and his poems

«First of all, Eminescu's personality was characterized by an overwhelming intelligence assisted by a memory that never let go of what it had recorded, not even during the period when he was certified as mentally ill. Willingly and according to his nature, he used to live almost exclusively in a world of abstract ideas, which he had a very firm grasp over, so they were always at hand. He was indifferent to any individual case, external event, social convention, fortune or poverty, high standing or ordinary status; even the external fate of his own person left him cold. Talking of Eminescu's material poverty would mean to use an inappropriate pattern to refer to his individuality - a pattern that he might have been the first to reject. From the material point of view, Eminescu always had as much as he wanted to have for his living. He never found himself restrained by any material difficulty during his period of intellectual strength. When he could not earn money by himself, his father or friends financially supported him. Moreover, he always despised public charity.

Should Eminescu's poetry have been rewarded with an academic prize, as a German magazine in Bucharest keeps complaining about? Eminescu would have welcomed such a suggestion with a Homeric laugh, or (depending on his mood at that moment) he would have smiled, thus giving us another proof of that charitable lenience he used to show when confronted with mundane, trifling matters. Enthralled by his poetry, Queen of Romania wished to meet him, so Eminescu had several literary conversations with Carmen Sylva. I also saw him at the Royal Court. He behaved with the same gracious naturalness that he used to grant everybody. But when they wanted to reward him with an honorary medal (a bene-merenti or another of this kind), he vehemently declined. He was a real king of human thinking, so how possibly could another monarch bestow praise on him? He did not do it out of arrogance (he did not have any), nor out of taking pride in his exceptional intelligence (which he was the only one ignorant about), but pushed by that naivete of a genius wrapped into an ideal world, to whom any descent to the conventional world was a cause for bitterness and a visible discrepancy!

The one understanding such a personality should instantly figure out that there was no way of tempting Eminescu by any mean advantage, usually an efficient bait for many people. High standing, luxury, ambition and craving for glory - none of these was among his preoccupations. Had he earned more or less as an editor of Timpul (The Time), well, it would hardly have made any difference to him, materially. Only when his mental illness grew aggravated, in his lucid moments he became rather greedy for money (however, various other symptoms of ethical degeneracy were also present as normally related to this frame of mind).

Therefore, that legend of Eminescu being driven insane by poverty should have the fate of many other similar legends: it must disappear, when confronted with reality.

Not even the special task of a journal editor should be thought of as a constraint unwillingly imposed on Eminescuís rebel spirit. Eminescu was the most diligent of men. He kept on reading, pondering and writing all the time. Lacking any self-concern, he used to gather information on all aspects of intellectual life: a friend's writing; studying European philosophical trends; historical sources (which he knew better than anyone) or political conflicts in the country. Most typical of his nature was to think about one of these matters, to meditate and write about them. The energy he displayed when editing Timpul, the superior views shown in all his articles, the unforgettable power of persuasion which he insisted on the importance of autochthonous element as opposing the slogan of a liberal nationalism claimed by the ruling political party - all these could serve as proof of out statements.

Endowed with such a nature, Eminescu could find a natural frame for his activity, regardless of the circumstances. As a librarian, he had plenty of opportunities to enrich his memory treasure, though already immense. By clarity of his thinking, he could improve the new school methods as a school inspector. When joining his friends, the writers, he could find delight in their works without any trace of envy or he could laugh at them meaning no malice. As an editor of Timpul he could whip the fake verbiage and he formulated a synthesis of the latest trend in national history. Considering that some of these preoccupations were selected at random, Eminescu was willing to tackle anything.

If Eminescu went insane, it was because of an exclusively internal, inborn and hereditary cause. Those who know more about his family should remember that his two suicidal brothers had been driven insane before his madness was triggered and this neuropathy could be determined by a hereditary cause.

However, even when his spirit was vigorous, the way he used to live made his friends fear the outcome. His life-style was irregular. He often fed himself only with narcotics and stimulants. Too freely he indulged himself in coffee and tobacco, wasted nights while reading and writing or spending whole days with no food in his stomach. Then suddenly, unnaturally, after midnight he would cram himself with food and liquor, no matter what sort or quantity. This is what Eminescu's life was like. Anyway, it was not this kind of a living that caused his insanity. On the contrary, it was the inborn germ of insanity that determined his life. All the efforts, often and stubbornly repeated by several of his friends - I used to be counted among them - proved no result in making him adopt a healthier way of living.

We also consider there can be no more talk of misfortunes that might have influenced Eminescu's intellectual or physical health. If somebody asked us: Was Eminescu happy?, we could answer: Who is really happy? But if someone asked us: Was Eminescu unhappy?, we should answer plainly: No! He was a true disciple of Schopenhauer's, therefore a pessimist. Nevertheless, his pessimism was not merely the mean complaint of a self-centered man dissatisfied with his own destiny. It was made eternal by a more serene kind of melancholy, caused by meditation over mankindís fate. Even where his poetry shows indignation against epigones and cheating demagogues, we have to understand it as an aestethic perception, rather than personal bitterness. If we think of the real meaning of selfishness, Eminescu was the most careless man one could imagine. He could not be touched by too intensive happiness, nor could he put up with too great unhappiness. His typical feature was abstract serenity, showed both when he was melancholic or joyous. Another interesting thing to be noticed is that even the expression of his madness was exuberant joy.

He had a childish and unsophisticated air when he came to join us (this behavior had already conquered everybody's heart long before), while bringing his latest poem, which he had kept on re-writing and improving, looking all the time for a form closer to perfection. Then he read it as if that work had nothing to do with him. The idea of having it published would not even occur to him. His work seemed to be somehow completely indifferent to him. One of us had to take the manuscript out of his hand and take it to Convorbiri Literare!

Regarding his poetry (where his thoughts and feelings came to life in such a wonderful way) he was pleased with a limited number of friends' aesthetic emotion, without harboring any personal pride. He considered himself an accidental tool for giving voice to poetry, which means that he would have been glad to let it be expressed by somebody else. Thinking about all these, we are entitled to conclude not only that he was careless with the accidents of his social life, but also that his passionate relationships had a most unusual character. Those words defining a happy or unhappy love story could not possibly be assigned to Eminescu in any ordinary respect. No feminine entity could lure and enslave him, as she was only a limited being. Like Leopardi in Aspasia, he could not see anything else in the beloved woman but the faulty copy of an unattainable prototype. Although that accidental copy should love him or leave him, she would still be but a copy. Thus, burdened by an impersonal melancholy, he took refuge into a world more familiar to him, a world of thought and poetry. Hence the ending lyrics of Luceafarul (Lucifer) :

O, what care you, fair face of clay,

If it be he or I?

Still earth shall only earth remain,

Let luck its course unfold,

And I in my own kingdom reign

Immutable and cold

 

(Translated by Junona Tutunea)

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