Home > Uncategorized > Stefan Zweig: World war and Romain Rolland, the conscience of the world

Stefan Zweig: World war and Romain Rolland, the conscience of the world

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

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 [1914], 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…

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.

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There is a mystical significance in Romain Rolland’s rise to fame, just as in every event of his life. Fame came late to this man whom fame had passed by during the bitter years of mental distress and material need. Nevertheless it came at the right hour, since it came before the war. Rolland’s renown put a sword into his hand. At the decisive moment he had power and a voice to speak for Europe. He stood on a pedestal, so that he was visible above the medley. In truth fame was granted at a fitting time, when through suffering and knowledge Rolland had grown ripe for his highest function, to assume his European responsibility. Reputation, and the power that reputation gives, came at a moment when the world of the courageous needed a man who should proclaim against the world itself the world’s eternal message of brotherhood.

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The year 1914 marks the close of Romain Rolland’s private life. Henceforth his career belongs to the world; his biography becomes part of history; his personal experiences can no longer be detached from his public activities. The solitary has been forced out of his workroom to accomplish his task in the world. The man whose existence has been so retired, must now live with doors and windows open. His every essay, his every letter, is a manifesto. His life from now onward shapes itself like a heroic drama. From the hour when his most cherished ideal, the unity of Europe, seemed bent on its own destruction, he emerged from his retirement to become a vital element of his time, an impersonal force, a chapter in the history of the European spirit. Just as little as Tolstoi’s life can be detached from his propagandist activities, just so little is there justification in this case for an attempt to distinguish between the man and his influence. Since 1914, Romain Rolland has been one with his ideal and one with the struggle for its realization. No longer is he author, poet, or artist; no longer does he belong to himself. He is the voice of Europe in the season of its most poignant agony. He has become the conscience of the world.

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