Fin De Siècle

— In February, 1890, M. Blum wrote for a Paris theatre a caustic picture of Parisian life, entitled Paris Fin de Siècle. The play was not unsuccessful, and part of its title, borrowed apparently from Mensonges by M. Bourget, who himself may have borrowed it, has gained world-wide currency. Everywhere we are treated to dissertations on fin-de-sièecle literature, fin-de-siècle statesmanship, fin-desièele morality. A café in Paris styles itself Café Fin de Siècle. People seem to take for granted that a moribund century implies, not to say excuses, disenchantment, languor, literary, artistic, and political weariness, and that in 1901 the world will make a fresh start. This appears to be a new sensation. Towards the end of the tenth century, indeed, there was a widespread belief in the end of the world : fields were left unfilled, houses unrepaired ; it was useless to work for posterity when the Great Consummation was at hand. But I do not find that any subsequent fin de siècle betrayed morbid self-consciousness. Carlyle, it is true, set the fashion of anathematizing the poor eighteenth century as bankrupt, and taught us to regard the French Revolution as the grand collapse of an age of shams ; but I see no trace of our grandfathers considering their times exceptionally bad, or of their being anxious to reach 1801. We are apt to forget that a century is a purely arbitrary division, so that there can be no moral or material difference between 1900 and 1901. Were it otherwise, fin de mille ought to have tenfold significance ; and if the Romans, by placing a stone at every thousandth step, gave us the word “milestone,” a “mile of years ” should be a notable division of time. Our grandchildren, as the year 2000 approaches, ought to feel tenfold depression, not from apprehension of the end of the world, but from the lassitude of a millennium on its last legs. Nay, more, what the last decade is to a century the last century is to a millennium ; so far, therefore, from sighing for 1901, we ought to be positively dreading it, and 2001 ought to be as great a relief as was 1001.

No doubt a new century, like a new year, may inspire good resolutions, and good resolutions are to be welcomed even if prompted by a kind of superstition. Better, assuredly, for a girl to discard frivolity when she is twenty, a young man his wild oats when he is thirty, a matron her rouge-pot when she is sixty, than not discard them at all. Foibles might. indeed, be renounced to-morrow, waiting for a round age ; but if has not the requisite force of cha ter for this, let us be thankful for the second best. If the world — or rather the Christian world, for non-Christian countries are out of our reckoning, inasmuch as they have their own — contemplates turning over a new leaf with a new century, it will be cause for rejoicing ; and from this standpoint it might be well to encourage a prevalent fallacy that that century will begin in 1900, for reformation will thus commence a year earlier. 1900, to the surprise, doubtless, of many persons, will not be leap year ; suppose we take a moral leap to make up for it. In like manner, if, a hundred years hence, there is a tenfold resolution to rise to higher things, let the rejoicing be tenfold. But meanwhile do not let us imagine that because we are in the 90’s we have an excuse for lassitude and flabbiness, nor let us and our children imagine ten years hence that because we are in the 19’s duty may be shirked. To expect nothing great is like one of those prophecies which tend to fulfill themselves. If, as Plutarch says, vice should wither and virtue strengthen with age, why should not the same be the case with a century ? In point of fact, the tenth decade has had its full share of events. The Exodus is commonly dated B. C. 1491 (of course the B. c. centuries are reckoned backward, and the people living in them did not foresee how we should date them; consequently, they were unconscious of what to us were their tenth decades), the siege of Troy 1193, and the birth of Homer 900, but let us pass to more certain chronologies. The death of great men leaves the world poorer, so that we must consider deplorable, though memorable, the death of Socrates in B. C. 399, of Roger Bacon in A. D. 1292, of Chaucer in 1400, of Montaigne in 1592, of Giordano Bruno, a martyr like Socrates, in 1600, and of Washington in 1799 ; but B. C. 100 boasts the birth of Cæsar, A. D. 1692 that of Analogy Butler, 1694 that of Voltaire, 1795 that of Carlyle. Solon legislated R. c. 594 ; Clovis was baptized A. B. 496 ; Charlemagne was crowned at Rome in 800 ; Paris became the capital of France in 996, — that was a grand Paris Fin de Sièele ; Godfrey became king of Jerusalem in 1099 ; Dante commenced his Divina Commedia in 1300 ; America, as we have good reason to remember, was discovered in 1492 ; English trade with India commenced in 1591 ; the Edict of Nantes gave France religious peace in 1598. Let us hope that within the next nine years there will be some great achievement, and let us also take to heart the conviction that for reformation or any other good work one year is as good as another, or rather that the present year is better than any other. One to-day is worth two to-morrows.