Rilke, Europe, and the English-Speaking World

By Eudo C. Mason | Go to book overview

VI
STEREOTYPED ESTIMATES OF ANGLO-SAXON CULTURE

MANY of Rilke's acquaintances, as he often notes in his letters,1 travelled for one reason or another, sometimes for longer periods or habitually, to England or even to America, and it was naturally expected of him that he should, like most people of his circle, at least make the journey to London. But, as we have already seen (above p. 39), Kassner records that 'nothing could persuade him to go to London', and J. R. von Salis that 'nothing would induce him to visit England'. Actually it appears that Rilke did in the years before the 1914 war more than once contemplate going to England -- though the only records of these plans that have so far come to light all take the form of decisions not, after all, to risk such a step. On 17 August 1904, when Arthur Holitscher had suggested, presumably on the ground of some tentative, earlier, oral plans, that he and Rilke should spend some time together in London, Rilke replied from Sweden: 'I imagine London as something very torturing. You know my fear of very large cities. Furthermore I shall probably never travel any further westward, since everything always summons me to Russia.' (For the rest of what Rilke says about England in this letter see below pp. 64-5.) On 26 May 1910 Rilke writes to his wife from Paris: 'And now I also know that what I have to do at this time is not to go to England, but to pull myself together here.' Two years later, when there is a rumour circulating amongst his friends that he is going to London, he indignantly denies it: 'No, London is not in the least on my programme.'2

One may say both of Rilke's thoughts of travelling to England and of his dealings with the English language that, so far as he advances at all, it is only for the sake of drawing back again with

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