Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Houston Stewart Chamberlain (September 9, 1855 - January 9, 1927) was a British-born naturalized German natural scientist, and author of popular scientific and political philosophy books (includes those on Richard Wagner, Immanuel Kant and Johann Wolfgang Goethe) as well as proponent of a nationalist and pan-Germanic antisemitism. His book Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century)(1899) became one of the references for Teutonic supremacy and the Pan-Germanism movement of the early 20th century, selling millions of copies.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain was born on September 9, 1855, in Southsea, England. His mother, Eliza Jane, daughter of Captain Basil Hall, R.N., died before he was a year old, and he was raised by his grandmother in France.
Chamberlain's father, Rear Admiral William Charles Chamberlain, had planned a military career for his son and at 11 he was sent to a public school for future army and navy officers. But the young Chamberlain was more interested in studying music, literature and astronomy, and the prospect of serving as an officer in India or elsewhere in the British Empire held no attraction for him. In addition he was a delicate child and early health concerns put an end to Chamberlain's military prospects.
Beginning at age 14 he suffered from seriously poor health and travelled to various spas around Europe, accompanied by a Prussian tutor who taught him German and interested him in German culture and history. He then moved to Germany, becoming an important member of the "Bayreuth Circle" of German nationalist intellectuals influenced by the ideas of Richard Wagner. His second wife was Eva Wagner, the daughter of the composer.
In 1899 he wrote his most important work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. The work focuses on the controversial notion that Western civilization is deeply marked by the influence of the Teutonic peoples. Chamberlain grouped all European peoples—Celts, Germans, Slavs, Greeks, and Latins—into the "Aryan race", a race built on the ancient Proto-Indo-European culture. At the helm of the Aryan race were the Nordic or Teutonic peoples. Chamberlain's goal was to create a movement that would revive the recognition of a united Germanic people. To do this, he incorporated not just the Teutonic peoples but all tribes with northern origins into the Germanic race. This included the Celts, Germans, and Slavs, all of whom Chamberlain considered to be of Teutonic stock.
Chamberlain's book focused on the claim that the Teutonic peoples were the heirs to the empires of Greece and Rome, something which Charlemagne and some of his successors also believed. He argued that when the Germanic tribes destroyed the Roman Empire, Jews and other non-Europeans already dominated it. The Germans, therefore, saved Western civilization from Semitic domination. Chamberlain's thoughts were influenced by the writings of Nietzsche, and also Gobineau who had argued upon the superiority of the Aryan race, a term that was increasingly being used to describe white European peoples, excluding Jews (whose language implied origins other than the Proto-Indo-Europeans). For Chamberlain the concept of an Aryan race was not simply defined by ethno-linguistic origins. It was also an abstract ideal of a racial elite (see Racism). The Aryan, or 'noble' race was always in the process of creation as superior peoples supplanted inferior ones in evolutionary struggles for survival.
Chamberlain used an old biblical notion of the ethnic make up of Galilee to argue that, while Jesus may have been Jewish by religion, he was not Jewish by race. Otherwise, he suggested, God must be a Jew. During the inter-war period certain pro-Nazi theologians developed these ideas as part of the manufacture of an Aryan Jesus.
He wrote several other works on Natural Science in several languages, and he was also an early supporter of Hans Hörbiger's Welteislehre, the theory that most bodies in our solar system are covered with ice.
During his lifetime, Chamberlain's works became widely popular throughout Europe, and especially in Germany. He was invited to stay at the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was said that his works would later have a marked effect upon German nationalist movements, such as Adolf Hitler's National Socialism.
Chamberlain was at ease in the German language and wrote in it. During World War I, he published several propaganda texts against his country of origin—Kriegsaufsätze (Wartime Essays)—, and became a citizen of Germany in 1916.
Adolf Hitler was an avid student of his "Foundations", and praised him as "The Prophet of the Third Reich".
Chamberlain also wrote extensively about Wagner, and edited some of his letters. His edition of Wagner letters has been described (by Stewart Spencer in Wagner Remembered, London 2000) as 'one of the most egregious attempts in the history of musicology to misrepresent an artist by systematically censoring his correspondence'.
Of Chamberlain's works see:
- Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, translated from the German by John Lees, M.A., D.Lit.,(Edinburgh) with an extensive 'Introduction' by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale, The Bodley Head, London, 4th reprint 1913, (2 volumes).
- Immanuel Kant - a study and a comparison with Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci, Bruno, Plato and Descartes, the authorised translation from the German by Lord Redesdale, with his 'Introduction', The Bodley Head, London, 1914, (2 volumes).
- Recherches sur La Seve Ascendante, Neuchatel, 1897.
- Richard Wagner, Munich, 1897, translated by G. Ainslie Hight
- Basil Hall Chamberlain - elder brother of Houston.
- Houston Stewart Chamberlain - a website devoted to him
- Theodore Roosevelt's review of The Foundation of the 19th Century
- Chaimberlains War Essays. In English at archive.org
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