Max Nordau is best known as the author of an attack on the shams of civilization, which has been translated into many languages. For the preparation of the present book he seems to have saturated himself with the methods and results of modern morbid psychologists from Morel to Lombroso, and has thus been led to the conclusion that the literature and art of the present day may be summed up in the one word which gives the title to his book—degeneration. Not a single recent artist or writer (not being an alienist) is alluded to in this book except to be dismissed as a victim of mental derangement. The works of Millais, Rossetti (who belongs to the group of imbeciles), Swinburne (Magnan's dégénéré supérieur), Verlaine (folie circulaire), Tolstoi, Whitman (moral insanity), Wagner, etc., have all “psychic stigmata” of degeneration as understood by Morel. At the outset the author remarks that his results may be proved by physical examination of the writers and artists in question, and the study of their personal history, but he renounces this interesting task for the easier one of investigating the “psychic stigmata.” This is certainly done with remarkable acuteness, but the author entirely fails to see that the presence in a work of genius of some mental characteristic also to be found in persons of weak or perverted intellect by no means negatives the genius. Max Nordau insists on the presence of serious punning and the collocation of assonant words in various modern writers as evidence of feeble mental power because the same characteristics are found in the literature of the insane. He is not apparently aware that such verbal tricks are specially frequent in Shakespeare, whom he regards as entirely sane.
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