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Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Houston Stewart Chamberlain
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 119-1600-06, Houston Stewart Chamberlain.jpg
Portrait of Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Born (1855-09-09)9 September 1855
Southsea, Hampshire, England
Died 9 January 1927(1927-01-09) (aged 71)
Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany
Spouse(s) Anna Horst (1878-1905), Eva von Bülow-Wagner (1908-1927)

Houston Stewart Chamberlain (9 September 1855 – 9 January 1927) was an English-born German author of books on political philosophy, natural science and son-in-law of the German composer Richard Wagner; he is described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a "racialist writer".[1] He later became a German subject. In December 1908, twenty-five years after Wagner's death, Chamberlain married Wagner's stepdaughter, Eva von Bülow. Chamberlain's two-volume book, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century),[2] published in 1899, became one of the many references for the pan-Germanic movement of the early 20th century, and, later, of the völkisch antisemitism of Nazi racial policy.

Early life

Houston Stewart Chamberlain was born in Southsea, Hampshire, England, the son of Rear Admiral William Charles Chamberlain, RN. His mother, Eliza Jane, daughter of Captain Basil Hall, RN, died before he was a year old; his grandmother brought him up in France.

Chamberlain's education, begun in a lycée at Versailles, took place mostly on the Continent, but his father had planned a military career for his son and at the age of eleven he was sent to Cheltenham College, an English boarding school which produced many army and navy officers.[3] The young Chamberlain was "a compulsive dreamer", more interested in the arts than in the military, and he developed a fondness for nature and a near-mystical sense of self.[4] 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 with poor health. At the age of fourteen he had to be withdrawn from school.

He then travelled to various spas around Europe, accompanied by a Prussian tutor, Herr Otto Kuntze, who taught him German and interested him in German culture and history. Chamberlain then went to Geneva, where he studied under Carl Vogt (a supporter of racial typology at the University of Geneva),[5] Graebe, Müller Argoviensis, Thury, Plantamour, and other professors. He studied systematic botany, geology, astronomy, and later the anatomy and physiology of the human body.[6]

Thereafter he settled at Dresden, where "he plunged heart and soul into the mysterious depths of Wagnerian music and philosophy, the metaphysical works of the Master probably exercising as strong an influence upon him as the musical dramas".[6] Chamberlain immersed himself in philosophical writings, and became a Völkisch author, one of those concerned more with art, culture, civilisation and spirit than with quantitative physical distinctions between groups.[7] This is evidenced by his huge treatise on Immanuel Kant[8] with its comparisons. His knowledge of Friedrich Nietzsche is demonstrated in that work (p. 183) and in Foundations (p. 153n). By this time Chamberlain had met his first wife, the Prussian Anna Horst, whom he would divorce in 1905 after 28 years of marriage.[9][10]

Later years

In 1889 he moved to Austria. During this time it is said his ideas on race began taking shape, influenced by the concept of Teutonic supremacy he alleged was embodied in the works of Wagner and Arthur de Gobineau.[11] This was in spite of Wagner having dismissed Gobineau's racist ideology in his late years as "eine schlechthin unmoralische Weltordnung" (utterly immoral world-order).[12]

Chamberlain had attended Wagner's Bayreuth Festival in 1882 and struck up a close correspondence with his widow Cosima. In 1908, twenty-five years after Wagner's death, he married Eva von Bülow-Wagner, Franz Liszt's granddaughter and Richard Wagner's stepdaughter. The next year he moved to Germany and became an important member of the "Bayreuth Circle" of German nationalist intellectuals.

By the time World War I broke out in 1914, Chamberlain remained British only by virtue of his name and nationality. In 1916 he also acquired German citizenship. He had already begun propagandising on behalf of the German government and continued to do so throughout the war. His vociferous denunciations of his land of birth, it has been posited,[13] were the culmination of his rejection of his native England's capitalism, in favour of a form of German Romanticism akin to that which he had cultivated in himself during his years at Cheltenham. Chamberlain received the Iron Cross from the Kaiser, with whom he was in regular correspondence, in 1916.[14]

In August 1914 he started suffering from a progressive paralysis of the limbs.[15][16] At the end of the war Chamberlain's paralysis had already befallen much of his body; his chronically bad health had reached its final stage.[15] He continued living in Bayreuth until his death in 1927.[17][18]

Encounters with Hitler

In 1923 Chamberlain met with Hitler in Bayreuth and in September he sat in his wheelchair next to Hitler during the völkisch "German Day" paramilitary parade. In 1923 he would write a grateful and highly admiring letter to the NSDAP leader[16] and publish an essay ("Gott will es!", "God wants it!") on the front page of the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter.[10]

In May 1926, one year before his death, Chamberlain was visited by Hitler and Goebbels in Bayreuth.[10]


Chamberlain died on January 9, 1927 and was buried at the Bayreuth cemetery in the presence of Adolf Hitler. His gravestone bears a verse from the Gospel of Luke, which he considered to spell out the essential difference between his ideal type of Christianity, and Judaism and Catholicism as he saw them: "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).[10]


Natural science

Houston Stewart Chamberlain in 1895

Under the tutelage of Professor Julius von Wiesner of the University of Vienna, Chamberlain studied botany in Geneva, earning a Bacheliers en sciences (BSc) physiques et naturelles in 1881. His thesis, Recherches sur la sève ascendante (Studies on rising sap), was not finished until 1897[19] and did not culminate in a further qualification.[20] The main thrust of his dissertation is that the vertical transport of fluids in vascular plants via xylem cannot be explained by the fluid mechanical theories of the time, but only by the existence of a "vital force" (force vitale) that is beyond the pale of physical measurement. He summarises his thesis in the Introduction:

Without the participation of these vital functions it is quite simply impossible for water to rise to heights of 150 feet, 200 feet and beyond, and all the efforts that one makes to hide the difficulties of the problem by relying on confused notions drawn from physics are little more reasonable than the search for the philosopher's stone.[21]

Physical arguments, in particular transpirational pull and root pressure, have since been shown to be adequate for explaining the ascent of sap.[22]

He was an early supporter of Hanns Hörbiger's Welteislehre, the theory that most bodies in our solar system are covered with ice. Due in part to Chamberlain's advocacy, this became official cosmological dogma during the Third Reich.[23]

Chamberlain's attitude towards the natural sciences was somewhat ambivalent and contradictory – he later wrote: "one of the most fatal errors of our time is that which impels us to give too great weight to the so-called 'results' of science."[24] Still, his scientific credentials were often cited by admirers to give weight to his political philosophy.[6]

Chamberlain rejected Darwinism, evolution and social Darwinism and instead emphasised "gestalt" which he said derived from Goethe.[25]

Richard Wagner

Chamberlain was an admirer of Richard Wagner, and wrote several commentaries on his works including Notes sur Lohengrin ("Notes on Lohengrin") (1892), an analysis of Wagner's drama (1892), and a biography (1895), emphasising in particular the heroic Teutonic aspects in the composer's works.[26] Stewart Spencer, writing in Wagner Remembered,[27] described Chamberlain's edition of Wagner letters as "one of the most egregious attempts in the history of musicology to misrepresent an artist by systematically censoring his correspondence."

Die Grundlagen (The Foundations)

In 1899 Chamberlain wrote his most famous work, Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, in German. The book argued that Western civilisation is deeply marked by the influence of Teutonic peoples. Chamberlain grouped all European peoples – not just Germans, but Celts, Slavs, Greeks, and Latins – into the "Aryan race," a race built on the ancient Proto-Indo-European culture. In fact he even included the Berber people of North Africa in the Aryan race: "The noble Moor of Spain is anything but a pure Arab of the desert, he is half a Berber (from the Aryan family) and his veins are so full of Gothic blood that even at the present day noble inhabitants of Morocco can trace their descent back to Teutonic ancestors."[28] At the helm of the Aryan race, and, indeed, all races, according to Chamberlain, were the Germanic or Teutonic peoples.

The Foundations sold well: eight editions and 60,000 copies within 10 years, 100,000 copies by the outbreak of World War I and 24 editions and more than a quarter of a million copies by 1938.[29]


During World War I, Chamberlain published several propaganda texts against his country of birth – Kriegsaufsätze (Wartime Essays). In the first four tracts, he maintains that Germany is a nation of peace; England's political system is a sham, while Germany exhibits true freedom; German is the greatest and only remaining "living" language; and the world would be better off doing away with English and French-styled parliamentary governments in favour of German rule "thought out by a few and carried out with iron consequence." The final two discuss England and Germany at length.[30]

Impact of The Foundations

During his lifetime Chamberlain's works were read widely throughout Europe, and especially in Germany. His reception was particularly favourable among Germany's conservative elite. Kaiser Wilhelm II patronised Chamberlain, maintaining a correspondence, inviting him to stay at his court, distributing copies of The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century among the German Army, and seeing that The Foundations was carried in German libraries and included in the school curricula.[11][31]

The Foundations would prove to be a seminal work in German nationalism; due to its success, aided by Chamberlain's association with the Wagner circle, its ideas of Aryan supremacy and a struggle against Jewish influence spread widely across the German state at the beginning of the century. If it did not form the framework of later National Socialist ideology, at the very least it provided its adherents with a seeming intellectual justification.[32]

Chamberlain himself lived to see his ideas begin to bear fruit. Adolf Hitler, while still growing as a political figure in Germany, visited him several times (in 1923 and in 1926, together with Joseph Goebbels) at the Wagner family's property in Bayreuth.[31] Chamberlain, paralysed and despondent after Germany's losses in World War I, wrote to Hitler after his first visit in 1923:

Most respected and dear Hitler, ... It is hardly surprising that a man like that can give peace to a poor suffering spirit! Especially when he is dedicated to the service of the fatherland. My faith in Germandom has not wavered for a moment, though my hopes were – I confess – at a low ebb. With one stroke you have transformed the state of my soul. That Germany, in the hour of her greatest need, brings forth a Hitler – that is proof of her vitality ... that the magnificent Ludendorff openly supports you and your movement: What wonderful confirmation! I can now go untroubled to sleep... May God protect you![31]

Chamberlain joined the Nazi Party and contributed to its publications. Its primary journal, the Völkischer Beobachter dedicated five columns to praising him on his 70th birthday, describing The Foundations as the "gospel of the Nazi movement."[33]

Hitler later attended Chamberlain's funeral in January 1927 along with several highly ranked members of the Nazi Party.[34] Chamberlain's ideas were influential in particular to Alfred Rosenberg, who became the Nazi Party's in-house philosopher. In 1909, some months before his 17th birthday, he went with an aunt to visit his guardian, where several other relatives were gathered. Bored, he went to a book shelf, picked up a copy of Chamberlain's The Foundations and wrote of the moment: "I felt electrified; I wrote down the title and went straight to the bookshop." In 1930 Rosenberg published The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a homage to and continuation of Chamberlain's work.[35] Rosenberg had accompanied Hitler when he called upon Wagner's widow, Cosima, in October 1923 where he met her son-in-law. Hitler told the ailing Chamberlain he was working on his own book which, he intended, should do for the Third Reich what Chamberlain's book had done for the Second.[36]

Beyond the Kaiser and the NSDAP, assessments were mixed. The French Germanic scholar Edmond Vermeil considered Chamberlain's ideas "essentially shoddy," but the anti-Nazi German author Konrad Heiden, despite objections to Chamberlain's racial ideas, described him as "one of the most astonishing talents in the history of the German mind, a mine of knowledge and profound ideas."[37] In a 1939 work Martin Heidegger (himself a former Nazi) dismissed Chamberlain's work as "Weltanschauung" (fabricated worldview).[38]


  • (1892). Das Drama Richard Wagners. Eine Anregung, Breitkopf & Härtel.
  • (1895). Richard Wagner, F. Bruckmann.
  • (1899). Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, Bruckmann.
  • (1905). Arische Weltanschauung, Bruckmann.
  • (1903). Heinrich von Stein und seine Weltanschauung, Georg Heinrich Meyer.
  • (1905). Immanuel Kant. Die Persönlichkeit als Einführung in das Werk, Bruckmann.
  • (1912). Goethe. Bruckmann.
  • (1915). Kriegsaufsätze, Bruckmann.
  • (1919). Lebenswege meines Denkens, Bruckmann.

Works in English translation

  • (1897). Richard Wagner, J. M. Dent & Co. [translated by G. Ainslie Hight].
  • (1911). The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 2 Vol., John Lane, The Bodley Head [translated into English from the German by John Lees, with an Introduction by Lord Redesdale].
  • (1914). Immanuel Kant, 2 Vol., John Lane, The Bodley Head [translated by Lord Redesdale].
  • (1915). The Wagnerian Drama, John Lane, the Bodley Head.
  • (1915). The Ravings of a Renegade, Jarrold & Sons [translated by Charles H. Clarke with an introduction by Lewis Melville].
  • (2005). Political Ideals, University Press of America [translated by Alexander Jacob].
  • (2012) Aryan World View, Aristeus books. ISBN 978-1479223039
  • (2012). The Ravings of a Renegade, Aristeus Books [translated by Charles H. Clarke with an introduction by Lewis Melville]. ISBN 978-1479231584
  • (2014). Richard Wagner, Aristeus Books. [translated by G. Ainslie Hight]. ISBN 978-1502494689

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ Chamberlain, Houston Stewart (1899), Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (in German), Munich, Germany: F. Bruckmann, OCLC 27828004  Electronic copy is available from the Hathi Trust Digital Library (volume 1) and (volume 2).
  3. ^ Redesdale, Lord, "Introduction" to Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, London, 4th English language impression, 1913, p. vi
  4. ^ Mosse, George L. "Introduction to the 1968 Edition." Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. Chamberlain, Houston Stewart. Vol. I. Trans. John Lees. New York: Howard Fertig inc., 1968, p. ix.
  5. ^ Bramwell, A., Blood and Soil – Richard Walther Darré and Hitler's "Green Party", London, 1985, p. 206, ISBN 0-946041-33-4
  6. ^ a b c Redesdale, Lord, Foundations (1913), p. vi
  7. ^ Bramwell, A., Blood and Soil – Richard Walther Darré and Hitler's "Green Party", London, 1985, pps: 23 and 40, ISBN 0-946041-33-4
  8. ^ Immanuel Kant. Die Persönlichkeit als Einführung in das Werk, Bruckmann, 1905.
  9. ^ Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p. 105 of 1985 Book Club Associates edition.
  10. ^ a b c d "Houston Stewart Chamberlain: Timeline 1855-1939". Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Chase, Allan. "The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism." New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977, pp. 91–92.
  12. ^ Dieter Scholz, "Ein Deutsches Missverständnis", 1997, p. 211
  13. ^ Adorno, Theodor W. "On the Question: "What is German?"" trans. Levin, Thomas Y. New German Critique, No. 36. 1985. p. 123.
  14. ^ Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.108 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  15. ^ a b David George Otness (1 January 1976). "H. S. Chamberlain and the Bayreuth "Kulturkreis": a study in ideology". Portland State University. pp. 173, 207. Retrieved 19 April 2015. Chamberlain was almost entirely paralyzed from the end of the war until his death in 1927. He dictated letters in a hoarse mutter only his loyal wife could interpret. 
  16. ^ a b Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1928). An Adolf Hitler (To A.H.), 7. Oktober 1923. Briefe 1882—1924 (Correspondence 1882-1924) 2 (Munich: F. Bruckmann). pp. 124–126. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Mosse, xi, xiv.
  18. ^ Degener, Herrmann A.L., editor, Wer Ist's? (the German Who's Who), Berlin, 1928, vol.9, p.1773 records the death on 9 January 1927, of "Houston Stewart Chamberlain, writer, Bayreuth".
  19. ^ published by Attinger Fréres at Neuchatel the same year
  20. ^ Powell, J.; D.W. Blakely, T. Powell (2001). Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 82–84. ISBN 0-313-30422-X. 
  21. ^ Chamberlain., H.S. (1897). Recherche sur la sève ascendante. Neuchâtel: Attinger Freres, Editeurs. p. 8. 
  22. ^ Melvin T. Tyree; Martin H. Zimmermann (2003). Xylem Structure and the Ascent of Sap, 2nd ed., Springer. ISBN 3-540-43354-6. recent update of the classic book on xylem transport by the late Martin Zimmermann
  23. ^ Herrmann, Joachim (1962). Das falsche Weltbild (in German). Stuttgart: Franckhsche Verlagshandlung Kosmos. 
  24. ^ Chamberlain, H.S. (1911). The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. London: John Lane, the Bodley Head. p. 94. 
  25. ^ See Anne Harrington, Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler, (Princeton University Press: 1999) online p. 106
  26. ^ "Houston Stewart Chamberlain.". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 December 2007. 
  27. ^ London 2000
  28. ^ Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the 19th Century (1899), Adamant Media Corporation, 2005, p.398, chap.5
  29. ^ Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.107 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  30. ^ Chamberlain, Houston Stewart, The Ravings of a Renegade: Being the War Essays of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Translated with a Preface by Charles H. Clark, PhD., and an Introduction by Lewis Melville, Jarrold and Sons, London, 1915.
  31. ^ a b c Stackelberg, R.; S.A. Winkle (2002). The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts. Routeledge. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-415-22213-3. 
  32. ^ Mosse, xvi.
  33. ^ Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.109 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  34. ^ Westdeutscher Rundfunk (1 January 2003). "Der Todestag des Schriftstellers Houston Stewart Chamberlain, 9. Januar 1927" (in German). Retrieved 20 December 2007. 
  35. ^ Hecht, J.M. (April 2000). "Vacher de Lapouge and the Rise of Nazi Science". Journal of the History of Ideas 61 (2): 285–304. JSTOR 3654029. doi:10.1353/jhi.2000.0018. 
  36. ^ Cecil, Robert, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology, London, 1972, p.12-13, ISBN 0-7134-1121-X
  37. ^ Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.105-6 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  38. ^ Heidegger, Martin, Besinnung, Gesamtausgabe, Band 66, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, 1997, p.402, section 131, "Metaphysik und Weltanschauung. "Die 'Weltanschauung' ist eine neuzeitliche Verunstaltung der Metaphysik ,ihr Maßstab ist die Öffentlichkeit, in der Jedermann Jedes zugänglich findet und auf solche Zugänglichlichkeit einen Anspruch erhebt; dem widerstreitet nicht, daß 'Weltanschauungen' dann sehr 'persönlich' und auf den 'Einzelnen' zugeschnitten sind; diese Einzelnen fühlen sich als die abseitigen Jedermänner, als Menschen, die auf sich gestellt für sich ein Welt-Bild, die Welt als Bild vor-stellen und eine Art des Sichzurechtfindens (Charakter) sich zustellen (z.B. Houston Stewart Chamberlain)."


  • Carr, Jonathan (2007), The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, p. 409, ISBN 978-0-87113-975-7 
  • Field, Geoffrey G. (1981), Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 565, ISBN 978-0-231-04860-6 
  • Hilmes, Oliver (2009), Cosimas Kinder: Triumph und Tragödie der Wagner-Dynastie (Cosima's Children: Triumph and Tragedy of the Wagner Dynasty) (in German), Munich, Germany: Siedler Verlag, p. 319, ISBN 978-3-88680-899-1 
  • Real, Jéan (1955), "The religious conception of race: Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Germanic Christianity", in Vermeil, Edmond, The Third Reich: Essays on the National-Socialist Movement in Germany, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pp. 243–286, OCLC 753252220 
  • Scholz, Dieter (1997), Ein deutsches Mißverständnis. Richard Wagner zwischen Barrikade und Walhalla, Berlin: Parthas Verlag, ISBN 978-3932529139 
  • Hadow, Sir W. H. (1934), Richard Wagner, London: T. Butterworth, Ltd. 
  • Praeger, Ferdinand (1892). Wagner as I Knew Him London: Longman, Green & Co.

Further reading

  • Barzun, Jacques (1937), Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, Taylor & Francis.
  • Biddiss, Michael (1998), "History as Destiny: Gobineau, H. S. Chamberlain and Spengler," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. VII, Sixth Series, Cambridge University Press.
  • Kelly, Alfred (1981), The Descent of Darwin: The Popularization of Darwinism in Germany, 1860–1914, University of North Carolina Press.
  • Mather Jr., F. J. (1915), "Ethnic Darwinism: A New-Old Fallacy," The Unpopular Review, Vol. III, No. 5.
  • Newman, Ernest (1931), "The Case of Ferdinand Praeger." In Fact and Fiction about Wagner, Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Parkinson, C. Northcote (1958), "The Theory of Dictatorship." In Evolution of Political Thought, Part IV, Chap. 22, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Redesdale, Lord (1914), "Houston Stewart Chamberlain," The Edinburgh Review, Vol. CCXIX, No. 447.
  • Snyder, Louis L. (1939), "Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Teutonic Nordicism." In Race, A History of Modern Ethnic Theories, Chap. VIII, Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Stein, Ludwig (1918), "The Neo-Romantic Movement." In Philosophical Currents of the Present Day, Chap. V. The University of Calcutta.
  • Williamson, Roger Andrew (1973), Houston Stewart Chamberlain: A Study of the Man and His Ideas, 1855–1927, University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Voegelin, Eric (1940), "The Growth of the Race Idea," The Review of Politics, Vol. 2, No. 3.
  • Voegelin, Eric (1997), Race and State, University of Missouri Press.

External sources

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