Houston Stewart Chamberlain

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Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Birthdate: (71)
Birthplace: Portsmouth, Southsea, Hampshire, England
Death: January 9, 1927 (71)
Bayreuth, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany
Place of Burial: Alter Friedhof, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
Immediate Family:

Son of R Adm William Charles Chamberlain and Elizabeth Jane Chamberlain (Hall)
Husband of Eva Chamberlain
Ex-husband of Anna Horst
Brother of Basil Hall Chamberlain and Lt Cdr Henry Chamberlain
Half brother of Harriett Sarah Chamberlain

Occupation: British-born German author of books on political philosophy, natural science
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Houston Stewart Chamberlain


Houston Stewart Chamberlain (September 9, 1855 – January 9, 1927) was an English 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". He later became a German citizen. In December 1908, twenty-five years after Wagner's death, Chamberlain married Wagner's daughter, Eva von Bülow. Chamberlain's two-volume book, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), 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, and he was brought up by his grandmother in France.

Chamberlain's education began in a Lycée at Versailles and most of his education occurred 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. The young Chamberlain was "a compulsive dreamer" more interested in the arts than the military, and he developed a fondness for nature and a near-mystical sense of self. 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 At the age of fourteen he had to be withdrawn from school.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 traveled 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), Graebe, Müller Argoviensis, Thury, Plantamour, and other professors. He studied systematic botany, geology, astronomy, and later the anatomy and physiology of the human body.

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 was immersed in philosophical writings, and became a Völkisch author, one of those who were 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 with its comparisons. His knowledge of Friedrich Nietzsche is demonstrated in that work (p. 183) and Foundations (p. 153n). By this time Chamberlain had met his first wife, the Prussian Anna Horst, whom he was to divorce in 1905.[8]

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.[9] This was in spite of Wagner having dismissed Gobineau's racist ideology in his late years as "eine schlechthin unmoralische Weltordnung" (completely immoral world-order).[10]

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 step-daughter. 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, 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.


After the war Chamberlain's chronically bad health took a turn for the worse and he was left partially paralysed; he continued living in Bayreuth until his death in 1927.


Natural science

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 and did not culminate in a further qualification. 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 summarizes 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.

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

He was an early supporter of Hans 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.

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." Still, his scientific credentials were often cited by admirers to give weight to his political philosophy.

Chamberlain rejected Darwinism, evolution and social Darwinism and instead emphasized "gestalt" which he said derived from Goethe.

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), emphasizing in particular the heroic Teutonic aspects in the composer's works. Stewart Spencer, writing in Wagner Remembered, 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)

Main article: The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Foundations_of_the_Nineteenth_Century

In 1899 Chamberlain wrote his most famous work, which the "brilliant" Lord Redesdale, said had "arrested the attention of the literary world, and has been speedily declared to be a masterpiece", Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, in German. The work said that Western civilization is deeply marked by the influence of Teutonic peoples. Chamberlain grouped all European peoples — not just Germanics, but Celts, Slavs, Greeks, and Latins — as well as Berbers from North Africa - "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"[26] into the "Aryan race," a race built on the ancient Proto-Indo-European culture. At the helm of the Aryan race, and, indeed, all races, 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.[27]


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 favor of German rule "thought out by a few and carried out with iron consequence." The final two discuss England and Germany at length.[28]

Impact of The Foundations[edit]

During his lifetime Chamberlain's works were read widely throughout Europe, and especially in Germany. His reception was particularly favorable among Germany's conservative elite. Kaiser Wilhelm II patronized 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.[9][29]

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.[30]

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.[29] Chamberlain, paralyzed 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![29]

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."[31]

Hitler later attended Chamberlain's funeral in January 1927 along with several highly ranked members of the Nazi party.[32] 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. Rosenberg had accompanied Hitler when he called upon Wagner's widow, Cosima, in October 1923 where he met her son-in-law. He told the ailing Chamberlain he was working on his own new book which, he intended, should do for the Third Reich what Chamberlain's book had done for the Second.

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." In a 1939 work Martin Heidegger (himself a former Nazi) dismissed Chamberlain's work as "Weltanschauung" (fabricated worldview).



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Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Timeline

September 9, 1855
Southsea, Hampshire, England
January 9, 1927
Age 71
Bayreuth, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany
Alter Friedhof, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany