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Struggling with the daimon:


Eliza M. Butler on Germany and Germans
Sandra J. Peacock
Georgia Southern University Department of History, PO Box 8054, Georgia Southern University,
Statesboro, GA 30460-8054, USA
Available online 8 September 2005

Abstract
In 1935, the British scholar Eliza M. Butler published The Tyranny of Greece Over Germany,
in which she explored the appeal of Greek art and poetry to modern German writers. She
argued that Hellenism had exerted a baleful influence on German literature and culture, and
that Germans were especiallyeven dangerouslysusceptible to the power of ideas. In her
view, the most dangerous Hellenic concept to German culture and society was the daimon,
which had reached Germany via the work of Winckelmann. Butlers thesis and methods may
be problematic, as some reviewers of Tyranny pointed out, but her work is noteworthy as the
product of a scholar who had lived in Germany and was a witness to history, familiar with
German language, literature, and culture, writing on Germany during difficult times. As a
British scholar who began studying German just before World War I and ended her career
after World War II, Butler had an ambivalent relationship with Germany and Germans. But
in addition to political factors, she was also influenced by her family, her educational and
research experiences in Germany, and her preference for 18th- and 19th-century over 20thcentury Germans. Moreover, her perception of Germans and Germanness was consistently
posed against her perception of England and Englishness, and she defined the two cultural
identities in terms of their relation to each other. Writing Tyranny as the National Socialists
came to power in Germany, Butler judged Germans and their relationship to the daimon
harshly. In 1956, Butler reconsidered the daimonic in a study of Byron and Goethe, and in this
work it received a more sympathetic and nuanced analysis. A comparison of these two works

E-mail address: speacock@georgiasouthern.edu.


0191-6599/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.histeuroideas.2005.07.001

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S.J. Peacock / History of European Ideas 32 (2006) 99115

is useful for understanding the evolution of Butlers thought in the 20-year interval between
their publication.
r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Eliza M. Butler; German literature; Daimon; British women academics

In 1935, the British scholar Eliza M. Butler1 published The Tyranny of Greece
Over Germany, a most unconventional study of the infatuation of modern German
writers with the idealism of Greek art and poetry.2 According to Butler, while
Greece had profoundly modified the whole trend of modern civilisationyGermany
is the supreme example of her triumphant spiritual tyranny (TGG, 6). Moreover,
Hellenism had exerted a baleful influence on German literature and culture. The
Germans had imitated the Greeks more slavishlyybeen obsessed by them more
utterlyyand assimilated them less than any other race (TGG, 6). Butler traced the
mesmerising hold of Hellenism over German writers from Winckelmann to Stefan
George, and attributed its attraction to the dynamic power that ideals, however
unreal, exerciseyespecially over German minds (TGG, 7). Butler defiantly
defended her conclusions. If this book seems sensational, the subject and not the
writer must be blamed. The Germans create sensations because they ignore obstacles
and appear unaware of danger where ideas or ideals are involved (TGG, 8). The
most dangerous Hellenic concept to infiltrate modern German culture was the
daimon: Goethes daimon, Nietzsches superman and Georges Maximin are the
three mythical creations which modern Germany owes one way and another to
Winckelmanns discovery of Greece, and of these the daimon had been the most
influential (TGG, 332). In 1956, Butler reconsidered the daimonic in a study of Byron
and Goethe, and a comparison of these two works, written before and after the
catastrophe of World War II, is illuminating, for the scope of intellectual history
deals with the experiences of scholars as much as with institutional and social
developments.
Shortly after the publication of Tyranny, Butler was appointed Henry Simon
Professor of German at Manchester University, a move she welcomed as a respite
from the stifling atmosphere of Cambridge, where she had spent 14 years. Outside of
Germany, scholarly reaction to her book varied. One reviewer found it spirited and
brilliantly written, though lacking sociological analysis.3 Another found some
chapters especially rich in psychological and aesthetic perception, but chided
1
On Butler, see her autobiography, Paper Boats (1959); Sandra J. Peacock, Biography and
Autobiography in Eliza Butlers Sheridan, A Ghost Story, Biography 21 (1998) 445462; Brian Murdoch,
Butler, Eliza Marian, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 9: (2004) 132133.
2
E.M Butler, The Tyranny of Greece Over Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935);
reprinted (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958.) Hereafter abbreviated as TGG; further references are given in
parentheses in the text. Page numbers refer to the Beacon Press edition.
3
Ernest Kohn-Bramstedt, Review of Tyranny of Greece Over Germany, Sociological Review 28 (1936)
104. Henry Hatfield, Clashing Myths in German Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1974), 178 views it as witty and reductive.

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Butler for the lack of any positive methodological approach.4 Of contemporary


reviewers, M.F. Ashley-Montagu gave the most revealing assessment. He criticized
the books reductionism, and reproached Butler for drawing broad conclusions from
a minute body of evidence: By such a means any sort of subjective interpretation is
possible, and though the reader may feel that Miss Butler is more often right than
wrong in her analyses, he isylimited to feeling this and not to thinking it, and this is
not altogether comfortable.5 Later, Gilbert Highet called the book brilliant and
tendentious and cited it frequently.6 Arnaldo Momigliano called it that singular
criticism of German humanism and praised Butler for defending the history of
ideas at Cambridge.7 Hugh Lloyd-Jones observed peckishly that this work seems
to have been written in a fit of emotional disturbance caused by the National
Socialists coming to power.8 In 1996, Suzanne Marchand weighed the book more
judiciously:
Few would, I think, dispute Butlers claim that the ancient Greeks did indeed
entrance the educated eliteyand continued to do so long after the Goethezeit
y.But Butlers book, treating only a handful of innovative philosophers and
poets, did not examine philhellenismsypedagogical and scholarly emanations,
ythe sociopolitical means by which this tyrannical trope achieved and then
preserved its hegemonic cultural position. Writing self-consciously against
Nazisms amoral aestheticization of politics and the otherworldly irresponsibility of contemporary German writers, Butler did not [discuss institutional
developments in the nineteenth century], new research universities, secondary
schools, museums, and art academiesy[that] universalized these values and in
effect imposed them on generations of middle-class Germans.9
Six decades separate Butlers literary criticism from Marchands focus on the
socio-cultural impact of Hellenism on German education and life. Like Nietzsche,
Butler offered seminal insights on which others could build. Most recently, the
distinguished Germanist, Brian Murdoch, considers Tyranny Butlers finest
workyscholarly but highly readable; and it is a polemic.10
Butlers thesis and methods are problematic, but her work is noteworthy as the
product of a scholar who had lived in Germany and was a witness to history, familiar
with German language, literature, and culture, writing on Germany during difficult
times. A number of factors helped shape her vision of Germany and Germans and
thus, consciously or unconsciously, influenced her research and writing: her family,
4

Albert Salomon, Review of Tyranny of Greece Over Germany, Social Research 3 (1936) 510.
M.F. Ashley-Montagu, Review of Tyranny of Greece Over Germany, Isis XXVI (1936): I, 209.
6
Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (London: Oxford University Press, 1949), 662.
7
Arnaldo Momigliano, Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography (Middletown: Wesleyan
University Press, 1977), 4. Momigliano was no friend of the Third Humanism.
8
Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Blood for the Ghosts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1983), 33.
9
Suzanne Marchand, Down From Olympus, Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 17501970
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), xviiixix. This able book records both the institutional and
personal aspects of the tyranny of Greece over Germany.
10
Murdoch, ODNB 9: 133.
5

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her educational and research experiences in Germany, and her preference for 18thand 19th-century over 20th-century Germans. The 20-year interval between The
Tyranny of Greece and Byron and Goethe, a period which included World War II,
denazification and reconstruction, also influenced her final views. Finally, her
perception of Germans and Germanness was consistently posed against her
perception of England and Englishness, and she defined the two cultural identities
in terms of their relation to each other.
The academic study of German topics in Britain suffered in the first half of the
20th century, and looking back on her career, Butler observed that the pursuit of
German studies in the 20th century can have brought mental serenity to few.11 Her
conflicting emotions, however, did not result solely from the cultural and political
antagonisms of those decades. Rather, they originated earlier in her life and only
grew more pronounced as broader events unfolded. Her ambivalence about
Germans began with her parents. Her father was an Irish immigrant who worked
his way up from Liverpool clerk to owner of a Lancashire coal mine. In his
adventurous youth, he had spent a term at Heidelberg University where he
developed a great admiration for all things German (PB, 8). He was such a
Germanophile that in 1896 he proposed sending his three eldest daughters, including
Eliza, to school in Hanover. The mother came from a Yorkshire family and only
reluctantly agreed to the scheme; Butler remembered hearing her mother say, I
wont have them turned into little Germans (PB, 14). The couple compromised by
placing their daughters in a school run by two English women for a primarily
German clientele; there the girls remained for 5 years. Butler absorbed at an early
age her parents conflicting attitudes toward Germans and German culture.
Her hostility toward Germany and Germans is evident throughout her
autobiography, Paper Boats (1959). She confessed that in Hanover she privately
regarded my German school-fellows as members of an inferior race, even when I
liked them, because of their lack of control over their lachrymal glands and the fuss
they were always making about trifles (PB, 16). She also remembered a more
sobering glimpse into what she perceived as the German soul. She once saw Kaiser
Wilhelm II reviewing troops, abusing the regiment up hill and down dale, officers as
well as meny.I remember the chalk-white faces of the officers in front, standing stiff
as ramrods, and their eyes looked dead. It was a sickening and a sinister sight. I have
never been able to forget it (PB, 18-19). After 5 years in Germany, nothing could
alter her moral conviction that [the English] were the conquering race, and she
believed smugly that there was something inherently ridiculous about the
Germans (PB, 20). After a stint at a stuffy girls school in Paris, Butler received
11

E.M. Butler, Paper Boats (London: Collins, 1959), 154. Hereafter abbreviated as PB, and subsequent
references appear in parentheses in the text. The autobiography is an engaging self-portrait, though like all
such works it must be approached cautiously. One might question whether Butler exaggerated her
Germanophobia in retrospect to balance her undeniable interest in German culture, or whether she hoped
to appear prescient of the Nazi rise to power. I suggest that the attitude she displays toward the Germans
in her autobiography is so unattractive in its excess, and accompanied by such unthinking patriotic and
ethnocentric sentiment, that it can be taken as genuine. For earlier examples, see Stuart Wallace, War and
the Image of Germany. British Academics, 19141919 (Edinburgh: John Donald Ltd., 1988).

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a final year of schooling in Germany, which now looked better by comparison. She
attended Reifenstein, an unconventional school catering to landowners daughters,
teaching them how to run large establishments and supervise the management of
estates. In Butlers words, it also aspired to inculcate an idealistic and unworldly
outlook on life (PB, 27).
While her German master in Hanover had restricted his classes to a narrow range
of maudlin and sentimental German literature, at Reifenstein she became
acquainted with German folk-songs, and in particular with the songs of
Heiney.wandering with the others on our expeditions to old, half-forgotten castles,
ruins, rivers, and lakes, I would listen whilst they sang lyrics in which music and
words melted into one to form a new dimension. She described Reifenstein in terms
that apply equally to her love for the German Romantics: Reifenstein was not only
of set purpose unworldly, it was out of this worldy.A school for domestic economy?
A part of the reform-movement for women? No, a paradise lost (PB, 29). Her year
at Reifenstein is virtually the only experience with living Germans that she described
with unequivocal pleasure. It also cemented her abiding fondness for Heine, the
good German.
Upon returning to England in 1905, Butler spent several uneasy years trying to
decide her future. She prepared for a teaching career by studying at Cheltenham,
where an astute and sympathetic teacher encouraged her to consider a university
education. From 1908 to 1911 she studied French and German at Newnham College,
Cambridge and eventually won a scholarship which she took at the University of
Bonn in 1913. In her autobiography she complained bitterly of the arrogance and
pedantry of the professors there and blamed them for turning her against the whole
notion of research, but she also made friends with some fellow students and generally
seemed to have had a positive experience outside the seminar room.12 She hoped to
transfer to Munich and pursue a Ph.D. (at that time denied to women at Cambridge
or Oxford), but she had to abandon those plans at the outbreak of World War I. She
spent the war years in a variety of pursuits, including the study of Russian with the
Newnham classicist Jane Ellen Harrison, whom Butler had idolized from her days as
a Newnham student and who focused on Russian during the war. Desperate to
contribute to the war effort, Butler began by doing land work and then parleyed her
Russian language skills into a position as translator for the Scottish Womens
Hospital Unit in Serbia. In 1921, Butler returned to Newnham and taught German.
The college needed a German instructor; Butler, reluctant to do research in
German but eager to stay at Newnham, agreed to teach German but asked to be
allowed to do her research in French or Russian.13 The College Council declined,
and she yielded. Unwillingly, Butler became a professional Germanist. This
ambivalent choice led to a series of research trips over the next 30 years, most of
12

See Butler, Paper Boats, Ch. 4, 4253.


Butler had a great love for Russia, nurtured in part by her admiration for Jane Ellen Harrison, who
was a revered figure when Butler was a student at Newnham. Though Butler did not study classics with
her, they shared an intense devotion to Russian language and culture, and Harrison had taught her the
language.
13

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which coincided with unfortunate periods in German history. Her future books dealt
with German Saint-Simonians (1926), the minor German writer Prince Hermann
Puckler-Muskau (1929), the impact of Hellenism on German literature (1935),
Rilke (1941), Heine (1956), and Byron and Goethe (1956). Her many articles
included studies of Goethe, Kafka, Young Germany, and Manns Doktor
Faustus, as well as eight entries in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Though saturated in
its high culture, she maintained an abiding lovehate relationship with Germany.
In 1923, she went to do research in Leipzig and arrived during the height of the
inflation. In her autobiography she railed against the Germans, who despite the
inflation seemed to have more money than she did; moreover, she charged, they
cheated her at every turn. The next summer, she lodged with a kind, gentle landlady,
Frau Raske, and her insufferable daughter, Hilda. Butler liked the mother, but
Hilda enraged her: she was an ardent follower of Rudolf Steiner and a devotee
of eurhythmics whose patteryabout auras, higher planes and the spiritual
properties of certain herbs culled when the moon was full drove Butler to
distraction (PB, 9495).
Butler went to Berlin in the summer of 1927 to do research for a biography of the
18th-century literary figure and rake, Prince Hermann Puckler-Muskau. This trip
was marked by a curious incident, recounted in Paper Boats, that illustrates her
escalating hostility to Germans. A day or two after a minor row with two Berlin
State Library officials about some overdue books, Butler took refuge in the canteen
during a mid-day thunderstorm. She disliked the canteen because the atmosphere
was stale and officials made it stuffier, but this afternoon too it was crowded with
library attendants who should have been elsewhere, silently munching, swilling and
smoking, a very unattractive crew. She felt as she took her seat that they stared
and glowered at her, and she blamed the disagreement with the library officials for
the malevolence and animosity she felt in the air. The sudden emergence of the
sun only made the patrons look even more dark and sinister by contrast. She
opened a window to ease the rooms oppressiveness, but her action seemed only to
provoke greater anger. She headed toward the door, but it was like fighting a strong
current to get there. On her way out she stumbled over a chair, bumped into a
table, and collided with someone. As she left, she heard a voice yell at her to shut
the window. Butler did not comply, but left the room and tip-toed away, feeling as
if I were escaping from a mad-house (PB, 105).
Shaken, she returned to the library to resume her struggle with Pucklers difficult
handwriting. On the way, she saw a tall, dandified figure leaning on an ebony stick
with an ivory handle and surveying the fountain through a monocle, a figure that
looked exactly like the Prince. She exchanged words with him:
Illegibility aloft, hostility below? he asked quizzically and yet sympathetically
too. Mutely I nodded assent. Itll be easier upstairs tomorrow, he assured me,
but keep away from that canteeny.I had looked into the strangest pair of eyes
I had ever encountered, and they seemed to be saying: Watch out for my es and
my rs! But it all happened so quickly that to this day I am not absolutely certain
that it ever happened at all. (PB, 105106)

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After that, she had no trouble reading his handwriting; she also took his advice
and avoided the canteen. Psychologically, Butler clearly projected her animosity
toward Germans onto the group in the cafeteria, exaggerating the degree of her runin with the officials until she saw a lunchroom full of hungry German workers as a
mob about to set upon her.14 The Prince represented the good Germans whom she
loved, and she balanced her terrifying encounter with real Germans with a vision of a
genial, kindly Romantic-era German.
In 1933, Butler observed Hitlers ascendancy to power from England, where she was
lecturing at Newnham on the German classical movement. Hitlers triumph provided
the impetus for The Tyranny of Greece Over Germany in 1935, she said, and the story
of those 2 years and the book that resulted from them illustrates the complex interplay
between life and work that was a leitmotiv of Butlers life. She herself identified three
elements that motivated and shaped the work: memories of a vision of evil during
World War I; her reaction to the glories of Athens, which she glimpsed for the first
time in November, 1918; and her perceptions of the German character.
One of the formative experiences of Butlers life was her wartime assignment as
Russian translator for Dr. Elsie Inglis, the heroine of the Scottish Womens Hospital
Unit that served in the Balkans and Russia during World War I. When Butler heard
of Hitlers assumption of power in 1933, war-memories, especially those connected
with Greece, resurfaced (PB, 122). She was particularly haunted by the memory of
a vision of evil she had at the units field hospital in Serbia, nicknamed Dead
Horse Camp, in 1918 (PB, 122). The hospital was situated near a ravine where the
carcasses of two dead horses attracted flies which, seemingly immune to pesticides,
soon infested the camp. The flies were, no doubt, horrible, though Butler employed
rather startling imagery: the flies seemed to be emissaries of the Germansy.and
like the Germans themselves, blotting out the sun, turning the whole world dark,
millions and millions of evil unclean creatures. The unit moved on within 2 weeks,
but the vision of evil lingered much longer, until the sight of the Acropolis
dispelled it (PB, 123).
Butler visited Athens just as the war ended in November 1918. She had been
relieved of her duties with the hospital unit after recovering from a bout with
malaria, and there may have been a connection between the feverish illness and her
nightmarish perceptions of the camp (PB, 123). At any rate, she arranged to spend a
couple of days in Athens on her way home to England. She described the Acropolis
as a bastion repelling the hosts of evil, a great centre of light annihilating
darkness.15 The link between the German menace and the healing radiance of the
Acropolis remained with her until 1933. In 1918, she believed the light of Hellenic
culture was more powerful, andywill prevail, but in 1933, darkness once more
began to spread from German lands, obliteratingywhat had seemed to be a source
14

In 1938, the distinguished historian, William L. Langer, was suddenly struck with stage fright
during a lecture. The symptoms continued for two decades: I sometimes felt that I was facing a hostile
group, ready to attack me at any moment. Peter Loewenberg, Decoding the Past (New York: Knopf,
1983), 8485.
15
Sigmund Freud was also dazzled by the Acropolis as an icon of Western Civilization. A Disturbance
of Memory on the Acropolis: an open letter to Romain Rolland, (1937) SE 22: 239248.

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of light emanating from the German Classical Movement. She began to question
why the great body of literature inspired by the beauty of ancient Greece and
hymning its ennobling influence had produced no general or lasting effect upon the
minds of the Germans themselves, and how its gospel of universal Humanitat
had been worsted by Nazi ideology. She found one answer in her own response to
German Hellenism: The basic detachment from reality altogether deprived too
many of the works in question of relevance to humanity as a whole. They were
without the spiritual driving force which can alter the direction of mens
mindsy.And if they did not have this effect on me, what chance was there that
they would sway the German nation, that huge unwieldy conglomerate of selfseeking individuals? (PB, 126). This assessment of the fundamental disconnect
between reality and theory as the basic flaw of German Hellenism in particular and
German culture generally provided the thesis of her book.
In Tyranny, Butler blamed the Germans for their hopeless passion for the
absolute, calling them unique perhaps in the ardour with which they pursue ideas
and attempt to transform them into realities (TGG, 1).16 While this cultural
stereotype is commonplace in generalizations about Germans, she had also heard it
directly from the revered Jane Harrison. She traced this fault to the Protestant
Reformation, specifically to the deeply brooding mind of Luther, who typified the
spirit of his race (TGG, 4).17 Roman Catholicism was well suited to the Germans,
allowing play for their innate mysticism and desire for beauty while reining in their
excesses with piety and belief. Latin religiosity had provided a safe release of
emotion, and without it, poets could no longer dissipate their energies in religious
mysticism; rather, they were forced to turn to philosophy or ideas. A reconciliation
of emotion and reason seemed imminent in mid-18th century Germany, she asserted,
but Winkelmanns elevation of the Greek ideal of serenity and beauty started
German literature on its downward slide into the realm of abstract ideas.
She continually returned to the paradox of an ideal of calm serenity causing
calamity. She began with Winkelmann, who summoned a submerged continent to
the surface of 18th-century life (TGG, 11). His Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek
Works in Painting and Sculpture (1755) had an overwhelming inspirational force on
16
According to Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace Part 9, Section 10, Only Germans are self-confident on the
basis of an abstract notionscienceythe supposed knowledge of absolute truthy.The Germans selfassurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows
the truthsciencewhich he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth. In December
1914, Jane Harrison wrote that Germans are over-educated, unduly docile, not merely to a military
power, but to ideas; they are drunk, not with beer, but with theories. This domination of the idea strikes us
nowadays as cold, heartless, inhuman. Germany is over-theoreticalyUntouched, it would seem, by
modern realism, she still worships abstractions; she is a belated idealist. See Jane Ellen Harrison,
Epilogue on the War, in her Alpha and Omega: Essays from Experience, London: Sidgwick & Jackson
Ltd., 1915, 221259. Reprinted (New York: AMS Press, 1973). The quotations appear on 245, 247.
17
Butlers critique of Protestantism did not stop with its harmful effects on Germany. She blamed
Protestantism for turning magic into a purely evil force, and for introducing the prospect of eternal
damnation with absolutely no hope of absolution. See especially her series on magic: The Myth of the
Magus (1947), Ritual Magic (1949), and The Fortunes of Faust (1952), all published by Cambridge
University Press.

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his literary contemporaries. She described it as a most inspired production, a


sibylline utterance,yobviously made in a state of clairvoyance and not the result of
observation (TGG, 45). Here, Butler veered off into characteristic rhetoric, blending
her interest in psychology, the occult, and literary scholarship. She speculated that
Winkelmanns work was dictated perhaps by prenatal knowledge, and enlarged
upon the notion in discussing his interpretation of the Laocoon sculpture. To
Winkelmann, the figures embodied the classical Greek ideal of serenity; to Butler, as
to others, they embodied anything but that very ideal.
Why he should have chosen this particular group as an example of the very
qualities it lacks, is no easy question to answery.Nothing accounts so
satisfactorily for Winckelmanns extraordinary blindness as the natural explanation that, dazzled by the flash of a great revelation, he saw the distinctive qualities
of Greek art as he looked at this supposedly genuine specimen [Winckelmann saw
only plaster-cast copies]. He was in fact in a trance; and like many another
clairvoyant, he was uttering truths which did not apply to the object before him,
but were associated with it in his mind. (TGG, 47)
Butler then traced the influence of Winckelmanns vision on subsequent writers.
Lessing wrote a study of the Laocoon theme and contradicted Winckelmannwhile
the latter praised the sculpture as a model of quiet and restraint, the former preferred
literary and dramatic treatments that privileged action and emotionbut the effect
of their two works was to elevate classical Greece into a current topic of intense
interest. Herder invoked the appeal of mythology and the ancient Greek pantheon.
Goethe, following Herder, responded to the vision of Greek culture articulated by
Winckelmann, and Winckelmanns Greece was the land of his Weimar dreams,
tragic only because it belonged to the past. To summon it back into the present was
all that was needed to conquer Goethes sense of disharmony between life and the
world and the dualism in his heart (TGG, 97). Goethe strove to blend the two
visions of Greece, the serene and the savage, seeing in their reconciliation a model for
the modern world. Schiller, by contrast, admired the cultural greatness of Greece but
mourned it as an ideal irrevocably lost and unattainable. Butler described Holderlin
as the most single-minded of Winckelmanns disciples who, unlike Schiller, could
never come to grips with the impossibility of restoring the Greek ideal. When he
could no longer sustain the emotional and intellectual tension between paganism and
Christianity, Holderlin rejected his beloved Greek ideal and descended into madness
(TGG, 238). Heine repudiated the Olympian deities and the qualities associated with
classical Greece; Butler suggests that his rejection of this model may have originated
in a visit Heine paid in 1824 to Goethe, the consummate Olympian. The meeting
did not go well and, snubbed by the great man, Heine turned against the Hellenic
gods. Unlike earlier writers, who had mainly dealt with idealized images of Greece,
Heine turned to more concrete historical topics for support in rejecting any desire to
imitate or revive Greek models. Heine put his finger straight on one of the weak
spots of the German classical revival, a particular aspect of the general overidealisation of all things Greek, a definite lack of reality (TGG, 264). Later in his
life, Heine turned the whole subject into a tragedy by considering the Greek gods,

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not as they were in the days of their glory, but as they became after the victory of
Christ: mournful wraiths, melancholy marble statues, destructive demons, or hunted
fugitivesy.He then put in the place of the glorious sun-godythe god of intoxication
and inspiration, the truly daimonic god Dionysos (TGG, 299). Heine ushered him
in and then left it to Friedrich Nietzsche to see that he got his rights, thereby setting
the stage for the calamity of the 20th century (TGG, 300). In her final chapter, Butler
considered the impact of Nietzsches and Stefan Georges interpretations of the
Dionysian on later German culture and history. Nietzsches Birth of Tragedy
was the first positive, unequivocal answer to Winckelmanns conception of
Greece, striking at the very root of his optimistic assumptions by denying that a
people who had produced Greek tragedy could ever have been sunny and
sereney.Nietzsche evoked a sombre, tragic, valiant and beauty-loving people;
intimately aware of the terrible nature of the world they lived in, and creating a
glorious Apolline art as a corrective of realityy.Then came the Dionysian
invasion: intoxication and music shattering forms and melting personal identity
away, so that the individual was pulled down into the racing river of life and
learnt to affirm its tragic secrets (TGG 310-11).
Nietzsche, of course, hoped to revive the tragic spirit of the daimon in the modern
world.
As Butler saw it, the problem was that the Greek ideal was both Apollonian and
Dionysian, but Germans were incapable of comprehending both simultaneously and
tempering their enthusiasm for the emotionally appealing Dionysian with the
cautious reason of the Apollonian. Goethe had emphasized one half-truth, that of
the noble simplicity and serene greatness derived from Winkelmann; in reaction,
Nietzsche had emphasized another half-truth, the wild, ecstatic, orgiastic and
savage spirit of DionysiusyIt was in fact the first engagement in a conflict in which
moderation was vanquished by fanaticism, serenity by mass-hysteria and humaneness by inhumanity (TGG, 127). Nietzsches vision had triumphed, and disaster
inevitably followed. Disciples of Nietzsche and George had employed the concept of
the Daimon to elevate other figures to mythological status, and the horizon in
Germany is now well and truly surrounded by myths deriving from Goethe and
Nietzsche: national heroes for the most part, transformed into supermen, many of
them in the clutches of a daimon; still further mythologised during the last few years
into prophets and fore-runners of Adolf Hitler; not gradually and slowly by popular
accretions and superstitions, but violently, willfully by highly intellectual if muchbedazzled minds (TGG, 333). Butler especially criticized a spate of overwrought
biographies emanating from the Stefan George circle. She also chided the ecstatic
prose of Stefan Zweigs Der Kamp mit dem Damon (1925) which portrayed
Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche as victims of the daimonic. Yet, Butler herself often
employed daimonism in an almost reified sense to explain some modern Germans.
Butler watched the situation in Germany deteriorate in the years immediately
preceding World War II. During a visit in 1936, she observed Nazism first-hand. She
traveled to a favorite spot, Hassfurt, to give the real Germany one more chance
but was disgusted by what she saw. The ubiquitous swastika, anti-Semitic posters,

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and revolting little specimens of the Hitler youth repelled her (PB, 149). She was
depressed by a visit with an elderly watchmaker who feared for his safety because
so far he had never done or said anything against the Jews, andywas afraid people
were beginning to notice it (PB, 151). When a German doctor boasted that his fair
complexion kept him from going out in the sun, Butler explained loudly to her Welsh
traveling companion, The Germanic races are lichtscheuy(an opprobrious term
meaning both shunning the light and shunning enlightenment.) So we are lucky to
be Celtsywe can walk in the sun (PB, 150). Her German hosts did not appreciate
the pun. During World War II, Butler participated in a lecture series on the
German Mind with an ambivalent discussion of Romantic Germanentum,
expanding her attack on Teutonic idealism to Fichte, Schlegel, and other thinkers
who unwittingly served the cause of extreme nationalism. She carefully distinguished
the distortions that Nazism added to such thought, and she emphasized Nietzsches
fierce critique of Imperial Germany while conceding the baleful potential in his
hymns to the superman and the will to power. She ended her lecture with a blunt
indictment of Stefan George for evoking the cult of a savage savior in poetry while
fleeing the reality when Hitler made his fantasy incarnate.18
Butler, who returned to Cambridge as the Schroeder Professor of German in 1945,
never resolved her ambivalence toward Germans. However, when she visited Bonn in
the spring of 1948 for the first time in over 30 years, she was profoundly disturbed by
the dreadful devastation, the indescribable squalor of the inhabitantsythe general
impression of moral and physical ruinysuch as I hope never to see again (PB, 50).
She had been invited by the British Foreign Office to lecture at the University, and
had chosen Thomas Manns recently published Doktor Faustus as her topic.19 When
she arrived in Bonn, she called on the redoubtable scholar Ernst Robert Curtius,
who reacted angrily to her decision to speak on Mann. How had I the nerve to
lecture in Germany aboutyDoktor Faustus, which, as even a benighted Englishwoman ought to be able to see, was to rub salt into the wound caused by the sins and
the sufferings of an unhappy nation? Thomas Mann had treacherously exposed his
own country; and now here was I adding insult to that injury (PB, 50-51).20 Curtius
predicted that the students would protest by shunning her talk; the Foreign Office
representative took a more mundane view, that undernourished students would
forego a weekend lecture in favor of digging for potatoes in the fields. In fact, she
had a sizeable audience, because there were only two copies ofyDoktor Faustus in
the town, and hardly any of the students had read it. They naturally wanted to know
what this much-discussed novel was like. Butler believed that the students were
moved by Manns parable, and that they were in the right frame of mind to accept
18

E.M. Butler, Romantic Germanentum, in The German Mind and Outlook (London: Chapman and
Hall, 1945), 92123. The lecture took place in 1942 or 1943.
19
Some of her lecture was surely reproduced in E.M. Butler, The Traditional Elements in Thomas
Manns Doktor Faustus, Publications of the English Goethe Society 18 (1949), 133.
20
In 1949, Curtius attacked Karl Jaspers for his alleged impiety to Goethe and his critique of Germany.
See Arthur R. Evans, Jr., On Four Modern Humanists (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970),
Ernst Robert Curtius, 85145, esp. 129132; and Eds. Lotte Kohler and Hans Sauer, Hannah ArendtKarl Jaspers Correspondence 19261969 (New York, 1992), 136, 714715.

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his final message transcending the despair which produced it (PB, 51). Even Curtius
mellowed when he learned that she had studied with his friend, Jane Ellen
Harrison.21 Her lecture was well received, and she left Bonn feeling slightly more
positive toward the Germans. When she visited Berlin in the autumn of 1948 for
another lecture tour, sponsored as part of the airlift, Butler saw the ruins of the
Berlin State Library, the scene of her run-in with German bureaucracy. Instead of
feeling triumphant, however, she sensed a whiff of an heroic age in the stoicism of
the West Berliners. She found in the ruins a kind of beauty, as if Berlin had found
her soul in the surrounding chaos (PB, 189). The destructionboth symbolic and
literalof all that Butler hated in modern Germany seemed to offer hope for a
renaissance of the strengths and qualities she had cherished in Romantic-era
Germans. Perhaps this experience prompted her reevaluation of the daimonic in
Byron and Goethe, which appeared in 1956.22
Butler traced the genesis of this work to an invitation she received in 1949 to speak
on the topic of Byron and Goethe. She welcomed the offer less for the opportunity to
talk about Goethe than for the pleasure of immersing herself once again in English
literature. Always uncomfortable with her professional interest in German literature
and culture, Butler had tried in 1931 to shift to British literary topics with a
biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.23 This work did not provide the escape she
hoped for, and after so many years of studying German literature Butler appreciated
renewing her acquaintance with an English poet. She compared this experience
to emerging bat-like from a dark labyrinthine tunnel into the full light of day
(PB, 185). While she could not deny the beauty and fascination of German
literature and poetry, she admitted that the switch-over from German to English
at this point was like letting in the sun (PB, 185). Butler embarked on a course of
research that later resulted in the publication of Byron and Goethe.
Since her last visit, the situation in Germany had improved dramatically, both
politically and economically. Bonn she remembered as a low point: her
acquaintances there were either dead or dying, and with the return of
prosperityyI expected to find a consequent return of aggressiveness, and I wont
say that I was wrong (PB, 190). Still, she overcame the initial resistance of student
audiences. When she began her lecture series, the students made clear that they were
tired of Goethe and considered Byron old-fashioned, but they warmed to her
discussion and the appeal of the poetry, and in the end she attributed to the
audiences in Germany in 1954ythe determination and the energy to write what
was her final book (PB, 190). Byron and Goethe examines the reciprocal influence of
the two literary figures and their growing mutual admiration, but it also reveals
Butlers resolution of the ambivalence she had felt during her whole career about
German literature and culture. In this work, she revisited the concept of the
21

Jane Harrison had been a close friend of Curtius grandfather, namesake, and idol, the renowned
Hellenist Ernst Curtius. Later, she was a friend of Ernst Robert Curtius.
22
Eliza M. Butler, Byron and Goethe (London: Bowes and Bowes, 1956). Hereafter abbreviated as BG,
and subsequent references appear in parentheses in the text.
23
See Sandra J. Peacock, Biography and Autobiography in Eliza Butlers Sheridan, A Ghost Story,
Biography 21:4 (Fall 1998): 445462. The Sheridan book is also very unconventional.

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daimonic and subtly revised her assessment of its origins and history in Germany.
She noted how Goethe altered his judgement of the British poet after Byrons death
in Greece and how Goethes vision of the daimon changed as well. Her explanation
of the change in Goethes opinion of Byron reflects a change in her own thinking
about Germany and Germans after World War II. In Tyranny, the Germans were
solely responsible for the calamities of the 20th century because they embraced and
twisted the daimonic into a malevolent, destructive force. In Byron and Goethe, the
concept of the daimon and Goethes treatment of it receive a more sympathetic and
nuanced analysis.
In reevaluating Goethes use of the daimon, Butler focused on the contrast
between Faust I and Faust II, the collapse of Goethes faith in the power of the
classical Greek ethos to prevail in the modern world, and the influence of Byron on
Goethes thought. The German poet, she argued, had conveyed in Faust II his loss of
faith in the Greek model when, after the death of Euphorion (who symbolized
Byron) and Helens return to the underworld, Fausts Greek dream-world
vanished (BG, 208). Moreover,
Byrons death, but more than that his aspirations, had destroyed for ever
Goethes waning belief in the essential harmony and stability underlying
theyworld. His surety for that had always been the vision of ancient Greece;
and his hopes had lain in its resurgence in modern times. But Byron had shown
him what form that resurgence was most likely to take; he abandoned his hopes as
delusory and his conception of classical Greece itself as based on an illusion.
There was (as he had always really known) something dimly apprehended in the
universe and in man warring against the realization of any such golden age,
something incommensurable, terrible and mysterious, to which he now held the
key. (BG, 208)
That something was the daimon, and Butler argued that it took on new form
and significance in Goethes thought.
Relying largely on Goethes conversations with Eckermann, Butler sketched the
evolution of his conception of the daimon and Byrons role in this new vision. By
rights, the conservative German should have been so repelled by Byrons politics that
he would have been immune to his other, attractive qualities. Nevertheless, Goethe
responded to Byrons poetry and the irresistible force of his personality. Under this
influence, he began shaping a mythological system in which Byron would find a
conspicuous place and a far more convincing label than hypochondriacal, negative,
polemical, self-tormenting or licentious which had done duty in the past,
particularly among English critics (BG, 209). Though Goethe had carried the
notion of daimonism about with him for a very long time, almost since his poetical
beginnings,yit was not until the Helena-act [in Faust II] was completed that it began
to impose itself in a mythological guise visible in the lightyilluminating the fate of
Euphorion and the hidden recesses of his own mind (BG, 209). If Euphorion was
Byron, then the death of Helens and Fausts offspring represented the incompatibility of the classical and the modern. According to Eckermann, until the late 1820s
Goethe spoke of the daimon and the genius interchangeably, because the daimon

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was primarily a creative force, or at least an important component of creativity. At


the same time, however, he began to argue as well that those people motivated by the
daimon had specific missions to fulfill, but that often they were opposed or thwarted
by what he eventually referred to as retarding daimons. Not all daimonic missions
were creative; some would have broader historical consequences, and Napoleon was
an obvious example (BG, 210-12).
Moreover, Goethe believed that such men must be destroyed! Every outstanding
man has a certain mission which he has been sent to fulfil. When he has completed
ity.the daimons trip him up again and again, until at last he is vanquished
(BG, 212). Byrons mission, Goethe felt, was to dramatize the Old Testament, and
by so doing to unseal mens eyes to the mercilessness of the current Christian dogma
based on the Bible, to destroy the fearful belief in eternal damnation (BG, 212). In
Dichtung und Wahrheit, Goethe grappled with the notion of the daimon, as Jacob
had wrestled with the angel:
It was not divine, for it seemed irrational; not human for it appeared to be
without a mind; not devilish, for it could be beneficent; not angelic, for it often
betrayed malice. It resembled chance, being apparently causeless; yet it had some
similarity with providence, for it hinted at connections. Everything that seemed to
us limited was penetrable by this force, for it contracted time and extended space.
It seemed that its dwelling-place was among impossibilities and that it rejected
possibilities with scorn. This being, which seemed to interpose itself between all
other beings either to separate or unite them, I called daimonic after the example
of the ancients and others who have thought like them. I tried to escape from this
terrible being by taking refuge as was my practice in a symbol. (BG, 214)24
The daimon, however, was too strong to remain a symbol indefinitely.
To someone as fundamentally reverent toward order as Goethe, the idea of such a
powerful force was unsettling:
The daimonic element appears in its most terrifying aspect when it manifests
predominantly in a human being. During the course of my life I have been able to
observe several such men, sometimes closely, sometimes from afar. They are not
always the most admirable persons, not necessarily the most intelligent nor the
most gifted, and rarely are they remarkable for their goodness of heart; but an
extraordinary force goes out from themyAll the moral forces banded together
are powerless against them; in vain do the more enlightened among mankind
strive to render them suspect either as deceivers or as deceived; they attract the
masses, and they can only be vanquished by the universe itself with which they are
in conflict. (BG, 215)
Goethe had in mind here Cagliostro, whose daimonic poweryhe firmly believed
had helped to precipitate the outbreak of the French Revolution, though as Butler
pointed out, his description evokes for the present-day reader the much more evil
24

Of course, ancient notions of the daimonic were not uniform. See Frederick E. Brenk, A Most
Strange Doctrine. Daimon in Plutarch, Classical Journal 69 (1973) 112.

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personality of Adolf Hitler, against whom all the moral forces banded together were
of no avail until his hour had struck (BG, 215).
By 1831, Goethe no longer thought of daimonism and genius as interchangeable
terms; and in his subsequent conversations with Eckermann on the subject, the men
of purely artistic or poetical genius are no longer in evidence, and the men of
destinyy possess the field (BG, 216). Byron was the only poet to be included in the
new pantheon, and Goethe rightly sensed in Byron a power that might alter the
trend of future events (BG, 216). The English, Butler argued, could see in Byron
and Byronism only the flouter of social convention, the rake, the outlaw and
outsider; they overlooked the daimonic source of his life energy and creativity.
yGoethe saw deeper and further than the English in penetrating through
Byronism to daimonism (BG, 217).
What imprint had Byron and Byronism left on Europe? Butler cited Bertrand
Russells description of Byron, in his History of Western Philosophy, as the poet of
the movement which asserted the right of rebellion in the name of nationalism, and
of the splendour of war in defence of liberty, and she observed that it will
obviously always depend on the personal attitude of the observer of events as to
whether his influence on this plane is to be acclaimed or deplored (BG, 218). She
concluded that proof of Byrons daimonic power lay in his appeal to someone like
Goethe, who rejected his political beliefs but was drawn irresistibly to his art and his
personality. According to Butler, their mutual attraction had terrible consequences:
Some may welcome [Byrons] pervasive presence; others may regret it or scoff at it;
but nowhere except in Germany under the guise of daimonism as interpreted by
Goethe has it spelt disaster (BG, 220).
In the concluding pages, Butler speculated that both the English daimon and his
German admirer had been necessary to create the irrevocable cascade of events that
led to the horrors of the 20th century. Neither of them can be blamed for the dire
effect this conception [the daimonic] was to have in the future; retrospectively they
appear as unconscious agents of the incalculable power of ideas which have
outstripped their creators, whether for good or for ill, especially visionary and
mythological ideas (BG, 220). Byron opened for Goethe the door to a vision of a
powerful, irrational, and potentially devastating force, one that embodied life in its
most affirming, destructive, and elemental impulses. Byron had unleashed in Goethe
a dangerous element that Goethe had long tried to control, which made the English
complicit, no matter how indirectly, in the spread of daimonism in Germany and
everything that followed.
Butler closed by once again citing Russell, who traced the romantic revoltyfrom
Byron, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Mussolini and Hitler, and the process by
which the combination of nationalism, Satanism, and hero-worship, the legacy of
Byron, became part of the complex soul of Germany (BG, 221). She suggested
including Goethe in this list, since it was daimonism rather than Satanism,
daimonism with all the weight of Goethes prestige behind it, which, joined to other
and darker forces, incited Germany to megalomania and madness (BG, 221).
Admittedly, both Byron and Goethe would have been appalled by Hitler, the Nazi
Party, and the daimon-worship they engendered. Yet, their ideas had borne

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strange fruit. In Tyranny, she had simply blamed the Germans for embracing the
daimonic and yielding gladly to its evil appeal. Twenty years later, in Byron and
Goethe, she offered a different explanation:
yfrom the contact of these two minds a third energy came forth, focusing and
concentrating the dark rays of daimonism, an indescribably baneful force,
sanctioning spiritual evil in high places, sinister and grotesque. That such a result
should have been produced by Goethes spiritual surrender to Byron is a sobering
reminder of the incalculable power latent in persons, emotions and ideas. One
would like to deny it in the present instance; but if in truth Byrons legacy to
Europe was Hitlerism, then it must also be allowed that a vital contribution was
made to it from Goethes estate, and that the conjunction of the two poets was illstarred. (BG, 222)
Here, she attributed to both the English and the German writer, each of whom
represented a national character, a role in the chain of events that led to World War
II. True, she still charged the Germans with a dangerous susceptibility to ideas, but
she also identified the guilty daimon as English. Her conclusion indicates a softening
of her attitude on Germany and Germans. Instead of an inherent cultural weakness
in Germans, Butler now acknowledged the irresistible power of some ideas anywhere
and hence the contribution of the English daimon, Byron, to the terrible events of
the 20th century.
When Beacon Press published a paperback edition of Tyranny in 1958, the year
before her death, Butler wrote a preface that confirmed her shift in perspective.
While she reasserted her belief that the writers she studied in Tyranny had expressed
ideas and visions that boded ill for Germanys future, she evaluated them differently
than she had 25 years earlier. It is a far cry from the great classical age in German
literature to the tragedy of the total war the Germans were about to unleash, she
wrote. Nor did the heroes in the main body of this study represent in themselves
any such danger to humanity (TGG, vii). In fact, they had subscribed to a liberal,
humanitarian ideal which they sawrightly or wronglyembodied in Greek
classicism. Instead of holding these writers responsible for the inevitable march
toward Nazism, she now absolved some of them of responsibility for everything
except, perhaps, naivete and a severe underappreciation of the danger of excess
(TGG, viii). Winkelmann had admired the greatness, nobility, simplicity and
serenity of soul he saw in the Greek ideal; Lessing had used his writings to promote
tolerance; Herder saw the divine spirit unfolding like a flower in all the races on
earth, and she could hardly bear to mention Goethes name in the same
breathywith the nation responsible for Belsen and Buchenwald (TGG, viiviii).
Schiller and Holderlin could never have approved of the Nazi regime. Heine had
glimpsed the potential danger but nevertheless replaced Winkelmanns calm, serene
ideal with Dionysius, who took the heart of Nietzsche by storm (TGG, ix).
Nietzsche, too, she believed, would have repudiated Hitlers rule, but the concept of
the race of daimonic supermen held a fatal appeal for Germans. Yet even Stefan
George, whose poetry had glorified the ideal of a sort of superman, did not care for
the ideal when it was realized, and died, an exile from the Nazi regime, in

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Switzerland (TGG, x). All these writers were susceptible to the seductiveness of ideas,
and Butler cautioned that humanity must recognize the power innate even in the
noblest ideals to wreak havoc in real life (TGG, xi). At the end of her life, she seems
to have understood the power that ideas had exerted over her as well.