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Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Houston Stewart Chamberlain (September 9, 1855 – January 9, 1927) was a Britishmarker-born author of books on political philosophy, natural science and his posthumous father-in-law Richard Wagner. His two-volume book Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, whose title translates from the original German as The Foundations Of The Nineteenth Century and which was published in 1899, became one of the many references for the pan-Germanic movement of the early 20th century, and, later, of the antisemitism of Nazi racial philosophy.

Early Life

Houston Stewart Chamberlain was born in Southseamarker, Hampshire, Englandmarker. His mother, Eliza Jane, daughter of Captain Basil Hall, R.N., died before he was a year old, and he was raised by his grandmother in Francemarker.

Chamberlain's education was almost entirely foreign. It began in a Lycée at Versailles, but his father, Rear Admiral William Charles Chamberlain, had planned a military career for his son and at 11 he was sent to Cheltenham Collegemarker, a public school which produced many future army and navy officers. The young Chamberlain was "a compulsive dreamer" more interested in the arts than military discipline, however; In these formative years, he developed a fondness for nature and a near-mystical sense of self. The prospect of serving as an officer in Indiamarker or elsewhere in the British Empire held no attraction for him. In addition, he was a delicate child, and early health concerns put an end to Chamberlain's military prospects.

At age 14 he suffered from seriously poor health and had to be withdrawn from school.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 Genevamarker, where under Carl Vogt, (a supporter of racial typology when he taught Chamberlain at the University of Genevamarker,) 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 migrated to Dresdenmarker, 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." Chamberlain was immersed in philosophical writings, and became a voelkisch author, one of those who were concerned more with art, culture, civilization and spirit than with quantitative physical distinctions between groups. 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.

Later years

In 1889 he moved to Austriamarker. During this time it is said his ideas on race began taking shape, influenced by the concept of Teutonic supremacy embodied in the works of Wagner and the Count Joseph Arthur De Gobineau.

Chamberlain had attended Wagner's Bayreuth Festivalmarker in 1882 and struck up a close correspondence with his wife Cosima. In 1908 he married Eva Wagner, the composer's daughter, and 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 an Englishman only by virtue of his name and nationality. In 1916 he also acquired German citizenship. He had already begun propagandizing 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 favor of a form of German Romanticism akin to that he had cultivated in himself during his years at Cheltenhammarker. 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 paralyzed; he continued living in Bayreuthmarker until his death in 1927.


Natural science

Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Under the tutelage of Professor Julius von Wiesner of the University of Viennamarker, Chamberlain studied botany in Genevamarker, earning a Bacheliers ès sciences 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 degree.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:

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. Chamberlain said that Darwinism was the most abominable and misguided doctrine of the day.

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)

In 1899 Chamberlain wrote his most important work, 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 Germans, but Celts, Slavs, Greeks, and Latins — as well as Berbers from North Africa 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 Nordic 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.


During World War I, Chamberlain published several propaganda texts against his country of origin — 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.

The impact of The Foundations

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.

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.

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 Bayreuthmarker. Chamberlain, paralyzed and despondent after Germany's losses in World War I, wrote to Hitler after his first visit in 1923:

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."

Hitler later attended Chamberlain's funeral in January 1927 along with several highly ranked members of the Nazi party.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 Rosenburg published The Myth Of The Twentieth Century, an 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 Secondmarker.

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."


  • Notes sur Lohengrin (his first published work), Dresden.
  • Das Drama Richard Wagners, 1892.
  • Recherches sur La Seve Ascendante, Neuchâtelmarker, 1897.
  • The Life of Wagner, Munichmarker, 1897, translated into English by G. Ainslie Hight.
  • Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, 1899.
  • The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, translated into English from the German by John Lees, M.A., D.Lit.,(Edinburghmarker) with an extensive "Introduction" by Lord Redesdale, The Bodley Head, London, 4th English language reprint, 1913, (2 volumes).
  • Immanuel Kant - a study and a comparison with Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci, Bruno, Plato and Descartes, the authorised translation into English from the German by Lord Redesdale, with his "Introduction", The Bodley Head, London, 1914, (2 volumes).
  • God and Man (his last book).

See also



Carr, Jonathan: The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007. ISBN 0871139758


  1. Redesdale, Lord, "Introduction" to Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, London, 4th English language impression, 1913,
  2. 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.
  3. Bramwell, A., Blood and Soil - Richard Walther Darré and Hitler's "Green Party", London, 1985, p.206, ISBN 0-946041-33-4
  4. Redesdale, Lord, Foundations (1913),
  5. Redesdale, Lord, Foundations (1913),
  6. Bramwell, A., Blood and Soil - Richard Walther Darré and Hitler's "Green Party", London, 1985, pps: 23 and 40, ISBN 0-946041-33-4
  7. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.105 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  8. Chase, Allan. "The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism." New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977, pp. 91-92.
  9. Adorno, Theodor W. "On the Question: "What is German?"" trans. Levin, Thomas Y. New German Critique, No. 36. 1985. p. 123.
  10. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.108 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  11. Mosse, xi, xiv.
  12. Degener, Herrmann A.L., editor, Wer Ist's? (the German Who's Who), Berlin, 1928, vol.9, p.1773 records the death on January 9, 1927, of "Houston Stewart Chamberlain, writer, Bayreuth".
  13. 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
  14. Redesdale, Lord, Foundations (1913),
  15. See Anne Harrington, Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler, (Princeton University Press: 1999) online p. 106
  16. London 2000
  17. "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.", Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the 19th Century (1899), Adamant Media Corporation, 2005, p.398, chap.5
  18. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.107 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  19. 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.
  20. Mosse, xvi.
  21. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.109 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.
  22. Cecil, Robert, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology, London, 1972, p.12-13, ISBN 0-7134-1121-X
  23. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, p.105-6 of 1985 Bookclub Associates Edition.

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