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by Friedrich Schiller
On Naive and Sentimental Poetry
Translated by William F. Wertz, Jr.
Nature in this mode of contemplation is for us nothing other than voluntary existence, subsistence of things through themselves, existence according to its own unalterable laws.
This conception is absolutely necessary, if we should take interest in such phenomena. If one could give to an artificial flower by means of the most perfect deception, the appearance of nature, if one could carry the imitation of the naive in morals up to the highest illusion, so would the discovery, that it be imitation, completely destroy the feeling of which we are speaking.1 From this it is clear, that this kind of pleasure in regard to nature is not aesthetical, but rather moral; for it is produced by means of an idea, not immediately through contemplation; also, it by no means depends upon the beauty of forms. What would even a plain flower, a spring, a mossy stone, the chirping of birds, the buzzing of bees, etc., have in itself so charming for us? What could give it any claim upon our love? It is not these objects, it is an idea represented through them, which we love in them. We love in them the quietly working life, the calm effects from out itself, existence under its own laws, the inner necessity, the eternal unity with itself.
They are what we were; they are what we ought to become once more. We were nature as they, and our culture should lead us back to nature, upon the path of reason and freedom. They are therefore at the same time a representation of our lost childhood, which remains eternally most dear to us; hence, they fill us with a certain melancholy. At the same time, they are representations of our highest perfection in the ideal, hence, they transpose us into a sublime emotion.
But their perfection is not their merit, because it is not the work of its choice. They afford us, therefore, the entirely peculiar pleasure, that they, without shaming us, are our model. A constant divine appearance, they surround us, but more refreshingly than dazzlingly. What constitutes their character is precisely that which is lacking in ours to be complete; what distinguishes us from them is precisely that which is missing in them to be divine. We are free, and they are necessary; we change, they remain the same. But only when both are united with one anotherwhen the will freely obeys the law of necessity, and with all change of the imagination reason maintains its rule, does the divine or the ideal issue forth. We therefore perceive in them eternally that which is missing from us, but after which we are required to strive, and which, although we never attain it, we nevertheless may hope to approach in an infinite progress. We perceive in ourselves an advantage, which is wanting in them, but of which they can partake either never at all, such as those lacking in reason, or not other than if they go our way, such as in childhood. They provide us accordingly with the sweetest enjoyment of our human nature as idea, although they must necessarily humble us in regard to every determined state of our human nature.
Since this interest in nature is grounded upon an idea, so can it appear only in souls, which are susceptible to ideas, i.e., in moral ones. By far the majority of men merely affect it, and the universality of this sentimental taste to our times, which is expressed, especially since the appearance of certain writings, in sentimental journeys, such gardens, walks, and other fancies of this kind, is yet by no means proof of the universality of this manner of perception. Nevertheless, nature will always express something of this effect even on those most lacking in feeling, because the predisposition to morality, which is common to all men, is already sufficient thereto and we are all driven to it in the idea, irrespective of how great the distance of our own acts is from the simplicity and truth of nature. This sentimentality in respect to nature is especially strongly and most universally expressed at the instigation of such objects, which stand in a close connection with us and bring nearer to us the retrospective view of ourselves and the unnatural in us, as for example, with children or childlike nations. One errs, if one believes, that it be merely the conception of helplessness, which sees to it that we dwell on children with so much emotion in certain moments. That may perhaps be the case in respect to those, who in the face of weakness are accustomed never to feel something other than their own superiority. But the feeling of which I speak (it takes place only in quite peculiar moral dispositions and is not to be mistaken for that which the joyous activity of children arouses in us), is more humiliating than favorable to self-love; and if, indeed, an advantage comes thereby into view, so is this by no means on our side. Not because we look down upon the child from the height of our force and perfection, but rather because, from the limitation of our condition, which is inseparable from the determination, which we have once obtained, we look up to the boundless determinability in the child and to his pure innocence, we fall into emotion, and our feeling in such a moment is too evidently mixed with a certain melancholy than that this source of the same were mistaken. In the child, the predisposition and determination is represented, in us the fulfillment, which always remains infinitely far behind the former. Hence, the child is to us a vivid representation of the ideal, not indeed of the fulfilled, but of the commissioned, and it is therefore by no means the conception of its poverty and limits, it is quite to the contrary the conception of its pure and free force, its integrity, its infinity, which moves us. To the men of morality and feeling, a child will for that reason be a sacred object, an object namely, which through the greatness of an idea annihilates every greatness of experience; and which, whatever it may lose in the judgment of the understanding, gains again in the judgment of reason in ample measure.
Precisely from this contradiction between the judgment of reason and of understanding, issues forth the quite peculiar phenomenon of the mixed feeling, which the naive way of thinking excites in us. It combines the childlike simplicity with the childish; through the latter it exposes a vulnerable point to the understanding and calls forth that smile, whereby we make known our (theoretical) superiority. So soon, however, as we have reason to believe, that the childish simplicity be simultaneously a childlike one, that consequently the source thereof be not want of understanding, no incapacity, but rather a higher (practical) strength, a heart full of innocence and truth, which out of inner greatness disdains the help of art, so is the former triumph of the understanding past, and the mockery of simpleness passes over into admiration of simplicity. We feel ourselves compelled to esteem the object, at which we previously have smiled, and, whilst we at the same time cast a look into ourselves, to lament that we are not similar to the same. So arises the quite peculiar phenomenon of a feeling, in which joyous mockery, respect, and melancholy flow together.2 It is required of the naive, that nature bring forth the victory thereof over art,3 it do this either against the knowledge and will of the person or with complete consciousness of the same. In the first case, it is the naive of surprise and amuses; in the other, it is the naive of conviction and is moving.
With regard to the naive of surprise, the person must be morally capable of denying nature; with regard to the naive of conviction, he may not be, nevertheless, we may not think of him as physically incapable thereof, if it shall produce a naive impression upon us. Hence, the actions and conversations of children give us the pure impression of the naive only so long as we do not remember their inability for art, and in general, only consider the contrast between their naturalness and artificiality in us. The naive is a childlikeness, where it is no longer expected, and precisely for that reason, can not be attributed to real childhood in the strictest sense.
In both cases, however, with regard to the naive of surprise as with regard to that of conviction, nature must be right, art, however, wrong.
First, the concept of the naive is completed through this latter determination. Emotion is also nature, and the rule of decency is something artificial; yet the triumph of emotion over decency is by no means naive. On the contrary, should the same emotion triumph over affectation, over false decency, over dissimulation, so bear we no hesitation to call it naive.4 It is therefore required, that nature triumph over art, not through its blind violence as dynamical, but rather through its form as moral greatness, in short, not as need, but rather as inner necessity. Not the insufficiency, but rather the inadmissibility of the latter must procure the victory of the form; for the former is want, and nothing which originates from want can produce respect. Indeed, it is with regard to the naive of surprise, always the superiority of emotion and a want of reflection, which makes nature recognizable; but this want and that superiority still do not entirely constitute the naive, but rather merely provide the occasion, so that nature follows unhindered its moral nature, i.e., the law of harmony.
The naive of surprise can only fall to man, and indeed only to man, insofar as, in this moment, he is no longer pure and innocent nature. It supposes a will, which does not agree with that which nature does by its own hand. Such a person, if one brings him to his senses, will be alarmed about himself; the naively minded, on the contrary, will be surprised at the men and at their astonishment. Since, therefore, here not the personal and moral character, but rather merely the natural character set free by emotion confesses the truth, so we attribute to man no merit for this sincerity, and our laughter is well-deserved derision, which is held back through no personal high estimation of the same. Since, nevertheless, it is here still the sincerity of nature, which breaks through the veil of falsehood, so is contentment of a higher kind combined with the malicious enjoyment of having caught a man; for nature in contrast to affectation, and truth in contrast to deceit must excite respect every time. We therefore also feel in respect to the naive of surprise a really moral pleasure, although not in regard to a moral character.5
With regard to the naive of surprise, we indeed always respect nature, because we must respect the truth; with regard to the naive of conviction, we, on the contrary, respect the person and therefore enjoy not merely a moral pleasure, but also on account of a moral object. In the one as in the other case, nature is right, that it speaks the truth; but in the latter case, nature is not merely right, but rather the person has honor as well. In the first case, sincerity of nature always disgraces the person, because it is involuntary; in the second, it always redounds to the merit of the person, even supposing, that that which it declares, may bring him disgrace.
We ascribe a naive conviction to a man, if, in his judgment of things, he overlooks their artificial and affected relations and keeps merely to simple nature. Everything which can be judged thereof within healthy nature, we require of him and only release him absolutely from that which presupposes a removal from nature, be it either in thinking or feeling, at least knowledge of the same.
If a father relates to his child, that this or that man languishes in poverty, the child goes thence and carries his father's purse to the poor man, so is the action naive; for healthy nature would act out of the child, and in a world where healthy nature would rule, it would have been completely right so to proceed. It sees only the need and the nearest means to satisfy it; such an extension of the right of property, whereby a part of mankind can perish, is not grounded in mere nature. The action of the child is therefore a humiliation of the real world, and our heart confesses that also, through the pleasure which it feels over this action.
If a man without knowledge of the world, but otherwise of a good sense, confesses his secrets to another, who deceives him, but knows how to skillfully dissemble and lends him through his sincerity itself the means to injure him, so do we find that naive. We laugh at him, but can nevertheless not keep from esteeming him highly on that account. For his trust in others springs from the honesty of his own inner convictions; at least, he is only naive insofar as this is the case.
The naive way of thinking can accordingly never be a property of a corrupted man, but rather belongs only to children and childlike-minded men. These latter often act and think naively in the midst of the artificial relations of the great world; they forget out of their own beautiful human nature, that they have to do with a corrupt world, and conduct themselves even in the courts of kings with an ingenuousness and innocence as one finds only in the world of shepherds.
It is, besides, not at all so easy, to distinguish the childish innocence from the childlike always correctly, whilst there are actions, which hover on the outermost boundaries between both, and with which we are left absolutely in doubt, as to whether we should laugh at the simpleness or esteem highly the noble simplicity. A very noteworthy example of this kind one finds in the history of the government of Pope Adrian VI, which Mr. Schröckh has described for us with the thoroughness and pragmatic truth characteristic of him. This pope, a Netherlander by birth, administered the pontificate in one of the most critical moments for the hierarchy, when an embittered party laid bare the weak points of the Roman Church without any forbearance, and the opposite party was interested in the highest degree in concealing them. What the truly naive character, if indeed such an one strayed onto the chair of the holy Peter, had to do in this case, is not the question; but indeed, how far such a naivetè of conviction might be compatible with the role of a pope. It was, after all, this, which placed the predecessors and successors of Adrian in the least embarrassment. With uniformity, they followed the once-adopted Roman system, to concede nothing anywhere. But Adrian actually had the upright character of his nation and the innocence of his former position. From the narrow sphere of the learned he was elevated to his sublime post, and even in the height of his new honors, had not become untrue to that simple character. The abuses in the Church moved him, and he was much too honest, to dissimulate publicly, what he confessed in silence. In consequence of this way of thinking, he allowed himself in the instruction, which he gave to his legate in Germany, to be misled into confessions, which had hitherto been heard from no pope and ran directly contrary to the principles of this court: We know well, he said among other things, that for many years many abominations have taken place on this holy chair; no wonder, if the sick condition of the head has been handed down to the members, of the pope to the prelates. We all have deviated, and for a long time there has been none among us, who would have done something good, not even one. Again elsewhere, he orders the legates to explain in his name, that he, Adrian, may not be blamed for that which was done by the popes before him, and that such debaucheries, even when he had lived in a low station, had always displeased him, etc. One can easily conceive, how such a naivetè in the pope may have been received by the Roman clergy; the least of which he was considered guilty, was, that he had betrayed the Church to the heretics. This most imprudent step of the pope would, however, be worthy of our complete respect and admiration, if we could only convince ourselves, that it had really been naive, i.e., that it would have been wrested from him merely through the natural truth of his character, without any regard to the possible consequences, and that he would have done it no less, if he had understood the impropriety committed in its entire extent. But we have some reason to believe, that he did not regard this step as so impolitic at all, and in his innocence went so far as to hope to have won something very important to the advantage of his Church through his flexibility. He did not imagine merely having to take this step as an honest man, but rather, being able to take responsibility for it also as pope, and whilst he forgot, that the most artificial of structures could only be absolutely supported by a continued denial of the truth, he committed the unpardonable error of adhering to instructions applied in an entirely contrary situation, which would have been valid in a natural circumstance. To be sure, this alters our judgment very much; and although we can not renounce our respect for the honesty of the heart, from which this action flows, so is this latter not a little weakened by the reflection, that nature in art and the heart in the head would have had a too weak adversary.
Every true genius must be naive or it is not genius. Its naivetè alone makes it genius, and what it is in the intellectual and the aesthetical, it can not deny in the moral. Unaware of the rules, the crutches of weakness, the taskmaster of perversity, guided only by nature or instinct, its protecting angel, it walks calmly and safely through all the snares of false taste, in which, if it be not so prudent as to avoid it already from the distance, the non-genius will be unfailingly ensnared. It is only given to the genius, to be always at home outside the known and to enlarge nature, without going beyond it. Indeed, the latter sometimes happens to the great geniuses, but only because these have their fanciful moments, when protecting nature abandons them, because the power of example overpowers them, or the corrupted taste of their time leads them astray.
The most complicated problems the genius must solve with unpretentious simplicity and facility; the egg of Columbus holds good for judgment of genius. Thereby alone does it legitimize itself as genius, that it triumphs over complicated art through simplicity. It does not proceed according to known principles, but rather according to sudden ideas and feelings; but its sudden ideas are inspirations of a God (everything that healthy nature does is divine), its feelings are laws for all times and for all generations of men.
The childlike character, which the genius imprints on it works, it shows also in its private life and its morals. It is bashful, because nature is always so; but it is not decent, because only corruption is decent. It is intelligent, for nature can never be the opposite; but it is not cunning, for only art can be that. It is true to its character and its inclinations, but not so much because it has principles, as because nature, in all its oscillations, always returns to its last place, always brings back the old wants. It is modest, yes shy, because genius always remains a mystery to itself; but it is not anxious, because it does not know the dangers of the road on which it walks. We know little of the private life of the great geniuses; but even the little, which has been preserved for us, for example of Sophocles, of Archimedes, of Hippocrites, and in modern times of Ariosto, Dante, and Tasso, of Raphael, of Albrecht Dürer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, of Fielding, Sterne et al., confirms this assertion.
Yes, what seems to be still far more difficult, even the great statesman and general, so soon as they are great through their genius, will display a naive character. I wish to mention here among the ancients only Epaminondas and Julius Caesar, among the moderns only Henry IV of France, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and Czar Peter the Great. The Duke of Marlborough, Turenne, Vendome all show us this character. To the other sex, nature has assigned its greatest perfection in the naive character. After nothing does the womanly desire to please strive so much as after the appearance of the naive; sufficient proof, even if we were to have no other, that the greatest power of the sex reposes in this property. But, because the ruling principles in the education of woman lie in eternal strife with this character, so is it to the woman, in the moral, just as difficult as to the man, in the intellectual, to preserve this magnificent gift of nature with the advantages of a good education; and the woman, who ties this naivitè of manners with a skillful behavior in regard to the great world, is just as deserving of high respect as the learned man, who combines the freedom of thought characteristic of genius with all the strictness of the school.
From the naive way of thinking flows in a necessary manner also a naive expression, as much in words as movements, and it is the most important ingredient of grace. Genius expresses its most sublime and deepest thoughts with this naive grace; they are divine sayings from the mouth of a child. If the scholastic understanding, always anxious before error, nails its words like its concepts to the cross of grammar and logic, is hard and rigid, in order not to be indeterminate, uses few words, in order not to say too much, and prefers to take force and sharpness from the thoughts, that therewith it not cut the incautious, so does genius give to its own with a single happy stroke of the brush an eternally determined, firm, and yet entirely free outline. If there the sign remains eternally heterogenous and alien to the signified, so here, as through an inner necessity, the language springs forth from the thoughts and is so much one with the same, that even under the bodily envelope the spirit appears as denuded. Such a manner of expression, where the sign completely vanishes in the signified, and where the language, so to speak, leaves the thought which it expresses naked, since the other can never represent it, without simultaneously veiling it, is it, that one calls preferably ingenius and inspired in style.
Free and natural, like genius in its intellectual works, the innocence of the heart expresses itself in its living intercourse. As is known, in social life one has gotten away from the simplicity and rigorous truth of expression, in the same proportion as from the simplicity of inner convictions, and the easily wounded guilt, just like the easily seduced imaginative power, have made necessary an anxious decency. Without being false, one often speaks differently than one thinks; one must make circumlocutions, to say things; one can only cause pain to a sickly self-love, only bring danger to a corrupted imagination. An ignorance of these conventional laws, combined with natural sincerity, which despises any crookedness and any appearance of falsehood (not coarseness, which dispenses with them, because they are burdensome to it), produce in the intercourse a naive of expression, which consists therein, to name things, which one either may not signify at all or only artificially, with their right names and in the shortest way. The ordinary expressions of children are of this kind. They excite laughter through their contrast with manners, yet one will always confess in one's heart, that the child is right.
The naive of conviction can indeed, taken properly, be attributed also only to the man as a being not absolutely subject to nature, although only insofar as pure nature still acts out of him; but, through an effect of the poetizing, imaginative power, it is frequently transferred from that having reason to that devoid of reason. So we often attribute to an animal, a landscape, a structure, yes, to nature in general, a naive character, in contrast to the capricious and to the fanciful concepts of man. This, however, always demands, that we lend a will in our thoughts to that devoid of will, and take notice of the strict regulation of the same, according to the law of necessity. The discontentment over our own ill-employed moral freedom and over the moral harmony absent in our conduct, leads to such a frame of mind, in which we address that which is devoid of reason as a person and, as if it really would have had to struggle against the temptation to do the opposite, make its eternal uniformity into a merit, envy its peaceful behavior. It suits us well in such a moment, that we hold the prerogative of our reason to be a curse and an evil and, on account of the vivid feeling of the imperfection of our actual performance, ignore doing justice to our predisposition and destiny.
We see then in nature devoid of reason only a fortunate sister, who remained behind in the maternal home, out of which we stormed in the high spirits of our freedom into foreign parts. With painful desire we long to return thence, so soon as we've begun to experience the distress of culture and hear in the foreign country of art, the moving voice of the mother. So long as we were merely children of nature, we were happy and perfect; we have become free and have lost both. Therefrom originates a twofold and very unequal longing for nature, a longing for its happiness, a longing for its perfection. The sensuous man laments only the loss of the first; the moral one can mourn only for the loss of the other.
Therefore, ask thyself well, sentimental friend of nature, whether thy indolence yearns for its repose, whether thy offended morality for its harmony? Ask thyself well, when art is loathsome to thee and abuses in social life impel thee to inanimate nature in solitude, whether it is its deprivations, its burdens, its hardships, or whether it is its moral anarchy, its capriciousness, its disorder, which thou detestest in it? Into these thy spirit must plunge with joy, and thy compensation must be the freedom itself, from which they flow. Thou canst well assume for thyself the calm happiness of nature as thine aim in the distance, but only that which is the reward of thy dignity. Therefore, nothing of complaints about the aggravations of life, about the inequality of conditions, about the pressure of relations, about the insecurity of possession, about ingratitude, oppression, persecution; all the evils of culture must thou submit to with a free resignation, must respect them as the natural conditions of the only good; only the evil of the same must thou deplore, but not merely with careless tears. Rather take care, that thou actest pure thyself amidst these defilements, free amidst this slavery, constant amidst this ill-humored change, lawful amidst this anarchy. Fear not before the confusion outside of thee, but before the confusion in thee; strive for unity, but seek it not in uniformity; strive for repose, but not through equilibrium, not through a standstill of thy activity. This nature, which thou enviest in that which is devoid of reason, is worthy of no respect, of no longing. It lies behind thee, it must eternally lie behind thee. Abandoned by the ladder, which bore thee, no other choice is now still left to thee, than to seize the law with free consciousness and will or to fall without hope of rescue into a bottomless depth.
But when thou hast been consoled over the lost happiness of nature, so let its perfection serve thine heart as a model. Dost thou step out of thine artificial circle to it, does it stand before thee in its great repose, in its naive beauty, in its childlike innocence and simplicitythen tarry beside this image, cultivate this feeling, it is worthy of thy most glorious humanity. Let it no longer occur to thee, to want to exchange places with it, but take it into thyself and strive to wed its infinite advantage with thine own infinite prerogative and to produce the divine from both. Let it surround thee like a lovely idyl, in which, out of the confusion of art, thou always findest thyself once more, with which thou dost gather courage and new confidence in thy course and in thy heart dost kindle anew the flame of the ideal, which is extinguished so easily in the storms of life.
If one remembers the beautiful nature, which surrounded the ancient Greeks; if one reflects how intimately this people under its happy sky could live with free nature, how much closer its mode of conception, its manner of feeling, its morals lay to simple nature, and what a faithful impression of the same its poetic works are, so must the remark appear strange, that one meets among the same so few traces of the sentimental interest, which we moderns can take in natural scenes and in natural characters. The Greek is indeed in the highest degree exact, faithful, detailed in description of the same, but yet no more and with no more excellent interest of the heart, than he is also in description of a suit, a shield, armor, house furniture, or any mechanical product. He seems in his love for the object to make no distinction between that which is through itself, and that which is through art and through the human will. Nature seems more to interest his understanding and his curiosity than his moral feeling; he does not adhere to the same with intimacy, with sentimentality, with sweet melancholy as we moderns. Indeed, whilst he personifies and deifies it in its individual phenomena and represents its effects as actions of free being, he annuls the calm necessity in it, through which it is precisely so attractive to us. His impatient imagination leads him beyond it to the drama of human life. Only the living and free, only characters, actions, fates, and morals satisfy him, and if we can wish in certain moral dispositions, to give up the advantage of our freedom of the will, which exposes us to so much conflict with ourselves, so much disquiet and confusion, for the involuntary, but calm necessity of that which is devoid of reason, so, directly the opposite, is the imagination of the Greeks occupied with commencing human nature already in the inanimate world and there, where a blind necessity rules, giving influence to the will.
Whence indeed this different spirit? How comes it, that we, who in everything that nature is, are so infinitely far surpassed by the ancients, precisely here pay homage to nature in a higher degree, can adhere to it with intimacy and embrace even the lifeless world with the warmest feeling? Hence comes it, because nature with us has disappeared from humanity and we encounter it again in its truth only outside this, in the inanimate world. Not our greater conformity to nature, quite the opposite, the repulsiveness to nature of our relations, conditions, and morals impels us, to obtain a satisfaction in the physical world to the awakening instinct for truth and simplicity, which, like the moral predisposition, out of which it flows, lies incorruptible and ineradicable in all human hearts, which is not to be hoped for in the moral. For this reason is the feeling, wherewith we adhere to nature, so closely related to the feeling, wherewith we lament the age which has fled, of childhood and childlike innocence. Our childhood is the single unmutilated nature, which we still encounter in cultivated humanity, hence it is no wonder, when every footprint of nature out of us leads us back to our childhood.
Very much otherwise was it with the ancient Greeks.6 With these, culture did not degenerate so far, that nature was abandoned over it. The entire structure of social life was erected upon feelings, not upon a concoction of art; their mythology itself was the inspiration of a naive feeling, the birth of a joyful imaginative power, not of subtilizing reason, like the ecclesiastical beliefs of modern nations; since, therefore, the Greek had not lost nature in humanity, so could he also not be surprised by it outside of the latter and could have no such pressing need for objects, in which he found it again. At one with himself and happy in the feeling of his humanity, he had to stop with the latter as his maximum and take pains to make all else approach the same; while we, at variance with ourselves and unhappy in our experiences of humanity, have no more pressing interest, than to fly away from the same and to remove from our sight such an unsuccessful form.
The feeling, of which we are here speaking, is therefore not that which the ancients had; it is rather of the same kind as that which we have for the ancients. They felt naturally; we feel the natural. It was doubtless a totally different feeling, which filled Homer's soul, when he caused his divine sow-herd to entertain Ulysses, than what moved the soul of young Werther, when he read this song after a tedious social gathering. Our feeling for nature resembles the feeling of the sick for health.
Just as nature gradually begins to vanish from human life as experience and as the (acting and feeling) subject, so do we see it rise in the poetical world as idea and as object. That nation, which had simultaneously carried it the farthest in unnaturalness and in reflection upon it, first must needs have been moved the strongest by the phenomenon of the naive and given a name to the same. This nation, so far as I know, was the French. But the perception of the naive and the interest in the same is of course much older and dates already from the beginning of the moral and aesthetical corruption. This alteration in the manner of feeling is for example already extremely striking in Euripides, if one compares the latter with his predecessors, especially Aeschylus, and yet the former poet was the favorite of his time. The same revolution is also evidenced among the ancient historians. Horace, the poet of a cultivated and corrupt age, praises the calm happiness in his Tibur, and one could call him the true founder of this sentimental kind of poetry, just as he is in the same a not yet surpassed model. Also in Propertius, Virgil, et al., one finds traces of this manner of feeling, less with Ovid, in whom the fullness of heart is lacking for it and who painfully misses in his exile at Tomes the happiness, which Horace so gladly did without in his Tibur.
The poets are everywhere, according to their concept, the guardian of nature. Where they can no longer entirely be the latter and already experience in themselves the destructive influence of capricious and artificial forms, or indeed have had to struggle with the same, then will they appear as the witnesses and the avengers of nature. They will either be nature, or they will seek the lost nature. Therefrom arise two entirely different kinds of poetry, through which the entire province of poetry is exhausted and measured out. All poets, who are really such, will, according to the time in which they flourish, or as accidental circumstances have influence upon their general education and upon their passing dispositions of mind, belong either to the naive or to the sentimental.
The poet of a naive and spirited young world, as also he, who approaches nearest to him in the age of artificial culture, is austere and prudish, like the virginal Diana in her forests; without all intimacy he flees from the heart, which seeks him, from the desire, which wishes to embrace him. The dry truth, wherewith he treats his object, appears not seldom as insensibility. The object possesses him entirely, his heart lies not like a base metal directly under the surface, but rather wishes to be sought like gold in the depths. Like the deity behind the world edifice, so does he stand behind his work; he is the work, and the work is he; one must be no longer worthy, or not be master, or be tired of the first, in order even to inquire after him.
So appears, for example, Homer among the ancients and Shakespeare among the moderns: two most different natures, separated by the immeasurable distance of time, but just in this character trait perfectly one. When I, at a very early age, first became acquainted with the latter poet, his coldness revolted me, his insensibility, which allowed him to jest in the highest pathos, to disturb the heart-rending scene in Hamlet, in King Lear, in MacBeth, etc., through a fool, which allowed him now here to stop, where my feeling would hasten away, now there cold-heartedly to carry forth, where the heart would so gladly stand still. Through the acquaintance with modern poets misled, to seek at first in the work of the poet to encounter his heart, to reflect mutuallly with him on his object, in short, to see the object in the subject, it was unbearable to me, that the poet could never here be seized and would never converse with me. For some years, he had my full reverence and was my study, before I learned to take a liking to his individual. I was not yet able to understand nature at first hand. I could only bear it through the image reflected by the understanding and arranged by the rules, and for this reason the sentimental poets of the French and also the German, from the year 1750 to approximately 1780, were precisely the right subjects. After all, I am not ashamed of this child's judgment, since the aged critic passed a similar one and was naive enough to publish it to the world.
The same thing also occurred to me with Homer, with whom I became acquainted in a still later period. I remember now the remarkable passage in the sixth book of the Iliad, where Glaucus and Diomed strike at one another in combat and, after they are recognized as guest and host, give presents to one another. With this moving portrait of the piety, with which the laws of hospitality were observed even in war, can be compared a description of chivalrous generosity in Ariosto, where two knights and rivals, Ferragus and Finaldo, the latter a Christian, the former a Saracen, after a violent fight and covered with wounds, make peace and, to overtake the fugitive Angelica, mount the same horse. Both examples, however different they may otherwise be, are nearly the same as one another in regard to the effect on our heart, because both paint the beautiful triumph of morals over passion and move us through the naivetè of convictions. But how completely different do the poets undertake the description of this similar action. Ariosto, the citizen of a later world and one which has gotten away from the simplicity of morals, can not conceal his own astonishment, his emotion in his relating of this incident. The feeling of the distance of the former morals from those which characterize his age, overwhelms him. He all at once abandons the painting of the object and appears in his own person. One knows the beautiful stanza and has always admired it as excellent:
And now the ancient Homer! Hardly does Diomed learn from Glaucus's, his adversary's, story, that the latter is, from the time of their fathers, the guest and host of his family, so he plants his lance in the earth, converses in a friendly manner with him and agrees with him, that they will in the future avoid one another in combat. But let us hear Homer himself:
Hardly would a modern poet (at least hardly one, who is such in the moral sense of this word) even have waited as far as here, to attest to his joy in this action. We would pardon him all the more easily, since our heart also comes to a standstill in the reading of it, and willingly distances itself from the object, in order to look into itself. But no trace of all of this in Homer; as if he had been reporting something which occurs every day, indeed, as if he himself bore no heart in his bosom, he continues in his dry truthfulness:
Poets of this naive kind are no longer in their proper place in an artificial age. They are also hardly possible any more in the same, at least in no other way possible, than if they run wild in their age and are saved by a favorable fate from the mutilating influence of the same. From society itself they can never and not at all come; but out of the same they appear sometimes, but more as strangers, at which one wonders, and as uneducated sons of nature, at whom one feels angry. However beneficent these phenomena are for the artist, who studies them, and for the genuine connoisseur, who understands how to appreciate them, so little do they thrive on the whole and in their century. The seal of the ruler rests upon their brow; we, on the contrary, want to be rocked and carried by the Muses. By the critics, the true constables of taste, they are hated as border-disturbers, whom one would rather oppress; for even Homer may have been merely indebted to the force of a more than thousand-year testimony, that these judges of taste allow him; also it becomes hard enough to them, to assert their rules against his example, and his authority against their rules.
The poet, I said, is either nature, or he will seek it. The former produces the naive, the latter the sentimental poet.
The poetic spirit is immortal and can not be lost from humanity; it can not otherwise be lost than simultaneously with the same and with the predisposition to it. For though man departs through the freedom of his imagination and his understanding from the simplicity, truth, and necessity of nature, so not only does the road to the same always stand open to him, but a more powerful and indestructible instinct, the moral, also drives him back incessantly to it, and precisely with this instinct does the poetical capacity stand in the closest relationship. Thus, the latter is also not lost simultaneously with the natural simplicity, but rather only works in another direction.
Even now, nature is the only flame, on which the poetic spirit feeds; from it alone it draws all its power, to it alone it speaks even in the artificial, in the man engaged in culture. To produce any other kind is foreign to the poetical spirit; hence, to speak parenthetically, all so-called works of wit are entirely falsely called poetic, although we for a long time, misled by the authority of French literature, have mixed them therewith. Nature, I say, is even now in the artificial state of culture, whereby the poetical spirit is powerful; only it now stands in an entirely different relation to the same.
So long as man is still pure, it is understood, not coarse nature, he acts as an undivided sensuous unity and as an harmonizing whole. Sense and reason, receptive and self-acting capacity, have not yet been separated in their operations, much less do they stand in contradiction with one another. His feelings are not the formless play of chance, his thoughts not the contentless play of conceptual power; from the law of necessity emerges the former, from reality emerges the latter. Be man encountered in the state of culture, and has art laid its hand upon him, so is this sensuous harmony annulled in him, and he can only express himself still as moral unity, i.e., as striving toward unity. The agreement between his feeling and thinking, which actually took place in the former state, exists now merely ideally; it is no longer in him, but rather outside of him, as a thought, which should first be realized, no longer as a fact of life. Should one now apply the concept of poetry, which is nothing other than to give humanity its most complete expression possible, to both of these states, so it ensues, that there in the state of natural simplicity, where man still acts with all his powers at one time, as an harmonious unity, where therefore all his nature expresses itself completely in reality, the poet must imitate the real as completely as possiblethat, on the contrary, here in the state of culture, where that harmonious cooperation of its entire nature is merely an idea, the poet must elevate reality to the ideal or, what amounts to the same, represent the ideal. And these are also the only two possible ways, in which the poetic genius can in general express itself. They are, as one sees, extremely different from one another, but there is a higher concept, which embraces both, and it should not be at all surprising, if this concept coincides with the idea of humanity.
Here is not the place to pursue further the thought, which only a separate exposition can place in its full light. Whoever, however, only knows how to make a comparison between ancient and modern poets9, according to the spirit and not merely according to accidental forms, will be easily convinced of the truth of the same. The former moves us through nature, through sensuous truth, through living presence; the latter move us through ideas.
The latter path, which the modern poets take, is after all the same, which man generally must pursue individually and as a whole. Nature makes him one with himself, art divides and disunites him, through the ideal he returns to unity. However, because the ideal is an infinity, which he never attains, so can the cultivated man never become perfect in his type, as the natural man can indeed become in his. He must needs, therefore, be infinitely inferior to the latter in respect to perfection, if attention is paid merely to the relation, in which both are to their type and to their maximum. Does one, on the contrary, compare the types themselves with one another, so it appears, that the end toward which man strives through culture, is infinitely superior to that which he attains through nature. The one receives its value, therefore, through absolute attainment of a finite, the other obtains it through the approach to an infinite greatness. However, because only the latter has degrees and makes progress, so is the relative value of man, who is engaged in culture, taken as a whole never determinable, although the same viewed individually is at a necessary disadvantage in respect to that, in which nature acts in its full perfection. However, insofar as the final end of humanity can not otherwise be attained than by this progress and the latter cannot otherwise progress, then whilst he is cultivated and consequently passes into the former, so is there no question, to which of the two the advantage is due in regard to this final end.
The same, which is said here of the two different forms of humanity, can also be applied to these two forms of poets, who correspond to them.
For this reason, one must needs have compared ancient and modernnaive and sentimentalpoets with one another either not at all or only under a common higher concept (there is really one such). For, of course, if one has first abstracted one-sidedly a specific notion of poetry from the ancient poets, so is nothing easier, but also nothing more trivial, than to belittle the moderns in regard to it. If one only calls poetry, that which acted uniformly in all times on simple nature, so can it not otherwise be, than that one will have to contest the name of poet in the modern poets precisely in their most peculiar and most sublime beauty, because precisely here they only speak to the pupil of art and have nothing to say to the simple nature.10 He whose disposition is not already prepared to go beyond reality into the realm of ideas, for him the richest content will be empty appearance and the highest poetic flight exaggeration. It can occur to no one of reason, to wish to place in that, wherein Homer is great, any of the moderns by his side, and it sounds laughable enough, when one sees a Milton or Klopstock honored with the name of a modern Homer. Just so little, however, will any of the ancient poets and least of all Homer, in that which characteristically distinguishes the modern poets, be able to be held in comparison with the same. The former, I would like to say, is powerful through the art of limitation; the latter is so through the art of the infinite.
And exactly therefrom, that the strength of the ancient artist (for what has been said here of the poet, can, under the restrictions which are self-evident, be in general also extended to the fine artist) consists in limitation, is explained the great advantage, which the plastic art of antiquity asserts over that of modern times, and in general the unequal proportion of value, in which modern poetry and modern plastic art stand in regard to both kinds of art in antiquity. A work for the eye finds its perfection only in the limitation; a work for the imaginative power can also attain it only through the unlimited. In plastic works, his superiority in ideas accordingly helps the modern little; here is he obliged to determine in space the image of his imaginative power with the greatest precision and, consequently, be measured with the ancient artist precisely in this property, wherein the latter has his incontestible advantage. In poetical works it is otherwise, and do the ancient poets triumph equally also here in the simplicity of forms and in that which is sensuously representable and corporeal, so can the moderns leave them behind again in the wealth of the matter, in which what is unrepresentable and unspeakable, in short, in that which one calls mind in works of art.
Since the naive poet merely follows simple nature and feeling and is confined merely to imitation of reality, so can he also only have a single relation to this object, and there is, in this regard, no choice of treatment for him. The different impression of naive poetry rests (provided that one disregards everything that belongs to the content and views that impression only as the pure work of the poetic treatment), rests, I say, merely in the different degree of one and the same mode of perception; even the difference in the external forms can make no alteration in the quality of that aesthetical impression. The form may be lyrical or epic, dramatic or descriptive: we can indeed be moved more weakly and more strongly, but (so soon as abstracted from the matter) never in a different way. Our feeling is universally the same, entirely from one element, so that we are able to distinguish nothing therein. Even the distinction of languages and age changes nothing here, for just this pure unity of their source and their effect is a characteristic of naive poetry.
It is entirely different with the sentimental poet. The latter reflects on the impression, which the objects make in him, and only on this reflection is the emotion grounded, in which he himself is moved and moves us. The object is here connected with an idea, and only in this connection does his poetical force rest. The sentimental poet is therefore always concerned with two conflicting conceptions and feelings, with reality as limit and with his idea as the infinite, and the mixed feeling, which he arouses, will always testify to this two-fold source.11 Therefore, since here a plurality of principles occurs, so does it depend upon which of the two is predominant in the feeling of the poet and in his representation, and consequently a difference in the treatment of it is possible. For now arises the question, whether he dwells more on the reality, or more on the ideal, or whether he wants to achieve the former as an object of aversion, or the latter as an object of inclination. His representation will therefore be either satirical or it will (in a broader sense of this word, which will be explained afterward) be elegiac; every sentimental poet will adhere to one of these two modes of feeling.
The poet is satirical, if he takes as his object the distance from nature and the contradiction of reality with the ideal (in the effect upon the soul, both result in the same). This he can, however, perform both earnestly and with passion as well as sportively and with cheerfulness, according as he dwells either in the domain of the will or in the domain of the understanding. The former occurs through the punishing or pathetic, the latter through sportive satire.
Taken strictly, the aim of the poet agrees neither with the tone of punishment nor that of amusement. The former is too serious for play, which poetry should always be; the latter is too frivolous for the earnestness, which should be the basis of all poetical play. Moral contradictions necessarily interest our heart and these deprive the soul of its freedom, and yet all personal interest, i.e., all reference to a need, should be banished from poetical emotions. Contradictions of the understanding, on the contrary, leave the heart indifferent, and nevertheless the poet deals with the highest desires of the heart, with nature and the ideal. It is hence no small problem for him, not to violate in pathetic satire the poetical form, which consists in the freedom of play, not to miss in the sportive satire the poetical contents, which must always be the infinite. This problem can only be solved in a single way. The punishing satire obtains poetical freedom, whilst it passes over into the sublime; the laughing satire receives poetical content, whilst it treats its theme with beauty.
In satire, the real as deficiency is placed in opposition to the ideal as the highest reality. It is after all not at all necessary, that the latter be expressed, if the poet only knows how to awaken it in the soul; but this must he do absolutely or he will not act poetically at all. The real is therefore here a necessary object of aversion; but, whereon everything here depends, this aversion itself must necessarily originate again from the opposing ideal. It could, that is, also have a merely sensuous source and be grounded solely on need, with which the real quarrels; and frequently enough, we believe we feel a moral indignation in respect to the world, when merely the antagonism of the same to our inclination embitters us. It is this material interest, which the common satirist brings into play, and because he does not at all fail to take this road, to move us in our emotion, so he believes he has our heart in his power and is master in the pathetic. But any pathos from this source is unworthy of poetry, which moves us only through ideas and may only take the road to our heart through reason. Also this impure and material pathos will always be apparent through a preponderance of passion, and through a painful preoccupation of the soul, since, on the contrary, true poetical pathos is recognizable in a preponderance of self-activity and in a mental freedom, which persists even in a state of emotion. Should the emotion originate, that is, from the ideal opposed to the real, so is any hemmed-in feeling lost in the sublimity of the ideal, and the greatness of the idea, by which we are filled, elevates us above all restrictions of experience. In the representation of revolting reality, everything depends accordingly thereon, that the necessary be the basis, upon which the poet or the narrator lays out the real, that he know how to dispose our mind for ideas. Should we but take an elevated position in judgment, so does it not matter at all, if the object remains deep and low beneath us. When the historian Tacitus describes to us the profound decay of the Romans of the first century, so is it a lofty spirit, who looks down on the low, and our frame of mind is truly poetic, because only the height, whereupon he himself stands and to which he knew to elevate us, renders his object low.
The pathetic satire must therefore flow at all times from a frame of mind, which is deeply permeated by the ideal. Only a ruling instinct toward harmony can and may produce that deep feeling of moral contradiction and that glowing indignation against moral perversity, which in a Juvenal, Swift, Rousseau, Haller, and others becomes enthusiasm. The same poets would and must needs have composed with the same success also in touching and tender types, if accidental reasons had not given their souls in early life this definite direction; they have partly also actually done it. All of those named here lived either in a degenerate age and had a dreadful experience of moral corruption before their eyes, or their own fates have strewn bitterness in their souls. Also, the philosophical mind, when it separates with unrelenting strictness the appearance from being and penetrates into the depths of things, inclines the soul to this severity and austerity, with which Rousseau, Haller, and others paint reality. But these external and accidental influences, which always act restrictively, may at most only determine the direction, never provide the content of the enthusiasm. The latter must on the whole be the same and, free of any external need, flow forth from a glowing instinct for the ideal, which is absolutely the only true calling to the satirical as in general to the sentimental poet.
If the pathetic satire suits only sublime souls, so can mocking satire only succeed in a beautiful heart. For the former is already preserved from frivolity by its earnest theme; but the latter, which may only treat a morally indifferent matter, would inevitably fall into it and lose any poetical dignity, if the treatment did not here ennoble the content and the subject of the poet were not to substitute for his object. But it is not bestowed on the beautiful heart, to impress a perfect image of itself independent of the object of its action on each of its expressions. The sublime character can make itself known only in individual victories over the resistance of the senses, only in certain moments of flight and of momentary exertion; in the beautiful soul, on the contrary, the ideal acts as nature, therefore uniformly, and can therefore appear also in a state of rest. The deep sea appears the most sublime in its movement, the clear brook the most beautiful in its calm course.
It has repeatedly been a matter of dispute, which of the two, tragedy or comedy, deserves to be ranked above the other. If the question is merely, which of the two treats the more important object, so is there no doubt, that the former has the advantage; however, should one want to know, which of the two requires the more important subject, so would the decision more likely prove to be for the latter.In tragedy, very much occurs already through the theme, in comedy, nothing occurs through the theme and everything through the poet. Now, since the matter never comes into consideration in the judgment of taste, so must of course the aesthetical value of these two kinds of art stand in inverse proportion to their material importance. The object carries the tragic poet, the comic, on the contrary, must support his in the aesthetical height through his subject. The former may take a flight, which is not exactly such a great matter; the other must remain the same, he must already be there and be at home there, whereto the other does not succeed without a vault. And that is precisely it, wherein the beautiful character is distinguished from the sublime. In the former, all greatness is already contained, it flows unconstrained and effortless from its nature, it is, according to its ability, an infinity in every point of its course; the other can be stretched and elevated to all greatness, it can through the force of its will be torn from every condition of limitation. The latter is therefore only free by fits and starts and only with effort, the former is so with ease and always.
To bring forth and to nourish in us this freedom of mind, is the beautiful task of comedy, just as tragedy is assigned, to help reestablish mental freedom on an aesthetical path, when it has been violently annulled by an emotion. In tragedy, mental freedom must therefore be annulled artificially and as an experiment, because it demonstrates its poetic force in the restoration of the same; in comedy, on the contrary, care must be taken, that it never come to this annulment of mental freedom. Therefore, the tragic poet always treats his theme practically, the comic poet his always theoretically, even when the former (as Lessing in his Nathan) would have the fancy to treat a theoretical, the latter, a practical matter. Not the domain from which the theme is taken, rather the forum, before which the poet brings it, makes the same tragic or comic. The tragedian must be on his guard against tranquil reasoning and always interest the heart; the comedian must guard against pathos and always entertain the understanding. The former, therefore, displays his art through constant excitement, the latter through constant prevention of passion; and this art is naturally in both cases so much the greater, the more the theme of the one is of an abstract nature and that of the other is inclined to the pathetic.12 If, therefore, tragedy sets out from a more important point, so must one concede, on the other hand, that comedy aims at a more important end, and it would, if it were to achieve it, make all tragedy superfluous and impossible. Its end is identical with the highest toward which man struggles, to be free of passion, always clearly, always calmly to look around himself and into himself, to find everywhere more accident than fate, and to laugh more at absurdity than to be angry at wickedness or to weep.
As in active life, so it also often occurs in poetic representations, that mere light-mindedness, agreeable talent, joyful good nature are mistaken for beauty of the soul, and since the common taste is in general never elevated above the agreeable, so is it to such elegant minds an easy thing, to usurp that glory, which is so difficult to deserve. But there is an infallible test, by means of which one can distinguish the facility of the natural from the facility of the ideal, just as the virtue of temperament from the true morality of character, and this is, when both are attempted in a difficult and great object. In such a case, the elegant genius falls infallibly into insipidity, just as the virtuous by temperament into the material; the true beautiful soul, on the contrary is just as certain to pass over into the sublime.
So long as Lucian merely chastises absurdity, as in the Wishes, in the Lapithas, in Jupiter Tragödus, etc., he remains a mocker and pleases us with his joyful humor; but an entirely different man emerges from him in many passages of his Nigrinus, his Timon, his Alexander, when his satire also strikes at moral depravity. Unhappy wretch, so he begins in his Nigrinus the revolting picture of Rome at that time, why forsakest thou the light of the sun, Greece, and that happy life of freedom and cam'st here to this turmoil of splendid subservience, of services and banquets, of sycophants, flatterers, poisoners, legacy-hunters and false friends? etc. On such and similar occasions must the lofty earnestness of feeling be evident, which must underlie all play, if it shall be poetical. Even through malicious jests, wherewith both Lucian as well as Aristophanes mistreated Socrates, a serious reason shines forth, which avenges the truth against the sophist and does combat for an ideal, which it merely does not always express. Also the first of the two has justified this character against all doubt in his Diogenes and Demonax; among the moderns, what great and beautiful character does Cervantes not express at every worthy occasion in his Don Quixote! What a glorious ideal must not have lived in the soul of the poet, who created a Tom Jones and a Sophonisba! How the laughter of Yorik, so soon as he wishes, can so greatly and so powerfully move our souls! Also in our Wieland I discern this earnestness of feeling; even the wanton play of his humor inspires and ennobles the grace of the heart; even in the rhythm of his song it imprints its stamp, and never does he lack the power to soar, as soon as it is wanted, to carry us aloft to the highest.
No such judgment can be made of the Voltairean satire. Indeed, it is also in the case of this author only the truth and simplicity of nature, whereby he sometimes moves us poetically, whether it be, that he actually attains it in a naive character, as many times in his Ingènu, or that he seeks and avenges it as in his Candide, etc. Where neither of the two is the case, he can indeed amuse us as a witty mind, but certainly not move us as a poet. But everywhere, too little earnestness underlies his mockery, and this makes his vocation as a poet justly suspect. We always encounter only his understanding, not his feeling. No ideal appears under his flimsy veil and hardly anything absolutely fixed in this eternal motion. His wonderful multiplicity of external forms, far from proving anything in behalf of the inner fullness of his spirit, rather bears critical witness thereagainst, for regardless of all these forms, he has not even found one, wherein he could have impressed a heart. One must therefore almost fear, it was in this rich genius only the poverty of heart, which determined his vocation as satire. Were it otherwise, so would he have had to step by chance on his long road out of this narrow rut. But in all the so-great variety of matter and of external form, we see this inner form return in eternal, needy monotony, and, despite his voluminous career, he has nevertheless not accomplished the circle of humanity in himself, which one finds passed through with joy in the above-mentioned satirists.
Should the poet so oppose nature to art and the ideal to the real, that the representation of the first predominates and the pleasure in the same becomes the ruling feeling, so do I call him elegiac. Also, this type has, like satire, two classes under it. Either is nature and the ideal an object of sadness, when the former is represented as lost, the latter as unattained, or both are an object of joy, whilst they are conceived as real. The first gives elegy in the narrower, the other the idyl in the broadest sense.13
Like indignation in the pathetic, and like mockery in sportive satire, so may sadness in elegy flow only from an enthusiasm awakened by the ideal. Thereby alone does the elegy receive poetical content, and every other source of the same is completely beneath the dignity of poetry. The elegiac poet seeks nature, but in its beauty, not merely in its agreeableness, in its agreement with ideas, not merely in its compliance to need. The sadness over lost joys, over the golden age which has disappeared from the world, over the happiness of youth, of love, etc., which has fled away, can only then become the matter for elegiac poetry, if those conditions of sensuous peace are conceived at the same time as objects of moral harmony. For this reason, I can not as a whole consider as a poetical work the mournful songs of Ovid, which he strikes up from his place of exile by the Black Sea, however moving they are, and however many passages they have of the poetical. There is much too little energy, much too little spirit and nobility in his pain. Need, not inspiration, pours forth those laments. There breathes therein, although no common soul, yet the common frame of mind of a noble spirit, which his fate trampled to the ground. Indeed, if we remember, that it is Rome and the Rome of Augustus, for which he mourns, so we pardon the son of joy his pain; but even glorious Rome with all of its blessings is, if the imaginative power does not first ennoble it, merely a finite greatness, therefore an unworthy object for poetry, which, elevated above all that reality erects, rightly mourns only for the sake of the infinite.
The content of the poetical lament can therefore never be an external, at all times only an internal ideal object; even when it mourns over a loss in reality, it must first transform it into an ideal. In this reduction of the limited to an infinite consists the true poetical treatment. The external matter is therefore always indifferent in itself, because poetry can never employ it, as it finds it, but rather it only gives it poetical dignity through that which it itself makes of it. The elegiac poet seeks nature, but as an idea and in a perfection, in which it has never existed, although he weeps over it as something that has existed and now is lost, when Ossian tells us of the days, which are no more, and of the heroes, who have disappeared, so has his poetical power transformed these pictures of his memory of long ago into the ideal, these heroes into gods. The experiences of a particular loss have become extended into the idea of universal transitoriness, and the deeply moved bard, whom the image of omnipresent ruin pursues, soars up to heaven, in order to find there in the course of the sun an emblem of the imperishable.14
I turn immediately to the modern poets of the elegiac type. Rousseau, as poet and as philosopher, has no other tendency than to either seek nature or to avenge it in art. According as his feeling dwells either on the one or the other, we find him now moved elegiacally, now inspired to Juvenalian satire, now as in his Julia, transported into the sphere of the idyl. His compositions have indisputable poetic merit, since they treat the ideal; only he does not know how to employ the same in a poetical manner. His earnest character, no doubt, lets him never descend into frivolity, but also does not permit him to be elevated up to poetic play. Now yoked by passion, now by abstraction, he seldom or never achieves aesthetical freedom, which the poet must maintain over against his matter, must communicate to his reader. Either it is his sickly sensibility, which rules over him and drives his feelings to the point of being painful; or it is the force of his thinking, which places fetters on his imagination and, through the strictness of the concept, annihilates the grace of the portrayal. Both properties, whose intimate reciprocity and union properly constitutes the poet, are found in this author in an unusually high degree and nothing is lacking, other than that they also manifest themselves actually united with one another, that his self-activity be joined more to his feeling, that his susceptibility be joined more to his thought. Therefore, even in the ideal, which he erects from human nature, too much regard is given to the limits of the same, too little to its capability and a want of physical repose is everywhere more visible therein than of moral harmony. It is owing to his passionate sensibility, that he, in order to be rid of that struggle in human nature as soon as possible, prefers to see the same led back to the spiritless uniformity of his initial condition, rather than to see that struggle ended in the spirited harmony of a completely accomplished education, that he prefers not to let art begin at all, rather than await its completion, that he prefers to place the goal lower and prefers to lower the ideal, in order to attain it the more quickly, in order to attain it more safely.
Among Germany's poets of this type I wish to mention here only Haller, Kleist, and Klopstock. The character of their poetry is sentimental; they move us through ideas, not through sensuous truth, not so much because they themselves are nature, as because they know how to enthuse us for nature. What, however, is true in general of the character of these, as well as of all sentimental poets, does not of course exclude in any way the capability to move us in particular through naive beauty: without this, they would not be poets overall. It is only not their proper and prevailing character, to receive with a calm, simple, and easy sense and to represent in the same manner, that which is received. Involuntarily, imagination anticipates the intuition, the thinking power the perception, and one closes eyes and ears, in order to sink contemplatively into oneself. The soul can endure no impression, without immediately paying attention to its own play and, through reflection, placing before and outside itself, what it has in itself. We receive in this way never the object, only what the reflecting understanding of the poet made from the object, and even then, if the poet himself is this object, if he wishes to represent his feelings, we do not experience his condition immediately and at first hand, but rather as the same is reflected in his soul, what he has thought about it as spectator of himself. When Haller mourned the death of his spouse (one knows the beautiful song) and begins as follows:
so do we find this description strictly true, but we also feel, that the poet does not properly communicate his feelings to us, but rather his thoughts about it. He also moves us for this reason far more weakly, because he himself must have already been very much cooled down, in order to be a spectator of his own emotion.
Already, the mostly supersensuous matter of Hallerian and also part of the Klopstockian compositions excludes them from the naive type; so soon, therefore, as this matter should be treated poetically, so must it, since it assumes no bodily nature and consequently can not be an object of the sensuous intuition, pass over into the infinite and be elevated to an object of the spiritual intuition. In general, only in this sense can didactic poetry be conceived without internal contradiction; for, to repeat it once more, poetry only possesses these two domains: either it must stay in the world of sense, or it must stay in the world of ideas, since it can absolutely not thrive in the realm of concepts or in the world of understanding. Yet, I confess, I know no poem of this kind, neither from ancient nor modern literature, which would have brought the concept, which it treats, either purely and completely down to the individual or up to the idea. The ordinary case, when it still goes happily, is that the two are alternated, such that the abstract concept dominates and that the imaginative power, which ought to govern in the poetical domain, is merely permitted to serve the understanding. The didactic poem, wherein the thought itself were poetic and it would also remain so, is still awaited.
What is said here in general of all didactic poems, is true also of the poems of Haller in particular. The thought itself is not a poetical thought, but the execution is so sometimes, now through the use of images, now through the flight towards the ideal. Only in the last quality do they belong here. Force and depth and a pathetical earnestness characterize this poet. His soul is enkindled by an ideal, and his glowing feeling for truth seeks, in the silent Alpine valleys, the innocence which has disappeared from the world. Deeply touching is his lament; with energetic, almost bitter satire, he draws the perplexities of the understanding and heart, and with love, the beautiful simplicity of nature. Only in this picture, the concept predominates overly much, just as in himself the understanding plays master over feeling. Therefore, he teaches generally more than he represents, and represents generally with more forceful than lovely strokes. He is great, daring, ardent, sublime; however, he is seldom or never elevated to beauty.
In idea content and in depth of mind, Kleist is far inferior to this poet; in grace he might excel him, if we did not otherwise impute to him, as sometimes occurs, a want on the one side as a strength on the other. Kleist's feeling soul delights most in the sight of country scenes and manners. He gladly flees the empty noise of society and finds in the bosom of inanimate nature the harmony and peace, which he misses in the moral world. How touching is his longing for peace!15 How true and feeling, when he sings:
1. Kant, to my knowledge the first, who has begun to reflect expressly on this phenomenon, observes, that if we were to find the warbling of the nightingale imitated by a man to the highest deception and gave ourselves over to the impression of the same with complete emotion, all our delight would disappear with the destruction of this illusion. One should look at the chapter of intellectual interest on the beautiful in the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment. Whoever has learned to admire the author only as a great thinker, will joy, to encounter here a trace of his heart and be convinced through this discovery of the high philosophical vocation of this man (which absolutely requires both capacities combined).
2. Kant also distinguishes these three kinds of ingredients in the feeling of the naive in a comment in the Analytic of the Sublime (Critique of the Aesthetic Judgment, p. 225 of the first edition), but he gives another explanation of it. Some combination of both (the animal feeling of pleasure and the mental feeling of respect) is found in naivetè, which is the breaking out of the sincerity originally natural to humanity in opposition to the art of dissimulation, which has become another nature. One laughs at the simplicity, which does not yet understand how to dissemble, and yet one is delighted with the simplicity of nature, which here thwarts that art. One expects the ordinary manner of utterance, which is artificial and devised carefully to make a beautiful show, and behold, it is the unspoiled innocent nature, which one does not expect to find and which, he who displays it, also did not think of disclosing. That the beautiful, but false show, which ordinarily has so much influence on our judgment, is here suddenly transformed into nothing, so that, as it were, the rogue in us is laid bare, produces the movement of the mind in two opposite directions, which at the same time shakes the body wholesomely. However, that something, that is infinitely better than all assumed manner, the purity of disposition (at least the tendency thereto), is not quite extinguished yet in human nature, mixes earnestness and high esteem with this play of the judgment. But because it is only a transitory phenomenon and the cover of the art of dissimulation is soon drawn over again, so there is mingled therewith a comparison, which is an emotion of tenderness, which, as play, quite readily can be combined with such a good-hearted laugh, and ordinarily is actually combined therewith, at the same time is wont to compensate him, who supplies the material therefor, for the embarrassment which results from not being wise after the manner of men. I admit, that this mode of explanation does not entirely satisfy me, and indeed does not chiefly, because it asserts something about the naive in general, that is most true of one species of the same, the naive of surprise, of which I will speak later on. To be sure, it provokes laughter, if someone exposes himself through naivetè, and in many cases, this laughter may flow from a preceding expectation, which is dissolved into nothing. However, also the naive of the noblest kind, the naive of conviction, always provokes a smile, which, however, hardly has an expectation dissolved into nothing as its basis, but rather is only explained in general from the contrast of a certain behavior with the forms once accepted and expected. Also, I doubt whether the pity, which is mixed in the naive of the last type in our feeling, is meant for the naive person, and not rather for ourselves or rather for humanity in general, of whose decline we are reminded in such an occasion. It is too obviously a moral grief, which must have a nobler object, than the physical evil, by which uprightness is threatened in the ordinary course of the world, and this object cannot indeed be other than the loss of the truth and simplicity of humanity.
3. I should perhaps say quite briefly: the truth over dissimulation, but the concept of the naive appears to me to include still something more, whilst simplicity in general, which prevails over affectation, and natural freedom, which prevails over stiffness, arouse a similar feeling in us.
4. A child is uneducated, if it acts in opposition to the precepts of a good education out of desire, frivolity, impetuosity, but it is naive, if it is exempt from the mannerisms of an education devoid of reason, from the stiff postures of the dance master and the like, out of a free and healthy nature. The same also occurs in the naive in a quite figurative sense, which arises through the passage from man to the senseless. No one will find the view naive, if in a garden, which is attended badly, the weeds gain the upper hand, but it has something naive, to be sure, if the free growth of the aspiring branches annuls the toilsome work of the shears in a French garden. So is it not at all naive, if a trained horse performs his lesson poorly out of natural clumsiness, but it has something of the naive, if it forgets the same out of natural freedom.
5. Since the naive depends merely on the form, in which something is done or said, so does this property disappear from our eyes, so soon as the thing itself makes a predominate or quite contradictory impression through its causes or through its consequences. Through a naivetè of this type, a crime can also be discovered, but then we have neither the peace nor time, to direct our attention to the form of the discovery, and the horror over the personal character devours the pleasure in the natural. Just as the indignant feeling deprives us of the moral joy in the uprightness of nature, so soon as we experience a crime through a naivetè; just so does the aroused compassion suppress our malicious joy, so soon as we see someone placed in danger through his naivetè.
6. However, also only with the Greeks; for it requires just such an active motion and such a rich fullness of human life, as surrounded the Greeks, to put life in the lifeless and to pursue the image of humanity with this eagerness. Ossian's human world, for example, was poor and monotonous; the lifelessness round about him was great, colossal, powerful, therefore intruded and asserted its rights even over men. In the songs of this poet, lifeless nature (in contrast to men) therefore steps forth much more as object of the feeling. While Ossian already also laments the decline of humanity, and, however small the circle of culture and its depravities was among his people, so the experience thereof was, however, just vivid and urgent enough, in order to frighten the sensitive moral singer back to the lifeless and, on account of his songs, to pour forth that elegiac tone, which makes them so moving and attractive for us.
7. The raving Roland. First song. Stanza 32.
8. From the classic English translation of Homer's Iliad, by Alexander Pope (1688-1744).
9. It is perhaps not superfluous to recall, that, if the modern poets are contrasted here to the ancients, not only the distinction of time but also the distinction of style is to be understood. We have also in the modern, indeed even in the most modern times, naive compositions in all classes, although no longer the entirely pure type, and among the ancient Latin, indeed even Greek poets, sentimental compositions are not lacking. Not only in the same poet, also in the same work one frequently comes across both species combined; as, for example, in The Sorrows of Young Werther, and such productions will always be more effective.
10. Molière as naive poet permitted it to depend on the verdict of his Maid, what should remain and be suppressed in his comedies; also, it were to have been wished, that the masters of the French Cothurn had now and then made this test with their tragedies. But I did not want to advise, that a similar test be ordained with the Klopstockian odes, with the most beautiful passages in the Messiah, in Paradise Lost, in Nathan the Wise, and many other pieces. Yet what am I saying? This test is actually ordained, and the Molièrian Maid argues the length and breadth indeed in our critical libraries, philosophical and literary annals and travel journals concerning poetry, art and the like, only, as is fair, on German soil a little more tastelessly than on the French, and as is fit for the servant's hall of German literature.
11. Who pays attention in himself to the impression, which naive compositions make on him, and is able to abstract therefrom the share, which is due thereby to the contents, will find this impression, also even in very pathetic objects, always joyful, always pure, always calm; in sentimental objects it will always be somewhat earnest and tense. That is, because in naive representations, regardless of what they would treat, we always rejoice at the truth, at the living presence of the object in our imaginative power and also seek nothing more than these, in sentimental representations; on the contrary, we have to unite the conception of the imaginative power with an idea of reason and therefore fall into vacillation between two different conditions.
12. In Nathan the Wise, this has not occurred, here the frigid nature of the matter has cooled the entire work of art. But Lessing even knew, that he wrote no tragedy, and in a human manner, only forgot in his own endeavor the precept established in the Dramaturgy, that the poet be not authorized, to apply the tragic form to another end than a tragic one. Without very substantial alterations, it would hardly have been possible, to create this dramatic poem anew in a good tragedy; but with merely accidental alterations it might have supplied a good comedy. That is, the pathetic would have had to have been sacrificed to the last end, the argumentative to the first, and there is indeed no question, upon which of the two the beauty of this poem most depends.
13. That I employ the appellations satire, elegy and idyl in a broader sense than usually occurs, I shall hardly need to answer for with readers, who press deeply into the matter. My intention thereby is in no way, to disturb the boundaries, which the preceding observance has with good reason placed on satire and elegy as well as the idyl; I merely look at the mode of perception prevailing in these types of poetry, and it is indeed sufficiently known, that this can in no way be enclosed in those narrow boundaries. We are not moved elegiacally merely by the elegy, which is exclusively so called; also the dramatic and epic poets can move us in an elegiac manner. In the Messiah, in Thomson's Seasons, in Paradise Lost, in Jerusalem Emancipated we find several pictures, which are otherwise properly only idyl, elegy, satire. Just so, more or less, almost in every pathetic poem. That I, however, ascribe the idyl itself to the elegiac species, appears rather to require a justification. One remembers, however, that the discussion here is only about that idyl, which is a species of sentimental poetry, to whose essence it belongs, that nature is opposed to art and the ideal to reality. Even be this not done expressly by the poet and he places the picture of uncorrupted nature or of fulfilled ideals pure and independent before our eyes, so is this opposition nonetheless in his heart and it is betrayed without his willing in every stroke of the brush. Indeed, were this not so, would the language, no doubt, of which he must avail himself because it bears the spirit of the time in itself and would experience the influence of art, remind us of reality with its limits, culture with its affectation; indeed, our own heart would contrast the experience of corruption to the image of pure nature and would thus make the mode of perception in us elegiac, even if the poet had not aimed therat. This latter is so unavoidable, that even the highest enjoyment, which the most beautiful works of the naive kind from ancient and modern times afford the cultivated man, do not remain pure long, but rather sooner or later will be accompanied by an elegiac feeling. Finally, I observe further, that the division attempted here, precisely because it is grounded merely on the distinction in the mode of perception, should determine nothing at all in the division of the poems themselves and the derivation of poetical types; for since the poet, even in the same work, is in no way bound to this mode of perception, so can this division not be drawn therefrom, but rather must be drawn from the form of the representation.
14. Let one read, for example, the excellent poem entitled Carthon.
15. Let one look at the poem of this name in his works.
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