OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS - FIRST PUBLISHED 1974
PARERGA AND PARALIPOMENA: SHORT PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS / ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY E. F. J. PAYNE.-REV. ED.
CHAPTER XIX. ON THE METAPHYSICS OF THE BEAUTIFUL AND AESTHETICS
As I have dealt in sufficient detail in my chief work with the conception of the (Platonic) Ideas and with the correlativef thereof, namely the pure subject of knowing, I should regard it as superfluous here to return to it once more, did I not bear in mind that this is a consideration which in this sense has never been undertaken prior to me. It is, therefore, better not to keep back anything which might at some time be welcome by way of their elucidation. In this connection, I naturally assume that the reader is acquainted with those earlier discussions.
The real problem of the metaphysics of the beautiful may be very simply expressed by our asking how satisfaction with and pleasure in an object are possible without any reference thereof to our willing.
Thus everyone feels that pleasure and satisfaction in a thing can really spring only from its relation to our will or, as we are fond of expressing it, to our aims, so that pleasure without a stirring of the will seems to be a contradiction. Yet the beautiful, as such, quite obviously gives rise to our delight and pleasure, without its having any reference to our personal aims and so to our will.
My solution has been that in the beautiful we always perceive the essential and original forms of animate and inanimate nature and thus Plato’s Ideas thereof, and that this perception has as its condition their essential correlative, the will-free subject of knowing, in other words a pure intelligence without aims and intentions. On the occurrence of an aesthetic apprehension, the will thereby vanishes entirely from consciousness. But it alone is the source of all our sorrows and sufferings. This is the origin of that satisfaction and pleasure which accompany the apprehension of the beautiful. It therefore rests on the removal of the entire possibility of suffering. If it should be objected that the possibility of pleasure would then also be abolished, it should be remembered that, as I have often explained, happiness or satisfaction is of a negative nature, that is, simply the end of a suffering, whereas pain is that which is positive. And so with the disappearance of all willing from consciousness, there yet remains the state of pleasure, in other words absence of all pain and here even absence of the possibility thereof. For the individual is transformed into a subject that merely knows and no longer wills; and yet he remains conscious of himself and of his activity precisely as such. As we know, the world as will is the first world (ordine prior), and the world as representation, the second (ordine posterior). The former is the world of craving and therefore of pain and a thousand different woes. The latter, however, is in itself essentially painless; moreover, it contains a spectacle worth seeing, altogether significant, and at least entertaining. Aesthetic pleasure* consists in the enjoyment thereof. To become a pure subject of knowing means to be quit of oneself; ↑ but since in most cases people cannot do this, they are, as a rule, incapable of that purely objective apprehension of things, which constitutes the gift of the artist.
* Complete satisfaction, the final quieting, the true desirable state, always present themselves only in the picture, the work of art, the poem, or music. From this, of course, one might be assured that they must exist somewhere.
↑ The pure subject of knowing occurs in our forgetting ourselves in order to be absorbed entirely in the intuitively perceived objects, so that they alone are left in consciousness.
However, let the individual will leave free for a while the power of representation which is assigned to it, and let it exempt this entirely from the service for which it has arisen and exists so that, for the time being, such power relinquishes concern for the will or for one’s own person, this being its only natural theme and thus its regular business, but yet it does not cease to be energetically active and to apprehend clearly and with rapt attention what is intuitively perceptible. That power of representation then becomes at once perfectly objective, that is to say, the true mirror of objects or, more precisely, the medium of the objectification of the will that manifests itself in the objects in question. The inner nature of the will now stands out in the power of representation the more completely, the longer intuitive perception is kept up, until it has entirely exhausted that inner nature. Only thus does there arise with the pure subject the pure object, that is, the perfect manifestation of the will that appears in the intuitively perceived object, this manifestation being just the (Platonic) Idea thereof. But the apprehension of such an Idea requires that, while contemplating an object, I disregard its position in time and space and thus its individuality. For it is this position which is always determined by the law of causality and puts that object in some relation to me as an individual. Therefore only when that position is set aside does the object become the Idea and do I at the same time become the pure subject of knowing. Thus through the fact that every painting for ever fixes the fleeting moment and tears it from time, it already gives us not the individual thing, but the Idea, that which endures and is permanent in all change. Now for that required change in the subject and object, the condition is not only that the power of knowledge is withdrawn from its original servitude and left entirely to itself, but also that it nevertheless remains active with the whole of its energy, in spite of the fact that the natural spur of its activity, the impulse of the will, is now absent. Here lies the difficulty and in this the rarity of the thing; for all our thoughts and aspirations, all our seeing and hearing, are naturally always in the direct or indirect service of our countless greater and smaller personal aims. Accordingly it is the will that urges the power of knowledge to carry out its function and, without such impulse, that power at once grows weary. Moreover, the knowledge thereby awakened is perfectly adequate for practical life, even for the special branches of science which are directed always only to the relations of things, not to the real and true inner nature thereof; and so all their knowledge proceeds on the guiding line of the principle of sufficient reason [or ground], this element of relations. Thus wherever it is a question of knowledge of cause and effect, or of other grounds and consequents, and hence in all branches of natural science and mathematics, as also of history, inventions, and so forth, the knowledge sought must be a purpose of the will, and the more eagerly this aspires to it, the sooner will it be attained. Similarly, in the affairs of state, war, matters of finance or trade, intrigues of every kind, and so on, the will through the vehemence of its craving must first compel the intellect to exert all its strength in order to discover the exact clue to all the grounds and consequents in the case in question. In fact, it is astonishing how far the spur of the will can here drive a given intellect beyond the usual degree of its powers. And so for all outstanding achievements in such things, not merely a fine or brilliant mind is required, but also an energetic will which must first urge the intellect to laborious effort and restless activity, without which such achievements cannot be effected.
Now it is quite different as regards the apprehension of the objective original essence of things which constitutes their (Platonic) Idea and must be the basis of every achievement in the fine arts. Thus the will, which was there so necessary and indeed indispensable, must here be left wholly out of the question; for here only that is of any use which the intellect achieves entirely of itself and from its own resources and produces as a free-will offering. Here everything must go automatically; knowledge must be active without intention and so must be will-less. For only in the state of pure knowing, where a man’s will and its aims together with his individuality are entirely removed from him, can that purely objective intuitive perception arise wherein the (Platonic) Ideas of things are apprehended. But it must always be such an apprehension which precedes the conception, i.e. the first and always intuitive knowledge. This subsequently constitutes the real material and kernel, as it were the soul, of a genuine work of art, a poem, and even a real philosophical argument. The unpremeditated, unintentional, and indeed partly unconscious and instinctive element that has at all times been observed in the works of genius, is just a consequence of the fact that the original artistic knowledge is one that is entirely separate from, and independent of, the will, a will-free, will-less knowledge. And just because the will is the man himself, we attribute such knowledge to a being different from him, to genius. A knowledge of this kind has not, as I have often explained, the principle of sufficient reason [or ground] for its guiding line and is thus the antithesis of a knowledge of the first kind. By virtue of his objectivity, the genius with reflectiveness perceives all that others do not see. This gives him as a poet the ability to describe nature so clearly, palpably, and vividly, or as a painter, to portray it.
On the other hand, with the execution of the work, where the purpose is to communicate and present what is known, the will can, and indeed must, again be active, just because there exists a purpose. Accordingly, the principle of sufficient reason [or ground] here rules once more, whereby the means of art are suitably directed to the ends thereof. Thus the painter is concerned with the correctness of his drawing and the treatment of his colours; the poet with the arrangement of his plan and then with expression and metre.
But since the intellect has sprung from the will, it therefore presents itself objectively as brain and thus as a part of the body which is the objectification of the will. Accordingly, as the intellect is originally destined to serve the will, the activity natural to it is of the kind previously described, where it remains true to that natural form of its knowledge which is expressed by the principle of sufficient reason [or ground], and where it is brought into activity and maintained therein by the will, the primary and original element in man. Knowledge of the second kind, on the other hand, is an abnormal activity, unnatural to the intellect; accordingly, it is conditioned by a decidedly abnormal and thus very rare excess of intellect and of its objective phenomenon, the brain, over the rest of the organism and beyond the measure required by the aims of the will. Just because this excess of intellect is abnormal, the phenomena springing therefrom sometimes remind one of madness.
Here knowledge then breaks with and deserts its origin, the will. The intellect which has arisen merely to serve the will and, in the case of almost all men, remains in such service, their lives being absorbed in such use and in the results thereof, is used abnormally, as it were abused, in all the free arts and sciences; and in this use are set the progress and honour of the human race. In another way, it can even turn itself against the will, in that it abolishes this in the phenomena of holiness.
However, that purely objective apprehension of the world and of things which, as primary and original knowledge, underlies every artistic, poetical, and purely philosophical conception, is only a fleeting one, on subjective as well as objective grounds. For this is due in part to the fact that the requisite exertion and attention cannot be maintained, and also to the fact that the course of the world does not allow us at all to remain in it as passive and indifferent spectators, like the philosopher according to the definition of Pythagoras. On the contrary, everyone must act in life’s great puppet-play and almost always feels the wire which also connects him thereto and sets him in motion.
Now as regards the objective element of such aesthetic intuitive perception, the (Platonic) Idea, this may be described as that which we should have before us if time, this formal and subjective condition of our knowledge, were withdrawn, like the glass from the kaleidoscope. For example, we see the development of the bud, blossom, and fruit and are astonished at the driving force that never wearies of again going through this cycle. Such astonishment would vanish if we could know that, in spite of all that change, we have before us the one and unalterable Idea of the plant. However, we are unable intuitively to perceive this Idea as a unity of bud, blossom, and fruit, but are obliged to know it by means of the form of time, whereby it is laid out for our intellect in those successive states.
If we consider that both poetry and the plastic arts take as their particular theme an individual in order to present this with the greatest care and accuracy in all the peculiarities of its individual nature down to the most insignificant; and if we then review the sciences that work by means of concepts, each of which represents countless individuals by determining and describing, once for all, the characteristic of their whole species; then on such a consideration the pursuit of art might seem to us insignificant, trifling, and almost childish. But the essence of art is that its one case applies to thousands, since what it implies through that careful and detailed presentation of the individual is the revelation of the (Platonic) Idea of that individual’s species. For example, an event, a scene from human life, accurately and fully described and thus with an exact presentation of the individuals concerned therein, gives us a clear and profound knowledge of the Idea of humanity itself, looked at from some point of view. For just as the botanist plucks a single flower from the infinite wealth of the plant world and then dissects it in order to demonstrate the nature of the plant generally, so does the poet take from the endless maze and confusion of human life, incessantly hurrying everywhere, a single scene and often only a mood or feeling, in order then to show us what are the life and true nature of man. We therefore see that the greatest minds, Shakespeare and Goethe, Raphael and Rembrandt, do not regard it as beneath their dignity to present with the greatest accuracy, earnestness, and care an individual who is not even outstanding, and to give down to the smallest detail a graphic description of all his peculiarities. For only through intuitive perception is the particular and individual thing grasped; I have, therefore, defined poetry as the art of bringing the imagination into play by means of words.
If we want to feel directly and thus become conscious of the advantage which knowledge through intuitive perception, as that which is primary and fundamental, has over abstract knowledge and thus see how art reveals more to us than any science can, let us contemplate, either in nature or through the medium of art, a beautiful and mobile human countenance full of expression. What a much deeper insight into the essence of man, indeed of nature generally, is given by this than by all the words and abstractions they express! Incidentally, it may be observed here that what, for a beautiful landscape is the sudden glimpse of the sun breaking through the clouds, is for a beautiful countenance the appearance of its laughter. Therefore, ridete, puellae, ridete! 1
1 [‘Laugh, girls, laugh!' (Presumably taken from Martial’s Epigrammata, u. 41.)]
However, what enables a picture to bring us more easily than does something actual and real to the apprehension of a (Platonic) Idea and so that whereby the picture stands nearer to the Idea than does reality, is generally the fact that the work of art is the object which has already passed through a subject. Thus it is for the mind what animal nourishment, namely the vegetable already assimilated, is for the body. More closely considered, however, the case rests on the fact that the work of plastic art does not, like reality, show us that which exists only once and never again, thus the combination of this matter with this form, such combination constituting just the concrete and really particular thing, but that it shows us the form alone, which would be the Idea itself if only it were given completely and from every point of view. Consequently, the picture at once leads us away from the individual to the mere form. This separation of the form from matter already brings it so much nearer to the Idea. But every picture is such a separation, whether it be a painting or a statue. This severance, this separation, of the form from matter belongs, therefore, to the character of the aesthetic work of art, just because the purpose thereof is to bring us to the knowledge of a (Platonic) Idea. It is, therefore, essential to the work of art to give the form alone without matter, and indeed to do this openly and avowedly. Here is to be found the real reason why wax figures make no aesthetic impression and are, therefore, not works of art (in the aesthetic sense); although, if they are well made, they produce a hundred times more illusion than can the best picture or statue. If, therefore, deceptive imitation of the actual thing were the purpose of art, wax figures would necessarily occupy the front rank. Thus they appear to give not merely the form, but also the matter as well; and so they produce the illusion of our having before us the thing itself. Therefore, instead of having the true work of art that leads us away from what exists only once and never again, i.e. the individual, to what always exists an infinite number of times, in an infinite number of individuals, i.e. the mere form or Idea, we have the wax figure giving us apparently the individual himself and hence that which exists only once and never again, yet without that which lends value to such a fleeting existence, that is, without life. Therefore the wax figure causes us to shudder since its effect is like that of a stiff corpse.
It might be imagined that it was only the statue that gave form without matter, whereas the painting gave matter as well, in so far as it imitated, by means of colour, matter, and its properties. This, however, would be equivalent to understanding form in the purely geometrical sense, which is not what was meant here. For in the philosophical sense, form is the opposite of matter and thus embraces also colour, smoothness, texture, in short every quality. The statue is certainly the only thing that gives the purely geometrical form alone, presenting it in marble, thus in a material that is clearly foreign to it; and so in this way, the statue plainly and obviously isolates the form. The painting, on the other hand, gives us no matter at all, but the mere appearance of the form, not in the geometrical but in the philosophical sense just stated. The painting does not even give this form, but the mere appearance thereof, namely its effect on only one sense, that of sight, and even this only from one point of view. Thus even the painting does not really produce the illusion of our having before us the thing itself, that is, form and matter; but even the deceptive truth of the picture is still always under certain admitted conditions of this method of presentation. For example, through the inevitable falling away of the parallax of our two eyes, the picture always shows us things only as a one-eyed person would see them. Therefore even the painting gives only the form since it presents merely the effect thereof and indeed quite one-sidedly, namely on the eye alone. The other reasons why the work of art raises us more readily than does reality to the apprehension of a (Platonic) Idea will be found in my chief work volume ii, chapter 30.
Akin to the foregoing consideration is the following where, however, the form must again be understood in the geometrical sense. Black and white copper engravings and etchings correspond to a nobler and more elevated taste than do coloured engravings and water colours, although the latter make a greater appeal to those of less cultivated taste. This is obviously due to the fact that black and white drawings give the form alone, in abstracto so to speak, whose apprehension is (as we know) intellectual, that is, the business of the intuitively perceiving understanding. Colour, on the other hand, is merely a matter of the sense-organ and in fact of quite a special adaptation therein (qualitative divisibility of the retina’s activity). In this respect, we can also compare the coloured copper engravings to rhymed verses and black and white ones to the merely metrical. I have stated the relation between these in my chief work volume ii, chapter 37.
The impressions we receive in our youth are so significant and in the dawn of life everything presents itself in such idealistic and radiant colours. This springs from the fact that the individual thing still makes us first acquainted with its species, which to us is still new; and thus every particular thing represents for us its species. Accordingly, we apprehend in it the (Platonic) Idea of that species to which as such beauty is essential.
The word schön [meaning ‘beautiful’] is undoubtedly connected with the English ‘to show’ and accordingly would mean ‘showy’, ‘what shows well’, 2 what looks well, and hence stands out clearly in intuitive perception; consequently the clear expression of significant (Platonic) Ideas.
The word malerisch [meaning ‘picturesque’] at bottom has the same meaning as schön [or ‘beautiful’]. For it is attributed to that which so presents itself that it clearly brings to light the (Platonic) Idea of its species. It is, therefore, suitable for the painter’s presentation since he is concerned with presenting and bringing out the Ideas which constitute what is objective in the beautiful.
2 [These three English phrases are Schopenhauer’s own words.]
Beauty and grace of the human form are in combination the clearest visibility of the will at the highest stage of its objectification and for this reason are the supreme achievement of plastic art. Yet every natural thing is certainly beautiful, as I have said in World as Will and Representation, volume i, § 41; and so too is every animal. If this is not obvious to us in the case of some animals, the reason is that we are not in a position to contemplate them purely objectively and thus to apprehend their Idea, but are drawn away therefrom by some unavoidable association of thoughts. In most cases, this is the result of a similarity that forces itself on us, for example, that between man and monkey. Thus we do not apprehend the Idea of this animal, but see only the caricature of a human being. The similarity between the toad and dirt and mud seems to act in just the same way. Nevertheless, this does not suffice here to explain the unbounded loathing and even dread and horror which some feel at the sight of these animals, just as do others at the sight of spiders. On the contrary, this seems to be grounded in a much deeper metaphysical and mysterious connection. In support of this opinion is the fact that these very animals are usually taken for sympathetic cures (and evil spells) and thus for magical purposes. For example, fever is driven away by a spider enclosed in a nutshell which is worn round the patient’s neck until it is dead; or in the case of grave and mortal danger, a toad is laid in the urine of the patient, in a well-closed vessel, and is buried in the cellar of the house at midday, precisely at the stroke of twelve. Yet the slow torture to death of such animals demands an expiation from eternal justice. Now again this affords an explanation of the assumption that, whoever practises magic, makes a compact with the devil.
In so far as inorganic nature does not consist of water, it has a very sad and even depressing effect on us when it manifests itself without anything organic. Instances of this are the districts that present us with merely bare rocks, particularly the long rocky valley without any vegetation, not far from Toulon, through which passes the road to Marseilles. The African desert is an instance on a large and much more impressive scale. The gloom of that impression of the inorganic springs primarily from the fact that the inorganic mass obeys exclusively the law of gravitation; and thus everything here tends in that direction. On the other hand, the sight of vegetation delights us directly and in a high degree, but naturally the more so, the richer, more varied, more extended it is, and also the more it is left to itself. The primary reason for this is to be found in the fact that the law of gravitation seems in vegetation to be overcome since the plant world raises itself in a direction which is the very opposite to that of gravitation. The phenomenon of life thus immediately proclaims itself to be a new and higher order of things. We ourselves belong to this; it is akin to us and is the element of our existence; our hearts are uplifted by it. And so it is primarily that vertical direction upwards whereby the sight of the plant world directly delights us. Therefore a fine group of trees gains immensely if a couple of long, straight, and pointed fir trees rise from its middle. On the other hand, a tree lopped all round no longer affects us; indeed a leaning tree has less effect than has one that has grown perfectly straight. The branches of the weeping willow (saule pleureur) which hang down and thus yield to gravity have given it this name. Water eliminates the sad and depressing effect of its inorganic nature to a large extent through its great mobility which gives it an appearance of life and through its constant play with light; moreover, it is the primary and fundamental condition of all life. Again, what makes the sight of vegetable nature so delightful is the expression of peace, calm, and satisfaction which it has; whereas animal nature often presents itself in a state of unrest, want, misery, and even conflict. Therefore vegetable nature so readily succeeds in putting us into a state of pure knowing which delivers us from ourselves.
It is remarkable to see how vegetable nature, even the most ordinary and insignificant, at once displays itself in beautiful and picturesque groups, the moment it is withdrawn from the influence of human caprice. We see this in every spot which has escaped or has not yet been reached by cultivation, even though it bears only thistles, thorns, and the commonest wild flowers. In cornfields and market-gardens, on the other hand, the aesthetic element of the plant world sinks to a minimum.
It has long been recognized that every work intended for human purposes and thus every utensil and building must have a certain resemblance to the works of nature in order to be beautiful. But here we are mistaken in supposing that such resemblance must be direct and lie immediately in the forms, so that, for instance, columns should represent trees or even human limbs, vessels should be shaped like shellfish, snails, or the calices of flowers, and vegetable or animal forms should appear everywhere. On the contrary, this resemblance should not be direct, but only indirect; in other words, it should reside not in the forms, but in the character thereof which can be the same, in spite of their complete difference. Accordingly, buildings and utensils should not imitate nature, but be created in her spirit. Now this shows itself when each thing and each part answers its purpose so directly that such is at once proclaimed by it. All this happens when the purpose is attained on the shortest path and in the simplest way. This obvious appropriateness or fitness is thus the characteristic of the product of nature. Now in this, of course, the will works outwards from within and has made itself the complete master of matter; whereas in the human work, acting from without, the will attains its end and first expresses itself through the medium of intuitive perception and even of a conception of the purpose of the thing, but then by overcoming and subduing a matter that is foreign, in other words, originally expresses another will. Nevertheless, in this case the above-mentioned characteristic of the product of nature can still be retained. Ancient architecture shows this in the exact suitability of each part or member to its immediate purpose which it thus naively displays. It shows it also in the absence of everything useless and purposeless, in contrast to Gothic architecture which owes its dark and mysterious appearance precisely to the many pointless embellishments and appendages, in that we attribute to these a purpose which to us is unknown. The same may be said of every degenerate style of architecture which affects originality and which, in all kinds of unnecessary devious ways and in arbitrary frivolities, toys with the means of art without understanding their purpose. The same applies to antique vases whose beauty springs from the fact that they express in so naive a way what they are intended to be and do; and it applies also to all the other utensils of the ancients. Here we feel that, if nature were to produce vases, amphorae, lamps, tables, chairs, helmets, shields, armour, and so on, they would look like that. On the other hand, look at the scandalous, richly gilded, porcelain vessels, women’s apparel, and other things of the present day. By exchanging the style of antiquity, already introduced, for the vile rococo, men have given evidence of their contemptible spirit and have branded their brows for all time. For this is indeed no trifling matter, but stamps the spirit of these times. A proof of this is furnished by their literature and the mutilation of the German language through ignorant ink-slingers who, in their arbitrary arrogance, treat it as do vandals works of art, and who are allowed to do so with impunity.
The origin of the fundamental idea for a work of art has been very appropriately called its conception ; for it is the most essential thing just as is procreation to the origin of man; and like this it requires not exactly time, but rather mood and opportunity. Thus the object in general, as that which is the male, practises a constant act of procreation on the subject, as that which is the female. Yet this act becomes fruitful only at odd happy moments and with favoured subjects; but then there arises from it some new and original idea which, therefore, lives on. And as with physical procreation, fruitfulness depends much more on the female than on the male; if the former (the subject) is in the mood suitable for conceiving, almost every object now falling within its apperception will begin to speak to it, in other words, to create in it a vivid, penetrating, and original idea. Thus the sight of a trifling object or event has sometimes become the seed of a great and beautiful work; for instance, by suddenly looking at a tin vessel, Jacob Boehme was put into a state of illumination and introduced into the innermost depths of nature. Yet ultimately everything turns on our own strength; and just as no food or medicine can impart or replace vital force, so no book or study can furnish an individual and original mind.
An improviser, however, is a man who omnibus horis sapit, 3 since he carries round a complete and well-assorted store of commonplaces of all kinds; thus he promises prompt service for every request according to the circumstances of the case and the occasion and provides ducenti versus, starts pede in uno. 4
3 [‘Who knows something at any hour’ (Cf. § 36, footnote 8).]
4 [‘Two hundred verses (LucUius dictated often when on the point of going away and thus) standing on one foot.’ (Horace, Satires, 1. 4.10.)]
A man who undertakes to live on the favour of the Muses, I mean on his gifts as a poet, seems to me to be somewhat like a girl who lives by her charms. For base profit and gain both profane what should be the free gift of their innermost nature. Both suffer from exhaustion, and in most cases both will end ignominiously. And so do not degrade your muse to a whore, but
‘ I sing, as sings the bird
Who in the branches lives.
The song that from his throat is heard,
Is reward that richly gives’, 5
should be the poet’s motto. For poetic gifts belong to the holidays, not to the work-days of life. If, then, they should feel somewhat cramped and checked by an occupation which the poet carries on at the same time, they may yet succeed. For the poet does not need to acquire great knowledge and learning, as is the case with the philosopher; in fact poetic gifts are in this way condensed, just as they are diluted by too much leisure and through being exercised ex professo. 6 The philosopher, on the other hand, for the reason stated, cannot very well carry on another occupation at the same time, for to make money with philosophy has other serious and well-known drawbacks. For this reason the ancients made it the mark of the sophist in contrast to the philosopher. Solomon too should be commended when he says: ‘Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 7:11).
We have the classics of antiquity, that is to say, minds whose writings pass through thousands of years in the undiminished lustre and brilliance of youth; and this is due for the most part to the fact that with the ancients the writing of books was not a trade or profession. Only in this way is it possible to explain why the superior works of those classical authors are not accompanied by any that are inferior. For, unlike even the best of modern authors, they did not, after the spirit had evaporated, still bring to market the residue in order to make some money from it.
5 [Goethe’s poem Der Singer.]
6 [‘ Professionally’.]
Music is the true universal language which is everywhere understood; and so it is constantly spoken in all countries and throughout the centuries most eagerly and earnestly, and a significant and suggestive melody very soon finds its way round the globe. On the other hand, a melody that is poor and says nothing soon dies away and is forgotten; which shows that the contents of a melody are very easy to understand. Nevertheless, it speaks not of things, but simply of weal and woe as being for the will the sole realities. It therefore says so much to the heart, whereas to the head it has nothing direct to say; and it is an improper use if this is required of it, as happens in all descriptive music. Such music should, therefore, be rejected once for all, even though Haydn and Beethoven have been misguided into using it. Mozart and Rossini have, to my knowledge, never done this. For to express passions is one thing and to paint objects another.
Even the grammar of this universal language has been given the most precise rules, although only since Rameau laid the foundation for it. On the other hand, to explain the lexicon, I mean the undoubted importance of the contents of this grammar in accordance with the foregoing, in other words, to make intelligible to our reason, if only in a general way, what it is that music says in melody and harmony and what it is talking about, this was never even seriously attempted until I undertook to do it; which only shows, as do so many other things, how little inclined men are generally to reflect and think and how thoughtlessly they live their lives. Their intention everywhere is merely to enjoy themselves, and indeed with the least possible expenditure of thought. Such is their nature. It therefore seems to be so ludicrous when they imagine they have to play at being philosophers, as may be seen in our professors of philosophy, their precious works, and the sincerity of their zeal for philosophy and truth.
Speaking generally and at the same time popularly, we may venture to state that on the whole music is the melody to which the world is the text. But we obtain the proper meaning thereof only through my interpretation of music.
But the relation of the art of music to the definite exterior that is always imposed on it, such as text, action, march, dance, sacred or secular festival, and so on, is analogous to that of architecture as a fine art, in other words, as art intended for purely aesthetic purposes, to the actual buildings which it has to erect and with whose utilitarian purposes it must, therefore, try to connect the aims that are peculiar to it, such purposes being foreign to architecture itself as an art. For it achieves its aims under the conditions imposed by those utilitarian purposes and accordingly produces a temple, palace, arsenal, playhouse, and so on, in such a way that the building in itself is beautiful as well as suitable for its purpose and even proclaims this through its aesthetic character. Music, therefore, stands to the text, or to the other realities imposed on it, in an analogous subjection, although this is not so unavoidable. It must first of all adapt itself to the text, although it certainly does not require this and in fact without it moves much more freely. However, music must not only adapt every note to the length and meaning of the words of the text, but must also assume throughout a certain homogeneity with the text and likewise bear the character of the other arbitrary aims imposed on it and accordingly be church, opera, military, dance, or other music. But all this is just as foreign to the nature of music as are human utilitarian purposes to purely aesthetic architecture. Therefore both music and architecture have to adapt themselves to such utilitarian purposes and to subordinate their own aims to those that are foreign to them. For architecture this is almost always unavoidable, but not for music which freely moves in the concerto, the sonata, and above all the symphony, its finest scene of action wherein it celebrates its saturnalia.
Further, the wrong path, on which our music happens to be, is analogous to that taken by Roman architecture under the later emperors, where the overloading with decorations and embellishments partly concealed, and to some extent perverted, the simple and essential proportions. Thus our music gives us much noise, many instruments, much art, but very few clear, penetrating, and touching ideas. Moreover, in the shallow compositions of today which are devoid of meaning and melody, we again find the same taste of the times which puts up with an obscure, indefinite, nebulous, unintelligible, and even senseless way of writing. The origin of this is to be found mainly in our miserable Hegelry and its charlatanism.
Give me Rossini’s music that speaks without words! In present-day compositions more account is taken of harmony than of melody. Yet I hold the opposite view and regard melody as the core of music to which harmony is related as the sauce to roast meat.
Grand opera is really not a product of the pure artistic sense, but rather of the somewhat barbaric notion of the enhancement of aesthetic pleasure by the accumulation of the means, the simultaneous use of totally different impressions, and the intensification of the effect through an increase of the operative masses and forces. Music, on the other hand, as the most powerful of all the arts, is by itself alone capable of completely occupying the mind that is susceptible to it. Indeed, to be properly interpreted and enjoyed, the highest productions of music demand the wholly undivided and undistracted attention of the mind so that it may surrender itself to, and become absorbed in, them in order thoroughly to understand its incredibly profound and intimate language. Instead of this, the mind during a piece of highly complicated opera music is at the same time acted on through the eye by means of the most variegated display and magnificence, the most fantastic pictures and images, and the most vivid impressions of light and colour; moreover, it is occupied with the plot of the piece. Through all this it is diverted, distracted, deadened, and thus rendered as little susceptible as possible to the sacred, mysterious, and profound language of tones; and so such things are directly opposed to an attainment of the musical purpose. In addition to all this, we have the ballet, a performance which is often directed more to lasciviousness than to aesthetic pleasure. Moreover, through the narrow range of its means and the monotony arising therefrom, the spectacle soon becomes extremely tedious and so tends to exhaust one’s patience. In particular, through the wearisome repetition, often lasting a quarter of an hour, of the same second-rate dance melody, the musical sense is wearied and blunted so that it is no longer left with any susceptibility for subsequent musical impressions of a more serious and exalted nature.
It is possible that, although a thoroughly musical mind does not desire it, notwithstanding that the pure language of tones is self-sufficient and needs no assistance, it may be associated with and adapted to words, or even to an action produced through intuitive perception so that our intuitively perceiving and reflecting intellect, which does not like to be completely idle, may yet obtain an easy and analogous occupation. In this way, even the attention is more firmly fixed on the music and follows it; at the same time, a picture or image of intuitive perception, a model or diagram so to speak, like an example to a universal concept, is adapted to what the tones say in their universal language of the heart, a language that is without picture or image; indeed such things will enhance the impression of the music. It should nevertheless be kept within the limits of the greatest simplicity, as otherwise it acts directly against the principal musical purpose.
The great accumulation of vocal and instrumental parts in the opera certainly acts in a musical way; yet the enhancement of the effect, from the mere quartet up to those orchestras with their hundred instruments, bears no relation at all to the increase in the means. For the chord cannot have more than three, or in one case four, notes and the mind can never apprehend more at the same time, no matter by how many parts of the most different octaves those three or four notes may all at once be given. From all this we can explain how a fine piece of music, played only in four parts, may sometimes move us more deeply than does the whole opera seria 7 whose quintessence is furnished by it; just as a drawing sometimes has more effect than has an oil painting. However, what mainly depresses the effect of the quartet is that it lacks the extent of the harmony, in other words the distance of two or more octaves between the bass and the lowest of the three upper parts, just as from the depths of the double bass this extent is at the disposal of the orchestra. But for this reason, the effect of the orchestra is immensely enhanced if a large organ, reaching down to the limit of audibility, constantly plays the ground-bass to it, as is done in the Catholic church in Dresden. For only thus does the harmony produce its full effect. But generally speaking, simplicity which usually attaches to truth, is a law that is essential to all art, all that is beautiful, all intellectual presentation or description; at any rate to depart from it is always dangerous.
Strictly speaking, therefore, we could call the opera an unmusical invention for the benefit of unmusical minds into which music must first be smuggled through a medium that is foreign to it, possibly as the accompaniment to a long, spun-out, vapid love-story and its wishy-washy poetry. For the text of the opera cannot possibly endure a poetry that is condensed and full of spirit and ideas, because the composition is unable to keep up with this. But to try to make music entirely the slave of bad poetry is the wrong way which is taken especially by Gluck whose opera music, apart from the overtures, is, therefore, not enjoyable at all without the words. Indeed it can be said that opera has become the ruin of music. For not only must the music bend and submit in order to suit the development and irregular course of events of an absurd and insipid plot; not only is the mind diverted and distracted from the music by the childish and barbaric pomp of the scenery and costumes, the antics of the dancers, and the short skirts of the ballet-girls; no, but even the singing itself often disturbs the harmony, in so far as the vox humana, which musically speaking is an instrument like any other, will not co-ordinate and fit in with the other parts, but tries to dominate absolutely. This is, of course, all right where it is soprano or alto, because in this capacity the melody belongs essentially and naturally to it. But in the bass and tenor arias the leading melody in most cases devolves on the high instruments; and then the singing stands out like an arrogant and conceited voice, in itself merely harmonic, which the melody tries to drown. Or else the accompaniment is transferred contrapuntally to the upper octaves, entirely contrary to the nature of the music, in order to impart the melody to the tenor and bass voices; yet the ear always follows the highest notes and thus the accompaniment. I am really of the opinion that solo arias with orchestral accompaniment are suitable only for the alto or soprano and that male voices should, therefore, be employed only in the duet with these or in pieces of many parts, unless they sing without any accompaniment or with a mere bass accompaniment. Melody is the natural prerogative of the highest voices and instruments and must remain so. Therefore when in the opera a soprano aria comes after a forced and artificial baritone or bass aria, we at once feel with satisfaction that the former alone accords with nature and art. The fact that great masters like Mozart and Rossini are able to mitigate and even to overcome that drawback does not dispose of it.
A much purer musical pleasure than that afforded by the opera is that of the sung mass. Its words which in most cases are not distinctly heard, or its endlessly repeated alleluias, glorias, eleisons, amens, and so on, become a mere solfeggio in which the music, preserving only the general ecclesiastical character, moves freely and is not, as in the case of operatic singing, impaired in its own sphere by miseries of every kind. Here unchecked it therefore develops all its forces since, unlike Protestant morality, it does not always grovel on the ground with the oppressive puritan or methodist character of Protestant church music, but like a seraph soars freely with its great pinions. The mass and symphony alone give pure and unalloyed musical pleasure, whereas in the opera the music is tortured by the shallow drama and its pseudo-poetry and tries to get on as best it can with the foreign burden that has been imposed on it. Although not exactly commendable, the sneering contempt with which the great Rossini has sometimes treated the text is at any rate genuinely musical. But speaking generally, since grand opera, by lasting three hours, continues to blunt our musical susceptibility, whilst the snail’s pace of an often very insipid action puts our patience to the test, it is in itself essentially of a wearisome and tedious nature. This defect can be overcome only by the extraordinary excellence of the particular performance ; and so in this class only masterpieces can be enjoyed and everything mediocre is to be condemned. The attempt should be made to concentrate and contract opera in order to limit it, if possible, to one act and one hour. Fully aware of this, the authorities at the Teatro della Valle in Rome when I was there hit upon the bad expedient of arranging alternately the acts of an opera and a comedy. The maximum duration of an opera should be two hours, that of a drama, on the other hand, three because the requisite attention and mental exertion hold out longer, since it wearies us much less than does the incessant music, which in the end becomes nerve-racking. The last act of an opera is therefore, as a rule, a torment to the audience and an even greater one to the singers and musicians. Accordingly, we might imagine that here we are looking at a large audience who are assembled for the purpose of self-torture, and who pursue it to the end with patience and endurance, an end for which all have long since secretly sighed, with the exception of the deserters.
The overture should prepare us for the opera by announcing the character of the music and the course of the events. Yet this should not be done too explicidy and distincdy, but only in the way in which we foresee coming events in a dream.
7 [‘Serious opera in the grand style’ ]
A vaudeville is comparable to one who parades in clothes he has picked up in a second-hand shop. Every article has already been worn by someone else for whom it was made and whom it fitted; moreover, we see that the different articles do not belong to one another. It is analogous to a harlequin’s jacket that has been patched together out of the rags and tatters that are cut from the coats of respectable people. It is a positive musical abomination that should be forbidden by the police.
It is worth noting that in music the value of the composition outweighs that of the performance, whereas in drama the very opposite applies. Thus an admirable composition, only moderately yet clearly and correctly played, gives much more pleasure than does the most excellent performance of a bad composition. On the other hand, a bad theatrical piece, performed by outstanding actors, has much more effect than does the most admirable piece that is played by mere amateurs.
The task of an actor is to portray human nature in all its most varied aspects, in a thousand extremely different characters, yet all these on the common basis of his individuality which is given once for all and can never be entirely effaced. Now for this reason, he himself must be a capable and complete specimen of human nature, and least of all one so defective or dwarfed that, according to Hamlet’s expression, he seems to be made not by nature herself, but ‘by some of her journeymen’. Nevertheless, an actor will the better portray each character, the nearer it stands to his own individuality; and he will play best of all that character which corresponds to this. And so even the worst actor has a role that he can play admirably, for he is then like a living face among masks.
To be a good actor, it is necessary for a man (1) to have the gift of being able to turn himself inside out and to show his inner nature; (2) to have sufficient imagination in order to picture fictitious circumstances and events so vividly that they stir his inner nature; and (3) to have enough intelligence, experience, and culture to enable him to have a proper understanding of human characters and relations.
‘Man’s struggle with fate’, which our dull, hollow, puffed-up, and sickly-sweet modern aesthetes have for about fifty years unanimously stated to be the universal theme of tragedy, has for its assumption the freedom of the will, that folly of all the ignorant, and also the categorical imperative whose moral purposes or commands, in spite of fate, are now to be carried out. In all this, the aforesaid gentlemen then find their edification. But that pretended theme of the tragedy is a ridiculous notion just because it would be the struggle with an invisible opponent, a filter or jouster in a magic hood of mist, against whom every blow would, therefore, hit the air and into whose arms we should be cast in trying to avoid him, as happened to Laius and Oedipus. Moreover, fate is all-powerful; and thus to fight it would be the most ludicrous of all presumptions, so that Byron is perfectly right in saying:
‘To strive, too, with our fate were such a strife
As if the com-sheaf should oppose the sickle.’
Don Juan, v. 17.
Shakespeare also understood the matter thus:
‘Fate, show thy force: ourselves we do not owe;
What is decreed must be, and be this so! ’
Twelfth Night, Act 1, the close.
Incidentally, this verse is one of those exceedingly rare ones that gain in translation:
‘Jetzt karrnst du deine Mach, 0 Schicksal zeigen:
Was sein soli muss geschehn, und Keiner ist sein eigen.'
With the ancients the concept of fate is that of a necessity which is hidden in the totality of things. Without any consideration either for our wishes and prayers or guilt and merit, this necessity guides human affairs and draws together on its secret bond even those things that are outwardly most independent of one another, in order to bring them whither it will so that their obviously fortuitous coincidence is in a higher sense necessary. Now just as, by virtue of this necessity, everything is preordained (fatum ), so too is a previous knowledge of it possible through oracles, seers, dreams, and so on.
Providence is Christianized fate and thus fate transformed into the purpose of a God which is directed to the greatest good of the world.
I regard as the aesthetic purpose of the chorus in the tragedy firstly that, along with the view of things which the chief characters have who are stirred by the storm of passions, that of calm and disinterested deliberation should be mentioned; and secondly, that the essential moral of the piece, which is successively disclosed in concreto by the action thereof, may at the same time also be expressed as a reflection on this in abstracto and consequently in brief. Acting in this way, the chorus is like the bass in music which, as a constant accompaniment, enables one to perceive the fundamental note of each single chord of the progression.
Just as the strata of the earth show us in their impressions the forms of living creatures from a world of the remotest past, impressions that preserve throughout countless thousands of years the trace of a brief existence, so in their comedies have the ancients left us a faithful and lasting impression of their gay life and activity. The impression is so clear and accurate that it seems as if they had done this with the object of bequeathing to the remotest posterity at least a lasting picture of a fine and noble existence whose transitory and fleeting nature they regretted. Now if we again fill with flesh and blood these frames and forms which have been handed down to us, by presenting Plautus and Terence on the stage, then that brisk and active life of the remote past again appears fresh and bright before us, just as ancient mosaic floors, when wetted, stand out once more in the brilliance of their old colours.
The only genuine German comedy, coming from and portraying the true nature and spirit of the nation, is, with the exception of Minna von Bamhclm, Iffland’s play. The merits and qualities of these pieces, like those of the nation they faithfully portray, are more moral than intellectual, whereas the very opposite could be stated of French and English comedies. The Germans are so rarely original that, when once they prove to be, we should not pitch into them, as did Schiller and the Schlegels who were unjust to Iffland and even against Kotzebue went too far. In the same way, men are to-day unjust to Raupach, whereas they show their approbation for the farces of wretched bunglers.
The drama generally, as the most perfect mirror of human existence, has a threefold climax in its way of interpreting this and consequently in its purpose and pretension. At the first and most frequent stage, it stops at what is merely interesting; the characters call for our sympathy in the pursuit of their own aims that are similar to ours. The action proceeds through the intrigue, the characters, and chance; and wit and the jest are the spice of the whole. At the second stage, the drama becomes sentimental; sympathy is excited for the heroes and indirectly for ourselves. The action becomes pathetic and yet at the end it returns to peace and contentment. At the highest and most difficult stage, the tragic is contemplated. The severe suffering and misery of existence are brought home to us and here the vanity of all human effort is the final conclusion. We are profoundly shaken and, either directly or as an accompanying harmonic note, there is stirred in us a turning away of the will from life.
Naturally I have not taken into consideration the drama of political tendency which flirts with the momentary whims of the flattering and sugary populace, that favourite product of our present-day writers. Such pieces soon lie as dead as old calendars, often in the following year. Yet this does not worry those writers, for the appeal to their Muse contains only one prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.
All beginning, it is said, is difficult; in the art of drama, however, the opposite applies and all ending is difficult. This is proved by the innumerable dramas which promise well in the first half, but then become obscure, halting, uncertain, especially in the notorious fourth act, and finally peter out in a forced or unsatisfactory ending, or in one that was long foreseen by everyone, or sometimes, as in Emilia Galotti, in one that is revolting and sends the audience home in a thoroughly bad mood. This difficulty of the ending is due in part to the fact that it is always easier to entangle affairs than to unravel them; but also to some extent to the fact that at the beginning we give the poet carte blanche , whereas at the end we make definite demands. Thus it is to be either perfectly happy or wholly tragic, whereas human affairs do not readily take so decided a turn. Then again it must work out naturally, correctly, and in an unforced manner; and yet this must not be foreseen by anyone. The same applies to the epic and the romance; in the drama only its more compact nature makes it more apparent in that this increases the difficulty.
The e nihilo nihil fit 8 applies also to the fine arts. For their historical pictures good painters have as their models real human beings and take for their heads actual faces drawn from life which they then idealize either as regards their beauty or their character. Good novelists, I believe, do the same thing; they base their characters on actual human beings of their acquaintance who serve as their models and whom they now idealize and complete in accordance with their own intentions.
The task of the novelist is not to narrate great events, but to make interesting those that are trifling.
A novel will be of a loftier and nobler nature, the more of inner and the less of outer life it portrays; and this relation will, as a characteristic sign, accompany all gradations of the novel from Tristram Shandy down to the crudest and most eventful knight or robber romance. Tristram Shandy has, in fact, practically no action at all; but how little there is in La Nouvelle Héloïse and Wilhelm Meister. Even Don Quixote has relatively little; it is very insignificant and tends to be comical; and these four novels are at the top of their class. Consider further the wonderful novels of Jean Paul and see how much inner life they set in motion on the narrowest foundation of the outer. Even the novels of Sir Walter Scott have a considerable preponderance of inner over outer life and indeed the latter always appears only for the purpose of setting the former in motion; whereas in inferior novels it is there for its own sake. Art consists in our bringing the inner life into the most intense action with the least possible expenditure of the outer; for the inner is really the object of our interest.
8 [‘Nothing comes from nothing.’ (Cf. Lucretius, l. 545.)]
I frankly admit that the great reputation of the Divina Commedia seems to me to be exaggerated. The extravagant absurdity of the fundamental idea is largely responsible for this, and as a result the most repulsive aspect of Christian mythology is in the Inferno at once brought vividly to our notice. Then again the obscurity of the style and allusions also contributes its share:
Omnia enim stolidi magis admiranlur, amantque,
Irwersis quae sub verbis latitantia cernunt . 9
Nevertheless, the brevity of style, often bordering on the laconic, the energy of expression, but even more the incomparable power of Dante’s imagination, are certainly very remarkable. By virtue thereof he imparts to the description of impossible things a palpable truth that is consequently akin to that of a dream. For as he cannot have had any experience of such things, it seems that he must have dreamt them in order to be able to paint them in such vivid, exact, and distinct colours. On the other hand, what are we to say when, at the end of the eleventh canto of the Inferno, Virgil describes the breaking of the day and the setting of the stars, but forgets that he is in hell and under the earth and that only at the end of this main part will he quindi uscire a riveder le stelle? 10 The same blunder is found once more at the end of the twentieth canto. Are we to assume that Virgil carries a watch and therefore knows what at the moment is going on in heaven ? To me this seems to be a worse case of forgetfulness than the well-known one concerning Sancho Panza’s ass, of which Cervantes was guilty.
The tide of Dante’s work is very original and striking and there is little doubt that it is ironical. A comedy indeed! Truly the world would be such, a comedy for a God whose insatiable lust for revenge and studied cruelty in the last act gloated over the endless and purposeless torture of the beings whom he uselessly and frivolously called into existence, namely because they had not turned out in accordance with his intention and in their short life had done or believed otherwise than to his liking. Moreover, compared with his unexampled cruelty, all the crimes so severely punished in the Inferno would not be worth talking about. Indeed, he himself would be far worse than all the devils we encounter in the Inferno ; for naturally these are acting only on his instructions and by virtue of his authority. And so Father Zeus will hardly be grateful for the honour of being summarily identified with him, as is done strangely enough in several passages (e.g. can. xiv, 1. 70;—can. xxxi, 1 . 92). In fact, the thing is carried to absurdity in the Purgatorio, can. vi, 1 . 118: 0 sommo Giove, Che fosti in terra per noi crocifoso .' 11 What on earth would Zeus say to this [greek text]. 12 The Russian servile nature of the submissiveness of Virgil, Dante, and everyone to his commands and the trembling obedience with which his ukazes are everywhere received are positively revolting. Now this slavish mentality is carried by Dante himself in his own person to such lengths (can. xxxm, 11. 109-50) that he is guilty of a total lack of honour and conscience in a case that he himself relates with pride. Thus for him honour and conscience no longer mean anything, the moment they interfere in any way with the cruel decrees of Domeneddio. And so for obtaining a statement, there is the promise he firmly and solemnly gave to pour a tiny drop of relief into the pain of one of those deliberately planned and cruelly executed tortures; after the tortured victim fulfilled the condition imposed on him, the promise was shamelessly and boldly broken by Dante in a manner devoid of honour and conscience, in majorem Dei gloriam. 13 This he does because he considers it absolutely inadmissible to ease in the slightest degree a pain that is imposed by God, even though here it meant only the wiping away of a frozen tear, an act that he was not expressly forbidden to do. He therefore refrains from doing it, however solemnly he had vowed and promised to do so the moment before. In heaven such things may be customary and praiseworthy, I do not know; but whoever behaves in this way on earth is called a scoundrel. Incidentally, it is clear from this how difficult it is for every morality that has no other basis than the will of God; for then good can become bad and bad good as rapidly as are the poles of an electro-magnet reversed. The whole of Dante’s Inferno is really an apotheosis of cruelty and here in the last canto but one lack of honour and conscience is glorified in the aforesaid manner.
‘ Whatever’s true in every place I speak with bold and fearless face.’
9 [‘Fools admire and like to excess all that is said to them in flowery language and in queer and puzzling words.’ (Lucretius, 1. 641-2.)]
10 [‘Come out from there to see the stars again.’ (Dante, Inferno, can. xxiv last line.)]
11 [‘Exalted Jupiter, who for us were crucified on earth’.]
13 [‘To the greater glory of God’.]
Moreover, for the created thing would be a divina tragedia, and indeed without end. Even though the prelude preceding it may prove to be pleasant and amusing in places, this is nevertheless infinitesimally small in comparison with the endless duration of the tragic part. One cannot help thinking that Dante had at the back of his mind a secret satire on this pretty world order, otherwise it would need a quite peculiar taste to delight in painting revolting absurdities and never-ending scenes of execution.
For me my beloved Petrarch comes before all the other Italian poets. In depth and intensity of feeling and in the direct expression thereof which goes straight to the heart, no poet on earth has ever surpassed him. His sonnets, triumphs, and canzones are, therefore, incomparably dearer to me than are the fantastic farces of Ariosto and the hideous caricatures of Dante. The natural flow of his language, coming straight from the heart, speaks to me in a manner quite different from that of Dante’s studied and even affected paucity of words. Petrarch has always been and will remain the poet of my heart. That our super-excellent ‘Jetztzeit’ 14 ventures to speak disparagingly of him merely confirms me in my opinion. As a superfluous proof of this, we may also compare Dante and Petrarch in domestic attire so to speak, that is to say in their prose, by placing Petrarch’s beautiful books, De vita solitaria, De contemtu mundi, Consolatio utriusque fortunae, and so on, so rich in ideas and truth, and also his letters next to Dante’s barren and tedious scholasticism. Finally, Tasso does not seem to me to be worthy of taking the fourth place beside the three great poets of Italy. Let us as posterity try to be just, even though as contemporaries we cannot be.
14 [‘Present-day’ (A cacophonous word here used ironically by Schopenhauer).]
With Homer things always receive those predicates that belong to them generally and absolutely, not those that are related or analogous to what is just taking place. For example, the Achaeans are always called the well-shod, the earth always the nourisher of life, heaven the wide, the sea wine-dark. This is the characteristic of that objectivity which in Homer is so uniquely expressed. Like nature herself, he leaves the objects untouched by human events and moods. Whether his heroes rejoice or mourn, nature pursues her course unconcerned. On the other hand, when subjective men are sad, the whole of nature seems to them to be sombre and gloomy, and so on. Not so with Homer.
Of the poets of our time, Goethe is the most objective, Byron the most subjective. The latter always speaks only of himself and even in the most objective kinds of poetry, such as the drama and epic, he describes himself in the hero.
Goethe, however, is related to Jean Paul as the positive pole to the negative.
Goethe’s Egmont is a person who takes life easily and who must atone for this error. But by way of compensation, the same attitude of mind also enables him to take death easily. The folk-scenes in Egmont are the chorus.
At the Academy of Arts in Venice, there is among the frescoes painted on canvas a picture which actually shows the gods enthroned on clouds at golden tables and on golden seats, and underneath are the guests who, insulted and disgraced, are hurled into the depths of night. It is quite certain that Goethe saw this picture when he wrote Iphigenia on his first Italian journey.
The story in Apuleius, of the widow with a vision of her husband who had been murdered at the chase, is wholly analogous to that of Hamlet.
Here I would like to insert a conjecture concerning Shakespeare’s masterpiece. It is, of course, very bold, yet I would like to submit it to the judgement of those who really know. In the famous monologue: ‘To be or not to be’, we have the words: ‘when we have shuffled off this mortal coil’, which have always been considered obscure and even puzzling, and yet have never been thoroughly explained. Should there not have been originally ‘shuttled off’ ? This verb itself no longer exists, but ‘shuttle’ is an implement used in weaving. Accordingly, the meaning might be: ‘when we have unwound and worked off this coil of mortality’. A slip of the pen could easily occur. 15
History, which I always like to think of along with poetry as the opposite thereof [greek text], 16 is for time what geography is for space. And so the latter is just as little a science in the proper sense as is the former, because it too has for its object not universal truths, but only particular things; on this point I refer the reader to my chief work, volume ii, chapter 38. It has always been a favourite study of those who want to learn something without undergoing the effort required by the real branches of knowledge which tax and engross the intellect. But in our day, it is more popular than ever, as is shown by the countless history-books that appear every year. Whoever, like myself, cannot help always seeing the same thing in all history, just as at every turn of the kaleidoscope we always see the same things under different configurations, cannot share that passionate interest, although he will not find fault therewith. The only thing that is ludicrous and absurd is the desire of many to make history a part of philosophy, and even to make it into philosophy itself, by imagining that it can take the place of this. Social intercourse, as is customary in the world, can be regarded as an explanation of the special liking for history which has at all times been a peculiarity of the greater public. Thus, as a rule, such intercourse consists in the fact that one man narrates something, whereupon another gives an account of something different; and on this condition everyone is certain of the attention of the rest. Here also, as in history, we see the mind occupied exclusively with the particular thing as such. As in the sciences, so too in every nobler conversation the mind rises to the universal. However, this does not deprive history of its value. Human life is so short and fleeting and spread over countless millions of individuals who plunge in crowds into the ever- open, ever-waiting jaws of the monster oblivion that it is a most praiseworthy endeavour to rescue something of it, that is, the memory of the most interesting and important things, leading events and prominent people, from the general shipwreck of the world.
On the other hand, history might be regarded as a continuation of zoology in so far as, with the animals collectively, a consideration of the species suffices, whereas with man, as having an individual character, we must also become acquainted with individuals and with the particular events that condition them. From this the essential imperfection of history at once follows, for the individuals and events are countless and endless. A study of them shows that the sum total of that which is still to be learnt is by no means reduced by all that has been learnt about them. With all the sciences proper, it is possible to arrive at a completeness of knowledge. When the history of China and India lies before us, the endlessness of the material will reveal to us the mistaken path and force the misguided student to see that we must recognize the many in the one, the rule in the individual case, and the activity of races in the knowledge of mankind, but not that we must enumerate facts ad infinitum.
From one end to the other, history is a narrative of nothing but wars, and the same theme is the subject of all the most ancient works of art as of the most modern. The origin of all war, however, is the desire to steal; and so Voltaire quite rightly says: dans toutes les guerres il ne s’agit que de voler. 17 Thus as soon as a nation feels an excess of strength, it falls on its neighbours and enslaves them so that, instead of living by its own labour, it may appropriate the result of theirs, whether this merely exists now or includes the future product as well. This furnishes the material for world history and its heroic deeds. In French dictionaries, in particular, artistic and literary fame should first be discussed under the word ‘gloire’ 18 and then under the words ‘gloire militaire’ 19 there should be simply ‘Voyez butin.' 20
It seems, however, that when two very religious peoples, the Hindus and Egyptians, felt an excess of strength, they used it in most instances not for predatory campaigns or heroic deeds, but for buildings that defy the ravages of thousands of years and render their memory sacred.
In addition to the above-mentioned imperfections of history, there is also the fact that Clio, the muse of history, is as thoroughly infected with lies and falsehood as is a common prostitute with syphilis. It is true that the modern critical investigation of history endeavours to cure this, but with its local means it overcomes only isolated symptoms that break out here and there; moreover, much quackery 21 often creeps in which aggravates the evil. It is more or less the same as regards all history, with the exception of sacred history of course. I believe that the events and persons in history resemble those that actually existed about as much as the portraits of writers on the title-pages of their books in most cases resemble the authors themselves. And so they are like them only in rough outline, so that they have a faint resemblance, often distorted entirely by one feature that is false; but sometimes there is no resemblance at all.
The newspapers are the seconds-hand of history; yet this is often not only of baser metal, but is seldom right. The so-called ‘leading articles’ in the papers are the chorus to the drama of contemporary events. Exaggeration of every kind is as essential to journalism as it is to dramatic art; for as much as possible must be made of every event; and so by virtue of their profession all journalists are alarmists; this is their way of making themselves interesting, whereby they resemble small dogs who at once start barking loudly at everything that stirs. We accordingly have to regulate our attention to their alarm-trumpet so that they will not upset our digestion; and we should know generally that the newspaper is a magnifying glass, and this even in the best case; for it is very often a mere phantasmagoria.
In Europe world history is still accompanied by a quite peculiar chronological daily indicator which, with the intuitive presentation of events, enables us to recognize every decade at first sight and is under the direction of tailors. (For example, a reputed portrait of Mozart, which was exhibited at Frankfurt in 1856 and showed him in his early years, was at once recognized by me as not genuine because the clothes he was wearing belonged to a period twenty years earlier.) Only in the present decade has this indicator got out of order because our own day does not even possess enough originality to invent, like any other, a fashion of dress of its own, but presents only a masquerade in which people as living anachronisms run round in all kinds of costumes of earlier periods that were long ago discarded. Even the period preceding it had the necessary intelligence to invent the dress-coat.
More closely considered, the matter is that, just as everyone has a physiognomy whereby we provisionally judge him, so too has every age one that is no less characteristic. For the spirit of any particular time is like a sharp east wind that blows through everything; and so we find a trace of it in all that is done, thought, or written, in music and painting and in the flourishing of this or that art. It impresses its stamp on each and every thing. Thus, for example, there had to be the age of phrases without sense as also that of music without melody and of forms without aim and purpose. At best, the thick walls of a convent can stop access to the east wind provided that it does not blow them down. Therefore, the spirit of a period gives it also its external physiognomy. The ground-bass to this is always played by the architecture of the times; in the first place, all ornaments, vessels, furniture, implements, and utensils of every kind, and finally even clothes and also the way of trimming hair and beards are regulated by it.* As I have said, through a want of originality in all these things, the present age bears the stamp of a lack of character. But the most lamentable thing is that it has mainly selected as its model the crude, stupid, and ignorant Middle Ages from which it occasionally wanders over into the period of Francis I of France and even of Louis XIV. How its external appearance, preserved in pictures and buildings, will one day impress posterity! Its mercenary mob-flatterers call it by the characteristically melodious name of Jetztzeit or ‘now-time’, as though it were the present [greek text] 22 the present finally attained and prepared by all the past. Think of the reverence and awe with which posterity will contemplate our palaces and country-houses that have been built in the most wretched rococo style of the period of Louis XIV! But when it looks at the portraits and daguerreotypes, it will hardly know what to make of the shoeblack- physiognomies with Socratic beards and of the bucks and dandies dressed up like the peddling Jews of my youth.
Part of the general lack of taste in this age is seen in the fact that, in the monuments which are erected to great men, these are shown in modern dress. For the monument is erected to the ideal not the real person, to the hero as such, to the bearer of this or that quality, to the author of certain works or actions. It is not erected to the man who was once pushed and hustled round the world and was burdened with all the faults and failings attaching to our nature; and just as these things should not be glorified, so one should not throw a glamour over the coat and trousers he once wore. As an ideal person, however, he should stand in human form, dressed merely in the manner of the ancients, and should, therefore, be half in the nude. And only so is it appropriate to sculpture which relies on the mere form and requires that the human figure be complete and not dwarfed or stunted.
And while talking of monuments, I will also observe that it is an obvious lack of taste, in fact an absurdity, to put a statue on a pedestal ten to twenty feet high where no one can ever see it clearly, especially as it is usually made of bronze and is, therefore, of darkish colour. Seen from a distance, it is not clear; but when we approach it, it is so high up that it has a clear sky as its background, which dazzles the eyes. In Italian cities, especially in Florence and Rome, the statues stand in large numbers in the squares and streets, but are all on quite low pedestals so that they can be clearly seen. Even the colossal statues on Monte Cavallo are on a low pedestal. Thus even here we see the good taste of the Italians. The Germans, on the other hand, are fond of a tall confectioner’s stand with reliefs to illustrate the exhibited hero.
15 [Sec Friedrich Kormann’s remarks in Schopenhauer-Jahrbuck, xxxv. 90.]
16 [‘ Investigated—invented’.]
17 [‘ In all wars it is only a question of stealing.’)
19 [‘Military glory’.]
20 [‘See “Booty”’.]
21 [Schopenhauer uses the word Quacksalbtrei and may have had in mind a play on the word Quecksilber (mercury).]
* As a semi-mask, the beard should be forbidden by the police. Moreover, as a distinctive mark of sex in the centre of the face, it is obscene and therefore pleases women. It was always the barometer of mental culture with the Greeks and Romans. Of the latter, Scipio African us was the first to shave (Pliny, Hisloria naluralis, lib. vii, c. 59) and under the Antonines the beard ventured to show itself again. Charlemagne would not tolerate it, but in the Middle Ages it reached its culminating point in Henry IV. Louis XIV abolished it.
22 [‘Par excellence'.]
At the conclusion of this chapter on aesthetics, a place may be found for my opinion of Boisserée’s collection of paintings of the old Lower Rhine school, which now happens to be in Munich.
To be enjoyable, a genuine work of art does not really need to have the preamble of a history of art. Yet with no class of paintings is this so much the case as with those that are here discussed. At any rate, we shall correctly estimate their value only when we have seen what painting was like before Jan van Eyck. Thus it was in the style that came from Byzantium and so on a gold ground, in distemper, with figures devoid of life and movement, stiff and rigid and moreover with massive aureoles containing the name of the saint. As a true genius. Van Eyck returned to nature, gave to the paintings a background, to the figures a lifelike attitude, demeanour, and grouping, to the faces expression and truth, and to the folds correctness. Furthermore, he introduced perspective and generally attained in technical execution the highest possible perfection. Some of his successors, such as Schoreel and Hemling (or Memling), stuck to this path; others returned to the old absurdities. Even he himself had always to retain as many of these as were obligatory in accordance with ecclesiastical opinion. For example, he still had to make aureoles and massive rays of light; but we see that he eliminated as much as he could.
Accordingly, he is always at war with the spirit of his times and so too are Schoreel and Hemling; consequently they are to be judged with regard to their time. It is this that is responsible for the fact that the subjects of their pictures are often meaningless, absurd, always trite and commonplace, and ecclesiastical; for example, ‘The Three Kings’, ‘The Dying Mary’, ‘St. Christopher’, ‘St. Luke painting the Virgin Mary’, and so on. It is likewise the fault of their time that their figures hardly ever have a free and purely human attitude and countenance, but generally make ecclesiastical signs and gestures, in other words, the forced, studied, humble, and creeping movements of the beggar. Moreover, those painters were not acquainted with antiquity and hence their figures rarely have beautiful faces; on the contrary, these are in most cases ugly; nor do they ever have beautiful limbs. There lacks an atmospheric perspective, although the linear is for the most part correct. They have made nature the source of everything, just as she was known to them; accordingly, the expression of the faces is true and honest, but it never says much and not one of their saints has in his countenance a trace of that sublime expression of true holiness, one that only the Italians give, especially Raphael and Correggio in his earlier pictures.
Accordingly, the pictures in question could be objectively criticized by saying that they have for the most part the highest technical perfection in the presentation of what is real and actual, of heads as well as of garments and material, almost as much as was attained long afterwards in the seventeenth century by the Dutch school proper. On the other hand, the noblest expression, supreme beauty and true grace have remained foreign to them. But as these are the ends of art to which technical perfection is related as the means, they are not works of art of the highest rank. In fact, they are not absolutely enjoyable, for the foregoing defects together with the pointless subjects and general ecclesiastical gestures, must always first be deducted and put to the account of the times.
Their principal merit, yet only in the case of Van Eyck and his best pupils, consists in the most deceptive imitation of reality which is obtained through a clear glance into nature and an iron diligence in painting. Then there is the vividness of their colours, a merit that is exclusively peculiar to them.
With such colours no painting has been done either before or since them; they are glaring and fiery and bring to light the greatest energy of colour; and so after four hundred years, these pictures look as if they were painted yesterday. If only Raphael and Correggio had known of such colours! But they remained a secret of the school and have, therefore, been lost. They should be chemically examined.