The special subject of the greater part of the letters and essays of Schiller contained in this volume is Aesthetics; and before passing to any remarks on his treatment of the subject it will be useful to offer a few observations on the nature of this topic, and on its treatment by the philosophical spirit of different ages.
First, then, aesthetics has for its object the vast realm of the beautiful, and it may be most adequately defined as the philosophy of art or of the fine arts. To some the definition may seem arbitrary, as excluding the beautiful in nature; but it will cease to appear so if it is remarked that the beauty which is the work of art is higher than natural beauty, because it is the offspring of the mind. Moreover, if, in conformity with a certain school of modern philosophy, the mind be viewed as the true being, including all in itself, it must be admitted that beauty is only truly beautiful when it shares in the nature of mind, and is mind's offspring.
Viewed in this light, the beauty of nature is only a reflection of the beauty of the mind, only an imperfect beauty, which as to its essence is included in that of the mind. Nor has it ever entered into the mind of any thinker to develop the beautiful in natural objects, so as to convert it into a science and a system. The field of natural beauty is too uncertain and too fluctuating for this purpose. Moreover, the relation of beauty in nature and beauty in art forms a part of the science of aesthetics, and finds again its proper place.
But it may be urged that art is not worthy of a scientific treatment. Art is no doubt an ornament of our life and a charm to the fancy; but has it a more serious side? When compared with the absorbing necessities of human existence, it might seem a luxury, a superfluity, calculated to enfeeble the heart by the assiduous worship of beauty, and thus to be actually prejudicial to the true interest of practical life. This view seems to be largely countenanced by a dominant party in modern times, and practical men, as they are styled, are only too ready to take this superficial view of the office of art.
Many have indeed undertaken to defend art on this score, and to show that, far from being a mere luxury, it has serious and solid advantages. It has been even apparently exaggerated in this respect, and represented as a kind of mediator between reason and sense, between inclination and duty, having as its mission the work of reconciling the conflicting elements in the human heart. A strong trace of this view will be found in Schiller, especially in all that he says about the play-instinct in his ”Aesthetical Letters”.
Nevertheless, art is worthy of science; aesthetics is a true science, and the office of art is as high as that assigned to it in the pages of Schiller. We admit that art viewed only as an ornament and a charm is no longer free, but a slave. But this is a perversion of its proper end. Science has to be considered as free in its aim and in its means, and it is only free when liberated from all other considerations; it rises up to truth, which is its only real object, and can alone fully satisfy it. Art in like manner is alone truly art when it is free and independent, when it solves the problem of its high destination—that problem whether it has to be placed beside religion and philosophy as being nothing else than a particular mode or a special form of revealing God to consciousness, and of expressing the deepest interests of human nature and the widest truths of the human mind.
For it is in their works of art that the nations have imprinted their favorite thoughts and their richest intuitions, and not unfrequently the fine arts are the only means by which we can penetrate into the secrets of their wisdom and the mysteries of their religion.
It is made a reproach to art that it produces its effects by appearance and illusion; but can it be established that appearance is objectionable? The phenomena of nature and the acts of human life are nothing more than appearances, and are yet looked upon as constituting a true reality; for this reality must be sought for beyond the objects perceived immediately by the sense, the substance and speech and principle underlying all things manifesting itself in time and space through these real existences, but preserving its absolute existence in itself. Now, the very special object and aim of art is to represent the action and development of this universal force. In nature this force or principle appears confounded with particular interests and transitory circumstances, mixed up with what is arbitrary in the passions and in individual wills. Art sets the truth free from the illusory and mendacious forms of this coarse, imperfect world, and clothes it in a nobler, purer form created by the mind itself. Thus the forms of art, far from being mere appearances, perfectly illusory, contain more reality and truth than the phenomenal existences of the real world. The world of art is truer than that of history or nature.
Nor is this all: the representations of art are more expressive and transparent than the phenomena of the real world or the events of history. The mind finds it harder to pierce through the hard envelop of nature and common life than to penetrate into works of art.
Two more reflections appear completely to meet the objection that art or aesthetics is not entitled to the name of science.
It will be generally admitted that the mind of man has the power of considering itself, of making itself its own object and all that issues from its activity; for thought constitutes the essence of the mind. Now art and its work, as creations of the mind, are themselves of a spiritual nature. In this respect art is much nearer to the mind than nature. In studying the works of art the mind has to do with itself, with what proceeds from itself, and is itself.
Thus art finds its highest confirmation in science.
Nor does art refuse a philosophical treatment because it is dependent on caprice, and subject to no law. If its highest aim be to reveal to the human consciousness the highest interest of the mind, it is evident that the substance or contents of the representations are not given up to the control of a wild and irregular imagination. It is strictly determined by the ideas that concern our intelligence and by the laws of their development, whatever may be the inexhaustible variety of forms in which they are produced. Nor are these forms arbitrary, for every form is not fitted to express every idea. The form is determined by the substance which it has to suit.
A further consideration of the true nature of beauty, and therefore of the vocation of the artist, will aid us still more in our endeavor to show the high dignity of art and of aesthetics. The history of philosophy presents us with many theories on the nature of the beautiful; but as it would lead us too far to examine them all, we shall only consider the most important among them. The coarsest of these theories defines the beautiful as that which pleases the senses. This theory, issuing from the philosophy of sensation of the school of Locke and Condillac, only explains the idea and the feeling of the beautiful by disfiguring it. It is entirely contradicted by facts. For it converts it into desire, but desire is egotistical and insatiable, while admiration is respectful, and is its own satisfaction without seeking possession.
Others have thought the beautiful consists in proportion, and no doubt this is one of the conditions of beauty, but only one. An ill-proportioned object cannot be beautiful, but the exact correspondence of parts, as in geometrical figures, does not constitute beauty.
A noted ancient theory makes beauty consist in the perfect suitableness of means to their end. In this case the beautiful is not the useful, it is the suitable; and the latter idea is more akin to that of beauty. But it has not the true character of the beautiful. Again, order is a less mathematical idea than proportion, but it does not explain what is free and flowing in certain beauties.
The most plausible theory of beauty is that which makes it consist in two contrary and equally necessary elements—unity and variety. A beautiful flower has all the elements we have named; it has unity, symmetry, and variety of shades of color. There is no beauty without life, and life is movement, diversity. These elements are found in beautiful and also in sublime objects. A beautiful object is complete, finished, limited with symmetrical parts. A sublime object whose forms, though not out of proportion, are less determined, ever awakens in us the feeling of the infinite. In objects of sense all qualities that can produce the feeling of the beautiful come under one class called physical beauty. But above and beyond this in the region of mind we have first intellectual beauty, including the laws that govern intelligence and the creative genius of the artist, the poet, and the philosopher. Again, the moral world has beauty in its ideas of liberty, of virtue, of devotion, the justice of Aristides, the heroism of Leonidas.
We have now ascertained that there is beauty and sublimity in nature, in ideas, in feelings, and in actions. After all this it might be supposed that a unity could be found amidst these different kinds of beauty. The sight of a statue, as the Apollo of Belvedere, of a man, of Socrates expiring, are adduced as producing impressions of the beautiful; but the form cannot be a form by itself, it must be the form of something. Physical beauty is the sign of an interior beauty, a spiritual and moral beauty which is the basis, the principle, and the unity of the beautiful.
Physical beauty is an envelop to intellectual and to moral beauty.
Intellectual beauty, the splendor of the true, can only have for principle that of all truth.
Moral beauty comprehends two distinct elements, equally beautiful, justice and charity. Thus God is the principle of the three orders of beauty, physical, intellectual, and moral. He also construes the two great powers distributed over the three orders, the beautiful and the sublime. God is beauty par excellence; He is therefore perfectly beautiful; He is equally sublime. He is to us the type and sense of the two great forms of beauty. In short, the Absolute Being as absolute unity and absolute variety is necessarily the ultimate principle, the extreme basis, the finished ideal of all beauty. This was the marvellous beauty which Diotimus had seen, and which is described in the Banquet of Socrates.
It is our purpose after the previous discussion to attempt to elucidate still further the idea of art by following its historic development.
Many questions bearing on art and relating to the beautiful had been propounded before, even as far back as Plotinus, Plato, and Socrates, but recent times have been the real cradle of aesthetics as a science. Modern philosophy was the first to recognize that beauty in art is one of the means by which the contradictions can be removed between mind considered in its abstract and absolute existence and nature constituting the world of sense, bringing back these two factors to unity.
Kant was the first who felt the want of this union and expressed it, but without determining its conditions or expressing it scientifically. He was impeded in his efforts to effect this union by the opposition between the subjective and the objective, by his placing practical reason above theoretical reason, and he set up the opposition found in the moral sphere as the highest principle of morality. Reduced to this difficulty, all that Kant could do was to express the union under the form of the subjective ideas of reason, or as postulates to be deduced from the practical reason, without their essential character being known, and representing their realization as nothing more than a simple you ought, or imperative "Du sollst."
In his teleological judgment applied to living beings, Kant comes, on the contrary, to consider the living organism in such wise that, the general including the particular, and determining it as an end, consequently the idea also determines the external, the compound of the organs, not by an act springing from without but issuing from within. In this way the end and the means, the interior and exterior, the general and particular, are confounded in unity. But this judgment only expresses a subjective act of reflection, and does not throw any light on the object in itself. Kant has the same view of the aesthetic judgment. According to him the judgment does not proceed either from reason, as the faculty of general ideas, or from sensuous perception, but from the free play of the reason and of the imagination. In this analysis of the cognitive faculty, the object only exists relatively to the subject and to the feeling of pleasure or the enjoyment that it experiences.
The characteristics of the beautiful are, according to Kant:—
1. The pleasure it procures is free from interest.
2. Beauty appears to us as an object of general enjoyment, without awakening in us the consciousness of an abstract idea and of a category of reason to which we might refer our judgment.
3. Beauty ought to embrace in itself the relation of conformity to its end, but in such a way that this conformity may be grasped without the idea of the end being offered to our mind.
4. Though it be not accompanied by an abstract idea, beauty ought to be acknowledged as the object of a necessary enjoyment.
A special feature of all this system is the indissoluble unity of what is supposed to be separated in consciousness. This distinction disappears in the beautiful, because in it the general and the particular, the end and the means, the idea and the object, mentally penetrate each other completely. The particular in itself, whether it be opposed to itself or to what is general, is something accidental. But here what may be considered as an accidental form is so intimately connected with the general that it is confounded and identified with it. By this means the beautiful in art presents thought to us as incarnate. On the other hand, matter, nature, the sensuous as themselves possessing measure, end, and harmony, are raised to the dignity of spirit and share in its general character. Thought not only abandons its hostility against nature, but smiles in her. Sensation and enjoyment are justified and sanctified, so that nature and liberty, sense and ideas, find their justification and their sanctification in this union. Nevertheless this reconciliation, though seemingly perfect, is stricken with the character of subjectiveness. It cannot constitute the absolutely true and real.
Such is an outline of the principal results of Kant's criticism, and Hegel passes high praise on the profoundly philosophic mind of Schiller, who demanded the union and reconciliation of the two principles, and who tried to give a scientific explanation of it before the problem had been solved by philosophy. In his "Letters on Aesthetic Education," Schiller admits that man carries in himself the germ of the ideal man which is realized and represented by the state. There are two ways for the individual man to approach the ideal man; first, when the state, considered as morality, justice, and general reason, absorbs the individualities in its unity; secondly, when the individual rises to the ideal of his species by the perfecting of himself. Reason demands unity, conformity to the species; nature, on the other hand, demands plurality and individuality; and man is at once solicited by two contrary laws. In this conflict, aesthetic education must come in to effect the reconciliation of the two principles; for, according to Schiller, it has as its end to fashion and polish the inclinations and passions so that they may become reasonable, and that, on the other hand, reason and freedom may issue from their abstract character, may unite with nature, may spiritualize it, become incarnate, and take a body in it. Beauty is thus given as the simultaneous development of the rational and of the sensuous, fused together, and interpenetrated one by the other, an union that constitutes in fact true reality.
This unity of the general and of the particular, of liberty and necessity of the spiritual and material, which Schiller understood scientifically as the spirit of art, and which he tried to make appear in real life by aesthetic art and education, was afterwards put forward under the name of idea as the principle of all knowledge and existence. In this way, through the agency of Schelling, science raised itself to an absolute point of view. It was thus that art began to claim its proper nature and dignity. From that time its proper place was finally marked out for it in science, though the mode of viewing it still labored under certain defects. Its high and true distinction were at length understood.
In viewing the higher position to which recent philosophical systems have raised the theory of art in Germany, we must not overlook the advantages contributed by the study of the ideal of the ancients by such men as Winckelmann, who, by a kind of inspiration, raised art criticism from a carping about petty details to seek the true spirit of great works of art, and their true ideas, by a study of the spirit of the originals.
It has appeared expedient to conclude this introduction with a summary of the latest and highest theory of art and aesthetics issuing from Kant and Schiller, and developed in the later philosophy of Hegel.
Our space only allows us to give a glance, first, at the metaphysics of the beautiful as developed by Hegel in the first part of his 'Aesthetik,' and then at the later development of the same system in recent writers issuing from his school.
Hegel considers, first, the abstract idea of the beautiful; secondly, beauty in nature; thirdly, beauty in art or the ideal; and he winds up with an examination of the qualities of the artist.
His preliminary remarks are directed to show the relations of art to religion and philosophy, and he shows that man's destination is an infinite development. In real life he only satisfies his longing partially and imperfectly by limited enjoyments. In science he finds a nobler pleasure, and civil life opens a career for his activity; but he only finds an imperfect pleasure in these pursuits. He cannot then find the ideal after which he sighs. Then he rises to a higher sphere, where all contradictions are effaced and the ideas of good and happiness are realized in perfect accord and in constant harmony. This deep want of the soul is satisfied in three ways: in art, in religion, and in philosophy.
Art is intended to make us contemplate the true and the infinite in forms of sense. Yet even art does not fully satisfy the deepest need of the soul. The soul wants to contemplate truth in its inmost consciousness. Religion is placed above the dominion of art.
First, as to idea of the beautiful, Hegel begins by giving its characteristics. It is infinite, and it is free; the contemplation of the beautiful suffices to itself, it awakens no desire. The soul experiences something like a godlike felicity and is transported into a sphere remote from the miseries of life. This theory of the beautiful comes very near that of Plato.
Secondly, as to beauty in nature. Physical beauty, considered externally, presents itself successively under the aspects of regularity and of symmetry, of conformity with a law, and of harmony, also of purity and simplicity of matter.
Thirdly, beauty in art or the ideal is beauty in a higher degree of perfection than real beauty. The ideal in art is not contrary to the real, but the real idealized, purified, and perfectly expressed. The ideal is also the soul arrived at the consciousness of itself, free and fully enjoying its faculties; it is life, but spiritual life and spirit. Nor is the ideal a cold abstraction, it is the spiritual principle under the form of a living individuality freed from the laws of the finite. The ideal in its highest form is the divine, as expressed in the Greek divinities; the Christian ideal, as expressed in all its highest purity in God the Father, the Christ, the Virgin. Its essential features are calm, majesty, serenity.
At a lower degree the ideal is in man the victory of the eternal principles that fill the human heart, the triumph of the nobler part of the soul, the moral and divine principle.
But the ideal manifested in the world becomes action, and action implies a form of society, a determinate situation with collision, and an action properly so called. The heroic age is the best society for the ideal in action; in its determinate situation the ideal in action must appear as the manifestation of moral power, and in action, properly so called, it must contain three points in the ideal: first, general principles; secondly, personages; thirdly, their character and their passions. Hegel winds up by considering the qualities necessary in an artist: imagination, genius, inspiration, originality, etc.
A recent exponent of Hegel's aesthetical ideas further developed expresses himself thus on the nature of beauty:—
"Thus the beautiful is active, living unity, full existence without defect, as Plato and Schelling have said, or as recent writers describe it; the idea that is quite present in the appearance, the appearance which is quite formed and penetrated by the idea.”
"Beauty is the world secret that invites us in image and word,” is the poetical expression of Plato; and we may add, because it is revealed in both. We feel in it the harmony of the world; it breaks forth in a beauty, in a lovely accord, in a radiant point, and starting thence we penetrate further and yet further, and find as the ground of all existence the same charm which had refreshed us in individual forms. Thus Christ pointed to the lilies of the field to knit His followers' reliance on Providence with the phenomena of nature: and could they jet forth in royal beauty, exceeding that of Solomon, if the inner ground of nature were not beauty?
We may also name beauty in a certain sense a mystery, as it mediates to us in a sensuous sign a heavenly gift of grace, that it opens to us a view into the eternal Being, teaching us to know nature in God and God in nature, that it brings the divine even to the perception of sense, and establishes the energy of love and freedom as the ground, the bond, and the end of the world.
In the midst of the temporal the eternal is made palpable and present to us in the beautiful, and offers itself to our enjoyment. The separation is suppressed, and the original unity, as it is in God, appears as the first, as what holds together even the past in the universe, and what constitutes the aim of the development in a finite accord.
The beautiful not only presents itself to us as mediator of a foreign excellence or of a remote divinity, but the ideal and the godlike are present in it. Hence aesthetics requires as its basis the system in which God is known as indwelling in the world, that He is not far distant from any one of us, but that He animates us, and that we live in Him. Aesthetics requires the knowledge that mind is the creative force and unity of all that is extended and developed in time and space.
The beautiful is thus, according to these later thinkers, the revelation of God to the mind through the senses; it is the appearance of the idea. In the beautiful spirit reveals itself to spirit through matter and the senses; thus the entire man feels himself raised and satisfied by it. By the unity of the beautiful with us we experience with delight that thought and the material world are present for our individuality, that they utter tones and shine forth in it, that both penetrate each other and blend in it and thus become one with it. We feel one with them and one in them.
This later view was to a great extent expressed by Schiller in his "Aesthetical Letters."
But art and aesthetics, in the sense in which these terms are used and understood by German philosophical writers, such as Schiller, embrace a wider field than the fine arts. Lessing, in his "Laocoon," had already shown the point of contrast between painting and poetry; and aesthetics, being defined as the science of the beautiful, must of necessity embrace poetry. Accordingly Schiller's essays on tragic art, pathos, and sentimental poetry, contained in this volume, are justly classed under his aesthetical writings.
This being so, it is important to estimate briefly the transitions of German poetry before Schiller, and the position that he occupied in its historic development.
The first classical period of German poetry and literature was contained between A. D. 1190 and 1300. It exhibits the intimate blending of the German and Christian elements, and their full development in splendid productions, for this was the period of the German national epos, the “Nibelungenlied,” and of the “Minnegesang.”
This was a period which has nothing to compare with it in point of art and poetry, save perhaps, and that imperfectly, the heroic and post-Homeric age of early Greece.
The poetical efforts of that early age may be grouped under—(1) national epos: the "Nibelungenlied;" (2) art epos: the "Rolandslied," "Percival," etc.; (3) the introduction of antique legends: Veldeck's "Aeneide," and Konrad's "War of Troy;" (4) Christian legends "Barlaam," "Sylvester," "Pilatus," etc.; (5) poetical narratives: "Crescentia," "Graf Rudolf," etc.; (6) animal legends; "Reinecke Vos;" (7) didactic poems: "Der Renner;" (8) the Minne-poetry, and prose.
The fourth group, though introduced from a foreign source, gives the special character and much of the charm of the period we consider. This is the sphere of legends derived from ecclesiastical ground. One of the best German writers on the history of German literature remarks: "If the aim and nature of all poetry is to let yourself be filled by a subject and to become penetrated with it; if the simple representation of unartificial, true, and glowing feelings belongs to its most beautiful adornments; if the faithful direction of the heart to the invisible and eternal is the ground on which at all times the most lovely flowers of poetry have sprouted forth, these legendary poems of early Germany, in their lovely heartiness, in their unambitious limitation, and their pious sense, deserve a friendly acknowledgment. What man has considered the pious images in the prayer-books of the Middle Ages, the unadorned innocence, the piety and purity, the patience of the martyrs, the calm, heavenly transparency of the figures of the holy angels, without being attracted by the simple innocence and humility of these forms, the creation of pious artists' hands? Who has beheld them without tranquil joy at the soft splendor poured, over them, without deep sympathy, nay, without a certain emotion and tenderness? And the same spirit that created these images also produced those poetical effusions, the same spirit of pious belief, of deep devotion, of heavenly longing. If we make a present reality of the heroic songs of the early German popular poetry, and the chivalrous epics of the art poetry, the military expeditions and dress of the Crusades, this legendary poetry appears as the invention of humble pilgrims, who wander slowly on the weary way to Jerusalem, with scollop and pilgrim's staff, engaged in quiet prayer, till they are all to kneel at the Saviour's sepulchre; and thus contented, after touching the holy earth with their lips, they return, poor as they were, but full of holy comfort, to their distant home.
In short, the first classical period of German literature was a time of youthful freshness, of pure harmony, plunged in verse and song, full of the richest tones and the noblest rhythm, so that rhyme and song alone must be looked for as the form of poetic creations. Accordingly it had no proper prose. Like our own youth, it was a happy, free, and true youth, it knew no prose; like us it dreamed to speechless songs; and as we expressed our youthful language and hopes, woes and joys, in rhyme and song, thus a whole people and age had its beautiful youth full of song and verse tones. The life was poetry and poetry was the life.
Then came degeneracy and artifice; after that the great shock of the Reformation; subsequently a servile and pedantic study of classical forms without imbibing their spirit, but preparing the way for a truer art spirit, extracted from their study by the masterly criticism of Winckelmann and Lessing, till the second classical period of German literature and poetry bloomed forth in full beauty, blending the national and legendary elements so well expressed by Herder with the highest effusions of dramatic poetry, partly creative and partly imitative of the Greek models, in Schiller and Goethe.
Modern German literature presents a very remarkable spectacle, though far from unique in history, for there we see criticism begetting genius.
Lessing, the founder of the modern German drama, sought to banish all pomp from the theatre, and in doing so some critics have thought that he banished the ideal and fell into affectation. At any rate, his "Dramaturgy" is full of original ideas, and when he drew out the sphere of poetry contrasted with that of painting in his "Laocoon," all Germany resounded with his praise. "With that delight," says Goethe, "we saluted this luminous ray which a thinker of the first order caused to break forth from its clouds. It is necessary to have all the fire of youth to conceive the effect produced on us by the 'Laocoon' of Lessing." Another great contemporary, whose name is imperishable as that of art, struck a mortal blow at a false taste in the study of the antique. Winckelmann questioned the works of the Greek chisel with an intelligence full of love, and initiated his countrymen into poetry by a feeling for sculpture! What an enthusiasm he displayed for classical beauty! what a worship of the form! what a fervor of paganism is found in its eloquent pages when he also comments on the admirable group of the Laocoon, or the still purer masterpiece of the Apollo of Belvedere.
These men were the vanguard of the great Germanic army; Schiller and Goethe alone formed its main column. In them German poetry shows itself in its perfection, and completely realizes the ideal designed for it by the critic. Every factitious precept and conventional law was now overthrown; these poetical Protestants broke away entirely from the yoke of tradition. Yet their genius was not without a rule. Every work bears in itself the organic laws of its development. Thus, although they laugh at the famous precept of the three unities, it is because they dig still deeper down to the root of things, to grasp the true principle from which the precept issued. "Men have not understood," said Goethe, "the basis of this law. The law of the comprehensive—'das Fassliche'—is the principle; and the three unities have only value as far as they attain it. When they become an obstacle to the comprehension it is madness to wish to observe them. The Greeks themselves, from whom the rule is derived, did not always follow it. In the 'Phaeton' of Euripides, and in other pieces, there was change, place; accordingly they prefer to give a perfect exposition of their subject, rather than blindly respect a law never very essential in itself. The pieces of Shakspeare violate in the highest degree the unity of time and of place; but they are full of comprehensiveness; nothing is easier to grasp, and for that reason they would have found favor with the Greeks. The French poets tried to obey exactly the law of the three unities; but they violate the law of comprehensiveness, as they do not expound dramatic subjects by dramas but by recitals."
Poetical creation was therefore viewed as free, but at the same time responsible. Immediately, as if fecundity were the reward of correctness, the German theatre became filled with true and living characters. The stage widens under their steps that they may have room to move. History with its great proportions and its terrible lessons, is now able to take place on the stage. The whole Thirty Years' War passes before us in "Wallenstein." We hear the tumult of camps, the disorder of a fanatical and undisciplined army, peasants, recruits, sutlers, soldiers. The illusion is complete, and enthusiasm breaks out among the spectators. Similar merits attach to many other of Schiller's plays.
This new drama, which seemed to give all to the natural sphere, concedes still more to the ideal. An able critic has said the details which are the truth of history are also its poetry. Here the German school professes a principle of the highest learning, and one that seems to be borrowed from its profoundest philosophers; it is that of the universal beauty of life, of the identity of beauty and existence. "Our aesthetics," says Goethe, "speak a great deal of poetical or antipoetical subjects; fundamentally there is no subject that has not its poetry; it is for the poet to find it there."
Schiller and Goethe divide the empire over modern German poetry, and represent its two principal powers; the one, Schiller, impassioned and lyrical, pours his soul over all the subjects he touches; in him every composition, ode, or drama is always one of his noble ideas, borrowing its dress and ornament from the external world. He is a poet especially through the heart, by the force with which he rushes in and carries you with him. Goethe is especially an epic; no doubt he paints the passions with admirable truth, but he commands them; like the god of the seas in Virgil, he raises above the angry waves his calm and sublime forehead.
After this glance at the position and chief characteristics of Schiller, it may be useful to offer a few remarks on those of the principal works in this volume, his Aesthetical Letters and Essays. Schiller, in his Aesthetical Essays, did not choose the pure abstract method of deduction and conception like Kant, nor the historical like Herder, who strove thus to account for the genesis of our ideas of beauty and art. He struck out a middle path, which presents certain deficiencies to the advocates of either of these two systems. He leans upon Kantian ideas, but without scholastic constraint. Pure speculation, which seeks to set free the form from all contents and matter, was remote from his creative genius, to which the world of matter and sense was no hinderance, but a necessary envelop for his forms.
His removal to Jena in 1791, and acquaintance with Reinhold, familiarized him with the Kantian philosophy, but he only appreciated it by halves. The bare and bald dealing with fundamental principles was at this time equally repulsive to Goethe and Schiller, the man of the world and the man of life. But Schiller did not find anywhere at that time justice done to the dignity of art, or honor to the substantial value of beauty.
The Aesthetical Essays in this volume appeared for the most part since 1792, in the "Thalia" and the "Hours" periodicals. The first "On the Ground of our Pleasure in Tragic Subjects" (1792), applies Kantian principles of the sublime to tragedy, and shows Schiller's lofty estimate of this class of poetry. With Kant he shows that the source of all pleasure is suitableness; the touching and sublime elicit this feeling, implying the existence of unsuitableness. In this article he makes the aim and source of art to consist in giving enjoyment, in pleasing. To nature pleasure is a mediate object, to art its main object. The same proposition appears in Schiller's paper on Tragic Art (1792), closely connected with the former. This article contains views of the affection of pity that seem to approximate the Aristotelian propositions about tragedy.
His views on the sublime are expressed in two papers, "The Sublime" and "The Pathetic," in which we trace considerable influence of Lessing and Winckelmann. He is led especially to strong antagonism against the French tragedy, and he indulges in a lengthy consideration of the passage of Virgil on Laocoon, showing the necessity of suffering and the pathetic in connection with moral adaptations to interest us deeply.
All these essays bespeak the poet who has tried his hand at tragedy, but in his next paper, "On Grace and Dignity," we trace more of the moralist. Those passages where he takes up a medium position between sense and reason, between Goethe and Kant, are specially attractive. The theme of this paper is the conception of grace, or the expression of a beautiful soul and dignity, or that of a lofty mind. The idea of grace has been developed more deeply and truly by Schiller than by Wieland or Winckelmann, but the special value of the paper is its constantly pointing to the ideal of a higher humanity. In it he does full justice to the sensuous and to the moral, and commencing with the beautiful nature of the Greeks, to whom sense was never mere sense, nor reason mere reason, he concludes with an image of perfected humanity in which grace and dignity are united, the former by architectonic beauty (structure), the last supported by power.
The following year, 1795, appeared his most important contribution to aesthetics, in his Aesthetical Letters.
In these letters he remarks that beauty is the work of free contemplation, and we enter with it into the world of ideas, but without leaving the world of sense. Beauty is to us an object, and yet at the same time a state of our subjectivity, because the feeling of the conditional is under that which we have of it. Beauty is a form because we consider it, and life because we feel it; in a word, it is at once our state and our art. And exactly because it is both it serves us as a triumphant proof that suffering does not exclude activity, nor matter form, nor limitation the infinite, for in the enjoyment of beauty both natures are united, and by this is proved the capacity of the infinite to be developed in the finite, and accordingly the possibility of the sublimest humanity.
The free play of the faculty of cognition which had been determined by Kant is also developed by Schiller. His representation of this matter is this: Man, as a spirit, is reason and will, self-active, determining, form-giving; this is described by Schiller as the form-instinct; man, as a sensuous being, is determinable, receptive, termed to matter; Schiller describes this as the material instinct, "Stofftrieb." In the midst between these two is situated the beautiful, in which reason and the sensuous penetrate each other, and their enjoyable product is designated by Schiller the play instinct. This expression is not happily chosen. Schiller means to describe by it the free play of the forces, activity according to nature, which is at once a joy and a happiness; he reminds us of the life of Olympus, and adds: "Man is only quite a man when he plays." Personality is that which lasts, the state of feeling is the changeable in man; he is the fixed unity remaining eternally himself in the floods of change. Man in contact with the world is to take it up in himself, but to unite with it the highest freedom and independence, and, instead of being lost in the world, to subject it to his reason. It is only by his being independent that there is reality out of him; only by being susceptible of feeling that there is reality in him. The object of sensuous instinct is life; that of the purer instinct figure; living figure or beauty is the object of the play instinct.
Only inasmuch as life is formed in the understanding and form in feeling does life win a form and form win life, and only thus does beauty arise. By beauty the sensuous man is led up to reason, the one-sided tension of special force is strung to harmony, and man made a complete whole.
Schiller adds that beauty knits together thought and feeling; the fullest unity of spirit and matter. Its freedom is not lack, but harmony, of laws; its conditions are not exclusions, inclusion of all infinity determined in itself. A true work of art generates lofty serenity and freedom of mind. Thus the aesthetic disposition bestows on us the highest of all gifts, that of a disposition to humanity, and we may call beauty our second creator.
In these letters Schiller spoke out the mildest and highest sentiments on art, and in his paper on Simple and Sentimental Poetry (1795) he constructs the ideal of the perfect poet. This is by far the most fruitful of Schiller's essays in its results. It has much that is practically applicable, and contains a very able estimate of German poetry. The writing is also very pointed and telling, because it is based upon actual perceptions, and it is interesting because the contrast drawn out throughout it between the simple and the sentimental has been referred to his own contrast with Goethe. He also wished to vindicate modern poetry, which Goethe seemed to wish to sacrifice to the antique.
The sentimental poetry is the fruit of quiet and retirement; simple poetry the child of life. One is a favor of nature; the sentimental depends on itself, the simple on the world of experience. The sentimental is in danger of extending the limits of human nature too far, of being too ideal, too mystical. Neither character exhausts the ideal of humanity, but the intimate union of both. Both are founded in human nature; the contradictions lying at their basis, when cleared in thought from the poetical faculty, are realism and idealism. These also are sides of human nature, which, when unconnected, bring forth disastrous results. Their opposition is as old as the beginning of culture, and till its end can hardly be set aside, save in the individual. The idealist is a nobler but a far less perfect being; the realist appears far less noble, but is more perfect, for the noble lies in the proof of a great capacity, but the perfect in the general attitude of the whole and in the real facts.
On the whole it may be said, taking a survey of these labors, that if Schiller had developed his ideas systematically and the unity of his intuition of the world, which were present in his feelings, and if he had based them scientifically, a new epoch in philosophy might have been anticipated. For he had obtained a view of such a future field of thought with the deep clairvoyance of his genius.
A few words may be desirable on Schiller's religious standpoint, especially in connection with his philosophical letters.
Schiller came up ten years later than Goethe, and concluded the cyclus of genius that Goethe had inaugurated. But as he was the last arrival of that productive period of tempestuous agitation, he retained more of its elements in his later life and poetry than any others who had passed through earlier agitations, such as Goethe. For Goethe cast himself free in a great measure from the early intoxication of his youthful imagination, devoting himself partly to nobler matter and partly to purer forms.
Schiller derived from the stormy times of his youth his direction to the ideal, to the hostility against the narrow spirit of civil relations, and to all given conditions of society in general. He derived from it his disposition, not to let himself be moulded by matter, but to place his own creative and determining impress on matter, not so much to grasp reality poetically and represent it poetically as to cast ideas into reality, a disposition for lively representation and strong oratorical coloring. All this he derived from the genial period, though later on somewhat modified, and carried it over into his whole life and poetry; and for this very reason he is not only together with Goethe, but before Goethe, the favorite poet of the nation, and especially with that part of the nation which sympathizes with him in the choice of poetic material and in his mode of feeling.
Gervinus remarks that Schiller had at Weimar long fallen off from Christianity, and occupied his mind tranquilly for a time with the views of Spinoza (realistic pantheism). Like Herder and Goethe, he viewed life in its great entirety and sacrificed the individual to the species. Accordingly, through the gods of Greece, he fell out with strict, orthodox Christians.
But Schiller had deeply religious and even Christian elements, as became a German and a Kantian. He receives the Godhead in His will, and He descends from His throne, He dwells in his soul; the poet sees divine revelations, and as a seer announces them to man. He is a moral educator of his people, who utters the tones of life in his poetry from youth upwards. Philosophy was not disclosed to Plato in the highest and purest thought, nor is poetry to Schiller merely an artificial edifice in the harmony of speech; philosophy and poetry are to both a vibration of love in the soul upwards to God, a liberation from the bonds of sense, a purification of man, a moral art. On this reposes the religious consecration of the Platonic spirit and of that of Schiller.
Issuing from the philosophical school of Kant, and imbued with the antagonism of the age against constituted authorities, it is natural that Schiller should be a rationalist in his religious views. It has been justly said of him that while Goethe's system was an apotheosis of nature Schiller's was an apotheosis of man.
Historically he was not prepared enough to test and search the question of evidence as applied to divine things handed down by testimony, and his Kantian coloring naturally disposed him to include all religions within the limits of pure reason, and to seek it rather in the subject than in anything objective.
In conclusion, we may attempt to classify and give Schiller his place in the progress of the world's literary history. Progress is no doubt a law of the individual, of nations, and of the whole race. To grow in perfection, to exist in some sort at a higher degree, is the task imposed by God on man, the continuation of the very work of God, the complement of creation. But this moral growth, this need of increase, may, like all the forces of nature, yield to a greater force; it is an impulsion rather than a necessity; it solicits and does not constrain. A thousand obstacles stay its development in individuals and in societies; moral liberty may retard or accelerate its effects. Progress is therefore a law which cannot be abrogated, but which is not invariably obeyed.
Nevertheless, in proportion to the increase of the mass of individuals, the caprices of chance and of liberty neutralize each other to allow the providential action that presides over our destinies to prevail. Looking at the same total of the life of the world, humanity undoubtedly advances: there are in our time fewer moral miseries, fewer physical miseries, than were known in the past.
Consequently art and literature, which express the different states of society, must share in some degree in this progressive march. But there are two things in literary work: on the one hand the ideas and social manners which it expresses, on the other the intelligence, the feeling, the imagination of the writer who becomes its interpreter. While the former of these elements tends incessantly to a greater perfection, the latter is subject to all the hazards of individual genius. Accordingly the progressive literature is only in the inspiration, and so to speak in the matter; it may and must therefore not be continuous in form.
But more than this: in very advanced societies the very grandeur of ideas, the abundance of models, the satiety of the public render the task of the artist more and more difficult. The artist himself has no longer the enthusiasm of the first ages, the youth of imagination and of the heart; he is an old man whose riches have increased, but who enjoys his wealth less.
If all the epochs of literature are considered as a whole it will be seen that they succeed each other in a constant order. After the period when the idea and the form combined in a harmonious manner comes another where the social idea is superabundant, and destroys the literary form of the preceding epoch.
The middle ages introduced spiritualism in art; before this new idea the smiling untruths of Greek poetry fled away frightened. The classical form so beautiful, so pure, cannot contain high Catholic thought. A new art is formed; on this side the Alps it does not reach the maturity that produces masterpieces. But at that time all Europe was one fatherland; Italy completes what is lacking in France and elsewhere.
The renaissance introduces new ideas into civilization; it resuscitates the traditions of antique science and seeks to unite them to the truths of Christianity. The art of the middle ages, as a vessel of too limited capacity, is broken by the new flood poured into it. These different ideas are stirred up and in conflict in the sixteenth century; they became co-ordinate and attain to an admirable expression in the following age.
In the eighteenth century there is a new invasion of ideas; all is examined and questioned; religion, government, society, all becomes a matter of discussion for the school called philosophical. Poetry appeared dying out, history drying up, till a truer spirit was breathed into the literary atmosphere by the criticism of Lessing, the philosophy of Kant, and the poetry of Klopstock. It was at this transition period that Schiller appeared, retaining throughout his literary career much of the revolutionary and convulsive spirit of his early days, and faithfully reflecting much of the dominant German philosophy of his time.
Part of the nineteenth century seems to take in hand the task ofreconstructing the moral edifice and of giving back to thought a larger form. The literary result of its effects is the renaissance of lyrical poetry with an admirable development in history.
Schiller's most brilliant works were in the former walk, his histories have inferior merit, and his philosophical writings bespeak a deep thinking nature with great originality of conception, such as naturally results from a combination of high poetic inspiration with much intellectual power.
Schiller, like all great men of genius, was a representative man of his country and of his age. A German, a Protestant free-thinker, a worshipper of the classical, he was the expression of these aspects of national and general thought.
The religious reformation was the work of the North. The instinct of races came in it to complicate the questions of dogmas. The awakening of individual nationalities was one of the characters of the epoch.
The nations compressed in the severe unity of the Middle Ages escaped in the Reformation from the uniform mould that had long enveloped them, and tended to that other unity, still very distant, which must spring from the spontaneous view of the same truth by all men, result from the free and original development of each nation, and, as in a vast concert, unite harmonious dissonances. Europe, without being conscious of its aim, seized greedily at the means—insurrection; the only thought was to overthrow, without yet thinking of a reconstruction. The sixteenth century was the vanguard of the eighteenth. At all times the North had fretted under the antipathetic yoke of the South. Under the Romans, Germany, though frequently conquered, had never been subdued. She had invaded the Empire and determined its fall. In the Middle Ages the struggle had continued; not only instincts, but ideas, were in conflict; force and spirit, violence and polity, feudalism and the Catholic hierarchy, hereditary and elective forms, represented the opposition of two races. In the sixteenth century the schism long anticipated took place. The Catholic dogma had hitherto triumphed over all outbreaks— over Arnaldo of Brescia, the Waldenses, and Wickliffe. But Luther appeared, and the work was accomplished: Catholic unity was broken.
And this breaking with authority went on fermenting in the nations till its last great outburst at the French Revolution; and Schiller was born at this convulsive period, and bears strong traces of his parentage in his anti-dogmatic spirit.
Yet there is another side to Germanism which is prone to the ideal and the mystical, and bears still the trace of those lovely legends of mediaeval growth to which we have adverted. For Christianity was not a foreign and antagonistic importation in Germany; rather, the German character obtained its completeness through Christianity. The German found himself again in the Church of Christ, only raised, transfigured, and sanctified. The apostolic representation of the Church as the bride of Christ has found its fullest and truest correspondence in that of Germany. Hence when the German spirit was thoroughly espoused to the Christian spirit, we find that character of love, tenderness, and depth so characteristic of the early classics of German poetry, and reappearing in glorious afterglow in the second classics, in Klopstock, Herder, and, above all, Schiller.
It is this special instinct for the ideal and mystical in German nature that has enabled spirits born of negation and revolution, like Schiller, to unite with those elements the most genial and creative inspirations of poetry.