The depicting of suffering, in the shape of simple suffering, is never the end of art, but it is of the greatest importance as a means of attaining its end. The highest aim of art is to represent the super-sensuous, and this is effected in particular by tragic art, because it represents by sensible marks the moral man, maintaining himself in a state of passion, independently of the laws of nature. The principle of freedom in man becomes conscious of itself only by the resistance it offers to the violence of the feelings. Now the resistance can only be measured by the strength of the attack. In order, therefore, that the intelligence may reveal itself in man as a force independent of nature, it is necessary that nature should have first displayed all her power before our eyes. The sensuous being must be profoundly and strongly affected, passion must be in play, that the reasonable being may be able to testify his independence and manifest himself in action.
It is impossible to know if the empire which man has over his affections is the effect of a moral force, till we have acquired the certainty that it is not an effect of insensibility. There is no merit in mastering the feelings which only lightly and transitorily skim over the surface of the soul. But to resist a tempest which stirs up the whole of sensuous nature, and to preserve in it the freedom of the soul, a faculty of resistance is required infinitely superior to the act of natural force. Accordingly it will not be possible to represent moral freedom, except by expressing passion, or suffering nature, with the greatest vividness; and the hero of tragedy must first have justified his claim to be a sensuous being before aspiring to our homage as a reasonable being, and making us believe in his strength of mind.
Therefore the pathetic is the first condition required most strictly in a tragic author, and he is allowed to carry his description of suffering as far as possible, without prejudice to the highest end of his art, that is, without moral freedom being oppressed by it. He must give in some sort to his hero, as to his reader, their full load of suffering, without which the question will always be put whether the resistance opposed to suffering is an act of the soul, something positive, or whether it is not rather a purely negative thing, a simple deficiency.
The latter case is offered in the purer French tragedy, where it is very rare, or perhaps unexampled, for the author to place before the reader suffering nature, and where generally, on the contrary, it is only the poet who warms up and declaims, or the comedian who struts about on stilts. The icy tone of declamation extinguishes all nature here, and the French tragedians, with their superstitious worship of decorum, make it quite impossible for them to paint human nature truly. Decorum, wherever it is, even in its proper place, always falsifies the expression of nature, and yet this expression is rigorously required by art. In a French tragedy, it is difficult for us to believe that the hero ever suffers, for he explains the state of his soul, as the coolest man would do, and always thinking of the effect he is making on others, he never lets nature pour forth freely. The kings, the princesses, and the heroes of Corneille or Voltaire never forget their rank even in the most violent excess of passion; and they part with their humanity much sooner than with their dignity. They are like those kings and emperors of our old picture-books, who go to bed with their crowns on.
What a difference from the Greeks and those of the moderns who have been inspired with their spirit in poetry! Never does the Greek poet blush at nature; he leaves to the sensuous all its rights, and yet he is quite certain never to be subdued by it. He has too much depth and too much rectitude in his mind not to distinguish the accidental, which is the principal point with false taste, from the really necessary; but all that is not humanity itself is accidental in man. The Greek artist who has to represent a Laocoon, a Niobe, and a Philoctetes, does not care for the king, the princess, or the king's son; he keeps to the man. Accordingly the skilful statuary sets aside the drapery, and shows us nude figures, though he knows quite well it is not so in real life. This is because drapery is to him an accidental thing, and because the necessary ought never to be sacrificed to the accidental. It is also because, if decency and physical necessities have their laws, these laws are not those of art. The statuary ought to show us, and wishes to show us, the man himself; drapery conceals him, therefore he sets that aside, and with reason.
The Greek sculptor rejects drapery as a useless and embarrassing load, to make way for human nature; and in like manner the Greek poet emancipates the human personages he brings forward from the equally useless constraint of decorum, and all those icy laws of propriety, which put nothing but what is artificial in man, and conceal nature in it. Take Homer and the tragedians; suffering nature speaks the language of truth and ingenuousness in their pages, and in a way to penetrate to the depths of our hearts. All the passions play their part freely, nor do the rules of propriety compress any feeling with the Greeks. The heroes are just as much under the influence of suffering as other men, and what makes them heroes is the very fact that they feel suffering strongly and deeply, without suffering overcoming them. They love life as ardently as others; but they are not so ruled by this feeling as to be unable to give up life when the duties of honor or humanity call on them to do so. Philoctetes filled the Greek stage with his lamentations; Hercules himself, when in fury, does not keep under his grief. Iphigenia, on the point of being sacrificed, confesses with a touching ingenuousness that she grieves to part with the light of the sun. Never does the Greek place his glory in being insensible or indifferent to suffering, but rather in supporting it, though feeling it in its fulness. The very gods of the Greeks must pay their tribute to nature, when the poet wishes to make them approximate to humanity. Mars, when wounded, roars like ten thousand men together, and Venus, scratched by an iron lance, mounts again to Olympus, weeping, and cursing all battles.
This lively susceptibility on the score of suffering, this warm, ingenuous nature, showing itself uncovered and in all truth in the monuments of Greek art, and filling us with such deep and lively emotions—this is a model presented for the imitation of all artists; it is a law which Greek genius has laid down for the fine arts. It is always and eternally nature which has the first rights over man; she ought never to be fettered, because man, before being anything else, is a sensuous creature. After the rights of nature come those of reason, because man is a rational, sensuous being, a moral person, and because it is a duty for this person not to let himself be ruled by nature, but to rule her. It is only after satisfaction has been given in the first place to nature, and after reason in the second place has made its rights acknowledged, that it is permitted for decorum in the third place to make good its claims, to impose on man, in the expression of his moral feelings and of his sensations, considerations towards society, and to show in it the social being, the civilized man. The first law of the tragic art was to represent suffering nature. The second law is to represent the resistance of morality opposed to suffering.
Affection, as affection, is an unimportant thing; and the portraiture of affection, considered in itself, would be without any aesthetic value; for, I repeat it, nothing that only interests sensuous nature is worthy of being represented by art. Thus not only the affections that do nothing but enervate and soften man, but in general all affections, even those that are exalted, ecstatic, whatever may be their nature, are beneath the dignity of tragic art.
The soft emotions, only producing tenderness, are of the nature of the agreeable, with which the fine arts are not concerned. They only caress the senses, while relaxing and creating languidness, and only relate to external nature, not at all to the inner nature of man. A good number of our romances and of our tragedies, particularly those that bear the name of dramas—a sort of compromise between tragedy and comedy—a good number also of those highly-appreciated family portraits, belong to this class. The only effect of these works is to empty the lachrymal duct, and soothe the overflowing feelings; but the mind comes back from them empty, and the moral being, the noblest part of our nature, gathers no new strength whatever from them. "It is thus," says Kant, "that many persons feel themselves edified by a sermon that has nothing edifying in it." It seems also that modern music only aims at interesting the sensuous, and in this it flatters the taste of the day, which seeks to be agreeably tickled, but not to be startled, nor strongly moved and elevated. Accordingly we see music prefer all that is tender; and whatever be the noise in a concert-room, silence is immediately restored, and every one is all ears directly a sentimental passage is performed. Then an expression of sensibility common to animalism shows itself commonly on all faces; the eyes are swimming with intoxication, the open mouth is all desire, a voluptuous trembling takes hold of the entire body, the breath is quick and full, in short, all the symptoms of intoxication appear. This is an evident proof that the senses swim in delight, but that the mind or the principle of freedom in man has become a prey to the violence of the sensuous impression. Real taste, that of noble and manly minds, rejects all these emotions as unworthy of art, because they only please the senses, with which art has nothing in common.
But, on the other hand, real taste excludes all extreme affections, which only put sensuousness to the torture, without giving the mind any compensation. These affections oppress moral liberty by pain, as the others by voluptuousness; consequently they can excite aversion, and not the emotion that would alone be worthy of art. Art ought to charm the mind and give satisfaction to the feeling of moral freedom. This man who is a prey to his pain is to me simply a tortured animate being, and not a man tried by suffering. For a moral resistance to painful affections is already required of man—a resistance which can alone allow the principle of moral freedom, the intelligence, to make itself known in it.
If it is so, the poets and the artists are poor adepts in their art when they seek to reach the pathetic only by the sensuous force of affection and by representing suffering in the most vivid manner. They forget that suffering in itself can never be the last end of imitation, nor the immediate source of the pleasure we experience in tragedy. The pathetic only has aesthetic value in as far as it is sublime. Now, effects that only allow us to infer a purely sensuous cause, and that are founded only on the affection experienced by the faculty of sense, are never sublime, whatever energy they may display, for everything sublime proceeds exclusively from the reason.
I imply by passion the affections of pleasure as well as the painful affections, and to represent passion only, without coupling with it the expression of the super-sensuous faculty which resists it, is to fall into what is properly called vulgarity; and the opposite is called nobility. Vulgarity and nobility are two ideas which, wherever they are applied, have more or less relation with the super-sensuous share a man takes in a work. There is nothing noble but what has its source in the reason; all that issues from sensuousness alone is vulgar or common. We say of a man that he acts in a vulgar manner when he is satisfied with obeying the suggestions of his sensuous instinct; that he acts suitably when he only obeys his instinct in conformity with the laws; that he acts nobly when he obeys reason only, without having regard to his instincts. We say of a physiognomy that it is common when it does not show any trace of the spiritual man, the intelligence; we say it has expression when it is the mind which has determined its features: and that it is noble when a pure spirit has determined them. If an architectural work is in question we qualify it as common if it aims at nothing but a physical end; we name it noble if, independently of all physical aim, we find in it at the same time the expression of a conception.
Accordingly, I repeat it, correct taste disallows all painting of the affections, however energetic, which rests satisfied with expressing physical suffering and the physical resistance opposed to it by the subject, without making visible at the same time the superior principle of the nature of man, the presence of a super-sensuous faculty. It does this in virtue of the principle developed farther back, namely, that it is not suffering in itself, but only the resistance opposed to suffering, that is pathetic and deserving of being represented. It is for this reason that all the absolutely extreme degrees of the affections are forbidden to the artist as well as to the poet. All of these, in fact, oppress the force that resists from within or rather, all betray of themselves, and without any necessity of other symptoms, the oppression of this force, because no affection can reach this last degree of intensity as long as the intelligence in man makes any resistance.
Then another question presents itself. How is this principle of resistance, this super-sensuous force, manifested in the phenomenon of the affections? Only in one way, by mastering or, more commonly, by combating affection. I say affection, for sensuousness can also fight, but this combat of sensuousness is not carried on with the affection, but with the cause that produces it; a contest which has no moral character, but is all physical, the same combat that the earthworm, trodden under foot, and the wounded bull engage in, without thereby exciting the pathetic. When suffering man seeks to give an expression to his feelings, to remove his enemy, to shelter the suffering limb, he does all this in common with the animals, and instinct alone takes the initiative here, without the will being applied to. Therefore, this is not an act that emanates from the man himself, nor does it show him as an intelligence. Sensuous nature will always fight the enemy that makes it suffer, but it will never fight against itself.
On the other hand, the contest with affection is a contest with sensuousness, and consequently presupposes something that is distinct from sensuous nature. Man can defend himself with the help of common sense and his muscular strength against the object that makes him suffer; against suffering itself he has no other arms than those of reason.
These ideas must present themselves to the eye in the portraiture of the affections, or be awakened by this portraiture in order that the pathetic may exist. But it is impossible to represent ideas, in the proper sense of the word, and positively, as nothing corresponds to pure ideas in the world of sense. But they can be always represented negatively and in an indirect way if the sensuous phenomenon by which they are manifested has some character of which you would seek in vain the conditions in physical nature. All phenomena of which the ultimate principle cannot be derived from the world of sense are an indirect representation of the upper-sensuous element.
And how does one succeed in representing something that is above nature without having recourse to supernatural means? What can this phenomenon be which is accomplished by natural forces—otherwise it would not be a phenomenon—and yet which cannot be derived from physical causes without a contradiction? This is the problem; how can the artist solve it?
It must be remembered that the phenomena observable in a man in a state of passion are of two kinds. They are either phenomena connected simply with animal nature, and which, therefore, only obey the physical law, without the will being able to master them, or the independent force in him being able to exercise an immediate influence over them. It is the instinct which immediately produces these phenomena, and they obey blindly the laws of instinct. To this kind belong, for example, the organs of the circulation of the blood, of respiration, and all the surface of the skin. But, moreover, the other organs, and those subject to the will, do not always await the decision of the will; and often instinct itself sets them immediately in play, especially when the physical state is threatened with pain or with danger. Thus, the movements of my arm depend, it is true, on my will; but if I place my hand, without knowing it, on a burning body, the movement by which I draw it back is certainly not a voluntary act, but a purely instinctive phenomenon. Nay more, speech is assuredly subject to the empire of the will, and yet instinct can also dispose of this organ according to its whim, and even of this and of the mind, without consulting beforehand the will, directly a sharp pain, or even an energetic affection, takes us by surprise. Take the most impassible stoic and make him see suddenly something very wonderful, or a terrible and unexpected object. Fancy him, for example, present when a man slips and falls to the bottom of an abyss. A shout, a resounding cry, and not only inarticulate, but a distinct word will escape his lips, and nature will have acted in him before the will: a certain proof that there are in man phenomena which cannot be referred to his person as an intelligence, but only to his instinct as a natural force.
But there is also in man a second order of phenomena, which are subject to the influence and empire of the will, or which may be considered at all events as being of such a kind that will might always have prevented them, consequently phenomena for which the person and not instinct is responsible. It is the office of instinct to watch with a blind zeal over the interests of the senses; but it is the office of the person to hold instinct in proper bounds, out of respect for the moral law. Instinct in itself does not hold account of any law; but the person ought to watch that instinct may not infringe in any way on the decrees of reason. It is therefore evident that it is not for instinct alone to determine unconditionally all the phenomena that take place in man in the state of affection, and that on the contrary the will of man can place limits to instinct. When instinct only determines all phenomena in man, there is nothing more that can recall the person; there is only a physical creature before you, and consequently an animal; for every physical creature subject to the sway of instinct is nothing else. Therefore, if you wish to represent the person itself, you must propose to yourself in man certain phenomena that have been determined in opposition to instinct, or at least that have not been determined by instinct. That they have not been determined by instinct is sufficient to refer them to a higher source, the moment we see that instinct would no doubt have determined them in another way if its force had not been broken by some obstacle.
We are now in a position to point out in what way the super-sensuous element, the moral and independent force of man, his Ego in short, can be represented in the phenomena of the affections. I understand that this is possible if the parts which only obey physical nature, those where will either disposes nothing at all, or only under certain circumstances, betray the presence of suffering; and if those, on the contrary, that escape the blind sway of instinct, that only obey physical nature, show no trace, or only a very feeble trace, of suffering, and consequently appear to have a certain degree of freedom. Now this want of harmony between the features imprinted on animal nature in virtue of the laws of physical necessity, and those determined with the spiritual and independent faculty of man, is precisely the point by which that super-sensuous principle is discovered in man capable of placing limits to the effects produced by physical nature, and therefore distinct from the latter. The purely animal part of man obeys the physical law, and consequently may show itself oppressed by the affection. It is, therefore, in this part that all the strength of passion shows itself, and it answers in some degree as a measure to estimate the resistance— that is to say, of the energy of the moral faculty in man—which can only be judged according to the force of the attack. Thus in proportion as the affection manifests itself with decision and violence in the field of animal nature, without being able to exercise the same power in the field of human nature, so in proportion the latter makes itself manifestly known—in the same proportion the moral independence of man shows itself gloriously: the portraiture becomes pathetic and the pathetic sublime.
The statues of the ancients make this principle of aesthetics sensible to us; but it is difficult to reduce to conceptions and express in words what the very inspection of ancient statues makes the senses feel in so lively a manner. The group of Laocoon and his children can give to a great extent the measure of what the plastic art of the ancients was capable of producing in the matter of pathos. Winckelmann, in his "History of Art,", says: "Laocoon is nature seized in the highest degree of suffering, under the features of a man who seeks to gather up against pain all the strength of which the mind is conscious. Hence while his suffering swells his muscles and stretches his nerves, the mind, armed with an interior force shows itself on his contracted brow, and the breast rises, because the breathing is broken, and because there is an internal struggle to keep in the expression of pain, and press it back into his heart. The sigh of anguish he wishes to keep in, his very breath which he smothers, exhaust the lower part of his trunk, and works into his flanks, which make us judge in some degree of the palpitations of his visceral organs. But his own suffering appears to occasion less anguish than the pain of his children, who turn their faces toward their father, and implore him, crying for help. His father's heart shows itself in his eyes, full of sadness, and where pity seems to swim in a troubled cloud. His face expresses lament, but he does not cry; his eyes are turned to heaven, and implore help from on high. His mouth also marks a supreme sadness, which depresses the lower lip and seems to weigh upon it, while the upper lip, contracted from the top to the bottom, expresses at once both physical suffering and that of the soul. Under the mouth there is an expression of indignation that seems to protest against an undeserved suffering, and is revealed in the nostrils, which swell out and enlarge and draw upwards. Under the forehead, the struggle between pain and moral strength, united as it were in a single point, is represented with great truth, for, while pain contracts and raises the eyebrows, the effort opposed to it by the will draws down towards the upper eyelid all the muscles above it, so that the eyelid is almost covered by them. The artist, not being able to embellish nature, has sought at least to develop its means, to increase its effect and power. Where is the greatest amount of pain is also the highest beauty. The left side, which the serpent besets with his furious bites, and where he instils his poison, is that which appears to suffer the most intensely, because sensation is there nearest to the heart. The legs strive to raise themselves as if to shun the evil; the whole body is nothing but movement, and even the traces of the chisel contribute to the illusion; we seem to see the shuddering and icy-cold skin."
How great is the truth and acuteness of this analysis! In what a superior style is this struggle between spirit and the suffering of nature developed! How correctly the author has seized each of the phenomena in which the animal element and the human element manifest themselves, the constraint of nature and the independence of reason! It is well known that Virgil has described this same scene in his "Aeneid," but it did not enter into the plan of the epic poet to pause as the sculptor did, and describe the moral nature of Laocoon; for this recital is in Virgil only an episode; and the object he proposes is sufficiently attained by the simple description of the physical phenomenon, without the necessity on his part of looking into the soul of the unhappy sufferer, as his aim is less to inspire us with pity than to fill us with terror. The duty of the poet from this point of view was purely negative; I mean he had only to avoid carrying the picture of physical suffering to such a degree that all expression of human dignity or of moral resistance would cease, for if he had done this indignation and disgust would certainly be felt. He, therefore, preferred to confine himself to the representation of the least of the suffering, and he found it advisable to dwell at length on the formidable nature of the two serpents, and on the rage with which they attack their victims, rather than on the feelings of Laocoon. He only skims over those feelings, because his first object was to represent a chastisement sent by the gods, and to produce an impression of terror that nothing could diminish. If he had, on the contrary, detained our looks on the person of Laocoon himself with as much perseverance as the statuary, instead of on the chastizing deity, the suffering man would have become the hero of the scene, and the episode would have lost its propriety in connection with the whole piece.
The narrative of Virgil is well known through the excellent commentary of Lessing. But Lessing only proposed to make evident by this example the limits that separate partial description from painting, and not to make the notion of the pathetic issue from it. Yet the passage of Virgil does not appear to me less valuable for this latter object, and I crave permission to bring it forward again under this point of view:—
(Horresco referens) immensis orbibus angues
Incumbunt pelago, pariterque ad litora tendunt;
Pectora quorum inter fluctus arrecta jubaeque
Sanguineae exsuperant undas; pars caetera pontum
Pone legit, sinuatque immensa volumine terga.
Fit sonitus spumante salo, jamque arva tenebant,
Ardentes oculos suffecti sanguine et igni,
Sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora!
Aeneid, ii. 203-211.
We find here realized the first of the three conditions of the sublime that have been mentioned further back,—a very powerful natural force, armed for destruction, and ridiculing all resistance. But that this strong element may at the same time be terrible, and thereby sublime, two distinct operations of the mind are wanted; I mean two representations that we produce in ourselves by our own activity. First, we recognize this irresistible natural force as terrible by comparing it with the weakness of the faculty of resistance that the physical man can oppose to it; and, secondly, it is by referring it to our will, and recalling to our consciousness that the will is absolutely independent of all influence of physical nature, that this force becomes to us a sublime object. But it is we ourselves who represent these two relations; the poet has only given us an object armed with a great force seeking to manifest itself. If this object makes us tremble, it is only because we in thought suppose ourselves, or some one like us, engaged with this force. And if trembling in this way, we experience the feeling of the sublime, it is because our consciousness tells us that, if we are the victims of this force, we should have nothing to fear, from the freedom of our Ego, for the autonomy of the determinations of our will. In short the description up to here is sublime, but quite a contemplative, intuitive sublimity:—
Laocoonta petunt . . .—Aeneid, ii. 212-213.
Here the force is presented to us as terrible also; and contemplative sublimity passes into the pathetic. We see that force enter really into strife with man's impotence. Whether it concerns Laocoon or ourselves is only a question of degree. The instinct of sympathy excites and frightens in us the instinct of preservation: there are the monsters, they are darting—on ourselves; there is no more safety, flight is vain.
It is no more in our power to measure this force with ours, and to refer it or not to our own existence. This happens without our co-operation, and is given us by the object itself. Accordingly our fear has not, as in the preceding moment, a purely subjective ground, residing in our soul; it has an objective ground, residing in the object. For, even if we recognize in this entire scene a simple fiction of the imagination, we nevertheless distinguish in this fiction a conception communicated to us from without, from another conception that we produce spontaneously in ourselves.
Thus the mind loses a part of her freedom, inasmuch as she receives now from without that which she produced before her own activity. The idea of danger puts on an appearance of objective reality, and affection becomes now a serious affair.
If we were only sensuous creatures, obeying no other instinct than that of self-preservation, we should stop here, and we should remain in a state of mere and pure affection. But there is something in us which takes no part in the affections of sensuous nature, and whose activity is not directed according to physical conditions. According, then, as this independently acting principle (the disposition, the moral faculty) has become to a degree developed in the soul, there is left more or less space for passive nature, and there remains more or less of the independent principle in the affection.
In the truly moral soul the terrible trial (of the imagination) passes quickly and readily into the sublime. In proportion as imagination loses its liberty, reason makes its own prevail, and the soul ceases not to enlarge within when it thus finds outward limits. Driven from all the intrenchments which would give physical protection to sensuous creatures, we seek refuge in the stronghold of our moral liberty, and we arrive by that means at an absolute and unlimited safety, at the very moment when we seem to be deprived in the world of phenomena of a relative and precarious rampart. But precisely because it was necessary to have arrived at the physical oppression before having recourse to the assistance of our moral nature, we can only buy this high sentiment of our liberty through suffering. An ordinary soul confines itself entirely to this suffering, and never comprehends in the sublime or the pathetic anything beyond the terrible. An independent soul, on the contrary, precisely seizes this occasion to rise to the feeling of his moral force, in all that is most magnificent in this force, and from every terrible object knows how to draw out the sublime.
The moral man (the father) [see Aeneid, ii. 213-215] is here attacked before the physical man, and that has a grand effect. All the affections become more aesthetic when we receive them second-hand; there is no stronger sympathy than that we feel for sympathy.
The moment [see Aeneid, ii. 216-217] had arrived when the hero himself had to be recommended to our respect as a moral personage, and the poet seized upon that moment. We already know by his description all the force, all the rage of the two monsters who menace Laocoon, and we know how all resistance would be in vain. If Laocoon were only a common man he would better understand his own interests, and, like the rest of the Trojans, he would find safety in rapid flight. But there is a heart in that breast; the danger to his children holds him back, and decides him to meet his fate. This trait alone renders him worthy of our pity. At whatever moment the serpents had assailed him, we should have always been touched and troubled. But because it happens just at the moment when as father he shows himself so worthy of respect, his fate appears to us as the result of having fulfilled his duty as parent, of his tender disquietude for his children. It is this which calls forth our sympathy in the highest degree. It appears, in fact, as if he deliberately devoted himself to destruction, and his death becomes an act of the will.
Thus there are two conditions in every kind of the pathetic: 1st. Suffering, to interest our sensuous nature; 2d. Moral liberty, to interest our spiritual nature. All portraiture in which the expression of suffering nature is wanting remains without aesthetic action, and our heart is untouched. All portraiture in which the expression of moral aptitude is wanting, even did it possess all the sensuous force possible, could not attain to the pathetic, and would infallibly revolt our feelings. Throughout moral liberty we require the human being who suffers; throughout all the sufferings of human nature we always desire to perceive the independent spirit, or the capacity for independence.
But the independence of the spiritual being in the state of suffering can manifest itself in two ways. Either negatively, when the moral man does not receive the law from the physical man, and his state exercises no influence over his manner of feeling; or positively, when the moral man is a ruler over the physical being, and his manner of feeling exercises an influence upon his state. In the first case, it is the sublime of disposition; in the second, it is the sublime of action.
The sublime of disposition is seen in all character independent of the accidents of fate. "A noble heart struggling against adversity," says Seneca, "is a spectacle full of attraction even for the gods." Such for example is that which the Roman Senate offered after the disaster of Cannae. Lucifer even, in Milton, when for the first time he contemplates hell—which is to be his future abode—penetrates us with a sentiment of admiration by the force of soul he displays:—
Infernal world, and thou, profoundest Hell;
Receive thy new possessor!—one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time;
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell. . . .
Here at least
We shall be free," etc.
The reply of Medea in the tragedy belongs also to this order of the sublime.
The sublime of disposition makes itself seen, it is visible to the spectator, because it rests upon co-existence, the simultaneous; the sublime action, on the contrary, is conceived only by the thought, because the impression and the act are successive, and the intervention of the mind is necessary to infer from a free determination the idea of previous suffering.
It follows that the first alone can be expressed by the plastic arts, because these arts give but that which is simultaneous; but the poet can extend his domain over one and the other. Even more; when the plastic art has to represent a sublime action, it must necessarily bring it back to sublimity.
In order that the sublimity of action should take place, not only must the suffering of man have no influence upon the moral constitution, but rather the opposite must be the case. The affection is the work of his moral character. This can happen in two ways: either mediately, or according to the law of liberty, when out of respect for such and such a duty it decides from free choice to suffer—in this case, the idea of duty determines as a motive, and its suffering is a voluntary act—or immediately, and according to the necessity of nature, when he expiates by a moral suffering the violation of duty; in this second case, the idea of duty determines him as a force, and his suffering is no longer an effect. Regulus offers us an example of the first kind, when, to keep his word, he gives himself up to the vengeance of the Carthaginians; and he would serve as an example of the second class, if, having betrayed his trust, the consciousness of this crime would have made him miserable. In both cases suffering has a moral course, but with this difference, that on the one part Regulus shows us its moral character, and that, on the other, he only shows us that he was made to have such a character. In the first case he is in our eyes a morally great person; in the second he is only aesthetically great.
This last distinction is important for the tragic art; it consequently deserves to be examined more closely.
Man is already a sublime object, but only in the aesthetic sense, when the state in which he is gives us an idea of his human destination, even though we might not find this destination realized in his person. He only becomes sublime to us in a moral point of view, when he acts, moreover, as a person, in a manner conformable with this destination; if our respect bears not only on his moral faculty, but on the use he makes of this faculty; if dignity, in his case, is due, not only to his moral aptitude; but to the real morality of his conduct. It is quite a different thing to direct our judgment and attention to the moral faculty generally, and to the possibility of a will absolutely free, and to be directing it to the use of this faculty, and to the reality of this absolute freedom of willing.
It is, I repeat, quite a different thing; and this difference is connected not only with the objects to which we may have to direct our judgment, but to the very criterion of our judgment. The same object can displease us if we appreciate it in a moral point of view, and be very attractive to us in the aesthetical point of view. But even if the moral judgment and the aesthetical judgment were both satisfied, this object would produce this effect on one and the other in quite a different way. It is not morally satisfactory because it has an aesthetical value, nor has it an aesthetical value because it satisfies us morally. Let us take, as example, Leonidas and his devotion at Thermopylae. Judged from the moral point of view, this action represents to me the moral law carried out notwithstanding all the repugnance of instinct. Judged from the aesthetic point of view, it gives me the idea of the moral faculty, independent of every constraint of instinct. The act of Leonidas satisfies the moral sense, the reason; it enraptures the aesthetical sense, the imagination.
Whence comes this difference in the feelings in connection with the same object? I account for it thus:—
In the same way that our being consists of two principles and natures, so also and consequently our feelings are divided into two kinds, entirely different. As reasonable beings we experience a feeling of approbation or of disapprobation; as sensuous creatures we experience pleasure or displeasure. The two feelings, approbation and pleasure, repose on satisfaction: one on a satisfaction given to a requirement of reason— reason has only requirements, and not wants. The other depends on a satisfaction given to a sensuous want—sense only knows of wants, and cannot prescribe anything. These two terms—requirements of reason, wants of the senses—are mutually related, as absolute necessity and the necessity of nature. Accordingly, both are included in the idea of necessity, but with this difference, that the necessity of reason is unconditional, and the necessity of sense only takes place under conditions. But, for both, satisfaction is a purely contingent thing. Accordingly every feeling, whether of pleasure or approbation, rests definitively on an agreement between the contingent and the necessary. If the necessary has thus an imperative character, the feeling experienced will be that of approbation. If necessity has the character of a want, the feeling experienced will be that of pleasure, and both will be strong in proportion as the satisfaction will be contingent. Now, underlying every moral judgment there is a requirement of reason which requires us to act conformably with the moral law, and it is an absolute necessity that we should wish what is good. But as the will is free, it is physically an accidental thing that we should do in fact what is good. If we actually do it, this agreement between the contingent in the use of free will and the imperative demand of reason gives rise to our assent or approbation, which will be greater in proportion as the resistance of the inclinations made this use that we make of our free will more accidental and more doubtful. Every aesthetic judgment, on the contrary, refers the object to the necessity which cannot help willing imperatively, but only desires that there should be an agreement between the accidental and its own interest. Now what is the interest of imagination? It is to emancipate itself from all laws, and to play its part freely. The obligation imposed on the will by the moral law, which prescribes its object in the strictest manner, is by no means favorable to this need of independence. And as the moral obligation of the will is the object of the moral judgment, it is clear that in this mode of judging, the imagination could not find its interest. But a moral obligation imposed on the will cannot be conceived, except by supposing this same will absolutely independent of the moral instincts and from their constraint. Accordingly the possibility of the moral act requires liberty, and therefore agrees here in the most perfect manner with the interest of imagination. But as imagination, through the medium of its wants, cannot give orders to the will of the individual, as reason does by its imperative character, it follows that the faculty of freedom, in relation to imagination, is something accidental, and consequently that the agreement between the accidental and the necessary (conditionally necessary) must excite pleasure. Therefore, if we bring to bear a moral judgment on this act of Leonidas, we shall consider it from a point of view where its accidental character strikes the eye less than its necessary side. If, on the other hand, we apply the aesthetical judgment to it, this is another point of view, where its character of necessity strikes us less forcibly than its accidental character. It is a duty for every will to act thus, directly it is a free will; but the fact that there is a free will that makes this act possible is a favor of nature in regard to this faculty, to which freedom is a necessity. Thus an act of virtue judged by the moral sense—by reason—will give us as its only satisfaction the feeling of approbation, because reason can never find more, and seldom finds as much as it requires. This same act, judged, on the contrary, by the aesthetic sense—by imagination—will give us a positive pleasure, because the imagination, never requiring the end to agree with the demand, must be surprised, enraptured, at the real satisfaction of this demand as at a happy chance. Our reason will merely approve, and only approve, of Leonidas actually taking this heroic resolution; but that he could take this resolution is what delights and enraptures us.
This distinction between the two sorts of judgments becomes more evident still, if we take an example where the moral sense and the aesthetic sense pronounce a different verdict. Suppose we take the act of Perigrinus Proteus burning himself at Olympia. Judging this act morally, I cannot give it my approbation, inasmuch as I see it determined by impure motives, to which Proteus sacrifices the duty of respecting his own existence. But in the aesthetic judgment this same act delights me; it delights me precisely because it testifies to a power of will capable of resisting even the most potent of instincts, that of self-preservation. Was it a moral feeling, or only a more powerful sensuous attraction, that silenced the instinct of self-preservation in this enthusiast. It matters little, when I appreciate the act from an aesthetic point of view. I then drop the individual, I take away the relation of his will to the law that ought to govern him; I think of human will in general, considered as a common faculty of the race, and I regard it in connection with all the forces of nature. We have seen that in a moral point of view, the preservation of our being seemed to us a duty, and therefore we were offended at seeing Proteus violate this duty. In an aesthetic point of view the self-preservation only appears as an interest, and therefore the sacrifice of this interest pleases us. Thus the operation that we perform in the judgments of the second kind is precisely the inverse of that which we perform in those of the first. In the former we oppose the individual, a sensuous and limited being, and his personal will, which can be effected pathologically, to the absolute law of the will in general, and of unconditional duty which binds every spiritual being; in the second case, on the contrary, we oppose the faculty of willing, absolute volition, and the spiritual force as an infinite thing, to the solicitations of nature and the impediments of sense. This is the reason why the aesthetical judgment leaves us free, and delights and enraptures us. It is because the mere conception of this faculty of willing in an absolute manner, the mere idea of this moral aptitude, gives us in itself a consciousness of a manifest advantage over the sensuous. It is because the mere possibility of emancipating ourselves from the impediments of nature is in itself a satisfaction that flatters our thirst for freedom. This is the reason why moral judgment, on the contrary, makes us experience a feeling of constraint that humbles us. It is because in connection with each voluntary act we appreciate in this manner, we feel, as regards the absolute law that ought to rule the will in general, in a position of inferiority more or less decided, and because the constraint of the will thus limited to a single determination, which duty requires of it at all costs, contradicts the instinct of freedom which is the property of imagination. In the former case we soared from the real to the possible, and from the individual to the species; in the latter, on the contrary, we descend from the possible to the real, and we shut up the species in the narrow limits of the individual. We cannot therefore be surprised if the aesthetical judgment enlarges the heart, while the moral judgment constrains and straitens it.
It results, therefore, from all that which precedes, that the moral judgment and the aesthetic, far from mutually corroborating each other, impede and hinder each other, because they impress on the soul two directions entirely opposite. In fact, this observance of rule which reason requires of us as moral judge is incompatible with the independence which the imagination calls for as aesthetic judge. It follows that an object will have so much the less aesthetic value the more it has the character of a moral object, and if the poet were obliged notwithstanding that to choose it, he would do well in treating of it, not to call the attention of our reason to the rule of the will, but that of our imagination to the power of the will. In his own interest it is necessary for the poet to enter on this path, for with our liberty his empire finishes. We belong to him only inasmuch as we look beyond ourselves; we escape from him the moment we re-enter into our innermost selves, and that is what infallibly takes place the moment an object ceases to be a phenomenon in our consideration, and takes the character of a law which judges us.
Even in the manifestation of the most sublime virtue, the poet can only employ for his own views that which in those acts belongs to force. As to the direction of the force, he has no reason to be anxious. The poet, even when he places before our eyes the most perfect models of morality, has not, and ought not to have, any other end than that of rejoicing our soul by the contemplation of this spectacle. Moreover, nothing can rejoice our soul except that which improves our personality, and nothing can give us a spiritual joy except that which elevates the spiritual faculty. But in what way can the morality of another improve our own personality, and raise our spiritual force? That this other one accomplishes really his duty results from an accidental use which he makes of his liberty, and which for that very reason can prove nothing to us. We only have in common with him the faculty to conform ourselves equally to duty; the moral power which he exhibits reminds us also of our own, and that is why we then feel something which upraises our spiritual force. Thus it is only the idea of the possibility of an absolutely free will which makes the real exercise of this will in us charming to the aesthetic feeling.
We shall be still more convinced when we think how little the poetic force of impression which is awakened in us by an act or a moral character is dependent on their historic reality. The pleasure which we take in considering an ideal character will in no way be lessened when we come to think that this character is nothing more than a poetic fiction; for it is on the poetic truth, and not on historic truth, that every aesthetic impression of the feelings rest. Moreover, poetic truth does not consist in that this or that thing has effectually taken place, but in that it may have happened, that is to say, that the thing is in itself possible. Thus the aesthetic force is necessarily obliged to rest in the first place in the idea of possibility.
Even in real subjects, for which the actors are borrowed from history, it is not the reality of the simple possibility of the fact, but that which is guaranteed to us by its very reality which constitutes the poetic element. That these personages have indeed existed, and that these events have in truth taken place, is a circumstance which can, it is true, in many cases add to our pleasure, but that which it adds to it is like a foreign addition, much rather unfavorable than advantageous to the poetical impression.
It was long thought that a great service was rendered to German poetry by recommending German poets to treat of national themes. Why, it was asked, did Greek poetry have so much power over the mind? Because it brought forward national events and immortalized domestic exploits. No doubt the poetry of the ancients may have been indebted to this circumstance for certain effects of which modern poetry cannot boast; but do these effects belong to art and the poet? It is small glory for the Greek genius if it had only this accidental advantage over modern genius; still more if it were necessary for the poets, in order to gain this advantage, to obtain it by this conformity of their invention with real history! It is only a barbarous taste that requires this stimulant of a national interest to be captivated by beautiful things; and it is only a scribbler who borrows from matter a force to which he despairs of giving a form.
Poetry ought not to take its course through the frigid region of memory; it ought never to convert learning into its interpreter, nor private interest its advocate with the popular mind. It ought to go straight to the heart, because it has come from the heart; and aim at the man in the citizen, not the citizen in the man.
Happily, true genius does not make much account of all these counsels that people are so anxious to give her with better intentions than competence. Otherwise, Sulzer and his school might have made German poetry adopt a very equivocal style. It is no doubt a very honorable aim in a poet to moralize the man, and excite the patriotism of the citizen, and the Muses know better than any one how well the arts of the sublime and of the beautiful are adapted to exercise this influence. But that which poetry obtains excellently by indirect means it would accomplish very badly as an immediate end. Poetry is not made to serve in man for the accomplishment of a particular matter, nor could any instrument be selected less fitted to cause a particular object to succeed, or to carry out special projects and details. Poetry acts on the whole of human nature, and it is only by its general influence on the character of a man that it can influence particular acts. Poetry can be for man what love is for the hero. It can neither counsel him, nor strike for him, nor do anything for him in short; but it can form a hero in him, call him to great deeds, and arm him with a strength to be all that he ought to be.
Thus the degree of aesthetical energy with which sublime feelings and sublime acts take possession of our souls, does not rest at all on the interest of reason, which requires every action to be really conformable with the idea of good. But it rests on the interest of the imagination, which requires conformity with good should be possible, or, in other terms, that no feeling, however strong, should oppress the freedom of the soul. Now this possibility is found in every act that testifies with energy to liberty, and to the force of the will; and if the poet meets with an action of this kind, it matters little where, he has a subject suitable for his art. To him, and to the interest we have in him, it is quite the same, to take his hero in one class of characters or in another, among the good or the wicked, as it often requires as much strength of character to do evil conscientiously and persistently as to do good. If a proof be required that in our aesthetic judgments we attend more to the force than to its direction, to its freedom than to its lawfulness, this is sufficient for our evidence. We prefer to see force and freedom manifest themselves at the cost of moral regularity, rather than regularity at the cost of freedom and strength. For directly one of those cases offers itself, in which the general law agrees with the instincts which by their strength threaten to carry away the will, the aesthetic value of the character is increased, if he be capable of resisting these instincts. A vicious person begins to interest us as soon as he must risk his happiness and life to carry out his perverse designs; on the contrary, a virtuous person loses in proportion as he finds it useful to be virtuous. Vengeance, for instance, is certainly an ignoble and a vile affection, but this does not prevent it from becoming aesthetical, if to satisfy it we must endure painful sacrifice. Medea slaying her children aims at the heart of Jason, but at the same time she strikes a heavy blow at her own heart, and her vengeance aesthetically becomes sublime directly we see in her a tender mother.
In this sense the aesthetic judgment has more of truth than is ordinarily believed. The vices which show a great force of will evidently announce a greater aptitude for real moral liberty than do virtues which borrow support from inclination; seeing that it only requires of the man who persistently does evil to gain a single victory over himself, one simple upset of his maxims, to gain ever after to the service of virtue his whole plan of life, and all the force of will which he lavished on evil. And why is it we receive with dislike medium characters, whilst we at times follow with trembling admiration one which is altogether wicked? It is evident, that with regard to the former, we renounce all hope, we cannot even conceive the possibility of finding absolute liberty of the will; whilst with the other, on the contrary, each time he displays his faculties, we feel that one single act of the will would suffice to raise him up to the fullest height of human dignity.
Thus, in the aesthetic judgment, that which excites our interest is not morality itself, but liberty alone; and moral purity can only please our imagination when it places in relief the forces of the will. It is then manifestly to confound two very distinct orders of ideas, to require in aesthetic things so exact a morality, and, in order to stretch the domain of reason, to exclude the imagination from its own legitimate sphere.
Either it would be necessary to subject it entirely, then there would be an end to all aesthetic effect; or it would share the realm of reason, then morality would not gain much. For if we pretend to pursue at the same time two different ends, there would be risk of missing both one and the other. The liberty of the imagination would be fettered by too great respect for the moral law; and violence would be done to the character of necessity which is in the reason, in missing the liberty which belongs to the imagination.