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German Romanticism Essay

The following six articles dealing with aspects of romanticism in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain were presented in 1937 and in 1938 before a Group of the Modern Language Association of America, General Topics Il: Critical Study of Romanticism. The Group has no responsibility for their publication.‘

Each discussion represents an individual method of approach to this broad and difficult subject. If there is a consequent loss of such unity as might come from a series of articles written by a single author, there may be something gained in variety and comprehensiveness, No one article is written primarily for the specialist in its field. Such a reader will no doubt find the treatment of his own subject elementary and all too brief. It is hoped, however, that the same reader will find material to interest him in the discussions of other literatures, and that the elements of comparison and contrast between manifestations of romanticism in the different countries will contribute to broader understanding of the movement as a whole—G. H.

THE DOMINANT CHARACTERISTICS OF GERMAN ROMANTICISM

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German romanticism extends over a relatively long period, since in part it goes back to the ideas of Herder and the Storm and Stress movement in the seventies of the eighteenth century. Within narrower limits, one may assign to it the period from the seventeen nineties to about 1830, when it was challenged by the Young German Movement. Obviously, however, this does not mark the end of its influence. To give a brief account of so complex and varied a movement, and to attempt to generalize in the face of marked individual differences is
an undertaking beset with pitfalls.

In dealing with German romanticism many scholars are reluctant to attempt sharp definition like that of romanticism given by Legouis and Cazamian in their history of English literature.‘ Instead, historians of German literature for some time endeavored to contrast classicism and
romanticism for the purpose of bringing out in bold relief the essential characteristics of the latter. Subsequently, various critics became more strongly imbued with the thought that the two movements have much in common. For historically German romanticism proceeded from classicism. The older romanticists, the Schlegels and Novalis, did not think of themselves as being in opposition to classicism, but rather as intent upon supplementing and amplifying it. Consequently, romanticism did not begin in contradiction of classicism, but rather in the course of time became farther and farther removed from it.

Thus Walther Linden asserts: The older romanticists renewed the irrationalism of the Storm and Stress movement, and they, too, strove for depth, for profound emotion and for totality freed from all limitations. But they by no means ignored the great intellectual achievements of classicism. In endeavoring to unite the two in a higher synthesis of irrational and rational forces, romanticism cultivated consciousness, reflection and the intellectual element almost more than did classicism itself; hence, in its origins romanticism is more inclined to be philosophically critical than poetimlly creative. On the other hand, romanticism penetrated more sensitively and much more deeply into the psychic, into dreams, and longings, the unconscious, the mysterious, into those regions in which we sense intuitively rather than know by dint of reasoning faculties and processes.‘

Fritz Strich, in his book Klassik und Romantik, attempted to distinguish between romanticism and the classicism of Goethe and Schiller by placing certain salient traits in opposition. According to him, German classicism is marked by unperturbed calmness, unity divided into the manifold, plastic compactness, insistence on the present, living form, definiteness, perfection or completeness. By way of contrast he enumer  ated the characteristics of romanticism as restless movement, unity without division but in constant flux, picturesque boundlessness in inexhaustible transformation, longing without goal, limit, or aim; arabesque, music that has become visible; vagueness, and the infinite.‘

Whereas Strich tried to establish sharp lines of demarcation, Julius Petersen maintained that such categories are but relative, and furnish no absolute characterization. Moreover, he asserted that it is impossible to reduce the spirit of romanticism to a pure formula, because that does violence to one of its principal characteristics (namely, eternal becoming).‘

In the Atlwm’ium (1798—1800), the organ of the early German romanticists, Friedrich Schlegel set forth his conception of romantic literature in part as follows:

Romantic poetry (Poesie) is progressive universal poetry. Its aim is not merely to re-unite all separated literary forms and to bring poetry in touch with philosophy and rhetoric; but poetry and prose, creative genius and criticism, subtly refined poetry (Kunstpoesie) and folk»poetry (\iolkspoesie) are to be mingled and blended . . . Romantic poetry is still in the process of development; indeed, its very essence is eternal becoming and not complete realization (Vollendung), . . . It can be fathomed (erschoplt) by no theory, and only divinatory criticism could presume to characterize its ideal. It alone is infinite, because it alone is free, and recognizes as its first law that the caprice (Willkür) of the poet tolerates no law.‘

By virtue of this definition, border lines vanish between the arts as well as between literary forms—the drama, lyric, and narrative. All arts are
brought into touch with each other and merge; for tones, colors, and words were regarded merely as different forms of the one language of the soul which should be able to react to any mood and to any mode of thought. And thus poetry is characterized as music for the inner ear, and painting for the inner eye; but it is soft music, and painting devoid of sharpness of outline (verschwebende Malerei).° Moreover, transitions from one art to another are to be sought. Then statues may become paintings, paintings become poems, poems become music, and solemn sacred music may become a towering temple.’l Romanticists were fond of such expressions as hearing colors and seeing music. There are golden tones, colors speak, and love thinks in sweet musical sounds.

This efiacing of border lines, this dissolution and fusion, is directly connected with other views of the romanticists. For they regarded life as one and inseparable, as a unit. For them religion, philosophy, art, and life are one. Life is poetry, and the world a living entity in which poetry is the essential expression of mankind and of human activity. Thus, early German romanticism stresses the intimate union of imaginative literature, criticism, philosophy, and religion. Poetry becomes a symbol of the infinite. And according to Friedrich Schlegel, romantic poetry becomes transcendental poetry, which has for its aim the relation of the ideal and the real, as exemplified among the modems by Goethe.

Friedrich Schlegel asserted that poetry and philosophy are an in- separable whole; they share the whole range of great, exalted human nature. They meet, supplement each other, and are blended into a unit.’ Poetry is nearer to the earth, philosophy is holier and more closely related to the deity.” Only the union of the two can lend permanence and abiding value.“ Poetry and philosophy are, depending on the point of View, difierent spheres, diflerent forms or factors of religion. Their union can be nothing other than religion.u Religion is veritably unfathomable and in it one can delve deeper everywhere into the infinite.”

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In the strict sense of the term, says Friedrich Schlegel, the essence of religion is to think, poetize, and live in godly fashion; to be filled with God; to have a touch of reverence and enthusiasm poured out over one’s whole being; and to act not from a sense of duty but out of love, out of sheer volition prompted by God within man.“ Whoever has religion will give voice to poetry. But philosophy is the means of seeking and discovering religion.“ Only in the company of men can man think and poetize divinely and live religiously.” Without poetry religion becomes dark, false, and malicious; without philosophy it becomes debauched and sensual to the point of emasculation.‘ Eternal life and the invisible world can be sought only in God.“

Novalis praised the Catholicism of the Middle Ages, of the days when all Christianity was one, had one great common spiritual interest, and was united under one head. For him the old Catholic faith was applied Christianity which had become living; its omnipresence in life, its love for art, its profound humanitarianism, its joy in poverty, obedience, and fidelity stamp it as genuine religion.1° Romanticism‘s penchant for medieval Catholicism was rooted in the esthetic element, mysticism, and the fondness for unity.

What part do the poet and art play in this conception of life in which philosophy, religion, and poetry are one?

In the At/xem’z’um we read that the poet is a seer, is wiser than he knows.20 Priest and poet in the beginning were one; the genuine poet, however, has always remained a priest, and the genuine priest a poet. Art cannot be learned, but is divinely inspired. The spark of enthusiasm marks the genuine poet.22 Only he can be an artist who has a religion of his own, an original View of the infinite.” Every man whose fundamental aim is to perfect himself is an artist.“ Even in outward practices the artist’s mode of life must be difl’erent from that of others. Artists are Brahmins, a higher caste, not by birth, but ennoblcd by free selfconsecration. The artist may be proud of the resolve which forever sets him apart from the commonplace, proud of the work which divinely surpasses all intent and whose intent no one will ever completely grasp, proud of the capacity for worshipping perfection, proud of the consciousness of being able to stimulate his fellows in their inmost efiectiveness.

“The artist is a mediator, conscious of the divine within him; he annihilates himself to proclaim, impart, and portray the divine in mankind in customs, deeds, words, and works. To mediate and be mediated is the whole higher life of man, and every artist is a mediator for all others.“

The profoundest mysteries of all the arts and sciences are the property of poetry.” Poetry strives only for the infinite, and scorns worldly advantage.” The greatest part of poetry deals with the art of living and with the knowledge of mankind.”

According to the romanticists, music, the most feminine of the arts, produces an ecstatic effect. Hofimann states that it opens an unknown realm to man, a world which has nothing in common with the world about him; under the spell of music he leaves behind all definite emotion, and yields to inexpressible longing.” There is nothing more beautiful on earth, says the Allxem’ium, than when poetry and music work in sweet concord for the ennobling of mankind.” Tieck writes in Franz Stembalds Wanderungen: “I invariably feel how music exalts the soul and how its notes of rejoicing, like angels of heavenly innocence, remove all earthly appetities and desires.”” “Music is the first, the most immediate, the boldest of all the arts; it alone has the heart to pronounce whatever is confided to it; the other arts impart merely half of their
message, and fail to express the best,”“ . . . Music has the power to suggest much that is too delicate to be thought, and too delicate to permit of expression.

The very soul of romanticism was infinite longing without goal, limit, or object. Novalis stated that the finite, the limited, the narrow appeals to the worldly mind?6 the infinite appeals to the subtler spirit. The aim of romantic poetry was the striving for the infinite, attuning oneself to the absolute. The romanticists were concerned less with a clear, visible world than with unfathomed depths, the unconscious, boundless emotions, and longing. In Novalis’ Heinrich von Oflerdingen the dream of the blue flower is symbolical of all vague, wistful romantic longing for the infinite.

Out of such conceptions grew the emphasis upon “Bildung.” In the romantic sense this means the development of all innate faculties in ann approach to infinite perfection. Only through ”Bildung” does man become truly human?“ it represents an attempt at encompassing the totality of human experience. To become God, to be man, to develop one’s faculties, are one and the same thing.” Human activity is a widening of self-determined destiny to infinite proportions.”

Romantic longing for the infinite finds its reflex in an interest in the distant past and in distant regions. At a distance, said Novalis, everything becomes poetic, everything becomes romantic.” The magic power of the imagination is freed from the limitations of time, space. and actuality both in the past and the future. And so German romanticism is replete with songs of wandering and of longing for the distant. It is not surprising to find a penchant for the Middle Ages with colorful knightly adventure, feudalism, chivalry, Minnesang, catholicism, mysticism, crusades, and the widening of the human horizon through contact with the Orient.

Of importance is romanticism’s attitude toward nature, which is derived philosophically from Schelling. Nature is visible spirit, and spirit is invisible nature. In her development nature is a progressive revelation of the spirit. Everything in the universe is animate. Everything has body and soul as well. The true nature of things is not one or the other but the identity of the two. The essence of nature is absolute activity. She is constantly becoming, but never achieves being. We do not see God, says Friedrich Schlegel, but we see the divine everywhere; we can feel and think nature and the universe directly, but not the Godhead.” Whoever does not come to know nature through love, will never know her.“ She is a sacred, tangible, and animate revelation of the deity. A source of rare delight, light, and eternal love, she stimulates the imagination. In every contact with her, man senses the infinite world. In her contemplation he becomes conscious of everything great and beautiful. Nature transforms everything, is eternal and exalted; she exalts man, and awakens the forces which reveal the divine in him. She inspires the highest energy and activity of the spirit, and the highest purity and receptiveness of the senses. Whoever interprets nature comprehends his life in terms of the eternal and the abiding.

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In the poetic treatment of nature the romanticists manifested fondness for picturesque change and for infinite distance which stimulates longing and calls up memories. Theirs was a predilection for the mysterious forest, solitude, stillness, for night which stimulates the imagination, for moonlight which fills man with longing, for clouds which journey afar like dreams, and for twilight which efiaces sharp outlines and gives rise to vagueness of mood.

A significant aspect of German romanticism is romantic irony. Ludwig Tieck is fond of treating his fantastic creations with a playful, mocking
romantic irony. This he defines as the final perfection of a work of art, as that ethereal, transcending spirit that hovers over poetry. The romanticist wishes to demonstrate that he can not merely fashion but also dispel an emotion or an image. He does not lose himself in his work, but remains a free spirit, having the ability to rise above his creation, and to treat it with playful ridicule. Friedrich Schlegel said: ”We must be able to rise above our own love; in our thoughts we must be able to destroy what we worship; otherwise, no matter what other capacities we have, we lack a sense of the infinite and of the world.”” ”A truly free and cultured (gebildet) being should be able to attune himself at will, and become philosophical or philological, critical or poetical, historical or rhetorical, ancient or modern; he should be able to do this quite arbitrarily at any time and to any degree as one tunes an instrument.”“ Fundamentally, romantic irony implies urbanity and complete freedom, mastery, and a sense of sovereign detachment. Philosophically, it is rooted in Fichte’s idea of the sovereignty of Free Spirit. In practice, romantic irony often produced the impression of insincerity; in some of Heine’s lyrics it made for dissonance.

In the field of literary criticism Novalis stated that one way of proving that he had understood an author was to be able to act in his spirit.‘The province of criticism, said August Schlegel, is to grasp completely, clearly, and with sharp precision the profound meaning which a creative genius has laid in his work, to interpret it, and thereby to bring less in— dependent but receptive observers to a higher, correct point of view.“
Similarly Wackenroder says: “Every work of art can be comprehended and grasped inwardly only out of the same emotion which gave rise to it; and emotion can be grasped only by emotion.”‘7 Friedrich Schlegel states that criticism is to teach man to comprehend every form of poetry in its classic vigor and fullness, and thus to fructify the imagination.“ Thus romantic criticism or characterization desires to give the already initiated a deeper insight into the inexhaustible spirit of an original poem.” It need hardly be said that theory and practice were not always in accord, and that the interpreter at times became a judge. And yet this very efiort at recreating an experience, the ability to enter into the spirit of a work of art, enabled August Wilhelm Schlegel to reproduce the spirit of Shakespeare in German translation as no one had done before him.

The novel is a genre which a number of romanticists cultivated, because it allowed them the greatest freedom in structure, form, and technique. Friedrich Schlegel regarded it as an admixture of narrative, song, and other forms?0 the best element in the best novels seemed to him to be a more or less veiled self—confession of the author, the fruit of his experience, the quintessence of his lndividuality.‘l Hence he considered Rousseau’s Confession: a most excellent novel.“ On the whole, the German romantic novel is marked by looseness of structure, lack of unity, a wealth of episodes, and discursiveness; it abounds in adventures encountered in rather aimless wanderings. There is a variety of moods which frequently find expression in lyrical interpolations.

The Novella, as an account of striking happenings, conditions, or individuals was cultivated to a high degree of excellence. Friedrich Schlegel considered the Novella admirably suited to the indirect and symbolical portrayal of subjective mood and viewpoint in a most profound and individualistic manner.

The drama was ill suited to the romanticist’s dislike of formal restraint; hence, obvious weaknesses are superficial, unconvincing motivation; inadequacy of character portrayal; lack of unity; and general looseness of structure. The fate tragedy and the fairy drama are in evidence; in the latter, the dream world is looked upon as the world of actuality, and the world becomes a. dream.

One of the finest flowers of creative romanticism was the fairy tale. The fairy tale appealed to the romanticists because it entered the realm of the fanciful, the imaginative, and the supernatural—which to them was the realm of genuine truth. It represented the fulfillment of romantic longing; here the romantic spirit was quite untrammeled and magically creative, since in this realm the laws of experience, of time, place, and causality have no validity. The Grimm brothers collected and published folk fairy tales which hitherto had been transmitted orally from one generation to another. Art fairy tales received a stimulus from the popular tale.

The rich collection of folksongs published by Arnim and Brentano (18064808) under the title Dc: Knabcn Wundcrham exerted a profound influence upon German lyric poetry. It occupies a place in the history of German poetry somewhat comparable to that of Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) in England. In the days of the Storm and Stress movement Herder’s collections and translations of folksongs had stressed the cosmopolitan, international aspects of poetry. But Arnim and Brentano in their collection emphasized the German element, and regarded these songs as expressive of the spirit of the German people. Numerous German lyric poets were inspired to write in the manner of the folksong. As a result, much of the lyric poetry of the period is marked by simplicity, unity, directness, genuineness, and spontaneity. This is of particular importance, because lyric poetry is undoubtedly the most significant creative contribution of German romanticism.

Under the stimulus of the wars of liberation, later romanticism became patriotic and nationalistic. The earlier cosmopolitan, individualistic attitude gave way to the desire to subordinate self to the state and the nation. Nationalistic feeling welled up in powerful patriotic lyrics.

Men like Fichte, in his detn an die deutschz Nalion, and Kleist, in drama and journalism, were profoundly conscious of the obligation of the individual to the state. The interest in Germany’s past manifested itself in the emphasis upon older German literature and philology, folk lore, folksong, folk fairy tale, and chap—books. The idea of totality and of organic development held by early romanticists was now applied in a new and more realistic manner to the state, society, and history. Nevertheless, the interest in the subconscious, hallucinations, hypnotic suggestion, the occult, dreams, morbidity, the gruesome, the fantastic, the emotional element, irrationalism, and phantasmagoria persisted. Between early and later romanticism there was a difference of emphasis rather than fundamental opposition of tendencies.

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German Romanticism Essay
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The following six articles dealing with aspects of romanticism in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain were presented in 1937 and in 1938 before a Group of the Modern Language Association of America, General Topics Il: Critical Study of Romanticism. The Group has no responsibility for their publication.‘

Each discussion represents an

2018-10-26 07:03:01
German Romanticism Essay
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