Excerpt from “Lucinda” written in 1799 by Friedrich Schlegel. Translated by Paul Bernard Thomas.
DITHYRAMBIC FANTASY ON THE LOVELIEST OF SITUATIONS
A big tear falls upon the holy sheet which I found here instead of you. How faithfully and how simply you have sketched it, the old and daring idea of my dearest and most intimate purpose! In you it has grown up, and in this mirror I do not shrink from loving and admiring myself. Only here I see myself in harmonious completeness. For your spirit, too, stands distinct and perfect before me, not as an apparition which appears and fades away again, but as one of the forms that endure forever. It looks at me joyously out of its deep eyes and opens its arms to embrace my spirit.
The holiest and most evanescent of those delicate traits and utterances of the soul, which to one who does not know the highest seem like bliss itself, are merely the common atmosphere of our spiritual breath and life.The words are weak and vague. Furthermore, in this throng of impressions I could only repeat anew the one inexhaustible feeling of our original harmony. A great future beckons me on into the immeasurable; each idea develops a countless progeny. The extremes of unbridled gayety and of quiet presentiment live together within me.
I remember everything, even the griefs, and all my thoughts that have been and are to be bestir themselves and arise before me. The blood rushes wildly through my swollen veins, my mouth thirsts for the contact of your lips, and my fancy seeks vainly among the many forms of joy for one which might at last gratify my desire and give it rest.And then again I suddenly and sadly bethink me of the gloomy time when I was always waiting without hope, and madly loving without knowing it; when my innermost being overflowed with a vague longing, which it breathed forth but rarely in half-suppressed sighs.
Oh, I should have thought it all a fairy-tale that there could be such joy, such love as I now feel, and such a woman, who could be my most tender Beloved, my best companion, and at the same time a perfect friend. For it was in friendship especially that I sought for what I wanted, and for what I never hoped to find in any woman. In you I found it all, and more than I could wish for; but you are so unlike the rest. Of what custom or caprice calls womanly, you know nothing. The womanliness of your soul, aside from minor peculiarities, consists in its regarding life and love as the same thing.
For you all feeling is infinite and eternal; you recognize no separations, your being is an indivisible unity. That is why you are so serious and so joyous, why you regard everything in such a large and indifferent way; that is why you love me, all of me, and will surrender no part of me to the state, to posterity, or to manly pleasures. I am all yours; we are closest to each other and we understand each other. You accompany me through all the stages of manhood, from the utmost wantonness to the most refined spirituality. In you alone I first saw true pride and true feminine humility.
The most extreme suffering, if it is only surrounded, without separating us, would seem to me nothing but a charming antithesis to the sublime frivolity of our marriage. Why should we not take the harshest whim of chance for an excellent jest and a most frolicsome caprice, since we, like our love, are immortal? I can no longer say my_ love and _your_ love; they are both alike in their perfect mutuality. Marriage is the everlasting unity and alliance of our spirits, not only for what we call this world and that world, but for the one, true, indivisible, nameless, endless world of our entire being, so long as we live.
Therefore, if it seemed the proper time, I would drain with you a cup of poison, just as gladly and just as easily as that last glass of champagne we drank together, when I said: “And so let us drink out the rest of our lives.” With these words I hurriedly quaffed the wine, before its noble spirit ceased to sparkle. And so I say again, let us live and love. I know you would not wish to survive me; you would rather follow your dying husband into his coffin. Gladly and lovingly would you descend into the burning abyss, even as the women of India do, impelled by a mad law, the cruel, constraining purpose of which desecrates and destroys the most delicate sanctities of the will.
On the other side, perhaps, longing will be more completely realized. I often wonder over it; every thought, and whatever else is fashioned within us, seems to be complete in itself, as single and indivisible as a person. One thing crowds out another, and that which just now was near and present soon sinks back into obscurity. And then again come moments of sudden and universal clarity, when several such spirits of the inner world completely fuse together into a wonderful wedlock, and many a forgotten bit of our ego shines forth in a new light and even illuminates the darkness of the future with its bright lustre.
As it is in a small way, so is it also, I think, in a large way. That which we call a life is for the complete, inner, immortal man only a single idea, an indivisible feeling. And for him there come, too, moments of the profoundest and fullest consciousness, when all lives fall together and mingle and separate in a different way. The time is coming when we two shall behold in one spirit that we are blossoms of one plant, or petals of one flower. We shall then know with a smile that what we now call merely hope was really memory.
Do you know how the first seed of this idea germinated in my soul before you and took root in yours? Thus does the religion of love weave our love ever and ever more closely and firmly together, just as a child, like an echo, doubles the happiness of its gentle parents.
Nothing can part us; and certainly any separation would only draw me more powerfully to you. I bethink me how at our last embrace, you vehemently resisting, I burst into simultaneous tears and laughter. I tried to calm myself, and in a sort of bewilderment I would not believe that I was separated from you until the surrounding objects convinced me of it against my will. But then my longing grew again irresistible, until on its wings I sank back into your arms. Suppose words or a human being to create a misunderstanding between us!
The poignant grief would be transient and quickly resolve itself into complete harmony. How could separation separate us, when presence itself is to us, as it were, too present? We have to cool and mitigate the consuming fire with jests, and thus for us the most witty of the forms and situations of joy is also the most beautiful. One among all is at once the wittiest and the loveliest: when we exchange rôles and with childish delight try to see who can best imitate the other; whether you succeed best with the tender vehemence of a man, or I with the yielding devotion of a woman. But, do you know, this sweet game has for me quite other charms than its own.
It is not merely the delight of exhaustion or the anticipation of revenge. I see in it a wonderful and profoundly significant allegory of the development of man and woman into complete humanity.
Excerpt from “Lucinda” written in 1799 by Friedrich Schlegel. Translated by Paul Bernard Thomas.
The childlike spirit slumbers in sweet repose, and the kiss of the loving goddess arouses in him only light dreams. The rose of shame tinges his cheek; he smiles and seems to open his lips, but he does not awaken and he knows not what is going on within him. Not until after the charm of the external world, multiplied and reinforced by an inner echo, has completely permeated his entire being, does he open his eyes, reveling in the sun, and recall to mind the magic world which he saw in the gleam of the pale moonlight.
The wondrous voice that awakened him is still audible, but instead of answering him it echoes back from external objects. And if in childish timidity he tries to escape from the mystery of his existence, seeking the unknown with beautiful curiosity, he hears everywhere only the echo of his own longing.Thus the eye sees in the mirror of the river only the reflection of the blue sky, the green banks, the waving trees, and the form of the absorbed gazer. When a heart, full of unconscious love, finds itself where it hoped to find love in return, it is struck with amazement.
But we soon allow ourselves to be lured and deceived by the charm of the view into loving our own reflection. Then has the moment of winsomeness come, the soul fashions its envelop again, and breathes the final breath of perfection through form. The spirit loses itself in its clear depth and finds itself again, like Narcissus, as a flower.
Love is higher than winsomeness, and how soon would the flower of Beauty wither without the complementary birth of requited love. This moment the kiss of Amor and Psyche is the rose of life. The inspired Diotima revealed to Socrates only a half of love. Love is not merely a quiet longing for the infinite; it is also the holy enjoyment of a
beautiful present. It is not merely a mixture, a transition from the mortal to the immortal, but it is a complete union of both. There is a pure love, an indivisible and simple feeling, without the slightest interference of restless striving.
Every one gives the same as he takes, one just like the other, all is balanced and completed in itself, like the everlasting kiss of the divine children. By the magic of joy the grand chaos of struggling forms dissolves into a harmonious sea of oblivion. When the ray of happiness breaks in the last tear of longing, Iris is already adorning the eternal brow of heaven with the delicate tints of her many-colored rainbow. Sweet dreams come true, and the pure forms of a new generation rise up out of Lethe’s waves, beautiful as Anadyomene, and exhibit their limbs in the place of the vanished darkness. In golden youth and innocence time and man change in the divine peace of nature, and evermore Aurora comes back more beautiful than before.
Not hate, as the wise say, but love, separates people and fashions the world; and only in its light can we find this and observe it. Only in the answer of its Thou can every I completely feel its endless unity. Then the understanding tries to unfold the inner germ of godlikeness, presses closer and closer to the goal, is full of eagerness to fashion
the soul, as an artist fashions his one beloved masterpiece. In the mysteries of culture the spirit sees the play and the laws of caprice and of life. The statue of Pygmalion moves; a joyous shudder comes over the astonished artist in the consciousness of his own immortality, and, as the eagle bore Ganymede, a divine hope bears him on its mighty pinion up to Olympus.
Part 1 of 2
“When I began the study of German literature, it seemed as if I was entering on a new sphere, where the most striking light was thrown on all that I had before perceived in the most confused manner.”
Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation).
For some time past, little has been read in France except memoirs and novels, and it is not wholly from frivolity, that we are become less capable of more serious reading, but because the events of the revolution have accustomed us to value nothing but the knowledge of men and things. We find in German books, even on the most abstract subjects, that kind of interest which confers their value upon good novels, and which is excited by the knowledge which they teach us of our own hearts. The peculiar character of German literature is to refer everything to an interior existence; and as that is the mystery of mysteries, it awakens an unbounded curiosity.
I will say a few words on what may be considered as the legislation of that empire; I mean criticism. There is no branch of German literature which has been carried to a greater extent, and as in some cities there are more physicians than patients, there are sometimes in Germany more critics than authors. But the analyses of Lessing, who was the creator of style in German prose, are made in such a manner that they may themselves be thought of as works.
Kant, Goethe, J. de Mueller, the greatest German writers of every various kind, have inserted in periodicals of different publications recensions which contain the most profound philosophical theory and positive knowledge. Amongst the younger writers, Schiller and the two Schlegels have shown themselves superior…
The writings of A.W. Schlegel are less abstracted that those of Schiller; as his knowledge of literature is uncommon even in Germany, he is led continually to application by the pleasure which he finds in comparing different languages and different poems with each other; so general a point of view ought to be considered as infallible, if partiality did not sometimes impair it; but this partiality is not of an arbitrary kind, and I will point out both the progress and aim of it; nevertheless as there are subjects in which it is not perceived, it is of those I shall first speak.
W. Schlegel has given a course of dramatic literature in Vienna which comprises everything remarkable that has been composed for the theatre from the time of the Grecians to our days; it is not a barren nomenclature of the works of the various authors. He seizes the spirit of their different sorts of literature, with all the imagination of a poet; we are sensible that to produce such consequences extraordinary studies are required; but learning is not perceived in this work except by his perfect knowledge of the chefs d’oeuvre of composition. In a few pages we reap the labor of a whole life; every opinion formed by the author, every opinion, every epithet given to the writers of whom he speaks, is beautiful and just, concise and animated. W. Schlegel has found the art of treating the finest piece of poetry as so many wonders of nature, and of painting them in lively colors which do not injure the justness of the outline; for we cannot repeat too often that imagination, far from being an enemy to truth, brings it forward more than any other faculty of the mind, and all those who depend upon it as an excuse for indefinite terms or exaggerated expressions, are at least destitute of poetry as of good sense.
An analysis of the principles on which both tragedy and comedy are founded is treated in W. Schlegel’s course of dramatic literature with much depth of philosophy; this kind of merit is often found among the German writers. But Schlegel has no equal in the art of inspiring his own admiration; in general he shows himself attached to a simple taste, sometimes bordering on rusticity, but he deviates from his usual opinions in favor of the opinions of the inhabitants of the south. Their jeux de mots and their concetti are not the objects of his censure; he detests the affectation which owes its existence to the spirit of society, but that which is excited by the luxury of imagination pleases him in poetry as the profusion of colours and perfumes would do in nature. Schlegel, after having acquired a great reputation by his translation of Shakespeare, became equally enamored of Calderon, but with a very different sort of attachment that with which Shakespeare had inspired him; for while the English author is deep and gloomy in his knowledge of the human heart, the Spanish poet gives himself up with pleasure and delight to the beauty of life, to the sincerity of faith, and to all the brilliancy of those virtues which derive their coloring from the sunshine of the soul.
I was at Vienna when W. Schlegel gave his public course of lectures. I expected only good sense and instructions where the object was only to convey information; I was astonished to hear a critic as eloquent as an orator, and who, far from falling upon defects which are the eternal food of mean and little jealousy, sought only the means of reviving a creative genius.
Spanish literature is but little known, and it was the subject of one of the finest passages delivered during the setting at which I attended. W. Schlegel gave us a picture of the chivalrous nation, whose poets were all warriors, and whose warriors were poets. He mentioned that count Ercilla who composed his poem of the Araucana in a tent, as now on the shores of an ocean, now at the foot of the Cordilleras while he made war on those in revolt. Garcilasso, one of the descendants of the Incas, wrote poems on love on the ruins of Carthage, and perished at the siege of Tunis. Cervantes was dangerously wounded at the battle of Lepanto; Lope de Vega escaped by miracle at the defeat of the invincible armada; and Calderon served as an intrepid soldier in the wars of Flanders and Italy.
Religion and war were more frequently united amongst the Spaniards than in any other nation; it was they, who, by perpetual combats drove out the Moors from the bosom of their country, and who may be considered the vanguard of European christendom; they conquered their churches from the Arabians, an act of their worship was a trophy for their arms, and their triumphant religion, sometimes carried to fanaticism, was allied to the sentiment of honour, and gave to their character an impressive dignity. That gravity tinctured with imagination, even that gaiety that loses nothing of what is serious in the warmest affections, shows itself in Spanish literature, which is wholly composed of fictions and poetry, of which religion, love and warlike exploits are constantly the object. It might be said that when the New World was discovered, the treasures of another hemisphere contributed to enrich the imagination as much as the state; and that in the empire of poetry as well as in that of Charles V, the sun never ceased to enlighten the horizon.
All who heard W. Schlegel were much struck with this picture, and the German language, which he spoke with elegance, adding depth of thought and affecting expression to those high-sounding Spanish names, which can never be pronounced without presenting to our imaginations the orange trees of the kingdom of Grenada and the palaces of its Moorish sovereigns.
Wilhelm Schlegel, whom I here mention as the first literary critic of Germany, is the author of a French pamphlet lately published under the title of “Reflections of a Continental System.” This same W. Schlegel printed a few years ago at Paris a comparison the Phaedra of Euripides and that of Racine. It made a great deal of noise among the literary people of that place, but no one could deny that W. Schlegel, though a German, wrote French well enough to be fully competent to the task of criticizing Racine.
We may compare W. Schlegel’s manner of speaking poetry, to that of Winkelmann in describing statues; and it is only by such method of estimating talents, that it is honourable to be a critic: Every artist or professional man can point out inaccuracies which ought to be avoided. but the ability to discover genius and to admire it, is almost equal to the possession of genius itself.
Frederic Schlegel being much involved in philosophical pursuits, devoted himself less exclusively to literature than his brother; yet the piece he wrote on the intellectual culture of the Greeks and the Romans contains in small compass perceptions and conclusions of the first order. F. Schlegel has more originality of genius than almost any other celebrated man in Germany; but far from depending upon that originality, though it promised him much success, he endeavored to assist it by extensive study. It is a great proof of our respect for the human species when we dare not address it from the suggestions of our own minds without having first conscientiously examined into all that has been left to us by our predecessors as an inheritance. The Germans in those acquired treasures of the human mind are true proprietors. Those who depend on their own natural understandings alone are mere sojourners in comparison with them.
To be continued …
August Wilhelm von Schlegel