Category Archives: Friedrich Schlegel

Friedrich Schlegel: “In The Forest”

Excerpt. “The Poetry of Germany, Consisting from Upwards of Seventy of the Most Celebrated Poets.”  Translated into English Verse by Alfred Baskerville.  1853.




Wings of God, ye rustling breezes,

Deep in the cool forest’s night,

Like the hero on his charger,

Springeth thought’s unbounded might.

Like the pine, rocked by the wind,

Roar the surges of the mind.


Lovely is the flame enkindled

By the crimson morning’s breath,

Or that which the earth bedeweth,

Lightning, pregnant oft with death:

Flashing, darting through the sky,

Unto God it seems to fly.


Fountains raise, with magic murmurs,

Flowers on the bed of pain,

Yet do sorrow’s gentle billows,

Temptingly the heart enchain;

Downwards deep the mind is gone,

Through the tempting billows drawn.


Hope, who sleekest life immortal,

Thou, wild struggle with desires,

Teemest with life’s fairest fulness,

When the breath of mind inspires.

We creative breezes feel,

As they o’er the senses steal.


Wings of God, ye rustling breezes,

Deep in the dark forest’s night,

When the reins are freely slackened,

Boundless thoughts resistless might.

Fearlessly amid the wind

Hear the voices of the mind.







Friedrich Schlegel: “Reflection”

Excerpt from “Lucinda” written in 1799 by Friedrich Schlegel. Translated by Paul Bernard Thomas.



It has often struck my mind how extraordinary it is that sensible and dignified people can keep on, with such great seriousness and such never-tiring industry, forever playing the little game in perpetual rotation–a game which is of no use whatever and has no definite object, although it is perhaps the earliest of all games. Then my spirit inquired what Nature, who everywhere thinks so profoundly and employs her cunning in such a large way, and who, instead of talking wittily, behaves wittily, may think of those naïve intimations which refined speakers designate only by their namelessness.And this namelessness itself has an equivocal significance.
The more modest and modern one is, the more fashionable does it become to put an immodest interpretation upon it. For the old gods, on the contrary, all life had a certain classic dignity whereby even the immodest heroic art is rendered lifelike. The mass of such works and the great inventive power displayed in them settles the question of rank and nobility in the realm of mythology. This number and this power are all right, but they are not the highest. Where does the longed-for ideal lie concealed?
Or does the aspiring heart evermore find in the highest of all plastic arts only new manners and never a perfected style? Thinking has a peculiarity of its own in that, next to itself, it loves to think about something which it can think about forever. For that reason the life of the cultured and thinking man is a constant study and meditation on the beautiful riddle of his destiny. He is always defining it in a new way, for just that is his entire destiny, to be defined and to define. Only in the search itself does the human mind discover the secret that it seeks.
But what, then, is it that defines or is defined? Among men it is the nameless. And what is the nameless among women?–The Indefinite.
The Indefinite is more mysterious, but the Definite has greater magic power. The charming confusion of the Indefinite is more romantic, but the noble refinement of the Definite has more of genius. The beauty of the Indefinite is perishable, like the life of the flowers and the everlasting youth of mortal feelings; the energy of the Definite is
transitory, like a genuine storm and genuine inspiration.
Who can measure and compare two things which have endless worth, when both are held together in the real Definiteness, which is intended to fill all gaps and to act as mediator between the male and female individual and infinite humanity?
The Definite and the Indefinite and the entire abundance of their definite and indefinite relations–that is the one and all, the most wonderful and yet the simplest, the simplest and yet the highest. The universe itself is only a toy of the Definite and the Indefinite; and the real definition of the definable is an allegorical miniature of the life and activity of ever-flowing creation.
With everlasting immutable symmetry both strive in different ways to get near to the Infinite and to escape from it. With light but sure advances the Indefinite expands its native wish from the beautiful centre of Finiteness into the boundless. Complete Definiteness, on the other hand, throws itself with a bold leap out of the blissful dream of the infinite will into the limits of the finite deed, and by self-refinement ever increases in magnanimous self-restraint and beautiful self-sufficiency.
In this symmetry is also revealed the incredible humor with which consistent Nature accomplishes her most universal and her most simple antithesis. Even in the most delicate and most artistic organization these comical points of the great All reveal themselves, like a miniature, with roguish significance, and give to all individuality,
which exists only by them and by the seriousness of their play, its final rounding and perfection.
Through this individuality and that allegory the bright ideal of witty sensuality blooms forth from the striving after the Unconditioned.
Now everything is clear! Hence the omnipresence of the nameless, unknown divinity. Nature herself wills the everlasting succession of constantly repeated efforts; and she wills, too, that every individual shall be complete, unique and new in himself–a true image of the supreme, indivisible Individuality. Sinking deeper into this
Individuality, my Reflection took such an individual turn that it presently began to cease and to forget itself.
“What point have all these allusions, which with senseless sense on the outward boundaries of sensuality, or rather in the middle of it, I will not say play, but contend with, each other?”
So you will surely ask, and so the good Juliana would ask, though no doubt in different language.
Dear Beloved! Shall the nosegay contain only demure roses, quiet forget-me-nots, modest violets and other maidenlike and childlike flowers? May it not contain anything and everything that shines strangely in wonderful glory?
Masculine awkwardness is a manifold thing, and rich in blossoms and fruits of all kinds. Let the wonderful plant, which I will not name, have its place. It will serve at least as a foil to the bright-gleaming pomegranate and the yellow oranges. Or should there be, perhaps, instead of this motley abundance, only one perfect flower, which combines all the beauties of the rest and renders their existence superfluous?
I do not apologize for doing what I should rather like to do again,with full confidence in your objective sense for the artistic productions of the awkwardness which, often and not unwillingly, borrows the material for its creations from masculine inspiration.
It is a soft Furioso and a clever Adagio of friendship. You will be able to learn various things from it; that men can hate with as uncommon delicacy as you can love; that they then remold a wrangle, after it is over, into a distinction; and that you may make as many observations about it as pleases you.

Friedrich Schlegel: “Fantasy”

Excerpt from “Lucinda” written in 1799 by Friedrich Schlegel. Translated by Paul Bernard Thomas.


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.

F. Schlegel: “Metamorphoses”

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.


Madame de Staël: On German Literature – The Schlegels

Part 2 of 2
Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation).
After having done justice to the uncommon talents of the two Schlegels, we will now examine in what that partiality consists of which they are accused, and from which it is certain all their writings are not exempt. They are evidently prepossessed in favour of the Middle Ages and the opinions that were then prevalent; chivalry without spot, unbounded faith, and unstudied poetry, appear to them inseparable; and they apply themselves to all that may enable them to direct their minds and understandings of others to the same preference. W. Schlegel expresses his admiration for the Middle Ages in several of his writings, and particularly in two stanzas of which I now will give a translation.
“In those distinguished ages, Europe was sole and undivided, and the soil of that universal country was fruitful in those generous thoughts which are calculated to serve as guides through life and in death. Knighthood converted combatants into brethren in arms: they fought in defense of the same faith; the same love inspired all hearts, and the poetry which sung that alliance expressed the same sentiment in different languages.
Alas! the noble energy of ancient times is lost; our age is the inventor of a narrow-minded wisdom, and what weak men have no ability to conceive is in their eyes only a chimera; surely nothing truly great can succeed if undertaken with a groveling heart. Our times, alas! no longer know either faith or love; how then can hope be expected to remain with them.”
Opinions, whose tendency is so strongly marked, must necessarily affect impartiality of judgment on works of art. Without doubt, as I have continually repeated during the whole course of this work, it is much to be desired that modern literature should be founded on our history and our religion; it does not however follow that the literary productions of the Middle Ages should be considered as absolutely good. The energetic simplicity, the pure and loyal character which is displayed in them interests us warmly; but in the other hand, the knowledge of antiquity and the progress of civilization have given us advantages which are not to be despised. The object is not to trace back the arts to remote times, but to unite as much as we can all the various qualities which have been developed in the human mind at different periods.
The Schlegels have been strongly accused of not doing justice to French literature. There are, however, no writers who have spoken with more enthusiasm of the genius of our troubadours, and of the French chivalry which was unequaled in Europe, when it united in the highest degree, spirit and loyalty, grace and frankness, courage, and gaiety, the most affecting simplicity with the most ingenuous candor. But the German critics affirm that those distinguished traits of the French character were effaced during the course of the reign of Louis XIV. Literature, they say, in ages which are called classical, loses in originality what it gains in correctness. They have attacked our poets, particularly in various ways, and with great strength of argument. The general spirit of those critics is the same with that of Rousseau in his letter against French music. They think they discover in many of our tragedies that kind of pompous affectation, of which Rousseau accuses Lully and Rameau, and they affirm that the same taste which give the preference to Coypel and Boucher in painting, and to the Chevalier Bernini in sculpture, forbids in poetry that rapturous ardour which alone renders it a divine enjoyment; in short, they are tempted to apply to our manner of conceiving and of loving the fine arts the verses so frequently quoted from Corneille:
“Othon a la princesse a fait un compliment.
Plus en homme d’esprit qu’en veritable amant.”
W. Schlegel pays homage, however, to most of our great authors; but what he chiefly endeavors to prove is, that from the middle of the 17th Century, a constrained and affected manner has prevailed throughout Europe , and that this prevalence has made us lose those bold flights of genius which animated both writers and artists in the revival of literature. In the pictures and bas reliefs where Louis X!V is sometimes represented as Jupiter, and sometimes as Hercules, he is naked, or clothed only with the skin of a lion, but always with a great wig on his head. The writers of the new school tell us that this great wig may be applied to the physiognomy of the fine arts in the 17th Century: An affected sort of politeness, derived from factitious greatness, is always to be discovered in them.
It is interesting to examine the subject in this point of view, in spite of the innumerable objections which may be opposed to it. It is, however, certain that these German critics have succeeded in the object aimed at; as, of all writers since Lessing, they have most essentially contributed to discredit the imitation of French literature in Germany. But, from the fear of adopting French taste, they have not sufficiently improved that of their own country, and have often rejected just and striking observations, merely because they had before been made by our writers.
They know not how to make a book in Germany, and scarcely ever adopt that methodical order which classes ideas in the mind of the reader. It is not, therefore, because the French are impatient, but because their judgment is just and accurate, that this defect is so tiresome to them. In German poetry, fictions are not delineated with those strong and precise outlines which ensure the effect, and the uncertainty of the imagination corresponds to the obscurity of the thought. In short, if taste be found wanting in those strange and vulgar pleasantries which constitute what is called comic in some of their works, it is not because they are natural, but because the affectation of energy is at least as ridiculous as that of gracefulness. “I am making myself lively,” said a German as he jumped out a window. When we attempt to make ourselves anything, we are nothing. We should have recourse to the good taste of the French to secure us from the excessive exaggeration of some German authors, as on the other hand we should apply to the solidity and depth of the Germans to guard us from the dogmatic frivolity of some individuals amongst the men of literature of France.
Different nations ought to serve as guides to each other, and all would do wrong to deprive themselves of the information they may mutually receive and impart. There is something very singular in the difference which subsists between nations: the climate, the aspect of nature, the language, the government, and above all the events in history which have in themselves powers more extraordinary than all the others united. All combine to produce those diversities; and no man, however superior he may be, can guess at that which is naturally developed in the mind of him who inhabits another soil and breathes another air. We should do well then, in all foreign countries, to welcome foreign thoughts and foreign sentiments; for hospitality of that sort makes the fortune of him who exercises it.

Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel

Friedrich von Schlegel