THE Italian Renaissance was a revival not only of Greek art, but also of Pagan philosophy, mythology, and religion. The ascetic abstinence in color as in form of the pre-Raphaelite masters was supplanted by a joyous splendor of blooming and throbbing flesh, and the galleries which had once witnessed the pictured transport and ecstatic visions of pale nuns and lank saints now suddenly teemed with the spirited scenes of healthy, sensuous pleasure. And even where the painter adhered to the old themes from the sacred history, a certain profane delight in mere physical beauty invariably betrayed the influence of the Periclean age.
During the reign of Louis XIV. this Pagan Renaissance invaded France, but it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that it reached Germany. Then Winckelmann devoted his noble life to the writing of that great work on the art of the ancients which first opened the eyes of his countrymen to the true significance of the Greek civilization, and thereby completely turned the current of the intellectual life of the Fatherland. In order to complete such a work the author had virtually to emancipate himself from the sentiments and traditions of his own century, and in a measure ignore the long process of evolution through which the world had passed since the days of Phidias and Pericles; and Winckelmann did nothing short of this. In order to make the individual work of art intelligible, be had to reproduce in himself, and through himself in his reader, that sensuous equilibrium which had made its first creation possible, and that ideal simplicity of feeling from which it had sprung. His protest against modern Christianity could not be a conscious one; he could not denounce it, he could only ignore it. Nevertheless the theologians did not fail to notice the antiChristian tendency of his writings, and to decry them accordingly. In the mean while another intellectual giant had caught the spirit of the Renaissance, and now the dissatisfaction which had long been gathering broke out in open warfare. Lessing, although disagreeing with Winckelmann on many unessential points, willingly acknowledged himself his pupil, and the struggle with orthodoxy which the latter had indirectly occasioned, the former bravely fought to the end.
Heine has fittingly characterized Lessing’s life in comparing him to those Jews who returned to Jerusalem under Nehemiah: they brandished the sword with one hand, while with the other they rebuilt the temple of God. It was not Christianity against which Lessing aimed the keen arrows of his wit, but it was bigotry, and more especially bigotry as represented by that arch-prelate, Pastor Götze, in Hamburg. The Protestant clergy of Germany were at that time a kind of self-constituted tribunal, which had assumed to itself the right to censure and, if possible, ostracize from the national literature every production which in spirit or letter was at variance with Lutheran orthodoxy. Accordingly, when Lessing undertook to publish the rationalistic fragments of his deceased friend Reimarus, these watch-dogs of the faith immediately sounded the alarm, and with Götze in their van began those attacks upon “ the free-thinker” which with unwearied zeal they continued to the end of his life. To quote another of Heine’s savings, Lessing slew them, and by deigning to slay them he made them immortal; the rocks which he hurled at them in his so - called antiGotze pamphlets, became their imperishable monuments. Indeed, the athletic stature of his intellect gained him an easy victory in all the literary tilts in which he engaged, and even after his death his country seemed fora long time to be still feeding on the surplus amount of vitality which his vigorous individuality had imparted to it. The intellectual result of his life naturally crystallized itself into certain fixed doctrines and stereotyped phrases, which became the watch-words of a certain clique of men, the well-known party of enlightenment (Aufklärung). The chief of this party, the book-seller Nicolai, in Berlin, who regarded himself as Lessing’s legitimate heir and successor, with a certain comic perseverance and a grand air of authority arraigned before his tribunal the rising authors of the land, thus continuing what he conceived to be the spirit of his master’s criticism. Lessing had been harsh in his judgment of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) school, not even excepting Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen from the general condemnation. Nicolai, perceiving the tendency rather than the degree of merit, therefore persevered in waging war against every incipient literary movement which accorded to emotional strength the prominence which in his opinion belonged only to the rational side of our nature. What had been an unconscious limitation in Lessing’s nature, his incapacity to appreciate a purely lyrical talent, degenerated in Nicolai into a conscious, stubborn antipathy against everything which bordered on emotional vehemence. Opposition and ridicule drove the zealous book-seller into even greater paradoxes. The critical maxims which Lessing had bequeathed to posterity were now no longer new, and by constant repetition and misapplication had begun to pall on the sense of the public. The ancient saws about utility, perspicuity, and morality could now no more cause a sensation, and the people were heartily longing for something new. Lessing had endeavored to establish the supremacy of reason also in matters of religion, and had in his daily life practiced toward others the toleration he claimed for himself. Nicolai and his followers, as is too often the case with men of “ advanced opinions,” forgot in their partisan zeal the tolerance they were themselves preaching, and by their opposition to everything which conflicted with their own utilitarian tendencies for a time exerted a most unwholesome influence upon the literature of the land. Narrowness of vision, a certain crude, intellectual complacency, utter absence of imagination, extreme utilitarianism, and consequent hostility to everything which points beyond this temporal sphere of existence, were the chief characteristics of this “ period of enlightenment.”
It is self-evident that a school which so entirely ignored the emotional nature of man could not for any length of time satisfy so warm-hearted and imaginative a nation as the Germans. Their Gothic character, with all its mystic depths of gloom and passion and pathos, soon reasserted itself, the protests became louder and louder, a strong tide of reaction rolled over the land, and this reaction has found its literary and historic expression In what is commonly known as the Romantic School. Its literary results are so numerous, and its social ramifications so intricate and so curiously entangled, that even a hasty review would be impossible within the brief space which is here allotted us. To those who care for a minute and scholarly exposition of its origin and progress, we warmly recommend the admirable and exhaustive accounts of Julian Schmidt, R. Haegm, and Koberstein. Heine’s essay on Romanticism is a most fascinating book, which is equally remarkable for its epigrammatic brilliancy, its striking originality, and its utter injustice and unreliability. A distinguished Danish critic, G. Brandes, rivals Heine in vividness of style, without being in the same degree liable to the charge of partisanship. Our purpose at present is merely to illustrate the movement in its moral and social bearings, to sketch, as it were en profile, the more prominent features of the Romantic physiognomy, and, by gathering these into an intelligible portrait, convey to the reader an impression of what Romanticism was, or at least what it purported to be.
It was a magnificent array of poets, wits, and philosophers which the year 1798 gathered about the Romantic banner as displayed in the columns of The Athenæum, the first organ of the school. It is noticeable that they were nearly all voung men, all sworn enemies of the Philisterthum (Philistinism), all filled with revolutionary ardor and eager for battle. Their object, as the first number of their journal announces, was to concentrate the rays of culture in one focus, and to reëstablish the eternal synthesis of poetry and philosophy. This, to be sure, is rather vague, and the next manifesto, contained in the second number of The Athenæum, is not much more explicit: —
“ Romantic poetry is progressive and universal. Its aim is not only to reunite all the severed branches of poetic art, and to bring poetry into contact with philosophy; it is also to blend and combine poetry and prose, genius and criticism, the poetry of nature and the poetry of art, make poetry living and social, and life and society poetic. . . . Like an epos it is to be the mirror of all the surrounding world, an image of the age. . . . Only a prophetic criticism would dare to characterize its ideal. It alone is infinite, because it alone is free and recognizes as its first law that the free will of the poet brooks no law above it; that beauty is something apart from truth and morality, and is entitled to equal rights. . . . Like transcendental idealism Romantic poetry — and in a certain sense all poetry ought to be romantic — should in representing outward objects also represent itself. If poetry is to be an art, then the poet must philosophize; in the same degree as poetry is made a science, it also becomes an art.”
This confused document, which defies every effort at a clear and accurate translation, is remarkable as showing that Romanticism was, from its very outset, a conscious and deliberate movement. All the tendencies which during the next decade blossomed into full vigor are here distinctly indicated: rebellion against existing social laws, foreshadowed by the hint about the identification of life and poetry, the sovereignty of genius, and the morbid self - reflection which by coördinating poetry with philosophy makes it a speculative art and thereby kills that warm spontaneity of utterance in which rests the chief strength of the poet. It is needless to say that the author of this bold manifesto, Friedrich Schlegel, although a writer of numerous verses, had never known the divine madness of the Pythian god. Nevertheless he was a man of most extraordinary powers. All the extravagances, as well as many of the nobler qualities, of the rising school found their living embodiment in him. In the scope and reach of his faculties none among his contemporaries, except Goethe, excelled or even equaled him. His mind, thronged with gigantic possibilities and overflowing with a certain vast, chaotic fruitfulness, seems to have resembled an antediluvian landscape: unruly passions like dark reptiles slept in its depths of philosophic contemplation; huge trees and ferns of strange, primeval growth sprung from its soil; but the more delicate flowers of sentiment seem to have been choked by these luxuriant exotics. The description given by his most intimate friend, Schleiermacher, will make the portrait of this youthful Titan complete and intelligible, He possessed, evidently, not only the strength, but also something of the coarseness, of the primeval race. “ He is exceedingly child-like, open-hearted, and joyous; naïve in all his expressions, rather inconsiderate, a mortal enemy of formality as also of drudgery, violent in his wishes and inclinations, and, as children are apt to be, a little suspicious and full of antipathies. . . . What I miss in him is the delicate sense for all the charming trifles of life, and for the finer expressions of beautiful sentiments, which often in little things spontaneously reveal the entire character. As he has a predilection for books with large type, so he also prefers men with large and strong features. What is only tender and beautiful does not appeal to him, because, judging according to the analogy of his own nature, he regards everything as weak, if it is not strong and fiery.”
The society of Berlin, at the time when Schlegel made his appearance there, was divided between numerous conflicting tendencies in morals, philosophy, and religion. On one side there was the sober, utilitarian life of the “ enlighteners,” with whom poetry, religion, and even human passions were recognized only so far as they were useful, and with whom love had been trained to walk meekly and steadily within the prescribed sphere of matrimony; then there was the fashionable circle which gathered around the court, and in which religion possibly was worn as a holiday cloak on ecclesiastical occasions, but at other times abandoned to give place to open licentiousness and coarse unrestraint. Half-way between these lay the society of the Jewish salons, where black-eyed Judiths and Rachels and Rebeccas, radiant with the beauty of their rich, Oriental womanhood, burned incense somewhat indiscriminately to every new candidate for literary laurels. Of course Goethe’s “ magnificent immorality ” no less than the greatness of his genius had long made him the idol of this coterie ; but besides Goethe they also worshiped Engel and Ramler and a dozen other ephemeral phenomena, whose very names have now dropped out of memory. Preëminent in this interesting sisterhood was the beautiful Rahel Levin, whose wealth, genius, and indifference to popular prejudice enabled her to shine upon the social horizon of the capital, and made her the intimate friend and confidante of two generations of literary celebrities. Acuteness of mind coupled with a certain intellectual voracity, enthusiastic defiance of the restraints which society imposes upon her sex, in short all the peculiarities which made her circle so attractive to men of letters, were combined and, as it were, concentrated into a type in her brilliant personality.
A man like Schlegel could not of course remain long in Berlin without drifting into this coterie, and the day when he first was introduced into Rahel’s salon made an epoch in his life. It was here that he met Dorothea Veit, daughter of Lessing’s friend, the famous Moses Mendelssohn, and wife of the Jewish banker, Veit. This Dorothea, whose name, together with that of Rahel, henceforth appears on every page in the annals of the Romantic School, was, to say the least, a woman of the most extraordinary attainments. As a young girl of sixteen she had, according to her father’s wish, married the prosaic banker whose intellectual inferiority to herself, and indifference to literature, art, and all the things which her early training had taught her to worship and revere, must gradually have widened the gulf which already from the beginning separated them. Nevertheless their marriage had for many years preserved an outward show of harmony, and Dorothea was already the mother of two sons when her acquaintance with Schlegel suddenly called to life the slumbering dreams of her youth, and fanned the torpid passion of her nature into full blaze. Here was a man built, as it were, in a larger style than those whom she had been wont to meet; a man, on the wide horizon of whose mind the future dawned with golden promise; a man whose very faults and passions by their intensity assumed the dimensions of grandeur. Schlegel came, saw, and conquered. Never until then had a woman made any lasting impression upon him; he felt convinced that this was the one love of his life; he knew that his love was returned; he was furthermore aware that she was married, which does not seem to have caused him any serious scruples. His inevitable conclusion was that marriage was an irrational, immoral, and objectionable institution, which ought to be abolished. The result was what might have been expected. Veit closed his eyes as long as it was possible, and at last, when he learned that his wife neither asked nor desired his forgiveness, he consented to a separation. “ Rejoice with me,” Schlegel writes to his sister-in-law, “for now my life has a foundation and soil, a centre and a form. Now the most extraordinary things will be accomplished.” In another letter to his brother he describes his beloved in the following manner: “ She is a fine woman of genuine worth; but she is quite simple, and has no thought for anything in the world except love, music, wit, and philosophy, In her arms I have found my youth again, and I can now no more reason it out of my life. . • • Even if I cannot make her happy, I can at least hope that the germ of happiness in her soul will thrive in the sunshine of my love, so that the mists which envelop it may no more be able to hinder its growth.”
It was at this time that the first chapters of that much-praised and muchreviled romance, Lucinde, were written, and if there were not too much proof to the Contrary, we should prefer to believe that the book was a pure fiction, and had not been suggested by the author’s relation to Dorothea. The latter herself declared, when Lucinde was read to her, that “poets tell tales out of school.” It seems almost inconceivable at the present day that a production so chaotic, so wildly extravagant, and so artistically feeble, could have made so much noise in a land and at a time which rejoiced in the living presence of poets like Goethe and Schiller. Lucinde impresses one as a succession of bold leaps; there is a good deal of impetuous vigor displayed in the onset, but when the author is near reaching the height at which he aimed, his strength suddenly fails him, and he collapses and comes down very flat. The story, as such, shows no remarkable originality of invention, but as it contains an abundance of striking thoughts, and moreover has been considered as the most significant social manifesto of the school, it is well worthy of a closer examination.
The pervading sentiment of the book is one of profound contempt for all the prosy realities of life, and for all the senseless rules and laws with which man has imprisoned his spirit, born for freedom. Julius, the hero, like all romantic heroes, is a gentleman of wealth and leisure. He is a dilettante in almost everything, and an artist by inclination but not by profession. His youthful excesses are described at great length; he is forever craving excitement, and when he can find nothing else to do, he feeds as it were on his own vitals, indulges in a sort of psychological vivisection, makes the minutest observations on each of his passing moods, registers the result, reasons over it, and philosophically accounts for it. This is the realization of that “ beautiful self-reflection ” which Schlegel in his first manifesto announced as being the essence of Romantic poetry. It is this same vein which Chateaubriand simultaneously worked with so much success in his René, and which in a somewhat modified shape has found its representative in Byron’s Childe Harold. In fact, it is the prevailing mood of the age, which the poets naturally were the more keenly conscious of, through the greater delicacy and sensitiveness of their mental organism. Goethe had given it expression in Werther, Jean Paul in Roguairol, and Tieck in William Lovell ; and henceforward the Romantic literature teems with dissolute, philosophic, and morbidly contemplative young men and maidens, who, without respect for moral or social obligations, live only to enjoy, and then, when the natural reaction succeeds the intoxication of the senses, strike tragically interesting attitudes before a mental mirror, and make profound observations on themselves in a carefully-kept journal, which the next day they read to an appreciative audience of intimate female friends. This, in brief outline, is the Romantic type, and a glance at the society of the day will easily convince one that the poets are not altogether responsible for its existence. Its most conspicuous features have even found their way into the philosophic systems of the time. What is, for instance, Fichte’s " sovereign I,” which creates the world out of the depths of its own consciousness, but a doctrinal embodiment of the Romantic defiance of law and social order ? Again, no one will mistake the Romantic tendency of his Wissenschaftslehre (Doctrine of Science) when it deals with his favorite theme of self-contemplation. In order to understand the external phenomena of the world, which only exist in their relation to the subject or to his consciousness, he (the subject) must watch the modus operandi of his own mind. As Heine puts it, the thought must listen to itself while it thinks, which reminds one of the monkey which took it into his head to boil his own tail. For, as he reasoned, the most refined art of cookery does not consist in mere objective boiling, but in the subjective consciousness of being boiled.
It is in the portrayal and analysis of these ever-shifting moods that the author of Lucinde has his real forte. Here, for instance, is a piece of characterization which shows the hand of a virtuoso: “ A love without object burned within him (Julius) and consumed his heart. On the slightest provocation the flames of his passion blazed up. . . . His spirit was in a state of Constant ferment; he was always expecting that something extraordinary was going to happen to him. Thus nothing could really have surprised him, and least of all his own destruction. Without any business or aim, he roamed about like a man wbo is anxiously seeking something on which he might risk his whole happiness. Everything excited, but nothing satisfied him. Hence it was that a dissipation only interested him as long as it was untried and unknown; there was as much scorn in his nature as levity. He could preserve his coolness in the midst of a sensual revel, and, as it were, studiously measure the enjoyment; but neither in this nor in the many fanciful studies and occupations, into which he plunged with youthful enthusiasm and a certain voracious hunger for knowledge, did he find that supreme bliss which his heart so vehemently demanded.”
Then, at length, Julius makes the acquaintance of a woman, Lucinde, who, like himself, is an amateur in art, and who shares his contempt for the world with all its emptiness. “ She lived,” says the author, “ not in this commonplace world, but in a world of her own imagining. She, too, had by one daring resolution thrown away all considerations and broken all bonds, and now lived in perfect freedom.”
Now the veil suddenly falls from Julius’s eyes, his art becomes warmer and more animated, and a life of brighter promise dawns before him. Lucinde loves him, and he too, after a fashion, loves her; that is to say, the feeling with which she inspires him affords him a new subject for study. For love, according to Schlegel, is not that sudden, spontaneous flowering of the soul, that impetuous, generous, and self-forgetful emotion which the romancers of all ages have delighted in picturing, but rather an empiric science, a curious medley of sensuality and speculative philosophy, with a slight admixture of real tenderness.
In justice to the author we must remark that in his own life his heart put his intellect to shame. He never wavered in his devotion to the woman who for his sake had braved the judgment of the world, and exchanged a life of ease and luxury for one of vain and aimless wanderings. Their love, in spite of its lawlessness, was its own law, and needed, according to their own testimony, no social statute to shield it; for it rested on the sure foundation of real kinship of soul. It was not until many years after they had joined their fates together, when persecution and want had quelled their revolutionary ardor, that they suffered their union to be sanctioned by the church. Then their social ostracism was at an end, Schlegel obtained a position in Vienna, and Dorothea could again show her face in the company of virtuous matrons.
The book fell like a bombshell into the peaceful circles of Berlin society. An open attack upon the holy institution of marriage and an undisguised avowal of the doctrine of free-love could not fail to arouse the indignation of those whose office it was to guard the public morality. Schlegel was hunted from place to place; in Göttingen the authorities refused him entrance to the city. In Berlin he was notified that, if he attempted to lecture, the police would interfere, and even in the academic halls of the University of Jena, where he disputed for his degree of Ph. D., he was overwhelmed with invective and abuse. No doubt he had the satisfaction of believing himself a martyr for a good cause, and Dorothea, whose enthusiastic faith in his greatness never for a moment flagged, did her best to uphold him in this conviction. To be sure, her womanly instincts were too fine not to make her at times doubt the expedi" ency of Luciade’s publication; in fact, we learn from a letter of hers to Schleiermacher that she rather regretted that her Friedrich had written the book; but if Schleiermacher had ventured to agree with her, we dare say that she would have promptly retracted her opinion. " In regard to Lucinde,” she writes, " I often shudder with cold, and then again burn with shame, to see that which to me was the most secret and the most holy exposed to the view of curious and hostile men. In vain he tries to strengthen me by the thought that you would have been even bolder than he. It is not the boldness which frightens me. Nature celebrates the adoration of the Most High in open temples and over the whole world — but love? ”
In Rahel’s coterie, Lueinde naturally excited the liveliest interest. The tone of this society had always been of the freest, and its members, carried away by the fervor and æsthetic susceptibility of their temperaments, had often strayed beyond what the Philistine world regarded as the boundary - line of female propriety. Their characters had, to begin with, been further removed from prudery than moralists might have deemed desirable; and now came Schlegel with his Lucinde, and the last remnant of the veil of Isis was torn away. Women like Rahel, whose lives and conduct were above reproach, had sudden attacks of artistic depravity, and there was not a thing in heaven or on earth which they blushed to discuss. They were half convinced that Lucinde was destined to revolutionize society and establish a freer relation between the sexes; and for the time being it really seemed as if the prophecy was to be fulfilled. The intellectual women of the day especially showed a great willingness to break the ancient fetters. Sehlegel’s definition of marriage as being “devotion unfettered” was joyfully received. Schleiermacher, then minister of the Charitæ Church in Berlin, cherished a profound admiration for the Jewess, Henriette, the wife of the physician Herz, one of the chief ornaments of Rahel’s circle. Henriette cordially returned his sentiments of affection and regard, and their relation soon ripened into the most intimate friendship. Here, indeed, we find an ideal realization, not of the relation which Lueinde deals with, but of a far higher and nobler one, which the author of Lueinde would have been incapable of comprehending. Henriette, according to the testimony of contemporaries, was a woman of magnificent form and stature, and bore a decided resemblance to one of Titian’s most beautiful heads. Her character was proud, with perhaps a touch of defiance; her impressible yet vigorous mind could grasp and retain the most abstruse ideas; her culture was broad and many-sided; her command of picturesque language, and her dialectic skill, as her published correspondence with Schleiermacher testifies, were truly marvelous. And yet her attitude toward her friend is so womanly! She clothes his abstract speculations in a bodily form, as it were, and imparts to them the warm flush of her own intense and sympathetic nature. No wonder that he who had half-joeosely expressed his desire “ to take a course in womanliness ” became gradually more and more dependent upon her, rejoiced in the intellectual stimulus her society afforded him, and confided to her the most secret thoughts and desires of his heart. Schleiermacher was a singularly pureminded and unsophisticated man, and when ignoble whispers concerning his relation to Henriette began to reach his ears, he showed a sincere surprise, and even attempted to justify himself. Not so with her; she had known from the very beginning what she risked by accepting his friendship, but she had calmly decided that he was worth more to her than the opinion of the world.
The account of their studies, mutual confessions, doubts, and resolutions, preserved in their own correspondence and in that of their friends, giving us a glimpse of two beautiful and original characters, is one of the most fascinating chapters which the history of the Romantic School has to show. The only doubt which harasses us, the only question which remains unanswered, is how Dr. Hertz bore this seeming neglect of himself, and whether he sanctioned his wife’s intimacy with the æsthetic clergyman. But there was revolution in the air, and it was rather the fashion to shock one’s fellow-men; so Dr. Hertz, knowing his own inferiority to his wife, probably accepted the inevitable.
That Sehleiermacher himself, however, was occasionally in the dark regarding the nature of his feelings toward Henriette, the following extractfrom a letter to his sister, in spite of its confident tone, sufficiently proves: “You are afraid of relations of tenderness and intimacy with persons of the other sex, and no doubt you are right; to keep watch over myself is my constant endeavor; I call myself to account for the most trifling thing. I belong to Henriette’s existence; passion will ever be excluded from our friendship, for it has already endured the most decisive tests. It is deeply implanted in my nature that I can become more closely attached to women than to men; for there is so much in me which only a woman can understand. I must, then, if I will not renounce a true friendship, remain standing on this otherwise dangerous point. In regard to what you write about the appearance, I have my own principles on that subject; I believe, that it is plainly a part of my office to despise it. It is my simple duty.”
In another letter he makes the discovery that, if he could have married Henriette, it would have been neatly an ideal marriage; the only objection, aside from the fact that it is an impossibility, is that their wedded life would have been rather too harmonious.
It is difficult to decide whether it was Sehleiermachers desire to justify himself in the eyes of the world, or a disinterested friendship for Schlcgel, which induced him to enter the lists and break a lance in defense of Lucinde. At all events, considering his social position as preacher of the gospel in the Prussian capital, it was a most audacious thing for him to do. In his confidential letters on Lucinde, addressed to three female friends, in one of whom the public recognized his Henriette, he boldly attacks the prudish insincerity of the age, which took a secret delight in the lascivious romances of Wieland, and gloated over the coarse platitudes of Lafontaine,1 while it cried out in virtuous horror at the immorality of Schlcgel, who, dealing with essentially the same thing, had the courage to call it by its rightname.
We might select a dozen more instances from the private and public life of the Romanticists, showing that the school in its early rebellion against the prejudices of society went to the opposite extreme, and methodically arranged as a new system of ethics what had hitherto been regarded as an abnormal phase of human intercourse. Amid a great deal of youthful folly, amid a great deal that was accidental, extravagant, and purely personal, there was also sufficient talent, earnestness, and justice on the side of the reformers to insure a certain degree of success, and a sufficient amount of immorality, hollowness, and irreligion among the adherents of the old to justify the rebellion. Schlcgel, who, like many another young man, mistook his own personal peculiarities for universal laws, and the momentary cravings of his heart for the voice of humanity, was unfortunately during this period the spokesman and, to the eyes of the world, the public representative of Romanticism. His mind, having a peculiarly colossal structure of its own, was so constituted that even the simplest truism, as soon as he attempted to utter it, assumed the shape of a paradox. It was in the nature of the ease, then, that when he defended a proposition which in itself closely bordered on the paradoxical, it assumed the most monstrous dimensions, and frightened even those who were half inclined to agree with him. In his glorification of the ϵ́ταίραι, “the free women of Greece,” the Romantic paradox of marriage culminated.
“ All marriages,” he writes, “ are nothing but concubinages, morganatic marriages, or, rather, provisional attempts at marriage. . . . The domestic man clings to the hearth where he gets his food; gradually, as he ripens, he begins to strike root like a plant, and renounces the foolisli wish to move about according to pleasure, until at length he becomes a fossil. Man in his civic aspect is a machine, . . . the individual as the whole multitude. He feeds, marries, grows old, and leaves children behind him, and so on in infinitum. To live merely for the sake of living is the real source of all vulgarity. . . . According to the idea of the ancients, the nobility of human nature should prevail in man as well as in woman. The character of the race should be predominant over the diverging qualities of the sexes. In modern society the very opposite is the case. We can never represent a woman sufficiently weak and womanly, and we take it for granted that she must be so. This view has the most injurious effect upon those artistic representations which are meant to be ideal. We include in our idea of woman features which are merely derived from experience. ... In Athens, where the public judgment was equally far removed from silly prudery and from lawless indifference, where only what was evil was improper, where there were none of those prejudices which with barbarians take the place of moral feeling, there the wisest man of his age (Socrates) could engage in conversation with a frivolous priestess of joy. . . . This peculiar position of woman in Greece is justified by the endeavor to refine manhood as well as womanhood into the higher unit of humanity (Memchlichkeit). . . . What we moderns call womanliness is nothing but a total lack of character. The Greeks made the mistake of placing their ideal, cultivated, free women outside of the social order of morality; we moderns make a far greater mistake in altogether separating ideality and all kindred qualities from our idea of woman.”
Some later essays on similar subjects are openly addressed to Dorothea, and in these the author brings his heaviest artillery into the field. But we must forbear to quote, especially as we do not wish to take the responsibility of deciding whether Schlegel, in his last conclusions, was really in earnest. He ends with asking whether, as an experiment, a marriage en quatre would not be a good thing. Here the paradox indeed reaches the dangerous point where it threatens to topple over and crush its own foundation.
In reviewing the incidents of this curious drama we are repeatedly struck with its resemblance to one branch of the so-called “woman’s rights” movement of our own day. If in their fight for the civil equality of the sexes Schlegel and Schleiermacher did not demand the rights of suffrage for women, it was only because it was a right to which, according to Prussian law, they were not themselves entitled. Whatever may have been the causes of their failure, it certainly was not lack of genius, earnestness, or dialectic skill; they have anticipated many of the chief arguments of some among our own revolutionary ladies, and have besides constructed many plausible theories which, mutatis mutandis, might find an apt application at the present day. Certain of our reformers might, indeed, read a most instructive lesson from the history of these Romantic enthusiasts.
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.
- A popular German novelist; not the Frenchman of the same name.↩