AN Englishman of letters who, in the eyes of Americans at least, embodies the spirit of Oxford and Cambridge, expressed not long ago certain frank opinions about America. What motive induced him to tell the world what he thinks of us? It could not have been mere excitement over novel experiences. Englishmen of letters no longer write about America in the spirit of explorers. Mr. Lowes Dickinson could hardly have appeared to himself—reflected in the delicate mirror of his mind — as a gentleman adventurer, staring from a peak of Greek culture at our amazing characteristics, and differing from stout Cortez mainly in not being silent. The war had not yet begun; there was no motive for bringing gentle suasion — such as may be implied in any expression of British interest in America — to bear upon our neutrality. The readiest explanation of his writing is that he was prompted by a simple motive: he wrote under the need of saying what was on his mind. This is the very kind of criticism to give ear to. When the human heart must unburden itself of a load, it neither flatters nor detracts; it acts instinctively with no thought of consequences. The mood is a mood of truth. The man who speaks the truth to us is our best friend, and we should always listen to him.
Among other things Mr. Dickinson said, ‘Describe the average Western man and you describe the American; from east to west, from north to south, everywhere and always the same — masterful, aggressive, unscrupulous, egotistic, and at once good-natured and brutal, kind if you do not cross him, ruthless if you do, greedy, ambitious, self-reliant, active for the sake of activity, intelligent and unintellectual, quick-witted and crass, contemptuous of ideas but amorous of devices, valuing nothing but success, recognizing nothing but the actual. . . .
‘The impression America makes on me is that the windows are blocked up. It has become incredible that this continent was colonized by the Pilgrim Fathers. . . . Religion is becoming a department of practical business. The churches — orthodox and unorthodox, old and new, Christian, Christian-Scientific, theosophic, higher-thinking — vie with one another in advertising goods which are all material benefits: “Follow me, and you will get rich,” “ Follow me, and you will get well,” “Follow me, and you will be cheerful, prosperous, successful.” Religion in America is nothing if not practical.
Some Americans do not like this criticism. They protest that the critic has no eye for the essential qualities that render our country dear to us, that he gazes dimly, through a mist of Cambridge traditions, from some spleenproducing point of vision, upon a people spiritually remote from him. Human nature instinctively lays flattering unction to its soul; but there is only one right way to take the faultfinding of an intellectual and highly educated man, and that is to see how much truth there is in his fault-finding and then strive to correct our faults. Most Americans do not care about the opinions of Oxford and Cambridge; they say that we must be a law unto ourselves, and absorb nourishment from the sunshine of our own self-esteem. But others, less robust, do set store by the opinion of scholars bred, for the greater part, upon the recorded mind of the most gifted people that has ever lived in Europe, — upon the books of Homer and Pindar, Tlschylus and Euripides, Plato and Aristotle, and their fellows. It will do us less harm to assume that there is too much truth in what Mr. Dickinson has said of us, than to assume that there is none.
Sixty or seventy years ago, a definite conception of what constitutes the mould of moral and intellectual form upon which men should seek to shape themselves, appeared to be solidly established. That conception was definite and readily accepted because it actually had been embodied in a living man, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Emerson, Lowell, Bayard Taylor, each in his respective way, and all other leaders of thought in America, acknowledged Goethe as the model for man, as an intellectual being, to strive to imitate.
Goethe’s position seemed as secure as Shakespeare’s, Dante’s, or Homer’s. Lower than they in the supreme heights of song, he was more universal. He had composed poetry that in peculiar sweetness rivaled the Elizabethan lyrics and surpassed them in variety and depth of thought; he had written a play judged equal to Hamlet or the Book of Job; he had written romances that rivaled I Promessi Sposi in nice depiction of the soul’s workings, and were as interesting in their delineation of human life as the most romantic of the Waverley Novels. He had been the chief counselor of a sovereign prince and had devised wise policy in a hundred matters of statecraft. His mind had put forth ideas as a tree in springtime puts forth leaves; his speculations had traveled in wide fields of scientific thought; he had divined certain processes concerning the origin of species in a manner that still associates his name with the names of Lamarck and Darwin. He was accoutred with a radiant intelligence, with unmatched cultivation, with wide sympathies; he was free from prejudice to a degree unequaled in our modern world. His intellectual impartiality had inspired a sect of persons with the creed that the home of man is the free mind, and that his country is coterminous with the whole range of truth.
Great as were his feats in literature and in science, his special achievement was the creation of his ideal for the living of life, an ideal that seemed founded on so broad a base that it could but be a question of time and perception for it to be universally acknowledged and adopted. More than any man from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, from Aquinas to Auguste Comte, he seemed to have a true view of the ideal proper for the human spirit.
Goethe’s ideal embraces freedom from the prejudices of home and education, clearness of vision, courage in the teeth of circumstance, an ordered life, a disciplined spirit, an unclouded soul, the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and the disinterested worship of whatever is perfect.
Nobility, order, measure, and the underlying feeling of peace, are primary elements in Goethe’s ideal. These qualities, if there be any remedy anywhere, make the antidote to the evils which, according to Mr. Lowes Dickinson, beset us. They exalt the things of the intellect, and take away temptation to the ‘unscrupulous,’ ‘brutal’ pursuit of material things. And more medicinal than all the others is Goethe’s belief in inward peace. Under the impulsion of instinct, we Americans move to and fro, go up and down, and turn about. We seek satisfaction for our appetites in activity. Goethe lived in the world and was of the world, and yet he sought peace of soul. He sought peace, not to escape from the world, but to gain greater dominion over it. He hoped to obtain greater control over the happenings of life, — greater power to put them to use and to enjoyment, — by penetrating into the deeps of serenity; he desired mastery over self as a means to inward peace, and inward peace as a means to mastery over life.
We have drifted so far from the opinions of Emerson and his contemporaries, and — if Mr. Dickinson is right in his criticisms — we have so completely lost sight of the example set by Goethe, that I will expatiate a little upon what Goethe was, and might still be to us.
For Goethe inward peace was not the final goal, but a stage on the way; or, rather, it was the sustenance of life, the means of right living, the power that should help him become himself, help him grow to his full stature. And the problem of his self-education was how to attain this inward peace. For him, as for all seekers in the Christian past, the conventional way would have been to follow Christian teachings; and there is evidence that Christian teachings touched him, touched him deeply. They stirred him somewhat as Gothic architecture stirred his enthusiasm in youth. But the whole trend of his nature prevented this. To Goethe the mediæval searchings after God were dead hypotheses; the road that led Richard of St. Victor or St. Francis of Assisi to peace, was to him a blind alley. Goethe did not wish to escape from the world, from its perturbations and disquiet. He desired inward peace, as a hero, resolute to fight and conquer, might wish for a shield.
Another path was to follow the precepts of the pagan philosophers, such counsels as the imperial spokesman of ancient Stoicism gives: ‘Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, seashores, and mountains; but this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in a man’s power, whenever he shall choose, to retire into himself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity; and I affirm that tranquillity is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.’
The Stoics wished to retire into their own souls in order that they might come back to the world free from discontent with worldly things; whereas Goethe wished to come back into the world with power to dominate worldly things. He was therefore obliged to devise a path for himself, a path far nearer to the pagan than to the Christian path, but still a new path. Might not a devout man, one who believed that ‘Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil,’ — that ‘the tremulous sense of awe is man’s noblest attribute,’ — attain peace by way of the intellect, by living life in noble completeness? The affirmative answer was the essential thesis of Goethe’s life. He maintained this not so much by what he wrote, as by his conduct. He was no disciple of the mystics; he did not propose to overcome this life of phenomena by passing beyond phenomena, but by comprehending them. He never aspired to spread his wings and fly to Heaven; he kept his feet planted on solid earth. Madame de Staël says: ‘ Goethe ne perd jamais terre, tout en atteignant aux conceptions les plus sublimes ’ — ‘ Goethe never quits the earth, even when reaching up to the most sublime ideas.’ And yet his firm stand upon earth and his concern with things of this world did not tempt him to adopt worldly measures. ‘On diroit qu’il n’est pas atteintpar la vie ’—‘ the things of this world do not seem to touch him.’ These qualities of his that Madame de Staël noted, are signs that the seeker had attained. All, or almost all, testimony concerning Goethe’s presence, his manner, his dignity, is in accord. To Eckermann, who did not see him till he was an old man, he seemed ‘wie einer, der von himmlischem Frieden ganz erfüllt ist ’ — ‘ like a man brimfull of heavenly peace.' All his life he sought knowledge, for, as he believed, knowledge begets understanding, and understanding sympathy, and sympathy brings the spirit into harmony with all things, and harmony engenders peace. Goethe is the great embodiment of the return of the modern mind to the religion of the classic spirit, seeking inward peace, not in an unseen heaven, but in ‘the good ordering of the mind.’
Goethe’s seeking was not the seeking of a man of letters; it was not prompted by the artist’s instinct, not consciously adopted as a means to master his art; it was the seeking of the human spirit for the road to salvation on earth. Take the long series of his works, — poems, plays, novels, criticisms; they reveal no obsessing preoccupation with the attainment of a high serenity of soul. They represent the adventures of his spirit with the multitudinous happenings of human life. But here and there, like light through a chink, flashes out evidence of the direction in which his soul is set.
Nevertheless, the dominance of the idea of inward peace is far more apparent from the story of his life than from his writings. Peace shaped itself in his mind not as a Nirvana, not as a rapt contemplation of God, but as harmony, as a state of inward union, of a right relation to the universe, manifest to men as order, proportion, measure, serenity, and therefore, necessarily, in relation to other men, as benevolence. In this he was powerfully helped by the strong intellectual influence that swept over Germany in his youth, the admiration for classical art taught by Winckelmann and Lessing. Under the teachings of these two men, the stately grandeur of classical sculpture and architecture appeared to be the summit of human attainment, the goal of imitation and effort. He learned that ‘ Das Ideal der Schonheit ist Einfalt und Stitle’ — ’the ideal of beauty is simplicity and repose.’
The theories of Winckelmann and of Lessing fermented in Goethe’s mind, and, when he came to make his famous Italienische Reise, they fairly seethed and boiled. The beauty of repose became his sole idea of beauty. His admiration of the Ludovisi Juno, he says, was his first love-affair in Italy. At Vicenza he stopped in admiration before the Palladian palaces. ‘When we stand face to face with these buildings, then we first realize their great excellence; their bulk and massiveness fill the eye, while the lovely harmony of their proportions, admirable in the advance and recession of perspective, brings peace to the spirit.’ When he went to Assisi, he gave a wide berth to the Basilica of St. Francis, half apprehensive lest its Gothic elements might bring confusion into his thoughts, walked straight to the Temple of Minerva, and enjoyed ‘a spectacle that bestowed peace on both eye and mind.’ Deep in his nature, this preoccupation with what shall bring peace is hard at work.
At bottom Goethe preferred art to life; he preferred to see the doings and passions of men reflected in the artist’s mirror rather than to see them in the actual stuff of existence. Naturally, the prevalent notion concerning the classical world as a world of harmony, of calm, of self-control, found his spirit most sympathetic. At the age of forty, on the return from his Italian travels, he accepted the great pagan tradition in the form that Marcus Aurelius left it: ‘It is in thy power to live free from all compulsion in the greatest tranquillity of mind. ... I affirm that tranquillity is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.’ That to Goethe is the gist of all right thinking about life, and he spent his own long life in the effort to express it in his behavior.
Goethe’s idea of harmony, of beauty, of measure, of right relations with the universe, was, of course, not a mere pagan ideal in the sense which we usually give to the word pagan; it was essentially a religious conception,—religious rather in the Hellenic than in the Hebraic sense, for the pagan element, with its tinge of pride in dominating the untoward in life, is always there. In early life his religious sentiments were profoundly affected by the evangelical traditions of Protestant Germany, which saturated the atmosphere of Frankfort; afterwards they wore a more philosophical hue, but they were always strong enough to counteract the pagan inclination of his mind to rest content at the stage of peace attainable by knowledge and self-control. The problem before him was how to reconcile the transcendental impulses of his spirit with the ideal of a harmonious whole. For the most part, his antiecclesiastical conception of freedom, and the pagan training of his mind, turned him away from current Christianity; he treated it as he treated the Basilica of St. Francis at Assisi, he simply did not go out of his way to look at it. He took much from Spinoza. The potential divinity within him inspired him with reverence. He desired to gain the composure and elevation of soul becoming to a man who is animated by the divine spirit that permeates all nature. From Italy he wrote, ‘I should like to win eternity for my spirit.’ And after his return, he steadily grew more sensitive to the deep current that propels the soul toward the unknown. Gradually he approached, by his own way, the borders of that spiritual region in which Plato puts the soul. Later he hid his face in thick clouds of symbolism; but his mystical inclination — die Erhebung ins Unendliche— never dominated his notion of a complete human being with moral and intellectual nature fashioned on a heroic model, fit, as it were, to be lodged in a body carved by Skopas. He reached the point where he united harmoniously the sense of measure, of beauty, of peace through knowledge, with a tremulous sensitiveness to the possibilities that tenant the vast unknown which surrounds our little kingdom of sense.
To set forth such an ideal as this to the world was Goethe’s self-appointed task. No other man, perhaps, in the whole history of the civilized world, has been so well fitted by nature and education for such a feat. Dante, a greater poet and a greater man, was too emotional, too passionate, ever to care to hold up what to him would have been the intolerable composure of the Stoic spirit. Cervantes, notwithstanding his clear-eyed compassion and his high reverence for the spiritual light in the human soul, was far too lacking in general culture, even to essay the task. Milton was too partisan, too dogmatic; Shakespeare too averse to any idea of teaching men in any way other than by letting his sunshine play on human life. And, in our own day, Tolstoï became too blind to classical beauty and to harmony of the soul, too devoted to traditional Christian ideas, to be capable of any such endeavor.
Goethe’s calm spirit, his loyalty to fact, his habit ‘of standing on the solid earth,’ his practice, as he says, ' Alle Dinge wie sie sind zu sehen,’— ‘ to see all things as they are,’—were to men of a rational way of thinking a guarantee that he would not, upon Dædalian wings, essay a flight of folly and destruction; and his sensitiveness to those vague reactions and movings that stir in the deeps of the human spirit assured men with mystical yearnings that he was not cut off from their fellowship. For him, as well as for them, there is a region — whether it be in man’s soul here and now, or elsewhere — where
Ist nur ein Gleichniss;
Hier wird’s Ereigniss.
Or, as Bayard Taylor translates it:—•
But as symbols are sent;
Here grows to Event.
Here, then, was an ideal which, one would think, should have been a shining light to our world to-day, — the classic spirit embodied in man’s life, manifesting beauty, harmony, measure, self-restraint, accompanied by an open-eyed, unprejudiced outlook on all things old and new, and with all the windows which look toward things divine uncurtained and unshuttered. Why has it fallen?
It may be said that modern life is opposed to such an ideal as Goethe’s; and it may be — as Mr. Dickinson probably thinks — that American nature is too friable a material to endure the carving of Hellenic souls. But, be that as it may, it is apparent that the failure to follow Goethe’s ideal is a universal failure, almost as pitiful in Europe as with us; and the answer to the question, why has this ideal fallen, must be sought in causes that operate in Europe as well as in America.
One can see plainly several forces, good and bad, at work, — among them, science, luxury, the national spirit, the humanitarian movement, and democracy.
Science has drawn into its service a large part of the nobler spirits among men, and inspired them with the narrower doctrine of seeking out the ways of nature. But science, if it has diverted many men who might have followed Goethe’s Hellenic idealism, has in many ways supported his views: it serves truth, if not the whole truth, it encourages in its servitors simplicity of life, it places their rewards largely in the satisfaction of the spirit. On the other hand, science tends to overvalue the inanimate at the expense of life; it encourages the notion that final truth may be weighed, measured, and tested; it lays stress on knowledge for utility’s sake, rather than for the sake of knowledge itself, or, as Goethe would have done, for the increase of sympathy which knowledge brings. By directing attention to the manifold phenomena outside the real self— to heavenly bodies, to the substances of our planet, to plants, germs, fossils, atoms, electrons, and all the phenomena of the sensible universe — and to our minds and bodies as things apart from ourselves, it necessarily belittles the importance of the rounded perfection of self, the importance of equilibrium in the sum of a man’s relations to all things that are and to all things that may be.
Science always concentrates attention on one small portion of life. There is no science of life as a whole; none that teaches us our relations to the universe. Science in itself is an unreal thing, an abstraction; we no longer have science, but sciences. Like the children of Saturn, they have destroyed their father. There are physics, chemistry, botany, astronomy, geology, palæontology, zoölogy, psychology, and many others, all destined to be divided and subdivided, and there will be as many more as there are objects of intellectual curiosity in the universe. The swing of scientific thought is centripetal; each science is a jealous god and will have no other gods share in its worship. The field of attention for each servant of science grows smaller and smaller. It would be as impossible now for a man to be a great poet and a great man of science, like Goethe, as for a man to be familiar with the whole sum of contemporary knowledge, as Dante was. Devotion to science, in this century, is necessarily followed by some such experience as that which Darwin underwent; the meticulous observation of facts blunts all finer sensitiveness to poetry and music. Science means specialization, and dwells on the multiplicity of phenomena; Goethe wished a universal outlook, and was preoccupied with that unity which binds all to all.
Luxury, the application of man’s control over the forces of nature to selfindulgence, sets the centre of gravity for human life in material things. Luxury is the care of our brother, the body, — St. Francis used to call it Brother Ass, — care so assiduous, so elaborated, so refined, that it approaches to worship, and necessarily crowds out the care and solicitude that should be devoted to the soul. ‘Painting the outward walls so costly gay ’ is a far easier art, much more within reach of the successful many, than the decoration of the soul. The organization of modern industry, the multiplication of machinery, by giving more and more to those who have already, strengthens the thews and muscles of luxury. Luxury is headstrong, potent in its dominion over fashion, unscrupulous in imposing its customs and opinions, insolent in trampling down all in its way. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘a materialistic age’; it is the substitution of an easy art for a difficult art, of a gross material, the body, which demands the attention of the gymnast, the masseur, the chiropodist, for a fine material, the soul, which demands the service of the intellect and of the spirit. There is no danger that our Brother the Body will ever be neglected, or that material things will be despised. Goethe was no disciple of our Lady Poverty; but he held that a man’s wealth consists less in what he owns than in what he thinks and in what he is.
National sentiment has had a mighty career in the nineteenth century, witness Italy, Germany, Greece, Bulgaria, Servia, as well as the United States; and has by no means confined itself to political patriotism, witness the attempted revival of the Irish language and of Provengal; but whether patriotism concern a race, a nation, a language, or a cult, it is by its very definition a limitation. The Preacher of universal compassion said, ‘ Whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother.’ Patriotism has its own virtues, but among them is not that of maintaining Goethe’s ideals. Even during Germany’s war of liberation against Napoleon, Goethe was absolutely indifferent to patriotism, at least in its political form. He maintained the position
Ist’s Vaterland —
(there where we love is our country).
Then there is the strong current of humanitarianism, which tends to regard man as an animal with material wants, and spends itself on factory legislation, hygiene, sanitation, and almsgiving. Goethe was not deficient in benevolence toward his fellow men; but he subordinated this interest to his prime concern for completeness, for moulding within the individual a harmonious, beautiful, heroic nature; and since such an ideal for the mass of men is outside the pale of achievement, he did not extend his serious interest to them.
Added to these — and this cause of the failure of Goethe’s ideals has perhaps been more effective in America than elsewhere — stands democracy and all democracy means. Democracy has solid foundations of its own, — just as patriotism, humanitarianism, and science have,— and possesses its own defenders and eulogists. Goethe was not among them. He was an aristocrat: he believed in the government of the best in all departments of human society. The right of the best to dominate, even at the expense of the inferior, was to him axiomatic. Democracy, with its tenderness toward the incompetent multitude, with its ideas of equality and fraternity, with its indifference to quality when quantity is concerned, with its good-humored inefficiency and its vulgar self-satisfactions, was wholly alien to his spirit. He felt no equality or fraternity between himself and the multitude. In democracy the mass of the people possess not merely a voice in the political government, but also a voice in the moral government of the nation, a share in the formation of the ethical, intellectual, sentimental, and ideal character of the people. Goethe would as soon have trusted these supreme interests to Demos, as Don Quixote would have entrusted his knightly honor to Sancho’s keeping. Goethe regarded man primarily as a creature charged with the duty, and endowed with the possibility, of self-perfectioning; but democracy values men according as they possess distinct and special capacities, according as they can do the immediate task needful to be done. Democracy, having many interests of its own, pays little or no heed to matters not congenial to it. Democracy is indifferent to form, because for democracy form and substance have no necessary relation; but to Goethe form and substance were one. Democracy is indifferent to elegance, because elegance is unsuitable to the multitude. Democracy cares little for beauty, because beauty establishes a caste apart.
Democracy neglects art, for art rests upon the privileges of nature, upon the endowment of gifted individuals, upon special sensitiveness and special capacities; art, by its very nature, means achievement by the few, enjoyment by the few. Democracy looks to the achievements and the enjoyments of the many. Aristocracy is the assertion of quality, of rareness of vision, of clearness of conception, of refinement and finish; it lays stress on the unusual, on the beneficent injustice of nature that enables lesser men to have greater men to look up to, and charges the greater men with deep personal responsibility. Democracy tends to belittle reverence, for reverence is devotion to that which is greater than ourselves, and seeks to find an object on which to spend itself. The reverent soul must believe in something greater than itself, whether in the human or the superhuman; it discovers, it unfolds, and, if necessary, imagines, something above itself. But Democracy has a passion for leveling, for reducing all to a common plane, so that no one shall complain that others have more than he, or are better placed. Such, at least, are some of the criticisms which the few pass upon the ideals of the many.
It is the same with the democratic idea of fraternity. What, aristocracy asks, is the worth of brotherhood unless brothers have a goodly heritage to divide? The important thing is to create an inheritance, whether of beauty, of virtue, of glory; then let who can possess it. The two points of view also take issue over the idea of liberty. Democracy too easily abases its conception of liberty to the liberty to eat and sleep, the liberty to lie back and fold one’s arms, the liberty to be active for activity’s sake (as Mr. Dickinson says of us), liberty to do what to one’s self seems good; whereas aristocracy demands self-renunciation for the sake of an ideal, demands discipline, obedience, sacrifice. Democracy tends to set a high value on comfort, on freedom from danger, on ‘ joy in commonalty spread ’; whereas aristocracy asserts the necessity of danger and of pain in the education of man. Democracy values human quantity, aristocracy human quality. Democracy tends to render the intellect subservient to the emotions, while aristocracy tends to put emotion to the service of the intellect.
There are solid grounds on which democracy may be eulogized, — the ground of justice, for example; that was not Mr. Dickinson’s business, nor is it mine; democracy’s main fault consists in its failure to confine itself to economic matters, to politics, to material things, — consists in overflowing its proper limits and touching matters with which it has no proper concern. Goethe had little sympathy with democracy, especially in the violent form which it assumed in his day, in those manifestations that accompanied and followed the French Revolution.
Another influence, springing from science, humanitarianism, and democracy, adds its strength to theirs. Goethe’s ideal for the human spirit, however different from the ideals of democracy, bears no small analogy to the Christian’s ideal of the soul. For the Christian the soul is everything, life is its opportunity, pleasure is a means of acquiring strength by renunciation, grief an aid to mounting higher, earthly losses are spiritual gains; his highest hope is to render his soul as perfect, as beautiful, as fully in accord with celestial harmonies, as may be. In Goethe this ideal was replaced by the ideal of a human spirit that triumphs over the obstacles of life, uses the affections, the passions even, for fuller self-development; that aims at the harmonious fulfillment of all its capacities, and seeks knowledge for the sake of finer communion with deity in nature. The trend of practical religion, under the pressure of humanitarianism, is to regard the devotion that strives to render the soul perfect, as a form of egotism, and a kindred feeling swells the general flood of modern conceptions that have swept away Goethe’s ideals.
It might have been thought that the religious element in Goethe’s ideal would have preserved it, at least in America, from destruction; for we are a religious, or at least, as Mr. Dickinson would say, a superstitious people. Goethe’s attitude concerning the theory that the human spirit tends toward a point of gravity at the centre of our universe, is consonant with permanent human needs; so is his sense of form, of beauty, of dignity. But whether it be the effect of democracy, of a childlike desire for novelty, of an undisciplined impatience with tradition, or of self-confidence in our power to create new forms of religion that shall more fully satisfy our own needs, or whatever the cause, the reasonableness, the conservatism, the restraint, that mark the religious element in Goethe’s ideal, have accomplished nothing to maintain that ideal with us.
So far it would appear that the causes which have combined to overthrow Goet he’s ideals are scarcely more American than European; and that theory is confirmed by the popular attitude toward Goethe’s ideals in Germany, where they seem to have fared no better than elsewhere. The old gods of serenity and beauty, Goethe and Beethoven, have been taken down from their pedestals, and Bismarck and Wagner have been set up in their stead. The ideal of duty toward self has certainly not suffered loss of power, but the self that is the object of duty is a self of dominion, not over fate and inward lack of harmony, but of dominion over other men. The heroic model is no longer that of Phœbus Apollo, but of a sinewed and muscular Thor. Domination, not harmony, is the teaching of the most eminent German of letters since Schopenhauer. It is true that Nietzsche is the greatest upholder of aristocracy since Goethe; but Nietzsche did not care for measure, proportion, harmony, pure beauty. The whole development of Germany, — the most brilliant there has been since that of Italy of the Renaissance,—in energy, in material well-being, in orderliness, in science, in self-confidence, in ambition, has moved far from the conception of full-minded completeness of character, intellect, and spirit, which Goethe taught in confidence that, like light in the dark, like warmth in the cold, such completeness would receive the gratitude and honor of men.
Are we not forced to the conclusion that the Zeitgeist is opposed to Goethe’s ideals, that Mr. Dickinson’s criticism fits democracy and its attendant phenomena rather than America? Is it not democracy rather than America that is ‘contemptuous of ideas, but amorous of devices ’ ? The Latin democratic countries must be excepted, for Latins have a natural gift for form and a special respect for intellectual accomplishment that colors even their democracy; besides, democracy comes to them more naturally than to northern peoples. But if Mr. Dickinson had been traveling in Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, would he not have come to very much the same conclusion?
Our neglect to follow Goethe’s ideal, however, remains our own fault, even if other democratic countries have committed the same fault. We have brought Mr. Dickinson’s criticism on our own heads. We must profit by that criticism, and return to Goethe’s ideal. Some steps to be taken are obvious. First of all we must fully satisfy the democratic desires of the Zeitgeist by making pure democracy prevail in all matters of politics and economics. Then, when democracy shall have received its due, it must no longer seek to lay its hand on literature, art, higher education, pure science, philosophy, manners. And then, — when the mass of men are politically and economically free, — we must preserve the sacred fire of intellectual light by setting apart a priesthood, a body of intellectual men who shall worship the God of truth and him alone. Our professors at Harvard, Yale, and elsewhere constitute, or should constitute, such a priesthood; but the public is not satisfied to have them serve the sacred flame: the public wishes them to apply that sacred flame to furnaces and dynamos. We do need, as Mr. Dickinson implies, intellectual traditions of generations of educated men; those traditions should be taught as a sacred cult; and their priests should be held in special reverence. Those priests should be most honored when they serve intellectual concerns, in which the public sees no profit, such as philosophy and the classics. We do need, as a quickening fountain, in the midst of us, a spirit of reverence for intellectual beauty. Had such a spirit of reverence existed among us, should we have been so exposed to Mr. Lowes Dickinson’s criticisms, and should we now be almost as remote from Goethe as from Dante or Plato?