Manual The Aesthetics of Grace: Philosophy, Art, and Nature (American University Studies)

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In these letters Schiller spoke out the mildest and highest sentiments on art, and in his paper on Simple and Sentimental Poetry he constructs the ideal of the perfect poet. This is by far the most fruitful of Schiller's essays in its results. It has much that is practically applicable, and contains a very able estimate of German poetry.

The writing is also very pointed and telling, because it is based upon actual perceptions, and it is interesting because the contrast drawn out throughout it between the simple and the sentimental has been referred to his own contrast with Goethe.

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He also wished to vindicate modern poetry, which Goethe seemed to wish to sacrifice to the antique. The sentimental poetry is the fruit of quiet and retirement; simple poetry the child of life. One is a favor of nature; the sentimental depends on itself, the simple on the world of experience.

The sentimental is in danger of extending the limits of human nature too far, of being too ideal, too mystical. Neither character exhausts the ideal of humanity, but the intimate union of both.

Both are founded in human nature; the contradictions lying at their basis, when cleared in thought from the poetical faculty, are realism and idealism. These also are sides of human nature, which, when unconnected, bring forth disastrous results. Their opposition is as old as the beginning of culture, and till its end can hardly be set aside, save in the individual.

The idealist is a nobler but a far less perfect being; the realist appears far less noble, but is more perfect, for the noble lies in the proof of a great capacity, but the perfect in the general attitude of the whole and in the real facts. On the whole it may be said, taking a survey of these labors, that if Schiller had developed his ideas systematically and the unity of his intuition of the world, which were present in his feelings, and if he had based them scientifically, a new epoch in philosophy might have been anticipated.

For he had obtained a view of such a future field of thought with the deep clairvoyance of his genius. A few words may be desirable on Schiller's religious standpoint, especially in connection with his philosophical letters. Schiller came up ten years later than Goethe, and concluded the cyclus of genius that Goethe had inaugurated.

But as he was the last arrival of that productive period of tempestuous agitation, he retained more of its elements in his later life and poetry than any others who had passed through earlier agitations, such as Goethe.

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For Goethe cast himself free in a great measure from the early intoxication of his youthful imagination, devoting himself partly to nobler matter and partly to purer forms. Schiller derived from the stormy times of his youth his direction to the ideal, to the hostility against the narrow spirit of civil relations, and to all given conditions of society in general.

He derived from it his disposition, not to let himself be moulded by matter, but to place his own creative and determining impress on matter, not so much to grasp reality poetically and represent it poetically as to cast ideas into reality, a disposition for lively representation and strong oratorical coloring. All this he derived from the genial period, though later on somewhat modified, and carried it over into his whole life and poetry; and for this very reason he is not only together with Goethe, but before Goethe, the favorite poet of the nation, and especially with that part of the nation which sympathizes with him in the choice of poetic material and in his mode of feeling.

Gervinus remarks that Schiller had at Weimar long fallen off from Christianity, and occupied his mind tranquilly for a time with the views of Spinoza realistic pantheism. Like Herder and Goethe, he viewed life in its great entirety and sacrificed the individual to the species. Accordingly, through the gods of Greece, he fell out with strict, orthodox Christians. But Schiller had deeply religious and even Christian elements, as became a German and a Kantian.

He receives the Godhead in His will, and He descends from His throne, He dwells in his soul; the poet sees divine revelations, and as a seer announces them to man. He is a moral educator of his people, who utters the tones of life in his poetry from youth upwards. Philosophy was not disclosed to Plato in the highest and purest thought, nor is poetry to Schiller merely an artificial edifice in the harmony of speech; philosophy and poetry are to both a vibration of love in the soul upwards to God, a liberation from the bonds of sense, a purification of man, a moral art.

On this reposes the religious consecration of the Platonic spirit and of that of Schiller. Issuing from the philosophical school of Kant, and imbued with the antagonism of the age against constituted authorities, it is natural that Schiller should be a rationalist in his religious views.

It has been justly said of him that while Goethe's system was an apotheosis of nature Schiller's was an apotheosis of man. Historically he was not prepared enough to test and search the question of evidence as applied to divine things handed down by testimony, and his Kantian coloring naturally disposed him to include all religions within the limits of pure reason, and to seek it rather in the subject than in anything objective. In conclusion, we may attempt to classify and give Schiller his place in the progress of the world's literary history. Progress is no doubt a law of the individual, of nations, and of the whole race.

To grow in perfection, to exist in some sort at a higher degree, is the task imposed by God on man, the continuation of the very work of God, the complement of creation.

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But this moral growth, this need of increase, may, like all the forces of nature, yield to a greater force; it is an impulsion rather than a necessity; it solicits and does not constrain. A thousand obstacles stay its development in individuals and in societies; moral liberty may retard or accelerate its effects. Progress is therefore a law which cannot be abrogated, but which is not invariably obeyed. Nevertheless, in proportion to the increase of the mass of individuals, the caprices of chance and of liberty neutralize each other to allow the providential action that presides over our destinies to prevail.

Looking at the same total of the life of the world, humanity undoubtedly advances: there are in our time fewer moral miseries, fewer physical miseries, than were known in the past. Consequently art and literature, which express the different states of society, must share in some degree in this progressive march. But there are two things in literary work: on the one hand the ideas and social manners which it expresses, on the other the intelligence, the feeling, the imagination of the writer who becomes its interpreter.

While the former of these elements tends incessantly to a greater perfection, the latter is subject to all the hazards of individual genius. Accordingly the progressive literature is only in the inspiration, and so to speak in the matter; it may and must therefore not be continuous in form. But more than this: in very advanced societies the very grandeur of ideas, the abundance of models, the satiety of the public render the task of the artist more and more difficult. The artist himself has no longer the enthusiasm of the first ages, the youth of imagination and of the heart; he is an old man whose riches have increased, but who enjoys his wealth less.

If all the epochs of literature are considered as a whole it will be seen that they succeed each other in a constant order. After the period when the idea and the form combined in a harmonious manner comes another where the social idea is superabundant, and destroys the literary form of the preceding epoch.

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The middle ages introduced spiritualism in art; before this new idea the smiling untruths of Greek poetry fled away frightened. The classical form so beautiful, so pure, cannot contain high Catholic thought. A new art is formed; on this side the Alps it does not reach the maturity that produces masterpieces. But at that time all Europe was one fatherland; Italy completes what is lacking in France and elsewhere. The renaissance introduces new ideas into civilization; it resuscitates the traditions of antique science and seeks to unite them to the truths of Christianity.

The art of the middle ages, as a vessel of too limited capacity, is broken by the new flood poured into it. These different ideas are stirred up and in conflict in the sixteenth century; they became co-ordinate and attain to an admirable expression in the following age. In the eighteenth century there is a new invasion of ideas; all is examined and questioned; religion, government, society, all becomes a matter of discussion for the school called philosophical. Poetry appeared dying out, history drying up, till a truer spirit was breathed into the literary atmosphere by the criticism of Lessing, the philosophy of Kant, and the poetry of Klopstock.

It was at this transition period that Schiller appeared, retaining throughout his literary career much of the revolutionary and convulsive spirit of his early days, and faithfully reflecting much of the dominant German philosophy of his time. The literary result of its effects is the renaissance of lyrical poetry with an admirable development in history. Schiller's most brilliant works were in the former walk, his histories have inferior merit, and his philosophical writings bespeak a deep thinking nature with great originality of conception, such as naturally results from a combination of high poetic inspiration with much intellectual power.

Schiller, like all great men of genius, was a representative man of his country and of his age. A German, a Protestant free-thinker, a worshipper of the classical, he was the expression of these aspects of national and general thought. The religious reformation was the work of the North.

The instinct of races came in it to complicate the questions of dogmas. The awakening of individual nationalities was one of the characters of the epoch. The nations compressed in the severe unity of the Middle Ages escaped in the Reformation from the uniform mould that had long enveloped them, and tended to that other unity, still very distant, which must spring from the spontaneous view of the same truth by all men, result from the free and original development of each nation, and, as in a vast concert, unite harmonious dissonances.

Europe, without being conscious of its aim, seized greedily at the means—insurrection; the only thought was to overthrow, without yet thinking of a reconstruction. The sixteenth century was the vanguard of the eighteenth. At all times the North had fretted under the antipathetic yoke of the South. Under the Romans, Germany, though frequently conquered, had never been subdued. She had invaded the Empire and determined its fall. In the Middle Ages the struggle had continued; not only instincts, but ideas, were in conflict; force and spirit, violence and polity, feudalism and the Catholic hierarchy, hereditary and elective forms, represented the opposition of two races.

In the sixteenth century the schism long anticipated took place. The Catholic dogma had hitherto triumphed over all outbreaks— over Arnaldo of Brescia, the Waldenses, and Wickliffe. But Luther appeared, and the work was accomplished: Catholic unity was broken. And this breaking with authority went on fermenting in the nations till its last great outburst at the French Revolution; and Schiller was born at this convulsive period, and bears strong traces of his parentage in his anti-dogmatic spirit.

Yet there is another side to Germanism which is prone to the ideal and the mystical, and bears still the trace of those lovely legends of mediaeval growth to which we have adverted.

For Christianity was not a foreign and antagonistic importation in Germany; rather, the German character obtained its completeness through Christianity. The German found himself again in the Church of Christ, only raised, transfigured, and sanctified. The apostolic representation of the Church as the bride of Christ has found its fullest and truest correspondence in that of Germany. Hence when the German spirit was thoroughly espoused to the Christian spirit, we find that character of love, tenderness, and depth so characteristic of the early classics of German poetry, and reappearing in glorious afterglow in the second classics, in Klopstock, Herder, and, above all, Schiller.