Friedrich Schiller.

Aesthetical & philosophical essays. Tr. from the German.. online

. (page 27 of 42)
Online LibraryFriedrich SchillerAesthetical & philosophical essays. Tr. from the German.. → online text (page 27 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

would 3^et deserve our esteem and admiration if we could
believe it was real simplicity ; that is, that Adrian, without
fear of consequences, had made such an avowal, moved by
his natural sincerity, and that he would have persisted in
acting thus, though he had understood all the drift of liis
clumsiness. Unhappily we have some reason to believe
that he did not consider his conduct as altogether im-
politic, and that in his candor he went so far as to flatter
himself that he had served veiy usefully the interests of
his church by his indulgence to his adversaries. He did
not even imagine that he ought to act thus in his quality
as an honest man ; he thought also as a pope to be able to
justify himself, and forgetting that the most artificial of
structures could only be supported by continuing to denj*
the truth, he committed the unpardonable fault of having
recourse to means of safet}', excellent perhaps, in a natural
situation, but here applied to entirely contrary circum-
stances. This necessaril}'^ modifies our judgment very
much, and although we cannot refuse our esteem for the
honest}' of heart in which the act originates, this esteem
is greatly lessened when we reflect that nature on this
occasion was too easily mistress of art, and that the heart
too easily overruled the head.

\ True genius is of necessit}' simple, or it is not gejiius. \/\
f Simplicity alone gives it this character, and it cannot \
I belie in the moral order what it is in the intellectual

. ( and lesthetical order. It does not know those rules, the
crutclies of feebleness, those pedagogues which prop up

r »

Digitized by



slippery spirits ; it is only guided hy nature and instinct,
its guardian angel ; it walks with a firm, calm step across
all the snares of false taste, snares in which the man
without genius, if he have not the prudence to avoid them
the moment he detects them, remains infallibly imbedded.
It is therefore the part only of genius to issije from the
known without ceasing to be at home, or to enlarge the
circle of nature without overstepping it. It does indeed
sometimes happen that a great genius oversteps it ; but
only because geniuses have their moments of frenzy, when
nature, their protector, abandons them, because the force
of example impels them, or because the corrupt taste of
their age leads them astray.

The most intricate problems must be solved by genius i"^
with simplicit;^% without pretension^ with„ease t.the egg of i
Christopher Columbus is the emblem of all the discoveries
of genius. It only justifies its character as genius by
triumphing through simplicity over all the complications
of art. It does not proceed according to knowa principles,! ^
but by feelings "and inspiration ; the sallies of genius^ v
are the inspirations of a God (all that healthj' nature pro-i -
duces is divine) ; its feelings are laws for all time, for all ^
human generations.

This childlike character imprinted by genius on its
works is also shown by it in its private life and manners. "-
It is modesty because nature is always so ; but it is not
decent^ because corruption alone is decent. It is mtelligent^ ^
because nature cannot lack intelligence; but it is not
cunning^ because art only can be cunning. It is faithful
to its character and inclinations, but this is not so much
because it has principles as because nature, notwith-
standing all its oscillati6ns, always returns to its equili-
brium, and brings back the same wants. It is modest
and even timid, because genius remains always a secret
to itself ; but it is not anxious, because it does not know
the dangers of the road in which it walks. We know
little of the private life of the greatest geniuses ; but
the little that we know of it — what, tradition has pre-
served, for example, of Sophocles,^f Archimedes, 6f
Hippocrates, and in modern times of Ariosto, of Dante,
of Tasso, of Raphael, of Albert Dtlrer, of Cervantes, of

Digitized by



Shakespeare, of Fielding, of Sterne, etc. — confinns this

Nay, more ; though this admission seems more difficult
to support, even the greatest philosophers and great com-
manders, if great by their genius, have simplicitj' in their
character. Among the ancients I need only name Julius
Caesar and Epaminondas ; among the moderns Henry IV.
in France, Gustavus Adolphus in Sweden, and the Czar
Peter the Great. The Duke of Marlborough, Turenne,
and Vendome all present this character. With regard to|
the other sex, nature proposes to it simplicity of character
as the supreme perfection to which it should reach. Ac-1
cordingly, the love of pleasing in women strives after
nothing so much as the appearaace of simplicity ; a suf-
ficient proof, if it were the only one, that the greatest
power of the sex reposes in this quality. But, as the
principles that prevail in the education of women are
perpetually struggling with this character, it is as ^ffi-
cult for them in the moral order to reconcflc^^ismag-
^ nificent gift of nature with the advantages of_a_good
education as it Is difficult for men to preserve them
unchanged in the intellectual order : and the woman who
knows how to join a knowledge of the world to this sort
of simplicity in manners is as deserving of respect as a
scholar who joins to the strictness of scholastic rules the
freedom and originality of thought.
/ Simplicity in our mode of thinking brings with it of |
I necessity simplicity in our mode of expression, simplicity'
^ in terms as well as movement ; and it is in this that grace 1
especially consists. Genius expresses its most sublime and
its deepest thoughts with thisjsimple grace ; they are the
divine oracles that issue from the lips of a child ; while
the scholastic spirit, always anxious to avoid error, tor-
tures all its words, all its ideas, and makes them pass
through the crucible of grammar and logic, hard and rigid,
in order to keep from vagueness, and uses few words in
order not to say too much, enervates and blunts thought
in order not to wound the reader who is not on his guard —
genius gives to its expression, with a single and happy
stroke of the brush, a precise, firm, and yet perfectly free
form. In the case of grammar and logic, the sign and the

Digitized by



thing signified are always heterogenous and strangers to
each other : with genius, on the contrary, t he expressio n \/
^gushes forth spontaneously from the idea, thfijanguage \
and the" thougM"^ are^on"e "and_thQ.§aiqe ; so that even
though^the**eXprejpifesion thus giv^s it a body the spirit
appears as if disclosed in a nude state. This fashion of
expression, when the sign disappears entirely in the thing
signified, when the tongue, so to speak, leaves the thought
it translates naked, whilst the other mode of expression
cannot represent thought without veihng it at the same
time : this is what is called originality and inspiration in

This freedom ^ t^!? nfttnrg,] pr^ojp hy which genius ex-i
presses itself in works of intellect, is also the expression ' '"'
of the innocence of heart in Jhe intercourse of life.' Every
onB^hows'that in the world men ^have departed from
simplicit}^ from the rigorous veracity of language, in
the same proportion as they have lost the simplicity of
feelings. The guilty conscience easily wounded, the
imagination easily seduced, made an anxious decency
necessary. Without teUing what is false, people often \
speak differently from what they think; we are obliged .X
to make circumfocutions to say • certain things, which
however, can never afldict any but a sickly self-love, and
that have no danger except for a depraved imagination.
The ignorance of these laws of propriety (conventional
laws), coupled with a natural sincerity which despises all
kinds of bias and all appearance of falsity (sincerity I
mean, not coarseness, for coarseness dispenses with forms
because it is hampered), gives rise in the intercourse of life
to a simplir^ity of PYpression that.consists.ia -naming thing^s
by their proper nam e without circumlocutloa*. This is
done because we do not venture to designate them as they
are, or only to do so by artificial means. The ordinary
expressions of children are of this kind. They make us v/
smile because they are in opposition to received manners ;
but men would always agree in the bottom of their hearts
that the child is rights

It is true that simplicity of feeling cannot properl}^ be
attributed to the child any more than to the man, — that
is, to a being not absolutely subject to nature, though there

Digitized by





is still no simplicity, except on the condition that it is pure
nature that acts through him. But b}' an effort of the
imagination, which likes to poetise things, we often carry
over these attributes of a rational being to beings destitute
of reason. It is thus that, on seeing an animal, a land-
scape, a building, and nature in general, from opposition
to what is arbitrar}" and fantastic in the conceptions of
man , we often attribute to them a simple character. But ^
that implies always that in our thought we attribute a

J will to these things that have none, and that we are
struck to see it directed rigorously accordmg to the- laws
of necessity. Discontented as we are that we have ill em-
plo^'ed our own moral freedom, and that we no longer find
moral harmony in our conduct, we are easily led to a
certain disposition of mind, in which we willingl}' address
ourselves to a being destitute of reason, as if it were a
person. And we readily view it as if it had reallj' had to
struggle against the temptation of acting otherwise, and
proceed to make a merit of its eternal uniforrait}^ and to
env}' its peaceable constancy. We are quite disposed to
consider in those moments reason, this prerogative of the
human race, as a pernicious gift and as an evil ; we feel so
vividl}^ all that is imperfect in our conduct that we forget

^ to be just to our destin}^ and to our aptitudes.

We see, then, in nature, destitute of reason, onl}' a sister
who, more fortunate than ourselves, has remained under
the maternal roof, while in the intoxication of our free-
dom we have fled from it to throw ourselves into a stranger
world. We regret this place of safety, we eamestlj^ long to
come back to it as soon as we have begun to feel the bitter
side of civilization, and in the totally artificial life in which
we are exiled we hear in deep emotion the voice of our
mother. While we were still only children of nature we i

/ were happy, we were perfect : we have become free, and
we have lost both advantages. Hence a twofold and very
unequal IpnglogjiML nature-; 4he -longing fer happiness-aad
the longing for the perfection that prevails there. Man,
ITS" a sensuous being, deplores sensibly the .^loss of the
former of these goods ; it is onl}- the moral xnan whdcan
be afflicted at the loss of the other.

Therefore, let the man with a sensible heart and a loving

Digitized by




nature question himself closel}'. Isit^^ourindoleDiJe that
lon gs for its rej^Qse^ or 3'our wounded m<H«l sense that longs
for its harmony? Ask yourself well, when, disgust^
withThe artifices, offended by the abuses that 3'ou discover
in social life, you feel yourself attracted towards inanimate
nature, in the midst of solitude ask yourself what impels
3'ou to fly the world. Is it the privation from which you
suffer, its loads, its troubles ? or is it the moral anarch}',
the caprice, the disorder that prevail there? Your heart
ought to plunge into these troubles with joy, and to find
in them the compensation in the liberty of which they are
the consequence. You can, I admit, propose as 3'our aim,
in a distant future, the calm and the happiness of nature ;
but only that sort of happiness which is the reward of
your dignity. Thus, then, let there be no more complaint
about the loads of life, the inequalit}' of conditions, or
the hampering of social relations, or the uncertaintj- of
possession, ingratitude, oppression, and persecution. You
must submit to all th ese ev ils of .Qiyili^tipnjvith a free
resignation,; it is the natural condition of good, pur excel-
tence^ of the on\y good, and you ought to respect it under
this head. In all these evils 30U ought onl}' to deplore
what is niqr^lly eml in them, and you must do so not
with coward I3' tears onl}'. Rather watch to remain pure
3'ourself in the midst of these impurities, free amidst tl»;i8
slaver3', constant with 3'ourself in the midst of these Cf^pri-
cious changes, a faithful observer of the law amidsV this
anarch3'. B§ not frightened at the disorder that \sJ. Hrith-|
out 3'Ou, Ijut^afflie disorder which is within ; ag^e after
unit3', but seek it not in uniformity; aspipe after repose,!
But through equilibrium, and not b};- suspending the\
action of 3'our faculties. This nature /Which you env3' in
the being destitute of reason deserves yno esteem : it is not
worth a wish. You have passed bfej-ond it; it ought to
^3main for ever behind 3^ou. Tti^adder that carried you
having given wa3' under your fdot, the only thing for you
to do is to seize again on tlie ni^iral law freely, with a free
consciousness, a free will, or dlse to roll down, hopeless of
safety, into a bottomless abyps.

But when 3'ou have consol(5d yourself for having lost the
happiness of nature, let its Ayerfection be a model to your /

Digitized by





heart. If you can issue from the circle in which art keeps
iyou enclosed and find nature again, if it shows itself to you
lin its greatness and in its calm, in its simple beauty^ in its
jchildlike^n'nocence and simplicit3% oh ! then pause before
jitslmage, cultivate this' feeling lovingly. It is worthy of
you, and of what is noblest in man. Let it no more come
into your mind to change with it ; rather embrace it,
absorb it into your being, and tr}^ to associate the infinite
advantage it has over you with that infinite prerogative
that is peculiar to 3'ou, and let the divine issue from this
sublime union. Let nature breathe around you like a
lovely idyl^ where far from artifice and its wanderings you
may always find yourself again, where you may go to draw
fresh courage, a new confidence, to resume your course,
and kindle again in 3'our heart the flame of the ideals so
readily extinguished amidst the tempests of life.

If we think of that beautiful nature which surrounded
the ancient Greeks^ if we remember how intimately that
people, under its blessed sky, could live with that fre«
nature ; how their mode of imagining, and of feeling, andl
their manners, approached far nearer than ours to the sim-\
plicity of nature, how faithfull}' the works of their poets \
express this ; we must necessarily remark, as a strange \
-fact, that so few traces are met among them of that senti- \_
n^i!mtal interest that we moderns ever take in the scenes of
liHu^e and in natural characters. I admit that the Greeks
are suiperiorl}^ exact and faithful in their descriptions of
nature\ They reproduce their details with care, but we
see thai'^i^y take no more interest in them and more heart
in them than i>A describing a vestment, a shield, armor,
a piece of furnituhe, or any production of the mechanical
arts. In their lovevfor the object it seems that they make
no diflTerence between what exists in itself and what
owes its existence to\*vrt, to the human will. It seems that
nature interests their miiUds and their curiosity more than
moral feeling. They do not attach themselves to it with
that depth of feeling, witi> that gentle melanchol}', that
characterize the moderns. Na}', more, by personifying
nature in its particular phenomena, b}' deifying it, by
representing its eflTects as the acts of free being, they take
from it that character of cal/n necessity which is pre-

Digitized by



cisely what makes it so attractive to us. Their impatient
imagination only travei*ses nature to pass beyond it to
the drama of human life. It only takes pleasure in the
spectacle of what is living and free ; it requires characters,
acts, the accidents of fortune and of manners ; and whilst/
it happens with ws, at least in certain moral dispositions,!
to curse our prerogative, this free will, which exposes us;
to so many combats with ourselves, to so many anxieties ^
and errors, and to wish to exchange it for the condition of.
beings destitute of reason, for that fatal existence that no
longer admits of any choice, but which is so calm in its
uniformity ; — while we do this, the Greeks, on the con- i>
trar}', only have their imagination occupied in retracing,^
human nature in the inanimate world, and in giving to'
the will an influence where blind necessit}^ rules.

Whence can arise this difference between the spirit of .
the ancients and the modern spirit ? How comes it that, #
being, for all that relates to nature, incomparably below
the ancients, we are superior to them precisely' on this
point, that we render a more complete homage to nature ;
that we have a closer attachment to it ; and that we are
capable of embracing even the inanimate world with
the most ardent sensibility. It is because nature, in our
time, is no longer in man, and that we no longer en-
counter it in its primitive truth, except out of humanity, in
the inanimate world. It is not because we are more con-
formable to nature — quite the contrar}' ; it is because m our
social relations, in our mode of existence, m our manners, ^/^
we are in opposition with nature. This is what leads us,
when the instinct of truth and of simplicity- is awakened
-^^^this instinct which, like the moral aptitude from, whicli it
proceeds, lives incorruptible and indePible in every human
heart — to procure fbr it In the physical world the satis-
faction which there ts no "hope* of finding in the moral
order. This is the reason why the feeling that attaches
TIs~to nature is connected so closely with that which makes
us regret our infancy, forever flown, and our primitive
innocence. (Our childhood is all that remains of nature in ^
humanity, such as civilization has made it, of untouched, Y ^
unmutilated nature. It is, therefore, not wonderful, when i
we meet out of us the impress of nature, that we are 1
always brought back to the idea of our childhood. *

Digitized by






y It was quite different with the Greeks in antiquity.
Civilization with them did not degenerate, nor was it
carried to such an excess that it was necessary to break
with nature. The entire structure of thek-^ociaLiifie re-
posed x>n feelingSj and not on a factitious conception, on a
r work of art. " Their ver}' theolog}' was the inspiration of
i a simple spirit, the fruit of a joyous imagination, and not,
^ like the ecclesiastical dogmas of modem nations, subtle
> I combinations of the understanding. Since, therefore, the
V /Greeks had not lost sight of nature in hunianit}^ thej* had
^ no reason, when meeting it out of man, to be surprised 2Xc^^\^ ^
their discovery, and they would not feel very imperiously ^.x^ - *^ ^^ i
the need of objects in which nature could be retraced. In Jf^''
accord with themselves, happy in feeling themselves men, ^
they would of necessity keep to humanity as to what
was greatest to them, and they must needs try to make all
the rest approach it ; while we, who are not in accord with
ourselves — we who are discon tented with the experience
we have made of our humanit}^ — have no more pressing
interest than to fl}' out of it and to remove from our
sight a so ill- fashioned form. The feeling of which we -

are treating here is, therefore, not that which was known i

by the ancients ; it approaches far more nearly- that w/iic/i \

/ we ourselves experience Jvr the ancients. The ancients felt f
. naturall}' ; we, on our part, feel what is natural. It was!
certainl}' a very different inspiration that filled the soul
of Homer, when he depicted his divine cowherd * giving
hospitality to Ulysses, from that which agitated the soul
of the .young Werther at the moment when he read the
" Odyssey " t on issuing from an assembly in which he had

/ Onl,y found tedium. Thft fppljpior^wp Pvppripnop for nf^tnrpj

( resemblesjthat,i)f a sic^JHan for health. |

' ^ As soon as nature gradually vanishes from human life —
that is, in proportion as it ceases to be experienced as a
subject (active and passive) — we see it dawn and increase
in the poetical world in the guise of an idea and as an
object. The people who have carried farthest the want V
of nature, and at the same time the reflections on that (

matter, must needs have been the people who at the J

* A7of b(f>oo0ds, '* Odyssey," xiv. 413, etc.

t Werther, May 26, June 21, August 28, May 9, etc.

Digitized by



same time were most struck with this phenomenon of the
simple^ and gave it a name. If I am not mistaken, this
people was the French. But the feeling of the simple,
and the interest we take in it, must naturally go much
farther back, and it dates from the time when the moral
sense and the sesthetical sense began to be corrupt. This
modification in the manner of feeling is exceedingly
striking in Euripides, for example, if compared with his
predecessors, especiall}" ^schj^lus ; and ^et Euripides was
the favorite poet of his time. The same revolution is
perceptible in the ancient historians. Horace, the poet of
a cultivated and corrupt epoch, praises, under the shady
groves of Tibur, the calm and happiness of the country,
and he might be. termed the true founder, Qf this senti-
m ental po etry, of which he has remained the unsurpassed
model. In Fropertius, Virgil, and others, we find also
traces of this mode of feeling ; less of it is found in Ovid,
who would have required for that more abundance of
heart, and who in his exile at Tomes sort* owfuUy regrets
the happiness that Horace so readily dispensed with in his
villa at Tibur.

It is in the fundamental idea of poetry that the poet
is everywhere the guardian of nature. When he can no
longer entirely fill this part, and has already in himself
suffered the deleterious influence of arbitrary and facti-
tious forms, or has had to struggle against this influence,
he presents himself as the witness of nature and as its
avenger. The poet will, therefore, be the expression of ^^
nature itself, or his part will be to seek it, if men have
lost sight of it. Hence arise two kinds of poetr}', which
emhracfijmd^exhaust the entire field of poetry. All poets i
— I mean those who are really so — will belong, according
to the time when they flourish, according to the accidental
circumstances that have influenced their education gene-
rally, and the different dispositions of mind through
which thc}^ pass, will belong, I say, to the order of the V
s^inientalj^oetry or to simjyU poetry. . ^'

The poet oF a young world, simple and inspired, as also
the poet who at an epoch of artificial civilization aj^oaches
nearest to the primitive bards, is austere and (griid isB^ like
the virginal Diana in her forests. Wholly unconfiding, he


Digitized by



hides himself from the heart that seeks him, from the

desire that wishes to embrace him. It is not rare for the

dry truth with which he treats his subject to resemble

insensibility. The whole object possesses him, and to

reach his heart it does not suffice, as with metals of little

value, to stir up the surface ; aaj^ith pure gold, you must

, go down to the lowest depths. ilLike the Deity behind this

I ./ universe, the simple poet hides h^self behind his work ; he

\ . is himself his work, and his work is himself A A man must

^ ' be no longer worthy of the work, nor understand it,

or be tired of it, to be even anxious to learn who is its


Such appears to us, for instance. Homer in antiquity,
and^ Shakespeare among moderns : two natures infinitely
different and separated in time by an abyss, but perfectly
identical as to this trait of character. When, at a very
youthful age, I became first acquainted with Shakespeare,
I was displeased with his coldness, with his insensibilitj',

Online LibraryFriedrich SchillerAesthetical & philosophical essays. Tr. from the German.. → online text (page 27 of 42)