Friedrich Schiller.

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

. (page 6 of 42)
Online LibraryFriedrich SchillerAesthetical & philosophical essays. Tr. from the German.. → online text (page 6 of 42)
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^STHETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS.



57



hardens itself, we see science severely keeping her limits,
and art subject to the harsh restraint of rules ; when the
character is relaxed and softened, science endeavors to
please and art to rejoice. For whole ages philosophers
as well as artists show themselves occupied in letting
down truth and beauty to the depths of vulgar humanity.
They themselves are swallowed up in it ; but, thanks to
their essential vigor and indestructible life, the true and the
beautiful make a victorious -fight, and issue triumphant
from the abjss.

No doubt the artist is the child of his time, but un-
happy for him if he is its disciple or even its favorite !
Let a ^jeficent deity carry off in good time the suckling
from tne breast of its mother, let it nourish him on the
milk of a better age, and suffer him to grow up and arrive
at virility under the distant sky of Greece, ^^en he has
attained manhood, let him come back, presenting a face
strange to his own age ; let him come, not to delight it
with his apparition, but rather to purif}- it, terrible as the '
son of Agamemnon. He will, indeed, receive his matter
from the present time, but he will borrow the form from a
nobler time and even beyond all time, from the essential,
absolute, immutable unity. There, issuing from the pure
ether of its heavenl}^ nature, flows the source of all beau-
ty, which was never tainted by the corruptions of genera-
tions or of ages, which roll along far beneath it in dark
eddies. Its matter may be dishonored as welLas ennobled
by fanc}', but the ever-chaste form escapes frolnfhe caprices
of imagination. The Roman had already bent his knee
for long years to the divinity of the emperors, and yet the
statues ^ the gods stood erect ; the temples retained their
sanctity for the eye long after the gods had become a theme
for mockery, and the noble architecture of the palaces
that shielded the infamies of Nero and of Commodus were
a protest against theqi. Humanity has lost its dignity,
but_art ha s saved it, and preserves it in marbles full of
meaning ; truth continues to live in illusion ^ and the copy
will serve to re-establish the model. If the nobility of art
has survived the nobility of nature, it also goes before it ^
like an inspiring genius, forming and awakening minds.
Before truth causes her triumphant light to penetrate into



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58 iESTHETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS.

the depths of the heart, poetr}^ intercepts her rays, and
the summits of humanity shine in a bright light, while
a dark and humid night still hangs over the valleys.

But how will the artist avoid the corruption of his time
I which encloses him on all hands ? Let him raise his eyes
/ to his own dignity, and to law ; let him not lower them to
j necessity and fortune. Equally exempt from a vain activ-
ity which would imprint its trace on the fugitive moment,
and from the dreams of an impatient enthusiasm which
applies the measure of the absolute to the paltrj- produc-
7 Itions of time, let the artist abandon the real to the under-
jstanding, for that is its proper field. But let the artist
/endeavor to give birth to the ideal b}' the union of the
/possible and of the necessarj'. Let him stamp illusion and
[ truth with the effigy of this ideal ; let him apply it to the
play of his imagination and his most serious actions, in
' short, to all sensuous and spiritual forms ; then let him
i quietly launch his work into infinite time.

But the minds set on fire by this ideal have not all
received an equal share of calm from the creative genius
— that great and patient temper which is required to
impress the ideal on the dumb marble, or to spread it over
a page of cold, sober letters, and then intrust it to the
faithful hands of time. This divine instinct, and creative
force, much too ardent to follow this peaceful walk, often
throws itself immediatel}' on the present, on active lif^,
and strives Jo transform the shapeless matter of the moral
world. The misfortune rf his brothers, of the whole spe-
cies, appeals loudly to the he art of the man of feeling ;
their abasement appeals still louder: enthusiasm is in-
flamed, and in souls dowed with energy the burning desire
aspires impatiently to action and facts. But has this
innovator examined himself to see if these disorders of
the moral world wound his reason, or if they do not rather
wound his self-love ? If he does not determine this point
.at once, he will find it from the impulsiveness with which
he pursues a prompt and definite end. A pure, moral
I motive has for its end the ^.bsolute ; time does not exist
for it, and the future becomes the present to it directly ;
by a necessary development, it has to issue from the
present. To a reason having no limits the direction to-



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JESTMETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS.



69



7



wards an end becomes confounded with the accomplish
Iment of this end, and to enter on a course is to have fin-
jished it.

If, then, a young friend of the true and of the beautiful
were to ask me how, notv^ithstanding the resistance of
the times, he can satisfy the noble longing of his heart, I
should reply : Direct the world on which you act towards
that which is good, and the measured and peaceful course
^ of time will bring about the results. You have given it
this direction if \fy your teaching you raise fts thoughts
towards the uecfis^ary and the, eternal ; if, hy your acts or
your creations, you make the necessary and the eternal the
object of 3'our leanings. The structure of error and of
all that is arbitrary must fall, and it has already fallen, as
soon as you are sure that it is tottering. But it is impor-
tant that it should not only totter in the external but also
in the internal man. Cherish triumphant tri^th in the
modest sanctuary of your heart ; give it an incarnate form
tJirouglL-heaiit^', that it may not only be in the understand-
ing that does homage to it, but that feeling may lovingly
grasp its appearance. And that 3'ou may not by any
chance take from external reality the model which you
yourself ought to furnish, do not venture into its danger-
ous society before you are assured in your own heart that
you have a good escort furnished by ideal nature. Live
with your age, but be not its creation ; labor for your
contemporaries, but do for them what they ufifiiL and not
what they praise. Without having shared their faults,
share their punishment with a noble resignation, and bend
under the yoke which they find it as painful to dispense
with as to bear. Bj^ the constancy with which you will
despise their good fortune, 30U will prove to them that it
is not through cowardice that you submit to their suffer-
ings. See them in thought such as they ought to be when
you must act upon them ; but see them as they are when
you are tempted to act for them. Seek to owe their suf-
frage to their dignitj^ ; but to make them happy keep an
account of their unworthiness : thus, on the one hand, the
nobleness of your heart will kindle theirs, and, on the
other, your end will not be reduced to nothingness by their
unworthiness. The gravity of your principles will keep



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60 ^STHETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS.

them off from you, but in play they will still endure them.

I Their taste is purer than their heart, and it is by their

taste you must lay hold of this suspicious fugitive. In

vain will you combat their maxims, in vain will you con-

1 demn their actions ; but you can try your moulding hand

' on theirjeisure. Drive away caprice, frivolity, and coarse-

. ness from their pleasures, and you will banish them imper-

.Iceptibly from their acts, and at length from their feelings.

'Everj'where that you meet them, surround them with great,

noble, and ingenious forms ; multiply around them the

symbols of perfection, till Jippearance triumphs over reajr

jty^ and Ait over nature.



Lbttbb X.

Convinced by my preceding letters, you agree with me on
this point, that man can depart from his destination by
two opposite roads, that our epoch is actually moving on
these two false roads, and that it has become the prey, in
one case, of coarseness, and elsewhere of exhaustion and
depravit}'. It is the ^autiful that must bring it back from
this twofold departure. But how can the cultivation of
the fine arts remedy, at the same time, these opposite de-
fects, and unite in itself two contradictory qualities? Can
it bind nature in the savage, and set it free in the barba-
rian ? Can it at once tighten a spring and loose it ; and if
it cannot produce this double effect, how will it be rea-
sonable to expect from it so important a result as the edu-
cation of man ?

It may be urged that it is almost a proverbial adage
that the feeling developed by the beautiful refines manners,
and any new proof offered on the subject would appear
superfluous. Men base this maxim on daily experience,
which shows us almost always clearness of intellect, delicacy
of feeling, liberalit}' and even dignity of conduct, asso-
ciated with a cultivated taste, while an uncultivated taste
is almost always accompanied by the opposite qualities.
With considerable assurance, the most civilized nation of
antiquity is cited as an evidence of this, the Greeks, among
whom the perception of the beautiful attained its highest



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iESTHETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS. 61

j development, and, as a contrast, it is usual to point tc
nations in a partial savage state, and partly barbarous,
who expiate their insensibility to the beautiful by a coarse,
or, at all events, a hard, austere character. Nevertheless,
some thinkers are tempted occasionally' to deny either the
fact itself or to dispute the legitimac}' of the consequences
that are derived from it. They do not entertain so unfa-
vorable an opinion of that savage coarseness which is
made a reproach in the case of certain nations ; nor do
they form so advantageous an opinion of the refinement so
highly lauded in the case of cultivated nations. Even as '
far back as in antiquity there were men who by no means
regarded the culture of the liberal arts as a benefit, and
who were consequently led to forbid the entrance of their
republic to imagination.

I do not speak of those who calumniate art because
they have never been favored by it. These persons only
appreciate a possession by the trouble it takes to acquire
it, and by the profit it brings : and how could the}^ prop-
erly appreciate the silent labor of taste in the exterior and
interior man ? How evident it is that the accidental dis-
advantages attending liberal culture would make them lose
sight of its essential advantages? The man deficient in
form despises the grace of diction as a means of corrup-
tion, courtes}' in the social relations as dissimulation, deli-
cac}' and generosity in conduct as an affected exaggeration.
He cannot forgive the favorite of the Graces for having
enlivened all assemblies as a man of the world, of having
directed all men to his views like a statesman, and of giv-
ing his impress to the whole century as a writer : while he,
the victim of labor, can only obtain with all his learning,
the least attention or overcome the least difficulty. As he
cannot learn from his fortunate rival the secret of pleasing,
the only course open to him is to deplore the corruption
of human nature, which adores rather the appearance than
the reality.

Btit there are also opinions deserving respect, that pro-
nounce themselves adverse to the efl^^ects of the beautiful, and
find forniidable arms in experience, with which to wage war
against it. " We are free to admit " — such is their lan-
guage — " that the charms of the beautiful can further hon-



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62 ^STHETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS.

orable ends in pure hands ; but it is not repugnant to its
nature to produce, in impure hands, a directly contrar}'^
effect, and to employ in the service of injustice and
error the power that throws the soul of man into chains.
I It is exactly because tast e only attends to the form and
never to the substance ; it ends by placing the soul on the
dangerous incline, leading it to neglect all reaUty and to
sacrifice truth and morality to an attractive envelope. All
the real difference of things vanishes, and it is only the
appearance that determines the value ! How many men
of talent" — thus these arguers proceed — "have been
turned aside from all effort by the seductive power of the
beautiful, or have been led away from all serious exercise
of their activity, or have been induced to use it very fee-
bl}' ? How many weak minds have been impelled to quar-
rel with the orgaviizations of societ}', simpl}* because it
has pleased the imagination of poets to present the image
of a world constituted differently, where no propriety
chains down opinion and no artifice holds nature in thral-
dom? What a dangerous logic of the passions they have
learned since the poets have painted them in their pictures
in the most brilliant colors, and since, in the contest with
law and duty, they have commonh' remained masters of
the battle-field. What has societv gained b3^the relations
of societv, formerly under the sway of truth, being now
subject to the laws of the beautiful, or b}' the external
impression deciding the estimation in which merit
is to be held? We admit that all virtues whose
appearance produces an agreeable effect are now seen
to flourish, and those which, in society, give a value
to the man who possesses them. But, as a compensation,
all kinds of excesses are seen to prevail, and all vices. are
in vogue that can be reconciled with a graceful exterior.'*
It is certainly a matter entitled to reflection that, at almost
all the periods of history when art flourished and taste held
sway, humanity is found in a state of decline ; nor can a sin-
gle instance be cited of the union of a large diflfusion of
aesthetic culture with political liberty and social virtue,
of fine manners associated with good morals, and of
politeness fraternizing with truth and loyalty of character
and life.



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ESTHETIC AL LETTERS AND ESSAYS. 63

As long as Athens and Sparta preserved their inde-
pendence, and as long as their institutions were based on
respect for the laws, taste did not reach its maturity, art
! remained in its infancy, and beauty was far from exercis-
j ing her empire over minds. No doubt, poetry had already
taken a sublime flight, but it was on the wings of genius,
and we know that ^eriius borders very closely on savage
ijoarseness, that it is a light which shines readily in the
midst of darkness, and which therefore often argues
against rather than in favor of the taste of time. When
the golden age of art appears under Pericles and Alexan-
der, and the sway of taste becomes more general, strength
and liberty have abandoned Greece; eloquence corrupts
the truth, wisdom offends it on the lips of Socrates, and
virtue in the life of Phocion. It is well known that the
Romans had to exhaust their energies in civil wars, and,
corrupted by Oriental luxury, to bow their heads under the
yoke of a fortunate despot, before Grecian art triumphed
over the stiffness of their character. The same was
the case with the Arabs : civilization only dawned upon
them when the vigor of their military spirit became soft-
ened under the sceptre of the Abbassides. Art did not
appear in modern Italy till the glorious Lombard League
was dissolved, Florence submitting to the Medici ; and all
those brave cities gave up the spirit of independence for
an inglorious resignation. It is almost superfluous to call
to mind the example of modern nations, with whom refine-
ment has increased in direct proportion to the decline of
their liberties. Wherever we direct our eyes in past times,
we see taste and freedom mutually avoiding each other.
Everywhere we see that the beautiful onl}^ founds its sway
on the ruins of heroic virtues.

And yet this strength of character, which is commonly
sacrificed to establish aesthetic culture, is the most power-
ful spring of all that is great and excellent in man, and
no other advantage, however great, can make up for it.
Accordingly, if we only keep to the experiments hitherto
made, as to the influence of the beautiful, we cannot cer-
tainl}' be much encouraged in developing feelings so dan-
gerous to the real culture of man. At the risk of being
hard and coarse, it will seem preferable to dispense ^with



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64 ^STHETICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS.

this dissolving force of the beautiful rather than see human
nature a prej' to its enervating influence, notwithstanding
all its refining advantages. However, experience is per-
haps not the proper tribunal at which to decide such a
question ; before giving so much weight to its testimony,
it would be well to inquire if the beaut}' we have been
discussuig is the power that is condemned bj the previous
examples. And the beauty we are discussing seems to
' assume an idea of the beautiful derived from a source
dlfferfijat from experience, for it is this higher notion of the
beautiful which has to decide if what is called beauty by
experience is entitled to the name.

This pure and rational idea of the beautiful — supposing
it can be placed in evidence — cannot be taken from any
real and special case, and must, on the contrary, direct
and give sanction to our judgment in each special case
It must therefore be sought for bj- a process of abstraction,
and it ought to be deduced from the simple possibility of-
I 1 a nature both sensuous and rational ; in short, beauty
' J ought to present itself as a necessary condition of human-
' iity. It is therefore essential that we should rise to the
pure idea of humanit}', and as experience shows us nothing
but individuals, in particular cases, and never humanity at
'large, we must endeavor to find in their individual and
variable mode of being the absolute and the permanent,
land to grasp the necessar}^ conditions of their existence,
I suppressing all accidental limits. No doubt this transcen-
dental procedure will remove us for some time from the
familiar circle of phenomena, and the living presence of
objects, to keep us on the unproductive ground of abstract
idea ; but we are engaged in the search after a principle
of knowledge solid enough not to be shaken b}' anything,
' and the man who does not dare to rise above reality will
J never conquer this truth.



Letter XI.

If abstraction rises to as great an elevation as possible, it
arrives at two primary ideas, before which it is obliged to
stop and to recognize its limits. It distinguishes in man



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JE8THBTICAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS. ' 65

something that cpntiniies, and something that qhangea
incessantly. That which continues it names his person ; that
which changes his position, his condition.

The person and the condition, I and my determinations,
which we represent as one and the same thing in the neces-
sary being, are eternally distinct in the finite being. Not-
withstanding all continuance in the person, the condition
changes ; in spite of all change of condition the person
remains. We pass from rest to activity, from emotion to
indifference, from assent to contradiction, but we are
always we ourselves^ and what immediately springs from
j ourselves remains. It is only in the absolute subject that
( all his determinations continue with his personality. All
that Divinity is, it is because it is so ; consequently it is
eternally what it is, because it is eternal.

As the person and the condition are distinct in man, be-
cause he is a finite being, the condition cannot be founded
on the person, nor the person on the condition. Admit-
ting the second case, the person would have to change ;
and in the former case, the condition would have to con-
tinue. Thus in either supposition, either the personality
or the quality of a finite being would necessaril}' cease.
It is not because we think, feel, and will that we are ; it
is not because we are that we think, feel, and will. We
are because we are. We feel, think, and will because
there is out of us something that is jiqt ourselves.

Consequently the person must have its principle of
existence in itself, because the permanent cannot be de-
. rived from the changeable, and thus we should be at once
I in possession of the idea of the absolute being, founded
/ on itself ; that is to say, of the idea of freedom. The
condition must have a foundation, and as it is not through
tlie person, and is not therefore absolute, it must be &
sequence and a result; and thus, in the second place, we
should have arrived at the condition of every independent
being, of everything in the process of becoming something
'else : that is, of the idea of time, *' Time is the necessary
condition of all processes, of becoming (Werden) ; " this
is an identical proposition, for it says nothing but this :
''That something may follow, there must be a succes-
sion. "



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66 * iESTHETICAL LETTERS AND E88AT8.

The person wliich paanifested itself in the eternally con-
tinuing Ego, or I myself, and only in him, cannot become
something or begin in time, because it is much rather time
/that must begin with him, because the permanent must
1 serve as basis to the changeable. That change may take
place, something must change ; this something cannot
therefore be the change itself. When we say the flower
opens and fades, we make of this flower a permanent
being in the midst of this transformation ; we lend it, in
some sort, a personality, in which these two conditions
are manifested. It cannot be objected that man is born,
and becomes something ; for man is not only a person
simpl}^ but he is a person finding himself in a deter-
minate condition.. Now our determinate state of con-
dition springs up in time, and it is thus that man, as a
phenomenon or appearance, must have a beginning,
though in him pure intelligence is eternal. Without time,
that is, without a becoming,_he would not be a determinate
being ; his personality would exist virtually no doubt, but
not in action. It is not by the succession of its percep-
tions that the immutable Ego or person manifests himself
to himself.

Thus, therefore, the matter of activity, or realit}^ that
the supreme intelligence draws from its own being, must
be received b}' man ; and he does, in fact, receive it,
through the medium of j)erception, as Something which
is outside him in space, and which changes in him in time.
This matter which changes in him is always accompanied
by the Ego, the personality, that never changes ; and the
rule prescribed for man b}- his rational nature is to remain
immutably himself in the midst of change, to refer all
perceptions to experience, that is, to the unity of knowl-
edge, and to make of each of its manifestations of ita[
1 modes in time the law of all time. The matter only exists
in as far as it changes : he^ his personality, only exists in
as far as he does not change. Consequently, represented
in his perfection, man would be the permanent unity,
which remains alwaj^s the same, among the waves of
change.

Now, although an infinite being, a divinity could not
become (or be subject to time), still a tendency ought to



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iESTHETIOAL LETTERS AND ESSAYS. 67

be named divine which has for its infinite end the most
characteristic attribute of the divinity ; the absolute mani-
festation of power — the reality of all the possible — and
the absolute unity of the manifestation (the necessity of
all reality) . It cannot be disputed that man bears within
himself, in his personality, a predisposition for divinity.
I The way to divinity — if the word " way" can be applied
I to what never leads to its end — is open to him in every
[ direction,
\ Considered in itself, and independently of all sensuous

matter, his personality is nothing but the pure virtuality t
' of a possible infinite manifestation ; and so long as there
\ is neither intuition nor feeling, it is nothing more than a
\ form, an empt}' power. Considered in itself, and inde-
pendently of all spontaneous activity of the mind, sensu-
ousness can only make a material man ; without it, it is a
pure form ; but it cannot in any way establish a union
between matter and it. So long as he only feels, wishes,
and acts under the influence of desire, he is nothing more
than the world, if by this word we point out only the



Online LibraryFriedrich SchillerAesthetical & philosophical essays. Tr. from the German.. → online text (page 6 of 42)