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He saw in it the exemplar and the program of a wonderful new art which he proposed to call “Romantic Poetry.”
But gray theory would never have begotten _Lucinda_. Going to Berlin in 1797, Schlegel made the acquaintance of Dorothea Veit, daughter of Moses Mendelsohn and wife of a Berlin banker. She was nine years his senior. A strong attachment grew up between them, and presently the lady was persuaded to leave her husband and become the paramour of Schlegel. Even after the divorce was obtained Schlegel refused for some time to be married in church, believing that he had a sort of duty to perform in a.s.serting the rights of pa.s.sion over against social convention. For several years the pair lived in wild wedlock before they were regularly married. In 1808 they both joined the Catholic Church, and from that time on nothing more was heard of Friedrich Schlegel’s radicalism. He came to hold opinions which were for the most part the exact opposite of those he had held in his youth. The vociferous friend of individual liberty became a reactionary champion of authority. Of course he grew ashamed of _Lucinda_ and excluded it from his collected works.
Such was the soil in which the naughty book grew. It was an era of lax ideas regarding the marriage tie. Wilhelm Schlegel married a divorced woman who was destined in due time to transfer herself without legal formalities to Sch.e.l.ling. Goethe had set the example by his conscience marriage with Christiane Vulpius. It remains only to be said that the most of Friedrich Schlegel’s intimates, including his brother Wilhelm, advised against the publication of _Lucinda_. But here, as in the matter of his marriage, the author felt that he had a duty to perform: it was necessary to declare independence of Mrs. Grundy’s tyranny and shock people for their own good. But the reader of today will feel that the worst shortcomings of the book are not its immoralities, but its sins against art.
It will be observed that while _Lucinda_ was called by its author a “novel,” it hardly deserves that name. There is no story, no development of a plot. The book consists of disconnected glimpses in the form of letters, disquisitions, rhapsodies, conversations, etc., each with a more or less suggestive heading. Two of these sections–one cannot call them chapters–are omitted in the translation, namely, “Allegory of Impudence” and, “Apprenticeship of Manhood.”
By FRIEDRICH SCHLEGEL
TRANSLATED BY PAUL BERNARD THOMAS
Smiling with emotion Petrarch opens the collection of his immortal romanzas with a prefatory survey. The clever Boccaccio talks with flattering courtesy to all women, both at the beginning and at the end of his opulent book. The great Cervantes too, an old man in agony, but still genial and full of delicate wit, drapes the motley spectacle of his lifelike writings with the costly tapestry of a preface, which in itself is a beautiful and romantic painting.
Uproot a stately plant from its fertile, maternal soil, and there will still cling lovingly to it much that can seem superfluous only to a n.i.g.g.ard.
But what shall my spirit bestow upon its offspring, which, like its parent, is as poor in poesy as it is rich in love?
Just one word, a parting trope: It is not alone the royal eagle who may despise the croaking of the raven; the swan, too, is proud and takes no note of it. Nothing concerns him except to keep clean the sheen of his white pinions. He thinks only of nestling against Leda’s bosom without hurting her, and of breathing forth into song everything that is mortal within him.
[Ill.u.s.tration: #THE CREATION# _From the Painting by Moritz von Schwind_]
CONFESSIONS OF AN AWKWARD MAN
JULIUS TO LUCINDA
Human beings and what they want and do, seemed to me, when I thought of it, like gray, motionless figures; but in the holy solitude all around me everything was light and color. A fresh, warm breath of life and love fanned me, rustling and stirring in all the branches of the verdant grove. I gazed and enjoyed it all, the rich green, the white blossoms and the golden fruit. And in my mind’s eye I saw, too, in many forms, my one and only Beloved, now as a little girl, now as a young lady in the full bloom and energy of love and womanhood, and now as a dignified mother with her demure babe in her arms. I breathed the spring and I saw clearly all about me everlasting youth. Smiling I said to myself: “Even if this world is not the best and most useful of places, it is certainly the most beautiful.”
From this feeling or thought nothing could have turned me, neither general despair nor personal fear. For I believed that the deep secrets of nature were being revealed to me; I felt that everything was immortal and that death was only a pleasant illusion. But I really did not think very much about it, since I was not particularly in a mood for mental synthesis and a.n.a.lysis. But I gladly lost myself in all those blendings and intertwinings of joy and pain from which spring the spice of life and the flower of feeling–spiritual pleasure as well as sensual bliss. A subtle fire flowed through my veins. What I dreamed was not of kissing you, not of holding you in my arms; it was not only the wish to relieve the tormenting sting of my desire, and to cool the sweet fire by gratification. It was not for your lips that I longed, or for your eyes, or for your body; no, it was a romantic confusion of all of these things, a marvelous mingling of memories and desires. All the mysteries of caprice in man and woman seemed to hover about me, when suddenly in my solitude your real presence and the glowing rapture in your face completely set me afire.
Wit and ecstasy now began their alternating play, and were the common pulse of our united life. There was no less abandon than religion in our embrace. I besought you to yield to my frenzy and implored you to be insatiable. And yet with calm presence of mind I watched for the slightest sign of joy in you, so that not one should escape me to impair the harmony. I not only enjoyed, but I felt and enjoyed the enjoyment.
You are so extraordinarily clever, dearest Lucinda, that you have doubtless long ere this begun to suspect that this is all nothing but a beautiful dream. And so, alas, it is; and I should indeed feel very disconsolate about it if I could not cherish the hope that at least a part of it may soon be realized. The truth of the matter is this: Not long ago I was standing by the window–how long I do not know, for along with the other rules of reason and morality, I completely forgot about the lapse of time. Well, I was standing by the window and looking out into the open; the morning certainly deserves to be called beautiful, the air is still and quite warm, and the verdure here before me is fresh. And even as the wide land undulates in hills and dales, so the calm, broad, silvery river winds along in great bends and sweeps, until it and the lover’s fantasy, cradled upon it like the swan, pa.s.s away into the distance and lose themselves in the immeasurable. My vision doubtless owes the grove and its southern color-effect to the huge ma.s.s of flowers here beside me, among which I see a large number of oranges. All the rest is readily explained by psychology. It was an illusion, dear friend, all an illusion, all except that, not long ago, I was standing, by the window and doing nothing, and that I am now sitting here and doing something–something which is perhaps little more than nothing, perhaps even less.
I had written thus far to you about the things I had said to myself, when, in the midst of my tender thoughts and profound feelings about the dramatic connection of our embraces, a coa.r.s.e and unpleasant occurrence interrupted me. I was just on the point of unfolding to you in clear and precise periods the exact and straightforward history of our frivolities and of my dulness. I was going to expound to you, step by step, in accordance with natural laws, the misunderstandings that attack the hidden centre of the loveliest existence, and to confess to you the manifold effects of my awkwardness. I was about to describe the apprenticeship of my manhood, a period which, taken as a whole or in parts, I can never look back upon without a great deal of inward amus.e.m.e.nt, a little melancholy, and considerable self-satisfaction.
Still, as a refined lover and writer, I will endeavor to refashion the coa.r.s.e occurrence and adapt it to my purpose. For me and for this book, however, for my love of it and for its inner development, there is no better adaptation of means to ends than this, namely, that right at the start I begin by abolishing what we call orderly arrangement, keep myself entirely aloof from it, frankly claiming and a.s.serting the right to a charming confusion. This is all the more necessary, inasmuch as the material which our life and love offers to my spirit and to my pen is so incessantly progressive and so inflexibly systematic. If the form were also of that character, this, in its way, unique letter would then acquire an intolerable unity and monotony, and would no longer produce the desired effect, namely, to fashion and complete a most lovely chaos of sublime harmonies and interesting pleasures. So I use my incontestable right to a confused style by inserting here, in the wrong place, one of the many incoherent sheets which I once filled with rubbish, and which you, good creature, carefully preserved without my knowing it. It was written in a mood of impatient longing, due to my not finding you where I most surely expected to find you–in your room, on our sofa–in the haphazard words suggested by the pen you had lately been using.
The selection is not difficult. For since, among the dreamy fancies which are here confided to you in permanent letters, the recollection of this most beautiful world is the most significant, and has a certain sort of resemblance to what they call thought, I choose in preference to anything else a dithyrambic fantasy on the most lovely of situations. For once we know to a certainty that we live in a most beautiful world, the next need is obvious, namely, to inform ourselves fully, either through ourselves or through others, about the most lovely situation in this most beautiful world.
DITHYRAMBIC FANTASY ON THE LOVELIEST OF SITUATIONS
A big tear falls upon the holy sheet which I found here instead of you. How faithfully and how simply you have sketched it, the old and daring idea of my dearest and most intimate purpose! In you it has grown up, and in this mirror I do not shrink from loving and admiring myself. Only here I see myself in harmonious completeness. For your spirit, too, stands distinct and perfect before me, not as an apparition which appears and fades away again, but as one of the forms that endure forever. It looks at me joyously out of its deep eyes and opens its arms to embrace my spirit. The holiest and most evanescent of those delicate traits and utterances of the soul, which to one who does not know the highest seem like bliss itself, are merely the common atmosphere of our spiritual breath and life.
The words are weak and vague. Furthermore, in this throng of impressions I could only repeat anew the one inexhaustible feeling of our original harmony. A great future beckons me on into the immeasurable; each idea develops a countless progeny. The extremes of unbridled gayety and of quiet presentiment live together within me. I remember everything, even the griefs, and all my thoughts that have been and are to be bestir themselves and arise before me. The blood rushes wildly through my swollen veins, my mouth thirsts for the contact of your lips, and my fancy seeks vainly among the many forms of joy for one which might at last gratify my desire and give it rest.
And then again I suddenly and sadly bethink me of the gloomy time when I was always waiting without hope, and madly loving without knowing it; when my innermost being overflowed with a vague longing, which it breathed forth but rarely in half-suppressed sighs.
Oh, I should have thought it all a fairy-tale that there could be such joy, such love as I now feel, and such a woman, who could be my most tender Beloved, my best companion, and at the same time a perfect friend. For it was in friendship especially that I sought for what I wanted, and for what I never hoped to find in any woman. In you I found it all, and more than I could wish for; but you are so unlike the rest. Of what custom or caprice calls womanly, you know nothing.
The womanliness of your soul, aside from minor peculiarities, consists in its regarding life and love as the same thing. For you all feeling is infinite and eternal; you recognize no separations, your being is an indivisible unity. That is why you are so serious and so joyous, why you regard everything in such a large and indifferent way; that is why you love me, all of me, and will surrender no part of me to the state, to posterity, or to manly pleasures. I am all yours; we are closest to each other and we understand each other. You accompany me through all the stages of manhood, from the utmost wantonness to the most refined spirituality. In you alone I first saw true pride and true feminine humility.
The most extreme suffering, if it is only surrounded, without separating us, would seem to me nothing but a charming ant.i.thesis to the sublime frivolity of our marriage. Why should we not take the harshest whim of chance for an excellent jest and a most frolicsome caprice, since we, like our love, are immortal? I can no longer say _my_ love and _your_ love; they are both alike in their perfect mutuality. Marriage is the everlasting unity and alliance of our spirits, not only for what we call this world and that world, but for the one, true, indivisible, nameless, endless world of our entire being, so long as we live. Therefore, if it seemed the proper time, I would drain with you a cup of poison, just as gladly and just as easily as that last gla.s.s of champagne we drank together, when I said: “And so let us drink out the rest of our lives.” With these words I hurriedly quaffed the wine, before its n.o.ble spirit ceased to sparkle.
And so I say again, let us live and love. I know you would not wish to survive me; you would rather follow your dying husband into his coffin. Gladly and lovingly would you descend into the burning abyss, even as the women of India do, impelled by a mad law, the cruel, constraining purpose of which desecrates and destroys the most delicate sanct.i.ties of the will.
On the other side, perhaps, longing will be more completely realized.
I often wonder over it; every thought, and whatever else is fashioned within us, seems to be complete in itself, as single and indivisible as a person. One thing crowds out another, and that which just now was near and present soon sinks back into obscurity. And then again come moments of sudden and universal clarity, when several such spirits of the inner world completely fuse together into a wonderful wedlock, and many a forgotten bit of our ego shines forth in a new light and even illuminates the darkness of the future with its bright l.u.s.tre. As it is in a small way, so is it also, I think, in a large way. That which we call a life is for the complete, inner, immortal man only a single idea, an indivisible feeling. And for him there come, too, moments of the profoundest and fullest consciousness, when all lives fall together and mingle and separate in a different way. The time is coming when we two shall behold in one spirit that we are blossoms of one plant, or petals of one flower. We shall then know with a smile that what we now call merely hope was really memory.
Do you know how the first seed of this idea germinated in my soul before you and took root in yours? Thus does the religion of love weave our love ever and ever more closely and firmly together, just as a child, like an echo, doubles the happiness of its gentle parents.
Nothing can part us; and certainly any separation would only draw me more powerfully to you. I bethink me how at our last embrace, you vehemently resisting, I burst into simultaneous tears and laughter. I tried to calm myself, and in a sort of bewilderment I would not believe that I was separated from you until the surrounding objects convinced me of it against my will. But then my longing grew again irresistible, until on its wings I sank back into your arms. Suppose words or a human being to create a misunderstanding between us! The poignant grief would be transient and quickly resolve itself into complete harmony. How could separation separate us, when presence itself is to us, as it were, too present? We have to cool and mitigate the consuming fire with jests, and thus for us the most witty of the forms and situations of joy is also the most beautiful. One among all is at once the wittiest and the loveliest: when we exchange roles and with childish delight try to see who can best imitate the other; whether you succeed best with the tender vehemence of a man, or I with the yielding devotion of a woman. But, do you know, this sweet game has for me quite other charms than its own. It is not merely the delight of exhaustion or the antic.i.p.ation of revenge. I see in it a wonderful and profoundly significant allegory of the development of man and woman into complete humanity. * * *
That was my dithyrambic fantasy on the loveliest situation in the loveliest of worlds. I know right well what you thought of it and how you took it at that time. And I think I know just as well what you will think of it and how you will take it here, here in this little book, in which you expect to find genuine history, plain truth and calm reason; yes, even morality, the charming morality of love. “How can a man wish to write anything which it is scarcely permissible to talk about, which ought only to be felt?” I replied: “If a man feels it, he must wish to talk about it, and what a man wishes to talk about he may write.”
I wanted first to demonstrate to you that there exists in the original and essential nature of man a certain awkward enthusiasm which likes to utter boldly that which is delicate and holy, and sometimes falls headlong over its own honest zeal and speaks a word that is divine to the point of coa.r.s.eness.
This apology would indeed save me, but perhaps only at the enormous expense of my manhood itself; for whatever you may think of my manhood in particular, you have nevertheless a great deal against the s.e.x in general. Meantime I will by no means make common cause with them, but will rather excuse and defend my liberty and audacity by means of the example of the little innocent Wilhelmina, since she too is a lady whom I love most tenderly. So I will straightway attempt a little sketch of her character.
SKETCH OF LITTLE WILHELMINA
When one regards the remarkable child, not from the viewpoint of any one-sided theory, but, as is proper, in a large, impartial way, one can boldly say–and it is perhaps the best thing one could possibly say of her–that for her years she is the cleverest person of her time. And that is indeed saying a great deal; for how seldom do we find harmonious culture in people two years old? The strongest of the many strong proofs of her inward perfection is her serene self-complacency. After she has eaten she always spreads both her little arms out on the table, and resting her cunning head on them with amusing seriousness, she makes big eyes and casts cute glances at the family all around her. Then she straightens up and with the most vivid expression of irony on her face, smiles at her own cuteness and our inferiority. She is full of buffoonery and has a nice appreciation of it. When I imitate her gestures, she immediately copies my imitation; thus we have created a mimic language of our own and make each other understand by means of pantomime hieroglyphics.
For poetry, I think, she has far more inclination than for philosophy; so also she likes to ride better than to walk, which last she does only in case of necessity. The ugly cacophony of our mother-tongue here in the north melts on her tongue into the sweet and mellow euphony of Italian and Hindu speech. She is especially fond of rhymes, as of everything else that is beautiful; she never grows tired of saying and singing over and over again to herself, one after the other, all her favorite little verses–as it were, a cla.s.sic selection of her little pleasures. Poetry binds the blossoms of all things together into a light garland, and so little Wilhelmina talks in rhyme about regions, times, events, persons, toys and things to eat–all mixed together in a romantic chaos, every word a picture. And she does all that without any qualifications or artistic transitions, which after all only aid the understanding and impede the free flight of the fancy.
For her fancy everything in nature is alive and animate. I often recall with pleasure the first time she ever saw and felt of a doll.
She was not more than a year old. A divine smile lighted up her little face, as she pressed an affectionate kiss on the painted wooden lips.
Surely there lies deep in the nature of man an impulse to eat anything he loves, to lift to his mouth every new object and there, if possible, reduce it to its original, const.i.tuent parts. A wholesome thirst for knowledge impels him to seize the object, penetrate into its interior and bite it to pieces. On the other hand, touching stops at the surface, while grasping affords only imperfect, mediate knowledge. Nevertheless it is a very interesting spectacle, when a bright child catches sight of another child, to watch her feel of it and strive to orient herself by means of those antennae of the reason.
The strange baby creeps quietly away and hides himself, while the little philosopher follows him up and goes busily on with her manual investigation.
But, to be sure, mind, wit and originality are just as rare in children as in adults. All this, however, does not belong here, and is leading me beyond the bounds of my purpose. For this sketch proposes merely to portray an ideal, an ideal which I would ever keep before my eyes, so that in this little artistic volume of beautiful and elegant philosophy I may not wander away from the delicate line of propriety; and so that you will forgive me in advance for the audacious liberties that I am going to take, or at least you will be able to judge them from a higher viewpoint.
Am I wrong, think you, in seeking for morality in children–for delicacy and prettiness of thought and word?
Now look! Dear little Wilhelmina often finds inexpressible delight in lying on her back and kicking her little legs in the air, unconcerned about her clothes or about the judgment of the world. If Wilhelmina does that, what is there that I may not do, since I, by Heaven, am a man and under no obligation to be more modest than this most modest of all feminine creatures? Oh, enviable freedom from prejudice! Do you, too, dear friend, cast it from you, all the remnants of false modesty; just as I have often torn off your odious clothes and scattered them about in lovely anarchy. And if, perhaps, this little romance of my life should seem to you too wild, just think to yourself: He is only a child–and take his innocent wantonness with motherly forbearance and let him caress you.
If you will not be too particular about the plausibility and inner significance of an allegory, and are prepared for as much awkwardness in it as one might expect in the confessions of an awkward man, provided only that the costume is correct, I should like to relate to you here one of my waking dreams, inasmuch as it leads to the same result as my sketch of little Wilhelmina.
AN IDYL OF IDLENESS
“Behold, I am my own teacher, and a G.o.d hath planted all sorts of melodies in my soul.” This I may boldly say, now that I am not talking about the joyous science of poetry, but about the G.o.dlike art of idleness. And with whom indeed should I rather talk and think about idleness than with myself. So I spoke also in that immortal hour when my guardian genius inspired me to preach the high gospel of true joy and love: “Oh, idleness, idleness! Thou art the very soul of innocence and inspiration. The blessed spirits do breathe thee, and blessed indeed is he who hath and cherisheth thee, thou sacred jewel, thou sole and only fragment of G.o.dlikeness brought forth by us from Paradise.”
When I thus communed with myself I was sitting, like a pensive maiden in a thoughtless romance, by the side of a brook, watching the wavelets as they pa.s.sed. They flowed by as smooth and quiet and sentimental as if Narcissus were about to see his reflection on the clear surface and become intoxicated with beautiful egoism. They might also have enticed me to lose myself deeper and deeper in the inner perspective of my mind, were not my nature so perpetually unselfish and practical that even my speculations never concern themselves about anything but the general good. So I fell to thinking, among other things, while my mind was relaxed by a comfortable laziness and my limbs by the powerful heat, of the possibility of a lasting embrace. I thought out ways of prolonging the time of our being together and of avoiding in the future those childishly pathetic expressions of pain over sudden parting, and of finding pleasure, as. .h.i.therto, in the comic side of Fate’s inevitable and unchangeable decree that separate we must. And only after the power of my reason, laboring over the unattainableness of my ideal, broke and relaxed, did I give myself over to a stream of thoughts. I listened eagerly to all the motley fairy-tales with which imagination and desire, like irresistible sirens in my breast, charmed my senses. It did not occur to me to criticise the seductive illusion as ign.o.ble, although I well knew that it was for the most part a beautiful lie. The soft music of the fantasy seemed to fill the gaps in my longing. I gratefully observed this and resolved to repeat for us in the future by my own inventiveness that which good fortune had given me, and to begin for you this poem of truth. And thus the original germ of this wonderful growth of caprice and love came into being. And just as freely as it sprouted did I intend it should grow up and run wild; and never from love of order and economy shall I trim off any of its profuse abundance of superfluous leaves and shoots.
Like a wise man of the East, I had fallen into a holy lethargy and calm contemplation of the everlasting substances, more especially of yours and mine. Greatness in repose, most people say, is the highest aim of plastic art. And so, without any distinct purpose and without any unseemly effort, I thought out and bodied forth our everlasting substances in this dignified style. I looked back and saw how gentle sleep overcame us in the midst of our embrace. Now and then one of us would open an eye, smile at the sweet slumber of the other, and wake up just enough to venture a jesting remark and a gentle caress. But ere the wanton play thus begun was ended, we would both sink back into the blissful lap of half-conscious self-forgetfulness.