Shakespeare's knowledge of mankind has become proverbial: in this his superiority is so great that he has justly been called the master of the human heart. A readiness to remark the mind's fainter and involuntary utterances, and the power to express with certainty the meaning of these signs, as determined by experience and reflection, constitute "the observer of men;" but tacitly to draw from these still further conclusions and to arrange the separate observations according to grounds of probability into a just and valid combination—this, it may be said, is to know men. The distinguishing property of the dramatic poet who is great in characterization, is something altogether different here, and which, take it which way we will, either includes in it this readiness and this acuteness, or dispenses with both. It is the capability of transporting himself so completely into every situation, even the most unusual, that he is enabled, as plenipotentiary of the whole human race, without particular instructions for each separate case, to act and speak in the name of every individual. It is the power of endowing the creatures of his imagination with such self-existent energy that they afterward act in each conjuncture according to general laws of nature: the poet, in his dreams, institutes, as it were, experiments which are received with as much authority as if they had been made on waking objects. The inconceivable element herein, and what moreover can never be learned, is, that the characters appear neither to do nor to say anything on the spectator's account merely; and yet that the poet, simply by means of the exhibition, and without any subsidiary explanation, communicates to his audience the gift of looking into the inmost recesses of their minds. Hence Goethe has ingeniously compared Shakespeare's characters to watches with crystalline plates and cases, which, while they point out the hours as correctly as other watches, enable us at the same time to perceive the inward springs whereby all this is accomplished.
Nothing, however, is more foreign to Shakespeare than a certain anatomical style of exhibition, which laboriously enumerates all the motives by which a man is determined to act in this or that particular manner. This rage of supplying motives, the mania of so many modern historians, might be carried at length to an extent which would abolish everything like individuality, and resolve all character into nothing but the effect of foreign or external influences, whereas we know that it often announces itself most decidedly in earliest infancy. After all, a man acts so because he is so. And what each man is, that Shakespeare reveals to us most immediately: he demands and obtains our belief even for what is singular, and deviates from the ordinary course of nature. Never perhaps was there so comprehensive a talent for characterization as Shakespeare. It not only grasps every diversity of rank, age, and sex, down to the lispings of infancy; not only do the king and the beggar, the hero and the pickpocket, the sage and the idiot, speak and act with equal truthfulness; not only does he transport himself to distant ages and foreign nations, and portray with the greatest accuracy (a few apparent violations of costume excepted) the spirit of the ancient Romans, of the French in the wars with the English, of the English themselves during a great part of their history, of the Southern Europeans (in the serious part of many comedies), the cultivated society of the day, and the rude barbarism of a Norman fore-time; his human characters have not only such depth and individuality that they do not admit of being classed under common names, and are inexhaustible even in conception: no, this Prometheus not merely forms men, he opens the gates of the magical world of spirits, calls up the midnight ghost, exhibits before us the witches with their unhallowed rites, peoples the air with sportive fairies and sylphs; and these beings, though existing only in the imagination, nevertheless possess such truth and consistency that even with such misshapen abortions as Caliban, he extorts the assenting conviction that, were there such beings, they would so conduct themselves. In a word, as he carries a bold and pregnant fancy into the kingdom of nature, on the other hand he carries nature into the region of fancy which lie beyond the confines of reality. We are lost in astonishment at the close intimacy he brings us into with the extraordinary, the wonderful, and the unheard-of.
Pope and Johnson appear strangely to contradict each other, when the first says, "all the characters of Shakespeare are individuals," and the second, "they are species." And yet perhaps these opinions may admit of reconciliation. Pope's expression is unquestionably the more correct. A character which should be merely a personification of a naked general idea could neither exhibit any great depth nor any great variety. The names of genera and species are well known to be merely auxiliaries for the understanding, that we may embrace the infinite variety of nature in a certain order. The characters which Shakespeare has so thoroughly delineated have undoubtedly a number of individual peculiarities, but at the same time they possess a significance which is not applicable to them alone: they generally supply materials for a profound theory of their most prominent and distinguishing property. But even with the above correction, this opinion must still have its limitations. Characterization is merely one ingredient of the dramatic art, and not dramatic poetry itself. It would be improper in the extreme, if the poet were to draw our attention to superfluous traits of character at a time when it ought to be his endeavor to produce other impressions. Whenever the musical or the fanciful preponderates, the characteristical necessarily falls into the background. Hence many of the figures of Shakespeare exhibit merely external designations, determined by the place which they occupy in the whole: they are like secondary persons in a public procession, to whose physiognomy we seldom pay much attention; their only importance is derived from the solemnity of their dress and the duty in which they are engaged. Shakespeare's messengers, for instance, are for the most part mere messengers, and yet not common, but poetical messengers: the message which they have to bring is the soul which suggests to them their language. Other voices, too, are merely raised to pour forth these as melodious lamentations or rejoicings, or to dwell in reflection on what has taken place; and in a serious drama without chorus this must always be more or less the case, if we would not have it prosaic.
If Shakespeare deserves our admiration for his characters, he is equally deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this word in its widest signification, as including every mental condition, every tone, from indifference or familiar mirth to the wildest rage and despair. He gives us the history of minds; he lays open to us, in a single word, a whole series of their anterior states. His passions do not stand at the same height, from first to last, as is the case with so many tragic poets, who, in the language of Lessing, are thorough masters of the legal style of love. He paints, with inimitable veracity, the gradual advance from the first origin; "he gives," as Lessing says, "a living picture of all the slight and secret artifices by which a feeling steals into our souls, of all the imperceptible advantages which it there gains, of all the stratagems by which it makes every other passion subservient to itself, till it becomes the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions." Of all the poets, perhaps, he alone has portrayed the mental diseases, melancholy, delirium, lunacy, with such inexpressible and, in every respect, definite truth, that the physician may enrich his observations from them in the same manner as from real cases.
And yet Johnson has objected to Shakespeare that his pathos is not always natural and free from affectation. There are, it is true, passages, though comparatively speaking very few, where his poetry exceeds the bounds of actual dialogue, where a too soaring imagination, a too luxuriant wit, rendered a complete dramatic forgetfulness of himself impossible. With this exception, the censure originated in a fanciless way of thinking, to which everything appears unnatural that does not consort with its own tame insipidity. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural pathos, which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery and nowise elevated above everyday life. But energetical passions electrify all the mental powers, and will consequently, in highly-favored natures, give utterance to themselves in ingenious and figurative expressions. It has been often remarked that indignation makes a man witty; and as despair occasionally breaks out into laughter, it may sometimes also give vent to itself in antithetical comparisons.
Besides, the rights of the poetical form have not been duly weighed. Shakespeare, who was always sure of his power to excite, when he wished, sufficiently powerful emotions, has occasionally, by indulging in a freer play of fancy, purposely tempered the impressions when too painful, and immediately introduced a musical softening of our sympathy. He had not those rude ideas of his art which many moderns seem to have, as if the poet, like the clown in the proverb, must strike twice on the same place. An ancient rhetorician delivered a caution against dwelling too long on the excitation of pity; for nothing, he said, dries so soon as tears; and Shakespeare acted conformably to this ingenious maxim without having learned it. The paradoxical assertion of Johnson that "Shakespeare had a greater talent for comedy than tragedy, and that in the latter he has frequently displayed an affected tone," is scarcely deserving of lengthy notice. For its refutation, it is unnecessary to appeal to the great tragical compositions of the poet, which, for overpowering effect, leave far behind them almost everything that the stage has seen besides; a few of their less celebrated scenes would be quite sufficient. What to many readers might lend an appearance of truth to this assertion are the verbal witticisms, that playing upon words, which Shakespeare not unfrequently introduces into serious and sublime passages and even into those also of a peculiarly pathetic nature.
I have already stated the point of view in which we ought to consider this sportive play upon words. I shall here, therefore, merely deliver a few observations respecting the playing upon words in general, and its poetical use. A thorough investigation would lead us too far from our subject, and too deeply into considerations on the essence of language, and its relation to poetry, or rhyme, etc.
There is in the human mind a desire that language should exhibit the object which it denotes, sensibly, by its very sound, which may be traced even as far back as in the first origin of poetry. As, in the shape in which language comes down to us, this is seldom perceptibly the case, an imagination which has been powerfully excited is fond of laying hold of any congruity in sound which may accidentally offer itself, that by such means he may, for the nonce, restore the lost resemblance between the word and the thing. For example, how common was it and is it to seek in the name of a person, however arbitrarily bestowed, a reference to his qualities and fortunes—to convert it purposely into a significant name. Those who cry out against the play upon words as an unnatural and affected invention, only betray their own ignorance of original nature. A great fondness for it is always evinced among children, as well as with nations of simple manners, among whom correct ideas of the derivation and affinity of words have not yet been developed, and do not, consequently, stand in the way of this caprice. In Homer we find several examples of it; the Books of Moses, the oldest written memorial of the primitive world, are, as is well known, full of them. On the other hand, poets of a very cultivated taste, like Petrarch, or orators, like Cicero, have delighted in them. Whoever, in Richard the Second, is disgusted with the affecting play of words of the dying John of Gaunt on his own name, should remember that the same thing occurs in the Ajax of Sophocles. We do not mean to say that all playing upon words is on all occasions to be justified. This must depend on the disposition of mind, whether it will admit of such a play of fancy, and whether the sallies, comparisons, and allusions, which lie at the bottom of them, possess internal solidity. Yet we must not proceed upon the principle of trying how the thought appears after it is deprived of the resemblance in sound, any more than we are to endeavor to feel the charm of rhymed versification after depriving it of its rhyme. The laws of good taste on this subject must, moreover, vary with the quality of the languages. In those which possess a great number of homonymes, that is, words possessing the same, or nearly the same, sound, though quite different in their derivation and signification, it is almost more difficult to avoid, than to fall on such a verbal play. It has, however, been feared, lest a door might be opened to puerile witticism, if they were not rigorously proscribed. But I cannot, for my part, find that Shakespeare had such an invincible and immoderate passion for this verbal witticism. It is true, he sometimes makes a most lavish use of this figure; at others, he has employed it very sparingly; and at times (for example, in Macbeth) I do not believe a vestige of it is to be found. Hence, in respect to the use or the rejection of the play upon words, he must have been guided by the measure of the objects and the different style in which they required to be treated, and probably have followed here, as in everything else, principles which, fairly examined, will bear a strict examination.
The objection that Shakespeare wounds our feelings by the open display of the most disgusting moral odiousness, unmercifully harrows up the mind, and tortures even our eyes by the exhibition of the most insupportable and hateful spectacles, is one of greater and graver importance. He has, in fact, never varnished over wild and bloodthirsty passions with a pleasing exterior—never clothed crime and want of principle with a false show of greatness of soul; and in that respect he is every way deserving of praise. Twice he has portrayed downright villains, and the masterly way in which he has contrived to elude impressions of too painful a nature may be seen in Iago and Richard the Third. I allow that the reading, and still more the sight, of some of his pieces, is not advisable to weak nerves, any more than was the Eumenides of AEschylus; but is the poet, who can reach an important object only by a bold and hazardous daring, to be checked by considerations for such persons? If the effeminacy of the present day is to serve as a general standard of what tragical composition may properly exhibit to human nature, we shall be forced to set very narrow limits indeed to art, and the hope of anything like powerful effect must at once and forever be renounced. If we wish to have a grand purpose, we must also wish to have the grand means, and our nerves ought in some measure to accommodate themselves to painful impressions, if, by way of requital, our mind is thereby elevated and strengthened. The constant reference to a petty and puny race must cripple the boldness of the poet. Fortunately for his art, Shakespeare lived in an age extremely susceptible of noble and tender impressions, but which had yet inherited enough of the firmness of a vigorous olden time not to shrink with dismay from every strong and forcible painting. We have lived to see tragedies of which the catastrophe consists in the swoon of an enamored princess: if Shakespeare falls occasionally into the opposite extreme, it is a noble error, originating in the fulness of a gigantic strength. And this tragical Titan, who storms the heavens and threatens to tear the world off its hinges, who, more terrible than AEschylus, makes our hair stand on end and congeals our blood with horror, possessed at the same time the insinuating loveliness of the sweetest poesy; he toys with love like a child, and his songs die away on the ear like melting sighs. He unites in his soul the utmost elevation and the utmost depth; and the most opposite and even apparently irreconcilable properties subsist in him peaceably together. The world of spirits and nature have laid all their treasures at his feet: in strength a demi-god, in profundity of view a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a guardian spirit of a higher order, he lowers himself to mortals as if unconscious of his superiority, and is as open and unassuming as a child.
If the delineation of all his characters, separately considered, is inimitably bold and correct, he surpasses even himself in so combining and contrasting them that they serve to bring out one anothers' peculiarities. This is the very perfection of dramatic characterization: for we can never estimate a man's true worth if we consider him altogether abstractedly by himself; we must see him in his relations with others; and it is here that most dramatic poets are deficient. Shakespeare makes each of his principal characters the glass in which the others are reflected, and by like means enables us to discover what could not be immediately revealed to us. What in others is most profound, is with him but surface. Ill-advised should we be were we always to take men's declarations respecting themselves and others for sterling coin. Ambiguity of design with much propriety he makes to overflow with the most praiseworthy principles; and sage maxims are not infrequently put in the mouth of stupidity, to show how easily such commonplace truisms may be acquired. Nobody ever painted so truthfully as he has done the facility of self-deception, the half self-conscious hypocrisy toward ourselves, with which even noble minds attempt to disguise the almost inevitable influence of selfish motives in human nature. This secret irony of the characterization commands admiration as the profound abyss of acuteness and sagacity; but it is the grave of enthusiasm. We arrive at it only after we have had the misfortune to see human nature through and through, and after no choice remains but to adopt the melancholy truth that "no virtue or greatness is altogether pure and genuine," or the dangerous error that "the highest perfection is attainable." Here we therefore may perceive in the poet himself, notwithstanding his power to excite the most fervent emotions, a certain cool indifference, but still the indifference of a superior mind, which has run through the whole sphere of human existence and survived feeling.
The irony in Shakespeare has not merely a reference to the separate characters, but frequently to the whole of the action. Most poets who portray human events in a narrative or dramatic form themselves take a part, and exact from their readers a blind approbation or condemnation of whatever side they choose to support or oppose. The more zealous this rhetoric is, the more certainly it fails of its effect. In every case we are conscious that the subject itself is not brought immediately before us, but that we view it through the medium of a different way of thinking. When, however, by a dextrous manoeuvre, the poet allows us an occasional glance at the less brilliant reverse of the medal, then he makes, as it were, a sort of secret understanding with the select circle of the more intelligent of his readers or spectators; he shows them that he had previously seen and admitted the validity of their tacit objections; that he himself is not tied down to the represented subject, but soars freely above it; and that, if he chose, he could unrelentingly annihilate the beautiful and irresistibly attractive scenes which his magic pen has produced. No doubt, wherever the proper tragic enters, everything like irony immediately ceases; but from the avowed raillery of Comedy, to the point where the subjection of mortal beings to an inevitable destiny demands the highest degree of seriousness, there are a multitude of human relations which unquestionably may be considered in an ironical view, without confounding the eternal line of separation between good and evil. This purpose is answered by the comic characters and scenes which are interwoven with the serious parts in most of those pieces of Shakespeare where romantic fables or historical events are made the subject of a noble and elevating exhibition. Frequently an intentional parody of the serious part is not to be mistaken in them; at other times the connection is more arbitrary and loose, and the more so, the more marvelous the invention of the whole and the more entirely it has become a light reveling of the fancy. The comic intervals everywhere serve to prevent the pastime from being converted into a business, to preserve the mind in the possession of its serenity, and to keep off that gloomy and inert seriousness which so easily steals upon the sentimental, but not tragical, drama. Most assuredly Shakespeare did not intend thereby, in defiance to his own better judgment, to humor the taste of the multitude: for in various pieces, and throughout considerable portions of others, and especially when the catastrophe is approaching, and the mind consequently is more on the stretch and no longer likely to give heed to any amusement which would distract their attention, he has abstained from all such comic intermixtures. It was also an object with him, that the clowns or buffoons should not occupy a more important place than that which he had assigned them: he expressly condemns the extemporizing with which they loved to enlarge their parts. Johnson founds the justification of the species of drama in which seriousness and mirth are mixed, on this, that in real life the vulgar is found close to the sublime, that the merry and the sad usually accompany and succeed each other. But it does not follow that, because both are found together, therefore they must not be separable in the compositions of art. The observation is in other respects just, and this circumstance invests the poet with a power to adopt this procedure, because everything in the drama must be regulated by the conditions of theatrical probability; but the mixture of such dissimilar, and apparently contradictory, ingredients, in the same works, can be justifiable only on principles reconcilable with the views of art which I have already described. In the dramas of Shakespeare the comic scenes are the antechamber of the poetry, where the servants remain; these prosaic attendants must not raise their voices so high as to deafen the speakers in the presence-chamber; however, in those intervals when the ideal society has retired they deserve to be listened to; their bold raillery, their presumption of mockery, may afford many an insight into the situation and circumstances of their masters.
Shakespeare's comic talent is equally wonderful with that which he has shown in the pathetic and tragic: it stands on an equal elevation, and possesses equal extent and profundity; in all that I have hitherto said, I only wished to guard against admitting that the former preponderated. He is highly inventive in comic situations and motives: it will be hardly possible to show whence he has taken any of them, whereas, in the serious part of his dramas, he has generally laid hold of some well-known story. His comic characterization is equally true, various, and profound, with his serious. So little is he disposed to caricature, that rather, it may be said, many of his traits are almost too nice and delicate for the stage, that they can be made available only by a great actor and fully understood only by an acute audience. Not only has he delineated many kinds of folly, but even of sheer stupidity has he contrived to give a most diverting and entertaining picture. There is also in his pieces a peculiar species of the farcical, which apparently seems to be introduced more arbitrarily, but which, however, is founded on imitation of some actual custom. This is the introduction of the merrymaker, the fool with his cap and bells and motley dress, called more commonly in England "clown," who appears in several comedies, though not in all, but, of the tragedies, in Lear alone, and who generally merely exercises his wit in conversation with the principal persons, though he is also sometimes incorporated into the action. In those times it was not only usual for princes to have their court fools, but many distinguished families, among their other retainers, kept such an exhilarating house-mate as a good antidote against the insipidity and wearisomeness of ordinary life, and as a welcome interruption of established formalities. Great statesmen, and even ecclesiastics, did not consider it beneath their dignity to recruit and solace themselves after important business with the conversation of their fools; the celebrated Sir Thomas More had his fool painted along with himself by Holbein. Shakespeare appears to have lived immediately before the time when the custom began to be abolished; in the English comic authors who succeeded him the clown is no longer to be found. The dismissal of the fool has been extolled as a proof of refinement; and our honest forefathers have been pitied for taking delight in such a coarse and farcical amusement. For my part, I am rather disposed to believe that the practice was dropped from the difficulty in finding fools able to do full justice to their parts: on the other hand, reason, with all its conceit of itself, has become too timid to tolerate such bold irony; it is always careful lest the mantle of its gravity should be disturbed in any of its folds; and rather than allow a privileged place to folly beside itself, it has unconsciously assumed the part of the ridiculous; but, alas! a heavy and cheerless ridicule. It would be easy to make a collection of the excellent sallies and biting sarcasms which have been preserved of celebrated court fools. It is well known that they frequently told such truths to princes as are never now told to them. Shakespeare's fools, along with somewhat of an overstraining for wit, which cannot altogether be avoided when wit becomes a separate profession, have for the most part an incomparable humor and an infinite abundance of intellect, enough indeed to supply a whole host of ordinary wise men.
I have still a few observations to make on the diction and versification of our poet. The language is here and there somewhat obsolete, but on the whole much less so than in most of the contemporary writers—a sufficient proof of the goodness of his choice. Prose had as yet been but little cultivated, as the learned generally wrote in Latin—a favorable circumstance for the dramatic poet; for what has he to do with the scientific language of books? He had not only read, but studied, the earlier English poets; but he drew his language immediately from life itself, and he possessed a masterly skill in blending the dialogical element with the highest poetical elevation. I know not what certain critics mean, when they say that Shakespeare is frequently ungrammatical. To make good their assertion, they must prove that similar constructions never occur in his contemporaries, the direct contrary of which can, however, be easily shown. In no language is everything determined on principle; much is always left to the caprice of custom, and if this has since changed, is the poet to be made answerable for it? The English language had not then attained to that correct insipidity which has been introduced into the more recent literature of the country, to the prejudice, perhaps, of its originality. As a field when first brought under the plough produces, along with the fruitful shoots, many luxuriant weeds, so the poetical diction of the day ran occasionally into extravagance, but an extravagance originating in the exuberance of its vigor. We may still perceive traces of awkwardness, but nowhere of a labored and spiritless display of art. In general, Shakespeare's style yet remains the very best model, both in the vigorous and sublime, and the pleasing and tender. In his sphere he has exhausted all the means and appliances of language. On all he has impressed the stamp of his mighty spirit. His images and figures, in their unsought, nay, uncapricious singularity, have often a sweetness altogether peculiar. He becomes occasionally obscure from too great fondness for compressed brevity; but still, the labor of poring over Shakespeare's lines will invariably meet an ample requital.
The verse in all his plays is generally the rhymeless iambic of ten or eleven syllables, only occasionally intermixed with rhymes, but more frequently alternating with prose. No one piece is written entirely in prose; for even in those which approach the most to the pure Comedy, there is always something added which gives them a more poetical hue than usually belongs to this species. Many scenes are wholly in prose, in others verse and prose succeed each other alternately. This can appear an impropriety only in the eyes of those who are accustomed to consider the lines of a drama like so many soldiers drawn up rank and file on a parade, with the same uniform, arms, and accoutrements, so that when we see one or two we may represent to ourselves thousands as being every way like them.
In the use of verse and prose Shakespeare observes very nice distinctions according to the ranks of the speakers, but still more according to their characters and disposition of mind. A noble language, elevated above the usual tone, is suitable only to a certain decorum of manners, which is thrown over both vices and virtues and which does not even wholly disappear amidst the violence of passion. If this is not exclusively possessed by the higher ranks, it still, however, belongs naturally more to them than to the lower; and therefore, in Shakespeare, dignity and familiarity of language, poetry, and prose, are in this manner distributed among the characters. Hence his tradesmen, peasants, soldiers, sailors, servants, but more especially his fools and clowns, speak, almost without exception, in the tone of their actual life. However, inward dignity of sentiment, wherever it is possessed, invariably displays itself with a nobleness of its own, and stands not in need, for that end, of the artificial elegancies of education and custom; it is a universal right of man, of the highest as well as the lowest; and hence also, in Shakespeare, the nobility of nature and morality is ennobled above the artificial nobility of society. Not infrequently also he makes the very same persons express themselves at times in the sublimest language, and at others in the lowest; and this inequality is in like manner founded in truth. Extraordinary situations, which intensely occupy the head and throw mighty passions into play, give elevation and tension to the soul: it collects all its powers and exhibits an unusual energy, both in its operations and in its communications by language. On the other hand, even the greatest men have their moments of remissness, when to a certain degree they forget the dignity of their character in unreserved relaxation. This very tone of mind is necessary before they can receive amusement from the jokes of others, or, what surely cannot dishonor even a hero, from passing jokes themselves. Let any person, for example, go carefully through the part of Hamlet. How bold and powerful the language of his poetry when he conjures the ghost of his father, when he spurs himself on to the bloody deed, when he thunders into the soul of his mother! How he lowers his tone down to that of common life, when he has to do with persons whose station demands from him such a line of conduct; when he makes game of Polonius and the courtiers, instructs the player, and even enters into the jokes of the grave-digger. Of all the poet's serious leading characters there is none so rich in wit and humor as Hamlet; hence he it is of all of them that makes the greatest use of the familiar style. Others, again, never do fall into it; either because they are constantly surrounded by the pomp of rank, or because a uniform seriousness is natural to them; or, in short, because through the whole piece they are under the dominion of a passion calculated to excite, and not, like the sorrow of Hamlet, to depress the mind. The choice of the one form or the other is everywhere so appropriate, and so much founded in the nature of the thing, that I will venture to assert, even where the poet in the very same speech makes the speaker leave prose for poetry, or the converse, this could not be altered without danger of injuring or destroying some beauty or other. The blank verse has this advantage, that its tone may be elevated or lowered; it admits of approximation to the familiar style of conversation, and never forms such an abrupt contrast as that, for example, between plain prose and the rhyming Alexandrines.
Shakespeare's iambics are sometimes highly harmonious and full-sounding; always varied and suitable to the subject, at one time distinguished by ease and rapidity, at another they move along with ponderous energy. They never fall out of the dialogical character, which may always be traced even in the continued discourses of individuals, excepting when the latter run into the lyrical. They are a complete model of the dramatic use of this species of verse, which, in English, since Milton, has been also used in epic poetry; but in the latter it has assumed a quite different turn. Even the irregularities of Shakespeare's versification are expressive; a verse broken off, or a sudden change of rhythmus, coincides with some pause in the progress of the thought, or the entrance of another mental disposition. As a proof that he purposely violated the mechanical rules, from a conviction that a too symmetrical versification does not suit with the drama, and, on the stage has in the long run a tendency to lull the spectators to sleep, we may observe that his earlier pieces are the most diligently versified, and that, in the later works, when through practice he must have acquired a greater facility, we find the strongest deviations from the regular structure of the verse. As it served with him merely to make the poetical elevation perceptible, he therefore claimed the utmost possible freedom in the use of it.
The views or suggestions of feeling by which he was guided in the use of rhyme may likewise be traced with almost equal certainty. Not infrequently scenes, or even single speeches, close with a few rhyming lines, for the purpose of more strongly marking the division, and of giving it more rounding. This was injudiciously imitated by the English tragic poets of a later date; they suddenly elevated the tone in the rhymed lines, as if the person began all at once to speak in another language. The practice was welcomed by the actors from its serving as a signal for clapping when they made their exit. In Shakespeare, on the other hand, the transitions are more easy: all changes of forms are brought about insensibly, and as if of themselves. Moreover, he is generally fond of heightening a series of ingenious and antithetical sayings by the use of rhyme. We find other passages in continued rhyme, where solemnity and theatrical pomp were suitable, as, for instance, in the mask, as it is called, in The Tempest and in the play introduced in Hamlet. Of other pieces, for instance, the Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet, the rhymes form a considerable part; either because he may have wished to give them a glowing color, or because the characters appropriately utter in a more musical tone their complaints or suits of love. In these cases he has even introduced rhymed strophes, which approach to the form of the sonnet, then usual in England. The assertion of Malone, that Shakespeare in his youth was fond of rhyme, but that he afterward rejected it, is sufficiently refuted by his own chronology of the poet's works. In some of the earliest, for instance in the second and third part of Henry the Sixth, there are hardly any rhymes; in what is stated to be his last piece, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, and in Macbeth, which is proved to have been composed under the reign of King James, we find them in no inconsiderable number. Even in the secondary matters of form Shakespeare was not guided by humor and accident, but, like a genuine artist, acted invariably on good and solid grounds. This we might also show of the kinds of verse which he least frequently used (for instance, of the rhyming verses of seven and eight syllables), were we not afraid of dwelling too long on merely technical peculiarities.
In England the manner of handling rhyming verse, and the opinion as to its harmony and elegance, have, in the course of two centuries, undergone a much greater change than is the case with the rhymeless iambic or blank verse. In the former, Dryden and Pope have become models; these writers have communicated the utmost smoothness to rhyme, but they have also tied it down to a harmonious uniformity. A foreigner, to whom antiquated and new are the same, may perhaps feel with greater freedom the advantages of the more ancient manner. Certain it is, the rhyme of the present day, from the too great confinement of the couplet, is unfit for the drama. We must not estimate the rhyme of Shakespeare by the mode of subsequent times, but by a comparison with his contemporaries or with Spenser. The comparison will, without doubt, turn out to his advantage. Spenser is often diffuse; Shakespeare, though sometimes hard, is always brief and vigorous. He has more frequently been induced by the rhyme to leave out something necessary than to insert anything superfluous. Many of his rhymes, however, are faultless: ingenious with attractive ease, and rich without false brilliancy. The songs interspersed (those, I mean, of the poet himself) are generally sweetly playful and altogether musical; in imagination, while we merely read them, we hear their melody.
The whole of Shakespeare's productions bear the certain stamp of his original genius, but yet no writer was ever further removed from everything like a mannerism derived from habit or personal peculiarities. Rather is he, such is the diversity of tone and color which vary according to the quality of his subjects he assumes, a very Proteus. Each of his compositions is like a world of its own, moving in its own sphere. They are works of art, finished in one pervading style, which revealed the freedom and judicious choice of their author. If the formation of a work throughout, even in its minutest parts, in conformity with a leading idea; if the domination of one animating spirit over all the means of execution, deserves the name of correctness (and this, excepting in matters of grammar, is the only proper sense of the term); we shall then, after allowing to Shakespeare all the higher qualities which demand our admiration, be also compelled, in most cases, to concede to him the title of a correct poet.
It would be in the highest degree instructive to follow, if we could, in his career step by step, an author who at once founded and carried his art to perfection, and to go through his works in the order of time. But, with the exception of a few fixed points, which at length have been obtained, all the necessary materials for this are still wanting. The diligent Malone has, indeed, made an attempt to arrange the plays of Shakespeare in chronological order; but he himself gives out only the result of his labors as hypothetical, and it could not possibly be attended with complete success, since he excluded from his inquiry a considerable number of pieces which have been ascribed to the poet, though rejected as spurious by all the editors since Rowe, but which, in my opinion, must, if not wholly, at least in great measure be attributed to him.
* * * * *
INTRODUCTION TO LUCINDA
By CALVIN THOMAS
Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Columbia University
Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinda, published in 1799, was an explosion of youthful radicalism—a rather violent explosion which still reverberates in the histories of German Romanticism. It is a book about the metaphysics of love and marriage, the emancipation of the flesh, the ecstasies and follies of the enamored state, the nature and the rights of woman, and other such matters of which the world was destined to hear a great deal during the nineteenth century. Not by accident, but by intention, the little book was shocking, formless, incoherent—a riot of the ego without beginning, middle, or end. Now and then it passed the present limits of the printable in its exploitation of the improper and the unconventional.
Yet the book was by no means the wanton freak of a prurient imagination; it had a serious purpose and was believed by its author to present the essentials of a new and beautiful theory of life, art and religion. The great Schleiermacher, one of the profoundest of German theologians and an eloquent friend of religion, called Lucinda a "divine book" and its author a "priest of love and wisdom." "Everything in this work," he declared, "is at once human and divine; a magic air of divinity rises from its deep springs and permeates the whole temple." Today no man in his senses would praise the book in such terms. Yet, with all its crudities of style and its aberrations of taste, Lucinda reveals, not indeed the whole form and pressure of the epoch that gave it birth, but certain very interesting aspects of it.
Then, too, it marks a curious stage in the development of the younger Schlegel, a really profound thinker and one of the notable men of his day. This explains why a considerable portion of the much discussed book is here presented for the first time in an English dress.
The earliest writings of Friedrich Schlegel—he was born in 1772—relate to Greek literature, a field which he cultivated with enthusiasm and with ample learning. In particular he was interested in what his Greek poets and philosophers had to say of the position of women in society; of the hetairai as the equal and inspiring companions of men; of a more or less refined sexual love, untrammeled by law and convention, as the basis of a free, harmonious and beautiful existence. Among other things, he seems to have been much impressed by Plato's notion that the genus homo was one before it broke up into male and female, and that sexual attraction is a desire to restore the lost unity. In a very learned essay On Diotima, published in 1797—Diotima is the woman of whose relation to Socrates we get a glimpse in Plato's Symposium—there is much that foreshadows Lucinda. Let two or three sentences suffice. "What is uglier than the overloaded femininity, what is more loathesome than the exaggerated masculinity, that rules in our customs, our opinions, and even in our better art?" "Precisely the tyrannical vehemence of the man, the flabby self-surrender of the woman, is in itself an ugly exaggeration." "Only the womanhood that is independent, only the manhood that is gentle, is good and beautiful."
In 1796 Friedrich Schlegel joined his brother at Jena, where Fichte was then expounding his philosophy. It was a system of radical idealism, teaching that the only reality is the absolute Ego, whose self-assertion thus becomes the fundamental law of the world. The Fichtean system had not yet been fully worked out in its metaphysical bearings, but the strong and engaging personality of its author gave it, for a little while, immense prestige and influence. To Friedrich Schlegel it seemed the gospel of a new era sort of French Revolution in philosophy. Indeed he proclaimed that the three greatest events of the century were the French Revolution, Fichte's philosophy, and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. This last, which appeared in 1796 and contained obvious elements of autobiography, together with poems and disquisitions on this and that, was admired by him beyond all measure. 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 asserting the rights of passion 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 Schelling. 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 niggard.
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.
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 analysis. 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, pass away into the distance and lose themselves in the immeasurable. My vision doubtless owes the grove and its southern color-effect to the huge mass 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 coarse 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 amusement, a little melancholy, and considerable self-satisfaction. Still, as a refined lover and writer, I will endeavor to refashion the coarse 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 asserting 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 antithesis 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 glass 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 noble 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 sanctities 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 lustre. 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 anticipation 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 coarseness.
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 sex 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 classic 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, constituent 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 god 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 godlike 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 godlikeness 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 passed. 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 hitherto, 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 ignoble, 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.
With the greatest indignation I then thought of the bad men who would abolish sleep. They have probably never slept, and likewise never lived. Why are gods gods, except because they deliberately do nothing; because they understand that art and are masters of it? And how the poets, the sages and the saints strive to be like the gods, in that respect as in others! How they vie with one another in praise of solitude, of leisure, of liberal freedom from care and of inactivity! And they are right in doing so; for everything that is good and beautiful in life is already there and maintains itself by its own strength. Why then this vague striving and pushing forward without rest or goal? Can this storm and stress give form and nourishing juice to the everliving plant of humankind, that grows and fashions itself in quiet? This empty, restless activity is only a bad habit of the north and brings nothing but ennui for oneself and for others. And with what does it begin and end except with antipathy to the world in general, which is now such a common feeling? Inexperienced vanity does not suspect that it indicates only lack of reason and sense, but regards it as a high-minded discontent with the universal ugliness of the world and of life, of which it really has not yet the slightest presentiment. It could not be otherwise; for industry and utility are the death-angels which, with fiery swords, prevent the return of man into Paradise. Only when composed and at ease in the holy calm of true passivity can one think over his entire being and get a view of life and the world.
How is it that we think and compose at all, except by surrendering ourselves completely to the influence of some genius? Speaking and fashioning are after all only incidentals in all arts and sciences; thinking and imagining are the essentials, and they are only possible in a passive state. To be sure it is intentional, arbitrary, one-sided, but still a passive state. The more beautiful the climate we live in, the more passive we are. Only the Italians know what it is to walk, and only the Orientals to recline. And where do we find the human spirit more delicately and sweetly developed than in India? Everywhere it is the privilege of being idle that distinguishes the noble from the common; it is the true principle of nobility. Finally, where is the greater and more lasting enjoyment, the greater power and will to enjoy? Among women, whose nature we call passive, or among men, in whom the transition from sudden wrath to ennui is quicker than that from good to evil?
Satisfied with the enjoyment of my existence, I proposed to raise myself above all its finite, and therefore contemptible, aims and objects. Nature itself seemed to confirm me in this undertaking, and, as it were, to exhort me in many-voiced choral songs to further idleness. And now suddenly a new vision presented itself. I imagined myself invisible in a theatre. On one side I saw all the well-known boards, lights and painted scenery; on the other a vast throng of spectators, a veritable ocean of curious faces and sympathetic eyes. In the foreground, on the right, was Prometheus, in the act of fashioning men. He was bound by a long chain and was working very fast and very hard. Beside him stood several monstrous fellows who were constantly whipping and goading him on. There was also an abundance of glue and other materials about, and he was getting fire out of a large coal-pan. On the other side was a figure of the deified Hercules, with Hebe in his lap. On the stage in the foreground a crowd of youthful forms were laughing and running about, all of whom were very happy and did not merely seem to live. The youngest looked like amorettes, the older ones like images of women. But each one of them had his own peculiar manner and a striking originality of expression; and they all bore a certain resemblance to the Christian painters' and poets' idea of the devil—one might have called them little Satans. One of the smallest said:
"He who does not despise, cannot respect; one can only do either boundlessly, and good tone consists only in playing with men. And so is not a certain amount of malice an essential part of harmonious culture?"
"Nothing is more absurd," said another, "than when the moralists reproach you about your egoism. They are altogether wrong; for what god, who is not his own god, can deserve respect from man? You are, to be sure, mistaken in thinking that you have an ego; but if, in the meantime, you identify it with your body, your name and your property, you thereby at least make ready a place for it, in case by any chance an ego should come."
"And this Prometheus you can all hold in deep reverence," said one of the tallest. "He has made you all and is constantly making more like you."
And in fact just as soon as each new man was finished, the devils put him down with all the rest who were looking on, and immediately it was impossible to distinguish him from the others, so much alike were they all.
"The mistake he makes is in his method," continued the Sataniscus. "How can one want to do nothing but fashion men? Those are not the right tools he has."
And thereat he pointed to a rough figure of the God of the Gardens, which stood in the back part of the stage between an Amor and a very beautiful naked Venus.
"In regard to that our friend Hercules had better views, who could occupy fifty maidens in a single night for the welfare of humanity, and all of them heroic maids too. He did those labors of his, too, and slew many a furious monster. But the goal of his career was always a noble leisure, and for that reason he has gained entrance to Olympus. Not so, however, with this Prometheus, the inventor of education and enlightenment. To him you owe it that you can never be quiet and are always on the move. Hence it is also, when you have absolutely nothing to do, that you foolishly aspire to develop character and observe and study one another. It is a vile business. But Prometheus, for having misled man to toil, now has to toil himself, whether he wants to or not. He will soon get very tired of it, and never again will he be freed from his chains."
When the spectators heard this, they broke out into tears and jumped upon the stage to assure their father of their heartfelt sympathy. And thus the allegorical comedy vanished.
CONSTANCY AND PLAY
"Of course you are alone, Lucinda?"
"I do not know—perhaps—I think—"
"Please! please! dear Lucinda. You know very well that when little Wilhelmina says 'please! please!' and you do not do at once what she wants, she cries louder and louder until she gets her way."
"So it was to tell me that that you rushed into my room so out of breath and frightened me so?"
"Do not be angry with me, sweet lady, I beg of you! Oh, my child! Lovely creature! Be a good girl and do not reproach me!"
"Well, I suppose you will soon be asking me to close the door?"
"So? I will answer that directly. But first a nice long kiss, and then another, and then some more, and after that more still."
"Oh! You must not kiss me that way—if you want me to keep my senses! It makes one think bad thoughts."
"You deserve to. Are you really capable of laughing, my peevish lady? Who would have thought so? But I know very well you laugh only because you can laugh at me. You do not do it from pleasure. For who ever looked so solemn as you did just now—like a Roman senator? And you might have looked ravishing, dear child, with those holy dark eyes, and your long black hair shining in the evening sunlight—if you had not sat there like a judge on the bench. Heavens! I actually started back when I saw how you were looking at me. A little more and I should have forgotten the most important thing, and I am all confused. But why do you not talk? Am I disagreeable to you?"
"Well, that is funny, you surly Julius. As if you ever let any one say anything! Your tenderness flows today like a spring shower."
"Like your talk in the night."
"Oh sir, let my neckcloth be."
"Let it be? Not a bit of it! What is the use of a miserable, stupid neckcloth? Prejudice! Away with it!"
"If only no one disturbs us!"
"There she goes again, looking as if she wanted to cry! You are well, are you not? What makes your heart beat so? Come, let me kiss it! Oh, yes, you spoke a moment ago about closing the door. Very well, but not that way, not here. Come, let us run down through the garden to the summer-house, where the flowers are. Come! Oh, do not make me wait so!"
"As you wish, sir."
"I cannot understand—you are so odd today."
"Now, my dear friend, if you are going to begin moralizing, we might just as well go back again. I prefer to give you just one more kiss and run on ahead of you."
"Oh, not so fast, Lucinda! My moralizing will not overtake you. You will fall, love!"
"I did not wish to make you wait any longer. Now we are here. And you came pretty fast yourself."
"And you are very obedient! But this is no time to quarrel."
"Be still! Be still!"
"See! Here is a soft, cosy place, with everything as it should be. This time, if you do not—well, there will be no excuse for you."
"Will you not at least lower the curtain first?"
"You are right. The light will be much more charming so. How beautiful your skin shines in the red light! Why are you so cold, Lucinda?"
"Dearest, put the hyacinths further away, their odor sickens me."
"How solid and firm, how soft and smooth! That is harmonious development."
"Oh no, Julius! Please don't! I beg of you! I will not allow it!"
"May I not feel * * *. Oh, let me listen to the beating of your heart! Let me cool my lips in the snow of your bosom! Do not push me away! I will have my revenge! Hold me tighter! Kiss upon kiss! No, not a lot of short ones! One everlasting one! Take my whole soul and give me yours! Oh, beautiful and glorious Together! Are we not children? Tell me! How could you be so cold and indifferent at first, and then afterward draw me closer to you, making a face the while as if something were hurting you, as if you were reluctant to return my ardor? What is the matter? Are you crying? Do not hide your face! Look at me, dearest!"
"Oh, let me lie here beside you—I cannot look into your eyes. It was very naughty of me, Julius! Can you ever forgive me, darling? You will not desert me, will you? Can you still love me?"
"Come to me, sweet lady—here, close to my heart. Do you remember how nice it was, not long ago, when you cried in my arms, and how it relieved you? Tell me what the matter is now. You are not angry with me?"
"I am angry with myself. I could beat myself! To be sure, it would have served you right. And if ever again, sir, you conduct yourself so like a husband, I shall take better care that you find me like a wife. You may be assured of that. I cannot help laughing, it took me so by surprise. But do not imagine, sir, that you are so terribly lovable—this time it was by my own will that I broke my resolution."
"The first will and the last is always the best. It is just because women usually say less than they mean that they sometimes do more than they intend. That is no more than right; good will leads you women astray. Good will is a very nice thing, but the bad part of it is that it is always there, even when you do not want it."
"That is a beautiful mistake. But you men are full of bad will and you persist in it."
"Oh no! If we seem to be obstinate, it is only because we cannot be otherwise, not because our will is bad. We cannot, because we do not will properly. Hence it is not bad will, but lack of will. And to whom is the fault attributable but to you women, who have such a super-abundance of good will and keep it all to yourselves, unwilling to share it with us. But it happened quite against my will that we fell a-talking about will—I am sure I do not know why we are doing it. Still, it is much better for me to vent my feelings by talking than by smashing the beautiful chinaware. It gave me a chance to recover from my astonishment over your unexpected compunction, your excellent discourse, and your laudable resolution. Really, this is one of the strangest pranks that you have ever given me the honor of witnessing; so far as I can remember, it has been several weeks since you have talked by daylight in such solemn and unctuous periods as you used in your little sermon today. Would you mind translating your meaning into prose?"
"Really, have you forgotten already about yesterday evening and the interesting company? Of course I did not know that."
"Oh! And so that is why you are so out of sorts—because I talked with Amalia too much?"
"Talk as much as you please with anybody you please. But you must be nice to me—that I insist on."
"You spoke so very loud; the stranger was standing close by, and I was nervous and did not know what else to do."
"Except to be rude in your awkwardness."
"Forgive me! I plead guilty. You know how embarrassed I am with you in society. It always hurts me to talk with you in the presence of others."
"How nicely he manages to excuse himself!"
"The next time do not pass it over! Look out and be strict with me. But see what you have done! Isn't it a desecration? Oh no! It isn't possible, it is more than that. You will have to confess it—you were jealous."
"All the evening you rudely forgot about me. I began to write it all out for you today, but tore it up."
"And then, when I came?"
"Your being in such an awful hurry annoyed me."
"Could you love me if I were not so inflammable and electric? Are you not so too? Have you forgotten our first embrace? In one minute love comes and lasts for ever, or it does not come at all. Or do you think that joy is accumulated like money and other material things, by consistent behavior? Great happiness is like music coming out of the air—it appears and surprises us and then vanishes again."
"And thus it was you appeared to me, darling! But you will not vanish, will you? You shall not! I say it!"
"I will not, I will stay with you now and for all time. Listen! I feel a strong desire to hold a long discourse with you on jealousy. But first we ought to conciliate the offended gods."
"Rather, first the discourse and afterward the gods."
"You are right, we are not yet worthy of them. It takes you a long time to get over it after you have been disturbed and annoyed about something. How nice it is that you are so sensitive!"
"I am no more sensitive than you are—only in a different way."
"Well then, tell me! I am not jealous—how does it happen that you are?"
"Am I, unless I have cause to be? Answer me that!"
"I do not know what you mean."
"Well, I am not really jealous. But tell me: What were you talking about all yesterday evening?"
"So? It is Amalia of whom you are jealous? Is it possible? That nonsense? I did not talk about anything with her, and that was the funny part of it. Did I not talk just as long with Antonio, whom a short time ago I used to see almost every day?"
"You want me to believe that you talk in the same way with the coquettish Amalia that you do with the quiet, serious Antonio. Of course! It is nothing more than a case of clear, pure friendship!"
"Oh no, you must not believe that—I do not wish you to. That is not true. How can you credit me with being so foolish? For it is a very foolish thing indeed for two people of opposite sex to form and conceive any such relation as pure friendship. In Amalia's case it is nothing more than playing that I love her. I should not care anything about her at all, if she were not a little coquettish.
"Would that there were more like her in our circle! Just in fun, one must really love all the ladies."
"Julius, I believe you are going completely crazy!"
"Now understand me aright—I do not really mean all of them, but all of them who are lovable and happen to come one's way."
"That is nothing more than what the French call galanterie and coquetterie."
"Nothing more—except that I think of it as something beautiful and clever. And then men ought to know what the ladies are doing and what they want; and that is rarely the case. A fine pleasantry is apt to be transformed in their hands into coarse seriousness."
"This loving just in fun is not at all a funny thing to look at."
"That is not the fault of the fun—it is just miserable jealousy. Forgive me, dearest—I do not wish to get excited, but I must confess that I cannot understand how any one can be jealous. For lovers do not offend each other, but do things to please each other. Hence it must come from uncertainty, absence of love, and unfaithfulness to oneself. For me happiness is assured, and love is one with constancy. To be sure, it is a different matter with people who love in the ordinary way. The man loves only the race in his wife, the woman in her husband only the degree of his ability and social position, and both love in their children only their creation and their property. Under those circumstances fidelity comes to be a merit, a virtue, and jealousy is in order. For they are quite right in tacitly believing that there are many like themselves, and that one man is about as good as the next, and none of them worth very much."
"You look upon jealousy, then, as nothing but empty vulgarity and lack of culture."
"Yes, or rather as mis-culture and perversity, which is just as bad or still worse. According to that system the best thing for a man to do is to marry of set purpose out of sheer obligingness and courtesy. And certainly for such folk it must be no less convenient than entertaining, to live out their lives together in a state of mutual contempt. Women especially are capable of acquiring a genuine passion for marriage; and when one of them finds it to her liking, it easily happens that she marries half a dozen in succession, either spiritually or bodily. And the opportunity is never wanting for a man and wife to be delicate for a change, and talk a great deal about friendship."
"You used to talk as if you regarded us women as incapable of friendship. Is that really your opinion?"
"Yes, but the incapability, I think, lies more in the friendship than in you. Whatever you love at all, you love indivisibly; for instance, a sweetheart or a baby. With you even a sisterly relation would assume this character."