If the interest of a work of art is sufficient to achieve this result, it does all that can be required of it; for its only service is to connect the pictures by which the poet desires to communicate a knowledge of the idea, as if they were pearls, and interest were the thread that holds them together, and makes an ornament out of the whole. But interest is prejudicial to beauty as soon as it oversteps this limit; and this is the case if we are so led away by the interest of a work that whenever we come to any detailed description in a novel, or any lengthy reflection on the part of a character in a drama, we grow impatient and want to put spurs to our author, so that we may follow the development of events with greater speed. Epic and dramatic writings, where beauty and interest are both present in a high degree, may be compared to the working of a watch, where interest is the spring which keeps all the wheels in motion. If it worked unhindered, the watch would run down in a few minutes. Beauty, holding us in the spell of description and reflection, is like the barrel which checks its movement.
Or we may say that interest is the body of a poetic work, and beauty the soul. In the epic and the drama, interest, as a necessary quality of the action, is the matter; and beauty, the form that requires the matter in order to be visible.
In the moment when a great affliction overtakes us, we are hurt to find that the world about us is unconcerned and goes its own way. As Goethe says in Tasso, how easily it leaves us helpless and alone, and continues its course like the sun and the moon and the other gods:
_... die Welt,
wie sie so leicht,
Uns huelflos, einsam laesst, und ihren Weg,
Wie Sonn’ und Mond und andre Goetter geht_.
Nay more! it is something intolerable that even we ourselves have to go on with the mechanical round of our daily business, and that thousands of our own actions are and must be unaffected by the pain that throbs within us. And so, to restore the harmony between our outward doings and our inward feelings, we storm and shout, and tear our hair, and stamp with pain or rage.
Our temperament is so despotic that we are not satisfied unless we draw everything into our own life, and force all the world to sympathise with us. The only way of achieving this would be to win the love of others, so that the afflictions which oppress our own hearts might oppress theirs as well. Since that is attended with some difficulty, we often choose the shorter way, and blab out our burden of woe to people who do not care, and listen with curiosity, but without sympathy, and much oftener with satisfaction.