The historical conception of related conditions promotes the more rapid development of the artist as well as of the man. Every individual, especially if he be a man of capacity, at first seems far too important to himself. Trusting in his independent power, he is inclined to champion far too quickly this or that maxim; he strives and labors with energy along the path he has himself chosen; and when at length he becomes conscious of his one-sidedness and his error, he changes just as violently, enters upon another perhaps equally erroneous course, and clings to principles equally faulty. Not until late in life does he become aware of his own history and realize how much further a constant development in accordance with well tested principles might have led him.
If the connoisseur owes his insight to history alone, which embodies the ideas which give rise to art, for the young artist the history of art is of the greatest importance.
He should not, however, search in it for indistinct models, to be pursued passionately, but for the means of realizing himself and his point of view, with its limitations. But unfortunately, even the immediate past is seldom instructive to man, through no fault of his own. For while we are learning to understand the mistakes of our predecessors, time is itself producing new errors which, unobserved, ensnare us, and the account of which is left to the future historian with just as little advantage to his own generation.
But who would indulge in such mournful observations, and not rather endeavor to promote the greatest possible clearness of view in his own branch of study? This is the duty assumed by the writer of the present sketch, the difficulty of which will be seen by connoisseurs, who, it is hoped, will point out its deficiencies and correct its imperfections, thereby making a satisfactory future work possible.
WINCKELMANN’S LETTERS To BERENDIS
Letters are among the most important monuments which the individual leaves behind him. Imaginative persons often picture to themselves, even in solitary musings, the presence of a distant friend, to whom they impart their most private opinions; and in the same manner a letter is a kind of soliloquy. For often the friend to whom, we write is rather the occasion than the subject of the letter. Whatever rejoices or pains, oppresses or occupies us, is poured forth from the heart. As lasting evidences of an existence or a condition, such papers are the more important for posterity, the more the writer lives in the moment and the less he is concerned with the future. Winckelmann’s letters sometimes have this desirable character.
Although this excellent man, who educated himself in solitude, was reticent in society, serious and discreet in his personal life and conduct toward others, he was free and unconstrained in his letters, in which he often reveals himself, without hesitation, just as he felt. We see him worried, troubled, confused, doubting and dilatory, but also cheerful, alert, bold, daring, and unrestrained to the degree of cynicism; altogether, however, as a man of tempered character and confident in himself; who, although the outer conditions offered to his imagination so much to choose from, usually chose the best way, except when he took the last impatient step which cost him his life.