Among its more pleasing manifestations, Romanticism shows a remarkable group of gifted, capable women, possibly because this philosophy of intuition corresponds to the higher intimations of woman’s soul. Other obvious fruits of the movement were the revival of the poetry and dignity of the Middle Ages, both in art and life—that colorful, form-loving musical era which the Age of Enlightenment had so crassly despised. That this yearning for the beautiful background led to reaction in politics and religion is natural enough; more edifying are the rich fruits which scholarship recovered when Romanticism had directed it into the domains of German antiquity and philology, and the wealth of popular song. In addition to these, we must reckon the spoils which these adventurers brought back from their quest into the faery lands of Poetry in southern climes.
When all is said, and in spite of Romanticism’s weak and unmanly quitting of the field of duty, in spite of certain tendencies to ignore and supersede the adamant foundations of morality upon which the “humanities” as well as society rest, one cannot quite help hoping that somehow good may be the final hint of it all. Like Mary Stuart, it is, at least, somewhat better than its worst repute, as formulated by its enemies. Estimates change; even the excellent Wordsworth was held by the English reviewers to be fantastic and vague in his Ode to Duty. We should not forget that the most shocking pronouncements of the Romanticists were uttered half-ironically, to say the least. After its excursion into the fantastic jungle of Romanticism, the world has found it restful and restorative, to be sure, to return to the limited perfection of the serene and approved classics; yet perchance it is the last word of all philosophy that the astounding circumambient Universe is almost entirely unperceived by our senses and reasoning powers.
Let us confess, and without apology, that the country which claims a Hawthorne, a Poe, and a youthful Longfellow, can never surrender unconditionally its hold upon the “True Romance:”
“Through wantonness if men profess
They weary of Thy parts,
E’en let them die at blasphemy
And perish with their arts;
But we that love, but we that prove
Thine excellence august,
While we adore discover more
Thee perfect, wise, and just....
A veil to draw ’twixt God His Law
And Man’s infirmity;
A shadow kind to dumb and blind
The shambles where we die;
A sum to trick th’ arithmetic
Too base of leaguing odds;
The spur of trust, the curb of lust—
Thou handmaid of the Gods!”
AUGUST WILHELM SCHLEGEL
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LECTURES ON DRAMATIC ART (1809)
TRANSLATED BY JOHN BLACK