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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.
[Illustration: #FRIEDRICH SCHLEGEL# E. HADER]
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