You know I am no foe to pleasure, and appreciate my food and drink after physical exertion as much as any one; but it is desecration to make that the main object here. In this dreadfully beautiful wilderness, under these green corridors of beeches, on the battlements of this great dazzling temple, before this huge azure mirror of the sea, only high and serious thoughts should find a place—the whole scene, stamped as it is with majesty and mystery, seems designed to attract the mind to the hidden life of the unending world around it. For this, solitude and rest are necessary conditions, hence one must visit Stubbenkamer either alone or with intimate and congenial friends.
THE UNIVERSAL PANTHEISTIC FEELING OF
The eighteenth century, so proudly distinguished as the century of Frederic the Great and Maria Theresa, Kant and Lessing, Rousseau and Voltaire, the age of enlightenment, and, above all, of the Revolution, was the most sentimental period in history. Its feeling for Nature bore the same stamp. Many of the Anacreontists and Goettingen poets, as well as Klopstock, shewed genuine enthusiasm; but their horizon was narrow, and though F. Stolberg sang of the sea and his native mountains, most of them only rang the changes on moonlight and starlight, pastoral idylls, the joys of spring, and winter excursions on the ice. Even Rousseau, the prophet of high mountains, was the child of the same sentimental, self-adoring time; a morbid strain, call it misanthropy, melancholy, what you will, underlay all his passion for Nature. It was Goethe who dissolved the spell which lay over the world, and, although born into the days of beautiful souls, moonshine poets, seraphic heaven stormers, pastoral poems, and La Nouvelle Heloise, ennobled and purified the tone of the day and freed it from convention!
It was by dint of his genius for expression, the gift of finding the one right word, that he became the world’s greatest lyrist: what he felt became a poem, what he saw a picture.
To see and to fashion into poetry were one with him, whereas his predecessors had called out the whole artillery of Olympus—nymphs, Oreads, Chloe, Phyllis, Damon, Aurora, Echo, and Zephyr—even the still heavier ordnance of the old Teutonic gods and half-gods, only to repeat stereotyped ideas, and produce descriptions of scenery, without lyric thought and feeling.
But Goethe’s genius passed through very evident stages of development, and found forerunners in Lessing and Herder.
Lessing’s mind was didactic and critical, not lyric, so that his importance here is a negative one. In laying down the limits of poetry and painting in Laocoon, he attacked the error of his day which used poetry for pictures, debasing it to mere descriptions of seasons, places, plants, etc.
He was dealing with fundamental principles when he said: