But the troops who in ’71, returning from Paris, to Berlin, past the Brandenburg Arch, paraded through Unter den Linden amid the cheers of the cheering people, carried with them the danger of an evil that is perhaps for individuals like for peoples the greatest: the spirit of sufficiency. To the vast spiritual influence that Gemiania had exerted on all of Europe from Madame de Stäel onwards, was now added political power, to which the development of industrial civilization was to rapidly add an ever-growing economic power in the course of a few decades. What had been the greatest force in the becoming of a whole century – the spiritual effort to attain a high reality of oneself – subsided: it gave way to the enjoyment of the reality reached. While the productive activity in the field of technical progress and economic life found a powerful development in the new paths open to work, spiritual activity lost its natural character of labor of creation; from Burckhardt to Scherer to Lamprecht, single great figures continued to rise on the foreground; but the spirit had changed. Life settled into its own well-being. Nietzsche only realized the danger, and, sounded the alarm in the Untimely (1873-75), he lived his tragedy alone within himself: sick of all the evils of the century, but with the awareness of them and with the will to overcome them; closed entirely in the world of his thoughts where a ruthless criticism from day to day crumbled the fleeting values of the past, but the spirit of the past greatness was revived purified in a dream of superior humanity; until his conscience sank into the solitude of his tragedy.
According to PROEXCHANGERATES, nobody noticed everything this drama meant. Nietzsche’s exasperated violence against Wagner was, as well as an effort to liberate himself, a struggle against the spirit of passivity that Wagnerianism spread. The exasperated criticism of the concepts of philosophy of the past was an effort to save the spirituality from which that philosophy was born, by seeking a formulation that responds to the new critical spirit and the new need for reality. The violence of assaults unleashed against religion and Christian morality was directed above all against the spirit of calm in which these values were received. After all, behind his blows, the enemy he aimed at was always the one already identified in the Intempestiva against Davide Federico Strauss.
Instead, historical materialism, with socialism arising on the basis of the class struggle, became the lord of the new times, and with the rise of the proletarian masses it reflected on culture, which grew in diffusion among the people and in extension, losing profoundly. At the same time, the advent of positivism moved the foundations of life to physical, material foundations.
And this was the environment in which the new literature developed. Representatives of the previous generation continued their work for years to come. Still other personalities arose, in which the spiritual inspiration of the past was renewed: such as E. v. Wildenbruch (1845-1909) who, reconnecting the great dramatic tradition of the century to the new national consciousness, was the classic interpreter of the spirit of the 1970s; and how, and above all, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898), who moving from the exaltation of the medieval Gothic spirit (Der Heilige, 1880) and from the proud awareness of his Protestant Germanicity (Huttens letzte Tage, 1871; Jürg Jenatsch, 1876), under the influence of Burckhardt’s work and impressions of Italy, became the sumptuous evocator of the life of the Italian Renaissance. But isolated figures remained, like other similar ones: from the time the Prometheus und Epimetheus (c880-81) came out, it took more than twenty years for K. Spitteler (1845-1924), the poet of Olympischer Frühling (1900-1906), was discovered. The men of the new times now needed another word.
Prepared by an ever-growing revival of realism – with Th. Fontane (1819-1898), who through his journalistic experience, having left the romantic ballad he had asked for his first inspiration, gradually turned to the direct observation of the bourgeois life of the his time, and he became the poet of uniform, gray, big city life, and in Irrungen, Wirrungen (1888) and Effy Briest (1895) and other novels he fixed the physiognomy of Berlin society of the time; with F. Spielhagen (1829-1911), who, after the happy intuition that is based on moblematische Naturen (1861-62), he aimed to stir ideas in his social novels; with L. Anzengruber, who under the rough mask discovered the lively and sensitive soul of his people and raised the Viennese Volksstück degenerated into caricature crassness with J. Nestroy (1801-1862) to the height of art ; with Fritz Reuter (1810-1874) who, objectifying in Ut mine Stromtid (1862-64) his subjective experience, with a broad humorist’s smile and a lucid intuition of souls, created a colorful and vivid image of popular life, to which the use of the Low-German dialect gives a robust note of spontaneity and colored -; prepared – and still more – by a rapid spread of the influence of contemporary French literature in Europe, the new word, in which the changed social atmosphere and positivist philosophy were summed up, was: naturalism. The more true the poem was, the more faithfully it reproduced life according to the laws of nature. And undoubtedly all this meant an expansion of the poetic world. He freed literature from the ever-reviving academicism and empty external formalism. He dispelled any taste for sentimentality. He reacted against the unilateral domination of certain currents of the past, creating around the poet an atmosphere of freedom and self-confidence. He renewed the art of the stage, in which the work carried out by the company of the Duke of Meiningen had in its time exercised a beneficial influence, restoring dignity and richness of illusion to the theater, but had led to a new historical-romantic academicism. And it is understood that, in the combative fervor of its young apostles, naturalism was heralded as a revolution. In the Kritische Waffengänge (1884-86) by Heinrich (1855-1906) and Julius Hart (1859-1930), in Revolution der Literatur(1886) by K. Bleibtreu (1859-1928), in Buch der Zeit (1885) by Arno Holz (1863-1929) and Johannes Schlaf, in the magazine Gesellschaft (1885-1902) by Michael Georg, in the magazine Freie Bühne (1890-94) by Otto Brahm (1856-1912) and Paul Schlenther (1854-1916), etc., it is all a tumult of ideas in ferment, of polemics, of demolitions, of promises, of expectations. But already when you start reading that anthology Moderne Dichtercharaktere (1885) in which W. Arent (born in 1864), Hermiann Conradi (1862-1890), the author of Adam Mensch and Karl Henckell (1864-1929) presented the examples of the new poem, the internal misunderstanding from which the whole movement had fatally suffered immediately appears. Naturalism is a necessary moment in the formation of every poet: the moment in which the poet learns to recognize reality because that is also the way to know the truth of himself; but poetry is always born when that moment is overcome in the personality of the poet, of his style. On the other hand, a heterogeneous element was associated with the formulation of what there was of truth in the principle at the basis of the new aesthetics: the exaltation of certain aspects of physical and psychic social life, which were typical of the new thought and of the new epoch; and in bringing life back to a materiality of instincts or in describing its poetry seemed to consist of external appearance. Thus was born a whole flood of lyrics, and even more novels, dramas, whose interest today is for the most part only historical, documentary. And a phenomenon analogous to the Sturm und Drang. There was no lack of promising personalities, from the turbid, chaotic, but at times brilliant Conradi, to Arno Holz, whose torment on the problem of style, in recent years, will later show a dramatic interest. But the work of great poetry was missing. And only in 1892 the triumph of Weber Germany Hauptmann, with the proletarian masses brought on the scene and with the social problem posed at the center, seemed to finally translate into reality the literary aspirations of the time.