Germany Literature from 1750 to the Present Day Part 4
According to DISEASESLEARNING, the poetry of purity of heart, in which a few years later (1787) Goethe renewed the myth of Iphigenia in a modern sense – Das Leben ist der Güter höchstes nicht, der Übel grösstes aber ist die Schuld – shows the intimate connection of this attitude with what will become the characteristic of his personality: his classicism. While in the vicinity of Madame di Stein the tumultuous waves of instinct gradually subsided and in the exercise of a practical activity he was gradually finding his peace, and in the preparation of the Meister, from the Theatralische Sendung (1776- 85) to the Lehrjahre (1795-96), he was gradually formulating his new wisdom, also the thought that was to serve classicism as a foundation and remain at the basis of all its further activity: the thought that in the concreteness of the real fact life all is symbolically expressed. As in his scientific research he was pushed towards the study of what he called Urphänomene, thus in poetry he was pushed at the same time towards an ever closer adhesion to reality and towards the relief of the “universally human”. Precisely in art this possible coexistence of the two elements first appeared tangible: every work of art is concrete and closed in itself, and precisely in this internal perfection it is the source of its perennial inexhaustible truth. The continuous daily experiences of the stay in Italy acquired in this respect a definitive value. Living became for him to develop in himself in his own individuality what is “universally human”; and poetry was to express it in palpitating images of reality. And it is no wonder that in the Roman Elegies (1790) and in the other Italian-inspired poems the tone of reality is more accentuated, warm, vibrant: in Italy his thought was definitively clarified; here, among the works of art in the midst of which he lived and in whose studio he spent his days, the experience of his new inner truth filled his life, and nothing is more natural than an inspiration of warm intoxication to dictate his new rhythms and new images; but under that study of voluntarily closing the horizons around the vision he describes, and clinging to the forms of reality by adhering to them so as to almost disappear in them, there is his inspiration, by which he feels carried by the great forces of everyone’s life, from the great current in which universal life finds its eternal elementary fulfillment and renewal: the poet who in such bodily enjoyment of reality listens to himself is still always that soul who had described himself as “seeking the land of the Greeks with his soul”. What if, returned to the industrious tranquility of Weimar, little by little, from the episode of Elena in the Faust at the Wiederkunft der Pandora (1808) his classicism went more and more accentuating the universally human element, other works, from Hermann und Dorothea (1797) to the late episode of Baucis and Philemon in Faust, are documents of his constant effort to merge the universally human in visions of reality. Supreme human elevation is to feel and recognize oneself in harmony with the laws that govern life, and the highest poetry is that which reflects this internal harmony in the forms of art (Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert, 1805).
At the same time, alongside Goethe and in collaboration with him, in part analogous and in part different ways, Schiller too gave a new ideal consistency to this reborn classicism. Generous spirit, enthusiastic and therefore sensitive to the social problems of his time; passionate interpreter of new needs, arising from society in a profound crisis of transformation, after giving an eloquent voice to the ideal passion that ignited it (Räuber, 1781, Fiesco, 1783, Kabale und Liebe, 1784, Don Carlos, 1787), finally coming to the habit of life with Goethe, he too found in his experience of life and art and in his own thought stimulated by the reading of Kant a source of renewal: moved by a distinction between the ancient and modern humanity, between ancient and modern poetry – for which ancient humanity was harmony with itself and with the world, and modern humanity nostalgia; the ancient poetry was ingenuity of song and the modern sentimental outpouring of the soul – reacting against the severity of the Kantian imperative of duty and the natural inclinations which are substance before human life. The conquered self-consciousness had destroyed in the man that harmony: finding it in the same consciousness was the new goal of men. Art, whereby man rises both above human misery and above his own internal quarrels, was the instrument to rise to this new humanity, of which Goethe already appeared as a first living example (Briefe über ästhetische Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts, 1793). Classicism thus became at the same time an ideal of humanity and art, for which the “flame of passion is clarified in the light of conscience”, “the contrasts of the soul are resolved in an internal recognition of the truth of life”. From Wallenstein (1800) to Maria Stuart (1801), to Teil (1804), this vision of life and art was really concretized in a new calmer contemplative tone and in a new clearer style in his poetry. At the same time from Paris, from Rome, William of Humboldt (1767-1835) participated in the thought life of distant friends and in essays on criticism and aesthetics, with breadth of ideas and clear perspicuity of reasoning, he gave them systematic development.