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´╗┐Title: Aesthetical Essays of Frederich Schiller
Author: Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von, 1759-1805
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Aesthetical Essays of Frederich Schiller" ***


by Frederick Schiller








The special subject of the greater part of the letters and essays of
Schiller contained in this volume is Aesthetics; and before passing to
any remarks on his treatment of the subject it will be useful to offer a
few observations on the nature of this topic, and on its treatment by the
philosophical spirit of different ages.

First, then, aesthetics has for its object the vast realm of the
beautiful, and it may be most adequately defined as the philosophy of art
or of the fine arts. To some the definition may seem arbitrary, as
excluding the beautiful in nature; but it will cease to appear so if it
is remarked that the beauty which is the work of art is higher than
natural beauty, because it is the offspring of the mind. Moreover, if,
in conformity with a certain school of modern philosophy, the mind be
viewed as the true being, including all in itself, it must be admitted
that beauty is only truly beautiful when it shares in the nature of mind,
and is mind's offspring.

Viewed in this light, the beauty of nature is only a reflection of the
beauty of the mind, only an imperfect beauty, which as to its essence is
included in that of the mind. Nor has it ever entered into the mind of
any thinker to develop the beautiful in natural objects, so as to convert
it into a science and a system. The field of natural beauty is too
uncertain and too fluctuating for this purpose. Moreover, the relation
of beauty in nature and beauty in art forms a part of the science of
aesthetics, and finds again its proper place.

But it may be urged that art is not worthy of a scientific treatment.
Art is no doubt an ornament of our life and a charm to the fancy; but has
it a more serious side? When compared with the absorbing necessities of
human existence, it might seem a luxury, a superfluity, calculated to
enfeeble the heart by the assiduous worship of beauty, and thus to be
actually prejudicial to the true interest of practical life. This view
seems to be largely countenanced by a dominant party in modern times, and
practical men, as they are styled, are only too ready to take this
superficial view of the office of art.

Many have indeed undertaken to defend art on this score, and to show
that, far from being a mere luxury, it has serious and solid advantages.
It has been even apparently exaggerated in this respect, and represented
as a kind of mediator between reason and sense, between inclination and
duty, having as its mission the work of reconciling the conflicting
elements in the human heart. A strong trace of this view will be found
in Schiller, especially in all that he says about the play-instinct in
his "Aesthetical Letters."

Nevertheless, art is worthy of science; aesthetics is a true science, and
the office of art is as high as that assigned to it in the pages of
Schiller. We admit that art viewed only as an ornament and a charm is no
longer free, but a slave. But this is a perversion of its proper end.
Science has to be considered as free in its aim and in its means, and it
is only free when liberated from all other considerations; it rises up to
truth, which is its only real object, and can alone fully satisfy it.
Art in like manner is alone truly art when it is free and independent,
when it solves the problem of its high destination--that problem whether
it has to be placed beside religion and philosophy as being nothing else
than a particular mode or a special form of revealing God to
consciousness, and of expressing the deepest interests of human nature
and the widest truths of the human mind.

For it is in their works of art that the nations have imprinted their
favorite thoughts and their richest intuitions, and not unfrequently the
fine arts are the only means by which we can penetrate into the secrets
of their wisdom and the mysteries of their religion.

It is made a reproach to art that it produces its effects by appearance
and illusion; but can it be established that appearance is objectionable?
The phenomena of nature and the acts of human life are nothing more than
appearances, and are yet looked upon as constituting a true reality; for
this reality must be sought for beyond the objects perceived immediately
by the sense, the substance and speech and principle underlying all
things manifesting itself in time and space through these real
existences, but preserving its absolute existence in itself. Now, the
very special object and aim of art is to represent the action and
development of this universal force. In nature this force or principle
appears confounded with particular interests and transitory
circumstances, mixed up with what is arbitrary in the passions and in
individual wills. Art sets the truth free from the illusory and
mendacious forms of this coarse, imperfect world, and clothes it in a
nobler, purer form created by the mind itself. Thus the forms of art,
far from being mere appearances, perfectly illusory, contain more reality
and truth than the phenomenal existences of the real world. The world of
art is truer than that of history or nature.

Nor is this all: the representations of art are more expressive and
transparent than the phenomena of the real world or the events of
history. The mind finds it harder to pierce through the hard envelop of
nature and common life than to penetrate into works of art.

Two more reflections appear completely to meet the objection that art or
aesthetics is not entitled to the name of science.

It will be generally admitted that the mind of man has the power of
considering itself, of making itself its own object and all that issues
from its activity; for thought constitutes the essence of the mind. Now
art and its work, as creations of the mind, are themselves of a spiritual
nature. In this respect art is much nearer to the mind than nature. In
studying the works of art the mind has to do with itself, with what
proceeds from itself, and is itself.

Thus art finds its highest confirmation in science.

Nor does art refuse a philosophical treatment because it is dependent on
caprice, and subject to no law. If its highest aim be to reveal to the
human consciousness the highest interest of the mind, it is evident that
the substance or contents of the representations are not given up to the
control of a wild and irregular imagination. It is strictly determined
by the ideas that concern our intelligence and by the laws of their
development, whatever may be the inexhaustible variety of forms in which
they are produced. Nor are these forms arbitrary, for every form is not
fitted to express every idea. The form is determined by the substance
which it has to suit.

A further consideration of the true nature of beauty, and therefore of
the vocation of the artist, will aid us still more in our endeavor to
show the high dignity of art and of aesthetics. The history of
philosophy presents us with many theories on the nature of the beautiful;
but as it would lead us too far to examine them all, we shall only
consider the most important among them. The coarsest of these theories
defines the beautiful as that which pleases the senses. This theory,
issuing from the philosophy of sensation of the school of Locke and
Condillac, only explains the idea and the feeling of the beautiful by
disfiguring it. It is entirely contradicted by facts. For it converts
it into desire, but desire is egotistical and insatiable, while
admiration is respectful, and is its own satisfaction without seeking

Others have thought the beautiful consists in proportion, and no
doubt this is one of the conditions of beauty, but only one. An
ill-proportioned object cannot be beautiful, but the exact correspondence
of parts, as in geometrical figures, does not constitute beauty.

A noted ancient theory makes beauty consist in the perfect suitableness
of means to their end. In this case the beautiful is not the useful, it
is the suitable; and the latter idea is more akin to that of beauty. But
it has not the true character of the beautiful. Again, order is a less
mathematical idea than proportion, but it does not explain what is free
and flowing in certain beauties.

The most plausible theory of beauty is that which makes it consist in two
contrary and equally necessary elements--unity and variety. A beautiful
flower has all the elements we have named; it has unity, symmetry, and
variety of shades of color. There is no beauty without life, and life is
movement, diversity. These elements are found in beautiful and also in
sublime objects. A beautiful object is complete, finished, limited with
symmetrical parts. A sublime object whose forms, though not out of
proportion, are less determined, ever awakens in us the feeling of the
infinite. In objects of sense all qualities that can produce the feeling
of the beautiful come under one class called physical beauty. But above
and beyond this in the region of mind we have first intellectual beauty,
including the laws that govern intelligence and the creative genius of
the artist, the poet, and the philosopher. Again, the moral world has
beauty in its ideas of liberty, of virtue, of devotion, the justice of
Aristides, the heroism of Leonidas.

We have now ascertained that there is beauty and sublimity in nature, in
ideas, in feelings, and in actions. After all this it might be supposed
that a unity could be found amidst these different kinds of beauty. The
sight of a statue, as the Apollo of Belvedere, of a man, of Socrates
expiring, are adduced as producing impressions of the beautiful; but the
form cannot be a form by itself, it must be the form of something.
Physical beauty is the sign of an interior beauty, a spiritual and moral
beauty which is the basis, the principle, and the unity of the beautiful.

Physical beauty is an envelop to intellectual and to moral beauty.

Intellectual beauty, the splendor of the true, can only have for
principle that of all truth.

Moral beauty comprehends two distinct elements, equally beautiful,
justice and charity. Thus God is the principle of the three orders of
beauty, physical, intellectual, and moral. He also construes the two
great powers distributed over the three orders, the beautiful and the
sublime. God is beauty par excellence; He is therefore perfectly
beautiful; He is equally sublime. He is to us the type and sense of the
two great forms of beauty. In short, the Absolute Being as absolute
unity and absolute variety is necessarily the ultimate principle, the
extreme basis, the finished ideal of all beauty. This was the marvellous
beauty which Diotimus had seen, and which is described in the Banquet of

It is our purpose after the previous discussion to attempt to elucidate
still further the idea of art by following its historic development.

Many questions bearing on art and relating to the beautiful had been
propounded before, even as far back as Plotinus, Plato, and Socrates, but
recent times have been the real cradle of aesthetics as a science.
Modern philosophy was the first to recognize that beauty in art is one of
the means by which the contradictions can be removed between mind
considered in its abstract and absolute existence and nature constituting
the world of sense, bringing back these two factors to unity.

Kant was the first who felt the want of this union and expressed it, but
without determining its conditions or expressing it scientifically. He
was impeded in his efforts to effect this union by the opposition between
the subjective and the objective, by his placing practical reason above
theoretical reason, and he set up the opposition found in the moral
sphere as the highest principle of morality. Reduced to this difficulty,
all that Kant could do was to express the union under the form of the
subjective ideas of reason, or as postulates to be deduced from the
practical reason, without their essential character being known, and
representing their realization as nothing more than a simple you ought,
or imperative "Du sollst."

In his teleological judgment applied to living beings, Kant comes, on the
contrary, to consider the living organism in such wise that, the general
including the particular, and determining it as an end, consequently the
idea also determines the external, the compound of the organs, not by an
act springing from without but issuing from within. In this way the end
and the means, the interior and exterior, the general and particular, are
confounded in unity. But this judgment only expresses a subjective act
of reflection, and does not throw any light on the object in itself.
Kant has the same view of the aesthetic judgment. According to him the
judgment does not proceed either from reason, as the faculty of general
ideas, or from sensuous perception, but from the free play of the reason
and of the imagination. In this analysis of the cognitive faculty, the
object only exists relatively to the subject and to the feeling of
pleasure or the enjoyment that it experiences.

The characteristics of the beautiful are, according to Kant:--

1. The pleasure it procures is free from interest.

2. Beauty appears to us as an object of general enjoyment, without
awakening in us the consciousness of an abstract idea and of a category
of reason to which we might refer our judgment.

3. Beauty ought to embrace in itself the relation of conformity to its
end, but in such a way that this conformity may be grasped without the
idea of the end being offered to our mind.

4. Though it be not accompanied by an abstract idea, beauty ought to be
acknowledged as the object of a necessary enjoyment.

A special feature of all this system is the indissoluble unity of what is
supposed to be separated in consciousness. This distinction disappears
in the beautiful, because in it the general and the particular, the end
and the means, the idea and the object, mentally penetrate each other
completely. The particular in itself, whether it be opposed to itself or
to what is general, is something accidental. But here what may be
considered as an accidental form is so intimately connected with the
general that it is confounded and identified with it. By this means the
beautiful in art presents thought to us as incarnate. On the other hand,
matter, nature, the sensuous as themselves possessing measure, end, and
harmony, are raised to the dignity of spirit and share in its general
character. Thought not only abandons its hostility against nature, but
smiles in her. Sensation and enjoyment are justified and sanctified, so
that nature and liberty, sense and ideas, find their justification and
their sanctification in this union. Nevertheless this reconciliation,
though seemingly perfect, is stricken with the character of
subjectiveness. It cannot constitute the absolutely true and real.

Such is an outline of the principal results of Kant's criticism, and
Hegel passes high praise on the profoundly philosophic mind of Schiller,
who demanded the union and reconciliation of the two principles, and who
tried to give a scientific explanation of it before the problem had been
solved by philosophy. In his "Letters on Aesthetic Education," Schiller
admits that man carries in himself the germ of the ideal man which is
realized and represented by the state. There are two ways for the
individual man to approach the ideal man; first, when the state,
considered as morality, justice, and general reason, absorbs the
individualities in its unity; secondly, when the individual rises to the
ideal of his species by the perfecting of himself. Reason demands unity,
conformity to the species; nature, on the other hand, demands plurality
and individuality; and man is at once solicited by two contrary laws. In
this conflict, aesthetic education must come in to effect the
reconciliation of the two principles; for, according to Schiller, it has
as its end to fashion and polish the inclinations and passions so that
they may become reasonable, and that, on the other hand, reason and
freedom may issue from their abstract character, may unite with nature,
may spiritualize it, become incarnate, and take a body in it. Beauty is
thus given as the simultaneous development of the rational and of the
sensuous, fused together, and interpenetrated one by the other, an union
that constitutes in fact true reality.

This unity of the general and of the particular, of liberty and necessity
of the spiritual and material, which Schiller understood scientifically
as the spirit of art, and which he tried to make appear in real life by
aesthetic art and education, was afterwards put forward under the name of
idea as the principle of all knowledge and existence. In this way,
through the agency of Schelling, science raised itself to an absolute
point of view. It was thus that art began to claim its proper nature and
dignity. From that time its proper place was finally marked out for it
in science, though the mode of viewing it still labored under certain
defects. Its high and true distinction were at length understood.

In viewing the higher position to which recent philosophical systems have
raised the theory of art in Germany, we must not overlook the advantages
contributed by the study of the ideal of the ancients by such men as
Winckelmann, who, by a kind of inspiration, raised art criticism from a
carping about petty details to seek the true spirit of great works of
art, and their true ideas, by a study of the spirit of the originals.

It has appeared expedient to conclude this introduction with a summary of
the latest and highest theory of art and aesthetics issuing from Kant and
Schiller, and developed in the later philosophy of Hegel.

Our space only allows us to give a glance, first, at the metaphysics of
the beautiful as developed by Hegel in the first part of his 'Aesthetik,'
and then at the later development of the same system in recent writers
issuing from his school.

Hegel considers, first, the abstract idea of the beautiful; secondly,
beauty in nature; thirdly, beauty in art or the ideal; and he winds up
with an examination of the qualities of the artist.

His preliminary remarks are directed to show the relations of art to
religion and philosophy, and he shows that man's destination is an
infinite development. In real life he only satisfies his longing
partially and imperfectly by limited enjoyments. In science he finds a
nobler pleasure, and civil life opens a career for his activity; but he
only finds an imperfect pleasure in these pursuits. He cannot then find
the ideal after which he sighs. Then he rises to a higher sphere, where
all contradictions are effaced and the ideas of good and happiness are
realized in perfect accord and in constant harmony. This deep want of
the soul is satisfied in three ways: in art, in religion, and in

Art is intended to make us contemplate the true and the infinite in forms
of sense. Yet even art does not fully satisfy the deepest need of the
soul. The soul wants to contemplate truth in its inmost consciousness.
Religion is placed above the dominion of art.

First, as to idea of the beautiful, Hegel begins by giving its
characteristics. It is infinite, and it is free; the contemplation of
the beautiful suffices to itself, it awakens no desire. The soul
experiences something like a godlike felicity and is transported into a
sphere remote from the miseries of life. This theory of the beautiful
comes very near that of Plato.

Secondly, as to beauty in nature. Physical beauty, considered
externally, presents itself successively under the aspects of regularity
and of symmetry, of conformity with a law, and of harmony, also of purity
and simplicity of matter.

Thirdly, beauty in art or the ideal is beauty in a higher degree of
perfection than real beauty. The ideal in art is not contrary to the
real, but the real idealized, purified, and perfectly expressed. The
ideal is also the soul arrived at the consciousness of itself, free and
fully enjoying its faculties; it is life, but spiritual life and spirit.
Nor is the ideal a cold abstraction, it is the spiritual principle under
the form of a living individuality freed from the laws of the finite.
The ideal in its highest form is the divine, as expressed in the Greek
divinities; the Christian ideal, as expressed in all its highest purity
in God the Father, the Christ, the Virgin. Its essential features are
calm, majesty, serenity.

At a lower degree the ideal is in man the victory of the eternal
principles that fill the human heart, the triumph of the nobler part of
the soul, the moral and divine principle.

But the ideal manifested in the world becomes action, and action implies
a form of society, a determinate situation with collision, and an action
properly so called. The heroic age is the best society for the ideal in
action; in its determinate situation the ideal in action must appear as
the manifestation of moral power, and in action, properly so called, it
must contain three points in the ideal: first, general principles;
secondly, personages; thirdly, their character and their passions. Hegel
winds up by considering the qualities necessary in an artist:
imagination, genius, inspiration, originality, etc.

A recent exponent of Hegel's aesthetical ideas further developed
expresses himself thus on the nature of beauty:--

"After the bitterness of the world, the sweetness of art soothes and
refreshes us. This is the high value of the beautiful--that it solves
the contradiction of mind and matter, of the moral and sensuous world, in
harmony. Thus the beautiful and its representation in art procures for
intuition what philosophy gives to the cognitive insight and religion to
the believing frame of mind. Hence the delight with which Schiller's
wonderful poem on the Bell celebrates the accord of the inner and outer
life, the fulfilment of the longing and demands of the soul by the events
in nature. The externality of phenomena is removed in the beautiful; it
is raised into the circle of ideal existence; for it is recognized as the
revelation of the ideal, and thus transfigured it gives to the latter
additional splendor."

"Thus the beautiful is active, living unity, full existence without
defect, as Plato and Schelling have said, or as recent writers describe
it; the idea that is quite present in the appearance, the appearance
which is quite formed and penetrated by the idea."

"Beauty is the world secret that invites us in image and word," is the
poetical expression of Plato; and we may add, because it is revealed in
both. We feel in it the harmony of the world; it breaks forth in a
beauty, in a lovely accord, in a radiant point, and starting thence we
penetrate further and yet further, and find as the ground of all
existence the same charm which had refreshed us in individual forms.
Thus Christ pointed to the lilies of the field to knit His followers'
reliance on Providence with the phenomena of nature: and could they jet
forth in royal beauty, exceeding that of Solomon, if the inner ground of
nature were not beauty?

We may also name beauty in a certain sense a mystery, as it mediates to
us in a sensuous sign a heavenly gift of grace, that it opens to us a
view into the eternal Being, teaching us to know nature in God and God in
nature, that it brings the divine even to the perception of sense, and
establishes the energy of love and freedom as the ground, the bond, and
the end of the world.

In the midst of the temporal the eternal is made palpable and present to
us in the beautiful, and offers itself to our enjoyment. The separation
is suppressed, and the original unity, as it is in God, appears as the
first, as what holds together even the past in the universe, and what
constitutes the aim of the development in a finite accord.

The beautiful not only presents itself to us as mediator of a foreign
excellence or of a remote divinity, but the ideal and the godlike are
present in it. Hence aesthetics requires as its basis the system in
which God is known as indwelling in the world, that He is not far distant
from any one of us, but that He animates us, and that we live in Him.
Aesthetics requires the knowledge that mind is the creative force and
unity of all that is extended and developed in time and space.

The beautiful is thus, according to these later thinkers, the revelation
of God to the mind through the senses; it is the appearance of the idea.
In the beautiful spirit reveals itself to spirit through matter and the
senses; thus the entire man feels himself raised and satisfied by it. By
the unity of the beautiful with us we experience with delight that
thought and the material world are present for our individuality, that
they utter tones and shine forth in it, that both penetrate each other
and blend in it and thus become one with it. We feel one with them and
one in them.

This later view was to a great extent expressed by Schiller in his
"Aesthetical Letters."

But art and aesthetics, in the sense in which these terms are used and
understood by German philosophical writers, such as Schiller, embrace a
wider field than the fine arts. Lessing, in his "Laocoon," had already
shown the point of contrast between painting and poetry; and aesthetics,
being defined as the science of the beautiful, must of necessity embrace
poetry. Accordingly Schiller's essays on tragic art, pathos, and
sentimental poetry, contained in this volume, are justly classed under
his aesthetical writings.

This being so, it is important to estimate briefly the transitions of
German poetry before Schiller, and the position that he occupied in its
historic development.

The first classical period of German poetry and literature was contained
between A. D. 1190 and 1300. It exhibits the intimate blending of the
German and Christian elements, and their full development in splendid
productions, for this was the period of the German national epos, the
"Nibelungenlied," and of the "Minnegesang."

This was a period which has nothing to compare with it in point of
art and poetry, save perhaps, and that imperfectly, the heroic and
post-Homeric age of early Greece.

The poetical efforts of that early age may be grouped under--(1) national
epos: the "Nibelungenlied;" (2) art epos: the "Rolandslied," "Percival,"
etc.; (3) the introduction of antique legends: Veldeck's "Aeneide," and
Konrad's "War of Troy;" (4) Christian legends "Barlaam," "Sylvester,"
"Pilatus," etc.; (5) poetical narratives: "Crescentia," "Graf Rudolf,"
etc.; (6) animal legends; "Reinecke Vos;" (7) didactic poems: "Der
Renner;" (8) the Minne-poetry, and prose.

The fourth group, though introduced from a foreign source, gives the
special character and much of the charm of the period we consider. This
is the sphere of legends derived from ecclesiastical ground. One of the
best German writers on the history of German literature remarks: "If the
aim and nature of all poetry is to let yourself be filled by a subject
and to become penetrated with it; if the simple representation of
unartificial, true, and glowing feelings belongs to its most beautiful
adornments; if the faithful direction of the heart to the invisible and
eternal is the ground on which at all times the most lovely flowers of
poetry have sprouted forth, these legendary poems of early Germany, in
their lovely heartiness, in their unambitious limitation, and their pious
sense, deserve a friendly acknowledgment. What man has considered the
pious images in the prayer-books of the Middle Ages, the unadorned
innocence, the piety and purity, the patience of the martyrs, the calm,
heavenly transparency of the figures of the holy angels, without being
attracted by the simple innocence and humility of these forms, the
creation of pious artists' hands? Who has beheld them without tranquil
joy at the soft splendor poured, over them, without deep sympathy, nay,
without a certain emotion and tenderness? And the same spirit that
created these images also produced those poetical effusions, the same
spirit of pious belief, of deep devotion, of heavenly longing. If we
make a present reality of the heroic songs of the early German popular
poetry, and the chivalrous epics of the art poetry, the military
expeditions and dress of the Crusades, this legendary poetry appears as
the invention of humble pilgrims, who wander slowly on the weary way to
Jerusalem, with scollop and pilgrim's staff, engaged in quiet prayer,
till they are all to kneel at the Saviour's sepulchre; and thus
contented, after touching the holy earth with their lips, they return,
poor as they were, but full of holy comfort, to their distant home.

"While the knightly poetry is the poetry of the splendid secular life,
full of cheerful joy, full of harp-tones and song, full of tournaments
and joyous festivals, the poetry of the earthly love for the earthly
bride, the poetry of the legends is that of the spontaneous life of
poverty, the poetry of the solitary cloister cell, of the quiet,
well-walled convent garden, the poetry of heavenly brides, who without
lamenting the joys of the world, which they need not, have their joy in
their Saviour in tranquil piety and devout resignation--who attend at the
espousals of Anna and Joachim, sing the Magnificat with the Holy Mother
of God, stand weeping beneath the cross, to be pierced also by the sword,
who hear the angel harp with St. Cecilia, and walk with St. Theresa in
the glades of Paradise. While the Minne-poetry was the tender homage
offered to the beauty, the gentleness, the grace, and charm of noble
women of this world, legendary poetry was the homage given to the Virgin
Mother, the Queen of Heaven, transfiguring earthly love into a heavenly
and eternal love."

"For the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were the time of woman cultus,
such as has never been before or since seen; it is also the time of the
deepest and simplest and truest, most enthusiastic and faithful
veneration of the Virgin Mary. If we, by a certain effort, manage to
place ourselves back on the standpoint of childlike poetic faith of that
time, and set aside in thought the materializing and exaggeration of the
hagiology and Mariolatry produced by later centuries, rendering the
reaction of the Reformation unavoidable--if now in our age, turned
exclusively to logical ideas and a negative dialectic, we live again by
thought in those ages of feeling and poetry--if we acknowledge all these
things to be something more than harmless play of words and fancy, and as
the true lifelike contents of the period, then we can properly appreciate
this legendary poetry as a necessary link in the crown of pearls of our
ancient poetry."

In short, the first classical period of German literature was a time of
youthful freshness, of pure harmony, plunged in verse and song, full of
the richest tones and the noblest rhythm, so that rhyme and song alone
must be looked for as the form of poetic creations. Accordingly it had
no proper prose. Like our own youth, it was a happy, free, and true
youth, it knew no prose; like us it dreamed to speechless songs; and as
we expressed our youthful language and hopes, woes and joys, in rhyme and
song, thus a whole people and age had its beautiful youth full of song
and verse tones. The life was poetry and poetry was the life.

Then came degeneracy and artifice; after that the great shock of the
Reformation; subsequently a servile and pedantic study of classical forms
without imbibing their spirit, but preparing the way for a truer art
spirit, extracted from their study by the masterly criticism of
Winckelmann and Lessing, till the second classical period of German
literature and poetry bloomed forth in full beauty, blending the national
and legendary elements so well expressed by Herder with the highest
effusions of dramatic poetry, partly creative and partly imitative of the
Greek models, in Schiller and Goethe.

Modern German literature presents a very remarkable spectacle, though far
from unique in history, for there we see criticism begetting genius.

Lessing, the founder of the modern German drama, sought to banish all
pomp from the theatre, and in doing so some critics have thought that he
banished the ideal and fell into affectation. At any rate, his
"Dramaturgy" is full of original ideas, and when he drew out the sphere
of poetry contrasted with that of painting in his "Laocoon," all Germany
resounded with his praise. "With that delight," says Goethe, "we saluted
this luminous ray which a thinker of the first order caused to break
forth from its clouds. It is necessary to have all the fire of youth to
conceive the effect produced on us by the 'Laocoon' of Lessing." Another
great contemporary, whose name is imperishable as that of art, struck a
mortal blow at a false taste in the study of the antique. Winckelmann
questioned the works of the Greek chisel with an intelligence full of
love, and initiated his countrymen into poetry by a feeling for
sculpture! What an enthusiasm he displayed for classical beauty! what a
worship of the form! what a fervor of paganism is found in its eloquent
pages when he also comments on the admirable group of the Laocoon, or the
still purer masterpiece of the Apollo of Belvedere.

These men were the vanguard of the great Germanic army; Schiller and
Goethe alone formed its main column. In them German poetry shows itself
in its perfection, and completely realizes the ideal designed for it by
the critic. Every factitious precept and conventional law was now
overthrown; these poetical Protestants broke away entirely from the yoke
of tradition. Yet their genius was not without a rule. Every work bears
in itself the organic laws of its development. Thus, although they laugh
at the famous precept of the three unities, it is because they dig still
deeper down to the root of things, to grasp the true principle from which
the precept issued. "Men have not understood," said Goethe, "the basis
of this law. The law of the comprehensive--'das Fassliche'--is the
principle; and the three unities have only value as far as they attain
it. When they become an obstacle to the comprehension it is madness to
wish to observe them. The Greeks themselves, from whom the rule is
derived, did not always follow it. In the 'Phaeton' of Euripides, and in
other pieces, there was change, place; accordingly they prefer to give a
perfect exposition of their subject, rather than blindly respect a law
never very essential in itself. The pieces of Shakspeare violate in the
highest degree the unity of time and of place; but they are full of
comprehensiveness; nothing is easier to grasp, and for that reason they
would have found favor with the Greeks. The French poets tried to obey
exactly the law of the three unities; but they violate the law of
comprehensiveness, as they do not expound dramatic subjects by dramas but
by recitals."

Poetical creation was therefore viewed as free, but at the same time
responsible. Immediately, as if fecundity were the reward of
correctness, the German theatre became filled with true and living
characters. The stage widens under their steps that they may have room
to move. History with its great proportions and its terrible lessons, is
now able to take place on the stage. The whole Thirty Years' War passes
before us in "Wallenstein." We hear the tumult of camps, the disorder of
a fanatical and undisciplined army, peasants, recruits, sutlers,
soldiers. The illusion is complete, and enthusiasm breaks out among the
spectators. Similar merits attach to many other of Schiller's plays.

This new drama, which seemed to give all to the natural sphere, concedes
still more to the ideal. An able critic has said the details which are
the truth of history are also its poetry. Here the German school
professes a principle of the highest learning, and one that seems to be
borrowed from its profoundest philosophers; it is that of the universal
beauty of life, of the identity of beauty and existence. "Our
aesthetics," says Goethe, "speak a great deal of poetical or antipoetical
subjects; fundamentally there is no subject that has not its poetry; it
is for the poet to find it there."

Schiller and Goethe divide the empire over modern German poetry, and
represent its two principal powers; the one, Schiller, impassioned and
lyrical, pours his soul over all the subjects he touches; in him every
composition, ode, or drama is always one of his noble ideas, borrowing
its dress and ornament from the external world. He is a poet especially
through the heart, by the force with which he rushes in and carries you
with him. Goethe is especially an epic; no doubt he paints the passions
with admirable truth, but he commands them; like the god of the seas in
Virgil, he raises above the angry waves his calm and sublime forehead.

After this glance at the position and chief characteristics of Schiller,
it may be useful to offer a few remarks on those of the principal works
in this volume, his Aesthetical Letters and Essays. Schiller, in his
Aesthetical Essays, did not choose the pure abstract method of deduction
and conception like Kant, nor the historical like Herder, who strove thus
to account for the genesis of our ideas of beauty and art. He struck out
a middle path, which presents certain deficiencies to the advocates of
either of these two systems. He leans upon Kantian ideas, but without
scholastic constraint. Pure speculation, which seeks to set free the
form from all contents and matter, was remote from his creative genius,
to which the world of matter and sense was no hinderance, but a necessary
envelop for his forms.

His removal to Jena in 1791, and acquaintance with Reinhold, familiarized
him with the Kantian philosophy, but he only appreciated it by halves.
The bare and bald dealing with fundamental principles was at this time
equally repulsive to Goethe and Schiller, the man of the world and the
man of life. But Schiller did not find anywhere at that time justice
done to the dignity of art, or honor to the substantial value of beauty.

The Aesthetical Essays in this volume appeared for the most part since
1792, in the "Thalia" and the "Hours" periodicals. The first "On the
Ground of our Pleasure in Tragic Subjects" (1792), applies Kantian
principles of the sublime to tragedy, and shows Schiller's lofty estimate
of this class of poetry. With Kant he shows that the source of all
pleasure is suitableness; the touching and sublime elicit this feeling,
implying the existence of unsuitableness. In this article he makes the
aim and source of art to consist in giving enjoyment, in pleasing. To
nature pleasure is a mediate object, to art its main object. The same
proposition appears in Schiller's paper on Tragic Art (1792), closely
connected with the former. This article contains views of the affection
of pity that seem to approximate the Aristotelian propositions about

His views on the sublime are expressed in two papers, "The Sublime" and
"The Pathetic," in which we trace considerable influence of Lessing and
Winckelmann. He is led especially to strong antagonism against the
French tragedy, and he indulges in a lengthy consideration of the passage
of Virgil on Laocoon, showing the necessity of suffering and the pathetic
in connection with moral adaptations to interest us deeply.

All these essays bespeak the poet who has tried his hand at tragedy, but
in his next paper, "On Grace and Dignity," we trace more of the moralist.
Those passages where he takes up a medium position between sense and
reason, between Goethe and Kant, are specially attractive. The theme of
this paper is the conception of grace, or the expression of a beautiful
soul and dignity, or that of a lofty mind. The idea of grace has been
developed more deeply and truly by Schiller than by Wieland or
Winckelmann, but the special value of the paper is its constantly
pointing to the ideal of a higher humanity. In it he does full justice
to the sensuous and to the moral, and commencing with the beautiful
nature of the Greeks, to whom sense was never mere sense, nor reason mere
reason, he concludes with an image of perfected humanity in which grace
and dignity are united, the former by architectonic beauty (structure),
the last supported by power.

The following year, 1795, appeared his most important contribution to
aesthetics, in his Aesthetical Letters.

In these letters he remarks that beauty is the work of free
contemplation, and we enter with it into the world of ideas, but without
leaving the world of sense. Beauty is to us an object, and yet at the
same time a state of our subjectivity, because the feeling of the
conditional is under that which we have of it. Beauty is a form because
we consider it, and life because we feel it; in a word, it is at once our
state and our art. And exactly because it is both it serves us as a
triumphant proof that suffering does not exclude activity, nor matter
form, nor limitation the infinite, for in the enjoyment of beauty both
natures are united, and by this is proved the capacity of the infinite to
be developed in the finite, and accordingly the possibility of the
sublimest humanity.

The free play of the faculty of cognition which had been determined by
Kant is also developed by Schiller. His representation of this matter is
this: Man, as a spirit, is reason and will, self-active, determining,
form-giving; this is described by Schiller as the form-instinct; man, as
a sensuous being, is determinable, receptive, termed to matter; Schiller
describes this as the material instinct, "Stofftrieb." In the midst
between these two is situated the beautiful, in which reason and the
sensuous penetrate each other, and their enjoyable product is designated
by Schiller the play instinct. This expression is not happily chosen.
Schiller means to describe by it the free play of the forces, activity
according to nature, which is at once a joy and a happiness; he reminds
us of the life of Olympus, and adds: "Man is only quite a man when he
plays." Personality is that which lasts, the state of feeling is the
changeable in man; he is the fixed unity remaining eternally himself in
the floods of change. Man in contact with the world is to take it up in
himself, but to unite with it the highest freedom and independence, and,
instead of being lost in the world, to subject it to his reason. It is
only by his being independent that there is reality out of him; only by
being susceptible of feeling that there is reality in him. The object of
sensuous instinct is life; that of the purer instinct figure; living
figure or beauty is the object of the play instinct.

Only inasmuch as life is formed in the understanding and form in feeling
does life win a form and form win life, and only thus does beauty arise.
By beauty the sensuous man is led up to reason, the one-sided tension of
special force is strung to harmony, and man made a complete whole.

Schiller adds that beauty knits together thought and feeling; the fullest
unity of spirit and matter. Its freedom is not lack, but harmony, of
laws; its conditions are not exclusions, inclusion of all infinity
determined in itself. A true work of art generates lofty serenity and
freedom of mind. Thus the aesthetic disposition bestows on us the
highest of all gifts, that of a disposition to humanity, and we may call
beauty our second creator.

In these letters Schiller spoke out the mildest and highest sentiments on
art, and in his paper on Simple and Sentimental Poetry (1795) he
constructs the ideal of the perfect poet. This is by far the most
fruitful of Schiller's essays in its results. It has much that is
practically applicable, and contains a very able estimate of German
poetry. The writing is also very pointed and telling, because it is
based upon actual perceptions, and it is interesting because the contrast
drawn out throughout it between the simple and the sentimental has been
referred to his own contrast with Goethe. He also wished to vindicate
modern poetry, which Goethe seemed to wish to sacrifice to the antique.

The sentimental poetry is the fruit of quiet and retirement; simple
poetry the child of life. One is a favor of nature; the sentimental
depends on itself, the simple on the world of experience. The
sentimental is in danger of extending the limits of human nature too far,
of being too ideal, too mystical. Neither character exhausts the ideal
of humanity, but the intimate union of both. Both are founded in human
nature; the contradictions lying at their basis, when cleared in thought
from the poetical faculty, are realism and idealism. These also are
sides of human nature, which, when unconnected, bring forth disastrous
results. Their opposition is as old as the beginning of culture, and
till its end can hardly be set aside, save in the individual. The
idealist is a nobler but a far less perfect being; the realist appears
far less noble, but is more perfect, for the noble lies in the proof of a
great capacity, but the perfect in the general attitude of the whole and
in the real facts.

On the whole it may be said, taking a survey of these labors, that if
Schiller had developed his ideas systematically and the unity of his
intuition of the world, which were present in his feelings, and if he had
based them scientifically, a new epoch in philosophy might have been
anticipated. For he had obtained a view of such a future field of
thought with the deep clairvoyance of his genius.

A few words may be desirable on Schiller's religious standpoint,
especially in connection with his philosophical letters.

Schiller came up ten years later than Goethe, and concluded the cyclus of
genius that Goethe had inaugurated. But as he was the last arrival of
that productive period of tempestuous agitation, he retained more of its
elements in his later life and poetry than any others who had passed
through earlier agitations, such as Goethe. For Goethe cast himself free
in a great measure from the early intoxication of his youthful
imagination, devoting himself partly to nobler matter and partly to purer

Schiller derived from the stormy times of his youth his direction to the
ideal, to the hostility against the narrow spirit of civil relations, and
to all given conditions of society in general. He derived from it his
disposition, not to let himself be moulded by matter, but to place his
own creative and determining impress on matter, not so much to grasp
reality poetically and represent it poetically as to cast ideas into
reality, a disposition for lively representation and strong oratorical
coloring. All this he derived from the genial period, though later on
somewhat modified, and carried it over into his whole life and poetry;
and for this very reason he is not only together with Goethe, but before
Goethe, the favorite poet of the nation, and especially with that part of
the nation which sympathizes with him in the choice of poetic material
and in his mode of feeling.

Gervinus remarks that Schiller had at Weimar long fallen off from
Christianity, and occupied his mind tranquilly for a time with the views
of Spinoza (realistic pantheism). Like Herder and Goethe, he viewed life
in its great entirety and sacrificed the individual to the species.
Accordingly, through the gods of Greece, he fell out with strict,
orthodox Christians.

But Schiller had deeply religious and even Christian elements, as became
a German and a Kantian. He receives the Godhead in His will, and He
descends from His throne, He dwells in his soul; the poet sees divine
revelations, and as a seer announces them to man. He is a moral educator
of his people, who utters the tones of life in his poetry from youth
upwards. Philosophy was not disclosed to Plato in the highest and purest
thought, nor is poetry to Schiller merely an artificial edifice in the
harmony of speech; philosophy and poetry are to both a vibration of love
in the soul upwards to God, a liberation from the bonds of sense, a
purification of man, a moral art. On this reposes the religious
consecration of the Platonic spirit and of that of Schiller.

Issuing from the philosophical school of Kant, and imbued with the
antagonism of the age against constituted authorities, it is natural that
Schiller should be a rationalist in his religious views. It has been
justly said of him that while Goethe's system was an apotheosis of nature
Schiller's was an apotheosis of man.

Historically he was not prepared enough to test and search the question
of evidence as applied to divine things handed down by testimony, and his
Kantian coloring naturally disposed him to include all religions within
the limits of pure reason, and to seek it rather in the subject than in
anything objective.

In conclusion, we may attempt to classify and give Schiller his place in
the progress of the world's literary history. Progress is no doubt a law
of the individual, of nations, and of the whole race. To grow in
perfection, to exist in some sort at a higher degree, is the task imposed
by God on man, the continuation of the very work of God, the complement
of creation. But this moral growth, this need of increase, may, like all
the forces of nature, yield to a greater force; it is an impulsion rather
than a necessity; it solicits and does not constrain. A thousand
obstacles stay its development in individuals and in societies; moral
liberty may retard or accelerate its effects. Progress is therefore a
law which cannot be abrogated, but which is not invariably obeyed.

Nevertheless, in proportion to the increase of the mass of individuals,
the caprices of chance and of liberty neutralize each other to allow the
providential action that presides over our destinies to prevail. Looking
at the same total of the life of the world, humanity undoubtedly
advances: there are in our time fewer moral miseries, fewer physical
miseries, than were known in the past.

Consequently art and literature, which express the different states of
society, must share in some degree in this progressive march. But there
are two things in literary work: on the one hand the ideas and social
manners which it expresses, on the other the intelligence, the feeling,
the imagination of the writer who becomes its interpreter. While the
former of these elements tends incessantly to a greater perfection, the
latter is subject to all the hazards of individual genius. Accordingly
the progressive literature is only in the inspiration, and so to speak in
the matter; it may and must therefore not be continuous in form.

But more than this: in very advanced societies the very grandeur of
ideas, the abundance of models, the satiety of the public render the task
of the artist more and more difficult. The artist himself has no longer
the enthusiasm of the first ages, the youth of imagination and of the
heart; he is an old man whose riches have increased, but who enjoys his
wealth less.

If all the epochs of literature are considered as a whole it will be seen
that they succeed each other in a constant order. After the period when
the idea and the form combined in a harmonious manner comes another where
the social idea is superabundant, and destroys the literary form of the
preceding epoch.

The middle ages introduced spiritualism in art; before this new idea the
smiling untruths of Greek poetry fled away frightened. The classical
form so beautiful, so pure, cannot contain high Catholic thought. A new
art is formed; on this side the Alps it does not reach the maturity that
produces masterpieces. But at that time all Europe was one fatherland;
Italy completes what is lacking in France and elsewhere.

The renaissance introduces new ideas into civilization; it resuscitates
the traditions of antique science and seeks to unite them to the truths
of Christianity. The art of the middle ages, as a vessel of too limited
capacity, is broken by the new flood poured into it. These different
ideas are stirred up and in conflict in the sixteenth century; they
became co-ordinate and attain to an admirable expression in the following

In the eighteenth century there is a new invasion of ideas; all is
examined and questioned; religion, government, society, all becomes a
matter of discussion for the school called philosophical. Poetry
appeared dying out, history drying up, till a truer spirit was breathed
into the literary atmosphere by the criticism of Lessing, the philosophy
of Kant, and the poetry of Klopstock. It was at this transition period
that Schiller appeared, retaining throughout his literary career much of
the revolutionary and convulsive spirit of his early days, and faithfully
reflecting much of the dominant German philosophy of his time.

Part of the nineteenth century seems to take in hand the task of
reconstructing the moral edifice and of giving back to thought a larger
form. The literary result of its effects is the renaissance of lyrical
poetry with an admirable development in history.

Schiller's most brilliant works were in the former walk, his histories
have inferior merit, and his philosophical writings bespeak a deep
thinking nature with great originality of conception, such as naturally
results from a combination of high poetic inspiration with much
intellectual power.

Schiller, like all great men of genius, was a representative man of his
country and of his age. A German, a Protestant free-thinker, a
worshipper of the classical, he was the expression of these aspects of
national and general thought.

The religious reformation was the work of the North. The instinct of
races came in it to complicate the questions of dogmas. The awakening of
individual nationalities was one of the characters of the epoch.

The nations compressed in the severe unity of the Middle Ages escaped in
the Reformation from the uniform mould that had long enveloped them, and
tended to that other unity, still very distant, which must spring from
the spontaneous view of the same truth by all men, result from the free
and original development of each nation, and, as in a vast concert, unite
harmonious dissonances. Europe, without being conscious of its aim,
seized greedily at the means--insurrection; the only thought was to
overthrow, without yet thinking of a reconstruction. The sixteenth
century was the vanguard of the eighteenth. At all times the North had
fretted under the antipathetic yoke of the South. Under the Romans,
Germany, though frequently conquered, had never been subdued. She had
invaded the Empire and determined its fall. In the Middle Ages the
struggle had continued; not only instincts, but ideas, were in conflict;
force and spirit, violence and polity, feudalism and the Catholic
hierarchy, hereditary and elective forms, represented the opposition of
two races. In the sixteenth century the schism long anticipated took
place. The Catholic dogma had hitherto triumphed over all outbreaks--
over Arnaldo of Brescia, the Waldenses, and Wickliffe. But Luther
appeared, and the work was accomplished: Catholic unity was broken.

And this breaking with authority went on fermenting in the nations till
its last great outburst at the French Revolution; and Schiller was born
at this convulsive period, and bears strong traces of his parentage in
his anti-dogmatic spirit.

Yet there is another side to Germanism which is prone to the ideal and
the mystical, and bears still the trace of those lovely legends of
mediaeval growth to which we have adverted. For Christianity was not a
foreign and antagonistic importation in Germany; rather, the German
character obtained its completeness through Christianity. The German
found himself again in the Church of Christ, only raised, transfigured,
and sanctified. The apostolic representation of the Church as the bride
of Christ has found its fullest and truest correspondence in that of
Germany. Hence when the German spirit was thoroughly espoused to the
Christian spirit, we find that character of love, tenderness, and depth
so characteristic of the early classics of German poetry, and reappearing
in glorious afterglow in the second classics, in Klopstock, Herder, and,
above all, Schiller.

It is this special instinct for the ideal and mystical in German nature
that has enabled spirits born of negation and revolution, like Schiller,
to unite with those elements the most genial and creative inspirations of


Absolute, The. A conception, or, more strictly, in Kantian language, an
idea of the pure reason, embracing the fundamental and necessary yet free
ground of all things.

Antinomy. The conflict of the laws of pure reason; as in the question of
free will and necessity.

Autonomy (autonomous). Governing itself by the spontaneous action of
free will.

Aesthetics. The science of beauty; as ethics of duty.

Cognition (knowledge; Germanice, "Erkenntniss") is either an intuition or
a conception. The former has an immediate relation to the object, and is
singular and individual; the latter has but a mediate relation, by means
of a characteristic mark, which may be common to several things.

Cognition is an objective perception.

Conception. A conception is either empirical or pure. A pure
conception, in so far as it has its origin in the understanding alone,
and is not the conception of a pure sensuous image, is called notio.

Conceptions are distinguished on the one hand from sensation and
perception, and on the other hand from the intuitions of pure reason or
ideas. They are distinctly the product of thought and of the
understanding, except when quite free from empirical elements.

Feeling (Gefuehl). That part of our nature which relates to passion and
instinct. Feelings are connected both with our sensuous nature, our
imagination, and the pure reason.

Form. See Matter.

Ideas. The product of the pure reason (Vernunft) or intuitive faculty.
Wherever the absolute is introduced in thought we have ideas. Perfection
in all its aspects is an idea, virtue and wisdom in their perfect purity
and ideas. Kant remarks ("Critique of Pure Reason," Meiklejohn's
translation, p. 256): "It is from the understanding alone that pure and
transcendental conceptions take their origin; the reason does not
properly give birth to any conception, but only frees the conception of
the understanding from the unavoidable limitation of possible experience.
A conception formed from notions which transcend the possibility of
experience is an idea or a conception of reason."

Intuition (Anschauung) as used by Kant, is external or internal.
External, sensuous intuition is identical with perception; internal
intuition gives birth to ideas.

Matter and Form. "These two conceptions are at the foundation of all
other reflection, being inseparably connected with every mode of
exercising the understanding. By the former is implied that which can be
determined in general; the second implies its determination, both in a
transcendental sense, abstraction being made of any difference in that
which is given, and of the mode in which it is determined. That which in
the phenomenon corresponds to the sensation, I term its matter; but that
which effects that the content of the phenomenon can be arranged under
certain relations, I call its form."--Kant, "Critique," op. cit.

Objective. What is inherent or relative to an object, or not Myself,
except in the case when I reflect on myself, in which case my states of
mind are objective to my thoughts. In a popular sense objective means
external, as contrasted with the subjective or internal.

Perception, if it relates only to the subject as a modification of its
state, is a sensation. An objective perception is a cognition

Phenomena (Erscheinnngen). The undetermined object of an empirical
intuition is called phenomenon.

Reason (pure; Germanice, "Vernunft"). The source of ideas of moral
feelings and of conceptions free from all elements taken up from

Representation (Vorstellung). All the products of the mind are styled
representations (except emotions and mere sensations) and the term is
applied to the whole genus.

Representation with consciousness is perceptio.

Sensation. The capacity of receiving representations through the mode in
which we are affected by objects is called sensibility. By means of
sensibility objects are given to us, and it alone furnishes with
intentions meaning sensuous intuitions. By the understanding they are
thought, and from it arise conceptions.

Subjective. What has its source in and relation to the personality, to
Myself, I, or the Ego; opposed to the objective, or what is inherent in
and relative to the object. Not myself, except in the case when my
states of mind are the object of my own reflection.

Supersensuous. Contrasted with and opposed to the sensuous. What is
exclusively related to sense or imparted through the sensuous ideas is
supersensuous. See Transcendental.

Transcendental. What exceeds the limits of sense and empirical
observation. "I apply the term transcendental to all knowledge which is
not so much occupied with objects as with the mode of our cognition of
these objects, so far as this mode of cognition is possible a priori."
Kant's "Critique," op. cit. p. 16.

Understanding (Verstand). The thought of faculty, the source of
conceptions and notions (Begriffe) of the laws of logic, the categories,
and judgment.



By your permission I lay before you, in a series of letters, the results
of my researches upon beauty and art. I am keenly sensible of the
importance as well as of the charm and dignity of this undertaking. I
shall treat a subject which is closely connected with the better portion
of our happiness and not far removed from the moral nobility of human
nature. I shall plead this cause of the beautiful before a heart by
which her whole power is felt and exercised, and which will take upon
itself the most difficult part of my task in an investigation where one
is compelled to appeal as frequently to feelings as to principles.

That which I would beg of you as a favor, you generously impose upon me
as a duty; and, when I solely consult my inclination, you impute to me a
service. The liberty of action you prescribe is rather a necessity for
me than a constraint. Little exercised in formal rules, I shall scarcely
incur the risk of sinning against good taste by any undue use of them; my
ideas, drawn rather from within than from reading or from an intimate
experience with the world, will not disown their origin; they would
rather incur any reproach than that of a sectarian bias, and would prefer
to succumb by their innate feebleness than sustain themselves by borrowed
authority and foreign support.

In truth, I will not keep back from you that the assertions which follow
rest chiefly upon Kantian principles; but if in the course of these
researches you should be reminded of any special school of philosophy,
ascribe it to my incapacity, not to those principles. No; your liberty
of mind shall be sacred to me; and the facts upon which I build will be
furnished by your own sentiments; your own unfettered thought will
dictate the laws according to which we have to proceed.

With regard to the ideas which predominate in the practical part of
Kant's system, philosophers only disagree, whilst mankind, I am confident
of proving, have never done so. If stripped of their technical shape,
they will appear as the verdict of reason pronounced from time immemorial
by common consent, and as facts of the moral instinct which nature, in
her wisdom, has given to man in order to serve as guide and teacher until
his enlightened intelligence gives him maturity. But this very technical
shape which renders truth visible to the understanding conceals it from
the feelings; for, unhappily, understanding begins by destroying the
object of the inner sense before it can appropriate the object. Like the
chemist, the philosopher finds synthesis only by analysis, or the
spontaneous work of nature only through the torture of art. Thus, in
order to detain the fleeting apparition, he must enchain it in the
fetters of rule, dissect its fair proportions into abstract notions, and
preserve its living spirit in a fleshless skeleton of words. Is it
surprising that natural feeling should not recognize itself in such a
copy, and if in the report of the analyst the truth appears as paradox?

Permit me therefore to crave your indulgence if the following researches
should remove their object from the sphere of sense while endeavoring to
draw it towards the understanding. That which I before said of moral
experience can be applied with greater truth to the manifestation of "the
beautiful." It is the mystery which enchants, and its being is
extinguished with the extinction of the necessary combination of its


But I might perhaps make a better use of the opening you afford me if I
were to direct your mind to a loftier theme than that of art. It would
appear to be unseasonable to go in search of a code for the aesthetic
world, when the moral world offers matter of so much higher interest, and
when the spirit of philosophical inquiry is so stringently challenged by
the circumstances of our times to occupy itself with the most perfect of
all works of art--the establishment and structure of a true political

It is unsatisfactory to live out of your own age and to work for other
times. It is equally incumbent on us to be good members of our own age
as of our own state or country. If it is conceived to be unseemly and
even unlawful for a man to segregate himself from the customs and manners
of the circle in which he lives, it would be inconsistent not to see that
it is equally his duty to grant a proper share of influence to the voice
of his own epoch, to its taste and its requirements, in the operations in
which he engages.

But the voice of our age seems by no means favorable to art, at all
events to that kind of art to which my inquiry is directed. The course
of events has given a direction to the genius of the time that threatens
to remove it continually further from the ideal of art. For art has to
leave reality, it has to raise itself boldly above necessity and
neediness; for art is the daughter of freedom, and it requires its
prescriptions and rules to be furnished by the necessity of spirits and
not by that of matter. But in our day it is necessity, neediness, that
prevails, and lends a degraded humanity under its iron yoke. Utility is
the great idol of the time, to which all powers do homage and all
subjects are subservient. In this great balance on utility, the
spiritual service of art has no weight, and, deprived of all
encouragement, it vanishes from the noisy Vanity Fair of our time. The
very spirit of philosophical inquiry itself robs the imagination of one
promise after another, and the frontiers of art are narrowed in
proportion as the limits of science are enlarged.

The eyes of the philosopher as well as of the man of the world are
anxiously turned to the theatre of political events, where it is presumed
the great destiny of man is to be played out. It would almost seem to
betray a culpable indifference to the welfare of society if we did not
share this general interest. For this great commerce in social and moral
principles is of necessity a matter of the greatest concern to every
human being, on the ground both of its subject and of its results. It
must accordingly be of deepest moment to every man to think for himself.
It would seem that now at length a question that formerly was only
settled by the law of the stronger is to be determined by the calm
judgment of the reason, and every man who is capable of placing himself
in a central position, and raising his individuality into that of his
species, can look upon himself as in possession of this judicial faculty
of reason; being moreover, as man and member of the human family, a party
in the case under trial and involved more or less in its decisions. It
would thus appear that this great political process is not only engaged
with his individual case, it has also to pronounce enactments, which he
as a rational spirit is capable of enunciating and entitled to pronounce.

It is evident that it would have been most attractive to me to inquire
into an object such as this, to decide such a question in conjunction
with a thinker of powerful mind, a man of liberal sympathies, and a heart
imbued with a noble enthusiasm for the weal of humanity. Though so
widely separated by worldly position, it would have been a delightful
surprise to have found your unprejudiced mind arriving at the same result
as my own in the field of ideas. Nevertheless, I think I can not only
excuse, but even justify by solid grounds, my step in resisting this
attractive purpose and in preferring beauty to freedom. I hope that I
shall succeed in convincing you that this matter of art is less foreign
to the needs than to the tastes of our age; nay, that, to arrive at a
solution even in the political problem, the road of aesthetics must be
pursued, because it is through beauty that we arrive at freedom. But I
cannot carry out this proof without my bringing to your remembrance the
principles by which the reason is guided in political legislation.


Man is not better treated by nature in his first start than her other
works are; so long as he is unable to act for himself as an independent
intelligence she acts for him. But the very fact that constitutes him a
man is that he does not remain stationary, where nature has placed him,
that he can pass with his reason, retracing the steps nature had made him
anticipate, that he can convert the work of necessity into one of free
solution, and elevate physical necessity into a moral law.

When man is raised from his slumber in the senses he feels that he is a
man; he surveys his surroundings and finds that he is in a state. He was
introduced into this state by the power of circumstances, before he could
freely select his own position. But as a moral being he cannot possibly
rest satisfied with a political condition forced upon him by necessity,
and only calculated for that condition; and it would be unfortunate if
this did satisfy him. In many cases man shakes off this blind law of
necessity, by his free spontaneous action, of which among many others we
have an instance, in his ennobling by beauty and suppressing by moral
influence the powerful impulse implanted in him by nature in the passion
of love. Thus, when arrived at maturity, he recovers his childhood by an
artificial process, he founds a state of nature in his ideas, not given
him by any experience, but established by the necessary laws and
conditions of his reason, and he attributes to this ideal condition an
object, an aim, of which he was not cognizant in the actual reality of
nature. He gives himself a choice of which he was not capable before,
and sets to work just as if he were beginning anew, and were exchanging
his original state of bondage for one of complete independence, doing
this with complete insight and of his free decision. He is justified in
regarding this work of political thraldom as non-existing, though a wild
and arbitrary caprice may have founded its work very artfully; though it
may strive to maintain it with great arrogance and encompass it with a
halo of veneration. For the work of blind powers possesses no authority
before which freedom need bow, and all must be made to adapt itself to
the highest end which reason has set up in his personality. It is in
this wise that a people in a state of manhood is justified in exchanging
a condition of thraldom for one of moral freedom.

Now the term natural condition can be applied to every political body
which owes its establishment originally to forces and not to laws, and
such a state contradicts the moral nature of man, because lawfulness can
alone have authority over this. At the same time this natural condition
is quite sufficient for the physical man, who only gives himself laws in
order to get rid of brute force. Moreover, the physical man is a
reality, and the moral man problematical. Therefore when the reason
suppresses the natural condition, as she must if she wishes to substitute
her own, she weighs the real physical man against the problematical moral
man, she weighs the existence of society against a possible, though
morally necessary, ideal of society. She takes from man something which
he really possesses, and without which he possesses nothing, and refers
him as a substitute to something that he ought to possess and might
possess; and if reason had relied too exclusively on him she might, in
order to secure him a state of humanity in which he is wanting and can
want without injury to his life, have robbed him even of the means of
animal existence, which is the first necessary condition of his being a
man. Before he had opportunity to hold firm to the law with his will,
reason would have withdrawn from his feet the ladder of nature.

The great point is, therefore, to reconcile these two considerations, to
prevent physical society from ceasing for a moment in time, while the
moral society is being formed in the idea; in other words, to prevent its
existence from being placed in jeopardy for the sake of the moral dignity
of man. When the mechanic has to mend a watch he lets the wheels run
out; but the living watchworks of the state have to be repaired while
they act, and a wheel has to be exchanged for another during its
revolutions. Accordingly props must be sought for to support society and
keep it going while it is made independent of the natural condition from
which it is sought to emancipate it.

This prop is not found in the natural character of man, who, being
selfish and violent, directs his energies rather to the destruction than
to the preservation of society. Nor is it found in his moral character,
which has to be formed, which can never be worked upon or calculated on
by the lawgiver, because it is free and never appears. It would seem,
therefore, that another measure must be adopted. It would seem that the
physical character of the arbitrary must be separated from moral freedom;
that it is incumbent to make the former harmonize with the laws and the
latter dependent on impressions; it would be expedient to remove the
former still farther from matter and to bring the latter somewhat more
near to it; in short, to produce a third character related to both the
others--the physical and the moral--paving the way to a transition from
the sway of mere force to that of law, without preventing the proper
development of the moral character, but serving rather as a pledge in the
sensuous sphere of a morality in the unseen.


Thus much is certain. It is only when a third character, as previously
suggested, has preponderance that a revolution in a state according to
moral principles can be free from injurious consequences; nor can
anything else secure its endurance. In proposing or setting up a moral
state, the moral law is relied upon as a real power, and free-will is
drawn into the realm of causes, where all hangs together mutually with
stringent necessity and rigidity. But we know that the condition of the
human will always remains contingent, and that only in the Absolute Being
physical coexists with moral necessity. Accordingly, if it is wished to
depend on the moral conduct of man as on natural results, this conduct
must become nature, and he must be led by natural impulse to such a
course of action as can only and invariably have moral results. But the
will of man is perfectly free between inclination and duty, and no
physical necessity ought to enter as a sharer in this magisterial
personality. If, therefore, he is to retain this power of solution, and
yet become a reliable link in the causal concatenation of forces, this
can only be effected when the operations of both these impulses are
presented quite equally in the world of appearances. It is only possible
when, with every difference of form, the matter of man's volition remains
the same, when all his impulses agreeing with his reason are sufficient
to have the value of a universal legislation.

It may be urged that every individual man carries within himself, at
least in his adaptation and destination, a purely ideal man. The great
problem of his existence is to bring all the incessant changes of his
outer life into conformity with the unchanging unity of this ideal. This
pure ideal man, which makes itself known more or less clearly in every
subject, is represented by the state, which is the objective, and, so to
speak, canonical form in which the manifold differences of the subjects
strive to unite. Now two ways present themselves to the thought in which
the man of time can agree with the man of idea, and there are also two
ways in which the state can maintain itself in individuals. One of these
ways is when the pure ideal man subdues the empirical man, and the state
suppresses the individual, or again when the individual becomes the
state, and the man of time is ennobled to the man of idea.

I admit that in a one-sided estimate from the point of view of morality
this difference vanishes, for the reason is satisfied if her law prevails
unconditionally. But when the survey taken is complete and embraces the
whole man (anthropology), where the form is considered together with the
substance, and a living feeling has a voice, the difference will become
far more evident. No doubt the reason demands unity, and nature variety,
and both legislations take man in hand. The law of the former is stamped
upon him by an incorruptible consciousness, that of the latter by an
ineradicable feeling. Consequently education will always appear
deficient when the moral feeling can only be maintained with the
sacrifice of what is natural; and a political administration will always
be very imperfect when it is only able to bring about unity by
suppressing variety. The state ought not only to respect the objective
and generic, but also the subjective and specific in individuals; and
while diffusing the unseen world of morals, it must not depopulate the
kingdom of appearance, the external world of matter.

When the mechanical artist places his hand on the formless block, to give
it a form according to his intention, he has not any scruples in doing
violence to it. For the nature on which he works does not deserve any
respect in itself, and he does not value the whole for its parts, but the
parts on account of the whole. When the child of the fine arts sets his
hand to the same block, he has no scruples either in doing violence to
it, he only avoids showing this violence. He does not respect the matter
in which he works any more than the mechanical artist; but he seeks by an
apparent consideration for it to deceive the eye which takes this matter
under its protection. The political and educating artist follows a very
different course, while making man at once his material and his end. In
this case the aim or end meets in the material, and it is only because
the whole serves the parts that the parts adapt themselves to the end.
The political artist has to treat his material--man--with a very
different kind of respect than that shown by the artist of fine art to
his work. He must spare man's peculiarity and personality, not to
produce a defective effect on the senses, but objectively and out of
consideration for his inner being.

But the state is an organization which fashions itself through itself and
for itself, and for this reason it can only be realized when the parts
have been accorded to the idea of the whole. The state serves the
purpose of a representative, both to pure ideal and to objective
humanity, in the breast of its citizens, accordingly it will have to
observe the same relation to its citizens in which they are placed to it;
and it will only respect their subjective humanity in the same degree
that it is ennobled to an objective existence. If the internal man is
one with himself he will be able to rescue his peculiarity, even in the
greatest generalization of his conduct, and the state will only become
the exponent of his fine instinct, the clearer formula of his internal
legislation. But if the subjective man is in conflict with the
objective, and contradicts him in the character of a people, so that only
the oppression of the former can give victory to the latter, then the
state will take up the severe aspect of the law against the citizen, and
in order not to fall a sacrifice, it will have to crush under foot such a
hostile individuality without any compromise.

Now man can be opposed to himself in a twofold manner; either as a
savage, when his feelings rule over his principles; or as a barbarian,
when his principles destroy his feelings. The savage despises art, and
acknowledges nature as his despotic ruler; the barbarian laughs at
nature, and dishonors it, but he often proceeds in a more contemptible
way than the savage to be the slave of his senses. The cultivated man
makes of nature his friend, and honors its friendship, while only
bridling its caprice.

Consequently, when reason brings her moral unity into physical society,
she must not injure the manifold in nature. When nature strives to
maintain her manifold character in the moral structure of society, this
must not create any breach in moral unity; the victorious form is equally
remote from uniformity and confusion. Therefore, totality of character
must be found in the people which is capable and worthy to exchange the
state of necessity for that of freedom.


Does the present age, do passing events, present this character? I
direct my attention at once to the most prominent object in this vast

It is true that the consideration of opinion is fallen; caprice is
unnerved, and, although still armed with power, receives no longer any
respect. Man has awakened from his long lethargy and self-deception, and
he demands with impressive unanimity to be restored to his imperishable
rights. But he does not only demand them; he rises on all sides to seize
by force what, in his opinion, has been unjustly wrested from him. The
edifice of the natural state is tottering, its foundations shake, and a
physical possibility seems at length granted to place law on the throne,
to honor man at length as an end, and to make true freedom the basis of
political union. Vain hope! The moral possibility is wanting, and the
generous occasion finds an unsusceptible rule.

Man paints himself in his actions, and what is the form depicted in the
drama of the present time? On the one hand, he is seen running wild, on
the other, in a state of lethargy; the two extremest stages of human
degeneracy, and both seen in one and the same period.

In the lower larger masses, coarse, lawless impulses come to view,
breaking loose when the bonds of civil order are burst asunder, and
hastening with unbridled fury to satisfy their savage instinct.
Objective humanity may have had cause to complain of the state; yet
subjective man must honor its institutions. Ought he to be blamed
because he lost sight of the dignity of human nature, so long as he was
concerned in preserving his existence? Can we blame him that he
proceeded to separate by the force of gravity, to fasten by the force of
cohesion, at a time when there could be no thought of building or raising
up? The extinction of the state contains its justification. Society set
free, instead of hastening upward into organic life, collapses into its

On the other hand, the civilized classes give us the still more repulsive
sight of lethargy, and of a depravity of character which is the more
revolting because it roots in culture. I forget who of the older or more
recent philosophers makes the remark, that what is more noble is the more
revolting in its destruction. The remark applies with truth to the world
of morals. The child of nature, when he breaks loose, becomes a madman;
but the art scholar, when he breaks loose, becomes a debased character.
The enlightenment of the understanding, on which the more refined classes
pride themselves with some ground, shows on the whole so little of an
ennobling influence on the mind that it seems rather to confirm
corruption by its maxims. We deny nature on her legitimate field and
feel her tyranny in the moral sphere, and while resisting her
impressions, we receive our principles from her. While the affected
decency of our manners does not even grant to nature a pardonable
influence in the initial stage, our materialistic system of morals allows
her the casting vote in the last and essential stage. Egotism has
founded its system in the very bosom of a refined society, and without
developing even a sociable character, we feel all the contagions and
miseries of society. We subject our free judgment to its despotic
opinions, our feelings to its bizarre customs, and our will to its
seductions. We only maintain our caprice against her holy rights. The
man of the world has his heart contracted by a proud self-complacency,
while that of the man of nature often beats in sympathy; and every man
seeks for nothing more than to save his wretched property from the
general destruction, as it were from some great conflagration. It is
conceived that the only way to find a shelter against the aberrations of
sentiment is by completely foregoing its indulgence, and mockery, which
is often a useful chastener of mysticism, slanders in the same breath the
noblest aspirations. Culture, far from giving us freedom, only develops,
as it advances, new necessities; the fetters of the physical close more
tightly around us, so that the fear of loss quenches even the ardent
impulse toward improvement, and the maxims of passive obedience are held
to be the highest wisdom of life. Thus the spirit of the time is seen to
waver between perversion and savagism, between what is unnatural and mere
nature, between superstition and moral unbelief, and it is often nothing
but the equilibrium of evils that sets bounds to it.


Have I gone too far in this portraiture of our times? I do not
anticipate this stricture, but rather another--that I have proved too
much by it. You will tell me that the picture I have presented resembles
the humanity of our day, but it also bodies forth all nations engaged in
the same degree of culture, because all, without exception, have fallen
off from nature by the abuse of reason, before they can return to it
through reason.

But if we bestow some serious attention to the character of our times, we
shall be astonished at the contrast between the present and the previous
form of humanity, especially that of Greece. We are justified in
claiming the reputation of culture and refinement, when contrasted with a
purely natural state of society, but not so comparing ourselves with the
Grecian nature. For the latter was combined with all the charms of art
and with all the dignity of wisdom, without, however, as with us,
becoming a victim to these influences. The Greeks have put us to shame
not only by their simplicity, which is foreign to our age; they are at
the same time our rivals, nay, frequently our models, in those very
points of superiority from which we seek comfort when regretting the
unnatural character of our manners. We see that remarkable people
uniting at once fulness of form and fulness of substance, both
philosophizing and creating, both tender and energetic, uniting a
youthful fancy to the virility of reason in a glorious humanity.

At the period of Greek culture, which was an awakening of the powers of
the mind, the senses and the spirit had no distinctly separated property;
no division had yet torn them asunder, leading them to partition in a
hostile attitude, and to mark off their limits with precision. Poetry
had not as yet become the adversary of wit, nor had speculation abused
itself by passing into quibbling. In cases of necessity both poetry and
wit could exchange parts, because they both honored truth only in their
special way. However high might be the flight of reason, it drew matter
in a loving spirit after it, and while sharply and stiffly defining it,
never mutilated what it touched. It is true the Greek mind displaced
humanity, and recast it on a magnified scale in the glorious circle of
its gods; but it did this not by dissecting human nature, but by giving
it fresh combinations, for the whole of human nature was represented in
each of the gods. How different is the course followed by us moderns!
We also displace and magnify individuals to form the image of the
species, but we do this in a fragmentary way, not by altered
combinations, so that it is necessary to gather up from different
individuals the elements that form the species in its totality. It would
almost appear as if the powers of mind express themselves with us in real
life or empirically as separately as the psychologist distinguishes them
in the representation. For we see not only individual subjects, but
whole classes of men, uphold their capacities only in part, while the
rest of their faculties scarcely show a germ of activity, as in the case
of the stunted growth of plants.

I do not overlook the advantages to which the present race, regarded as a
unity and in the balance of the understanding, may lay claim over what is
best in the ancient world; but it is obliged to engage in the contest as
a compact mass, and measure itself as a whole against a whole. Who among
the moderns could step forth, man against man, and strive with an
Athenian for the prize of higher humanity.

Whence comes this disadvantageous relation of individuals coupled with
great advantages of the race? Why could the individual Greek be
qualified as the type of his time; and why can no modern dare to offer
himself as such? Because all-uniting nature imparted its forms to the
Greek, and an all-dividing understanding gives our forms to us.

It was culture itself that gave these wounds to modern humanity. The
inner union of human nature was broken, and a destructive contest divided
its harmonious forces directly; on the one hand, an enlarged experience
and a more distinct thinking necessitated a sharper separation of the
sciences, while, on the other hand, the more complicated machinery of
states necessitated a stricter sundering of ranks and occupations.
Intuitive and speculative understanding took up a hostile attitude in
opposite fields, whose borders were guarded with jealousy and distrust;
and by limiting its operation to a narrow sphere, men have made unto
themselves a master who is wont not unfrequently to end by subduing and
oppressing all the other faculties. Whilst on the one hand a luxuriant
imagination creates ravages in the plantations that have cost the
intelligence so much labor; on the other hand, a spirit of abstraction
suffocates the fire that might have warmed the heart and inflamed the

This subversion, commenced by art and learning in the inner man, was
carried out to fulness and finished by the spirit of innovation in
government. It was, no doubt, reasonable to expect that the simple
organization of the primitive republics should survive the quaintness of
primitive manners and of the relations of antiquity. But, instead of
rising to a higher and nobler degree of animal life, this organization
degenerated into a common and coarse mechanism. The zoophyte condition
of the Grecian states, where each individual enjoyed an independent life,
and could, in cases of necessity, become a separate whole and unit in
himself, gave way to an ingenious mechanism, when, from the splitting up
into numberless parts, there results a mechanical life in the
combination. Then there was a rupture between the state and the church,
between laws and customs; enjoyment was separated from labor, the means
from the end, the effort from the reward. Man himself, eternally chained
down to a little fragment of the whole, only forms a kind of fragment;
having nothing in his ears but the monotonous sound of the perpetually
revolving wheel, he never develops the harmony of his being, and instead
of imprinting the seal of humanity on his being, he ends by being nothing
more than the living impress of the craft to which he devotes himself, of
the science that he cultivates. This very partial and paltry relation,
linking the isolated members to the whole, does not depend on forms that
are given spontaneously; for how could a complicated machine, which shuns
the light, confide itself to the free will of man? This relation is
rather dictated, with a rigorous strictness, by a formulary in which the
free intelligence of man is chained down. The dead letter takes the
place of a living meaning, and a practised memory becomes a safer guide
than genius and feeling.

If the community or state measures man by his function, only asking of
its citizens memory, or the intelligence of a craftsman, or mechanical
skill, we cannot be surprised that the other faculties of the mind are
neglected for the exclusive culture of the one that brings in honor and
profit. Such is the necessary result of an organization that is
indifferent about character, only looking to acquirements, whilst in
other cases it tolerates the thickest darkness, to favor a spirit of law
and order; it must result if it wishes that individuals in the exercise
of special aptitudes should gain in depth what they are permitted to lose
in extension. We are aware, no doubt, that a powerful genius does not
shut up its activity within the limits of its functions; but mediocre
talents consume in the craft fallen to their lot the whole of their
feeble energy; and if some of their energy is reserved for matters of
preference, without prejudice to its functions, such a state of things at
once bespeaks a spirit soaring above the vulgar. Moreover, it is rarely
a recommendation in the eye of a state to have a capacity superior to
your employment, or one of those noble intellectual cravings of a man of
talent which contend in rivalry with the duties of office. The state is
so jealous of the exclusive possession of its servants that it would
prefer--nor can it be blamed in this--for functionaries to show their
powers with the Venus of Cytherea rather than the Uranian Venus.

It is thus that concrete individual life is extinguished, in order that
the abstract whole may continue its miserable life, and the state remains
forever a stranger to its citizens, because feeling does not discover it
anywhere. The governing authorities find themselves compelled to
classify, and thereby simplify the multiplicity of citizens, and only to
know humanity in a representative form and at second-hand. Accordingly
they end by entirely losing sight of humanity, and by confounding it with
a simple artificial creation of the understanding, whilst on their part
the subject-classes cannot help receiving coldly laws that address
themselves so little to their personality. At length, society, weary of
having a burden that the state takes so little trouble to lighten, falls
to pieces and is broken up--a destiny that has long since attended most
European states. They are dissolved in what may be called a state of
moral nature, in which public authority is only one function more, hated
and deceived by those who think it necessary, respected only by those who
can do without it.

Thus compressed between two forces, within and without, could humanity
follow any other course than that which it has taken? The speculative
mind, pursuing imprescriptible goods and rights in the sphere of ideas,
must needs have become a stranger to the world of sense, and lose sight
of matter for the sake of form. On its part, the world of public
affairs, shut up in a monotonous circle of objects, and even there
restricted by formulas, was led to lose sight of the life and liberty of
the whole, while becoming impoverished at the same time in its own
sphere. Just as the speculative mind was tempted to model the real after
the intelligible, and to raise the subjective laws of its imagination
into laws constituting the existence of things, so the state spirit
rushed into the opposite extreme, wished to make a particular and
fragmentary experience the measure of all observation, and to apply
without exception to all affairs the rules of its own particular craft.
The speculative mind had necessarily to become the prey of a vain
subtlety, the state spirit of a narrow pedantry; for the former was
placed too high to see the individual, and the latter too low to survey
the whole. But the disadvantage of this direction of mind was not
confined to knowledge and mental production; it extended to action and
feeling. We know that the sensibility of the mind depends, as to degree,
on the liveliness, and for extent on the richness of the imagination.
Now the predominance of the faculty of analysis must necessarily deprive
the imagination of its warmth and energy, and a restricted sphere of
objects must diminish its wealth. It is for this reason that the
abstract thinker has very often a cold heart, because he analyzes
impressions, which only move the mind by their combination or totality;
on the other hand, the man of business, the statesman, has very often a
narrow heart, because, shut up in the narrow circle of his employment,
his imagination can neither expand nor adapt itself to another manner of
viewing things.

My subject has led me naturally to place in relief the distressing
tendency of the character of our own times and to show the sources of the
evil, without its being my province to point out the compensations
offered by nature. I will readily admit to you that, although this
splitting up of their being was unfavorable for individuals, it was the
only open road for the progress of the race. The point at which we see
humanity arrived among the Greeks was undoubtedly a maximum; it could
neither stop there nor rise higher. It could not stop there, for the sum
of notions acquired forced infallibly the intelligence to break with
feeling and intuition, and to lead to clearness of knowledge. Nor could
it rise any higher; for it is only in a determinate measure that
clearness can be reconciled with a certain degree of abundance and of
warmth. The Greeks had attained this measure, and to continue their
progress in culture, they, as we, were obliged to renounce the totality
of their being, and to follow different and separate roads in order to
seek after truth.

There was no other way to develop the manifold aptitudes of man than to
bring them in opposition with one another. This antagonism of forces is
the great instrument of culture, but it is only an instrument: for as
long as this antagonism lasts man is only on the road to culture. It is
only because these special forces are isolated in man, and because they
take on themselves to impose all exclusive legislation, that they enter
into strife with the truth of things, and oblige common sense, which
generally adheres imperturbably to external phenomena, to dive into the
essence of things. While pure understanding usurps authority in the
world of sense, and empiricism attempts to subject this intellect to the
conditions of experience, these two rival directions arrive at the
highest possible development, and exhaust the whole extent of their
sphere. While, on the one hand, imagination, by its tyranny, ventures to
destroy the order of the world, it forces reason, on the other side, to
rise up to the supreme sources of knowledge, and to invoke against this
predominance of fancy the help of the law of necessity.

By an exclusive spirit in the case of his faculties, the individual is
fatally led to error; but the species is led to truth. It is only by
gathering up all the energy of our mind in a single focus, and
concentrating a single force in our being, that we give in some sort
wings to this isolated force, and that we draw it on artificially far
beyond the limits that nature seems to have imposed upon it. If it be
certain that all human individuals taken together would never have
arrived, with the visual power given them by nature, to see a satellite
of Jupiter, discovered by the telescope of the astronomer, it is just as
well established that never would the human understanding have produced
the analysis of the infinite, or the critique of pure reason, if in
particular branches, destined for this mission, reason had not applied
itself to special researches, and it, after having, as it were, freed
itself from all matter, it had not, by the most powerful abstraction
given to the spiritual eye of man the force necessary, in order to look
into the absolute. But the question is, if a spirit thus absorbed in
pure reason and intuition will be able to emancipate itself from the
rigorous fetters of logic, to take the free action of poetry, and seize
the individuality of things with a faithful and chaste sense? Here
nature imposes even on the most universal genius a limit it cannot pass,
and truth will make martyrs as long as philosophy will be reduced to make
its principal occupation the search for arms against errors.

But whatever may be the final profit for the totality of the world, of
this distinct and special perfecting of the human faculties, it cannot be
denied that this final aim of the universe, which devotes them to this
kind of culture, is a cause of suffering, and a kind of malediction for
individuals. I admit that the exercises of the gymnasium form athletic
bodies; but beauty is only developed by the free and equal play of the
limbs. In the same way the tension of the isolated spiritual forces may
make extraordinary men; but it is only the well-tempered equilibrium of
these forces that can produce happy and accomplished men. And in what
relation should we be placed with past and future ages if the perfecting
of human nature made such a sacrifice indispensable? In that case we
should have been the slaves of humanity, we should have consumed our
forces in servile work for it during some thousands of years, and we
should have stamped on our humiliated, mutilated nature the shameful
brand of this slavery--all this in order that future generations, in a
happy leisure, might consecrate themselves to the cure of their moral
health, and develop the whole of human nature by their free culture.

But can it be true that man has to neglect himself for any end whatever?
Can nature snatch from us, for any end whatever, the perfection which is
prescribed to us by the aim of reason? It must be false that the
perfecting of particular faculties renders the sacrifice of their
totality necessary; and even if the law of nature had imperiously this
tendency, we must have the power to reform by a superior art this
totality of our being, which art has destroyed.


Can this effect of harmony be attained by the state? That is not
possible, for the state, as at present constituted, has given occasion to
evil, and the state as conceived in the idea, instead of being able to
establish this more perfect humanity, ought to be based upon it. Thus
the researches in which I have indulged would have brought me back to the
same point from which they had called me off for a time. The present
age, far from offering us this form of humanity, which we have
acknowledged as a necessary condition of an improvement of the state,
shows us rather the diametrically opposite form. If, therefore, the
principles I have laid down are correct, and if experience confirms the
picture I have traced of the present time, it would be necessary to
qualify as unseasonable every attempt to effect a similar change in the
state, and all hope as chimerical that would be based on such an attempt,
until the division of the inner man ceases, and nature has been
sufficiently developed to become herself the instrument of this great
change and secure the reality of the political creation of reason.

In the physical creation, nature shows us the road that we have to follow
in the moral creation. Only when the struggle of elementary forces has
ceased in inferior organizations, nature rises to the noble form of the
physical man. In like manner, the conflict of the elements of the moral
man and that of blind instincts must have ceased, and a coarse antagonism
in himself, before the attempt can be hazarded. On the other hand, the
independence of man's character must be secured, and his submission to
despotic forms must have given place to a suitable liberty, before the
variety in his constitution can be made subordinate to the unity of the
ideal. When the man of nature still makes such an anarchial abuse of his
will, his liberty ought hardly to be disclosed to him. And when the man
fashioned by culture makes so little use of his freedom, his free will
ought not to be taken from him. The concession of liberal principles
becomes a treason to social order when it is associated with a force
still in fermentation, and increases the already exuberant energy of its
nature. Again, the law of conformity under one level becomes tyranny to
the individual when it is allied to a weakness already holding sway and
to natural obstacles, and when it comes to extinguish the last spark of
spontaneity and of originality.

The tone of the age must therefore rise from its profound moral
degradation; on the one hand it must emancipate itself from the blind
service of nature, and on the other it must revert to its simplicity, its
truth, and its fruitful sap; a sufficient task for more than a century.
However, I admit readily, more than one special effort may meet with
success, but no improvement of the whole will result from it, and
contradictions in action will be a continual protest against the unity of
maxims. It will be quite possible, then, that in remote corners of the
world humanity may be honored in the person of the negro, while in Europe
it may be degraded in the person of the thinker. The old principles will
remain, but they will adopt the dress of the age, and philosophy will
lend its name to an oppression that was formerly authorized by the
church. In one place, alarmed at the liberty which in its opening
efforts always shows itself an enemy, it will cast itself into the arms
of a convenient servitude. In another place, reduced to despair by a
pedantic tutelage, it will be driven into the savage license of the state
of nature. Usurpation will invoke the weakness of human nature, and
insurrection will invoke its dignity, till at length the great sovereign
of all human things, blind force, shall come in and decide, like a vulgar
pugilist, this pretended contest of principles.


Must philosophy therefore retire from this field, disappointed in its
hopes? Whilst in all other directions the dominion of forms is extended,
must this the most precious of all gifts be abandoned to a formless
chance? Must the contest of blind forces last eternally in the political
world, and is social law never to triumph over a hating egotism?

Not in the least. It is true that reason herself will never attempt
directly a struggle with this brutal force which resists her arms, and
she will be as far as the son of Saturn in the "Iliad" from descending
into the dismal field of battle, to fight them in person. But she
chooses the most deserving among the combatants, clothes him with divine
arms as Jupiter gave them to his son-in-law, and by her triumphing force
she finally decides the victory.

Reason has done all that she could in finding the law and promulgating
it; it is for the energy of the will and the ardor of feeling to carry it
out. To issue victoriously from her contest with force, truth herself
must first become a force, and turn one of the instincts of man into her
champion in the empire of phenomena. For instincts are the only motive
forces in the material world. If hitherto truth has so little manifested
her victorious power, this has not depended on the understanding, which
could not have unveiled it, but on the heart which remained closed to it
and on instinct which did not act with it.

Whence, in fact, proceeds this general sway of prejudices, this might of
the understanding in the midst of the light disseminated by philosophy
and experience? The age is enlightened, that is to say, that knowledge,
obtained and vulgarized, suffices to set right at least on practical
principles. The spirit of free inquiry has dissipated the erroneous
opinions which long barred the access to truth, and has undermined the
ground on which fanaticism and deception had erected their throne.
Reason has purified itself from the illusions of the senses and from a
mendacious sophistry, and philosophy herself raises her voice and exhorts
us to return to the bosom of nature, to which she had first made us
unfaithful. Whence then is it that we remain still barbarians?

There must be something in the spirit of man--as it is not in the objects
themselves--which prevents us from receiving the truth, notwithstanding
the brilliant light she diffuses, and from accepting her, whatever may be
her strength for producing conviction. This something was perceived and
expressed by an ancient sage in this very significant maxim: sapere aude
[dare to be wise.]

Dare to be wise! A spirited courage is required to triumph over the
impediments that the indolence of nature as well as the cowardice of the
heart oppose to our instruction. It was not without reason that the
ancient Mythos made Minerva issue fully armed from the head of Jupiter,
for it is with warfare that this instruction commences. From its very
outset it has to sustain a hard fight against the senses, which do not
like to be roused from their easy slumber. The greater part of men are
much too exhausted and enervated by their struggle with want to be able
to engage in a new and severe contest with error. Satisfied if they
themselves can escape from the hard labor of thought, they willingly
abandon to others the guardianship of their thoughts. And if it happens
that nobler necessities agitate their soul, they cling with a greedy
faith to the formula that the state and the church hold in reserve for
such cases. If these unhappy men deserve our compassion, those others
deserve our just contempt, who, though set free from those necessities by
more fortunate circumstances, yet willingly bend to their yoke. These
latter persons prefer this twilight of obscure ideas, where the feelings
have more intensity, and the imagination can at will create convenient
chimeras, to the rays of truth which put to flight the pleasant illusions
of their dreams. They have founded the whole structure of their
happiness on these very illusions, which ought to be combated and
dissipated by the light of knowledge, and they would think they were
paying too dearly for a truth which begins by robbing them of all that
has value in their sight. It would be necessary that they should be
already sages to love wisdom: a truth that was felt at once by him to
whom philosophy owes its name. [The Greek word means, as is known, love
of wisdom.]

It is therefore not going far enough to say that the light of the
understanding only deserves respect when it reacts on the character; to a
certain extent it is from the character that this light proceeds; for the
road that terminates in the head must pass through the heart.
Accordingly, the most pressing need of the present time is to educate the
sensibility, because it is the means, not only to render efficacious in
practice the improvement of ideas, but to call this improvement into


But perhaps there is a vicious circle in our previous reasoning!
Theoretical culture must it seems bring along with it practical culture,
and yet the latter must be the condition of the former. All improvement
in the political sphere must proceed from the ennobling of the character.
But, subject to the influence of a social constitution still barbarous,
how can character become ennobled? It would then be necessary to seek
for this end an instrument that the state does not furnish, and to open
sources that would have preserved themselves pure in the midst of
political corruption.

I have now reached the point to which all the considerations tended that
have engaged me up to the present time. This instrument is the art of
the beautiful; these sources are open to us in its immortal models.

Art, like science, is emancipated from all that is positive, and all that
is humanly conventional; both are completely independent of the arbitrary
will of man. The political legislator may place their empire under an
interdict, but he cannot reign there. He can proscribe the friend of
truth, but truth subsists; he can degrade the artist, but he cannot
change art. No doubt, nothing is more common than to see science and art
bend before the spirit of the age, and creative taste receive its law
from critical taste. When the character becomes stiff and hardens
itself, we see science severely keeping her limits, and art subject to
the harsh restraint of rules; when the character is relaxed and softened,
science endeavors to please and art to rejoice. For whole ages
philosophers as well as artists show themselves occupied in letting down
truth and beauty to the depths of vulgar humanity. They themselves are
swallowed up in it; but, thanks to their essential vigor and
indestructible life, the true and the beautiful make a victorious fight,
and issue triumphant from the abyss.

No doubt the artist is the child of his time, but unhappy for him if he
is its disciple or even its favorite! Let a beneficent deity carry off
in good time the suckling from the breast of its mother, let it nourish
him on the milk of a better age, and suffer him to grow up and arrive at
virility under the distant sky of Greece. When he has attained manhood,
let him come back, presenting a face strange to his own age; let him
come, not to delight it with his apparition, but rather to purify it,
terrible as the son of Agamemnon. He will, indeed, receive his matter
from the present time, but he will borrow the form from a nobler time and
even beyond all time, from the essential, absolute, immutable unity.
There, issuing from the pure ether of its heavenly nature, flows the
source of all beauty, which was never tainted by the corruptions of
generations or of ages, which roll along far beneath it in dark eddies.
Its matter may be dishonored as well as ennobled by fancy, but the
ever-chaste form escapes from the caprices of imagination. The Roman had
already bent his knee for long years to the divinity of the emperors, and
yet the statues of the gods stood erect; the temples retained their
sanctity for the eye long after the gods had become a theme for mockery,
and the noble architecture of the palaces that shielded the infamies of
Nero and of Commodus were a protest against them. Humanity has lost its
dignity, but art has saved it, and preserves it in marbles full of
meaning; truth continues to live in illusion, and the copy will serve to
re-establish the model. If the nobility of art has survived the nobility
of nature, it also goes before it like an inspiring genius, forming and
awakening minds. Before truth causes her triumphant light to penetrate
into the depths of the heart, poetry intercepts her rays, and the summits
of humanity shine in a bright light, while a dark and humid night still
hangs over the valleys.

But how will the artist avoid the corruption of his time which encloses
him on all hands? Let him raise his eyes to his own dignity, and to law;
let him not lower them to necessity and fortune. Equally exempt from a
vain activity which would imprint its trace on the fugitive moment, and
from the dreams of an impatient enthusiasm which applies the measure of
the absolute to the paltry productions of time, let the artist abandon
the real to the understanding, for that is its proper field. But let the
artist endeavor to give birth to the ideal by the union of the possible
and of the necessary. Let him stamp illusion and truth with the effigy
of this ideal; let him apply it to the play of his imagination and his
most serious actions, in short, to all sensuous and spiritual forms; then
let him quietly launch his work into infinite time.

But the minds set on fire by this ideal have not all received an equal
share of calm from the creative genius--that great and patient temper
which is required to impress the ideal on the dumb marble, or to spread
it over a page of cold, sober letters, and then intrust it to the
faithful hands of time. This divine instinct, and creative force, much
too ardent to follow this peaceful walk, often throws itself immediately
on the present, on active life, and strives to transform the shapeless
matter of the moral world. The misfortune of his brothers, of the whole
species, appeals loudly to the heart of the man of feeling; their
abasement appeals still louder: enthusiasm is inflamed, and in souls
endowed with energy the burning desire aspires impatiently to action and
facts. But has this innovator examined himself to see if these disorders
of the moral world wound his reason, or if they do not rather wound his
self-love? If he does not determine this point at once, he will find it
from the impulsiveness with which he pursues a prompt and definite end.
A pure, moral motive has for its end the absolute; time does not exist
for it, and the future becomes the present to it directly; by a necessary
development, it has to issue from the present. To a reason having no
limits the direction towards an end becomes confounded with the
accomplishment of this end, and to enter on a course is to have finished

If, then, a young friend of the true and of the beautiful were to ask me
how, notwithstanding the resistance of the times, he can satisfy the
noble longing of his heart, I should reply: Direct the world on which you
act towards that which is good, and the measured and peaceful course of
time will bring about the results. You have given it this direction if
by your teaching you raise its thoughts towards the necessary and the
eternal; if, by your acts or your creations, you make the necessary and
the eternal the object of your leanings. The structure of error and of
all that is arbitrary must fall, and it has already fallen, as soon as
you are sure that it is tottering. But it is important that it should
not only totter in the external but also in the internal man. Cherish
triumphant truth in the modest sanctuary of your heart; give it an
incarnate form through beauty, that it may not only be in the
understanding that does homage to it, but that feeling may lovingly grasp
its appearance. And that you may not by any chance take from external
reality the model which you yourself ought to furnish, do not venture
into its dangerous society before you are assured in your own heart that
you have a good escort furnished by ideal nature. Live with your age,
but be not its creation; labor for your contemporaries, but do for them
what they need, and not what they praise. Without having shared their
faults, share their punishment with a noble resignation, and bend under
the yoke which they find it as painful to dispense with as to bear. By
the constancy with which you will despise their good fortune, you will
prove to them that it is not through cowardice that you submit to their
sufferings. See them in thought such as they ought to be when you must
act upon them; but see them as they are when you are tempted to act for
them. Seek to owe their suffrage to their dignity; but to make them
happy keep an account of their unworthiness: thus, on the one hand, the
nobleness of your heart will kindle theirs, and, on the other, your end
will not be reduced to nothingness by their unworthiness. The gravity of
your principles will keep them off from you, but in play they will still
endure them. Their taste is purer than their heart, and it is by their
taste you must lay hold of this suspicious fugitive. In vain will you
combat their maxims, in vain will you condemn their actions; but you can
try your moulding hand on their leisure. Drive away caprice, frivolity,
and coarseness from their pleasures, and you will banish them
imperceptibly from their acts, and at length from their feelings.
Everywhere that you meet them, surround them with great, noble, and
ingenious forms; multiply around them the symbols of perfection, till
appearance triumphs over reality, and art over nature.


Convinced by my preceding letters, you agree with me on this point, that
man can depart from his destination by two opposite roads, that our epoch
is actually moving on these two false roads, and that it has become the
prey, in one case, of coarseness, and elsewhere of exhaustion and
depravity. It is the beautiful that must bring it back from this twofold
departure. But how can the cultivation of the fine arts remedy, at the
same time, these opposite defects, and unite in itself two contradictory
qualities? Can it bind nature in the savage, and set it free in the
barbarian? Can it at once tighten a spring and loose it; and if it
cannot produce this double effect, how will it be reasonable to expect
from it so important a result as the education of man?

It may be urged that it is almost a proverbial adage that the feeling
developed by the beautiful refines manners, and any new proof offered on
the subject would appear superfluous. Men base this maxim on daily
experience, which shows us almost always clearness of intellect, delicacy
of feeling, liberality and even dignity of conduct, associated with a
cultivated taste, while an uncultivated taste is almost always
accompanied by the opposite qualities. With considerable assurance, the
most civilized nation of antiquity is cited as an evidence of this, the
Greeks, among whom the perception of the beautiful attained its highest
development, and, as a contrast, it is usual to point to nations in a
partial savage state, and partly barbarous, who expiate their
insensibility to the beautiful by a coarse, or, at all events, a hard,
austere character. Nevertheless, some thinkers are tempted occasionally
to deny either the fact itself or to dispute the legitimacy of the
consequences that are derived from it. They do not entertain so
unfavorable an opinion of that savage coarseness which is made a reproach
in the case of certain nations; nor do they form so advantageous an
opinion of the refinement so highly lauded in the case of cultivated
nations. Even as far back as in antiquity there were men who by no means
regarded the culture of the liberal arts as a benefit, and who were
consequently led to forbid the entrance of their republic to imagination.

I do not speak of those who calumniate art because they have never been
favored by it. These persons only appreciate a possession by the trouble
it takes to acquire it, and by the profit it brings: and how could they
properly appreciate the silent labor of taste in the exterior and
interior man? How evident it is that the accidental disadvantages
attending liberal culture would make them lose sight of its essential
advantages? The man deficient in form despises the grace of diction as a
means of corruption, courtesy in the social relations as dissimulation,
delicacy and generosity in conduct as an affected exaggeration. He
cannot forgive the favorite of the Graces for having enlivened all
assemblies as a man of the world, of having directed all men to his views
like a statesman, and of giving his impress to the whole century as a
writer: while he, the victim of labor, can only obtain with all his
learning, the least attention or overcome the least difficulty. As he
cannot learn from his fortunate rival the secret of pleasing, the only
course open to him is to deplore the corruption of human nature, which
adores rather the appearance than the reality.

But there are also opinions deserving respect, that pronounce themselves
adverse to the effects of the beautiful, and find formidable arms in
experience, with which to wage war against it. "We are free to admit"--
such is their language--"that the charms of the beautiful can further
honorable ends in pure hands; but it is not repugnant to its nature to
produce, in impure hands, a directly contrary effect, and to employ in
the service of injustice and error the power that throws the soul of man
into chains. It is exactly because taste only attends to the form and
never to the substance; it ends by placing the soul on the dangerous
incline, leading it to neglect all reality and to sacrifice truth and
morality to an attractive envelope. All the real difference of things
vanishes, and it is only the appearance that determines the value! How
many men of talent"--thus these arguers proceed--"have been turned aside
from all effort by the seductive power of the beautiful, or have been led
away from all serious exercise of their activity, or have been induced to
use it very feebly? How many weak minds have been impelled to quarrel
with the organizations of society, simply because it has pleased the
imagination of poets to present the image of a world constituted
differently, where no propriety chains down opinion and no artifice holds
nature in thraldom? What a dangerous logic of the passions they have
learned since the poets have painted them in their pictures in the most
brilliant colors, and since, in the contest with law and duty, they have
commonly remained masters of the battle-field. What has society gained
by the relations of society, formerly under the sway of truth, being now
subject to the laws of the beautiful, or by the external impression
deciding the estimation in which merit is to be held? We admit that all
virtues whose appearance produces an agreeable effect are now seen to
flourish, and those which, in society, give a value to the man who
possesses them. But, as a compensation, all kinds of excesses are seen
to prevail, and all vices are in vogue that can be reconciled with a
graceful exterior." It is certainly a matter entitled to reflection
that, at almost all the periods of history when art flourished and taste
held sway, humanity is found in a state of decline; nor can a single
instance be cited of the union of a large diffusion of aesthetic culture
with political liberty and social virtue, of fine manners associated with
good morals, and of politeness fraternizing with truth and loyalty of
character and life.

As long as Athens and Sparta preserved their independence, and as long as
their institutions were based on respect for the laws, taste did not
reach its maturity, art remained in its infancy, and beauty was far from
exercising her empire over minds. No doubt, poetry had already taken a
sublime flight, but it was on the wings of genius, and we know that
genius borders very closely on savage coarseness, that it is a light
which shines readily in the midst of darkness, and which therefore often
argues against rather than in favor of the taste of time. When the
golden age of art appears under Pericles and Alexander, and the sway of
taste becomes more general, strength and liberty have abandoned Greece;
eloquence corrupts the truth, wisdom offends it on the lips of Socrates,
and virtue in the life of Phocion. It is well known that the Romans had
to exhaust their energies in civil wars, and, corrupted by Oriental
luxury, to bow their heads under the yoke of a fortunate despot, before
Grecian art triumphed over the stiffness of their character. The same
was the case with the Arabs: civilization only dawned upon them when the
vigor of their military spirit became softened under the sceptre of the
Abbassides. Art did not appear in modern Italy till the glorious Lombard
League was dissolved, Florence submitting to the Medici; and all those
brave cities gave up the spirit of independence for an inglorious
resignation. It is almost superfluous to call to mind the example of
modern nations, with whom refinement has increased in direct proportion
to the decline of their liberties. Wherever we direct our eyes in past
times, we see taste and freedom mutually avoiding each other. Everywhere
we see that the beautiful only founds its sway on the ruins of heroic

And yet this strength of character, which is commonly sacrificed to
establish aesthetic culture, is the most powerful spring of all that is
great and excellent in man, and no other advantage, however great, can
make up for it. Accordingly, if we only keep to the experiments hitherto
made, as to the influence of the beautiful, we cannot certainly be much
encouraged in developing feelings so dangerous to the real culture of
man. At the risk of being hard and coarse, it will seem preferable to
dispense with this dissolving force of the beautiful rather than see
human nature a prey to its enervating influence, notwithstanding all its
refining advantages. However, experience is perhaps not the proper
tribunal at which to decide such a question; before giving so much weight
to its testimony, it would be well to inquire if the beauty we have been
discussing is the power that is condemned by the previous examples. And
the beauty we are discussing seems to assume an idea of the beautiful
derived from a source different from experience, for it is this higher
notion of the beautiful which has to decide if what is called beauty by
experience is entitled to the name.

This pure and rational idea of the beautiful--supposing it can be placed
in evidence--cannot be taken from any real and special case, and must, on
the contrary, direct and give sanction to our judgment in each special
case. It must therefore be sought for by a process of abstraction, and
it ought to be deduced from the simple possibility of a nature both
sensuous and rational; in short, beauty ought to present itself as a
necessary condition of humanity. It is therefore essential that we
should rise to the pure idea of humanity, and as experience shows us
nothing but individuals, in particular cases, and never humanity at
large, we must endeavor to find in their individual and variable mode of
being the absolute and the permanent, and to grasp the necessary
conditions of their existence, suppressing all accidental limits. No
doubt this transcendental procedure will remove us for some time from the
familiar circle of phenomena, and the living presence of objects, to keep
us on the unproductive ground of abstract idea; but we are engaged in the
search after a principle of knowledge solid enough not to be shaken by
anything, and the man who does not dare to rise above reality will never
conquer this truth.


If abstraction rises to as great an elevation as possible, it arrives at
two primary ideas, before which it is obliged to stop and to recognize
its limits. It distinguishes in man something that continues, and
something that changes incessantly. That which continues it names his
person; that which changes his position, his condition.

The person and the condition, I and my determinations, which we represent
as one and the same thing in the necessary being, are eternally distinct
in the finite being. Notwithstanding all continuance in the person, the
condition changes; in spite of all change of condition the person
remains. We pass from rest to activity, from emotion to indifference,
from assent to contradiction, but we are always we ourselves, and what
immediately springs from ourselves remains. It is only in the absolute
subject that all his determinations continue with his personality. All
that Divinity is, it is because it is so; consequently it is eternally
what it is, because it is eternal.

As the person and the condition are distinct in man, because he is a
finite being, the condition cannot be founded on the person, nor the
person on the condition. Admitting the second case, the person would
have to change; and in the former case, the condition would have to
continue. Thus in either supposition, either the personality or the
quality of a finite being would necessarily cease. It is not because we
think, feel, and will that we are; it is not because we are that we
think, feel, and will. We are because we are. We feel, think, and will
because there is out of us something that is not ourselves.

Consequently the person must have its principle of existence in itself,
because the permanent cannot be derived from the changeable, and thus we
should be at once in possession of the idea of the absolute being,
founded on itself; that is to say, of the idea of freedom. The condition
must have a foundation, and as it is not through the person, and is not
therefore absolute, it must be a sequence and a result; and thus, in the
second place, we should have arrived at the condition of every
independent being, of everything in the process of becoming something
else: that is, of the idea of tine. "Time is the necessary condition of
all processes, of becoming (Werden);" this is an identical proposition,
for it says nothing but this: "That something may follow, there must be a

The person which manifested itself in the eternally continuing Ego, or I
myself, and only in him, cannot become something or begin in time,
because it is much rather time that must begin with him, because the
permanent must serve as basis to the changeable. That change may take
place, something must change; this something cannot therefore be the
change itself. When we say the flower opens and fades, we make of this
flower a permanent being in the midst of this transformation; we lend it,
in some sort, a personality, in which these two conditions are
manifested. It cannot be objected that man is born, and becomes
something; for man is not only a person simply, but he is a person
finding himself in a determinate condition. Now our determinate state of
condition springs up in time, and it is thus that man, as a phenomenon or
appearance, must have a beginning, though in him pure intelligence is
eternal. Without time, that is, without a becoming, he would not be a
determinate being; his personality would exist virtually no doubt, but
not in action. It is not by the succession of its perceptions that the
immutable Ego or person manifests himself to himself.

Thus, therefore, the matter of activity, or reality, that the supreme
intelligence draws from its own being, must be received by man; and he
does, in fact, receive it, through the medium of perception, as something
which is outside him in space, and which changes in him in time. This
matter which changes in him is always accompanied by the Ego, the
personality, that never changes; and the rule prescribed for man by his
rational nature is to remain immutably himself in the midst of change, to
refer all perceptions to experience, that is, to the unity of knowledge,
and to make of each of its manifestations of its modes in time the law of
all time. The matter only exists in as far as it changes: he, his
personality, only exists in as far as he does not change. Consequently,
represented in his perfection, man would be the permanent unity, which
remains always the same, among the waves of change.

Now, although an infinite being, a divinity could not become (or be
subject to time), still a tendency ought to be named divine which has for
its infinite end the most characteristic attribute of the divinity; the
absolute manifestation of power--the reality of all the possible--and the
absolute unity of the manifestation (the necessity of all reality). It
cannot be disputed that man bears within himself, in his personality, a
predisposition for divinity. The way to divinity--if the word "way" can
be applied to what never leads to its end--is open to him in every

Considered in itself, and independently of all sensuous matter, his
personality is nothing but the pure virtuality of a possible infinite
manifestation; and so long as there is neither intuition nor feeling, it
is nothing more than a form, an empty power. Considered in itself, and
independently of all spontaneous activity of the mind, sensuousness can
only make a material man; without it, it is a pure form; but it cannot in
any way establish a union between matter and it. So long as he only
feels, wishes, and acts under the influence of desire, he is nothing more
than the world, if by this word we point out only the formless contents
of time. Without doubt, it is only his sensuousness that makes his
strength pass into efficacious acts, but it is his personality alone that
makes this activity his own. Thus, that he may not only be a world, he
must give form to matter, and in order not to be a mere form, he must
give reality to the virtuality that he bears in him. He gives matter to
form by creating time, and by opposing the immutable to change, the
diversity of the world to the eternal unity of the Ego. He gives a form
to matter by again suppressing time, by maintaining permanence in change,
and by placing the diversity of the world under the unity of the Ego.

Now from this source issue for man two opposite exigencies, the two
fundamental laws of sensuous-rational nature. The first has for its
object absolute reality; it must make a world of what is only form,
manifest all that in it is only a force. The second law has for its
object absolute formality; it must destroy in him all that is only world,
and carry out harmony in all changes. In other terms, he must manifest
all that is internal, and give form to all that is external. Considered
in its most lofty accomplishment, this twofold labor brings back to the
idea of humanity, which was my starting-point.


This twofold labor or task, which consists in making the necessary pass
into reality in us and in making out of us reality subject to the law of
necessity, is urged upon us as a duty by two opposing forces, which are
justly styled impulsions or instincts, because they impel us to realize
their object. The first of these impulsions, which I shall call the
sensuous instinct, issues from the physical existence of man, or from
sensuous nature; and it is this instinct which tends to enclose him in
the limits of time, and to make of him a material being; I do not say to
give him matter, for to do that a certain free activity of the
personality would be necessary, which, receiving matter, distinguishes it
from the Ego, or what is permanent. By matter I only understand in this
place the change or reality that fills time. Consequently the instinct
requires that there should be change, and that time should contain
something. This simply filled state of time is named sensation, and it
is only in this state that physical existence manifests itself.

As all that is in time is successive, it follows by that fact alone that
something is: all the remainder is excluded. When one note on an
instrument is touched, among all those that it virtually offers, this
note alone is real. When man is actually modified, the infinite
possibility of all his modifications is limited to this single mode of
existence. Thus, then, the exclusive action of sensuous impulsion has
for its necessary consequence the narrowest limitation. In this state
man is only a unity of magnitude, a complete moment in time; or, to speak
more correctly, he is not, for his personality is suppressed as long as
sensation holds sway over him and carries time along with it.

This instinct extends its domains over the entire sphere of the finite in
man, and as form is only revealed in matter, and the absolute by means of
its limits, the total manifestation of human nature is connected on a
close analysis with the sensuous instinct. But though it is only this
instinct that awakens and develops what exists virtually in man, it is
nevertheless this very instinct which renders his perfection impossible.
It binds down to the world of sense by indestructible ties the spirit
that tends higher, and it calls back to the limits of the present,
abstraction which had its free development in the sphere of the infinite.
No doubt, thought can escape it for a moment, and a firm will
victoriously resist its exigencies: but soon compressed nature resumes
her rights to give an imperious reality to our existence, to give it
contents, substance, knowledge, and an aim for our activity.

The second impulsion, which may be named the formal instinct, issues from
the absolute existence of man, or from his rational nature, and tends to
set free, and bring harmony into the diversity of its manifestations, and
to maintain personality notwithstanding all the changes of state. As
this personality, being an absolute and indivisible unity, can never be
in contradiction with itself, as we are ourselves forever, this
impulsion, which tends to maintain personality, can never exact in one
time anything but what it exacts and requires forever. It therefore
decides for always what it decides now, and orders now what it orders
forever. Hence it embraces the whole series of times, or what comes to
the same thing, it suppresses time and change. It wishes the real to be
necessary and eternal, and it wishes the eternal and the necessary to be
real; in other terms, it tends to truth and justice.

If the sensuous instinct only produces accidents, the formal instinct
gives laws, laws for every judgment when it is a question of knowledge,
laws for every will when it is a question of action. Whether, therefore,
we recognize an object or conceive an objective value to a state of the
subject, whether we act in virtue of knowledge or make of the objective
the determining principle of our state; in both cases we withdraw this
state from the jurisdiction of time, and we attribute to it reality for
all men and for all time, that is, universality and necessity. Feeling
can only say: "That is true for this subject and at this moment," and
there may come another moment, another subject, which withdraws the
affirmation from the actual feeling. But when once thought pronounces
and says: "That is," it decides forever and ever, and the validity of its
decision is guaranteed by the personality itself, which defies all
change. Inclination can only say: "That is good for your individuality
and present necessity"; but the changing current of affairs will sweep
them away, and what you ardently desire to-day will form the object of
your aversion to-morrow. But when the moral feeling says: "That ought to
be," it decides forever. If you confess the truth because it is the
truth, and if you practise justice because it is justice, you have made
of a particular case the law of all possible cases, and treated one
moment of your life as eternity.

Accordingly, when the formal impulse holds sway and the pure object acts
in us, the being attains its highest expansion, all barriers disappear,
and from the unity of magnitude in which man was enclosed by a narrow
sensuousness, he rises to the unity of idea, which embraces and keeps
subject the entire sphere of phenomena. During this operation we are no
longer in time, but time is in us with its infinite succession. We are
no longer individuals but a species; the judgment of all spirits is
expressed by our own, and the choice of all hearts is represented by our
own act.


On a first survey, nothing appears more opposed than these two
impulsions; one having for its object change, the other immutability, and
yet it is these two notions that exhaust the notion of humanity, and a
third fundamental impulsion, holding a medium between them, is quite
inconceivable. How then shall we re-establish the unity of human nature,
a unity that appears completely destroyed by this primitive and radical

I admit these two tendencies are contradictory, but it should be noticed
that they are not so in the same objects. But things that do not meet
cannot come into collision. No doubt the sensuous impulsion desires
change; but it does not wish that it should extend to personality and its
field, nor that there should be a change of principles. The formal
impulsion seeks unity and permanence, but it does not wish the condition
to remain fixed with the person, that there should be identity of
feeling. Therefore these two impulsions are not divided by nature, and
if, nevertheless, they appear so, it is because they have become divided
by transgressing nature freely, by ignoring themselves, and by
confounding their spheres. The office of culture is to watch over them
and to secure to each one its proper limits; therefore culture has to
give equal justice to both, and to defend not only the rational impulsion
against the sensuous, but also the latter against the former. Hence she
has to act a twofold part: first, to protect sense against the attacks of
freedom; secondly, to secure personality against the power of sensations.
One of these ends is attained by the cultivation of the sensuous, the
other by that of reason.

Since the world is developed in time, or change, the perfection of the
faculty that places men in relation with the world will necessarily be
the greatest possible mutability and extensiveness. Since personality is
permanence in change, the perfection of this faculty, which must be
opposed to change, will be the greatest possible freedom of action
(autonomy) and intensity. The more the receptivity is developed under
manifold aspects, the more it is movable and offers surfaces to
phenomena, the larger is the part of the world seized upon by man, and
the more virtualities he develops in himself. Again, in proportion as
man gains strength and depth, and depth and reason gain in freedom, in
that proportion man takes in a larger share of the world, and throws out
forms outside himself. Therefore his culture will consist, first, in
placing his receptivity in contact with the world in the greatest number
of points possible, and in raising passivity, to the highest exponent on
the side of feeling; secondly, in procuring for the determining faculty
the greatest possible amount of independence, in relation to the
receptive power, and in raising activity to the highest degree on the
side of reason. By the union of these two qualities man will associate
the highest degree of self-spontaneity (autonomy) and of freedom with the
fullest plenitude of existence, and instead of abandoning himself to the
world so as to get lost in it, he will rather absorb it in himself, with
all the infinitude of its phenomena, and subject it to the unity of his

But man can invert this relation, and thus fail in attaining his
destination in two ways. He can hand over to the passive force the
intensity demanded by the active force; he can encroach by material
impulsion on the formal impulsion, and convert the receptive into the
determining power. He can attribute to the active force the
extensiveness belonging to the passive force, he can encroach by the
formal impulsion on the material impulsion, and substitute the
determining for the receptive power. In the former case, he will never
be an Ego, a personality; in the second case, he will never be a Non-Ego,
and hence in both cases he will be neither the one nor the other,
consequently he will be nothing.

In fact, if the sensuous impulsion becomes determining, if the senses
become lawgivers, and if the world stifles personality, he loses as
object what he gains in force. It may be said of man that when he is
only the contents of time, he is not and consequently he has no other
contents. His condition is destroyed at the same time as his
personality, because these are two correlative ideas, because change
presupposes permanence, and a limited reality implies an infinite
reality. If the formal impulsion becomes receptive, that is, if thought
anticipates sensation, and the person substitutes itself in the place of
the world, it loses as a subject and autonomous force what it gains as
object, because immutability implies change, and that to manifest itself
also absolute reality requires limits. As soon as man is only form, he
has no form, and the personality vanishes with the condition. In a word,
it is only inasmuch as he is spontaneous, autonomous, that there is
reality out of him, that he is also receptive; and it is only inasmuch as
he is receptive that there is reality in him, that he is a thinking

Consequently these two impulsions require limits, and looked upon as
forces, they need tempering; the former that it may not encroach on the
field of legislation, the latter that it may not invade the ground of
feeling. But this tempering and moderating the sensuous impulsion ought
not to be the effect of physical impotence or of a blunting of
sensations, which is always a matter for contempt. It must be a free
act, an activity of the person, which by its moral intensity moderates
the sensuous intensity, and by the sway of impressions takes from them in
depth what it gives them in surface or breadth. The character must place
limits to temperament, for the senses have only the right to lose
elements if it be to the advantage of the mind. In its turn, the
tempering of the formal impulsion must not result from moral impotence,
from a relaxation of thought and will, which would degrade humanity. It
is necessary that the glorious source of this second tempering should be
the fulness of sensations; it is necessary that sensuousness itself
should defend its field with a victorious arm and resist the violence
that the invading activity of the mind would do to it. In a word, it is
necessary that the material impulsion should be contained in the limits
of propriety by personality, and the formal impulsion by receptivity or


We have been brought to the idea of such a correlation between the two
impulsions that the action of the one establishes and limits at the same
time the action of the other, and that each of them, taken in isolation,
does arrive at its highest manifestation just because the other is

No doubt this correlation of the two impulsions is simply a problem
advanced by reason, and which man will only be able to solve in the
perfection of his being. It is in the strictest signification of the
term: the idea of his humanity; accordingly, it is an infinite to which
he can approach nearer and nearer in the course of time, but without ever
reaching it. "He ought not to aim at form to the injury of reality, nor
to reality to the detriment of the form. He must rather seek the
absolute being by means of a determinate being, and the determinate being
by means of an infinite being. He must set the world before him because
he is a person, and he must be a person because he has the world before
him. He must feel because he has a consciousness of himself, and he must
have a consciousness of himself because he feels." It is only in
conformity with this idea that he is a man in the full sense of the word;
but he cannot be convinced of this so long as he gives himself up
exclusively to one of these two impulsions, or only satisfies them one
after the other. For as long as he only feels, his absolute personality
and existence remain a mystery to him, and as long as he only thinks, his
condition or existence in time escapes him. But if there were cases in
which he could have at once this twofold experience in which he would
have the consciousness of his freedom and the feeling of his existence
together, in which he would simultaneously feel as matter and know
himself as spirit, in such cases, and in such only, would he have a
complete intuition of his humanity, and the object that would procure him
this intuition would be a symbol of his accomplished destiny and
consequently serve to express the infinite to him--since this destination
can only be fulfilled in the fulness of time.

Presuming that cases of this kind could present themselves in experience,
they would awake in him a new impulsion, which, precisely because the
other two impulsions would co-operate in it, would be opposed to each of
them taken in isolation, and might, with good grounds, be taken for a new
impulsion. The sensuous impulsion requires that there should be change,
that time should have contents; the formal impulsion requires that time
should be suppressed, that there should be no change. Consequently, the
impulsion in which both of the others act in concert--allow me to call it
the instinct of play, till I explain the term--the instinct of play would
have as its object to suppress time in time, to conciliate the state of
transition or becoming with the absolute being, change with identity.

The sensuous instinct wishes to be determined, it wishes to receive an
object; the formal instinct wishes to determine itself, it wishes to
produce an object. Therefore the instinct of play will endeavor to
receive as it would itself have produced, and to produce as it aspires to

The sensuous impulsion excludes from its subject all autonomy and
freedom; the formal impulsion excludes all dependence and passivity. But
the exclusion of freedom is physical necessity; the exclusion of
passivity is moral necessity. Thus the two impulsions subdue the mind:
the former to the laws of nature, the latter to the laws of reason. It
results from this that the instinct of play, which unites the double
action of the two other instincts, will content the mind at once morally
and physically. Hence, as it suppresses all that is contingent, it will
also suppress all coercion, and will set man free physically and morally.
When we welcome with effusion some one who deserves our contempt, we feel
painfully that nature is constrained. When we have a hostile feeling
against a person who commands our esteem, we feel painfully the
constraint of reason. But if this person inspires us with interest, and
also wins our esteem, the constraint of feeling vanishes together with
the constraint of reason, and we begin to love him, that is to say, to
play, to take recreation, at once with our inclination and our esteem.

Moreover, as the sensuous impulsion controls us physically, and the
formal impulsion morally, the former makes our formal constitution
contingent, and the latter makes our material constitution contingent,
that is to say, there is contingence in the agreement of our happiness
with our perfection, and reciprocally. The instinct of play, in which
both act in concert, will render both our formal and our material
constitution contingent; accordingly, our perfection and our happiness in
like manner. And on the other hand, exactly because it makes both of
them contingent, and because the contingent disappears with necessity, it
will suppress this contingence in both, and will thus give form to matter
and reality to form. In proportion that it will lessen the dynamic
influence of feeling and passion, it will place them in harmony with
rational ideas, and by taking from the laws of reason their moral
constraint, it will reconcile them with the interest of the senses.


I approach continually nearer to the end to which I lead you, by a path
offering few attractions. Be pleased to follow me a few steps further,
and a large horizon will open up to you, and a delightful prospect will
reward you for the labor of the way.

The object of the sensuous instinct, expressed in a universal conception,
is named Life in the widest acceptation; a conception that expresses all
material existence and all that is immediately present in the senses.
The object of the formal instinct, expressed in a universal conception,
is called shape or form, as well in an exact as in an inexact
acceptation; a conception that embraces all formal qualities of things
and all relations of the same to the thinking powers. The object of the
play instinct, represented in a general statement, may therefore bear the
name of living form; a term that serves to describe all aesthetic
qualities of phenomena, and what people style, in the widest sense,

Beauty is neither extended to the whole field of all living things nor
merely enclosed in this field. A marble block, though it is and remains
lifeless, can nevertheless become a living form by the architect and
sculptor; a man, though he lives and has a form, is far from being a
living form on that account. For this to be the case, it is necessary
that his form should be life, and that his life should be a form. As
long as we only think of his form, it is lifeless, a mere abstraction; as
long as we only feel his life, it is without form, a mere impression. It
is only when his form lives in our feeling, and his life in our
understanding, he is the living form, and this will everywhere be the
case where we judge him to be beautiful.

But the genesis of beauty is by no means declared because we know how to
point out the component parts, which in their combination produce beauty.
For to this end it would be necessary to comprehend that combination
itself, which continues to defy our exploration, as well as all mutual
operation between the finite and the infinite. The reason, on
transcendental grounds, makes the following demand: There shall be a
communion between the formal impulse and the material impulse--that is,
there shall be a play instinct--because it is only the unity of reality
with the form, of the accidental with the necessary, of the passive state
with freedom, that the conception of humanity is completed. Reason is
obliged to make this demand, because her nature impels her to
completeness and to the removal of all bounds; while every exclusive
activity of one or the other impulse leaves human nature incomplete and
places a limit in it. Accordingly, as soon as reason issues the mandate,
"a humanity shall exist," it proclaims at the same time the law, "there
shall be a beauty." Experience can answer us if there is a beauty, and
we shall know it as soon as she has taught us if a humanity can exist.
But neither reason nor experience can tell us how beauty can be and how a
humanity is possible.

We know that man is neither exclusively matter nor exclusively spirit.
Accordingly, beauty as the consummation of humanity, can neither be
exclusively mere life, as has been asserted by sharp-sighted observers,
who kept too close to the testimony of experience, and to which the taste
of the time would gladly degrade it; Nor can beauty be merely form, as
has been judged by speculative sophists, who departed too far from
experience, and by philosophic artists, who were led too much by the
necessity of art in explaining beauty; it is rather the common object of
both impulses, that is of the play instinct. The use of language
completely justifies this name, as it is wont to qualify with the word
play what is neither subjectively nor objectively accidental, and yet
does not impose necessity either externally or internally. As the mind
in the intuition of the beautiful finds itself in a happy medium between
law and necessity, it is, because it divides itself between both,
emancipated from the pressure of both. The formal impulse and the
material impulse are equally earnest in their demands, because one
relates in its cognition to things in their reality and the other to
their necessity; because in action the first is directed to the
preservation of life, the second to the preservation of dignity, and
therefore both to truth and perfection. But life becomes more
indifferent when dignity is mixed up with it, and duty no longer coerces
when inclination attracts. In like manner the mind takes in the reality
of things, material truth, more freely and tranquilly as soon as it
encounters formal truth, the law of necessity; nor does the mind find
itself strung by abstraction as soon as immediate intuition can accompany
it. In one word, when the mind comes into communion with ideas, all
reality loses its serious value because it becomes small; and as it comes
in contact with feeling, necessity parts also with its serious value
because it is easy.

But perhaps the objection has for some time occurred to you, Is not the
beautiful degraded by this, that it is made a mere play? and is it not
reduced to the level of frivolous objects which have for ages passed
under that name? Does it not contradict the conception of the reason and
the dignity of beauty, which is nevertheless regarded as an instrument of
culture, to confine it to the work of being a mere play? and does it not
contradict the empirical conception of play, which can coexist with the
exclusion of all taste, to confine it merely to beauty?

But what is meant by a mere play, when we know that in all conditions of
humanity that very thing is play, and only that is play which makes man
complete and develops simultaneously his twofold nature? What you style
limitation, according to your representation of the matter, according to
my views, which I have justified by proofs, I name enlargement.
Consequently I should have said exactly the reverse: man is serious only
with the agreeable, with the good, and with the perfect, but he plays
with beauty. In saying this we must not indeed think of the plays that
are in vogue in real life, and which commonly refer only to his material
state. But in real life we should also seek in vain for the beauty of
which we are here speaking. The actually present beauty is worthy of the
really, of the actually present play-impulse; but by the ideal of beauty,
which is set up by the reason, an ideal of the play-instinct is also
presented, which man ought to have before his eyes in all his plays.

Therefore, no error will ever be incurred if we seek the ideal of beauty
on the same road on which we satisfy our play-impulse. We can
immediately understand why the ideal form of a Venus, of a Juno, and of
an Apollo, is to be sought not at Rome, but in Greece, if we contrast the
Greek population, delighting in the bloodless athletic contests of
boxing, racing, and intellectual rivalry at Olympia, with the Roman
people gloating over the agony of a gladiator. Now the reason pronounces
that the beautiful must not only be life and form, but a living form,
that is, beauty, inasmuch as it dictates to man the twofold law of
absolute formality and absolute reality. Reason also utters the decision
that man shall only play with beauty, and he shall only play with beauty.

For, to speak out once for all, man only plays when in the full meaning
of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.
This proposition, which at this moment perhaps appears paradoxical, will
receive a great and deep meaning if we have advanced far enough to apply
it to the twofold seriousness of duty and of destiny. I promise you that
the whole edifice of aesthetic art and the still more difficult art of
life will be supported by this principle. But this proposition is only
unexpected in science; long ago it lived and worked in art and in the
feeling of the Greeks, her most accomplished masters; only they removed
to Olympus what ought to have been preserved on earth. Influenced by the
truth of this principle, they effaced from the brow of their gods the
earnestness and labor which furrow the cheeks of mortals, and also the
hollow lust that smoothes the empty face. They set free the ever serene
from the chains of every purpose, of every duty, of every care, and they
made indolence and indifference the envied condition of the godlike race;
merely human appellations for the freest and highest mind. As well the
material pressure of natural laws as the spiritual pressure of moral laws
lost itself in its higher idea of necessity, which embraced at the same
time both worlds, and out of the union of these two necessities issued
true freedom. Inspired by this spirit the Greeks also effaced from the
features of their ideal, together with desire or inclination, all traces
of volition, or, better still, they made both unrecognizable, because
they knew how to wed them both in the closest alliance. It is neither
charm, nor is it dignity, which speaks from the glorious face of Juno
Ludovici; it is neither of these, for it is both at once. While the
female god challenges our veneration, the godlike woman at the same time
kindles our love. But while in ecstacy we give ourselves up to the
heavenly beauty, the heavenly self-repose awes us back. The whole form
rests and dwells in itself--a fully complete creation in itself--and as
if she were out of space, without advance or resistance; it shows no
force contending with force, no opening through which time could break
in. Irresistibly carried away and attracted by her womanly charm, kept
off at a distance by her godly dignity, we also find ourselves at length
in the state of the greatest repose, and the result is a wonderful
impression for which the understanding has no idea and language no name.


From the antagonism of the two impulsions, and from the association of
two opposite principles, we have seen beauty to result, of which the
highest ideal must therefore be sought in the most perfect union and
equilibrium possible of the reality and of the form. But this
equilibrium remains always an idea that reality can never completely
reach. In reality, there will always remain a preponderance of one of
these elements over the other, and the highest point to which experience
can reach will consist in an oscillation between two principles, when
sometimes reality and at others form will have the advantage. Ideal
beauty is therefore eternally one and indivisible, because there can only
be one single equilibrium; on the contrary, experimental beauty will be
eternally double, because in the oscillation the equilibrium may be
destroyed in two ways--this side and that.

I have called attention in the foregoing letters to a fact that can also
be rigorously deduced from the considerations that have engaged our
attention to the present point; this fact is that an exciting and also a
moderating action may be expected from the beautiful. The tempering
action is directed to keep within proper limits the sensuous and the
formal impulsions; the exciting, to maintain both of them in their full
force. But these two modes of action of beauty ought to be completely
identified in the idea. The beautiful ought to temper while uniformly
exciting the two natures, and it ought also to excite while uniformly
moderating them. This result flows at once from the idea of a
correlation, in virtue of which the two terms mutually imply each other,
and are the reciprocal condition one of the other, a correlation of which
the purest product is beauty. But experience does not offer an example
of so perfect a correlation. In the field of experience it will always
happen more or less that excess on the one side will give rise to
deficiency on the other, and deficiency will give birth to excess. It
results from this that what in the beau-ideal is only distinct in the
idea is different in reality in empirical beauty. The beau-ideal, though
simple and indivisible, discloses, when viewed in two different aspects,
on the one hand, a property of gentleness and grace, and on the other, an
energetic property; in experience there is a gentle and graceful beauty
and there is an energetic beauty. It is so, and it will be always so, so
long as the absolute is enclosed in the limits of time, and the ideas of
reason have to be realized in humanity. For example, the intellectual
man has the ideal of virtue, of truth, and of happiness; but the active
man will only practise virtues, will only grasp truths, and enjoy happy
days. The business of physical and moral education is to bring back this
multiplicity to unity, to put morality in the place of manners, science
in the place of knowledge; the business of aesthetic education is to make
out of beauties the beautiful.

Energetic beauty can no more preserve a man from a certain residue of
savage violence and harshness than graceful beauty can secure him against
a certain degree of effeminacy and weakness. As it is the effect of the
energetic beauty to elevate the mind in a physical and moral point of
view and to augment its momentum, it only too often happens that the
resistance of the temperament and of the character diminishes the
aptitude to receive impressions, that the delicate part of humanity
suffers an oppression which ought only to affect its grosser part, and
that this coarse nature participates in an increase of force that ought
only to turn to the account of free personality. It is for this reason
that, at the periods when we find much strength and abundant sap in
humanity, true greatness of thought is seen associated with what is
gigantic and extravagant, and the sublimest feeling is found coupled with
the most horrible excess of passion. It is also the reason why, in the
periods distinguished for regularity and form, nature is as often
oppressed as it is governed, as often outraged as it is surpassed. And
as the action of gentle and graceful beauty is to relax the mind in the
moral sphere as well as the physical, it happens quite as easily that the
energy of feelings is extinguished with the violence of desires, and that
character shares in the loss of strength which ought only to affect the
passions. This is the reason why, in ages assumed to be refined, it is
not a rare thing to see gentleness degenerate into effeminacy, politeness
into platitude, correctness into empty sterility, liberal ways into
arbitrary caprice, ease into frivolity, calm into apathy, and, lastly, a
most miserable caricature treads on the heels of the noblest, the most
beautiful type of humanity. Gentle and graceful beauty is therefore a
want to the man who suffers the constraint of manner and of forms, for he
is moved by grandeur and strength long before he becomes sensible to
harmony and grace. Energetic beauty is a necessity to the man who is
under the indulgent sway of taste, for in his state of refinement he is
only too much disposed to make light of the strength that he retained in
his state of rude savagism.

I think I have now answered and also cleared up the contradiction
commonly met in the judgments of men respecting the influence of the
beautiful, and the appreciation of aesthetic culture. This contradiction
is explained directly we remember that there are two sorts of
experimental beauty, and that on both hands an affirmation is extended to
the entire race, when it can only be proved of one of the species. This
contradiction disappears the moment we distinguish a twofold want in
humanity to which two kinds of beauty correspond. It is therefore
probable that both sides would make good their claims if they come to an
understanding respecting the kind of beauty and the form of humanity that
they have in view.

Consequently in the sequel of my researches I shall adopt the course that
nature herself follows with man considered from the point of view of
aesthetics, and setting out from the two kinds of beauty, I shall rise to
the idea of the genus. I shall examine the effects produced on man by
the gentle and graceful beauty when its springs of action are in full
play, and also those produced by energetic beauty when they are relaxed.
I shall do this to confound these two sorts of beauty in the unity of the
beau-ideal, in the same way that the two opposite forms and modes of
being of humanity are absorbed in the unity of the ideal man.


While we were only engaged in deducing the universal idea of beauty from
the conception of human nature in general, we had only to consider in the
latter the limits established essentially in itself, and inseparable from
the notion of the finite. Without attending to the contingent
restrictions that human nature may undergo in the real world of
phenomena, we have drawn the conception of this nature directly from
reason, as a source of every necessity, and the ideal of beauty has been
given us at the same time with the ideal of humanity.

But now we are coming down from the region of ideas to the scene of
reality, to find man in a determinate state, and consequently in limits
which are not derived from the pure conception of humanity, but from
external circumstances and from an accidental use of his freedom. But,
although the limitation of the idea of humanity may be very manifold in
the individual, the contents of this idea suffice to teach us that we can
only depart from it by two opposite roads. For if the perfection of man
consist in the harmonious energy of his sensuous and spiritual forces, he
can only lack this perfection through the want of harmony and the want of
energy. Thus, then, before having received on this point the testimony
of experience, reason suffices to assure us that we shall find the real
and consequently limited man in a state of tension or relaxation,
according as the exclusive activity of isolated forces troubles the
harmony of his being, or as the unity of his nature is based on the
uniform relaxation of his physical and spiritual forces. These opposite
limits are, as we have now to prove, suppressed by the beautiful, which
re-establishes harmony in man when excited, and energy in man when
relaxed; and which, in this way, in conformity with the nature of the
beautiful, restores the state of limitation to an absolute state, and
makes of man a whole, complete in himself.

Thus the beautiful by no means belies in reality the idea which we have
made of it in speculation; only its action is much less free in it than
in the field of theory, where we were able to apply it to the pure
conception of humanity. In man, as experience shows him to us, the
beautiful finds a matter, already damaged and resisting, which robs him
in ideal perfection of what it communicates to him of its individual mode
of being. Accordingly in reality the beautiful will always appear a
peculiar and limited species, and not as the pure genus; in excited minds
in a state of tension it will lose its freedom and variety; in relaxed
minds, it will lose its vivifying force; but we, who have become familiar
with the true character of this contradictory phenomenon, cannot be led
astray by it. We shall not follow the great crowd of critics, in
determining their conception by separate experiences, and to make them
answerable for the deficiencies which man shows under their influence.
We know rather that it is man who transfers the imperfections of his
individuality over to them, who stands perpetually in the way of their
perfection by his subjective limitation, and lowers their absolute ideal
to two limited forms of phenomena.

It was advanced that soft beauty is for an unstrung mind, and the
energetic beauty for the tightly strung mind. But I apply the term
unstrung to a man when he is rather under the pressure of feelings than
under the pressure of conceptions. Every exclusive sway of one of his
two fundamental impulses is for man a state of compulsion and violence,
and freedom only exists in the co-operation of his two natures.
Accordingly, the man governed preponderately by feelings, or sensuously
unstrung, is emancipated and set free by matter. The soft and graceful
beauty, to satisfy this twofold problem, must therefore show herself
under two aspects--in two distinct forms. First, as a form in repose,
she will tone down savage life, and pave the way from feeling to thought.
She will, secondly, as a living image, equip the abstract form with
sensuous power, and lead back the conception to intuition and law to
feeling. The former service she does to the man of nature, the second to
the man of art. But because she does not in both cases hold complete
sway over her matter, but depends on that which is furnished either by
formless nature or unnatural art, she will in both cases bear traces of
her origin, and lose herself in one place in material life and in another
in mere abstract form.

To be able to arrive at a conception how beauty can become a means to
remove this twofold relaxation, we must explore its source in the human
mind. Accordingly, make up your mind to dwell a little longer in the
region of speculation, in order then to leave it forever, and to advance
with securer footing on the ground of experience.


By beauty the sensuous man is led to form and to thought; by beauty the
spiritual man is brought back to matter and restored to the world of

From this statement it would appear to follow that between matter and
form, between passivity and activity, there must be a middle state, and
that beauty plants us in this state. It actually happens that the
greater part of mankind really form this conception of beauty as soon as
they begin to reflect on its operations, and all experience seems to
point to this conclusion. But, on the other hand, nothing is more
unwarrantable and contradictory than such a conception, because the
aversion of matter and form, the passive and the active, feeling and
thought, is eternal, and cannot be mediated in any way. How can we
remove this contradiction? Beauty weds the two opposed conditions of
feeling and thinking, and yet there is absolutely no medium between them.
The former is immediately certain through experience, the other through
the reason.

This is the point to which the whole question of beauty leads, and if we
succeed in settling this point in a satisfactory way, we have at length
found the clue that will conduct us through the whole labyrinth of

But this requires two very different operations, which must necessarily
support each other in this inquiry. Beauty, it is said, weds two
conditions with one another which are opposite to each other, and can
never be one. We must start from this opposition; we must grasp and
recognize them in their entire purity and strictness, so that both
conditions are separated in the most definite manner; otherwise we mix,
but we do not unite them. Secondly, it is usual to say, beauty unites
those two opposed conditions, and therefore removes the opposition. But
because both conditions remain eternally opposed to one another, they
cannot be united in any other way than by being suppressed. Our second
business is therefore to make this connection perfect, to carry them out
with such purity and perfection that both conditions disappear entirely
in a third one, and no trace of separation remains in the whole;
otherwise we segregate, but do not unite. All the disputes that have
ever prevailed and still prevail in the philosophical world respecting
the conception of beauty have no other origin than their commencing
without a sufficiently strict distinction, or that it is not carried out
fully to a pure union. Those philosophers who blindly follow their
feeling in reflecting on this topic can obtain no other conception of
beauty, because they distinguish nothing separate in the totality of the
sensuous impression. Other philosophers, who take the understanding as
their exclusive guide, can never obtain a conception of beauty, because
they never see anything else in the whole than the parts; and spirit and
matter remain eternally separate, even in their most perfect unity. The
first fear to suppress beauty dynamically, that is, as a working power,
if they must separate what is united in the feeling. The others fear to
suppress beauty logically, that is, as a conception, when they have to
hold together what in the understanding is separate. The former wish to
think of beauty as it works; the latter wish it to work as it is thought.
Both therefore must miss the truth; the former, because they try to
follow infinite nature with their limited thinking power; the others,
because they wish to limit unlimited nature according to their laws of
thought. The first fear to rob beauty of its freedom by a too strict
dissection, the others fear to destroy the distinctness of the conception
by a too violent union. But the former do not reflect that the freedom
in which they very properly place the essence of beauty is not
lawlessness, but harmony of laws; not caprice, but the highest internal
necessity. The others do not remember that distinctness, which they with
equal right demand from beauty, does not consist in the exclusion of
certain realities, but the absolute including of all; that is not
therefore limitation but infinitude. We shall avoid the quicksands on
which both have made shipwreck if we begin from the two elements in which
beauty divides itself before the understanding, but then afterwards rise
to a pure aesthetic unity by which it works on feeling, and in which both
those conditions completely disappear.


Two principal and different states of passive and active capacity of
being determined [Bestimmbarkeit] can be distinguished in man; in like
manner two states of passive and active determination [Bestimmung]. The
explanation of this proposition leads us most readily to our end.

The condition of the state of man before destination or direction is
given him by the impression of the senses is an unlimited capacity of
being determined. The infinite of time and space is given to his
imagination for its free use; and, because nothing is settled in this
kingdom of the possible, and therefore nothing is excluded from it, this
state of absence of determination can be named an empty infiniteness,
which must not by any means be confounded with an infinite void.

Now it is necessary that his sensuous nature should be modified, and that
in the indefinite series of possible determinations one alone should
become real. One perception must spring up in it. That which, in the
previous state of determinableness, was only an empty potency becomes now
an active force, and receives contents; but, at the same time, as an
active force it receives a limit, after having been, as a simple power,
unlimited. Reality exists now, but the infinite has disappeared. To
describe a figure in space, we are obliged to limit infinite space; to
represent to ourselves a change in time, we are obliged to divide the
totality of time. Thus we only arrive at reality by limitation, at the
positive, at a real position, by negation or exclusion; to determination,
by the suppression of our free determinableness.

But mere exclusion would never beget a reality, nor would a mere sensuous
impression ever give birth to a perception, if there were not something
from which it was excluded, if by an absolute act of the mind the
negation were not referred to something positive, and if opposition did
not issue out of non-position. This act of the mind is styled judging or
thinking, and the result is named thought.

Before we determine a place in space, there is no space for us; but
without absolute space we could never determine a place. The same is the
case with time. Before we have an instant, there is no time to us: but
without infinite time--eternity--we should never have a representation of
the instant. Thus, therefore, we can only arrive at the whole by the
part, to the unlimited through limitation; but reciprocally we only
arrive at the part through the whole, at limitation through the

It follows from this, that when it is affirmed of beauty that it mediates
for man, the transition from feeling to thought, this must not be
understood to mean that beauty can fill up the gap that separates feeling
from thought, the passive from the active. This gap is infinite; and,
without the interposition of a new and independent faculty, it is
impossible for the general to issue from the individual, the necessary
from the contingent. Thought is the immediate act of this absolute
power, which, I admit, can only be manifested in connection with sensuous
impressions, but which in this manifestation depends so little on the
sensuous that it reveals itself specially in an opposition to it. The
spontaneity or autonomy with which it acts excludes every foreign
influence; and it is not in as far as it helps thought--which comprehends
a manifest contradiction but only in as far as it procures for the
intellectual faculties the freedom to manifest themselves in conformity
with their proper laws. It does it only because the beautiful can become
a means of leading man from matter to form, from feeling to laws, from a
limited existence to an absolute existence.

But this assumes that the freedom of the intellectual faculties can be
balked, which appears contradictory to the conception of an autonomous
power. For a power which only receives the matter of its activity from
without can only be hindered in its action by the privation of this
matter, and consequently by way of negation; it is therefore a
misconception of the nature of the mind to attribute to the sensuous
passions the power of oppressing positively the freedom of the mind.
Experience does indeed present numerous examples where the rational
forces appear compressed in proportion to the violence of the sensuous
forces. But instead of deducing this spiritual weakness from the energy
of passion, this passionate energy must rather be explained by the
weakness of the human mind. For the sense can only have a sway such as
this over man when the mind has spontaneously neglected to assert its

Yet in trying by these explanations to move one objection, I appear to
have exposed myself to another, and I have only saved the autonomy of the
mind at the cost of its unity. For how can the mind derive at the same
time from itself the principles of inactivity and of activity, if it is
not itself divided, and if it is not in opposition with itself?

Here we must remember that we have before us, not the infinite mind, but
the finite. The finite mind is that which only becomes active through
the passive, only arrives at the absolute through limitation, and only
acts and fashions in as far as it receives matter. Accordingly, a mind
of this nature must associate with the impulse towards form or the
absolute, an impulse towards matter or limitation, conditions without
which it could not have the former impulse nor satisfy it. How can two
such opposite tendencies exist together in the same being? This is a
problem that can no doubt embarrass the metaphysician, but not the
transcendental philosopher. The latter does not presume to explain the
possibility of things, but he is satisfied with giving a solid basis to
the knowledge that makes us understand the possibility of experience.
And as experience would be equally impossible without this autonomy in
the mind, and without the absolute unity of the mind, it lays down these
two conceptions as two conditions of experience equally necessary without
troubling itself any more to reconcile them. Moreover, this immanence of
two fundamental impulses does not in any degree contradict the absolute
unity of the mind, as soon as the mind itself, its selfhood, is
distinguished from those two motors. No doubt, these two impulses exist
and act in it, but itself is neither matter nor form, nor the sensuous
nor reason, and this is a point that does not seem always to have
occurred to those who only look upon the mind as itself acting when its
acts are in harmony with reason, and who declare it passive when its acts
contradict reason.

Arrived at its development, each of these two fundamental impulsions
tends of necessity and by its nature to satisfy itself; but precisely
because each of them has a necessary tendency, and both nevertheless have
an opposite tendency, this twofold constraint mutually destroys itself,
and the will preserves an entire freedom between them both. It is
therefore the will that conducts itself like a power--as the basis of
reality--with respect to both these impulses; but neither of them can by
itself act as a power with respect to the other. A violent man, by his
positive tendency to justice, which never fails in him, is turned away
from injustice; nor can a temptation of pleasure, however strong, make a
strong character violate its principles. There is in man no other power
than his will; and death alone, which destroys man, or some privation of
self-consciousness, is the only thing that can rob man of his internal

An external necessity determines our condition, our existence in time, by
means of the sensuous. The latter is quite involuntary, and directly it
is produced in us we are necessarily passive. In the same manner an
internal necessity awakens our personality in connection with sensations,
and by its antagonism with them; for consciousness cannot depend on the
will, which presupposes it. This primitive manifestation of personality
is no more a merit to us than its privation is a defect in us. Reason
can only be required in a being who is self-conscious, for reason is an
absolute consecutiveness and universality of consciousness; before this
is the case he is not a man, nor can any act of humanity be expected from
him. The metaphysician can no more explain the limitation imposed by
sensation on a free and autonomous mind than the natural philosopher can
understand the infinite, which is revealed in consciousness in connection
with these limits. Neither abstraction nor experience can bring us back
to the source whence issue our ideas of necessity and of universality:
this source is concealed in its origin in time from the observer, and its
super-sensuous origin from the researches of the metaphysician. But, to
sum up in a few words, consciousness is there, and, together with its
immutable unity, the law of all that is for man is established, as well
as of all that is to be by man, for his understanding and his activity.
The ideas of truth and of right present themselves inevitable,
incorruptible, immeasurable, even in the age of sensuousness; and without
our being able to say why or how, we see eternity in time, the necessary
following the contingent. It is thus that, without any share on the part
of the subject, the sensation and self-consciousness arise, and the
origin of both is beyond our volition, as it is out of the sphere of our

But as soon as these two faculties have passed into action, and man has
verified by his experience, through the medium of sensation, a
determinate existence, and through the medium of consciousness its
absolute existence, the two fundamental impulses exert their influence
directly their object is given. The sensuous impulse is awakened with
the experience of life--with the beginning of the individual; the
rational impulsion with the experience of law--with the beginning of his
personality; and it is only when these two inclinations have come into
existence that the human type is realized. Up to that time, everything
takes place in man according to the law of necessity; but now the hand of
nature lets him go, and it is for him to keep upright humanity, which
nature places as a germ in his heart. And thus we see that directly the
two opposite and fundamental impulses exercise their influence in him,
both lose their constraint, and the autonomy of two necessities gives
birth to freedom.


That freedom is an active and not a passive principle results from its
very conception; but that liberty itself should be an effect of nature
(taking this word in its widest sense), and not the work of man, and
therefore that it can be favored or thwarted by natural means, is the
necessary consequence of that which precedes. It begins only when man is
complete, and when these two fundamental impulsions have been developed.
It will then be wanting whilst he is incomplete, and while one of these
impulsions is excluded, and it will be re-established by all that gives
back to man his integrity.

Thus it is possible, both with regard to the entire species as to the
individual, to remark the moment when man is yet incomplete, and when one
of the two exclusions acts solely in him. We know that man commences by
life simply, to end by form; that he is more of an individual than a
person, and that he starts from the limited or finite to approach the
infinite. The sensuous impulsion comes into play therefore before the
rational impulsion, because sensation precedes consciousness; and in this
priority of sensuous impulsion we find the key of the history of the
whole of human liberty.

There is a moment, in fact, when the instinct of life, not yet opposed to
the instinct of form, acts as nature and as necessity; when the sensuous
is a power because man has not begun; for even in man there can be no
other power than his will. But when man shall have attained to the power
of thought, reason, on the contrary, will be a power, and moral or
logical necessity will take the place of physical necessity. Sensuous
power must then be annihilated before the law which must govern it can be
established. It is not enough that something shall begin which as yet
was not; previously something must end which had begun. Man cannot pass
immediately from sensuousness to thought. He must step backwards, for it
is only when one determination is suppressed that the contrary
determination can take place. Consequently, in order to exchange passive
against active liberty, a passive determination against an active, he
must be momentarily free from all determination, and must traverse a
state of pure determinability. He has then to return in some degree to
that state of pure negative indetermination in which he was before his
senses were affected by anything. But this state was absolutely empty of
all contents, and now the question is to reconcile an equal determination
and a determinability equally without limit, with the greatest possible
fulness, because from this situation something positive must immediately
follow. The determination which man received by sensation must be
preserved, because he should not lose the reality; but at the same time,
in so far as finite, it should be suppressed, because a determinability
without limit would take place. The problem consists then in
annihilating the determination of the mode of existence, and yet at the
same time in preserving it, which is only possible in one way: in
opposing to it another. The two sides of a balance are in equilibrium
when empty; they are also in equilibrium when their contents are of equal

Thus, to pass from sensation to thought, the soul traverses a medium
position, in which sensibility and reason are at the same time active,
and thus they mutually destroy their determinant power, and by their
antagonism produce a negation. This medium situation in which the soul
is neither physically nor morally constrained, and yet is in both ways
active, merits essentially the name of a free situation; and if we call
the state of sensuous determination physical, and the state of rational
determination logical or moral, that state of real and active
determination should be called the aesthetic.


I have remarked in the beginning of the foregoing letter that there is a
twofold condition of determinableness and a twofold condition of
determination. And now I can clear up this proposition.

The mind can be determined--is determinable--only in as far as it is not
determined; it is, however, determinable also, in as far as it is not
exclusively determined; that is, if it is not confined in its
determination. The former is only a want of determination--it is without
limits, because it is without reality; but the latter, the aesthetic
determinableness, has no limits, because it unites all reality.

The mind is determined, inasmuch as it is only limited; but it is also
determined because it limits itself of its own absolute capacity. It is
situated in the former position when it feels, in the second when it
thinks. Accordingly the aesthetic constitution is in relation to
determinableness what thought is in relation to determination. The
latter is a negative from internal and infinite completeness, the former
a limitation from internal infinite power. Feeling and thought come into
contact in one single point, the mind is determined in both conditions,
the man becomes something and exists--either as individual or person--by
exclusion; in other cases these two faculties stand infinitely apart.
Just in the same manner the aesthetic determinableness comes in contact
with the mere want of determination in a single point, by both excluding
every distinct determined existence, by thus being in all other points
nothing and all, and hence by being infinitely different. Therefore if
the latter, in the absence of determination from deficiency, is
represented as an empty infiniteness, the aesthetic freedom of
determination, which forms the proper counterpart to the former, can be
considered as a completed infiniteness; a representation which exactly
agrees with the teachings of the previous investigations.

Man is therefore nothing in the aesthetic state, if attention is given to
the single result, and not to the whole faculty, and if we regard only
the absence or want of every special determination. We must therefore do
justice to those who pronounce the beautiful, and the disposition in
which it places the mind, as entirely indifferent and unprofitable, in
relation to knowledge and feeling. They are perfectly right; for it is
certain that beauty gives no separate, single result, either for the
understanding or for the will; it does not carry out a single
intellectual or moral object; it discovers no truth, does not help us to
fulfil a single duty, and, in one word, is equally unfit to found the
character or to clear the head. Accordingly, the personal worth of a
man, or his dignity, as far as this can only depend on himself, remains
entirely undetermined by aesthetic culture, and nothing further is
attained than that, on the part of nature, it is made profitable for him
to make of himself what he will; that the freedom to be what he ought to
be is restored perfectly to him.

But by this something infinite is attained. But as soon as we remember
that freedom is taken from man by the one-sided compulsion of nature in
feeling, and by the exclusive legislation of the reason in thinking, we
must consider the capacity restored to him by the aesthetical
disposition, as the highest of all gifts, as the gift of humanity. I
admit that he possesses this capacity for humanity, before every definite
determination in which he may be placed. But, as a matter of fact, he
loses it with every determined condition into which he may come; and if
he is to pass over to an opposite condition, humanity must be in every
case restored to him by the aesthetic life.

It is therefore not only a poetical license, but also philosophically
correct, when beauty is named our second creator. Nor is this
inconsistent with the fact that she only makes it possible for us to
attain and realize humanity, leaving this to our free will. For in this
she acts in common with our original creator, nature, which has imparted
to us nothing further than this capacity for humanity, but leaves the use
of it to our own determination of will.


Accordingly, if the aesthetic disposition of the mind must be looked upon
in one respect as nothing--that is, when we confine our view to separate
and determined operations--it must be looked upon in another respect as a
state of the highest reality, in as far as we attend to the absence of
all limits and the sum of powers which are commonly active in it.
Accordingly we cannot pronounce them, again, to be wrong who describe the
aesthetic state to be the most productive in relation to knowledge and
morality. They are perfectly right, for a state of mind which comprises
the whole of humanity in itself must of necessity include in itself also
--necessarily and potentially--every separate expression of it. Again, a
disposition of mind that removes all limitation from the totality of
human nature must also remove it from every special expression of the
same. Exactly because its "aesthetic disposition" does not exclusively
shelter any separate function of humanity, it is favorable to all without
distinction; nor does it favor any particular functions, precisely
because it is the foundation of the possibility of all. All other
exercises give to the mind some special aptitude, but for that very
reason give it some definite limits; only the aesthetical leads him to
the unlimited. Every other condition in which we can live refers us to a
previous condition, and requires for its solution a following condition;
only the aesthetic is a complete whole in itself, for it unites in itself
all conditions of its source and of its duration. Here alone we feel
ourselves swept out of time, and our humanity expresses itself with
purity and integrity as if it had not yet received any impression or
interruption from the operation of external powers.

That which flatters our senses in immediate sensation opens our weak and
volatile spirit to every impression, but makes us in the same degree less
apt for exertion. That which stretches our thinking power and invites to
abstract conceptions strengthens our mind for every kind of resistance,
but hardens it also in the same proportion, and deprives us of
susceptibility in the same ratio that it helps us to greater mental
activity. For this very reason, one as well as the other brings us at
length to exhaustion, because matter cannot long do without the shaping,
constructive force, and the force cannot do without the constructible
material. But on the other hand, if we have resigned ourselves to the
enjoyment of genuine beauty, we are at such a moment of our passive and
active powers in the same degree master, and we shall turn with ease from
grave to gay, from rest to movement, from submission to resistance, to
abstract thinking and intuition.

This high indifference and freedom of mind, united with power and
elasticity, is the disposition in which a true work of art ought to
dismiss us, and there is no better test of true aesthetic excellence. If
after an enjoyment of this kind we find ourselves specially impelled to a
particular mode of feeling or action, and unfit for other modes, this
serves as an infallible proof that we have not experienced any pure
aesthetic effect, whether this is owing to the object, to our own mode of
feeling--as generally happens--or to both together.

As in reality no purely aesthetical effect can be met with--for man can
never leave his dependence on material forces--the excellence of a work
of art can only consist in its greater approximation to its ideal of
aesthetic purity, and however high we may raise the freedom of this
effect, we shall always leave it with a particular disposition and a
particular bias. Any class of productions or separate work in the world
of art is noble and excellent in proportion to the universality of the
disposition and the unlimited character of the bias thereby presented to
our mind. This truth can be applied to works in various branches of art,
and also to different works in the same branch. We leave a grand musical
performance with our feelings excited, the reading of a noble poem with a
quickened imagination, a beautiful statue or building with an awakened
understanding; but a man would not choose an opportune moment who
attempted to invite us to abstract thinking after a high musical
enjoyment, or to attend to a prosaic affair of common life after a high
poetical enjoyment, or to kindle our imagination and astonish our
feelings directly after inspecting a fine statue or edifice. The reason
of this is, that music, by its matter, even when most spiritual, presents
a greater affinity with the senses than is permitted by aesthetic
liberty; it is because even the most happy poetry, having for its medium
the arbitrary and contingent play of the imagination, always shares in it
more than the intimate necessity of the really beautiful allows; it is
because the best sculpture touches on severe science by what is
determinate in its conception. However, these particular affinities are
lost in proportion as the works of these three kinds of art rise to a
greater elevation, and it is a natural and necessary consequence of their
perfection, that, without confounding their objective limits, the
different arts come to resemble each other more and more, in the action
which they exercise on the mind. At its highest degree of ennobling,
music ought to become a form, and act on us with the calm power of an
antique statue; in its most elevated perfection, the plastic art ought to
become music and move us by the immediate action exercised on the mind by
the senses; in its most complete development, poetry ought both to stir
us powerfully like music and like plastic art to surround us with a
peaceful light. In each art, the perfect style consists exactly in
knowing how to remove specific limits, while sacrificing at the same time
the particular advantages of the art, and to give it by a wise use of
what belongs to it specially a more general character.

Nor is it only the limits inherent in the specific character of each kind
of art that the artist ought to overstep in putting his hand to the work;
he must also triumph over those which are inherent in the particular
subject of which he treats. In a really beautiful work of art, the
substance ought to be inoperative, the form should do everything; for by
the form the whole man is acted on; the substance acts on nothing but
isolated forces. Thus, however vast and sublime it may be, the substance
always exercises a restrictive action on the mind, and true aesthetic
liberty can only be expected from the form. Consequently the true search
of the matter consists in destroying matter by the form; and the triumph
of art is great in proportion as it overcomes matter and maintains its
sway over those who enjoy its work. It is great particularly in
destroying matter when most imposing, ambitious, and attractive, when
therefore matter has most power to produce the effect proper to it, or,
again, when it leads those who consider it more closely to enter directly
into relation with it. The mind of the spectator and of the hearer must
remain perfectly free and intact; it must issue pure and entire from the
magic circle of the artist, as from the hands of the Creator. The most
frivolous subject ought to be treated in such a way that we preserve the
faculty to exchange it immediately for the most serious work. The arts
which have passion for their object, as a tragedy for example, do not
present a difficulty here; for, in the first place, these arts are not
entirely free, because they are in the service of a particular end (the
pathetic), and then no connoisseur will deny that even in this class a
work is perfect in proportion as amidst the most violent storms of
passion it respects the liberty of the soul. There is a fine art of
passion, but an impassioned fine art is a contradiction in terms, for the
infallible effect of the beautiful is emancipation from the passions.
The idea of an instructive fine art (didactic art) or improving (moral)
art is no less contradictory, for nothing agrees less with the idea of
the beautiful than to give a determinate tendency to the mind.

However, from the fact that a work produces effects only by its
substance, it must not always be inferred that there is a want of form in
this work; this conclusion may quite as well testify to a want of form in
the observer. If his mind is too stretched or too relaxed, if it is only
accustomed to receive things either by the senses or the intelligence,
even in the most perfect combination, it will only stop to look at the
parts, and it will only see matter in the most beautiful form. Only
sensible of the coarse elements, he must first destroy the aesthetic
organization of a work to find enjoyment in it, and carefully disinter
the details which genius has caused to vanish, with infinite art, in the
harmony of the whole. The interest he takes in the work is either solely
moral or exclusively physical; the only thing wanting to it is to be
exactly what it ought to be--aesthetical. The readers of this class
enjoy a serious and pathetic poem as they do a sermon: a simple and
playful work, as an inebriating draught; and if on the one hand they have
so little taste as to demand edification from a tragedy or from an epos,
even such as the "Messias," on the other hand they will be infallibly
scandalized by a piece after the fashion of Anacreon and Catullus.


I take up the thread of my researches, which I broke off only to apply
the principles I laid down to practical art and the appreciation of its

The transition from the passivity of sensuousness to the activity of
thought and of will can be effected only by the intermediary state of
aesthetic liberty; and though in itself this state decides nothing
respecting our opinions and our sentiments, and therefore it leaves our
intellectual and moral value entirely problematical, it is, however, the
necessary condition without which we should never attain to an opinion or
a sentiment. In a word, there is no other way to make a reasonable being
out of a sensuous man than by making him first aesthetic.

But, you might object: Is this mediation absolutely indispensable? Could
not truth and duty, one or the other, in themselves and by themselves,
find access to the sensuous man? To this I reply: Not only is it
possible but it is absolutely necessary that they owe solely to
themselves their determining force, and nothing would be more
contradictory to our preceding affirmations than to appear to defend the
contrary opinion. It has been expressly proved that the beautiful
furnishes no result, either for the comprehension or for the will; that
it mingles with no operations, either of thought or of resolution; and
that it confers this double power without determining anything with
regard to the real exercise of this power. Here all foreign help
disappears, and the pure logical form, the idea, would speak immediately
to the intelligence, as the pure moral form, the law, immediately to the

But that the pure form should be capable of it, and that there is in
general a pure form for sensuous man, is that, I maintain, which should
be rendered possible by the aesthetic disposition of the soul. Truth is
not a thing which can be received from without like reality or the
visible existence of objects. It is the thinking force, in his own
liberty and activity, which produces it, and it is just this liberty
proper to it, this liberty which we seek in vain in sensuous man. The
sensuous man is already determined physically, and thenceforth he has no
longer his free determinability; he must necessarily first enter into
possession of this lost determinability before he can exchange the
passive against an active determination. Therefore, in order to recover
it, he must either lose the passive determination that he had, or he
should enclose already in himself the active determination to which he
should pass. If he confined himself to lose passive determination, he
would at the same time lose with it the possibility of an active
determination, because thought needs a body, and form can only be
realized through matter. He must therefore contain already in himself
the active determination, that he may be at once both actively and
passively determined, that is to say, he becomes necessarily aesthetic.

Consequently, by the aesthetic disposition of the soul the proper
activity of reason is already revealed in the sphere of sensuousness, the
power of sense is already broken within its own boundaries, and the
ennobling of physical man carried far enough, for spiritual man has only
to develop himself according to the laws of liberty. The transition from
an aesthetic state to a logical and moral state (from the beautiful to
truth and duty) is then infinitely more easy than the transition from the
physical state to the aesthetic state (from life pure and blind to form).
This transition man can effectuate alone by his liberty, whilst he has
only to enter into possession of himself not to give it himself; but to
separate the elements of his nature, and not to enlarge it. Having
attained to the aesthetic disposition, man will give to his judgments and
to his actions a universal value as soon as he desires it. This passage
from brute nature to beauty, in which an entirely new faculty would
awaken in him, nature would render easier, and his will has no power over
a disposition which, we know, itself gives birth to the will. To bring
the aesthetic man to profound views, to elevated sentiments, he requires
nothing more than important occasions: to obtain the same thing from the
sensuous man, his nature must at first be changed. To make of the former
a hero, a sage, it is often only necessary to meet with a sublime
situation, which exercises upon the faculty of the will the more
immediate action; for the second, it must first be transplanted under
another sky.

One of the most important tasks of culture, then, is to submit man to
form, even in a purely physical life, and to render it aesthetic as far
as the domain of the beautiful can be extended, for it is alone in the
aesthetic state, and not in the physical state, that the moral state can
be developed. If in each particular case man ought to possess the power
to make his judgment and his will the judgment of the entire species; if
he ought to find in each limited existence the transition to an infinite
existence; if, lastly, he ought from every dependent situation to take
his flight to rise to autonomy and to liberty, it must be observed that
at no moment he is only individual and solely obeys the laws of nature.
To be apt and ready to raise himself from the narrow circle of the ends
of nature, to rational ends, in the sphere of the former he must already
have exercised himself in the second; he must already have realized his
physical destiny with a certain liberty that belongs only to spiritual
nature, that is to say according to the laws of the beautiful.

And that he can effect without thwarting in the least degree his physical
aim. The exigencies of nature with regard to him turn only upon what he
does--upon the substance of his acts; but the ends of nature in no degree
determine the way in which he acts, the form of his actions. On the
contrary, the exigencies of reason have rigorously the form of his
activity for its object. Thus, so much as it is necessary for the moral
destination of man, that he be purely moral, that he shows an absolute
personal activity, so much is he indifferent that his physical
destination be entirely physical, that he acts in a manner entirely
passive. Henceforth with regard to this last destination, it entirely
depends on him to fulfil it solely as a sensuous being and natural force
(as a force which acts only as it diminishes) or, at the same time, as
absolute force, as a rational being. To which of these does his dignity
best respond? Of this there can be no question. It is as disgraceful
and contemptible for him to do under sensuous impulsion that which he
ought to have determined merely by the motive of duty, as it is noble and
honorable for him to incline towards conformity with laws, harmony,
independence; there even where the vulgar man only satisfies a legitimate
want. In a word, in the domain of truth and morality, sensuousness must
have nothing to determine; but in the sphere of happiness, form may find
a place, and the instinct of play prevail.

Thus then, in the indifferent sphere of physical life, man ought to
already commence his moral life; his own proper activity ought already to
make way in passivity, and his rational liberty beyond the limits of
sense; he ought already to impose the law of his will upon his
inclinations; he ought--if you will permit me the expression--to carry
into the domain of matter the war against matter, in order to be
dispensed from combating this redoubtable enemy upon the sacred field of
liberty; he ought to learn to have nobler desires, not to be forced to
have sublime volitions. This is the fruit of aesthetic culture, which
submits to the laws of the beautiful, in which neither the laws of nature
nor those of reason suffer, which does not force the will of man, and
which by the form it gives to exterior life already opens internal life.


Accordingly three different moments or stages of development can be
distinguished, which the individual man, as well as the whole race, must
of necessity traverse in a determinate order if they are to fulfil the
circle of their determination. No doubt, the separate periods can be
lengthened or shortened, through accidental causes which are inherent
either in the influence of external things or under the free caprice of
men: but neither of them can be overstepped, and the order of their
sequence cannot be inverted either by nature or by the will. Man, in his
physical condition, suffers only the power of nature; he gets rid of this
power in the aesthetical condition, and he rules them in the moral state.

What is man before beauty liberates him from free pleasure, and the
serenity of form tames down the savageness of life? Eternally uniform in
his aims, eternally changing in his judgments, self-seeking without being
himself, unfettered without being free, a slave without serving any rule.
At this period, the world is to him only destiny, not yet an object; all
has existence for him only in as far as it procures existence to him; a
thing that neither seeks from nor gives to him is non-existent. Every
phenomenon stands out before him separate and cut off, as he finds
himself in the series of beings. All that is, is to him through the bias
of the moment; every change is to him an entirely fresh creation, because
with the necessary in him, the necessary out of him is wanting, which
binds together all the changing forms in the universe, and which holds
fast the law on the theatre of his action, while the individual departs.
It is in vain that nature lets the rich variety of her forms pass before
him; he sees in her glorious fulness nothing but his prey, in her power
and greatness nothing but his enemy. Either he encounters objects, and
wishes to draw them to himself in desire, or the objects press in a
destructive manner upon him, and he thrusts them away in dismay and
terror. In both cases his relation to the world of sense is immediate
contact; and perpetually anxious through its pressure, restless and
plagued by imperious wants, he nowhere finds rest except in enervation,
and nowhere limits save in exhausted desire.

  "True, his is the powerful breast, and the mighty hand
    of the Titans. . . .
  A certain inheritance; yet the god welded
  Round his forehead a brazen band;
  Advice, moderation, wisdom, and patience,--
  Hid it from his shy, sinister look.
  Every desire is with him a rage,
  And his rage prowls around limitless."--Iphigenia in Tauris.

Ignorant of his own human dignity, he is far removed from honoring it in
others, and conscious of his own savage greed, he fears it in every
creature that he sees like himself. He never sees others in himself,
only himself in others, and human society, instead of enlarging him to
the race, only shuts him up continually closer in his individuality.
Thus limited, he wanders through his sunless life, till favoring nature
rolls away the load of matter from his darkened senses, reflection
separates him from things, and objects show themselves at length in the
afterglow of the consciousness.

It is true we cannot point out this state of rude nature as we have here
portrayed it in any definite people and age. It is only an idea, but an
idea with which experience agrees most closely in special features. It
may be said that man was never in this animal condition, but he has not,
on the other hand, ever entirely escaped from it. Even in the rudest
subjects, unmistakable traces of rational freedom can be found, and even
in the most cultivated, features are not wanting that remind us of that
dismal natural condition. It is possible for man, at one and the same
time, to unite the highest and the lowest in his nature; and if his
dignity depends on a strict separation of one from the other, his
happiness depends on a skilful removal of this separation. The culture
which is to bring his dignity into agreement with his happiness will
therefore have to provide for the greatest purity of these two principles
in their most intimate combination.

Consequently the first appearance of reason in man is not the beginning
of humanity. This is first decided by his freedom, and reason begins
first by making his sensuous dependence boundless; a phenomenon that does
not appear to me to have been sufficiently elucidated, considering its
importance and universality. We know that the reason makes itself known
to man by the demand for the absolute--the self-dependent and necessary.
But as this want of the reason cannot be satisfied in any separate or
single state of his physical life, he is obliged to leave the physical
entirely and to rise from a limited reality to ideas. But although the
true meaning of that demand of the reason is to withdraw him from the
limits of time and to lead him from the world of sense to an ideal world,
yet this same demand of reason, by misapplication--scarcely to be avoided
in this life, prone to sensuousness--can direct him to physical life,
and, instead of making man free, plunge him in the most terrible slavery.

Facts verify this supposition. Man raised on the wings of imagination
leaves the narrow limits of the present, in which mere animality is
enclosed, in order to strive on to an unlimited future. But while the
limitless is unfolded to his dazed imagination, his heart has not ceased
to live in the separate, and to serve the moment. The impulse towards
the absolute seizes him suddenly in the midst of his animality, and as in
this cloddish condition all his efforts aim only at the material and
temporal, and are limited by his individuality, he is only led by that
demand of the reason to extend his individuality into the infinite,
instead of to abstract from it. He will be led to seek instead of form
an inexhaustible matter, instead of the unchangeable an everlasting
change and an absolute securing of his temporal existence. The same
impulse which, directed to his thought and action, ought to lead to truth
and morality, now directed to his passion and emotional state, produces
nothing but an unlimited desire and an absolute want. The first fruits,
therefore, that he reaps in the world of spirits are cares and fear--both
operations of the reason; not of sensuousness, but of a reason that
mistakes its object and applies its categorical imperative to matter.
All unconditional systems of happiness are fruits of this tree, whether
they have for their object the present day or the whole of life, or what
does not make them any more respectable, the whole of eternity, for their
object. An unlimited duration of existence and of well-being is only an
ideal of the desires; hence a demand which can only be put forth by an
animality striving up to the absolute. Man, therefore, without gaining
anything for his humanity by a rational expression of this sort, loses
the happy limitation of the animal, over which he now only possesses the
unenviable superiority of losing the present for an endeavor after what
is remote, yet without seeking in the limitless future anything but the

But even if the reason does not go astray in its object, or err in the
question, sensuousness will continue to falsify the answer for a long
time. As soon as man has begun to use his understanding and to knit
together phenomena in cause and effect, the reason, according to its
conception, presses on to an absolute knitting together and to an
unconditional basis. In order, merely, to be able to put forward this
demand, man must already have stepped beyond the sensuous, but the
sensuous uses this very demand to bring back the fugitive.

In fact, it is now that he ought to abandon entirely the world of sense
in order to take his flight into the realm of ideas; for the intelligence
remains eternally shut up in the finite and in the contingent, and does
not cease putting questions without reaching the last link of the chain.
But as the man with whom we are engaged is not yet capable of such an
abstraction, and does not find it in the sphere of sensuous knowledge,
and because he does not look for it in pure reason, he will seek for it
below in the region of sentiment, and will appear to find it. No doubt
the sensuous shows him nothing that has its foundation in itself, and
that legislates for itself, but it shows him something that does not care
for foundation or law; therefore, thus not being able to quiet the
intelligence by showing it a final cause, he reduces it to silence by the
conception which desires no cause; and being incapable of understanding
the sublime necessity of reason, he keeps to the blind constraint of
matter. As sensuousness knows no other end than its interest, and is
determined by nothing except blind chance, it makes the former the motive
of its actions, and the latter the master of the world.

Even the divine part in man, the moral law, in its first manifestation in
the sensuous cannot avoid this perversion. As this moral law is only
prohibited, and combats in man the interest of sensuous egotism, it must
appear to him as something strange until he has come to consider this
self-love as the stranger, and the voice of reason as his true self.
Therefore he confines himself to feeling the fetters which the latter
imposes on him, without having the consciousness of the infinite
emancipation which it procures for him. Without suspecting in himself
the dignity of lawgiver, he only experiences the constraint and the
impotent revolt of a subject fretting under the yoke, because in this
experience the sensuous impulsion precedes the moral impulsion, he gives
to the law of necessity a beginning in him, a positive origin, and by the
most unfortunate of all mistakes he converts the immutable and the
eternal in himself into a transitory accident. He makes up his mind to
consider the notions of the just and the unjust as statutes which have
been introduced by a will, and not as having in themselves an eternal
value. Just as in the explanation of certain natural phenomena he goes
beyond nature and seeks out of her what can only be found in her, in her
own laws; so also in the explanation of moral phenomena he goes beyond
reason and makes light of his humanity, seeking a god in this way. It is
not wonderful that a religion which he has purchased at the cost of his
humanity shows itself worthy of this origin, and that he only considers
as absolute and eternally binding laws that have never been binding from
all eternity. He has placed himself in relation with, not a holy being,
but a powerful. Therefore the spirit of his religion, of the homage that
he gives to God, is a fear that abases him, and not a veneration that
elevates him in his own esteem.

Though these different aberrations by which man departs from the ideal of
his destination cannot all take place at the same time, because several
degrees have to be passed over in the transition from the obscure of
thought to error, and from the obscure of will to the corruption of the
will; these degrees are all, without exception, the consequence of his
physical state, because in all the vital impulsion sways the formal
impulsion. Now, two cases may happen: either reason may not yet have
spoken in man, and the physical may reign over him with a blind
necessity, or reason may not be sufficiently purified from sensuous
impressions, and the moral may still be subject to the physical; in both
cases the only principle that has a real power over him is a material
principle, and man, at least as regards his ultimate tendency, is a
sensuous being. The only difference is, that in the former case he is an
animal without reason, and in the second case a rational animal. But he
ought to be neither one nor the other: he ought to be a man. Nature
ought not to rule him exclusively; nor reason conditionally. The two
legislations ought to be completely independent, and yet mutually


Whilst man, in his first physical condition, is only passively affected
by the world of sense, he is still entirely identified with it; and for
this reason the external world, as yet, has no objective existence for
him. When he begins in his aesthetic state of mind to regard the world
objectively, then only is his personality severed from it, and the world
appears to him an objective reality, for the simple reason that he has
ceased to form an identical portion of it.

That which first connects man with the surrounding universe is the power
of reflective contemplation. Whereas desire seizes at once its object,
reflection removes it to a distance and renders it inalienably her own by
saving it from the greed of passion. The necessity of sense which he
obeyed during the period of mere sensations, lessens during the period of
reflection; the senses are for the time in abeyance; even ever-fleeting
time stands still whilst the scattered rays of consciousness are
gathering and shape themselves; an image of the infinite is reflected
upon the perishable ground. As soon as light dawns in man, there is no,
longer night outside of him; as soon as there is peace within him the
storm lulls throughout the universe, and the contending forces of nature
find rest within prescribed limits. Hence we cannot wonder if ancient
traditions allude to these great changes in the inner man as to a
revolution in surrounding nature, and symbolize thought triumphing over
the laws of time, by the figure of Zeus, which terminates the reign of

As long as man derives sensations from a contact with nature, he is her
slave; but as soon as he begins to reflect upon her objects and laws he
becomes her lawgiver. Nature, which previously ruled him as a power, now
expands before him as an object. What is objective to him can have no
power over him, for in order to become objective it has to experience his
own power. As far and as long as he impresses a form upon matter, he
cannot be injured by its effect; for a spirit can only be injured by that
which deprives it of its freedom. Whereas he proves his own freedom by
giving a form to the formless; where the mass rules heavily and without
shape, and its undefined outlines are for ever fluctuating between
uncertain boundaries, fear takes up its abode; but man rises above any
natural terror as soon as he knows how to mould it, and transform it into
an object of his art. As soon as he upholds his independence towards
phenomenal natures he maintains his dignity toward her as a thing of
power, and with a noble freedom he rises against his gods. They throw
aside the mask with which they had kept him in awe during his infancy,
and to his surprise his mind perceives the reflection of his own image.
The divine monster of the Oriental, which roams about changing the world
with the blind force of a beast of prey, dwindles to the charming outline
of humanity in Greek fable; the empire of the Titans is crushed, and
boundless force is tamed by infinite form.

But whilst I have been merely searching for an issue from the material
world, and a passage into the world of mind, the bold flight of my
imagination has already taken me into the very midst of the latter world.
The beauty of which we are in search we have left behind by passing from
the life of mere sensations to the pure form and to the pure object.
Such a leap exceeds the condition of human nature; in order to keep pace
with the latter we must return to the world of sense.

Beauty is indeed the sphere of unfettered contemplation and reflection;
beauty conducts us into the world of ideas, without however taking us
from the world of sense, as occurs when a truth is perceived and
acknowledged. This is the pure product of a process of abstraction from
everything material and accidental, a pure object free from every
subjective barrier, a pure state of self-activity without any admixture
of passive sensations. There is indeed a way back to sensation from the
highest abstraction; for thought teaches the inner sensation, and the
idea of logical or moral unity passes into a sensation of sensual accord.
But if we delight in knowledge we separate very accurately our own
conceptions from our sensations; we look upon the latter as something
accidental, which might have been omitted without the knowledge being
impaired thereby, without truth being less true. It would, however, be a
vain attempt to suppress this connection of the faculty of feeling with
the idea of beauty, consequently, we shall not succeed in representing to
ourselves one as the effect of the other, but we must look upon them both
together and reciprocally as cause and effect. In the pleasure which we
derive from knowledge we readily distinguish the passage from the active
to the passive state, and we clearly perceive that the first ends when
the second begins. On the contrary, from the pleasure which we take in
beauty, this transition from the active to the passive is not
perceivable, and reflection is so intimately blended with feeling that we
believe we feel the form immediately. Beauty is then an object to us, it
is true, because reflection is the condition of the feeling which we have
of it; but it is also a state of our personality (our Ego) because the
feeling is the condition of the idea we conceive of it: beauty is
therefore doubtless form, because we contemplate it, but it is equally
life because we feel it. In a word, it is at once our state and our act.
And precisely because it is at the same time both a state and an act, it
triumphantly proves to us that the passive does not exclude the active,
neither matter nor form, neither the finite nor the infinite; and that
consequently the physical dependence to which man is necessarily devoted
does not in any way destroy his moral liberty. This is the proof of
beauty, and I ought to add that this alone can prove it. In fact, as in
the possession of truth or of logical unity, feeling is not necessarily
one with the thought, but follows it accidentally; it is a fact which
only proves that a sensitive nature can succeed a rational nature, and
vice versa; not that they co-exist, that they exercise a reciprocal
action one over the other; and, lastly, that they ought to be united in
an absolute and necessary manner. From this exclusion of feeling as long
as there is thought, and of thought so long as there is feeling, we
should on the contrary conclude that the two natures are incompatible, so
that in order to demonstrate that pure reason is to be realized in
humanity, the best proof given by the analysis is that this realization
is demanded. But, as in the realization of beauty or of aesthetic unity,
there is a real union, mutual substitution of matter and of form, of
passive and of active, by this alone is proved the compatibility of the
two natures, the possible realization of the infinite in the finite, and
consequently also the possibility of the most sublime humanity.

Henceforth we need no longer be embarrassed to find a transition from
dependent feeling to moral liberty, because beauty reveals to us the fact
that they can perfectly coexist, and that to show himself a spirit, man
need not escape from matter. But if on one side he is free, even in his
relation with a visible world, as the fact of beauty teaches, and if on
the other side freedom is something absolute and supersensuous, as its
idea necessarily implies, the question is no longer how man succeeds in
raising himself from the finite to the absolute, and opposing himself in
his thought and will to sensuality, as this has already been produced in
the fact of beauty. In a word, we have no longer to ask how he passes
from virtue to truth which is already included in the former, but how he
opens a way for himself from vulgar reality to aesthetic reality, and
from the ordinary feelings of life to the perception of the beautiful.


I have shown in the previous letters that it is only the aesthetic
disposition of the soul that gives birth to liberty, it cannot therefore
be derived from liberty nor have a moral origin. It must be a gift of
nature; the favor of chance alone can break the bonds of the physical
state and bring the savage to duty. The germ of the beautiful will find
an equal difficulty in developing itself in countries where a severe
nature forbids man to enjoy himself, and in those where a prodigal nature
dispenses him from all effort; where the blunted senses experience no
want, and where violent desire can never be satisfied. The delightful
flower of the beautiful will never unfold itself in the case of the
Troglodyte hid in his cavern always alone, and never finding humanity
outside himself; nor among nomads, who, travelling in great troops, only
consist of a multitude, and have no individual humanity. It will only
flourish in places where man converses peacefully with himself in his
cottage, and with the whole race when he issues from it. In those
climates where a limpid ether opens the senses to the lightest
impression, whilst a life-giving warmth develops a luxuriant nature,
where even in the inanimate creation the sway of inert matter is
overthrown, and the victorious form ennobles even the most abject
natures; in this joyful state and fortunate zone, where activity alone
leads to enjoyment, and enjoyment to activity, from life itself issues a
holy harmony, and the laws of order develop life, a different result
takes place. When imagination incessantly escapes from reality, and does
not abandon the simplicity of nature in its wanderings: then and there
only the mind and the senses, the receptive force and the plastic force,
are developed in that happy equilibrium which is the soul of the
beautiful and the condition of humanity.

What phenomenon accompanies the initiation of the savage into humanity?
However far we look back into history the phenomenon is identical among
all people who have shaken off the slavery of the animal state: the love
of appearance, the inclination for dress and for games.

Extreme stupidity and extreme intelligence have a certain affinity in
only seeking the real and being completely insensible to mere appearance.
The former is only drawn forth by the immediate presence of an object in
the senses, and the second is reduced to a quiescent state only by
referring conceptions to the facts of experience. In short, stupidity
cannot rise above reality, nor the intelligence descend below truth.
Thus, in as far as the want of reality and attachment to the real are
only the consequence of a want and a defect, indifference to the real and
an interest taken in appearances are a real enlargement of humanity and a
decisive step towards culture. In the first place it is the proof of an
exterior liberty, for as long as necessity commands and want solicits,
the fancy is strictly chained down to the real: it is only when want is
satisfied that it develops without hinderance. But it is also the proof
of an internal liberty, because it reveals to us a force which,
independent of an external substratum, sets itself in motion, and has
sufficient energy to remove from itself the solicitations of nature. The
reality of things is effected by things, the appearance of things is the
work of man, and a soul that takes pleasure in appearance does not take
pleasure in what it receives but in what it makes.

It is self-evident that I am speaking of aesthetical evidence different
from reality and truth, and not of logical appearance identical with
them. Therefore if it is liked it is because it is an appearance, and
not because it is held to be something better than it is: the first
principle alone is a play, whilst the second is a deception. To give a
value to the appearance of the first kind can never injure truth, because
it is never to be feared that it will supplant it--the only way in which
truth can be injured. To despise this appearance is to despise in
general all the fine arts of which it is the essence. Nevertheless, it
happens sometimes that the understanding carries its zeal for reality as
far as this intolerance, and strikes with a sentence of ostracism all the
arts relating to beauty in appearance, because it is only an appearance.
However, the intelligence only shows this vigorous spirit when it calls
to mind the affinity pointed out further back. I shall find some day the
occasion to treat specially of the limits of beauty in its appearance.

It is nature herself which raises man from reality to appearance by
endowing him with two senses which only lead him to the knowledge of the
real through appearance. In the eye and the ear the organs of the senses
are already freed from the persecutions of nature, and the object with
which we are immediately in contact through the animal senses is remoter
from us. What we see by the eye differs from what we feel; for the
understanding to reach objects overleaps the light which separates us
from them. In truth, we are passive to an object: in sight and hearing
the object is a form we create. While still a savage, man only enjoys
through touch merely aided by sight and sound. He either does not rise
to perception through sight, or does not rest there. As soon as he
begins to enjoy through sight, vision has an independent value, he is
aesthetically free, and the instinct of play is developed.

The instinct of play likes appearance, and directly it is awakened it is
followed by the formal imitative instinct which treats appearance as an
independent thing. Directly man has come to distinguish the appearance
from the reality, the form from the body, he can separate, in fact he has
already done so. Thus the faculty of the art of imitation is given with
the faculty of form in general. The inclination that draws us to it
reposes on another tendency I have not to notice here. The exact period
when the aesthetic instinct, or that of art, develops, depends entirely
on the attraction that mere appearance has for men.

As every real existence proceeds from nature as a foreign power, whilst
every appearance comes in the first place from man as a percipient
subject, he only uses his absolute sight in separating semblance from
essence, and arranging according to subjective law. With an unbridled
liberty he can unite what nature has severed, provided he can imagine his
union, and he can separate what nature has united, provided this
separation can take place in his intelligence. Here nothing can be
sacred to him but his own law: the only condition imposed upon him is to
respect the border which separates his own sphere from the existence of
things or from the realm of nature.

This human right of ruling is exercised by man in the art of appearance;
and his success in extending the empire of the beautiful, and guarding
the frontiers of truth, will be in proportion with the strictness with
which he separates form from substance: for if he frees appearance from
reality, he must also do the converse.

But man possesses sovereign power only in the world of appearance, in the
unsubstantial realm of imagination, only by abstaining from giving being
to appearance in theory, and by giving it being in practice. It follows
that the poet transgresses his proper limits when he attributes being to
his ideal, and when he gives this ideal aim as a determined existence.
For he can only reach this result by exceeding his right as a poet, that
of encroaching by the ideal on the field of experience, and by pretending
to determine real existence in virtue of a simple possibility, or else he
renounces his right as a poet by letting experience encroach on the
sphere of the ideal, and by restricting possibility to the conditions of

It is only by being frank or disclaiming all reality, and by being
independent or doing without reality, that the appearance is aesthetical.
Directly it apes reality or needs reality for effect, it is nothing more
than a vile instrument for material ends, and can prove nothing for the
freedom of the mind. Moreover, the object in which we find beauty need
not be unreal if our judgment disregards this reality; for if it regards
this the judgment is no longer aesthetical. A beautiful woman, if
living, would no doubt please us as much and rather more than an equally
beautiful woman seen in painting; but what makes the former please men is
not her being an independent appearance; she no longer pleases the pure
aesthetic feeling. In the painting, life must only attract as an
appearance, and reality as an idea. But it is certain that to feel in a
living object only the pure appearance requires a greatly higher
aesthetic culture than to do without life in the appearance.

When the frank and independent appearance is found in man separately, or
in a whole people, it may be inferred they have mind, taste, and all
prerogatives connected with them. In this case the ideal will be seen to
govern real life, honor triumphing over fortune, thought over enjoyment,
the dream of immortality over a transitory existence.

In this case public opinion will no longer be feared, and an olive crown
will be more valued than a purple mantle. Impotence and perversity alone
have recourse to false and paltry semblance, and individuals as well as
nations who lend to reality the support of appearance, or to the
aesthetic appearance the support of reality, show their moral
unworthiness and their aesthetical impotence. Therefore, a short and
conclusive answer can be given to this question--how far will appearance
be permitted in the moral world? It will run thus in proportion as this
appearance will be aesthetical, that is, an appearance that does not try
to make up for reality, nor requires to be made up for by it. The
aesthetical appearance can never endanger the truth of morals: wherever
it seems to do so the appearance is not aesthetical. Only a stranger to
the fashionable world can take the polite assurances, which are only a
form, for proofs of affection, and say he has been deceived; but only a
clumsy fellow in good society calls in the aid of duplicity and flatters
to become amiable. The former lacks the pure sense for independent
appearance; therefore he can only give a value to appearance by truth.
The second lacks reality, and wishes to replace it by appearance.
Nothing is more common than to hear depreciators of the times utter these
paltry complaints--that all solidity has disappeared from the world, and
that essence is neglected for semblance. Though I feel by no means
called upon to defend this age against these reproaches, I must say that
the wide application of these criticisms shows that they attach blame to
the age, not only on the score of the false, but also of the frank
appearance. And even the exceptions they admit in favor of the beautiful
have for their object less the independent appearance than the needy
appearance. Not only do they attack the artificial coloring that hides
truth and replaces reality, but also the beneficent appearance that fills
a vacuum and clothes poverty; and they even attack the ideal appearance
that ennobles a vulgar reality. Their strict sense of truth is rightly
offended by the falsity of manners; unfortunately, they class politeness
in this category. It displeases them that the noisy and showy so often
eclipse true merit, but they are no less shocked that appearance is also
demanded from merit, and that a real substance does not dispense with an
agreeable form. They regret the cordiality, the energy, and solidity of
ancient times; they would restore with them ancient coarseness,
heaviness, and the old Gothic profusion. By judgments of this kind they
show an esteem for the matter itself unworthy of humanity, which ought
only to value the matter inasmuch as it can receive a form and enlarge
the empire of ideas. Accordingly, the taste of the age need not much
fear these criticisms if it can clear itself before better judges. Our
defect is not to grant a value to aesthetic appearance (we do not do this
enough): a severe judge of the beautiful might rather reproach us with
not having arrived at pure appearance, with not having separated clearly
enough existence from the phenomenon, and thus established their limits.
We shall deserve this reproach so long as we cannot enjoy the beautiful
in living nature without desiring it; as long as we cannot admire the
beautiful in the imitative arts without having an end in view; as long as
we do not grant to imagination an absolute legislation of its own; and as
long as we do not inspire it with care for its dignity by the esteem we
testify for its works.


Do not fear for reality and truth. Even if the elevated idea of
aesthetic appearance become general, it would not become so, as long as
man remains so little cultivated as to abuse it; and if it became
general, this would result from a culture that would prevent all abuse of
it. The pursuit of independent appearance requires more power of
abstraction, freedom of heart, and energy of will than man requires to
shut himself up in reality; and he must have left the latter behind him
if he wishes to attain to aesthetic appearance. Therefore, a man would
calculate very badly who took the road of the ideal to save himself that
of reality. Thus, reality would not have much to fear from appearance,
as we understand it; but, on the other hand, appearance would have more
to fear from reality. Chained to matter, man uses appearance for his
purposes before he allows it a proper personality in the art of the
ideal: to come to that point a complete revolution must take place in his
mode of feeling, otherwise, he would not be even on the way to the ideal.
Consequently, when we find in man the signs of a pure and disinterested
esteem, we can infer that this revolution has taken place in his nature,
and that humanity has really begun in him. Signs of this kind are found
even in the first and rude attempts that he makes to embellish his
existence, even at the risk of making it worse in its material
conditions. As soon as he begins to prefer form to substance and to risk
reality for appearance (known by him to be such), the barriers of animal
life fall, and he finds himself on a track that has no end.

Not satisfied with the needs of nature, he demands the superfluous.
First, only the superfluous of matter, to secure his enjoyment beyond the
present necessity; but afterward; he wishes a superabundance in matter,
an aesthetical supplement to satisfy the impulse for the formal, to
extend enjoyment beyond necessity. By piling up provisions simply for a
future use, and anticipating their enjoyment in the imagination, he
outsteps the limits of the present moment, but not those of time in
general. He enjoys more; he does not enjoy differently. But as soon as
he makes form enter into his enjoyment, and he keeps in view the forms of
the objects which satisfy his desires, he has not only increased his
pleasure in extent and intensity, but he has also ennobled it in mode and

No doubt nature has given more than is necessary to unreasoning beings;
she has caused a gleam of freedom to shine even in the darkness of animal
life. When the lion is not tormented by hunger, and when no wild beast
challenges him to fight, his unemployed energy creates an object for
himself; full of ardor, he fills the re-echoing desert with his terrible
roars, and his exuberant force rejoices in itself, showing itself without
an object. The insect flits about rejoicing in life in the sunlight, and
it is certainly not the cry of want that makes itself heard in the
melodious song of the bird; there is undeniably freedom in these
movements, though it is not emancipation from want in general, but from a
determinate external necessity.

The animal works, when a privation is the motor of its activity, and it
plays when the plenitude of force is this motor, when an exuberant life
is excited to action. Even in inanimate nature a luxury of strength and
a latitude of determination are shown, which in this material sense might
be styled play. The tree produces numberless germs that are abortive
without developing, and it sends forth more roots, branches, and leaves,
organs of nutrition, than are used for the preservation of the species.
Whatever this tree restores to the elements of its exuberant life,
without using it or enjoying it, may be expended by life in free and
joyful movements. It is thus that nature offers in her material sphere a
sort of prelude to the limitless, and that even there she suppresses
partially the chains from which she will be completely emancipated in the
realm of form. The constraint of superabundance or physical play answers
as a transition from the constraint of necessity, or of physical
seriousness, to aesthetical play; and before shaking off, in the supreme
freedom of the beautiful, the yoke of any special aim, nature already
approaches, at least remotely, this independence, by the free movement
which is itself its own end and means.

The imagination, like the bodily organs, has in man its free movement and
its material play, a play in which, without any reference to form, it
simply takes pleasure in its arbitrary power and in the absence of all
hinderance. These plays of fancy, inasmuch as form is not mixed up with
them, and because a free succession of images makes all their charm,
though confined to man, belong exclusively to animal life, and only prove
one thing--that he is delivered from all external sensuous constraint
without our being entitled to infer that there is in it an independent
plastic force.

From this play of free association of ideas, which is still quite
material in nature and is explained by simple natural laws, the
imagination, by making the attempt of creating a free form, passes at
length at a jump to the aesthetic play: I say at one leap, for quite a
new force enters into action here; for here, for the first time, the
legislative mind is mixed with the acts of a blind instinct, subjects the
arbitrary march of the imagination to its eternal and immutable unity,
causes its independent permanence to enter in that which is transitory,
and its infinity in the sensuous. Nevertheless, as long as rude nature,
which knows of no other law than running incessantly from change to
change, will yet retain too much strength, it will oppose itself by its
different caprices to this necessity; by its agitation to this
permanence; by its manifold needs to this independence, and by its
insatiability to this sublime simplicity. It will be also troublesome to
recognize the instinct of play in its first trials, seeing that the
sensuous impulsion, with its capricious humor and its violent appetites,
constantly crosses. It is on that account that we see the taste, still
coarse, seize that which is new and startling, the disordered, the
adventurous and the strange, the violent and the savage, and fly from
nothing so much as from calm and simplicity. It invents grotesque
figures, it likes rapid transitions, luxurious forms, sharply-marked
changes, acute tones, a pathetic song. That which man calls beautiful at
this time is that which excites him, that which gives him matter; but
that which excites him to give his personality to the object, that which
gives matter to a possible plastic operation, for otherwise it would not
be the beautiful for him. A remarkable change has therefore taken place
in the form of his judgments; he searches for these objects, not because
they affect him, but because they furnish him with the occasion of
acting; they please him, not because they answer to a want, but because
they satisfy a law which speaks in his breast, although quite low as yet.

Soon it will not be sufficient for things to please him; he will wish to
please: in the first place, it is true, only by that which belongs to
him; afterwards by that which he is. That which he possesses, that which
he produces, ought not merely to bear any more the traces of servitude,
nor to mark out the end, simply and scrupulously, by the form.
Independently of the use to which it is destined, the object ought also
to reflect the enlightened intelligence which imagines it, the hand which
shaped it with affection, the mind free and serene which chose it and
exposed it to view. Now, the ancient German searches for more
magnificent furs, for more splendid antlers of the stag, for more elegant
drinking-horns; and the Caledonian chooses the prettiest shells for his
festivals. The arms themselves ought to be no longer only objects of
terror, but also of pleasure; and the skilfully-worked scabbard will not
attract less attention than the homicidal edge of the sword. The
instinct of play, not satisfied with bringing into the sphere of the
necessary an aesthetic superabundance for the future more free, is at
last completely emancipated from the bonds of duty, and the beautiful
becomes of itself an object of man's exertions. He adorns himself. The
free pleasure comes to take a place among his wants, and the useless soon
becomes the best part of his joys. Form, which from the outside
gradually approaches him, in his dwelling, his furniture, his clothing,
begins at last to take possession of the man himself, to transform him,
at first exteriorly, and afterwards in the interior. The disordered
leaps of joy become the dance, the formless gesture is changed into an
amiable and harmonious pantomime, the confused accents of feeling are
developed, and begin to obey measures and adapt themselves to song.
When, like the flight of cranes, the Trojan army rushes on to the field
of battle with thrilling cries, the Greek army approaches in silence and
with a noble and measured step. On the one side we see but the
exuberance of a blind force, on the other the triumph of form, and the
simple majesty of law.

Now, a nobler necessity binds the two sexes mutually, and the interests
of the heart contribute in rendering durable an alliance which was at
first capricious and changing like the desire that knits it. Delivered
from the heavy fetters of desire, the eye, now calmer, attends to the
form, the soul contemplates the soul, and the interested exchange of
pleasure becomes a generous exchange of mutual inclination. Desire
enlarges and rises to love, in proportion as it sees humanity dawn in its
object; and, despising the vile triumphs gained by the senses, man tries
to win a nobler victory over the will. The necessity of pleasing
subjects the powerful nature to the gentle laws of taste; pleasure may be
stolen, but love must be a gift. To obtain this higher recompense, it is
only through the form and not through matter that it can carry on the
contest. It must cease to act on feeling as a force, to appear in the
intelligence as a simple phenomenon; it must respect liberty, as it is
liberty it wishes to please. The beautiful reconciles the contrast of
different natures in its simplest and purest expression. It also
reconciles the eternal contrast of the two sexes in the whole complex
framework of society, or at all events it seeks to do so; and, taking as
its model the free alliance it has knit between manly strength and
womanly gentleness, it strives to place in harmony, in the moral world,
all the elements of gentleness and of violence. Now, at length, weakness
becomes sacred, and an unbridled strength disgraces; the injustice of
nature is corrected by the generosity of chivalrous manners. The being
whom no power can make tremble, is disarmed by the amiable blush of
modesty, and tears extinguish a vengeance that blood could not have
quenched. Hatred itself hears the delicate voice of honor, the
conqueror's sword spares the disarmed enemy, and a hospitable hearth
smokes for the stranger on the dreaded hillside where murder alone
awaited him before.

In the midst of the formidable realm of forces, and of the sacred empire
of laws, the aesthetic impulse of form creates by degrees a third and a
joyous realm, that of play and of the appearance, where she emancipates
man from fetters, in all his relations, and from all that is named
constraint, whether physical or moral.

If in the dynamic state of rights men mutually move and come into
collision as forces, in the moral (ethical) state of duties, man opposes
to man the majesty of the laws, and chains down his will. In this realm
of the beautiful or the aesthetic state, man ought to appear to man only
as a form, and an object of free play. To give freedom through freedom
is the fundamental law of this realm.

The dynamic state can only make society simple possibly by subduing
nature through nature; the moral (ethical) state can only make it morally
necessary by submitting the will of the individual to the general will.

The aesthetic state alone can make it real, because it carries out the
will of all through the nature of the individual. If necessity alone
forces man to enter into society, and if his reason engraves on his soul
social principles, it is beauty only that can give him a social
character; taste alone brings harmony into society, because it creates
harmony in the individual. All other forms of perception divide the man,
because they are based exclusively either in the sensuous or in the
spiritual part of his being. It is only the perception of beauty that
makes of him an entirety, because it demands the co-operation of his two
natures. All other forms of communication divide society, because they
apply exclusively either to the receptivity or to the private activity of
its members, and therefore to what distinguishes men one from the other.
The aesthetic communication alone unites society because it applies to
what is common to all its members. We only enjoy the pleasures of sense
as individuals, without the nature of the race in us sharing in it;
accordingly, we cannot generalize our individual pleasures, because we
cannot generalize our individuality. We enjoy the pleasures of knowledge
as a race, dropping the individual in our judgment; but we cannot
generalize the pleasures of the understanding, because we cannot
eliminate individuality from the judgments of others as we do from our
own. Beauty alone can we enjoy both as individuals and as a race, that
is, as representing a race. Good appertaining to sense can only make one
person happy, because it is founded on inclination, which is always
exclusive; and it can only make a man partially happy, because his real
personality does not share in it. Absolute good can only render a man
happy conditionally, for truth is only the reward of abnegation, and a
pure heart alone has faith in a pure will. Beauty alone confers
happiness on all, and under its influence every being forgets that he is

Taste does not suffer any superior or absolute authority, and the sway of
beauty is extended over appearance. It extends up to the seat of
reason's supremacy, suppressing all that is material. It extends down to
where sensuous impulse rules with blind compulsion, and form is
undeveloped. Taste ever maintains its power on these remote borders,
where legislation is taken from it. Particular desires must renounce
their egotism, and the agreeable, otherwise tempting the senses, must in
matters of taste adorn the mind with the attractions of grace.

Duty and stern necessity must change their forbidding tone, only excused
by resistance, and do homage to nature by a nobler trust in her. Taste
leads our knowledge from the mysteries of science into the open expanse
of common sense, and changes a narrow scholasticism into the common
property of the human race. Here the highest genius must leave its
particular elevation, and make itself familiar to the comprehension even
of a child. Strength must let the Graces bind it, and the arbitrary lion
must yield to the reins of love. For this purpose taste throws a veil
over physical necessity, offending a free mind by its coarse nudity, and
dissimulating our degrading parentage with matter by a delightful
illusion of freedom. Mercenary art itself rises from the dust; and the
bondage of the bodily, at its magic touch, falls off from the inanimate
and animate. In the aesthetic state the most slavish tool is a free
citizen, having the same rights as the noblest; and the intellect which
shapes the mass to its intent must consult it concerning its destination.
Consequently, in the realm of aesthetic appearance, the idea of equality
is realized, which the political zealot would gladly see carried out
socially. It has often been said that perfect politeness is only found
near a throne. If thus restricted in the material, man has, as elsewhere
appears, to find compensation in the ideal world.

Does such a state of beauty in appearance exist, and where? It must be
in every finely-harmonized soul; but as a fact, only in select circles,
like the pure ideal of the church and state--in circles where manners are
not formed by the empty imitations of the foreign, but by the very beauty
of nature; where man passes through all sorts of complications in all
simplicity and innocence, neither forced to trench on another's freedom
to preserve his own, nor to show grace at the cost of dignity.




The author of the article which appeared in the eleventh number of "The
Hours," of 1795, upon "The Danger of Aesthetic Manners," was right to
hold as doubtful a morality founded only on a feeling for the beautiful,
and which has no other warrant than taste; but it is evident that a
strong and pure feeling for the beautiful ought to exercise a salutary
influence upon the moral life; and this is the question of which I am
about to treat.

When I attribute to taste the merit of contributing to moral progress, it
is not in the least my intention to pretend that the interest that good
taste takes in an action suffices to make an action moral; morality could
never have any other foundation than her own. Taste can be favorable to
morality in the conduct, as I hope to point out in the present essay; but
alone, and by its unaided influence, it could never produce anything

It is absolutely the same with respect to internal liberty as with
external physical liberty. I act freely in a physical sense only when,
independently of all external influence, I simply obey my will. But for
the possibility of thus obeying without hinderance my own will, it is
probable, ultimately, that I am indebted to a principle beyond or
distinct from myself immediately it is admitted that this principle would
hamper my will. The same also with regard to the possibility of
accomplishing such action in conformity with duty--it may be that I owe
it, ultimately, to a principle distinct from my reason; that is possible,
the moment the idea of this principle is recognized as a force which
could have constrained my independence. Thus the same as we can say of a
man, that he holds his liberty from another man, although liberty in its
proper sense consists in not being forced to be regulated by another--in
like manner we can also say that taste here obeys virtue, although virtue
herself expressly carries this idea, that in the practice of virtue she
makes use of no other foreign help. An action does not in any degree
cease to be free, because he who could hamper its accomplishment should
fortunately abstain from putting any obstacle in the way; it suffices to
know that this agent has been moved by his own will without any
consideration of another will. In the same way, an action of the moral
order does not lose its right to be qualified as a moral action, because
the temptations which might have turned it in another direction did not
present themselves; it suffices to admit that the agent obeyed solely the
decree of his reason to the exclusion of all foreign springs of action.
The liberty of an external act is established as soon as it directly
proceeds from the will of a person; the morality of an interior action is
established from the moment that the will of the agent is at once
determined to it by the laws of reason.

It may be rendered easier or more difficult to act as free men according
as we meet or not in our path forces adverse to our will that must be
overcome. In this sense liberty is more or less susceptible. It is
greater, or at least more visible, when we enable it to prevail over the
opposing forces, however energetic their opposition; but it is not
suspended because our will should have met with no resistance, or that a
foreign succor coming to our aid should have destroyed this resistance,
without any help from ourselves.

The same with respect to morality; we might have more or less resistance
to offer in order on the instant to obey our reason, according as it
awakens or not in us those instincts which struggle against its precepts,
and which must be put aside. In this sense morality is susceptible of
more or of less. Our morality is greater, or at least more in relief,
when we immediately obey reason, however powerful the instincts are which
push us in a contrary direction; but it is not suspended because we have
had no temptation to disobey, or that this force had been paralyzed by
some other force other than our will. We are incited to an action solely
because it is moral, without previously asking ourselves if it is the
most agreeable. It is enough that such an action is morally good, and it
would preserve this character even if there were cause to believe that we
should have acted differently if the action had cost us any trouble, or
had deprived us of a pleasure.

It can be admitted, for the honor of humanity, that no man could fall so
low as to prefer evil solely because it is evil, but rather that every
man, without exception, would prefer the good because it is the good, if
by some accidental circumstance the good did not exclude the agreeable,
or did not entail trouble. Thus in reality all moral action seems to
have no other principle than a conflict between the good and the
agreeable; or, that which comes to the same thing, between desire and
reason; the force of our sensuous instincts on one side, and, on the
other side, the feebleness of will, the moral faculty: such apparently is
the source of all our faults.

There may be, therefore, two different ways of favoring morality, the
same as there are two kinds of obstacles which thwart it: either we must
strengthen the side of reason, and the power of the good will, so that no
temptation can overcome it; or we must break the force of temptation, in
order that the reason and the will, although feebler, should yet be in a
state to surmount it.

It might be said, without doubt, that true morality gains little by this
second proceeding, because it happens without any modification of the
will, and yet that it is the nature of the will that alone give to
actions their moral character. But I say also, in the case in question,
a change of will is not at all necessary; because we do not suppose a bad
will which should require to be changed, but only a will turned to good,
but which is feeble. Therefore, this will, inclined to good, but too
feeble, does not fail to attain by this route to good actions, which
might not have happened if a stronger impulsion had drawn it in a
contrary sense. But every time that a strong will towards good becomes
the principle of an action, we are really in presence of a moral action.
I have therefore no scruple in advancing this proposition--that all which
neutralizes the resistance offered to the law of duty really favors

Morality has within us a natural enemy, the sensuous instinct; this, as
soon as some object solicits its desires, aspires at once to gratify it,
and, as soon as reason requires from it anything repugnant, it does not
fail to rebel against its precepts. This sensuous instinct is constantly
occupied in gaining the will on its side. The will is nevertheless under
the jurisdiction of the moral law, and it is under an obligation never to
be in contradiction with that which reason demands.

But the sensuous instinct does not recognize the moral law; it wishes to
enjoy its object and to induce the will to realize it also,
notwithstanding what the reason may advance. This tendency of the
faculty of our appetites, of immediately directing the will without
troubling itself about superior laws, is perpetually in conflict with our
moral destination, and it is the most powerful adversary that man has to
combat in his moral conduct. The coarse soul, without either moral or
aesthetic education, receives directly the law of appetite, and acts only
according to the good pleasure of the senses. The moral soul, but which
wants aesthetic culture, receives in a direct manner the law of reason,
and it is only out of respect for duty that it triumphs over temptation.
In the purified aesthetic soul, there is moreover another motive, another
force, which frequently takes the place of virtue when virtue is absent,
and which renders it easier when it is present--that is, taste.

Taste demands of us moderation and dignity; it has a horror of everything
sharp, hard and violent; it likes all that shapes itself with ease and
harmony. To listen to the voice of reason amidst the tempest of the
senses, and to know where to place a limit to nature in its most
brutified explosions, is, as we are aware, required by good breeding,
which is no other than an aesthetic law; this is required of every
civilized man. Well, then, this constraint imposed upon civilized man in
the expression of his feelings, confers upon him already a certain degree
of authority over them, or at least develops in him a certain aptitude to
rise above the purely passive state of the soul, to interrupt this state
by an initiative act, and to stop by reflection the petulance of the
feelings, ever ready to pass from affections to acts. Therefore
everything that interrupts the blind impetuosity of these movements of
the affections does not as yet, however, produce, I own, a virtue (for
virtue ought never to have any other active principle than itself), but
that at least opens the road to the will, in order to turn it on the side
of virtue. Still, this victory of taste over brutish affections is by no
means a moral action, and the freedom which the will acquires by the
intervention of taste is as yet in no way a moral liberty. Taste
delivers the soul from the yoke of instinct, only to impose upon it
chains of its own; and in discerning the first enemy, the declared enemy
of moral liberty, it remains itself, too often, as a second enemy,
perhaps even the more dangerous as it assumes the aspect of a friend.
Taste effectively governs the soul itself only by the attraction of
pleasure; it is true of a nobler type, because its principle is reason,
but still as long as the will is determined by pleasure there is not yet

Notwithstanding this, a great point is gained already by the intervention
of taste in the operations of the will. All those material inclinations
and brutal appetites, which oppose with so much obstinacy and vehemence
the practice of good, the soul is freed from through the aesthetic taste;
and in their place, it implants in us nobler and gentler inclinations,
which draw nearer to order, to harmony, and to perfection; and although
these inclinations are not by themselves virtues, they have at least
something in common with virtue; it is their object. Thenceforth, if it
is the appetite that speaks, it will have to undergo a rigorous control
before the sense of the beautiful; if it is the reason which speaks, and
which commands in its acts conformity with order, harmony, and
perfection, not only will it no longer meet with an adversary on the side
of inclination, but it will find the most active competition. If we
survey all the forms under which morality can be produced, we shall see
that all these forms can be reduced to two; either it is sensuous nature
which moves the soul either to do this thing or not to do the other, and
the will finally decides after the law of the reason; or it is the reason
itself which impels the motion, and the will obeys it without seeking
counsel of the senses.

The Greek princess, Anna Comnena, speaks of a rebel prisoner, whom her
father Alexis, then a simple general of his predecessor, had been charged
to conduct to Constantinople. During the journey, as they were riding
side by side, Alexis desired to halt under the shade of a tree to refresh
himself during the great heat of the day. It was not long before he fell
asleep, whilst his companion, who felt no inclination to repose with the
fear of death awaiting him before his eyes, remained awake. Alexis
slumbered profoundly, with his sword hanging upon a branch above his
head; the prisoner perceived the sword, and immediately conceived the
idea of killing his guardian and thus of regaining his freedom. Anna
Comnena gives us to understand that she knows not what might have been
the result had not Alexis fortunately awoke at that instant. In this
there is a moral of the highest kind, in which the sensuous instinct
first raised its voice, and of which the reason had only afterwards taken
cognizance in quality of judge. But suppose that the prisoner had
triumphed over the temptation only out of respect for justice, there
could be no doubt the action would have been a moral action.

When the late Duke Leopold of Brunswick, standing upon the banks of the
raging waters of the Oder, asked himself if at the peril of his life he
ought to venture into the impetuous flood in order to save some
unfortunates who without his aid were sure to perish; and when--I suppose
a case--simply under the influence of duty, he throws himself into the
boat into which none other dares to enter, no one will contest doubtless
that he acted morally. The duke was here in a contrary position to that
of the preceding one. The idea of duty, in this circumstance, was the
first which presented itself, and afterwards only the instinct of
self-preservation was roused to oppose itself to that prescribed by
reason, But in both cases the will acted in the same way; it obeyed
unhesitatingly the reason, yet both of them are moral actions.

But would the action have continued moral in both cases, if we suppose
the aesthetic taste to have taken part in it? For example, suppose that
the first, who was tempted to commit a bad action, and who gave it up
from respect for justice, had the taste sufficiently cultivated to feel
an invincible horror aroused in him against all disgraceful or violent
action, the aesthetic sense alone will suffice to turn him from it; there
is no longer any deliberation before the moral tribunal, before the
conscience; another motive, another jurisdiction has already pronounced.
But the aesthetic sense governs the will by the feeling and not by laws.
Thus this man refuses to enjoy the agreeable sensation of a life saved,
because he cannot support his odious feelings of having committed a
baseness. Therefore all, in this, took place before the feelings alone,
and the conduct of this man, although in conformity with the law, is
morally indifferent; it is simply a fine effect of nature.

Now let us suppose that the second, he to whom his reason prescribed to
do a thing against which natural instinct protested; suppose that this
man had to the same extent a susceptibility for the beautiful, so that
all which is great and perfect enraptured him; at the same moment, when
reason gave the order, the feelings would place themselves on the same
side, and he would do willingly that which without the inclination for
the beautiful he would have had to do contrary to inclination. But would
this be a reason for us to find it less perfect? Assuredly not, because
in principle it acts out of pure respect for the prescriptions of reason;
and if it follows these injunctions with joy, that can take nothing away
from the moral purity of the act. Thus, this man will be quite as
perfect in the moral sense; and, on the contrary, he will be incomparably
more perfect in the physical sense, because he is infinitely more capable
of making a virtuous subject.

Thus, taste gives a direction to the soul which disposes it to virtue, in
keeping away such inclinations as are contrary to it, and in rousing
those which are favorable. Taste could not injure true virtue, although
in every case where natural instinct speaks first, taste commences by
deciding for its chief that which conscience otherwise ought to have
known; in consequence it is the cause that, amongst the actions of those
whom it governs, there are many more actions morally indifferent than
actions truly moral. It thus happens that the excellency of the man does
not consist in the least degree in producing a larger sum of vigorously
moral particular actions, but by evincing as a whole a greater conformity
of all his natural dispositions with the moral law; and it is not a thing
to give people a very high idea of their country or of their age to hear
morality so often spoken of and particular acts boasted of as traits of
virtue. Let us hope that the day when civilization shall have
consummated its work (if we can realize this term in the mind) there will
no longer be any question of this. But, on the other side, taste can
become of possible utility to true virtue, in all cases when, the first
instigations issuing from reason, its voice incurs the risk of being
stifled by the more powerful solicitations of natural instinct. Thus,
taste determines our feelings to take the part of duty, and in this
manner renders a mediocre moral force of will sufficient for the practice
of virtue.

In this light, if the taste never injures true morality, and if in many
cases it is of evident use--and this circumstance is very important--then
it is supremely favorable to the legality of our conduct. Suppose that
aesthetic education contributes in no degree to the improvement of our
feelings, at least it renders us better able to act, although without
true moral disposition, as we should have acted if our soul had been
truly moral. Therefore, it is quite true that, before the tribunal of
the conscience, our acts have absolutely no importance but as the
expression of our feelings: but it is precisely the contrary in the
physical order and in the plan of nature: there it is no longer our
sentiments that are of importance; they are only important so far as they
give occasion to acts which conduce to the aims of nature. But the
physical order which is governed by forces, and the moral order which
governs itself by laws, are so exactly made one for the other, and are so
intimately blended, that the actions which are by their form morally
suitable, necessarily contain also a physical suitability; and as the
entire edifice of nature seems to exist only to render possible the
highest of all aims, which is the good, in the same manner the good can
in its turn be employed as the means of preserving the edifice. Thus,
the natural order has been rendered dependent upon the morality of our
souls, and we cannot go against the moral laws of the world without at
the same time provoking a perturbation in the physical world.

If, then, it is impossible to expect that human nature, as long as it is
only human nature, should act without interruption or feebleness,
uniformly and constantly as pure reason, and that it never offend the
laws of moral order; if fully persuaded, as we are, both of the necessity
and the possibility of pure virtue, we are forced to avow how subject to
accident is the exercise of it, and how little we ought to reckon upon
the steadfastness of our best principles; if with this conviction of
human fragility we bear in mind that each of the infractions of the moral
law attacks the edifice of nature, if we recall all these considerations
to our memory, it would be assuredly the most criminal boldness to place
the interests of the entire world at the mercy of the uncertainty of our
virtue. Let us rather draw from it the following conclusion, that it is
for us an obligation to satisfy at the very least the physical order by
the object of our acts, even when we do not satisfy the exigencies of the
moral order by the form of these acts; to pay, at least, as perfect
instruments the aims of nature, that which we owe as imperfect persons to
reason, in order not to appear shamefaced before both tribunals. For if
we refused to make any effort to conform our acts to it because simple
legality is without moral merit, the order of the world might in the
meanwhile be dissolved, and before we had succeeded in establishing our
principles all the links of society might be broken. No, the more our
morality is subjected to chance, the more is it necessary to take
measures in order to assure its legality; to neglect, either from levity
or pride, this legality is a fault for which we shall have to answer
before morality. When a maniac believes himself threatened with a fit of
madness, he leaves no knife within reach of his hands, and he puts
himself under constraint, in order to avoid responsibility in a state of
sanity for the crimes which his troubled brain might lead him to commit.
In a similar manner it is an obligation for us to seek the salutary bonds
which religion and the aesthetic laws present to us, in order that during
the crisis when our passion is dominant it shall not injure the physical

It is not unintentionally that I have placed religion and taste in one
and the same class; the reason is that both one and the other have the
merit, similar in effect, although dissimilar in principle and in value,
to take the place of virtue properly so called, and to assure legality
where there is no possibility to hope for morality. Doubtless that would
hold an incontestably higher rank in the order of pure spirits, as they
would need neither the attraction of the beautiful nor the perspective of
eternal life, to conform on every occasion to the demands of reason; but
we know man is short-sighted, and his feebleness forces the most rigid
moralist to temper in some degree the rigidity of his system in practice,
although he will yield nothing in theory; it obliges him, in order to
insure the welfare of the human race, which would be ill protected by a
virtue subjected to chance, to have further recourse to two strong
anchors--those of religion and taste.


"Man is never obliged to say, I must--must," says the Jew Nathan
[Lessing's play, "Nathan the Wise," act i. scene 3.] to the dervish; and
this expression is true in a wider sense than man might be tempted to
suppose. The will is the specific character of man, and reason itself is
only the eternal rule of his will. All nature acts reasonably; all our
prerogative is to act reasonably, with consciousness and with will. All
other objects obey necessity; man is the being who wills.

It is exactly for this reason that there is nothing more inconsistent
with the dignity of man than to suffer violence, for violence effaces
him. He who does violence to us disputes nothing less than our humanity;
he who submits in a cowardly spirit to the violence abdicates his quality
of man. But this pretension to remain absolutely free from all that is
violence seems to imply a being in possession of a force sufficiently
great to keep off all other forces. But if this pretension is found in a
being who, in the order of forces, cannot claim the first rank, the
result is an unfortunate contradiction between his instinct and his

Man is precisely in this case. Surrounded by numberless forces, which
are all superior to him and hold sway over him, he aspires by his nature
not to have to suffer any injury at their hands. It is true that by his
intelligence he adds artificially to his natural forces, and that up to a
certain point he actually succeeds in reigning physically over everything
that is physical. The proverb says, "there is a remedy for everything
except death;" but this exception, if it is one in the strictest
acceptation of the term, would suffice to entirely ruin the very idea of
our nature. Never will man be the cause that wills, if there is a case,
a single case, in which, with or without his consent, he is forced to
what he does not wish. This single terrible exception, to be or to do
what is necessary and not what he wishes, this idea will pursue him as a
phantom; and as we see in fact among the greater part of men, it will
give him up a prey to the blind terrors of imagination. His boasted
liberty is nothing, if there is a single point where he is under
constraint and bound. It is education that must give back liberty to
man, and help him to complete the whole idea of his nature. It ought,
therefore, to make him capable of making his will prevail, for, I repeat
it, man is the being who wills.

It is possible to reach this end in two ways: either really, by opposing
force to force, by commanding nature, as nature yourself; or by the idea,
issuing from nature, and by thus destroying in relation to self the very
idea of violence. All that helps man really to hold sway over nature is
what is styled physical education. Man cultivates his understanding and
develops his physical force, either to convert the forces of nature,
according to their proper laws, into the instruments of his will, or to
secure himself against their effects when he cannot direct them. But the
forces of nature can only be directed or turned aside up to a certain
point; beyond that point they withdraw from the influence of man and
place him under theirs.

Thus beyond the point in question his freedom would be lost, were he only
susceptible of physical education. But he must be man in the full sense
of the term, and consequently he must have nothing to endure, in any
case, contrary to his will. Accordingly, when he can no longer oppose to
the physical forces any proportional physical force, only one resource
remains to him to avoid suffering any violence: that is, to cause to
cease entirely that relation which is so fatal to him. It is, in short,
to annihilate as an idea the violence he is obliged to suffer in fact.
The education that fits man for this is called moral education.

The man fashioned by moral education, and he only, is entirely free. He
is either superior to nature as a power, or he is in harmony with her.
None of the actions that she brings to bear upon him is violence, for
before reaching him it has become an act of his own will, and dynamic
nature could never touch him, because he spontaneously keeps away from
all to which she can reach. But to attain to this state of mind, which
morality designates as resignation to necessary things, and religion
styles absolute submission to the counsels of Providence, to reach this
by an effort of his free will and with reflection, a certain clearness is
required in thought, and a certain energy in the will, superior to what
man commonly possesses in active life. Happily for him, man finds here
not only in his rational nature a moral aptitude that can be developed by
the understanding, but also in his reasonable and sensible nature--that
is, in his human nature--an aesthetic tendency which seems to have been
placed there expressly: a faculty awakens of itself in the presence of
certain sensuous objects, and which, after our feelings are purified, can
be cultivated to such a point as to become a powerful ideal development.
This aptitude, I grant, is idealistic in its principle and in its
essence, but one which even the realist allows to be seen clearly enough
in his conduct, though he does not acknowledge this in theory. I am now
about to discuss this faculty.

I admit that the sense of the beautiful, when it is developed by culture,
suffices of itself even to make us, in a certain sense, independent of
nature as far as it is a force. A mind that has ennobled itself
sufficiently to be more sensible of the form than of the matter of
things, contains in itself a plenitude of existence that nothing could
make it lose, especially as it does not trouble itself about the
possession of the things in question, and finds a very liberal pleasure
in the mere contemplation of the phenomenon. As this mind has no want to
appropriate the objects in the midst of which it lives, it has no fear of
being deprived of them. But it is nevertheless necessary that these
phenomena should have a body, through which they manifest themselves;
and, consequently, as long as we feel the want even only of finding a
beautiful appearance or a beautiful phenomenon, this want implies that of
the existence of certain objects; and it follows that our satisfaction
still depends on nature, considered as a force, because it is nature who
disposes of all existence in a sovereign manner. It is a different
thing, in fact, to feel in yourself the want of objects endowed with
beauty and goodness, or simply to require that the objects which surround
us are good and beautiful. This last desire is compatible with the most
perfect freedom of the soul; but it is not so with the other. We are
entitled to require that the object before us should be beautiful and
good, but we can only wish that the beautiful and the good should be
realized objectively before us. Now the disposition of mind is, par
excellence, called grand and sublime, in which no attention is given to
the question of knowing if the beautiful, the good, and the perfect
exist; but when it is rigorously required that that which exists should
be good, beautiful and perfect, this character of mind is called sublime,
because it contains in it positively all the characteristics of a fine
mind without sharing its negative features. A sign by which beautiful
and good minds, but having weaknesses, are recognized, is the aspiring
always to find their moral ideal realized in the world of facts, and
their being painfully affected by all that places an obstacle to it. A
mind thus constituted is reduced to a sad state of dependence in relation
to chance, and it may always be predicted of it, without fear of
deception, that it will give too large a share to the matter in moral and
aesthetical things, and that it will not sustain the more critical trials
of character and taste. Moral imperfections ought not to be to us a
cause of suffering and of pain: suffering and pain bespeak rather an
ungratified wish than an unsatisfied moral want. An unsatisfied moral
want ought to be accompanied by a more manly feeling, and fortify our
mind and confirm it in its energy rather than make us unhappy and

Nature has given to us two genii as companions in our life in this lower
world. The one, amiable and of good companionship, shortens the troubles
of the journey by the gayety of its plays. It makes the chains of
necessity light to us, and leads us amidst joy and laughter, to the most
perilous spots, where we must act as pure spirits and strip ourselves of
all that is body, on the knowledge of the true and the practice of duty.
Once when we are there, it abandons us, for its realm is limited to the
world of sense; its earthly wings could not carry it beyond. But at this
moment the other companion steps upon the stage, silent and grave, and
with his powerful arm carries us beyond the precipice that made us giddy.

In the former of these genii we recognize the feeling of the beautiful,
in the other the feeling of the sublime. No doubt the beautiful itself
is already an expression of liberty. This liberty is not the kind that
raises us above the power of nature, and that sets us free from all
bodily influence, but it is only the liberty which we enjoy as men,
without issuing from the limits of nature. In the presence of beauty we
feel ourselves free, because the sensuous instincts are in harmony with
the laws of reason. In presence of the sublime we feel ourselves
sublime, because the sensuous instincts have no influence over the
jurisdiction of reason, because it is then the pure spirit that acts in
us as if it were not absolutely subject to any other laws than its own.

The feeling of the sublime is a mixed feeling. It is at once a painful
state, which in its paroxysm is manifested by a kind of shudder, and a
joyous state, that may rise to rapture, and which, without being properly
a pleasure, is greatly preferred to every kind of pleasure by delicate
souls. This union of two contrary sensations in one and the same feeling
proves in a peremptory manner our moral independence. For as it is
absolutely impossible that the same object should be with us in two
opposite relations, it follows that it is we ourselves who sustain two
different relations with the object. It follows that these two opposed
natures should be united in us, which, on the idea of this object, are
brought into play in two perfectly opposite ways. Thus we experience by
the feeling of the beautiful that the state of our spiritual nature is
not necessarily determined by the state of our sensuous nature; that the
laws of nature are not necessarily our laws; and that there is in us an
autonomous principle independent of all sensuous impressions.

The sublime object may be considered in two lights. We either represent
it to our comprehension, and we try in vain to make an image or idea of
it, or we refer it to our vital force, and we consider it as a power
before which ours is nothing. But though in both cases we experience in
connection with this object the painful feeling of our limits, yet we do
not seek to avoid it; on the contrary we are attracted to it by an
irresistible force. Could this be the case if the limits of our
imagination were at the same time those of our comprehension? Should we
be willingly called back to the feeling of the omnipotence of the forces
of nature if we had not in us something that cannot be a prey of these
forces. We are pleased with the spectacle of the sensuous infinite,
because we are able to attain by thought what the senses can no longer
embrace and what the understanding cannot grasp. The sight of a terrible
object transports us with enthusiasm, because we are capable of willing
what the instincts reject with horror, and of rejecting what they desire.
We willingly allow our imagination to find something in the world of
phenomena that passes beyond it; because, after all, it is only one
sensuous force that triumphs over another sensuous force, but nature,
notwithstanding all her infinity, cannot attain to the absolute grandeur
which is in ourselves. We submit willingly to physical necessity both
our well-being and our existence. This is because the very power reminds
us that there are in us principles that escape its empire. Man is in the
hands of nature, but the will of man is in his own hands.

Nature herself has actually used a sensuous means to teach us that we are
something more than mere sensuous natures. She has even known how to
make use of our sensations to put us on the track of this discovery--that
we are by no means subject as slaves to the violence of the sensations.
And this is quite a different effect from that which can be produced by
the beautiful; I mean the beautiful of the real world, for the sublime
itself is surpassed by the ideal. In the presence of beauty, reason and
sense are in harmony, and it is only on account of this harmony that the
beautiful has attraction for us. Consequently, beauty alone could never
teach us that our destination is to act as pure intelligences, and that
we are capable of showing ourselves such. In the presence of the
sublime, on the contrary, reason and the sensuous are not in harmony, and
it is precisely this contradiction between the two which makes the charm
of the sublime--its irresistible action on our minds. Here the physical
man and the moral man separate in the most marked manner; for it is
exactly in the presence of objects that make us feel at once how limited
the former is that the other makes the experience of its force. The very
thing that lowers one to the earth is precisely that which raises the
other to the infinite.

Let us imagine a man endowed with all the virtues of which the union
constitutes a fine character. Let us suppose a man who finds his delight
in practising justice, beneficence, moderation, constancy, and good
faith. All the duties whose accomplishment is prescribed to him by
circumstances are only a play to him, and I admit that fortune favors him
in such wise that none of the actions which his good heart may demand of
him will be hard to him. Who would not be charmed with such a delightful
harmony between the instincts of nature and the prescriptions of reason?
and who could help admiring such a man? Nevertheless, though he may
inspire us with affection, are we quite sure that he is really virtuous?
Or in general that he has anything that corresponds to the idea of
virtue? If this man had only in view to obtain agreeable sensations,
unless he were mad he could not act in any other possible way; and he
would have to be his own enemy to wish to be vicious. Perhaps the
principle of his actions is pure, but this is a question to be discussed
between himself and his conscience. For our part, we see nothing of it;
we do not see him do anything more than a simply clever man would do who
had no other god than pleasure. Thus all his virtue is a phenomenon that
is explained by reasons derived from the sensuous order, and we are by no
means driven to seek for reasons beyond the world of sense.

Let us suppose that this same man falls suddenly under misfortune. He is
deprived of his possessions; his reputation is destroyed; he is chained
to his bed by sickness and suffering; he is robbed by death of all those
he loves; he is forsaken in his distress by all in whom he had trusted.
Let us under these circumstances again seek him, and demand the practice
of the same virtues under trial as he formerly had practised during the
period of his prosperity. If he is found to be absolutely the same as
before, if his poverty has not deteriorated his benevolence, or
ingratitude his kindly offices of good-will, or bodily suffering his
equanimity, or adversity his joy in the happiness of others; if his
change of fortune is perceptible in externals, but not in his habits, in
the matter, but not in the form of his conduct; then, doubtless, his
virtue could not be explained by any reason drawn from the physical
order; the idea of nature--which always necessarily supposes that actual
phenomena rest upon some anterior phenomenon, as effects upon cause--this
idea no longer suffices to enable us to comprehend this man; because
there is nothing more contradictory than to admit that effect can remain
the same when the cause has changed to its contrary. We must then give
up all natural explanation or thought of finding the reason of his acts
in his condition; we must of necessity go beyond the physical order, and
seek the principle of his conduct in quite another world, to which the
reason can indeed raise itself with its ideas, but which the
understanding cannot grasp by its conceptions. It is this revelation of
the absolute moral power which is subjected to no condition of nature, it
is this which gives to the melancholy feeling that seizes our heart at
the sight of such a man that peculiar, inexpressible charm, which no
delight of the senses, however refined, could arouse in us to the same
extent as the sublime.

Thus the sublime opens to us a road to overstep the limits of the world
of sense, in which the feeling of the beautiful would forever imprison
us. It is not little by little (for between absolute dependence and
absolute liberty there is no possible transition), it is suddenly and by
a shock that the sublime wrenches our spiritual and independent nature
away from the net which feeling has spun round us, and which enchains the
soul the more tightly because of its subtle texture. Whatever may be the
extent to which feeling has gained a mastery over men by the latent
influence of a softening taste, when even it should have succeeded in
penetrating into the most secret recesses of moral jurisdiction under the
deceptive envelope of spiritual beauty, and there poisoning the holiness
of principle at its source--one single sublime emotion often suffices to
break all this tissue of imposture, at one blow to give freedom to the
fettered elasticity of spiritual nature, to reveal its true destination,
and to oblige it to conceive, for one instant at least, the feeling of
its liberty. Beauty, under the shape of the divine Calypso, bewitched
the virtuous son of Ulysses, and the power of her charms held him long a
prisoner in her island. For long he believed he was obeying an immortal
divinity, whilst he was only the slave of sense; but suddenly an
impression of the sublime in the form of Mentor seizes him; he remembers
that he is called to a higher destiny--he throws himself into the waves,
and is free.

The sublime, like the beautiful, is spread profusely throughout nature,
and the faculty to feel both one and the other has been given to all men;
but the germ does not develop equally; it is necessary that art should
lend its aid. The aim of nature supposes already that we ought
spontaneously to advance towards the beautiful, although we still avoid
the sublime: for the beautiful is like the nurse of our childhood, and it
is for her to refine our soul in withdrawing it from the rude state of
nature. But though she is our first affection, and our faculty of
feeling is first developed for her, nature has so provided, nevertheless,
that this faculty ripens slowly and awaits its full development until the
understanding and the heart are formed. If taste attains its full
maturity before truth and morality have been established in our heart by
a better road than that which taste would take, the sensuous world would
remain the limit of our aspirations. We should not know, either in our
ideas or in our feelings, how to pass beyond the world of sense, and all
that imagination failed to represent would be without reality to us. But
happily it enters into the plan of nature, that taste, although it first
comes into bloom, is the last to ripen of all the faculties of the mind.
During this interval, man has time to store up in his mind a provision of
ideas, a treasure of principles in his heart, and then to develop
especially, in drawing from reason, his feeling for the great and the

As long as man was only the slave of physical necessity, while he had
found no issue to escape from the narrow circle of his appetites, and
while he as yet felt none of that superior liberty which connects him
with the angels, nature, so far as she is incomprehensible, could not
fail to impress him with the insufficiency of his imagination, and again,
as far as she is a destructive force, to recall his physical
powerlessness. He is forced then to pass timidly towards one, and to
turn away with affright from the other. But scarcely has free
contemplation assured him against the blind oppression of the forces of
nature--scarcely has he recognized amidst the tide of phenomena something
permanent in his own being--than at once the coarse agglomeration of
nature that surrounds him begins to speak in another language to his
heart, and the relative grandeur which is without becomes for him a
mirror in which he contemplates the absolute greatness which is within
himself. He approaches without fear, and with a thrill of pleasure,
those pictures which terrified his imagination, and intentionally makes
an appeal to the whole strength of that faculty by which we represent the
infinite perceived by the senses, in order if she fails in this attempt,
to feel all the more vividly how much these ideas are superior to all
that the highest sensuous faculty can give. The sight of a distant
infinity--of heights beyond vision, this vast ocean which is at his feet,
that other ocean still more vast which stretches above his head,
transport and ravish his mind beyond the narrow circle of the real,
beyond this narrow and oppressive prison of physical life. The simple
majesty of nature offers him a less circumscribed measure for estimating
its grandeur, and, surrounded by the grand outlines which it presents to
him, he can no longer bear anything mean in his way of thinking. Who can
tell how many luminous ideas, how many heroic resolutions, which would
never have been conceived in the dark study of the imprisoned man of
science, nor in the saloons where the people of society elbow each other,
have been inspired on a sudden during a walk, only by the contact and the
generous struggle of the soul with the great spirit of nature? Who knows
if it is not owing to a less frequent intercourse with this sublime
spirit that we must partially attribute the narrowness of mind so common
to the dwellers in towns, always bent under the minutiae which dwarf and
wither their soul, whilst the soul of the nomad remains open and free as
the firmament beneath which he pitches his tent?

But it is not only the unimaginable or the sublime in quantity, it is
also the incomprehensible, that which escapes the understanding and
that which troubles it, which can serve to give us an idea of the
super-sensuous infinity. As soon as this element attains the grandiose
and announces itself to us as the work of nature (for otherwise it is
only despicable), it then aids the soul to represent to itself the ideal,
and imprints upon it a noble development. Who does not love the eloquent
disorder of natural scenery to the insipid regularity of a French garden?
Who does not admire in the plains of Sicily the marvellous combat of
nature with herself--of her creative force and her destructive power?
Who does not prefer to feast his eyes upon the wild streams and
waterfalls of Scotland, upon its misty mountains, upon that romantic
nature from which Ossian drew his inspiration--rather than to grow
enthusiastic in this stiff Holland, before the laborious triumph of
patience over the most stubborn of elements? No one will deny that in
the rich grazing-grounds of Holland, things are not better ordered
for the wants of physical man than upon the perfid crater of Vesuvius,
and that the understanding which likes to comprehend and arrange all
things, does not find its requirements rather in the regularly planted
farm-garden than in the uncultivated beauty of natural scenery. But
man has requirements which go beyond those of natural life and comfort
or well-being; he has another destiny than merely to comprehend the
phenomena which surround him.

In the same manner as for the observant traveller, the strange wildness
of nature is so attractive in physical nature--thus, and for the same
reason, every soul capable of enthusiasm finds even in the regrettable
anarchy found in the moral world a source of singular pleasure. Without
doubt he who sees the grand economy of nature only from the impoverished
light of the understanding; he who has never any other thought than to
reform its defiant disorder and to substitute harmony, such a one could
not find pleasure in a world which seems given up to the caprice of
chance rather than governed according to a wise ordination, and where
merit and fortune are for the most part in opposition. He desires that
the whole world throughout its vast space should be ruled like a house
well regulated; and when this much-desired regularity is not found, he
has no other resource than to defer to a future life, and to another and
better nature, the satisfaction which is his due, but which neither the
present nor the past afford him. On the contrary, he renounces willingly
the pretension of restoring this chaos of phenomena to one single notion;
he regains on another side, and with interest, what he loses on this
side. Just this want of connection, this anarchy, in the phenomena,
making them useless to the understanding, is what makes them valuable to
reason. The more they are disorderly the more they represent the freedom
of nature. In a sense, if you suppress all connection, you have
independence. Thus, under the idea of liberty, reason brings back to
unity of thought that which the understanding could not bring to unity of
notion. It thus shows its superiority over the understanding, as a
faculty subject to the conditions of a sensuous order. When we consider
of what value it is to a rational being to be independent of natural
laws, we see how much man finds in the liberty of sublime objects as a
set-off against the checks of his cognitive faculty. Liberty, with all
its drawbacks, is everywhere vastly more attractive to a noble soul than
good social order without it--than society like a flock of sheep, or a
machine working like a watch. This mechanism makes of man only a
product; liberty makes him the citizen of a better world.

It is only thus viewed that history is sublime to me. The world, as a
historic object, is only the strife of natural forces; with one another
and with man's freedom. History registers more actions referable to
nature than to free will; it is only in a few cases, like Cato and
Phocion, that reason has made its power felt. If we expect a treasury of
knowledge in history how we are deceived! All attempts of philosophy to
reconcile what the moral world demands with what the real world gives is
belied by experience, and nature seems as illogical in history as she is
logical in the organic kingdoms.

But if we give up explanation it is different. Nature, in being
capricious and defying logic, in pulling down great and little, in
crushing the noblest works of man, taking centuries to form--nature, by
deviating from intellectual laws, proves that you cannot explain nature
by nature's laws themselves, and this sight drives the mind to the world
of ideas, to the absolute.

But though nature as a sensuous activity drives us to the ideal, it
throws us still more into the world of ideas by the terrible. Our
highest aspiration is to be in good relations with physical nature,
without violating morality. But it is not always convenient to serve two
masters; and though duty and the appetites should never be at strife,
physical necessity is peremptory, and nothing can save men from evil
destiny. Happy is he who learns to bear what he cannot change! There
are cases where fate overpowers all ramparts, and where the only
resistance is, like a pure spirit, to throw freely off all interest of
sense, and strip yourself of your body. Now this force comes from
sublime emotions, and a frequent commerce with destructive nature.
Pathos is a sort of artificial misfortune, and brings us to the spiritual
law that commands our soul. Real misfortune does not always choose its
time opportunely, while pathos finds us armed at all points. By
frequently renewing this exercise of its own activity the mind controls
the sensuous, so that when real misfortune comes, it can treat it as an
artificial suffering, and make it a sublime emotion. Thus pathos takes
away some of the malignity of destiny, and wards off its blows.

Away then with that false theory which supposes falsely a harmony binding
well being and well doing. Let evil destiny show its face. Our safety
is not in blindness, but in facing our dangers. What can do so better
than familiarity with the splendid and terrible evolution of events, or
than pictures showing man in conflict with chance; evil triumphant,
security deceived--pictures shown us throughout history, and placed
before us by tragedy? Whoever passes in review the terrible fate of
Mithridates, of Syracuse, and Carthage, cannot help keeping his appetite
in check, at least for a time, and, seeing the vanity of things, strive
after that which is permanent. The capacity of the sublime is one of the
noblest aptitudes of man. Beauty is useful, but does not go beyond man.
The sublime applies to the pure spirit. The sublime must be joined to
the beautiful to complete the aesthetic education, and to enlarge man's
heart beyond the sensuous world.

Without the beautiful there would be an eternal strife between our
natural and rational destiny. If we only thought of our vocation as
spirits we should be strangers to this sphere of life. Without the
sublime, beauty would make us forget our dignity. Enervated--wedded to
this transient state, we should lose sight of our true country. We are
only perfect citizens of nature when the sublime is wedded to the

Many things in nature offer man the beautiful and sublime. But here
again he is better served at second-hand. He prefers to have them
ready-made in art rather than seek them painfully in nature. This
instinct for imitation in art has the advantage of being able to make
those points essential that nature has made secondary. While nature
suffers violence in the organic world, or exercises violence, working
with power upon man, though she can only be aesthetical as an object of
pure contemplation, art, plastic art, is fully free, because it throws
off all accidental restrictions and leaves the mind free, because it
imitates the appearance, not the reality of objects. As all sublimity
and beauty consists in the appearance, and not in the value of the object,
it follows that art has all the advantages of nature without her shackles.


The depicting of suffering, in the shape of simple suffering, is never
the end of art, but it is of the greatest importance as a means of
attaining its end. The highest aim of art is to represent the
super-sensuous, and this is effected in particular by tragic art,
because it represents by sensible marks the moral man, maintaining
himself in a state of passion, independently of the laws of nature.
The principle of freedom in man becomes conscious of itself only by
the resistance it offers to the violence of the feelings. Now the
resistance can only be measured by the strength of the attack. In
order, therefore, that the intelligence may reveal itself in man as a
force independent of nature, it is necessary that nature should have
first displayed all her power before our eyes. The sensuous being must
be profoundly and strongly affected, passion must be in play, that the
reasonable being may be able to testify his independence and manifest
himself in action.

It is impossible to know if the empire which man has over his affections
is the effect of a moral force, till we have acquired the certainty that
it is not an effect of insensibility. There is no merit in mastering the
feelings which only lightly and transitorily skim over the surface of the
soul. But to resist a tempest which stirs up the whole of sensuous
nature, and to preserve in it the freedom of the soul, a faculty of
resistance is required infinitely superior to the act of natural force.
Accordingly it will not be possible to represent moral freedom, except by
expressing passion, or suffering nature, with the greatest vividness; and
the hero of tragedy must first have justified his claim to be a sensuous
being before aspiring to our homage as a reasonable being, and making us
believe in his strength of mind.

Therefore the pathetic is the first condition required most strictly in a
tragic author, and he is allowed to carry his description of suffering as
far as possible, without prejudice to the highest end of his art, that
is, without moral freedom being oppressed by it. He must give in some
sort to his hero, as to his reader, their full load of suffering, without
which the question will always be put whether the resistance opposed to
suffering is an act of the soul, something positive, or whether it is not
rather a purely negative thing, a simple deficiency.

The latter case is offered in the purer French tragedy, where it is very
rare, or perhaps unexampled, for the author to place before the reader
suffering nature, and where generally, on the contrary, it is only the
poet who warms up and declaims, or the comedian who struts about on
stilts. The icy tone of declamation extinguishes all nature here, and
the French tragedians, with their superstitious worship of decorum, make
it quite impossible for them to paint human nature truly. Decorum,
wherever it is, even in its proper place, always falsifies the expression
of nature, and yet this expression is rigorously required by art. In a
French tragedy, it is difficult for us to believe that the hero ever
suffers, for he explains the state of his soul, as the coolest man would
do, and always thinking of the effect he is making on others, he never
lets nature pour forth freely. The kings, the princesses, and the heroes
of Corneille or Voltaire never forget their rank even in the most violent
excess of passion; and they part with their humanity much sooner than
with their dignity. They are like those kings and emperors of our old
picture-books, who go to bed with their crowns on.

What a difference from the Greeks and those of the moderns who have been
inspired with their spirit in poetry! Never does the Greek poet blush at
nature; he leaves to the sensuous all its rights, and yet he is quite
certain never to be subdued by it. He has too much depth and too much
rectitude in his mind not to distinguish the accidental, which is the
principal point with false taste, from the really necessary; but all that
is not humanity itself is accidental in man. The Greek artist who has to
represent a Laocoon, a Niobe, and a Philoctetes, does not care for the
king, the princess, or the king's son; he keeps to the man. Accordingly
the skilful statuary sets aside the drapery, and shows us nude figures,
though he knows quite well it is not so in real life. This is because
drapery is to him an accidental thing, and because the necessary ought
never to be sacrificed to the accidental. It is also because, if decency
and physical necessities have their laws, these laws are not those of
art. The statuary ought to show us, and wishes to show us, the man
himself; drapery conceals him, therefore he sets that aside, and with

The Greek sculptor rejects drapery as a useless and embarrassing load, to
make way for human nature; and in like manner the Greek poet emancipates
the human personages he brings forward from the equally useless
constraint of decorum, and all those icy laws of propriety, which put
nothing but what is artificial in man, and conceal nature in it. Take
Homer and the tragedians; suffering nature speaks the language of truth
and ingenuousness in their pages, and in a way to penetrate to the depths
of our hearts. All the passions play their part freely, nor do the rules
of propriety compress any feeling with the Greeks. The heroes are just
as much under the influence of suffering as other men, and what makes
them heroes is the very fact that they feel suffering strongly and
deeply, without suffering overcoming them. They love life as ardently as
others; but they are not so ruled by this feeling as to be unable to give
up life when the duties of honor or humanity call on them to do so.
Philoctetes filled the Greek stage with his lamentations; Hercules
himself, when in fury, does not keep under his grief. Iphigenia, on the
point of being sacrificed, confesses with a touching ingenuousness that
she grieves to part with the light of the sun. Never does the Greek
place his glory in being insensible or indifferent to suffering, but
rather in supporting it, though feeling it in its fulness. The very gods
of the Greeks must pay their tribute to nature, when the poet wishes to
make them approximate to humanity. Mars, when wounded, roars like ten
thousand men together, and Venus, scratched by an iron lance, mounts
again to Olympus, weeping, and cursing all battles.

This lively susceptibility on the score of suffering, this warm,
ingenuous nature, showing itself uncovered and in all truth in the
monuments of Greek art, and filling us with such deep and lively
emotions--this is a model presented for the imitation of all artists; it
is a law which Greek genius has laid down for the fine arts. It is
always and eternally nature which has the first rights over man; she
ought never to be fettered, because man, before being anything else, is a
sensuous creature. After the rights of nature come those of reason,
because man is a rational, sensuous being, a moral person, and because it
is a duty for this person not to let himself be ruled by nature, but to
rule her. It is only after satisfaction has been given in the first
place to nature, and after reason in the second place has made its rights
acknowledged, that it is permitted for decorum in the third place to make
good its claims, to impose on man, in the expression of his moral
feelings and of his sensations, considerations towards society, and to
show in it the social being, the civilized man. The first law of the
tragic art was to represent suffering nature. The second law is to
represent the resistance of morality opposed to suffering.

Affection, as affection, is an unimportant thing; and the portraiture of
affection, considered in itself, would be without any aesthetic value;
for, I repeat it, nothing that only interests sensuous nature is worthy
of being represented by art. Thus not only the affections that do
nothing but enervate and soften man, but in general all affections, even
those that are exalted, ecstatic, whatever may be their nature, are
beneath the dignity of tragic art.

The soft emotions, only producing tenderness, are of the nature of the
agreeable, with which the fine arts are not concerned. They only caress
the senses, while relaxing and creating languidness, and only relate to
external nature, not at all to the inner nature of man. A good number of
our romances and of our tragedies, particularly those that bear the name
of dramas--a sort of compromise between tragedy and comedy--a good number
also of those highly-appreciated family portraits, belong to this class.
The only effect of these works is to empty the lachrymal duct, and soothe
the overflowing feelings; but the mind comes back from them empty, and
the moral being, the noblest part of our nature, gathers no new strength
whatever from them. "It is thus," says Kant, "that many persons feel
themselves edified by a sermon that has nothing edifying in it." It
seems also that modern music only aims at interesting the sensuous, and
in this it flatters the taste of the day, which seeks to be agreeably
tickled, but not to be startled, nor strongly moved and elevated.
Accordingly we see music prefer all that is tender; and whatever be the
noise in a concert-room, silence is immediately restored, and every one
is all ears directly a sentimental passage is performed. Then an
expression of sensibility common to animalism shows itself commonly on
all faces; the eyes are swimming with intoxication, the open mouth is all
desire, a voluptuous trembling takes hold of the entire body, the breath
is quick and full, in short, all the symptoms of intoxication appear.
This is an evident proof that the senses swim in delight, but that the
mind or the principle of freedom in man has become a prey to the violence
of the sensuous impression. Real taste, that of noble and manly minds,
rejects all these emotions as unworthy of art, because they only please
the senses, with which art has nothing in common.

But, on the other hand, real taste excludes all extreme affections, which
only put sensuousness to the torture, without giving the mind any
compensation. These affections oppress moral liberty by pain, as the
others by voluptuousness; consequently they can excite aversion, and not
the emotion that would alone be worthy of art. Art ought to charm the
mind and give satisfaction to the feeling of moral freedom. This man who
is a prey to his pain is to me simply a tortured animate being, and not a
man tried by suffering. For a moral resistance to painful affections is
already required of man--a resistance which can alone allow the principle
of moral freedom, the intelligence, to make itself known in it.

If it is so, the poets and the artists are poor adepts in their art when
they seek to reach the pathetic only by the sensuous force of affection
and by representing suffering in the most vivid manner. They forget that
suffering in itself can never be the last end of imitation, nor the
immediate source of the pleasure we experience in tragedy. The pathetic
only has aesthetic value in as far as it is sublime. Now, effects that
only allow us to infer a purely sensuous cause, and that are founded only
on the affection experienced by the faculty of sense, are never sublime,
whatever energy they may display, for everything sublime proceeds
exclusively from the reason.

I imply by passion the affections of pleasure as well as the painful
affections, and to represent passion only, without coupling with it the
expression of the super-sensuous faculty which resists it, is to fall
into what is properly called vulgarity; and the opposite is called
nobility. Vulgarity and nobility are two ideas which, wherever they are
applied, have more or less relation with the super-sensuous share a man
takes in a work. There is nothing noble but what has its source in the
reason; all that issues from sensuousness alone is vulgar or common. We
say of a man that he acts in a vulgar manner when he is satisfied with
obeying the suggestions of his sensuous instinct; that he acts suitably
when he only obeys his instinct in conformity with the laws; that he acts
nobly when he obeys reason only, without having regard to his instincts.
We say of a physiognomy that it is common when it does not show any trace
of the spiritual man, the intelligence; we say it has expression when it
is the mind which has determined its features: and that it is noble when
a pure spirit has determined them. If an architectural work is in
question we qualify it as common if it aims at nothing but a physical
end; we name it noble if, independently of all physical aim, we find in
it at the same time the expression of a conception.

Accordingly, I repeat it, correct taste disallows all painting of the
affections, however energetic, which rests satisfied with expressing
physical suffering and the physical resistance opposed to it by the
subject, without making visible at the same time the superior principle
of the nature of man, the presence of a super-sensuous faculty. It does
this in virtue of the principle developed farther back, namely, that it
is not suffering in itself, but only the resistance opposed to suffering,
that is pathetic and deserving of being represented. It is for this
reason that all the absolutely extreme degrees of the affections are
forbidden to the artist as well as to the poet. All of these, in fact,
oppress the force that resists from within or rather, all betray of
themselves, and without any necessity of other symptoms, the oppression
of this force, because no affection can reach this last degree of
intensity as long as the intelligence in man makes any resistance.

Then another question presents itself. How is this principle of
resistance, this super-sensuous force, manifested in the phenomenon of
the affections? Only in one way, by mastering or, more commonly, by
combating affection. I say affection, for sensuousness can also fight,
but this combat of sensuousness is not carried on with the affection, but
with the cause that produces it; a contest which has no moral character,
but is all physical, the same combat that the earthworm, trodden under
foot, and the wounded bull engage in, without thereby exciting the
pathetic. When suffering man seeks to give an expression to his
feelings, to remove his enemy, to shelter the suffering limb, he does all
this in common with the animals, and instinct alone takes the initiative
here, without the will being applied to. Therefore, this is not an act
that emanates from the man himself, nor does it show him as an
intelligence. Sensuous nature will always fight the enemy that makes it
suffer, but it will never fight against itself.

On the other hand, the contest with affection is a contest with
sensuousness, and consequently presupposes something that is distinct
from sensuous nature. Man can defend himself with the help of common
sense and his muscular strength against the object that makes him suffer;
against suffering itself he has no other arms than those of reason.

These ideas must present themselves to the eye in the portraiture of the
affections, or be awakened by this portraiture in order that the pathetic
may exist. But it is impossible to represent ideas, in the proper sense
of the word, and positively, as nothing corresponds to pure ideas in the
world of sense. But they can be always represented negatively and in an
indirect way if the sensuous phenomenon by which they are manifested
has some character of which you would seek in vain the conditions in
physical nature. All phenomena of which the ultimate principle cannot
be derived from the world of sense are an indirect representation of
the upper-sensuous element.

And how does one succeed in representing something that is above nature
without having recourse to supernatural means? What can this phenomenon
be which is accomplished by natural forces--otherwise it would not be a
phenomenon--and yet which cannot be derived from physical causes without
a contradiction? This is the problem; how can the artist solve it?

It must be remembered that the phenomena observable in a man in a state
of passion are of two kinds. They are either phenomena connected simply
with animal nature, and which, therefore, only obey the physical law,
without the will being able to master them, or the independent force in
him being able to exercise an immediate influence over them. It is the
instinct which immediately produces these phenomena, and they obey
blindly the laws of instinct. To this kind belong, for example, the
organs of the circulation of the blood, of respiration, and all the
surface of the skin. But, moreover, the other organs, and those subject
to the will, do not always await the decision of the will; and often
instinct itself sets them immediately in play, especially when the
physical state is threatened with pain or with danger. Thus, the
movements of my arm depend, it is true, on my will; but if I place my
hand, without knowing it, on a burning body, the movement by which I draw
it back is certainly not a voluntary act, but a purely instinctive
phenomenon. Nay more, speech is assuredly subject to the empire of the
will, and yet instinct can also dispose of this organ according to its
whim, and even of this and of the mind, without consulting beforehand the
will, directly a sharp pain, or even an energetic affection, takes us by
surprise. Take the most impassible stoic and make him see suddenly
something very wonderful, or a terrible and unexpected object. Fancy
him, for example, present when a man slips and falls to the bottom of an
abyss. A shout, a resounding cry, and not only inarticulate, but a
distinct word will escape his lips, and nature will have acted in him
before the will: a certain proof that there are in man phenomena which
cannot be referred to his person as an intelligence, but only to his
instinct as a natural force.

But there is also in man a second order of phenomena, which are subject
to the influence and empire of the will, or which may be considered at
all events as being of such a kind that will might always have prevented
them, consequently phenomena for which the person and not instinct is
responsible. It is the office of instinct to watch with a blind zeal
over the interests of the senses; but it is the office of the person to
hold instinct in proper bounds, out of respect for the moral law.
Instinct in itself does not hold account of any law; but the person ought
to watch that instinct may not infringe in any way on the decrees of
reason. It is therefore evident that it is not for instinct alone to
determine unconditionally all the phenomena that take place in man in the
state of affection, and that on the contrary the will of man can place
limits to instinct. When instinct only determines all phenomena in man,
there is nothing more that can recall the person; there is only a
physical creature before you, and consequently an animal; for every
physical creature subject to the sway of instinct is nothing else.
Therefore, if you wish to represent the person itself, you must propose
to yourself in man certain phenomena that have been determined in
opposition to instinct, or at least that have not been determined by
instinct. That they have not been determined by instinct is sufficient
to refer them to a higher source, the moment we see that instinct would
no doubt have determined them in another way if its force had not been
broken by some obstacle.

We are now in a position to point out in what way the super-sensuous
element, the moral and independent force of man, his Ego in short, can be
represented in the phenomena of the affections. I understand that this
is possible if the parts which only obey physical nature, those where
will either disposes nothing at all, or only under certain circumstances,
betray the presence of suffering; and if those, on the contrary, that
escape the blind sway of instinct, that only obey physical nature, show
no trace, or only a very feeble trace, of suffering, and consequently
appear to have a certain degree of freedom. Now this want of harmony
between the features imprinted on animal nature in virtue of the laws of
physical necessity, and those determined with the spiritual and
independent faculty of man, is precisely the point by which that
super-sensuous principle is discovered in man capable of placing limits
to the effects produced by physical nature, and therefore distinct from
the latter. The purely animal part of man obeys the physical law, and
consequently may show itself oppressed by the affection. It is,
therefore, in this part that all the strength of passion shows itself,
and it answers in some degree as a measure to estimate the resistance--
that is to say, of the energy of the moral faculty in man--which can only
be judged according to the force of the attack. Thus in proportion as
the affection manifests itself with decision and violence in the field of
animal nature, without being able to exercise the same power in the field
of human nature, so in proportion the latter makes itself manifestly
known--in the same proportion the moral independence of man shows itself
gloriously: the portraiture becomes pathetic and the pathetic sublime.

The statues of the ancients make this principle of aesthetics sensible to
us; but it is difficult to reduce to conceptions and express in words
what the very inspection of ancient statues makes the senses feel in so
lively a manner. The group of Laocoon and his children can give to a
great extent the measure of what the plastic art of the ancients was
capable of producing in the matter of pathos. Winckelmann, in his
"History of Art,", says: "Laocoon is nature seized in the highest degree
of suffering, under the features of a man who seeks to gather up against
pain all the strength of which the mind is conscious. Hence while his
suffering swells his muscles and stretches his nerves, the mind, armed
with an interior force shows itself on his contracted brow, and the
breast rises, because the breathing is broken, and because there is an
internal struggle to keep in the expression of pain, and press it back
into his heart. The sigh of anguish he wishes to keep in, his very
breath which he smothers, exhaust the lower part of his trunk, and works
into his flanks, which make us judge in some degree of the palpitations
of his visceral organs. But his own suffering appears to occasion less
anguish than the pain of his children, who turn their faces toward their
father, and implore him, crying for help. His father's heart shows
itself in his eyes, full of sadness, and where pity seems to swim in a
troubled cloud. His face expresses lament, but he does not cry; his eyes
are turned to heaven, and implore help from on high. His mouth also
marks a supreme sadness, which depresses the lower lip and seems to weigh
upon it, while the upper lip, contracted from the top to the bottom,
expresses at once both physical suffering and that of the soul. Under
the mouth there is an expression of indignation that seems to protest
against an undeserved suffering, and is revealed in the nostrils, which
swell out and enlarge and draw upwards. Under the forehead, the struggle
between pain and moral strength, united as it were in a single point, is
represented with great truth, for, while pain contracts and raises the
eyebrows, the effort opposed to it by the will draws down towards the
upper eyelid all the muscles above it, so that the eyelid is almost
covered by them. The artist, not being able to embellish nature, has
sought at least to develop its means, to increase its effect and power.
Where is the greatest amount of pain is also the highest beauty. The
left side, which the serpent besets with his furious bites, and where he
instils his poison, is that which appears to suffer the most intensely,
because sensation is there nearest to the heart. The legs strive to
raise themselves as if to shun the evil; the whole body is nothing but
movement, and even the traces of the chisel contribute to the illusion;
we seem to see the shuddering and icy-cold skin."

How great is the truth and acuteness of this analysis! In what a
superior style is this struggle between spirit and the suffering of
nature developed! How correctly the author has seized each of the
phenomena in which the animal element and the human element manifest
themselves, the constraint of nature and the independence of reason! It
is well known that Virgil has described this same scene in his "Aeneid,"
but it did not enter into the plan of the epic poet to pause as the
sculptor did, and describe the moral nature of Laocoon; for this recital
is in Virgil only an episode; and the object he proposes is sufficiently
attained by the simple description of the physical phenomenon, without
the necessity on his part of looking into the soul of the unhappy
sufferer, as his aim is less to inspire us with pity than to fill us with
terror. The duty of the poet from this point of view was purely
negative; I mean he had only to avoid carrying the picture of physical
suffering to such a degree that all expression of human dignity or of
moral resistance would cease, for if he had done this indignation and
disgust would certainly be felt. He, therefore, preferred to confine
himself to the representation of the least of the suffering, and he found
it advisable to dwell at length on the formidable nature of the two
serpents, and on the rage with which they attack their victims, rather
than on the feelings of Laocoon. He only skims over those feelings,
because his first object was to represent a chastisement sent by the
gods, and to produce an impression of terror that nothing could diminish.
If he had, on the contrary, detained our looks on the person of Laocoon
himself with as much perseverance as the statuary, instead of on the
chastizing deity, the suffering man would have become the hero of the
scene, and the episode would have lost its propriety in connection with
the whole piece.

The narrative of Virgil is well known through the excellent commentary of
Lessing. But Lessing only proposed to make evident by this example the
limits that separate partial description from painting, and not to make
the notion of the pathetic issue from it. Yet the passage of Virgil does
not appear to me less valuable for this latter object, and I crave
permission to bring it forward again under this point of view:--

  Ecce autem gemini Tenedo tranquilla per alta
  (Horresco referens) immensis orbibus angues
  Incumbunt pelago, pariterque ad litora tendunt;
  Pectora quorum inter fluctus arrecta jubaeque
  Sanguineae exsuperant undas; pars caetera pontum
  Pone legit, sinuatque immensa volumine terga.
  Fit sonitus spumante salo, jamque arva tenebant,
  Ardentes oculos suffecti sanguine et igni,
  Sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora!
                  Aeneid, ii. 203-211.

We find here realized the first of the three conditions of the sublime
that have been mentioned further back,--a very powerful natural force,
armed for destruction, and ridiculing all resistance. But that this
strong element may at the same time be terrible, and thereby sublime, two
distinct operations of the mind are wanted; I mean two representations
that we produce in ourselves by our own activity. First, we recognize
this irresistible natural force as terrible by comparing it with the
weakness of the faculty of resistance that the physical man can oppose to
it; and, secondly, it is by referring it to our will, and recalling to
our consciousness that the will is absolutely independent of all
influence of physical nature, that this force becomes to us a sublime
object. But it is we ourselves who represent these two relations; the
poet has only given us an object armed with a great force seeking to
manifest itself. If this object makes us tremble, it is only because we
in thought suppose ourselves, or some one like us, engaged with this
force. And if trembling in this way, we experience the feeling of the
sublime, it is because our consciousness tells us that, if we are the
victims of this force, we should have nothing to fear, from the freedom
of our Ego, for the autonomy of the determinations of our will. In short
the description up to here is sublime, but quite a contemplative,
intuitive sublimity:--

  Diffugimus visu exsangues, illi agmine certo
  Laocoonta petunt . . .--Aeneid, ii. 212-213.

Here the force is presented to us as terrible also; and contemplative
sublimity passes into the pathetic. We see that force enter really into
strife with man's impotence. Whether it concerns Laocoon or ourselves is
only a question of degree. The instinct of sympathy excites and
frightens in us the instinct of preservation: there are the monsters,
they are darting--on ourselves; there is no more safety, flight is vain.

It is no more in our power to measure this force with ours, and to refer
it or not to our own existence. This happens without our co-operation,
and is given us by the object itself. Accordingly our fear has not, as
in the preceding moment, a purely subjective ground, residing in our
soul; it has an objective ground, residing in the object. For, even if
we recognize in this entire scene a simple fiction of the imagination, we
nevertheless distinguish in this fiction a conception communicated to us
from without, from another conception that we produce spontaneously in

Thus the mind loses a part of her freedom, inasmuch as she receives now
from without that which she produced before her own activity. The idea
of danger puts on an appearance of objective reality, and affection
becomes now a serious affair.

If we were only sensuous creatures, obeying no other instinct than that
of self-preservation, we should stop here, and we should remain in a
state of mere and pure affection. But there is something in us which
takes no part in the affections of sensuous nature, and whose activity is
not directed according to physical conditions. According, then, as this
independently acting principle (the disposition, the moral faculty) has
become to a degree developed in the soul, there is left more or less
space for passive nature, and there remains more or less of the
independent principle in the affection.

In the truly moral soul the terrible trial (of the imagination) passes
quickly and readily into the sublime. In proportion as imagination loses
its liberty, reason makes its own prevail, and the soul ceases not to
enlarge within when it thus finds outward limits. Driven from all the
intrenchments which would give physical protection to sensuous creatures,
we seek refuge in the stronghold of our moral liberty, and we arrive by
that means at an absolute and unlimited safety, at the very moment when
we seem to be deprived in the world of phenomena of a relative and
precarious rampart. But precisely because it was necessary to have
arrived at the physical oppression before having recourse to the
assistance of our moral nature, we can only buy this high sentiment of
our liberty through suffering. An ordinary soul confines itself entirely
to this suffering, and never comprehends in the sublime or the pathetic
anything beyond the terrible. An independent soul, on the contrary,
precisely seizes this occasion to rise to the feeling of his moral force,
in all that is most magnificent in this force, and from every terrible
object knows how to draw out the sublime.

The moral man (the father) [see Aeneid, ii. 213-215] is here attacked
before the physical man, and that has a grand effect. All the affections
become more aesthetic when we receive them second-hand; there is no
stronger sympathy than that we feel for sympathy.

The moment [see Aeneid, ii. 216-217] had arrived when the hero himself
had to be recommended to our respect as a moral personage, and the poet
seized upon that moment. We already know by his description all the
force, all the rage of the two monsters who menace Laocoon, and we know
how all resistance would be in vain. If Laocoon were only a common man
he would better understand his own interests, and, like the rest of the
Trojans, he would find safety in rapid flight. But there is a heart in
that breast; the danger to his children holds him back, and decides him
to meet his fate. This trait alone renders him worthy of our pity. At
whatever moment the serpents had assailed him, we should have always been
touched and troubled. But because it happens just at the moment when as
father he shows himself so worthy of respect, his fate appears to us as
the result of having fulfilled his duty as parent, of his tender
disquietude for his children. It is this which calls forth our sympathy
in the highest degree. It appears, in fact, as if he deliberately
devoted himself to destruction, and his death becomes an act of the will.

Thus there are two conditions in every kind of the pathetic: 1st.
Suffering, to interest our sensuous nature; 2d. Moral liberty, to
interest our spiritual nature. All portraiture in which the expression
of suffering nature is wanting remains without aesthetic action, and our
heart is untouched. All portraiture in which the expression of moral
aptitude is wanting, even did it possess all the sensuous force possible,
could not attain to the pathetic, and would infallibly revolt our
feelings. Throughout moral liberty we require the human being who
suffers; throughout all the sufferings of human nature we always desire
to perceive the independent spirit, or the capacity for independence.

But the independence of the spiritual being in the state of suffering can
manifest itself in two ways. Either negatively, when the moral man does
not receive the law from the physical man, and his state exercises no
influence over his manner of feeling; or positively, when the moral man
is a ruler over the physical being, and his manner of feeling exercises
an influence upon his state. In the first case, it is the sublime of
disposition; in the second, it is the sublime of action.

The sublime of disposition is seen in all character independent of the
accidents of fate. "A noble heart struggling against adversity," says
Seneca, "is a spectacle full of attraction even for the gods." Such for
example is that which the Roman Senate offered after the disaster of
Cannae. Lucifer even, in Milton, when for the first time he contemplates
hell--which is to be his future abode--penetrates us with a sentiment of
admiration by the force of soul he displays:--

  "Hail, horrors, hail.
   Infernal world, and thou, profoundest Hell;
   Receive thy new possessor!--one who brings
   A mind not to be changed by place or time;
   The mind is its own place, and in itself
   Can make a Heaven of Hell. . . .
            Here at least
   We shall be free," etc.

The reply of Medea in the tragedy belongs also to this order of the

The sublime of disposition makes itself seen, it is visible to the
spectator, because it rests upon co-existence, the simultaneous; the
sublime action, on the contrary, is conceived only by the thought,
because the impression and the act are successive, and the intervention
of the mind is necessary to infer from a free determination the idea of
previous suffering.

It follows that the first alone can be expressed by the plastic arts,
because these arts give but that which is simultaneous; but the poet can
extend his domain over one and the other. Even more; when the plastic
art has to represent a sublime action, it must necessarily bring it back
to sublimity.

In order that the sublimity of action should take place, not only must
the suffering of man have no influence upon the moral constitution, but
rather the opposite must be the case. The affection is the work of his
moral character. This can happen in two ways: either mediately, or
according to the law of liberty, when out of respect for such and such a
duty it decides from free choice to suffer--in this case, the idea of
duty determines as a motive, and its suffering is a voluntary act--or
immediately, and according to the necessity of nature, when he expiates
by a moral suffering the violation of duty; in this second case, the idea
of duty determines him as a force, and his suffering is no longer an
effect. Regulus offers us an example of the first kind, when, to keep
his word, he gives himself up to the vengeance of the Carthaginians; and
he would serve as an example of the second class, if, having betrayed his
trust, the consciousness of this crime would have made him miserable. In
both cases suffering has a moral course, but with this difference, that
on the one part Regulus shows us its moral character, and that, on the
other, he only shows us that he was made to have such a character. In
the first case he is in our eyes a morally great person; in the second he
is only aesthetically great.

This last distinction is important for the tragic art; it consequently
deserves to be examined more closely.

Man is already a sublime object, but only in the aesthetic sense, when
the state in which he is gives us an idea of his human destination, even
though we might not find this destination realized in his person. He
only becomes sublime to us in a moral point of view, when he acts,
moreover, as a person, in a manner conformable with this destination; if
our respect bears not only on his moral faculty, but on the use he makes
of this faculty; if dignity, in his case, is due, not only to his moral
aptitude; but to the real morality of his conduct. It is quite a
different thing to direct our judgment and attention to the moral faculty
generally, and to the possibility of a will absolutely free, and to be
directing it to the use of this faculty, and to the reality of this
absolute freedom of willing.

It is, I repeat, quite a different thing; and this difference is
connected not only with the objects to which we may have to direct our
judgment, but to the very criterion of our judgment. The same object can
displease us if we appreciate it in a moral point of view, and be very
attractive to us in the aesthetical point of view. But even if the moral
judgment and the aesthetical judgment were both satisfied, this object
would produce this effect on one and the other in quite a different way.
It is not morally satisfactory because it has an aesthetical value, nor
has it an aesthetical value because it satisfies us morally. Let us
take, as example, Leonidas and his devotion at Thermopylae. Judged from
the moral point of view, this action represents to me the moral law
carried out notwithstanding all the repugnance of instinct. Judged from
the aesthetic point of view, it gives me the idea of the moral faculty,
independent of every constraint of instinct. The act of Leonidas
satisfies the moral sense, the reason; it enraptures the aesthetical
sense, the imagination.

Whence comes this difference in the feelings in connection with the same
object? I account for it thus:--

In the same way that our being consists of two principles and natures, so
also and consequently our feelings are divided into two kinds, entirely
different. As reasonable beings we experience a feeling of approbation
or of disapprobation; as sensuous creatures we experience pleasure or
displeasure. The two feelings, approbation and pleasure, repose on
satisfaction: one on a satisfaction given to a requirement of reason--
reason has only requirements, and not wants. The other depends on a
satisfaction given to a sensuous want--sense only knows of wants, and
cannot prescribe anything. These two terms--requirements of reason,
wants of the senses--are mutually related, as absolute necessity and the
necessity of nature. Accordingly, both are included in the idea of
necessity, but with this difference, that the necessity of reason is
unconditional, and the necessity of sense only takes place under
conditions. But, for both, satisfaction is a purely contingent thing.
Accordingly every feeling, whether of pleasure or approbation, rests
definitively on an agreement between the contingent and the necessary.
If the necessary has thus an imperative character, the feeling
experienced will be that of approbation. If necessity has the character
of a want, the feeling experienced will be that of pleasure, and both
will be strong in proportion as the satisfaction will be contingent.
Now, underlying every moral judgment there is a requirement of reason
which requires us to act conformably with the moral law, and it is an
absolute necessity that we should wish what is good. But as the will is
free, it is physically an accidental thing that we should do in fact what
is good. If we actually do it, this agreement between the contingent in
the use of free will and the imperative demand of reason gives rise to
our assent or approbation, which will be greater in proportion as the
resistance of the inclinations made this use that we make of our free
will more accidental and more doubtful. Every aesthetic judgment, on the
contrary, refers the object to the necessity which cannot help willing
imperatively, but only desires that there should be an agreement between
the accidental and its own interest. Now what is the interest of
imagination? It is to emancipate itself from all laws, and to play its
part freely. The obligation imposed on the will by the moral law, which
prescribes its object in the strictest manner, is by no means favorable
to this need of independence. And as the moral obligation of the will is
the object of the moral judgment, it is clear that in this mode of
judging, the imagination could not find its interest. But a moral
obligation imposed on the will cannot be conceived, except by supposing
this same will absolutely independent of the moral instincts and from
their constraint. Accordingly the possibility of the moral act requires
liberty, and therefore agrees here in the most perfect manner with the
interest of imagination. But as imagination, through the medium of its
wants, cannot give orders to the will of the individual, as reason does
by its imperative character, it follows that the faculty of freedom, in
relation to imagination, is something accidental, and consequently that
the agreement between the accidental and the necessary (conditionally
necessary) must excite pleasure. Therefore, if we bring to bear a moral
judgment on this act of Leonidas, we shall consider it from a point of
view where its accidental character strikes the eye less than its
necessary side. If, on the other hand, we apply the aesthetical judgment
to it, this is another point of view, where its character of necessity
strikes us less forcibly than its accidental character. It is a duty for
every will to act thus, directly it is a free will; but the fact that
there is a free will that makes this act possible is a favor of nature in
regard to this faculty, to which freedom is a necessity. Thus an act of
virtue judged by the moral sense--by reason--will give us as its only
satisfaction the feeling of approbation, because reason can never find
more, and seldom finds as much as it requires. This same act, judged, on
the contrary, by the aesthetic sense--by imagination--will give us a
positive pleasure, because the imagination, never requiring the end to
agree with the demand, must be surprised, enraptured, at the real
satisfaction of this demand as at a happy chance. Our reason will merely
approve, and only approve, of Leonidas actually taking this heroic
resolution; but that he could take this resolution is what delights and
enraptures us.

This distinction between the two sorts of judgments becomes more evident
still, if we take an example where the moral sense and the aesthetic
sense pronounce a different verdict. Suppose we take the act of
Perigrinus Proteus burning himself at Olympia. Judging this act morally,
I cannot give it my approbation, inasmuch as I see it determined by
impure motives, to which Proteus sacrifices the duty of respecting his
own existence. But in the aesthetic judgment this same act delights
me; it delights me precisely because it testifies to a power of will
capable of resisting even the most potent of instincts, that of
self-preservation. Was it a moral feeling, or only a more powerful
sensuous attraction, that silenced the instinct of self-preservation in
this enthusiast. It matters little, when I appreciate the act from an
aesthetic point of view. I then drop the individual, I take away the
relation of his will to the law that ought to govern him; I think of
human will in general, considered as a common faculty of the race, and I
regard it in connection with all the forces of nature. We have seen that
in a moral point of view, the preservation of our being seemed to us a
duty, and therefore we were offended at seeing Proteus violate this duty.
In an aesthetic point of view the self-preservation only appears as an
interest, and therefore the sacrifice of this interest pleases us. Thus
the operation that we perform in the judgments of the second kind is
precisely the inverse of that which we perform in those of the first. In
the former we oppose the individual, a sensuous and limited being, and
his personal will, which can be effected pathologically, to the absolute
law of the will in general, and of unconditional duty which binds every
spiritual being; in the second case, on the contrary, we oppose the
faculty of willing, absolute volition, and the spiritual force as an
infinite thing, to the solicitations of nature and the impediments of
sense. This is the reason why the aesthetical judgment leaves us free,
and delights and enraptures us. It is because the mere conception of
this faculty of willing in an absolute manner, the mere idea of this
moral aptitude, gives us in itself a consciousness of a manifest
advantage over the sensuous. It is because the mere possibility of
emancipating ourselves from the impediments of nature is in itself a
satisfaction that flatters our thirst for freedom. This is the reason
why moral judgment, on the contrary, makes us experience a feeling of
constraint that humbles us. It is because in connection with each
voluntary act we appreciate in this manner, we feel, as regards the
absolute law that ought to rule the will in general, in a position of
inferiority more or less decided, and because the constraint of the will
thus limited to a single determination, which duty requires of it at all
costs, contradicts the instinct of freedom which is the property of
imagination. In the former case we soared from the real to the possible,
and from the individual to the species; in the latter, on the contrary,
we descend from the possible to the real, and we shut up the species in
the narrow limits of the individual. We cannot therefore be surprised if
the aesthetical judgment enlarges the heart, while the moral judgment
constrains and straitens it.

It results, therefore, from all that which precedes, that the moral
judgment and the aesthetic, far from mutually corroborating each other,
impede and hinder each other, because they impress on the soul two
directions entirely opposite. In fact, this observance of rule which
reason requires of us as moral judge is incompatible with the
independence which the imagination calls for as aesthetic judge. It
follows that an object will have so much the less aesthetic value the
more it has the character of a moral object, and if the poet were obliged
notwithstanding that to choose it, he would do well in treating of it,
not to call the attention of our reason to the rule of the will, but that
of our imagination to the power of the will. In his own interest it is
necessary for the poet to enter on this path, for with our liberty his
empire finishes. We belong to him only inasmuch as we look beyond
ourselves; we escape from him the moment we re-enter into our innermost
selves, and that is what infallibly takes place the moment an object
ceases to be a phenomenon in our consideration, and takes the character
of a law which judges us.

Even in the manifestation of the most sublime virtue, the poet can only
employ for his own views that which in those acts belongs to force. As
to the direction of the force, he has no reason to be anxious. The poet,
even when he places before our eyes the most perfect models of morality,
has not, and ought not to have, any other end than that of rejoicing our
soul by the contemplation of this spectacle. Moreover, nothing can
rejoice our soul except that which improves our personality, and nothing
can give us a spiritual joy except that which elevates the spiritual
faculty. But in what way can the morality of another improve our own
personality, and raise our spiritual force? That this other one
accomplishes really his duty results from an accidental use which he
makes of his liberty, and which for that very reason can prove nothing to
us. We only have in common with him the faculty to conform ourselves
equally to duty; the moral power which he exhibits reminds us also of our
own, and that is why we then feel something which upraises our spiritual
force. Thus it is only the idea of the possibility of an absolutely free
will which makes the real exercise of this will in us charming to the
aesthetic feeling.

We shall be still more convinced when we think how little the poetic
force of impression which is awakened in us by an act or a moral
character is dependent on their historic reality. The pleasure which we
take in considering an ideal character will in no way be lessened when we
come to think that this character is nothing more than a poetic fiction;
for it is on the poetic truth, and not on historic truth, that every
aesthetic impression of the feelings rest. Moreover, poetic truth does
not consist in that this or that thing has effectually taken place, but
in that it may have happened, that is to say, that the thing is in itself
possible. Thus the aesthetic force is necessarily obliged to rest in the
first place in the idea of possibility.

Even in real subjects, for which the actors are borrowed from history, it
is not the reality of the simple possibility of the fact, but that which
is guaranteed to us by its very reality which constitutes the poetic
element. That these personages have indeed existed, and that these
events have in truth taken place, is a circumstance which can, it is
true, in many cases add to our pleasure, but that which it adds to it is
like a foreign addition, much rather unfavorable than advantageous to the
poetical impression.

It was long thought that a great service was rendered to German poetry by
recommending German poets to treat of national themes. Why, it was
asked, did Greek poetry have so much power over the mind? Because it
brought forward national events and immortalized domestic exploits. No
doubt the poetry of the ancients may have been indebted to this
circumstance for certain effects of which modern poetry cannot boast; but
do these effects belong to art and the poet? It is small glory for the
Greek genius if it had only this accidental advantage over modern genius;
still more if it were necessary for the poets, in order to gain this
advantage, to obtain it by this conformity of their invention with real
history! It is only a barbarous taste that requires this stimulant of a
national interest to be captivated by beautiful things; and it is only a
scribbler who borrows from matter a force to which he despairs of giving
a form.

Poetry ought not to take its course through the frigid region of memory;
it ought never to convert learning into its interpreter, nor private
interest its advocate with the popular mind. It ought to go straight to
the heart, because it has come from the heart; and aim at the man in the
citizen, not the citizen in the man.

Happily, true genius does not make much account of all these counsels
that people are so anxious to give her with better intentions than
competence. Otherwise, Sulzer and his school might have made German
poetry adopt a very equivocal style. It is no doubt a very honorable aim
in a poet to moralize the man, and excite the patriotism of the citizen,
and the Muses know better than any one how well the arts of the sublime
and of the beautiful are adapted to exercise this influence. But that
which poetry obtains excellently by indirect means it would accomplish
very badly as an immediate end. Poetry is not made to serve in man for
the accomplishment of a particular matter, nor could any instrument be
selected less fitted to cause a particular object to succeed, or to carry
out special projects and details. Poetry acts on the whole of human
nature, and it is only by its general influence on the character of a man
that it can influence particular acts. Poetry can be for man what love
is for the hero. It can neither counsel him, nor strike for him, nor do
anything for him in short; but it can form a hero in him, call him to
great deeds, and arm him with a strength to be all that he ought to be.

Thus the degree of aesthetical energy with which sublime feelings and
sublime acts take possession of our souls, does not rest at all on the
interest of reason, which requires every action to be really conformable
with the idea of good. But it rests on the interest of the imagination,
which requires conformity with good should be possible, or, in other
terms, that no feeling, however strong, should oppress the freedom of the
soul. Now this possibility is found in every act that testifies with
energy to liberty, and to the force of the will; and if the poet meets
with an action of this kind, it matters little where, he has a subject
suitable for his art. To him, and to the interest we have in him, it is
quite the same, to take his hero in one class of characters or in
another, among the good or the wicked, as it often requires as much
strength of character to do evil conscientiously and persistently as to
do good. If a proof be required that in our aesthetic judgments we
attend more to the force than to its direction, to its freedom than to
its lawfulness, this is sufficient for our evidence. We prefer to see
force and freedom manifest themselves at the cost of moral regularity,
rather than regularity at the cost of freedom and strength. For directly
one of those cases offers itself, in which the general law agrees with
the instincts which by their strength threaten to carry away the will,
the aesthetic value of the character is increased, if he be capable of
resisting these instincts. A vicious person begins to interest us as
soon as he must risk his happiness and life to carry out his perverse
designs; on the contrary, a virtuous person loses in proportion as he
finds it useful to be virtuous. Vengeance, for instance, is certainly an
ignoble and a vile affection, but this does not prevent it from becoming
aesthetical, if to satisfy it we must endure painful sacrifice. Medea
slaying her children aims at the heart of Jason, but at the same time she
strikes a heavy blow at her own heart, and her vengeance aesthetically
becomes sublime directly we see in her a tender mother.

In this sense the aesthetic judgment has more of truth than is ordinarily
believed. The vices which show a great force of will evidently announce
a greater aptitude for real moral liberty than do virtues which borrow
support from inclination; seeing that it only requires of the man who
persistently does evil to gain a single victory over himself, one simple
upset of his maxims, to gain ever after to the service of virtue his
whole plan of life, and all the force of will which he lavished on evil.
And why is it we receive with dislike medium characters, whilst we at
times follow with trembling admiration one which is altogether wicked?
It is evident, that with regard to the former, we renounce all hope, we
cannot even conceive the possibility of finding absolute liberty of the
will; whilst with the other, on the contrary, each time he displays his
faculties, we feel that one single act of the will would suffice to raise
him up to the fullest height of human dignity.

Thus, in the aesthetic judgment, that which excites our interest is not
morality itself, but liberty alone; and moral purity can only please our
imagination when it places in relief the forces of the will. It is then
manifestly to confound two very distinct orders of ideas, to require in
aesthetic things so exact a morality, and, in order to stretch the domain
of reason, to exclude the imagination from its own legitimate sphere.

Either it would be necessary to subject it entirely, then there would be
an end to all aesthetic effect; or it would share the realm of reason,
then morality would not gain much. For if we pretend to pursue at the
same time two different ends, there would be risk of missing both one and
the other. The liberty of the imagination would be fettered by too great
respect for the moral law; and violence would be done to the character of
necessity which is in the reason, in missing the liberty which belongs to
the imagination.


The Greek fable attributes to the goddess of beauty a wonderful girdle
which has the quality of lending grace and of gaining hearts in all who
wear it. This same divinity is accompanied by the Graces, or goddesses
of grace. From this we see that the Greeks distinguished from beauty
grace and the divinities styled the Graces, as they expressed the ideas
by proper attributes, separable from the goddess of beauty. All that is
graceful is beautiful, for the girdle of love winning attractions is the
property of the goddess of Cnidus; but all beauty is not of necessity
grace, for Venus, even without this girdle, does not cease to be what she

However, according to this allegory, the goddess of beauty is the only
one who wears and who lends to others the girdle of attractions. Juno,
the powerful queen of Olympus, must begin by borrowing this girdle from
Venus, when she seeks to charm Jupiter on Mount Ida [Pope's "Iliad," Book
XIV. v. 220]. Thus greatness, even clothed with a certain degree of
beauty, which is by no means disputed in the spouse of Jupiter, is never
sure of pleasing without the grace, since the august queen of the gods,
to subdue the heart of her consort, expects the victory not from her own
charms but from the girdle of Venus.

But we see, moreover, that the goddess of beauty can part with this
girdle, and grant it, with its quality and effects, to a being less
endowed with beauty. Thus grace is not the exclusive privilege of the
beautiful; it can also be handed over, but only by beauty, to an object
less beautiful, or even to an object deprived of beauty.

If these same Greeks saw a man gifted in other respects with all the
advantages of mind, but lacking grace, they advised him to sacrifice to
the Graces. If, therefore, they conceived these deities as forming an
escort to the beauty of the other sex, they also thought that they would
be favorable to man, and that to please he absolutely required their

But what then is grace, if it be true that it prefers to unite with
beauty, yet not in an exclusive manner? What is grace if it proceeds
from beauty, but yet produces the effects of beauty, even when beauty is
absent. What is it, if beauty can exist indeed without it, and yet has
no attraction except with it? The delicate feeling of the Greek people
had marked at an early date this distinction between grace and beauty,
whereof the reason was not then able to give an account; and, seeking the
means to express it, it borrowed images from the imagination, because the
understanding could not offer notions to this end. On this score, the
myth of the girdle deserves to fix the attention of the philosopher, who,
however, ought to be satisfied to seek ideas corresponding with these
pictures when the pure instinctive feeling throws out its discoveries,
or, in other words, with explaining the hieroglyphs of sensation. If we
strip off its allegorical veil from this conception of the Greeks, the
following appears the only meaning it admits.

Grace is a kind of movable beauty, I mean a beauty which does not belong
essentially to its subject, but which may be produced accidentally in it,
as it may also disappear from it. It is in this that grace is
distinguished from beauty properly so called, or fixed beauty, which is
necessarily inherent in the subject itself. Venus can no doubt take off
her girdle and give it up for the moment to Juno, but she could only give
up her beauty with her very person. Venus, without a girdle, is no
longer the charming Venus, without beauty she is no longer Venus.

But this girdle as a symbol of movable beauty has this particular
feature, that the person adorned with it not only appears more graceful,
but actually becomes so. The girdle communicates objectively this
property of grace, in this contrasting with other articles of dress,
which have only subjective effects, and without modifying the person
herself, only modify the impression produced on the imagination of
others. Such is the express meaning of the Greek myth; grace becomes the
property of the person who puts on this girdle; she does more than appear
amiable, it is so in fact.

No doubt it may be thought that a girdle, which after all is only an
outward, artificial ornament, does not prove a perfectly correct emblem
to express grace as a personal quality. But a personal quality that is
conceived at the same time as separable from the subject, could only be
represented to the senses by an accidental ornament which can be detached
from the person, without the essence of the latter being affected by it.

Thus the girdle of charms operates not by a natural effect (for then it
would not change anything in the person itself) but by a magical effect;
that is to say, its virtue extends beyond all natural conditions. By
this means, which is nothing more, I admit, than an expedient, it has
been attempted to avoid the contradiction to which the mind, as regards
its representative faculty, is unavoidably reduced, every time it asks an
expression from nature herself, for an object foreign to nature and which
belongs to the free field of the ideal. If this magic girdle is the
symbol of an objective property which can be separated from its subject
without modifying in any degree its nature, this myth can only express
one thing--the beauty of movement, because movement is the only
modification that can affect an object without changing its identity.

The beauty of movement is an idea that satisfies the two conditions
contained in the myth which now occupies us. In the first place, it is
an objective beauty, not entirely depending upon the impression that we
receive from the object, but belonging to the object itself. In the
second place, this beauty has in itself something accidental, and the
object remains identical even when we conceive it to be deprived of this
property. The girdle of attractions does not lose its magic virtue in
passing to an object of less beauty, or even to that which is without
beauty; that is to say, that a being less beautiful, or even one which is
not beautiful, may also lay claim to the beauty of movement. The myth
tells us that grace is something accidental in the subject in which we
suppose it to be. It follows that we can attribute this property only to
accidental movements. In an ideal of beauty the necessary movements must
be beautiful, because inasmuch as necessary they form an integral part of
its nature; the idea of Venus once given, the idea of this beauty of
necessary movements is that implicitly comprised in it; but it is not the
same with the beauty of accidental movements; this is an extension of the
former; there can be a grace in the voice, there is none in respiration.

But all this beauty in accidental movements--is it necessarily grace? It
is scarcely necessary to notice that the Greek fable attributes grace
exclusively to humanity. It goes still further, for even the beauty of
form it restricts within the limits of the human species, in which, as we
know, the Greeks included also their gods. But if grace is the exclusive
privilege of the human form, none of the movements which are common to
man with the rest of nature can evidently pretend to it. Thus, for
example, if it were admitted that the ringlets of hair on a beautiful
head undulate with grace, there would also be no reason to deny a grace
of movement to the branches of trees, to the waves of the stream, to the
ears of a field of corn, or to the limbs of animals. No, the goddess of
Cnidus represents exclusively the human species; therefore, as soon as
you see only a physical creature in man, a purely sensuous object, she is
no longer concerned with him. Thus, grace can only be met with in
voluntary movements, and then in those only which express some sentiment
of the moral order. Those which have as principle only animal
sensuousness belong only, however voluntary we may suppose them to be, to
physical nature, which never reaches of itself to grace. If it were
possible to have grace in the manifestations of the physical appetites
and instincts, grace would no longer be either capable or worthy to serve
as the expression of humanity. Yet it is humanity alone which to the
Greek contains all the idea of beauty and of perfection. He never
consents to see separated from the soul the purely sensuous part, and
such is with him that which might be called man's sensuous nature, which
it is equally impossible for him to isolate either from his lower nature
or from his intelligence. In the same way that no idea presents itself
to his mind without taking at once a visible form, and without his
endeavoring to give a bodily envelope even to his intellectual
conceptions, so he desires in man that all his instinctive acts should
express at the same time his moral destination. Never for the Greek is
nature purely physical nature, and for that reason he does not blush to
honor it; never for him is reason purely reason, and for that reason he
has not to tremble in submitting to its rule. The physical nature and
moral sentiments, matter and mind, earth and heaven, melt together with a
marvellous beauty in his poetry. Free activity, which is truly at home
only in Olympus, was introduced by him even into the domain of sense, and
it is a further reason for not attaching blame to him if reciprocally he
transported the affections of the sense into Olympus. Thus, this
delicate sense of the Greeks, which never suffered the material element
unless accompanied by the spiritual principle, recognizes in man no
voluntary movement belonging only to sense which did not at the same time
manifest the moral sentiment of the soul. It follows that for them grace
is one of the manifestations of the soul, revealed through beauty in
voluntary movements; therefore, wherever there is grace, it is the soul
which is the mobile, and it is in her that beauty of movement has its
principle. The mythological allegory thus expresses the thought, "Grace
is a beauty not given by nature, but produced by the subject itself."

Up to the present time I have confined myself to unfolding the idea of
grace from the Greek myth, and I hope I have not forced the sense: may I
now be permitted to try to what result a philosophical investigation on
this point will lead us, and to see if this subject, as so many others,
will confirm this truth, that the spirit of philosophy can hardly flatter
itself that it can discover anything which has not already been vaguely
perceived by sentiment and revealed in poetry?

Without her girdle, and without the Graces, Venus represents the ideal of
beauty, such as she could have come forth from the hands of nature, and
such as she is made without the intervention of mind endowed with
sentiment and by the virtue alone of plastic forces. It is not without
reason that the fable created a particular divinity to represent this
sort of beauty, because it suffices to see and to feel in order to
distinguish it very distinctly from the other, from that which derives
its origin from the influence of a mind endowed with sentiments.

This first beauty, thus formed by nature solely and in virtue of the laws
of necessity, I shall distinguish from that which is regulated upon
conditions of liberty, in calling it, if allowed, beauty of structure
(architectonic beauty). It is agreed, therefore, to designate under this
name that portion of human beauty which not only has as efficient
principle the forces and agents of physical nature (for we can say as
much for every phenomenon), but which also is determined, so far as it is
beauty solely, by the forces of this nature.

Well-proportioned limbs, rounded contours, an agreeable complexion,
delicacy of skin, an easy and graceful figure, a harmonious tone of
voice, etc., are advantages which are gifts of nature and fortune: of
nature, which predisposed to this, and developed it herself; of fortune,
which protects against all influence adverse to the work of nature.

Venus came forth perfect and complete from the foam of the sea. Why
perfect? because she is the finished and exactly determined work of
necessity, and on that account she is neither susceptible of variety nor
of progress. In other terms, as she is only a beautiful representation
of the various ends which nature had in view in forming man, and thence
each of her properties is perfectly determined by the idea that she
realizes; hence it follows that we can consider her as definitive and
determined (with regard to its connection with the first conception)
although this conception is subject, in its development, to the
conditions of time.

The architectonic beauty of the human form and its technical perfection
are two ideas, which we must take good care not to confound. By the
latter, the ensemble of particular ends must be understood, such as they
co-ordinate between themselves towards a general and higher end; by the
other, on the contrary, a character suited to the representation of these
ends, as far as these are revealed, under a visible form, to our faculty
of seeing and observing. When, then, we speak of beauty, we neither take
into consideration the justness of the aims of nature in themselves, nor
formally, the degree of adaptation to the principles of art which their
combination could offer. Our contemplative faculties hold to the manner
in which the object appears to them, without taking heed to its logical
constitution. Thus, although the architectonic beauty, in the structure
of man, be determined by the idea which has presided at this structure,
and by the ends that nature proposes for it, the aesthetic judgment,
making abstraction of these ends, considers this beauty in itself; and in
the idea which we form of it, nothing enters which does not immediately
and properly belong to the exterior appearance.

We are, then, not obliged to say that the dignity of man and of his
condition heightens the beauty of his structure. The idea we have of his
dignity may influence, it is true, the judgment that we form on the
beauty of his structure; but then this judgment ceases to be purely
aesthetic. Doubtless, the technical constitution of the human form is an
expression of its destiny, and, as such, it ought to excite our
admiration; but this technical constitution is represented to the
understanding and not to sense; it is a conception and not a phenomenon.
The architectonic beauty, on the contrary, could never be an expression
of the destiny of man, because it addresses itself to quite a different
faculty from that to which it belongs to pronounce upon his destiny.

If, then, man is, amongst all the technical forces created by nature,
that to whom more especially we attribute beauty, this is exact and true
only under one condition, which is, that at once and upon the simple
appearance he justifies this superiority, without the necessity, in order
to appreciate it, that we bring to mind his humanity. For, to recall
this, we must pass through a conception; and then it would no longer be
the sense, but the understanding, that would become the judge of beauty,
which would imply contradiction. Man, therefore, cannot put forward the
dignity of his moral destiny, nor give prominence to his superiority as
intelligence, to increase the price of his beauty. Man, here, is but a
being thrown like others into space--a phenomenon amongst other
phenomena. In the world of sense no account is made of the rank he holds
in the world of ideas; and if he desires in that to hold the first place,
he can only owe it to that in him which belongs to the physical order.

But his physical nature is determined, we know, by the idea of his
humanity; from which it follows that his architectonic beauty is so also
mediately. If, then he is distinguished by superior beauty from all
other creatures of the sensuous world, it is incontestable that he owes
this advantage to his destiny as man, because it is in it that the reason
is of the differences which in general separate him from the rest of the
sensuous world. But the beauty of the human form is not due to its being
the expression of this superior destiny, for if it were so, this form
would necessarily cease to be beautiful, from the moment it began to
express a less high destiny, and the contrary to this form would be
beautiful as soon as it could be admitted that it expresses this higher
destination. However, suppose that at the sight of a fine human face we
could completely forget that which it expresses, and put in its place,
without chancing anything of its outside, the savage instincts of the
tiger, the judgment of the eyesight would remain absolutely the same, and
the tiger would be for it the chef-d'oeuvre of the Creator.

The destiny of man as intelligence contributes, then, to the beauty of
his structure only so far as the form that represents this destiny, the
expression that makes it felt, satisfies at the same time the conditions
which are prescribed in the world of sense to the manifestations of the
beautiful; which signifies that beauty ought always to remain a pure
effect of physical nature, and that the rational conception which had
determined the technical utility of the human structure cannot confer
beauty, but simply be compatible with beauty.

It could be objected, it is true, that in general all which is manifested
by a sensuous representation is produced by the forces of nature, and
that consequently this character cannot be exclusively an indication of
the beautiful. Certainly, and without doubt, all technical creations are
the work of nature; but it is not by the fact of nature that they are
technical, or at least that they are so judged to be. They are technical
only through the understanding, and thus their technical perfection has
already its existence in the understanding, before passing into the world
of sense, and becoming a sensible phenomenon. Beauty, on the contrary,
has the peculiarity, that the sensuous world is not only its theatre, but
the first source from whence it derives its birth, and that it owes to
nature not only its expression, but also its creation. Beauty is
absolutely but a property of the world of sense; and the artist, who has
the beautiful in view, would not attain to it but inasmuch as he
entertains this illusion, that his work is the work of nature.

In order to appreciate the technical perfection of the human body, we
must bear in mind the ends to which it is appropriated; this being quite
unnecessary for the appreciation of its beauty. Here the senses require
no aid, and of themselves judge with full competence; however they would
not be competent judges of the beautiful, if the world of sense (the
senses have no other object) did not contain all the conditions of beauty
and was therefore competent to produce it. The beauty of man, it is
true, has for mediate reason the idea of his humanity, because all his
physical nature is founded on this idea; but the senses, we know, hold to
immediate phenomena, and for them it is exactly the same as if this
beauty were a simple effect of nature, perfectly independent.

From what we have said, up to the present time, it would appear that the
beautiful can offer absolutely no interest to the understanding, because
its principle belongs solely to the world of sense, and amongst all our
faculties of knowledge it addresses itself only to our senses. And in
fact, the moment that we sever from the idea of the beautiful, as a
foreign element, all that is mixed with the idea of technical perfection,
almost inevitably, in the judgment of beauty, it appears that nothing
remains to it by which it can become the object of an intellectual
pleasure. And nevertheless, it is quite as incontestable that the
beautiful pleases the understanding, as it is beyond doubt that the
beautiful rests upon no property of the object that could not be
discovered but by the understanding.

To solve this apparent contradiction, it must be remembered that the
phenomena can in two different ways pass to the state of objects of the
understanding and express ideas. It is not always necessary that the
understanding draws these ideas from phenomena; it can also put them into
them. In the two cases, the phenomena will be adequate to a rational
conception, with this simple difference, that, in the first case, the
understanding finds it objectively given, and to a certain extent only
receives it from the object because it is necessary that the idea should
be given to explain the nature and often even the possibility of the
object; whilst in the second case, on the contrary, it is the
understanding which of itself interprets, in a manner to make of it the
expression of its idea, that which the phenomenon offers us, without any
connection with this idea, and thus treats by a metaphysical process that
which in reality is purely physical. There, then, in the association of
the idea with the object there is an objective necessity; here, on the
contrary, a subjective necessity at the utmost. It is unnecessary to say
that, in my mind, the first of these two connections ought to be
understood of technical perfection, the second, of the beautiful.

As then in the second case it is a thing quite contingent for the
sensuous object that there should or should not be outside of it an
object which perceives it--an understanding that associates one of its
own ideas with it, consequently, the ensemble of these objective
properties ought to be considered as fully independent of this idea; we
have perfectly the right to reduce the beautiful, objectively, to the
simple conditions of physical nature, and to see nothing more in beauty
than effect belonging purely to the world of sense. But as, on the other
side, the understanding makes of this simple fact of the world of sense a
transcendent usage, and in lending it a higher signification inasmuch as
he marks it, as it were, with his image, we have equally the right to
transport the beautiful, subjectively, into the world of intelligence.
It is in this manner that beauty belongs at the same time to the two
worlds--to one by the right of birth, to the other by adoption; it takes
its being in the world of sense, it acquires the rights of citizenship in
the world of understanding. It is that which explains how it can be that
taste, as the faculty for appreciating the beautiful, holds at once the
spiritual element and that of sense; and that these two natures,
incompatible one with the other, approach in order to form in it a happy
union. It is this that explains how taste can conciliate respect for the
understanding with the material element, and with the rational principle
the favor and the sympathy of the senses, how it can ennoble the
perceptions of the senses so as to make ideas of them, and, in a certain
measure, transform the physical world itself into a domain of the ideal.

At all events, if it is accidental with regard to the object, that the
understanding associates, at the representation of this object, one of
its own ideas with it, it is not the less necessary for the subject which
represents it to attach to such a representation such an idea. This
idea, and the sensuous indication which corresponds to it in the object,
ought to be one with the other in such relation, that the understanding
be forced to this association by its own immutable laws; the
understanding then must have in itself the reason which leads it to
associate exclusively a certain phenomenon with a certain determined
idea, and, reciprocally, the object should have in itself the reason for
which it exclusively provokes that idea and not another. As to knowing
what the idea can be which the understanding carries into the beautiful,
and by what objective property the object gifted with beauty can be
capable of serving as symbol to this idea, is then a question much too
grave to be solved here in passing, and I reserve this examination for an
analytical theory of the beautiful.

The architectonic beauty of man is then, in the way I have explained it,
the visible expression of a rational conception, but it is so only in the
same sense and the same title as are in general all the beautiful
creations of nature. As to the degree, I agree that it surpasses all the
other beauties; but with regard to kind, it is upon the same rank as they
are, because it also manifests that which alone is perceptible of its
subject, and it is only when we represent it to ourselves that it
receives a super-sensuous value.

If the ends of creation are marked in man with more of success and of
beauty than in the organic beings, it is to some extent a favor which the
intelligence, inasmuch as it dictated the laws of the human structure,
has shown to nature charged to execute those laws. The intelligence, it
is true, pursues its end in the technique of man with a rigorous
necessity, but happily its exigencies meet and accord with the necessary
laws of nature so well, that one executes the order of the other whilst
acting according to its own inclination.

But this can only be true respecting the architectonic beauty of man,
where the necessary laws of physical nature are sustained by another
necessity, that of the teleological principle which determines them. It
is here only that the beautiful could be calculated by relation to the
technique of the structure, which can no longer take place when the
necessity is on one side alone, and the super-sensuous cause which
determines the phenomenon takes a contingent character. Thus, it is
nature alone who takes upon herself the architectonic beauty of man,
because here, from the first design, she had been charged once for all by
the creating intelligence with the execution of all that man needs in
order to arrive at the ends for which he is destined, and she has in
consequence no change to fear in this organic work which she

But man is moreover a person--that is to say, a being whose different
states can have their cause in himself, and absolutely their last cause;
a being who can be modified by reason that he draws from himself. The
manner in which he appears in the world of sense depends upon the manner
in which he feels and wills, and, consequently, upon certain states which
are freely determined by himself, and not fatally by nature.

If man were only a physical creature, nature, at the same time that she
establishes the general laws of his being, would determine also the
various causes of application. But here she divides her empire with free
arbitration; and, although its laws are fixed, it is the mind that
pronounces upon particular cases.

The domain of mind extends as far as living nature goes, and it finishes
only at the point at which organic life loses itself in unformed matter,
at the point at which the animal forces cease to act. It is known that
all the motive forces in man are connected one with the other, and this
makes us understand how the mind, even considered as principle of
voluntary movement, can propagate its action through all organisms. It
is not only the instruments of the will, but the organs themselves upon
which the will does not immediately exercise its empire, that undergo,
indirectly at least, the influence of mind; the mind determines then, not
only designedly when it acts, but again, without design, when it feels.

From nature in herself (this result is clearly perceived from what
precedes) we must ask nothing but a fixed beauty, that of the phenomena
that she alone has determined according to the law of necessity. But
with free arbitration, chance (the accidental), interferes in the work of
nature, and the modifications that affect it thus under the empire of
free will are no longer, although all behave according to its own laws,
determined by these laws. From thence it is to the mind to decide the
use it will make of its instruments, and with regard to that part of
beauty which depends on this use, nature has nothing further to command,
nor, consequently, to incur any responsibility.

And thus man by reason that, making use of his liberty, he raises himself
into the sphere of pure intelligences, would find himself in danger of
sinking, inasmuch as he is a creature of sense, and of losing in the
judgment of taste that which he gains at the tribunal of reason. This
moral destiny, therefore, accomplished by the moral action of man, would
cost him a privilege which was assured to him by this same moral destiny
when only indicated in his structure; a purely sensuous privilege, it is
true, but one which receives, as we have seen, a signification and a
higher value from the understanding. No; nature is too much enamored
with harmony to be guilty of so gross a contradiction, and that which is
harmonious in the world of the understanding could not be rendered by a
discord in the world of sense.

As soon, then, as in man the person, the moral and free agent, takes upon
himself to determine the play of phenomena, and by his intervention takes
from nature the power to protect the beauty of her work, he then, as it
were, substitutes himself for nature, and assumes in a certain measure,
with the rights of nature, a part of the obligations incumbent on her.
When the mind, taking possession of the sensuous matter subservient to
it, implicates it in his destiny and makes it depend on its own
modifications, it transforms itself to a certain point into a sensuous
phenomenon, and, as such, is obliged to recognize the law which regulates
in general all the phenomena. In its own interest it engages to permit
that nature in its service, placed under its dependence, shall still
preserve its character of nature, and never act in a manner contrary to
its anterior obligations. I call the beautiful an obligation of
phenomena, because the want which corresponds to it in the subject has
its reason in the understanding itself, and thus it is consequently
universal and necessary. I call it an anterior obligation because the
senses, in the matter of beauty, have given their judgment before the
understanding commences to perform its office.

Thus it is now free arbitration which rules the beautiful. If nature has
furnished the architectonic beauty, the soul in its turn determines the
beauty of the play, and now also we know what we must understand by charm
and grace. Grace is the beauty of the form under the influence of free
will; it is the beauty of this kind of phenomena that the person himself
determines. The architectonic beauty does honor to the author of nature;
grace does honor to him who possesses it. That is a gift, this is a
personal merit.

Grace can be found only in movement, for a modification which takes place
in the soul can only be manifested in the sensuous world as movement.
But this does not prevent features fixed and in repose also from
possessing grace. There immobility is, in its origin, movement which,
from being frequently repeated, at length becomes habitual, leaving
durable traces.

But all the movements of man are not capable of grace. Grace is never
otherwise than beauty of form animated into movement by free will; and
the movements which belong only to physical nature could not merit the
name. It is true that an intellectual man, if he be keen, ends by
rendering himself master of almost all the movements of the body; but
when the chain which links a fine lineament to a moral sentiment
lengthens much, this lineament becomes the property of the structure, and
can no longer be counted as a grace. It happens, ultimately, that the
mind moulds the body, and that the structure is forced to modify itself
according to the play that the soul imprints upon the organs, so
entirely, that grace finally is transformed--and the examples are not
rare--into architectonic beauty. As at one time an antagonistic mind
which is ill at ease with itself alters and destroys the most perfect
beauty of structure, until at last it becomes impossible to recognize
this magnificent chef-d'oeuvre of nature in the state to which it is
reduced under the unworthy hands of free will, so at other times the
serenity and perfect harmony of the soul come to the aid of the hampered
technique, unloose nature and develop with divine splendor the beauty of
form, enveloped until then, and oppressed.

The plastic nature of man has in it an infinity of resources to retrieve
the negligencies and repair the faults that she may have committed. To
this end it is sufficient that the mind, the moral agent, sustain it, or
even withhold from troubling it in the labor of rebuilding.

Since the movements become fixed (gestures pass to a state of lineament),
are themselves capable of grace, it would perhaps appear to be rational
to comprehend equally under this idea of beauty some apparent or
imitative movements (the flamboyant lines for example, undulations). It
is this which Mendelssohn upholds. But then the idea of grace would be
confounded with the ideal of beauty in general, for all beauty is
definitively but a property of true or apparent movement (objective or
subjective), as I hope to demonstrate in an analysis of beauty. With
regard to grace, the only movements which can offer any are those which
respond at the same time to a sentiment.

The person (it is known what I mean by the expression) prescribes the
movements of the body, either through the will, when he desires to
realize in the world of sense an effect of which he has proposed the
idea, and in that case the movements are said to be voluntary or
intentional; or, on the other hand, they take place without its will
taking any part in it--in virtue of a fatal law of the organism--but on
the occasion of a sentiment, in the latter case, I say that the movements
are sympathetic. The sympathetic movement, though it may be involuntary
and provoked by a sentiment, ought not to be confounded with those purely
instinctive movements that proceed from physical sensibility. Physical
instinct is not a free agent, and that which it executes is not an act of
the person; I understand then here exclusively, by sympathetic movements,
those which accompany a sentiment, a disposition of the moral order.

The question that now presents itself is this: Of these two kinds of
movement, having their principle in the person, which is capable of

That which we are rigorously forced to distinguish in philosophic
analysis is not always separated also in the real. Thus it is rare that
we meet intentional movements without sympathetic movements, because the
will determines the intentional movements only after being decided itself
by the moral sentiments which are the principle of the sympathetic
movements. When a person speaks, we see his looks, his lineaments, his
hands, often the whole person all together speaks to us; and it is not
rare that this mimic part of the discourse is the most eloquent. Still
more there are cases where an intentional movement can be considered at
the same time as sympathetic; and it is that which happens when something
involuntary mingles with the voluntary act which determines this

I will explain: the mode, the manner in which a voluntary movement is
executed, is not a thing so exactly determined by the intention which is
proposed by it that it cannot be executed in several different ways.
Well, then, that which the will or intention leaves undetermined can be
sympathetically determined by the state of moral sensibility in which the
person is found to be, and consequently can express this state. When I
extend the arm to seize an object, I execute, in truth, an intention, and
the movement I make is determined in general by the end that I have in
view; but in what way does my arm approach the object? how far do the
other parts of my body follow this impulsion? What will be the degree of
slowness or of the rapidity of the movement? What amount of force shall
I employ? This is a calculation of which my will, at the instant, takes
no account, and in consequence there is a something left to the
discretion of nature.

But nevertheless, though that part of the movement is not determined by
the intention itself, it must be decided at length in one way or the
other, and the reason is that the manner in which my moral sensibility is
affected can have here decisive influence: it is this which will give the
tone, and which thus determines the mode and the manner of the movement.
Therefore this influence, which exercises upon the voluntary movement the
state of moral sensibility in which the subject is found, represents
precisely the involuntary part of this movement, and it is there then
that we must seek for grace.

A voluntary movement, if it is not linked to any sympathetic movement--or
that which comes to the same thing, if there is nothing involuntary mixed
up with it having for principle the moral state of sensibility in which
the subject happens to be--could not in any manner present grace, for
grace always supposes as a cause a disposition of the soul. Voluntary
movement is produced after an operation of the soul, which in consequence
is already completed at the moment in which the movement takes place.

The sympathetic movement, on the contrary, accompanies this operation of
the soul, and the moral state of sensibility which decides it to this
operation. So that this movement ought to be considered as simultaneous
with regard to both one and the other.

From that alone it results that voluntary movement not proceeding
immediately from the disposition of the subject could not be an
expression of this disposition also. For between the disposition and the
movement itself the volition has intervened, which, considered in itself,
is something perfectly indifferent. This movement is the work of the
volition, it is determined by the aim that is proposed; it is not the
work of the person, nor the product of the sentiments that affect it.

The voluntary movement is united but accidentally with the disposition
which precedes it; the concomitant movement, on the contrary, is
necessarily linked to it. The first is to the soul that which the
conventional signs of speech are to the thoughts which they express. The
second, on the contrary, the sympathetic movement or concomitant, is to
the soul that which the cry of passion is to the passion itself. The
involuntary movement is, then, an expression of the mind, not by its
nature, but only by its use. And in consequence we are not authorized to
say that the mind is revealed in a voluntary movement; this movement
never expresses more than the substance of the will (the aim), and not
the form of the will (the disposition). The disposition can only
manifest itself to us by concomitant movements.

It follows that we can infer from the words of a man the kind of
character he desires to have attributed to him; but if we desire to know
what is in reality his character we must seek to divine it in the mimic
expression which accompanies his words, and in his gestures, that is to
say, in the movements which he did not desire. If we perceive that this
man wills even the expression of his features, from the instant we have
made this discovery we cease to believe in his physiognomy and to see in
it an indication of his sentiments.

It is true that a man, by dint of art and of study, can at last arrive at
this result, to subdue to his will even the concomitant movements; and,
like a clever juggler, to shape according to his pleasure such or such a
physiognomy upon the mirror from which his soul is reflected through
mimic action. But then, with such a man all is dissembling, and art
entirely absorbs nature. The true grace, on the contrary, ought always
to be pure nature, that is to say, involuntary (or at least appear to be
so), to be graceful. The subject even ought not to appear to know that
it possesses grace.

By which we can also see incidentally what we must think of grace, either
imitated or learned (I would willingly call it theatrical grace, or the
grace of the dancing-master). It is the pendant of that sort of beauty
which a woman seeks from her toilet-table, reinforced with rouge, white
paint, false ringlets, pads, and whalebone. Imitative grace is to true
grace what beauty of toilet is to architectonic beauty. One and the
other could act in absolutely the same manner upon the senses badly
exercised, as the original of which they wish to be the imitation; and at
times even, if much art is put into it, they might create an illusion to
the connoisseur. But there will be always some indication through which
the intention and constraint will betray it in the end, and this
discovery will lead inevitably to indifference, if not even to contempt
and disgust. If we are warned that the architectonic beauty is
factitious, at once, the more it has borrowed from a nature which is not
its own, the more it loses in our eyes of that which belongs to humanity
(so far as it is phenomenal), and then we, who forbid the renunciation
lightly of an accidental advantage, how can we see with pleasure or even
with indifference an exchange through which man sacrifices a part of his
proper nature in order to substitute elements taken from inferior nature?
How, even supposing we could forgive the illusion produced, how could we
avoid despising the deception? If we are told that grace is artificial,
our heart at once closes; our soul, which at first advanced with so much
vivacity to meet the graceful object, shrinks back. That which was mind
has suddenly become matter. Juno and her celestial beauty has vanished,
and in her place there is nothing but a phantom of vapour.

Although grace ought to be, or at least ought to appear, something
involuntary, still we seek it only in the movements that depend more or
less on the will. I know also that grace is attributed to a certain
mimic language, and we say a pleasing smile, a charming blush, though the
smile and the blush are sympathetic movements, not determined by the
will, but by moral sensibility. But besides that, the first of these
movements is, after all, in our power, and that it is not shown that in
the second there is, properly speaking, any grace, it is right to say, in
general, that most frequently when grace appears it is on the occasion of
a voluntary movement. Grace is desired both in language and in song; it
is asked for in the play of the eyes and of the mouth, in the movements
of the hands and the arms whenever these movements are free and
voluntary; it is required in the walk, in the bearing, and attitude, in a
word, in all exterior demonstrations of man, so far as they depend on his
will. As to the movements which the instinct of nature produces in us,
or which an overpowering affection excites, or, so to speak, is lord
over; that which we ask of these movements, in origin purely physical,
is, as we shall see presently, quite another thing than grace. These
kinds of movements belong to nature, and not to the person, but it is
from the person alone, as we have seen, that all grace issues.

If, then, grace is a property that we demand only from voluntary
movements, and if, on the other hand, all voluntary element should be
rigorously excluded from grace, we have no longer to seek it but in that
portion of the intentional movements to which the intention of the
subject is unknown, but which, however, does not cease to answer in the
soul to a moral cause.

We now know in what kind of movements he must ask for grace; but we know
nothing more, and a movement can have these different characters, without
on that account being graceful; it is as yet only speaking (or mimic).

I call speaking (in the widest sense of the word) every physical
phenomenon which accompanies and expresses a certain state of the soul;
thus, in this acceptation, all the sympathetic movements are speaking,
including those which accompany the simple affections of the animal

The aspect, even, under which the animals present themselves, can be
speaking, as soon as they outwardly show their inward dispositions. But,
with them, it is nature alone which speaks, and NOT LIBERTY. By the
permanent configuration of animals through their fixed and architectonic
features, nature expresses the aim she proposed in creating them; by
their mimic traits she expresses the want awakened and the want
satisfied. Necessity reigns in the animal as well as in the plant,
without meeting the obstacle of a person. The animals have no
individuality farther than each of them is a specimen by itself of a
general type of nature, and the aspect under which they present
themselves at such or such an instant of their duration is only a
particular example of the accomplishment of the views of nature under
determined natural conditions.

To take the word in a more restricted sense, the configuration of man
alone is speaking, and it is itself so only in those of the phenomena
that accompany and express the state of its moral sensibility.

I say it is only in this sort of phenomena; for, in all the others, man
is in the same rank as the rest of sensible beings. By the permanent
configuration of man, by his architectonic features, nature only
expresses, just as in the animals and other organic beings, her own
intention. It is true the intention of nature may go here much further,
and the means she employs to reach her end may offer in their combination
more of art and complication; but all that ought to be placed solely to
the account of nature, and can confer no advantage on man himself.

In the animal, and in the plant, nature gives not only the destination;
she acts herself and acts alone in the accomplishment of her ends. In
man, nature limits herself in marking her views; she leaves to himself
their accomplishment, it is this alone that makes of him a man.

Alone of all known beings--man, in his quality of person, has the
privilege to break the chain of necessity by his will, and to determine
in himself an entire series of fresh spontaneous phenomena. The act by
which he thus determines himself is properly that which we call an
action, and the things that result from this sort of action are what we
exclusively name his acts. Thus man can only show his personality by his
own acts.

The configuration of the animal not only expresses the idea of his
destination, but also the relation of his present state with this
destination. And as in the animal it is nature which determines and at
the same time accomplishes its destiny, the configuration of the animal
can never express anything else than the work of nature.

If then nature, whilst determining the destiny of man, abandons to the
will of man himself the care to accomplish it, the relation of his
present state with his destiny cannot be a work of nature, but ought to
be the work of the person; it follows, that all in the configuration
which expresses this relation will belong, not to nature, but to the
person, that is to say, will be considered as a personal expression; if
then, the architectonic part of his configuration tells us the views that
nature proposed to herself in creating him, the mimic part of his face
reveals what he has himself done for the accomplishment of these views.

It is not then enough for us, when there is question of the form of man,
to find in it the expression of humanity in general, or even of that
which nature has herself contributed to the individual in particular, in
order to realize the human type in it; for he would have that in common
with every kind of technical configuration. We expect something more of
his face; we desire that it reveal to us at the same time, up to what
point man himself, in his liberty, has contributed towards the aim of
nature; in other words, we desire that his face bear witness to his
character. In the first case we see that nature proposed to create in
him a man; but it is in the second case only that we can judge if he has
become so in reality.

Thus, the face of a man is truly his own only inasmuch as his face is
mimic; but also all that is mimic in his face is entirely his own. For,
if we suppose the case in which the greatest part, and even the totality,
of these mimic features express nothing more than animal sensations or
instincts, and, in consequence, would show nothing more than the animal
in him, it would still remain that it was in his destiny and in his power
to limit, by his liberty, his sensuous nature. The presence of these
kinds of traits clearly witness that he has not made use of this faculty.
We see by that he has not accomplished his destiny, and in this sense
his face is speaking; it is still a moral expression, the same as the
non-accomplishment of an act commanded by duty is likewise a sort of

We must distinguish from these speaking features which are always an
expression of the soul, the features non-speaking or dumb, which are
exclusively the work of plastic nature, and which it impresses on the
human face when it acts independently of all influence of the soul. I
call them dumb, because, like incomprehensible figures put there by
nature, they are silent upon the character. They mark only distinctive
properties attributed by nature to all the kind; and if at times they are
sufficient to distinguish the individual, they at least never express
anything of the person.

These features are by no means devoid of signification for the
physiognomies, because the physiognomies not only studies that which man
has made of his being, but also that which nature has done for him and
against him.

It is not also easy to determine with precision where the dumb traits or
features end, where the speaking traits commence. The plastic forces on
one side, with their uniform action, and, on the other, the affections
which depend on no law, dispute incessantly the ground; and that which
nature, in its dumb and indefatigable activity, has succeeded in raising
up, often is overturned by liberty, as a river that overflows and spreads
over its banks: the mind when it is gifted with vivacity acquires
influence over all the movements of the body, and arrives at last
indirectly to modify by force the sympathetic play as far as the
architectonic and fixed forms of nature, upon which the will has no hold.
In a man thus constituted it becomes at last characteristic; and it is
that which we can often observe upon certain heads which a long life,
strange accidents, and an active mind have moulded and worked. In these
kinds of faces there is only the generic character which belongs to
plastic nature; all which here forms individuality is the act of the
person himself, and it is this which causes it to be said, with much
reason, that those faces are all soul.

Look at that man, on the contrary, who has made for himself a mechanical
existence, those disciples of the rule. The rule can well calm the
sensuous nature, but not awaken human nature, the superior faculties:
look at those flat and inexpressive physiognomies; the finger of nature
has alone left there its impression; a soul inhabits these bodies, but it
is a sluggish soul, a discreet guest, and, as a peaceful and silent
neighbour who does not disturb the plastic force at its work, left to
itself. Never a thought which requires an effort, never a movement of
passion, hurries the calm cadence of physical life. There is no danger
that the architectonic features ever become changed by the play of
voluntary movements, and never would liberty trouble the functions of
vegetative life. As the profound calm of the mind does not bring about a
notable degeneracy of forces, the expense would never surpass the
receipts; it is rather the animal economy which would always be in
excess. In exchange for a certain sum of well-being which it throws as
bait, the mind makes itself the servant, the punctual major-domo of
physical nature, and places all his glory in keeping his books in order.
Thus will be accomplished that which organic nature can accomplish; thus
will the work of nutrition and of reproduction prosper. So happy a
concord between animal nature and the will cannot but be favorable to
architectonic beauty, and it is there that we can observe this beauty in
all its purity. But the general forces of nature, as every one knows,
are eternally at warfare with the particular or organic forces, and,
however cleverly balanced is the technique of a body, the cohesion and
the weight end always by getting the upper hand. Also architectonic
beauty, so far as it is a simple production of nature, has its fixed
periods, its blossoming, its maturity, and its decline--periods the
revolution of which can easily be accelerated, but not retarded in any
case, by the play of the will, and this is the way in which it most
frequently finishes; little by little matter takes the upper hand over
form, and the plastic principle, which vivified the being, prepares for
itself its tomb under the accumulation of matter.

However, although no dumb trait, considered in an isolated point of view,
can be an expression of the mind, a face composed entirely of these kinds
of features can be characterized in its entireness by precisely the same
reason as a face which is speaking only as an expression of sensuous
nature can be nevertheless characteristic. I mean to say that the mind
is obliged to exercise its activity and to feel conformably to its moral
nature, and it accuses itself and betrays its fault when the face which
it animates shows no trace of this moral activity. If, therefore, the
pure and beautiful expression of the destination of man, which is marked
in his architectonic structure, penetrates us with satisfaction and
respect for the sovereign, reason, who is the author of it, at all events
these two sentiments will not be for us without mixture but in as far as
we see in man a simple creation of nature. But if we consider in him the
moral person, we have a right to demand of his face an expression of the
person, and if this expectation is deceived contempt will infallibly
follow. Simply organic beings have a right to our respect as creatures;
man cannot pretend to it but in the capacity of creator, that is to say,
as being himself the determiner of his own condition. He ought not only,
as the other sensuous creatures, to reflect the rays of a foreign
intelligence, were it even the divine intelligence; man ought, as a sun,
to shine by his own light.

Thus we require of man a speaking expression as soon as he becomes
conscious of his moral destiny; but we desire at the same time that this
expression speak to his advantage, that is to say, it marks in him
sentiments conformable to his moral destiny, and a superior moral
aptitude. This is what reason requires in the human face.

But, on the other side, man, as far as he is a phenomenon, is an object
of sense; there, where the moral sentiment is satisfied, the aesthetic
sentiment does not understand its being made a sacrifice, and the
conformity with an idea ought not to lessen the beauty of the phenomenon.
Thus, as much as reason requires an expression of the morality of the
subject in the human face, so much, and with no less rigor, does the eye
demand beauty. As these two requirements, although coming from the
principles of the appreciation of different degrees, address themselves
to the same object, also both one and the other must be given
satisfaction by one and the same cause. The disposition of the soul
which places man in the best state for accomplishing his moral destiny
ought to give place to an expression that will be at the same time the
most advantageous to his beauty as phenomenon; in other terms, his moral
exercise ought to be revealed by grace.

But a great difficulty now presents itself from the idea alone of the
expressive movements which bear witness to the morality of the subject:
it appears that the cause of these movements is necessarily a moral
cause, a principle which resides beyond the world of sense; and from the
sole idea of beauty it is not less evident that its principle is purely
sensuous, and that it ought to be a simple effect of nature, or at the
least appear to be such. But if the ultimate reason of the movements
which offer a moral expression is necessarily without, and the ultimate
reason of the beautiful necessarily within, the sensuous world, it
appears that grace, which ought to unite both of them, contains a
manifest contradiction.

To avoid this contradiction we must admit that the moral cause, which in
our soul is the foundation of grace, brings, in a necessary manner, in
the sensibility which depends on that cause, precisely that state which
contains in itself the natural conditions of beauty. I will explain.
The beautiful, as each sensuous phenomenon, supposes certain conditions,
and, in as far as it is beautiful, these are purely conditions of the
senses; well, then, in that the mind (in virtue of a law that we cannot
fathom), from the state in which it is, itself prescribes to physical
nature which accompanies it, its own state, and in that the state of
moral perfection is precisely in it the most favorable for the
accomplishment of the physical conditions of beauty, it follows that it
is the mind which renders beauty possible; and there its action ends.
But whether real beauty comes forth from it, that depends upon the
physical conditions alluded to, and is consequently a free effect of
nature. Therefore, as it cannot be said that nature is properly free in
the voluntary movements, in which it is employed but as a means to attain
an end, and as, on the other side, it cannot be said that it is free in
its involuntary movements, which express the moral, the liberty with
which it manifests itself, dependent as it is on the will of the subject,
must be a concession that the mind makes to nature; and, consequently, it
can be said that grace is a favor in which the moral has desired to
gratify the sensuous element; the same as the architectonic beauty may be
considered as nature acquiescing to the technical form.

May I be permitted a comparison to clear up this point? Let us suppose a
monarchical state administered in such a way that, although all goes on
according to the will of one person, each citizen could persuade himself
that he governs and obeys only his own inclination, we should call that
government a liberal government.

But we should look twice before we should thus qualify a government in
which the chief makes his will outweigh the wishes of the citizens, or a
government in which the will of the citizens outweighs that of the chief.
In the first case, the government would be no more liberal; in the
second, it would not be a government at all.

It is not difficult to make application of these examples to what the
human face could be under the government of the mind. If the mind is
manifested in such a way through the sensuous nature subject to its
empire that it executes its behests with the most faithful exactitude, or
expresses its sentiments in the most perfectly speaking manner, without
going in the least against that which the aesthetic sense demands from it
as a phenomenon, then we shall see produced that which we call grace.
But this is far from being grace, if mind is manifested in a constrained
manner by the sensuous nature, or if sensuous nature acting alone in all
liberty the expression of moral nature was absent. In the first case
there would not be beauty; in the second the beauty would be devoid of

The super-sensuous cause, therefore, the cause of which the principle is
in the soul, can alone render grace speaking, and it is the purely
sensuous cause having its principle in nature which alone can render it
beautiful. We are not more authorized in asserting that mind engenders
beauty than we should be, in the former example, in maintaining that the
chief of the state produces liberty; because we can indeed leave a man in
his liberty, but not give it to him.

But just as when a people feels itself free under the constraint of a
foreign will, it is in a great degree due to the sentiments animating the
prince; and as this liberty would run great risks if the prince took
opposite sentiments, so also it is in the moral dispositions of the mind
which suggests them that we must seek the beauty of free movements. And
now the question which is presented is this one: What then are the
conditions of personal morality which assure the utmost amount of liberty
to the sensuous instruments of the will? and what are the moral
sentiments which agree the best in their expression with the beautiful?

That which is evident is that neither the will, in the intentional
movement, nor the passion, in the sympathetic movement, ought to act as a
force with regard to the physical nature which is subject to it, in order
that this, in obeying it, may have beauty. In truth, without going
further, common sense considers ease to be the first requisite of grace.
It is not less evident that, on another side, nature ought not to act as
a force with regard to mind, in order to give occasion for a fine moral
expression; for there, where physical nature commands alone, it is
absolutely necessary that the character of the man should vanish.

We can conceive three sorts of relation of man with himself: I mean the
sensuous part of man with the reasonable part. From these three
relations we have to seek which is that one which best suits him in the
sensuous world, and the expression of which constitutes the beautiful.
Either man enforces silence upon the exigencies of his sensuous nature,
to govern himself conformably with the superior exigencies of his
reasonable nature; or else, on the contrary, he subjects the reasonable
portion of his being to the sensuous part, reducing himself thus to obey
only the impulses which the necessity of nature imprints upon him, as
well as upon the other phenomena; or lastly, harmony is established
between the impulsions of the one and the laws of the other, and man is
in perfect accord with himself.

If he has the consciousness of his spiritual person, of his pure
autonomy, man rejects all that is sensuous, and it is only when thus
isolated from matter that he feels to the full his moral liberty. But
for that, as his sensuous nature opposes an obstinate and vigorous
resistance to him, he must, on his side, exercise upon it a notable
pressure and a strong effort, without which he could neither put aside
the appetites nor reduce to silence the energetic voice of instinct. A
mind of this quality makes the physical nature which depends on him feel
that it has a master in him, whether it fulfils the orders of the will or
endeavors to anticipate them. Under its stern discipline sensuousness
appears then repressed, and interior resistance will betray itself
exteriorly by the constraint. This moral state cannot, then, be
favorable to beauty, because nature cannot produce the beautiful but as
far as it is free, and consequently that which betrays to us the
struggles of moral liberty against matter cannot either be grace.

If, on the contrary, subdued by its wants, man allows himself to be
governed without reserve by the instinct of nature, it is his interior
autonomy that vanishes, and with it all trace of this autonomy is
exteriorly effaced. The animal nature is alone visible upon his visage;
the eye is watery and languishing, the mouth rapaciously open, the voice
trembling and muffled, the breathing short and rapid, the limbs trembling
with nervous agitation: the whole body by its languor betrays its moral
degradation. Moral force has renounced all resistance, and physical
nature, with such a man, is placed in full liberty. But precisely this
complete abandonment of moral independence, which occurs ordinarily at
the moment of sensuous desire, and more still at the moment of enjoyment,
sets suddenly brute matter at liberty which until then had been kept in
equilibrium by the active and passive forces. The inert forces of nature
commence from thence to gain the upper hand over the living forces of the
organism; the form is oppressed by matter, humanity by common nature.
The eye, in which the soul shone forth, becomes dull, or it protrudes
from its socket with I know not what glassy haggardness; the delicate
pink of the cheeks thickens, and spreads as a coarse pigment in uniform
layers. The mouth is no longer anything but a simple opening, because
its form no longer depends upon the action of forces, but on their
non-resistance; the gasping voice and breathing are no more than an
effort to ease the laborious and oppressed lungs, and which show a simple
mechanical want, with nothing that reveals a soul. In a word, in that
state of liberty which physical nature arrogates to itself from its
chief, we must not think of beauty. Under the empire of the moral agent,
the liberty of form was only restrained, here it is crushed by brutal
matter, which gains as much ground as is abstracted from the will. Man
in this state not only revolts the moral sense, which incessantly claims
of the face an expression of human dignity, but the aesthetic sense,
which is not content with simple matter, and which finds in the form an
unfettered pleasure--the aesthetic sense will turn away with disgust from
such a spectacle, where concupiscence could alone find its gratification.

Of these two relations between the moral nature of man and his physical
nature, the first makes us think of a monarchy, where strict surveillance
of the prince holds in hand all free movement; the second is an
ochlocracy, where the citizen, in refusing to obey his legitimate
sovereign, finds he has liberty quite as little as the human face has
beauty when the moral autonomy is oppressed; nay, on the contrary, just
as the citizens are given over to the brutal despotism of the lowest
classes, so the form is given over here to the despotism of matter. Just
as liberty finds itself between the two extremes of legal oppression and
anarchy, so also we shall find the beautiful between two extremes,
between the expression of dignity which bears witness to the domination
exercised by the mind, and the voluptuous expression which reveals the
domination exercised by instinct.

In other terms, if the beauty of expression is incompatible with the
absolute government of reason over sensuous nature, and with the
government of sensuous nature over the reason, it follows that the third
state (for one could not conceive a fourth)--that in which the reason and
the senses, duty and inclination, are in harmony--will be that in which
the beauty of play is produced. In order that obedience to reason may
become an object of inclination, it must represent for us the principle
of pleasure; for pleasure and pain are the only springs which set the
instincts in motion. It is true that in life it is the reverse that
takes place, and pleasure is ordinarily the motive for which we act
according to reason. If morality itself has at last ceased to hold this
language, it is to the immortal author of the "Critique" to whom we must
offer our thanks; it is to him to whom the glory is due of having
restored the healthy reason in separating it from all systems. But in
the manner in which the principles of this philosopher are ordinarily
expressed by himself and also by others, it appears that the inclination
can never be for the moral sense otherwise than a very suspicious
companion, and pleasure a dangerous auxiliary for moral determinations.
In admitting that the instinct of happiness does not exercise a blind
domination over man, it does not the less desire to interfere in the
moral actions which depend on free arbitration, and by that it changes
the pure action of the will, which ought always to obey the law alone,
never the instinct. Thus, to be altogether sure that the inclination has
not interfered with the demonstrations of the will, we prefer to see it
in opposition rather than in accord with the law of reason; because it
may happen too easily, when the inclination speaks in favor of duty, that
duty draws from the recommendation all its credit over the will. And in
fact, as in practical morals, it is not the conformity of the acts with
the law, but only the conformity of the sentiments with duty, which is
important. We do not attach, and with reason, any value to this
consideration, that it is ordinarily more favorable to the conformity of
acts with the law that inclination is on the side of duty. As a
consequence, this much appears evident: that the assent of sense, if it
does not render suspicious the conformity of the will with duty, at least
does not guarantee it. Thus the sensuous expression of this assent,
expression that grace offers to us, could never bear a sufficient
available witness to the morality of the act in which it is met; and it
is not from that which an action or a sentiment manifests to the eyes by
graceful expression that we must judge of the moral merit of that
sentiment or of that action.

Up to the present time I believe I have been in perfect accord with the
rigorists in morals. I shall not become, I hope, a relaxed moralist in
endeavoring to maintain in the world of phenomena and in the real
fulfilment of the law of duty those rights of sensuous nature which, upon
the ground of pure reason and in the jurisdiction of the moral law, are
completely set aside and excluded.

I will explain. Convinced as I am, and precisely because I am convinced,
that the inclination in associating itself to an act of the will offers
no witness to the pure conformity of this act with the duty, I believe
that we are able to infer from this that the moral perfection of man
cannot shine forth except from this very association of his inclination
with his moral conduct. In fact, the destiny of man is not to accomplish
isolated moral acts, but to be a moral being. That which is prescribed
to him does not consist of virtues, but of virtue, and virtue is not
anything else "than an inclination for duty." Whatever, then, in the
objective sense, may be the opposition which separates the acts suggested
by the inclination from those which duty determines, we cannot say it is
the same in the subjective sense; and not only is it permitted to man to
accord duty with pleasure, but he ought to establish between them this
accord, he ought to obey his reason with a sentiment of joy. It is not
to throw it off as a burden, nor to cast it off as a too coarse skin.
No, it is to unite it, by a union the most intimate, with his Ego, with
the most noble part of his being, that a sensuous nature has been
associated in him to his purely spiritual nature. By the fact that
nature has made of him a being both at once reasonable and sensuous, that
is to say, a man, it has prescribed to him the obligation not to separate
that which she has united; not to sacrifice in him the sensuous being,
were it in the most pure manifestations of the divine part; and never to
found the triumph of one over the oppression and the ruin of the other.
It is only when he gathers, so to speak, his entire humanity together,
and his way of thinking in morals becomes the result of the united action
of the two principles, when morality has become to him a second nature,
it is then only that it is secure; for, as far as the mind and the duty
are obliged to employ violence, it is necessary that the instinct shall
have force to resist them. The enemy which only is overturned can rise
up again, but the enemy reconciled is truly vanquished. In the moral
philosophy of Kant the idea of duty is proposed with a harshness enough
to ruffle the Graces, and one which could easily tempt a feeble mind to
seek for moral perfection in the sombre paths of an ascetic and monastic
life. Whatever precautions the great philosopher has been able to take
in order to shelter himself against this false interpretation, which must
be repugnant more than all else to the serenity of the free mind, he has
lent it a strong impulse, it seems to me, in opposing to each other by a
harsh contrast the two principles which act upon the human will. Perhaps
it was hardly possible, from the point of view in which he was placed, to
avoid this mistake; but he has exposed himself seriously to it. Upon the
basis of the question there is no longer, after the demonstration he has
given, any discussion possible, at least for the heads which think and
which are quite willing to be persuaded; and I am not at all sure if it
would not be better to renounce at once all the attributes of the human
being than to be willing to reach on this point, by reason, a different
result. But although he began to work without any prejudice when he
searched for the truth, and though all is here explained by purely
objective reasons, it appears that when he put forward the truth once
found he had been guided by a more subjective maxim, which is not
difficult, I believe, to be accounted for by the time and circumstances.

What, in fact, was the moral of his time, either in theory or in its
application? On one side, a gross materialism, of which the shameless
maxims would revolt his soul; impure resting-places offered to the
bastard characters of a century by the unworthy complacency of
philosophers; on the other side, a pretended system of perfectibility,
not less suspicious, which, to realize the chimera of a general
perfection common to the whole universe, would not be embarrassed for a
choice of means. This is what would meet his attention. So he carried
there, where the most pressing danger lay and reform was the most urgent,
the strongest forces of his principles, and made it a law to pursue
sensualism without pity, whether it walks with a bold face, impudently
insulting morality, or dissimulates under the imposing veil of a moral,
praiseworthy end, under which a certain fanatical kind of order know how
to disguise it. He had not to disguise ignorance, but to reform
perversion; for such a cure a violent blow, and not persuasion or
flattery, was necessary; and the more the contrast would be violent
between the true principles and the dominant maxims, the more he would
hope to provoke reflection upon this point. He was the Draco of his
time, because his time seemed to him as yet unworthy to possess a Solon,
neither capable of receiving him. From the sanctuary of pure reason he
drew forth the moral law, unknown then, and yet, in another way, so
known; he made it appear in all its saintliness before a degraded
century, and troubled himself little to know whether there were eyes too
enfeebled to bear the brightness.

But what had the children of the house done for him to have occupied
himself only with the valets? Because strongly impure inclinations often
usurp the name of virtue, was it a reason for disinterested inclinations
in the noblest heart to be also rendered suspicious? Because the moral
epicurean had willingly relaxed the law of reason, in order to fit it as
a plaything to his customs, was it a reason to thus exaggerate harshness,
and to make the fulfilment of duty, which is the most powerful
manifestation of moral freedom, another kind of decorated servitude of a
more specious name? And, in fact, between the esteem and the contempt of
himself has the truly moral man a more free choice than the slave of
sense between pleasure and pain? Is there less of constraint there for a
pure will than here for a depraved will? Must one, by this imperative
form given to the moral law, accuse man and humble him, and make of this
law, which is the most sublime witness of our grandeur, the most crushing
argument for our fragility? Was it possible with this imperative force
to avoid that a prescription which man imposes on himself, as a
reasonable being, and which is obligatory only for him on that account,
and which is conciliatory with the sentiment of his liberty only--that
this prescription, say I, took the appearance of a foreign law, a
positive law, an appearance which could hardly lessen the radical
tendency which we impute to man to react against the law?

It is certainly not an advantage for moral truth to have against itself
sentiments which man can avow without shame. Thus, how can the sentiment
of the beautiful, the sentiment of liberty, accord with the austere mind
of a legislation which governs man rather through fear than trust, which
tends constantly to separate that which nature has united, and which is
reduced to hold us in defiance against a part of our being, to assure its
empire over the rest? Human nature forms a whole more united in reality
than it is permitted to the philosopher, who can only analyze, to allow
it to appear. The reason can never reject as unworthy of it the
affections which the heart recognizes with joy; and there, where man
would be morally fallen, he can hardly rise in his own esteem. If in the
moral order the sensuous nature were only the oppressed party and not an
ally, how could it associate with all the ardor of its sentiments in a
triumph which would be celebrated only over itself? how could it be so
keen a participator in the satisfaction of a pure spirit having
consciousness of itself, if in the end it could not attach itself to the
pure spirit with such closeness that it is not possible even to
intellectual analysis to separate it without violence.

The will, besides, is in more immediate relation with the faculty of
feeling than with the cognitive faculties, and it would be regrettable in
many circumstances if it were obliged, in order to guide itself, to take
advice of pure reason. I prejudge nothing good of a man who dares so
little trust to the voice of instinct that he is obliged each time to
make it appear first before the moral law; he is much more estimable who
abandons himself with a certain security to inclination, without having
to fear being led astray by her. That proves in fact that with him the
two principles are already in harmony--in that harmony which places a
seat upon the perfection of the human being, and which constitutes that
which we understand by a noble soul.

It is said of a man that he has a great soul when the moral sense has
finished assuring itself of all the affections, to the extent of
abandoning without fear the direction of the senses to the will, and
never incurring the risk of finding himself in discord with its
decisions. It follows that in a noble soul it is not this or that
particular action, it is the entire character which is moral. Thus we
can make a merit of none of its actions because the satisfaction of an
instinct could not be meritorious. A noble soul has no other merit than
to be a noble soul. With as great a facility as if the instinct alone
were acting, it accomplishes the most painful duties of humanity, and the
most heroic sacrifice that she obtains over the instinct of nature seems
the effect of the free action of the instinct itself. Also, it has no
idea of the beauty of its act, and it never occurs to it that any other
way of acting could be possible; on the contrary, the moralist formed by
the school and by rule, is always ready at the first question of the
master to give an account with the most rigorous precision of the
conformity of its acts with the moral law. The life of this one is like
a drawing where the pencil has indicated by harsh and stiff lines all
that the rule demands, and which could, if necessary, serve for a student
to learn the elements of art. The life of a noble soul, on the contrary,
is like a painting of Titian; all the harsh outlines are effaced, which
does not prevent the whole face being more true, lifelike and harmonious.

It is then in a noble soul that is found the true harmony between reason
and sense, between inclination and duty, and grace is the expression of
this harmony in the sensuous world. It is only in the service of a noble
soul that nature can at the same time be in possession of its liberty,
and preserve from all alteration the beauty of its forms; for the one,
its liberty would be compromised under the tyranny of an austere soul,
the other, under the anarchical regimen of sensuousness. A noble soul
spreads even over a face in which the architectonic beauty is wanting an
irresistible grace, and often even triumphs over the natural disfavor.
All the movements which proceed from a noble soul are easy, sweet, and
yet animated. The eye beams with serenity as with liberty, and with the
brightness of sentiment; gentleness of heart would naturally give to the
mouth a grace that no affectation, no art, could attain. You trace there
no effort in the varied play of the physiognomy, no constraint in the
voluntary movements--a noble soul knows not constraint; the voice becomes
music, and the limpid stream of its modulations touches the heart. The
beauty of structure can excite pleasure, admiration, astonishment; grace
alone can charm. Beauty has its adorers; grace alone has its lovers: for
we pay our homage to the Creator, and we love man. As a whole, grace
would be met with especially amongst women; beauty, on the contrary, is
met with more frequently in man, and we need not go far without finding
the reason. For grace we require the union of bodily structure, as well
as that of character: the body, by its suppleness, by its promptitude to
receive impressions and to bring them into action; the character, by the
moral harmony of the sentiments. Upon these two points nature has been
more favorable to the woman than to man.

The more delicate structure of the woman receives more rapidly each
impression and allows it to escape as rapidly. It requires a storm to
shake a strong constitution, and when vigorous muscles begin to move we
should not find the ease which is one of the conditions of grace. That
which upon the face of woman is still a beautiful sensation would express
suffering already upon the face of man. Woman has the more tender
nerves; it is a reed which bends under the gentlest breath of passion.
The soul glides in soft and amiable ripples upon her expressive face,
which soon regains the calm and smooth surface of the mirror.

The same also for the character: for that necessary union of the soul
with grace the woman is more happily gifted than man. The character of
woman rises rarely to the supreme ideal of moral purity, and would rarely
go beyond acts of affection; her character would often resist
sensuousness with heroic force. Precisely because the moral nature of
woman is generally on the side of inclination, the effect becomes the
same, in that which touches the sensuous expression of this moral state,
as if the inclination were on the side of duty. Thus grace would be the
expression of feminine virtue, and this expression would often be wanting
in manly virtue.


As grace is the expression of a noble soul, so is dignity the expression
of elevated feeling.

It has been prescribed to man, it is true, to establish between his two
natures a unison, to form always an harmonious whole, and to act as in
union with his entire humanity. But this beauty of character, this last
fruit of human maturity, is but an ideal to which he ought to force his
conformity with a constant vigilance, but to which, with all his efforts,
he can never attain.

He cannot attain to it because his nature is thus made and it will not
change; the physical conditions of his existence themselves are opposed
to it.

In fact, his existence, so far as he is a sensuous creature, depends on
certain physical conditions; and in order to insure this existence man
ought--because, in his quality of a free being, capable of determining
his modifications by his own will--to watch over his own preservation
himself. Man ought to be made capable of certain acts in order to fulfil
these physical conditions of his existence, and when these conditions are
out of order to re-establish them.

But although nature had to give up to him this care which she reserves
exclusively to herself in those creatures which have only a vegetative
life, still it was necessary that the satisfaction of so essential a
want, in which even the existence of the individual and of the species is
interested, should not be absolutely left to the discretion of man, and
his doubtful foresight. It has then provided for this interest, which in
the foundation concerns it, and it has also interfered with regard to the
form in placing in the determination of free arbitration a principle of
necessity. From that arises natural instinct, which is nothing else than
a principle of physical necessity which acts upon free arbitration by the
means of sensation.

The natural instinct solicits the sensuous faculty through the combined
force of pain and of pleasure: by pain when it asks satisfaction, and by
pleasure when it has found what it asks.

As there is no bargaining possible with physical necessity, man must
also, in spite of his liberty, feel what nature desires him to feel.
According as it awakens in him a painful or an agreeable sensation, there
will infallibly result in him either aversion or desire. Upon this point
man quite resembles the brute; and the stoic, whatever his power of soul,
is not less sensible of hunger, and has no less aversion to it, than the
worm that crawls at his feet.

But here begins the great difference: with the lower creature action
succeeds to desire or aversion quite as of necessity, as the desire to
the sensation, and the expression to the external impression. It is here
a perpetual circle, a chain, the links of which necessarily join one to
the other. With man there is one more force--the will, which, as a
super-sensuous faculty, is not so subject to the law of nature, nor that
of reason, that he remains without freedom to choose, and to guide
himself according to this or to that. The animal cannot do otherwise
than seek to free itself from pain; man can decide to suffer.

The will of man is a privilege, a sublime idea, even when we do not
consider the moral use that he can make of it. But firstly, the animal
nature must be in abeyance before approaching the other, and from that
cause it is always a considerable step towards reaching the moral
emancipation of the will to have conquered in us the necessity of nature,
even in indifferent things, by the exercise in us of the simple will.

The jurisdiction of nature extends as far as the will, but there it
stops, and the empire of reason commences. Placed between these two
jurisdictions, the will is absolutely free to receive the law from one
and the other; but it is not in the same relation with one and the other.
Inasmuch as it is a natural force it is equally free with regard to
nature and with respect to reason; I mean to say it is not forced to pass
either on the side of one or of the other: but as far as it is a moral
faculty it is not free; I mean that it ought to choose the law of reason.
It is not chained to one or the other, but it is obliged towards the law
of reason. The will really then makes use of its liberty even whilst it
acts contrary to reason: but it makes use of it unworthily, because,
notwithstanding its liberty, it is no less under the jurisdiction of
nature, and adds no real action to the operation of pure instinct; for to
will by virtue of desire is only to desire in a different way.

There may be conflict between the law of nature, which works in us
through the instinct, and the law of reason, which comes out of
principles, when the instinct, to satisfy itself, demands of us an action
which disgusts our moral sense. It is, then, the duty of the will to
make the exigencies of the instinct give way to reason. Whilst the laws
of nature oblige the will only conditionally, the laws of reason oblige
absolutely and without conditions.

But nature obstinately maintains her rights, and as it is never by the
result of free choice that she solicits us, she also does not withdraw
any of her exigencies as long as she has not been satisfied. Since, from
the first cause which gave the impulsion to the threshold of the will
where its jurisdiction ends, all in her is rigorously necessary,
consequently she can neither give way nor go back, but must always go
forward and press more and more the will on which depends the
satisfaction of her wants. Sometimes, it is true, we could say that
nature shortens her road and acts immediately as a cause for the
satisfaction of her needs without having in the first instance carried
her request before the will. In such a case, that is to say, if man not
simply allowed instinct to follow a free course, but if instinct took
this course of itself, man would be no more than the brute. But it is
very doubtful whether this case would ever present itself, and if ever it
were really presented it would remain to be seen whether we should not
blame the will itself for this blind power which the instinct would have

Thus the appetitive faculty claims with persistence the satisfaction of
its wants, and the will is solicited to procure it; but the will should
receive from the reason the motives by which she determines. What does
the reason permit? What does she prescribe? This is what the will
should decide upon. Well, then, if the will turns towards the reason
before consenting to the request of the instinct, it is properly a moral
act; but if it immediately decides, without consulting the reason, it is
a physical act.

Every time, then, that nature manifests an exigence and seeks to draw the
will along with it by the blind violence of affective movement, it is the
duty of the will to order nature to halt until reason has pronounced.
The sentence which reason pronounces, will it be favorable or the
contrary to the interest of sensuousness? This is, up to the present
time, what the will does not know. Also it should observe this conduct
for all the affective movements without exception, and when it is nature
which has spoken the first, never allow it to act as an immediate cause.
Man would testify only by that to his independence. It is when, by an
act of his will, he breaks the violence of his desires, which hasten
towards the object which should satisfy them, and would dispense entirely
with the co-operation of the will,--it is only then that he reveals
himself in quality of a moral being, that is to say, as a free agent,
which does not only allow itself to experience either aversion or desire,
but which at all times must will his aversions and his desires.

But this act of taking previously the advice of reason is already an
attempt against nature, who is a competent judge in her own cause, and
who will not allow her sentences to be submitted to a new and strange
jurisdiction; this act of the will which thus brings the appetitive
faculty before the tribunal of reason is then, in the proper acceptation
of the word, an act against nature, in that it renders accidental that
which is necessary, in that it attributes to the laws of reason the right
to decide in a cause where the laws of nature can alone pronounce, and
where they have pronounced effectively. Just, in fact, as the reason in
the exercise of its moral jurisdiction is little troubled to know if the
decisions it can come to will satisfy or not the sensuous nature, so the
sensuous in the exercise of the right which is proper to it does not
trouble itself whether its decisions would satisfy pure reason or not.
Each is equally necessary, though different in necessity, and this
character of necessity would be destroyed if it were permitted for one to
modify arbitrarily the decisions of the other. This is why the man who
has the most moral energy cannot, whatever resistance he opposes to
instinct, free himself from sensuousness, or stifle desire, but can only
deny it an influence upon the decisions of his will; he can disarm
instinct by moral means, but he cannot appease it but by natural means.
By his independent force he may prevent the laws of nature from
exercising any constraint over his will, but he can absolutely change
nothing of the laws themselves.

Thus in the affective movements in which nature (instinct) acts the first
and seeks to do without the will, or to draw it violently to its side,
the morality of character cannot manifest itself but by its resistance,
and there is but one means of preventing the instinct from restraining
the liberty of the will: it is to restrain the instinct itself. Thus we
can only have agreement between the law of reason and the affective
phenomena, under the condition of putting both in discord with the
exigencies of instinct. And as nature never gives way to moral reasons,
and recalls her claims, and as on her side, consequently, all remains in
the same state, in whatever manner the will acts towards her, it results
that there is no possible accord between the inclination and duty,
between reason and sense; and that here man cannot act at the same time
with all his being and with all the harmony of his nature, but
exclusively with his reasonable nature. Thus in these sorts of actions
we could not find moral beauty, because an action is morally good only as
far as inclination has taken part in it, and here the inclination
protests against much more than it concurs with it. But these actions
have moral grandeur, because all that testifies to a preponderating
authority exercised over the sensuous nature has grandeur, and grandeur
is found only there.

It is, then, in the affective movements that this great soul of which we
speak transforms itself and becomes sublime; and it is the touchstone to
distinguish the soul truly great from what is called a good heart, or
from the virtue of temperament. When in man the inclination is ranged on
the side of morality only because morality itself is happily on the side
of inclination, it will happen that the instinct of nature in the
affective movements will exercise upon the will a full empire, and if a
sacrifice is necessary it is the moral nature, and not the sensuous
nature, that will make it. If, on the contrary, it is reason itself
which has made the inclination pass to the side of duty (which is the
case in the fine character), and which has only confided the rudder to
the sensuous nature, it will be always able to retake it as soon as the
instinct should misuse its full powers. Thus the virtue of temperament
in the affective movements falls back to the state of simple production
of nature, whilst the noble soul passes to heroism and rises to the rank
of pure intelligence.

The rule over the instincts by moral force is the emancipation of mind,
and the expression by which this independence presents itself to the eyes
in the world of phenomena is what is called dignity.

To consider this rigorously: the moral force in man is susceptible of no
representation, for the super-sensuous could not explain itself by a
phenomenon that falls under the sense; but it can be represented
indirectly to the mind by sensuous signs, and this is actually the case
with dignity in the configuration of man.

When the instinct of nature is excited, it is accompanied just as the
heart in its moral emotions is, by certain movements of the body, which
sometimes go before the will, sometimes, even as movements purely
sympathetic, escape altogether its empire. In fact, as neither
sensation, nor the desire, nor aversion, are subject to the free
arbitration of man, man has no right over the physical movements which
immediately depend on it. But the instinct does not confine itself to
simple desire; it presses, it advances, it endeavors to realize its
object; and if it does not meet in the autonomy of the mind an energetic
resistance, it will even anticipate it, it will itself take the
initiative of those sorts of acts over which the will alone has the right
to pronounce. For the instinct of conservation tends without ceasing to
usurp the legislative powers in the domain of the will, and its efforts
go to exercise over man a domination as absolute as over the beast.
There are, then, two sorts of distinct movements, which, in themselves
and by their origin, in each affective phenomenon, arise in man by the
instinct of conservation: those firstly which immediately proceed from
sensation, and which, consequently, are quite involuntary; then those
which in principle could and would be voluntary, but from which the blind
instinct of nature takes all freedom. The first refer to the affection
itself, and are united necessarily with it; the others respond rather to
the cause and to the object of the affections, and are thus accidental
and susceptible of modification, and cannot be mistaken for infallible
signs of the affective phenomena. But as both one and the other, when
once the object is determined, are equally necessary to the instinct of
nature, so they assist, both one and the other, the expression of
affective phenomena; a necessary competition, in order that the
expression should be complete and form a harmonious whole.

If, then, the will is sufficiently independent to repress the aggressions
of instinct and to maintain its rights against this blind force, all the
phenomena which the instinct of nature, once excited, produce, in its
proper domain, will preserve, it is true, their force; but those of the
second kind, those which came out of a foreign jurisdiction, and which it
pretended to subject arbitrarily to its power, these phenomena would not
take place. Thus the phenomena are no longer in harmony; but it is
precisely in their opposition that consists the expression of the moral
force. Suppose that we see a man a prey to the most poignant affection,
manifested by movements of the first kind, by quite involuntary
movements. His veins swell, his muscles contract convulsively, his voice
is stifled, his chest is raised and projects, whilst the lower portion of
the torso is sunken and compressed; but at the same time the voluntary
movements are soft, the features of the face free, and serenity beams
forth from the brow and in the look. If man were only a physical being,
all his traits, being determined only by one and the same principle,
would be in unison one with the other, and would have a similar
expression. Here, for example, they would unite in expressing
exclusively suffering; but as those traits which express calmness are
mixed up with those which express suffering, and as similar causes do not
produce opposite effects, we must recognize in this contrast the presence
and the action of a moral force, independent of the passive affections,
and superior to the impressions beneath which we see sensuous nature give
way. And this is why calmness under suffering, in which properly
consists dignity, becomes--indirectly, it is true, and by means of
reasoning--a representation of the pure intelligence which is in man, and
an expression of his moral liberty. But it is not only under suffering,
in the restricted sense of the word, in the sense in which it marks only
the painful affections, but generally in all the cases in which the
appetitive faculty is strongly interested, that mind ought to show its
liberty, and that dignity ought to be the dominant expression. Dignity
is not less required in the agreeable affections than in the painful
affections, because in both cases nature would willingly play the part of
master, and has to be held in check by the will. Dignity relates to the
form and not to the nature of the affection, and this is why it can be
possible that often an affection, praiseworthy in the main, but one to
which we blindly commit ourselves, degenerates, from the want of dignity,
into vulgarity and baseness; and, on the contrary, a condemnable
affection, as soon as it testifies by its form to the empire of the mind
over the senses, changes often its character and approaches even towards
the sublime.

Thus in dignity the mind reigns over the body and bears itself as ruler:
here it has its independence to defend against imperious impulse, always
ready to do without it, to act and shake off its yoke. But in grace, on
the contrary, the mind governs with a liberal government, for here the
mind itself causes sensuous nature to act, and it finds no resistance to
overcome. But obedience only merits forbearance, and severity is only
justifiable when provoked by opposition.

Thus grace is nothing else than the liberty of voluntary movements, and
dignity consists in mastering involuntary movements. Grace leaves to
sensuous nature, where it obeys the orders of the mind, a certain air of
independence; dignity, on the contrary, submits the sensuous nature to
mind where it would make the pretensions to rule; wherever instinct takes
the initiative and allows itself to trespass upon the attributes of the
will, the will must show it no indulgence, but it must testify to its own
independence (autonomy), in opposing to it the most energetic resistance.
If, on the contrary, it is the will that commences, and if instinct does
but follow it, the free arbitration has no longer to display any rigor,
now it must show indulgence. Such is in a few words the law which ought
to regulate the relation of the two natures of man in what regards the
expression of this relation in the world of phenomena.

It follows that dignity is required, and is seen particularly in passive
affection, whilst grace is shown in the conduct, for it is only in
suffering that the liberty of the soul can be manifested, and only in
action that the liberty of the body can be displayed.

If dignity is an expression of resistance opposed to instinct by moral
liberty, and if the instinct consequently ought to be considered as a
force that renders resistance necessary, it follows that dignity is
ridiculous where you have no force of this kind to resist, and
contemptible where there ought not to be any such force to combat. We
laugh at a comedian, whatever rank or condition he may occupy, who even
in indifferent actions affects dignity. We despise those small souls
who, for having accomplished an ordinary action, and often for having
simply abstained from a base one, plume themselves on their dignity.

Generally, what is demanded of virtue is not properly speaking dignity,
but grace. Dignity is implicitly contained in the idea of virtue, which
even by its nature supposes already the rule of man over his instincts.
It is rather sensuous nature that, in the fulfilment of moral duties, is
found in a state of oppression and constraint, particularly when it
consummates in a painful sacrifice. But as the ideal of perfection in
man does not require a struggle, but harmony between the moral and
physical nature, this ideal is little compatible with dignity, which is
only the expression of a struggle between the two natures, and as such
renders visible either the particular impotence of the individual, or the
impotence common to the species. In the first case, when the want of
harmony between inclination and duty, with regard to a moral act, belongs
to the particular powerlessness of the subject, the act would always lose
its moral value, in as far as that combat is necessary, and, in
consequence, proportionally as there would be dignity in the exterior
expression of this act; for our moral judgment connects each individual
with the common measure of the species, and we do not allow man to be
stopped by other limits than those of human nature.

In the second case, when the action commanded by duty cannot be placed in
harmony with the exigencies of instinct without going against the idea of
human nature, the resistance of the inclination is necessary, and then
only the sight of the combat can convince us of the possibility of
victory. Thus we ask here of the features and attitudes an expression of
this interior struggle, not being able to take upon ourselves to believe
in virtue where there is no trace of humanity. Where then the moral law
commands of us an action which necessarily makes the sensuous nature
suffer, there the matter is serious, and ought not to be treated as play;
ease and lightness in accomplishing this act would be much more likely to
revolt us than to satisfy us; and thus, in consequence, expression is no
longer grace, but dignity. In general, the law which prevails here is,
that man ought to accomplish with grace all the acts that he can execute
in the sphere of human nature; and with dignity all those for the
accomplishment of which he is obliged to go beyond his nature.

In like manner as we ask of virtue to have grace, we ask of inclination
to have dignity. Grace is not less natural to inclination than dignity
to virtue, and that is evident from the idea of grace, which is all
sensuous and favorable to the liberty of physical nature, and which is
repugnant to all idea of constraint. The man without cultivation lacks
not by himself a certain degree of grace, when love or any other
affection of this kind animates him; and where do we find more grace than
in children, who are nevertheless entirely under the direction of
instinct. The danger is rather that inclination should end by making the
state of passion the dominant one, stifling the independence of mind, and
bringing about a general relaxation. Therefore in order to conciliate
the esteem of a noble sentiment--esteem can only be inspired by that
which proceeds from a moral source--the inclination must always be
accompanied by dignity. It is for that reason a person in love desires
to find dignity in the object of this passion. Dignity alone is the
warrant that it is not need which has forced, but free choice which has
chosen, that he is not desired as a thing, but esteemed as a person.

We require grace of him who obliges, dignity of the person obliged: the
first, to set aside an advantage which he has over the other, and which
might wound, ought to give to his actions, though his decision may have
been disinterested, the character of an affective movement, that thus,
from the part which he allows inclination to take, he may have the
appearance of being the one who gains the most: the second, not to
compromise by the dependence in which he put himself the honor of
humanity, of which liberty is the saintly palladium, ought to raise what
is only a pure movement of instinct to the height of an act of the will,
and in this manner, at the moment when he receives a favor, return in a
certain sense another favor.

We must censure with grace, and own our faults with dignity: to put
dignity into our remonstrances is to have the air of a man too penetrated
by his own advantage: to put grace into our confessions is to forget the
inferiority in which our fault has placed us. Do the powerful desire to
conciliate affection? Their superiority must be tempered by grace. The
feeble, do they desire to conciliate esteem? They must through dignity
rise above their powerlessness. Generally it is thought that dignity is
suitable to the throne, and every one knows that those seated upon it
desire to find in their councillors, their confessors, and in their
parliaments--grace. But that which may be good and praiseworthy in a
kingdom is not so always in the domain of taste. The prince himself
enters into this domain as soon as he descends from his throne (for
thrones have their privileges), and the crouching courtier places himself
under the saintly and free probation of this law as soon as he stands
erect and becomes again a man. The first we would counsel to supplement
from the superfluity of the second that which he himself needs, and to
give him as much of his dignity as he requires to borrow grace from him.

Although dignity and grace have each their proper domain in which they
are manifest, they do not exclude each other. They can be met with in
the same person, and even in the same state of that person. Further, it
is grace alone which guarantees and accredits dignity, and dignity alone
can give value to grace.

Dignity alone, wherever met with, testifies that the desires and
inclinations are restrained within certain limits. But what we take for
a force which moderates and rules, may it not be rather an obliteration
of the faculty of feeling (hardness)? Is it really the moral autonomy,
and may it not be rather the preponderance of another affection, and in
consequence a voluntary interested effort that restrains the outburst of
the present affection? This is what grace alone can put out of doubt in
joining itself to dignity. It is grace, I mean to say, that testifies to
a peaceful soul in harmony with itself and a feeling heart.

In like manner grace by itself shows a certain susceptibility of the
feeling faculty, and a certain harmony of sentiment. But may this not be
a certain relaxation of the mind which allows so much liberty to sensuous
nature and which opens the heart to all impressions? Is it indeed the
moral which has established this harmony between the sentiments? It is
dignity alone which can in its turn guarantee this to us in joining
itself to grace; I mean it is dignity alone which attests in the subject
an independent force, and at the moment when the will represses the
license of involuntary movement, it is by dignity that it makes known
that the liberty of voluntary movements is a simple concession on its

If grace and dignity, still supported, the one by architectonic beauty
and the other by force, were united in the same person, the expression of
human nature would be accomplished in him: such a person would be
justified in the spiritual world and set at liberty in the sensuous
world. Here the two domains touch so closely that their limits are
indistinguishable. The smile that plays on the lips; this sweetly
animated look; that serenity spread over the brow--it is the liberty of
the reason which gleams forth in a softened light. This noble majesty
impressed on the face is the sublime adieu of the necessity of nature,
which disappears before the mind. Such is the ideal of human beauty
according to which the antique conceptions were formed, and we see it in
the divine forms of a Niobe, of the Apollo Belvedere, in the winged
Genius of the Borghese, and in the Muse of the Barberini palace. There,
where grace and dignity are united, we experience by turns attraction and
repulsion; attraction as spiritual creatures, and repulsion as being
sensuous creatures.

Dignity offers to us an example of subordination of sensuous nature to
moral nature--an example which we are bound to imitate, but which at the
same time goes beyond the measure of our sensuous faculty. This
opposition between the instincts of nature and the exigencies of the
moral law, exigencies, however, that we recognize as legitimate, brings
our feelings into play and awakens a sentiment that we name esteem, which
is inseparable from dignity.

With grace, on the contrary, as with beauty in general, reason finds its
demands satisfied in the world of sense, and sees with surprise one of
its own ideas presented to it, realized in the world of phenomena. This
unexpected encounter between the accident of nature and the necessity of
reason awakens in us a sentiment of joyous approval (contentment) which
calms the senses, but which animates and occupies the mind, and it
results necessarily that we are attracted by a charm towards the sensuous
object. It is this attraction which we call kindliness, or love--a
sentiment inseparable from grace and beauty.

The attraction--I mean the attraction (stimulus) not of love but of
voluptuousness--proposes to the senses a sensuous object that promises to
these the satisfaction of a want, that is to say a pleasure; the senses
are consequently solicited towards this sensuous object, and from that
springs desire, a sentiment which increases and excites the sensuous
nature, but which, on the contrary, relaxes the spiritual nature.

We can say of esteem that it inclines towards its object; of love, that
it approaches with inclination towards its object; of desire, that it
precipitates itself upon its object; with esteem, the object is reason,
and the subject is sensuous nature; with love, the object is sensuous,
and the subject is moral nature; with desire, the object and the subject
are purely sensuous.

With love alone is sentiment free, because it is pure in its principle,
and because it draws its source from the seat of liberty, from the breast
of our divine nature. Here, it is not the weak and base part of our
nature that measures itself with the greater and more noble part; it is
not the sensibility, a prey to vertigo, which gazes up at the law of
reason. It is absolute greatness which is reflected in beauty and in
grace, and satisfied in morality; it becomes the legislator even, the god
in us who plays with his own image in the world of sense. Thus love
consoles and dilates the heart, whilst esteem strains it; because here
there is nothing which could limit the heart and compress its impulses,
there being nothing higher than absolute greatness; and sensibility, from
which alone hinderance could come, is reconciled, in the breast of beauty
and of grace, with the ideas even of the mind. Love has but to descend;
esteem aspires with effort towards an object placed above it. This is
the reason that the wicked love nothing, though they are obliged to
esteem many things. This is why the well-disposed man can hardly esteem
without at once feeling love for the object. Pure spirit can only love,
but not esteem; the senses know only esteem, but not love.

The culpable man is perpetually a prey to fear, that he may meet in the
world of sense the legislator within himself; and sees an enemy in all
that bears the stamp of greatness, of beauty, and of perfection: the man,
on the contrary, in whom a noble soul breathes, knows no greater pleasure
than to meet out of himself the image or realization of the divine that
is in him; and to embrace in the world of sense a symbol of the immortal
friend he loves. Love is at the same time the most generous and the most
egotistical thing in nature; the most generous, because it receives
nothing and gives all--pure mind being only able to give and not receive;
the most egotistical, for that which he seeks in the subject, that which
he enjoys in it, is himself and never anything else.

But precisely because he who loves receives from the beloved object
nothing but that which he has himself given, it often happens that he
gives more than he has received.

The exterior senses believe to have discovered in the object that which
the internal sense alone contemplates in it, in the end believing what is
desired with ardor, and the riches belonging to the one who loves hide
the poverty of the object loved. This is the reason why love is subject
to illusion, whilst esteem and desire are never deceived. As long as the
super-excitement of the internal senses overcomes the internal senses,
the soul remains under the charm of this Platonic love, which gives place
only in duration to the delights enjoyed by the immortals. But as soon
as internal sense ceases to share its visions with the exterior sense,
these take possession of their rights and imperiously demand that which
is its due--matter. It is the terrestrial Venus who profits by the fire
kindled by the celestial Venus, and it is not rare to find the physical
instinct, so long sacrificed, revenge itself by a rule all the more
absolute. As external sense is never a dupe to illusion, it makes this
advantage felt with a brutal insolence over its noble rival; and it
possesses audacity to the point of asserting that it has settled an
account that the spiritual nature had left under sufferance.

Dignity prevents love from degenerating into desire, and grace, from
esteem turning into fear. True beauty, true grace, ought never to cause
desire. Where desire is mingled, either the object wants dignity, or he
who considers it wants morality in his sentiments. True greatness ought
never to cause fear. If fear finds a place, you may hold for certain
either that the object is wanting in taste and grace, or that he who
considers it is not at peace with his conscience.

Attraction, charm, grace: words commonly employed as synonyms, but which
are not, or ought not to be so, the idea they express being capable of
many determinations, requiring different designations.

There is a kind of grace which animates, and another which calms the
heart. One touches nearly the sphere of the senses, and the pleasure
which is found in these, if not restrained by dignity, would easily
degenerate into concupiscence; we may use the word attraction [Reiz] to
designate this grace. A man with whom the feelings have little
elasticity does not find in himself the necessary force to awaken his
affections: he needs to borrow it from without and to seek from
impressions which easily exercise the phantasy, by rapid transition from
sentiment to action, in order to establish in himself the elasticity he
had lost. It is the advantage that he will find in the society of an
attractive person, who by conversation and look would stir his
imagination and agitate this stagnant water.

The calming grace approaches more nearly to dignity, inasmuch as it
manifests itself through the moderation which it imposes upon the
impetuosity of the movements. It is to this the man addresses himself
whose imagination is over-excited; it is in this peaceful atmosphere that
the heart seeks repose after the violence of the storm. It is to this
that I reserve especially the appellation of grace. Attraction is not
incompatible with laughter, jest, or the sting of raillery; grace agrees
only with sympathy and love.

Dignity has also its degrees and its shades. If it approaches grace and
beauty, it takes the name of nobleness; if, on the contrary, it inclines
towards the side of fear, it becomes haughtiness.

The utmost degree of grace is ravishing charm. Dignity, in its highest
form, is called majesty. In the ravishing we love our Ego, and we feel
our being fused with the object. Liberty in its plenitude and in its
highest enjoyment tends to the complete destruction of liberty, and the
excitement of the mind to the delirium of the voluptuousness of the
senses. Majesty, on the contrary, proposes to us a law, a moral ideal,
which constrains us to turn back our looks upon ourselves. God is there,
and the sentiment we have of His presence makes us bend our eyes upon the
ground. We forget all that is without ourselves, and we feel but the
heavy burden of our own existence.

Majesty belongs to what is holy. A man capable of giving us an idea of
holiness possesses majesty, and if we do not go so far as to kneel, our
mind at least prostrates itself before him. But the mind recoils at once
upon the slightest trace of human imperfection which he discovers in the
object of his adoration, because that which is only comparatively great
cannot subdue the heart.

Power alone, however terrible or without limit we may suppose it to be,
can never confer majesty. Power imposes only upon the sensuous being;
majesty should act upon the mind itself, and rob it of its liberty. A
man who can pronounce upon me a sentence of death has neither more nor
less of majesty for me the moment I am what I ought to be. His advantage
over me ceases as soon as I insist on it. But he who offers to me in his
person the image of pure will, before him I would prostrate myself, if it
is possible, for all eternity.

Grace and dignity are too high in value for vanity and stupidity not to
be excited to appropriate them by imitation. There is only one means of
attaining this: it is to imitate the moral state of which they are the
expression. All other imitation is but to ape them, and would be
recognized directly through exaggeration.

Just as exaggeration of the sublime leads to inflation, and affectation
of nobleness to preciosity, in the same manner affectation of grace ends
in coquetry, and that of dignity to stiff solemnity, false gravity.

There where true grace simply used ease and provenance, affected grace
becomes effeminacy. One is content to use discreetly the voluntary
movements, and not thwart unnecessarily the liberty of nature; the other
has not even the heart to use properly the organs of will, and, not to
fall into hardness and heaviness, it prefers to sacrifice something of
the aim of movement, or else it seeks to reach it by cross ways and
indirect means. An awkward and stiff dancer expends as much force as if
he had to work a windmill; with his feet and arms he describes lines as
angular as if he were tracing figures with geometrical precision; the
affected dancer, on the other hand, glides with an excess of delicacy, as
if he feared to injure himself on coming in contact with the ground, and
his feet and hands describe only lines in sinuous curves. The other sex,
which is essentially in possession of true grace, is also that one which
is more frequently culpable of affected grace, but this affectation is
never more distasteful than when used as a bait to desire. The smile of
true grace thus gives place to the most repulsive grimace; the fine play
of look, so ravishing when it displays a true sentiment, is only
contortion; the melodious inflections of the voice, an irresistible
attraction from candid lips, are only a vain cadence, a tremulousness
which savors of study: in a word, all the harmonious charms of woman
become only deception, an artifice of the toilet.

If we have many occasions to observe the affected grace in the theatre
and in the ball-room, there is also often occasion of studying the
affected dignity in the cabinet of ministers and in the study-rooms of
men of science (notably at universities). True dignity is content to
prevent the domination of the affections, to keep the instinct within
just limits, but there only where it pretends to be master in the
involuntary movements; false dignity regulates with an iron sceptre even
the voluntary movements, it oppresses the moral movements, which were
sacred to true dignity, as well as the sensual movements, and destroys
all the mimic play of the features by which the soul gleams forth upon
the face. It arms itself not only against rebel nature, but against
submissive nature, and ridiculously seeks its greatness in subjecting
nature to its yoke, or, if this does not succeed, in hiding it. As if it
had vowed hatred to all that is called nature, it swathes the body in
long, heavy-plaited garments, which hide the human structure; it
paralyzes the limbs in surcharging them with vain ornaments, and goes
even the length of cutting the hair to replace this gift of nature by an
artificial production. True dignity does not blush for nature, but only
for brute nature; it always has an open and frank air; feeling gleams in
its look; calm and serenity of mind is legible upon the brow in eloquent
traits. False gravity, on the contrary, places its dignity in the lines
of its visage; it is close, mysterious, and guards its features with the
care of an actor; all the muscles of its face are tormented, all natural
and true expression disappears, and the entire man is like a sealed

But false dignity is not always wrong to keep the mimic play of its
features under sharp discipline, because it might betray more than would
be desired, a precaution true dignity has not to consider. True dignity
wishes only to rule, not to conceal nature; in false dignity, on the
contrary, nature rules the more powerfully within because it is
controlled outwardly. [Art can make use of a proper solemnity. Its
object is only to prepare the mind for something important. When the
poet is anxious to produce a great impression he tunes the mind to
receive it.]


The abuse of the beautiful and the encroachments of imagination, when,
having only the casting vote, it seeks to grasp the law-giving sceptre,
has done great injury alike in life and in science. It is therefore
highly expedient to examine very closely the bounds that have been
assigned to the use of beautiful forms. These limits are embodied in the
very nature of the beautiful, and we have only to call to mind how taste
expresses its influence to be able to determine how far it ought to
extend it.

The following are the principal operations of taste; to bring the
sensuous and spiritual powers of man into harmony, and to unite them in a
close alliance. Consequently, whenever such an intimate alliance between
reason and the senses is suitable and legitimate, taste may be allowed
influence. But taste reaches the bounds which it is not permitted to
pass without defeating its end or removing us from our duty, in all cases
where the bond between mind and matter is given up for a time, where we
must act for the time as purely creatures of reason, whether it be to
attain an end or to perform a duty. Cases of this kind do really occur,
and they are even incumbent on us in carrying out our destiny.

For we are destined to obtain knowledge and to act from knowledge. In
both cases a certain readiness is required to exclude the senses from
that which the spirit does, because feelings must be abstracted from
knowledge, and passion or desire from every moral act of the will.

When we know, we take up an active attitude, and our attention is
directed to an object, to a relation between different representations.
When we feel, we have a passive attitude, and our attention--if we may
call that so, which is no conscious operation of the mind--is only
directed to our own condition, as far as it is modified by the impression
received. Now, as we only feel and do not know the beautiful, we do not
distinguish any relation between it and other objects, we do not refer
its representation to other representations, but to ourselves who have
experienced the impression. We learn or experience nothing in the
beautiful object, but we perceive a change occasioned by it in our own
condition, of which the impression produced is the expression.
Accordingly our knowledge is not enlarged by judgments of taste, and no
knowledge, not even that of beauty, is obtained by the feeling of beauty.
Therefore, when knowledge is the object, taste can give us no help, at
least directly and immediately; on the contrary, knowledge is shut out as
long as we are occupied with beauty.

But it may be objected, What is the use then of a graceful embodiment of
conceptions, if the object of the discussion or treatise, which is simply
and solely to produce knowledge, is rather hindered than benefited by
ornament? To convince the understanding this gracefulness of clothing
can certainly avail as little as the tasteful arrangement of a banquet
can satisfy the appetite of the guests, or the outward elegance of a
person can give a clue to his intrinsic worth. But just as the appetite
is excited by the beautiful arrangement of the table, and attention is
directed to the elegant person in question, by the attractiveness of the
exterior, so also we are placed in a favorable attitude to receive truth
by the charming representation given of it; we are led to open our souls
to its reception, and the obstacles are removed from our minds which
would have otherwise opposed the difficult pursuit of a long and strict
concatenation of thought. It is never the contents, the substance, that
gains by the beauty of form; nor is it the understanding that is helped
by taste in the act of knowing. The substance, the contents, must
commend themselves to the understanding directly, of themselves; whilst
the beautiful form speaks to the imagination, and flatters it with an
appearance of freedom.

But even further limitations are necessary in this innocent subserviency
to the senses, which is only allowed in the form, without changing
anything in the substance. Great moderation must be always used, and
sometimes the end in view may be completely defeated according to the
kind of knowledge and degree of conviction aimed at in imparting our
views to others. There is a scientific knowledge, which is based on
clear conceptions and known principles; and a popular knowledge, which is
founded on feelings more or less developed. What may be very useful to
the latter is quite possibly adverse to the former.

When the object in view is to produce a strict conviction on principles,
it is not sufficient to present the truth only in respect to its contents
or subject; the test of the truth must at the same time be contained in
the manner of its presentation. But this can mean nothing else than that
not only the contents, but also the mode of stating them, must be
according to the laws of thought. They must be connected in the
presentation with the same strict logical sequence with which they are
chained together in the seasonings of the understanding; the stability of
the representation must guarantee that of the ideas. But the strict
necessity with which the understanding links together reasonings and
conclusions, is quite antagonistic to the freedom granted to imagination
in matters of knowledge. By its very nature, the imagination strives
after perceptions, that is, after complete and completely determinate
representations, and is indefatigably active to represent the universal
in one single case, to limit it in time and space, to make of every
conception an individual, and to give a body to abstractions. Moreover,
the imagination likes freedom in its combinations, and admits no other
law in them than the accidental connection with time and space; for this
is the only connection that remains to our representations, if we
separate from them in thought all that is conception, all that binds them
internally and substantially together. The understanding, following a
diametrically opposite course, only occupies itself with part
representations or conceptions, and its effort is directed to distinguish
features in the living unity of a perception. The understanding proceeds
on the same principles in putting together and taking to pieces, but it
can only combine things by part-representations, just as it can separate
them; for it only unites, according to their inner relations, things that
first disclosed themselves in their separation.

The understanding observes a strict necessity and conformity with laws in
its combinations, and it is only the consistent connection of ideas that
satisfies it. But this connection is destroyed as often as the
imagination insinuates entire representations (individual cases) in this
chain of abstractions, and mixes up the accidents of time with the strict
necessity of a chain of circumstances. Accordingly, in every case where
it is essential to carry out a rigidly accurate sequence of reasoning,
imagination must forego its capricious character; and its endeavor to
obtain all possible sensuousness in conceptions, and all freedom in their
combination, must be made subordinate and sacrificed to the necessity of
the understanding. From this it follows that the exposition must be so
fashioned as to overthrow this effort of the imagination by the exclusion
of all that is individual and sensuous. The poetic impulse of
imagination must be curbed by distinctness of expression, and its
capricious tendency to combine must be limited by a strictly legitimate
course of procedure. I grant that it will not bend to this yoke without
resistance; but in this matter reliance is properly placed on a certain
amount of self-denial, and on an earnest determination of the hearer or
reader not to be deterred by the difficulties accompanying the form, for
the sake of the subject-matter. But in all cases where no sufficient
dependence can be placed on this self-denial, or where the interest felt
in the subject-matter is insufficient to inspire courage for such an
amount of exertion, it is necessary to resign the idea of imparting
strictly scientific knowledge; and to gain instead greater latitude in
the form of its presentation. In such a case it is expedient to abandon
the form of science, which exercises too great violence over the
imagination, and can only be made acceptable through the importance of
the object in view. Instead of this, it is proper to choose the form of
beauty, which, independent of the contents or subject, recommends itself
by its very appearance. As the matter cannot excuse the form in this
case, the form must trespass on the matter.

Popular instruction is compatible with this freedom. By the term popular
speakers or popular writers I imply all those who do not direct their
remarks exclusively to the learned. Now, as these persons do not address
any carefully trained body of hearers or readers, but take them as they
find them, they must only assume the existence of the general conditions
of thought, only the universal impulses that call attention, but no
special gift of thinking, no acquaintance with distinct conceptions, nor
any interest in special subjects. These lecturers and authors must not
be too particular as to whether their audience or readers assign by their
imagination a proper meaning to their abstractions, or whether they will
furnish a proper subject-matter for the universal conceptions to which
the scientific discourse is limited. In order to pursue a safer, easier
course, these persons will present along with their ideas the perceptions
and separate cases to which they relate, and they leave it to the
understanding of the reader to form a proper conception impromptu.
Accordingly, the faculty of imagination is much more mixed up with a
popular discourse, but only to reproduce, to renew previously received
representations, and not to produce, to express its own self-creating
power. Those special cases or perceptions are much too certainly
calculated for the object on hand, and much too closely applied to the
use that is to be made of them, to allow the imagination ever to forget
that it only acts in the service of the understanding. It is true that a
discourse of this popular kind holds somewhat closer to life and the
world of sense, but it does not become lost in it. The mode of
presenting the subject is still didactic; for in order to be beautiful it
is still wanting in the two most distinguished features of beauty,
sensuousness of expression and freedom of movement.

The mode of presenting a theme may be called free when the understanding,
while determining the connection of ideas, does so with so little
prominence that the imagination appears to act quite capriciously in the
matter, and to follow only the accident of time. The presentation of a
subject becomes sensuous when it conceals the general in the particular,
and when the fancy gives the living image (the whole representation),
where attention is merely concerned with the conception (the part
representation). Accordingly, sensuous presentation is, viewed in one
aspect, rich, for in cases where only one condition is desired, a
complete picture, an entirety of conditions, an individual is offered.
But viewed in another aspect it is limited and poor, because it only
confines to a single individual and a single case what ought to be
understood of a whole sphere. It therefore curtails the understanding in
the same proportion that it grants preponderance to the imagination; for
the completer a representation is in substance, the smaller it is in

It is the interest of the imagination to change objects according to its
caprice; the interest of the understanding is to unite its
representations with strict logical necessity.

To satisfy the imagination, a discourse must have a material part, a
body; and these are formed by the perceptions, from which the
understanding separates distinct features or conceptions. For though we
may attempt to obtain the highest pitch of abstraction, something
sensuous always lies at the ground of the thought. But imagination
strives to pass unfettered and lawless from one conception to another
conception, and seeks not to be bound by any other connection than that
of time. So when the perceptions that constitute the bodily part of a
discourse have no concatenation as things, when they appear rather to
stand apart as independent limbs and separate unities, when they betray
the utter disorder of a sportive imagination, obedient to itself alone,
then the clothing has aesthetic freedom and the wants of the fancy are
satisfied. A mode of presentation such as this might be styled an
organic product, in which not only the whole lives, but also each part
has its individual life. A merely scientific presentation is a
mechanical work, when the parts, lifeless in themselves, impart by their
connection an artificial life to the whole.

On the other hand, a discourse, in order to satisfy the understanding and
to produce knowledge, must have a spiritual part, it must have
significance, and it receives this through the conceptions, by means of
which those perceptions are referred to one another and united into a
whole. The problem of satisfying the understanding by conformity with
law, while the imagination is flattered by being set free from
restrictions, is solved thus: by obtaining the closest connection between
the conceptions forming the spiritual part of the discourse, while the
perceptions, corresponding to them and forming the sensuous part of the
discourse, appear to cohere merely through an arbitrary play of the

If an inquiry be instituted into the magic influence of a beautiful
diction, it will always be found that it consists in this happy relation
between external freedom and internal necessity. The principal features
that contribute to this freedom of the imagination are the
individualizing of objects and the figurative or inexact expression of a
thing; the former employed to give force to its sensuousness, the latter
to produce it where it does not exist. When we express a species or kind
by an individual, and portray a conception in a single case, we remove
from fancy the chains which the understanding has placed upon her and
give her the power to act as a creator. Always grasping at completely
determinate images, the imagination obtains and exercises the right to
complete according to her wish the image afforded to her, to animate it,
to fashion it, to follow it in all the associations and transformations
of which it is capable. She may forget for a moment her subordinate
position, and act as an independent power, only self-directing, because
the strictness of the inner concatenation has sufficiently guarded
against her breaking loose from the control of the understanding. An
inexact or figurative expression adds to the liberty, by associating
ideas which in their nature differ essentially from one another, but
which unite in subordination to the higher idea. The imagination adheres
to the concrete object, the understanding to this higher idea, and thus
the former finds movement and variety even where the other verifies a
most perfect continuity. The conceptions are developed according to the
law of necessity, but they pass before the imagination according to the
law of liberty.

Thought remains the same; the medium that represents it is the only thing
that changes. It is thus that an eloquent writer knows how to extract
the most splendid order from the very centre of anarchy, and that he
succeeds in erecting a solid structure on a constantly moving ground, on
the very torrent of imagination.

If we compare together scientific statement or address, popular address,
and fine language, it is seen directly that all three express the idea
with an equal faithfulness as regards the matter, and consequently that
all three help us to acquire knowledge, but that as regards the mode and
degree of this knowledge a very marked difference exists between them.
The writer who uses the language of the beautiful rather represents the
matter of which he treats as possible and desirable than indulges in
attempts to convince us of its reality, and still less of its necessity.
His thought does in fact only present itself as an arbitrary creation of
the imagination, which is never qualified, in itself, to guarantee the
reality of what it represents. No doubt the popular writer leads us to
believe that the matter really is as he describes it, but does not
require anything more firm; for, though he may make the truth of a
proposition credible to our feelings, he does not make it absolutely
certain. Now, feeling may always teach us what is, but not what must be.
The philosophical writer raises this belief to a conviction, for he
proves by undeniable reasons that the matter is necessarily so.

Starting from the principle that we have just established, it will not be
difficult to assign its proper part and sphere to each of the three forms
of diction. Generally it may be laid down as a rule that preference
ought to be given to the scientific style whenever the chief
consideration is not only the result, but also the proofs. But when the
result merely is of the most essential importance the advantage must be
given to popular elocution and fine language. But it may be asked in
what cases ought popular elocution to rise to a fine, a noble style?
This depends on the degree of interest in the reader, or which you wish
to excite in his mind.

The purely scientific statement may incline either to popular discourse
or to philosophic language, and according to this bias it places us more
or less in possession of some branch of knowledge. All that popular
elocution does is to lend us this knowledge for a momentary pleasure or
enjoyment. The first, if I may be allowed the comparison, gives us a
tree with its roots, though with the condition that we wait patiently for
it to blossom and bear fruit. The other, or fine diction, is satisfied
with gathering its flowers and fruits, but the tree that bore them does
not become our property, and when once the flowers are faded and the
fruit is consumed our riches depart. It would therefore be equally
unreasonable to give only the flower and fruit to a man who wishes the
whole tree to be transplanted into his garden, and to offer the whole
tree with its fruit in the germ to a man who only looks for the ripe
fruit. The application of the comparison is self-evident, and I now only
remark that a fine ornate style is as little suited to the professor's
chair as the scholastic style to a drawing-room, the pulpit, or the bar.

The student accumulates in view of an ulterior end and for a future use;
accordingly the professor ought to endeavor to transmit the full and
entire property of the knowledge that he communicates to him. Now,
nothing belongs to us as our own but what has been communicated to the
understanding. The orator, on the other hand, has in view an immediate
end, and his voice must correspond with an immediate want of the public.
His interest is to make his knowledge practically available as soon as
possible; and the surest way is to hand it over to the senses, and to
prepare it for the use of sensation. The professor, who only admits
hearers on certain conditions, and who is entitled to suppose in his
hearers the dispositions of mind in which a man ought to be to receive
the truth, has only in view in his lecture the object of which he is
treating; while the orator, who cannot make any conditions with his
audience, and who needs above everything sympathy, to secure it on his
side, must regulate his action and treatment according to the subjects on
which he turns his discourse. The hearers of the professor have already
attended his lectures, and will attend them again; they only want
fragments that will form a whole after having been linked to the
preceding lectures. The audience of the orator is continually renewed;
it comes unprepared, and perhaps will not return; accordingly in every
address the orator must finish what he wishes to do; each of his
harangues must form a whole and contain expressly and entirely his

It is not therefore surprising that a dogmatic composition or address,
however solid, should not have any success either in conversation or in
the pulpit, nor that a fine diction, whatever wit it may contain, should
not bear fruit in a professor's chair. It is not surprising that the
fashionable world should not read writings that stand out in relief in
the scientific world, and that the scholar and the man of science are
ignorant of works belonging to the school of worldly people that are
devoured greedily by all lovers of the beautiful. Each of these works
may be entitled to admiration in the circle to which it belongs; and more
than this, both, fundamentally, may be quite of equal value; but it would
be requiring an impossibility to expect that the work which demands all
the application of the thinker should at the same time offer an easy
recreation to the man who is only a fine wit.

For the same reason I consider that it is hurtful to choose for the
instruction of youth books in which scientific matters are clothed in an
attractive style. I do not speak here of those in which the substance is
sacrificed to the form, but of certain writings really excellent, which
are sufficiently well digested to stand the strictest examination, but
which do not offer their proofs by their very form. No doubt books of
this kind attain their end, they are read; but this is always at the cost
of a more important end, the end for which they ought to be read. In
this sort of reading the understanding is never exercised save in as far
as it agrees with the fancy; it does not learn to distinguish the form
from the substance, nor to act alone as pure understanding. And yet the
exercise of the pure understanding is in itself an essential and capital
point in the instruction of youth; and very often the exercise itself of
thought is much more important than the object on which it is exercised.
If you wish for a matter to be done seriously, be very careful not to
announce it as a diversion. It is preferable, on the contrary, to secure
attention and effort by the very form that is employed, and to use a kind
of violence to draw minds over from the passive to an active state. The
professor ought never to hide from his pupil the exact regularity of the
method; he ought rather to fix his attention on it, and if possible to
make him desire this strictness. The student ought to learn to pursue an
end, and in the interest of that end to put up with a difficult process.
He ought early to aspire to that loftier satisfaction which is the reward
of exertion. In a scientific lecture the senses are altogether set
aside; in an aesthetic address it is wished to interest them. What is
the result? A writing or conversation of the aesthetic class is devoured
with interest; but questions are put as to its conclusions; the hearer is
scarcely able to give an answer. And this is quite natural, as here the
conceptions reach the mind only in entire masses, and the understanding
only knows what it analyzes. The mind during a lecture of this kind is
more passive than active, and the intellect only possesses what it has
produced by its own activity.

However, all this applies only to the vulgarly beautiful, and to a vulgar
fashion of perceiving beauty. True beauty reposes on the strictest
limitation, on the most exact definition, on the highest and most
intimate necessity. Only this limitation ought rather to let itself be
sought for than be imposed violently. It requires the most perfect
conformity to law, but this must appear quite natural. A product that
unites these conditions will fully satisfy the understanding as soon as
study is made of it. But exactly because this result is really
beautiful, its conformity is not expressed; it does not take the
understanding apart to address it exclusively; it is a harmonious unity
which addresses the entire man--all his faculties together; it is nature
speaking to nature.

A vulgar criticism may perhaps find it empty, paltry, and too little
determined. He who has no other knowledge than that of distinguishing,
and no other sense than that for the particular, is actually pained by
what is precisely the triumph of art, this harmonious unity where the
parts are blended in a pure entirety. No doubt it is necessary, in a
philosophical discourse, that the understanding, as a faculty of
analysis, find what will satisfy it; it must obtain single concrete
results; this is the essential that must not by any means be lost sight
of. But if the writer, while giving all possible precision to the
substance of his conceptions, has taken the necessary measures to enable
the understanding, as soon as it will take the trouble, to find of
necessity these truths, I do not see that he is a less good writer
because he has approached more to the highest perfection. Nature always
acts as a harmonious unity, and when she loses this in her efforts after
abstraction, nothing appears more urgent to her than to re-establish it,
and the writer we are speaking of is not less commendable if he obeys
nature by attaching to the understanding what had been separated by
abstraction, and when, by appealing at the same time to the sensuous and
to the spiritual faculties, he addresses altogether the entire man. No
doubt the vulgar critic will give very scant thanks to this writer for
having given him a double task. For vulgar criticism has not the feeling
for this harmony, it only runs after details, and even in the Basilica of
St. Peter would exclusively attend to the pillars on which the ethereal
edifice reposes. The fact is that this critic must begin by translating
it to understand it--in the same way that the pure understanding, left to
itself, if it meets beauty and harmony, either in nature or in art, must
begin by transferring them into its own language--and by decomposing it,
by doing in fact what the pupil does who spells before reading. But it
is not from the narrow mind of his readers that the writer who expresses
his conceptions in the language of the beautiful receives his laws. The
ideal which he carries in himself is the goal at which he aims without
troubling himself as to who follows and who remains behind. Many will
stay behind; for if it be a rare thing to find readers simply capable of
thinking, it is infinitely more rare to meet any who can think with
imagination. Thus our writer, by the force of circumstances, will fall
out, on the one hand, with those who have only intuitive ideas and
feelings, for he imposes on them a painful task by forcing them to think;
and, on the other hand, he aggravates those who only know how to think,
for he asks of them what is absolutely impossible--to give a living,
animated form to conception. But as both only represent true humanity
very imperfectly--that normal humanity which requires the absolute
harmony of these two operations--their contradictory objections have no
weight, and if their judgments prove anything, it is rather that the
author has succeeded in attaining his end. The abstract thinker finds
that the substance of the work is solidly thought; the reader of
intuitive ideas finds his style lively and animated; both consequently
find and approve in him what they are able to understand, and that alone
is wanting which exceeds their capacity.

But precisely for this very reason a writer of this class is not adapted
to make known to an ignorant reader the object of what he treats, or, in
the most proper sense of the word, to teach. Happily also, he is not
required for that, for means will not be wanting for the teaching of
scholars. The professor in the strictest acceptation is obliged to bind
himself to the needs of his scholars; the first thing he has to
presuppose is the ignorance of those who listen to him; the other, on the
other hand, demands a certain maturity and culture in his reader or
audience. Nor is his office confined to impart to them dead ideas; he
grasps the living object with a living energy, and seizes at once on the
entire man--his understanding, his heart, and his will.

We have found that it is dangerous for the soundness of knowledge to give
free scope to the exigencies of taste in teaching, properly so called.
But this does not mean by any means that the culture of this faculty in
the student is a premature thing. He must, on the contrary, be
encouraged to apply the knowledge that he has appropriated in the school
to the field of living development. When once the first point has been
observed, and the knowledge acquired, the other point, the exercise of
taste, can only have useful results. It is certain that it is necessary
to be quite the master of a truth to abandon without danger the form in
which it has been found; a great strength of understanding is required
not to lose sight of your object while giving free play to the
imagination. He who transmits his knowledge under a scholastic form
persuades me, I admit, that he has grasped these truths properly and that
he knows how to support them. But he who besides this is in a condition
to communicate them to me in a beautiful form not only proves that he is
adapted to promulgate them, he shows moreover that he has assimilated
them and that he is able to make their image pass into his productions
and into his acts. There is for the results of thought only one way by
which they can penetrate into the will and pass into life; that is, by
spontaneous imagination, only what in ourselves was already a living act
can become so out of us; and the same thing happens with the creations of
the mind as with those of organic nature, that the fruit issues only from
the flower. If we consider how many truths were living and active as
interior intuitions before philosophy showed their existence, and how
many truths most firmly secured by proofs often remain inactive on the
will and the feelings, it will be seen how important it is for practical
life to follow in this the indications of nature, and when we have
acquired a knowledge scientifically to bring it back again to the state
of a living intuition. It is the only way to enable those whose nature
has forbidden them to follow the artificial path of science to share in
the treasures of wisdom. The beautiful renders us here in relation with
knowledge what, in morals, it does in relation with conduct; it places
men in harmony on results, and on the substance of things, who would
never have agreed on the form and principles.

The other sex, by its very nature and fair destiny, cannot and ought not
to rival ours in scientific knowledge; but it can share truth with us by
the reproduction of things. Man agrees to have his taste offended,
provided compensation be given to his understanding by the increased
value of its possessions. But women do not forgive negligence in form,
whatever be the nature of the conception; and the inner structure of all
their being gives them the right to show a strict severity on this point.
The fair sex, even if it did not rule by beauty, would still be entitled
to its name because it is ruled by beauty, and makes all objects
presented to it appear before the tribunal of feeling, and all that does
not speak to feeling or belies it is lost in the opinion of women. No
doubt through this medium nothing can be made to reach the mind of woman
save the matter of truth, and not truth itself, which is inseparable from
its proofs. But happily woman only needs the matter of truth to reach
her highest perfection, and the few exceptions hitherto seen are not of a
nature to make us wish that the exception should become the rule. As,
therefore, nature has not only dispensed but cut off the other sex from
this task, man must give a double attention to it if he wishes to vie
with woman and be equal to her in what is of great interest in human
life. Consequently he will try to transfer all that he can from the
field of abstraction, where he is master, to that of imagination, of
feeling, where woman is at once a model and a judge. The mind of woman
being a ground that does not admit of durable cultivation, he will try to
make his own ground yield as many flowers and as much fruit as possible,
so as to renew as often as possible the quickly-fading produce on the
other ground, and to keep up a sort of artificial harvest where natural
harvests could not ripen. Taste corrects or hides the natural
differences of the two sexes. It nourishes and adorns the mind of woman
with the productions of that of man, and allows the fair sex to feel
without being previously fatigued by thought, and to enjoy pleasures
without having bought them with labors. Thus, save the restrictions I
have named, it is to the taste that is intrusted the care of form in
every statement by which knowledge is communicated, but under the express
condition that it will not encroach on the substance of things. Taste
must never forget that it carries out an order emanating elsewhere, and
that it is not its own affairs it is treating of. All its parts must be
limited to place our minds in a condition favorable to knowledge; over
all that concerns knowledge itself it has no right to any authority. For
it exceeds its mission, it betrays it, it disfigures the object that it
ought faithfully to transmit, it lays claim to authority out of its
proper province; if it tries to carry out there, too, its own law, which
is nothing but that of pleasing the imagination and making itself
agreeable to the intuitive faculties; if it applies this law not only to
the operation, but also to the matter itself; if it follows this rule not
only to arrange the materials, but also to choose them. When this is the
case the first consideration is not the things themselves, but the best
mode of presenting them so as to recommend them to the senses. The
logical sequence of conceptions of which only the strictness should have
been hidden from us is rejected as a disagreeable impediment. Perfection
is sacrificed to ornament, the truth of the parts to the beauty of the
whole, the inmost nature of things to the exterior impression. Now,
directly the substance is subordinated to form, properly speaking it
ceases to exist; the statement is empty, and instead of having extended
our knowledge we have only indulged in an amusing game.

The writers who have more wit than understanding and more taste than
science, are too often guilty of this deception; and readers more
accustomed to feel than to think are only too inclined to forgive them.
In general it is unsafe to give to the aesthetical sense all its culture
before having exercised the understanding as the pure thinking faculty,
and before having enriched the head with conceptions; for as taste always
looks at the carrying out and not at the basis of things, wherever it
becomes the only arbiter, there is an end of the essential difference
between things. Men become indifferent to reality, and they finish by
giving value to form and appearance only.

Hence arises that superficial and frivolous bel-esprit that we often see
hold sway in social conditions and in circles where men pride themselves,
and not unreasonably, on the finest culture. It is a fatal thing to
introduce a young man into assemblies where the Graces hold sway before
the Muses have dismissed him and owned his majority. Moreover, it can
hardly be prevented that what completes the external education of a young
man whose mind is ripe turns him who is not ripened by study into a fool.
I admit that to have a fund of conceptions, and not form, is only a half
possession. For the most splendid knowledge in a head incapable of
giving them form is like a treasure buried in the earth. But form
without substance is a shadow of riches, and all possible cleverness in
expression is of no use to him who has nothing to express.

Thus, to avoid the graces of education leading us in a wrong road, taste
must be confined to regulating the external form, while reason and
experience determine the substance and the essence of conceptions. If
the impression made on the senses is converted into a supreme criterion,
and if things are exclusively referred to sensation, man will never cease
to be in the service of matter; he will never clear a way for his
intelligence; in short, reason will lose in freedom in proportion as it
allows imagination to usurp undue influence.

The beautiful produces its effect by mere intuition; the truth demands
study. Accordingly, the man who among all his faculties has only
exercised the sense of the beautiful is satisfied even when study is
absolutely required, with a superficial view of things; and he fancies he
can make a mere play of wit of that which demands a serious effort. But
mere intuition cannot give any result. To produce something great it is
necessary to enter into the fundamental nature of things, to distinguish
them strictly, to associate them in different manners, and study them
with a steady attention. Even the artist and the poet, though both of
them labor to procure us only the pleasure of intuition, can only by most
laborious and engrossing study succeed in giving us a delightful
recreation by their works.

I believe this to be the test to distinguish the mere dilettante from the
artist of real genius. The seductive charm exercised by the sublime and
the beautiful, the fire which they kindle in the young imagination, the
apparent ease with which they place the senses under an illusion, have
often persuaded inexperienced minds to take in hand the palette or the
harp, and to transform into figures or to pour out in melody what they
felt living in their heart. Misty ideas circulate in their heads, like a
world in formation, and make them believe that they are inspired. They
take obscurity for depth, savage vehemence for strength, the undetermined
for the infinite, what has not senses for the super-sensuous. And how
they revel in these creations of their brain! But the judgment of the
connoisseur does not confirm this testimony of an excited self-love.
With his pitiless criticism he dissipates all the prestige of the
imagination and of its dreams, and carrying the torch before these
novices he leads them into the mysterious depths of science and life,
where, far from profane eyes, the source of all true beauty flows ever
towards him who is initiated. If now a true genius slumbers in the young
aspirant, no doubt his modesty will at first receive a shock; but soon
the consciousness of real talent will embolden him for the trial. If
nature has endowed him with gifts for plastic art, he will study the
structure of man with the scalpel of the anatomist; he will descend into
the lowest depths to be true in representing surfaces, and he will
question the whole race in order to be just to the individual. If he is
born to be a poet, he examines humanity in his own heart to understand
the infinite variety of scenes in which it acts on the vast theatre of
the world. He subjects imagination and its exuberant fruitfulness to the
discipline of taste, and charges the understanding to mark out in its
cool wisdom the banks that should confine the raging waters of
inspiration. He knows full well that the great is only formed of the
little--from the imperceptible. He piles up, grain by grain, the
materials of the wonderful structure, which, suddenly disclosed to our
eyes, produces a startling effect and turns our head. But if nature has
only intended him for a dilettante, difficulties damp his impotent zeal,
and one of two things happens: either he abandons, if he is modest, that
to which he was diverted by a mistaken notion of his vocation; or, if he
has no modesty, he brings back the ideal to the narrow limits of his
faculties, for want of being able to enlarge his faculties to the vast
proportions of the ideal. Thus the true genius of the artist will be
always recognized by this sign--that when most enthusiastic for the
whole, he preserves a coolness, a patience defying all obstacles, as
regards details. Moreover, in order not to do any injury to perfection,
he would rather renounce the enjoyment given by the completion. For the
simple amateur, it is the difficulty of means that disgusts him and turns
him from his aim; his dreams would be to have no more trouble in
producing than he had in conception and intuition.

I have spoken hitherto of the dangers to which we are exposed by an
exaggerated sensuousness and susceptibility to the beautiful in the form,
and from too extensive aesthetical requirements; and I have considered
these dangers in relation to the faculty of thinking and knowing. What,
then, will be the result when these pretensions of the aesthetical taste
bear on the will? It is one thing to be stopped in your scientific
progress by too great a love of the beautiful, another to see this
inclination become a cause of degeneracy in character itself, and make us
violate the law of duty. In matters of thought the caprices of "taste"
are no doubt an evil, and they must of necessity darken the intelligence;
but these same caprices applied to the maxims of the will become really
pernicious and infallibly deprave the heart. Yet this is the dangerous
extreme to which too refined an aesthetic culture brings us directly we
abandon ourselves exclusively to the feelings for the beautiful, and
directly we raise taste to the part of absolute lawgiver over our will.

The moral destination of man requires that the will should be completely
independent of all influence of sensuous instincts, and we know that
taste labors incessantly at making the link between reason and the senses
continually closer. Now this effort has certainly as its result the
ennobling of the appetites, and to make them more conformable with the
requirements of reason; but this very point may be a serious danger for

I proceed to explain my meaning. A very refined aesthetical education
accustoms the imagination to direct itself according to laws, even in its
free exercise, and leads the sensuous not to have any enjoyments without
the concurrence of reason; but it soon follows that reason, in its turn,
is required to be directed, even in the most serious operations of its
legislative power, according to the interests of imagination, and to give
no more orders to the will without the consent of the sensuous instincts.
The moral obligation of the will, which is, however, an absolute and
unconditional law, takes unperceived the character of a simple contract,
which only binds each of the contracting parties when the other fulfils
its engagement. The purely accidental agreement of duty with inclination
ends by being considered a necessary condition, and thus the principle of
all morality is quenched in its source.

How does the character become thus gradually depraved? The process may
be explained thus: So long as man is only a savage, and his instincts'
only bear on material things and a coarse egotism determines his actions,
sensuousness can only become a danger to morality by its blind strength,
and does not oppose reason except as a force. The voice of justice,
moderation, and humanity is stifled by the appetites, which make a
stronger appeal. Man is then terrible in his vengeance, because he is
terribly sensitive to insults. He robs, he kills, because his desires
are still too powerful for the feeble guidance of reason. He is towards
others like a wild beast, because the instinct of nature still rules him
after the fashion of animals.

But when to the savage state, to that of nature, succeeds civilization;
when taste ennobles the instincts, and holds out to them more worthy
objects taken from the moral order; when culture moderates the brutal
outbursts of the appetites and brings them back under the discipline of
the beautiful, it may happen that these same instincts, which were only
dangerous before by their blind power, coming to assume an air of dignity
and a certain assumed authority, may become more dangerous than before to
the morality of the character; and that, under the guise of innocence,
nobleness, and purity, they may exercise over the will a tyranny a
hundred times worse than the other.

The man of taste willingly escapes the gross thraldom of the appetites.
He submits to reason the instinct which impels him to pleasure, and he is
willing to take counsel from his spiritual and thinking nature for the
choice of the objects he ought to desire. Now, reason is very apt to
mistake a spiritualized instinct for one of its own instincts, and at
length to give up to it the guidance of the will, and this in proportion
as moral judgment and aesthetic judgment, the sense of the good and the
sense of the beautiful, meet in the same object and in the same decision.

So long as it remains possible for inclination and duty to meet in the
same object and in a common desire, this representation of the moral
sense by the aesthetic sense may not draw after it positively evil
consequences, though, if the matter be strictly considered, the morality
of particular actions does not gain by this agreement. But the
consequences will be quite different when sensuousness and reason have
each of them a different interest. If, for example, duty commands us to
perform an action that revolts our taste, or if taste feels itself drawn
towards an object which reason as a moral judge is obliged to condemn,
then, in fact, we suddenly encounter the necessity of distinguishing
between the requirements of the moral sense and those of the aesthetic
sense, which so long an agreement had almost confounded to such a degree
that they could not be distinguished. We must now determine their
reciprocal rights, and find which of them is the real master in our soul.
But such a long representation of the moral sense by the sense of the
beautiful has made us forget this master. When we have so long practised
this rule of obeying at once the suggestions of taste, and when we have
found the result always satisfactory, taste ends by assuming a kind of
appearance of right. As taste has shown itself irreproachable in the
vigilant watch it has kept over the will, we necessarily come to grant a
certain esteem to its decisions; and it is precisely to this esteem that
inclination, with captious logic, gives weight against the duties of

Esteem is a feeling that can only be felt for law, and what corresponds
to it. Whatever is entitled to esteem lays claim to an unconditional
homage. The ennobled inclination which has succeeded in captivating our
esteem will, therefore, no longer be satisfied with being subordinate to
reason; it aspires to rank alongside it. It does not wish to be taken
for a faithless subject in revolt against his sovereign; it wishes to be
regarded as a queen; and, treating reason as its peer, to dictate, like
reason, laws to the conscience. Thus, if we listen to her, she would
weigh by right equally in the scale; and then have we not good reason to
fear that interest will decide?

Of all the inclinations that are decided from the feeling for the
beautiful and that are special to refined minds, none commends itself so
much to the moral sense as the ennobled instinct of love; none is so
fruitful in impressions which correspond to the true dignity of man. To
what an elevation does it raise human nature! and often what divine
sparks does it kindle in the common soul! It is a sacred fire that
consumes every egotistical inclination, and the very principles of
morality are scarcely a greater safeguard of the soul's chastity than
love is for the nobility of the heart. How often it happens while the
moral principles are still struggling that love prevails in their favor,
and hastens by its irresistible power the resolutions that duty alone
would have vainly demanded from weak human nature! Who, then, would
distrust an affection that protects so powerfully what is most excellent
in human nature, and which fights so victoriously against the moral foe
of all morality, egotism?

But do not follow this guide till you have secured a better. Suppose a
loved object be met that is unhappy, and unhappy because of you, and that
it depends only on you to make it happy by sacrificing a few moral
scruples. You may be disposed to say, "Shall I let this loved being
suffer for the pleasure of keeping our conscience pure? Is this
resistance required by this generous, devoted affection, always ready to
forget itself for its object? I grant it is going against conscience to
have recourse to this immoral means to solace the being we love; but can
we be said to love if in presence of this being and of its sorrow we
continue to think of ourselves? Are we not more taken up with ourselves
than with it, since we prefer to see it unhappy rather than consent to be
so ourselves by the reproaches of our conscience?" These are the
sophisms that the passion of love sets against conscience (whose voice
thwarts its interests), making its utterances despicable as suggestions
of selfishness, and representing our moral dignity as one of the
components of our happiness that we are free to alienate. Then, if the
morality of our character is not strongly backed by good principles, we
shall surrender, whatever may be the impetus of our exalted imagination,
to disgraceful acts; and we shall think that we gain a glorious victory
over our self-love, while we are only the despicable victims of this
instinct. A well-known French romance, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," gives
us a striking example of this delusion, by which love betrays a soul
otherwise pure and beautiful. The Presidente de Tourvel errs by
surprise, and seeks to calm her remorse by the idea that she has
sacrificed her virtue to her generosity.

Secondary and imperfect duties, as they are styled, are those that the
feeling for the beautiful takes most willingly under its patronage, and
which it allows to prevail on many occasions over perfect duties. As
they assign a much larger place to the arbitrary option of the subject,
and at the same time as they have the appearance of merit, which gives
them lustre, they commend themselves far more to the aesthetic taste than
perfect or necessary duties, which oblige us strictly and
unconditionally. How many people allow themselves to be unjust that they
may be generous! How many fail in their duties to society that they may
do good to an individual, and reciprocally! How many people forgive a
lie sooner than a rudeness, a crime against humanity rather than an
insult to honor! How many debase their bodies to hasten the perfection
of their minds, and degrade their character to adorn their understanding!
How many do not scruple to commit a crime when they have a laudable end
in view, pursue an ideal of political happiness through all the terrors
of anarchy, tread under foot existing laws to make way for better ones,
and do not scruple to devote the present generation to misery to secure
at this cost the happiness of future generations! The apparent
unselfishness of certain virtues gives them a varnish of purity, which
makes them rash enough to break and run counter to the moral law; and
many people are the dupes of this strange illusion, to rise higher than
morality and to endeavor to be more reasonable than reason.

The man of a refined taste is susceptible, in this respect, of a moral
corruption, from which the rude child of nature is preserved by his very
coarseness. In the latter, the opposite of the demands of sense and the
decrees of the moral law is so strongly marked and so manifest, and the
spiritual element has so small a share in his desires, that although the
appetites exercise a despotic sway over him, they cannot wrest his esteem
from him. Thus, when the savage, yielding to the superior attraction of
sense, gives way to the committal of an unjust action, he may yield to
temptation, but he will not hide from himself that he is committing a
fault, and he will do homage to reason even while he violates its
mandates. The child of civilization, on the contrary, the man of
refinement, will not admit that he commits a fault, and to soothe his
conscience he prefers to impose on it by a sophism. No doubt he wishes
to obey his appetite, but at the same time without falling in his own
esteem. How does he manage this? He begins by overthrowing the superior
authority that thwarts his inclination, and before transgressing the law
he calls in question the competence of the lawgiver. Could it be
expected that a corrupt will should so corrupt the intelligence? The
only dignity that an inclination can assume accrues to it from its
agreement with reason; yet we find that inclination, independent as well
as blind, aspires, at the very moment she enters into contest with
reason, to keep this dignity which she owes to reason alone. Nay,
inclination even aspires to use this dignity she owes to reason against
reason itself.

These are the dangers that threaten the morality of the character when
too intimate an association is attempted between sensuous instincts and
moral instincts, which can never perfectly agree in real life, but only
in the ideal. I admit that the sensuous risks nothing in this
association, because it possesses nothing except what it must give up
directly duty speaks and reason demands the sacrifice. But reason, as
the arbiter of the moral law, will run the more risk from this union if
it receives as a gift from inclination what it might enforce; for, under
the appearance of freedom, the feeling of obligation may be easily lost,
and what reason accepts as a favor may quite well be refused it when the
sensuous finds it painful to grant it. It is, therefore, infinitely
safer for the morality of the character to suspend, at least for a time,
this misrepresentation of the moral sense by the sense of the beautiful.
It is best of all that reason should command by itself without mediation,
and that it should show to the will its true master. The remark is,
therefore, quite justified, that true morality only knows itself in the
school of adversity, and that a continual prosperity becomes easily a
rock of offence to virtue. I mean here by prosperity the state of a man
who, to enjoy the goods of life, need not commit injustice, and who to
conform to justice need not renounce any of the goods of life. The man
who enjoys a continual prosperity never sees moral duty face to face,
because his inclinations, naturally regular and moderate, always
anticipate the mandate of reason, and because no temptation to violate
the law recalls to his mind the idea of law. Entirely guided by the
sense of the beautiful, which represents reason in the world of sense, he
will reach the tomb without having known by experience the dignity of his
destiny. On the other hand, the unfortunate man, if he be at the same
time a virtuous man, enjoys the sublime privilege of being in immediate
intercourse with the divine majesty of the moral law; and as his virtue
is not seconded by any inclination, he bears witness in this lower world,
and as a human being, of the freedom of pure spirits!


I call vulgar (common) all that does not speak to the mind, of which all
the interest is addressed only to the senses. There are, no doubt, an
infinite number of things vulgar in themselves from their material and
subject. But as the vulgarity of the material can always be ennobled by
the treatment, in respect of art the only question is that relating to
the vulgarity in form. A vulgar mind will dishonor the most noble matter
by treating it in a common manner. A great and noble mind, on the
contrary, will ennoble even a common matter, and it will do so by
superadding to it something spiritual and discovering in it some aspect
in which this matter has greatness. Thus, for example, a vulgar
historian will relate to us the most insignificant actions of a hero with
a scrupulousness as great as that bestowed on his sublimest exploit, and
will dwell as lengthily on his pedigree, his costume, and his household
as on his projects and his enterprises. He will relate those of his
actions that have the most grandeur in such wise that no one will
perceive that character in them. On the contrary, a historian of genius,
himself endowed with nobleness of mind, will give even to the private
life and the least considerable actions of his hero an interest and a
value that will make them considerable. Thus, again, in the matter of
the plastic arts, the Dutch and Flemish painters have given proof of a
vulgar taste; the Italians, and still more the ancient Greeks, of a grand
and noble taste. The Greeks always went to the ideal; they rejected
every vulgar feature, and chose no common subject.

A portrait painter can represent his model in a common manner or with
grandeur; in a common manner if he reproduce the merely accidental
details with the same care as the essential features, if he neglect the
great to carry out the minutiae curiously. He does it grandly if he know
how to find out and place in relief what is most interesting, and
distinguish the accidental from the necessary; if he be satisfied with
indicating what is paltry, reserving all the finish of the execution for
what is great. And the only thing that is great is the expression of the
soul itself, manifesting itself by actions, gestures, or attitudes.

The poet treats his subject in a common manner when in the execution of
his theme he dwells on valueless facts and only skims rapidly over those
that are important. He treats his theme with grandeur when he associates
with it what is great. For example, Homer treated the shield of Achilles
grandly, though the making of a shield, looking merely at the matter, is
a very commonplace affair.

One degree below the common or the vulgar is the element of the base or
gross, which differs from the common in being not only something
negative, a simple lack of inspiration or nobleness, but something
positive, marking coarse feelings, bad morals, and contemptible manners.
Vulgarity only testifies that an advantage is wanting, whereof the
absence is a matter of regret; baseness indicates the want of a quality
which we are authorized to require in all. Thus, for example, revenge,
considered in itself, in whatever place or way it manifests itself, is
something vulgar, because it is the proof of a lack of generosity. But
there is, moreover, a base vengeance, when the man, to satisfy it,
employs means exposed to contempt. The base always implies something
gross, or reminds one of the mob, while the common can be found in a
well-born and well-bred man, who may think and act in a common manner if
he has only mediocre faculties. A man acts in a common manner when he is
only taken up with his own interest, and it is in this that he is in
opposition with the really noble man, who, when necessary, knows how to
forget himself to procure some enjoyment for others. But the same man
would act in a base manner if he consulted his interests at the cost of
his honor, and if in such a case he did not even take upon himself to
respect the laws of decency. Thus the common is only the contrary of the
noble; the base is the contrary both of the noble and the seemly. To
give yourself up, unresisting, to all your passions, to satisfy all your
impulses, without being checked even by the rules of propriety, still
less by those of morality, is to conduct yourself basely, and to betray
baseness of the soul.

The artist also may fall into a low style, not only by choosing ignoble
subjects, offensive to decency and good taste, but moreover by treating
them in a base manner. It is to treat a subject in a base manner if
those sides are made prominent which propriety directs us to conceal, or
if it is expressed in a manner that incidentally awakens low ideas. The
lives of the greater part of men can present particulars of a low kind,
but it is only a low imagination that will pick out these for

There are pictures describing sacred history in which the Apostles, the
Virgin, and even the Christ, are depicted in such wise that they might be
supposed to be taken from the dregs of the populace. This style of
execution always betrays a low taste, and might justly lead to the
inference that the artist himself thinks coarsely and like the mob.

No doubt there are cases where art itself may be allowed to produce base
images: for example, when the aim is to provoke laughter. A man of
polished manners may also sometimes, and without betraying a corrupt
taste, be amused by certain features when nature expresses herself
crudely but with truth, and he may enjoy the contrast between the manners
of polished society and those of the lower orders. A man of position
appearing intoxicated will always make a disagreeable impression on us;
but a drunken driver, sailor, or carter will only be a risible object.
Jests that would be insufferable in a man of education amuse us in the
mouth of the people. Of this kind are many of the scenes of
Aristophanes, who unhappily sometimes exceeds this limit, and becomes
absolutely condemnable. This is, moreover, the source of the pleasure we
take in parodies, when the feelings, the language, and the mode of action
of the common people are fictitiously lent to the same personages whom
the poet has treated with all possible dignity and decency. As soon as
the poet means only to jest, and seeks only to amuse, we can overlook
traits of a low kind, provided he never stirs up indignation or disgust.

He stirs up indignation when he places baseness where it is quite
unpardonable, that is in the case of men who are expected to show
fine moral sense. In attributing baseness to them he will either
outrage truth, for we prefer to think him a liar than to believe that
well-trained men can act in a base manner; or his personages will offend
our moral sense, and, what is worse, excite our imagination. I do not
mean by this to condemn farces; a farce implies between the poet and the
spectator a tacit consent that no truth is to be expected in the piece.
In a farce we exempt the poet from all faithfulness in his pictures; he
has a kind of privilege to tell us untruths. Here, in fact, all the
comic consists exactly in its contrast with the truth, and so it cannot
possibly be true.

This is not all: even in the serious and the tragic there are certain
places where the low element can be brought into play. But in this case
the affair must pass into the terrible, and the momentary violation of
our good taste must be masked by a strong impression, which brings our
passion into play. In other words, the low impression must be absorbed
by a superior tragic impression. Theft, for example, is a thing
absolutely base, and whatever arguments our heart may suggest to excuse
the thief, whatever the pressure of circumstances that led him to the
theft, it is always an indelible brand stamped upon him, and,
aesthetically speaking, he will always remain a base object. On this
point taste is even less forgiving than morality, and its tribunal is
more severe; because an aesthetical object is responsible even for the
accessory ideas that are awakened in us by such an object, while moral
judgment eliminates all that is merely accidental. According to this
view a man who robs would always be an object to be rejected by the poet
who wishes to present serious pictures. But suppose this man is at the
same time a murderer, he is even more to be condemned than before by the
moral law. But in the aesthetic judgment he is raised one degree higher
and made better adapted to figure in a work of art. Continuing to judge
him from the aesthetic point of view, it may be added that he who abases
himself by a vile action can to a certain extent be raised by a crime,
and can be thus reinstated in our aesthetic estimation. This
contradiction between the moral judgment and the aesthetical judgment is
a fact entitled to attention and consideration. It may be explained in
different ways. First, I have already said that, as the aesthetic
judgment depends on the imagination, all the accessory ideas awakened in
us by an object and naturally associated with it, must themselves
influence this judgment. Now, if these accessory ideas are base, they
infallibly stamp this character on the principal object.

In the second place, what we look for in the aesthetic judgment is
strength; whilst in a judgment pronounced in the name of the moral sense
we consider lawfulness. The lack of strength is something contemptible,
and every action from which it may be inferred that the agent lacks
strength is, by that very fact, a contemptible action. Every cowardly
and underhand action is repugnant to us, because it is a proof of
impotence; and, on the contrary, a devilish wickedness can, aesthetically
speaking, flatter our taste, as soon as it marks strength. Now, a theft
testifies to a vile and grovelling mind: a murder has at least on its
side the appearance of strength; the interest we take in it aesthetically
is in proportion to the strength that is manifested in it.

A third reason is, because in presence of a deep and horrible crime we no
longer think of the quality but the awful consequences of the action.
The stronger emotion covers and stifles the weaker one. We do not look
back into the mind of the agent; we look onward into his destiny, we
think of the effects of his action. Now, directly we begin to tremble
all the delicacies of taste are reduced to silence. The principal
impression entirely fills our mind: the accessory and accidental ideas,
in which chiefly dwell all impressions of baseness, are effaced from it.
It is for this reason that the theft committed by young Ruhberg, in the
"Crime through Ambition," [a play of Iffland] far from displeasing on the
stage, is a real tragic effect. The poet with great skill has managed
the circumstances in such wise that we are carried away; we are left
almost breathless. The frightful misery of the family, and especially
the grief of the father, are objects that attract our attention, turn it
aside, from the person of the agent, towards the consequences of his act.
We are too much moved to tarry long in representing to our minds the
stamp of infamy with which the theft is marked. In a word, the base
element disappears in the terrible. It is singular that this theft,
really accomplished by young Ruhberg, inspires us with less repugnance
than, in another piece, the mere suspicion of a theft, a suspicion which
is actually without foundation. In the latter case it is a young officer
who is accused without grounds of having abstracted a silver spoon, which
is recovered later on. Thus the base element is reduced in this case to
a purely imaginary thing, a mere suspicion, and this suffices
nevertheless to do an irreparable injury, in our aesthetical
appreciation, to the hero of the piece, in spite of his innocence. This
is because a man who is supposed capable of a base action did not
apparently enjoy a very solid reputation for morality, for the laws of
propriety require that a man should be held to be a man of honor as long
as he does not show the opposite. If therefore anything contemptible is
imputed to him, it seems that by some part of his past conduct he has
given rise to a suspicion of this kind, and this does him injury, though
all the odious and the base in an undeserved suspicion are on the side of
him who accuses. A point that does still greater injury to the hero of
the piece of which I am speaking is the fact that he is an officer, and
the lover of a lady of condition brought up in a manner suitable to her
rank. With these two titles, that of thief makes quite a revolting
contrast, and it is impossible for us, when we see him near his lady, not
to think that perhaps at that very moment he had the silver spoon in his
pocket. Lastly, the most unfortunate part of the business is, that he
has no idea of the suspicion weighing over him, for if he had a knowledge
of it, in his character of officer, he would exact a sanguinary
reparation. In this case the consequences of the suspicion would change
to the terrible, and all that is base in the situation would disappear.

We must distinguish, moreover, between the baseness of feeling and that
which is connected with the mode of treatment and circumstance. The
former in all respects is below aesthetic dignity; the second in many
cases may perfectly agree with it. Slavery, for example, is abase thing;
but a servile mind in a free man is contemptible. The labors of the
slave, on the contrary, are not so when his feelings are not servile.
Far from this, a base condition, when joined to elevated feelings, can
become a source of the sublime. The master of Epictetus, who beat him,
acted basely, and the slave beaten by him showed a sublime soul. True
greatness, when it is met in a base condition, is only the more brilliant
and splendid on that account: and the artist must not fear to show us his
heroes even under a contemptible exterior as soon as he is sure of being
able to give them, when he wishes, the expression of moral dignity.

But what can be granted to the poet is not always allowed in the artist.
The poet only addresses the imagination; the painter addresses the senses
directly. It follows not only that the impression of the picture is more
lively than that of the poem, but also that the painter, if he employ
only his natural signs, cannot make the minds of his personages as
visible as the poet can with the arbitrary signs at his command: yet it
is only the sight of the mind that can reconcile us to certain exteriors.
When Homer causes his Ulysses to appear in the rags of a beggar
["Odyssey," book xiii. v. 397], we are at liberty to represent his image
to our mind more or less fully, and to dwell on it as long as we like.
But in no case will it be sufficiently vivid to excite our repugnance or
disgust. But if a painter, or even a tragedian, try to reproduce
faithfully the Ulysses of Homer, we turn away from the picture with
repugnance. It is because in this case the greater or less vividness of
the impression no longer depends on our will: we cannot help seeing what
the painter places under our eyes; and it is not easy for us to remove
the accessory repugnant ideas which the picture recalls to our mind.


All the properties by which an object can become aesthetic, can be
referred to four classes, which, as well according to their objective
differences as according to their different relation with the subject,
produce on our passive and active faculties pleasures unequal not only in
intensity but also in worth; classes which also are of an unequal use for
the end of the fine arts: they are the agreeable, the good, the sublime,
and the beautiful.

Of these four categories, the sublime and the beautiful only belong
properly to art. The agreeable is not worthy of art, and the good is at
least not its end; for the aim of art is to please, and the good, whether
we consider it in theory or in practice, neither can nor ought to serve
as a means of satisfying the wants of sensuousness. The agreeable only
satisfies the senses, and is distinguished thereby from the good, which
only pleases the reason. The agreeable only pleases by its matter, for
it is only matter that can affect the senses, and all that is form can
only please the reason. It is true that the beautiful only pleases
through the medium of the senses, by which it is distinguished from the
good; but it pleases reason, on account of its form, by which it is
essentially distinguished from the agreeable. It might be said that the
good pleases only by its form being in harmony with reason; the beautiful
by its form having some relation of resemblance with reason, and that the
agreeable absolutely does not please by its form. The good is perceived
by thought, the beautiful by intuition, and the agreeable only by the
senses. The first pleases by the conception, the second by the idea, and
the third by material sensation.

The distance between the good and the agreeable is that which strikes the
eyes the most. The good widens our understanding, because it procures
and supposes an idea of its object; the pleasure which it makes us
perceive rests on an objective foundation, even when this pleasure itself
is but a certain state in which we are situated. The agreeable, on the
contrary, produces no notion of its object, and, indeed, reposes on no
objective foundation. It is agreeable only inasmuch as it is felt by the
subject, and the idea of it completely vanishes the moment an obstruction
is placed on the affectibility of the senses, or only when it is
modified. For a man who feels the cold the agreeable would be a warm
air; but this same man, in the heat of summer, would seek the shade and
coolness; but we must agree that in both cases he has judged well.

On the other hand, that which is objective is altogether independent of
us, and that which to-day appears to us true, useful, reasonable, ought
yet (if this judgment of to-day be admitted as just) to seem to us the
same twenty years hence. But our judgment of the agreeable changes as
soon as our state, with regard to its object, has changed. The agreeable
is therefore not a property of the object; it springs entirely from the
relations of such an object with our senses, for the constitution of our
senses is a necessary condition thereof.

The good, on the contrary, is good in itself, before being represented to
us, and before being felt. The property by which it pleases exists fully
in itself without being in want of our subject, although the pleasure
which we take in it rests on an aptitude for feeling that which is in us.
Thus we can say that the agreeable exists only because it is experienced,
and that the good, on the contrary, is experienced because it exists.

The distinction between the beautiful and the agreeable, great as it is,
moreover, strikes the eye less. The beautiful approaches the agreeable
in this--that it must always be proposed to the senses, inasmuch as it
pleases only as a phenomenon. It comes near to it again in as far as it
neither procures nor supposes any notion of its object. But, on the
other hand, it is widely separated from the agreeable, because it pleases
by the form under which it is produced, and not by the fact of the
material sensation. No doubt it only pleases the reasonable subject in
so far as it is also a sensuous subject; but also it pleases the sensuous
subject only inasmuch as it is at the same time a reasonable subject.
The beautiful is not only pleasing to the individual but to the whole
species; and although it draws its existence but from its relation with
creatures at the same time reasonable and sensuous, it is not less
independent of all empirical limitations of sensuousness, and it remains
identical even when the particular constitution of the individual is
modified. The beautiful has exactly in common with the good that by
which it differs from the agreeable, and it differs from the good exactly
in that in which it approximates to the agreeable.

By the good we must understand that in which reason recognizes a
conformity with her theoretical and practical laws. But the same object
can be perfectly conformable to the theoretical reason, and not be the
less in contradiction in the highest degree with the practical reason.
We can disapprove of the end of an enterprise, and yet admire the skill
of the means and their relation with the end in view. We can despise the
pleasures which the voluptuous man makes the end of his life, and
nevertheless praise the skill which he exhibits in the choice of his
means, and the logical result with which he carries out his principles.
That which pleases us only by its form is good, absolutely good, and
without any conditions, when its form is at the same time its matter.
The good is also an object of sensuousness, but not of an immediate
sensuousness, as the agreeable, nor moreover of a mixed sensuousness, as
the beautiful. It does not excite desire as the first, nor inclination
as the second. The simple idea of the good inspires only esteem.

The difference separating the agreeable, the good, and the beautiful
being thus established, it is evident that the same object can be ugly,
defective, even to be morally rejected, and nevertheless be agreeable and
pleasing to the senses; that an object can revolt the senses, and yet be
good, i.e., please the reason; that an object can from its inmost nature
revolt the moral senses, and yet please the imagination which
contemplates it, and still be beautiful. It is because each one of these
ideas interests different faculties, and interests differently.

But have we exhausted the classification of the aesthetic attributes?
No, there are objects at the same time ugly, revolting, and horrifying to
the senses, which do not please the understanding, and of no account to
the moral judgment, and these objects do not fail to please; certainly to
please to such a degree, that we would willingly sacrifice the pleasure
of these senses and that of the understanding to procure for us the
enjoyment of these objects. There is nothing more attractive in nature
than a beautiful landscape, illuminated by the purple light of evening.
The rich variety of the objects, the mellow outlines, the play of lights
infinitely varying the aspect, the light vapors which envelop distant
objects,--all combine in charming the senses; and add to it, to increase
our pleasure, the soft murmur of a cascade, the song of the nightingales,
an agreeable music. We give ourselves up to a soft sensation of repose,
and whilst our senses, touched by the harmony of the colors, the forms,
and the sounds, experience the agreeable in the highest, the mind is
rejoiced by the easy and rich flow of the ideas, the heart by the
sentiments which overflow in it like a torrent. All at once a storm
springs up, darkening the sky and all the landscape, surpassing and
silencing all other noises, and suddenly taking from us all our
pleasures. Black clouds encircle the horizon; the thunder falls with a
deafening noise. Flash succeeds flash. Our sight and hearing is
affected in the most revolting manner. The lightning only appears to
render to us more visible the horrors of the night: we see the electric
fluid strike, nay, we begin to fear lest it may strike us. Well, that
does not prevent us from believing that we have gained more than lost by
the change; I except, of course, those whom fear has bereft of all
liberty of judgment. We are, on the one hand, forcibly drawn towards
this terrible spectacle, which on the other wounds and repulses our
senses, and we pause before it with a feeling which we cannot properly
call a pleasure, but one which we often like much more than pleasure.
But still, the spectacle that nature then offers to us is in itself
rather destructive than good (at all events we in no way need to think of
the utility of a storm to take pleasure in this phenomenon), is in itself
rather ugly than beautiful, for the darkness, hiding from us all the
images which light affords, cannot be in itself a pleasant thing; and
those sudden crashes with which the thunder shakes the atmosphere, those
sudden flashes when the lightning rends the cloud--all is contrary to one
of the essential conditions of the beautiful, which carries with it
nothing abrupt, nothing violent. And moreover this phenomenon, if we
consider only our senses, is rather painful than agreeable, for the
nerves of our sight and those of our hearing are each in their turn
painfully strained, then not less violently relaxed, by the alternations
of light and darkness, of the explosion of the thunder, and silence. And
in spite of all these causes of displeasure, a storm is an attractive
phenomenon for whomsoever is not afraid of it.

Another example. In the midst of a green and smiling plain there rises a
naked and barren hillock, which hides from the sight a part of the view.
Each one would wish that this hillock were removed which disfigures the
beauty of all the landscape. Well, let us imagine this hillock rising,
rising still, without indeed changing at all its shape, and preserving,
although on a greater scale, the same proportions between its width and
height. To begin with, our impression of displeasure will but increase
with the hillock itself, which will the more strike the sight, and which
will be the more repulsive. But continue; raise it up twice as high as a
tower, and insensibly the displeasure will efface itself to make way for
quite another feeling. The hill has at last become a mountain, so high a
mountain that it is quite impossible for our eyes to take it in at one
look. There is an object more precocious than all this smiling plain
which surrounds it, and the impression that it makes on us is of such a
nature that we should regret to exchange it for any other impression,
however beautiful it might be. Now, suppose this mountain to be leaning,
and of such an inclination that we could expect it every minute to crash
down, the previous impression will be complicated with another
impression: terror will be joined to it: the object itself will be but
still more attractive. But suppose it were possible to prop up this
leaning mountain with another mountain, the terror would disappear, and
with it a good part of the pleasure we experienced. Suppose that there
were beside this mountain four or five other mountains, of which each one
was a fourth or a fifth part lower than the one which came immediately
after; the first impression with which the height of one mountain
inspired us will be notably weakened. Something somewhat analogous would
take place if the mountain itself were cut into ten or twelve terraces,
uniformly diminishing; or again if it were artificially decorated with
plantations. We have at first subjected one mountain to no other
operation than that of increasing its size, leaving it otherwise just as
it was, and without altering its form; and this simple circumstance has
sufficed to make an indifferent or even disagreeable object satisfying to
the eyes. By the second operation, this enlarged object has become at
the same time an object of terror; and the pleasure which we have found
in contemplating it has but been the greater. Finally, by the last
operation which we have made, we have diminished the terror which its
sight occasioned, and the pleasure has diminished as much. We have
diminished subjectively the idea of its height, whether by dividing the
attention of the spectator between several objects, or in giving to the
eyes, by means of these smaller mountains, placed near to the large one,
a measure by which to master the height of the mountain all the more
easily. The great and the terrible can therefore be of themselves in
certain cases a source of aesthetic pleasure.

There is not in the Greek mythology a more terrible, and at the same time
more hideous, picture than the Furies, or Erinyes, quitting the infernal
regions to throw themselves in the pursuit of a criminal. Their faces
frightfully contracted and grimacing, their fleshless bodies, their heads
covered with serpents in the place of hair--revolt our senses as much as
they offend our taste. However, when these monsters are represented to
us in the pursuit of Orestes, the murderer of his mother, when they are
shown to us brandishing the torches in their hands, and chasing their
prey, without peace or truce, from country to country, until at last, the
anger of justice being appeased, they engulf themselves in the abyss of
the infernal regions; then we pause before the picture with a horror
mixed with pleasure. But not only the remorse of a criminal which is
personified by the Furies, even his unrighteous acts nay, the real
perpetration of a crime, are able to please us in a work of art. Medea,
in the Greek tragedy; Clytemnestra, who takes the life of her husband;
Orestes, who kills his mother, fill our soul with horror and with
pleasure. Even in real life, indifferent and even repulsive or frightful
objects begin to interest us the moment that they approach the monstrous
or the terrible. An altogether vulgar and insignificant man will begin
to please us the moment that a violent passion, which indeed in no way
upraises his personal value, makes him an object of fear and terror, in
the same way that a vulgar, meaningless object becomes to us the source
of aesthetic pleasure the instant we have enlarged it to the point where
it threatens to overstep our comprehension. An ugly man is made still
more ugly by passion, and nevertheless it is in bursts of this passion,
provided that it turns to the terrible and not to the ridiculous, that
this man will be to us of the most interest. This remark extends even to
animals. An ox at the plow, a horse before a carriage, a dog, are common
objects; but excite this bull to the combat, enrage this horse who is so
peaceable, or represent to yourself this dog a prey to madness; instantly
these animals are raised to the rank of aesthetic objects, and we begin
to regard them with a feeling which borders on pleasure and esteem. The
inclination to the pathetic--an inclination common to all men--the
strength of the sympathetic sentiment--this force which in mature makes
us wish to see suffering, terror, dismay, which has so many attractions
for us in art, which makes us hurry to the theatre, which makes us take
so much pleasure in the picturing of great misfortune,--all this bears
testimony to a fourth source of aesthetic pleasure, which neither the
agreeable, nor the good, nor the beautiful are in a state to produce.

All the examples that I have alleged up to the present have this in
common--that the feeling they excite in us rests on something objective.
In all these phenomena we receive the idea of something "which oversteps,
or which threatens to overstep, the power of comprehension of our senses,
or their power of resistance"; but not, however, going so far as to
paralyze these two powers, or so far as to render us incapable of
striving, either to know the object, or to resist the impression it makes
on us. There is in the phenomena a complexity which we cannot retrace to
unity without driving the intuitive faculty to its furthest limits.

We have the idea of a force in comparison with which our own vanishes,
and which we are nevertheless compelled to compare with our own. Either
it is an object which at the same time presents and hides itself from our
faculty of intuition, and which urges us to strive to represent it to
ourselves, without leaving room to hope that this aspiration will be
satisfied; or else it is an object which appears to upraise itself as an
enemy, even against our existence--which provokes us, so to say, to
combat, and makes us anxious as to the issue. In all the alleged
examples there is visible in the same way the same action on the faculty
of feeling. All throw our souls into an anxious agitation and strain its
springs. A certain gravity which can even raise itself to a solemn
rejoicing takes possession of our soul, and whilst our organs betray
evident signs of internal anxiety, our mind falls back on itself by
reflection, and appears to find a support in a higher consciousness of
its independent strength and dignity. This consciousness of ourselves
must always dominate in order that the great and the horrible may have
for us an aesthetic value. It is because the soul before such sights as
these feels itself inspired and lifted above itself that they are
designated under the name of sublime, although the things themselves are
objectively in no way sublime; and consequently it would be more just to
say that they are elevating than to call them in themselves elevated or

For an object to be called sublime it must be in opposition with our
sensuousness. In general it is possible to conceive but two different
relations between the objects and our sensuousness, and consequently
there ought to be two kinds of resistance. They ought either to be
considered as objects from which we wish to draw a knowledge, or else
they should be regarded as a force with which we compare our own.
According to this division there are two kinds of the sublime, the
sublime of knowledge and the sublime of force. Moreover, the sensuous
faculties contribute to knowledge only in grasping a given matter, and
putting one by the other its complexity in time and in space.

As to dissecting this complex property and assorting it, it is the
business of the understanding and not of the imagination. It is for the
understanding alone that the diversity exists: for the imagination
(considered simply as a sensuous faculty) there is but an uniformity, and
consequently it is but the number of the uniform things (the quantity and
not the quality) which can give origin to any difference between the
sensuous perception of phenomena. Thus, in order that the faculty of
picturing things sensuously maybe reduced to impotence before an object,
necessarily it is imperative that this object exceeds in its quantity the
capacity of our imagination.


There are moments in life when nature inspires us with a sort of love and
respectful emotion, not because she is pleasing to our senses, or because
she satisfies our mind or our taste (it is often the very opposite that
happens), but merely because she is nature. This feeling is often
elicited when nature is considered in her plants, in her mineral kingdom,
in rural districts; also in the case of human nature, in the case of
children, and in the manners of country people and of the primitive
races. Every man of refined feeling, provided he has a soul, experiences
this feeling when he walks out under the open sky, when he lives in the
country, or when he stops to contemplate the monuments of early ages; in
short, when escaping from factitious situations and relations, he finds
himself suddenly face to face with nature. This interest, which is often
exalted in us so as to become a want, is the explanation of many of our
fancies for flowers and for animals, our preference for gardens laid out
in the natural style, our love of walks, of the country and those who
live there, of a great number of objects proceeding from a remote
antiquity, etc. It is taken for granted that no affectation exists in
the matter, and moreover that no accidental interest comes into play.
But this sort of interest which we take in nature is only possible under
two conditions. First the object that inspires us with this feeling must
be really nature, or something we take for nature; secondly this object
must be in the full sense of the word simple, that is, presenting the
entire contrast of nature with art, all the advantage remaining on the
side of nature. Directly this second condition is united to the first,
but no sooner, nature assumes the character of simplicity.

Considered thus, nature is for us nothing but existence in all its
freedom; it is the constitution of things taken in themselves; it is
existence itself according to its proper and immutable laws.

It is strictly necessary that we should have this idea of nature to take
an interest in phenomena of this kind. If we conceive an artificial
flower so perfectly imitated that it has all the appearance of nature and
would produce the most complete illusion, or if we imagine the imitation
of simplicity carried out to the extremest degree, the instant we
discover it is only an imitation, the feeling of which I have been
speaking is completely destroyed. It is, therefore, quite evident that
this kind of satisfaction which nature causes us to feel is not a
satisfaction of the aesthetical taste, but a satisfaction of the moral
sense; for it is produced by means of a conception and not immediately by
the single fact of intuition: accordingly it is by no means determined by
the different degrees of beauty in forms. For, after all, is there
anything so specially charming in a flower of common appearance, in a
spring, a moss-covered stone, the warbling of birds, or the buzzing of
bees, etc.? What is that can give these objects a claim to our love? It
is not these objects in themselves; it is an idea represented by them
that we love in them. We love in them life and its latent action, the
effects peacefully produced by beings of themselves, existence under its
proper laws, the inmost necessity of things, the eternal unity of their

These objects which captivate us are what we were, what we must be again
some day. We were nature as they are; and culture, following the way of
reason and of liberty, must bring us back to nature. Accordingly, these
objects are an image of our infancy irrevocably past--of our infancy
which will remain eternally very dear to us, and thus they infuse a
certain melancholy into us; they are also the image of our highest
perfection in the ideal world, whence they excite a sublime emotion in

But the perfection of these objects is not a merit that belongs to them,
because it is not the effect of their free choice. Accordingly they
procure quite a peculiar pleasure for us, by being our models without
having anything humiliating for us. It is like a constant manifestation
of the divinity surrounding us, which refreshes without dazzling us. The
very feature that constitutes their character is precisely what is
lacking in ours to make it complete; and what distinguishes us from them
is precisely what they lack to be divine. We are free and they are
necessary; we change and they remain identical. Now it is only when
these two conditions are united, when the will submits freely to the laws
of necessity, and when, in the midst of all the changes of which the
imagination is susceptible, reason maintains its rule--it is only then
that the divine or the ideal is manifested. Thus we perceive eternally
in them that which we have not, but which we are continually forced to
strive after; that which we can never reach, but which we can hope to
approach by continual progress. And we perceive in ourselves an
advantage which they lack, but in which some of them--the beings deprived
of reason--cannot absolutely share, and in which the others, such as
children, can only one day have a share by following our way.
Accordingly, they procure us the most delicious feeling of our human
nature, as an idea, though in relation to each determinate state of our
nature they cannot fail to humble us.

As this interest in nature is based on an idea, it can only manifest
itself in a soul capable of ideas, that is, in a moral soul. For the
immense majority it is nothing more than pure affectation; and this taste
of sentimentality so widely diffused in our day, manifesting itself,
especially since the appearance of certain books, by sentimental
excursions and journeys, by sentimental gardens, and other fancies akin
to these--this taste by no means proves that true refinement of sense has
become general. Nevertheless, it is certain that nature will always
produce something of this impression, even on the most insensible hearts,
because all that is required for this is the moral disposition or
aptitude, which is common to all men. For all men, however contrary
their acts may be to simplicity and to the truth of nature, are brought
back to it in their ideas. This sensibility in connection with nature is
specially and most strongly manifested, in the greater part of persons,
in connection with those sorts of objects which are closely related to
us, and which, causing us to look closer into ourselves, show us more
clearly what in us departs from nature; for example, in connection with
children, or with nations in a state of infancy. It is an error to
suppose that it is only the idea of their weakness that, in certain
moments, makes us dwell with our eyes on children with so much emotion.
This may be true with those who, in the presence of a feeble being, are
used to feel nothing but their own superiority. But the feeling of which
I speak is only experienced in a very peculiar moral disposition, nor
must it be confounded with the feeling awakened in us by the joyous
activity of children. The feeling of which I speak is calculated rather
to humble than to flatter our self-love; and if it gives us the idea of
some advantage, this advantage is at all events not on our side.

We are moved in the presence of childhood, but it is not because from the
height of our strength and of our perfection we drop a look of pity on
it; it is, on the contrary, because from the depths of our impotence, of
which the feeling is inseparable from that of the real and determinate
state to which we have arrived, we raise our eyes to the child's
determinableness and pure innocence. The feeling we then experience is
too evidently mingled with sadness for us to mistake its source. In the
child, all is disposition and destination; in us, all is in the state of
a completed, finished thing, and the completion always remains infinitely
below the destination. It follows that the child is to us like the
representation of the ideal; not, indeed, of the ideal as we have
realized it, but such as our destination admitted; and, consequently, it
is not at all the idea of its indigence, of its hinderances, that makes
us experience emotion in the child's presence; it is, on the contrary,
the idea of its pure and free force, of the integrity, the infinity of
its being. This is the reason why, in the sight of every moral and
sensible man, the child will always be a sacred thing; I mean an object
which, by the grandeur of an idea, reduces to nothingness all grandeur
realized by experience; an object which, in spite of all it may lose in
the judgment of the understanding, regains largely the advantage before
the judgment of reason.

Now it is precisely this contradiction between the judgment of reason and
that of the understanding which produces in us this quite special
phenomenon, this mixed feeling, called forth in us by the sight of the
simple--I mean the simple in the manner of thinking. It is at once the
idea of a childlike simplicity and of a childish simplicity. By what it
has of childish simplicity it exposes a weak side to the understanding,
and provokes in us that smile by which we testify our superiority (an
entirely speculative superiority). But directly we have reason to think
that childish simplicity is at the same time a childlike simplicity--that
it is not consequently a want of intelligence, an infirmity in a
theoretical point of view, but a superior force (practically), a
heart-full of truth and innocence, which is its source, a heart that has
despised the help of art because it was conscious of its real and
internal greatness--directly this is understood, the understanding no
longer seeks to triumph. Then raillery, which was directed against
simpleness, makes way for the admiration inspired by noble simplicity.
We feel ourselves obliged to esteem this object, which at first made us
smile, and directing our eyes to ourselves, to feel ourselves unhappy in
not resembling it. Thus is produced that very special phenomenon of a
feeling in which good-natured raillery, respect, and sadness are
confounded. It is the condition of the simple that nature should triumph
over art, either unconsciously to the individual and against his
inclination, or with his full and entire cognizance. In the former case
it is simplicity as a surprise, and the impression resulting from it is
one of gayety; in the second case, it is simplicity of feeling, and we
are moved.

With regard to simplicity as a surprise, the person must be morally
capable of denying nature. In simplicity of feeling the person may be
morally incapable of this, but we must not think him physically
incapable, in order that it may make upon us the impression of the
simple. This is the reason why the acts and words of children only
produce the impression of simplicity upon us when we forget that they are
physically incapable of artifice, and in general only when we are
exclusively impressed by the contrast between their natural character and
what is artificial in us. Simplicity is a childlike ingenuousness which
is encountered when it is not expected; and it is for this very reason
that, taking the word in its strictest sense, simplicity could not be
attributed to childhood properly speaking.

But in both cases, in simplicity as a surprise and simplicity as a
feeling, nature must always have the upper hand, and art succumb to her.

Until we have established this distinction we can only form an incomplete
idea of simplicity. The affections are also something natural, and the
rules of decency are artificial; yet the triumph of the affections over
decency is anything but simple. But when affection triumphs over
artifice, over false decency, over dissimulation, we shall have no
difficulty in applying the word simple to this. Nature must therefore
triumph over art, not by its blind and brutal force as a dynamical power,
but in virtue of its form as a moral magnitude; in a word, not as a want,
but as an internal necessity. It must not be insufficiency, but the
inopportune character of the latter that gives nature her victory; for
insufficiency is only a want and a defect, and nothing that results from
a want or defect could produce esteem. No doubt in the simplicity
resulting from surprise, it is always the predominance of affection and a
want of reflection that causes us to appear natural. But this want and
this predominance do not by any means suffice to constitute simplicity;
they merely give occasion to nature to obey without let or hinderance her
moral constitution, that is, the law of harmony.

The simplicity resulting from surprise can only be encountered in man and
that only in as far as at the moment he ceases to be a pure and innocent
nature. This sort of simplicity implies a will that is not in harmony
with that which nature does of her own accord. A person simple after
this fashion, when recalled to himself, will be the first to be alarmed
at what he is; on the other hand, a person in whom simplicity is found as
a feeling, will only wonder at one thing, that is, at the way in which
men feel astonishment. As it is not the moral subject as a person, but
only his natural character set free by affection, that confesses the
truth, it follows from this that we shall not attribute this sincerity to
man as a merit, and that we shall be entitled to laugh at it, our
raillery not being held in check by any personal esteem for his
character. Nevertheless, as it is still the sincerity of nature which,
even in the simplicity caused by surprise, pierces suddenly through the
veil of dissimulation, a satisfaction of a superior order is mixed with
the mischievous joy we feel in having caught any one in the act. This is
because nature, opposed to affectation, and truth, opposed to deception,
must in every case inspire us with esteem. Thus we experience, even in
the presence of simplicity originating in surprise, a really moral
pleasure, though it be not in connection with a moral object.

I admit that in simplicity proceeding from surprise we always experience
a feeling of esteem for nature, because we must esteem truth; whereas in
the simplicity of feeling we esteem the person himself, enjoying in this
way not only a moral satisfaction, but also a satisfaction of which the
object is moral. In both cases nature is right, since she speaks the
truth; but in the second case not only is nature right, but there is also
an act that does honor to the person. In the first case the sincerity of
nature always puts the person to the blush, because it is involuntary; in
the second it is always a merit which must be placed to the credit of the
person, even when what he confesses is of a nature to cause a blush.

We attribute simplicity of feeling to a man, when, in the judgments he
pronounces on things, he passes, without seeing them, over all the
factitious and artificial sides of an object, to keep exclusively to
simple nature. We require of him all the judgments that can be formed of
things without departing from a sound nature; and we only hold him
entirely free in what presupposes a departure from nature in his mode of
thinking or feeling.

If a father relates to his son that such and such a person is dying of
hunger, and if the child goes and carries the purse of his father to this
unfortunate being, this is a simple action. It is in fact a healthy
nature that acts in the child; and in a world where healthy nature would
be the law, he would be perfectly right to act so. He only sees the
misery of his neighbor and the speediest means of relieving him. The
extension given to the right of property, in consequence of which part of
the human race might perish, is not based on mere nature. Thus the act
of this child puts to shame real society, and this is acknowledged by our
heart in the pleasure it experiences from this action.

If a good-hearted man, inexperienced in the ways of the world, confides
his secrets to another, who deceives him, but who is skilful in
disguising his perfidy, and if by his very sincerity he furnishes him
with the means of doing him injury, we find his conduct simple. We laugh
at him, yet we cannot avoid esteeming him, precisely on account of his
simplicity. This is because his trust in others proceeds from the
rectitude of his own heart; at all events, there is simplicity here only
as far as this is the case.

Simplicity in the mode of thinking cannot then ever be the act of a
depraved man; this quality only belongs to children, and to men who are
children in heart. It often happens to these in the midst of the
artificial relations of the great world to act or to think in a simple
manner. Being themselves of a truly good and humane nature, they forget
that they have to do with a depraved world; and they act, even in the
courts of kings, with an ingenuousness and an innocence that are only
found in the world of pastoral idyls.

Nor is it always such an easy matter to distinguish exactly childish
candor from childlike candor, for there are actions that are on the
skirts of both. Is a certain act foolishly simple, and must we laugh at
it? or is it nobly simple, and must we esteem the actors the higher on
that account? It is difficult to know which side to take in some cases.
A very remarkable example of this is found in the history of the
government of Pope Adrian VI., related by Mr. Schroeckh with all the
solidity and the spirit of practical truth which distinguish him.
Adrian, a Netherlander by birth, exerted the pontifical sway at one of
the most critical moments for the hierarchy--at a time when an
exasperated party laid bare without any scruple all the weak sides of the
Roman Church, while the opposite party was interested in the highest
degree in covering them over. I do not entertain the question how a man
of a truly simple character ought to act in such a case, if such a
character were placed in the papal chair. But, we ask, how could this
simplicity of feeling be compatible with the part of a pope? This
question gave indeed very little embarrassment to the predecessors and
successors of Adrian. They followed uniformly the system adopted once
for all by the court of Rome, not to make any concessions anywhere. But
Adrian had preserved the upright character of his nation and the
innocence of his previous condition. Issuing from the humble sphere of
literary men to rise to this eminent position, he did not belie at that
elevation the primitive simplicity of his character. He was moved by the
abuses of the Roman Church, and he was much too sincere to dissimulate
publicly what he confessed privately. It was in consequence of this
manner of thinking that, in his instruction to his legate in Germany, he
allowed himself to be drawn into avowals hitherto unheard of in a
sovereign pontiff, and diametrically contrary to the principles of that
court "We know well," he said, among other things, "that for many years
many abominable things have taken place in this holy chair; it is not
therefore astonishing that the evil has been propagated from the head to
the members, from the pope to the prelates. We have all gone astray from
the good road, and for a long time there is none of us, not one, who has
done anything good." Elsewhere he orders his legate to declare in his
name "that he, Adrian, cannot be blamed for what other popes have done
before him; that he himself, when he occupied a comparatively mediocre
position, had always condemned these excesses." It may easily be
conceived how such simplicity in a pope must have been received by the
Roman clergy. The smallest crime of which he was accused was that of
betraying the church and delivering it over to heretics. Now this
proceeding, supremely imprudent in a pope, would yet deserve our esteem
and admiration if we could believe it was real simplicity; that is, that
Adrian, without fear of consequences, had made such an avowal, moved by
his natural sincerity, and that he would have persisted in acting thus,
though he had understood all the drift of his clumsiness. Unhappily we
have some reason to believe that he did not consider his conduct as
altogether impolitic, and that in his candor he went so far as to flatter
himself that he had served very usefully the interests of his church by
his indulgence to his adversaries. He did not even imagine that he ought
to act thus in his quality as an honest man; he thought also as a pope to
be able to justify himself, and forgetting that the most artificial of
structures could only be supported by continuing to deny the truth, he
committed the unpardonable fault of having recourse to means of safety,
excellent perhaps, in a natural situation, but here applied to entirely
contrary circumstances. This necessarily modifies our judgment very
much, and although we cannot refuse our esteem for the honesty of heart
in which the act originates, this esteem is greatly lessened when we
reflect that nature on this occasion was too easily mistress of art, and
that the heart too easily overruled the head.

True genius is of necessity simple, or it is not genius. Simplicity
alone gives it this character, and it cannot belie in the moral order
what it is in the intellectual and aesthetical order. It does not know
those rules, the crutches of feebleness, those pedagogues which prop up
slippery spirits; it is only guided by nature and instinct, its guardian
angel; it walks with a firm, calm step across all the snares of false
taste, snares in which the man without genius, if he have not the
prudence to avoid them the moment he detects them, remains infallibly
imbedded. It is therefore the part only of genius to issue from the
known without ceasing to be at home, or to enlarge the circle of nature
without overstepping it. It does indeed sometimes happen that a great
genius oversteps it; but only because geniuses have their moments of
frenzy, when nature, their protector, abandons them, because the force of
example impels them, or because the corrupt taste of their age leads them

The most intricate problems must be solved by genius with simplicity,
without pretension, with ease; the egg of Christopher Columbus is the
emblem of all the discoveries of genius. It only justifies its character
as genius by triumphing through simplicity over all the complications of
art. It does not proceed according to known principles, but by feelings
and inspiration; the sallies of genius are the inspirations of a God (all
that healthy nature produces is divine); its feelings are laws for all
time, for all human generations.

This childlike character imprinted by genius on its works is also shown
by it in its private life and manners. It is modest, because nature is
always so; but it is not decent, because corruption alone is decent. It
is intelligent, because nature cannot lack intelligence; but it is not
cunning, because art only can be cunning. It is faithful to its
character and inclinations, but this is not so much because it has
principles as because nature, notwithstanding all its oscillations,
always returns to its equilibrium, and brings back the same wants. It is
modest and even timid, because genius remains always a secret to itself;
but it is not anxious, because it does not know the dangers of the road
in which it walks. We know little of the private life of the greatest
geniuses; but the little that we know of it--what tradition has
preserved, for example, of Sophocles, of Archimedes, of Hippocrates, and
in modern times of Ariosto, of Dante, of Tasso, of Raphael, of Albert
Duerer, of Cervantes, of Shakespeare, of Fielding, of Sterne, etc.--
confirms this assertion.

Nay, more; though this admission seems more difficult to support, even
the greatest philosophers and great commanders, if great by their genius,
have simplicity in their character. Among the ancients I need only name
Julius Caesar and Epaminondas; among the moderns Henry IV. in France,
Gustavus Adolphus in Sweden, and the Czar Peter the Great. The Duke of
Marlborough, Turenne, and Vendome all present this character. With
regard to the other sex, nature proposes to it simplicity of character as
the supreme perfection to which it should reach. Accordingly, the love
of pleasing in women strives after nothing so much as the appearance of
simplicity; a sufficient proof, if it were the only one, that the
greatest power of the sex reposes in this quality. But, as the
principles that prevail in the education of women are perpetually
struggling with this character, it is as difficult for them in the moral
order to reconcile this magnificent gift of nature with the advantages of
a good education as it is difficult for men to preserve them unchanged in
the intellectual order: and the woman who knows how to join a knowledge
of the world to this sort of simplicity in manners is as deserving of
respect as a scholar who joins to the strictness of scholastic rules the
freedom and originality of thought.

Simplicity in our mode of thinking brings with it of necessity simplicity
in our mode of expression, simplicity in terms as well as movement; and
it is in this that grace especially consists. Genius expresses its most
sublime and its deepest thoughts with this simple grace; they are the
divine oracles that issue from the lips of a child; while the scholastic
spirit, always anxious to avoid error, tortures all its words, all its
ideas, and makes them pass through the crucible of grammar and logic,
hard and rigid, in order to keep from vagueness, and uses few words in
order not to say too much, enervates and blunts thought in order not to
wound the reader who is not on his guard--genius gives to its expression,
with a single and happy stroke of the brush, a precise, firm, and yet
perfectly free form. In the case of grammar and logic, the sign and the
thing signified are always heterogenous and strangers to each other: with
genius, on the contrary, the expression gushes forth spontaneously from
the idea, the language and the thought are one and the same; so that even
though the expression thus gives it a body the spirit appears as if
disclosed in a nude state. This fashion of expression, when the sign
disappears entirely in the thing signified, when the tongue, so to speak,
leaves the thought it translates naked, whilst the other mode of
expression cannot represent thought without veiling it at the same time:
this is what is called originality and inspiration in style.

This freedom, this natural mode by which genius expresses itself in works
of intellect, is also the expression of the innocence of heart in the
intercourse of life. Every one knows that in the world men have departed
from simplicity, from the rigorous veracity of language, in the same
proportion as they have lost the simplicity of feelings. The guilty
conscience easily wounded, the imagination easily seduced, made an
anxious decency necessary. Without telling what is false, people often
speak differently from what they think; we are obliged to make
circumlocutions to say certain things, which however, can never afflict
any but a sickly self-love, and that have no danger except for a depraved
imagination. The ignorance of these laws of propriety (conventional
laws), coupled with a natural sincerity which despises all kinds of bias
and all appearance of falsity (sincerity I mean, not coarseness, for
coarseness dispenses with forms because it is hampered), gives rise in
the intercourse of life to a simplicity of expression that consists in
naming things by their proper name without circumlocution. This is done
because we do not venture to designate them as they are, or only to do so
by artificial means. The ordinary expressions of children are of this
kind. They make us smile because they are in opposition to received
manners; but men would always agree in the bottom of their hearts that
the child is right.

It is true that simplicity of feeling cannot properly be attributed to
the child any more than to the man,--that is, to a being not absolutely
subject to nature, though there is still no simplicity, except on the
condition that it is pure nature that acts through him. But by an effort
of the imagination, which likes to poetise things, we often carry over
these attributes of a rational being to beings destitute of reason. It
is thus that, on seeing an animal, a landscape, a building, and nature in
general, from opposition to what is arbitrary and fantastic in the
conceptions of man, we often attribute to them a simple character. But
that implies always that in our thought we attribute a will to these
things that have none, and that we are struck to see it directed
rigorously according to the laws of necessity. Discontented as we are
that we have ill employed our own moral freedom, and that we no longer
find moral harmony in our conduct, we are easily led to a certain
disposition of mind, in which we willingly address ourselves to a being
destitute of reason, as if it were a person. And we readily view it as
if it had really had to struggle against the temptation of acting
otherwise, and proceed to make a merit of its eternal uniformity, and to
envy its peaceable constancy. We are quite disposed to consider in those
moments reason, this prerogative of the human race, as a pernicious gift
and as an evil; we feel so vividly all that is imperfect in our conduct
that we forget to be just to our destiny and to our aptitudes.

We see, then, in nature, destitute of reason, only a sister who, more
fortunate than ourselves, has remained under the maternal roof, while in
the intoxication of our freedom we have fled from it to throw ourselves
into a stranger world. We regret this place of safety, we earnestly long
to come back to it as soon as we have begun to feel the bitter side of
civilization, and in the totally artificial life in which we are exiled
we hear in deep emotion the voice of our mother. While we were still
only children of nature we were happy, we were perfect: we have become
free, and we have lost both advantages. Hence a twofold and very unequal
longing for nature: the longing for happiness and the longing for the
perfection that prevails there. Man, as a sensuous being, deplores
sensibly the loss of the former of these goods; it is only the moral man
who can be afflicted at the loss of the other.

Therefore, let the man with a sensible heart and a loving nature question
himself closely. Is it your indolence that longs for its repose, or your
wounded moral sense that longs for its harmony? Ask yourself well, when,
disgusted with the artifices, offended by the abuses that you discover in
social life, you feel yourself attracted towards inanimate nature, in the
midst of solitude ask yourself what impels you to fly the world. Is it
the privation from which you suffer, its loads, its troubles? or is it
the moral anarchy, the caprice, the disorder that prevail there? Your
heart ought to plunge into these troubles with joy, and to find in them
the compensation in the liberty of which they are the consequence. You
can, I admit, propose as your aim, in a distant future, the calm and the
happiness of nature; but only that sort of happiness which is the reward
of your dignity. Thus, then, let there be no more complaint about the
loads of life, the inequality of conditions, or the hampering of social
relations, or the uncertainty of possession, ingratitude, oppression, and
persecution. You must submit to all these evils of civilization with a
free resignation; it is the natural condition of good, par excellence, of
the only good, and you ought to respect it under this head. In all these
evils you ought only to deplore what is morally evil in them, and you
must do so not with cowardly tears only. Rather watch to remain pure
yourself in the midst of these impurities, free amidst this slavery,
constant with yourself in the midst of these capricious changes, a
faithful observer of the law amidst this anarchy. Be not frightened at
the disorder that is without you, but at the disorder which is within;
aspire after unity, but seek it not in uniformity; aspire after repose,
but through equilibrium, and not by suspending the action of your
faculties. This nature which you envy in the being destitute of reason
deserves no esteem: it is not worth a wish. You have passed beyond it;
it ought to remain for ever behind you. The ladder that carried you
having given way under your foot, the only thing for you to do is to
seize again on the moral law freely, with a free consciousness, a free
will, or else to roll down, hopeless of safety, into a bottomless abyss.

But when you have consoled yourself for having lost the happiness of
nature, let its perfection be a model to your heart. If you can issue
from the circle in which art keeps you enclosed and find nature again, if
it shows itself to you in its greatness and in its calm, in its simple
beauty, in its childlike innocence and simplicity, oh! then pause before
its image, cultivate this feeling lovingly. It is worthy of you, and of
what is noblest in man. Let it no more come into your mind to change
with it; rather embrace it, absorb it into your being, and try to
associate the infinite advantage it has over you with that infinite
prerogative that is peculiar to you, and let the divine issue from this
sublime union. Let nature breathe around you like a lovely idyl, where
far from artifice and its wanderings you may always find yourself again,
where you may go to draw fresh courage, a new confidence, to resume your
course, and kindle again in your heart the flame of the ideal, so readily
extinguished amidst the tempests of life.

If we think of that beautiful nature which surrounded the ancient Greeks,
if we remember how intimately that people, under its blessed sky, could
live with that free nature; how their mode of imagining, and of feeling,
and their manners, approached far nearer than ours to the simplicity of
nature, how faithfully the works of their poets express this; we must
necessarily remark, as a strange fact, that so few traces are met among
them of that sentimental interest that we moderns ever take in the scenes
of nature and in natural characters. I admit that the Greeks are
superiorly exact and faithful in their descriptions of nature. They
reproduce their details with care, but we see that they take no more
interest in them and more heart in them than in describing a vestment, a
shield, armor, a piece of furniture, or any production of the mechanical
arts. In their love for the object it seems that they make no difference
between what exists in itself and what owes its existence to art, to the
human will. It seems that nature interests their minds and their
curiosity more than moral feeling. They do not attach themselves to it
with that depth of feeling, with that gentle melancholy, that
characterize the moderns. Nay, more, by personifying nature in its
particular phenomena, by deifying it, by representing its effects as the
acts of free being, they take from it that character of calm necessity
which is precisely what makes it so attractive to us. Their impatient
imagination only traverses nature to pass beyond it to the drama of human
life. It only takes pleasure in the spectacle of what is living and
free; it requires characters, acts, the accidents of fortune and of
manners; and whilst it happens with us, at least in certain moral
dispositions, to curse our prerogative, this free will, which exposes us
to so many combats with ourselves, to so many anxieties and errors, and
to wish to exchange it for the condition of beings destitute of reason,
for that fatal existence that no longer admits of any choice, but which
is so calm in its uniformity;--while we do this, the Greeks, on the
contrary, only have their imagination occupied in retracing human nature
in the inanimate world, and in giving to the will an influence where
blind necessity rules.

Whence can arise this difference between the spirit of the ancients and
the modern spirit? How comes it that, being, for all that relates to
nature, incomparably below the ancients, we are superior to them
precisely on this point, that we render a more complete homage to nature;
that we have a closer attachment to it; and that we are capable of
embracing even the inanimate world with the most ardent sensibility. It
is because nature, in our time, is no longer in man, and that we no
longer encounter it in its primitive truth, except out of humanity, in
the inanimate world. It is not because we are more conformable to
nature--quite the contrary; it is because in our social relations, in our
mode of existence, in our manners, we are in opposition with nature.
This is what leads us, when the instinct of truth and of simplicity is
awakened--this instinct which, like the moral aptitude from which it
proceeds, lives incorruptible and indelible in every human heart--to
procure for it in the physical world the satisfaction which there is no
hope of finding in the moral order. This is the reason why the feeling
that attaches us to nature is connected so closely with that which makes
us regret our infancy, forever flown, and our primitive innocence. Our
childhood is all that remains of nature in humanity, such as civilization
has made it, of untouched, unmutilated nature. It is, therefore, not
wonderful, when we meet out of us the impress of nature, that we are
always brought back to the idea of our childhood.

It was quite different with the Greeks in antiquity. Civilization with
them did not degenerate, nor was it carried to such an excess that it was
necessary to break with nature. The entire structure of their social
life reposed on feelings, and not on a factitious conception, on a work
of art. Their very theology was the inspiration of a simple spirit, the
fruit of a joyous imagination, and not, like the ecclesiastical dogmas of
modern nations, subtle combinations of the understanding. Since,
therefore, the Greeks had not lost sight of nature in humanity, they had
no reason, when meeting it out of man, to be surprised at their
discovery, and they would not feel very imperiously the need of objects
in which nature could be retraced. In accord with themselves, happy in
feeling themselves men, they would of necessity keep to humanity as to
what was greatest to them, and they must needs try to make all the rest
approach it; while we, who are not in accord with ourselves--we who are
discontented with the experience we have made of our humanity--have no
more pressing interest than to fly out of it and to remove from our sight
a so ill-fashioned form. The feeling of which we are treating here is,
therefore, not that which was known by the ancients; it approaches far
more nearly that which we ourselves experience for the ancients. The
ancients felt naturally; we, on our part, feel what is natural. It was
certainly a very different inspiration that filled the soul of Homer,
when he depicted his divine cowherd [Dios uphorbos, "Odyssey," xiv. 413,
etc.] giving hospitality to Ulysses, from that which agitated the soul of
the young Werther at the moment when he read the "Odyssey" [Werther, May
26, June 21, August 28, May 9, etc.] on issuing from an assembly in which
he had only found tedium. The feeling we experience for nature resembles
that of a sick man for health.

As soon as nature gradually vanishes from human life--that is, in
proportion as it ceases to be experienced as a subject (active and
passive)--we see it dawn and increase in the poetical world in the guise
of an idea and as an object. The people who have carried farthest the
want of nature, and at the same time the reflections on that matter, must
needs have been the people who at the same time were most struck with
this phenomenon of the simple, and gave it a name. If I am not mistaken,
this people was the French. But the feeling of the simple, and the
interest we take in it, must naturally go much farther back, and it dates
from the time when the moral sense and the aesthetical sense began to be
corrupt. This modification in the manner of feeling is exceedingly
striking in Euripides, for example, if compared with his predecessors,
especially Aeschylus; and yet Euripides was the favorite poet of his
time. The same revolution is perceptible in the ancient historians.
Horace, the poet of a cultivated and corrupt epoch, praises, under the
shady groves of Tibur, the calm and happiness of the country, and he
might be termed the true founder of this sentimental poetry, of which he
has remained the unsurpassed model. In Propertius, Virgil, and others,
we find also traces of this mode of feeling; less of it is found in Ovid,
who would have required for that more abundance of heart, and who in his
exile at Tomes sorrowfully regrets the happiness that Horace so readily
dispensed with in his villa at Tibur.

It is in the fundamental idea of poetry that the poet is everywhere the
guardian of nature. When he can no longer entirely fill this part, and
has already in himself suffered the deleterious influence of arbitrary
and factitious forms, or has had to struggle against this influence, he
presents himself as the witness of nature and as its avenger. The poet
will, therefore, be the expression of nature itself, or his part will be
to seek it, if men have lost sight of it. Hence arise two kinds of
poetry, which embrace and exhaust the entire field of poetry. All poets
--I mean those who are really so--will belong, according to the time when
they flourish, according to the accidental circumstances that have
influenced their education generally, and the different dispositions of
mind through which they pass, will belong, I say, to the order of the
sentimental poetry or to simple poetry.

The poet of a young world, simple and inspired, as also the poet who at
an epoch of artificial civilization approaches nearest to the primitive
bards, is austere and prudish, like the virginal Diana in her forests.
Wholly unconfiding, he hides himself from the heart that seeks him, from
the desire that wishes to embrace him. It is not rare for the dry truth
with which he treats his subject to resemble insensibility. The whole
object possesses him, and to reach his heart it does not suffice, as with
metals of little value, to stir up the surface; as with pure gold, you
must go down to the lowest depths. Like the Deity behind this universe,
the simple poet hides himself behind his work; he is himself his work,
and his work is himself. A man must be no longer worthy of the work, nor
understand it, or be tired of it, to be even anxious to learn who is its

Such appears to us, for instance, Homer in antiquity, and Shakespeare
among moderns: two natures infinitely different and separated in time by
an abyss, but perfectly identical as to this trait of character. When,
at a very youthful age, I became first acquainted with Shakespeare, I was
displeased with his coldness, with his insensibility, which allows him to
jest even in the most pathetic moments, to disturb the impression of the
most harrowing scenes in "Hamlet," in "King Lear," and in "Macbeth,"
etc., by mixing with them the buffooneries of a madman. I was revolted
by his insensibility, which allowed him to pause sometimes at places
where my sensibility would bid me hasten and bear me along, and which
sometimes carried him away with indifference when my heart would be so
happy to pause. Though I was accustomed, by the practice of modern
poets, to seek at once the poet in his works, to meet his heart, to
reflect with him in his theme--in a word, to see the object in the
subject--I could not bear that the poet could in Shakespeare never be
seized, that he would never give me an account of himself. For some
years Shakespeare had been the object of my study and of all my respect
before I had learned to love his personality. I was not yet able to
comprehend nature at first hand. All that my eyes could bear was its
image only, reflected by the understanding and arranged by rules: and on
this score the sentimental poetry of the French, or that of the Germans
of 1750 to 1780, was what suited me best. For the rest, I do not blush
at this childish judgment: adult critics pronounced in that day in the
same way, and carried their simplicity so far as to publish their
decisions to the world.

The same thing happened to me in the case of Homer, with whom I made
acquaintance at a later date. I remember now that remarkable passage of
the sixth book of the "Iliad," where Glaucus and Diomed meet each other
in the strife, and then, recognizing each other as host and guest,
exchange presents. With this touching picture of the piety with which
the laws of hospitality were observed even in war, may be compared a
picture of chivalrous generosity in Ariosto. The knights, rivals in
love, Ferragus and Rinaldo--the former a Saracen, the latter a Christian
--after having fought to extremity, all covered with wounds, make peace
together, and mount the same horse to go and seek the fugitive Angelica.
These two examples, however different in other respects, are very similar
with regard to the impression produced on our heart: both represent the
noble victory of moral feeling over passion, and touch us by the
simplicity of feeling displayed in them. But what a difference in the
way in which the two poets go to work to describe two such analogous
scenes! Ariosto, who belongs to an advanced epoch, to a world where
simplicity of manners no longer existed, in relating this trait, cannot
conceal the astonishment, the admiration, he feels at it. He measures
the distance from those manners to the manners of his own age, and this
feeling of astonishment is too strong for him. He abandons suddenly the
painting of the object, and comes himself on the scene in person. This
beautiful stanza is well known, and has been always specially admired at
all times:--

"Oh nobleness, oh generosity of the ancient manners of chivalry! These
were rivals, separated by their faith, suffering bitter pain throughout
their frames in consequence of a desperate combat; and, without any
suspicion, behold them riding in company along dark and winding paths.
Stimulated by four spurs, the horse hastens his pace till they arrive at
the place where the road divides." ["Orlando Furioso," canto i., stanza

Now let us turn to old Homer. Scarcely has Diomed learned by the story
of Glaucus, his adversary, that the latter has been, from the time of
their fathers, the host and friend of his family, when he drives his
lance into the ground, converses familiarly with him, and both agree
henceforth to avoid each other in the strife. But let us hear Homer

"'Thus, then, I am for thee a faithful host in Argos, and thou to me in
Lycia, when I shall visit that country. We shall, therefore, avoid our
lances meeting in the strife. Are there not for me other Trojans or
brave allies to kill when a god shall offer them to me and my steps shall
reach them? And for thee, Glaucus, are there not enough Achaeans, that
thou mayest immolate whom thou wishest? But let us exchange our arms, in
order that others may also see that we boast of having been hosts and
guests at the time of our fathers.' Thus they spoke, and, rushing from
their chariots, they seized each other's hands, and swore friendship the
one to the other." [Pope's "Iliad," vi. 264-287.]

It would have been difficult for a modern poet (at least to one who would
be modern in the moral sense of the term) even to wait as long as this
before expressing his joy in the presence of such an action. We should
pardon this in him the more easily, because we also, in reading it, feel
that our heart makes a pause here, and readily turns aside from the
object to bring back its thoughts on itself. But there is not the least
trace of this in Homer. As if he had been relating something that is
seen everyday--nay, more, as if he had no heart beating in his breast--he
continues, with his dry truthfulness:--

"Then the son of Saturn blinded Glaucus, who, exchanging his armor with
Diomed, gave him golden arms of the value of one hecatomb, for brass arms
only worth nine beeves." ["Iliad," vi. 234-236.]

The poets of this order,--the genuinely simple poets, are scarcely any
longer in their place in this artificial age. Accordingly they are
scarcely possible in it, or at least they are only possible on the
condition of traversing their age, like scared persons, at a running
pace, and of being preserved by a happy star from the influence of their
age, which would mutilate their genius. Never, for ay and forever, will
society produce these poets; but out of society they still appear
sometimes at intervals, rather, I admit, as strangers, who excite wonder,
or as ill-trained children of nature, who give offence. These
apparitions, so very comforting for the artist who studies them, and for
the real connoisseur, who knows how to appreciate them, are, as a general
conclusion, in the age when they are begotten, to a very small degree
preposterous. The seal of empire is stamped on their brow, and we,--we
ask the Muses to cradle us, to carry us in their arms. The critics, as
regular constables of art, detest these poets as disturbers of rules or
of limits. Homer himself may have been only indebted to the testimony of
ten centuries for the reward these aristarchs are kindly willing to
concede him. Moreover, they find it a hard matter to maintain their
rules against his example, or his authority against their rules.


I have previously remarked that the poet is nature, or he seeks nature.
In the former case, he is a simple poet, in the second case, a
sentimental poet.

The poetic spirit is immortal, nor can it disappear from humanity; it can
only disappear with humanity itself, or with the aptitude to be a man, a
human being. And actually, though man by the freedom of his imagination
and of his understanding departs from simplicity, from truth, from the
necessity of nature, not only a road always remains open to him to return
to it, but, moreover, a powerful and indestructible instinct, the moral
instinct, brings him incessantly back to nature; and it is precisely the
poetical faculty that is united to this instinct by the ties of the
closest relationship. Thus man does not lose the poetic faculty directly
he parts with the simplicity of nature; only this faculty acts out of him
in another direction.

Even at present nature is the only flame that kindles and warms the
poetic soul. From nature alone it obtains all its force; to nature alone
it speaks in the artificial culture-seeking man. Any other form of
displaying its activity is remote from the poetic spirit. Accordingly it
may be remarked that it is incorrect to apply the expression poetic to
any of the so-styled productions of wit, though the high credit given to
French literature has led people for a long period to class them in that
category. I repeat that at present, even in the existing phase of
culture, it is still nature that powerfully stirs up the poetic spirit,
only its present relation to nature is of a different order from

As long as man dwells in a state of pure nature (I mean pure and not
coarse nature), all his being acts at once like a simple sensuous unity,
like a harmonious whole. The senses and reason, the receptive faculty
and the spontaneously active faculty, have not been as yet separated in
their respective functions: a fortiori they are not yet in contradiction
with each other. Then the feelings of man are not the formless play of
chance; nor are his thoughts an empty play of the imagination, without
any value. His feelings proceed from the law of necessity; his thoughts
from reality. But when man enters the state of civilization, and art has
fashioned him, this sensuous harmony which was in him disappears, and
henceforth he can only manifest himself as a moral unity, that is, as
aspiring to unity. The harmony that existed as a fact in the former
state, the harmony of feeling and thought, only exists now in an ideal
state. It is no longer in him, but out of him; it is a conception of
thought which he must begin by realizing in himself; it is no longer a
fact, a reality of his life. Well, now let us take the idea of poetry,
which is nothing else than expressing humanity as completely as possible,
and let us apply this idea to these two states. We shall be brought to
infer that, on the one hand, in the state of natural simplicity, when all
the faculties of man are exerted together, his being still manifests
itself in a harmonious unity, where, consequently, the totality of his
nature expresses itself in reality itself, the part of the poet is
necessarily to imitate the real as completely as is possible. In the
state of civilization, on the contrary, when this harmonious competition
of the whole of human nature is no longer anything but an idea, the part
of the poet is necessarily to raise reality to the ideal, or, what
amounts to the same thing, to represent the ideal. And, actually, these
are the only two ways in which, in general, the poetic genius can
manifest itself. Their great difference is quite evident, but though
there be great opposition between them, a higher idea exists that
embraces both, and there is no cause to be astonished if this idea
coincides with the very idea of humanity.

This is not the place to pursue this thought any further, as it would
require a separate discussion to place it in its full light. But if we
only compare the modern and ancient poets together, not according to the
accidental forms which they may have employed, but according to their
spirit, we shall be easily convinced of the truth of this thought. The
thing that touches us in the ancient poets is nature; it is the truth of
sense, it is a present and a living reality modern poets touch us through
the medium of ideas.

The path followed by modern poets is moreover that necessarily followed
by man generally, individuals as well as the species. Nature reconciles
man with himself; art divides and disunites him; the ideal brings him
back to unity. Now, the ideal being an infinite that he never succeeds
in reaching, it follows that civilized man can never become perfect in
his kind, while the man of nature can become so in his. Accordingly in
relation to perfection one would be infinitely below the other, if we
only considered the relation in which they are both to their own kind and
to their maximum. If, on the other hand, it is the kinds that are
compared together, it is ascertained that the end to which man tends by
civilization is infinitely superior to that which he reaches through
nature. Thus one has his reward, because having for object a finite
magnitude, he completely reaches this object; the merit of the other is
to approach an object that is of infinite magnitude. Now, as there are
only degrees, and as there is only progress in the second of these
evolutions, it follows that the relative merit of the man engaged in the
ways of civilization is never determinable in general, though this man,
taking the individuals separately, is necessarily at a disadvantage,
compared with the man in whom nature acts in all its perfection. But we
know also that humanity cannot reach its final end except by progress,
and that the man of nature cannot make progress save through culture, and
consequently by passing himself through the way of civilization.
Accordingly there is no occasion to ask with which of the two the
advantage must remain, considering this last end.

All that we say here of the different forms of humanity may be applied
equally to the two orders of poets who correspond to them.

Accordingly it would have been desirable not to compare at all the
ancient and the modern poets, the simple and the sentimental poets, or
only to compare them by referring them to a higher idea (since there is
really only one) which embraces both. For, sooth to say, if we begin by
forming a specific idea of poetry, merely from the ancient poets, nothing
is easier, but also nothing is more vulgar, than to depreciate the
moderns by this comparison. If persons wish to confine the name of
poetry to that which has in all times produced the same impression in
simple nature, this places them in the necessity of contesting the title
of poet in the moderns precisely in that which constitutes their highest
beauties, their greatest originality and sublimity; for precisely in the
points where they excel the most, it is the child of civilization whom
they address, and they have nothing to say to the simple child of nature.

To the man who is not disposed beforehand to issue from reality in order
to enter the field of the ideal, the richest and most substantial poetry
is an empty appearance, and the sublimest flights of poetic inspiration
are an exaggeration. Never will a reasonable man think of placing
alongside Homer, in his grandest episodes, any of our modern poets; and
it has a discordant and ridiculous effect to hear Milton or Klopstock
honored with the name of a "new Homer." But take in modern poets what
characterizes them, what makes their special merit, and try to compare
any ancient poet with them in this point, they will not be able to
support the comparison any better, and Homer less than any other. I
should express it thus: the power of the ancients consists in compressing
objects into the finite, and the moderns excel in the art of the

What we have said here may be extended to the fine arts in general,
except certain restrictions that are self-evident. If, then, the
strength of the artists of antiquity consists in determining and limiting
objects, we must no longer wonder that in the field of the plastic arts
the ancients remain so far superior to the moderns, nor especially that
poetry and the plastic arts with the moderns, compared respectively with
what they were among the ancients, do not offer the same relative value.
This is because an object that addresses itself to the eyes is only
perfect in proportion as the object is clearly limited in it; whilst a
work that is addressed to the imagination can also reach the perfection
which is proper to it by means of the ideal and the infinite. This is
why the superiority of the moderns in what relates to ideas is not of
great aid to them in the plastic arts, where it is necessary for them to
determine in space, with the greatest precision, the image which their
imagination has conceived, and where they must therefore measure
themselves with the ancient artist just on a point where his superiority
cannot be contested. In the matter of poetry it is another affair, and
if the advantage is still with the ancients on that ground, as respects
the simplicity of forms--all that can be represented by sensuous
features, all that is something bodily--yet, on the other hand, the
moderns have the advantage over the ancients as regards fundamental
wealth, and all that can neither be represented nor translated by
sensuous signs, in short, for all that is called mind and idea in the
works of art.

From the moment that the simple poet is content to follow simple nature
and feeling, that he is contented with the imitation of the real world,
he can only be placed, with regard to his subject, in a single relation.
And in this respect he has no choice as to the manner of treating it. If
simple poetry produces different impressions--I do not, of course, speak
of the impressions that are connected with the nature of the subject, but
only of those that are dependent on poetic execution--the whole
difference is in the degree; there is only one way of feeling, which
varies from more to less; even the diversity of external forms changes
nothing in the quality of aesthetic impressions. Whether the form be
lyric or epic, dramatic or descriptive, we can receive an impression
either stronger or weaker, but if we remove what is connected with the
nature of the subject, we shall always be affected in the same way. The
feeling we experience is absolutely identical; it proceeds entirely from
one single and the same element to such a degree that we are unable to
make any distinction. The very difference of tongues and that of times
does not here occasion any diversity, for their strict unity of origin
and of effect is precisely a characteristic of simple poetry.

It is quite different with sentimental poetry. The sentimental poet
reflects on the impression produced on him by objects; and it is only on
this reflection that his poetic force is based. It follows that the
sentimental poet is always concerned with two opposite forces, has two
modes of representing objects to himself, and of feeling them; these are,
the real or limited, and the ideal or infinite; and the mixed feeling
that he will awaken will always testify to this duality of origin.
Sentimental poetry thus admitting more than one principle, it remains to
know which of the two will be predominant in the poet, both in his
fashion of feeling and in that of representing the object; and
consequently a difference in the mode of treating it is possible. Here,
then, a new subject is presented: shall the poet attach himself to the
real or the ideal? to the real as an object of aversion and of disgust,
or to the ideal as an object of inclination? The poet will therefore be
able to treat the same subject either in its satirical aspect or in its
elegiac aspect,--taking these words in a larger sense, which will be
explained in the sequel: every sentimental poet will of necessity become
attached to one or the other of these two modes of feeling.


The poet is a satirist when he takes as subject the distance at which
things are from nature, and the contrast between reality and the ideal:
as regards the impression received by the soul, these two subjects blend
into the same. In the execution, he may place earnestness and passion,
or jests and levity, according as he takes pleasure in the domain of the
will or in that of the understanding. In the former case it is avenging
and pathetic satire; in the second case it is sportive, humorous, and
mirthful satire.

Properly speaking, the object of poetry is not compatible either with the
tone of punishment or that of amusement. The former is too grave for
play, which should be the main feature of poetry; the latter is too
trifling for seriousness, which should form the basis of all poetic play.
Our mind is necessarily interested in moral contradictions, and these
deprive the mind of its liberty. Nevertheless, all personal interest,
and reference to a personal necessity, should be banished from poetic
feeling. But mental contradictions do not touch the heart, nevertheless
the poet deals with the highest interests of the heart--nature and the
ideal. Accordingly it is a hard matter for him not to violate the poetic
form in pathetic satire, because this form consists in the liberty of
movement; and in sportive satire he is very apt to miss the true spirit
of poetry, which ought to be the infinite. The problem can only be
solved in one way: by the pathetic satire assuming the character of the
sublime, and the playful satire acquiring poetic substance by enveloping
the theme in beauty.

In satire, the real as imperfection is opposed to the ideal, considered
as the highest reality. In other respects it is by no means essential
that the ideal should be expressly represented, provided the poet knows
how to awaken it in our souls, but he must in all cases awaken it,
otherwise he will exert absolutely no poetic action. Thus reality is
here a necessary object of aversion; but it is also necessary, for the
whole question centres here, that this aversion should come necessarily
from the ideal, which is opposed to reality. To make this clear--this
aversion might proceed from a purely sensuous source, and repose only on
a want of which the satisfaction finds obstacles in the real. How often,
in fact, we think we feel, against society a moral discontent, while we
are simply soured by the obstacles that it opposes to our inclination.
It is this entirely material interest that the vulgar satirist brings
into play; and as by this road he never fails to call forth in us
movements connected with the affections, he fancies that he holds our
heart in his hand, and thinks he has graduated in the pathetic. But all
pathos derived from this source is unworthy of poetry, which ought only
to move us through the medium of ideas, and reach our heart only by
passing through the reason. Moreover, this impure and material pathos
will never have its effect on minds, except by over-exciting the
affective faculties and by occupying our hearts with painful feelings; in
this it differs entirely from the truly poetic pathos, which raises in us
the feeling of moral independence, and which is recognized by the freedom
of our mind persisting in it even while it is in the state of affection.
And, in fact, when the emotion emanates from the ideal opposed to the
real, the sublime beauty of the ideal corrects all impression of
restraint; and the grandeur of the idea with which we are imbued raises
us above all the limits of experience. Thus in the representation of
some revolting reality, the essential thing is that the necessary be the
foundation on which the poet or the narrator places the real: that he
know how to dispose our mind for ideas. Provided the point from which we
see and judge be elevated, it matters little if the object be low and far
beneath us. When the historian Tacitus depicts the profound decadence of
the Romans of the first century, it is a great soul which from a loftier
position lets his looks drop down on a low object; and the disposition in
which he places us is truly poetic, because it is the height where he is
himself placed, and where he has succeeded in raising us, which alone
renders so perceptible the baseness of the object.

Accordingly the satire of pathos must always issue from a mind deeply
imbued with the ideal. It is nothing but an impulsion towards harmony
that can give rise to that deep feeling of moral opposition and that
ardent indignation against moral obliquity which amounted to the fulness
of enthusiasm in Juvenal, Swift, Rousseau, Haller, and others. These
same poets would have succeeded equally well in forms of poetry relating
to all that is tender and touching in feeling, and it was only the
accidents of life in their early days that diverted their minds into
other walks. Nay, some amongst them actually tried their hand
successfully in these other branches of poetry. The poets whose names
have been just mentioned lived either at a period of degeneracy, and had
scenes of painful moral obliquity presented to their view, or personal
troubles had combined to fill their souls with bitter feelings. The
strictly austere spirit in which Rousseau, Haller, and others paint
reality is a natural result, moreover, of the philosophical mind, when
with rigid adherence to laws of thought it separates the mere phenomenon
from the substance of things. Yet these outer and contingent influences,
which always put restraint on the mind, should never be allowed to do
more than decide the direction taken by enthusiasm, nor should they ever
give the material for it. The substance ought always to remain
unchanged, emancipated from all external motion or stimulus, and it ought
to issue from an ardent impulsion towards the ideal, which forms the only
true motive that can be put forth for satirical poetry, and indeed for
all sentimental poetry.

While the satire of pathos is only adapted to elevated minds, playful
satire can only be adequately represented by a heart imbued with beauty.
The former is preserved from triviality by the serious nature of the
theme; but the latter, whose proper sphere is confined to the treatment
of subjects of morally unimportant nature, would infallibly adopt the
form of frivolity, and be deprived of all poetic dignity, were it not
that the substance is ennobled by the form, and did not the personal
dignity of the poet compensate for the insignificance of the subject.
Now, it is only given to mind imbued with beauty to impress its
character, its entire image, on each of its manifestations, independently
of the object of its manifestations. A sublime soul can only make itself
known as such by single victories over the rebellion of the senses, only
in certain moments of exaltation, and by efforts of short duration. In a
mind imbued with beauty, on the contrary, the ideal acts in the same
manner as nature, and therefore continuously; accordingly it can manifest
itself in it in a state of repose. The deep sea never appears more
sublime than when it is agitated; the true beauty of a clear stream is in
its peaceful course.

The question has often been raised as to the comparative preference to be
awarded to tragedy or comedy. If the question is confined merely to
their respective themes, it is certain that tragedy has the advantage.
But if our inquiry be directed to ascertain which has the more important
personality, it is probable that a decision may be given in favor of
comedy. In tragedy the theme in itself does great things; in comedy the
object does nothing and the poet all. Now, as in the judgments of taste
no account must be kept of the matter treated of, it follows naturally
that the aesthetic value of these two kinds will be in an inverse ratio
to the proper importance of their themes.

The tragic poet is supported by the theme, while the comic poet, on the
contrary, has to keep up the aesthetic character of his theme by his own
individual influence. The former may soar, which is not a very difficult
matter, but the latter has to remain one and the same in tone; he has to
be in the elevated region of art, where he must be at home, but where the
tragic poet has to be projected and elevated by a bound. And this is
precisely what distinguishes a soul of beauty from a sublime soul. A
soul of beauty bears in itself by anticipation all great ideas; they flow
without constraint and without difficulty from its very nature--an
infinite nature, at least in potency, at whatever point of its career you
seize it. A sublime soul can rise to all kinds of greatness, but by an
effort; it can tear itself from all bondage, to all that limits and
constrains it, but only by strength of will. Consequently the sublime
soul is only free by broken efforts; the other with ease and always.

The noble task of comedy is to produce and keep up in us this freedom of
mind, just as the end of tragedy is to re-establish in us this freedom of
mind by aesthetic ways, when it has been violently suspended by passion.
Consequently it is necessary that in tragedy the poet, as if he made an
experiment, should artificially suspend our freedom of mind, since
tragedy shows its poetic virtue by re-establishing it; in comedy, on the
other hand, care must be taken that things never reach this suspension of

It is for this reason that the tragic poet invariably treats his theme in
a practical manner, and the comic poet in a theoretic manner, even when
the former, as happened with Lessing in his "Nathan," should have the
curious fancy to select a theoretical, and the latter should have that of
choosing a practical subject. A piece is constituted a tragedy or a
comedy not by the sphere from which the theme is taken, but by the
tribunal before which it is judged. A tragic poet ought never to indulge
in tranquil reasoning, and ought always to gain the interest of the
heart; but the comic poet ought to shun the pathetic and bring into play
the understanding. The former displays his art by creating continual
excitement, the latter by perpetually subduing his passion; and it is
natural that the art in both cases should acquire magnitude and strength
in proportion as the theme of one poet is abstract and that of the other
pathetic in character. Accordingly, if tragedy sets out from a more
exalted place, it must be allowed, on the other hand, that comedy aims at
a more important end; and if this end could be actually attained it would
make all tragedy not only unnecessary, but impossible. The aim that
comedy has in view is the same as that of the highest destiny of man, and
this consists in liberating himself from the influence of violent
passions, and taking a calm and lucid survey of all that surrounds him,
and also of his own being, and of seeing everywhere occurrence rather
than fate or hazard, and ultimately rather smiling at the absurdities
than shedding tears and feeling anger at sight of the wickedness of man.

It frequently happens in human life that facility of imagination,
agreeable talents, a good-natured mirthfulness are taken for ornaments of
the mind. The same fact is discerned in the case of poetical displays.

Now, public taste scarcely if ever soars above the sphere of the
agreeable, and authors gifted with this sort of elegance of mind and
style do not find it a difficult matter to usurp a glory which is or
ought to be the reward of so much real labor. Nevertheless, an
infallible text exists to enable us to discriminate a natural facility of
manner from ideal gentleness, and qualities that consist in nothing more
than natural virtue from genuine moral worth of character. This test is
presented by trials such as those presented by difficulty and events
offering great opportunities. Placed in positions of this kind, the
genius whose essence is elegance is sure infallibly to fall into
platitudes, and that virtue which only results from natural causes drops
down to a material sphere. But a mind imbued with true and spiritual
beauty is in cases of the kind we have supposed sure to be elevated to
the highest sphere of character and of feeling. So long as Lucian merely
furnishes absurdity, as in his "Wishes," in the "Lapithae," in "Jupiter
Tragoedus," etc., he is only a humorist, and gratifies us by his sportive
humor; but he changes character in many passages in his "Nigrinus," his
"Timon," and his "Alexander," when his satire directs its shafts against
moral depravity. Thus he begins in his "Nigrinus" his picture of the
degraded corruption of Rome at that time in this way: "Wretch, why didst
thou quit Greece, the sunlight, and that free and happy life? Why didst
thou come here into this turmoil of splendid slavery, of service and
festivals, of sycophants, flatterers, poisoners, orphan-robbers, and
false friends?" It is on such occasions that the poet ought to show the
lofty earnestness of soul which has to form the basis of all plays, if a
poetical character is to be obtained by them. A serious intention may
even be detected under the malicious jests with which Lucian and
Aristophanes pursue Socrates. Their purpose is to avenge truth against
sophistry, and to do combat for an ideal which is not always prominently
put forward. There can be no doubt that Lucian has justified this
character in his Diogenes and Demonax. Again, among modern writers, how
grave and beautiful is the character depicted on all occasions by
Cervantes in his Don Quixote! How splendid must have been the ideal that
filled the mind of a poet who created a Tom Jones and a Sophonisba! How
deeply and strongly our hearts are moved by the jests of Yorick when he
pleases! I detect this seriousness also in our own Wieland: even the
wanton sportiveness of his humor is elevated and impeded by the goodness
of his heart; it has an influence even on his rhythm; nor does he ever
lack elastic power, when it is his wish, to raise us up to the most
elevated planes of beauty and of thought.

The same judgment cannot be pronounced on the satire of Voltaire. No
doubt, also, in his case, it is the truth and simplicity of nature which
here and there makes us experience poetic emotions, whether he really
encounters nature and depicts it in a simple character, as many times in
his "Ingenu;" or whether he seeks it and avenges it as in his "Candide"
and elsewhere. But when neither one nor the other takes place, he can
doubtless amuse us with his fine wit, but he assuredly never touches us
as a poet. There is always rather too little of the serious under his
raillery, and this is what makes his vocation as poet justly suspicious.
You always meet his intelligence only; never his feelings. No ideal can
be detected under this light gauze envelope; scarcely can anything
absolutely fixed be found under this perpetual movement. His prodigious
diversity of externals and forms, far from proving anything in favor of
the inner fulness of his inspiration, rather testifies to the contrary;
for he has exhausted all forms without finding a single one on which he
has succeeded in impressing his heart. We are almost driven to fear that
in the case of his rich talent the poverty of heart alone determined his
choice of satire. And how could we otherwise explain the fact that he
could pursue so long a road without ever issuing from its narrow rut?
Whatever may be the variety of matter and of external forms, we see the
inner form return everywhere with its sterile and eternal uniformity, and
in spite of his so productive career, he never accomplished in himself
the circle of humanity, that circle which we see joyfully traversed
throughout by the satirists previously named.


When the poet opposes nature to art, and the ideal to the real, so that
nature and the ideal form the principal object of his pictures, and that
the pleasure we take in them is the dominant impression, I call him an
elegiac poet. In this kind, as well as in satire, I distinguish two
classes. Either nature and the ideal are objects of sadness, when one is
represented as lost to man and the other as unattained; or both are
objects of joy, being represented to us as reality. In the first case it
is elegy in the narrower sense of the term; in the second case it is the
idyl in its most extended acceptation.

Indignation in the pathetic and ridicule in mirthful satire are
occasioned by an enthusiasm which the ideal has excited; and thus also
sadness should issue from the same source in elegy. It is this, and this
only, that gives poetic value to elegy, and any other origin for this
description of poetical effusion is entirely beneath the dignity of
poetry. The elegiac poet seeks after nature, but he strives to find her
in her beauty, and not only in her mirth; in her agreement with
conception, and not merely in her facile disposition towards the
requirements and demands of sense. Melancholy at the privation of joys,
complaints at the disappearance of the world's golden age, or at the
vanished happiness of youth, affection, etc., can only become the proper
themes for elegiac poetry if those conditions implying peace and calm in
the sphere of the senses can moreover be portrayed as states of moral
harmony. On this account I cannot bring myself to regard as poetry the
complaints of Ovid, which he transmitted from his place of exile by the
Black Sea; nor would they appear so to me however touching and however
full of passages of the highest poetry they might be. His suffering is
too devoid of spirit, and nobleness. His lamentations display a want of
strength and enthusiasm; though they may not reflect the traces of a
vulgar soul, they display a low and sensuous condition of a noble spirit
that has been trampled into the dust by its hard destiny. If, indeed, we
call to mind that his regrets are directed to Rome, in the Augustan age,
we forgive him the pain he suffers; but even Rome in all its splendor,
except it be transfigured by the imagination, is a limited greatness, and
therefore a subject unworthy of poetry, which, raised above every trace
of the actual, ought only to mourn over what is infinite.

Thus the object of poetic complaint ought never to be an external object,
but only an internal and ideal object; even when it deplores a real loss,
it must begin by making it an ideal loss. The proper work of the poet
consists in bringing back the finite object to the proportions of the
infinite. Consequently the external matter of elegy, considered in
itself, is always indifferent, since poetry can never employ it as it
finds it, and because it is only by what it makes of it that it confers
on it a poetic dignity. The elegiac poet seeks nature, but nature as an
idea, and in a degree of perfection that it has never reached in reality,
although he weeps over this perfection as something that has existed and
is now lost. When Ossian speaks to us of the days that are no more, and
of the heroes that have disappeared, his imagination has long since
transformed these pictures represented to him by his memory into a pure
ideal, and changed these heroes into gods. The different experiences of
such or such a life in particular have become extended and confounded in
the universal idea of transitoriness, and the bard, deeply moved, pursued
by the increase of ruin everywhere present, takes his flight towards
heaven, to find there in the course of the sun an emblem of what does not
pass away.

I turn now to the elegiac poets of modern times. Rousseau, whether
considered as a poet or a philosopher, always obeys the same tendency; to
seek nature or to avenge it by art. According to the state of his heart,
whether he prefers to seek nature or to avenge it, we see him at one time
roused by elegiac feelings, at others showing the tone of the satire of
Juneval; and again, as in his Julia, delighting in the sphere of the
idyl. His compositions have undoubtedly a poetic value, since their
object is ideal; only he does not know how to treat it in a poetic
fashion. No doubt his serious character prevents him from falling into
frivolity; but this seriousness also does not allow him to rise to poetic
play. Sometimes absorbed by passion, at others by abstractions, he
seldom if ever reaches aesthetic freedom, which the poet ought to
maintain in spite of his material before his object, and in which he
ought to make the reader share. Either he is governed by his sickly
sensibility and his impressions become a torture, or the force of thought
chains down his imagination and destroys by its strictness of reasoning
all the grace of his pictures. These two faculties, whose reciprocal
influence and intimate union are what properly make the poet, are found
in this writer in an uncommon degree, and he only lacks one thing--it is
that the two qualities should manifest themselves actually united; it is
that the proper activity of thought should show itself mixed more with
feeling, and the sensuous more with thought. Accordingly, even in the
ideal which he has made of human nature, he is too much taken up with the
limits of this nature, and not enough with its capabilities; he always
betrays a want of physical repose rather than want of moral harmony. His
passionate sensuousness must be blamed when, to finish as quickly as
possible that struggle in humanity which offends him, he prefers to carry
man back to the unintelligent uniformity of his primitive condition,
rather than see that struggle carried out in the intellectual harmony of
perfect cultivation, when, rather than await the fulfilment of art he
prefers not to let it begin; in short, when he prefers to place the aim
nearer the earth, and to lower the ideal in order to reach it the sooner
and the safer.

Among the poets of Germany who belong to this class, I shall only mention
here Haller, Kleist, and Klopstock. The character of their poetry is
sentimental; it is by the ideal that they touch us, not by sensuous
reality; and that not so much because they are themselves nature, as
because they know how to fill us with enthusiasm for nature. However,
what is true in general, as well of these three poets as of every
sentimental poet, does not evidently exclude the faculty of moving us, in
particular, by beauties of the simple genus; without this they would not
be poets. I only mean that it is not their proper and dominant
characteristic to receive the impression of objects with a calm feeling,
simple, easy, and to give forth in like manner the impression received.
Involuntarily the imagination in them anticipates intuition, and
reflection is in play before the sensuous nature has done its function;
they shut their eyes and stop their ears to plunge into internal
meditations. Their souls could not be touched by any impression without
observing immediately their own movements, without placing before their
eyes and outside themselves what takes place in them. It follows from
this that we never see the object itself, but what the intelligence and
reflection of the poet have made of the object; and even if this object
be the person itself of the poet, even when he wishes to represent to us
his own feelings, we are not informed of his state immediately or at
first hand; we only see how this state is reflected in his mind and what
he has thought of it in the capacity of spectator of himself. When
Haller deplores the death of his wife--every one knows this beautiful
elegy--and begins in the following manner:--

  "If I must needs sing of thy death,
   O Marian, what a song it would be!
   When sighs strive against words,
   And idea follows fast on idea," etc.,

we feel that this description is strictly true, but we feel also that the
poet does not communicate to us, properly speaking, his feelings, but the
thoughts that they suggest to him. Accordingly, the emotion we feel on
hearing him is much less vivid! people remark that the poet's mind must
have been singularly cooled down to become thus a spectator of his own

Haller scarcely treated any subjects but the super-sensuous, and part of
the poems of Klopstock are also of this nature: this choice itself
excludes them from the simple kind. Accordingly, in order to treat these
super-sensuous themes in a poetic fashion, as no body could be given to
them, and they could not be made the objects of sensuous intuition, it
was necessary to make them pass from the finite to the infinite, and
raise them to the state of objects of spiritual intuition. In general,
it may be said, that it is only in this sense that a didactic poetry can
be conceived without involving contradiction; for, repeating again what
has been so often said, poetry has only two fields, the world of sense
and the ideal world, since in the sphere of conceptions, in the world of
the understanding, it cannot absolutely thrive. I confess that I do not
know as yet any didactic poem, either among the ancients or among the
moderns, where the subject is completely brought down to the individual,
or purely and completely raised to the ideal. The most common case, in
the most happy essays, is where the two principles are used together; the
abstract idea predominates, and the imagination, which ought to reign
over the whole domain of poetry, has merely the permission to serve the
understanding. A didactic poem in which thought itself would be poetic,
and would remain so, is a thing which we must still wait to see.

What we say here of didactic poems in general is true in particular of
the poems of Haller. The thought itself of these poems is not poetical,
but the execution becomes so sometimes, occasionally by the use of
images, at other times by a flight towards the ideal. It is from this
last quality only that the poems of Haller belong to this class. Energy,
depth, a pathetic earnestness--these are the traits that distinguish this
poet. He has in his soul an ideal that enkindles it, and his ardent love
of truth seeks in the peaceful valleys of the Alps that innocence of the
first ages that the world no longer knows. His complaint is deeply
touching; he retraces in an energetic and almost bitter satire the
wanderings of the mind and of the heart, and he lovingly portrays the
beautiful simplicity of nature. Only, in his pictures as well as in his
soul, abstraction prevails too much, and the sensuous is overweighted by
the intellectual. He constantly teaches rather than paints; and even in
his paintings his brush is more energetic than lovable. He is great,
bold, full of fire, sublime; but he rarely and perhaps never attains to

For the solidity and depth of ideas, Kleist is far inferior to Haller; in
point of grace, perhaps, he would have the advantage--if, as happens
occasionally, we did not impute to him as a merit, on the one side, that
which really is a want on the other. The sensuous soul of Kleist takes
especial delight at the sight of country scenes and manners; he withdraws
gladly from the vain jingle and rattle of society, and finds in the heart
of inanimate nature the harmony and peace that are not offered to him by
the moral world. How touching is his "Aspiration after Repose"! how much
truth and feeling there is in these verses!--

  "O world, thou art the tomb of true life!
   Often a generous instinct attracts me to virtue;
   My heart is sad, a torrent of tears bathes my cheeks
   But example conquers, and thou, O fire of youth!
   Soon you dry these noble tears.
   A true man must live far from men!"

But if the poetic instinct of Kleist leads him thus far away from the
narrow circle of social relations, in solitude, and among the fruitful
inspirations of nature, the image of social life and of its anguish
pursues him, and also, alas! its chains. What he flees from he carries
in himself, and what he seeks remains entirely outside him: never can he
triumph over the fatal influence of his time. In vain does he find
sufficient flame in his heart and enough energy in his imagination to
animate by painting the cold conceptions of the understanding; cold
thought each time kills the living creations of fancy, and reflection
destroys the secret work of the sensuous nature. His poetry, it must be
admitted, is of as brilliant color and as variegated as the spring he
celebrated in verse; his imagination is vivid and active; but it might be
said that it is more variable than rich, that it sports rather than
creates, that it always goes forward with a changeful gait, rather than
stops to accumulate and mould things into shape. Traits succeed each
other rapidly, with exuberance, but without concentrating to form an
individual, without completing each other to make a living whole, without
rounding to a form, a figure. Whilst he remains in purely lyrical
poetry, and pauses amidst his landscapes of country life, on the one hand
the greater freedom of the lyrical form, and on the other the more
arbitrary nature of the subject, prevent us from being struck with this
defect; in these sorts of works it is in general rather the feelings of
the poet, than the object in itself, of which we expect the portraiture.
But this defect becomes too apparent when he undertakes, as in Cisseis
and Paches, or in his Seneca, to represent men and human actions; because
here the imagination sees itself kept in within certain fixed and
necessary limits, and because here the effect can only be derived from
the object itself. Kleist becomes poor, tiresome, jejune, and
insupportably frigid; an example full of lessons for those who, without
having an inner vocation, aspire to issue from musical poetry, to rise to
the regions of plastic poetry. A spirit of this family, Thomson, has
paid the same penalty to human infirmity.

In the sentimental kind, and especially in that part of the sentimental
kind which we name elegiac, there are but few modern poets, and still
fewer ancient ones, who can be compared to our Klopstock. Musical poetry
has produced in this poet all that can be attained out of the limits of
the living form, and out of the sphere of individuality, in the region of
ideas. It would, no doubt, be doing him a great injustice to dispute
entirely in his case that individual truth and that feeling of life with
which the simple poet describes his pictures. Many of his odes, many
separate traits in his dramas, and in his "Messiah," represent the object
with a striking truth, and mark the outline admirably; especially, when
the object is his own heart, he has given evidence on many occasions of a
great natural disposition and of a charming simplicity. I mean only that
it is not in this that the proper force of Klopstock consists, and that
it would not perhaps be right to seek for this throughout his work.
Viewed as a production of musical poetry, the "Messiah" is a magnificent
work; but in the light of plastic poetry, where we look for determined
forms and forms determined for the intuition, the "Messiah" leaves much
to be desired. Perhaps in this poem the figures are sufficiently
determined, but they are not so with intuition in view. It is
abstraction alone that created them, and abstraction alone can discern
them. They are excellent types to express ideas, but they are not
individuals nor living figures. With regard to the imagination, which
the poet ought to address, and which he ought to command by putting
before it always perfectly determinate forms, it is left here much too
free to represent as it wishes these men and these angels, these
divinities and demons, this paradise and this hell. We see quite well
the vague outlines in which the understanding must be kept to conceive
these personages; but we do not find the limit clearly traced in which
the imagination must be enclosed to represent them. And what I say here
of characters must apply to all that in this poem is, or ought to be,
action and life, and not only in this epopoeia, but also in the dramatic
poetry of Klopstock. For the understanding all is perfectly determined
and bounded in them--I need only here recall his Judas, his Pilate, his
Philo, his Solomon in the tragedy that bears that name--but for the
imagination all this wants form too much, and I must readily confess I do
not find that our poet is at all in his sphere here. His sphere is
always the realm of ideas; and he knows how to raise all he touches to
the infinite. It might be said that he strips away their bodily
envelope, to spiritualize them from all the objects with which he is
occupied, in the same way that other poets clothe all that is spiritual
with a body. The pleasure occasioned by his poems must almost always be
obtained by an exercise of the faculty of reflection; the feelings he
awakens in us, and that so deeply and energetically, flow always from
super-sensuous sources. Hence the earnestness, the strength, the
elasticity, the depth, that characterize all that comes from him; but
from that also issues that perpetual tension of mind in which we are kept
when reading him. No poet--except perhaps Young, who in this respect
exacts even more than Klopstock, without giving us so much compensation
--no poet could be less adapted than Klopstock to play the part of
favorite author and guide in life, because he never does anything else
than lead us out of life, because he never calls to arms anything save
spirit, without giving recreation and refreshment to sensuous nature by
the calm presence of any object. His muse is chaste, it has nothing of
the earthly, it is immaterial and holy as his religion; and we are forced
to admit with admiration that if he wanders sometimes on these high
places, it never happened to him to fall from them. But precisely for
this reason, I confess in all ingenuousness, that I am not free from
anxiety for the common sense of those who quite seriously and
unaffectedly make Klopstock the favorite book, the book in which we find
sentiments fitting all situations, or to which we may revert at all
times: perhaps even--and I suspect it--Germany has seen enough results of
his dangerous influence. It is only in certain dispositions of the mind,
and in hours of exaltation, that recourse can be had to Klopstock, and
that he can be felt. It is for this reason that he is the idol of youth,
without, however, being by any means the happiest choice that they could
make. Youth, which always aspires to something beyond real life, which
avoids all stiffness of form, and finds all limits too narrow, lets
itself be carried away with love, with delight, into the infinite spaces
opened up to them by this poet. But wait till the youth has become a
man, and till, from the domain of ideas, he comes back to the world of
experience, then you will see this enthusiastic love of Klopstock
decrease greatly, without, however, a riper age changing at all the
esteem due to this unique phenomenon, to this so extraordinary genius, to
these noble sentiments--the esteem that Germany in particular owes to his
high merit.

I have said that this poet was great specially in the elegiac style, and
it is scarcely necessary to confirm this judgment by entering into
particulars. Capable of exercising all kinds of action on the heart, and
having graduated as master in all that relates to sentimental poetry, he
can sometimes shake the soul by the most sublime pathos, at others cradle
it with sweet and heavenly sensations. Yet his heart prefers to follow
the direction of a lofty spiritual melancholy; and, however sublime be
the tones of his harp and of his lyre, they are always the tender notes
of his lute that resound with most truth and the deepest emotion. I take
as witnesses all those whose nature is pure and sensuous: would they not
be ready to give all the passages where Klopstock is strong, and bold;
all those fictions, all the magnificent descriptions, all the models of
eloquence which abound in the "Messiah," all those dazzling comparisons
in which our poet excels,--would they not exchange them for the pages
breathing tenderness, the "Elegy to Ebert" for example, or that admirable
poem entitled "Bardalus," or again, the "Tombs Opened before the Hour,"
the "Summer's Night," the "Lake of Zurich," and many other pieces of this
kind? In the same way the "Messiah" is dear to me as a treasure of
elegiac feelings and of ideal paintings, though I am not much satisfied
with it as the recital of an action and as an epic.

I ought, perhaps, before quitting this department, to recall the merits
in this style of Uz, Denis, Gessner in the "Death of Abel"--Jacobi,
Gerstenberg, Hoelty, De Goeckingk, and several others, who all knew how
to touch by ideas, and whose poems belong to the sentimental kind in the
sense in which we have agreed to understand the word. But my object is
not here to write a history of German poetry; I only wished to clear up
what I said further back by some examples from our literature. I wished
to show that the ancient and the modern poets, the authors of simple
poetry and of sentimental poetry, follow essentially different paths to
arrive at the same end: that the former move by nature, individuality, a
very vivid sensuous element; while the latter do it by means of ideas and
a high spirituality, exercising over our minds an equally powerful though
less extensive influence.

It has been seen, by the examples which precede, how sentimental poetry
conceives and treats subjects taken from nature; perhaps the reader may
be curious to know how also simple poetry treats a subject of the
sentimental order. This is, as it seems, an entirely new question, and
one of special difficulty; for, in the first place, has a subject of the
sentimental order ever been presented in primitive and simple periods?
And in modern times, where is the simple poet with whom we could make
this experiment? This has not, however, prevented genius from setting
this problem, and solving it in a wonderfully happy way. A poet in whose
mind nature works with a purer and more faithful activity than in any
other, and who is perhaps of all modern poets the one who departs the
least from the sensuous truth of things, has proposed this problem to
himself in his conception of a mind, and of the dangerous extreme of the
sentimental character. This mind and this character have been portrayed
by the modern poet we speak of, a character which with a burning
sensuousness embraces the ideal and flies the real, to soar up to an
infinite devoid of being, always occupied in seeking out of himself what
he incessantly destroys in himself; a mind that only finds reality in his
dreams, and to whom the realities of life are only limits and obstacles;
in short, a mind that sees only in its own existence a barrier, and goes
on, as it were, logically to break down this barrier in order to
penetrate to true reality.

It is interesting to see with what a happy instinct all that is of a
nature to feed the sentimental mind is gathered together in Werther: a
dreamy and unhappy love, a very vivid feeling for nature, the religious
sense coupled with the spirit of philosophic contemplation, and lastly,
to omit nothing, the world of Ossian, dark, formless, melancholy. Add to
this the aspect under which reality is presented, all is depicted which
is least adapted to make it lovable, or rather all that is most fit to
make it hated; see how all external circumstances unite to drive back the
unhappy man into his ideal world; and now we understand that it was quite
impossible for a character thus constituted to save itself, and issue
from the circle in which it was enclosed. The same contrast reappears in
the "Torquato Tasso" of the same poet, though the characters are very
different. Even his last romance presents, like his first, this
opposition between the poetic mind and the common sense of practical men,
between the ideal and the real, between the subjective mode and the
objective mode of seeing and representing things; it is the same
opposition, I say, but with what a diversity! Even in "Faust" we still
find this contrast, rendered, I admit--as the subject required--much more
coarsely on both hands, and materialized. It would be quite worth while
if a psychological explanation were attempted of this character,
personified and specified in four such different ways.

It has been observed further back that a mere disposition to frivolity of
mind, to a merry humor, if a certain fund of the ideal is not joined to
it, does not suffice to constitute the vocation of a satirical poet,
though this mistake is frequently made. In the same way a mere
disposition for tender sentiments, softness of heart, and melancholy do
not suffice to constitute a vocation for elegy. I cannot detect the true
poetical talent, either on one side or the other; it wants the essential,
I mean the energetic and fruitful principle that ought to enliven the
subject, and produce true beauty. Accordingly the productions of this
latter nature, of the tender nature, do nothing but enervate us; and
without refreshing the heart, without occupying the mind, they are only
able to flatter in us the sensuous nature. A constant disposition to
this mode of feeling ends necessarily, in the long run, by weakening the
character, and makes it fall into a state of passivity from which nothing
real can issue, either for external or for internal life. People have,
therefore, been quite right to persecute by pitiless raillery this fatal
mania of sentimentality and of tearful melancholy which possessed Germany
eighteen years since, in consequence of certain excellent works that were
ill understood and indiscreetly imitated. People have been right, I say,
to combat this perversity, though the indulgence with which men are
disposed to receive the parodies of these elegiac caricatures--that are
very little better themselves--the complaisance shown to bad wit, to
heartless satire and spiritless mirth, show clearly enough that this zeal
against false sentimentalism does not issue from quite a pure source. In
the balance of true taste one cannot weigh more than the other,
considering that both here and there is wanting that which forms the
aesthetic value of a work of art, the intimate union of spirit with
matter, and the twofold relation of the work with the faculty of
perception as well as with the faculty of the ideal.

People have turned Siegwart ["Siegwart," a novel by J. Mailer, published
at Ulm, 1776] and his convent story into ridicule, and yet the "Travels
into the South of France" are admired; yet both works have an equal claim
to be esteemed in certain respects, and as little to be unreservedly
praised in others. A true, though excessive, sensuousness gives value to
the former of these two romances; a lively and sportive humor, a fine
wit, recommends the other: but one totally lacks all sobriety of mind
that would befit it, the other lacks all aesthetic dignity. If you
consult experience, one is rather ridiculous; if you think of the ideal,
the other is almost contemptible. Now, as true beauty must of necessity
accord both with nature and with the ideal, it is clear that neither the
one nor the other of these two romances could pretend to pass for a fine
work. And notwithstanding all this, it is natural, as I know it by my
own experience, that the romance of Thummel should be read with much
pleasure. As a fact it only wounds those requirements which have their
principle in the ideal, and which consequently do not exist for the
greater part of readers; requirements that, even in persons of most
delicate feeling, do not make themselves felt at the moments when we read
romances. With regard to the other needs of the mind, and especially to
those of the senses, this book, on the other hand, affords unusual
satisfaction. Accordingly, it must be, and will be so, that this book
will remain justly one of the favorite works of our age, and of all
epochs when men only write aesthetic works to please, and people only
read to get pleasure.

But does not poetical literature also offer, even in its classical
monuments, some analogous examples of injuries inflicted or attempted
against the ideal and its superior purity? Are there not some who, by
the gross, sensuous nature of their subject, seem to depart strangely
from the spiritualism I here demand of all works of art? If this is
permitted to the poet, the chaste nurseling of the muses, ought it not to
be conceded to the novelist, who is only the half-brother of the poet,
and who still touches by so many points? I can the less avoid this
question because there are masterpieces, both in the elegiac and in the
satirical kind, where the authors seek and preach up a nature quite
different from that I am discussing in this essay, and where they seem to
defend it, not so much against bad as against good morals. The natural
conclusion would be either that this sort of poem ought to be rejected,
or that, in tracing here the idea of elegiac poetry, we have granted far
too much to what is arbitrary.

The question I asked was, whether what was permitted by the poet might
not be tolerated in a prose narrator too? The answer is contained in the
question. What is allowed in the poet proves nothing about what must be
allowed in one who is not a poet. This tolerancy in fact reposes on the
very idea which we ought to make to ourselves of the poet, and only on
this idea; what in his case is legitimate freedom, is only a license
worthy of contempt as soon as it no longer takes its source in the ideal,
in those high and noble inspirations which make the poet.

The laws of decency are strangers to innocent nature; the experience of
corruption alone has given birth to them. But when once this experience
has been made, and natural innocence has disappeared from manners, these
laws are henceforth sacred laws that man, who has a moral sense, ought
not to infringe upon. They reign in an artificial world with the same
right that the laws of nature reign in the innocence of primitive ages.
But by what characteristic is the poet recognized? Precisely by his
silencing in his soul all that recalls an artificial world, and by
causing nature herself to revive in him with her primitive simplicity.
The moment he has done this he is emancipated by this alone from all the
laws by which a depraved heart secures itself against itself. He is
pure, he is innocent, and all that is permitted to innocent nature is
equally permitted to him. But you who read him or listen to him, if you
have lost your innocence, and if you are incapable of finding it again,
even for a moment, in a purifying contact with the poet, it is your own
fault, and not his: why do not you leave him alone? it is not for you
that he has sung!

Here follows, therefore, in what relates to these kinds of freedoms, the
rules that we can lay down.

Let us remark in the first place that nature only can justify these
licenses; whence it follows that you could not legitimately take them up
of your own choice, nor with a determination of imitating them; the will,
in fact, ought always to be directed according to the laws of morality,
and on its part all condescending to the sensuous is absolutely
unpardonable. These licenses must, therefore, above all, be simplicity.
But how can we be convinced that they are actually simple? We shall hold
them to be so if we see them accompanied and supported by all the other
circumstances which also have their spring of action in nature; for
nature can only be recognized by the close and strict consistency, by the
unity and uniformity of its effects. It is only a soul that has on all
occasions a horror of all kinds of artifice, and which consequently
rejects them even where they would be useful--it is only that soul which
we permit to be emancipated from them when the artificial
conventionalities hamper and hinder it. A heart that submits to all the
obligations of nature has alone the right to profit also by the liberties
which it authorizes. All the other feelings of that heart ought
consequently to bear the stamp of nature: it will be true, simple, free,
frank, sensible, and straightforward; all disguise, all cunning, all
arbitrary fancy, all egotistical pettiness, will be banished from his
character, and you will see no trace of them in his writings.

Second rule: beautiful nature alone can justify freedoms of this kind;
whence it follows that they ought not to be a mere outbreak of the
appetites; for all that proceeds exclusively from the wants of sensuous
nature is contemptible. It is, therefore, from the totality and the
fulness of human nature that these vivid manifestations must also issue.
We must find humanity in them. But how can we judge that they proceed in
fact from our whole nature, and not only from an exclusive and vulgar
want of the sensuous nature? For this purpose it is necessary that we
should see--that they should represent to us--this whole of which they
form a particular feature. This disposition of the mind to experience
the impressions of the sensuous is in itself an innocent and an
indifferent thing. It does not sit well on a man only because of its
being common to animals with him; it augurs in him the lack of true and
perfect humanity. It only shocks us in the poem because such a work
having the pretension to please us, the author consequently seems to
think us capable, us also, of this moral infirmity. But when we see in
the man who has let himself be drawn into it by surprise all the other
characteristics that human nature in general embraces; when we find in
the work where these liberties have been taken the expression of all the
realities of human nature, this motive of discontent disappears, and we
can enjoy, without anything changing our joy, this simple expression of a
true and beautiful nature. Consequently this same poet who ventures to
allow himself to associate us with feelings so basely human, ought to
know, on the other hand, how to raise us to all that is grand, beautiful,
and sublime in our nature.

We should, therefore, have found there a measure to which we could
subject the poet with confidence, when he trespasses on the ground of
decency, and when he does not fear to penetrate as far as that in order
freely to paint nature. His work is common, base, absolutely
inexcusable, from the moment it is frigid, and from the moment it is
empty, because that shows a prejudice, a vulgar necessity, an unhealthy
appeal to our appetites. His work, on the other hand, is beautiful and
noble, and we ought to applaud it without any consideration for all the
objections of frigid decency, as soon as we recognize in it simplicity,
the alliance of spiritual nature and of the heart.

Perhaps I shall be told that if we adopt this criterion, most of the
recitals of this kind composed by the French, and the best imitations
made of them in Germany, would not perhaps find their interest in it; and
that it might be the same, at least in part, with many of the productions
of our most intellectual and amiable poets, without even excepting his
masterpieces. I should have nothing to reply to this. The sentence
after all is anything but new, and I am only justifying the judgment
pronounced long since on this matter by all men of delicate perceptions.
But these same principles which, applied to the works of which I have
just spoken, seem perhaps in too strict a spirit, might also be found too
indulgent when applied to some other works. I do not deny, in fact, that
the same reasons which make me hold to be quite inexcusable the dangerous
pictures drawn by the Roman Ovid and the German Ovid, those of Crebillon,
of Voltaire, of Marmontel, who pretends to write moral tales!--of
Lacroix, and of many others--that these same reasons, I say, reconcile me
with the elegies of the Roman Propertius and of the German Propertius,
and even with some of the decried productions of Diderot. This is
because the former of those works are only witty, prosaic, and
voluptuous, while the others are poetic, human, and simple.


It remains for me to say a few words about this third kind of sentimental
poetry--some few words and no more, for I propose to speak of it at
another time with the developments particularly demanded by the theme.

This kind of poetry generally presents the idea and description of an
innocent and happy humanity. This innocence and bliss seeming remote
from the artificial refinements of fashionable society, poets have
removed the scene of the idyl from crowds of worldly life to the simple
shepherd's cot, and have given it a place in the infancy of humanity
before the beginning of culture. These limitations are evidently
accidental; they do not form the object of the idyl, but are only to be
regarded as the most natural means to attain this end. The end is
everywhere to portray man in a state of innocence: which means a state of
harmony and peace with himself and the external world.

But a state such as this is not merely met with before the dawn of
civilization; it is also the state to which civilization aspires, as to
its last end, if only it obeys a determined tendency in its progress.
The idea of a similar state, and the belief of the possible reality of
this state, is the only thing that can reconcile man with all the evils
to which he is exposed in the path of civilization; and if this idea were
only a chimera, the complaints of those who accuse civil life and the
culture of the intelligence as an evil for which there is no
compensation, and who represent this primitive state of nature that we
have renounced as the real end of humanity--their complaints, I say,
would have a perfectly just foundation. It is, therefore, of infinite
importance for the man engaged in the path of civilization to see
confirmed in a sensuous manner the belief that this idea can be
accomplished in the world of sense, that this state of innocence can be
realized in it; and as real experience, far from keeping up this belief,
is rather made incessantly to contradict it, poetry comes here, as in
many other cases, in aid of reason, to cause this idea to pass into the
condition of an intuitive idea, and to realize it in a particular fact.
No doubt this innocence of pastoral life is also a poetic idea, and the
imagination must already have shown its creative power in that. But the
problem, with this datum, becomes infinitely simpler and easier to solve;
and we must not forget that the elements of these pictures already
existed in real life, and that it was only requisite to gather up the
separate traits to form a whole. Under a fine sky, in a primitive
society, when all the relations are still simple, when science is limited
to so little, nature is easily satisfied, and man only turns to savagery
when he is tortured by want. All nations that have a history have a
paradise, an age of innocence, a golden age. Nay, more than this, every
man has his paradise, his golden age, which he remembers with more or
less enthusiasm, according as he is more or less poetical. Thus
experience itself furnishes sufficient traits to this picture which the
pastoral idyl executes. But this does not prevent the pastoral idyl from
remaining always a beautiful and an encouraging fiction; and poetic
genius, in retracing these pictures, has really worked in favor of the
ideal. For, to the man who has once departed from simple nature, and who
has been abandoned to the dangerous guidance of his reason, it is of the
greatest importance to find the laws of nature expressed in a faithful
copy, to see their image in a clear mirror, and to reject all the stains
of artificial life. There is, however, a circumstance which remarkably
lessens the aesthetic value of these sorts of poetry. By the very fact
that the idyl is transported to the time that precedes civilization, it
also loses the advantages thereof; and by its nature finds itself in
opposition to itself. Thus, in a theoretical sense, it takes us back at
the same time that in a practical sense it leads us on and ennobles us.
Unhappily it places behind us the end towards which it ought to lead us,
and consequently it can only inspire us with the sad feeling of a loss,
and not the joyous feeling of a hope. As these poems can only attain
their end by dispensing with all art, and by simplifying human nature,
they have the highest value for the heart, but they are also far too poor
for what concerns the mind, and their uniform circle is too quickly
traversed. Accordingly we can only seek them and love them in moments in
which we need calm, and not when our faculties aspire after movement and
exercise. A morbid mind will find its cure in them, a sound soul will
not find its food in them. They cannot vivify, they can only soften.
This defect, grounded in the essence of the pastoral idyll, has not been
remedied by the whole art of poets. I know that this kind of poem is not
without admirers, and that there are readers enough who prefer an Amyntus
and a Daphnis to the most splendid masterpieces of the epic or the
dramatic muse; but in them it is less the aesthetical taste than the
feeling of an individual want that pronounces on works of art; and their
judgment, by that very fact, could not be taken into consideration here.
The reader who judges with his mind, and whose heart is sensuous, without
being blind to the merit of these poems, will confess that he is rarely
affected by them, and that they tire him most quickly. But they act with
so much the more effect in the exact moment of need. But must the truly
beautiful be reduced to await our hours of need? and is it not rather its
office to awaken in our soul the want that it is going to satisfy?

The reproaches I here level against the bucolic idyl cannot be understood
of the sentimental. The simple pastoral, in fact, cannot be deprived of
aesthetic value, since this value is already found in the mere form. To
explain myself: every kind of poetry is bound to possess an infinite
ideal value, which alone constitutes it a true poetry; but it can satisfy
this condition in two different ways. It can give us the feeling of the
infinite as to form, by representing the object altogether limited and
individualizing it; it can awaken in us the feeling of the infinite as to
matter, in freeing its object from all limits in which it is enclosed, by
idealizing this object; therefore it can have an ideal value either by an
absolute representation or by the representation of an absolute. Simple
poetry takes the former road, the other is that of sentimental poetry.
Accordingly the simple poet is not exposed to failure in value so long as
he keeps faithfully to nature, which is always completely circumscribed,
that is, is infinite as regards form. The sentimental poet, on the
contrary, by that very fact, that nature only offers him completely
circumscribed objects, finds in it an obstruction when he wishes to give
an absolute value to a particular object. Thus the sentimental poet
understands his interests badly when he goes along the trail of the
simple poet, and borrows his objects from him--objects which by
themselves are perfectly indifferent, and which only become poetical by
the way in which they are treated. By this he imposes on himself without
any necessity the same limits that confine the field of the simple poet,
without, however, being able to carry out the limitation properly, or to
vie with his rival in absolute definiteness of representation. He ought
rather, therefore, to depart from the simple poet, just in the choice of
object; because, the latter having the advantage of him on the score of
form, it is only by the nature of the objects that he can resume the
upper hand.

Applying this to the pastoral idyls of the sentimental poet, we see why
these poems, whatever amount of art and genius be displayed in them, do
not fully satisfy the heart or the mind. An ideal is proposed in it,
and, at the same time, the writer keeps to this narrow and poor medium of
pastoral life. Would it not have been better, on the contrary, to choose
for the ideal another frame, or for the pastoral world another kind of
picture? These pictures are just ideal enough for painting to lose its
individual truth in them, and, again, just individual enough for the
ideal in them to suffer therefrom. For example, a shepherd of Gessner
can neither charm by the illusion of nature nor by the beauty of
imitation; he is too ideal a being for that, but he does not satisfy us
any more as an ideal by the infinity of the thought: he is a far too
limited creature to give us this satisfaction. He will, therefore,
please up to a certain point all classes of readers, without exception,
because he seeks to unite the simple with the sentimental, and he thus
gives a commencement of satisfaction to the two opposite exigencies that
may be brought to bear on any particular part of a poem; but the author,
in trying to unite the two points, does not fully satisfy either one or
the other exigency, as you do not find in him either pure nature or the
pure ideal; he cannot rank himself as entirely up to the mark of a
stringent critical taste, for taste does not accept anything equivocal or
incomplete in aesthetical matters. It is a strange thing that, in the
poet whom I have named, this equivocal character extends to the language,
which floats undecided between poetry and prose, as if he feared either
to depart too far from nature, by speaking rhythmical language, or if he
completely freed himself from rhythm, to lose all poetic flight. Milton
gives a higher satisfaction to the mind, in the magnificent picture of
the first human pair, and of the state of innocence in paradise;--the
most beautiful idyl I know of the sentimental kind. Here nature is
noble, inspired, simple, full of breadth, and, at the same time, of
depth; it is humanity in its highest moral value, clothed in the most
graceful form.

Thus, even in respect to the idyl, as well as to all kinds of poetry, we
must once for all declare either for individuality or ideality; for to
aspire to give satisfaction to both exigencies is the surest means,
unless you have reached the terminus of perfection, to miss both ends.
If the modern poet thinks he feels enough of the Greeks' mind to vie with
them, notwithstanding all the indocility of his matter, on their own
ground, namely that of simple poetry, let him do it exclusively, and
place himself apart from all the requirements of the sentimental taste of
his age. No doubt it is very doubtful if he come up to his models;
between the original and the happiest imitation there will always remain
a notable distance; but, by taking this road, he is at all events secure
of producing a really poetic work. If, on the other hand, he feels
himself carried to the ideal by the instinct of sentimental poetry, let
him decide to pursue this end fully; let him seek the ideal in its
purity, and let him not pause till he has reached the highest regions
without looking behind him to know if the real follows him, and does not
leave him by the way. Let him not lower himself to this wretched
expedient of spoiling the ideal to accommodate himself to the wants of
human weakness, and to turn out mind in order to play more easily with
the heart. Let him not take us back to our infancy, to make us buy, at
the cost of the most precious acquisitions of the understanding, a repose
that can only last as long as the slumber of our spiritual faculties; but
let him lead us on to emancipation, and give us this feeling of higher
harmony which compensates for all his troubles and secures the happiness
of the victor! Let him prepare as his task an idyl that realizes the
pastoral innocence, even in the children of civilization, and in all the
conditions of the most militant and excited life; of thought enlarged by
culture; of the most refined art; of the most delicate social
conventionalities--an idyl, in short, that is made, not to bring back man
to Arcadia, but to lead him to Elysium.

This idyl, as I conceive it, is the idea of humanity definitely
reconciled with itself, in the individual as well as in the whole of
society; it is union freely re-established between inclination and duty;
it is nature purified, raised to its highest moral dignity; in short, it
is no less than the ideal of beauty applied to real life. Thus, the
character of this idyl is to reconcile perfectly all the contradictions
between the real and the ideal, which formed the matter of satirical and
elegiac poetry, and, setting aside their contradictions, to put an end to
all conflict between the feelings of the soul. Thus, the dominant
expression of this kind of poetry would be calm; but the calm that
follows the accomplishment, and not that of indolence--the calm that
comes from the equilibrium re-established between the faculties, and not
from the suspending of their exercise; from the fulness of our strength,
and not from our infirmity; the calm, in short, which is accompanied in
the soul by the feeling of an infinite power. But precisely because idyl
thus conceived removes all idea of struggle, it will be infinitely more
difficult than it was in two previously-named kinds of poetry to express
movement; yet this is an indispensable condition, without which poetry
can never act on men's souls. The most perfect unity is required, but
unity ought not to wrong variety; the heart must be satisfied, but
without the inspiration ceasing on that account. The solution of this
problem is properly what ought to be given us by the theory of the idyl.

Now, what are the relations of the two poetries to one another, and their
relations to the poetic ideal? Here are the principles we have

Nature has granted this favor to the simple poet, to act always as an
indivisible unity, to be at all times identical and perfect, and to
represent, in the real world, humanity at its highest value. In
opposition, it has given a powerful faculty to the sentimental poet, or,
rather, it has imprinted an ardent feeling on him; this is to replace out
of himself this first unity that abstraction has destroyed in him, to
complete humanity in his person, and to pass from a limited state to an
infinite state. They both propose to represent human nature fully, or
they would not be poets; but the simple poet has always the advantage of
sensuous reality over the sentimental poet, by setting forth as a real
fact what the other aspires only to reach. Every one experiences this in
the pleasure he takes in simple poetry.

We there feel that the human faculties are brought into play; no vacuum
is felt; we have the feeling of unity, without distinguishing anything of
what we experience; we enjoy both our spiritual activity and also the
fulness of physical life. Very different is the disposition of mind
elicited by the sentimental poet. Here we feel only a vivid aspiration
to produce in us this harmony of which we had in the other case the
consciousness and reality; to make of ourselves a single and same
totality; to realize in ourselves the idea of humanity as a complete
expression. Hence it comes that the mind is here all in movement,
stretched, hesitating between contrary feelings; whereas it was before
calm and at rest, in harmony with itself, and fully satisfied.

But if the simple poet has the advantage over the sentimental poet on the
score of reality; if he causes really to live that of which the other can
only elicit a vivid instinct, the sentimental poet, in compensation, has
this great advantage over the simple poet: to be in a position to offer
to this instinct a greater object than that given by his rival, and the
only one he could give. All reality, we know, is below the ideal; all
that exists has limits, but thought is infinite. This limitation, to
which everything is subject in sensuous reality, is, therefore, a
disadvantage for the simple poet, while the absolute, unconditional
freedom of the ideal profits the sentimental poet. No doubt the former
accomplishes his object, but this object is limited; the second, I admit,
does not entirely accomplish his, but his object is infinite. Here I
appeal to experience. We pass pleasantly to real life and things from
the frame of mind in which the simple poet has placed us. On the other
hand, the sentimental poet will always disgust us, for a time, with real
life. This is because the infinite character has, in a manner, enlarged
our mind beyond its natural measure, so that nothing it finds in the
world of sense can fill its capacity. We prefer to fall back in
contemplation on ourselves, where we find food for this awakened impulse
towards the ideal world; while, in the simple poet, we only strive to
issue out of ourselves, in search of sensuous objects. Sentimental
poetry is the offspring of retirement and science, and invites to it;
simple poetry is inspired by the spectacle of life, and brings back life.

I have styled simple poetry a gift of nature to show that thought has no
share in it. It is a first jet, a happy inspiration, that needs no
correction, when it turns out well, and which cannot be rectified if ill
turned out. The entire work of the simple genius is accomplished by
feeling; in that is its strength, and in it are its limits. If, then, he
has not felt at once in a poetic manner--that is, in a perfectly human
manner--no art in the world can remedy this defect. Criticism may help
him to see the defect, but can place no beauty in its stead. Simple
genius must draw all from nature; it can do nothing, or almost nothing,
by its will; and it will fulfil the idea of this kind of poetry provided
nature acts in it by an inner necessity. Now, it is true that all which
happens by nature is necessary, and all the productions, happy or not, of
the simple genius, which is disassociated from nothing so much as from
arbitrary will, are also imprinted with this character of necessity;
momentary constraint is one thing, and the internal necessity dependent
on the totality of things another. Considered as a whole, nature is
independent and infinite; in isolated operations it is poor and limited.
The same distinction holds good in respect to the nature of the poet.
The very moment when he is most happily inspired depends on a preceding
instant, and consequently only a conditional necessity can be attributed
to him. But now the problem that the poet ought to solve is to make an
individual state similar to the human whole, and consequently to base it
in an absolute and necessary manner on itself. It is therefore necessary
that at the moment of inspiration every trace of a temporal need should
be banished, and that the object itself, however limited, should not
limit the flight of the poet. But it may be conceived that this is only
possible in so far as the poet brings to the object an absolute freedom,
an absolute fulness of faculties, and in so far as he is prepared by an
anterior exercise to embrace all things with all his humanity. Now he
cannot acquire this exercise except by the world in which he lives, and
of which he receives the impressions immediately. Thus simple genius is
in a state of dependence with regard to experience, while the sentimental
genius is forced from it. We know that the sentimental genius begins its
operation at the place where the other finishes its own: its virtue is to
complete by the elements which it derives from itself a defective object,
and to transport itself by its own strength from a limited state to one
of absolute freedom. Thus the simple poet needs a help from without,
while the sentimental poet feeds his genius from his own fund, and
purifies himself by himself. The former requires a picturesque nature, a
poetical world, a simple humanity which casts its eyes around; for he
ought to do his work without issuing from the sensuous sphere. If
external aid fails him, if he be surrounded by matter not speaking to
mind, one of two things will happen: either, if the general character of
the poet-race is what prevails in him, he issues from the particular
class to which he belongs as a poet, and becomes sentimental to be at any
rate poetic; or, if his particular character as simple poet has the upper
hand, he leaves his species and becomes a common nature, in order to
remain at any rate natural. The former of these two alternatives might
represent the case of the principal poets of the sentimental kind in
Roman antiquity and in modern times. Born at another period of the
world, transplanted under another sky, these poets who stir us now by
ideas, would have charmed us by individual truth and simple beauty. The
other alternative is the almost unavoidable quicksand for a poet who,
thrown into a vulgar world, cannot resolve to lose sight of nature.

I mean, to lose sight of actual nature; but the greatest care must be
given to distinguish actual nature from true nature, which is the subject
of simple poetry. Actual nature exists everywhere; but true nature is so
much the more rare because it requires an internal necessity that
determines its existence. Every eruption of passion, however vulgar, is
real--it may be even true nature; but it is not true human nature, for
true human nature requires that the self-directing faculty in us should
have a share in the manifestation, and the expression of this faculty is
always dignified. All moral baseness is an actual human phenomenon, but
I hope not real human nature, which is always noble. All the faults of
taste cannot be surveyed that have been occasioned in criticism or the
practice of art by this--confusion between actual human nature and true
human nature. The greatest trivialities are tolerated and applauded
under the pretext that they are real nature. Caricatures not to be
tolerated in the real world are carefully preserved in the poetic world
and reproduced according to nature! The poet can certainly imitate a
lower nature; and it enters into the very definition of a satirical poet:
but then a beauty by its own nature must sustain and raise the object,
and the vulgarity of the subject must not lower the imitator too much.
If at the moment he paints he is true human nature himself, the object of
his paintings is indifferent; but it is only on this condition we can
tolerate a faithful reproduction of reality. Unhappy for us readers when
the rod of satire falls into hands that nature meant to handle another
instrument, and when, devoid of all poetic talent, with nothing but the
ape's mimicry, they exercise it brutally at the expense of our taste!

But vulgar nature has even its dangers for the simple poet; for the
simple poet is formed by this fine harmony of the feeling and thinking
faculty, which yet is only an idea, never actually realized. Even in the
happiest geniuses of this class, receptivity will always more or less
carry the day over spontaneous activity. But receptivity is always more
or less subordinate to external impressions, and nothing but a perpetual
activity of the creative faculty could prevent matter from exercising a
blind violence over this quality. Now, every time this happens the
feeling becomes vulgar instead of poetical.

No genius of the simple class, from Homer down to Bodmer, has entirely
steered clear of this quicksand. It is evident that it is most perilous
to those who have to struggle against external vulgarity, or who have
parted with their refinement owing to a want of proper restraint. The
first-named difficulty is the reason why even authors of high cultivation
are not always emancipated from platitudes--a fact which has prevented
many splendid talents from occupying the place to which they were
summoned by nature. For this reason, a comic poet whose genius has
chiefly to deal with scenes of real life, is more liable to the danger
of acquiring vulgar habits of style and expression--a fact evidenced in
the case of Aristophanes, Plautus, and all the poets who have followed
in their track. Even Shakspeare, with all his sublimity, suffers us to
fall very low now and then. Again, Lope De Vega, Moliere, Regnard,
Goldoni worry us with frequent trifling. Holberg drags us down into
the mire. Schlegel, a German poet, among the most remarkable for
intellectual talent, with genius to raise him to a place among poets of
the first order; Gellert, a truly simple poet, Rabener, and Lessing
himself, if I am warranted to introduce his name in this category--this
highly-cultivated scholar of criticism and vigilant examiner of his own
genius--all these suffer in different degrees from the platitudes and
uninspired movements of the natures they chose as the theme of their
satire. With regard to more recent authors of this class, I avoid naming
any of them, as I can make no exceptions in their case.

But not only is simple genius exposed to the danger of coming too near to
vulgar reality; the ease of expression, even this too close approximation
to reality, encourages vulgar imitators to try their hand in poetry.
Sentimental poetry, though offering danger enough, has this advantage, to
keep this crowd at a distance, for it is not for the first comer to rise
to the ideal; but simple poetry makes them believe that, with feeling and
humor, you need only imitate real nature to claim the title of poet. Now
nothing is more revolting than platitude when it tries to be simple and
amiable, instead of hiding its repulsive nature under the veil of art.
This occasions the incredible trivialities loved by the Germans under the
name of simple and facetious songs, and which give them endless amusement
round a well-garnished table. Under the pretext of good humor and of
sentiment people tolerate these poverties: but this good humor and this
sentiment ought to be carefully proscribed. The Muses of the Pleisse, in
particular, are singularly pitiful; and other Muses respond to them, from
the banks of the Seine, and the Elbe. If these pleasantries are flat,
the passion heard on our tragic stage is equally pitiful, for, instead of
imitating true nature, it is only an insipid and ignoble expression of
the actual. Thus, after shedding torrents of tears, you feel as you
would after visiting a hospital or reading the "Human Misery" of
Saltzmann. But the evil is worse in satirical poetry and comic romance,
kinds which touch closely on every-day life, and which consequently, as
all frontier posts, ought to be in safer hands. In truth, he less than
any other is called on to become the painter of his century, who is
himself the child and caricature of his century. But as, after all,
nothing is easier than to take in hand, among our acquaintances, a comic
character--a big, fat man--and draw a coarse likeness of him on paper,
the sworn enemies of poetic inspiration are often led to blot some paper
in this way to amuse a circle of friends. It is true that a pure heart,
a well-made mind, will never confound these vulgar productions with the
inspirations of simple genius. But purity of feeling is the very thing
that is wanting, and in most cases nothing is thought of but satisfying a
want of sense, without spiritual nature having any share. A
fundamentally just idea, ill understood, that works of bel esprit serve
to recreate the mind, contributes to keep up this indulgence, if
indulgence it may be called when nothing higher occupies the mind, and
reader as well as writer find their chief interest therein. This is
because vulgar natures, if overstrained, can only be refreshed by
vacuity; and even a higher intelligence, when not sustained by a
proportional culture, can only rest from its work amidst sensuous
enjoyments, from which spiritual nature is absent.

Poetic genius ought to have strength enough to rise with a free and
innate activity above all the accidental hinderances which are
inseparable from every confined condition, to arrive at a representation
of humanity in the absolute plenitude of its powers; it is not, however,
permitted, on the other hand, to emancipate itself from the necessary
limits implied by the very idea of human nature; for the absolute only in
the circle of humanity is its true problem. Simple genius is not exposed
to overstep this sphere, but rather not to fill it entirely, giving too
much scope to external necessity, to accidental wants, at the expense of
the inner necessity. The danger for the sentimental genius is, on the
other hand, by trying to remove all limits, of nullifying human nature
absolutely, and not only rising, as is its right and duty, beyond finite
and determinate reality, as far as absolute possibility, or in other
terms to idealize; but of passing even beyond possibility, or, in other
words, dreaming. This fault--overstraining--is precisely dependent on
the specific property of the sentimental process, as the opposite defect,
inertia, depends on the peculiar operation of the simple genius. The
simple genius lets nature dominate, without restricting it; and as nature
in her particular phenomena is always subject to some want, it follows
that the simple sentiment will not be always exalted enough to resist the
accidental limitations of the present hour. The sentimental genius, on
the contrary, leaves aside the real world, to rise to the ideal and to
command its matter with free spontaneity. But while reason, according to
law, aspires always to the unconditional, so the sentimental genius will
not always remain calm enough to restrain itself uniformly and without
interruption within the conditions implied by the idea of human nature,
and to which reason must always, even in its freest acts, remain
attached. He could only confine himself in these conditions by help of a
receptivity proportioned to his free activity; but most commonly the
activity predominates over receptivity in the sentimental poet, as much
as receptivity over activity in the simple poet. Hence, in the
productions of simple genius, if sometimes inspiration is wanting, so
also in works of sentimental poetry the object is often missed. Thus,
though they proceed in opposite ways, they will both fall into a vacuum,
for before the aesthetic judgment an object without inspiration, and
inspiration without an object, are both negations.

The poets who borrow their matter too much from thought, and rather
conceive poetic pictures by the internal abundance of ideas than by the
suggestions of feeling, are more or less likely to be addicted to go thus
astray. In their creations reason makes too little of the limits of the
sensuous world, and thought is always carried too far for experience to
follow it. Now, when the idea is carried so far that not only no
experience corresponds to it--as is the case in the beau ideal--but also
that it is repugnant to the conditions of all possible experience, so
that, in order to realize it, one must leave human nature altogether, it
is no longer a poetic but an exaggerated thought; that is, supposing it
claims to be representable and poetical, for otherwise it is enough if it
is not self-contradictory. If thought is contradictory it is not
exaggeration, but nonsense; for what does not exist cannot exceed. But
when the thought is not an object proposed to the fancy, we are just as
little justified in calling it exaggerated. For simple thought is
infinite, and what is limitless also cannot exceed. Exaggeration,
therefore, is only that which wounds, not logical truth, but sensuous
truth, and what pretends to be sensuous truth. Consequently, if a poet
has the unhappy chance to choose for his picture certain natures that are
merely superhuman and cannot possibly be represented, he can only avoid
exaggeration by ceasing to be a poet, and not trusting the theme to his
imagination. Otherwise one of two things would happen: either
imagination, applying its limits to the object, would make a limited and
merely human object of an absolute object--which happened with the gods
of Greece--or the object would take away limits from fancy, that is,
would render it null and void, and this is precisely exaggeration.

Extravagance of feeling should be distinguished from extravagance of
portraiture; we are speaking of the former. The object of the feeling
may be unnatural, but the feeling itself is natural, and ought
accordingly to be shadowed forth in the language of nature. While
extravagant feelings may issue from a warm heart and a really poetic
nature, extravagance of portraiture always displays a cold heart, and
very often a want of poetic capacity. Therefore this is not a danger for
the sentimental poet, but only for the imitator, who has no vocation; it
is therefore often found with platitude, insipidity, and even baseness.
Exaggeration of sentiment is not without truth, and must have a real
object; as nature inspires it, it admits of simplicity of expression and
coming from the heart it goes to the heart. As its object, however, is
not in nature, but artificially produced by the understanding, it has
only a logical reality, and the feeling is not purely human. It was not
an illusion that Heloise had for Abelard, Petrarch for Laura, Saint Preux
for his Julia, Werther for his Charlotte; Agathon, Phanias, and
Peregrinus--in Wieland--for the object of their dreams: the feeling is
true, only the object is factitious and outside nature. If their thought
had kept to simple sensuous truth, it could not have taken this flight;
but on the other hand a mere play of fancy, without inner value, could
not have stirred the heart: this is only stirred by reason. Thus this
sort of exaggeration must be called to order, but it is not contemptible:
and those who ridicule it would do well to find out if the wisdom on
which they pride themselves is not want of heart, and if it is not
through want of reason that they are so acute. The exaggerated delicacy
in gallantry and honor which characterizes the chivalrous romances,
especially of Spain, is of this kind; also the refined and even
ridiculous tenderness of French and English sentimental romances of the
best kind. These sentiments are not only subjectively true, but also
objectively they are not without value; they are sound sentiments issuing
from a moral source, only reprehensible as overstepping the limits of
human truth. Without this moral reality how could they stir and touch so
powerfully? The same remark applies to moral and religious fanaticism,
patriotism, and the love of freedom when carried up to exaltation. As
the object of these sentiments is always a pure idea, and not an external
experience, imagination with its proper activity has here a dangerous
liberty, and cannot, as elsewhere, be called back to bounds by the
presence of a visible object. But neither the man nor the poet can
withdraw from the law of nature, except to submit to that of reason. He
can only abandon reality for the ideal; for liberty must hold to one or
the other of these anchors. But it is far from the real to the ideal;
and between the two is found fancy, with its arbitrary conceits and its
unbridled freedom. It must needs be, therefore, that man in general, and
the poet in particular, when he withdraws by liberty of his understanding
from the dominion of feeling, without being moved to it by the laws of
reason--that is, when he abandons nature through pure liberty--he finds
himself freed from all law, and therefore a prey to the illusions of

It is testified by experience that entire nations, as well as individual
men, who have parted with the safe direction of nature, are actually in
this condition; and poets have gone astray in the same manner. The true
genius of sentimental poetry, if its aim is to raise itself to the rank
of the ideal, must overstep the limits of the existing nature; but false
genius oversteps all boundaries without any discrimination, flattering
itself with the belief that the wild sport of the imagination is poetic
inspiration. A true poetical genius can never fall into this error,
because it only abandons the real for the sake of the ideal, or, at all
events, it can only do so at certain moments when the poet forgets
himself; but his main tendencies may dispose him to extravagance within
the sphere of the senses. His example may also drive others into a chase
of wild conceptions, because readers of lively fancy and weak
understanding only remark the freedom which he takes with existing
nature, and are unable to follow him in copying the elevated necessities
of his inner being. The same difficulties beset the path of the
sentimental genius in this respect, as those which afflict the career of
a genius of the simple order. If a genius of this class carries out
every work, obedient to the free and spontaneous impulses of his nature,
the man devoid of genius who seeks to imitate him is not willing to
consider his own nature a worse guide than that of the great poet. This
accounts for the fact that masterpieces of simple poetry are commonly
followed by a host of stale and unprofitable works in print, and
masterpieces of the sentimental class by wild and fanciful effusions,--a
fact that may be easily verified on questioning the history of

Two maxims are prevalent in relation to poetry, both of them quite
correct in themselves, but mutually destructive in the way in which they
are generally conceived. The first is, that "poetry serves as a means of
amusement and recreation," and we have previously observed that this
maxim is highly favorable to aridity and platitudes in poetical actions.
The other maxim, that "poetry is conducive to the moral progress of
humanity," takes under its shelter theories and views of the most wild
and extravagant character. It may be profitable to examine more
attentively these two maxims, of which so much is heard, and which are so
often imperfectly understood and falsely applied.

We say that a thing amuses us when it makes us pass from a forced state
to the state that is natural to us. The whole question here is to know
in what our natural state ought to consist, and what a forced state
means. If our natural state is made to consist merely in the free
development of all our physical powers, in emancipation from all
constraint, it follows that every act of reason by resisting what is
sensuous, is a violence we undergo, and rest of mind combined with
physical movement will be a recreation par excellence. But if we make
our natural state consist in a limitless power of human expression and of
freely disposing of all our strength, all that divides these forces will
be a forced state, and recreation will be what brings all our nature to
harmony. Thus, the first of these ideal recreations is simply determined
by the wants of our sensuous nature; the second, by the autonomous
activity of human nature. Which of these two kinds of recreation can be
demanded of the poet? Theoretically, the question is inadmissible, as no
one would put the human ideal beneath the brutal. But in practice the
requirements of a poet have been especially directed to the sensuous
ideal, and for the most part favor, though not the esteem, for these
sorts of works is regulated thereby. Men's minds are mostly engaged in a
labor that exhausts them, or an enjoyment that sets them asleep. Now
labor makes rest a sensible want, much more imperious than that of the
moral nature; for physical nature must be satisfied before the mind can
show its requirements. On the other hand, enjoyment paralyzes the moral
instinct. Hence these two dispositions common in men are very injurious
to the feeling for true beauty, and thus very few even of the best judge
soundly in aesthetics. Beauty results from the harmony between spirit
and sense; it addresses all the faculties of man, and can only be
appreciated if a man employs fully all his strength. He must bring to it
an open sense, a broad heart, a spirit full of freshness. All a man's
nature must be on the alert, and this is not the case with those divided
by abstraction, narrowed by formulas, enervated by application. They
demand, no doubt, a material for the senses; but not to quicken, only to
suspend, thought. They ask to be freed from what? From a load that
oppressed their indolence, and not a rein that curbed their activity.

After this can one wonder at the success of mediocre talents in
aesthetics? or at the bitter anger of small minds against true energetic
beauty? They reckon on finding therein a congenial recreation, and
regret to discover that a display of strength is required to which they
are unequal. With mediocrity they are always welcome; however little
mind they bring, they want still less to exhaust the author's
inspiration. They are relieved of the load of thought; and their nature
can lull itself in beatific nothings on the soft pillow of platitude. In
the temple of Thalia and Melpomene--at least, so it is with us--the
stupid savant and the exhausted man of business are received on the broad
bosom of the goddess, where their intelligence is wrapped in a magnetic
sleep, while their sluggish senses are warmed, and their imagination with
gentle motions rocked.

Vulgar people may be excused what happens to the best capacities. Those
moments of repose demanded by nature after lengthy labor are not
favorable to aesthetic judgment, and hence in the busy classes few can
pronounce safely on matters of taste. Nothing is more common than for
scholars to make a ridiculous figure, in regard to a question of beauty,
besides cultured men of the world; and technical critics are especially
the laughing-stock of connoisseurs. Their opinion, from exaggeration,
crudeness, or carelessness guides them generally quite awry, and they can
only devise a technical judgment, and not an aesthetical one, embracing
the whole work, in which feeling should decide. If they would kindly
keep to technicalities they might still be useful, for the poet in
moments of inspiration and readers under his spell are little inclined to
consider details. But the spectacle which they afford us is only the
more ridiculous inasmuch as we see these crude natures--with whom all
labor and trouble only develop at the most a particular aptitude,--when
we see them set up their paltry individualities as the representation of
universal and complete feeling, and in the sweat of their brow pronounce
judgment on beauty.

We have just seen that the kind of recreation poetry ought to afford is
generally conceived in too restricted a manner, and only referred to a
simple sensuous want. Too much scope, however, is also given to the
other idea, the moral ennobling the poet should have in view, inasmuch as
too purely an ideal aim is assigned.

In fact, according to the pure ideal, the ennobling goes on to infinity,
because reason is not restricted to any sensuous limits, and only finds
rest in absolute perfection. Nothing can satisfy whilst a superior thing
can be conceived; it judges strictly and admits no excuses of infirmity
and finite nature. It only admits for limits those of thought, which
transcends time and space. Hence the poet could no more propose to
himself such an ideal of ennobling (traced for him by pure (didactic)
reason) any more than the coarse ideal of recreation of sensuous nature.
The aim is to free human nature from accidental hinderances, without
destroying the essential ideal of our humanity, or displacing its limits.
All beyond this is exaggeration, and a quicksand in which the poet too
easily suffers shipwreck if he mistakes the idea of nobleness. But,
unfortunately, he cannot rise to the true ideal of ennobled human nature
without going some steps beyond it. To rise so high he must abandon the
world of reality, for, like every ideal, it is only to be drawn from its
inner moral source. He does not find it in the turmoil of worldly life,
but only in his heart, and that only in calm meditation. But in this
separation from real life he is likely to lose sight of all the limits of
human nature, and seeking pure form he may easily lose himself in
arbitrary and baseless conceptions. Reason will abstract itself too much
from experience, and the practical man will not be able to carry out, in
the crush of real life, what the contemplative mind has discovered on the
peaceful path of thought. Thus, what makes a dreamy man is the very
thing that alone could have made him a sage; and the advantage for the
latter is not that he has never been a dreamer, but rather that he has
not remained one.

We must not, then, allow the workers to determine recreation according to
their wants, nor thinkers that of nobleness according to their
speculations, for fear of either a too low physical poetry, or a poetry
too given to hyperphysical exaggeration. And as these two ideas direct
most men's judgments on poetry, we must seek a class of mind at once
active, but not slavishly so, and idealizing, but not dreamy; uniting the
reality of life within as few limits as possible, obeying the current of
human affairs, but not enslaved by them. Such a class of men can alone
preserve the beautiful unity of human nature, that harmony which all work
for a moment disturbs, and a life of work destroys; such alone can, in
all that is purely human, give by its feelings universal rules of
judgment. Whether such a class exists, or whether the class now existing
in like conditions answers to this ideal conception, I am not concerned
to inquire. If it does not respond to the ideal it has only itself to
blame. In such a class--here regarded as a mere ideal--the simple and
sentimental would keep each other from extremes of extravagance and
relaxation. For the idea of a beautiful humanity is not exhausted by
either, but can only be presented in the union of both.


Sulzer has remarked that the stage has arisen from an irresistible
longing for the new and extraordinary. Man, oppressed by divided cares,
and satiated with sensual pleasure, felt an emptiness or want. Man,
neither altogether satisfied with the senses, nor forever capable of
thought, wanted a middle state, a bridge between the two states, bringing
them into harmony. Beauty and aesthetics supplied that for him. But a
good lawgiver is not satisfied with discovering the bent of his people--
he turns it to account as an instrument for higher use; and hence he
chose the stage, as giving nourishment to the soul, without straining it,
and uniting the noblest education of the head and heart.

The man who first pronounced religion to be the strongest pillar of the
state, unconsciously defended the stage, when he said so, in its noblest
aspect. The uncertain nature of political events, rendering religion a
necessity, also demands the stage as a moral force. Laws only prevent
disturbances of social life; religion prescribes positive orders
sustaining social order. Law only governs actions; religion controls the
heart and follows thought to the source.

Laws are flexible and capricious; religion binds forever. If religion
has this great sway over man's heart, can it also complete his culture?
Separating the political from the divine element in it, religion acts
mostly on the senses; she loses her sway if the senses are gone. By what
channel does the stage operate? To most men religion vanishes with the
loss of her symbols, images, and problems; and yet they are only pictures
of the imagination, and insolvable problems. Both laws and religion are
strengthened by a union with the stage, where virtue and vice, joy and
sorrow, are thoroughly displayed in a truthful and popular way; where a
variety of providential problems are solved; where all secrets are
unmasked, all artifice ends, and truth alone is the judge, as
incorruptible as Rhadamanthus.

Where the influence of civil laws ends that of the stage begins. Where
venality and corruption blind and bias justice and judgment, and
intimidation perverts its ends, the stage seizes the sword and scales and
pronounces a terrible verdict on vice. The fields of fancy and of
history are open to the stage; great criminals of the past live over
again in the drama, and thus benefit an indignant posterity. They pass
before us as empty shadows of their age, and we heap curses on their
memory while we enjoy on the stage the very horror of their crimes. When
morality is no more taught, religion no longer received, or laws exist,
Medea would still terrify us with her infanticide. The sight of Lady
Macbeth, while it makes us shudder, will also make us rejoice in a good
conscience, when we see her, the sleep-walker, washing her hands and
seeking to destroy the awful smell of murder. Sight is always more
powerful to man than description; hence the stage acts more powerfully
than morality or law.

But in this the stage only aids justice. A far wider field is really
open to it. There are a thousand vices unnoticed by human justice, but
condemned by the stage; so, also, a thousand virtues overlooked by man's
laws are honored on the stage. It is thus the handmaid of religion and
philosophy. From these pure sources it draws its high principles and the
exalted teachings, and presents them in a lovely form. The soul swells
with noblest emotions when a divine ideal is placed before it. When
Augustus offers his forgiving hand to Cinna, the conspirator, and says to
him: "Let us be friends, Cinna!" what man at the moment does not feel
that he could do the same. Again, when Francis von Sickingen, proceeding
to punish a prince and redress a stranger, on turning sees the house,
where his wife and children are, in flames, and yet goes on for the sake
of his word--how great humanity appears, how small the stern power of

Vice is portrayed on the stage in an equally telling manner. Thus, when
old Lear, blind, helpless, childless, is seen knocking in vain at his
daughters' doors, and in tempest and night he recounts by telling his
woes to the elements, and ends by saying: "I have given you all,"--how
strongly impressed we feel at the value of filial piety, and how hateful
ingratitude seems to us!

The stage does even more than this. It cultivates the ground where
religion and law do not think it dignified to stop. Folly often troubles
the world as much as crime; and it has been justly said that the heaviest
loads often hang suspended by the slightest threads. Tracing actions to
their sources, the list of criminals diminish, and we laugh at the long
catalogue of fools. In our sex all forms of evil emanate almost entirely
from one source, and all our excesses are only varied and higher forms of
one quality, and that a quality which in the end we smile at and love;
and why should not nature have followed this course in the opposite sex
too? In man there is only one secret to guard against depravity; that
is, to protect his heart against wickedness.

Much of all this is shown up on the stage. It is a mirror to reflect
fools and their thousand forms of folly, which are there turned to
ridicule. It curbs vice by terror, and folly still more effectually by
satire and jest. If a comparison be made between tragedy and comedy,
guided by experience, we should probably give the palm to the latter as
to effects produced. Hatred does not wound the conscience so much as
mockery does the pride of man. We are exposed specially to the sting of
satire by the very cowardice that shuns terrors. From sins we are
guarded by law and conscience, but the ludicrous is specially punished on
the stage. Where we allow a friend to correct our morals, we rarely
forgive a laugh. We may bear heavy judgment on our transgressions, but
our weaknesses and vulgarities must not be criticised by a witness.

The stage alone can do this with impunity, chastising us as the anonymous
fool. We can bear this rebuke without a blush, and even gratefully.

But the stage does even more than this. It is a great school of
practical wisdom, a guide for civil life, and a key to the mind in all
its sinuosities. It does not, of course, remove egoism and stubbornness
in evil ways; for a thousand vices hold up their heads in spite of the
stage, and a thousand virtues make no impression on cold-hearted
spectators. Thus, probably, Moliere's Harpagon never altered a
usurer's heart, nor did the suicide in Beverley save any one from the
gaming-table. Nor, again, is it likely that the high roads will be safer
through Karl Moor's untimely end. But, admitting this, and more than
this, still how great is the influence of the stage! It has shown us the
vices and virtues of men with whom we have to live. We are not surprised
at their weaknesses, we are prepared for them. The stage points them out
to us, and their remedy. It drags off the mask from the hypocrite, and
betrays the meshes of intrigue. Duplicity and cunning have been forced
by it to show their hideous features in the light of day. Perhaps the
dying Sarah may not deter a single debauchee, nor all the pictures of
avenged seduction stop the evil; yet unguarded innocence has been shown
the snares of the corrupter, and taught to distrust his oaths.

The stage also teaches men to bear the strokes of fortune. Chance and
design have equal sway over life. We have to bow to the former, but we
control the latter. It is a great advantage if inexorable facts do not
find us unprepared and unexercised, and if our breast has been steeled to
bear adversity. Much human woe is placed before us on the stage. It
gives us momentary pain in the tears we shed for strangers' troubles, but
as a compensation it fills us with a grand new stock of courage and
endurance. We are led by it, with the abandoned Ariadne, through the
Isle of Naxos, and we descend the Tower of Starvation in Ugolino; we
ascend the terrible scaffold, and we are present at the awful moment of
execution. Things remotely present in thought become palpable realities
now. We see the deceived favorite abandoned by the queen. When about to
die, the perfidious Moor is abandoned by his own sophistry. Eternity
reveals the secrets of the unknown through the dead, and the hateful
wretch loses all screen of guilt when the tomb opens to condemn him.

Then the stage teaches us to be more considerate to the unfortunate, and
to judge gently. We can only pronounce on a man when we know his whole
being and circumstances. Theft is a base crime, but tears mingle with
our condemnation, when we read what obliged Edward Ruhberg to do the
horrid deed. Suicide is shocking; but the condemnation of an enraged
father, her love, and the fear of a convent, lead Marianne to drink the
cup, and few would dare to condemn the victim of a dreadful tyranny.
Humanity and tolerance have begun to prevail in our time at courts of
princes and in courts of law. A large share of this may be due to the
influence of the stage in showing man and his secret motives.

The great of the world ought to be especially grateful to the stage, for
it is here alone that they hear the truth.

Not only man's mind, but also his intellectual culture, has been promoted
by the higher drama. The lofty mind and the ardent patriot have often
used the stage to spread enlightenment.

Considering nations and ages, the thinker sees the masses enchained by
opinion and cut off by adversity from happiness; truth only lights up a
few minds, who perhaps have to acquire it by the trials of a lifetime.
How can the wise ruler put these within the reach of his nation.

The thoughtful and the worthier section of the people diffuse the light
of wisdom over the masses through the stage. Purer and better principles
and motives issue from the stage and circulate through society: the night
of barbarism and superstition vanishes. I would mention two glorious
fruits of the higher class of dramas. Religious toleration has latterly
become universal. Before Nathan the Jew and Saladin the Saracen put us
to shame, and showed that resignation to God's will did not depend on a
fancied belief of His nature--even before Joseph II. contended with the
hatred of a narrow piety--the stage had sown seeds of humanity and
gentleness: pictures of fanaticism had taught a hatred of intolerance,
and Christianity, seeing itself in this awful mirror, washed off its
stains. It is to be hoped that the stage will equally combat mistaken
systems of education. This is a subject of the first political
importance, and yet none is so left to private whims and caprice. The
stage might give stirring examples of mistaken education, and lead
parents to juster, better views of the subject. Many teachers are led
astray by false views, and methods are often artificial and fatal.

Opinions about governments and classes might be reformed by the stage.
Legislation could thus justify itself by foreign symbols, and silence
doubtful aspersions without offence.

Now, if poets would be patriotic they could do much on the stage to
forward invention and industry. A standing theatre would be a material
advantage to a nation. It would have a great influence on the national
temper and mind by helping the nation to agree in opinions and
inclinations. The stage alone can do this, because it commands all human
knowledge, exhausts all positions, illumines all hearts, unites all
classes, and makes its way to the heart and understanding by the most
popular channels.

If one feature characterized all dramas; if the poets were allied in
aim--that is, if they selected well and from national topics--there
would be a national stage, and we should become a nation. It was this
that knit the Greeks so strongly together, and this gave to them the
all-absorbing interest in the republic and the advancement of humanity.

Another advantage belongs to the stage; one which seems to have become
acknowledged even by its censurers. Its influence on intellectual and
moral culture, which we have till now been advocating, may be doubted;
but its very enemies have admitted that it has gained the palm over all
other means of amusement. It has been of much higher service here than
people are often ready to allow.

Human nature cannot bear to be always on the rack of business, and the
charms of sense die out with their gratification. Man, oppressed by
appetites, weary of long exertion, thirsts for refined pleasure, or
rushes into dissipations that hasten his fall and ruin, and disturb
social order. Bacchanal joys, gambling, follies of all sorts to disturb
ennui, are unavoidable if the lawgiver produces nothing better. A man of
public business, who has made noble sacrifices to the state, is apt to
pay for them with melancholy, the scholar to become a pedant, and the
people brutish, without the stage. The stage is an institution combining
amusement with instruction, rest with exertion, where no faculty of the
mind is overstrained, no pleasure enjoyed at the cost of the whole. When
melancholy gnaws the heart, when trouble poisons our solitude, when we
are disgusted with the world, and a thousand worries oppress us, or when
our energies are destroyed by over-exercise, the stage revives us, we
dream of another sphere, we recover ourselves, our torpid nature is
roused by noble passions, our blood circulates more healthily. The
unhappy man forgets his tears in weeping for another. The happy man is
calmed, the secure made provident. Effeminate natures are steeled,
savages made man, and, as the supreme triumph of nature, men of all
clanks, zones, and conditions, emancipated from the chains of
conventionality and fashion, fraternize here in a universal sympathy,
forget the world, and come nearer to their heavenly destination. The
individual shares in the general ecstacy, and his breast has now only
space for an emotion: he is a man.


The state of passion in itself, independently of the good or bad
influence of its object on our morality, has something in it that charms
us. We aspire to transport ourselves into that state, even if it costs
us some sacrifices. You will find this instinct at the bottom of all our
most habitual pleasures. As to the nature itself of the affection,
whether it be one of aversion or desire, agreeable or painful, this is
what we take little into consideration. Experience teaches us that
painful affections are those which have the most attraction for us, and
thus that the pleasure we take in an affection is precisely in an inverse
ratio to its nature. It is a phenomenon common to all men, that sad,
frightful things, even the horrible, exercise over us an irresistible
seduction, and that in presence of a scene of desolation and of terror we
feel at once repelled and attracted by two equal forces. Suppose the
case be an assassination. Then every one crowds round the narrator and
shows a marked attention. Any ghost story, however embellished by
romantic circumstances, is greedily devoured by us, and the more readily
in proportion as the story is calculated to make our hair stand on end.

This disposition is developed in a more lively manner when the objects
themselves are placed before our eyes. A tempest that would swallow up
an entire fleet would be, seen from shore, a spectacle as attractive to
our imagination as it would be shocking to our heart. It would be
difficult to believe with Lucretius that this natural pleasure results
from a comparison between our own safety and the danger of which we are
witnesses. See what a crowd accompanies a criminal to the scene of his
punishment! This phenomenon cannot be explained either by the pleasure
of satisfying our love of justice, nor the ignoble joy of vengeance.
Perhaps the unhappy man may find excuses in the hearts of those present;
perhaps the sincerest pity takes an interest in his reprieve: this does
not prevent a lively curiosity in the spectators to watch his expressions
of pain with eye and ear. If an exception seems to exist here in the
case of a well-bred man, endowed with a delicate sense, this does not
imply that he is a complete stranger to this instinct; but in his case
the painful strength of compassion carries the day over this instinct, or
it is kept under by the laws of decency. The man of nature, who is not
chained down by any feeling of human delicacy, abandons himself without
any sense of shame to this powerful instinct. This attraction must,
therefore, have its spring of action in an original disposition, and it
must be explained by a psychological law common to the whole species.

But if it seems to us that these brutal instincts of nature are
incompatible with the dignity of man, and if we hesitate, for this
reason, to establish on this fact a law common to the whole species, yet
no experiences are required to prove, with the completest evidence, that
the pleasure we take in painful emotions is real, and that it is general.
The painful struggle of a heart drawn asunder between its inclinations or
contrary duties, a struggle which is a cause of misery to him who
experiences it, delights the person who is a mere spectator. We follow
with always heightening pleasure the progress of a passion to the abyss
into which it hurries its unhappy victim. The same delicate feeling that
makes us turn our eyes aside from the sight of physical suffering, or
even from the physical expression of a purely moral pain, makes us
experience a pleasure heightened in sweetness, in the sympathy for a
purely moral pain. The interest with which we stop to look at the
painting of these kinds of objects is a general phenomenon.

Of course this can only be understood of sympathetic affections, or those
felt as a secondary effect after their first impression; for commonly
direct and personal affections immediately call into life in us the
instinct of our own happiness, they take up all our thoughts, and seize
hold of us too powerfully to allow any room for the feeling of pleasure
that accompanies them, when the affection is freed from all personal
relation. Thus, in the mind that is really a prey to painful passion,
the feeling of pain commands all others notwithstanding all the charm
that the painting of its moral state may offer to the hearers and the
spectators. And yet the painful affection is not deprived of all
pleasure, even for him who experiences it directly; only this pleasure
differs in degree according to the nature of each person's mind. The
sports of chance would not have half so much attraction for us were there
not a kind of enjoyment in anxiety, in doubt, and in fear; danger would
not be encountered from mere foolhardiness; and the very sympathy which
interests us in the trouble of another would not be to us that pleasure
which is never more lively than at the very moment when the illusion is
strongest, and when we substitute ourselves most entirely in the place of
the person who suffers. But this does not imply that disagreeable
affections cause pleasure of themselves, nor do I think any one will
uphold this view; it suffices that these states of the mind are the
conditions that alone make possible for its certain kinds of pleasure.
Thus the hearts particularly sensitive to this kind of pleasure, and most
greedy of them, will be more easily led to share these disagreeable
affections, which are the condition of the former; and even in the most
violent storms of passion they will always preserve some remains of their

The displeasure we feel in disagreeable affections comes from the
relation of our sensuous faculty or of our moral faculty with their
object. In like manner, the pleasure we experience in agreeable
affections proceeds from the very same source. The degree of liberty
that may prevail in the affections depends on the proportion between the
moral nature and the sensuous nature of a man. Now it is well known that
in the moral order there is nothing arbitrary for us, that, on the
contrary, the sensuous instinct is subject to the laws of reason and
consequently depends more or less on our will. Hence it is evident that
we can keep our liberty full and entire in all those affections that are
concerned with the instinct of self-love, and that we are the masters to
determine the degree which they ought to attain. This degree will be
less in proportion as the moral sense in a man will prevail over the
instinct of happiness, and as by obeying the universal laws of reasons he
will have freed himself from the selfish requirements of his
individuality, his Ego. A man of this kind must therefore, in a state of
passion, feel much less vividly the relation of an object with his own
instinct of happiness, and consequently he will be much less sensible of
the displeasure that arises from this relation. On the other hand, he
will be perpetually more attentive to the relation of this same object
with his moral nature, and for this very reason he will be more sensible
to the pleasure which the relation of the object with morality often
mingles with the most painful affections. A mind thus constituted is
better fitted than all others to enjoy the pleasure attaching to
compassion, and even to regard a personal affection as an object of
simple compassion. Hence the inestimable value of a moral philosophy,
which, by raising our eyes constantly towards general laws, weakens in us
the feeling of our individuality, teaches us to plunge our paltry
personality in something great, and enables us thus to act to ourselves
as to strangers. This sublime state of the mind is the lot of strong
philosophic minds, which by working assiduously on themselves have
learned to bridle the egotistical instinct. Even the most cruel loss
does not drive them beyond a certain degree of sadness, with which an
appreciable sum of pleasure can always be reconciled. These souls, which
are alone capable of separating themselves from themselves, alone enjoy
the privilege of sympathizing with themselves and of receiving of their
own sufferings only a reflex, softened by sympathy.

The indications contained in what precedes will suffice to direct our
attention to the sources of the pleasure that the affection in itself
causes, more particularly the sad affection. We have seen that this
pleasure is more energetic in moral souls, and it acts with greater
freedom in proportion as the soul is more independent of the egotistical
instinct. This pleasure is, moreover, more vivid and stronger in sad
affections, when self-love is painfully disquieted, than in gay
affections, which imply a satisfaction of self-love. Accordingly this
pleasure increases when the egotistical instinct is wounded, and
diminishes when that instinct is flattered. Now we only know of two
sources of pleasure--the satisfaction of the instinct of happiness, and
the accomplishment of the moral laws. Therefore, when it is shown that a
particular pleasure does not emanate from the former source, it must of
necessity issue from the second. It is therefore from our moral nature
that issues the charm of the painful affections shared by sympathy, and
the pleasure that we sometimes feel even where the painful affection
directly affects ourselves.

Many attempts have been made to account for the pleasure of pity, but
most of these solutions had little chance of meeting the problem, because
the principle of this phenomenon was sought for rather in the
accompanying circumstances than in the nature of the affection itself.
To many persons the pleasure of pity is simply the pleasure taken by the
mind in exercising its own sensibility. To others it is the pleasure of
occupying their forces energetically, of exercising the social faculty
vividly--in short, of satisfying the instinct of restlessness. Others
again make it derived from the discovery of morally fine features of
character, placed in a clear light by the struggle against adversity or
against the passions. But there is still the difficulty to explain why
it should be exactly the very feeling of pain,--suffering properly so
called,--that in objects of pity attracts us with the greatest force,
while, according to those elucidations, a less degree of suffering ought
evidently to be more favorable to those causes to which the source of the
emotion is traced. Various matters may, no doubt, increase the pleasure
of the emotion without occasioning it. Of this nature are the vividness
and force of the ideas awakened in our imagination, the moral excellence
of the suffering persons, the reference to himself of the person feeling
pity. I admit that the suffering of a weak soul, and the pain of a
wicked character, do not procure us this enjoyment. But this is because
they do not excite our pity to the same degree as the hero who suffers,
or the virtuous man who struggles. Thus we are constantly brought back
to the first question: why is it precisely the degree of suffering that
determines the degree of sympathetic pleasure which we take in an
emotion? and one answer only is possible; it is because the attack made
on our sensibility is precisely the condition necessary to set in motion
that quality of mind of which the activity produces the pleasure we feel
in sympathetic affections.

Now this faculty is no other than the reason; and because the free
exercise of reason, as an absolutely independent activity, deserves par
excellence the name of activity; as, moreover, the heart of man only
feels itself perfectly free and independent in its moral acts, it follows
that the charm of tragic emotions is really dependent on the fact that
this instinct of activity finds its gratification in them. But, even
admitting this, it is neither the great number nor the vivacity of the
ideas that are awakened then in our imagination, nor in general the
exercise of the social faculty, but a certain kind of ideas and a certain
activity of the social faculty brought into play by reason, which is the
foundation of this pleasure.

Thus the sympathetic affections in general are for us a source of
pleasure because they give satisfaction to our instinct of activity, and
the sad affections produce this effect with more vividness because they
give more satisfaction to this instinct. The mind only reveals all its
activity when it is in full possession of its liberty, when it has a
perfect consciousness of its rational nature, because it is only then
that it displays a force superior to all resistance.

Hence the state of mind which allows most effectually the manifestation
of this force, and awakens most successfully its activity, is that state
which is most suitable to a rational being, and which best satisfies our
instincts of activity: whence it follows that a greater amount of
pleasure must be attached necessarily to this state. Now it is the
tragic states that place our soul in this state, and the pleasure found
in them is necessarily higher than the charm produced by gay affections,
in the same degree that moral power in us is superior to the power of the

Points that are only subordinate and partial in a system of final causes
may be considered by art independently of that relation with the rest,
and may be converted into principal objects. It is right that in the
designs of nature pleasure should only be a mediate end, or a means; but
for art it is the highest end. It is therefore essentially important for
art not to neglect this high enjoyment attaching to the tragic emotion.
Now, tragic art, taking this term in its widest acceptation, is that
among the fine arts which proposes as its principal object the pleasure
of pity.

Art attains its end by the imitation of nature, by satisfying the
conditions which make pleasure possible in reality, and by combining,
according to a plan traced by the intelligence, the scattered elements
furnished by nature, so as to attain as a principal end to that which,
for nature, was only an accessory end. Thus tragic art ought to imitate
nature in those kinds of actions that are specially adapted to awaken

It follows that, in order to determine generally the system to be
followed by tragic art, it is necessary before all things to know on what
conditions in real life the pleasure of the emotion is commonly produced
in the surest and the strongest manner; but it is necessary at the same
time to pay attention to the circumstances that restrict or absolutely
extinguish this pleasure.

After what we have established in our essay "On the Cause of the Pleasure
we derive from Tragic Objects," it is known that in every tragic emotion
there is an idea of incongruity, which, though the emotion may be
attended with charm, must always lead on to the conception of a higher
consistency. Now it is the relation that these two opposite conceptions
mutually bear which determines in an emotion if the prevailing impression
shall be pleasurable or the reverse. If the conception of incongruity be
more vivid than that of the contrary, or if the end sacrificed is more
important than the end gained, the prevailing impression will always be
displeasure, whether this be understood objectively of the human race in
general, or only subjectively of certain individuals.

If the cause that has produced a misfortune gives us too much
displeasure, our compassion for the victim is diminished thereby. The
heart cannot feel simultaneously, in a high degree, two absolutely
contrary affections. Indignation against the person who is the primary
cause of the suffering becomes the prevailing affection, and all other
feeling has to yield to it. Thus our interest is always enfeebled when
the unhappy man whom it would be desirable to pity had cast himself into
ruin by a personal and an inexcusable fault; or if, being able to save
himself, he did not do so, either through feebleness of mind or
pusillanimity. The interest we take in unhappy King Lear, ill-treated by
two ungrateful daughters, is sensibly lessened by the circumstance that
this aged man, in his second childhood, so weakly gave up his crown, and
divided his love among his daughters with so little discernment. In the
tragedy of Kronegk, "Olinda and Sophronia," the most terrible suffering
to which we see these martyrs to their faith exposed only excites our
pity feebly, and all their heroism only stirs our admiration moderately,
because madness alone can suggest the act by which Olinda has placed
himself and all his people on the brink of the precipice.

Our pity is equally lessened when the primary cause of a misfortune,
whose innocent victim ought to inspire us with compassion, fills our mind
with horror. When the tragic poet cannot clear himself of his plot
without introducing a wretch, and when he is reduced to derive the
greatness of suffering from the greatness of wickedness, the supreme
beauty of his work must always be seriously injured. Iago and Lady
Macbeth in Shakspeare, Cleopatra in the tragedy of "Rodogune," or Franz
Moor in "The Robbers," are so many proofs in support of this assertion.
A poet who understands his real interest will not bring about the
catastrophe through a malicious will which proposes misfortune as its
end; nor, and still less, by want of understanding: but rather through
the imperious force of circumstances. If this catastrophe does not come
from moral sources, but from outward things, which have no volition and
are not subject to any will, the pity we experience is more pure, or at
all events it is not weakened by any idea of moral incongruity. But then
the spectator cannot be spared the disagreeable feeling of an incongruity
in the order of nature, which can alone save in such a case moral
propriety. Pity is far more excited when it has for its object both him
who suffers and him who is the primary cause of the suffering. This can
only happen when the latter has neither elicited our contempt nor our
hatred, but when he has been brought against his inclination to become
the cause of this misfortune. It is a singular beauty of the German play
of "Iphigenia" that the King of Tauris, the only obstacle who thwarts the
wishes of Orestes and of his sister, never loses our esteem, and that we
love him to the end.

There is something superior even to this kind of emotion; this is the
case when the cause of the misfortune not only is in no way repugnant to
morality, but only becomes possible through morality, and when the
reciprocal suffering comes simply from the idea that a fellow-creature
has been made to suffer. This is the situation of Chimene and Rodrigue
in "The Cid" of Pierre Corneille, which is undeniably in point of
intrigue the masterpiece of the tragic stage. Honor and filial love arm
the hand of Rodrigue against the father of her whom he loves, and his
valor gives him the victory. Honor and filial love rouse up against him,
in the person of Chimene, the daughter of his victim, an accuser and a
formidable persecutor. Both act in opposition to their inclination, and
they tremble with anguish at the thought of the misfortune of the object
against which they arm themselves, in proportion as zeal inspires them
for their duty to inflict this misfortune. Accordingly both conciliate
our esteem in the highest sense, as they accomplish a moral duty at the
cost of inclination; both inflame our pity in the highest degree, because
they suffer spontaneously for a motive that renders them in the highest
degree to be respected. It results from this that our pity is in this
case so little modified by any opposite feeling that it burns rather with
a double flame; only the impossibility of reconciling the idea of
misfortune with the idea of a morality so deserving of happiness might
still disturb our sympathetic pleasure, and spread a shade of sadness
over it. It is besides a great point, no doubt, that the discontent
given us by this contradiction does not bear upon our moral being, but is
turned aside to a harmless place, to necessity only; but this blind
subjection to destiny is always afflicting and humiliating for free
beings, who determine themselves. This is the cause that always leaves
something to be wished for even in the best Greek pieces. In all these
pieces, at the bottom of the plot it is always fatality that is appealed
to, and in this there is a knot that cannot be unravelled by our reason,
which wishes to solve everything.

But even this knot is untied, and with it vanishes every shade of
displeasure, at the highest and last step to which man perfected by
morality rises, and at the highest point which is attained by the art
which moves the feelings. This happens when the very discontent with
destiny becomes effaced, and is resolved in a presentiment or rather a
clear consciousness of a teleological concatenation of things, of a
sublime order, of a beneficent will. Then, to the pleasure occasioned in
us by moral consistency is joined the invigorating idea of the most
perfect suitability in the great whole of nature. In this case the thing
that seemed to militate against this order, and that caused us pain, in a
particular case, is only a spur that stimulates our reason to seek in
general laws for the justification of this particular case, and to solve
the problem of this separate discord in the centre of the general
harmony. Greek art never rose to this supreme serenity of tragic
emotion, because neither the national religion, nor even the philosophy
of the Greeks, lighted their step on this advanced road. It was reserved
for modern art, which enjoys the privilege of finding a purer matter in a
purer philosophy, to satisfy also this exalted want, and thus to display
all the moral dignity of art.

If we moderns must resign ourselves never to reproduce Greek art because
the philosophic genius of our age, and modern civilization in general are
not favorable to poetry, these influences are at all events less hurtful
to tragic art, which is based rather on the moral element. Perhaps it is
in the case of this art only that our civilization repairs the injury
that it has caused to art in general.

In the same manner as the tragic emotion is weakened by the admixture of
conflicting ideas and feelings, and the charm attaching to it is thus
diminished, so this emotion can also, on the contrary, by approaching the
excess of direct and personal affection, become exaggerated to the point
where pain carries the day over pleasure. It has been remarked that
displeasure, in the affections, comes from the relation of their object
with our senses, in the same way as the pleasure felt in them comes from
the relation of the affection itself to our moral faculty. This implies,
then, between our senses and our moral faculty a determined relation,
which decides as regards the relation between pleasure and displeasure in
tragic emotions. Nor could this relation be modified or overthrown
without overthrowing at the same time the feelings of pleasure and
displeasure which we find in the emotions, or even without changing them
into their opposites. In the same ratio that the senses are vividly
roused in us, the influence of morality will be proportionately
diminished; and reciprocally, as the sensuous loses, morality gains
ground. Therefore that which in our hearts gives a preponderance to the
sensuous faculty, must of necessity, by placing restrictions on the moral
faculty, diminish the pleasure that we take in tragic emotions, a
pleasure which emanates exclusively from this moral faculty. In
like manner, all that in our heart impresses an impetus on this
latter faculty, must blunt the stimulus of pain even in direct and
personal affections. Now our sensuous nature actually acquires this
preponderance, when the ideas of suffering rise to a degree of vividness
that no longer allows us to distinguish a sympathetic affection from
a personal affection, or our own proper Ego from the subject that
suffers,--reality, in short, from poetry. The sensuous also gains the
upper hand when it finds an aliment in the great number of its objects,
and in that dazzling light which an over-excited imagination diffuses
over it. On the contrary, nothing is more fit to reduce the sensuous to
its proper bounds than to place alongside it super-sensuous ideas, moral
ideas, to which reason, oppressed just before, clings as to a kind of
spiritual props, to right and raise itself above the fogs of the sensuous
to a serener atmosphere. Hence the great charm which general truths or
moral sentences, scattered opportunely over dramatic dialogue, have for
all cultivated nations, and the almost excessive use that the Greeks made
of them. Nothing is more agreeable to a moral soul than to have the
power, after a purely passive state that has lasted too long, of escaping
from the subjection of the senses, and of being recalled to its
spontaneous activity, and restored to the possession of its liberty.

These are the remarks I had to make respecting the causes that restrict
our pity and place an obstacle to our pleasure in tragic emotions. I
have next to show on what conditions pity is solicited and the pleasure
of the emotion excited in the most infallible and energetic manner.

Every feeling of pity implies the idea of suffering, and the degree of
pity is regulated according to the degree more or less of vividness, of
truth, of intensity, and of duration of this idea.

1st. The moral faculty is provoked to reaction in proportion to the
vividness of ideas in the soul, which incites it to activity and solicits
its sensuous faculty. Now the ideas of suffering are conceived in two
different manners, which are not equally favorable to the vividness of
the impression. The sufferings that we witness affect us incomparably
more than those that we have through a description or a narrative. The
former suspend in us the free play of the fancy, and striking our senses
immediately penetrate by the shortest road to our heart. In the
narrative, on the contrary, the particular is first raised to the
general, and it is from this that the knowledge of the special case is
afterwards derived; accordingly, merely by this necessary operation of
the understanding, the impression already loses greatly in strength. Now
a weak impression cannot take complete possession of our mind, and it
will allow other ideas to disturb its action and to dissipate the
attention. Very frequently, moreover, the narrative account transports
us from the moral disposition, in which the acting person is placed, to
the state of mind of the narrator himself, which breaks up the illusion
so necessary for pity. In every case, when the narrator in person puts
himself forward, a certain stoppage takes place in the action, and, as an
unavoidable result, in our sympathetic affection. This is what happens
even when the dramatic poet forgets himself in the dialogue, and puts in
the mouth of his dramatic persons reflections that could only enter the
mind of a disinterested spectator. It would be difficult to mention a
single one of our modern tragedies quite free from this defect; but the
French alone have made a rule of it. Let us infer, then, that the
immediate vivid and sensuous presence of the object is necessary to give
to the ideas impressed on us by suffering that strength without which the
emotion could not rise to a high degree.

2d. But we can receive the most vivid impressions of the idea of
suffering without, however, being led to a remarkable degree of pity, if
these impressions lack truth. It is, necessary that we should form of
suffering an idea of such a nature that we are obliged to share and take
part in it. To this end there must be a certain agreement between this
suffering and something that we have already in us. In other words, pity
is only possible inasmuch as we can prove or suppose a resemblance
between ourselves and the subject that suffers. Everywhere where this
resemblance makes itself known, pity is necessary; where this resemblance
is lacking, pity is impossible. The more visible and the greater is the
resemblance, the more vivid is our pity; and they mutually slacken in
dependence on each other. In order that we may feel the affections of
another after him, all the internal conditions demanded by this affection
must be found beforehand in us, in order that the external cause which,
by meeting with the internal conditions, has given birth to the
affection, may also produce on us a like effect. It is necessary that,
without doing violence to ourselves, we should be able to exchange
persons with another, and transport our Ego by an instantaneous
substitution in the state of the subject. Now, how is it possible to
feel in us the state of another, if we have not beforehand recognized
ourselves in this other.

This resemblance bears on the totality of the constitution of the mind,
in as far as that is necessary and universal. Now, this character of
necessity and of universality belongs especially to our moral nature.
The faculty of feeling can be determined differently by accidental
causes: our cognitive faculties themselves depend on variable conditions:
the moral faculty only has its principle in itself, and by that very fact
it can best give us a general measure and a certain criterion of this
resemblance. Thus an idea which we find in accord with our mode of
thinking and of feeling, which offers at once a certain relationship with
the train of our own ideas, which is easily grasped by our heart and our
mind, we call a true idea. If this relationship bears on what is
peculiar to our heart, on the private determinations that modify in us
the common fundamentals of humanity, and which may be withdrawn without
altering this general character, this idea is then simply true for us.
If it bears on the general and necessary form that we suppose in the
whole species, the truth of this idea ought to be held to be equal to
objective truth. For the Roman, the sentence of the first Brutus and the
suicide of Cato are of subjective truth. The ideas and the feelings that
have inspired the actions of these two men are not an immediate
consequence of human nature in general, but the mediate consequence of a
human nature determined by particular modifications. To share with them
these feelings we must have a Roman soul, or at least be capable of
assuming for a moment a Roman soul. It suffices, on the other hand, to
be a man in general, to be vividly touched by the heroic sacrifice of
Leonidas, by the quiet resignation of Aristides, by the voluntary death
of Socrates, and to be moved to tears by the terrible changes in the
fortunes of Darius. We attribute to these kinds of ideas, in opposition
to the preceding ones, an objective truth because they agree with the
nature of all human subjects, which gives them a character of
universality and of necessity as strict as if they were independent of
every subjective condition.

Moreover, although the subjectively true description is based on
accidental determinations, this is no reason for confounding it with an
arbitrary description. After all, the subjectively true emanates also
from the general constitution of the human soul, modified only in
particular directions by special circumstances; and the two kinds of
truth are equally necessary conditions of the human mind. If the
resolution of Cato were in contradiction with the general laws of human
nature, it could not be true, even subjectively. The only difference is
that the ideas of the second kind are enclosed in a narrower sphere of
action; because they imply, besides the general modes of the human mind,
other special determinations. Tragedy can make use of it with a very
intense effect, if it will renounce the extensive effect; still the
unconditionally true, what is purely human in human relations, will be
always the richest matter for the tragic poet, because this ground is the
only one on which tragedy, without ceasing to aspire to strength of
expression can be certain of the generality of this impression.

3d. Besides the vividness and the truth of tragic pictures, there must
also be completeness. None of the external data that are necessary to
give to the soul the desired movement ought to be omitted in the
representation. In order that the spectator, however Roman his
sentiments may be, may understand the moral state of Cato--that he may
make his own the high resolution of the republican, this resolution must
have its principle, not only in the mind of the Roman, but also in the
circumstances of the action. His external situation as well as his
internal situation must be before our eyes in all their consequences and
extent: and we must, lastly, have unrolled before us, without omitting a
single link, the whole chain of determinations to which are attached the
high resolution of the Roman as a necessary consequence. It may be said
in general that without this third condition, even the truth of a
painting cannot be recognized; for the similarity of circumstances, which
ought to be fully evident, can alone justify our judgment on the
similarity of the feelings, since it is only from the competition of
external conditions and of internal conditions that the affective
phenomenon results. To decide if we should have acted like Cato, we must
before all things transport ourselves in thought to the external
situation in which Cato was placed, and then only we are entitled to
place our feelings alongside his, to pronounce if there is or is not
likeness, and to give a verdict on the truth of these feelings.

A complete picture, as I understand it, is only possible by the
concatenation of several separate ideas, and of several separate
feelings, which are connected together as cause and effect, and which, in
their sum total, form one single whole for our cognitive faculty. All
these ideas, in order to affect us closely, must make an immediate
impression on our senses; and, as the narrative form always weakens this
impression, they must be produced by a present action. Thus, in order
that a tragic picture may be complete, a whole series is required of
particular actions, rendered sensuous and connected with the tragic
action as to one whole.

4th. It is necessary, lastly, that the ideas we receive of suffering
should act on us in a durable manner, to excite in us a high degree of
emotion. The affection created in us by the suffering of another is to
us a constrained state, from which we hasten to get free; and the
illusion so necessary for pity easily disappears in this case. It is,
therefore, a necessity to fasten the mind closely to these ideas, and not
to leave it the freedom to get rid too soon of the illusion. The
vividness of sudden ideas and the energy of sudden impressions, which in
rapid succession affect our senses, would not suffice for this end. For
the power of reaction in the mind is manifested in direct proportion to
the force with which the receptive faculty is solicited, and it is
manifested to triumph over this impression. Now, the poet who wishes to
move us ought not to weaken this independent power in us, for it is
exactly in the struggle between it and the suffering of our sensuous
nature that the higher charm of tragic emotions lies. In order that the
heart, in spite of that spontaneous force which reacts against sensuous
affections, may remain attached to the impressions of sufferings, it is,
therefore, necessary that these impressions should be cleverly suspended
at intervals, or even interrupted and intercepted by contrary
impressions, to return again with twofold energy and renew more
frequently the vividness of the first impression. Against the exhaustion
and languor that result from habit, the most effectual remedy is to
propose new objects to the senses; this variety retempers them, and the
gradation of impressions calls forth the innate faculty, and makes it
employ a proportionately stronger resistance. This faculty ought to be
incessantly occupied in maintaining its independence against the attacks
of the senses, but it must not triumph before the end, still less must it
succumb in the struggle. Otherwise, in the former case, suffering, and,
in the latter, moral activity is set aside; while it is the union of
these two that can alone elicit emotion. The great secret of the tragic
art consists precisely in managing this struggle well; it is in this that
it shows itself in the most brilliant light.

For this, a succession of alternate ideas is required: therefore a
suitable combination is wanted of several particular actions
corresponding with these different ideas; actions round which the
principal action and the tragic impression which it is wished to produce
through it unroll themselves like the yarn from the distaff, and end by
enlacing our souls in nets, through which they cannot break. Let me be
permitted to make use of a simile, by saying that the artist ought to
begin by gathering up with parsimonious care all the separate rays that
issue from the object by aid of which he seeks to produce the tragic
effect that he has in view, and these rays, in his hands, become a
lightning flash, setting the hearts of all on fire. The tyro casts
suddenly and vainly all the thunderbolts of horror and fear into the
soul; the artist, on the contrary, advances step by step to his end; he
only strikes with measured strokes, but he penetrates to the depth of our
soul, precisely because he has only stirred it by degrees.

If we now form the proper deductions from the previous investigation, the
following will be the conditions that form bases of the tragic art. It
is necessary, in the first place, that the object of our pity should
belong to our own species--I mean belong in the full sense of the term
and that the action in which it is sought to interest us be a moral
action; that is, an action comprehended in the field of free-will. It is
necessary, in the second place, that suffering, its sources, its degrees,
should be completely communicated by a series of events chained together.
It is necessary, in the third place, that the object of the passion be
rendered present to our senses, not in a mediate way and by description,
but immediately and in action. In tragedy art unites all these
conditions and satisfies them.

According to these principles tragedy might be defined as the poetic
imitation of a coherent series of particular events (forming a complete
action): an imitation which shows us man in a state of suffering, and
which has for its end to excite our pity.

I say first that it is the imitation of an action; and this idea of
imitation already distinguishes tragedy from the other kinds of poetry,
which only narrate or describe. In tragedy particular events are
presented to our imagination or to our senses at the very time of their
accomplishment; they are present, we see them immediately, without the
intervention of a third person. The epos, the romance, simple narrative,
even in their form, withdraw action to a distance, causing the narrator
to come between the acting person and the reader. Now what is distant
and past always weakens, as we know, the impressions and the sympathetic
affection; what is present makes them stronger. All narrative forms make
of the present something past; all dramatic form makes of the past a

Secondly, I say that tragedy is the imitation of a succession of events,
of an action. Tragedy has not only to represent by imitation the
feelings and the affections of tragic persons, but also the events that
have produced these feelings, and the occasion on which these affections
are manifested. This distinguishes it from lyric poetry, and from its
different forms, which no doubt offer, like tragedy, the poetic imitation
of certain states of the mind, but not the poetic imitation of certain
actions. An elegy, a song, an ode, can place before our eyes, by
imitation, the moral state in which the poet actually is--whether he
speaks in his own name, or in that of an ideal person--a state determined
by particular circumstances; and up to this point these lyric forms seem
certainly to be incorporated in the idea of tragedy; but they do not
complete that idea, because they are confined to representing our
feelings. There are still more essential differences, if the end of
these lyrical forms and that of tragedy are kept in view.

I say, in the third place, that tragedy is the imitation of a complete
action. A separate event, though it be ever so tragic, does not in
itself constitute a tragedy. To do this, several events are required,
based one on the other, like cause and effect, and suitably connected so
as to form a whole; without which the truth of the feeling represented,
of the character, etc.--that is, their conformity with the nature of our
mind, a conformity which alone determines our sympathy--will not be
recognized. If we do not feel that we ourselves in similar circumstances
should have experienced the same feelings and acted in the same way, our
pity would not be awakened. It is, therefore, important that we should
be able to follow in all its concatenation the action that is represented
to us, that we should see it issue from the mind of the agent by a
natural gradation, under the influence and with the concurrence of
external circumstances. It is thus that we see spring up, grow, and come
to maturity under our eyes, the curiosity of Oedipus and the jealousy of
Iago. It is also the only way to fill up the great gap that exists
between the joy of an innocent soul and the torments of a guilty
conscience, between the proud serenity of the happy man and his terrible
catastrophe; in short, between the state of calm, in which the reader is
at the beginning, and the violent agitation he ought to experience at the

A series of several connected incidents is required to produce in our
souls a succession of different movements which arrest the attention,
which, appealing to all the faculties of our minds, enliven our instinct
of activity when it is exhausted, and which, by delaying the satisfaction
of this instinct, do not kindle it the less. Against the suffering of
sensuous nature the human heart has only recourse to its moral nature as
counterpoise. It is, therefore, necessary, in order to stimulate this in
a more pressing manner, for the tragic poet to prolong the torments of
sense, but he must also give a glimpse to the latter of the satisfaction
of its wants, so as to render the victory of the moral sense so much the
more difficult and glorious. This twofold end can only be attained by a
succession of actions judiciously chosen and combined to this end.

In the fourth place, I say that tragedy is the poetic imitation of an
action deserving of pity, and, therefore, tragic imitation is opposed to
historic imitation. It would only be a historic imitation if it proposed
a historic end, if its principal object were to teach us that a thing has
taken place, and how it took place. On this hypothesis it ought to keep
rigorously to historic accuracy, for it would only attain its end by
representing faithfully that which really took place. But tragedy has a
poetic end, that is to say, it represents an action to move us, and to
charm our souls by the medium of this emotion. If, therefore, a matter
being given, tragedy treats it conformably with this poetic end, which is
proper to it, it becomes, by that very thing, free in its imitation. It
is a right--nay, more, it is an obligation--for tragedy to subject
historic truth to the laws of poetry; and to treat its matter in
conformity with requirements of this art. But as it cannot attain its
end, which is emotion, except on the condition of a perfect conformity
with the laws of nature, tragedy is, notwithstanding its freedom in
regard to history, strictly subject to the laws of natural truth, which,
in opposition to the truth of history, takes the name of poetic truth.
It may thus be understood how much poetic truth may lose, in many cases
by a strict observance of historic truth, and, reciprocally, how much it
may gain by even a very serious alteration of truth according to history.
As the tragic poet, like poets in general, is only subject to the laws of
poetic truth, the most conscientious observance of historic truth could
never dispense him from his duties as poet, and could never excuse in him
any infraction of poetic truth or lack of interest. It is, therefore,
betraying very narrow ideas on tragic art, or rather on poetry in
general, to drag the tragic poet before the tribunal of history, and to
require instruction of the man who by his very title is only bound to
move and charm you. Even supposing the poet, by a scrupulous submission
to historic truth, had stripped himself of his privilege of artist, and
that he had tacitly acknowledged in history a jurisdiction over his work,
art retains all her rights to summon him before its bar; and pieces such
as "The Death of Hermann," "Minona," "Fust of Stromberg," if they could
not stand the test on this side, would only be tragedies of mediocre
value, notwithstanding all the minuteness of costume--of national
costume--and of the manners of the time.

Fifthly, tragedy is the imitation of an action that lets us see man
suffering. The word man is essential to mark the limits of tragedy.
Only the suffering of a being like ourselves can move our pity. Thus,
evil genii, demons--or even men like them, without morals--and again pure
spirits, without our weaknesses, are unfit for tragedy. The very idea of
suffering implies a man in the full sense of the term. A pure spirit
cannot suffer, and a man approaching one will never awaken a high degree
of sympathy. A purely sensuous being can indeed have terrible suffering;
but without moral sense it is a prey to it, and a suffering with reason
inactive is a disgusting spectacle. The tragedian is right to prefer
mixed characters, and to place the ideal of his hero half way between
utter perversity and entire perfection.

Lastly, tragedy unites all these requisites to excite pity. Many means
the tragic poet takes might serve another object; but he frees himself
from all requirements not relating to this end, and is thereby obliged to
direct himself with a view to this supreme object.

The final aim to which all the laws tend is called the end of any style
of poetry. The means by which it attains this are its form. The end and
form are, therefore, closely related. The form is determined by the end,
and when the form is well observed the end is generally attained. Each
kind of poetry having a special end must have a distinguishing form.
What it exclusively produces it does in virtue of this special nature it
possesses. The end of tragedy is emotion; its form is the imitation of
an action that leads to suffering. Many kinds may have the same object
as tragedy, of emotion, though it be not their principal end. Therefore,
what distinguishes tragedy is the relation of its form to its end, the
way in which it attains its end by means of its subject.

If the end of tragedy is to awaken sympathy, and its form is the means of
attaining it, the imitation of an action fit to move must have all that
favors sympathy. Such is the form of tragedy.

The production of a kind of poetry is perfect when the form peculiar to
its kind has been used in the best way. Thus, a perfect tragedy is that
where the form is best used to awaken sympathy. Thus, the best tragedy
is that where the pity excited results more from the treatment of the
poet than the theme. Such is the ideal of a tragedy.

A good number of tragedies, though fine as poems are bad as dramas,
because they do not seek their end by the best use of tragic form.
Others, because they use the form to attain an end different from
tragedy. Some very popular ones only touch us on account of the subject,
and we are blind enough to make this a merit in the poet. There are
others in which we seem to have quite forgotten the object of the poet,
and, contented with pretty plays of fancy and wit, we issue with our
hearts cold from the theatre. Must art, so holy and venerable, defend
its cause by such champions before such judges? The indulgence of the
public only emboldens mediocrity: it causes genius to blush, and
discourages it.


Whatever pains some modern aesthetics give themselves to establish,
contrary to general belief, that the arts of imagination and of feeling
have not pleasure for their object, and to defend them against this
degrading accusation, this belief will not cease: it reposes upon a solid
foundation, and the fine arts would renounce with a bad grace the
beneficent mission which has in all times been assigned to them, to
accept the new employment to which it is generously proposed to raise
them. Without troubling themselves whether they lower themselves in
proposing our pleasure as object, they become rather proud of the
advantages of reaching immediately an aim never attained except mediately
in other routes followed by the activity of the human mind. That the aim
of nature, with relation to man, is the happiness of man,--although he
ought of himself, in his moral conduct, to take no notice of this aim,--
is what, I think, cannot be doubted in general by any one who admits that
nature has an aim. Thus the fine arts have the same aim as nature, or
rather as the Author of nature, namely, to spread pleasure and render
people happy. It procures for us in play what at other more austere
sources of good to man we extract only with difficulty. It lavishes as a
pure gift that which elsewhere is the price of many hard efforts. With
what labor, what application, do we not pay for the pleasures of the
understanding; with what painful sacrifices the approbation of reason;
with what hard privations the joys of sense! And if we abuse these
pleasures, with what a succession of evils do we expiate excess! Art
alone supplies an enjoyment which requires no appreciable effort, which
costs no sacrifice, and which we need not repay with repentance. But who
could class the merit of charming in this manner with the poor merit of
amusing? who would venture to deny the former of these two aims of the
fine arts solely because they have a tendency higher than the latter.

The praiseworthy object of pursuing everywhere moral good as the supreme
aim, which has already brought forth in art so much mediocrity, has
caused also in theory a similar prejudice. To assign to the fine arts a
really elevated position, to conciliate for them the favor of the State,
the veneration of all men, they are pushed beyond their due domain, and a
vocation is imposed upon them contrary to their nature. It is supposed
that a great service is awarded to them by substituting for a frivolous
aim--that of charming--a moral aim; and their influence upon morality,
which is so apparent, necessarily militates against this pretension. It
is found illogical that the art which contributes in so great a measure
to the development of all that is most elevated in man, should produce
but accessorily this effect, and make its chief object an aim so vulgar
as we imagine pleasure to be. But this apparent contradiction it would
be very easy to conciliate if we had a good theory of pleasure, and a
complete system of aesthetic philosophy.

It would result from this theory that a free pleasure, as that which the
fine arts procure for us, rests wholly upon moral conditions, and all the
moral faculties of man are exercised in it. It would further result that
this pleasure is an aim which can never be attained but by moral means,
and consequently that art, to tend and perfectly attain to pleasure, as
to a real aim, must follow the road of healthy morals. Thus it is
perfectly indifferent for the dignity of art whether its aim should be a
moral aim, or whether it should reach only through moral means; for in
both cases it has always to do with the morality, and must be rigorously
in unison with the sentiment of duty; but for the perfection of art, it
is by no means indifferent which of the two should be the aim and which
the means. If it is the aim that is moral, art loses all that by which
it is powerful,--I mean its freedom, and that which gives it so much
influence over us--the charm of pleasure. The play which recreates is
changed into serious occupation, and yet it is precisely in recreating us
that art can the better complete the great affair--the moral work. It
cannot have a salutary influence upon the morals but in exercising its
highest aesthetic action, and it can only produce the aesthetic effect in
its highest degree in fully exercising its liberty.

It is certain, besides, that all pleasure, the moment it flows from a
moral source, renders man morally better, and then the effect in its turn
becomes cause. The pleasure we find in what is beautiful, or touching,
or sublime, strengthens our moral sentiments, as the pleasure we find in
kindness, in love, etc., strengthens these inclinations. And just as
contentment of the mind is the sure lot of the morally excellent man, so
moral excellence willingly accompanies satisfaction of heart. Thus the
moral efficacy of art is, not only because it employs moral means in
order to charm us, but also because even the pleasure which it procures
us is a means of morality.

There are as many means by which art can attain its aim as there are in
general sources from which a free pleasure for the mind can flow. I call
a free pleasure that which brings into play the spiritual forces--reason
and imagination--and which awakens in us a sentiment by the
representation of an idea, in contradistinction to physical or sensuous
pleasure, which places our soul under the dependence of the blind forces
of nature, and where sensation is immediately awakened in us by a
physical cause. Sensual pleasure is the only one excluded from the
domain of the fine arts; and the talent of exciting this kind of pleasure
could never raise itself to the dignity of an art, except in the case
where the sensual impressions are ordered, reinforced or moderated, after
a plan which is the production of art, and which is recognized by
representation. But, in this case even, that alone here can merit the
name of art which is the object of a free pleasure--I mean good taste in
the regulation, which pleases our understanding, and not physical charms
themselves, which alone flatter our sensibility.

The general source of all pleasure, even of sensual pleasure, is
propriety, the conformity with the aim. Pleasure is sensual when this
propriety is manifested by means of some necessary law of nature which
has for physical result the sensation of pleasure. Thus the movement of
the blood, and of the animal life, when in conformity with the aim of
nature, produces in certain organs, or in the entire organism, corporeal
pleasure with all its varieties and all its modes. We feel this
conformity by the means of agreeable sensation, but we arrive at no
representation of it, either clear or confused.

Pleasure is free when we represent to ourselves the conformability, and
when the sensation that accompanies this representation is agreeable.
Thus all the representations by which we have notice that there is
propriety and harmony between the end and the means, are for us the
sources of free pleasure, and consequently can be employed to this end by
the fine arts. Thus, all the representations can be placed under one of
these heads: the good, the true, the perfect, the beautiful, the
touching, the sublime. The good especially occupies our reason; the true
and perfect, our intelligence; the beautiful interests both the
intelligence and the imagination; the touching and the sublime, the
reason and the imagination. It is true that we also take pleasure in the
charm (Reiz) or the power called out by action from play, but art uses
charm only to accompany the higher enjoyments which the idea of propriety
gives to us. Considered in itself the charm or attraction is lost amid
the sensations of life, and art disdains it together with all merely
sensual pleasures.

We could not establish a classification of the fine arts only upon the
difference of the sources from which each of them draws the pleasure
which it affords us; for in the same class of the fine arts many sorts of
pleasures may enter, and often all together. But in as far as a certain
sort of pleasure is pursued as a principal aim, we can make of it, if not
a specific character of a class properly so called, at least the
principle and the tendency of a class in the works of art. Thus, for
example, we could take the arts which, above all, satisfy the
intelligence and imagination--consequently those which have as chief
object the true, the perfect, and the beautiful--and unite them under the
name of fine arts (arts of taste, arts of intelligence); those, on the
other hand, which especially occupy the imagination and the reason, and
which, in consequence, have for principal object the good, the sublime,
and the touching, could be limited in a particular class under the
denomination of touching arts (arts of sentiment, arts of the heart).
Without doubt it is impossible to separate absolutely the touching from
the beautiful, but the beautiful can perfectly subsist without the
touching. Thus, although we are not authorized to base upon this
difference of principle a rigorous classification of the liberal arts, it
can at least serve to determine with more of precision the criterion, and
prevent the confusion in which we are inevitably involved, when, drawing
up laws of aesthetic things, we confound two absolutely different
domains, as that of the touching and that of the beautiful.

The touching and the sublime resemble in this point, that both one and
the other produce a pleasure by a feeling at first of displeasure, and
that consequently (pleasure proceeding from suitability, and displeasure
from the contrary) they give us a feeling of suitability which
presupposes an unsuitability.

The feeling of the sublime is composed in part of the feeling of our
feebleness, of our impotence to embrace an object; and, on the other
side, of the feeling of our moral power--of this superior faculty which
fears no obstacle, no limit, and which subdues spiritually that even to
which our physical forces give way. The object of the sublime thwarts,
then, our physical power; and this contrariety (impropriety) must
necessarily excite a displeasure in us. But it is, at the same time, an
occasion to recall to our conscience another faculty which is in us--a
faculty which is even superior to the objects before which our
imagination yields. In consequence, a sublime object, precisely because
it thwarts the senses, is suitable with relation to reason, and it gives
to us a joy by means of a higher faculty, at the same time that it wounds
us in an inferior one.

The touching, in its proper sense, designates this mixed sensation, into
which enters at the same time suffering and the pleasure that we find in
suffering. Thus we can only feel this kind of emotion in the case of a
personal misfortune, only when the grief that we feel is sufficiently
tempered to leave some place for that impression of pleasure that would
be felt by a compassionate spectator. The loss of a great good
prostrates for the time, and the remembrance itself of the grief will
make us experience emotion after a year. The feeble man is always the
prey of his grief; the hero and the sage, whatever the misfortune that
strikes them, never experience more than emotion.

Emotion, like the sentiment of the sublime, is composed of two
affections--grief and pleasure. There is, then, at the bottom a
propriety, here as well as there, and under this propriety a
contradiction. Thus it seems that it is a contradiction in nature that
man, who is not born to suffer, is nevertheless a prey to suffering, and
this contradiction hurts us. But the evil which this contradiction does
us is a propriety with regard to our reasonable nature in general,
insomuch as this evil solicits us to act: it is a propriety also with
regard to human society; consequently, even displeasure, which excites in
us this contradiction, ought necessarily to make us experience a
sentiment of pleasure, because this displeasure is a propriety. To
determine in an emotion if it is pleasure or displeasure which triumphs,
we must ask ourselves if it is the idea of impropriety or that of
propriety which affects us the more deeply. That can depend either on
the number of the aims reached or abortive, or on their connection with
the final aim of all.

The suffering of the virtuous man moves us more painfully than that of
the perverse man, because in the first case there is contradiction not
only to the general destiny of man, which is happiness, but also to this
other particular principle, viz., that virtue renders happy; whilst in
the second case there is contradiction only with regard to the end of man
in general. Reciprocally, the happiness of the wicked also offends us
much more than the misfortune of the good man, because we find in it a
double contradiction: in the first place vice itself, and, in the second
place, the recompense of vice.

There is also this other consideration, that virtue is much more able to
recompense itself than vice, when it triumphs, is to punish itself; and
it is precisely for this that the virtuous man in misfortune would much
more remain faithful to the cultus of virtue than the perverse man would
dream of converting himself in prosperity.

But what is above all important in determining in the emotions the
relation of pleasure and displeasure, is to compare the two ends--that
which has been fulfilled and that which has been ignored--and to see
which is the most considerable. There is no propriety which touches us
so nearly as moral propriety, and no superior pleasure to that which we
feel from it. Physical propriety could well be a problem, and a problem
forever unsolvable. Moral propriety is already demonstrated. It alone
is founded upon our reasonable nature and upon internal necessity. It is
our nearest interest, the most considerable, and, at the same time, the
most easily recognized, because it is not determined by any external
element but by an internal principle of our reason: it is the palladium
of our liberty.

This moral propriety is never more vividly recognized than when it is
found in conflict with another propriety, and still keeps the upper hand;
then only the moral law awakens in full power, when we find it struggling
against all the other forces of nature, and when all those forces lose in
its presence their empire over a human soul. By these words, "the other
forces of nature," we must understand all that is not moral force, all
that is not subject to the supreme legislation of reason: that is to say,
feelings, affections, instincts, passions, as well as physical necessity
and destiny. The more redoubtable the adversary, the more glorious the
victory; resistance alone brings out the strength of the force and
renders it visible. It follows that the highest degree of moral
consciousness can only exist in strife, and the highest moral pleasure is
always accompanied by pain.

Consequently, the kind of poetry which secures us a high degree of moral
pleasure, must employ mixed feelings, and please us through pain or
distress,--this is what tragedy does specially; and her realm embraces
all that sacrifices a physical propriety to a moral one; or one moral
propriety to a higher one. It might be possible, perhaps, to form a
measure of moral pleasure, from the lowest to the highest degree, and to
determine by this principle of propriety the degree of pain or pleasure
experienced. Different orders of tragedy might be classified on the same
principle, so as to form a complete exhaustive tabulation of them. Thus,
a tragedy being given, its place could be fixed, and its genus
determined. Of this subject more will be said separately in its proper

A few examples will show how far moral propriety commands physical
propriety in our souls.

Theron and Amanda are both tied to the stake as martyrs, and free to
choose life or death by the terrible ordeal of fire--they select the
latter. What is it which gives such pleasure to us in this scene? Their
position so conflicting with the smiling destiny they reject, the reward
of misery given to virtue--all here awakens in us the feeling of
impropriety: it ought to fill us with great distress. What is nature,
and what are her ends and laws, if all this impropriety shows us moral
propriety in its full light. We here see the triumph of the moral law,
so sublime an experience for us that we might even hail the calamity
which elicits it. For harmony in the world of moral freedom gives us
infinitely more pleasure than all the discords in nature give us pain.

When Coriolanus, obedient to duty as husband, son, and citizen, raises
the siege of Rome, them almost conquered, withdrawing his army, and
silencing his vengeance, he commits a very contradictory act evidently.
He loses all the fruit of previous victories, he runs spontaneously to
his ruin: yet what moral excellence and grandeur he offers! How noble to
prefer any impropriety rather than wound moral sense; to violate natural
interests and prudence in order to be in harmony with the higher moral
law! Every sacrifice of a life is a contradiction, for life is the
condition of all good; but in the light of morality the sacrifice of life
is in a high degree proper, because life is not great in itself, but only
as a means of accomplishing the moral law. If then the sacrifice of life
be the way to do this, life must go. "It is not necessary for me to
live, but it is necessary for Rome to be saved from famine," said Pompey,
when the Romans embarked for Africa, and his friends begged him to defer
his departure till the gale was over.

But the sufferings of a criminal are as charming to us tragically as
those of a virtuous man; yet here is the idea of moral impropriety. The
antagonism of his conduct to moral law, and the moral imperfection which
such conduct presupposes, ought to fill us with pain. Here there is no
satisfaction in the morality of his person, nothing to compensate for his
misconduct. Yet both supply a valuable object for art; this phenomenon
can easily be made to agree with what has been said.

We find pleasure not only in obedience to morality, but in the punishment
given to its infraction. The pain resulting from moral imperfection
agrees with its opposite, the satisfaction at conformity with the law.
Repentance, even despair, have nobleness morally, and can only exist if
an incorruptible sense of justice exists at the bottom of the criminal
heart, and if conscience maintains its ground against self-love.
Repentance comes by comparing our acts with the moral law, hence in the
moment of repenting the moral law speaks loudly in man. Its power must
be greater than the gain resulting from the crime as the infraction
poisons the enjoyment. Now, a state of mind where duty is sovereign is
morally proper, and therefore a source of moral pleasure. What, then,
sublimer than the heroic despair that tramples even life underfoot,
because it cannot bear the judgment within? A good man sacrificing his
life to conform to the moral law, or a criminal taking his own life
because of the morality he has violated: in both cases our respect for
the moral law is raised to the highest power. If there be any advantage
it is in the case of the latter; for the good man may have been
encouraged in his sacrifice by an approving conscience, thus detracting
from his merit. Repentance and regret at past crimes show us some of the
sublimest pictures of morality in active condition. A man who violates
morality comes back to the moral law by repentance.

But moral pleasure is sometimes obtained only at the cost of moral pain.
Thus one duty may clash with another. Let us suppose Coriolanus encamped
with a Roman army before Antium or Corioli, and his mother a Volscian; if
her prayers move him to desist, we now no longer admire him. His
obedience to his mother would be at strife with a higher duty, that of a
citizen. The governor to whom the alternative is proposed, either of
giving up the town or of seeing his son stabbed, decides at once on the
latter, his duty as father being beneath that of citizen. At first our
heart revolts at this conduct in a father, but we soon pass to admiration
that moral instinct, even combined with inclination, could not lead
reason astray in the empire where it commands. When Timoleon of Corinth
puts to death his beloved but ambitious brother, Timophanes, he does it
because his idea of duty to his country bids him to do so. The act here
inspires horror and repulsion as against nature and the moral sense, but
this feeling is soon succeeded by the highest admiration for his heroic
virtue, pronouncing, in a tumultuous conflict of emotions, freely and
calmly, with perfect rectitude. If we differ with Timoleon about his
duty as a republican, this does not change our view. Nay, in those
cases, where our understanding judges differently, we see all the more
clearly how high we put moral propriety above all other.

But the judgments of men on this moral phenomenon are exceedingly
various, and the reason of it is clear. Moral sense is common to all
men, but differs in strength. To most men it suffices that an act be
partially conformable with the moral law to make them obey it; and to
make them condemn an action it must glaringly violate the law. But to
determine the relation of moral duties with the highest principle of
morals requires an enlightened intelligence and an emancipated reason.
Thus an action which to a few will be a supreme propriety, will seem to
the crowd a revolting impropriety, though both judge morally; and hence
the emotion felt at such actions is by no means uniform. To the mass the
sublimest and highest is only exaggeration, because sublimity is
perceived by reason, and all men have not the same share of it. A vulgar
soul is oppressed or overstretched by those sublime ideas, and the crowd
sees dreadful disorder where a thinking mind sees the highest order.

This is enough about moral propriety as a principle of tragic emotion,
and the pleasure it elicits. It must be added that there are cases where
natural propriety also seems to charm our mind even at the cost of
morality. Thus we are always pleased by the sequence of machinations of
a perverse man, though his means and end are immoral. Such a man deeply
interests us, and we tremble lest his plan fail, though we ought to wish
it to do so. But this fact does not contradict what has been advanced
about moral propriety,--and the pleasure resulting from it.

Propriety, the reference of means to an end, is to us, in all cases, a
source of pleasure; even disconnected with morality. We experience this
pleasure unmixed, so long as we do not think of any moral end which
disallows action before us. Animal instincts give us pleasure--as the
industry of bees--without reference to morals; and in like manner human
actions are a pleasure to us when we consider in them only the relation
of means to ends. But if a moral principle be added to these, and
impropriety be discovered, if the idea of moral agent comes in, a deep
indignation succeeds our pleasure, which no intellectual propriety can
remedy. We must not call to mind too vividly that Richard III., Iago,
and Lovelace are men; otherwise our sympathy for them infallibly turns
into an opposite feeling. But, as daily experience teaches, we have the
power to direct our attention to different sides of things; and pleasure,
only possible through this abstraction, invites us to exercise it, and to
prolong its exercise.

Yet it is not rare for intelligent perversity to secure our favor by
being the means of procuring us the pleasure of moral propriety. The
triumph of moral propriety will be great in proportion as the snares set
by Lovelace for the virtue of Clarissa are formidable, and as the trials
of an innocent victim by a cruel tyrant are severe. It is a pleasure to
see the craft of a seducer foiled by the omnipotence of the moral sense.
On the other hand, we reckon as a sort of merit the victory of a
malefactor over his moral sense, because it is the proof of a certain
strength of mind and intellectual propriety.

Yet this propriety in vice can never be the source of a perfect pleasure,
except when it is humiliated by morality. In that case it is an
essential part of our pleasure, because it brings moral sense into
stronger relief. The last impression left on us by the author of
Clarissa is a proof of this. The intellectual propriety in the plan of
Lovelace is greatly surpassed by the rational propriety of Clarissa.
This allows us to feel in full the satisfaction caused by both.

When the tragic poet has for object to awaken in us the feeling of moral
propriety, and chooses his means skilfully for that end, he is sure to
charm doubly the connoisseur, by moral and by natural propriety. The
first satisfies the heart, the second the mind. The crowd is impressed
through the heart without knowing the cause of the magic impression.
But, on the other hand, there is a class of connoisseurs on whom that
which affects the heart is entirely lost, and who can only be gained by
the appropriateness of the means; a strange contradiction resulting from
over-refined taste, especially when moral culture remains behind
intellectual. This class of connoisseurs seek only the intellectual
side in touching and sublime themes. They appreciate this in the
justest manner, but you must beware how you appeal to their heart! The
over-culture of the age leads to this shoal, and nothing becomes the
cultivated man so much as to escape by a happy victory this twofold and
pernicious influence. Of all other European nations, our neighbors, the
French, lean most to this extreme, and we, as in all things, strain every
nerve to imitate this model.

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