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of ivory; it should control the judgment and guide the will; it is in short the necessary basis of conduct. The greater a man's moral seriousness, the more he will be concerned with doing rather than dreaming (and I include right meditation among the forms of doing). He will also demand an art and literature that reflect this his main preoccupation. Between Wordsworth's definition of poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquillity,” and Aristotle's definition of poetry as the imitation of human action according to probability or necessity, a wide gap plainly opens. One may prefer Aristotle's definition to that of Wordsworth and yet do justice to the merits of Wordsworth's actual poetical performance. Nevertheless the tendency to put prime emphasis on feeling instead of action shown in the definition is closely related to Wordsworth's failure not only in dramatic but in epic poetry, in all poetry in short that depends for its success on an element of plot and sustained narrative.

A curious extension of the art of impassioned recollection should receive at least passing mention. It has been so extended as to lead to what one may term an unethical use of literature and history. What men have done in the past and the consequences of this doing should surely serve to throw some light on what men should do under similar circumstances in the present. But the man who turns his own personal experience into mere dalliance may very well assume a like dalliant attitude towards the larger experience of the race. This experience may merely provide him with pretexts for revery. This narcotic use of literature and history, this art of creating for one's self an alibi as Taine calls it, is nearly as old as the romantic movement. The record of the past becomes a gorgeous pageant that lures one to endless imaginative exploration and lulls one to oblivion of everything except its variety and picturesqueness. It becomes everything in fact except a school of judgment. One may note in connection with this use of history the usual interplay between scientific and emotional naturalism. Both forms of naturalism tend to turn man into the mere product and plaything of physical forces – climate, heredity, and the like, over which his will has no control. Since literature and history have no meaning from the point of view of moral choice they may at least be made to yield the maximum of æsthetic satisfaction. Oscar Wilde argues in this wise for example in his dialogue “The Critic as Artist," and concludes that since man has no moral freedom or responsibility, and cannot therefore be guided in his conduct by the past experience of the race, he may at least turn this experience into an incomparable "bower of dreams." "The pain of Leopardi crying out against life becomes our pain. Theocritus blows on his pipe and we laugh with the lips of nymph and shepherd. In the wolfskin of Pierre Vidal we flee before the hounds, and in the armor of Lancelot we ride from the bower of the queen. We have whispered the secret of our love beneath the cowl of Abelard, and in the stained raiment of Villon have put our shame into song,” etc.

The assumption that runs through this passage that the mere æsthetic contemplation of past experience gives the equivalent of actual experience is found in writers of far higher standing than Wilde — in Renan, for instance. The æsthete would look on his dream as a substitute for the actual, and at the same time convert the actual into a dream. (Die Welt wird Traum, der Traum wird Welt.) It is not easy to take such a programme of universal dreaming seriously. In the long run the dreamer himself does not find it easy to take it seriously. For his attempts to live his chimera result, as we have seen in the case of romantic love, in more or less disastrous defeat and disillusion. The disillusioned romanticist continues to cling to his dream, but intellectually, at least, he often comes at the same time to stand aloof from it. This subject of disillusion may best be considered, along with certain other important aspects of the movement, in connection with the singular phenomenon known as romantic irony. CHAPTER VII


The first romanticist who worked out a theory of irony was Friedrich Schlegel. The attempt to put this theory into practice, after the fashion of Tieck's plays, seemed and seemed rightly even to later representatives of the movement to be extravagant. Thus Hegel, who in his ideas on art continues in so many respects the Schlegels, repudiates irony. Formerly, says Heine, who is himself in any larger survey, the chief of German romantic ironists, when a man had said a stupid thing he had said it; now he can explain it away as “irony.” Nevertheless one cannot afford to neglect this early German theory. It derives in an interesting way from the views that the partisans of original genius had put forth regarding the rôle of the creative imagination. The imagination as we have seen is to be free to wander wild in its own empire of chimeras. Rousseau showed the possibilities of an imagination that is at once extraordinarily rich and also perfectly free in this sense. I have said that Kant believed like the original genius that the nobility of art depends on the free "play" of the imagination; though he adds that art should at the same time submit to a purpose that is not a purpose — whatever that may mean. Schiller in his “Æsthetic Letters" relaxed the rationalistic rigor of Kant in favor of feeling and associated even more emphatically the ideality and creativeness of art with its free imaginative play, its emancipation from specific aim. The personal friction that arose between the Schlegels and Schiller has perhaps obscured somewhat their general indebtedness to him. The Schlegelian irony in particular merely pushes to an extreme the doctrine that nothing must interfere with the imagination in its creative play. “The caprice of the poet," as Friedrich Schlegel says, "suffers no law above itself.” Why indeed should the poet allow any restriction to be placed upon his caprice in a universe that is after all only a projection of himself? The play theory of art is here supplemented by the philosophy of Fichte." In justice to him it should be said that though his philosophy may not rise above the level of temperament, he at least had a severe and stoical temperament, and if only for this reason his “transcendental ego" is far less obviously ego than that which appears in the irony of his romantic followers. When a man has taken possession of his transcendental ego, according to the Schlegels and Novalis, he looks down on his ordinary ego and stands aloof from it. His ordinary ego may achieve poetry but his transcendental ego must achieve the poetry of poetry. But there is in him something that may stand aloof even from this aloofness and so on indefinitely. Romantic irony joins here with what is perhaps the chief preoccupation of the German romanticists, the idea of the infinite or, as they term it, the striving for endlessness (Unendlichkeitstreben).

1 See especially Lyceum fragment, no. 108

1 A well-known example of the extreme to which the romanticists pushed their Fichtean solipsism is the following from the William Lovell of the youthful Tieck: "Having gladly escaped from anxious fetters, I now advance boldly through life, absolved from those irksome duties which were the inventions of cowardly fools. Virtue is, only because I am; it is but a reflection of my inner self. What care I for forms whose dim lustre I have myself brought forth? Let vice and virtue wed. They are only shadows in the mist,” etc.


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