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M. SCHLEGEL's Lectures in the late work on Germany by Madame de Stael:
“W. SCHLEGEL has given a course of Dramatic Literature at Vienna, which comprises everything remarkable that has been composed for the theatre from the time of the Grecians to our own days : it is not a barren nomenclature of the works of the various authors; he seizes the spirit of their different sorts of literature with all the imagination of a poet. We are sensible that to produce such consequences extraordinary studies are required: but learning is not perceived in this work, except by his perfect knowledge of the chefs-d'æuvre of composition. In a few pages we reap the fruit of the labour of a whole life; every opinion formed by the author, every epithet given 10 the writers of whom he speaks, is beautiful and just, concise and animated. He has found the art of treating the finest pieces of poetry as so many wonders of nature, and of painting them in lively colours which do not injure the justness of the outline; for we cannot repeat too often, that imagination, far from being an enemy to truth, brings it forward more than any other faculty of the mind; and all those who depend upon it as an excuse for indefinite terms or exaggerated expressions, are at least as destitute of poetry as of good sense.
“ An analysis of the principles on which both tragedy and comedy are founded, is treated in this course with much depth of philosophy: this kind of merit is often found among the German writers; but Schlegel has no equal in the art of inspiring his own admiration ; in general, he shows himself attached to a simple taste, sometimes bordering on rusticity : but he deviates from his usual opinions in favour of the inhabitants of the south. Their play on words is not the object of his censure; he detests the affectation which owes its existence to the spirit of society : but that which is excited by the luxury of imagination pleases him, in poetry, as the profusion of colours and perfumes would do in nature. SCALEGEL, after having acquired a great reputation by his translation of Shakspeare, became also enamoured of Calderon, but with a very different sort of attachment from that with which Shakspeare had inspired him; for while the English author is deep and gloomy in his knowledge of the human heart, the Spanish poet gives himself up with pleasure and delight to the beauty of life, to the sincerity of faith, and to all the brilliancy of those virtues which derive their colouring from the sunshine of the soul.
“I was at Vienna when W. SCHLEGEL gave his public course of Lectures. I expected only good sense and instruction where the object was merely to convey information: I was astonished to hear a critic as eloquent as an orator, and who, far from falling upon defects, which are the eternal food of mean and little jealousy, sought only the means of reviving a creative genius."
Thus far Mad. de Stael.-In taking upon me to become the interpreter of a work of this description to my countrymen, I am aware that I have incurred no slight degree of responsibility. How I have executed my task it is not for me to speak, but for the reader to judge. This much, however, I will say,—that I have always endeavoured to discover the true meaning of the author, and that I believe I have seldom mistaken it. Those who are best acquainted with the psychological riches of the German language, will be the most disposed to look on my labour with an eye of indulgence.
From the size of the present work, it will not be expected that it should contain either a course of dramatic literature bibliographically complete, or a history of the theatre compiled with antiquarian accuracy. Of books containing dry accounts and lists of names there are already enough. My purpose was to give a general view, and to develope those ideas which ought to guide us in our estimate of the value of the dramatic productions of various ages and nations.
The greatest part of the following Lectures, with the exception of a few observations of a secondary nature, the suggestion of the moment, were delivered orally as they now appear in print. The only alteration consists in a more commodious distribution, and here and there in additions, where the limits of the time prevented me from handling many matters with uniform minuteness. This may afford a compensation for the animation of oral delivery which sometimes throws a veil over deficiencies of expression, and always excites a certain degree of expectation.
I delivered these Lectures, in the spring of 1808, at Vienna, to a brilliant audience of nearly three hundred individuals of both sexes. The inhabitants of Vienna have long been in the habit of refuting the injurious descriptions which many writers of the North of Germany have given of that capital, by the kindest reception of all learned men and artists belonging to those regions, and by the most disinterested warmth which a just sensibility has not been able to cool. I found here the cordiality of better times united with that amiable animation of the South, which is often denied to German seriousness, and the universal diffusion of a keen taste for intellectual entertainment. To this circumstance alone I must attribute it that not a few of the men
who hold the most important places at court, in the state, and in the army, artists and literary men of merit, women of the choicest social cultivation, not merely paid me an occasional visit, but devoted to me an uninterrupted attention.
With joy I seize this fresh opportunity of laying my gratitude at the feet of the benignant monarch who, in the permission to deliver these Lectures communicated to me by way of distinction immediately from his own hand, gave me an honourable testimony of his gracious confidence, which I, as a foreigner who had not the happiness to be born under his sceptre, and merely felt myself bound as a German and a citizen of the world to wish him every blessing and prosperity, could not possibly have merited.
Many enlightened patrons and zealous promoters of everything good and becoming have merited my gratitude for the assistance which they gave to my undertaking, and the encouragement which they afforded me during its execution.
The whole of my auditors rendered my labour extremely agreeable to me by their indulgence, their attentive participation, and their readiness to distinguish, in a feeling manner, every passage which seemed worthy of their applause.
It was a flattering moment for me, which I shall never forget, when, in the last hour, after I had called up recollections of the old German renown sacred to every one possessed of true patriotic sentiment, and when the minds of my auditors were thus more solemnly attuned, I was at last obliged to take my leave powerfully agitated by the reflection that this relation, founded on a common love for a nobler mental cultivation, would be so soon dissolved, and that I should never again see those together who were then assembled around me. A general emotion was perceptible, excited by so much that I could not say, but respecting which our hearts understood each other. In the mental dominion of thought and poetry, inaccessible to worldly power, the Germans, who are separated in so many ways from each other, still feel their unity; and in this feeling, whose interpreter the writer and orator must be, amidst our clouded prospects we may still cherish the elevating presage of the great and immortal calling of our people, who from time immemorial have remained unmixed in their present habitations.
Geneva, February, 1809.