Supplementary Appendix 256.2

Ludwig Ferdinand Huber’s Review of Lucinde [*]

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 130 (Wednesday, 7 May 1800) 297–300

Berlin, bei Frölich: Lucinde. A novel by Friedrich Schlegel. Part 1. 1799. 300 pages. 8vo.

It requires not inconsiderable effort to separate out, as is certainly necessary, the various feelings elicited by this piece in order to waste — to waste — a few words of criticism regarding it; for public opinion must already have condemned it, something vouchsafed by the author’s own well-known name.

If, then, it is no longer a matter merely of denouncing before the public one of the most intolerable sins any writer has ever committed toward that public, it is then difficult to find any other goal for the sake of which — in order to justify for oneself or others that which one has felt — one would painfully endure the boredom and disgust, the astonishment and contempt, the shame and sadness with which every sensible reader casts this Lucinde away.

It might perhaps be of some interest for the study of human nature to ask whether such deeply rooted self-deception and a sick disposition make such a humanly organized being, one capable of authoring and publishing such a book, seem worthy of pity, or whether such a degree of folly still stands under the control of free volition in the first place and is thus to be attributed merely to an excess of self-conceit, which in its own turn, given its manifestations here, is necessarily to be acknowledged as a highly unnatural and pitiable condition. Such a psychological discussion, however, would not constitute a review of the book.

Fortunately, all the zealous stirrings prompted by transgressions of morality can be repressed in the case of the latter, since the libertinage engaged by the author is rendered harmless by his own metaphysical-poetic nonsense; moreover, in the case of the “doltish enthusiasm” (p. 30 [50]), which for the author seems to reside “essentially and congenitally in the nature of the male,” and which, as he adds, is “godlike almost to grossness,” the genuine doltishness and soi-disant enthusiasm [1] fairly balance each other out — a fortunate situation for young people, who might otherwise find detrimental pleasure in blunt or fiery portrayals of lewdness.

This similarly applies to the most shameful passages, those meant to be Aretinian, e.g., to the pristine “Dithyrambic Fantasy on the Loveliest Situation” [46], allegedly the “wittiest and most beautiful” “of all the shapes and situations of happiness” [49]. And if ever things get so far that Lucinde is edited in usum Delphini, [2] one can easily let all these passages simply stand as they are, since in these cases even the cheekiest and most precocious royal child will sooner yawn or laugh than be initiated into dangerous mysteries.

Although the words “humorous,” “wanton,” “relaxed,” and the like appear in virtually every line of this book, they are but cold expressions and empty singsong. Humor, wantonness, relaxation: everything characterizing the animated, happy, unrestrained life of young people — and which in works of art characterized by animated, happy, and unrestrained youth also severely presses the jurisdiction of morality — here hardly finds even a tiny space because of so much vain, stiff bizarreness and affectation.

Hence as bad as the entire doctrine of Lucinde admittedly is, just as little need one fear that it will find much acceptance. Instead, most of the more modest examples of questionable behavior which tend to attach to young people, exaggerated and caricatured to the extreme they are here, will merely seem so ridiculous and inane to anyone who still has his head and heart in the right place, that ultimately the author of Lucinde would at the very least have provided the moral lesson intended by those slaves through whom the vice of drunkenness was once illustrated.

Hence, e.g., although warm blood, a lively imagination, and passionate striving can often enough bring a young man into serious conflict with public opinion, even a modicum of good taste will enable him to become reconciled with that opinion when in the “Allegory of Impudence” (p. 40) [53] he reads that public opinion is in fact an “ugly monster” that has “crablike claws opening up on all sides,” “jumps like a frog” etc. [53], and finally “with a powerful blow” is “cast on its back” by the author’s protagonist, in which position it appears to him “to be nothing more than a common frog.”

The author does deserve at least the attestation that in most of his utterances, everything can in fact be turned upside down or inside out without changing their meaning or non-meaning in the slightest. Hence, to take the examples already adduced, one can just as easily say “gross almost to being godlike” as “godlike almost to grossness”; his “doltishness” might as easily be “enthusiastic” as his “enthusiasm” “doltish,” etc.

That said, however, his declaration, p. 37 [52] that he constantly has a certain “ideal” that he always wants to keep before himself “so as never to stray from the fine line of propriety in this little work of art,” sooner — and unfortunately — ends up exactly as does the cry on p. 269 [120] that “now everything is clear!” after the egregiously incomprehensible and impenetrable verbiage concerning “what, then, is the definer or the defined itself? For the man it is the anonymous. And what is the anonymous for the woman? The indefinite” [119] — impenetrable verbiage in which, given its “shameless heroic art of begetting life” p. 263 [119], one can hardly see that he would in fact also like to be loose and easy, or, in the words of the author’s own fondest wish and favorite expression, “impudent.”

May the author allow this reviewer but this single remark. Herr Friedrich Schlegel claims, as is well known, to admire Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre; [3] — should it now not be an argumentum ad hominem for him that either that particular novel, with its lofty, noble simplicity, its steady economy amid infinite richness, and its even treatment of even the most elevated or strange material, or Lucinde, with its incessant convolutedness and bizarreness of expression and ideas, with its affected incomprehensibility even with respect to the most ordinary ideas and feelings — must not either the one or the other of these novels be a bungled attempt? Will he, who after all cannot be denied to possess a certain measure of spirit and wit, not with time inevitably realize that the relationship between Wilhelm Meister and Lucinde is exactly the same as that between Garrick and the actor whom the upright Partridge, for such obvious reasons, placed so high above Garrick? [4]

A country pastor in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre remarks concerning the unfortunate harpist whose cure he has undertaken that “if I can only induce him to get rid of his beard and his hood, I shall have achieved wonders. Nothing more disposes us to madness than affecting singularity, and nothing assists more to preserve our common sense, than a life spent in the ordinary manner, amidst general society.” [5]

The beard and hood are unmistakable in the few passages we have adduced here, and unfortunately virtually anyone who reads Lucinde cannot avoid seeing that almost everything about it is in fact beard and hood; what is worse, a condition such as this, coming as it does from the head through the quill and onto paper and then even onto printed paper, cannot possibly elicit the same interest, the same belief as when it simply appears in real life. — It thus seems:

Though this be madness, yet there’s method in’t. [6]

In the case of Rousseau, the suspicion that his literary bizarreness was caused primarily by immeasurable vanity and concomitant affectation would have persisted forever had not various parts of his literary estate not removed all doubt concerning the unfortunate salutary intactness of his mental state. One need hardly point out that we are in no way intending any comparison between the author of La nouvelle Heloïse and the author of Lucinde. The example of Rousseau does, however, demonstrate the presumption of trying to demarcate the boundary between affected and natural bizarreness among such phenomena within the literary world.

In any event, a certain measure of bizarreness is indeed required in order to affect a high degree of bizarreness; that is, the attempt to place oneself into an unnatural condition is itself not a natural condition; a peculiarly distorted, extravagant mind, one wandering about aimlessly in empty space, however, can certainly exhibit interesting and dignified characteristics separating it from the more common off-center minds, and that this is indeed the case specifically with regard to Herr Friedrich Schlegel can be seen not only from other products of his quill, but even from this one, that is, after one has overcome the inevitable disinclination invariably prompted wherever one values healthy taste, healthy understanding, and healthy emotions.

Hence one can but let time itself determine whether it can remove beard and hood from the author of Lucinde that he may one day join the literary world the way the harpist, without beard and frock, might have joined the bourgeois world. Criticism can admittedly not be accurate with respect to such writings without insulting the authors; hence it must do without being immediately useful precisely to them.


[*] Translations from Lucinde and bracketed pagination from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis 1971). — Footnotes from present editor. Back.

[1] Fr., “so-called, alleged enthusiasm.” Back.

[2] Latin, “for the use of the Dauphin, expurgated.” Back.

[3] Huber was, of course, familiar with Friedrich’s essay “Über Goethe’s Meister,” Athenaeum (1798) 323–54. Back.

[4] See the supplementary appendix on Friederike Unzelmann, note 30. Back.

[5] Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Ein Roman, 4 vols. (Berlin 1795–96), book 5, chapter 16 (trans. here Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. A Novel from the German of Goethe, trans. R. Dillon Boylan [London 1867], 323). Back.

[6] Hamlet, act ii, scene ii, spoken by Polonius. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott