Supplementary Appendix 288.1

George Brandes, “Social Endeavors of the Romanticists: Lucinde[*]

At the University of Jena, in June 1801, a young candidate for the degree of doctor stood on the rostrum delivering his thesis. Everything possible was done to put him out and annoy him; the unprecedented step was taken of providing opponents. One of these, a somewhat inept young man, desiring to distinguish himself, began: “In tractatu tuo erotico Lucinda dixisti” &c., &c. [“In your erotic treatise Lucinde, you said etc. etc.”] To this the candidate shortly responded by calling his opponent a fool.

A regular uproar ensued, and one of the professors indignantly declared that it was thirty years since the platform of the school of philosophy had been profaned by such disgraceful behaviour. The candidate retorted that it was thirty years since any one had been so disgracefully treated.

This candidate was Friedrich Schlegel, in those days so much dreaded on account of his terrible opinions that he was sometimes refused permission to spend a night in a town. In a rescript from the Universitets-Kuratorium of the Electorate of Hanover to the Pro-Rector of Göttingen, dated September 26, 1800 [letter/document 269], we read: “Should the Professor’s [Wilhelm Schlegel’s] brother, Friedrich Schlegel, notorious for the immoral tendency of his writings, come to Göttingen, purposing to stay there for any time, this is not to be permitted; you will be so good as to intimate to him that he must leave the town.”

Somewhat harsh justice this — and all the to-do was on account of Lucinde!

It is not the creative power displayed in it which makes Lucinde one of the most important works of the Romantic School, for, in spite of all the “fleshly” talk in the book, there is no flesh and blood in it, no real body. Neither is it depth of thought. There is more philosophy in the few paradoxical pages written by Schopenhauer under the title Metaphysik der Liebe than in pretentious Lucinde from beginning to end. It is not even a bacchantic joy in nature, in life. If we compare it with Heinse’s Ardinghello, a book glowing with genuine Southern joy of life, we see clearly how anæmic and theoretic Lucinde is.

It is as a manifesto and programme that the book is valuable. Its main idea is to proclaim the unity and harmony of life as revealed to us most clearly and most comprehensibly in the passion of love, which gives a sensual expression to the spiritual emotion, and spiritualises the sensual pleasure. What it aims at depicting is the transformation of real life into poetry, into art, into Schiller’s “play” of powers, into a dreamy, imaginative existence, with every longing satisfied, a life in which man, acting with no aim, living for no purpose, is initiated into the mysteries of nature, “understands the plaint of the nightingale, the smile of the new-born babe, and all that is mysteriously revealed in the hieroglyphics of flowers and stars.”

This book is totally misunderstood by those who, like Kierkegaard, arm themselves with a whole set of dogmatic principles, and fall upon it, exclaiming: “What it aims at is the unmitigated sensuality which excludes the element of spirituality; what it combats is the spirituality which includes an element of sensuality.” One can scarcely realise the blindness implied by such an utterance — but there are no better blinders than those provided by orthodoxy.

Nor is it possible really to understand Lucinde so long as, like [Karl Ferdinand] Gutzkow, we only see in it a vindication of the doctrine of free love, or, like Schleiermacher, a protest against incorporeal spirituality, a denunciation of the affected foolishness that denies and explains away flesh and blood.

The fundamental idea of the book is the Romantic doctrine of the identity of life and poetry. This serious thought, however, is presented in a form expressly calculated to win the laurels of notoriety. Our admiration is aroused by the bold, defiant tone of the author’s challenge, by the courage, born of conviction, with which he exposes himself to personal insult, and to public, ill-natured discussion of his private life.

Worthy of admiration, too, is the skill with which the different views and watchwords of Romanticism are collected and presented to us in small compass; for all the various tendencies of the movement, developed by so many different individuals, are to be seen in this one book, spreading fanwise from a centre.

But we are disgusted by the artistic impotence to which the so-called novel, in reality a mere sketch, bears witness, by its many beginnings that end in nothing, and by all the feeble self-worship which seeks to disguise barrenness by producing an artificial and unhealthy heat in which to hatch its unfertile eggs. Caroline Schlegel has preserved for us the following biting epigram, written soon after the book came out

Der Pedantismus bat die Phantasie 
Um einen Kuss, sie wies ihn an die Sünde; 
Frech, ohne Kraft, umarmt er die, 
Und sie genas mit einem todten Kinde, 
Genannt Lucinde.

[Pedantry asked Fancy for a kiss; she sent him to Sin; audaciously but impotently he embraces Sin; she bears him a dead child, by name Lucinde.”]

Beyond considering the word “sin” inappropriate — for Lucinde only sins against good taste and true poetry — I have no fault to find with this cruel satire.

At the very core of Lucinde we have once again subjectivity, self-absorption, in the form of an arbitrariness which may develop into anything — revolution, effrontery, bigotry, reaction — because it is not from the beginning associated with anything that is a power, because the Ego does not act in the service of an idea which could give to its endeavour stability and value; it acts neither in the service of civil nor of intellectual liberty.

This arbitrariness or lawlessness, which, in the domain of art, becomes the Friedrich Schlegelian “irony,” the artist’s attitude of aloofness from his subject, his free play with it (resulting, as far as poetry is concerned, in the dictatorship of pure form, which mocks at its own substance and destroys its own illusions), becomes in the domain of real life an irony which is the dominant feature in the characters and lives of the gifted few, the aristocracy of intellect.

This irony is a riddle to the profane, who “lack the sense of it.” It is “the freest of all licences,” because by its means a man sets himself outside of and above himself; yet it is also the most subject to law, being, we are told, unqualified and inevitable. It is a perpetual self-parody, incomprehensible to “the harmonious vulgar” (harmonisch Platten — the name bestowed by the Romanticists on those who live contentedly in a trivial, common-place harmony), who mistake its earnest for jest and its jest for earnest.

It is not merely in name that this irony bears a fundamental resemblance to Kierkegaard’s, which also aristocratically “chooses to be misunderstood.” The Ego of genius is the truth, if not in the sense in which Kierkegaard would have us understand his proposition, “Subjectivity is the truth,” still in the sense that the Ego has every externally valid commandment and prohibition in its power; and, to the astonishment and scandal of the world, invariably expresses itself in paradoxes.

Irony is “divine audacity.” In audacity thus comprehended there are endless possibilities. It is freedom from prejudice, yet it suggests the possibility of the most audacious defence of all possible kinds of prejudices. It is more easily attainable, we are told, by woman than by man. “Like the feminine garb, the feminine intellect has this advantage over the masculine, that its possessor by a single daring movement can rise above all the prejudices of civilisation and bourgeois conventionality, at once transporting herself into the state of innocence and the lap of Nature.”

The lap of Nature! There is an echo of Rousseau’s voice even in this wanton tirade. We seem to hear the trumpet-call of revolution; what we really hear is only the proclamation of reaction. Rousseau desired to return to the state of nature, when men roamed naked through the pathless forests and lived upon acorns. Schelling wished to turn the course of evolution back to the primeval ages, to the days before man had fallen. Schlegel blows revolutionary melodies on the great romantic “wonder-horn.” But, as we read in Des Knaben Wunderhorn: “Es blies ein Jäger wohl in sein Horn — Und Alles was er blies, das war verlorn.”

[“A hunter blew into his horn, and all that he blew the wind carried away.”]

The result is not intellectual emancipation, but simply a refinement of pleasure. The whole wide domain of love is transformed into the domain of art. As Romantic poetry is poetry to the second power, poetry about poetry, refined and chastened poetry, so the love of the Romanticists is refined and chastened love, “the art of love.” The different degrees of the higher sensuality are described and classified.

I refer the reader to Lucinde, which does not, like Ardinghello, present us with voluptuous descriptions, but merely with dry, pedantic theory, the empty framework of which it is left to the reader’s experience and imagination to fill. Romantic audacity is, in one of its aspects, idleness, the indolence of genius. Idleness is described as “the life-atmosphere of innocence and inspiration.” In its highest expression it is pure passivity, the life of the plant. “The highest, most perfect life is a life of pure vegetation.”

The Romanticists return to nature to such good purpose that they revert to the plant. Passive enjoyment of the eternally enduring moment would be their idea of perfection. “I meditated seriously,” says Julius to Lucinde, “upon the possibility of an eternal embrace.” As genius, which is independent of toil and trouble, and voluptuous enjoyment, which in itself is passive bliss, have nothing to do with aim, action, or utility, so idleness, dolce far niente [“pleasant idleness”], comes to be regarded as the best that life can offer, and purpose, which leads to systematic action, is denounced as ridiculous and philistine.

The principal utterance to this effect in Lucinde is the following: “Industry and utility are the angels of death with the flaming swords, who stand in the way of man’s return to Paradise.”

Yes, that is exactly what they are! Industry and utility bar the way back to all the Paradises which lie behind us. Therefore we hold them sacred! Utility is one of the main forms of good; and what is industry but the renunciation of distracting pleasures, the enthusiasm, the power, whereby this good is attained!

Return to perfection is, in art, a return to the lawlessness of genius, to the stage at which the artist may do one thing, or may do another which is exactly the opposite. In life it is the retrogression of idleness, for he who is idle goes back, back to passive pleasure. In philosophy it is the return to intuitive beliefs, beliefs to which Schlegel applies the name of religion; which religion in its turn leads back to Catholicism. As far as nature and history are concerned, it is retrogression towards the conditions of the primeval Paradise.

Thus it is the central idea of Romanticism itself — retrogression, which explains how it was that even the heaven-storming Lucinde, like all the other heaven-stormers of the Romanticists, had not the slightest practical outcome.


[*] From George Brandes, The Romantic school in Germany (1873), Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature 2 (London 1902), 70–74. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott