Vladimir Fritsche 1908
Author: Vladimir Fritsche;
First published: 1908 in Очерки по истории западно-европейской литературы (Essays on the History of Western European Literature), pp. 106-125;
Translated: by Anton P.
The great revolution, which ended the 18th century with a grave social cataclysm, not only shook the social system of France to its foundations, but also threatened to blow up the old order in those countries, where it still held fast. Therefore, as soon as the bourgeois classes exhausted the swap of power into the revolution, it began not only in France, but also in Germany, a response from the side of the feudal monarchies, who rushed to consolidate their social positions, their dilapidated strength.
In the era of the revolution, the French nobility was forcibly deprived of their landed property and had to emigrate to foreign lands. The intellectual center of this class turned out to be not at home. Conscious of its uselessness, it plunged into a deep melancholy. The intellectual-nobleman became a “superfluous” man.
The artistic symbol of this generation of the noble intelligentsia is René Chateaubriand (the hero of the story of the same name, inserted into the book “The Genius of Christianity,” and the novel “Les Natchez”). A descendant of an old Norman aristocratic family, René inherited from his ancestors a pathological predisposition to melancholy. He grew up in an ancient castle, and even at that time he loved to dream of monastic solitude. As a young man, he went to travel and was involuntarily drawn to the ruins of the dead cities and states, “where there is more life.” For a long time he sat on the stones of the Roman Colosseum and thought a gloomy thought about the futility of everything. Sometimes, feeling himself capable of creating a “whole world,” René did not know what to apply his strength to. He went farther and farther away from people with whom he had nothing “in common,” and sank deeper and deeper into the holy darkness of despair. He would like “not to have been born on this earth.” Feeling foreign to his homeland, he goes to America, settles among the Redskin tribe, marries a savage. His contemporary writer Senancour portrayed a variation of this type of superfluous human in his novel “Obermann.” Both René and Obermann go away from people into loneliness, where they indulge in fruitless self-contemplation and introspection, look from all sides at the most insignificant swap of sensations, reach extreme nervous sensitivity, then plunge into a daydreaming about the insignificant person of the person who is transient in the “world of transient things.”
When the reactionaries won in France, the Bourbons returned to the throne and the prestige of the Catholic Church was restored, this aristocratic intelligentsia, from whom disappointed hermits had recently emerged from the family of René and Obermann, also returned to her homeland, where she now had a wide field of activity. Since she was gifted, artistic or publicistic talent, she carried her inspiration and pen to the service of the reaction. The first concern of this group of feudal reactionaries was to restore “order” in all spheres of life, which was undermined by the revolution.
The French democrats slinged the family on the basis of an agreement between husband and wife and were supporters of divorce. Bonald – the main publicist of the reactionaries – asserted. on the contrary, that the family should be founded on the basis of the father’s unlimited authority and the unconditional subordination of the wife and children, and that marriage, as a sacrament, should under no circumstances be subject to dissolution. The democrats demanded the destruction of the estates and equality of all citizens. Bonald, on the contrary, considered only such a society as normal, which was divided into an immobile class, and some were called to rule and obey the other. The democrats of France saw in the monarch only an official, temporarily chosen by the people, Bonald considered his power to be the same God-sanctioned, national and inalienable, like the power in the family of the patron-father.
The publicists and poets of reaction tried to restore everything back to the estate-monarchist system, but also give greater power to the Catholic Church. In his books “On the Pope” de Maistre again subordinates the thought and feeling of man to the infallible mind of the Roman high priest and put next to him, as his executive power, the executioner-inquisitor, persecuting heretics and rioters. In his book “The Genius of Christianity” Chateaubriand composes enthusiastic hymns to the Catholic religion, to its morals and aesthetics, and speaks with a shudder in his voice about the meaning of holy tapestries, about the charm of ancient Gothic cathedrals, about the poetry and evening bells. According to Lamartine, these reactionaries “the more they turned to God and bowed to Christ, the calmer and more relieved they felt.”
The miraculously healing effect of the Christian religion on the human soul is a common theme of the exotic and historical novels of Chateaubriand (Atala, Les Martyrs) and the dreamy lyrics of Lamartine (Harmonies poétiques et religieuses).
The poets of the reactionary era also revived naive medieval mysticism, carrying themselves into the real life of the afterlife and its inhabitants. In the fantastic stories of Nodier, the hair dryer and vampires are constantly running and walking in the old haunted castles. These poets revived the dark half-necked dualism of the mothers of the spirit. For the democrats, nature itself was a deity who taught them how to obstinate society and how to relate to each other, and they wrote the word nature itself only with a capital letter. For the poets of reaction, nature was only a product of her existing Creator and, painting a beautiful landscape, they pomped over her the image of an omnipotent personal God (Lamartine: “Thoughts” and “Raphael”). For the democrats, love was both a physical and a mental feeling. For the poets of reaction, as for the medieval ascetics, sensual love was a devil’s inducement, unworthy of Christ! In Chateaubriand’s red-skinned “Atala,” Chactas wants to take possession of Atala, who loves him, who accepted Christianity, and she is ready after a prolonged internal struggle to surrender to him, from the clouds hanging over them falls directly into their heads, praying like a warning sent by heaven. When in the novel by the same Chateaubriand “Les Martyrs” the Christian Eudore converges with a pagan priestess Veleda, it seems to him that “the hell itself is giving the signal to this wedding, the spirits of darkness rejoice, the flamboyant spouses of the patriarchs turn their faces away and his own guardian angel flies into heaven in horror.”
These poets opposed physical passion with a platonic feeling. In Lamartine’s “Raphael,” the hero and the heroine love each other (though not voluntarily, but out of necessity) with just such a purely spiritual love and find the highest happiness in it – “to the height of pure thought – she speaks when she is profane, sinking into the bottom of vulgar feelings.” Sometimes these poets took their Platonic theory of love to the extreme and put on a woman’s place, as an object of passion, some kind of non-existent image: so, in one of Nodier’s stories, the hero is in love with the Queen of Sheba and when he has to choose between death by hanging and marrying a young girl, he is not at all disgusted, he still chooses death, because he wants to exchange his love for the ideal dream.
The greatest poet of the reactionary era, Victor Hugo, gave the most complete and vivid picture of the revived Medieval life. V. Hugo made his debut as a pure-blooded reactionary – directing his “Odes et Ballades” against the godless democrats, like a true knight of the throne and the altar, in a wild dance under the arches of the old Church. These sketches V. Hugo collected, expanded and deepened in the novel “The Cathedral of Notre Dame,” showing a wide and variegated picture of Medieval everyday life, over which a gigantic a Gothic cathedral with its round multi-colored window, similar to the sun, its airy gallery, similar to the threshold of heaven, with its arrow-shaped turrets and light arcades, descending up to the heights. Waves of life rise and fall around, waves of life come and go away, everything is subject to morphology and phonation: only this petrified symbol of medium-scale religious creativity, stands unshakably, reminding of vivid heavens.
Like in France, so in Germany, in the first quarter of the 19th century, the intelligentsia served the interests of royal power and the nobility. This intelligentsia, to which Tieck, Novalis, the Schlegel brothers, Eichendorff, Arnim, Hoffman, and others belonged, was called Romantic.
In terms of their social and political views, the Romantics were supporters of the Medieval monarchical organization of society and ardent opponents of constitutionalism. They put the sovereign patriarch at the head of state, connected with the people not by a “contemptible paper” (constitution), but by a spiritual and moral bond that unites father and children into one family. Between the separate estates, strictly delimited, there is a loving and supportive relationship, as between the monarch and the subjects, because of these relations people at the top rule in the interests of the lower ones, and the lower voluntarily submit to the custody of the people at the top (Tieck, Novalis, Adam Müller).
The Romantics idealized not only the Medieval state, but also the Medieval church. Lutheran by birth, they almost completely adopted Catholicism. Like Novalis, they loved to be transported into the Middle Ages, when all of Europe represented a single kingdom under the scepter of the Roman high priest, and they realized that a single universal or Catholic church would be created on earth again, which would receive into its bosom all souls longing for despair. The Romantics worshiped not only the Medieval political and church institutions, but they tried to revive Medieval religious art. In his “Outpourings From the Heart of an Art-Loving Monk,” Wackenroder outlined in a few words the religious aesthetics of the Romantics. Proceeding from the idea that “beauty is God and God is beauty,” he argued that art is itself religion, and the artist is the real priest of the Most High. This mastery of religion and art was one of the reasons that attracted Romantics to Catholicism, which influenced their imaginations, mainly with its aesthetic side, the paintings of Madonna, the magnificent liturgical service with church music. Romantics did a lot for the study of Medieval literature, arousing interest in Dante, as well as in such poets like Shakespeare and Calderón who were close to the Medieval world of contemplation.
The Romantics revived Medieval religious superstitions, the world of ghosts and spirits. As average dreamers, they constantly confused reality with dreaming, and dreaming with reality. In Tieck’s fairytale “Der blonde Eckbert,” the hero escapes to the world of dreams after the death of his wife hoping to get reunited with her through fantasy, but the dreams present to him the picture of reality and that his previous life was instead a dream, to which he reacts by losing his mind and committing suicide. In another of Tieck’s works, “Friends,” the hero enters the castle of poetry, where everything he dreamed about takes on a real form, and it seems to him that earlier, when he lived in real life, all that he saw was only a dream. By constantly confusing reality and dreaming, the Romantics gave dreaming the meaning to reality.
In Kleist’s drama “Käthchen von Heilbronn” the girl wakes up at night and sees a knight standing on the threshold, holding an angel by the hand. She sinks in front of them, but soon disappears. After a few days, she stumbles into her father’s workshop upon the very same knight and becomes attached to him with some kind of force, leaving her home and following him everywhere like a slave, meekly enduring his beatings and sleeping in the grooms on the straw next to the horses. At the end of the story, it turns out that the vision that manifested itself in front of the girl was not a vision, but a man made of flesh and eyebrows, a knight, undressed and left to lie in the bed, his soul, clothed in a second darkness, went to wander around the earth, and looked into the small house, because she immediately recognized him when she saw him in her father’s workshop. The Romantics also gave objective outlines to their subjective experiences. In Hoffmann’s novel “The Devil’s Elixirs,” Medardus, thrown into prison for a crime, is waiting to hear his fate. Suddenly a stone slab of the floor falls through and another man is looking at him, in the same suit and with the same face: it is his conscience, embodied in tangible contours. Without a wicked distinction between dreams and reality, the Romantics created a world inhabited not only with people, but also with ghosts. In Arnim’s novel “Countess Delores,” the old count, after a long separation, returns to his ancestral castle and just cannot get used to the strange behavior of his wife and servants: only little by little it becomes clear to him that they are dazed and that he is in trouble with ghosts. With their penchant for everything fantastic, the Romantics loved to create their images in such a way that either took away from a human being attributes that belonged to him, or added qualities to him, taking away from others. In the work of Chamisso “Peter Schlemihl,” the tragic fate of the hero is determined by the darkness of his circumstance, like other “people of darkness,” and in the story of Hoffmann “Little Zaches” the hero gives up a brilliant career, because every clever word and every good thing is attributed to him spoken and accomplished in his presence.
The Romantics also emphasized fantasy in their views on love. They insisted that every man has a ready (female or male) ideal and he is looking for its embodiment in life. To designate this ideal, the Romantics invented the most varied and bizarre symbols. In Novalis’s novel “Heinrich von Ofterdingen” the hero craves for a blue flower, from which he will erase the girl’s face and then find it later in the daughter of the wizard Klingsor to fulfill his dream, and in Hoffmann’s Golden Pot the hero will appear “in the whole image” in front of Serpentine, embodying the dream of love. Very often, for a Romantic, this dream went beyond its concrete realization not in any real woman, but even in the image on the canvas of a Catholic saint: so Hoffmann’s monk Medardus falls in love with an artist’s painting depicting Saint Rosalia, and this image painfully persecutes him for many years. In the end, the Romantics became victims of this hallucinating love for ghosts and came to a pessimistic conviction of the impossibility of love for real beings. As such a dreamer-pessimist, Hoffmann portrayed Don Juan, who, seeking everywhere the embodiment of his ideal, is constantly deceived, passing from one woman to another, gradually becomes embittered and distressed.
Like the ideologues of the nobility, freed from the need to work, the Romantics elevated idleness into an integral philosophy. In the story “Lucinda” Friedrich Schlegel argued that not having to work is the source of true happiness. When Adam and Eve lived in Paradise, they were relieved of the need to work, and when they were expelled from Eden, two angels with fiery swords stood in front of its gates to block humanity from entering it and the names of these angels were “work” and “benefit.” Schlegel considered the highest types of man to be the Neapolitan Lazzaroni, infinitely warming in the suns, immersed in nirvana. The right not to do anything – under the command of Schlegel – distinguishes even now the noble “caste of aristocrats.” In his admiration for the idle, Schlegel achieved what he proclaimed to be the ideal existence without will or vegetation. Many Romantic heroes are also apostles of sloth and indolence. So in the story of Eichendorff “The Life of a Good-for-Nothing” the young miller spends his entire day on the grass, out of work, and sometimes it seems to him that from there he is about to disintegrate into parts. Finally, he takes his inseparable violin and goes to Italy, where, according to his conviction, he can live his whole life lying on his back on the ground, as grapes and raisins fall into his mouth.
The Romantics brought this passive mood into their own religious and philosophical concessions. The theologian Schleiermacher argued that the true essence of religion lies not in the active love of one’s neighbor, but in the passive contemplation of the infinite; In Schelling’s philosophical system, the creative absolute (God) is immersed in the same passive, motionless state.
The only activity that the Romantics allowed is that in which there is almost no volitional element, that is, artistic creativity. They considered the representatives of art to be the happiest people, and in their works, along with knights chained in armor, poets, painters and musicians usually appear. Schelling considered an artist to be incomparably higher than a philosopher, because the secret of the world can be guessed from his minutia not by systematic logical thinking, but only by direct artistic intuition (“intellectual intuition”). Romantics loved to dream of such legendary countries, where all life with its everyday cares gave way to the eternal holiday of poetry. In Eichendorff’s story “The Marble Statue” is depicted the fantastic Itashya, all covered with gardens of love, in which from morning to evening the sounds of music are heard, and poets read swap poems; In Hölderlin’s novel “Hyperion,” the hero dreams of freeing Greece from the Turkish yoke in order to restore the “state of the muses,” the “theocracy of beauty” of the times of Pericles and Sophocles, and Novalis draws in the novel “Heinrich von Ofterdingen” the fabulous island of Atlantis, where poetry is put on the throne, and all life has become an embodied poem. The quietistic and aesthetic mood of Romanticism, the reflection and idealization of the mood of the aristocracy, again emerges in Schopenhauer’s philosophical system “The World as Will and Representation,” ending with a pessimistic chord. Schopenhauer argued that at the heart of the world and man lies the “will to life,” which leads them to suffering and boredom, and happiness can be experienced only by those who free themselves from its oppressive domination. Schopenhauer’s ideal human being is, first of all, an artist who, at the moment of aesthetic perception and reproducing the world and life, is in a state, which Kant has already called “weak-willed contemplation,” – forgetting in this moment about his personal interests, worries and aspirations. But the artist is freed from the power of the will only temporarily. As soon as he turns into an ordinary mortal, his greedy will again raises its voice and throws him into the embrace of disappointment and boredom. Above the artist stands, therefore, the Hindu sage, the holy ascetic, swiftly scourging and killing all desires and strivings, even during his lifetime plunged into nothingness, into nirvana. Just as the views of the Romantics, so the philosophy of Schopenhauer, with its purist and aesthetic attitudes, was a product of aristocratic culture, having grown up in the middle of old pompous estates and noble living rooms, and it is not surprising that in Germany, a country so immersed in such an ideology, the bourgeois democratic years began only in the 1840s. The only one of the Romantics who lived to this era, Eichendorff, turned vehemently against democracy, and the revolution of 1848 was met by him and Schopenhauer with the same primal enmity with which the German nobility met it.
The steam engine, invented at the end of the 18th century in England, revolutionized Western European society even to a much greater degree than the uprising of the Third Estate in France. From now on, the severity of economic life was transferred to the cities, the centers of the factory industry, and large businessmen-capitalists became the dominant class. The manufactory was reborn into a factory, the semi-proprietor, who worked at home at his small machine, turned into a poor proletarian, attached to a giant machine. In the history of humanity, a new period opened up – the first stage of large-scale capitalist production on the world market.
The industrial revolution, which initially manifested itself in England, provoked here, first of all, a reaction on the part of social groups interested in the preservation of old pre-capitalist forms of production, reacting similarly to the way that these groups in France and Germany reacted to the political revolution of the third estate. Like the French reactionaries and the German Romantics, there was also a group of writers in England who sought to restore the good old times, which the machine and capital now threatened with destruction. They were Walter Scott, in whose youthful poems and then his historical novels, the life and customs of feudal society are glorified, Coleridge, who revived the form of the Medieval ballad of folk rebellion and legend, and Wordsworth, the poet of the working peasantry, who in his poem “Wanderings” curses at the factory towns for devastating the village, tearing the peasants away from their native fields to throw them into the stinking air filled with the hum of machines.
Under the imposing industrial revolution, which brought the capitalist class to the forefront, the aristocrats in possession of power were losing inch by inch their former dominant position. And when a class is going through a similar crisis, then its leading intelligentsia usually leaves it and either ideologically joins a new group of masters, or, remaining out of touch with any group of society, turns into groundless protesters and militant anarchists. It was this declassed intelligentsia of aristocratic origin that left the imprint of her spirit on English literature of the first quarter of the 19th century. Some of these renegade aristocrats participated in the wars of foreign nations for their freedom from the yoke of Napoleon, turned into wandering apostles, revolting, making friends with prominent European democrats and idealizing the ancient paradise of the Roman and Athenian republic. Others, like Trelawny, left their homeland, entered the service of some idealist adventurous navy, which rode the waves of the ocean in the name of the establishment of a world republic, and attacked merchant ships flying the English flag.
Both the greatest poets of the era – Byron and Shelley – were vivid types of such declassed aristocratic revolutionaries.
Byron perfectly grasped the socially-economic revolution, which, before his very eyes, was taking place in the life of European societies. He saw how a big capitalist becomes the owner of the field, “whose possessions do not see the edge”: “they are bringing rich gifts from India, Ceylon and China, he is subject to the worlds, everywhere to see the golden harvest only for him.” He saw that the “bankers” became the real “monarchs,” to whose “capital we give the laws: then they shatter the thrones.” At the same time, in the eyes of the aristocrat Byron, the personification of this new economic force, which was rebuilding the entire world, was a Jew, “the Jew Rothschild” (see Don Juan). Byron saw that “not passion, but gold reigns over all.” In the drama “Werner, or the Inheritance” he showed what kind of decomposing dent this new splash has on the aristocratic psyche. Need forces the hero, from whom his business has been stolen, to commit the most heinous crime that exists in the eyes of the noble caste – theft, so that even his own son turns away from him with contempt.
Byron hated not only the bourgeoisie, but also the large cities she created. He loved to repeat Cowper’s words: “God created the world, and mortals created cities.” In these cities, people live in a “puny and pitiful” crowd, people who are turned into monkeys by fashion, they are oppressed by sadness and they quarrel over trifles. To the stuffy and crowded city, Byron opposed a free life in nature, like the lazy columns of the American General Boone, who went away from his fellow citizens there, “where the air is cleaner, loving the space and quietness and the thicker tribe that grew around nature: malice was alien to them, they were revived by the light spirit of freedom, only free-flowing love for good lived in them” (Don Juan). The heroes of Byron – the flesh of his flesh – therefore feel themselves to be deprived and alien in the modern bourgeois-urban society. Childe Harold leaves his homeland and retires to nature, like a hermit. The magician watched the stars, filled them with a wondrous world, and the earthly ball disappeared before it. His friends were the mountains, his motherland was a proud ocean. Manfred, with a curse, will leave people and live alone, following the blaze of lightning and the fall of autumn leaves on damp earth, hating deeper and deeper the entire human race. If some of Byron’s heroes escape to nature, then others become enemies of society, to whom they declare a merciless war, like the Corsair, or Werner’s son, the knight Ulrich, who enters a “black gang” of lazy robbers and thieves.
Standing outside bourgeois society, not adhering to any of its classes, Byron was a revolutionary leader without a definite socio-political program. True, when the Luddites in Northern England destroyed the machines, and when the law was discussed in the House of Lords, suggesting the death penalty for damage to the household inventory, Byron came out in defense of the working class, reminding the gentlemen that their economic and political power was built on the labors of workers, “Working in their fields and serving in their homes, managing their ships and supplying soldiers for their troops.” “I consider it my duty to tell you,” Byron said to the lords, “that you are striving with amazing speed to help your political allies, and that you leave the disadvantaged of your own country to the care of only Providence ... of the parish.” But, although the ruling classes later did not reveal their exploitative characteristics in relation to the working class, Byron didn’t act again as a defender of his native country’s workers. All his revolutionary energy was directed towards the liberation of the enslaved nations from the foreign yoke. Childe Harold has already fought all over the world as the apostle of national self-liberation. In Spain, he mourned that the descendants of the knights who fought against the Moors degenerated into a generation of slaves who were in awe of Napoleon. In Italy, he was indignant that people had too much indulged in the cult of beauty and therefore fell under the power of foreigners, and in Greece he remembered the glory of the warriors of Marathon and called on the people to rise up against the Turks. Byron himself took a double part, first in the movement of the Italian Carbonari against Austrian domination, and then in the struggle for the liberation of Greece from the Turkish yoke.
Byron’s revolutionary pathos found itself a distant exit into religious protest, cast, like in the mysteries of “Cain,” into the form of indignation against the divine world order. Between the fact of the whole family of Adam having long been reconciled to slavery and fearfully bowing down to God, Cain alone does not want to get used to the thought of having banished from Eden for someone else’s crime and doomed to work till death for his parents. When Lucifer appears in front of him, Cain must make sure that the omnipresent existence is connected with destruction and life is impossible without suffering and death. Such a universe, he thinks, cannot fill the heart of God with satisfaction. “To create in order to destroy, what kind of happiness is this?” Anger against the Creator of this imperfect and unjust world rises into the soul of Cain, and when a hurricane overturns his bloodless victim, Cain murders Abel in protest against universal death.
Until the end of his life, Byron kept his hope in revolution, which “alone can save the world from the filth that corrupts it,” but, as a man declassed and groundless, he conceived this revolution in a purely negative way, like a hurricane, sweeping away all the old world, which was creating power, creating a new system. Before his mental gaze, in general, pictures of world devastation were often worn, when the salt was extinguished in the sky, cities fell, turning into deserts, and humanity died out from cold and hunger (“Darkness”), or when from the opening heavenly clouds the flood was thrown down to the earth, destroying everything (“Heaven and Earth”). Calling doom and death on modern society, Byron did not have any material, out of which one could build a new, more reasonable and just world. He did not have any specific program. Indeed, he himself once said that if the republic reigned everywhere, he would probably have surrendered to a monarchist. He was a typical nihilist denier. In the lyrical digressions of Don Juan, Byron outlined his own insight, from which it can be seen that he was able to achieve the truth either through religion, or by way of science, and in all noble and altruistic impulses, just disguised as a single vanity death, and the only ones who feel the best. Not possessing any definite ideology, from the point of view of which he could perceive modern society and point out in the future the need for a higher order of life, Byron had in his own dispose only a purely negative weapon of struggle, which he used with brilliant skill in Don Juan, that is, irony, and since he himself suffered from the same ailments that he blamed in those around him, this prose unnoticeably turned into irony over himself, into self-sarcasm. And when, shortly before his death, Byron wanted to calm down, then in his last poem “The Island” he could not oppose anything else to modern society other than a depiction of the life of savages who do not know the right of private ownership of land and do not have any compulsory social organization, into the spirit of the primitive anarchic communism of Rousseau. And in this ultimate poem by Byron, the same motive that is the leitmotif of all his poems sounded, namely the idea that the real source of all evils is the economic force that, in his eyes, powerfully rebuilt the entire social and ideological way of life, that is, money, capital, because the whole poem is a hymn in honor of the “golden age, when gold did not yet exist.”
Byron’s friend, the great English lyricist Shelley belonged to the same circle of declassed aristocrats – renegades and protesters. Even in his youth, he discovered a clear democratic sympathy, studied medicine in order to donate to the poor patients, was a benefactor for all the surrounding people, refused to give up his life and, to get rid of an unfair privilege he was forced to leave his homeland. Like Byron, Shelley felt superfluous in his day’s bourgeois society. He portrayed himself as that lonely young man in the poem “Alastor,” who leaves society, indulges in solitude to dreams and reflections, to create in his imagination. And the ideal of female beauty slowly decays, under the influence of a rich carpet between his sublime dreams. Like Byron, Shelley lived with his thoughts and feelings not in a modern large city with its feverish activity and bustle, with its sharp class oppositions and collisions, but in nature, full of beauty and harmony. In his poetry, you can hear the noise of a crowded street full of busy moving crowds, you can hear the clatter of carriages and wheels. On the other hand, there are gardens filled with the scent of flowers (“Mimosa”), the sound of a lark erupting into the air is heard (“To a Skylark”), clouds float, bringing with them a blessed rain and a refreshing thunderstorm (“Cloud”), and the sea will sing its silent hymn (“Stanzas written near Naples”). In contrast to human society, torn apart by enmity and struggle, there is an unbreakable harmony in nature, where “all creatures, like in close friendship, in the union of love, are brought together” (“Philosophy of Love”).
Like Byron, Shelley waged a relentless revolutionary agitation against every tyranny: familial, social, political and religious. In the tragedy “Cenci,” where the father with joy lets his children through the world and turns his own daughter into his concubine, Shelley tried to reveal all the horror and despotism hidden in the principle of patronage of archaic power to the parent on the side of the monster and the criminal of the father, and not on the side of the oppressed and offended children. In the poem “The Revolt of Islam” Shelley is taking the side of the enslaved people against the bloc of political and religious oppressors. If Byron only once, as if in passing, came out in defense of the working class, then Shelley, in color, is poetry, gave the following revolutionary advice to the workers in the poem “Men of England”:
Sow seed-but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth-let no imposter heap;
Weave robes-let not the idle wear;
Forge arms-in your defence to bear.
In another poem (“Song to the Defenders of Freedom”) Shelley addressed the proletariat with an appeal to gather around the banner of freedom and break the shackles imposed on it, but not in revenge for the past, but for the sake of building the future.
Just as nature was one of Shelley’s muses, his other inspiration was freedom, to which he dedicated quite a few enthusiastic hymns. “What a refreshing downpour of a mighty spring,” it flies overhead on invisible wings, “from the people to the people, to the country from the country, from the city crowd to the village silence,” and after it burn “the darkness of slavery, chasing the ray of the rising day.” If Byron loved to create canvases depicting the death of the world, then Shelley, on the contrary, loved to paint picturesque pictures of the ideal future. His youthful poem “Queen Mab” – so clumsy in form, but so full of passion a protest against the horrors of the past and the present – Shelley finished with a laudation of the time when the whole earth would bloom. in the fabulous beauty, the palaces and prisons of despots will fall, war will disappear, no people will be killed, no animals, and only good feelings will live in the soul of a man, clear, like a cloudless sky, and carefree, like a young child. “A joyful holiday of rebirth is everywhere. All that is to live is awakened by fire, by the fire of love, by the ray of co-ordination.” A hymn to the future, when all people will be united by bonds of solidarity, and they will be ruled by “meekness, wisdom and justice,” this is how the drama “Prometheus Unbound” ends, in whose face Shelley portrayed humanity, throwing off the shackles of material and spiritual slavery.
Like Byron, Shelley in his ideas about an ideal society was closer to anarchism than to socialism – not because he consciously preferred the former to the latter, but because his essentially aristocratic nature is instinctively burdensome. Shelley represented the transition to that bright future, which he loved so much to portray, not as a natural result of economic development, striving for more high forms, in the struggle of classes for the possession of the instruments of production, but as an unnatural and accidental degeneration of personalities from their own greed to captivate all humanity. Since Shelley was not a poet, but an agitator, he dedicated his poetry to the struggle for the liberation of the human mind from all religious and political prejudices, from all the coarse and cruel fetishes that prevent the appearance on earth of a race of free and humane people.
English literature in the first quarter of the 19th century was imbued with all its democratic sympathies and revolutionary strivings of the radical aristocracy not only on the content, but also on its forms. If in the second half of the 18th century, when literature developed into a specifically urban and bourgeois setting, the prosaic novel came to the fore, then in the first quarter of the 19th century, when mainly aristocratic groups took part in its works, the lyric-epic poem dominated. W. Scott, the only major novelist of the era, abandoned the poem in the name of the novel for purely personal reasons, partly so as not to compete with Byron, partly because the need to pay his huge debts prompted him to surrender himself as a literary artisan. If the English literature of the second half of the 18th century, formed in a bourgeois situation, was distinguished by realism even when it portrayed fictional events and peoples, the poetry of Byron and Shelley was, on the contrary, imbued with idyllic creativity and willingly portrayed people together with unearthly creatures, angels, demons, fairies. The greatest artistic monument of the era, Byron’s Don Juan is, in spite of the poetic form and lyricism, a transitional step to the realistic novel, which in the 1830s again became the centerpiece of English literature.