Anatoly Lunacharsky 1924

Byron, Shelley and Heine

Written: 1924 (Eleventh lecture on the history of Western European literature delivered at the Sverdlov Communist University)
First published: 1924 (in Istoria zapadno-evropeyskoy literatury v ieyo vazhneyshikh momentakh, Moscow, Gosidzat)
Source: Lunacharsky Archive
Translated by: Anton P.

There is a significant difference between French and German romanticism. Among the German romantics it is impossible to point out a single one who would have had truly revolutionary feelings. This, of course, was determined by the situation in Germany, in which there was no hope for a revolutionary movement until 1848 (and we were just talking about those romantics who lived until 1848). Meanwhile, in France, the entire period from the end of the preceding century to 1848 is riddled with revolutionary movements, and sometimes even major revolutions, like the July Revolution of 1830. In a country that had survived the Great Revolution, its echoes were much sharper than the dull echo that reached Germany, and therefore revolutionary sentiments were very noticeable among French romantics. True, here too there is a departure both into fantasy and into folly, but on the whole the divide was fairly clear. Among the Germans, we see a transition from pure fantasy and dreamy idealism to an ironic attitude towards reality, a transition to mysticism and even Catholicism. Among the French (with the exception of the representatives of the moribund class–I have already spoken of Chateaubriand) the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, the romantic bohemia, although it has a certain inclination towards fantasy, very often returns to protest against the big bourgeoisie and against the government, going as far as calling for a sharp struggle. Therefore, on the basis of French romanticism, such a major revolutionary figure as Victor Hugo grew up.

Victor Hugo died a very old man, lived to see the Commune and outlived it. This huge and bright era was experienced by him directly, and he reflected it in his works.

The English Romantics achieved great success. Perhaps the greatest figure that world romanticism gave was the English writer Byron, and very often people say Byronism instead of the word romanticism. However, Byron, as we shall see, was by no means a typical romantic.

So, romanticism was heterogeneous, motley. What does it have in common? What was common and characteristic of the entire romantic trend was precisely that this literature reflected the era of the defeat of the French Revolution and the hopes for the realization of freedom, equality and fraternity. How this defeat, how this gradually descending night of hopelessness was reflected in different minds, depended on a number of additional circumstances.

We saw that in Germany people began to go into dreams. A whole religion of dreamy, magical idealism developed there, and it formed a number of amazing personalities, had a number of brilliant adherents. In France, the romantics were filled with populism, a thirst for justice, they continued to fight the bourgeoisie, sometimes, however, in terms of contrasting the fantastic and riotous, brightly individualistically expressed bohemia to the measured, stereotypical life of the then triumphant big bourgeoisie holding on to the golden mean.

France was seething with revolutions (albeit small ones) until 1848. In 1848 there was a huge revolutionary outbreak that separated the petty bourgeoisie from the proletariat. Then, by 1871, a new, extremely bright flash accumulated: this time, with the support of only the petty bourgeoisie, the poor, for the first time in the revolution, the proletariat showed itself as a fully formed class. In Germany we see almost dead hibernation. True, in 1848 a well-known revolutionary protest arose, but it expressed itself in a rather ridiculous revolution. The German Revolution of 1848 can be considered an abortive, failed revolution, to a large extent even a kind of caricature of the Great French Revolution. And, of course, it did not have in itself a share of the tragedy of the revolution of 1848 in France.

In England, we do not see such sharp upheavals at all. Its development in this sense proceeded much more evenly; but still England was going through the same breakdown that all of Europe was going through.

Thus, during the Great French Revolution and immediately after it, groups of “friends of the Great French Revolution” were created, who also placed all their social hopes on the revolutionary movement, on the realization of the great ideals of the revolution in England and experienced the deepest disappointment when the French Revolution was defeated. This movement touched mainly the advanced intellectual circles.

Then there was an upsurge in the 1840s, during the Chartist movement, which at one time appeared to be very revolutionary. True, the Chartist movement did not reach the revolution. This feature is explained by the fact that England is the first country of the triumph of the bourgeoisie, and the revolutionary upheavals that France experienced in the 18th century took place in it as early as the 17th century. During the French Revolution, much of the English constitution was put forward as the ideal of a stable form of civil government.

Therefore, England reacted weakly to the painful phenomena in Europe – painful in the sense of shaking the entire internal system and the development of internal contradictions. But in it, on the other hand, some deeply disgusting features have acquired special stability. Of course, the German intellectual felt himself fettered by his church, pastoral or Catholic, by his petty provincial governments, which censored all life, by the absence of any kind of free political air, the absence of any kind of social life at all; only desk work, only books, only daydreams, that is, intellectualism, were the area in which the thinking German could to some extent find an outlet. In England external freedom was observed to a much greater extent. I quoted to you the words of Schiller, who said that we still need to prove that a German is about the same person as a Frenchman and an Englishman. He placed the Englishman among the free people, with a strong possibility of developing his personality. Actually, he was not. Indeed, political freedom did exist quite tolerably, in the form of the old parliamentarism with all the relevant attributes, more or less diverse party press, etc. But next to this political freedom, thanks to the continuity of the line of social development and the fact that many contradictions were resolved or suppressed by some compromises, morals in England have become ossified.

England is the most conservative and at the same time the most liberal country in the world. The one does not contradict the other. It is liberal insofar as when history confronts it with a certain crisis, a certain problem, the English ruling classes are inclined to make certain concessions, to adapt themselves. Before others, they see the opportunity to make some kind of compromise, to modify in some way the external forms of life, and sometimes the essence of class relations, in order to save the main thing – their rule – with a relatively insignificant concession.

In other countries, which outwardly seem much more conservative, the ruling classes do not make any concessions: a crisis comes, and they continue to defend their outdated point of view; new forces then break through this rigid partition, and a revolution takes place, the demands of which usually go much further than things would go if the ruling classes made concessions.

These two circumstances determine the conservatism of England. Changing to some extent those or other details of its existence, from decade to decade, from century to century, it retains a lot of the old, of what was swept away in other places a long time ago. Once a funny anecdote was printed in the newspapers. One of the representatives of the English Conservative Party said in his speech: “I asked my friends how they feel about the MacDonald ministry, and they said: this is one of the best Conservative ministries.” This is extremely typical of England. The English bourgeoisie admits representatives of the Labor Party to power, while at the same time having a majority in Parliament: consequently, by the parliamentary play of forces, it does not in the least undertake to make a concession, but it does so because it finds it convenient to make it to the vast mass of workers, which is the vast majority of the population, and says: “Here are your own people, trusted persons in power.” Of course, they have perfectly weighed in advance what the nature of these trusted representatives is, how much it is possible to keep them at the lasso due to their majority in Parliament, etc., they act with full calculation, completely soberly, making sure that in fact “old England” won’t suffer any damage.

In English life, this was reflected in a huge amount of all sorts of prejudices, all sorts of “properties”, which cover the life of almost all English strata. Stiffness, what is called comme il faut, that is, the rules of behavior of a tense, musty and priestly character, plays a huge role in England. What goes unnoticed in other countries, what is tolerated – various circumstances of personal life, some kind of family troubles, etc. – can harm a person as a public figure there. An unbeliever must perform certain religious ceremonies, otherwise he may turn out to be a “dishonest person” and be driven out of the door of “good society.” Next to this is all sorts of hypocrisy: everything bad that can be done hidden is done in England, and is sometimes done in the most disgusting forms; but external decorum, established over tens and hundreds of years, having the firmness of deep-rooted convictions supported by public opinion, is extremely important to observe.

It cannot be said that Byron or Shelley, the two greatest romantic poets in England, were especially opposed to their constitution, to their political order. Of course, they wanted a completely different social and state structure, but nevertheless they received enough political freedom so that their political protest was not particularly sharp. But on the other hand, they felt that the whole of society was shackled by such an immeasurable amount of prejudices, religious and moral, that a living person was directly strangled by them. And therefore, English romanticism unfolded primarily in the direction of the struggle against everyday life, against public opinion, against generally accepted morality, for the deep and wide freedom of a bright individuality.

The German poets who defended the rights of the individual were rarely able to express their Protestant ideas and feelings in concrete social ideals. All social life pushed them rather into the realm of dreams. Until 1848, not a single German poet, even one who came into a sharp ideological clash with society, could be called a revolutionary in the proper sense of the word. And many of them, starting with almost revolutionary motifs (Schiller’s Robbers), nevertheless ended either with a well-known reconciliation with reality, or with a consoling opposition to it of the realm of beauty or mystical otherworldly being.

In France, of course, it was different. The Romantics there often had fairly definite political convictions. We saw this with Hugo. But who did he get into clashes with? With Napoleon III, who was despised by half of France. Hugo expressed the progressive current of French thought, remaining true to the banner of the revolution, populist France, a France that dreamed of the possibility of resuming the path that it had entered at the end of the eighteenth century. But there were many such people in France! He had clashes with the police, Hugo was an exile. But still, these were not such huge sharpness of the collision with society, as among the English romantics.

English romanticism had to enter into a struggle with the whole of English society from top to bottom. The proletariat was then completely crushed, could not show itself in any way, and all the “common people” did not show themselves culturally. But on the other hand, an intensive political and intellectual life went on in the upper classes of society, that is, in the middle bourgeoisie, in the upper bourgeoisie and aristocracy. And this is where all the prejudices were born. The English intellectual, awakened by the French Revolution, full of dreams that everything could be changed, that some brilliant prospects could be revealed to mankind, perceived this revolution not so much socially and politically as individually. For him, this was internally refracted into a thirst for a large, independent, energetic, bold life. The bearer of such a protest of the large, bold, bright, high personality against the dull and complete hypocrisy of society was Byron. This is his tremendous revolutionary significance.

Byron was born in 1788. He died in 1824, thirty years old. Hugo had only just begun to show himself as a romantic, and his political views were close to monarchism. Later, he leveled up, being largely influenced by Byron. Byron’s name was synonymous with revolutionary protest throughout the first half of the 19th century.

Why did Byron become a revolutionary and even a synonym for everything revolutionary, everything protesting in Europe? After all, he was born a lord. It would seem that class feeling should have directed him towards the defense of the old social foundations.

It is rather easy, however, to uncover the reasons that forced Byron to withdraw from the aristocratic world.

The whole figure of Byron is full of painful contradictions. He was born a lord, but inherited a completely insignificant property. He was a semi-poor lord, and his satanic pride, which was absorbed into him, belonging to the English aristocracy – generally distinguished by great arrogance, very great self-conceit and a great desire to outwardly show his “superhumanity” – lived in him and constantly stumbled upon the impossibility of expressing himself primarily due to lack of funds. Byron was extremely handsome. His beauty was admired by his contemporaries, but he was naturally lame. Some say that it was not very noticeable, others that it greatly spoiled his appearance. In any case, he suffered from it. At the end of his life, he wrote one drama (it is not finished) on this subject, on the subject of a freak with a beautiful soul, All his life, starting from childhood, he lost his temper when someone hinted at this shortcoming to him, or when it seemed to him that he was letting himself know.

He was an unusually sensitive man. And such circumstances as nobility and poverty, beauty and ugliness, from the very beginning imposed some strange, sad stigma on this sensitive soul. His very sensitivity was of a special nature. From his ancestors, Byron inherited violent fits of anger, which sometimes resulted in real fits of rage. And how able he was to succumb to the power of beauty or compassion is evident from the fact that several times there were cases when, under the influence of an aesthetic impression, he fainted with convulsions. When he saw the play of the famous actor Keane, when he had to be present at the dressing of a wound that aroused compassion in him, he burst into tears like the weakest woman.

This rare inner tenderness, associated with extreme conceit and pride, created excellent ground for a collision with society.

Imagine, in fact, a person who painfully experiences every little thorn, every trouble in life, a person full of inner pride and who believes that he should be treated with admiration, that he is a completely exceptional person, that there is no need for him to try to fit himself into the framework of the old negative society, which the awakened mind of a truly new person must put an end to. And now a man with this pride, with this gentleness, with such a revolutionary fervor begins to attack the English foundations, the English lordship, the whole of English public opinion, at first lightly, while he was a teenager and youth, and then with an extreme degree of anger and protest. Such a person who at every step breaks the established order, wants to live in his own way, throws free-thinking speeches right and left and emphasizes that he is not like anyone and does not want to reckon with anyone, such a renegade is dangerous for “social foundations” and traditions, completely unbearable against such a social background as the English, in which everyone withstands himself like all others.

The further, the more clashes occurred between Byron and English society. It itself created from Byron a major revolutionary in thought and politics.

If English society had taken some steps to somehow caress Byron, to reconcile with him, perhaps he would have stopped at some intermediate link, but no: it insulted him, it humiliated him, surrounded him with hostility, gossip, it turned his natural young impulses into fables about his extraordinary depravity, criminality. And he closed himself in, in his pride, and not only did not make excuses, on the contrary, he was even ready to say that all this was true. And the more he was accused of apostasy and Satanism, etc., the more he acquired features that sometimes bordered on a defiant pose, with a desire for external showiness that teased “society”.

His first works of poetry gave him great fame, because English poetry rarely had a man with such a musical verse, with such a brilliant flight of fancy. But at the same time, his very first works provoked the most unfriendly, most caustic criticism from the defenders of public morality, and later he began to write more and more “immoral” things to spite them and aroused the extreme exasperation of the dominant English criticism.

These circumstances forced Byron to flee England, to seek refuge in another country. He always aspired to Asian countries, he was drawn to the southeast. There he found his true home. It seemed to him that there was much more freedom in life, less prejudice, and he lived almost all his life in Italy and in the southeast.

Europe with admiration, mixed with surprise, and sometimes with anger, followed this strange person. An English lord who left his homeland, unusually handsome, with signs of the highest dandyism, he liked to throw money, which he earned a lot from literary work. He liked to dress spectacularly, to give balls, in all the cities in which he appeared, he tried immediately to impress the inhabitants with some kind of strangeness, to thunder, even if it was scandalous; and next to this dandyism, with this splurge in the eyes, there is great nobility and complete readiness to always support the weaker side, chivalry, a great inclination towards revolution (Byron, for example, was defiantly friends with the Italian Carbonari, then Italian revolutionary conspirators, emphasized his participation in this movement, gave money for all sorts of revolutionary attempts in Venice, etc.).

At the same time, Byron gave the world amazing, completely unexpected, completely new, unlike all the literary past, works.

The most ferocious enemies could not but admit that this is magnificent in language, in boldness of thought, in flight of fancy. But at the same time, each such thing aroused enormous controversy, because it was a blow to the entire basis of the then reactionary public. I repeat, Byron rarely touched on political issues in his works, and most of all he pressed on everyday life. Here he spared no words in order to accuse both the tops and the philistine bottoms of Europe of all sorts of ugliness, proving that everything in it is buying and selling, everything is small, imitative, that this is some kind of large, disgusting herd, where in the stale, nothing original, nothing original, nothing bright can unfold in the air poisoned by its breath, that one must flee from this life somewhere if one cannot destroy it.

And he ended his short life (he died at thirty-six) also very impressively. Like every liberal of that time, Byron had a great fondness for Ancient Greece. Do you remember Hoelderlin’s novel Hyperion? It shows the same passionate love for Greece. Goethe in the last years of his life was also a Hellenist. The first attempts of the Greeks to revolt against the Turkish yoke caused a huge upsurge in Byron’s spirits. It seemed that the Greek revolution could bring back the departed ancient Hellas, which for all these people was a guiding star. Byron wholeheartedly devoted himself to the Greek uprising, was, as it were, its first minister and chief commander. He showed great political ability and determination. Lord Byron became the head of the gangs that rebelled against the ruling classes of Turkey. He died during this struggle in Greece, in the marshes of Missolonghi.

Such was the life of this strange man. Many people say that it was a strange gentleman. Yes, that’s half true. Lordly whims never left Byron either in his works or in his outward antics. But this gentleman is a genius, his “eccentricities” shook the foundations of society during the period of the absolute victory of the reaction, in the 1820s. This “wonderful gentleman” undoubtedly belonged to the best people of that time.

His influence on world literature is absolutely immeasurable. In the literature of any country one can find imitation of Byron. This influence is also strong in Russian literature. In our country even insignificant writers like Marlinsky were overflowing with Byronism, and our great writers Pushkin and Lermontov were under the spell of Byron so much that Pushkin’s works of the first period and even such masterpieces like Eugene Onegin, should be attributed to the Byronic school, just as exactly as most of the works of Lermontov. From these examples you can imagine how great Byron’s importance is.

What was the effect of Byron’s literary activity?

He was eagerly looking for an upright, bold man. And it seemed to him possible to find it primarily in the East, that is, where modern European civilization did not yet exist. He idealized this East very much. He knew little of the modern Greeks or the Turks of Asia Minor at that time. He idealized them and created vivid fairy tales, which correspond nothing to reality and which, of course, did not reflect the true East. These were bright tales with great passions, with some huge ups and downs, with magnificent pseudo-oriental fieryness. All that excessive, stilted, operatic East, which then held the minds captive for a long time, was largely created by Byron. His works of this kind, such as The Bride of Abydos and a number of others, can still be read not without pleasure, although interest in them has somewhat declined. I note that Pushkin’s The Fountain of Bakhchisaray is a purely Byronic poem. The Fountain of Bakhchisaray was written not so much from the living Crimea, but according to Byron’s poems. Byron also has such thoughtful, dreamy sultans who crack down on their unfaithful wives, there are also bold lovers who swim across the seas to meet the object of their passion, people in whom there is a volcano of passions who collide with each other evil and hostile, as big animals. Byron is drawn to it. It seems to him that the very atmosphere, and costumes, and weapons, and the simplicity of morals, and the immediacy of passion – all this has an infinite advantage over the frozen prosaic society of Europe. One could, of course, find other romantics before Byron and next to Byron who were attracted to the East, but no one made such vivid use of this East in literature as Byron did.

In the literature of closed, repressed societies, unable to show their creativity in any way, there is often a desire to idealize outcasts, renegades. I told you about Schiller’s Robbers; one could point to similar works before him. Romantics see the whole of society as tame, emasculated philistines; the most important personalities, in their opinion, inevitably fall out of society. Where are these individuals? They must be sought among convicts, bandits, among those who do not take into account any laws, any churches, any governments, but want to organize human society in a new way – among people with whom society tries to cope by letting them into move all your scorpions.

Of course, the robber as a revolutionary is a very false image. This is an individualist completely cut off from society, absolutely unprincipled. Gorky with his tramps, too, after all, could not do anything. Upon closer examination, he himself had to reject his tramp: the tramp Konovalov turns into a whiner, a copy of that intellectual, for the sake of condemning whom Gorky turned to the tramps, and in other types (Artem) their indicated features are absolutely bestial. With this, essentially speaking, Gorky ended his “affair” with the bogeyman. Byron has no such disappointment, he simply loves such types as Lara, Corsair, etc., they seem to him the only revolutionary ones. He is even impressed by the fact that they cannot have either discipline or broad ideals to which they submit themselves. Perhaps the proletarian movement would not have been acceptable to Byron.

Such works occupied mainly the first part of Byron’s life. These include his poem Childe Harold. This is a work that has been of great and, one might even say, decisive importance for thirty years for European literature.

In essence, Childe Harold is not a poem; there is no sequentially developed theme. This work depicts how the same gentleman as Byron himself, in a picturesque cloak, having a lot of money in his pocket, curses his homeland, insidious England, and leaves to wander around the world. In marvelous verses, radiant images describe the different places that Childe Harold visited. Among landscapes and pictures of manners, amazing in strength, he constantly refers to his longing, to his doom, to the fact that no one understands him, bursts into diatribes full of anger against the human race, to which the hated morality and life of English society are attributed. And all this is said with great eloquence, from top to bottom, in a stately pose. Here the “higher man” majestically smashes the unfortunate “human herd”.

It made an irresistible impression. Why? The point is that all romanticism was a product of the self-perception of the best people of that time, the best part of the intelligentsia of that time, their self-perception, first of all, as superfluous people. Nowhere to go, nowhere to settle down, all paths are booked! And they go into philosophical, religious and poetic dreams or try with all their might – in France it was possible – to shake the bars of the cage in which they fell. In Byron’s works, this superfluous person mourned himself, suffered, but at the same time declared that these tears of mine, these sufferings of mine, are the only thing of value in the world. I cry and suffer because I am a giant, and you dwarfs want to put me in your world. I cannot destroy it, it is made of iron, I do not have enough strength to break it, but still I am a giant, I touch the stars with my head, and you remain insignificant parasites. I do not recognize a person, I came out of all the orbits of your human society, from all the norms of your existence. We are different breeds. And the more I mourn, and the more barren I am, the greater the proof of how much I have outgrown the earth and earthly conditions. Great men cannot live with the rest of mankind, great men cannot fit on earth, and the only thing that answers my passions in any way is nature, or perhaps my passion for a woman. But a woman usually cannot be at the same height, and therefore disappointment soon follows. The best woman is the one who is closer to nature, some kind of gypsy, some kind of savage, who does not pretend to be of the highest culture, but is simply beautiful, like the forest and lily of the valley are beautiful – she can be loved as part of nature.

This is an extremely winning idea, consoling for its bearer. A little later, progressive people condemned it very strongly and correctly. It was Nekrasov who said about Childe Harold and his imitators that he “roams the world, he is looking for gigantic things for himself, fortunately, the inheritance of rich fathers freed him from petty labors.”

Among the countless number of people of this type were poor intellectuals; they had nothing to travel on, their Childe Harold cloak was very full of holes, but their inner pride was not broken. In this exaltation of a romantic, heroic personality, they were looking for a way out.

Childe Harold has come a long way in the history of culture. It is especially interesting to trace its evolution in Russian literature, where Onegin first appears – after all, this is the “Muscovite in Harold’s cloak”, superfluous people, then Pechorin, with all his mysterious skepticism. This same personality then passes into the critically thinking personality of Lavrov, the founder of the intellectual revolutionary movement in Russia, as soon as the opportunity arose to apply one’s strength to the cause and the search for the foundations for a political struggle began, which rolled its fruitful results up to the modern proletarian revolutionary movement, with in the genesis of which these revolutionary bacilli of the protesting intelligentsia played a more or less significant role.

The history of the revolution cannot be written if we do not understand how the revolutionary intellectual defined himself during the Great French Revolution, how he was defeated at that time, how he consequently collapsed into fantasy, mysticism, spread out into dreams, albeit excellent ones, in which his talent and his deep idealism were expressed, but completely leading away from life, and how, at the same time, he finally, in a certain part, took a revolutionary position.

Pride, intransigence, refusal to compromise: this is a great merit of Byronism. Byron’s Russian students, Pushkin and Lermontov, were in this respect, to a certain extent, teachers of the Russian intelligentsia. Although Byronism manifested itself in their draped eloquence, it nevertheless contributed much to the fact that both these poets were ultimately positive teachers of our society and left a fruitful mark.

In the second period of his activity, Byron developed powerfully in depth. His first works gave whole sheaves of light, almost inexhaustible material for various imitators, created a certain fashion, but were to some extent superficial. And such things as Jewish Melodies, as Darkness and The Prisoner of Chillon are already real masterpieces. Of the Jewish Melodies, I will only say that here Byron, looking for eastern grandiose motifs, came across Jewish songs scattered in the Bible, and translated them into English hymns. Darkness was translated into Russian by Turgenev. This is an apocalyptic vision of the collapse of the world, written with great pathos, with colossal power. The Prisoner of Chillon was translated into Russian by Zhukovsky, and translated well. How much is there a thirst for freedom, how much is there a curse on the jailers, and how amazing is the end, when the Chillon prisoner, having gained freedom, he looks back at his chains and at his prison and feels that he is used to them, that some kind of connection has been created between him and them. Due to the amazing range of human experiences and the richness of images, this work will forever remain one of the first in world literature.

Then, during the same period of his activity, Byron created two masterpieces that are not only not forgotten, but are the subject of ever new discussions. These are Manfred and Cain. What is almost comical in Childe Harold becomes truly grandiose in Manfred. Goethe thought that Manfred was some sort of retelling of Faust; but Manfred is much narrower than Faust. For us, Faust is much more acceptable. Remember how Goethe’s tragedy develops. Faust, disappointed in the scholastic science and wisdom to which he devoted his whole life, found himself in front of a broken trough; he longs to get away from real life. Mephistopheles tries to reconcile the philosopher with this life, but we see in Faust the same thirst for something higher, more beautiful. And he finds solace only in social construction. He wins the land from the sea, he settles a free people there, he bequeaths them to defend their freedom and says that a person who has revived himself in the face of growing humanity is a real person. And when he sees that everything has blossomed around him, that he has brought mankind to happiness, then only he says: stop, a moment! Goethe teaches that this is the real guarantee of the victory of mankind, forever moving forward. In this sense, Faust is a great preaching of activity. Goethe, far ahead of his time, gave in Faust a social hero. In this sense, Faust is, perhaps, the most striking thing that we have until recently in the field of social poetry.

In Manfred the hero does not want anything, he knows that he is about to crash. But Manfred does not surrender to nature, spirits, anything that exists outside of him. This is a man of incredible pride. Byron draws it rather mysteriously and rather indistinctly. He had some kind of difficult past, some kind of crime in which he repents, some kind of relationship with some woman – all this, despite a number of works by commentators, is difficult to clarify. We see only a big man with a huge will, a magician, that is, a man whose wisdom is fabulous and led him to dominate nature and spirits to some extent. But his face is always distorted by a grimace of hot suffering. He feels he is not fit for the world and the world is not fit for him. He rushes about, foreseeing his death, despising everything except the purely external beauty of nature. And we see the dying of such a person who does not want to submit to either God, or death, or honor, who wants to remain absolutely disobedient to the end. This is a poem of self-enclosed pride.

If we raise the question socially: why did Byron and the group that Byron expressed needed it, then we can say: the best person, an intellectual, surrounded on all sides by the frost of reaction and the horror of the then post-revolutionary life, in this pride he conserved himself, clogged himself from the harmful influence of the environment. The intelligentsia withdrew into itself, ossified in a pose of rejection of the world and did not want to enter into any compromise with it, but dreamed that someday it would achieve at least a moral victory.

By the way, the little “manfreds” are highly disgusting creatures: there were many of them then, they are found even now in Soviet Russia, despite the complete change in the whole social life. These are people who play pride, mystery. Because of these disgusting types, “manfredism”, the whole Byronism was imprinted with a somewhat ironic attitude on the part of subsequent generations, since in their time Byron’s gold coins were already exchanged for copper coins. If, with this outward pride and inaccessibility, there is nothing inside a person, then all this becomes the most empty and vulgar pose.

Cain goes even further in this direction. This is already a protest against God. Byron completely twists and overestimates the entire biblical story. He portrays Cain as he himself, Byron, would have felt in his place. This is a man of deep thought who asks: why was the world created, are the foundations of this world fair? While Adam, Eve and Abel are satisfied with the fact that the Lord created it this way, therefore, everything is good, Cain is not satisfied with this answer. He wants an answer in the face of his own mind, what does being mean? Why is there an up and down, why is there a god to be served, why is there pain, sorrow, death in life? He needs to know everything. And when he inquisitively seeks both the knowledge of this reality and its assessment, he comes to the conclusion that the assessment, perhaps, has to be made negative and admit that God himself is a criminal, since he created such a disgusting world. He condemns the creator for his creation. The devil, Lucifer, comes to meet him, who feels a kindred spirit in Cain and invites him to make an alliance with him. This union is concluded, and Lucifer, together with Cain, goes to all sorts of fantastic worlds, the description of which Byron uses to develop a whole pessimistic philosophy. Here is a critique of both space and time, and the laws of nature, which shows the absurdity of the world and the legitimacy of protest against it. And here it is no longer a matter of protest against public untruth; Byron wants to rise to world-condemnation, to the discrediting of being itself.

What conclusion can be drawn from world judgment in general? Marx concluded that the world must be interpreted precisely in order to remake it. But can mankind remake it, and is it a suitable material? We know that the material is rich and a person can remake it in his own way. Such an optimistic, knowledge-based view cannot be reached by Cain, who simply falls upon the absurdity of being. God is an evil being; Lucifer is a kinder, more intelligent being, he protests, but is unable to do anything. People are divided into God’s cattle, ladybugs and satanic people. But these latter can only mourn, mourn fruitlessly, so that there is no way out for anyone.

There is no thought here that man is a creative force. But this is still a revolutionary work that swung at God, at any idea of good and evil. It gave a great impetus to protesting thought. And, who knows, maybe the great revolutionaries Marx and Lassalle, when they were still boys, read Cain and received from this poem the first impetus to criticize everything that exists. It must be said that there are too many arguments in Cain that make it difficult to read, and for us they are no longer necessary. It should be read to get acquainted with this excellent criticism, but we cannot think that we will get any real advantage from it. It can be said that all Byron’s works must be historically overestimated; but his influence in that era was beneficial. His protest was beautiful, and he supported many souls and kept them from compromise, from going over to philistinism. He shone for a long time, like a red star in the sky, preventing him from succumbing to the corrupting influence of the environment. But still, now we must consider his writings rather as a historical value than as a living value for us.

A completely different phase of Byron’s development was marked by the poem Don Juan. Pushkin and Lermontov came out of Byronian romanticism, but towards the end of their lives they began to move towards realism. The same path was traveled by Byron himself. Don Juan is simply “a young man of pleasant appearance”, rather nice, rather good-natured, not very intelligent, not without nobility. His adventures take place in Spain, Turkey, Russia, and the story about them gives Byron the opportunity to draw pictures of public life, from its most intimate sides to its broad political ones. Don Juan is a very interesting novel with a whole series of merry vicissitudes, mostly funny and interspersed like flowers, with a huge number of aphorisms, remarks, historical references, songs, portraits, etc. In it, Byron constantly deviates from his main plot, makes huge excursions to the side, and all the time remains so brilliant, sparkling, that every chapter that came out caused delight.

In this poem, Byron (already on his way to his death, but at the same time flourishing) reveals such firework wit, irony and gaiety, which was not expected from him. It is strange that in Don Juan there are no traces of his usual grief, as if he had made some kind of effort on himself and passed from the eternal struggle with society, the struggle of hard, full of hatred, to ridicule, to great ridicule from top to bottom.

Unfortunately, the poem was left unfinished, it was interrupted by the death of Byron and thus remained a series of remarkable episodes.

Shelley was born in 1792, died (drowned) in 1822, and therefore lived only thirty years. For ten years of his literary work, he became one of the greatest poets of world literature. (Most of his works were translated into Russian by Balmont, translated well, although inaccurately.)

Shelley lived in the same era of English history as Byron, but he was not a gentleman, but came from the middle class.

Just like Byron, he was unusually sensitive and receptive. Who among the English could not come to terms with the hypocrisy of the social order? Of course, the most noble and sensitive people awakened by the French Revolution. The revolution shook Europe and left behind mighty traces that determined the lives of these people, who were born in the very epoch of the revolution, lived under the charm of its ideas and under the sign of disappointment due to its downfall.

Shelley developed under the influence of French ideas. He was imbued with the conviction that tyranny is the root of all evil and that humanity should be free. To be unfree and to leave others unfree is a shame. Shelley was imbued with this revolutionary outlook.

At the same time, he was an amazing poet, much more in love with nature than Byron. He did not believe that nature is God’s footstool and that God created nature out of nothing. He also had a protest against this otherworldly tyranny. Already in college, still a young student, a schoolboy, he wrote a treatise, The Necessity of Atheism. This is a deeply atheistic book. In a whole series of theses, highly convincing, he argued that it is impossible to recognize the highest power either in nature or in society. Needless to say, the whole “public opinion” was agitated. Shelley was expelled from the educational institution and they began to say that he is a malicious person, extremely harmful, from whom you need to stay away. The usual story in England began. A man of tender soul, very touchy and proud, closes even more and begins to respond to society with insolence. Society poisons him like a criminal. And Shelley is dead.

His personal life has developed extremely strange, again, to a large extent under the pressure of society. At first he married only because it seemed to him that this woman was unhappy. Shelley, chivalrous, got the idea that she was being offended and that he should protect her. It turned out that they were unsuitable for each other in character. They parted ways. At the same time, Shelley was breaking with society, which considered him a suspicious person and even a criminal. When he married a second time – to Mary Godwin, who was indeed a tender, devoted friend to him – society considered this the greatest insult to morals and the church. He asked for the custody of his children from his first wife, who had committed suicide as a result of some unhappy affair. He was denied this. English “free public opinion” declared, that since he is an immoral man, as can be seen from his writings, he should not be a father at all.

Then it occurred to Shelley that he and Mary Godwin’s little children would also be taken away. Together with his wife and young children, he fled England – and not like Byron, not to wander, but because he felt in danger.

He left for Italy. He was excommunicated, English journalism and the English police declared that he had lost all rights of citizenship and even all rights to human dignity. When an English writer visited him in Italy, he expected to see a real monster. After all, they said about him that he was something like the Antichrist! And this writer was completely amazed to see not the devil, but rather an angel. Indeed, Shelley was extraordinarily handsome; his face is full of kindness, tenderness and meekness, a face that can be admired like a lovely picture (although this face did not have energy, masculinity, rather it is a feminine and beautiful face).

The exiled Shelley was in poverty, always malnourished, always busy with the publication of his writings and did not find publishers. In 1816, he met Byron, who immediately understood his great poetic talent and noble nature. Byron recognized him as a poet greater than himself. Shelley, in turn, held Byron in high regard and wrote a novel in which he describes their relationship in an extremely poetic way. They found support and friendship in each other, especially Shelley in Byron, because Byron always stood firmly on his feet and was not afraid of society.

The fact that Byron judged Shelley as a great poet may have been of great importance and might have contributed to his recognition. But very soon after befriending Byron and under his influence writing several larger and less vague works than usual, Shelley drowned in a storm during a short boat trip in the Mediterranean.

Shelley’s works are extremely interesting, especially the lyrics. But you won’t find many revolutionary responses in them; they are mostly lovely airy-dreamy descriptions of nature. All nature in Shelley takes on the character of a changeable, complete metamorphosis, moments passing one into another. His best work is The Cloud, in which he describes all the changes in the tones and shapes of the clouds. And all nature appears to him in the form of a beautiful kaleidoscope, it unfolds in his works, always full of moods, shimmering beauties and secrets. Many consider Shelley the greatest lyricist in the world.

The Rise of Islam is a romantic work, in our opinion, somewhat funny. The action takes place during the French Revolution, with Byronian oriental types intermingled in its midst.

The drama Cenci is the story of a tyrant from the Italian Renaissance. This gentleman is in love with his own daughter and uses every means to obtain possession of her. The daughter, despite the fact that she is a meek, sweet girl, had to kill her father in self-defense and was executed for this. Shelley felt something akin to this driven creature, who, being meek in essence, goes to such a crime as parricide, because the tyrant has driven her to this.

Finally, Shelley’s masterpiece is Prometheus Unbound (translated into Russian by Balmont).

I told you about Aeschylus’ Prometheus, who stole fire from the sky in order to give it to people. Do you remember how, for this, Zeus chained him to the rocks of the Caucasus and sent kites that tormented him. Zeus knew that Prometheus was dangerous to him because he foresaw the future and knew some combination of forces that could destroy Zeus. Therefore, Zeus tried to extort the secret of Prometheus. But Prometheus was proudly silent. We know that Aeschylus then turned to reconciliation: Prometheus tells everything to Zeus, Zeus forgives him, and everything ends in harmony. Aeschylus did not want to be a revolutionary at that time. The revolutionary tragedy of Aeschylus is only in the first part that has come down to us.

Shelley is completely different. Shelley makes a prediction that in a few centuries there will be a great cosmic revolution. He foresees that people will break the chains of every kind of tyranny. This revolution will free the thought of man and the whole world from any dependence on God, from the idea of the other world, from any prescriptions of morality and from any kind of physical and spiritual fetters. This is the transformation of nature. Of course, in this poem we will not find a scientific or precise expression of how we can imagine this coming world revolution. Everything is taken through a fog, everything is expressed in images full of pathos and symbols, in mythical images, very far away, as if from life. But the inner meaning is profoundly revolutionary. The whole poem is imbued with ardent enthusiasm. It all sounds like a triumphal march.

The work of the German poet Heinrich Heine is a transitional moment from romanticism to realism. Heine was born in 1797, died in 1856, that is, he lived the entire first half of the 19th century and survived the revolution of 1848 for eight years.

One of the weapons of the romantics was irony in relation to the world, a certain mockery of everyday life, of virtue, of the truths that guide the layman. This irony sometimes turned into pathos, into a solemn opposition of one’s soul to all this narrow-minded pettiness; sometimes it had the character of humor or satire, as, for example, in Hoffmann. The romantic, as it were, was saying to himself: I am much smarter and much better than what surrounds me. And since I have no weapons with which I could fight and change reality, I can only tease it and what others consider sacred.

Heine was, so to speak, an ironist in the square. He found that the romantics themselves were the funniest of all. Heine was aware that a living life was beginning around him, that revolutionary thunders were heard, that everything had moved from its place; one could already hear the iron tread of Bismarck and imperialism. Heine felt that muscular people would soon come who would not dream, but work, and the figure of a dreamer who puts himself above people and sneers at them seemed very funny to him. Many of Heine’s pages are directed precisely against the romantics, and with particular malice he beats them for being incorporeal and fruitless, for having lost a sense of reality, for replacing reality with phrases and vague visions. When he moves on to their mysticism, to their ecclesiasticism, there is no end to sarcasms.

But he himself was still a romantic, because he could not find real, creative, fighting solutions. He was under the pressure of the same circumstances that forced romantics to be dreamers. He, too, wanted to escape from this stuffy atmosphere, at least in his dreams, and he often dreamed. But suddenly he pours a cold shower on himself and on the reader. Suddenly, from a dreamer, he turns into a clown, laughs and makes you feel that all these dreams are nonsense compared to life.

This critical mind, this self-mocking give a special flavor to his works. It is unlikely that there is at least one work by Heine, where he would have sustained the lyrical tone to the end. It begins with moonlight, with tender tremblings of the heart, and suddenly he sticks out his tongue, makes an almost obscene gesture, laughs at himself and at the reader.

He had a strong thirst for real love, real success, real struggle. He says that sweet peas are more important to people than eternal bliss and that the sky should be left to the gods and sparrows. Everything lofty irritates him. To dreams and chimeras, he prefers tasty, sweet, magnificent and at the same time fair, fraternal, harmonious, healthy, earthly. He latched on to socialism because he thought its program was to make people wallow in pleasure. If he adhered to socialism, then he did so to some extremely utopian one. But seriously, he did not believe in this either, and directed irony against the socialists as well. He often said: all this struggle for the future – is that not a chimera too?

When Heine met with Weitling, who told him that he had been in chains in prison for several years, he recoiled in horror. It seemed to him a terrible thing for a person to go to such suffering for the sake of a “chimera”. He couldn’t do it himself.

He was too merry a man, too fond of life, to devote himself to things that were still divinatory. And in general, he spoke somewhat ironically about revolutionaries and pointed out that he, an infinitely refined poet, revolving in a world of higher values, feels strange with such poorly dressed, poorly educated fanatics; of course, these are the best people, but there is a certain rudeness, clumsiness, stupidity, dullness in them, which is why he treats them ironically.

And yet another circumstance repelled him from socialism. He was terribly afraid that socialism, as the kingdom of the poor, would reject all culture, that no art would be possible in it, that this system would simply throw out everything that was there from the museums and set up some kind of orphanage instead of them, would be engaged mainly in prosaic concern for food, drink, and clothing, rather than high values. It will be a crash. Then there will be no ignorance, there will be no homelessness, there will be no hunger, but there will be no refinement, there will be no luxury. That is why he so wanted to oppose social equality with some magnificently painted ideal of socialism. However, Heine was enthusiastic about Marx, called him the greatest prophet of the working class, read with admiration everything that came out from under his pen, and after a meeting with Lassalle wrote an enthusiastic letter in which he said that the people who are going to replace us are coming, people who know life perfectly, who practically know how to approach it, who have a program to be fulfilled.

In a word, Heine is a man who oscillates between two worlds and does not know how to give his whole heart to either the one or the other.

And with regard to religion, he had a strange hesitation. He was first an atheist (or rather, a pantheist). In a high degree witty, almost with Voltaire’s wit, he mocked all religiosity, all ecclesiasticism.

But towards the end of his life, he became seriously ill with a disease of the spinal cord, which chained him to bed for many years. At that time he again turned to God. He writes that, after thinking carefully, he decided that it was somehow more convenient with God the Father. But here, too, irony and unbelief shine through in everything. And perhaps religion took his place next to the softer mattress. He, a sick person, is more comfortable with God, and whether he exists or not is almost indifferent.

Many consider Heine to be deeply immoral, and this immorality, unscrupulousness explain his fragmentation. But this is not immorality. He just stood in such a social place.

Heine is the first impressionist and the first momentalist. In his small poems, feelings are unusually strong, unusually sharply grasped, and his great works are a sparkling heap of individual diamonds. He never cared about the construction, but one after another he gave flashes, sparkles. His senses were torn; he could love and at the same time be ironic about what he loves. And his thoughts were also torn–he could say one thing now, and then just the opposite.

Therefore, in everything he has some incredible inner freedom, turning into unscrupulousness.

Scriabin said that the most charming thing in art is complete freedom. I feel like a creator and a god when I create some kind of musical poem and I know that I can change it, I can make it laugh and cry, completely change all its forms, etc.

You feel something similar in Heine, although I don’t remember him saying that he enjoys such freedom. On the contrary, Heine suffered. He says in one place that some kind of crack has gone through his heart that separates the world – “that’s why my heart hurts.” He understood that he was a sick man, he envied people who had strong convictions, although he teased them. He said that it is possible to divide all people into “Jews” and “Hellenes”. “Jews” are people who believe in something lofty, be it Jehovah or socialism, and give their whole lives to this. For them, their day is not interesting: walks, love, everyday life in general, their very personality, they are only interested in calculating whether they have approached or moved away from the cherished ideal. They line up their whole being along one line. And the Hellenic nature is not like that. It doesn’t care about any goal that needs to be served. “Hellenes” only care about making every day beautiful, in order to build their lives as a work of art. Heine said: although I am a Jew by tribe, I am Hellene by nature. But behind his epicureanism, a real tremor of resentment was sometimes heard in his voice, it was felt that his joy was not real, you often see in him suffering from the fact that the axis around which he rotated was unstable.

And in his personal relationships, in his love for women, in friendship there was also a lot of irony. He too easily saw the reverse side of any phenomenon, he saw too well the shortcomings in everything. And it soon dampened him. He was tormented by this split, but it made available to him all kinds of colors, all kinds of feelings, freed him from his usual limitations. He is a great virtuoso. One could understand some of his works as deliberate virtuosity, if it were only a formal game. But when he describes some passion, he describes it in such a way that it grabs your heart; when he jokes, you laugh; when he takes up philosophical reasoning, he shows a great depth of knowledge and ability to formulate. His History of German Philosophy, a small book, is a precious tool for the study of German philosophy.

All this led many to say that Heine was the first modern man. But after all, Marx and Lassalle were born in his time, who were more modern people, the founders of a huge world-historical working-class movement.

Heine was the ancestor of all the Impressionists, Futurists, Imagists and other magicians. And as long as they are in the world, until then the stream continues, from which it is born.

Of course, they are not all charlatans. If this were so, I would not associate them with Heine. It would be completely in vain to associate ordinary charlatans with such a figure, tragic in its own way. I connect them because they are momentary, impressionists, they serve every moment, and this moment does not merge with their general worldview, they are even afraid of worldview, they say that this is slavery, pedantry. Should a poet be an ideologue or a fanatic of an idea, a dreamer? The poet must surrender himself to direct feeling, and feeling is divided into separate flashes, into separate moments. They have the same split feelings and the same sense of freedom and the same pride in this inner freedom. Perhaps only less tragedy. Although even with such an imaginist poet as Shershenevich, you sometimes suddenly feel some kind of thorn somewhere deep in your soul, some hidden sadness. Outwardly, he is a comedian, but some bitter consciousness that this is a comedy, and not a real one, is felt.

The intellectuals, free from all ideas, unprincipled and therefore graceful, declaring that “my soul is so beautiful precisely because it sparkles with all the lights without any rules,” created many good things in art, but there are no equals to Heine among them. Heine was the first of these, not in the sense that he was consciously imitated by others: he was the first momentalist due to the nature of the time in which he lived and which he reflected. They began a whole streak of such aspirations in creativity.

By the way, due to his political unscrupulousness, being an emigrant, he received a pension from the French bourgeois-monarchist government of Louis-Philippe d’Orleans, and this made Marx speak of him as a sellout poet. Therefore, Wilhelm Liebknecht, the father of Karl Liebknecht, did not visit Heine when he was in Paris. When he came to Marx, he asked about Heinrich Heine. Liebknecht replied that, considering Heine an unprincipled poet receiving a subsidy from the French king, he, as an honest man, could not go to him. Marx got angry and soaped Liebknecht’s head, saying: “Heine is a great man, with a huge sharp mind, he sees many things more sharply than you. And if you visited him, you would stock up on a lot of interesting thoughts. Heine cannot be approached as a politician, he is a figure of a completely different order.” This shows how wide-ranging Marx’s views were. He understood very well that it was impossible, approaching a man like Heine with the demands of political morality, to neglect his talent and his enormous mental strength.

After all, was Heine the defender of the old, or the destroyer of it? He is a mighty destroyer. That is why official Germany did not erect a monument to this great poet of hers. And when the question of erecting a monument to him was discussed, Wilhelm II was furious: “I will never allow this Jew and revolutionary to have a monument on German soil.”

Hatred for him is still alive in the German petty and large bourgeoisie. He made fun of them and terribly shook the ground under everything “solid and decent” in Germany.

We now have one writer who, it seems to me, although small compared to Heine, still resembles him in many ways. This is Ehrenburg. He has a certain sentimentality, sometimes sadness about his own unscrupulousness, but he is always unprincipled. He was with the Whites, then he moved to the Reds, but he treats both of them internally ironically. To him all this is only material for writing, everything seems to him a target for his brilliant arrows. A man of the highest degree of talent, although far from being of Heinean proportions, he is a skeptic who would like to turn everything into ashes with his doubt, leaving nothing in place. His skepticism is directed primarily at the values of the old world, and from this point of view he is in some ways our ally. I will now briefly talk about the works of Heine. The Book of Songs is a book of tender lyrics. It was written at a young age. But even when reading this lyrics, you get the feeling that, having picked up a delicate rose, you are pricked by the thorns of irony.

The next work, Journey to the Harz, is at a turning point. There is wonderful romance here, with fairy tales, with wonderful romantic songs, with wonderful descriptions of nature, but here the irony over oneself sounds even louder. Heine in this book calls himself the last romantic who voluntarily took off his crown. He also called himself a romantic defrocked. This book, Journey to the Harz, breathes the poetry of youth, and the best works of romanticism are not as light and transparent as this book.

Later, the book Lucca was written, which is full of irony, a lot of poison, but this poison sparkles like champagne.

Romanzero is the last collection that he wrote when he was already ill and lying in bed, in a dim room, left to himself, almost buried alive. Heine called his bed a grave with a mattress. In this grave, he dreamed and created, creating sparkling images from all eras and from all countries of the world. This is a brilliant panorama, but there is nothing here that does not hide irony.

Unfortunately, the novel Rabbi from Bacharach, which describes the ghetto and the abuse of the Jewish people that took place in the Middle Ages, has not been completed. The first chapters of the novel are wonderfully written.

The playwright Heine was bad, and one can not speak of his dramas at all.

More significant are his great ironic poems, Atta Troll and Germany. These are the works for which the German government especially hated him. They are extremely virtuoso. This is a play of the mind and images in an absolutely free form, a whole symphony of human wit and freedom of spirit. Even from reading these things in Russian translation one can endure great pleasure.

In addition, Heine wrote a book on philosophy called Essays on the History of German Philosophy. He was interested in that period of philosophy, which is also interesting for us, that is, the period of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, from which Marx later emerged. This book is captivatingly written and provides an exposition of philosophical systems in an easy form that no popularizer has equaled. Marx believed that Heine was not always right, but said that this book by Heine was worth hundreds of volumes of pedantic professors.