Anatoly Lunacharsky 1924
Written: 1924 (Tenth 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.
The first pages of German art, caused by the French Revolution, are called Storm and Stress (Sturm und Drang) and are really connected with the ideas of the French Revolution. I have pointed out to you the youthful dramas of Schiller and the works of the young Goethe as the works that best expressed these tendencies in artistic forms.
The Romanticism of France and England has something very akin to the German Sturm und Drang movement. It is due to the same reasons. But in England and France we had a parallel development of two cultures, placed under different conditions – in England a certain political freedom, in France a rapid movement forward, as for the third phenomenon, namely the literature of Sturm and Drang, which arose in Germany, then, in defining it, we must first of all take into account for this country the absence of political freedom and the absence not only of movement forward, but even of the very possibility of such movement. Hence the craving for science fiction in Germany.
In the 1820s and 1830s all of Europe was in approximately the same situation as Germany was in the 1790s and in the very first years of the 19th century. The revolution in France was defeated, reaction triumphed all over Europe, and for the radical intelligentsia, for the bearer of democratic ideals, a time of stagnation set in. Before the European intelligentsia there was the same wall against which the German so-called pre-romanticists, the forerunners of romanticism, the people of Sturm und Drang, had smashed their heads.
But, passing on to German Romanticism in the proper sense of the word, we must in passing trace the further evolution of the literature of Sturm und Drang.
Gradually, these clumsy but full of inner fire, drama, stormy lyrics, dreams of a robber who overthrows the social order, these diatribes against tyranny, the depiction of ideal figures who do not fit into the social framework – all this stormy young ferment subsided. Part of the writers who expressed this trend simply stopped writing, dispersed, and only two of them emerged as the greatest writers of German culture and as the largest representatives of European culture of that time in general. These were Schiller and Goethe.
You remember that Schiller and Goethe have completely changed with age. Was it a consequence of the fact that political freedom turned from an ideal into a reality? Nothing happened. In Germany, the atmosphere remained as stale until the death of Goethe in the 1830s, of course, and until the death of Schiller, who died much earlier. It would seem that the whirlpool of inner hopelessness of ideas and feelings should still be whirling in place. But Schiller and Goethe solved the problem differently. They were convinced that violently fiery protests lead to absolutely nothing; but at the same time they felt that they were beginning to play a major role in society, that all educated circles in Germany began to listen to them. They felt like teachers of life, and it was, of course, impossible to teach the same fermentation, from which absolutely nothing came out. To live in such a revolutionary fever, which, however, could not turn into action, to live exclusively on heated phrases, was completely unworthy and only irritated the nerves. It was necessary to look for some other outcome. What could be the outcome? Reconciliation with reality. In essence, both Schiller and Goethe experienced such a reconciliation with reality; but neither one nor the other said that reality is good. Perhaps they sometimes came close to such a glorification of idyllic bourgeois reality (Herman and Dorothea, Song of the Bell). But this is like a poetic curiosity. There, the poets erect some real everyday paintings into the pearl of creation. The main efforts of their activity lie in another area, they strive to call on the intelligentsia (about the proletariat, about the “common people”, there was still no talk of the poor and the peasantry) to give up on reality and go into the realm of theories, into the realm of images, into the realm of art, and in art to renounce reality. In the previous lecture, I quoted Schiller, who directly says that freedom can be realized only in the world of dreams, that the ideal is a thing that cannot be realized, or, rather, that is realized only in works of art.
Then art became something huge, significant. They thought this: in the world of reality, a person does not live a real, gray, boring life, but in the world of arts he lives a bright, meaningful, creative life. This means that true life takes place in the field of art, for the artist in the field of the art he creates, and for the reader, for the viewer in the field of art, which the great artist gives him. So the socio-political conditions made the German people “a people of poets and thinkers.”
Thinkers and poets – we must add musicians to them – created their own works and made it possible for the German people, the conscious part of it, to forget themselves in them, turning away from reality. You know that at that time Germany brought forward such musicians as Beethoven, Schubert and a galaxy of others.
And philosophy reached great heights, although, of course, it could not captivate such wide circles as art.
At the same time that Schiller and Goethe were creating their neoclassicism, a bias towards romanticism appeared.
Sturm und Drang subsided, only Schiller and Goethe with their neoclassicism remained of the whole group, and all the currents that are getting stronger and turning into opposition against Goethe appear. We see the philosophy of Fichte, the Schlegel brothers, and then the big figures of Romantic poets like Novalis and his circle. What is the difference between these romantics and Schiller and Goethe, who grew up on the same soil of dissatisfaction with reality, the need to withdraw into the realm of art?
Goethe reproached the romantics for mysticism, reproached them for a painful perversion of passions, for trickery, for showmanship, for a final separation from life, such that art becomes a poison for life, producing not healing, not straightening, but, in Goethe’s opinion, distorting soul and body impact.
The Romantics, in turn, accuse Goethe of being an Olympian, that he is a cold person, that he does not understand the real living tremors of the human heart, that his art is too harmonious and calm, does not satisfy the deep and complex inner demands that the soul of the newly grown reader is full of.
What’s the matter? The fact is that although Schiller and Goethe put art above life and declared that art, in essence, is the only real life, they never inwardly digressed from life and argued that art still exists for life and as an ideal in this life. They were at one time fans of the revolution, they wanted the human race to follow a new path. They wished for a free republic, free citizenship, organization of free education of body and spirit, life in beautiful buildings, in beautiful clothes, people harmoniously related to each other, happy and free children of nature, upright beings. Therefore, Schiller and Goethe were in love with the myth of ancient Greece, they would like such a life to be realized on earth; only they believed that there were no revolutionary ways to this.
Sermon? Yes, they preached, although they knew that this sermon did not change people very much. And gradually their preaching came down to the fact that even if only in art a person lives such a life, even if in a dream a person touches true humanity.
There was nothing like this among the German romantics. They had nothing to do with the revolution. This was the next generation, deeply disappointed and willing to reconsider even the very foundations of the ideal of humanity, the foundations of this so-called “humanism”, on the soil of which Schiller and Goethe stood with both feet.
At first, of course, it was not entirely clear and not entirely obvious. On the contrary, some romantic philosophers seemed to be looking for a union of “spirit and body.” Schelling created the “philosophy of identity”. But behind all this, in fact, the deepest dualism, the division into the corporeal and the spiritual, shows through. For Schiller, there was a bad present and a bright, lofty future, which, perhaps, will not come true, but towards which we must strive to the best of our ability. Here the division was different: the body, whose life is illusory, and the spirit, which hovers. The body now lives in evil, but in order to live blissfully, one must leave the realm of the body into the realm of the spirit. It goes without saying that there are no realistic ways to achieve this. There can be only one way to this: by discarding the body, develop the spirit; not glorify the development of life, but, on the contrary, glorify death, which alone opens the gates to another world. In a word, the disappointment stepped forward.
We can summarize what has been said as follows: in Germany, the intelligentsia raises the question of a worthy life for a person; it believes that it is impossible to live the way the intelligentsia lives, and makes an attempt to conquer reality, stir up reality, but it burns itself. And that is why she, who bubbled violently in the works of Storm and Stress, then puts a limit to this constant, giving nothing of boiling, goes over to classicism with a calm, bright ideal, depicting the ideal as the future, or at least as desired. This ideal is the development of life in the direction of the greatest harmony. But on this path, the same disappointment awaits her, since nothing in the present provides support for hopes for this future or even indicates the paths to it. Destroying this ideal, the romantics shout to us: we do not need such happiness, we will look for another! What? It is always at our fingertips, we just need to look inside ourselves, to get away from the external life.
Therefore, Goethe treated the romantics with such indignation, predicted that they would sink to Catholicism. And his prediction came true.
For a parallel, I will point out that something similar happened to some Russian legal Marxists Berdyaev, Bulgakov and others, who at first believed that the development of life through the proletarian revolution would lead to the enlightenment of life, and then abandoned this and declared that it was not by improving people with real good can be achieved by methods on earth, but by moving away from the flesh to the spirit, and here they have sunk in the full sense of the word to the church: Bulgakov became a priest, and Berdyaev declares that the Orthodox Church should become the regulator of life.
We see that part of the modern Russian intelligentsia, which has not found a way out, has gone through the same stage of development as the German romantics.
It should be noted that both the French and the English romantics have a development similar to the German ones, they all mutually influenced each other and, in general, merge into one romantic school.
The first great Romanticist of Germany must be considered the poet Hoelderlin. His life story is truly tragic. He went mad at a rather early age, thirty-one, and lived until about sixty years of age, completely falling into childhood. He wrote little. He owns one fantastic novel, Hyperion, small volumes of poems, and the beginning of the drama Empedocles, which he revised three times and never finished.
During his lifetime, he was not recognized, and after his death he was forgotten for a long time. They only said about him that he was a talented, wonderful person, who was killed early by illness. Recently, a real religious cult of Hoelderlin has begun in Germany. Not only is he placed on a par with Goethe and Schiller, but there is an attempt to put Hoelderlin even higher than Goethe and Schiller. A certain section of today’s Expressionists raise Hoelderlin to the rank of a prophet or a demigod. A rarely forgotten poet was resurrected in such greatness and apogee of glory, as Hoelderlin is now resurrected.
He does not belong to the romantics proper, since he lived a little earlier and had already fallen ill when whole circles of romantics entered the arena. He only interacted with the oldest of them. He was a younger contemporary of Schiller and Goethe.
Hoelderlin’s own fate is remarkable in a high degree, since he is a typical representative of the then intelligentsia.
He is the son of a clergyman – most of the intelligentsia in Germany then came from their midst – he lost his father early, was sent to the seminary, to a disgusting educational institution that crippled his soul in every possible way, but gave him excellent purely philological knowledge, tearing him off at the same time from any scientific contact with nature. He was a talented man, possessed a strong thought. His mother urged him to become a preacher by all means. But he read Greek and Latin authors, they seemed to him immeasurably superior to Christian authors. He felt disgusted with religion, did not want to take on a pastorate. Then he had one thing left – literary work. Literary work was paid very poorly, even the great Schiller could not subsist on literary earnings in Germany at that time, and only because that Goethe helped him get a professorship, he could live tolerably well. Hoelderlin could not settle down. He turned to Schiller. Schiller became interested in him, graciously published his poems, but persistently recommended that he engage in literature among other things and find himself some kind of basic profession. Goethe walked past Hoelderlin even more proudly, almost completely ignoring him. For him, home teaching remained the only option. Then there was no other way out, except to become a secretary or a home teacher, that is, to be a semi-maid in a rich house. And there was that usual story about which I already told. As a rule, in a large bourgeois house, the mistress is incomparably higher than her husband, because she lives a more inner life, far from the stock exchange, where her husband spends his time. She has more leisure, which she spends with the children, and therefore with the teacher, who teaches her children; and if this is a young woman, then they will certainly begin to be drawn to each other. For him, this graceful rich creature, surrounded by a halo in the house, seems to be something higher, attractive – it is enough that it was not a witch – and not all bourgeois women are witches – and the novel begins. The husband finds out, he becomes furious – how is this lackey, the mercenary dares to raise his eyes to his wife! – and with a scandal kicks him out of the house.
The same story happened to Hoelderlin, only the whole drama acquired an unusually poetic character, thanks to the character of the characters. Hoelderlin himself was a brilliantly gifted man. He was so physically handsome that, remembering him, his comrades said with delight that he looked like an angel, that it was impossible to look at him without admiration. He was also gifted musically – his favorite instrument was the flute. He learned to play it from one major musician, but after two or three years this musician refused to teach him, believing that the student had already surpassed him.
He composed marvelous poems, which are still considered the pearl of German poetry. Unusually gentle, graceful in all manifestations of his being, he charmed everyone who came close to him. And the wife of the banker with whom he lived, named Diotima, was also a woman of extraordinary, purely Greek beauty. Her statue, which has come down to us, reminds us of the bust of a beautiful Greek woman. Judging by her letters, she was an ardent, enthusiastic, idealistic person. She was influenced by Schiller’s lyricism even in those years when she was brought up in a boarding school in Hamburg. Both of them were pure people and of great spiritual beauty. They prayed to each other, they were divine beings for each other, but the banker just kicked out the demigod, for him it was just an incident in his own house, and an unpleasant incident.
After the exile, the young people corresponded, but soon Diotima fell ill with measles and died.
Meanwhile, Hoelderlin, feeling disappointed and unrecognized, was forced to wander from house to house as a home teacher, despite the humiliation of this position, when the owner of the house – the bourgeois – made it perfectly clear to him that no matter how he swaggers, he is hired, supported, he is paid; sit down at the lowest end of the table, behave accordingly, as befits a half-servant. And when the news came that Diotima had died, he went from southern France, where he happened to be with some family, and went on foot to no one knows where. Already on the way he had a clouding of consciousness. He came to Germany completely crazy. But even in those works that he wrote during this period, there were still glimpses of genius.
What are the works of Hoelderlin? He gave something highly remarkable. He, like Goethe and Schiller, pointed to Greece as an ideal. The ancient world was, in his opinion, an ideal era, and he dreamed of its return. It seemed to him hateful, absolutely disgusting and impossible everything that was happening around him; and religious, and political life, and the life that surrounded him – all this seemed to him abnormal; he believed that this mutilation of life was due to falling away from nature.
When he contemplated nature, his poetic genius, as it were, revealed to him all its inner secrets. It seemed to him that he was comprehending nature, although he comprehended it only from the point of view of a direct impression of its greatness, purity, harmony, and freshness. But he found such colors for depicting the most ordinary things, such as forests, mountains, the sky, which we do not find either before or after him. His nature is truly majestic. And he considered this gigantic, divine nature the only good. He did not want to oppose it to any spirit. According to his concept, to which he came as a result of the processing of Greek myths, such a hypothesis about the universe turned out: God the Father is Ether; but this is not a personification, but simply an immeasurable ether that created everything, some kind of bright space. This is the only god. And this god gives birth from himself to a beautiful world of things that make themselves known with the help of light, weightless, but visible. Light and earth – that is, the totality of all visible things – are two deities that come to the ether. Whoever is imbued with the inner laws of being, the inner beauty of this harmony, he himself becomes an ethereal, bright, true son of the earth, he can live a wonderful life, will be rewarded with health and wisdom, will find how people of one nation and different nations live in a peaceful community.
At the same time, Hoelderlin does not notice that, in fact, in nature, animals devour each other, plants crowd out each other, the luminaries themselves conduct something like a struggle among themselves, because their collisions are possible, and that chaos in nature, in the universe, is strong and perhaps stronger than the established harmony. The true scientific laws of nature were completely incomprehensible to him.
He created a majestic and largely, I would say, utopian socialist doctrine, because it seemed to him that “yours” and “mine”, all restrictions, all infringements of a person, privileges, partitions between people – all this must fall when a person will be able to become a wise animal and a real son of nature.
But what he saw around him, of course, was not like what he imagined. He was internally colossally ambitious. Even as a child, he imagined that he was that new prophet, that new savior, who would bring with him a new religion of the return of the cult of the body, the return to nature from a false god, that is, from Jehovah. He found Catholicism beautiful in its own way, but believed that it had degenerated and was no longer good for anything.
He tried several times to interpret the Christian teaching itself in such a way that it confirmed his own theory. However, he did not want to act here by means of explosions, because all his relatives were believers and he suffered greatly from the fact that he was called an atheist. But when he spoke for himself and for his friends, he spoke as a consistent atheist.
In his teaching one can, of course, find internal contradictions. For example, it is not clear what the miraculous nature he is talking about is, is it reality or is it a human ideal that grows in consciousness on the basis of the contemplation of nature? He often said that his gods are not natural nature as it is, but an ideal that, looking at nature, a person creates in himself. But let this ideal, he said, act on a person as a healing force.
And with such a great teaching in his own way, he lived in the world and was convinced that he, as a poet, could transform the world. It was possible to think so, only being a brilliant madman. If he was just a madman, as he was when he went mad, who would care? If he were a genius, but not a madman, he would understand that, without going beyond the limits of the arts, his influence would be narrowly limited and that in order to influence life, one must not close oneself in art. But he was convinced that with the power of poetry, inner beauty, inner conviction, he would shock human souls and tune them, so to speak, according to the harmony of his lyre.
This content runs through all Hoelderlin's writings. When he was young, he was fond of Sturm und Drang, wrote wonderful hymns in the spirit of the French Revolution. And then he approached his propaganda of the new religion and promised his friends that the days would come when he would appear in the world, come down from the mountains, come with his disciples, and then crowds would gather around him, which he would lead to a new life.
At the end of his novel Hyperion and in his drama Empedocles there is a premonition of a fatal end, the possibility that a wonderful poet, subtle, noble, will be shattered into smithereens by the superstitious philistinism of the world. And so it happened.
At the end of Hyperion, he devotes a few pages to the German people. His compatriots could not forgive Hoelderlin for a long time, trying in every possible way to prove that he could write these pages only because he was crazy. In these pages, he really slaps his people on both cheeks. This is literally a passionate polemic written in blood and a terrible pamphlet on the society that he saw around him, a pamphlet so strong that it can be called literally amazing, as an example of a person’s protest against the bourgeois environment. It should have been translated into Russian and become available to any reader, because there is no greater expression of the indignation of the best part of the intelligentsia against their milieu than these pages. Now the German intelligentsia re-reads them endlessly and declares that everything here is true, to the last word, that all this refers not to the German people, but to the bourgeoisie, and not only to the German one. And this is true: everything he says is inapplicable to the German proletariat, but as applied to the bourgeoisie, this is true in absolutely every country.
This is the figure of Hoelderlin. You need to know it, because it will help you understand the following figures.
When the Schlegel brothers and their circle began to promote a new romantic worldview, in which they opposed the spirit to the body, the ideal of an impulse to the other world – the ideal of a harmonious earthly life, the Middle Ages – Hellas, they began to look for a poet who could be the spokesman for these theories, for they believed that the rather clumsy novels that they themselves wrote could not move the matter. True, August Schlegel gave Germany a wonderful translation of Shakespeare, and this helped the romantic school to advance – they were fond of Shakespeare, contrasted his passion and rebelliousness with modern German drama. But the Romantics had to have their own poet. At one time they settled on Tieck, but he was a minor literary figure, although a capable person. Finally, the Romantics were lucky, and they put forward a charming and really talented person: he was the young Hardenberg, who wrote under the name of Novalis.
I must tell his biography, because the biographies of romantic poets help us understand the essence of the social causes of their work. Of course, we use biographical data to study the lives of these people.
Novalis was the son of a mining engineer, a man from among the big intelligentsia. His ancestors, the Hardenbergs, were of noble origin, but for a long time they lived not an idle noble life, but as engineers. As an engineer-official, his father held a high social position. Hardenberg himself, after graduating from the gymnasium, entered the university, was stuffed with a huge amount of philology, mainly classical, during his student years he was a very sensual, very cheerful person, apparently with a huge supply of health and energy. By the way, unlike Hoelderlin, he was a stable person, had a passion for the natural sciences, and was a favorite and most capable student of the then great geologist Werner. Then, one day, shortly after graduating from university, he meets a girl. The surviving portraits of her and letters paint us a completely ordinary girl. The letters are illiterate, empty, nothing remarkable, but, according to the memoirs of contemporaries, this girl had some special charming properties that are now difficult to find out. For example, Novalis himself speaks of her differently; sometimes rather disapprovingly; but always ends with the glorification of her inexpressible charm. Others said about her that when you get to know her, all other women seem uninteresting. Goethe accidentally met this Sophia and wrote a few heartfelt lines about her charm.
Novalis recognized her as his girl, married her, and she became his bride. They seemed to get along well and had a jolly life. But she soon fell ill and died. This cheerful creature, before it had time to decide, descended into the grave.
And here everything that had previously accumulated in Novalis broke through, and Novalis was completely transformed. Until now, he was just a capable person, wanting to be a poet, dealing with somewhat philosophical questions. Now he immediately transforms into a man so great that not only his contemporaries, the intellectuals, recognized his greatness and surrounded him with some kind of respectful halo of holiness, but even now Novalis remains a figure about which every German speaks with some special respect. His writings (they are few, they can all fit in a small volume) have been translated into all languages of the world.
After the death of Sophia, Novalis’ life falls into two periods, reflected in his works. The first period, which can be called unconditionally romantic, was the period when Novalis built and vividly reflected, as an artist and as a teacher, a special philosophy of death. At that time they were very inclined to look for real, genuine truth; what is the truth, the inner resolution of the meaning of all being? – and they talked about God: God is truth, he is light, he is power. Hardenberg-Novalis stated that the inner meaning of the world is love in the broadest sense. But he did not in the least deny sensual love. He believed that sensual love, when it is real, is a high feeling, that then the spirit covers the body with a high flame, sacrificially burns it. Love must be reckless, a person must give himself entirely to it. Not everyone can do it. And the higher the development of a being, the more it can love. Therefore, minerals, for example, do not feel love at all, they have only an external, purely mechanical attraction of particles to each other, chemical affinity, etc. Plants already live the life of love. And Hardenberg-Novalis points out that what attracts us in a plant – a flower – is its sexual organ, which prepares the fruit. Here love, marriage already acquires an unusually solemn character. In the animal, love takes on an active and passionate character. In a person, love corresponds to his development, the breadth of his coverage: the higher the development, the more touching and selfless character becomes love for a friend, for a child. But it is possible to embrace whole nations, the whole humanity and all nature with love. And the more love a person burns, the higher he is, and this love gives him a place at the top of the whole hierarchy of beings. Therefore, a loving person is the last word of nature.
Hardenberg is inclined to think that he and Sophia expressed the maximum of individual love. But Sophia died. Asking himself what this means, he says that he is grateful to fate for this, because this happy event opened his eyes to the fact that true love cannot fit into our earthly life. In his diary, which is one of the most touching works in world literature, he writes: “My sleep is becoming disturbing, which means that awakening is near. Soon I will wake up and see the real you, the way you live in the world of the spirit. And I will tell you: and in a dream I dreamed of you, like an earthly Sophia, and in a dream I loved you as best I could.”
During this period, he is imbued with the idea that he, the “real”, and the “real” Sophia are eternal spirits that can neither grow old, nor die, nor feel any limitation.
But how to get there, to this realm of eternity? Through death. Death is awakening. At first he clutched at the thought of suicide, but he had an inner instinct that warned him; he tried to justify it philosophically, saying that violent death does not complete earthly life, does not open the way to eternity. He created such a theory: one must be able to die. He believed that he should gradually melt away. As a candle melts from fire, so man must melt from love. Love must burn him with its flame. He rejoiced when his illness intensified, for he felt it as a touch of another world. He told those around him that he would die early, and he said this with quiet joy, with admiration.
This is his mood of thirst for death and apotheosis – the otherworldly connection with Sophia, that he expressed in his famous Hymns to the Night. These are truly wondrous prayers to nothingness. But this is something different from Tyutchev’s. It seemed to Tyutchev that the day was something illusory. The ray of dawn seems to be pink and clear, but behind it lies the night, a much more powerful root phenomenon: it is chaos. If Tyutchev’s night is mysterious, inhuman, then it is not at all the same with Hardenberg. He says: “The night, like a mother, holds the day, her baby.” For him, the day is a relatively fleeting, young, immature creation, which the night creates from itself, like some kind of fruit for a purpose that is not entirely clear to us. The whole point is in the night, and the night is rest. But it only seems to us that peace is a deaf non-existence, but in fact it is an inner gigantic being, for which the existence of a person is only an insignificant external excitation, perhaps necessary for some eternal purposes. Physically, Novalis felt worse and worse. In part, perhaps, with his eternal thoughts about death, he undermined his body, which, according to contemporaries, was not fragile at first.
But in the last period of his life (Hardenberg died at the age of twenty-six) a change took place in him. He began to value life. He said that death is attractive in itself, but life is not given to us in vain. This wonderful world, the wondrous world that surrounds us, is not an empty phantom. Novalis declared that he was entirely adjacent to the “practical idea”.
What was this practical idea? In the subordination of the world to man and in the remaking of the world by man. At first glance, this sounds almost Marxist. This is startling at first. The task of man, according to Novalis, is purely practical. Nothing that exists apart from human practice matters. Only in practice does a person find the meaning of his being. And the practice boils down to the fact that a person must overcome the world, a person must take the world into his own hands and become its master.
But since at that time technology in Germany was in its infancy, since there was no proletariat in the true sense of the word as a class, and since capitalism had not yet fully developed, the idea that man can take the world into his hands through science and technology (which in Bacon knew England two hundred years before Novalis), Novalis could not be close. True, he studied the natural sciences: anatomy, physiology, in order to find out how a person can completely master his body, studied geology, physics, chemistry, in order to discover ways to master nature. But at the same time, he fell into a kind of magic. He became interested in theories that are reminiscent of those that not so long ago poured into the environment of the degenerate bourgeoisie of Europe from the East – the theories of Indian yogis, which consist in the fact that you can overcome your body with the efforts of the will, not with the help of physical education, but with spiritual training, by the mysterious power of the “spirit over the body.” From this, he concludes that one can change nature with his will, order nature, and it will obey. Novalis turns from the right path, from the scientific path to the path of sorcery, to the path of magic.
From this angle, Novalis wrote the novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen, which is, in essence, boring; but it was translated into many languages and was an extremely enticing work for the intelligentsia.
By its very essence, an intellectual is a person sometimes of great strength in the field of thought, but not particularly disposed to physical efforts and physical overcoming of nature; that is why he is very fond of this direct move from conception to execution, without that intermediate labor which is exactly what the proletariat and the peasantry are doing.
In fact, Marx’s main protest against romanticism (Marx unfolded in the era immediately following the era of romanticism) was precisely that he was indignant at such a phantom of resolving issues in the office, resolving issues theoretically. He realized that they must be resolved by overcoming the terrible and real resistance of society and nature. This material and labor moment, which Marx defined, was absent from Hardenberg; but all the same, Hardenberg took some step in this direction from other romantics.
Romantic slobber, boneless meat, shellfish could not even be the leader of the romantic movement. Such soft-bodied people need some kind of base, to which they cling like an oyster to a ship, and sit on it. Hardenberg, with a breadth of fantasy, with an inner deep passion that made him dream of some eternal and deep sources of happiness, greedily looked for ways out and subjectively found them; this process of finding the magical forces of influence on nature shows that there were some courageous, active strings in him – this is what made him the first among romantics. If Hardenberg had been born in a somewhat happier era, he would probably have abandoned romanticism, courageous creative principles could have come to the fore in him.
Of the rest of the German Romantic writers, one should stop at Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, who must be known primarily because he is a great artist, and it is truly a great pleasure to read him. There is an excellent article about him by Herzen, almost exhaustive in terms of the characteristics of the breathtaking beauty of his works. But I will approach it from a slightly different angle, because it is important for us as an illustration of some pages of European history.
Hoffmann was an eccentric, a hermit, a misanthrope. He rarely made friendships, and when he did, he was friends only with the same eccentrics. He was a bitter drinker and a desperate smoker. Forever in clouds of smoke, forever drunk. He had love of the romantic type; he was in love with one woman, and was married to another. And until the end of his days, he was imbued with a cult to that beloved girl and dedicated everything he wrote to her. In an infinite number of unusually attractive images, he reproduced her.
He drank, smoked and went into his slot from people, people seemed vulgar to him. He was in a certain sense of the word, like most romantics, a kind of “revolutionary”. Romantics said: “We do not accept the world!” That’s good, but then what? “We are looking for another world to which we could escape. And if it doesn’t exist, we’ll invent it.”
But unlike other romantics, Hoffmann was a satirist. He saw the reality surrounding him with unusual keenness, and in this sense he was one of the first and sharpest realists. The smallest details of everyday life, funny features in the people around him with extraordinary honesty were noticed by him. He was a good draftsman, but he was even better at writing with a pen. In this sense, his works are a whole mountain of delightfully sketched caricatures of reality. But he was not limited to them. Often he created nightmares similar to Gogol’s Portrait. Gogol is a student of Hoffmann and is extremely dependent on Hoffmann in many works, for example in Portrait and The Nose. In them, just like Hoffmann, he frightens with a nightmare and contrasts it to a positive beginning. But what is unusually light in Hoffmann is a fairy tale in which he does not find an equal master. Hoffmann’s dream was free, graceful, attractive, cheerful to infinity. Reading his fairy tales, you understand that Hoffmann is, in essence, a kind, clear person, because he could tell a child such things as The Nutcracker or The Royal Bride – these pearls of human fantasy. When he compared what he wanted with what was around him, he laughed bitterly, because what he wanted to live, what he was born for, does not exist. It cannot be said that Hoffmann established the idea of a happy other world, it cannot be said that he directly opposed reality to a dream. He was looking for some kind of jumper from fairy tale to reality. This jumper is a drunken man, a science fiction writer, a frivolous poet “not of this world.” In his works, a picture of life is usually given, for example, a petty-bourgeois town is described, described with humor of extraordinary subtlety. There lives some crazy student or a wonderful old man who is engaged in mysterious science. And you don’t know how he moves from the real world to the wondrous world of dreams, to the bright world of beauty, but what is it – did he imagine it, or is it really a picture from reality, or did Hoffmann’s sick soul give rise to such a mirage? This dude is attractive. And even the most combative natures of our time, who have gone far from dreams, cannot refuse sympathy for this eccentric who flies away from the environment to the sun of dreams and creates his beautiful castles in the air there.
Hoffmann was not a bad painter, but there is still another art in which he could give as much as in literature. It is music. Hoffmann was both a composer and a good performer. In addition, he created a special kind of literature – something like literary music – fiction related to music. This includes such masterpieces as the musical novels Don Juan, Kreisleriana, Cavalier Gluck, and especially his Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. This is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of world literature.
Here a cat, a real cat, writes a diary, like a solid, purring fat cat, which looks at everything through the eyes of a positive, well-fed animal. And as bookmarks, so that pages do not stick to pages, he uses sheets torn from the diary of the brilliant Kapellmeister Kreisler. The pages from Kreisler’s diary are an exciting novel of a genius who has fallen into court circles in which he does not find an echo. This romance is constantly interrupted by perfectly stupid remarks and the dull purr of the cat Murr, busy with his novels on the roofs and his reflections of a tailed philosopher.
Modern post-war Germany begins to return to romanticism, glorifies it. Hoffmann is resurrected with it. His writings are read and reread. There was a time when he was considered a writer for children, a funny writer on fantastic subjects, and nothing more; now this is gone. Since we regard the culture of the past, we must say that we certainly do not need a romantic, with his rejection of the world and his flight into the realm of dreams, from the point of view that we have nothing to escape from reality. But we must admit, nevertheless, that artistic pearls have been created on this soil and we do not need to throw these pearls away. For us, they can serve only as a kind of decoration of life, only as a treasure in our heritage, nothing more, but even in this limited sense, such pearls are very valuable.
Now I will say a few words about the last major German romantic, Kleist.
Kleist lived during the era of Napoleon’s conquest of Germany. He died early and in a peculiar way. He conspired with one lady, with whom he knew little, to die at the same time. They went to supper, then went somewhere in the bosom of nature, to a beautiful place, they talked there, and then he shot her and shot himself. This made a big noise, and already at that time society was interested in the question of what social reasons led the poet to such an end.
Kleist was one of the failures of the German intelligentsia. All his life he lived in the greatest poverty, sometimes literally starving, despite the fact that already during his lifetime he was considered one of the greatest playwrights, the creator of new German prose. And it's amazing how contemporaries could literally drive their writer into the coffin, but it happened.
A feature of Kleist, unlike Hoffmann or Novalis, is that he is much more active. He is much more angry. He has a vindictive feeling towards life. But his dreams have a character that smacks of some kind of megalomania, some kind of desire for evil domination. For this he was not loved. A small, blue-eyed, seemingly modest man, he showed some kind of exactingness towards other people, and in order to satiate this exactingness, perhaps, it was necessary to really become a tyrant. His individualism is already egoic, offensive.
I don’t know of a single work by Kleist that is sympathetic in the fullest sense. This writer, in my opinion, is generally unsympathetic.
I will not dwell on his stories. They are good, but still of secondary importance. Kleist is especially famous as a playwright. Let us take, for example, the first drama to which he attracted attention and which Goethe condemned, Penthesilea. He describes here an Amazon queen who is in love with Achilles, but since the ruler Achilles does not pay attention to her, she traps him and tears him to pieces, but then mourns. This is a highly unhealthy, even disgusting thing (one of the scenes is especially disgusting, it depicts a purely sadistic delight in the extermination of a man who has refused love). At the same time, the whole play is filled with some kind of barbaric noise, some kind of armed Scythians.
Kleist fell into patriotism, he wanted to cause a social movement in Germany against Napoleon. Germany was at that time very loose, she could not oppose Napoleon, she was defenseless under his blows, and Kleist hated Napoleon with burning hatred. He wrote a play dedicated to the battle in the Teutoburg Forest. His hero, Hermann, says that all means are permitted. In order to incite hatred against the enemy, Herman kills a German girl, cuts her into pieces and says: “This is how the Romans treat us!” He tells his wife to lure one of the enemy commanders, and this deceived one is given to be eaten by a she-bear.
The whole drama is filled with such things. It breathes chauvinism, passionate hatred, a stubborn desire to resist, and this is such an incredible thing, in terms of using all means to achieve the goal, that it makes you recoil from yourself. During the World War era, this thing was very much used by the enemies of Germany. Yes, they said, we know who your favorite is: Kleist! Here are the tools you admire!
The Germans, indeed, admire Kleist to this day.
The play considered Kleist’s masterpiece, Kaethchen von Heilbronn, is also a very difficult piece. It depicts a girl who fell in love with her master, a large landowner, a magnate. He also loves her, but since he believes that he cannot marry a simple girl, he humiliates her in every possible way, and she endures all humiliations. She follows him everywhere, ready to do everything for him; he beats her, scolds her, she endures everything. The human dignity in you is indignant when you read this play. And it seems to Kleist that this is a German virtue, that Kaethchen is the ideal woman. He must have dreamed all his more or less wandering life of such unlimited power over a woman, of such dog love on the part of a woman, and with all the brightness of his talent he poured out this dream of his. The end of the play is such that the nobleman nevertheless married Kaethchen, she achieved her goal, but because she turned out to be not an ordinary girl, but the illegitimate daughter of the emperor, it turned out that she, too, was a noblewoman. In general, the play, for all its poetic beauties, is rather disgusting.
From a psychological, even psychopathological point of view, Kleist is extraordinarily interesting. Here romanticism takes on the features of morbidity and even gives some hints of our “Dostoevskyism”. It is felt that nothing can satisfy Kleist in life, he is not satisfied both in dreams and in works of art. As a result, his own works breathe the flame of a secret dream, but these dreams have an active-misanthropic character, they are enveloped in some kind of veneer of misanthropy, perverted voluptuousness, perverted thirst for power.
Germany at the time of Kleist was already on its way to its next stage of development. Heine, who was a contemporary of Kleist, already knew not only the romantics, but also Lassalle, it was after this meeting that Heine wrote that a new Germany was coming into life with Lassalle, a Germany which is active, turning dreams into reality. But this reality was embodied not only in Lassalle, it was also embodied in Bismarck and in the growth of German capital, which was beginning to pull its iron gloves over its hands. Together with it, the proletariat grows and begins to dream of its place under the sun. Soon it will nominate not only Lassalle, but a much larger figure: Marx. Movement began, conflicts of real, genuine forces. And Kleist, as if anticipating, partly reflects this new. It is still a dream, it is all a dream; but the unsympathetic sides are inherent in him because the muscles begin to develop, the living blood begins to pulsate in his dreams, they have great power and passion, which in the atmosphere of dreams and fantasies found a perverted and incorrect reflection. From this point of view, if one were to draw lines in serious work, to build the trajectory of certain tendencies, then Kleist would find his place at the end of the curve of German romanticism that we are describing.
French romanticism had to acquire somewhat different features than its German counterpart, because the political situation in France was different. The French Revolution changed a lot. It crushed the aristocracy. The aristocracy lost ground in real life, it had no paths in front of it, its own romantic trend unfolded in its midst, that is, a trend towards dreaminess. But, of course, the aristocracy dreamed in a somewhat different way than the destitute intelligentsia dreams: it dreamed primarily of restoration, of the return of the time when it was the dominant class. This imposes a somewhat different imprint on this romanticism, which can be called reactionary romanticism.
In Germany, too, Romanticism was reactionary in the sense that it abandoned revolutionary paths and moved in the direction of mysticism. But, being petty-bourgeois in origin, it could not become clearly and definitely monarchist. From this point of view, it can be said that it was culturally reactionary, but was not an exponent of political reaction. On the contrary, politically German romantics always rushed forward, although they did not know clearly where. In France, there was a politically reactionary romanticism. Its representatives were Joseph de Maistre and Bonald. So was the greatest writer who expressed this side of French romanticism, Chateaubriand. Chateaubriand hated the rising bourgeoisie.
But the bourgeoisie, having put an end to the French Revolution, ousted another class, crushing its hopes, namely, the intelligentsia, the same one that gave both the Jacobins and the Gironde. The bourgeoisie, instead of all their dreams, established a moderate monarchy based on a charter, a disgusting, stubby constitution, proclaimed the slogan: only the rich have rights. And this discarded intelligentsia develops its own romanticism. It, of course, tried to restore not the pre-revolutionary, but the revolutionary time, therefore the French romanticism of the intelligentsia was revolutionary. The triumphant bourgeoisie, the big prosperous bourgeoisie, proclaimed the principle of juste milieu, the golden mean; it means a reaction, that is, we do not have a special attraction to the church, but even less to romantic ravings about freedom, equality and fraternity; we are sober and practical people, want to trade, make money; together with money, a person acquires rights; the measured, tidy life of a major merchant, this is the ideal.
What kind of art could flourish on this soil? Of course, this art is pathetic. It went along two lines. The bourgeoisie, with its principle of the golden mean, gradually destroyed what had been introduced into art by the revolution. Art acquired an absurdly prim character, since the monarchy after Napoleon lost even its grandeur, became more and more scanty, cumbersome, clumsy. Next to the official pomp, there was a penchant for realism. Why? This question was answered by Hippolyte Taine: “Monsieur Prudhomme” – that is how the particularism of the ascended merchant was then called – “wants to be given similar portraits of his family, his wife and his pug so that everyone looks alike and that the dress, clothes are so good would be depicted that I would like to ask: how much did they take? This is the ideal that the true Monsieur Prudhomme wants to achieve.”
From this soil of the thirst for realism, some interesting pictorial artists have grown up. In literature, however, such tendencies could create absolutely nothing. What was consecrated by the bourgeoisie, what the bourgeoisie considered their own, was absolutely incompetent.
On the other hand, from both sides – right and left, from the stricken aristocracy and from the side of the discarded petty bourgeoisie – waves of talent surged up. First of all, a few words about Chateaubriand.
Chateaubriand, when he was young, was himself a liberal. This was before the revolution. Chateaubriand, although an aristocrat, is not a rich man; Once in Paris, he first became interested in Voltaire’s ideas. Then came the revolution. He fled from Paris, together with the emigrants went to war against Paris. Then he lived in London and lived in poverty. It so happened that for five days he did not eat anything, about which he later spoke with great bitterness. He had no hope at the time. This grew his misanthropy and peevish attitude towards the environment. He said he had lived his life yawning, and he yawned because he was so brilliant and great that nothing could really amuse him.
Possessing a beautiful but pretentious style and great imagination, he devoted himself to literature. The heroes of his numerous novels are disillusioned young people who carry within themselves a whole hell of suffering of unsatisfied greatness, of an unrecognized genius. Their main symptom is longing and deep worthlessness.
They leave the old world, which did not understand them, and go to the savages. There, among the savages, they play tricks in every possible way. Chateaubriand portrays the savages unscientifically. With leaf colors he paints all exotic countries, depicting all sorts of colorful adventures between this fugitive and the savages. In Pushkin’s Gypsies there is a certain echo of Chateaubriandism. Chateaubriand, perhaps, was one of the first to portray a fugitive from the world of passions and civilized pride towards ordinary people and the tragedy that arises from a comparison of a complex nature with the characters of wild people. And yet Chateaubriand’s savages are prettier than his compatriots.
Subsequently, Chateaubriand returned to France, was a prominent politician, a peer of France, a minister, an envoy, became rich, but could not get out of the once acquired fold, he always yawned, always showed it to everyone, rushed around with the fact that they did not understand him, that nothing could to make him happy – neither favorable social conditions, nor the company of people, nor any kind of luck whatsoever – all this is small for him. It became his cloak, his mask, his profession.
He wrote a remarkable book of its kind, The Genius of Christianity. The first volume of this book is absurd: it is an attempt to defend Christian theology against the criticism of modern science. For Chateaubriand, his own book does not withstand any criticism. But what follows is a description of why Christianity is beautiful, that it has redeeming features. And here Chateaubriand managed to write things that are really very eloquent, very elegant, pathetic, which find their way into the hearts, respectively disposed towards this. In this case, Chateaubriand was a faithful servant of the church.
Towards the end of his life, Chateaubriand, who lived a rather diverse life, who saw many people, wrote a talented work called Memoirs from Beyond the Grave. This book is one of the best monuments of his era. Today, in all of Chateaubriand, in my opinion, only these notes can be read, the rest has become obsolete.
The influence of Chateaubriand on literature is very great, and some lines from him go to the most sympathetic romantic writer: to Byron, and from Byron a whole streak of special romanticism began, which penetrated into Russian literature, where it left a well-known mark for a long time.
I will speak very briefly about the poets Lamartine, Musset and Berenger.
Lamartine, with all his external talent and great fame, was one of the most empty-headed writers, probably in all world literature. I mention him here only because of his external talent, great fame and peculiar fate. In fact, the people of his era took him seriously: when in 1848 the monarchy of the liberal and middle bourgeoisie, headed by Louis-Philippe d'Orleans, was overthrown, the petty-bourgeois republic, which emerged from the revolution, proclaimed him its president. In this post, he spouted whole fountains of pathetic eloquence and oratorically internally empty politics. In fact, he played the role of a purely external decoration of a short-lived republic and in no way interfered with either the bloody exploits of Cavaignac or the onset of Bonapartism.
It was he who created the poetry of lambs, stars, nights, eyes, eternal sighs about paradise, a huge poem about a fallen angel, who finds redemption through various adventures: in a word, an inexhaustible amount, in our opinion, of perfect bad taste. However, he is talented, his poems are musical. He created a new music verse. It was said that the “heavenly harp” is heard in the music of his stanzas; but this is relaxed music, pleasant sweetness, nothing more. And yes, it is all sweet. This sweetness in a large dose was taken as a genius.
He has one wonderful book, this is the History of the Gironde. Lamartine admires the Girondins, resents the Jacobins. But the important thing is that, being close to politics, he collected a large number of documents, and very eloquent ones. He recreates the speeches of Robespierre, Vergniaud and others from fragments of phrases that he found in the press, or from very imperfect notes, which often distort both the pace and color of speech. The book is very interesting. It is difficult now to recreate the figure of Danton, Robespierre and other Montagnards without the material that Lamartine provides. But woe to anyone who takes this work for a real historical document. It contains a lot of liberal lies. And yet it is the only book that has survived Lamartine; now that his poems and lyrics are not read even in France, although he is enrolled once and for all in the category of first-class romantics.
Musset is more talented. He managed to write things of incomparable grace. Such are his plays Proverbes, such are some of the poems, especially his Nights. But at the same time, Heine was right when he said: “I, perhaps, respect the ruin, but when the building was built to be a ruin, such premature flabbiness is unpleasant.” Musset has it. His poems give an idea of how the intelligentsia had loosened up by that time.
As a representative of the big-bourgeois intelligentsia, Musset expressed sympathy for the reactionary government. At the same time, as a person with artistic inclinations, a subtle nature, he could not be satisfied with bourgeois reality, it disgusted him, and he left it for the world of dreams and the world of orgies, as he had the money for this. He was a big reveler, a man of heightened voluptuousness, a beautiful-hearted dreamer without any definite relation to the world, who, due to his talent, sometimes ignites and gives several images, several chords, almost startling expressions of longing, meditation, but immediately after that he goes on to different things, to playing with words, which he was very good at, because outwardly he was very talented.
People who dream of “art for art’s sake”, who like the play with words, feelings, ideas, complete freedom regarding trends, admire Musset and find him unusually elegant. In the portraits, he looks like some kind of prince or courtier, went through his whole life as a poetic page and in the end drowned in champagne and completely decomposed in revelry. He spent the last years of his life as a man who had become completely useless.
Berenger was of a completely different type. We treat Beranger with more sympathy. He is a brilliant representative of the French song. There were many songs then, since the revolution they have played a big role. Who created them is often unknown. As a rule, words with the sharp character of a pamphlet or sarcasm were invented on a motif that already existed. There were both domestic and political songs. Berenger composed such songs better than all his contemporaries. In his views, Beranger was a Bonapartist, bowed before Napoleon and regretted that Napoleon had been overthrown by the bourgeoisie. He was from the petty bourgeoisie. His philosophy is the ideas of a prudent person with a closed outlook. He very nicely describes the life of a poor poet, with his love for some milliner, with his small amusements, his small passions. All this is extremely naive and attractive, but at the same time very small. Sometimes Berenger rises to pathos and creates wonderful things (for example, a song about a corporal who is being led to be shot), but there are few such things and they almost always bear the stamp of Bonapartism, the greatest phenomenon in the eyes of the French tradesman.
Now we come to a great poet: to Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo lived a long life, more than eighty years. He was born in 1802 and died in 1885. All his life he worked fruitfully and, just like Goethe, was the idol of his time. If before 1830 Goethe was the idol of Europe, then Victor Hugo became the same idol after him. He was a real master of thoughts. This writer, very interesting both in his talent and in his fate, is not yet sufficiently appreciated among us.
He was the son of a colonel of Napoleonic formation, of more or less aristocratic origin, and began his career with a volume of odes in a monarchical and Catholic spirit. When, a few years later, already in the 1830s, twenty-eight years old, he republished these Odes, he said in the preface: “There is no greater object of pride and joy than the consciousness that you have been leveling all your life, that you, having been born an aristocrat, end your life as a democrat and a revolutionary.” This is exactly what happened to Hugo. Literally all his life he went to the left: leaving the white banner of the Orleanists, he moved to the tricolor republican, and then to the red socialist (he was more or less close, as far as his time allowed him, to French socialism with its somewhat petty-bourgeois utopian fantasies). Hugo was born publicly precisely in 1830, when a revolution took place that ended the regime of Charles X. Many of his works that immediately made him a noticeable person belong to this time.
Let us characterize some of his features as a writer.
First of all, he was a man of incredibly accurate and rich vision. His sight prevails over all other senses. He was himself a good engraver, excellently portrayed both faces and landscapes. His eye was full of visual impressions. Therefore, his works are teeming with images. Take any work by Hugo and imagine what he is talking about – images will appear before you, as if on a slide. You will see a whole crowd, an endless string of images going in several rows, always unusually bright, always unusually spectacularly illuminated. His works are an inexhaustible storehouse for the artist. To a person with a vivid imagination, who easily imagines what is said to him, reading Hugo gives great pleasure. Whole worlds pass before you. This is his great dignity, and I do not know a poet equal to him in abundance and convexity of images.
Then, he is a great musician in verse. True, this music is special. It is always fighting with him and a little on stilts, it is always exaggerated and mannered; but in this mannerism there is no buffoonery, no flirtatiousness, but there is a heroic pose. It disgusts small people, but people of a large scale like it. It would be better if it were not poetry, but real heroism, but still the poetry of heroism is better than the opposite of heroism. And Hugo was personally a hero, as can be seen from his conflict with Napoleon III.
He also wrote on satirical themes in a revolutionary populist spirit. In one place he says that the poet reflects all life and therefore cannot but be a living echo of political clashes. Hugo loves to express his political thought in general loud formulas about oppressed peoples, about the low triumph of tyrants, etc. But even in such tirades it is easy to expose the echoes of the political life of his era and his native country.
This poet spoke with particular force when Napoleon III was on the throne. He wrote the famous pamphlet, which he called Napoleon le petit (Napoleon the Small). It is one of the finest pamphlets in world literature, full of inexpressible indignation, slandering Napoleon, who has gone from president to emperor. He then wrote a work in verse, Punishment, an angry series of civic poems in which he attacked tyranny throughout the world and the bourgeoisie in the name of the freedom of peoples.
All this was only populism, nothing more, but then one could not have expected anything else. But there is so much passion, so many visions, apocalyptic, grandiose, so much hatred of evil and an ardent call to light, that this book, of course, deserves to be translated from the first line to the last. And it is very characteristic that before the revolution Hugo was translated a lot, but often they translated what could not be translated, and those things in which Hugo was a great folk poet were not translated. This book Punishment is not translated, like many of the best poems.
Then Hugo wrote a huge series of poems, Legends of the Ages. In them, he wanted to give the whole history of culture and make sure that each poem, both in form and in music, corresponds to the images that it calls to life from the first savages to our time and through our time to the future of mankind. As a panorama, it is very interesting. But his images are not always truthful, not always of equal value: sometimes instead of real metal, he gives a fake metal, bronzed plaster. There is also unnecessary, false ones. But if we take Legends of the Ages and Balmont’s poems and make a squeeze of the best of both, then all the numerous volumes of Balmont will still be compressed into a much smaller volume than the Legends of the Ages alone.
Hugo has separate things of incomparable beauty, completely alien to decadent romanticism. Progressive thought, great will, great impulse are visible in them; the passion of the petty bourgeoisie seethes in them, crushed and trying to regain its position, which it had occupied during the revolution. These were the people who carried him forward. And if all of his music – passionate, excited, outwardly spectacular, like his individual images – is bright and poster-like, then they are, perhaps, just right on our ears, no matter what refined sissies say. As for the French, there is no doubt that the French advanced proletariat still loves Hugo more than any other writer.
When Hugo wrote Legends of the Ages, it was already clear that he was the greatest poet in Europe. Napoleon III was very afraid that such a poet, who is recognized by all of Europe, may live somewhere as an exile. He gave him amnesty. But Hugo wrote that he would not accept amnesty from such a scoundrel. “But do not think that I will not return to France,” he wrote, “I will return, but only when you are not there.” In 1871 Hugo did indeed return to France.
It was a procession of a real folk poet. Hundreds of thousands of people came out to meet him. It was a huge revolutionary and literary celebration, in which, perhaps for the first time, a huge crowd of the Parisian working population came to take part. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, he was given all sorts of political honors.
Hugo later published more than one collection of poems. Until old age, until the age of eighty-three, he worked. True, the older he got, the more grandiose in terms of scope, but his works became internally empty, so that his huge things, for example “God”, already dissolve in such immensity, their images become so large and at the same time so puffed up that it already feels old here. The recent attempts, both in France and here in Russia, to “discover” old Hugo, the exorbitant cosmist, do not deserve praise. But even in his old age, Hugo created a lot of beauty. Already a deep old man, he wrote How to be a grandfather. Here is the wise poetry of an old man already dying, here is a tender love for children and many charming episodes. Hugo was a great romantic.
True, he was a kind of romantic. He was a Sturm und Drang romantic, a man who goes on the offensive and for whom a dream is not just a dream. He knew that his pamphlets, his political poems and novels, were proclamations, appeals to the French people, whom he called to a real struggle. Revolutions took place throughout almost his entire life. He was one of the few who reacted positively to the Commune, who did not slander it.
In his novels, he created a series of masterpieces. I will mention only three more famous ones. The first of them, Notre Dame Cathedral, recreates medieval French life – maybe not everything is correct, but there is an inner truth in it. Plus, it’s an absolutely gripping storyline novel. Now this novel (like most of the novels of Walter Scott, who was partly a model for Hugo) has moved into the field of children’s literature and literature for teenagers. But that doesn't mean he’s bad. It remains a great novel in terms of the brightness of the plot, the convexity of all the figures that are brought out in it, the love of the people that comes through at every step, the anger against the oppressors that resounds in it. This is a noble, good novel, it can be recommended as one of the best historical novels in world literature.
The second novel is Les Miserables, Les Miserables. It is dedicated to the lower classes of the people. Hugo contrasts in it the poorest women, prostitutes, people sentenced to hard labor, a nameless crowd to gilded Paris. And all the sympathy of the author is on the side of these miserables, on the side of the humiliated and offended. Hugo’s inexhaustible talent showed up here. This is a great novel. True, sometimes it is boring, too overloaded with reasoning; but at the same time he gives such captivating images as Jean Valjean, as the famous Gavroche, the Gamin type, the street urchin who helps the revolutionaries, a type that has become eternal. I will not enumerate all the many-sided thoughts and beauties of this novel now.
I can only say that he anticipates Dostoevsky to a large extent. This novel is at the same time social, psychological, philosophical, and a marvelous adventure novel. It has been remade several times for the theater and cinema, but no one has yet exhausted it properly. This is undoubtedly the favorite novel of the French proletariat and the more or less educated part of the peasantry and the urban poor, the favorite novel of teenagers. In many ways, he exemplifies how to write for the masses. Hugo, of course, could not then write much of what we now need; but our novelist who wants to write for the widest circles can learn a lot from Hugo.
Ninety-Three is now published by Giz Library. Of course, there is a certain beautiful soul in it, a desire to do justice to the enemy, a lot of romantic, stilted, there are also several unpleasant episodes, for example, the image of the greatest revolutionaries of the French Revolution is given, although brilliantly and not without sympathy, but still I would wish Hugo to, in relation to such people (especially in relation to Robespierre, Marat), have more inner understanding. Yet the novel as a whole is gripping and gives you more of a breath of the Great Revolution than any other, not even Anatole France’s The Gods Are Thirsty or Bourget’s Under the Guillotine. In the end, the novel by Victor Hugo is more revolutionary than both of these novels.
Hugo was also a major playwright. At that time, Paris was divided into two camps: the camp of the old classics and the camp of the romantics. The French theater then worked out a lot of inner truth, but it felt a kind of stiffness, the mannerism that dominated society. Hugo mixed it all up. One of the playwrights and brilliant writers of France – Voltaire – called Shakespeare a genius, but a complete savage, because it seemed to him that there was no order in his works. And Hugo proclaimed Shakespeare the pearl of creation and brought with triumph to the French stage precisely this disorder. Of course, France shouted that this was a complete collapse of high taste. And it was not in vain that the old bourgeoisie and all the conservatives that were then in the country were afraid of this innovation, for Hugo’s revolutionary feelings actually stood behind it. He gave such things that up to now the venerable bourgeoisie did not want to see on the stage.
Of course, it is by no means to say that Hugo wrote at least one play that would completely satisfy us. For example, the play Hernani, where the positive type is the robber, and the negative is the nobleman. This thing is too sentimental and in every respect is lower than Schiller’s Robbers. Hugo goes here in the same direction of mixing the robber and the revolutionary, but does not reach the strength that Schiller reached.
His best drama is Ruy Blas. It deserves to be put on our stage. This is the masterpiece of Hugo the playwright. Of course, it cannot be called a completely revolutionary play. There is such a case. The lackey, not some fake, disguised as a lackey, but a real aristocratic lackey, as was the case in the pseudo-classical theater, deserves the love of the empress, the Spanish queen. He falls into the favorites, but uses this for revolutionary purposes. A splendid depiction of his relations with the ministers, whom he calls thieves and predators, follows, full of tremendous inner uplift. In parallel, other types were bred: a magnificent peer, in fact a bastard and a criminal, and his brother, Don Cesar, who is played in France by the best comedians, a drunkard, a man like our Lyubim Tortsov, a type of seeker of truth, a dreamer who drank himself from the circle, capable of helping all the best. All the figures in the play are very amusing and infected with great pathos. The funny and the sublime are given hand-in-hand.
In Moscow, his play Son of the People, from English history, was given, built according to a similar scheme. The play Angelo, Tyrant of Padua was also staged.
And for our time, many of Hugo’s dramas are quite suitable spectacle and can honorably take a place in the repertoire of our theaters. They are bright, look with exciting interest, and although the ideas that enliven them are often too abstractly democratic, nevertheless these ideas are honest, enlightening, and advanced. The people he portrays are big, great and so are their passions. Good and evil are opposed to each other clearly.
They scold Hugo, in my opinion, undeservedly. For example, Romain Rolland says that Hugo is bad because he is too plaintive, too stilted. Rolland says that the proletariat demands something more ordinary, something more truthful. This is nonsense. Romain Rolland himself, speaking of the people’s theater, ends by giving the people a melodrama. And what is the melodrama that has hitherto been given to the people? This is deception of the purest kind. Its authors outwardly understood that what the public needs is posterity, namely the brightness of good and evil, so that everything catches the eye, so that there are strong passions. All these moments are present in the melodrama. But still we know that for the most part the melodrama is vulgar and full of harmful bourgeois content, because its authors are second-class people, mediocre suppliers of plays to theaters for the poor public. But the works of the young Schiller are close to melodrama, for example, The Robbers and even more Intrigue and Love, and Hugo is also approaching melodrama. Hugo’s works are always full of high content. With all the stiltedness of the tongue, roaring like a lion, it feels real power in every word. Let us assume that its melodrama, its placardism, its artificiality make these plays bright, solemn, and bear little resemblance to life. Well, do we go to the theater to see what we see on the street or in our apartment? No, in the theater we want to see the same life, but condensed, bright, in an upbeat tone; on the stage, all contours should be sharper. That’s why I think there’s a lot to learn from Hugo in the field of theater as well.
There were two writers in France, one of whom continued the line of Hugo’s novel, and the other of the play; both of them really became writers for the people. They have strengths and they have weaknesses.
The first of them was Eugene Sue. He proclaimed himself a socialist, although he was rich. Sue made a lot of money from his books. Before him, there was no such writer who would be bought up in hundreds of thousands of copies. Before him, the greatest writers, not excluding even Hugo, were read by several tens of thousands of the most literate people. Eugene Sue gave his novels in French newspapers and in separate cheap editions (thus his novels reached the most illiterate person), and everyone was waiting impatiently for the next issue to appear. I do not know if Sue was only pretending to be a populist or really considered himself one; but in his personal life, at least, he showed a crying contradiction to this: he liked to order gilded carriages, luxurious apartments, go around in toilets with diamond buttons. He learned from Hugo to write interestingly. By reading it, you are holding your breath, you think: what is next? As soon as you get out of one adventure, you get into another. His heroes are living people, with more or less strong wills and opposing interests. In such a struggle, they dig a hole for each other or make alliances with each other, and at every step chance intervenes, which destroys some intrigues, supports others. Sue gave all this a certain populist character. Perhaps the higher circles were displeased with this social aftertaste, but they could not deny themselves the pleasure of reading his novels – they are very colorful and fascinating.
Take The Wandering Jew, or The Seven Deadly Sins, or The Mysteries of Paris, etc., the novels are all seven or eight in volume, so you can read them as if only for punishment, but start reading and it’s unlikely you can break away.
The novel The Wandering Jew depicts the struggle between the Jesuits and the free-thinking elements of the people. This anti-clerical nature of the novel creates a sympathetic side to it. He is naive, clumsy, truly unartistic, but he has such a pictorial quality, such a brightness of colors that when you look at modern writers after that, it seems that they are bruised in the very cradle in terms of ingenuity.
Sue has little artistic finish in general, but there are many exciting episodes, and from time to time he creates bright types. His novels are reprinted in our time.
Alexandre Dumas is perhaps even cheaper than Sue. He has no revolutionary spirit, although, having written two hundred and fifty volumes of essays and being unprincipled, he sometimes portrayed revolutionaries. He made a lot of money, but squandered even more. And if he himself got tired of writing, he bought other people’s manuscripts and, without even looking at them sometimes, signed his name and published them; if the author was demanding, the book was signed: “A. Dumas and such and such”, although Dumas himself did not write a single page in this manuscript. At first he preliminarily corrected other people’s manuscripts and put dots over the “and”, and then he began to sign without reading, and it is unlikely that he himself ever read all two hundred and fifty volumes of his works. Among his novels there are magnificent things in terms of brilliance and sharpness of adventure. Everyone knows, for example, the novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Dumas also wrote plays. He perfectly felt how to capture the audience, how to write a play so that it went through at least a hundred times. He was a great master at it. He felt that he was an elegant writer who could please a refined taste, but he also knew that his play would go to the folk theater; it was necessary to appeal to the public, which demanded something strong, spectacular, striking in the eyes, and he created this strong in the way that was necessary for a real folk theater.
Of course, I do not call for educating our new public on the works of Hugo, much less on Dumas or Sue; but I insist that these three writers have found a loud, clear, impressive language that easily penetrates the millions of people, and that our writer-dramatists, who want to capture the attention of the masses, have a lot to learn from them.