1902 Encyclopedia > Aesthetics > Goethe, Schiller, Jean Paul and Other German Writers on Aesthetics

(Part 20)


Goethe, Schiller, Jean Paul and Other German Writers on Aesthetics

The partial contributions to aesthetic after Lessing need not long detain us. Goethe wrote several tracts on aesthetic topics, as well as many aphorisms. He attempts to mediate between the claims of ideal beauty, as taught by Winckelmann, and the aims of individualization.

Schiller discusses, in a number of disconnected essays and letters, some of the principal questions in the philosophy of art. He looks at art as a side of culture and the forces of human nature, and finds in an aesthetically cultivated soul the reconciliation of the sensual and rational. His letters on aesthetic education (Ueber die aesthetische Erziehung des Menschen) are very valuable, and bring out the connection between aesthetic activity and the universal impulse to play (Spieltrieb). This impulse is formed from the union of two other impulses -- the material (Stofftrieb) and the formal (Formtrieb) -- the former of which seeks to make real the inner thought, the latter to form or fashion this reality. Schiller’s thoughts on this topic are cast in a highly metaphysical mould, and he makes no attempt to trace the gradual development of the first crude play of children into the aesthetic pleasures of a cultivated maturity. He fixes as the two conditions of aesthetic growth, moral freedom of the individual and sociability. The philosophic basis of Schiller’s speculation is the system of Kant.

Another example of this kind of reflective discussion of art by literary men is afforded us in the Vorschule der Aesthetik of Jean Paul Ritcher. This is a rather ambitious discussion of the Sublime and the Ludicrous, and contains much valuable matter on the nature of humour in romantic poetry. Jean Paul is by no means exact or systematic, and his language is highly poetic. His definitions strike one as hasty and inadequate: for example, that the Sublime is the applied Infinite, or that the Ludicrous is the Infinitely Small. Other writers of this class, as Wilhelm von Humboldt, the two Schlegels, Gervinus, though they have helped to from juster views of the several kinds of poetry, &c., have contributed little to the general theory of art. F. Schlegel’s determination of the principle of romantic poetry as the Interesting, in opposition to the objectivity of antique poetry, may be cited as a good example of this group of speculations.

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