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THE ORIGINS OF THE ROMANTIC LITERARY THEORY
Author(s): ERNST BEHLER
Source: Colloquia Germanica, Vol. 2 (1968), pp. 109-126
Published by: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH Co. KG
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THE ORIGINS

OF THE ROMANTIC LITERARY THEORY

ERNST BEHLER

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON (SEATTLE)

The definition of Romanticism has always been the despair of the literary
historian. It is inherent in the nature of designations of epochs to arouse
suspicion that such categorizing suffocates the abundance of life and art
in the formula of a concept. For this reason such designations continue
to remain the favorite subject of nominalistic scepticism. This reservation
is especially applicable to the term «European Romanticism», compris
ing a movement which had as its device, multiplicity, and as its virtue,
formlessness, extending itself to all fields of the intellectual world - litera
ture and poetry, music and painting, philosophy and science, politics and
religion - and also manifesting itself in a variety of national peculiarities.
Thus Romanticism has always been considered as an exemplary model of
the superiority of reality over endeavors to define, of the inability to
comprehend life by means of a concept.
Nevertheless, critics have untiringly expended their energies on this
enigmatic phenomenon for more than a century. When limited to the
ventures to fathom Romanticism as a literary movement, two approaches
appear to be especially fruitful among the numerous books concerning
Die Wesensbestimmung der Romantik, The Meaning of Romanticism, and Les
définitions du romantisme1.
The first approach is of an etymological nature. It consists in the
attempt to reveal the essence of the matter through the history of the
1 Among the numerous studies of the topic, the following books and articles are of special
interest: Fernand Baldensperger, «Pour une interprétation équitable du romantisme euro
péen», Helicon I; D. Parodi, «L'essence du romantisme», Revue de métaphysique XXXVIII;
Jean-Bertrand Barrère, «Sur quelques définitions du romantisme», Revue des sciences humaines
(1951); Adolf Grimme, Vom Wesen der Romantik (1947); Julius Petersen, Die Wesensbestim
mung der deutschen Romantik (1926); H. A. Korff, «Das Wesen der deutschen Romantik», Zeit
schrift für deutseben Unterriebt XLIII; K. Borries, «Das Weltbild und Lebensgefiihl der deut
schen Romantik », Die Welt als Geschichte, VI; Romantik. Ein Zyklus Tübinger Vorlesungen ( 1948) ;
Arthur O. Lovejoy, «The Meaning of Romanticism for the Historian of Ideas t>, Journal of the
History of Ideas II ; Arthur O. Lovejoy, « On the Discrimination of Romanticisms », Essays in
the History of Ideas (New York 1960); Jacques Barzun, Classic, Romantic and Modem (New York
1961); René Wellek, «The Concept of Romanticism in Literary History», Concepts of Criti
cism (New Haven 1963); René Wellek, «Romanticism Re-examined», Concepts of Criticism
(New Haven 1963).

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no Ernst Behler

word «Romantic»2. Studies of this kind demonstrate that the term «Ro
mantic» was used during the 17th and early 18th centuries, presumably
first in England. It served to illustrate fantastic qualities of landscape and
painting, adventurous and exotic features, and also sentimental experi
ences of love. During this period of time in France, England, and then
in Germany, «Romantic » also appeared as a literary category emphasizing
certain characteristics of post-classical literature in the works of Ariosto,
Tasso, Shakespeare, and Dante, as well as in those of Cervantes and Cal
deron3. Later the word came into vogue among contemporary literary
critics as a designation for that new kind of literature that manifested it
self in various European countries at the beginning of the 19th century.
This meaning is now to be explored by analyzing the different contents
which were poured into the formula «Romanticism» by the manifold
representatives of this movement.
The second approach to the meaning of Romanticism is of a critical
nature. Here, one is no longer concerned with the meaning of the word,
but solely with the matter itself, that is, with the literature, the poetry,
and the programmatical writings of this movement4. The comparative
study of these works has as its goal the demonstration of that which is
common to all the Romantic authors, regardless of its relation to their
own definition of Romanticism. This assumption appears to be all the
more necessary in view of the amazing fact that most of the authors whom
we today call Romantic poets did not consider themselves to be Roman
tics. This applies to the Schlegel brothers, to Novalis and Brentano, as
well as to Madame de Staël and Chateaubriand, and also to Coleridge,
Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and Lord Byron.
To be sure, the term «Romantic» belongs to the critical vocabulary of
the Schlegel brothers, Madame de Staël, Coleridge, and numerous other
authors of the time. It was indeed a favorite expression for the German
critics, as is exemplified in Novalis' aphorism beginning with the well
known postulate5: «The world must be romanticized.» Having been in
2 Cf. in particular: Fernand Baldensperger, «Romantique - ses analogues et équivalents »,
Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature XIV (1937), 13-105 ; Richard Ullmann and
Helene Gotthard, Geschichte des Begriffs «Romantisch» in Deutschland (Berlin 1927); Logan
P. Smith, Four Words. Romantic, Originality, Creative, Genius (London 1924).
3 For the results of this etymological discussion of the term, cf. René Wellek, «The Con
cept of Romanticism in Literary History», i3off.
4 This Comparative study is the subject of the second part of René Wellek's article «The
Concept of Romanticism in Literary History», iöoff.
5 Novalis Schriften. Zweiter Band. Herausgegeben von Richard Samuel unter Mitwirkung
von Hans Joachim Mahl und Gerhard Schulz (Stuttgart i960), 545 (No. 105). - The use of

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 111
fluenced by the contemporary meaning of the word, many a critic and
historian has been seduced into thinking that these authors were referring
to themselves when employing the concept «Romantic».
Upon closer consideration, however, one soon discovers that the term
«Romantic » in that period was by no means used to designate the literary
movement which we today call by that name. When August Wilhelm
Schlegel speaks of the Romantic era of European literature, he unmistak
ably refers to the works of the modern European nations, more speci
fically, to the literary productions of Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, Camoes,
Cervantes, Calderon, and Shakespeare6. According to August Wilhelm

the term by the German authors of the time can be illustrated by the following examples
taken at random: In the fifth part of his Vorschule der Ästhetik of 1804 (second edition 1813),
Jean Paul discusses «Romantic Poetry» as an essential element of modem literature in the
works of Shakespeare, Petrarch, Ariosto, Cervantes, etc. He contrasts the Romantic style
with classical poetry (par. 21) and derives it from the influences of Christianity (par. 23),
Indian wisdom, and the «old-Nordic » mythology of the Edda (par. 22). More recent examples
of the Romantic style are found in Schiller (whose Maid of Orleans is indeed called a «romantic
tragedy»), Herder, Tieck, Klinger and Klopstock (par. 25). - In 1819 Franz Grillparzerwrote
a study «Über den Gebrauch des Ausdrucks <romantisch) in der neueren Kunstkritik» (Sämt
liche Werke. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe. Herausgegeben von August Sauer, XIV,
27fr.), criticizing the «gegenwärtig vorwaltende Hang zum sogenannten Romantischen, zu
jenem Ahnen, Sehnen und übersinnlichen Schauen, für das es in der Natur überall kein Ge
genbild gibt». Grillparzer considers «Formlosigkeit» as «ein Hauptingrediens der sogenann
ten Romantik» and therefore tries to defend Shakespeare and Calderon from being called
Romantic poets. Similar to Goethe (who in a famous statement had said: «Klassisch ist das
Gesunde, romantisch das Kranke», Werke. Jubiläumsausgabe, XXXVIII, 283), Grillparzer
designated Romanticism as «schlecht und verwerflich» without, however, relating this term
exclusively to his epoch. - The second part of Hegel's lectures on Aesthetics (1818-1829) con"
sists of a confrontation of «Die klassische Kunstform» and «Die romantische Kunstform»

{Sämtliche Werke. Jubiläumsausgabe, XIII), whereby he is obviously influenced by August
Wilhelm Schlegel. Following Friedrich Schlegel's famous thesis, he considers the Romantic
arts as those «welche die Innerlichkeit des Subjektiven zu gestalten berufen sind» (XIII,
258-262), and he places the rise of Romantic art toward the end of the Middle Ages. - A de
cisive change in the meaning of the term can be noticed in Eichendorff's «Zur Geschichte der
neuern romantischen Poesie in Deutschland» of 1846 (Sämtliche Werke. Historisch-kritische
Ausgabe, VIII, 5 ff.) in which Romanticism is characterized, as by Hegel, as «die revoluzionäre
Emanzipation der Subjektivität ». This phenomenon is not to be found solely in post-medieval
literature, but also among more recent authors. In this context, however, Eichendorff speaks
of « modern » or « contemporary » Romanticism which was prepared by Herder, Lenz, Heinse,
Klinger, Wieland, Goethe, and Schiller, and found its climax in authors such as Novalis, the
Schlegel brothers, Arnim, and Tieck.
6 Cf. the third part of his Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst of 1803-04 (published
by Jakob Minor in Deutsche Literaturdenkmale des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts, XIX, Heilbronn
1884) which is devoted to the «Geschichte der romantischen Literatur» in contrast to the
«Geschichte der klassischen Literatur» of the preceding volume.

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X12 Ernst Behler

Schlegel, these authors have init
to classical literature and derivin
chivalry, love, honor, and the C
Friedrich Schlegel also bestowed
«Romantic», as is evidenced by h
my point of view and usage, Roma
content in a fantastic form.» He
the core of Romantic imaginatio
«un-Romantic era», but in Shak
of European literature®. «This is w
Schlegel says10, «in the older M
Italian poetry, in that age of kn
the thing itself and the word fo
Romantic as a poet of fairy tales
only one aspect of his own poet
Coleridge says that his subject i
consisted of «persons and charac
while it was left to Wordsworth
of every day, and to excite a fe
awakening the mind's attention
ing it to the loveliness and the
out any hesitation, we would c
Coleridge does not do so. In fact
being Romantic. As late as 181

7 The classical text for this characterizati
Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst und L
1809-11 (Kritische Ausgabe by Giovanni V
English translation by John Black in 1815
8 Gespräch über die Poesie of 1799-1800 (
geben und eingeleitet von Hans Eichner
the forthcoming English edition of Schleg
Struc, Pennsylvania State University Pres
» Op. cit., 330.
10 Op. cit., 335.
11 Novalis' concept of poetry and h
to the realm of the fairy tale is most
Meister's Apprenticeship. Cf. Ewald Wasm
aphorisms: Novalis. Fragmente, II (Heide
by Wilhelm Dilthey, «Novalis», Das Erleb
322 fr.
12 Biograpbia Literaria. Edited with his aesthetical essays by J. Shawcross (Oxford 1962),
H, 6 (Chapter XIV).

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 113
fied Romantic poetry as having its origin «in the songs of the minne
singer» and in the ideals of knighthood and Christianity13.
Thus the etymological approach to the meaning of Romanticism ends
in an impasse. This method may indeed lead to manifold and interesting
applications of the word by the Romantic authors, but concepts thus
determined unfortunately have the disadvantage of not referring to that
epoch in which our discussion centers.
Only in the second decade of the 19th century, do the beginnings of
the present usage of «Romantic» become evident. Then, representatives
of the new literary movement were polemically labeled by their adversaries
- the traditional neoclassicists and newly developing realists - with this
term that formerly had signified post-medieval literature14. The best
known example of this metamorphosis of meaning is Heinrich Heine's
satirical study of 1833 on The Romantic School of Germany". Ten years
earlier in his pamphlet «Racine and Shakespeare», Stendhal had courage
ously revealed himself to be a Romantic, presumably the first author to
have done so. In the hands of this great satirist, however, the designation
was chiefly a means to ridicule the opposing school of neoclassicism. For
him the Romantic attitude meant primarily poetic originality, rebellion
against the yoke of neoclassical rules. «All great writers were the Roman
tics of their day » according to StendhalI6, whereas the neoclassicists were
«those who, a century after the death of the great writers, copy them
instead of opening their eyes and imitating nature ». This led to the ironi
cal consequence that the idols of neoclassicism, Molière and Racine, were
the Romantics of their era just as Homer was in his time.
In view of this failure of the etymological approach, we must ask our
selves what the Romantics themselves attempted and how their literary
program can be defined. This question shall now be answered by Fried
rich Schlegel.
At first glance this endeavour appears to be a considerable limitation
of the topic. Friedrich Schlegel was a German author who, compared to

13 De l'Allemagne. Nouvelle édition par la Comtesse Jean de Pange avec le concours de
Simone Balayé (Paris 1958), II, 128.
14 Cf. René Wellek, «The Concept of Romanticism in Literary History», 140.
15 «What was the Romantic School in Germany ? » Heine asks at the beginning of his book
{The Works of Heinrieb Heine. Translated by Charles Godfrey Leland. New York, no date, X,
2 } 9 ff.) : « It was nothing but the reawakening of the poetry of the Middle Ages, as it had shown
itself in its songs, images, and architecture, in art and in life.»
16 Racine et Shakespeare, par Pierre Martino (Paris 1925), 20, 39IÎ., 5 5 ff. - Racine and Shake
speare. Translated by Guy Daniels with a foreword by André Maurois (The Crowell-Collier
Press 1962), 25, 38fT., 117fr.

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ii4 Ernst Behler

his brother August Wilhelm Schlegel
Western literature. Because of his ill-f
to be a literary eccentric even in his n
of an author who reveled in expressin
reflection in a paradoxical manner. C
aphoristic style and deliberate literar
Schlegel remarked goodnaturedly17: «
than with articles and with self-coined
In the final analysis, his entire genius
nology.» How can one possibly demons
cism through this individualistic autho
Nevertheless, one must concede that
the roots of the program of European
shown in his well-known article, the
may chiefly be derived from two bo
rAllemagne of 1814, called the «Bi
August Wilhelm Schlegel's lectures on
Literature of 1813, referred to by Pra
of German Romanticism to Europe »20
can easily be seen in Victor Hugo's «P
hal's «Racine and Shakespeare»; they a
Edgar Allan Poe, and in themain figur
and Slavonic Europe21.
Heinrich Heine had surmised, howev
August Wilhelm Schlegel as an experie
for Romanticism she penetrated the in
and philosophy. If one were able to p
authoress - as many critics contend -
the case with even greater conviction
Schlegel. Those parts of his work tha
often nothing but re-formulations of

17 Aus Scbleiermachers Leben. In Briefen. He
(Berlin 1858-63), III, 71.
18 «The Concept of Romanticism», i37ff. - C
A. W. Schlegel's Vorlesungen über dramatische Kun
19 Cf. JeandePange's introduction to Madame de
20 Josef Körner, Die Botschaft der deutseben Ro
21 Cf. Victor Hugo, «Preface to Cromwell», The
Famous Books XXXIX (New York 1909), 354fr. ;
(Madison, Wisconsin 1957); Josef Körner, Die B
(Augsburg 1929), 69fr.

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 115

younger brother in the paradoxical style of his aphorisms. With good
reason basic concepts of August Wilhelm Schlegel's literary criticism
have been considered popularized adaptions of the thought of his more
subtle younger brother ".
Thus with Friedrich Schlegel we are the beginning of a process of
translation extending to August Wilhelm Schlegel, to Madame de Staël,
and directly into the Romantic movement. Admittedly, the end of this
chain might differ considerably from its beginning; however, Friedrich
Schlegel is the source from whence the multiple ideas which we today
consider as «Romantic» originated.
Friedrich Schlegel's literary program has been the subject of various
studies23. With respect to origins and impulses of his theory, two hypo
theses may be distinguished. The first establishes a close relationship
between Schlegel's concept of literature and the genre of the novel, and
the second derives his ideas from philosophical reflections, from a new
world view. It may also be said that according to the first interpretation,
Goethe was Schlegel's model, while according to the second, Schiller
provided the stimulus.
The first hypothesis was originally formulated by Rudolf Haym, who
in his Romantic School of 1870 said24: «Schlegel, always ready for new
constructions and new formulas, drew the doctrine from Wilhelm Meistens
Apprenticeship that the genuine novel constitutes a non plus ultra, a sum
of everything poetic. He consequently gave this poetic ideal the name
Romantic poetry.» According to this view, Romantic poetry equals
«Romanpoesie», the poetry of the novel25.
Of course, many objections may be raised against this theory. First of
all, the concept «Romantic» seems to be used in an ambiguous manner.
Secondly, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister is granted too important a position
for Schlegel's literary theory. Finally, the genre of the novel assumes a
22 Oskar Walze], «Methode? Ironie bei Friedrich Schlegel und bei Solger», Helicon I,
i-2, 39.
23 The most comprehensive presentation of Schlegel's aesthetic and poetic ideas is Alfred
Schlagdenhauffen's Frédéric Schlegel et son groupe. La doctrine de 1'Athenaeum (Paris 1934). Among
the more recent studies the following are of special interest: René Wellek, A History of Modem
Criticism, II: The Romantic Age (New Haven 1935), jff.; Karl Konrad Polheim, Die Ara
beske. Ansichten und Ideen aus Friedrieb Schlegels Poetik (Paderborn 1966); Eugeniusz Klin, Die
frühromantisebe Literaturtheorie Friedrieb Schlegels (Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis, No. 26,
Wroclaw 1964).
« 251.
25 It should be noted, however, that Schlegel used the term novel («Roman») in a broad
sense and derived it from the medieval «romance». Cf. Hans Eichner, «Friedrich Schlegel's
Theory of Romantic Poetry», PMLA LXXI (1936), ioi8ff.

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116 Ernst Behler

pre-eminence which cannot be jus
appeared in 1796 and thus could
Schlegel's literary theory dating
concepts dominate his later progr
novel, on the other hand, was giv
only a short period of time. In the
already26: «Only through relig
only from this source stems tha
science. And without religion we
today called < belles lettres) instead
The central idea of Schlegel's po
a genre favored during this or th
a significance which surpasses tra
makes an absolute demand. Sch
maximum of poetry», a formu
manuscripts by Hans Eichner, w
theory of the novel27. Thus the t
understood by the absolute ideal
At this point the second hypoth
Lovejoy first developed this in
Haym28. He emphasized that Frie
of classical literature at the beginni
to demonstrate classical aesthetic
in doing so, considered himself to b
Under the influence of Schiller's
Schlegel converted to modern,
which he had rejected in his classica
Lovejoy has the merit of having
dients of Schlegel's literary prog
ment, Schlegel passes through tw
the highest attributes. These are th
spirit, of naïveté and sentimental
sicism and Romanticism29. Lovej
26 Kritische Friedricb-Scblegel-Ausgabe, II
ideal cf. Alfred Schlagdenhauffen, op. cit.
27 Hans Eichner, «Friedrich Schlegel
(1956), 1024. - Cf. also Eichner's edition:
Toronto 1957), 691, 798, 735.
28 «The Meaning of <Romantic> in Early
Genesis of German Romanticism», Essays
29 Cf. my book Friedrich Schlegel (Hambu

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 117
these these two aesthetics on different philosophies of history. The clas
sical theory of aesthetics is founded on Herder's cyclical, organic view of
history, whereas modern aesthetics builds upon Kant's idea of an infinite
progression. The conclusion drawn from these insights is impaired,
however, by Lovejoy's contention that Schlegel had sacrificed one
aesthetical system for the other, that he had evolved from a Classicist to a
Romantic.
In reality, Schlegel's literary theory must be seen as an attempt to unite
these two antagonistic aesthetics, to find a synthesis of the antique and
the modern, the Classical and the Romantic. This was indeed his way of
bringing «poetry to the highest ideal possible on earth»30.
The inspirations for this undertaking date back to the year 1795, that
is, to a period during which Schlegel was primarily occupied with laying
the foundations for a history of Greek and Roman literature. On February
27, 1794, he wrote to his brother31: «The problem of our poetry seems
to be the synthesis of the essentially modern and the essentially antique.»
Thus even his scholarly studies of classical antiquity served the primary
purpose of establishing the program for a new literary epoch32.
His treatise On the Study of Greek Poetry, completed in 1795 and pub
lished in 1797, is the first comprehensive manifestation of this intention33.
The title is misleading, however, since the topic is by no means limited
to classical poetry. In fact, Schlegel deals with the whole of European
literature in order to «detect the path of this aesthetic culture», to divine
«the meaning of the preceding history of literature», and to open «a
great perspective of the future » ". The study centers about the idea that
European literary history is determined by two predominant ideals. The
first had been promoted by the ancients, who achieved «beauty in itself»
in uniform perfection and undisturbed harmony in their works. The
moderns, on the other hand, gave preference to the «restless longing for
the new, the piquant, and the striking ». At this time Schlegel concentrated
the advantages of the Classicists into the term «the objective». In order
to define the characteristic feature of modern literature through a simi
larly expressive formulation in contrast to the «genuinely beautiful» of
ancient poetry, he coined the phrase «the interesting».
30 Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, II, 286.
31 Friedrich Schlegels Briefe an seinen Bruder August Wilhelm. Herausgegeben von O. F. Walzel
(Berlin 1890), 170.
32 This fact is emphasized by Eugeniusz Klin, op. cit., 16ff.
33 Friedrich Schlegel. Seine prosaischen Jugendscbriften. Herausgegeben von Jakob Minor (Wien
1882), I, 85 ff.
34 Op. cit., 92.

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118 Ernst Behler

By means of this distinction be
ture, Schlegel had established con
naïve and sentimental poetry. W
ahistorical, typological nature, h
literary historian35.
Schlegel was of the opinion that
history belonged to the past. Wh
reached its apex in Sophocles and
or modern poetry had reached it
erate in the hands of his epigone
Europe's history was now demo
achievements of the objective an
manticism. This Greek in a sentim
spirit in a modern garment and t
classical aura. Through Goethe's e
of the aesthetic culture», carryin
point from whence, «if left to it
only be hindered in its progress
This program of uniting the «es
antique» clearly anticipates the
Athenaeum of 1798. The major ta
and art, the real and the ideal, t
arbitrariness into instinct37. The
the Dialogue on Poetry of 1799. In
one of the interlocutors praises
tent in modern form, and he ad
entirely new and unlimited persp
goal of all literature, the harmon
The path of European literature
Schlegel. Literary history moves
can be illustrated by the well-kno
thesis. The first epoch is that of
ment being the disinterested obj

35 On the relationship between Schiller
Supposed Influence of Schiller's <Uber nai
Schlegel's <Über das Studium der griechis
36 Op. cit., 116. Cf. also hi. - Ina famous
ist die Morgenröte echter Kunst und rein
37 Cf. Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgab
38 Op. cit., 346.

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 119
next significant step in this progression is found in the flowering of Ro
mantic literature, the ideal of which embodies interesting, subjective
beauty, manifesting itself most conspicuously on Shakespeare's stage.
Now a third epoch may be expected, combining the excellence of Classi
cism with the virtues of Romanticism. It was precisely this climax of
European literature that Schlegel tried to further in his programmatical
writings3®.
Schlegel had published only parts of his literary works. The aphorisms
of the Athenaeum, for example, constitute a selection from literary and
philosophical notebooks containing thousands of fragments. The dis
tinction between Classicism and Romanticism is also a predominant theme
of these manuscripts, especially in those dating from 179740.
Generally speaking, these reflections may be characterized as having
established an extreme opposition of literary styles, the greatest antimony
of intellectual culture. Schlegel tries to propose a complete antithesis of
literary values in order to produce the highest ideal of poetry through
the reconciliation of these polarities. As is now known, the most compre
hensive antimony of Europe's literary culture consisted for him in the
contrast of the antique and the modern, usually rendered in these apho
risms by the terms «Classical» and «Progressive»41.
Schlegel obviously did not cenceive of these terms only as historical
categories designating certain epochs. He also used them in a typological
sense for genuine literary styles which may also be called perfection and
completion (Classic) and imperfection and striving (Progressive). Indeed,
Schlegel renders the Classical by words such as «limitation», «abstrac
tion», «noble», «uniformity and naturalness», whereas the Progressive
is expressed by phrases such as «expanse», «universality», «confusion,
awkwardness, inconsequence», and «mixture of elements»42.
To quote from these notes at random, Schlegel says: «The Classical is
necessarily self-restraint», or «The Classical is systematic formation».
Concerning the contrasts of Classical and Progressive style, one comes

39 A new great stimulus for Schlegel's concept of the Romantic later came from the dis
covery of Indian culture. Cf. A. Leslie Willson, A Mythical Image: The Ideal of India in German
Romanticism (Durham 1964), 199fr. In his Dialogue on Poetry Schlegel had already exclaimed:
«Im Orient müssen wir das höchste Romantische suchen.» (Op. cit., 32.) On his later concepts
of Romanticism cf. Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe XI, 328fr. (No. 371).
40 Cf. Friedrieb Schlegel, Philosophische Lehrjahre. Herausgegeben mit Einleitung und Kom
mentar von Ernst Behler (Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe XVIII), and Friedrich Schlegel,
Literary Notehooks. Edited with introduction and commentary by Hans Eichner.
41 Philosophische Lehrjahre, 23 ff.
« Op. cit., II, 34, 61, 39, 66, 33, 78, 88, 102; 37, 59, 66, 119.

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120 Ernst Behler

across a statement such as: «The
Progressive ones, only totality»,
the Progressive is fluid, analytic
ideals is paraphrased in these not
mentary terms, contrasting the « s
rect» with the «intuitive», «in
and caprice», poetry and philoso
From these numerous dichotom
mantic style, which like the «Pr
to the Classical. As has been pr
employ the word in our contem
mantic is distilled from the most
eval literature and is thus an essential element of modern literature. As
such, it embodies the «erotic», the «mystically marvelous», the «elegiac,
idyllic, and sentimental», the «absolutely arbitrary», the witty and capri
cious, which exhibits itself, for instance, in the transplantation of modern
forms into antique surroundings, in the «intermingling of all genres of
poetry and prose », or in the interlacing of nature and art, poetry and
science, of «fantasy, sentimentality, and mimicry»44.
Owing to this technique observed in modern authors, works obtain a
«Romantic coloring», they are «Romanticized», appear to be «Romanti
cally piquant», and display a «Romantic beauty like the adornments
and finery of ladies ». It is in this connotation that Schlegel speaks of a
«Romantic seriousness » in Don Quixote, of a «charming, Romantic taste
lessness in Novalis», of Romantic geniality manifesting itself in «natural
artificiality and in arbitrary naturalness». Furthermore, he speaks of «Ro
mantic roguery and vulgarity», of «Romantic thrashings and witty smut
in Cervantes», which are «beautiful to the point of perfection». He finds
a «treatment of the remote in Persiles», which is «very Romantic» be
cause as in Cervantes, «it transfigures a thing into mild reflection45».
Yet the Romantic is not entirely synonymous with the Modern, since
its scope is not limited to an epoch. Schlegel says : «The Romantic remains
eternally new - the Modern changes with the fashion.» Furthermore, he
sees a definite tendency toward the Romantic even in Homer. He calls
Virgil, Horace, and Ovid «Romantic figures», and among «Romantic
genres of the ancients», he emphasizes «Socratic dialogues, memorabilia,
symposia, idylls, elegies, satires, conversations of the Gods, Plutarchic
43 Literary Notebooks, 205, 636, 665, 1239, 444, 933, 713, 125, 714; 1065, 1060, 976.
44 Op. cit., 27, 69, 327, 334, 382, 33, 1919, 328, 382, 393, 582, 718.
« Op. cit., 27, 322, 382, 334, 839, 1006, 1209, 1433, Höi, 1589

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 121
biographies, and annals»46. Thus like the Classical, the Romantic is
an essential element of literature having an eternal value which neces
sitates its integration with the Classical into the new ideal of litera
ture.

Schlegel's task, in a word, arose out of a «plurality of imperatives». In
his History of Criticism George Saintsbury said : «Ancient without Modern
is a stumbling block, Modern without Ancient is foolishness utter and
irremediable.» Similarly, Schlegel recognized that mere Classicism is «r
gressive», mere Progression, however, fruitless, and that «productive
power already constitutes limitation». This dialectical interrelationship
of Classicism and Progression finds expression in the postulate: «Every
thing ancient is renewed through the study of the Classical, and every
thing modern should be ancient, that is, Classical, and becomes ancient
that is, outdated and antiquated.» In a more precise phrase, Schlegel de
mands: «All Romantic studies should be made Classical; all Classical
studies should be romanticized47.»
This endeavor is most clearly expressed in a series of aphorisms of
1797 which Schlegel entitled On the Basis of Aesthetics. A typical example
of the antinomical thought process of this aesthetic ideal is the aphorism
stating : «Thesis : There should be models. Antithesis : There should be
no models ; art must progress eternally. Antimony of the Classical and the
Progressive.» Previously, Schlegel had set up as «antithetical laws of the
pure aesthetic» the following: « (1) Every genre must necessarily be; i.e.,
distinct, limited, classical. (2) Every genre must be limited48.»
If one were to search for a more basic designation for these antitheses,
sprouting up in hundreds of aphorisms, no terms would be more appro
priate than those with which Schlegel labels two highest values of the
literary work of art. They form indeed the focal points of his theory of
poetry. These are the postulates of «infinite unity» and «infinite abun
dance » which are united in the absolute demand that a perfect work of art
must present «infinite abundance in infinite unity4'».
One easily realizes that the term «infinite unity» comprises the features
of the Classical style; that is, shape, form, and structure. «Infinite abun
dance », on the other hand, represents the peculiarities of that poetic style
46 Op. cit., 475, 1385, 1388, 1626, 1633, 973.
47 Philosophische Lehrjahre, II, 36, 88. - Literary Notehooks, 150, 208, 280, 187, 1729.
48 Literary Notebooks, 186, 33.
45 Friedrieb Schlegel, Philosophische Vorlesungen. Herausgegeben mit Einleitung und Kommen
tar von Jean-Jacques Anstett (Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, XII), 327, 429 ff. - This
aspect of Schlegel's aesthetics has been studied by Karl Konrad Polheim, « Studien zu Fried
rich Schlegels poetischen Begriffen», DVJ XXXV (1961), 363 ff.

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122 Emst Behler

otherwise called Romantic or Pr
interest because «infinite abund
the «genuinely creative faculty
Schlegel says : «The essence of i
abundance. Imagination is a sup
enthusiasm, and inspiration. - In
imagination.» In a fragment of
finite abundance is combined
limited ego50.»
Schlegel was of course fully aw
«infinite unity» and «infinite ab
mutually exclude each other. In
of 1803, he states51: «An infinit
abundance and variety is natural
flict which finally resolves itself
the present state. » Yet this parad
in an impressive way. In more m
paradoxical charm of the Roma
again been recognized by critics
our time they are evident in T.
Theory of Literature, where he
literary work52 : «Our criterion is
and <amount (and diversity) of m
Here again, the goal of Schlege
mount. It is the « absolute work o
an idea which anticipated basic t
For a certain period of time, S
best vehicle for the realization o
novel, however, has to be taken w
to a historically realized form of t
a novel superseding even Goeth
perfect novel should be a Roman
Meister », he said ", «more mode
and more ethical and poetic, mo

50 Philosophische Lehrjahre. Zweiter Teil (K
X, 123.
51 Wissenschaft der europäischen Literatur. Herausgegeben mit Einleitung und Kommentar
von Ernst Behler (Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, XI), 79.
" Theory of Literature (New York, 1956), 243.
53 Literary Notebooks, 289. - Philosophische Lehrjahre, II, 63.

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 123
more social». Furthermore, Schlegel abandoned the novel as the embodi
ment of the literary ideal as early as 1800. With his Speech concerning Mytho
logy he recognized symbolic poetry as the very climax of literature and
took a position similar to that of Novalis Thus the highest maximum
of poetry should be rendered by that term which Schlegel coined himself
for the phenomenon of «infinite abundance in infinite unity». This term
has recendy been expounded by Karl Konrad Polheim as the culmination
of Schlegel's aesthetic, but again brought into too close a tie with the
theory of the novel". This is the concept of the arabesque.
With this program Schlegel revealed deep insights into the essence of
literature, insights by no means limited to his own literary movement. In
his endeavor to unite the two antithetical aesthetics of nature and art, of
Classicism and Romanticism, he parallels similar efforts made by Schiller.
Simultaneously, Schlegel anticipates an important theme of 19th century
literature reflected in Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, and André
Gide, and manifesting itself as an antagonism of two fundamental aesthet
ics; namely, nature and culture, life and decadence, Vitalism and Puri
tanism. Finally, his postulate to produce an absolute work of art, the
highest maximum of poetry, is applicable to all great poetry and brings
this critic into accordance with the great authors of history.
In conclusion, we must now discuss the question as to which artist
is equal to the enormous task here outlined, what qualities of the
intellect he must possess in order to fulfill this «plurality of impera
tives ».
This problem includes the complex theme of the mental attitude of the
modern author. In his attempt at a solution, Schlegel was able to draw
inspirations from a philosopher who had recently taken the act of absolute
creation, of the voluntary active deed («Tathandlung») of the ego as a
basis for new reflections upon human freedom. This philosopher was
Fichte56. With new vigor he had penetrated the depths of subjectivity
and had also shown the objective world in a new light, namely, as a non
ego posited by the ego and standing in an indissoluble interdependence
with the ego.
54 Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, II, 31 iff.
55 Die Arabeske. Ansichten und Ideen aus Friedrieb Schlegels Poetik (Paderborn 1966). Cf. also
Raymond Immerwahr's forthcoming article «The Word <romantisch) and its Connections
with Romantic Irony and the Arabesque», The Romantic Period in Germany (University of
London, Institute of Germanic Studies, in print).
56 On Fichte's influence on German Romanticism cf. in particular Friedrich Schlegel, Philo
sophische Lehrjahre. Zweiter Teil (Kritische Friedrich-Scblegel-Ausgabe, XVIII), 4 ff. and Novalis
Schriften. Zweiter Band: Das philosophische Werk (Stuttgart 1960), 29 ff.

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124 Ernst Behler

The reality surrounding the ego th
ing. Reality could be viewed as influen
as long as the ego «did not reflect upo
the conclusion that the ego itself pos
ego, however, concentrates on this r
zant of the fact that «this interdepen
non-ego ... is an action of the ego wi
of view, the «foundations of ideality
Fichte called this aspect of his Science
according to him philosophy should a
cendental interpretation of the world
«derives all consciousness from tha
sciousness ... but as soon as one reflect
pendent of consciousness is revealed
tive power ». Through his famous ac
thus proved reality, which he called t
spiritual power which he called the e
This philosophical position has al
Schlegel had an ingenious idea, howe
of Knowledge. He recognized that this
pression of the ego in the non-ego, an
the non-ego upon the ego, applies to a
goal is indeed absolute creation - the
With Fichte's «transcendental» conc
priate phrase to expose the special rel
and his work. «In analogy to the arti
coined the term «transcendental poet
place in the alternation of creative em
of the artist's ego, in which process
and his work58.

For this «transcendental» attitude of the artist, no word is more ap
propriate than irony. Schlegel indeed said5': «Irony dominates in tran
scendental poetry». This type of irony which we today call «Romantic
57 Grundlage dergesammten Wissenschaftslehre, 1794 (Johann Gottlieb Fichtes sämmtliche Werke).
Herausgegeben von I. H. Fichte. Erster Band, Berlin 1854), 28}, 28of., 273.
58 Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, II, 204 (No. 238).
59 Literary Notebooks, 727. - On Schlegel's concept of Romantic irony cf. Raymond Immer
wahr, «The Subjectivity or Objectivity of Friedrich Schlegel's Poetic Irony », The Germanic
Review XXVI (1951), 173 fr; Ingrid Strohschneider-Kohrs, Die romantische Ironie in Theorie und
Gestaltung (Tübingen i960); Ernst Behler, «Friedrich Schlegel und Hegel», Hegel-Studien, II,
(1963), 203 fr.

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The Origins of the Romantic Literary Theory 125
irony» applies chiefly to the relationship between an artist and his crea
tion. Georg Lukâcs saw this most clearly when in his Theory of the Novel,
he considered Romande irony in the «Age of Subjectivity», in a «world
without God», as the «only possible foundation for a genuine and total
creation60 ».
Schlegel rendered this aspect of irony in the aphorisms of theAtheaneum
by complementary terms that at first glance appear to be somewhat eccen
tric. In aphorism 51, for instance, he called irony a «constant alternation
between self-creation and self-destruction». A similar and recurrent
formulation of the same phenomenon is the phrase «developed to the
point of irony», whereby Schlegel understood the highest perfection, a
perfection, however, which just because of its utmost achievement leads
to self-criticism and thus shifts to its contrary. In this context Schlegel
defined deliberation and arbitrariness as naïveté « up to the point of irony »
or the naïve as a refinement «up to the point of irony»61. Schlegel there
fore found two antagonistic powers within the creative process : creative
enthusiasm counteracted by sceptical irony.
This idea of poetry had already been exposed in his early treatises on
Classical literature. Like Nietzsche, Schlegel derived the origins of Greek
poetry from a Dionysiac phenomenon, from a super-individual and in
toxicating experience which evokes both bliss and horror. Poetic imagina
tion is first inspired by an «intuition of infinity», by a «living image of
incomprehensible omnipotence» which discharges itself in «solemn joy
fulness», in «orgiastic dances», in a «blissful rapture» surrounded by
music. «Demonic possession and higher inspiration» formed the origin
of poetry for Schlegel ". Herein he could refer to Plato who had taught
in Ion that poets derive their beautiful products not through art and clear
sightedness, but through divine inspiration, and who in his Laws had relat
ed the old myth that the poet sitting on the tripod of the Muses is out of
his mind and willingly lets his words flow from the fountain of his lips.
In these early studies Schlegel held the opinion that this effervescent
poetic enthusiasm might turn against itself. «The most intense passion »,
he says63, «is eager to wound itself, if only to act and to discharge its
excessive power.» His work On the Aesthetic Value of Greek Comedy of
1794 presents irony as a destructive reaction against the primordial Diony
sian ecstasy of poetic enthusiasm. He says here64 : «This self-infliction is

60 Edition of 1962, 93.
" Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabt, II, 217 (No. 303), 172 (No. 31), 148 (No. 121).
62 Seine prosaischen Jugendschriften, I, 235 ff.
63 Op. cit., 237. 64 Op. cit., 18.

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126 Ernst Behler

not inaptitude, but deliberate im
often has a positive, stimulating
destroyed. Intense agility must
external object, it reacts against
creation. This agility then injur
Later however, in the language o
subjective and reflective philoso
appeared as «self-creation». Accor
scepticism toward one's own p
destruction ».

The most important aspect of this theory for an understanding of the
poetic process is the assumption that in the poet's mind, the creative
strivings are counteracted by the scepticism of irony. More specifically,
the function of irony does not reside so much in the destruction of creative
production, but rather in a mediating position between enthusiasm and
scepticism. Schlegel defined irony as a «constant alternation between
self-creation and self-destruction» or as the «form of the paradox», as
a shifting between opposite poles. This idea is expressed in aphorism 5 3
of the Athenaeum stating65: «It is equally fatal to the spirit to have a
system and not to have a system. Thus one must come to the decision
to combine both.»
The result obtained from the ironical hovering above self-creation and
self-destruction was formulated by Schlegel as «self-restraint». Indeed,
the function of irony could find no better expression. For Wilhelm
Dilthey66, Schlegel's early concepts of irony embrace the «aesthetic and
moral atmosphere of Pantheism; they are related to that which Goethe
called resignation, and which Schleier mâcher' s Speeches on Religion referred
to as melancholy».
With this concept of irony Schlegel's literary program finds a unified
structure. Irony depicts that attitude of the mind which allows the artist
to mediate between two opposing aesthetical systems, to be equally recep
tive to the imperatives of Romantic enthusiasm and Classical restraint,
and thereby to promote that which constitutes the central motivation for
Schlegel's literary theory. This was the endeavor to «constantly expand
the scope of poetry and to approximate poetry to the highest ideal pos
sible on earth67 ».

6s Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabi, II, 173 (No. 53).
66 Leben Scbleiermacbtrs (Berlin 1870), 361.
67 Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, II, 286.

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