But how can the artist protect himself from the corruptions of his age, which on all sides surround him? By despising its judgment. Let him look upwards to his dignity and the law, not downwards to his prosperity and his wants. Alike free from the vain activity, that would fain leave its traces on the fleeting moment, and from the impatient enthusiasm, that applies the scale of the absolute to the paltry product of time, let him leave to the understanding, which is here at home, the sphere of the actual; but let him strive to evolve the ideal from the union of the possible with the necessary. This let him express in fiction and truth, in the play of his fancy and in the gravity of his deeds, in all sensible and spiritual forms, and cast it silently into infinite time.
But every one whose soul glows with this ideal, does not possess the creative tranquillity and patience, to impress it upon the silent stone, or pour it out in sober words, and commit it to the trusty hands of time.
A poet treats his subject in a common way, if he brings out unimportant actions and passes hastily over the important. He treats it in a great way, if he unites it with the Great. Homer knew how to give a spirited treatment to the shield of Achilles, although the material fabrication of a shield is something very common.
The tragic poet will always mar the perfection of his work, if he cannot succeed without introducing a villain, and if he is compelled to deduce greatness of suffering from greatness of crime. Shakspeare’s Iago and Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra in Roxolana, Franz Moor in the Robbers, testify for this assertion. A poet, who under-stands his true interest, will not let misfortune depend upon an evil will which meditates misfortune, nor still less upon a deficiency of intellect, but upon the stress of circumstances. If it does not result from moral sources, but from external things, which neither have a will nor are subject to one, our compassion is purer, and, at least, is not weakened by any representation of moral incongruity. But then the sympathizing spectator is not exempt from the unpleasant feeling of an incongruity in nature, which in this case moral conformity alone can save. Compassion mounts to a degree much higher, if its objects are both him who suffers and him who originates the suffering. This can occur only if the latter excites neither our hatred nor our contempt, but has been brought against his inclination, to become the author of misfortune. Thus it is a preeminent beauty in the German Iphigenia, that the king of Taurus, the only one who opposes the wishes of Orestes and his sister, never forfeits our regard, and even extorts love from us at last.
Then Pathos is the first and indispensable requisite for a tragic artist, and he is allowed to carry the representation of sorrow as far as it can be done, without endangering his final design, without suppression of the moral freedom. He must, so to speak, give his hero or his reader the complete freight of sorrow, because otherwise it continues to be problematic, whether his opposition thereto is a mental action, and something positive, and not rather something purely negative, and a deficiency.
The latter is the case with the old French tragedy, in which we are very seldom or never shown a suffering nature, but generally see only cold, declamatory poets,or comedians upon stilts. The frosty tone of declamation extinguishes all true nature, and their adorable decency makes it completely impossible for French tragic poets to portray humanity in its truth. Decency falsifies, even in its own proper place, the expression of nature, and yet the art demands the latter imperatively. We can hardly believe it in a French tragic hero, that he suffers, for he delivers himself concerning his state of mind, like the calmest of men; and his incessant regard to the impression which he makes upon others, never allows him to leave to his own nature its freedom. The kings, princesses and heroes of a Corneille and Voltaire, never forget their rank in the most vehement passion, and they put off their humanity far sooner than their dignity. They are like the kings and emperors in the old picture-books, who go to bed with their crowns on.
How different with the Greeks, and those of the mod-erns who have composed in their spirit! The Greek is never ashamed of nature; he allows to the sensuousness its full rights, and yet is always secure from being overcome by it. His deeper and correcter intellect permits him to distinguish the contingent, which a bad taste magnifies, from the necessary. But all in man, that is not humanity, is contingent.