THE AESTHETICAL ESSAYS
THE AESTHETICAL ESSAYS
AESTHETICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS
by Frederick Schiller
VOCABULARY OF TERMINOLOGY
LETTERS ON THE AESTHETICAL EDUCATION OF MAN
THE MORAL UTILITY OF AESTHETIC MANNERS
ON THE SUBLIME
ON GRACE AND DIGNITY
ON THE NECESSARY LIMITATIONS IN THE USE OF BEAUTY AND FORM
REFLECTIONS ON THE USE OF THE VULGAR AND LOW ELEMENTS IN WORKS OF ART
DETACHED REFLECTIONS ON DIFFERENT QUESTIONS OF AESTHETICS
ON SIMPLE AND SENTIMENTAL POETRY
THE STAGE AS A MORAL INSTITUTION
ON THE TRAGIC ART
OF THE CAUSE OF THE PLEASURE WE DERIVE FROM TRAGIC OBJECTS
The special subject of the greater part of the letters and essays of
Schiller contained in this volume is Aesthetics; and before passing to
any remarks on his treatment of the subject it will be useful to offer a
few observations on the nature of this topic and on its treatment by the
philosophical spirit of different ages.
First then aesthetics has for its object the vast realm of the
beautiful and it may be most adequately defined as the philosophy of art
or of the fine arts. To some the definition may seem arbitrary as
excluding the beautiful in nature; but it will cease to appear so if it
is remarked that the beauty which is the work of art is higher than
natural beauty because it is the offspring of the mind. Moreover if
in conformity with a certain school of modern philosophy the mind be
viewed as the true being including all in itself it must be admitted
that beauty is only truly beautiful when it shares in the nature of mind
and is mind's offspring.
Viewed in this light the beauty of nature is only a reflection of the
beauty of the mind only an imperfect beauty which as to its essence is
included in that of the mind. Nor has it ever entered into the mind of
any thinker to develop the beautiful in natural objects so as to convert
it into a science and a system. The field of natural beauty is too
uncertain and too fluctuating for this purpose. Moreover the relation
of beauty in nature and beauty in art forms a part of the science of
aesthetics and finds again its proper place.
But it may be urged that art is not worthy of a scientific treatment.
Art is no doubt an ornament of our life and a charm to the fancy; but has
it a more serious side? When compared with the absorbing necessities of
human existence it might seem a luxury a superfluity calculated to
enfeeble the heart by the assiduous worship of beauty and thus to be
actually prejudicial to the true interest of practical life. This view
seems to be largely countenanced by a dominant party in modern times and
practical men as they are styled are only too ready to take this
superficial view of the office of art.
Many have indeed undertaken to defend art on this score and to show
that far from being a mere luxury it has serious and solid advantages.
It has been even apparently exaggerated in this respect and represented
as a kind of mediator between reason and sense between inclination and
duty having as its mission the work of reconciling the conflicting
elements in the human heart. A strong trace of this view will be found
in Schiller especially in all that he says about the play-instinct in
his "Aesthetical Letters."
Nevertheless art is worthy of science; aesthetics is a true science and
the office of art is as high as that assigned to it in the pages of
Schiller. We admit that art viewed only as an ornament and a charm is no
longer free but a slave. But this is a perversion of its proper end.
Science has to be considered as free in its aim and in its means and it
is only free when liberated from all other considerations; it rises up to
truth which is its only real object and can alone fully satisfy it.
Art in like manner is alone truly art when it is free and independent
when it solves the problem of its high destination--that problem whether
it has to be placed beside religion and philosophy as being nothing else
than a particular mode or a special form of revealing God to
consciousness and of expressing the deepest interests of human nature
and the widest truths of the human mind.
For it is in their works of art that the nations have imprinted their
favorite thoughts and their richest intuitions and not unfrequently the
fine arts are the only means by which we can penetrate into the secrets
of their wisdom and the mysteries of their religion.
It is made a reproach to art that it produces its effects by appearance
and illusion; but can it be established that appearance is objectionable?
The phenomena of nature and the acts of human life are nothing more than
appearances and are yet looked upon as constituting a true reality; for
this reality must be sought for beyond the objects perceived immediately
by the sense the substance and speech and principle underlying all
things manifesting itself in time and space through these real
existences but preserving its absolute existence in itself. Now the
very special object and aim of art is to represent the action and
development of this universal force. In nature this force or principle
appears confounded with particular interests and transitory
circumstances mixed up with what is arbitrary in the passions and in
individual wills. Art sets the truth free from the illusory and
mendacious forms of this coarse imperfect world and clothes it in a
nobler purer form created by the mind itself. Thus the forms of art
far from being mere appearances perfectly illusory contain more reality
and truth than the phenomenal existences of the real world. The world of
art is truer than that of history or nature.
Nor is this all: the representations of art are more expressive and
transparent than the phenomena of the real world or the events of
history. The mind finds it harder to pierce through the hard envelop of
nature and common life than to penetrate into works of art.
Two more reflections appear completely to meet the objection that art or
aesthetics is not entitled to the name of science.
It will be generally admitted that the mind of man has the power of
considering itself of making itself its own object and all that issues
from its activity; for thought constitutes the essence of the mind. Now
art and its work as creations of the mind are themselves of a spiritual
nature. In this respect art is much nearer to the mind than nature. In
studying the works of art the mind has to do with itself with what
proceeds from itself and is itself.
Thus art finds its highest confirmation in science.
Nor does art refuse a philosophical treatment because it is dependent on
caprice and subject to no law. If its highest aim be to reveal to the
human consciousness the highest interest of the mind it is evident that
the substance or contents of the representations are not given up to the
control of a wild and irregular imagination. It is strictly determined
by the ideas that concern our intelligence and by the laws of their
development whatever may be the inexhaustible variety of forms in which
they are produced. Nor are these forms arbitrary for every form is not
fitted to express every idea. The form is determined by the substance
which it has to suit.
A further consideration of the true nature of beauty and therefore of
the vocation of the artist will aid us still more in our endeavor to
show the high dignity of art and of aesthetics. The history of
philosophy presents us with many theories on the nature of the beautiful;
but as it would lead us too far to examine them all we shall only
consider the most important among them. The coarsest of these theories
defines the beautiful as that which pleases the senses. This theory
issuing from the philosophy of sensation of the school of Locke and
Condillac only explains the idea and the feeling of the beautiful by
disfiguring it. It is entirely contradicted by facts. For it converts
it into desire but desire is egotistical and insatiable while
admiration is respectful and is its own satisfaction without seeking
Others have thought the beautiful consists in proportion and no
doubt this is one of the conditions of beauty but only one. An
ill-proportioned object cannot be beautiful but the exact correspondence
of parts as in geometrical figures does not constitute beauty.
A noted ancient theory makes beauty consist in the perfect suitableness
of means to their end. In this case the beautiful is not the useful it
is the suitable; and the latter idea is more akin to that of beauty. But
it has not the true character of the beautiful. Again order is a less
mathematical idea than proportion but it does not explain what is free
and flowing in certain beauties.
The most plausible theory of beauty is that which makes it consist in two
contrary and equally necessary elements--unity and variety. A beautiful
flower has all the elements we have named; it has unity symmetry and
variety of shades of color. There is no beauty without life and life is
movement diversity. These elements are found in beautiful and also in
sublime objects. A beautiful object is complete finished limited with
symmetrical parts. A sublime object whose forms though not out of
proportion are less determined ever awakens in us the feeling of the
infinite. In objects of sense all qualities that can produce the feeling
of the beautiful come under one class called physical beauty. But above
and beyond this in the region of mind we have first intellectual beauty
including the laws that govern intelligence and the creative genius of
the artist the poet and the philosopher. Again the moral world has
beauty in its ideas of liberty of virtue of devotion the justice of
Aristides the heroism of Leonidas.
We have now ascertained that there is beauty and sublimity in nature in
ideas in feelings and in actions. After all this it might be supposed
that a unity could be found amidst these different kinds of beauty. The
sight of a statue as the Apollo of Belvedere of a man of Socrates
expiring are adduced as producing impressions of the beautiful; but the
form cannot be a form by itself it must be the form of something.
Physical beauty is the sign of an interior beauty a spiritual and moral
beauty which is the basis the principle and the unity of the beautiful.
Physical beauty is an envelop to intellectual and to moral beauty.
Intellectual beauty the splendor of the true can only have for
principle that of all truth.
Moral beauty comprehends two distinct elements equally beautiful
justice and charity. Thus God is the principle of the three orders of
beauty physical intellectual and moral. He also construes the two
great powers distributed over the three orders the beautiful and the
sublime. God is beauty par excellence; He is therefore perfectly
beautiful; He is equally sublime. He is to us the type and sense of the
two great forms of beauty. In short the Absolute Being as absolute
unity and absolute variety is necessarily the ultimate principle the
extreme basis the finished ideal of all beauty. This was the marvellous
beauty which Diotimus had seen and which is described in the Banquet of
It is our purpose after the previous discussion to attempt to elucidate
still further the idea of art by following its historic development.
Many questions bearing on art and relating to the beautiful had been
propounded before even as far back as Plotinus Plato and Socrates but
recent times have been the real cradle of aesthetics as a science.
Modern philosophy was the first to recognize that beauty in art is one of
the means by which the contradictions can be removed between mind
considered in its abstract and absolute existence and nature constituting
the world of sense bringing back these two factors to unity.
Kant was the first who felt the want of this union and expressed it but
without determining its conditions or expressing it scientifically. He
was impeded in his efforts to effect this union by the opposition between
the subjective and the objective by his placing practical reason above
theoretical reason and he set up the opposition found in the moral
sphere as the highest principle of morality. Reduced to this difficulty
all that Kant could do was to express the union under the form of the
subjective ideas of reason or as postulates to be deduced from the
practical reason without their essential character being known and
representing their realization as nothing more than a simple you ought
or imperative "Du sollst."
In his teleological judgment applied to living beings Kant comes on the
contrary to consider the living organism in such wise that the general
including the particular and determining it as an end consequently the
idea also determines the external the compound of the organs not by an
act springing from without but issuing from within. In this way the end
and the means the interior and exterior the general and particular are
confounded in unity. But this judgment only expresses a subjective act
of reflection and does not throw any light on the object in itself.
Kant has the same view of the aesthetic judgment. According to him the
judgment does not proceed either from reason as the faculty of general
ideas or from sensuous perception but from the free play of the reason
and of the imagination. In this analysis of the cognitive faculty the
object only exists relatively to the subject and to the feeling of
pleasure or the enjoyment that it experiences.
The characteristics of the beautiful are according to Kant:--
1. The pleasure it procures is free from interest.
2. Beauty appears to us as an object of general enjoyment without
awakening in us the consciousness of an abstract idea and of a category
of reason to which we might refer our judgment.
3. Beauty ought to embrace in itself the relation of conformity to its
end but in such a way that this conformity may be grasped without the
idea of the end being offered to our mind.
4. Though it be not accompanied by an abstract idea beauty ought to be
acknowledged as the object of a necessary enjoyment.
A special feature of all this system is the indissoluble unity of what is
supposed to be separated in consciousness. This distinction disappears
in the beautiful because in it the general and the particular the end
and the means the idea and the object mentally penetrate each other
completely. The particular in itself whether it be opposed to itself or
to what is general is something accidental. But here what may be
considered as an accidental form is so intimately connected with the
general that it is confounded and identified with it. By this means the
beautiful in art presents thought to us as incarnate. On the other hand
matter nature the sensuous as themselves possessing measure end and
harmony are raised to the dignity of spirit and share in its general
character. Thought not only abandons its hostility against nature but
smiles in her. Sensation and enjoyment are justified and sanctified so
that nature and liberty sense and ideas find their justification and
their sanctification in this union. Nevertheless this reconciliation
though seemingly perfect is stricken with the character of
subjectiveness. It cannot constitute the absolutely true and real.
Such is an outline of the principal results of Kant's criticism and
Hegel passes high praise on the profoundly philosophic mind of Schiller
who demanded the union and reconciliation of the two principles and who
tried to give a scientific explanation of it before the problem had been
solved by philosophy. In his "Letters on Aesthetic Education" Schiller
admits that man carries in himself the germ of the ideal man which is
realized and represented by the state. There are two ways for the
individual man to approach the ideal man; first when the state
considered as morality justice and general reason absorbs the
individualities in its unity; secondly when the individual rises to the
ideal of his species by the perfecting of himself. Reason demands unity
conformity to the species; nature on the other hand demands plurality
and individuality; and man is at once solicited by two contrary laws. In
this conflict aesthetic education must come in to effect the
reconciliation of the two principles; for according to Schiller it has
as its end to fashion and polish the inclinations and passions so that
they may become reasonable and that on the other hand reason and
freedom may issue from their abstract character may unite with nature
may spiritualize it become incarnate and take a body in it. Beauty is
thus given as the simultaneous development of the rational and of the
sensuous fused together and interpenetrated one by the other an union
that constitutes in fact true reality.
This unity of the general and of the particular of liberty and necessity
of the spiritual and material which Schiller understood scientifically
as the spirit of art and which he tried to make appear in real life by
aesthetic art and education was afterwards put forward under the name of
idea as the principle of all knowledge and existence. In this way
through the agency of Schelling science raised itself to an absolute
point of view. It was thus that art began to claim its proper nature and
dignity. From that time its proper place was finally marked out for it
in science though the mode of viewing it still labored under certain
defects. Its high and true distinction were at length understood.
In viewing the higher position to which recent philosophical systems have
raised the theory of art in Germany we must not overlook the advantages
contributed by the study of the ideal of the ancients by such men as
Winckelmann who by a kind of inspiration raised art criticism from a
carping about petty details to seek the true spirit of great works of
art and their true ideas by a study of the spirit of the originals.
It has appeared expedient to conclude this introduction with a summary of
the latest and highest theory of art and aesthetics issuing from Kant and
Schiller and developed in the later philosophy of Hegel.
Our space only allows us to give a glance first at the metaphysics of
the beautiful as developed by Hegel in the first part of his 'Aesthetik'
and then at the later development of the same system in recent writers
issuing from his school.
Hegel considers first the abstract idea of the beautiful; secondly
beauty in nature; thirdly beauty in art or the ideal; and he winds up
with an examination of the qualities of the artist.
His preliminary remarks are directed to show the relations of art to
religion and philosophy and he shows that man's destination is an
infinite development. In real life he only satisfies his longing
partially and imperfectly by limited enjoyments. In science he finds a
nobler pleasure and civil life opens a career for his activity; but he
only finds an imperfect pleasure in these pursuits. He cannot then find
the ideal after which he sighs. Then he rises to a higher sphere where
all contradictions are effaced and the ideas of good and happiness are
realized in perfect accord and in constant harmony. This deep want of
the soul is satisfied in three ways: in art in religion and in
Art is intended to make us contemplate the true and the infinite in forms
of sense. Yet even art does not fully satisfy the deepest need of the
soul. The soul wants to contemplate truth in its inmost consciousness.
Religion is placed above the dominion of art.
First as to idea of the beautiful Hegel begins by giving its
characteristics. It is infinite and it is free; the contemplation of
the beautiful suffices to itself it awakens no desire. The soul
experiences something like a godlike felicity and is transported into a
sphere remote from the miseries of life. This theory of the beautiful
comes very near that of Plato.
Secondly as to beauty in nature. Physical beauty considered
externally presents itself successively under the aspects of regularity
and of symmetry of conformity with a law and of harmony also of purity
and simplicity of matter.
Thirdly beauty in art or the ideal is beauty in a higher degree of
perfection than real beauty. The ideal in art is not contrary to the
real but the real idealized purified and perfectly expressed. The
ideal is also the soul arrived at the consciousness of itself free and
fully enjoying its faculties; it is life but spiritual life and spirit.
Nor is the ideal a cold abstraction it is the spiritual principle under
the form of a living individuality freed from the laws of the finite.
The ideal in its highest form is the divine as expressed in the Greek
divinities; the Christian ideal as expressed in all its highest purity
in God the Father the Christ the Virgin. Its essential features are
calm majesty serenity.
At a lower degree the ideal is in man the victory of the eternal
principles that fill the human heart the triumph of the nobler part of
the soul the moral and divine principle.
But the ideal manifested in the world becomes action and action implies
a form of society a determinate situation with collision and an action
properly so called. The heroic age is the best society for the ideal in
action; in its determinate situation the ideal in action must appear as
the manifestation of moral power and in action properly so called it
must contain three points in the ideal: first general principles;
secondly personages; thirdly their character and their passions. Hegel
winds up by considering the qualities necessary in an artist:
imagination genius inspiration originality etc.
A recent exponent of Hegel's aesthetical ideas further developed
expresses himself thus on the nature of beauty:--
"After the bitterness of the world the sweetness of art soothes and
refreshes us. This is the high value of the beautiful--that it solves
the contradiction of mind and matter of the moral and sensuous world in
harmony. Thus the beautiful and its representation in art procures for
intuition what philosophy gives to the cognitive insight and religion to
the believing frame of mind. Hence the delight with which Schiller's
wonderful poem on the Bell celebrates the accord of the inner and outer
life the fulfilment of the longing and demands of the soul by the events
in nature. The externality of phenomena is removed in the beautiful; it
is raised into the circle of ideal existence; for it is recognized as the
revelation of the ideal and thus transfigured it gives to the latter
"Thus the beautiful is active living unity full existence without
defect as Plato and Schelling have said or as recent writers describe
it; the idea that is quite present in the appearance the appearance
which is quite formed and penetrated by the idea."
"Beauty is the world secret that invites us in image and word" is the
poetical expression of Plato; and we may add because it is revealed in
both. We feel in it the harmony of the world; it breaks forth in a
beauty in a lovely accord in a radiant point and starting thence we
penetrate further and yet further and find as the ground of all
existence the same charm which had refreshed us in individual forms.
Thus Christ pointed to the lilies of the field to knit His followers'
reliance on Providence with the phenomena of nature: and could they jet
forth in royal beauty exceeding that of Solomon if the inner ground of
nature were not beauty?
We may also name beauty in a certain sense a mystery as it mediates to
us in a sensuous sign a heavenly gift of grace that it opens to us a
view into the eternal Being teaching us to know nature in God and God in
nature that it brings the divine even to the perception of sense and
establishes the energy of love and freedom as the ground the bond and
the end of the world.
In the midst of the temporal the eternal is made palpable and present to
us in the beautiful and offers itself to our enjoyment. The separation
is suppressed and the original unity as it is in God appears as the
first as what holds together even the past in the universe and what
constitutes the aim of the development in a finite accord.
The beautiful not only presents itself to us as mediator of a foreign
excellence or of a remote divinity but the ideal and the godlike are
present in it. Hence aesthetics requires as its basis the system in
which God is known as indwelling in the world that He is not far distant
from any one of us but that He animates us and that we live in Him.