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Romanticism: Friedrich Karl Wilhelm von Schlegel: Excerpts from Selected Works (1798-1804)

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Many, unquestionably, were such; perhaps, most of those the ruins of which we now contemplate; but it is not just always to associate the idea of its latest degradation with the image of the thing itself, and thus in a moment blunt every feeling of sympathy for the noble memorials of departed ages. A candid investigation of historical records will probably show that many of these castles existed for centuries before those perpetual wars between the nobles and rich burghers of which we now read so much, centuries before the feudal law, public peace, &c., were even thought of; nay, that the German race have ever shown so remarkable a predilection for dwelling upon rocks or lofty mountains, that it may almost be regarded as a national characteristic. A severe and noble taste! Even now, one glance at the height above seems to place us in another world. It is inspiriting and refreshing to quit the dull monotony of the plain and inhale life and vigour from the clear atmosphere there encircling us. If we, who but occasionally and with fatigue reach the summit, feel at once that its breath inspires us with new life and courage, how invigorating must it be to dwell always there, with the earth in her richest attire lying outspread beneath; the changes of nature, at all periods of the day and in all seasons of the year, seem invested with new interest; the passing clouds, the blossoming of early spring, the moonlit summer night, nay, even the autumnal storm and the snowy fields of winter, all have their charms. Those places only, to me, seem beautiful which men call rude and wild; for those alone are grand, and grandeur and sublimity are essential elements of perfect beauty, for by them our souls are elevated and purified. The joyous aspect of a highly cultivated champaign country cannot fail, after long imprisonment in towns, to arouse agreeable thoughts, for the blooming charms of nature have a more than ordinarily powerful and soothing influence on the heart when rarely seen; but the sweet sensation of repose that they communicate has no power to awaken dreams of the mighty past. A rock, on the contrary, stands amid the spirit-treasures of wild nature, like a speaking memorial of elemental wars, telling of the fierce combat which once wrenched it from the dissevered earth around, and the eternal impression it leaves is ever unenfeebled and unsubdued. As the rustling of the forest, the murmur of the fountain, plunge us always into a soothing melancholy; as the wild cry of solitary birds calls up a mingled feeling of unrest, a yearning for freedom and solitude; so nature herself seems eternally present in her ancient mountains, those monuments which recall to us the grandest features of history, and awaken such profound and majestic ideas, as the luxuriance of a level landscape could never inspire. How greatly is this impression heightened, when amid the ruins of nature we also recognise the hand of man! Lofty fortresses erected on savage rocks; the monuments of human heroism associating itself on every cliff with the hero-times of nature.

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Source of English translation: The Aesthetic and Miscellaneous Works of Frederick von Schlegel: Comprising Letters on Christian Art, An Essay on Gothic Architecture, Remarks on the Romance-Poetry of the Middle Ages and on Shakspere [sic], On the Limits of the Beautiful, On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians. Translated from the German by E. J. Millington. London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 1849, pp. 155-56, 174-75, 182-83.

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