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Carlyle, Thomas. "Novalis." The Foreign Review 4.7 (1829): pp. 97-141, qtd. 125-31.

[page 125:]

As further and more directly illustrating Novalis's scientific views, we may here subjoin two short sketches, taken from another department of this volume. To all who prosecute Philosophy, and take interest in its history and present aspects, they will not be without interest. The obscure parts of them are not perhaps unintelligible, but only obscure; which unluckily cannot, at all times, be helped in such cases:

'Common Logic is the Grammar of the higher Speech, that is, of Thought; it examines merely the relations of ideas to one another, the Mechanics of Thought, the pure Physiology of ideas. Now logical ideas stand related to one another, like words without thoughts. Logic occupies itself with the mere dead Body of the Science of Thinking. – Metaphysics again is the Dynamics of Thought; treats of the primary Powers of Thought; occupies itself with the mere Soul of the Science of Thinking. Metaphysical ideas stand related to one another, like thoughts without words. Men often wondered at the stubborn Incompletibility of these two Sciences; each followed its own business by itself: there was a want everywhere, nothing would suit rightly with either. From the very first, attempts were made to unite them, as everything about them indicated relationship; but every attempt failed; the one or the other Science still suffered in these attempts, and lost its essential character. We had to abide by metaphysical Logic, and logical

[page 126:]

Metaphysic, but neither of them was as it should be. With Physiology and Psychology, with Mechanics and Chemistry, it fared no better. In the latter half of this Century, there arose, with us Germans, a more violent commotion than ever; the hostile masses towered themselves up against each other, more fiercely than heretofore; the fermentation was extreme; there followed powerful explosions. And now some assert that a real Compenetration has somewhere or other taken place; that the germ of a union has arisen, which will grow by degrees, and assimilate all to one indivisible form: that this principle of Peace is pressing out irresistibly, on all sides, and that ere long there will be but one Science and one Spirit, as one Prophet and one God.' –

'The rude, discursive Thinker is the Scholastic [Schoolman Logician]. The true Scholastic is a mystical Subtilist; out of logical Atoms he builds his Universe; he annihilates all living Nature, to put an Artifice of Thoughts [Gedankenkunststück, literally, Conjuror's-trick of Thoughts] in its room. His aim is an infinite Automaton. Opposite to him is the rude, intuitive Poet: this is a mystical Macrologist; he hates rules, and fixed form; a wild, violent life reigns instead of it in Nature; all is animate, no law; wilfulness and wonder everywhere. He is merely dynamical. Thus does the Philosophic Spirit arise at first, in altogether separate masses. In the second stage of culture these masses begin to come in contact, multifariously enough; and as in the union of infinite Extremes, the Finite, the Limited arises, so here also arise "Eclectic Philosophers" without number; the time of misunderstandings begins. The most limited is, in this stage, the most important, the purest Philosopher of the second stage. This class occupies itself wholly with the actual, present world, in the strictest sense. The Philosophers of the first class look down with contempt on those of the second; say, they are a little of everything, and so nothing; hold their views as the results of weakness, as Inconsequentism. On the contrary, the second class, in their turn, pity the first; lay the blame on their visionary enthusiasm, which they say is absurd, even to insanity. If, on the one hand the Scholastics and Alchemists seem to be utterly at variance, and the Eclectics on the other hand quite at one, yet strictly examined it is altogether the reverse. The former, in essentials, are indirectly of one opinion; namely as regards the non-dependence, and infinite character of Meditation, they both set out from the Absolute: whilst the Eclectic and limited sort are essentially at variance; and agree only in what is Deduced. The former are infinite but uniform, the latter bounded but multiform; the former have genius, the latter talent: those have Ideas, these have knacks (Handgriffe); those are heads without hands, these are hands without heads. The third stage is for the Artist, who can be at once implement and genius. He finds that that primitive Separation in the absolute Philosophical Activities [between the Scholastic, and the "rude, intuitive Poet"] is a deeper-lying Separation in his own Nature; which Separation indicates, by its

[page 127:]

existence as such, the possibility of being adjusted, of being joined: he finds that, heterogeneous as these Activities are, there is yet a faculty in him of passing from the one to the other, of changing his polarity at will. He discovers in them, therefore, necessary members of his spirit: he observes that both must be united in some common Principle. He infers that Eclecticism is nothing but the imperfect defective employment of this Principle. It becomes —'

– But we need not struggle farther, wringing a significance out of these mysterious words: in delineating the genuine Transcendentalist, or 'Philosopher of the third stage,' properly speaking, the Philosopher, Novalis ascends into regions, whither few readers would follow him. It may be observed here, that British Philosophy, tracing it from Duns Scotus to Dugald Stewart, has now gone through the first and second of these 'stages,' the Scholastic and the Eclectic, and in considerable honour. With our amiable Professor Stewart, than whom no man, not Cicero himself, was ever more entirely Eclectic, that second or Eclectic class may be considered as having terminated; and now Philosophy is at a stand among us, or rather there is now no Philosophy visible in these Islands. It remains to be seen, whether we also are to have our 'third stage;' and how that new and highest 'class' will demean itself here. The French Philosophers seem busy studying Kant, and writing of him: but we rather imagine Novalis would pronounce them still only in the Eclectic stage. He says afterwards, that 'all Eclectics are essentially and at bottom sceptics; the more comprehensive, the more sceptical.'

These two passages have been extracted from a large series of Fragments, which under the three divisions of Philosophical, Critical, Moral, occupy the greatest part of Volume second. They are fractions, as we hinted above, of that grand 'encyclopedical work' which Novalis had planned. Friedrich Schlegel is said to be the selector of those published here. They come before us, without note or comment; worded for the most part in very unusual phraseology, and without repeated and most patient investigation, seldom yield any significance, or rather we should say, often yield a false one. A few of the clearest we have selected for insertion: whether the reader will think them 'Pollen of Flowers,' or a baser kind of dust, we shall not predict. We give them in a miscellaneous shape; overlooking those classifications which, even in the text, are not and could not be very rigidly adhered to.

'Philosophy can bake no bread; but she can procure for us God,

[page 128:]

Freedom, Immortality. Which then is more practical, Philosophy or Economy? –

'Philosophy is properly Home-sickness; the wish to be everywhere at home. –

'We are near awakening when we dream that we dream. –

'The true philosophical Act is annihilation of self (Selbsttödtung); this is the real beginning of all Philosophy; all requisites for being a Disciple of Philosophy point hither. This Act alone corresponds to all the conditions and characteristics of transcendental conduct. –

'To become properly acquainted with a truth, we must first have disbelieved it, and disputed against it. –

'Man is the higher Sense of our Planet; the star which connects it with the upper world; the eye which it turns towards Heaven. –

'Life is a disease of the spirit; a working incited by Passion. Rest is peculiar to the spirit. –

'Our Life is no Dream, but it may and will perhaps become one. –

'What is Nature? An encyclopedical, systematic Index, or Plan of our Spirit. Why will we content us with the mere Catalogue of our Treasures? Let us contemplate them ourselves, and in all ways elaborate and use them. –

'If our Bodily Life is a burning, our spiritual Life is a being-burnt, a Combustion (or, is precisely the inverse the case?); Death, therefore, perhaps a Change of Capacity. –

'Sleep is for the inhabitants of Planets only. In another time, Man will sleep and wake continually at once. The greater part of our Body, of our Humanity itself, yet sleeps a deep sleep. –

'There is but one Temple in the World; and that is the Body of Man. Nothing is holier than this high form. Bending before men is a reverence done to this Revelation in the Flesh. – We touch Heaven, when we lay our hand on a human body. –

'Man is a Sun; his Senses are the Planets. –

'Man has ever expressed some symbolical Philosophy of his Being in his Works and Conduct; he announces himself and his Gospel of Nature; he is the Messiah of Nature. –

'Plants are Children of the Earth; we are Children of the Æther. Our Lungs are properly our Root; we live, when we breathe; we begin our life with breathing. –

'Nature is an Eolian Harp, a musical instrument; whose tones again are keys to higher strings in us. –

'Every beloved object is the centre of a Paradise. –

'The first Man is the first Spiritseer; all appears to him as Spirit. What are children, but first men? The fresh gaze of the Child is richer in significance than the forecasting of the most indubitable Seer. –

'It depends only on the weakness of our organs and of our self-excitement (Selbstberührung), that we do not see ourselves in a Fairy-world. All Fabulous Tales (Mährchen) are merely dreams of that home world, which is every where and no where. The higher

[page 129:]

powers in us, which one day as Genies, shall fulfil our will, (*) are, for the present, Muses, which refresh us on our toilsome course with sweet remembrances. –

'Man consists in Truth. If he exposes Truth, he exposes himself. If he betrays Truth, he betrays himself. We speak not here of Lies, but of acting against Conviction.

'A character is a completely fashioned will (vollkommen gebildeter Wille). –

'There is, properly speaking, no Misfortune in the world. Happiness and Misfortune stand in continual balance. Every Misfortune is, as it were, the obstruction of a stream, which, after overcoming this obstruction, but bursts through with the greater force. –

'The ideal of Morality has no more dangerous rival than the ideal of highest Strength, of most powerful life; which also has been named (very falsely as it was there meant) the ideal of poetic greatness. It is the maximum of the savage; and has, in these times, gained, precisely among the greatest weaklings, very many proselytes. By this ideal, man becomes a Beast-Spirit, a Mixture; whose brutal wit has, for weaklings, a brutal power of attraction. –

'The spirit of Poesy is the morning light, which makes the statue of Memnon sound. –

'The division of Philosopher and Poet is only apparent, and to the disadvantage of both. It is a sign of disease, and of a sickly constitution. –

'The true Poet is all-knowing; he is an actual world in miniature. –

'Klopstock's works appear, for the most part, free Translations of an unknown Poet, by a very talented but unpoetical Philologist. –

'Goethe is an altogether practical poet. He is in his works what the English are in their wares: highly simple, neat, convenient, and durable. He has done in German Literature what Wedgewood did in English Manufacture. He has, like the English, a natural turn for Economy, and a noble Taste acquired by Understanding. Both these are very compatible, and have a near affinity in the chemical sense. * * – Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship may be called throughout prosaic and modern. The Romantic sinks to ruin, the Poesy of Nature, the Wonderful. The Book treats merely of common worldly things: Nature and Mysticism are altogether forgotten. It is a poetized, civic, and household History; the Marvellous is expressly treated therein as imagination and enthusiasm. Artistic Atheism is the spirit of the Book. * * * It is properly a Candide, directed against Poetry: the Book is highly unpoetical in respect of spirit, poetical as the dress and body of it is. * * * The introduc-

[page 130:]

tion of Shakspeare has almost a tragic effect. The hero retards the triumph of the Gospel of Economy; and economical Nature is finally the true and only remaining one. –

'When we speak of the aim and Art observable in Shakspeare's works, we must not forget that Art belongs to Nature; that it is, so to speak, self-viewing, self-imitating, self-fashioning Nature. The Art of a well-developed genius is far different from the Artfulness of the Understanding, of the merely reasoning mind. Shakspeare was no calculator, no learned thinker; he was a mighty many-gifted soul, whose feelings and works, like products of Nature, bear the stamp of the same spirit; and in which the last and deepest of observers will still find new harmonies with the infinite structure of the Universe; concurrences with later ideas, affinities with the higher powers and senses of man. They are emblematic, have many meanings, are simple, and inexhaustible, like products of Nature; and nothing more unsuitable could be said of them than that they are works of Art, in that narrow mechanical acceptation of the word.'

The reader understands that we offer these specimens not as the best to be found in Novalis' Fragments, but simply as the most intelligible. Far stranger and deeper things there are, could we hope to make them in the smallest degree understood. But in examining and re-examining many of his Fragments, we find ourselves carried into more complex, more subtle regions of thought than any we are elsewhere acquainted with: here we cannot always find our own latitude and longitude, sometimes not even approximate to finding them; much less teach others such a secret.

What has been already quoted may afford some knowledge of Novalis, in the characters of Philosopher and Critic: there is one other aspect under which it would be still more curious to view and exhibit him, but still more difficult – we mean that of his Religion. Novalis nowhere specially records his creed, in these Writings: he many times expresses, or implies, a zealous, heartfelt belief in the Christian system; yet with such adjuncts, and co-existing persuasions, as to us might seem rather surprising. One or two more of these his Aphorisms, relative to this subject, we shall cite, as likely to be better than any description of ours. The whole essay at the end of volume first, entitled Die Christenheit oder Europa (Christianity or Europe) is also well worthy of study, in this as in many other points of view.

'Religion contains infinite sadness. If we are to love God, he must be in distress (hülfbedürftig, help-needing). In how far is this condition answered in Christianity? –

'Spinoza is a God-intoxicated-man (Gott-trunkener Mensch.) –

[page 131:]

'Is the Devil, as Father of Lies, himself but a necessary Illusion? –

'The Catholic Religion is to a certain extent applied Christianity. Fichte's Philosophy too is perhaps applied Christianity. –

'Can Miracles work Conviction? Or is not real Conviction, this highest function of our soul and personality, the only true God-announcing Miracle?

'The Christian Religion is especially remarkable, moreover, as it so decidedly lays claim to mere good will in Man, to his essential Temper, and values this independently of all Culture and Manifestation. It stands in opposition to Science and to Art, and properly to Enjoyment. (*)

'Its origin is with the common people. It inspires the great majority of the limited in this Earth.

'It is the Light that begins to shine in the Darkness.

'It is the root of all Democracy, the highest Fact in the Rights of Man (die höchste Thatsache der Popularität).

'Its unpoetical exterior, its resemblance to a modern family-picture, seems only to be lent it. (*)

'Martyrs are spiritual heroes. Christ was the greatest martyr of our species; through him has martyrdom become infinitely significant and holy. –

'The Bible begins nobly, with Paradise, the symbol of youth; and concludes with the Eternal Kingdom, the Holy City. Its two main divisions also, are genuine grand-historical divisions (ächt grosshistorisch). For in every grand-historical compartment, (Glied) the grand history must lie, as it were, symbolically re-created (verjüngt, made young again.) The beginning of the New Testament is the second higher Fall (the Atonement of the Fall,) and the commencement of the new Period. The history of every individual man should be a Bible. Christ is the new Adam. A Bible is the highest problem of Authorship. –

'As yet there is no Religion. You must first make a Seminary (Bildungs-schule) of genuine Religion. Think ye that there is Religion? Religion has to be made and produced (gemacht und hervorgebracht) by the union of a number of persons.'


Novalis' ideas on what has been called the 'perfectibility of man,' ground themselves on his peculiar views of the constitution of material and spiritual Nature, and are of the most original and extraordinary character. With our utmost effort, we should despair of communicating other than a quite false notion of them. He asks, for instance, with scientific gravity: Whether any one that recollects the first kind glance of her he loved, can doubt the possibility of Magic?

Italics also in the text.



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