Figure 28.1 JACQUES- LOUIS DAVID, Napoleon Crossing the Great Saint Bernard Pass, 1800. Oil on canvas, 8 ft. 6 in. × 7 ft. 3 in. When the painting entitled General Bonaparte’s Passage over Mont St. Bernard was first exhibited in London, it was described as follows: “He is here represented braving all the obstacles which Nature seemed to oppose to his passage; the winds, the cold, ice, snow, and thunder; nothing stops him; with one hand he is assisting his horse to mount these impractical rocks, with the other he is pointing out to his brave followers the dangers they have still to surmount, before they arrive where Glory calls them.”
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Nationalism and the Hero Nationalism—the exaltation of the sovereign state—was one of the shaping forces of nineteenth-century culture. While the beginnings of the modern nation-state go back at least to the fourteenth century (see chapter 15), nationalism, an ideology (or belief system) grounded in a people’s sense of cultural and political unity, did not gain widespread acceptance until roughly 1815. Modern nation- alism flourished in the wake of the French Revolution and, thereafter, in resistance to the imperialistic expansion of Napoleonic France. One after another, European states, as well as some in Africa and in Latin America, rose up against foreign rulers. Love of nation and love of liberty became synonymous with the ideals of self-determination and political freedom. In its positive aspects, national- ism cultivated the revival and celebration of a common language, common customs, and a shared history, as expressed in poetry, music, and art. The collection of German fairy tales (1812–1815) by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm serves as an example. But nationalism also manifested a malignant aspect: well into the twentieth cen- tury, nationalism and patriotic chauvinism motivated poli- cies of imperialism and ignited warfare, not only between nations, but also among the ethnic populations of various regions. Indeed, as these chapters reveal, much of the art of the nineteenth century is a visceral response to brutal events associated with nascent nationalism.
Nineteenth-century intellectuals celebrated the heroic personality, especially in its dedication to the causes of liberty and equality. The British historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) published a series of lec- tures, On Heroes and Hero-Worship, in which he glorified hero-gods, prophets, poets, priests, men of letters, and the quasi-legendary Napoleon Bonaparte. Walter Scott (1771–1832) and Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) wrote historical novels that described the heroic adventures of swashbuckling soldiers and maidens in distress, while Victor Hugo (1802–1885) made sentimental heroes out
of egalitarian patriots in the novel Les Misérables. Real-life heroes challenged literary heroes in courage and dar- ing. The Zulu warrior Shaka (1787–1828) changed the destiny of the southern region of Africa by leading aggres- sive campaigns that united the local clans, thus forming the Zulu nation.
In America, heroic themes occupied the attention of the novelists Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) and Herman Melville (1819–1891). Each created brooding, melan- cholic fictional heroes whose moral strength was tested by the forces of evil. The two leading figures (Ishmael and Ahab) in Melville’s great sea novel Moby-Dick are semi- autobiographical characterizations, inspired by Melville’s adventures as the foremast hand on a whaling ship and as a sailor in the United States Navy. Then too, the Americas produced some notable real-life heroes and champions of political freedom, such as Simón Bolívar (1783–1830)— whose victories over the Spanish forces in South America won independence for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela—and Frederick Douglass (1817–1895), the leading antislavery spokesman, whose autobiography details a heroic life of oppression and struggle.
Napoleon as a Romantic Hero In 1799 the thirty-year-old Corsican army general Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) seized control of the government of France. He ended civil strife, reorganized the educa- tional system, and institutionalized the system of civil law known as the Code Napoléon. “The Revolution is ended,” announced Napoleon as he proclaimed himself emperor in 1804. Over the following ten years, he pursued a policy of conquest that brought continental Western Europe to his feet. Throughout much of the West he abolished serf- dom, expropriated Church possessions, curtailed feudal privileges, and introduced French laws, institutions, and influence. Spreading the revolutionary ideals of liberty, fra- ternity, and equality throughout his empire (Map 28.1), he championed popular sovereignty and kindled sentiments of nationalism.
As the Romantics embraced nature, so they exalted the creative individual in the person of the hero. Heroes, whether mortal or divine, symbolize humanity at its best, most powerful, and godlike. Like the literary heroes of the past—Gilgamesh, Achilles, and Roland—the Romantic hero was a larger-than-life figure with extraordinary expectations, abilities, and goals. But whereas the literary hero defended the traditions and moral values of a society, the Romantic hero might challenge or seek to reform them.
The Romantics saw themselves as the visionaries of their time: as champions of a cult of the senses and of the heart. “Exister, pour nous, c’est sentir” (“For us, to exist is to feel”), proclaimed Rousseau, the late eighteenth-century prophet of Romanticism.
The spirit of the heroic self was anticipated in Rousseau’s declaration: “I am made unlike anyone I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different.” Working to fulfill their own personal vision, Romantic poets, painters, and composers freed themselves from dependence on the patronage of Church and state. At the same time, they defended the ideals of liberty and brotherhood associated with emerging nationalism. They opposed entrenched systems of slavery and institutional limitations to personal freedom. The nineteenth century did not produce more heroes than other centuries, but it celebrated the heroic personality as representative of the Romantic sensibility.
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If Napoleon’s ambitions were heroic, his military cam- paigns were stunning. Having conquered Italy, Egypt, Austria, Prussia, Portugal, and Spain, he pressed on to Russia where, in 1812, bitter weather and lack of food forced his armies to retreat. Only 100,000 of his army of 600,000 survived. In 1813, a coalition of European powers forced his defeat and exile to the island of Elba off the coast of Italy. A second and final defeat occurred after he escaped in 1814, raised a new army, and met the combined European forces led by the English duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo (1815). The fallen hero spent the last years of his life in exile on the barren island of Saint Helena off the west coast of Africa.
Napoleon, the first of the modern European dictators, left a distinctly Neoclassical stamp upon the city of Paris (see chapter 26). However, he also became the nineteenth century’s first Romantic hero, glorified in numerous
European poems and paintings, and especially in the majestic portraits of Jacques-Louis David, his favorite art- ist. David’s equestrian portrait of Napoleon (see Figure 28.1), which clearly draws on Roman imperial models, shows an idealized Napoleon—he actually crossed the Saint Bernard Pass on a mule—pursuing the destiny of such great military leaders as Hannibal and Charlemagne, whose names are carved on the foreground rocks. In this painting, one of five similar versions of the subject, David depicts Napoleon as a Romantic hero. Napoleon’s diary, a record of personal reflection, a favorite genre of the nineteenth-century Romantics, corroborates that image. Entries made by Napoleon between 1800 and 1817 reveal many features that typify the Romantic per- sonality: self-conscious individualism, a sense of personal power, unbridled egotism, and a high regard for the life of the imagination.
Moscow (captured) 1812Borodino
UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND
Elba ADRIATIC SEA
A T L A N T I C
O C E A N
N O R T H S E A
B L A C
K S E A
KINGDOM OF PORTUGAL
KINGDOM OF SARDINIA
KINGDOM OF ITALY
CONFEDERATION OF THE RHINE
GRAND DUCHY OF WARSAW
KINGDOM OF NAPLES
KINGDOM OF SICILY
French Empire 1812
Countries allied with Napoleon
Napoleon’s Russian campaign
Site of battle
0 500 miles
Map 28.1 The Empire of Napoleon at its Greatest Extent, 1812. In the lands he controlled directly and indirectly, Napoleon tried to initiate revolutionary reforms and institutions, an effort that generally met with resistance.
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READING 28.1 From Napoleon’s Diary (1800–1817)
Milan, June 17, 1800: . . . What a thing is imagination! Here 1 are men who don’t know me, who have never seen me, but who only knew of me, and they are moved by my presence, they would do anything for me! And this same incident arises in all centuries and in all countries! Such is fanaticism! Yes, imagination rules the world. The defect of our modern institutions is that they do not speak to the imagination. By that alone can man be governed; without it he is but a brute.
December 30, 1802: My power proceeds from my reputation, and my reputation from the victories I have won. My power 10 would fall if I were not to support it with more glory and more victories. Conquest has made me what I am; only conquest can maintain me. . . .
Saint Helena, March 3, 1817: In spite of all the libels, I have no fear whatever about my fame. Posterity will do me justice. The truth will be known; and the good I have done will be compared with the faults I have committed. I am not uneasy as to the result. Had I succeeded, I would have died with the reputation of the greatest man that ever existed. As it is, although I have failed, I shall be considered as an extraordinary 20 man: my elevation was unparalleled, because unaccompanied by crime. I have fought fifty pitched battles, almost all of which I have won. I have framed and carried into effect a code of laws that will bear my name to the most distant posterity. I raised myself from nothing to be the most powerful monarch in the world. Europe was at my feet. I have always been of [the] opinion that the sovereignty lay in the people.
Q What, according to Napoleon, is the role of the imagination?
Q Why might Napoleon’s self-image be considered “romantic”?
The Promethean Hero The Promethean Myth in Literature If Napoleon was nineteenth-century Europe’s favorite real-life hero, Prometheus was its favorite fictional hero. Prometheus (the name means “forethought”) was one of the primordial deities of Greek mythology. According to legend, Prometheus challenged Zeus by stealing from his home on Mount Olympus the sacred fire (source of divine wisdom and creative inspiration) and bestowing this great gift upon humankind. As punishment, Zeus chained him to a lonely rock, where an eagle fed daily on his liver, which was miraculously restored each night. A second, less dramatic aspect of the Prometheus story, more popular among the Romans than the Greeks, credited the hero with having fashioned human beings out of clay, in the manner of the Babylonian hero-god Marduk (see chapter 1).
Romantic poets embraced the figure of Prometheus as the suffering champion of humanity—a symbol of freedom and a deliverer whose noble ambitions had incurred the
wrath of the gods. Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom we met in chapter 27, made Prometheus the savior-hero of his four-act play Prometheus Unbound (1820). In this drama, Prometheus frees the universe from the tyranny of the gods. Two years earlier, in 1818, Shelley’s second wife, Mary Godwin Shelley (1797–1851), explored the Promethean legend in her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The daughter of William Godwin and the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft (see chapter 24), Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein at the age of eighteen. Framed as a series of letters, the novel relates the astonishing tale of the scientist–philosopher Victor Frankenstein, who, having discovered the secret of imparting life to inanimate matter, produces a monster endowed with supernatural strength (Figure 28.2). A modern Prometheus, Frankenstein suf- fers the punishment for his ambitious designs when the creature, excluded from the normal life of ordinary mor- tals, betrays his creator: “I was benevolent and good,” he protests, “misery made me a fiend.” Like the fallen Lucifer, Frankenstein’s creation ultimately becomes a figure of heroic evil.
Frankenstein belongs to a literary genre known as the Gothic novel, a type of entertainment that features ele- ments of horror and the supernatural cast in a medieval (“Gothic”) setting. Such novels, the earliest of which was Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), reflect the rising tide of antirationalism and a revived interest in the medieval past. Shelley’s novel—actually a scientific horror tale—has become a modern classic. The first literary work to question the human impact of scientific research, it
Figure 28.2 The first illustration of the Frankenstein monster, frontispiece from the Standards Novel edition of 1831. Engraving, 31∕2 × 24∕5 in.
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has inspired numerous science-fiction “spinoffs,” as well as cinematic and stage renderings. Ironically, however, it is not the scientist but the monster that has captured the modern imagination, even to the point of usurping the name of his creator.
READING 28.2 From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Chapters 4 and 5) (1818)
. . . One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my 1 attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery: yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our enquiries. I revolved these circumstances in my mind and determined thenceforth to apply myself more particularly to those branches of natural philosophy which relate to physiology. Unless I had 10 been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application to this study would have been irksome and almost intolerable. To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy, but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body. In my education my father had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should be impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect 20 upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to be merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. 30 I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me—a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius who had directed their enquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret. Remember, I am not recording the vision of a madman. The sun does not more certainly shine in the heavens than that 40 which I now affirm is true. Some miracle might have produced it, yet the stages of the discovery were distinct and probable. After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter. The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of
my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils. 50 But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. . . . . . . Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow. 60 When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it. Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex 70 and wonderful as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared adequate to so arduous an undertaking, but I doubted not that I should ultimately succeed. I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be imperfect; yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. Nor could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any argument of its impracticability. It was with 80 these feelings that I began the creation of a human being. As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionately large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began. No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to be ideal bounds, which I should first 90 break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption. These thoughts supported my spirits, while I pursued my undertaking with unremitting ardour. My cheek had grown 100 pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realize. One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the
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unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble, and my eyes 110 swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. It was indeed but a passing trance, that only made me feel with renewed acuteness so soon as, the unnatural stimulus ceasing to operate, I had returned to my old habits. I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation: my 120 eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion. . . .
It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing 130 that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creation open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and 140 arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips. The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but 150 now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. 160 Delighted and surprized, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew
covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had 170 created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the daemoniacal corpse to 180 which I had so miserably given life. . . .
Q What are the dangers of “the acquirement of knowledge,” according to Dr. Frankenstein?
Q Why does he ultimately experience “breathless horror and disgust”?
Byron and the Promethean Myth The Promethean myth found its most passionate cham- pion in the life and works of the English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824). Byron was one of the most flamboyant personalities of the age (Figure 28.3). Dedicated to pleasures of the senses, he was equally impas- sioned by the ideals of liberty and brotherhood. In his brief, mercurial life, he established the prototype of the Romantic hero, often called the Byronic hero.
As a young man, Byron traveled restlessly throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, devouring the landscape and the major sites. A physically attractive man (despite the handicap of a club foot) with dark, brooding eyes, he engaged in numerous love affairs, including one with his half-sister. In 1816, Byron abandoned an unsuccessful mar- riage and left England for good. He lived in Italy for a time with the Shelleys and a string of mistresses. By this time, he had earned such a reputation of dangerous nonconform- ity that an English woman, catching sight of the poet in Rome, warned her daughter: “Do not look at him! He is dangerous to look at.” In 1824, Byron sailed to Greece to aid the Greeks in their war of independence against the Turks—one of the many episodes in the turbulent history of nineteenth-century nationalism. There, in his last heroic role, he died of a fever. Throughout his life, Byron was given to periodic bouts of creativity and dissipation. A man of violent passions, he once described himself as “half-mad . . . between meta- physics, mountains, lakes, love indistinguishable, and the nightmare of my own delinquencies.” Intent on sharing his innermost feelings, he became the hero of his two great poems, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812–1818) and Don Juan, the latter written in installments between 1819 and 1824, and left unfinished at his death. The first poem narrates the wandering of Childe Harold, Byron’s fictional self, whom he describes as “the most unfit/ Of men to herd with man; with whom he held/ Little in common.”
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The disillusioned hero finds solace, however, in nature, as Byron writes in Canto Three (13):
He had the passion and the power to roam; The desert, forest, cavern, breaker’s foam, Were unto him companionship; they spake A mutual language . . .
Begun in Venice, Don Juan drew on the legendary, fictional Spanish libertine who had also inspired Mozart’s Don Giovanni (see chapter 26). Byron’s don, however, is not the lustful womanizer of Mozart’s opera; rather, he is a figure who stumbles into love in what might be called a romance of roguery, or—in Byron’s words—“a satire on the abuses of society.” Byron’s disdain for the social conventions of his
time and place are brilliantly mocked in a work that the author described as an “epic on modern life.”
By comparison with the other heroes of his literary career, Prometheus, the god who “stole from Heaven the flame, for which he fell,” preoccupied Byron as a symbol of triumphant individualism. For the poet, capturing the imagination in art or in life was comparable to stealing the sacred fire. In a number of his poems, he compares the fallen Napoleon to the mythic Prometheus—symbol of heroic ambition and ungovernable passions. But in the stirring ode called simply “Prometheus,” Byron makes of the Promethean myth a parable for the Romantic imagi- nation. He begins by recalling the traditional story of the hero whose “Godlike crime was to be kind.” He goes on
Figure 28.3 THOMAS PHILLIPS, Lord Byron Sixth Baron in Albanian Costume, 1813. Oil on canvas, 50 × 40 in. Upon the death of his great- uncle in 1798, Byron became the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale. Entitled to a seat in the House of Lords when he came of age in 1809, he attended only a few sessions. That same year, he bought this exotic costume (red-velvet jacket and Oriental headdress) while touring Greece and Albania. One of his lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, characterized Byron as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”
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to identify Prometheus as a “symbol and a sign” to mortals who, although “part divine,” are doomed to “funereal destiny.” Like Prometheus, says Byron, we must strive to defy that destiny by pursuing the creative projects that will outlive us. Byron’s voice sets defiance and hope against melancholy and despair.
READING 28.3 Byron’s “Prometheus” (1816)
Titan! to whose immortal eyes 1 The sufferings of mortality, Seen in their sad reality, Were not as things that gods despise; What was thy pity’s recompense? 5 A silent suffering, and intense; The rock, the vulture,1 and the chain, All that the proud can feel of pain, The agony they do not show, The suffocating sense of woe, 10 Which speaks but in its loneliness, And then is jealous lest the sky Should have a listener, nor will sigh Until its voice is echoless.
Titan! to thee the strife was given 15 Between the suffering and the will, Which torture where they cannot kill; And the inexorable Heaven, And the deaf tyranny of Fate, The ruling principle of Hate, 20 Which for its pleasure doth create The things it may annihilate, Refused thee even the boon to die: The wretched gift eternity Was thine—and thou hast borne it well. 25 All that the Thunderer2 wrung from thee Was but the menace which flung back On him the torments of thy rack; The fate thou didst so well foresee, But would not to appease him tell; 30 And in thy Silence was his Sentence, And in his Soul a vain repentance, And evil dread so ill dissembled, That in his hand the lightnings trembled.
Thy Godlike crime was to be kind, 35 To render with thy precepts less The sum of human wretchedness, And strengthen Man with his own mind; But baffled as thou wert from high, Still in thy patient energy, 40 In the endurance, and repulse Of thine impenetrable Spirit, Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse, A mighty lesson we inherit:
Thou art symbol and a sign 45 To Mortals of their fate and force; Like thee, Man is in part divine, A troubled stream from a pure source; And Man in portions can foresee His own funereal destiny, 50 His wretchedness, and his resistance, And his sad unallied existence: To which his Spirit may oppose Itself—and equal to all woes, And a firm will, and a deep sense, 55 Which even in torture can descry Its own concenter’d recompense,3
Triumphant where it dares defy, And making Death a Victory.
Q How does Byron characterize Prometheus in this poem?
Q What aspects of the Byronic hero are configured in Prometheus?
Pushkin: The Byron of Russia Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 was one of the most dramatic events in nineteenth-century history. Sorely outnumbered by the Grand Army of Napoleon, Russian troops resorted to a “scorched earth” policy that produced severe shortages of food for French and Russians alike. As French forces advanced on Moscow, leaving a trail of bloody battles, the Russians burned their own capital city. Napoleon ultimately captured Moscow, but within a few months he and his badly diminished army retreated from Russia, never to return. Deeply moved by Napoleon’s role in stirring Russian nationalism, Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837)—Russia’s leading lyric poet and dramatist— eulogized the hero who, as he explains in the poem “Napoleon,” had “launched the Russian nation/ Upon its lofty destinies.”
Pushkin, whose maternal great-grandfather was a black African general, came from an old aristocratic family. Nevertheless, he claimed comradeship with Russia’s hum- ble commoners. He boasted: “I am a versewright and a bookman, . . . / No financier, no titled footman,/ A com- moner: great on his own.” Like Byron, Pushkin champi- oned political freedom; he defended liberal causes, which resulted in his banishment to south Russia and ultimately to his dismissal from the foreign service. His agonizing death, at the age of thirty-seven, was the result of wounds suffered in a duel with his wife’s alleged lover.
Pushkin’s Romantic tragedies and long narrative poems reveal his great admiration for Shakespeare and Byron, and earned him a reputation as “the Byron of Russia.” Some of Pushkin’s works, such as Boris Godunov (1825) and Eugene Onegin (1833)—modeled in part on Byron’s Don Juan—would inspire operas by the composers Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881) and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (see chapter 29) respectively. The lyric poem “Napoleon,”
3 Catch a glimpse of the Spirit’s own sufficient reward.
1 Byron replaces the mythological eagle with a vulture. 2 Zeus, the supreme god of the Greeks.
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part of which follows, conveys Pushkin’s gift for buoyant, energetic language and his profound respect for the figure whom he viewed as both oppressor and liberator.
READING 28.4 From Pushkin’s “Napoleon” (1821)
A wondrous fate is now fulfilled, 1 Extinguished a majestic man. In somber prison night was stilled Napoleon’s grim, tumultuous span. The outlawed potentate has vanished, 5 Bright Nike’s mighty, pampered son; For him, from all Creation banished, Posterity has now begun.
O hero, with whose bloodied story Long, long the earth will still resound, 10 Sleep in the shadow of your glory, The desert ocean all around . . . A tomb of rock, in splendor riding! The urn that holds your mortal clay, As tribal hatreds are subsiding, 15 Now sends aloft a deathless ray.
How recently your eagles glowered Atop a disenfranchised world, And fallen sovereignties cowered Beneath the thunderbolts you hurled! 20 Your banners at a word would shower Destruction from their folds and dearth, Yoke after yoke of ruthless power You fitted on the tribes of earth.
. . . . . . . . . .
Vainglorious man! Where were you faring, 25 Who blinded that astounding mind? How came it in designs of daring The Russian’s heart was not divined? At fiery sacrifice not guessing, You idly fancied, tempting fate, 30 We would seek peace and count it blessing; You came to fathom us too late . . .
Fight on, embattled Russia mine, Recall the rights of ancient days! The sun of Austerlitz,1 decline! 35 And Moscow, mighty city, blaze! Brief be the time of our dishonor, The auspices are turning now; Hail Moscow—Russia’s blessings on her! War to extinction, thus our vow! 40
The diadem of iron2 shaking
In stiffened fingers’ feeble clasp, He stares into a chasm, quaking, And is undone, undone at last. Behold all Europe’s legions sprawling . . . 45 The wintry fields’ encrimsoned glow Bore testimony to their falling Till blood-prints melted with the snow.
. . . . . . . . . .
Let us hold up to reprobation Such petty-minded men as chose 50 With unappeasable damnation To stir his laurel-dark repose! Hail him! He launched the Russian nation Upon its lofty destinies And augured ultimate salvation 55 For man’s long-exiled liberties.
Q In what ways does this poem reflect the sentiments of nationalism?
Q What, according to Pushkin, did Napoleon fail to recognize in Russia?
The Abolitionists: American Prometheans Among the most fervent champions of liberty in nineteenth- century America were those who crusaded against the insti- tution of slavery. Their efforts initiated a movement for black nationalism that would continue well into the twenti- eth century (see chapter 36). It is unlikely that the leaders of the abolitionist movement regarded themselves in the image of a Napoleon or the fictional Prometheus, but, as historical figures, the abolitionists were the heroes of their time. They fought against the enslavement of Africans (and their descendants), a practice that had prevailed in the Americas since the sixteenth century.* Although the abolitionists constituted only a small minority of America’s population, their arguments were emotionally charged and their protests often dramatic and telling.
Antislavery novels—the most famous of which was Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811– 1896)—stirred up public sentiment against the brutality and injustice of the system. Originally serialized in an antislavery newspaper, Stowe’s book sold more than one million copies within a year of its publication. But the most direct challenge to slavery came from the slaves themselves, and none more so than the slave rebels who—like Prometheus—mounted outright attacks against their owners and masters in their efforts to gain a prized privilege: freedom. While slave rebellions were rare in nineteenth-century America—between 1800 and 1860 only two reached the level of overt insurrection—the threat or rumor of rebellion was terrifying to slave-owners (Figure 28.4).
One of the most notable insurrections of the cen- tury took place in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831:
1 The site of Napoleon’s greatest victory, where, on December 2, 1805, he defeated the combined Austrian and Russian forces, acquiring control of European lands north of Rome and becoming king of Italy.
2 The iron crown of Lombardy, dating back to the fifth century, which Napoleon had assumed some time after the Italian campaigns.
* The origins and history of the transatlantic slave trade are discussed in chapters 18 and 25.
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Nat Turner (1800–1831), a slave preacher and mystic, believed that he was divinely appointed to lead the slaves to freedom. The Turner rebellion resulted in the deaths of at least fifty-seven white people (and many more black slaves, killed when the rebellion was suppressed) and the destruction of several plantations in the area. Following the defeat of the rebel slaves, the captive Turner explained his motives to a local attorney, who prepared a published ver- sion of his personal account in the so-called “Confessions of Nat Turner.”
Frederick Douglass A longer, more detailed autobiography, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845), came from the pen of the nineteenth century’s leading African-American crusader for black freedom (Figure 28.5). Born a slave on the east coast of Maryland, Douglass (1817–1895) taught himself how to read and write at an early age; he escaped bondage in Baltimore in 1838 and eventually found his way north to New England, where he joined the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. A powerful public speaker, who captivated his audiences
with accounts of his life, Douglass served as living proof of the potential of black slaves to achieve brilliantly as free persons. He wrote extensively and eloquently in support of abolition, describing the “dehumanizing character of slavery” (that is, its negative effects on both black and white people), and defending the idea that, by abandoning slavelike behavior, even slaves could determine their own lives. On occasion, he employed high irony—contradic- tion between literal and intended meanings—as is the case with his justification of theft as a moral act if perpetrated by a slave against his master. Although it is unlikely that Douglass had in mind any reference to the Promethean motif of heroic defiance, the parallel is not without signifi- cance. “A Slave’s Right to Steal” comes from My Bondage and My Freedom, the revised and enlarged version of Douglass’ autobiography.
READING 28.5 From Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
. . . There were four slaves of us in the kitchen, and four whites 1 in the great house—Thomas Auld, Mrs. Auld, Hadaway Auld (brother of Thomas Auld), and little Amanda. The names of the slaves in the kitchen, were Eliza, my sister; Priscilla, my aunt; Henry, my cousin; and myself. There were eight persons in the family. There was, each week, one half bushel of corn-meal brought from the mill; and in the kitchen, corn-meal was almost our exclusive food, for very little else was allowed us. Out of this half bushel of corn-meal, the family in the great
Figure 28.4 WILLIAM BLAKE, A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows, 1796. Colour engraving, 101∕2 × 8 in. Library of Congress #1835. Private Collection. John G. Stedman was a Dutch naval officer who volunteered for a military expedition to quell slave uprisings in the Dutch colony of Surinam in Guiana, and the east coast of South America. His drawings, produced to accompany his Narrative of a Five-Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, are eyewitness accounts of the varieties of torture inflicted by colonial masters on rebellious slaves. Blake’s color engravings are based on Stedman’s drawings.
Figure 28.5 Portrait of Frederick Douglass, 1847. Daguerreotype, 31∕4 × 23∕4 in.
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house had a small loaf every morning; thus leaving us, in the 10 kitchen, with not quite a half a peck of meal per week, apiece. This allowance was less than half the allowance of food on Lloyd’s plantation. It was not enough to subsist upon; and we were, therefore, reduced to the wretched necessity of living at the expense of our neighbors. We were compelled either to beg, or to steal, and we did both. I frankly confess, that while I hated everything like stealing, as such, I nevertheless did not hesitate to take food, when I was hungry, wherever I could find it. Nor was this practice the mere result of an unreasoning instinct; it was, in my case, the result of a clear apprehension 20 of the claims of morality. I weighed and considered the matter closely, before I ventured to satisfy my hunger by such means. Considering that my labor and person were the property of Master Thomas, and that I was by him deprived of the necessaries of life—necessaries obtained by my own labor— it was easy to deduce the right to supply myself with what was my own. It was simply appropriating what was my own to the use of my master, since the health and strength derived from such food were exerted in his service. To be sure, this was stealing, according to the law and gospel I heard from St. 30 Michael’s pulpit; but I had already begun to attach less importance to what dropped from that quarter, on that point, while, as yet, I retained my reverence for religion. It was not always convenient to steal from master, and the same reason why I might, innocently, steal from him, did not seem to justify me in stealing from others. In the case of my master, it was only a question of removal—the taking his meat out of the tub, and putting it into another; the ownership of the meat was not affected by the transaction. At first, he owned it in the tub, and last, he owned it in me. 40 His meat house was not always open. There was a strict watch kept on that point, and the key was on a large bunch in Rowena’s pocket. A great many times have we, poor creatures, been severely pinched with hunger, when meat and bread have been moulding under the lock, while the key was in the pocket of our mistress. This had been so when she knew we were nearly half starved; and yet, that mistress, with saintly air, would kneel with her husband, and pray each morning that a merciful God would bless them in basket and in store, and save them, at last, in his kingdom. 50 But I proceed with the argument. It was necessary that the right to steal from others should be established; and this could only rest upon a wider range of generalization than that which supposed the right to steal from my master. It was sometime before I arrived at this clear right. The reader will get some idea of my train of reasoning, by a brief statement of the case. “I am,” thought I, “not only the slave of Master Thomas, but I am the slave of society at large. Society at large has bound itself, in form and in fact, to assist 60 Master Thomas in robbing me of my rightful liberty, and of the just reward of my labor; therefore, whatever rights I have against Master Thomas, I have, equally, against those confederated with him in robbing me of liberty. As society has marked me out as privileged plunder, on the principle of self- preservation I am justified in plundering in turn. Since each slave belongs to all; all must, therefore, belong to each.” I shall here make a profession of faith which may shock
some, offend others, and be dissented from by all. It is this: Within the bounds of his just earnings, I hold that the slave is 70 fully justified in helping himself to the gold and silver, and the best apparel of his master, or that of any other slaveholder; and that such taking is not stealing in any just sense of that word. The morality of free society can have no application to slave society. Slaveholders have made it almost impossible for the slave to commit any crime, known either to the laws of God or to the laws of man. If he steals, he takes his own; if he kills his master, he imitates only the heroes of the revolution. Slaveholders I hold to be individually and collectively responsible for all the evils which grow out of the horrid 80 relation, and I believe they will be so held at the judgment, in the sight of a just God. Make a man a slave, and you rob him of moral responsibility. . . .
Q With what arguments does Douglass justify stealing?
Q Does moral responsibility alter according to the status of an individual?
Sojourner Truth While Frederick Douglass was among the first African-Americans to win international attention through his skills at public speaking, his female contem- porary Sojourner Truth (ca. 1797–1883) brought wit and a woman’s passion to the fight against slavery. Born to slave parents in Ulster County, New York, Isabella Baumfree was sold four times before the age of thirty, an inauspi- cious beginning for a woman who would become one of America’s most vocal abolitionists, an evangelist, and a champion of women’s rights.
After being emancipated in 1828, Baumfree trave- led widely in the United States, changing her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843, as she committed her life to “sharing the truth” in matters of human dignity. Although she never learned to read or write, she was determined to have her voice heard across the nation and for future gen- erations. To accomplish the latter, she dictated her story to a friend, Olive Gilbert. The narrative, which was published in 1850, recounts the major events of her life, including the tale of how Isabella engaged in a heroic legal battle to win back her five-year-old son, who was illegally sold into slavery in New York State. Sojourner Truth used her talents as an orator to voice her opposition to slavery, capital pun- ishment, and the kidnapping and sale of black children (a common practice in some parts of the country). She also supported prison reform, helped to relocate former slaves, and defended the rights of women. Sharp-tongued and outspoken (and a lifelong pipe-smoker), Sojourner Truth won popular notoriety for the short, impromptu speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?,” delivered in 1851 to the Woman’s Convention at Akron, Ohio. While scholars question the authenticity of various versions of the speech (which was published by abolitionists some twelve years later), no such debate clouds Sojourner’s narrative, which, even in this short excerpt, captures the spirit of her straightforward rhetoric.
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READING 28.6 From The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850)
Subsequently, Isabella was married to a fellow-slave, named 1 Thomas, who had previously had two wives, one of whom, if not both, had been torn from him and sold far away. And it is more than probable, that he was not only allowed but encouraged to take another at each successive sale. I say it is probable, because the writer of this knows from personal observation, that such is the custom among slaveholders at the present day; and that in a twenty months’ residence among them, we never knew any one to open the lip against the practice; and when we severely censured it, the slaveholder 10 had nothing to say; and the slave pleaded that, under existing circumstances, he could do no better. Such an abominable state of things is silently tolerated, to say the least, by slaveholders—deny it who may. And what is that religion that sanctions, even by its silence, all that is embraced in the “Peculiar Institution” ? If there can be any thing more diametrically opposed to the religion of Jesus, than the working of this soul-killing system—which is as truly sanctioned by the religion of America as are her ministers and churches—we wish to be shown where it can be found. 20 We have said, Isabella was married to Thomas—she was, after the fashion of slavery, one of the slaves performing the ceremony for them; as no true minister of Christ can perform, as in the presence of God, what he knows to be a mere farce, a mock marriage, unrecognized by any civil law, and liable to be annulled at any moment, when the interest or caprice of the master should dictate. With what feelings must slaveholders expect us to listen to their horror of amalgamation in prospect, while they are well aware that we know how calmly and quietly they contemplate 30 the present state of licentiousness their own wicked laws have created, not only as it regards the slave, but as it regards the more privileged portion of the population of the South? Slaveholders appear to me to take the same notice of the vices of the slave, as one does of the vicious disposition of his horse. They are often an inconvenience; further than that, they care not to trouble themselves about the matter. . . .
Q Why does Sojourner Truth claim that slavery is “sanctioned by the religion of America”?
Slave Songs and Spirituals The nineteenth century witnessed the flowering of a unique type of folk song that expressed the heroic grief and hopes of the American slave community. Slave songs, sometimes termed “sorrow songs,” formed the basis of what later became known as “spirituals.” These songs, the most significant musical contribution of America’s antebellum population, were a distinctive cultural form that blended the Methodist and Baptist evangelical church music of the eighteenth century with musical traditions brought from Africa to the Americas in the course of 200 years.
A communal vehicle that conveyed the fervent longing for freedom, slave songs and spirituals based their content
on Bible stories, usually focused on deliverance—the pas- sage of the “Hebrew children” out of Egyptian bondage, for instance—and the promise of ultimate, triumphant liberation. A typical spiritual, such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” tempers despair with enduring faith. In form, spirituals embellished typically Protestant melodies and antiphonal structures with the complex, per- cussive rhythms (such as polymeter and syncopation), over- lapping call-and-response patterns, and improvisational techniques of traditional African music (see chapter 18).
A powerful form of religious music, the spiritual came to public attention only after 1871, when an instructor of vocal music at Fisk University in Tennessee took the school’s student choir on a university fundraising tour. A similar group was established by Hampton Institute (now Hampton University in Virginia) in 1873. Beyond the com- mercial popularity of this song form, spirituals have come to influence the development of numerous musical genres, including jazz, gospel, and blues (see chapter 36).
Goethe’s Faust: The Quintessential Romantic Hero Of all literary heroes of the nineteenth century, perhaps the most compelling is Goethe’s Faust. The story of Faust is based on a sixteenth-century German legend: a trave- ling physician and a practitioner of black magic, Johann or Georg Faust, was reputed to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for infinite knowledge. The story became the subject of numerous dramas, the first of which was The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus written by the English playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593). Faust was the favorite Renaissance symbol of the lust for knowledge and power balanced against the perils of eter- nal damnation—a theme that figured largely in literary characterizations of Don Juan as well. In the hands of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Faust became the paradigm of Western man and the quin- tessential Romantic hero.
One of the literary landmarks of its time, Faust was the product of Goethe’s entire career: he conceived the piece during the 1770s, published Part One in 1808, but did not complete the play until 1832. Although ostensibly a drama, Faust more closely resembles an epic poem. It is written in a lyric German, with a richness of verse forms that is typical of Romantic poetry. As a play, it deliberately ignores the Classical unities of time and place—indeed, its shifting “cinematic” qualities make it more adaptable to modern film than to the traditional stage. Despite a cosmic breadth, which compares with Milton’s Paradise Lost or Dante’s Divine Comedy, Goethe’s Faust focuses more narrowly on the human condition. Goethe neither seeks to justify God’s ways to humanity nor to allegorize the Christian ascent to salvation; rather, he uncovers the tragic tension between heroic aspirations and human limitations. A student of law, medicine, theology, theater, biology, optics, and alchemy, Goethe seems to have mod- eled his hero on himself. Faust is a man of deep learning,
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a Christian, and a scientist. Having mastered the tradi- tional disciplines, he has turned to magic “to learn what it is that girds/ The world together in its inmost being.” While the desire to know and achieve has driven his stud- ies, he feels stale, bored, and deeply dissatisfied: “too old for mere amusement,/ Too young to be without desire.” On the verge of suicide, he is enticed by Satan to abandon the world of the intellect for a fuller knowledge of life, a privilege that may cost him dearly.
The Prologue of Faust is set in Heaven, where (in a manner reminiscent of the Book of Job) a wager is made between Mephistopheles (Satan) and God. Mephistopheles
bets God that he can divert Faust from “the path that is true and fit.” God contends that, although “men make mistakes as long as they strive,” Faust will never relinquish his soul to Satan. Mephistopheles then proceeds to make a second pact, this one with Faust himself, signed in blood: if he can satisfy Faust’s deepest desires and ambitions to the hero’s ultimate satisfaction, Mephistopheles will win Faust’s soul. Mephistopheles lures the despairing scholar out of his study (“This God-damned dreary hole in the wall”) and into the larger world of experience (Figure 28.6). The newly liberated hero then engages in a passionate love affair with a young woman named Gretchen. Discovering
Figure 28.6 EUGÈNE DELACROIX, Mephistopheles Appearing to Faust in his Study, illustration for Goethe’s Faust, 1828. Lithograph, 103∕4 × 9 in. Dressed in a “suit of scarlet trimmed with gold,” a “little cape of stiff brocade,” and a stylish hat, Mephistopheles invites Faust to dress up like him and prepare to seek “pleasure and action.” Goethe’s drama inspired many contemporary visual illustrations, as well as musical settings by Berlioz and other composers (see chapter 29).
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the joys of the sensual life, Faust proclaims the prior- ity of the heart (“Feeling is all!”) over the mind. Faust’s romance, however, has tragic consequences, including the deaths of Gretchen’s mother, her illegitimate child, her brother, and, ultimately, Gretchen herself. Nevertheless, at the close of Part One, Gretchen’s pure and selfless love wins her salvation.
In the second part of the drama, the hero travels with Mephistopheles through a netherworld in which he meets an array of witches, sirens, and other fantastic creatures. He encounters the ravishing Helen of Troy, symbol of ideal beauty, who acquaints Faust with the entire history of humankind; but Faust remains unsated. His unquenched thirst for experience now leads him to pursue a life of action for the public good. He undertakes a vast land- reclamation project, which provides habitation for millions of people. In this Promethean effort to benefit humanity, the aged and near-blind Faust finally finds personal fulfill- ment. He dies, however, before fully realizing his dream, thus never declaring the satisfaction that will doom him to Hell. While Mephistopheles tries to apprehend Faust’s soul as it leaves his body, God’s angels, led by Gretchen (Goethe’s symbol of the Eternal Female), intervene to shepherd Faust’s spirit to Heaven.
The heroic Faust is a timeless symbol of the Western drive for consummate knowledge, experience, and the will to power over nature. Although it is possible to reproduce here only a small portion of Goethe’s 12,000-line poem, the following excerpt conveys the powerful lyricism, the verbal subtlety, and the shifts between high seriousness and comedy that make Goethe’s Faust a literary masterpiece.
READING 28.7 From Goethe’s Faust (1808)
Prologue in Heaven
The Lord. The Heavenly Hosts. Mephistopheles following (the Three Archangels step forward). Raphael: The chanting sun, as ever, rivals 1 The chanting of his brother spheres And marches round his destined circuit—1
A march that thunders in our ears. His aspect cheers the Hosts of Heaven Though what his essence none can say; These inconceivable creations Keep the high state of their first day. Gabriel: And swift, with inconceivable swiftness, The earth’s full splendor rolls around, 10 Celestial radiance alternating With a dread night too deep to sound; The sea against the rocks’ deep bases Comes foaming up in far-flung force, And rock and sea go whirling onward In the swift spheres’ eternal course. Michael: And storms in rivalry are raging
From sea to land, from land to sea, In frenzy forge the world a girdle From which no inmost part is free 20 The blight of lightning flaming yonder Marks where the thunder-bolt will play; And yet Thine envoys, Lord, revere The gentle movement of Thy day. Choir of Angels: Thine aspect cheers the Hosts of Heaven Though what Thine essence none can say, And all Thy loftiest creations Keep the high state of their first day. (Enter Mephistopheles) 2
Mephistopheles: Since you, O Lord, once more approach and ask If business down with us be light or heavy— 30 And in the past you’ve usually welcomed me— That’s why you see me also at your levee. Excuse me, I can’t manage lofty words— Not though your whole court jeer and find me low; My pathos certainly would make you laugh Had you not left off laughing long ago. Your suns and worlds mean nothing much to me; How men torment themselves, that’s all I see. The little god of the world, one can’t reshape, reshade him; He is as strange to-day as that first day you made him. 40 His life would be not so bad, not quite, Had you not granted him a gleam of Heaven’s light; He calls it Reason, uses it not the least Except to be more beastly than any beast. He seems to me—if your Honor does not mind— Like a grasshopper—the long-legged kind— That’s always in flight and leaps as it flies along And then in the grass strikes up its same old song. I could only wish he confined himself to the grass! He thrusts his nose into every filth, alas. 50 Lord: Mephistopheles, have you no other news? Do you always come here to accuse? Is nothing ever right in your eyes on earth? Mephistopheles: No, Lord! I find things there as downright bad as ever. I am sorry for men’s days of dread and dearth; Poor things, my wish to plague ’em isn’t fervent. Lord: Do you know Faust? Mephistopheles: The Doctor? Lord: Aye, my servant.3
Mephistopheles: Indeed! He serves you oddly enough, I think. 60 The fool has no earthly habits in meat and drink. The ferment in him drives him wide and far, That he is mad he too has almost guessed; He demands of heaven each fairest star And of earth each highest joy and best, And all that is new and all that is far Can bring no calm to the deep-sea swell of his breast. Lord: Now he may serve me only gropingly,
1 The sun is treated here as one of the planets, all of which, according to Pythagoras, moved harmoniously in crystalline spheres.
2 The name possibly derives from the Hebrew “Mephistoph,” meaning “destroyer of the gods.”
3 Compare the exchange between God and Satan at the beginning of the Book of Job (see chapter 1).
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Soon I shall lead him into the light. The gardener knows when the sapling first turns green 70 That flowers and fruit will make the future bright. Mephistopheles: What do you wager? You will lose him yet, Provided you give me permission To steer him gently the course I set. Lord: So long as he walks the earth alive, So long you may try what enters your head; Men make mistakes as long as they strive. Mephistopheles: I thank you for that; as regards the dead, The dead have never taken my fancy. I favor cheeks that are full and rosy-red; 80 No corpse is welcome to my house; I work as the cat does with the mouse. Lord: Very well; you have my full permission. Divert this soul from its primal source And carry it, if you can seize it, Down with you upon your course— And stand ashamed when you must needs admit: A good man with his groping intuitions Still knows the path that’s true and fit. Mephistopheles: All right—but it won’t last for long. 90 I’m not afraid my bet will turn out wrong. And, if my aim prove true and strong, Allow me to triumph wholeheartedly. Dust shall he eat—and greedily— Like my cousin the Snake renowned in tale and song.4
Lord: That too you are free to give a trial; I have never hated the likes of you. Of all the spirits of denial The joker is the last that I eschew. Man finds relaxation too attractive— 100 Too fond too soon of unconditional rest; Which is why I am pleased to give him a companion Who lures and thrusts and must, as devil, be active. But ye, true sons of Heaven,5 it is your duty To take your joy in the living wealth of beauty. The changing Essence which ever works and lives Wall you around with love, serene, secure! And that which floats in flickering appearance Fix ye it firm in thoughts that must endure. Choir of Angels: Thine aspect cheers the Hosts of Heaven 110 Though what Thine essence none can say, And all Thy loftiest creations Keep the high state of their first day. (Heaven closes) Mephistopheles (Alone): I like to see the Old One now and then And try to keep relations on the level It’s really decent of so great a person To talk so humanely even to the Devil.
The First Part of the Tragedy Night (In a high-vaulted narrow Gothic room Faust, restless, in a chair at his desk)
Faust: Here stand I, ach, Philosophy Behind me and Law and Medicine too And, to my cost, Theology—6 120 All these I have sweated through and through And now you see me a poor fool As wise as when I entered school! They call me Master, they call me Doctor,7
Ten years now I have dragged my college Along by the nose through zig and zag Through up and down and round and round And this is all that I have found— The impossibility of knowledge! It is this that burns away my heart; 130 Of course I am cleverer than the quacks, Than master and doctor, than clerk and priest, I suffer no scruple or doubt in the least, I have no qualms about devil or burning, Which is just why all joy is torn from me, I cannot presume to make use of my learning, I cannot presume I could open my mind To proselytize and improve mankind.
Besides, I have neither goods nor gold, Neither reputation nor rank in the world; 140 No dog would choose to continue so! Which is why I have given myself to Magic To see if the Spirit may grant me to know Through its force and its voice full many a secret, May spare the sour sweat that I used to pour out In talking of what I know nothing about, May grant me to learn what it is that girds The world together in its inmost being, That the seeing its whole germination, the seeing Its workings, may end my traffic in words. 150
O couldst thou, light of the full moon, Look now thy last upon my pain, Thou for whom I have sat belated So many midnights here and waited Till, over books and papers, thou Didst shine, sad friend, upon my brow! O could I but walk to and fro On mountain heights in thy dear glow Or float with spirits round mountain eyries Or weave through fields thy glances glean 160 And freed from all miasmal theories Bathe in thy dew and wash me clean!8
Oh! Am I still stuck in this jail? This God-damned dreary hole in the wall Where even the lovely light of heaven Breaks wanly through the painted panes! Cooped up among these heaps of books
4 In Genesis 3:14, God condemns the serpent to go on its belly and eat dust for the rest of its days.
5 The archangels.
6 Philosophy, law, medicine, and theology were the four programs of study in medieval universities.
7 The two advanced degrees beyond the baccalaureate. 8 Goethe’s conception of nature as a source of sublime purification
may be compared with similar ideas held by the nature poets and the transcendentalists discussed in chapter 27.
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Gnawed by worms, coated with dust, Round which to the top of the Gothic vault A smoke-stained paper forms a crust. 170 Retorts and canisters lie pell-mell And pyramids of instruments, The junk of centuries, dense and mat— Your world, man! World? They call it that!
And yet you ask why your poor heart Cramped in your breast should feel such fear, Why an unspecified misery Should throw your life so out of gear? Instead of the living natural world For which God made all men his sons 180 You hold a reeking mouldering court Among assorted skeletons. Away! There is a world outside! And this one book of mystic art Which Nostradamus9 wrote himself, Is this not adequate guard and guide? By this you can tell the course of the stars, By this, once Nature gives the word, The soul begins to stir and dawn, A spirit by a spirit heard, 190 In vain your barren studies here Construe the signs of sanctity. You Spirits, you are hovering near; If you can hear me, answer me! (He opens the book and perceives the sign of the Macrocosm)10
Ha! What a river of wonder at this vision Bursts upon all my senses in one flood! And I feel young, the holy joy of life Glows new, flows fresh, through nerve and blood! Was it a god designed this hieroglyph to calm The storm which but now raged inside me, 200 To pour upon my heart such balm, And by some secret urge to guide me Where all the powers of Nature stand unveiled around me? Am I a God? It grows so light! And through the clear-cut symbol on this page My soul comes face to face with all creating Nature. At last I understand the dictum of the sage: “The spiritual world is always open, Your mind is closed, your heart is dead; Rise, young man, and plunge undaunted 210 Your earthly breast in the mourning red.” (He contemplates the sign) Into one Whole how all things blend, Function and live within each other! Passing gold buckets to each other How heavenly powers ascend, descend! The odor of grace upon their wings, They thrust from heaven through earthly things
And as all sing so the All sings! What a fine show! Aye, but only a show! Infinite Nature, where can I tap thy veins? 220
[Faust uses a magical sign to call forth the Earth Spirit; it appears but offers him no solace. He then converses with his assistant Wagner on the fruitlessness of a life of study. When Wagner leaves, Faust prepares to commit suicide; but he is interrupted by the sounds of church bells and choral music. Still brooding, he joins Wagner and the townspeople as they celebrate Easter Sunday. At the city gate, Faust encounters a black poodle, which he takes back with him to his studio. The dog is actually Mephistopheles, who soon makes his real self known to Faust.]
(The same room. Later) Faust: Who’s knocking? Come in! Now who wants to annoy me? Mephistopheles (outside door): It’s I. Faust: Come in! Mephistopheles (outside door): You must say “Come in” three times. Faust: Come in then! Mephistopheles (entering): Thank you; you overjoy me. We two, I hope, we shall be good friends; To chase those megrims11 of yours away 230 I am here like a fine young squire to-day, In a suit of scarlet trimmed with gold And a little cape of stiff brocade, With a cock’s feather in my hat And at my side a long sharp blade, And the most succinct advice I can give Is that you dress up just like me, So that uninhibited and free You may find out what it means to live. Faust: The pain of earth’s constricted life, I fancy, 240 Will pierce me still, whatever my attire; I am too old for mere amusement, Too young to be without desire. How can the world dispel my doubt? You must do without, you must do without! That is the everlasting song Which rings in every ear, which rings, And which to us our whole life long Every hour hoarsely sings. I wake in the morning only to feel appalled, 250 My eyes with bitter tears could run To see the day which in its course Will not fulfil a wish for me, not one; The day which whittles away with obstinate carping All pleasures—even those of anticipation, Which makes a thousand grimaces to obstruct My heart when it is stirring in creation. And again, when night comes down, in anguish I must stretch out upon my bed And again no rest is granted me, 260 For wild dreams fill my mind with dread.
11 Low or morbid spirits.
9 Michel de Notredame, or Nostradamus (1503–1566) was a French astrologer famous for his prophecies.
10 Signs of the universe, such as the pentagram, were especially popular among those who practiced magic and the occult arts.
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The God who dwells within my bosom Can make my inmost soul react; The God who sways my every power Is powerless with external fact. And so existence weighs upon my breast And I long for death and life—life I detest. Mephistopheles: Yet death is never a wholly welcome guest. Faust: O happy is he whom death in the dazzle of victory Crowns with the bloody laurel in the battling swirl! 270 Or he whom after the mad and breakneck dance He comes upon in the arms of a girl! O to have sunk away, delighted, deleted, Before the Spirit of the Earth,12 before his might! Mephistopheles: Yet I know someone who failed to drink A brown juice on a certain night.13
Faust: Your hobby is espionage—is it not? Mephistopheles: Oh I’m not omniscient—but I know a lot. Faust: Whereas that tumult in my soul Was stilled by sweet familiar chimes 280 Which cozened14 the child that yet was in me With echoes of more happy times, I now curse all things that encompass The soul with lures and jugglery And bind it in this dungeon of grief With trickery and flattery. Cursed in advance be the high opinion That serves our spirit for a cloak! Cursed be the dazzle of appearance Which bows our senses to its yoke! 290 Cursed be the lying dreams of glory, The illusion that our name survives! Cursed be the flattering things we own, Servants and ploughs, children and wives! Cursed be Mammon15 when with his treasures He makes us play the adventurous man Or when for our luxurious pleasures He duly spreads the soft divan! A curse on the balsam of the grape! A curse on the love that rides for a fall! 300 A curse on hope! A curse on faith! And a curse on patience most of all! (The invisible Spirits sing again) Spirits: Woe! Woe! You have destroyed it, The beautiful world; By your violent hand ’Tis downward hurled! A half-god has dashed it asunder! From under 310 We bear off the rubble to nowhere And ponder Sadly the beauty departed. Magnipotent
One among men, Magnificent Build it again, Build it again in your breast! Let a new course of life Begin 320 With vision abounding And new songs resounding To welcome it in! Mephistopheles: These are the junior Of my faction. Hear how precociously they counsel Pleasure and action. Out and away From your lonely day Which dries your senses and your juices 330 Their melody seduces. Stop playing with your grief which battens Like a vulture on your life, your mind! The worst of company would make you feel That you are a man among mankind. Not that it’s really my proposition To shove you among the common men; Though I’m not one of the Upper Ten. If you would like a coalition With me for your career through life, 340 I am quite ready to fit in, I’m yours before you can say knife. I am your comrade; If you so crave, I am your servant, I am your slave. Faust: And what have I to undertake in return? Mephistopheles: Oh it’s early days to discuss what that is. Faust: No, no, the devil is an egoist And ready to do nothing gratis Which is to benefit a stranger. 350 Tell me your terms and don’t prevaricate! A servant like you in the house is a danger. Mephistopheles: I will bind myself to your service in this world, To be at your beck and never rest nor slack; When we meet again on the other side, In the same coin you shall pay me back. Faust: The other side gives me little trouble; First batter this present world to rubble, Then the other may rise—if that’s the plan. This earth is where my springs of joy have started. 360 And this sun shines on me when broken-hearted; If I can first from them be parted, Then let happen what will and can! I wish to hear no more about it— Whether there too men hate and love Or whether in those spheres too, in the future, There is a Below or an Above. Mephistopheles: With such an outlook you can risk it. Sign on the line! In these next days you will get Ravishing samples of my arts; 370 I am giving you what never man saw yet. Faust: Poor devil, can you give anything ever? Was a human spirit in its high endeavor
12 The Earth Spirit that Faust called forth earlier. 13 Mephistopheles alludes to Faust’s contemplation of suicide by poison
earlier in the drama. 14 Persuaded; cajoled. 15 Riches or material wealth.
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Even once understood by one of your breed? Have you got food which fails to feed? Or red gold which, never at rest, Like mercury runs away through the hand? A game at which one never wins? A girl who, even when on my breast, Pledges herself to my neighbor with her eyes? 380 The divine and lovely delight of honor Which falls like a falling star and dies? Show me the fruits which, before they are plucked, decay And the trees which day after day renew their green! Mephistopheles: Such a commission doesn’t alarm me, I have such treasures to purvey. But, my good friend, the time draws on when we Should be glad to feast at our ease on something good. Faust: If ever I stretch myself on a bed of ease, Then I am finished! Is that understood? 390 If ever your flatteries can coax me To be pleased with myself, if ever you cast A spell of pleasure that can hoax me— Then let that day be my last! That’s my wager!16
Mephistopheles: Done! Faust: Let’s shake! If ever I say to the passing moment “Linger for a while! Thou art so fair!” Then you may cast me into fetters, 400 I will gladly perish then and there! Then you may set the death-bell tolling, Then from my service you are free, The clock may stop, its hand may fall, And that be the end of time for me! [Faust agrees to sign the pact with a drop of his blood.]
Q Compare the personalities of Faust and Mephistopheles.
Q Why might Faust be considered the quintessential Romantic hero?
Romantic Love and Romantic Stereotypes Romantic love, the sentimental and all-consuming passion for spiritual as well as sexual union with the opposite sex, was a favorite theme of nineteenth-century writers, paint- ers, and composers. Many Romantics perceived friendship, religious love, and sexual love—both heterosexual and homosexual—as closely related expressions of an ecstatic harmony of souls. Passionate love, and especially unre- quited or unfulfilled love, was the subject of numerous literary works. To name but three: Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) told the story of a lovesick hero whose pas- sion for a married woman leads him to commit suicide— the book was so popular that it made suicide something
of a nineteenth-century vogue; Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830–1831) described the composer’s obsessive infatuation with a flamboyant actress (see chapter 29); and Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde (1859) drama- tized the tragic fate of two legendary medieval lovers.
While Romantics generated an image of masculinity that emphasized self-invention, courage, and the quest for knowledge and power, they either glorified the female as chaste, passive, and submissive, or characterized her as dangerous and threatening. Romantic writers inher- ited the dual view of womankind that had prevailed since the Middle Ages: like Eve, woman was the femme fatale, the seducer and destroyer of mankind; like Mary, how- ever, woman was also the source of salvation and the symbol of all that was pure and true. The Eve stereotype is readily apparent in such works as Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen, on which the opera by Georges Bizet (1835–1875) was based. Set in Seville, Spain, Bizet’s Carmen (1875) is a story of seduction, rejection, and fatal revenge. Carmen, a shameless flirt who works in a cigarette factory, lures the enamored Don José into deserting the army in order to follow her. Soon tiring of the soldier, she aban- dons him in favor of a celebrity toreador, only to meet her end at the hand of her former lover. Bizet’s heroine became the late nineteenth-century symbol of faithless and dangerous Womankind.
At the other extreme, the Mary stereotype is present in countless nineteenth-century stories, including Faust itself, where Gretchen is cast as the Eternal Female, the source of procreation and personal salvation. The following lines by the German poet Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), which were set to music by his contemporary Robert Schumann (1810–1856), typify the female as angelic, ethereal, and chaste—an object that thrilled and inspired the imagina- tion of many European Romantics.
READING 28.8 Heine’s “You are Just Like a Flower” (1827)
You are just like a flower So fair and chaste and dear; Looking at you, sweet sadness Invades my heart with fear. I feel I should be folding My hands upon your hair, Praying that God may keep you So dear and chaste and fair.
Q What stereotype is established by the simile in this poem?
Q Why does the speaker experience “sweet sadness”?
The Female Voice The nineteenth century was the first great age of female writers. Examples include the English novelists George Eliot, a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans (1819–1880);
16 The wager between Faust and Mephistopheles recalls that between God and Mephistopheles in the Prologue.
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CHAPTER 28 The Romantic Hero 255
Figure 28.7 LUIGI CALAMATA, Portrait of George Sand, 1837. Pencil on paper, 13 × 91∕4 in. A prolific writer, Sand produced a 0body of work—some of which has still not been translated into English—that would fill at least 150 volumes, twenty-five of which, each a thousand pages long, would contain her correspondence with the leading artists and intellectuals of her day.
Emily Brontë (1818–1848), author of the hyp- notic novel Wuthering Heights; her sister Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855), author of Jane Eyre (hailed as a masterpiece only after her death); and Mary Godwin Shelley, whose novel Frankenstein was discussed earlier. In France, Germaine Necker, known as Madame de Stael (1760–1817), was hailed by her contemporaries as the founder of the Romantic movement; she was a brilliant woman, if not a brilliant novelist, and her writ- ings were widely read and admired in her own time. And in America, the Bostonian Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) produced the classic novel Little Women (1868), a semiautobiographi- cal work inspired by a childhood spent with her three sisters. Some of these writers struck a startling note of personal freedom in their lives. In their novels, however, they tended to perpetu- ate the Romantic stereotype of the chaste and clinging female. Even the most free-thinking of nineteenth-century women novelists might por- tray her heroine as a creature who submitted to the will and values of the superior male. In gen- eral, the dominant male-generated stereotype of the Romantic hero influenced female literary characterization well into the mid-nineteenth century.
The novels of Jane Austen (1775–1817) are something of an exception. In Sense and Sensibility (1811), which the author published at her own expense, Austen wittily attacks sentimental love and Romantic rapture. Here, as in her other novels, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, she turned her attention to the everyday concerns of England’s provincial middle- class families. Her heroines, intelligent and generous in spirit, are concerned with reconciling economic security with proper social and moral behavior. Austen’s keen eye for the details of family life, and for the comic contradic- tions between human actions and values, show her to be the first Realist in the English novel-writing tradition.
Among French writers of the Romantic era, the most original female voice was that of Amandine Aurore-Lucile Dupin, who used the pen name George Sand (1804–1876; Figure 28.7). A woman who assumed the name of a man, Sand self-consciously examined the popular Romantic stereotypes, offering not one, but many different points of view concerning male–female dynamics. Defending the passions of Romantic love, one of Sand’s heroines exclaims: “If I give myself up to love, I want it to wound me deeply, to electrify me, to break my heart or to exalt
me . . . What I want is to suffer, to go crazy.” Sand held that true and complete love involved the union of the heart, mind, and body. She avowed that “Love’s ideal is most certainly everlasting fidelity,” and most of her more than eighty novels feature themes of Romantic love and deep, undying friendship. But for some of her novels, she created heroines who freely exercised the right to love out- side marriage. These heroines did not, however, physically consummate their love, even when that love was reciprocal.
Sand’s heroines were very unlike Sand herself, whose numerous love affairs with leading Romantic figures— including the poet Alfred de Musset, the novelist Prosper Mérimée, and the composer Frédéric Chopin—impas- sioned her life and work. When Sand’s affair with Musset came to an unhappy end, she cut off her hair and sent it to him encased in a skull. Sand defied society not only by adopting a life of bohemianism and free love, but also by her notorious habit of wearing men’s clothes and smoking cigars. The female counterpart of the Byronic hero, Sand confessed: “My emotions have always been stronger than the arguments of reason, and the restrictions I tried to impose on myself were to no avail.”
Sand may have been expressing her own ambigui- ties concerning matters of love and marriage in her
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third novel, Lélia (1833), the pages of which are filled with musings on the meaning of “true love.” At one point in her spiritual odyssey, the disenchanted heroine openly ventures:
As I continue to live, I cannot help realizing that youthful ideas about the exclusive passion of love and its eternal rights are false, even fatal. All theories ought to be allowed. I would give that of conjugal fidelity to exceptional souls. The majority have other needs, other strengths. To those others I would grant reciprocal freedom, tolerance, and renunciation of all jealous egotism. To others I would concede mystical ardors, fires brooded over in silence, a long and voluptuous reserve. Finally, to others I would admit the calm of angels, fraternal chastity, and an eternal virginity.—Are all souls alike? Do all men have the same abilities? Are not some born for the austerity of religious faith, others for voluptuousness, others for work and passionate struggle, and others, finally, for the vague reveries of the imagination? Nothing is more arbitrary than the understanding of true love. All loves are true, whether they be fiery or peaceful, sensual or ascetic, lasting or transient, whether they lead men to suicide or pleasure. The loves of the mind lead to actions just as noble as the loves of the heart. They have as much violence and power, if not as much duration.
Sand’s writings explore a variety of contradictory ideas concerning the fragile relationship between men and women; they also provide a wealth of information about nineteenth-century European life and culture. In addition to her novels and letters, Sand also left an autobiography and dozens of essays and articles championing socialism, women, and the working classes. She explained the power of Romantic creativity with these words: “The writer’s trade is a violent, almost indestructible passion. Once it has entered a poor head, nothing can stop it . . . long live the artist’s life! Our motto is freedom.”
Nationalism and the Hero • For nineteenth-century Romantics,
the hero was an expression of the expansive subjectivity of the individual. Characterized by superhuman ambition and talents, the hero, whether a historical figure or a fictional personality, experienced life with self-destructive intensity.
• Napoleon Bonaparte’s remarkable career became a model for heroic action propelled by an unbounded imagination and ambition.
• To a great extent, Western literature of the early nineteenth century resembles a personal diary recording the moods and passions of the hero as a larger-than-life personality.
The Promethean Hero • Prometheus, a Greek deity who selflessly
imparted wisdom to humanity, influenced the Romantics as a symbol of heroic freedom. Mary Shelley, Byron, and other Romantics found in Prometheus an apt metaphor for the creative and daring human spirit. Byron in England and Pushkin in Russia took Napoleon as their source of inspiration.
• In America, Frederick Douglass, champion of the abolitionist movement, served as a prime example of Promethean defiance of authority and defense of human liberty.
Goethe’s Faust: The Quintessential Romantic Hero • Faust, the literary hero who symbolizes
the quest to exceed the limits of knowledge and power, became the quintessential figure for Romantic
writers, painters, and composers (discussed in chapter 29).
• Goethe envisioned the legendary Faust as a symbol of the ever-striving human will to master all forms of experience, at the risk of imperiling his eternal soul.
Romantic Love and Romantic Stereotypes • Romantic love was a popular theme
among nineteenth-century writers, many of whom tended to stereotype females as either angels or femmes fatales.
• The nineteenth century, the first great age of female novelists, produced such outstanding writers as George Eliot, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen.
• In the novels of George Sand, the Romantic heroine might be a self- directed creature whose passions incite her to contemplate (if not actually exercise) sexual freedom.
1804 Napoleon is crowned emperor
1812 Napoleon invades Russia
1814 Napoleon is exiled to Elba
1815 Battle of Waterloo
1829 Greece achieves independence from Turkey
1832 Goethe completes Faust
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The Romantic Style in Art and Music ca. 1780–1880
“Success is impossible for me if I cannot write as my heart dictates.” Verdi
Figure 29.1 EUGÈNE DELACROIX, Women of Algiers, 1834. Oil on canvas, 5 ft. 107∕8 in. × 7 ft. 61∕2 in. Delacroix’s trip to North Africa in 1832 inspired more than one hundred paintings and drawings. His harem women in Moorish dress, flanked by a black attendant, reflect the Romantic taste for the exotic.
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258 CHAPTER 29 The Romantic Style in Art and Music
As with literature, so in the visual arts and music the Romantics favored subjects that gave free rein to the imagination. Nature and the natural landscape, the hero and heroism, and nationalist struggles for political independence—the very themes that intrigued Romantic writers—also inspired much of the art and music of the nineteenth century. Romantic artists abandoned the intellectual discipline of the Neoclassical style in favor of emotion and spontaneity. In place of the cool rationality and order of a Neoclassical composition, the Romantics introduced a studied irregularity and disorder.
Even the most superficial comparison of Neoclassical and Romantic paintings reveals essential differences in style: Neoclassical artists usually defined form by means of line (an artificial or “intellectual” boundary between the object and the space it occupied); Romantics preferred to model form by way of color. Neoclassicists generally used shades of a single color for each individual object, while Romantics might use touches of complementary colors to heighten the intensity of the painted object. And whereas Neoclassical painters smoothed out brushstrokes to leave an even and polished surface finish, Romantics often left their brushstrokes visible, as if to underline the immediacy of the creative act. They might deliberately blur details and exaggerate the sensuous aspects of texture and tone.
Rejecting the Neoclassical rules of propriety and decorum, they made room for temperament, accident, and individual genius. Romantic composers shared with the artists of their time the development of a more personal and unconstrained style. They tended to modify the “rules” of classical composition in order to increase expressive effect. They abandoned the clarity and precision of the classical composition, expanding and loosening form and introducing unexpected shifts of meter and tempo. Just as Romantic painters made free use of color to heighten the emotional impact of a subject, so composers gave tone color—the distinctive quality of musical sound made by a voice, a musical instrument, or a combination of instruments—a status equal to melody, harmony, and rhythm. During the nineteenth century, the symphony orchestra reached heroic proportions, while smaller, more intimate musical forms became vehicles for the expression of longing, nostalgia, and love. Program music, music-drama, and virtuoso instrumental forms added to the wide range of Romantic music.
Finally, the period saw the emergence of grand opera and the Romantic ballet, artforms that (as with the other arts of the nineteenth century) attracted the growing middle class. The exchange of ideas and themes among the artists of this era encouraged a new and lively synthesis of the arts.
Heroic Themes in Art Gros and the Glorification of the Hero Among the principal themes of Romantic art were those that glorified creative individualism, patriotism, and nation- alism. Napoleon Bonaparte, the foremost living hero of the age and the symbol of French nationalism, was the favorite subject of many early nineteenth-century French painters. His imperial status was celebrated in the official portraits executed by his “first painter,” Jacques-Louis David (see Figure 28.1); but the heroic dimension of his career was publicized by yet another member of his staff, Antoine-Jean Gros (1775–1835). Gros’ representations of Napoleon’s military campaigns became powerful vehicles of political propaganda.
Gros was a pupil of David, but, unlike David, he rejected the formal austerity of Neoclassicism. In his monumen- tal canvas Napoleon Visiting the Plague Victims at Jaffa (Figure 29.2), Gros converted a minor historical event— Napoleon’s tour of his plague-ridden troops in Jaffa (in Palestine)—into an exotic allegorical drama that cast Napoleon in the guise of Christ as healer. He enhanced the theatricality of the scene by means of atmospheric contrasts of light and dark. Vivid details draw the eye from the foreground, filled with the bodies of the diseased and dying, into the background with its distant cityscape.
In its content, the painting manifested the Romantic taste for themes of personal heroism, suffering, and
death. When it was first exhibited in Paris, an awed public adorned it with palm branches and wreaths. But the inspi- ration for Gros’ success was also the source of his undoing: after Napoleon was sent into exile, Gros’ career declined, and he committed suicide by throwing himself into the River Seine.
Popular Heroism in Goya and Géricault Throughout most of Western history, the heroic image in art was bound up with Classical lore and Christian legend. But with Gros, we see one of the earliest efforts to glorify contemporary heroes and heroic events. The Spanish mas- ter Francisco Goya (1746–1828) helped to advance this phenomenon. He began his career as a Rococo-style tap- estry designer and came into prominence as court painter to the Spanish king Charles IV. But following the invasion of Spain by Napoleon’s armies in 1808, Goya’s art took a new turn. Horrified by the guerrilla violence of the French occupation, he became a bitter social critic, producing some of the most memorable records of human warfare and savagery in the history of Western art.
The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid (Figure 29.3) was Goya’s nationalistic response to the events ensuing from an uprising of Spanish citizens against the French army of occupation. In a punitive meas- ure, the French troops rounded up Spanish suspects in the streets of Madrid, and brutally executed them in the city outskirts. Goya recreated the episode with imaginative
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Figure 29.2 ANTOINE-JEAN GROS, Napoleon Visiting the Plague Victims at Jaffa, 1804. Oil on canvas, 17 ft. 5 in. × 23 ft. 7 in.
Figure 29.3 FRANCISCO GOYA, The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, 1814. Oil on canvas, 8 ft. 8 in. × 10 ft. 4 in. Six years after the French were ousted, the Spanish government commissioned Goya to commemorate the massacre of May 8, 1808. Goya maintained that the work warned against future acts of brutality.
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260 CHAPTER 29 The Romantic Style in Art and Music
Figure 29.4 FRANCISCO GOYA, Brave Deeds Against the Dead, from the “Disasters of War” series, ca. 1814. Etching, 6 × 81∕4 in. Goya himself wrote the biting captions for these etchings. Because some of the prints satirized the Church and other bastions of authority, they were not published until thirty-five years after the artist’s death.
force, setting it against a dark sky and an ominous urban skyline. In the foreground, an off-center lantern emits a tri- angular beam of light that illuminates the Spanish rebels: some lie dead in pools of blood, while others cover their faces in fear and horror. Among the victims is a young man whose arms are flung upward in a final, Christlike gesture of terror and defiance. Goya deliberately spotlights this wide-eyed and bewildered figure as he confronts imminent death. On the right, in the shadows, the hulking execu- tioners are lined up as anonymously as pieces of artillery. Emphatic contrasts of light and dark and the theatrical attention to graphic details heighten the intensity of a con- temporary political event.
An indictment of butchery in the name of war, The Third of May, 1808 is itself restrained compared to “The Disasters of War,” a series of etchings and aquatints that Goya pro- duced during the years of the French occupation of Spain. “The Disasters of War” have their source in historical fact as well as in Goya’s imagination. Brave Deeds Against the Dead (Figure 29.4) is a shocking record of the inhuman cruelty of Napoleon’s troops, as well as a reminder that the heroes of modern warfare are often its innocent victims.
Goya’s French contemporary Théodore Géricault (1791–1824) broadened the range of Romantic subjects. He found inspiration in the restless vitality of untamed horses and the ravaged faces of the clinically insane. Such subjects, uncommon in academic art, reflect the Romantic fascination with the life lying beyond the bounds of reason. The painting that brought Géricault instant fame was The Raft of the “Medusa.” It immortalized a controversial event that made headlines in Géricault’s own time: the wreck of a government frigate called the Medusa and the ghastly fate of its passengers (Figure 29.5). When the ship hit a reef 50 miles off the coast of West Africa, the inexperienced captain, a political appointee, tried ignobly to save himself and his crew, who filled the few available lifeboats. Over a hundred passengers piled onto a makeshift raft, which was to be towed by the lifeboats. Cruelly, the crew set the raft adrift. With almost no food and supplies, chances of
survival were scant; after almost two weeks, in which most died and several resorted to cannibalism, the raft was sighted and the fifteen survivors were rescued.
Géricault (a staunch opponent of the regime that appointed the captain of the Medusa) was so fired up by newspaper reports of the tragedy that he resolved to immortalize it in paint. He interviewed the few survivors, made drawings of the mutilated corpses in the Paris morgue, and even had a model of the raft constructed in his studio. The result was enormous, both in size (the canvas measures 16 feet 1 inch × 23 feet 6 inches) and in dramatic impact. In the decade immediately preceding the invention of photography, Géricault provided the public with a powerful visual record of a sensational contempo- rary event. He organized the composition on the basis of a double triangle: one triangle is formed by the two lines that stay the mast and is bisected by the mast itself; the other by the mass of agitated figures, culminating in the magnifi- cently painted torso of a black man who signals the distant vessel that will make the rescue. Sharp diagonals, vivid con- trasts of light and dark (reminiscent of Caravaggio), and muscular nudes (inspired by Michelangelo and Rubens) heighten the dramatic impact of the piece.
Géricault’s Raft elevated ordinary men to the position of heroic combatants in the eternal struggle against the forces of nature. It celebrated their collective heroism in confronting deadly danger, a theme equally popular in Romantic literature, and, as with Turner’s Slave Ship and Goya’s Third of May, it publicly protested an aspect of contemporary political injustice. In essence, it brought together the reality of a man-made disaster and the more abstract theme of the Romantic sublime: the terror expe- rienced by ordinary human beings in the face of nature’s overpowering might.
Delacroix and Revolutionary Heroism While Goya and Géricault democratized the image of the hero, Géricault’s pupil and follower Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) raised that image to Byronic proportions.
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Figure 29.5 THÉODORE GÉRICAULT, The Raft of the “Medusa,” 1818. Oil on canvas, 16 ft. 1 in. × 23 ft. 6 in. Much like the panoramic landscapes of Frederic Church, Géricault’s painting became an object of popular display and entertainment. Exhibited in London, it drew some 40,000 visitors between June and December 1820.
A melancholic and an intellectual, Delacroix shared Byron’s hatred of tyranny, his sense of alienation, and his self-glorifying egotism—features readily discernible in the pages of his journal. Delacroix prized the imagination as “paramount” in the life of the artist. “Strange as it may seem,” he observed, “the great majority of people are devoid of imagination. Not only do they lack the keen, penetrating imagination which would allow them to see objects in a vivid way—which would lead them, as it were, to the very root of things—but they are equally incapable of any clear understanding of works in which imagination predominates.”
Delacroix loved dramatic narrative. He favored sensu- ous and violent subjects from contemporary life, popular literature, and ancient and medieval history. A six-month visit in 1832 to Morocco, neighbor of France’s newly con- quered colony of Algeria, provoked a lifelong interest in exotic subjects and a love of light and color. He depicted the harem women of Islamic Africa (see Figure 29.1), recorded the poignant and shocking results of the Turkish massacres in Greece, brought to life Dante’s Inferno, pro- duced portrait likenesses of his contemporaries (see Figure 29.17), and made memorable illustrations for Goethe’s
Faust (see Figure 28.6). Filled with fierce vitality and vivid detail, his narrative subjects make evident his declaration: “I have no love for reasonable painting.” In his journal, Delacroix defended the artist’s freedom to romanticize form and content: “The most sublime effects of every master,” he wrote, “are often the result of pictorial licence; for example, the lack of finish in Rembrandt’s work, the exaggeration in Rubens. Mediocre painters never have suf- ficient daring, they never get beyond themselves.”
Delacroix’s landmark work, Liberty Leading the People, transformed a contemporary event (the revolution of 1830) into a heroic allegory of the struggle for human free- dom (see Figure 29.6). When King Charles X (1757–1836) dissolved the French legislature and took measures to repress voting rights and freedom of the press, liberal lead- ers, radicals, and journalists rose in rebellion. Delacroix envisioned this rebellion as a monumental allegory. Its central figure, a handsome, bare-breasted female—the personification of Liberty—leads a group of French rebels through the narrow streets of Paris and over barricades strewn with corpses. A bayonet in one hand and the tri- color flag of France in the other, she presses forward to challenge the forces of tyranny. She is champion of “the
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Figure 29.7 JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID, The Oath of the Horatii, 1785. Oil on canvas, 10 ft. 10 in. × 14 ft.
Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People (Figure 29.6) is often compared with David’s Oath of the Horatii (Figure 29.7) because both paintings are clear calls to heroic action. But in conception and in style, the two paintings are totally different. While David looked to the Roman past for his theme, Delacroix drew on the issues of his time, allegorizing real events in order to increase their dramatic impact. Whereas David’s appeal was essentially elitist, Delacroix celebrated the collective heroism of ordinary people.
Delacroix was never a slave to the facts: for instance, the nudity of the fallen rebel in the left foreground (clearly related to the nudes of Géricault’s Raft) has no basis in fact—it is uncommon to lose one’s trousers in combat. The detail serves, however, to emphasize vulnerability and the imminence of death in battle. Stylistically, Delacroix’s Liberty explodes with romantic passion. Surging rhythms link the smoke-filled background with the figures of the advancing rebels and the bodies of the fallen heroes heaped in the foreground. By comparison, David’s Neoclassical Oath is cool and restrained, his composition gridlike, and his figures defined with linear clarity. Where Delacroix’s canvas resonates with dense textures and loose, tactile brushstrokes, David’s surfaces are slick and finished.
Figure 29.6 EUGÈNE DELACROIX, Liberty Leading the People, 1830. Oil on canvas, 8 ft. 6 in. × 10 ft. 7 in.
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people”: the middle class, as represented by the gentleman in a frock coat; the lower class, as symbolized by the scruffy youth carrying pistols; and racial minorities, as conceived in the black saber-bearer at the left. She is, moreover, France itself, the banner-bearer of the spirit of nationalism that infused nineteenth-century European history.
Delacroix’s Liberty instantly became a symbol of dem- ocratic aspirations. In 1884, France sent as a gift of friendship to the young American nation a monumental copper and cast-iron statue of an idealized female bearing a tablet and a flaming torch (Figure 29.8). Designed by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904), the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World) is the “sister” of Delacroix’s painted heroine; it has become a classic image of freedom for oppressed people everywhere.
Heroic Themes in Sculpture In sculpture as in painting, heroic subjects served the cause of nationalism. The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (Figure 29.9) by François Rude (1784–1855) embodied the dynamic heroism of the Napoleonic Era. Installed at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe (see Figure 26.31), which stands at the end of the Champs-Elysées in Paris, the 42-foot-high stone sculpture commemorates the pat- riotism of a band of French volunteers—presumably the battalion of Marseilles, who marched to Paris in 1792 to defend the republic. Young and old, nude or clothed in ancient or medieval garb (a convention that augmented dramatic effect while universalizing the heroic theme), the spirited members of this small citizen army are led by the allegorical figure of Bellona, the Roman goddess of war. Like Delacroix’s Liberty, Rude’s Classical goddess urges the patriots onward. The vitality of the piece is enhanced by deep undercutting that achieves dramatic contrasts of light and dark. In this richly textured work, Rude captured the revolutionary spirit and emotional fervor of this battalion’s marching song, “La Marseillaise,” which the French later adopted as their national anthem.
Nineteenth-century nationalism stimulated an interest in the cultural heritage of ethnic groups beyond the European West. Just as Catlin found in the American West a wealth of fascinating visual resources, so Europeans turned to Africa and the East for exotic subjects (see Figure 29.1). Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt (1798–1801) had started a virtual craze for things North African, and such interests were further stimulated by the French presence in Algeria beginning in the 1830s. In 1848, the French government abolished slavery in France and all its colonies.
Science and Technology
1836 Samuel Colt (American) produces a six-cylinder revolver
1841 the breech-loading rifle known as the “needlegun” is introduced
1847 an Italian chemist develops explosive nitroglycerin
Figure 29.8 FRÉDÉRIC-AUGUSTE BARTHOLDI, Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World), Liberty Island (Bedloe’s Island), New York, 1871–1884. Framework constructed by A. G. Eiffel. Copper sheets mounted on steel frame, height 152 ft. While France gave America the statue, it did not provide the pedestal. To assist in raising funds for the latter, the poet Emma Lazarus was commissioned to write a poem. Her concern for the 2000 Russian-Jewish immigrants arriving monthly in New York inspired the famous lines that begin “Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
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Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier (1827–1905), a member of Rude’s studio and a favorite exhibitor in the academic Salon of Paris, requested a governmental assignment in Africa in order to make a record of its peoples. The result of Cordier’s ethnological studies was a series of twelve busts of Africans and Asians, executed by means of innovative polychrome techniques that combined bronze or colored marble with porphyry, jasper, and onyx from Algerian quarries (Figure 29.10). Cordier’s portrait heads reveal a sensitivity to individual personality and a commitment to capturing the dignity of his models. Rather than perceiving his subject as an exotic “other,” he regarded each as a racial type “at the point,” as he explained, “of merging into one and the same people.”
In America, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, in 1865, which outlawed the practice of slavery in the United States, was met with a similar outburst
of heroic celebration. In the commemorative marble sculpture Forever Free (1867), a young slave who has broken his chains raises his arm in victory, while his female com- panion kneels in grateful prayer (Figure 29.11). The artist who conceived this remarkable work of art, Edmonia Lewis (1845–ca. 1885), was the daughter of an African-American father and a Chippawa mother. Like most talented young American artists of this era, Lewis made her way to Europe for academic training. She remained in Rome to pursue her career and gained great recognition for her skillfully carved portrait busts and allegorical statues, some of which exalted heroic women in biblical and ancient history. Many of her works are now lost, and almost nothing is known of her life after 1885.
Figure 29.9 FRANÇOIS RUDE, La Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), 1833–1836. Stone, approx. 42 ft. × 26 ft.
Figure 29.11 EDMONIA LEWIS, Forever Free, 1867. Marble, height 401∕2 in.
Figure 29.10 CHARLES-HENRI-JOSEPH CORDIER, African in Algerian Costume, ca. 1856–1857. Bronze and onyx, 373∕4 × 26 × 14 in. Rich details and sensuous materials characterize Cordier’s portraits, which became famous as examples of a new visual anthropology focused on the physical appearance of what he called “the different indigenous types of the human race.”
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Trends in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Architecture Neomedievalism in the West Architects of the early to mid-nineteenth century regarded the past as a source of inspiration and moral instruction. Classical Greek and republican Roman buildings embod- ied the political and aesthetic ideals of nation builders like Napoleon and Jefferson (see chapter 26); but the austere dignity of Neoclassicism did not appeal to all tastes. More typical of the Romantic imagination was a nostalgic affection for the medieval world, with its brooding cas- tles and towering cathedrals. No less than Neoclassicism, Neomedievalism—the revival of medieval culture—served the cause of nationalism. It exalted the state by recapturing its unique historical and cultural past. On the eve of the unification of Germany (1848), and for decades thereafter, German craftsmen restored many of its most notable Gothic monuments, including its great cathedrals.
In England, where the Christian heritage of the Middle Ages was closely associated with national identity, writers embraced the medieval past: Alfred Lord Tennyson (1802– 1892), poet laureate of Great Britain, for example, fused early British legend with the Christian mission in a cycle of Arthurian poems entitled Idylls of the King; while Sir Walter Scott immortalized medieval heroes and heroines in avidly read historical novels and Romantic poems.
The revival of the Gothic style was equally distinc- tive in architecture. The British Houses of Parliament, conceived by Charles Barry (1795–1860) and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) and begun in 1836,
Figure 29.12 CHARLES BARRY and A. W. N. PUGIN, Houses of Parliament, London, 1840–1860. Length 940 ft. Following the fire of 1834, which destroyed the earlier structure (also known as the Palace of Westminster), a royal commission directed Barry to design a Neo-Gothic replacement. Pugin was largely responsible for the interior details. His designs seem to have coincided with his conversion to Roman Catholicism. He perceived purity of structure and the meaningful application of details as equivalent to the Catholic faith, but equally appropriate to the ideals of the largely Protestant nation.
Figure 29.13 JAMES RENWICK and WILLIAM RODRIGUE, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, New York, 1853–1858.
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are among the most aesthetically successful large-scale Neo-Gothic public buildings. The picturesque combina- tion of spires and towers fronting on the River Thames in London was the product of Pugin’s conviction that the Gothic style best expressed the dignity befitting the official architecture of a Christian nation (Figure 29.12). Moreover, the Gothic style was symbolically appropriate for the build- ing that epitomized the principles of parliamentary rule, pioneered in England with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. The Houses of Parliament might be said to reflect the importance of medieval historical tradition—both reli- gious and political—in shaping England’s self-image.
Neomedievalism gave rise to a movement for the arche- ological restoration of churches and castles throughout Europe: it also inspired some extraordinary new archi- tectural activity in North America. Colleges and universi- ties (such as Harvard and Yale), museums (such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.), and numerous church- es and cathedrals were modeled on medieval prototypes. One of the most elegant examples of the Gothic revival in the United States is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City (Figure 29.13), which (along with Grace Church in Manhattan and the Smithsonian) was designed by James Renwick (1818–1895) and William Rodrigue (1800–1867).
Exoticism in Western Architecture Romantic architecture also drew inspiration from the “exotic” East, and especially those parts of the world in which the European powers were building colonial empires. The most intriguing Western pastiche of non-Western
styles is the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, on the south coast of England. Designed by the English architect John Nash (1752–1835) between 1815 and 1821 as a seaside resort for the Prince Regent, it combines a fanciful assortment of Chinese, Indian, and Islamic motifs (Figure 29.14). Nash raised bulbous domes and slender minarets over a hidden frame of cast iron, the structural medium that would soon come to dominate modern architecture (see chapter 30). The bizarre interior decor, which includes waterlily chandeliers and cast-iron palm trees with copper leaves, produced an eclectic style that Nash’s critics called “Indian Gothic.”
The Romantic Style in Music “Music is the most romantic of all the arts—one might almost say, the only genuine romantic one—for its sole subject is the infinite.” Thus wrote the German novelist and musician E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822). Like many Romantic composers, Hoffmann believed that music held a privileged position in its capacity to express what he called “an inexpressible longing.” For the Romantics, music—the most abstract and elusive of the arts—was capable of free- ing the intellect and speaking directly to the heart.
The nineteenth century produced an enormous amount of music in all genres—a phenomenon that is reflected in the fact that audiences today listen to more nineteenth- century music than music of any previous time period. Its hallmark is personalized expression, a feature as appar- ent in large orchestral works as it is in small, intimate pieces.
Figure 29.14 JOHN NASH, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, from the northeast, 1815–1821.
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During the Romantic era, the orchestra grew to grand proportions. Mid-nineteenth-century orchestras were often five times larger than those used by Haydn and Mozart. While the volume of sound expanded, the varie- ties of instrumental possibilities also grew larger, in part because of technical improvements made in the instru- ments themselves. Brass instruments (such as the trumpet and the tuba) gained new pitches and a wider range with the addition of valves; woodwind instruments (such as the flute and the clarinet) underwent structural changes that greatly facilitated fingering and tuning. Modifications to the violin lent the instrument greater power; and the early nineteenth-century piano, which acquired an iron frame, two or three pedals, and thicker strings, was capable of increased brilliance of tone and greater expressiveness— features that made it the most popular musical instrument of the century. Such mechanical improvements expanded the tonal potential of musical instruments and produced a virtual revolution in orchestral textures.
In terms of musical composition, the symphony and the concerto were the most important of the large orchestral forms. Equally significant, however, were song forms, espe- cially songs that dealt with themes of love and death or nature and nature’s moods. Composers found inspiration in heroic subjects, in contemporary events, and in the leg- ends and histories of their native lands. Like the Romantic painters and writers, they embraced exotic themes. In both small musical forms and large operatic compositions, they made every effort to achieve an ideal union of poetry and music. The close association between the arts is seen in the many operas and symphonic pieces based on nineteenth- century plays, novels, and poems. The Faust legend and Goethe’s Faust in particular inspired numerous musical set- tings. Bizet’s Carmen, discussed in chapter 28, was based on a novella that was influenced in turn by Pushkin’s narrative poem The Gypsies (1824); and Pushkin’s verse poem Eugene Onegin (1832) inspired Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera of the same name. But it was Sir Walter Scott’s historical nov- els that were the favorite source for at least a dozen operas by French, British, and Italian composers.
As in the eighteenth century, nineteenth-century com- posers were often also performers. They drew attention to their own technical abilities by writing virtuoso pieces (usually for piano or violin) that only highly accomplished musicians like themselves could perform with facility. No longer completely at the mercy of the patronage system, they indulged, often publicly, in bouts of euphoria, melan- choly, and petty jealousy. The talented Genoese composer and violinist Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840), for instance, refused to publish his own pieces, which he performed with such astounding technical agility that rumor had it he had come by his virtuosity through a pact with the Devil.
The Genius of Beethoven The leading composer of the early nineteenth century and one of the greatest musicians of all time was the German-born Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Beethoven’s lifelong residency in Vienna brought him in contact with the music of Mozart and Haydn; he studied
briefly with the latter. It also provided him with the funda- mentals of the classical style. His indebtedness to classical composition, especially evident in his early works, makes him something of a bridge between the classical and Romantic eras.
Beethoven was a gifted pianist, organist, and violinist. While he composed works in almost every musical form and for many different kinds of instrument, his thirty-two piano sonatas reflect a lifelong love for the expressive potential of that instrument. His nine symphonies, which critics claim as his greatest achievement, generally adhere to the classical format, but they move beyond the bounds of classical structure. The Third Symphony, which he sub- titled the Eroica (“Heroic”), is a case in point. It is longer and more complex than any previous orchestral work. While it follows the standard number and order of move- ments found in the classical symphony, it is almost twice as long as its typical twenty- to twenty-five-minute predeces- sors. The first movement, which one French critic called “the Grand Army of the soul,” engages six (rather than the traditional two) themes dictated by the sonata form (see chapter 26). The movement begins with two com- manding hammer strikes of the French horn—symbolic of the hero throughout the symphony. The second move- ment is a somber and solemn funeral march. For the third movement, instead of the traditional minuet, Beethoven introduces a vigorous scherzo (“joke”), which replaces the elegant courtly dance form with a melody that is fast and varied in tempo—a joke in that it is essentially undance- able! The last movement, a victory finale, brings the themes and variations of the first movement together with a long coda that again features the majestic horn section. It is worth noting that for the triumphant last movement of this stirring symphony, Beethoven included musical passages originally written for a ballet on the subject of Prometheus.
Beethoven had originally dedicated the Third Symphony to Napoleon, whom he admired both as a popular hero and a champion of liberty. But when Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, Beethoven angrily scratched out the name “Buonaparte” and replaced it with a gen- eralized dedication: “Heroic symphony, dedicated to the memory of a great man.” “So, he is no more than a com- mon mortal!” Beethoven is said to have exclaimed. “Now he will trample on all the rights of man and . . . become a tyrant.” Ultimately, the symphony was dedicated and presented to a minor nobleman, Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz.
Beethoven’s genius lay in his use of compositional elements that gave his music unprecedented expressive power. He introduced into his compositions a new rhyth- mic vitality, strong and sudden contrasts of sound, and an expanded range of instrumental textures. By adding piccolo, bass clarinet, trombone, bass drum, and cymbals to the scoring and doubling the number of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, he vastly broadened the expressive range and dramatic power of orchestral sound.
See Music Listening Selections at end of chapter.
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