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It is not very grateful to consider how little the succession of editors has added to this authour's power of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allusions understood; yet then did Dryden pronounce “ that Shakespeare was the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.” All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and insipid; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him: No man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
" Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.”
It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want a commentary; that his language should become obsolete, or his sentiments obscure. But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things; that which must happen to all, has happened to Shakespeare, by accident and time; and more than has been suffered by any other writer since the use of types, has been suffered by him through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority of mind, which despised its own performances, when it compared them with its powers, and judged those works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring and explaining.
Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now to stand the judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned.
NHE youth, when Nature and Art attract him, thinks I that with a vigorous effort he can soon penetrate into
1 the innermost sanctuary; the man, after long wanderings, finds himself still in the outer court.
Such an observation has suggested our title. It is only on the step, in the gateway, the entrance, the vestibule, the space between the outside and the inner chamber, between the sacred and the common, that we may ordinarily tarry with our friends.
If the word Propylaea recalls particularly the structure through which was reached the citadel of Athens and the temple of Minerva, this is not inconsistent with our purpose; but the presumption of intending to produce here a similar work of art and splendor should not be laid to our charge. The name of the place may be understood as symbolizing what might have happened there; one may expect conversations and discussions such as would perhaps not be unworthy of that place.
Are not thinkers, scholars, artists, in their best hours allured to those regions, to dwell (at least in imagination) among a people to whom a perfection which we desire but never attain was natural, among whom in the course of time and life, a culture developed in a beautiful continuity, which to us appears only in passing fragments? What modern nation
The Propyläen was a periodical founded in July, 1798, by Goethe and his friend Heinrich Meyer. During its short existence of three years, there were published in it, besides the writings of the editors, short con. tributions by Schiller and Humboldt. Its purpose was to spread sound ideas about the aims and methods of art; and in this notable introduction Goethe set forth with clearness and profundity his fundamental ideas on these subjects. The present translation has been made expressly for the Harvard Classics.
does not owe its artistic culture to the Greeks, and, in certain branches, what nation more than the German?
So much by way of excuse for the symbolic title, if indeed an excuse be necessary. May the title be a reminder that we are to depart as little as possible from classic ground; may it, through its brevity and signification, modify the demands of the friends of art whom we hope to interest through the present work, which is to contain observations and reflections concerning Nature and Art by a harmonious circle of friends.
He who is called to be an artist will give careful heed to everything around him; objects and their parts will attract his attention, and by making practical use of such experience he will gradually train himself to observe more sharply. He will, in his early career, apply everything, so far as possible, to his own advantage; later he will gladly make himself serviceable to others. Thus we also hope to present and relate to our readers many things which we regard as useful and agreeable, things which, under various circumstances, have been noted by us during a number of years.
But who will not willingly agree that pure observation is more rare than is believed? We are apt to confuse our sensations, our opinion, our judgment, with what we experience, so that we do not remain long in the passive attitude of the observer, but soon go on to make reflections; and upon these no greater weight can be placed than may be more or less justified by the nature and quality of our individual intellects.
In this matter we are able to gain stronger confidence from our harmony with others, and from the knowledge that we do not think and work alone, but in common. The perplexing doubt whether our method of thought belongs only to us-a doubt which often comes over us when others express the direct opposite of our convictions—is softened, even dispelled, when we find ourselves in agreement with others; only then do we go on rejoicing with assurance in the possession of those principles which a long experience, on our own part and on the part of others, has gradually confirmed.
When several persons thus live united, so that they may
call one another friends, because they have a common interest in bringing about their progressive cultivation and in advancing towards closely related aims, then they may be certain that they will meet again in the most varied ways, and that even the courses which seemed to separate them from one another will nevertheless soon bring them happily together again.
Who has not experienced what advantages are afforded in such cases by conversation? But conversation is ephemeral; and while the results of a mutual development are imperishable, the memory of the means by which it was reached disappears. Letters preserve better the stages of a progress which friends achieve together; every moment of growth is fixed, and if the result attained affords us agreeable satisfaction, a look backward at the process of development is instructive since it permits us to hope for an unflagging advance in the future.
Short papers, in which are set down from time to time one's thoughts, convictions, and wishes, in order to find entertainment in one's past self after a lapse of time, are excellent auxiliary means for the development of oneself and of others, none of which should be neglected when one considers the brief period allotted to life and the many obstacles that stand in the way of every advance.
It is self evident that we are talking here particularly of an exchange of ideas between such friends as are striving for cultivation in the sphere of science and art; although life in the world of affairs and industry should not lack similar advantages.
In the arts and sciences, however, in addition to this close association among their votaries, a relation to the public is as favorable as it is necessary. Whatever of universal interest one thinks or accomplishes belongs to the world, and the world brings to maturity whatever it can utilize of the efforts of the individual. The desire for approval which the author feels is an impulse implanted by Nature to draw him toward something higher; he thinks he has attained the laurel wreath, but soon becomes aware that a more laborious training of every native talent is necessary in order to retain the public favor; though it may be attained for a short moment through fortune or accident also.