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"Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), famous poet, journalist, and political exile, studied with Hegel and was personally acquainted with the leading figures of the most important generation of German writers and philosophers": "Immanuel Kant, the arch-destroyer in the realm of thought, far surpassed in terrorism Maximilian Robespierre


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Later, Shakespeare made the laughing fool speak the most tragic lines. ... in the realm of thought, far surpassed in terrorism Maximilian Robespierre, ...

Heine: 'On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany' (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)


This volume presents a colourful and entertaining overview of German intellectual history by a central figure in its development. Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), famous poet, journalist, and political exile, studied with Hegel and was personally acquainted with the leading figures of the most important generation of German writers and philosophers. In his groundbreaking History he discusses the history of religion, philosophy, and literature in Germany up to his time, seen through his own highly opinionated, politically aware, philosophically astute, and always ironic perspective. This work, and other writings focussing especially on Heine's rethinking of Hegel's philosophy, are presented here in a new translation by Howard Pollack-Milgate. The volume also includes an introduction by Terry Pinkard which examines Heine both in relation to Hegel and Nietzsche and as a thinker in his own right.[https://www.amazon.com/Heine-History-Religion-Philosophy-Cambridge/dp/0521678501/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=]

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H468-2 v / 69^12133 
Heine 

Religion and philosophy in 
Germany 



193 H468-2 59-12183 

Heine $1*45 
Religion and philosophy in 
Germany 




" KANSAS CITY, MO. PUBLIC LIBRARY 
Mark this, ye proud men of action : ye are nothing but 
unconscious hodmen of the men of thought who, often in 
humblest stillness, have appointed you your inevitable task. 
Maximilian Eobespierre was merely the hand of Jeau 
Jacques Eousseau, the bloody hand that drew from the 
womb of time the body whose soul Eousseau had created. 
May not the restless anxiety that troubled the life of Jean 
Jacques have caused such stirrings within him that he 
already foreboded the kind of accoucheur that was needed 
to bring his thought living into the world ? * 

Old Fontenelle may have been right when he said : " If 

* This paragraph is wanting in the French version. TR. 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 107 

I held all the truths of the universe in my hand, I 
would be very careful not to open it." I, for my part, 
think otherwise. If I held all the truths of the world in 
my hand, I might perhaps beseech you instantly to cut 
off that hand ; but, in any case, I should not long hold it 
closed. I was not born to be a gaoler of thoughts; by 
Heaven! I would set them free. What though they were to 
incarnate themselves in the most hazardous realities, what 
though they were to range through all lands like a mad 
bacchanalian procession, what though they were to crush 
with their thyrsus our most innocent flowers, what though 
they were to invade our hospitals and chase from his bed 
the old sick world my heart would bleed, no doubt, and I 
myself would suffer hurt thereby ! For alas ! I too am part 
of this old sick world, and the poet says truly, one may 
mock at his crutches yet not be able to walk any better 
for that. I am the most grievously sick of you all, and 
am the more to be pitied since I know what health is ; but 
you do not know it, you whom I envy ; you are capable of 
dying without perceiving your dying condition. Yea, many 
of you are already long since dead, though maintaining that 
your real life is just beginning. When I try to dispel 
such a delusion, then you are angry with me and rail at 
me, and, more horrible still, the dead rush upon and mock 
at me, and more loathsome to me than their insults is 
the smell of their putrefaction. Hence, ye spectres ! I 
am about to speak of a man whose mere name has the 
might of an exorcism; I speak of Immanuel Kant. 

It is said that night-wandering spirits are filled with 
terror at sight of the headsman's axe. With what mighty 
fear, then, must they be stricken when there is held up 
to them Kant's " Critique of Pure Reason " ! This is the 
sword that slew deism in Germany. 

To speak frankly, you French have been tame and 
moderate compared with us Germans. At most, you could 



io8 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

but kill a king, and he had already lost his head before 
you guillotined him. For accompaniment to such deed 
you must needs cause such a drumming and shrieking 
and stamping of feet that the whole universe trembled. 
To compare Maximilian Eobespierre with Immanuel Kant 
is to confer too high an honour upon the former. Maxi- 
milian Robespierre, the great citizen of the Eue Saint 
Honore, had, it is true, his sudden attacks of destructive- 
ness when it was a question of the monarchy, and his 
frame was violently convulsed when the fit of regicidal 
epilepsy was on ; but as soon as it came to be a question 
about the Supreme Being, he wiped the white froth from 
his lips, washed the blood from his hands, donned his blue 
Sunday coat with silver buttons, and stuck a nosegay in 
the bosom of his broad vest. 

The history of Immanuel Kant's life is difficult to por- 
tray, for he had neither life nor history. He led a mecha- 
nical, regular, almost abstract bachelor existence in a little 
retired street of Konigsberg, an old town on the north- 
eastern frontier of Germany. I do not believe that the 
great clock of the cathedral performed in a more passion- 
less and methodical manner its daily routine than did 
its townsman, Immanuel Kant. Rising in the morning, 
coffee-drinking, writing, reading lectures, dining, walking, 
everything had its appointed time, and the neighbours 
knew that it was exactly half-past three o'clock when 
Immanuel Kant stepped forth from his house in his grey, 
tight-fitting coat, with his Spanish cane in his hand, and 
betook himself to the little linden avenue called after 
him to this day the " Philosopher's Walk." Summer and 
winter he walked up and down it eight times, and when 
the weather was dull or heavy clouds prognosticated rain, 
the townspeople beheld his servant, the old Lampe, trudg- 
ing anxiously behind him with a big umbrella under his 
arm, like an image of Providence. 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 109 

What a strange contrast did this man's outward life 
present to his destructive, world-annihilating thoughts! 
In sooth, had the citizens of Konigsberg had the least 
presentiment of the full significance of his ideas, they 
would have felt a far more awful dread at the presence of 
this man than at the sight of an executioner, who can but 
kill the body. But the worthy folk saw in him nothing 
more than a Professor of Philosophy, and as he passed 
at his customary hour, they greeted him in a friendly 
manner and set their watches by him. 

But though Immanuel Kant, the arch-destroyer in the 
realm of thought, far surpassed in terrorism Maximilian 
Robespierre, he had many similarities with the latter, 
which induce a comparison between the two men. In 
the first place, we find in both the same inexorable, keen, 
poesyless, sober integrity. We likewise find in both the 
same talent of suspicion, only that in the one it mani- 
fested itself in the direction of thought and was called 
criticism, whilst in the other it was directed against man- 
kind and was styled republicau virtue. But both pre- 
sented in the highest degree the type of the narrow-minded 
citizen. Nature had destined them for weighing out 
coffee and sugar, but fate decided that they should weigh 
out other things, and into the scales of the one it laid a 
king, into the scales of the other a God. . . . And they 
both gave the correct weight ! 

The " Critique of Pure Eeason " is Kant's principal 
work ; and as none of his other writings is of equal im- 
portance, in speaking of it we must give it the right of 
preference. This book appeared in 1781, but, as already 
said, did not become generally known till 1789. At the 
time of its publication it was quite overlooked, except for 
two insignificant notices, and it was not till a later period 
that public attention was directed to this great book by 
the articles of Schiitz, Schultz, and Eeinhold. The cause 



no RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

of this tardy recognition undoubtedly lay in the unusual 
form and bad style in which the work is written. As 
regards his style, Kant merits severer censure than any 
other philosopher, more especially when we compare this 
with his former and better manner of writing. The 
recently published collection of his minor works contains 
his first attempts, and we are surprised to find in these an 
excellent and often very witty style. These little treatises 
were trilled forth while their author ruminated over his 
great work. There is a gleefulness about them like that 
of a soldier tranquilly arming for a combat in which he 
promises himself certain victory. Especially remarkable 
amongst them are his " Universal Natural History and 
Theory of the Heavens," composed as early as 1755 ; " Ob- 
servations on the Emotions of the Sublime and Beautiful," 
written ten years later; and " Dreams of a Ghostseer," full 
of admirable humour after the manner of the French 
essay. Kant's wit as displayed in these pamphlets is of 
quite a peculiar sort. The wit clings to the thought, and 
in spite of its tenuity is thus enabled to reach a satis- 
factory height. Without such support wit, be it ever so 
robust, cannot be successful; like a vine- tendril wanting 
a prop, it can only creep along the ground to rot there 
with all its most precious fruits. 

But why did Kant write his " Critique of Pure Reason " 
in such a colourless, dry, packing-paper style ? I fancy 
that, having rejected the mathematical form of the Cartesio- 
Leibnitzo-Wolfian school, he feared that science might lose 
something of its dignity by expressing itself in light, 
attractive, and agreeable tones. He therefore gave it a 
stiff, abstract form, which coldly repelled all familiarity 
on the part of intellects of the lower order. He wished 
haughtily to separate himself from the popular philosophers 
of his time, who aimed at the most citizen-like clearness, 
and so clothed his thoughts in a courtly and frigid official 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY, in 

dialect. Herein he shows himself a true philistine. But 
it might also be that Kant needed for the carefully 
measured march of his ideas a language similarly precise, 
and that he was not in a position to create a better. It is 
only genius that has a new word for a new thought. 
Immanuel Kant, however, was no genius. Conscious of 
this defect, Kant, like the worthy Maximilian, showed 
himself all the more mistrustful of genius, and went so 
far as to maintain, in his " Critique of the Faculty of 
Judgment/' that genius has no business with scientific 
thought, and that its action ought to be relegated to the 
domain of art. 

The heavy, buckram style of Kant's chief work has 
been the source of much mischief ; for brainless imitators 
aped him in his external form, and hence arose amongst 
us the superstition that no one can be a philosopher who 
writes well. The mathematical form, however, could not, 
after the days of Kant, reappear in philosophy ; he has 
mercilessly passed sentence of death upon it in his 
"Critique of Pure Beason." The mathematical form in 
philosophy, he says, is good for nothing save the building 
of houses of cards, in the same way that the philosophic 
form in mathematics produces nothing but twaddle, for 
in philosophy there can be no definitions such as those 
in mathematics, where the definitions are not discursive 
but intuitive, that is to say, capable of being demon- 
strated by inspection ; whilst what are called definitions 
in philosophy are only tentatively, hypothetically put 
forth, the real definition appearing only at the close, as 
result. 

How comes it. that philosophers display so strong a 
predilection for the mathematical form ? This predilec- 
tion dates from the time of Pythagoras, who designated 
the principles of things by numbers. This was the idea 
of a genius : all that is sensible and finite is stripped off 



H2 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

in a number, and yet it denotes something determined, 
and the relation of this thing to another determined 
thing, which last, designated in turn by a number, re- 
ceives the same insensible and infinite character. In this 
respect numbers resemble ideas that preserve the same 
character and relation to one another. We can indicate 
by numbers in a very striking manner ideas, as they are 
produced in our mind and in nature ; but the number still 
remains the sign of the idea, it is not the idea itself. 
The master is always conscious of this distinction, but the 
scholar forgets it, and transmits to other scholars at second 
hand merely a numerical hieroglyph, dead ciphers, which 
are repeated with parrot-like scholastic pride, but of which 
the living significance is lost. This applies likewise to 
the other methods of mathematical demonstration. The 
intellect in its eternal mobility suffers no arrest; and 
just as little can it be fixed down by lines, triangles, 
squares, and circles, as by numbers. Thought can neither 
be calculated nor measured. 

As my chief duty is to facilitate in France the study 
of German philosophy, I always dwell most strongly on 
the external difficulties that are apt to dismay a stranger 
who has not already been made aware of them. I would 
draw the special attention of those who desire to make 
Frenchmen acquainted with Kant to the fact, that it is 
possible to abstract from his philosophy that portion 
which serves merely to refute the absurdities of the 
Wolfian philosophy. This polemic, constantly reappear- 
ing, will only tend to produce confusion in the minds of 
Frenchmen, and can be of no utility to them. 

The "Critique of Pure Eeason " is, as I have said, 
Kant's principal work, and his other writings are in a 
measure superfluous, or may at least be considered as 
commentaries. The social importance that attaches to 
his chief work will be apparent from what follows. 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 113 

The philosophers who preceded Kant reflected, doubt- 
less, on the origin of our cognitions, and followed, as we 
have seen, two different routes, according to their view 
of ideas as a priori or as a posteriori ; but concerning the 
faculty of knowing, concerning the extent and limits of 
this faculty, they occupied themselves less. Now this 
was the task that Kant set before himself ; he submitted 
the faculty of knowing to a merciless investigation, he 
sounded all the depths of this faculty, he ascertained all 
its limits. In this investigation he certainly discovered 
that about many things, wherewith formerly we supposed 
ourselves to be most intimately acquainted, we can know 
nothing. This was very mortifying; but it has always 
been useful to know of what things we can know nothing. 
He who warns us against a useless journey performs as great 
a service for us as he who points out to us the true path. 
Kant proves to us that we know nothing about things 
as they are in and by themselves, but that we have a 
knowledge of them only in so far as they are reflected in 
our minds. We are therefore just like the prisoners of 
whose condition Plato draws such an afflicting picture 
in the seventh book of his Republic. These wretched 
beings, chained neck and thigh in such a manner that 
they cannot turn their heads about, are seated within a 
roofless prison, into which there comes from above a 
certain amount of light. This light, however, is the light 
from a fire, the flame of which rises up behind them, and 
indeed is separated from them only by a little wall. 
Along the outer side of this wall are walking men bearing 
all sorts of statues, images in wood and stone, and con- 
versing with one another. Now the poor prisoners can 
see nothing of these men, who are not tall enough to 
overtop the wall ; and of the statues, which rise above the 
wall, they see only the shadows flitting along the side of 
the wall opposite them. The shadows, however, they take 



114 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

for real objects, and, deceived by the echo of their prison, 
believe that it is the shadows that are conversing. 

With the appearance of Kant former systems of philo- 
sophy, which had merely sniffed about the external aspect 
of things, assembling and classifying their characteristics, 
ceased to exist. Kant led investigation back to the human 
intellect, and inquired what the latter had to reveal. Not 
without reason, therefore, did he compare his philosophy 
to the method of Copernicus. Formerly, when men con- 
ceived the world as standing still, and the sun as revolv- 
ing round it, astronomical calculations failed to agree 
accurately. But when Copernicus made the sun stand 
still and the earth revolve round it, behold ! everything 
accorded admirably. So formerly reason, like the sun, 
moved round the universe of phenomena, and sought to 
throw light upon it. But Kant bade reason, the sun, 
stand still, and the universe of phenomena now turns 
round, and is illuminated the moment it comes within the 
region of the intellectual orb. 

These few words regarding the task that presented itself 
to Kant will suffice to show that I consider that section of 
his book wherein he treats of phenomena and noumena as 
the most important part, as the central point, of his philo- 
sophy. Kant, in effect, distinguishes between the appear- 
ances of things and things themselves. As we can know 
nothing of objects except in so far as they manifest them- 
selves to us through their appearance, and as objects do 
not exhibit themselves to us as they are in and by them- 
selves, Kant gives the name phenomena to objects as 
they appear to us, and noumena to objects as they are in 
themselves. We know things, therefore, only as pheno- 
mena ; we cannot know them as noumena. The latter are 
purely problematic ; we can neither say that they exist 
nor that they do not exist. The word noumena has been 
correlated with the word phenomena merely to enable us 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 115 

to speak of things in so far as they are cognisable by us, 
without occupying our judgment about things that are not 
cognisable by us. Kant did not therefore, as do many 
teachers whom I will not name, make a distinction of 
objects into phenomena and noumena, into things that for 
us exist and into things that for us do not exist. This 
would be an Irish bull in philosophy. He wished merely 
to express a notion of limitation. 

God, according to Kant, is a nournen. As a result of 
his argument, this ideal and transcendental being, hitherto 
called God, is a mere fiction.* It has arisen from a 
natural illusion. Kant shows that we can know nothing 
regarding this noumen, regarding God, and that all reason- 
able proof of his existence is impossible. The words of 
Dante, " Leave all hope behind ! " may be inscribed over 
this portion of the " Critique of Pure Reason." 

My readers will, I think, gladly exempt me from at- 
tempting a popular elucidation of that portion of his work 
in which Kant treats " of the arguments of speculative 
reason in favour of the existence of a Supreme Being." 
Although the formal refutation of these arguments occu- 
pies but a small space, and is not taken in hand till the 
second part of the book is reached, there is already a very 
evident intention of leading up to this refutation, which 
forms one of the main points of the work. It connects 
itself with the "Critique of all Speculative Theology," 
wherein the last phantoms of deism are put to flight. I 
cannot help remarking that Kant, in attacking the three 
principal kinds of evidence in favour of the existence of 
God, namely, the ontological, the cosmological, and the 
physico-theological, whilst successful, according to my 
opinion, in refuting the latter two, fails with regard to the 
first. I am not aware whether the above terms are under- 
stood in this country, and I therefore quote the passage 

* In the Prench version, " is only an assumption." TB. 



n6 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

from the " Critique of Pure Season " in which Kant for- 
mulates the distinction between them. 

" There are but three kinds of proof possible to specu- 
lative reason of the existence of God. All the routes that 
may be selected with this end in view start, either from 
definite experience and the peculiar properties of the 
external world, as revealed by experience, and ascend from 
it according to the laws of causality up to the supreme 
cause above the world ; or, they rest merely on an indefi- 
nite experience, as, for example, on an existence or being 
of some kind or other ; or, lastly, they make an abstraction 
from all experience, and arrive at a conclusion entirely a 
priori from pure ideas of the existence of the supreme 
cause. The first of these is the physico-theological proof, 
the second the cosmological, and the third the ontological. 
Other proofs there are none, nor can other proofs exist." 

After repeated and careful study of Kant's chief work, 
I fancied myself able to recognise everywhere visible in 
it his polemic against these proofs of the existence of 
God ; and of this polemic I might speak at greater length 
were I not restrained by a religious sentiment. The mere 
discussion by any one of the existence of God causes me 
to feel a strange disquietude, an uneasy dread such as I 
once experienced in visiting New Bedlam in London, 
when, for a moment losing sight of my guide, I was sur- 
rounded by madmen. " God is all that is," and doubt of 
His existence is doubt of life itself, it is death. 

The more blameworthy any dispute regarding the exist- 
ence of God may be, the more praiseworthy is meditation 
on the nature of God. Such meditation is a true worship 
of God ; the soul is thereby detached from the perishable 
and finite, and attains to consciousness of innate love and 
of the harmony of the universe. It is this consciousness 
that sends a thrill through the heart of the emotional man 
in the act of prayer or in the contemplation of the sacred 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 117 

symbols ; and the thinker realises this holy fervour in the 
exercise of that sublime faculty of the mind called reason, 
a faculty whose highest function is to inquire into the 
nature of God. Men of specially religious temperament 
concern themselves with this problem from childhood 
upwards; they are mysteriously troubled about it even 
at the first dawnings of reason.* The author of these 
pages is most joyfully conscious of having possessed this 
early primitive religious feeling, and it has never forsaken 
him. God was always the beginning and the end of all 
my thoughts. If I now inquire: What is God ? what is 
his nature? as a little child I had already inquired: 
How is God ? what is he like ? In that childish time I 
could gaze upwards at the sky during whole days, and 
was sadly vexed at evening because I never caught a 
glimpse of God's most holy countenance, but saw only the 
grey silly grimaces of the clouds. I was quite puzzled 
over the astronomical lore with which in the " enlighten- 
ment period " even the youngest children were tormented, 
and there was no end to my amazement on learning that all 
those thousand millions of stars were spheres as large and 
as beautiful as our own earth, and that over all this glitter- 
ing throng of worlds a single God ruled. I recollect once 
seeing God in a dream far above in the most distant 
firmament. He was looking contentedly out of a little 
window in the sky, a devout hoary-headed being with a 
small Jewish beard, and he was scattering forth myriads 
of seed-corns, which, as they fell from heaven, burst open 
in the infinitude of space, and expanded to vast dimen- 
sions till they became actual, radiant, blossoming, peopled 
worlds, each one as large as our own globe. I could never 
forget this countenance, and often in dreams I used to 
see the cheerful-looking old man sprinkling forth the 

* The remainder of this paragraph, with the first two sentences of the 
succeeding one, is omitted in the French version. TJU 



ii8 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

world-seeds from his little window in the sky; once I 
even saw him clucking like our maid when she threw 
down for the hens their barley. I could only see how the 
falling seed-corns expanded into great shining orbs ; but 
the great hens that may by chance have been waiting 
about with eager open bills to be fed with the falling orbs 
I could not see. 

You smile, dear reader, at the notion of the big hens. 
Yet this childish notion is not so very different from the 
view of the most advanced deists. In the attempt to 
provide a conception of an extra-mundane God, orient 
and Occident have exhausted themselves in hyperbole. 
The imagination of deists has, however, vainly tormented 
itself with the infinitude of time and space. It is here 
that their impotence, the inadequacy of their cosmology, 
and the untenableness of their explanation of the nature 
of God becomes fully apparent. We are not greatly dis- 
tressed, therefore, at beholding the subversion of their 
explanation. Kant has actually wrought this affliction 
upon them by refuting their demonstration of the exist- 
ence of God. 

Nor would the vindication of the ontological proof 
specially benefit deism, for this proof is equally available 
for pantheism. To render my meaning more intelligible, 
I may remark that the ontological proof is the one em- 
ployed by Descartes, and that long before his time, in the 
Middle Ages, Anselm of Canterbury had expressed it in 
the form of an affecting prayer. Indeed, St. Augustin 
may be said to have already made use of the ontological 
proof in the second book of his work, " De Libero Arbi- 
trio." 

I refrain, as I have said, from all popular discussion of 
Kant's polemic against these proofs. Let it suffice to give 
an assurance that since his time deism has vanished from 
the realm of speculative reason. It may, perhaps, be 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 119 

several centuries yet before this melancholy notice of 
decease gets universally bruited about ; we, however, have 
long since put on mourning. De Profundis ! 

You fancy, then, that we may now go home! By 
my life, no ! there is yet a piece to be played ; after the 
tragedy comes the farce. Up to this point Immanuel 
Kant has pursued the path of inexorable philosophy ; he 
has stormed heaven and put the whole garrison to the 
edge of the sword; the ontological, cosmological, and 
physico-theological bodyguards lie there lifeless ; Deity 
itself, deprived of demonstration, has succumbed ; there 
is now no All-mercifulness, no fatherly kindness, no other- 
world reward for renunciation in this world, the immorta- 
lity of the soul lies in its last agony you can hear its 
groans and death-rattle ; and old Lampe is standing by 
with his umbrella under his arm, an afflicted spectator of 
the scene, tears and sweat-drops of terror dropping from 
his countenance. Then Immanuel Kant relents and 
shows that he is not merely a great philosopher but also 
a good man ; he reflects, and half good-naturedly, half 
ironically, he says : " Old Lampe must have a God, 
otherwise the poor fellow can never be happy. Now, 
man ought to be happy in this world ; practical reason 
says so ; well, I am quite willing that practical reason 
should also guarantee the existence of God." As the 
result of this argument, Kant distinguishes between the 
theoretical reason and the practical reason, and by means 
of the latter, as with a magician's wand, he revivifies 
deism, which theoretical reason had killed. 

But is it not conceivable that Kant brought about this 
resurrection, not merely for the sake of old Lampe, but 
through fear of the police ? Or did he act from sincere 
conviction ? Was not his object in destroying all evidence 
for the existence of God to show us how embarrassing it 
might be to know nothing about God ? In doing so, he 



120 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

acted almost as sagely as a Westphalian friend of mine, 
-who smashed all the lanterns in the Grohnder Street in 
Gottingen, and then proceeded to deliver to us in the dark 
a long lecture on the practical necessity of lanterns, which 
he had theoretically broken in order to show how, without 
them, we could see nothing. 

I have already said that on its appearance the " Critique 
of Pure Eeason " did not cause the slightest sensation, and it 
was not till several years later, after certain clear-sighted 
philosophers had written elucidations of it, that public 
attention was aroused regarding the book. In the year 
1789, however, nothing else was talked of in Germany but 
the philosophy of Kant, about which were poured forth in 
abundance commentaries, chrestomathies, interpretations, 
estimates, apologies, and so forth. We need only glance 
through the first philosophic catalogue at hand, and the 
innumerable works having reference to Kant will amply 
testify to the intellectual movement that originated with 
this single man. In some it exhibited itself as an ardent 
enthusiasm, in others as an acrid loathing, in many as a 
gaping curiosity regarding the result of this intellectual 
revolution. We had popular riots in the world of thought> 
just as you had in the material world, and over the demoli- 
tion of ancient dogmatism we grew as excited as you did 
at the storming of the Bastille. There was also but a 
handful of old pensioners left for the defence of dogmatism, 
that is, the philosophy of Wolf. It was a revolution, and 
one not wanting in horrors. Amongst the party of the 
past, the really good Christians showed least indignation 
at these horrors. Yea, they desired even greater, in order 
that the measure of iniquity might be full, and the 
counter-revolution be more speedily accomplished as a 
necessary reaction. We had pessimists in philosophy as 
you had in politics. As in France there were people who 
maintained that Robespierre was the agent of Pitt, with us 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 121 

there were many who went so far in their wilful blindness 
as to persuade themselves that Kant was in secret alliance 
with them, and that he had destroyed all philosophic 
proofs of the existence of God merely in order to convince 
the world that man can never arrive at a knowledge of 
God by the help of reason, and must therefore hold to 
revealed religion. 

Kant brought about this great intellectual movement 
less by the subject-matter of his writings than by the 
critical spirit that pervaded them, a spirit that now began 
to force its way into all sciences. It laid hold of all 
constituted authority. Even poetry did not escape its 
influence. Schiller, for example, was a strong Kantist, 
and his artistic views are impregnated with the spirit of 
the philosophy of Kant. By reason of its dry, abstract 
character, this philosophy was eminently hurtful to polite 
literature and the fine arts. Fortunately it did not inter- 
fere in the art of cookery. 

The German people is not easily set in motion ; but let 
it be once forced into any path and it will follow it to its 
termination with the most dogged perseverance. Thus we 
exhibited our character in matters of religion, thus also 
we now acted in philosophy. Shall we continue to 
advance as consistently in politics? 

Germany was drawn into the path of philosophy by 
Kant, and philosophy became a national cause. A brilliant 
troop of great thinkers suddenly sprang up on German 
soil, as if called into being by magical art. If German 
philosophy should some day find, as the French revolution 
has found, its Thiers and its Mignet, its history will afford 
as remarkable reading as the works of these authors. 
Germans will study it with pride, and Frenchmen with 
admiration. 

Among the followers of Kant, John Gottlieb Fichte 
soon rose into pre-eminence. 



122 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

I almost despair of being able to convey an accurate 
impression of this man. In the case of Kant we had 
merely a book to examine ; but here, besides the book, we 
have to take account of the man. In this man thought 
and purpose are one, and in this splendid unity they affect 
the contemporary world. We have therefore to investi- 
gate not a philosophy merely, but also the type by which 
that philosophy is conditioned, and in order thoroughly to 
comprehend this twofold influence we should have to 
pass in review the situation of this epoch. What a wide- 
reaching task ! We shall, no doubt, be readily excused for 
offering merely an imperfect outline. 

At the outset there is the greatest difficulty in stating 
explicitly the nature of Fichte's ideas. We have here to 
encounter peculiar obstacles, obstacles connected not only 
with the subject-matter but also with the form and 
method of its presentation two things with which we 
are specially desirous of making foreigners acquainted. 
Let us begin, then, with the method of Fiehte. At first 
he borrowed the method of Kaut, but it soon underwent a 
change, resulting from the nature of the subject. Kant 
had merely to produce a critique, that is to say, some- 
thing negative ; whilst Fiehte had by and by to develop a 
system, that is, something positive. This want of a defi- 
nite system in the philosophy of Kant was the reason why 
it was sometimes refused the name philosophy. As regards 
Immanuel Kant himself, there was justice in this ; but 
not as regards the Kantists, who constructed from Kant's 
propositions quite a sufficient number of definite systems. 
In his earlier writings, Fiehte remained, as I have said, 
quite faithful to the method of his master, so much so 
that his first treatise, which was published anonymously, 
was attributed to Kant. But when Fiehte afterwards 
produced a system he was seized with an ardent and per- 
sistent passion for construction, and after constructing the 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 123 

universe he sets about demonstrating, in all its aspects, 
with the same ardour and persistency, that which he has 
constructed. Whether constructing or demonstrating, 
Fichte manifests, so to speak, an abstract passion. As in 
his system, so, soon afterwards in his exposition, subjec- 
tivity is dominant. Kant, on the other hand, stretches 
out thought before him, analyses it, dissects it down to 
its minutest fibrils, and his " Critique of Pure Eeason " is 
a kind of anatomical theatre of the human intellect; he 
himself, however, stands by, cold and insensible, like a 
true surgeon. 

The form of Fichte's writings resembles his method ; it 
is living, but it has also all the faults of life : it is restless 
and confused. That he may always remain thoroughly 
animated, Fichte disdains the customary terminology of 
philosophers, which seems to him a dead thing; but the 
effect of this is to make him still less comprehensible. 
About intelligibility in general he had quite a peculiar 
caprice. As long as Reinhold was of the same opinion 
with him, Fichte declared that no one understood him 
better than Reinhold. But when the latter differed from 
him in opinion, Fichte declared that he had never been 
understood by him. When he himself took a different 
view from Kant, he had it put in print that Kant did not 
understand himself. I am here touching upon the comical 
aspect of our philosophers, who are perpetually lamenting 
that they are misunderstood. When Hegel was lying on 
his deathbed, he said : " Only one man has understood 
me," but shortly afterwards he added fretfully : " And 
even he did not understand me." 

Considered as to its substance, its intrinsic value, the 
philosophy of Fichte is of no great significance. It has 
afforded society no result. Only in so far as it exhibits 
above all other systems one of the most remarkable phases 
of German philosophy, only in so far as it attests the 



124 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

sterility of idealism in its last consequences, and only in 
so far as it forms the necessary transition to the philosophy 
of our day, does the substance of Fichte's doctrine possess 
a certain interest. This doctrine, being then of more im- 
portance in an historical and scientific than in a social 
aspect, I shall merely indicate it in a few words. 

The question proposed by Fichte is, What grounds have 
we for assuming that our conceptions of objects correspond 
with objects external to us ? And to this question he 
offers the solution: All things have reality only in our 
mind. 

The " Critique of Pure Eeason " was Kant's chief work, 
the " Theory of Knowledge " 9 was the chief work of 
Fichte. The latter book is a kind of continuation of the 
former. The " Theory of Knowledge " likewise refers the 
intellect back to itself. But where Kant analyses, Fichte 
constructs. The " Theory of Knowledge " opens with an 
abstract formula (1 = 1); it re-creates the world out of 
the recesses of mind ; it fits the disjointed parts together 
again ; intelligence retraces its steps over the road it had 
travelled towards abstraction till it regains the world of 
phenomena. Thereafter reason is enabled to declare the 
phenomenal world to be a necessary operation of intelli- 
gence. 

The philosophy of Fichte also presents the peculiar 
difficulty that it requires the mind to observe itself in the 
midst of its activity; the Ego is to investigate its own 
intellectual acts during the process of thinking ; thought 
is to play the spy on itself whilst it thinks, whilst it grows 
gradually warmer until at last it is boiling. This opera- 
tion reminds us of the monkey seated on the hearth 
before a copper kettle cooking its own tail ; for it is of 
opinion that the true art of cookery consists not merely 
in the objective act of cooking, but also in the subjective 
consciousness of the process of cooking. 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 125 

It is a singular circumstance that the philosophy of 
Fichte has always had to endure much from satire. I 
once saw a caricature representing a Fichtean goose. The 
poor bird has a liver so large that it no longer knows 
whether it is goose or liver. On its belly is inscribed 
/-/. Jean Paul has most wickedly quizzed the Fichtean 
philosophy in a book entitled Clams Fichteana. That 
idealism pursued to its ultimate consequences should end 
by denying even the reality of matter seemed, to the great 
mass of the public, to be carrying the joke too far. We 
grew rather merry over the Fichtean Ego, which produced 
by its mere thinking the whole external world. The 
laughter of our wits was increased through a misappre- 
hension that became too popular to permit of my passing 
it over in silence. The great mass really supposed that 
the Ego of Fichte was the Ego of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, 
and that this individual Ego implied a negation of all 
other existences. What an impertinence ! exclaimed the 
worthy folk ; this fellow does not believe that we exist, 
we who are much more corpulent than himself, and who, 
as burgomasters and bailiffs, are actually his superiors ! 
The ladies inquired, Does he not at least believe in the 
existence of his wife ? No ! And Madam Fichte suffers 
this! 

The Ego of Fichte, however, is not the individual but 
the universal Ego, the world-Ego awakened to self-con- 
sciousness. The Fichtean process of thought is not the 
thinking act of an individual, of a certain person called 
Johann Gottlieb Fichte ; it is rather the universal thought 
manifesting itself in an individual. As we say, " It rains," 
" it lightens," and so on ; so Fichte ought not to say, " I 
think," but, " it thinks," " the universal world- thought 
thinks in me." 

In a parallel between the French revolution and Ger- 
man philosophy I once compared, more in jest than in 



126 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

earnest, Fichte to Napoleon. But there are, in fact, certain 
remarkable analogies between them. After the Kantists 
had accomplished their work of terrorism and destruction, 
Fichte appeared, as Napoleon appeared after the Conven- 
tion had demolished the whole past by the help of another 
sort of Critique of Pure Eeason. Napoleon and Fichte 
represent the great inexorable Ego for which thought and 
action are one ; and the colossal structures raised by both 
men testify to a colossal will. But through the bound- 
lessness of this will their structures soon fall to the 
ground, and both the " Theory of Knowledge " and the 
Empire crumble to pieces and disappear as quickly as they 
were reared. 

The Empire is now nothing more than matter of history, 
but the commotion caused by the emperor in the world 
has not yet calmed down, and from this commotion our 
present Europe draws its vitality. It is the same with 
the philosophy of Fichte ; it has completely perished, but 
men's minds are still agitated by the thoughts that found 
a voice in Fichte, and the after-effect of his teaching is 
incalculable. Even supposing all transcendental idealism 
to be an error, still the writings of Fichte are animated 
by a proud independence, by a love of liberty, by a virile 
dignity that have exercised, especially on the young, a 
wholesome influence. The Ego of Fichte was in complete 
accord with his inflexible, stubborn, stern character. The 
notion of an Ego so all-powerful could perhaps germinate 
only in such a character, and such a character intertwin- 
ing its roots about such a doctrine could not but become 
more inflexible, more stubborn, more stern. 

With what aversion must this man have been regarded 
by aimless sceptics, by frivolous ecclectics, and by mode- 
rates of all shades ! His whole life was a combat. The 
story of his youth, like that of almost all our distinguished 
men, is the record of a series of afflictions. Poverty sits 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 127 

by their cradle and rocks them up to manhood, and this 
meagre nurse remains their faithful companion through 
life. 

Nothing is more touching than the sight of the proud- 
willed Fichte struggling miserably through the world by 
the aid of tutorship. Nor can he obtain even thus the 
bitter bread of servitude in his own country, but has to 
migrate to Warsaw. There the old story repeats itself ; 
the tutor displeases the gracious lady of the house, or 
perhaps only the ungracious lady's-maid. He cannot 
scrape a leg with sufficient gentility, is not French enough, 
and is no longer judged worthy to superintend the educa- 
tion of a young Polish squire. Johann Gottlieb Fichte is 
dismissed like a lackey, receives from his dissatisfied 
master hardly the meagre expenses of his journey, leaves 
Warsaw and betakes himself, full of youthful enthusiasm, 
to Konigsberg, in order to make the acquaintance of Kant. 
The meeting of these two men is in every respect note- 
worthy. Perhaps I can present no clearer idea of their 
everyday life and circumstances than by citing a frag- 
ment from Fichte's journal, to be found in a biography of 
him, recently published by his son.* 

" On the twenty-fifth of June I set out for Konigsberg 
with a carrier of this town, and arrived there, without 
experiencing any remarkable incident, on the first of July. 
The fourth. Visited Kant, who did not, however, receive 
me with any special distinction. I attended his lecture 
as an invited stranger, and again my expectation was dis- 
appointed. His delivery is drowsy. Meantime I have 
begun this journal. 

" I have long felt a desire for a more serious interview 
with Kant, but could find no means of bringing this about. 
At last I hit upon the plan of writing a ' Critique of all 

* " Fichte's Life and Literary Correspondence," by Immanuel Hermann 
von Pichte, published in 1830-1831. TB. 



128 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

Revelation/ and of presenting it to him instead of a letter 
of introduction. I made a beginning with it about the 
thirteenth, and have since worked at it without inter- 
mission. On the eighteenth of August I at last sent my 
finished work to Kant, and on the twenty-fifth paid him 
a visit in order to hear his opinion of it. He received me 
with the most marked kindness, and appeared very well 
satisfied with my dissertation. We did not come to any 
close philosophical discourse. With regard to my philo- 
sophical doubts, he referred me to his ' Critique of Pure 
lieason,' and to the court chaplain, Schulz, whom I shall 
at once find out. On the twenty-sixth I dined with 
Kant in the company of Professor Sommer, and I found 
Kant to be a very pleasant and very intellectual man. I 
now for the first time recognised in him traits worthy of 
the great intellect that has found embodiment in his 
writings. 

" On the twenty-seventh I brought this journal to a 
close, after completing the excerpts from Kant's lectures 
on anthropology, lent to me by Herr von S. I also make 
a resolution henceforth regularly to continue this journal 
every evening before going to ted, and to record therein 
everything of interest that occurs to me, but especially 
noting all characteristic traits and observations. 

"The twenty-eighth; evening. Yesterday I began to 
revise my Critique, and fell upon right good and profound 
ideas, which, however, made me unhappily conscious that 
my first treatment of the subject was exceedingly super- 
ficial. To-day I was desirous of continuing the new line 
of investigation, but found myself so carried away by my 
imagination that I have not been able to do anything all 
day. In my present position this is, unfortunately, not to 
be wondered at I have calculated that, counting from 
to-day, my means of subsistence will not suffice me here 
for more than fourteen days. I have, it is true, already 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 129 

experienced the like embarrassment, but it was in my own 
country ; and, besides, with increase of years and a more 
acute sense of honour, the case is always a harder one. 
I have formed no resolution, nor can form any. To Pastor 
Borowski, to whom Kant addressed me, I shall not reveal 
my situation : if I reveal it to any one, it will be to no 
other than to Kant himself. 

" On the twenty-ninth I visited Borowski, in whom I 
found a truly good and honourable man. He made me a 
proposal of a situation, but it is not yet quite an assured 
one ; and besides, it is one for which 1 have no great liking. 
At the same time, by his frankness of manner he extorted 
from ine the admission that it was urgent for me to obtain 

an appointment. He advised me to see Professor W . 

Work has been an impossibility for me. On the following 

day I did in fact call on W , and afterwards visited 

the court chaplain, Schulz. The prospects held out by the 
former are very uncertain ; still he spoke of a tutorship 
in Courland, which certainly nothing but the direst neces- 
sity will induce me to accept ! Later, I went to the house 
of the court chaplain, where I was at first received by 
his wife. Her husband by and by appeared, but he was 
absorbed in mathematical circles. Afterwards, when he 
understood more distinctly who I was, Kant's recom- 
mendation rendered him very friendly. He has an 
angular Prussian countenance, but the very spirit of 
loyalty and good-heartedness shines through its features. 
I also made the acquaintance at his house of Herr Braun- 
lich, and of his charge, Count Danhof, of Herr Biittner, 
the court chaplain's nephew, and of a young savant of 
Niirnberg, Herr Ehrhard, a youth of good and excellent 
parts, though wanting in manners and without knowledge 
of the world. 

" On the first of September I formed a decided resolu- 
tion, which I wished to communicate to Kant. A situa- 



130 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

tion as tutor, however regretfully I might be obliged to 
accept it, is not to be had, and the uncertainty of my 
position hinders me from working with freedom of inind, 
and from profiting by the instructive intercourse of my 
friends. I must away, then, back to my own country! 
The small loan of which I stand in need for this purpose 
may perhaps be obtained through the mediation of Kant ; 
but as I was in the act of going to him with the object of 
declaring my intention, courage failed me. I decided to 
write to him. For the evening I was invited to the house 
of the court chaplain, where I spent a very pleasant 
evening. On the second I finished my letter to Kant and 
despatched it." 

Despite the remarkableness of this letter, I cannot bring 
myself to give it here. I fancy the red blood is mounting 
to my cheeks, and I feel as though I were relating in the 
presence of strangers the most shamefaced miseries of my 
own family. In spite of my striving after French urbanity, 
in spite of my philosophic cosmopolitanism, old Germany, 
with all its Philistine sentiments, still holds its place in 
my bosom. Enough, I cannot transcribe this letter, and 
merely relate this much : Immanuel Kant was so poor 
that, notwithstanding the pathetic, heart-rending tone of 
this letter, he could lend Johann Gottlieb Fichte no 
money. But the latter showed no trace of ill-humour On 
that account, as may be gathered from the language of 
his journal, from which I continue to quote : 

" I was invited to dine with Kant on the third of Sep- 
tember. He received me with his usual cordiality, telling 
me, however, that he had not as yet formed any resolution 
as to my proposition ; that he was not in a position to do 
so for a fortnight. What amiable frankness! For the 
rest, he started objections to my plans, which betrayed 
that he was not sufficiently acquainted with our position 
in Saxony. . . . During all these days I have done nothing. 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 131 

I will, however, set to work again, and simply leave the 
rest to God. The sixth : I was asked to visit Kant, who 
proposed to me the disposing of my manuscript on ' The 
Critique of all Kevelation* to the publisher Hartung, 
through the intervention of Pastor Borowski. ' It is well 
written/ said he, when I spoke of revising it. Is this the 
case ? And yet it is Kant that says so ! For the rest, he 
declined the object of my first request. On the tenth I 
dined with Kant. Nothing said about our affair. Master 
of Arts Gensichen was there, and, though only general, the 
conversation was in part very interesting. Kant's dis- 
position towards me remains quite unchanged. . . . The 
thirteenth : I was anxious to work to-day, and yet I get 
nothing done. I am overcome by dejection. How will 
this end ? How will it be with me eight days hence ? 
My money will then be quite exhausted." 

After much wandering about, after a long sojourn in 
Switzerland, Fichte at last finds a settled position at Jena, 
and from this time dates his period of splendour. Jena 
and Weimar, two little Saxon towns lying within short 
distance of each other, were then the central points of 
the intellectual life of Germany. At Weimar were the 
court and poetry ; at Jena, the university and philosophy. 
There were the greatest poets, here the most learned men 
of Germany. In the year 1794 Fichte commenced his 
lectures at Jena. The date is significant, and explains 
the spirit of his writings at this period, as well as the 
tribulations to which he was henceforth exposed, and to 
which four years later he succumbed. For in the year 
1798 were raised those accusations of atheism that 
drew down upon him insufferable persecutions, and 
occasioned his departure from Jena. This, the most 
noteworthy event in the life of Fichte, possesses also a 
general significance, and we cannot pass it over in silence. 



I 3 2 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

Here, too, is naturally the place to speak of Fichte's views 
concerning the nature of God. 

In the periodical called The Philosophical Journal, at 
that time edited by himself, Fichte published an article 
entitled " Development of the Notion of Religion/' sent 
to him by a certain Forberg, a schoolmaster at Saalfield. 
To this article Fichte added a short explanatory disserta- 
tion, under the title, " On the Ground of our Belief in a 
Divine Government of the World." 

Both articles were suppressed by the Government of 
the Electorate of Saxony, under the pretext that they 
were tainted with atheism. Simultaneously there was 
despatched from Dresden a requisition to the court of 
Weimar enjoining upon it the serious punishment of Pro- 
fessor Fichte. The court of Weimar did not, it is true, 
permit itself to be misled by such a demand; but as 
Fichte on this occasion committed the gravest blunders, 
amongst others that of writing an " Appeal to the Public " 
without the sanction of official authority, the Government 
of Weimar, offended at this step and importuned from 
other quarters, had no alternative but to administer a 
mild reproof to the professor who had imprudently ex- 
pressed his views. Fichte, however, considering himself 
in the right, was unwilling to submit to such reproof, and 
left Jena. To judge from his letters written at this time, 
he was especially piqued at the conduct of two persons, 
whose official positions lent much weight to their voice in 
this affair ; these two persons were His Eeverence the 
President of the Consistorial Council, Herr von Herder, 
and His Excellence the Privy Councillor, Herr von 
Goethe; but both are sufficiently excusable. It is 
pathetic to read in the posthumous letters of Herder how 
the poor man was embarrassed by the candidates of theo- 
logy, who, after studying at Jena, came before him at 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 133 

Weimar to undergo examination as Protestant preachers. 
About Christ the Son he no longer dared to put a single 
question ; he was glad enough to have their mere acknow- 
ledgment of the existence of the Father. As for Goethe, 
he expresses himself in his Memoirs, regarding this occur- 
rence, to the following effect : 

" After Reinhold's departure from Jena, an event justly 
considered a great loss for the University, the appoint- 
ment of successor to him was rashly, even audaciously, 
conferred on Fichte, who in his writings had manifested 
a certain grandeur, though not perhaps the requisite tact 
for dealing with the most important topics of morality 
and politics. He was a man of as strong a personality 
as had ever been known, and, considered in their higher 
aspects, there was nothing censurable in his views ; but 
how could he maintain himself on a footing of equality 
with a world that he regarded as his own created pos- 
session ? 

" The hours that he desired to set apart during week- 
days for his public lectures being objected to, he under- 
took to hold on Sundays the prelections regarding which 
objections were raised. The lesser adverse circumstances 
and the greater obstacles arising from these had scarcely 
been smoothed down and adjusted, when the assertions of 
Professor Fichte concerning God and sacred things (about 
which he would have done better to have maintained 
profound silence) attracted in outside circles troublesome 
observation. 

" Fichte had ventured in his Philosophical Journal to 
express himself about God and sacred things in a manner 
that seemed contradictory to the language customarily 
employed in dealing with such mysteries. He was called 
in question for it ; his defence did not improve matters, for 
it was undertaken with passion and without any sus- 
picion how well disposed towards him people here were, 



134 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

although they knew what interpretation to put on his 
ideas and language an interpretation of his opinions 
that could not indeed be explained to him in crude 
words, just as little as he could be brought to under- 
stand how help might be afforded him in the kindliest 
spirit. Discussion for and against, doubts and assertions, 
confirmations and resolutions, surged about the university 
in many-sided uncertain discourse : there was talk of 
ministerial remonstrance, of nothing short of a public 
reprimand which Fichte might have to expect. There- 
upon, throwing aside all moderation, he considered him- 
self justified in addressing to the ministry a violent 
letter, in which, assuming the certainty of proceedings 
being taken against him, he haughtily and vehemently 
declared that he would never submit to such treatment ; 
that he preferred, without more ado, to quit the university, 
in which case he would not do so alone, as several other 
influential teachers were in accord with him to leave 
the place. 

" As a result of this step, all friendly intentions that 
had been aroused on his behalf were now restrained, nay, 
even paralysed. No expedient, no compromise, was now 
possible, and the gentlest measure that could be adopted 
was to dismiss him without delay. Then, for the first 
time, after the affair was beyond remedy, Fichte per- 
ceived the turn his friends had sought to give the affair, 
and he was forced to regret his precipitation, whilst we 
had reason to compassionate him." 

Have we not here his very self, the ministerial Goethe 
with his conciliations and prudent reticences ? In reality 
he censures Fichte only for having said what he thought, 
and for not having said it with the customary disguises 
of expression. He does not find fault with the thought, 
but with the word. That deism had been annihilated in 
the world of German philosophy was, as I have already 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 135 

said, a secret known to every one ; a secret, however, that 
must not be proclaimed on the housetops. Goethe was 
as little a deist as Fichte ; for he was a pantheist But 
his very position on the heights of pantheism enabled 
Goethe with his sharp eyes to perceive very clearly the 
untenableness of the Fichtean philosophy, and his gra- 
cious lips could not forbear to smile at what he saw. To 
the Jews (and every deist is, after all, a Jew) the doc- 
trine of Fichte was an abomination : to the great pagan 
it was only a folly. The "great pagan" is, you must 
understand, the name bestowed on Goethe in Ger- 
many. Yet this name is not quite appropriate. The 
paganism of Goethe is wonderfully modernised. His 
vigorous heathen nature manifests itself in his clear 
penetrating conception of all external facts, of all forms 
and colours ; but Christianity has endowed him also with 
a profounder intelligence. Christianity, in spite of his 
militant antipathy towards it, has initiated him into the 
mysteries of the spiritual world; he has drunk of the 
blood of Christ, and this has made him comprehend the 
most secret voices of nature, like Siegfried, the hero of the 
"Nibelungen," who understood the language of the birds the 
instant that his lips were moistened by a drop of the slain 
dragon's blood. It is a remarkable thing that Goethe's 
pagan nature should have been so thoroughly pervaded 
by our modern sentimentality, that the antique marble 
of his temperament should have pulsated with so much 
modern feeling, and that he should have sympathised as 
deeply with the sufferings of young Werther as with the 
joys of an ancient Greek god. The pantheism of Goethe 
differed, therefore, very widely from that of paganism. 
To express my ideas briefly : Goethe was the Spinoza of 
poetry. The whole of Goethe's poetry is animated by the 
same spirit that is wafted towards us from the writings 
of Spinoza. That Goethe paid undivided allegiance to 



136 RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 

the doctrine of Spinoza is beyond doubt. At any rate, he 
occupied himself with it throughout his life ; in the in- 
troductory passages of his Memoirs, as in the concluding 
volume recently published, he has frankly acknowledged 
this to be the case. I cannot now recollect where I have 
read that Herder, losing his temper at finding Goethe 
perpetually engaged with Spinoza's works, once exclaimed, 
" If Goethe would just for once take up some other Latin 
book than one of Spinoza's ! " But this applies not only 
to Goethe ; quite a number of his friends, who afterwards 
became more or less celebrated as poets, devoted them- 
selves at an early period of their lives to pantheism ; and 
this doctrine assumed a practical form in German art 
before it attained to supremacy amongst us as a philo- 
sophic theory. Even in Fichte's time, when idealism 
was flourishing most sublimely in the domain of philo- 
sophy, in the region of art it was being violently de- 
stroyed, and there had already begun in Germany that 
celebrated revolt in art a revolt not yet terminated 
which traces its origin to the conflict of Romanticism with 
the ancient Classical E^gime. 

Our first Romanticists were, in fact, moved by a panthe- 
istic instinct, which they did not themselves comprehend. 
The sentiment, which they mistook for a yearning towards 
the Catholic mother Church, was of deeper origin than they 
suspected. Their veneration and affection for the tradi- 
tions of the Middle Ages, for the popular beliefs, the 
diablerie, the sorcery, and the witchcraft of former times, 
all this was a suddenly reawakened, though uncompre- 
hended, predilection for the pantheism of the old Ger- 
mans, and, in its foully stained and spitefully mutilated 
form, what they really loved was the pre-christian reli- 
gion of their ancestors. I must here recall what was said 
in the first part of this book, where I showed how Chris- 
tianity absorbed the elements of the old Germanic religion, 



RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY IN GERMANY. 137 

how, after undergoing the most outrageous transforma- 
tion, these elements were preserved in the popular beliefs 
of the Middle Ages in such a way that the old worship of 
nature came to be regarded as mere wicked sorcery, the 
old gods as odious demons, and their chaste priestesses as 
profligate witches. From this point of view the aberra- 
tions of our earliest Komanticists can be more leniently 
judged than is usually the case. They wished to restore 
the Catholicism of the Middle Ages, for they felt that in 
this Catholicism there still survived many sacred recollec- 
tions of their first ancestors, many splendid memorials of 
their earliest national life. It was these mutilated and 
defiled relics that attracted the sympathies of the Koman- 
ticists, and they detested a Protestantism and a Liberalism 
whose aim was to destroy these relics and to efface the 
whole Catholic past. 

I shall return, however, to this subject. At present it 
is sufficient merely to mention that pantheism began in 
Fichte's time to force its way into German art ; that even 
Catholic Romanticists unconsciously followed this ten- 
dency, and that Goethe was its foremost spokesman. 

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