BLTC Press Titles

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Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

Lectures on the history of literature, ancient and modern

by Friedrich von Schlegel


During the last hundred years, the human mind, more particularly in Germany, has undergone a great, and, in one point of view at least, a fortunate alteration. Not that the individual productions of art,

Vol. I. A

or inquiries into science, to which this period has given birth, are entitled to indiscriminate praise, or have attained equal success; but a mighty change has taken place in the quarter where it was most necessary, in the regard and interest which the world at laige bestows on literature; and among us, above all other people, in the influence which it has already exerted, and is likely in a much greater degree to exert on us, both as individuals and as a nation.

Our men of letters formed, till of late, a body altogether cut off from the rest of the world, and quite as distinct from the society of the higher orders as these were from the mass of the people. Keppler and Leibnitz composed far the greater part of their works in Latin; and Frederick of Prussia, in his turn, both of thinking and of writing, was a Frenchman. All national recollections, and all national feelings, were either abandoned to the common people, who still maintained among them some remnant, however feeble and mutilated, of the spirit of " the good old time;" or formed in secret the inspiration and the enthusiastic pursuit of a few poets and authors, who at first indeed applied themselves to these objects in the hope of bringing about a new state of things by their means. So long, however, as this was alone attempted by some particular classes of society, there could be little chance that the youthful enthusiasm of their design should be justified by success, or crowned by consequences of universal utility.

During the whole of the latter part of the seventeenth, and the first half of the eighteenth century, this complete separation between the men of letters and the people of fashion, and between them and the rest of the nation, was universal throughout Germany; and, indeed, these unnatural distinctions and their necessary consequences protracted no inconsiderable influence in particular quarters, long after the general mind had become sufficiently prepared for the reception of a new state of things, and a more rational arrangement of society.

The great number of distinguished works, or at least of remarkable and praiseworthy attempts, which, especially after the middle of the eighteenth century, were perpetually making their appearance in the German tongue, succeeded, at length, in attracting universal attention, partly to the too much neglected history of our country, and to the many beautiful traits of magnanimity and virtue which are related in our ancient chronicles; partly to the innate excellencies of our language itself,—the strength, the richness, and the flexibility which it never fails to display, when it is employed in a manner adapted to its character. .The more that national feelings and recollections were revived, the more also was our love awakened for our mother tongue. That ac

quaintance with foreign languages, whether dead or living, which is necessary for men of letters and men of fashion, was no longer connected with neglect of their vernacular speech; a neglect which is always sure to work its own revenge on those who practise it, and which can never be supposed to create any prejudice either in favour of their politeness or their erudition. The great attention with which foreign languages had been studied, was, however, at this period, of infinite advantage to our own; for every foreign language, even a living one, must of necessity be acquired in a more exact manner than our vernacular tongue. Thus the mind becomes sharpened for the perception of the general principles of language; and in the end we apply to the polishing and enriching of our own language that acuteness which we have been accustomed to exercise on others. It has become, in a word, the great object of general ambition to add to the strength and the variety, which are the distinguishing excellencies of our native tongue, all those other advantages which characterize the most cultivated languages of ancient as well as of modern times.

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