Rylee Ages “beautiful, magnificent times” (2). He described the

Rylee Betchkal

KAP European
History

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Mr. Connell

Novalis’
Romanticization of the Middle Ages

1/31/18

 

German
romanticism commonly associated with nationalism. This no due not only to the
nineteenth-century romantics’ embrace of nationalism and their adoption by
later German nationalists but also to the romantics critique of the
enlightenment.

Early
German romantics criticized the Enlightenment for failing to appreciate what
they saw as the essential parts of life: love, emotion, beauty, trust, and shared
faith. They claimed that the Enlightenment emphasis on reason, abstract
principles, and rights overlooks the aforementioned necessary parts of human
life. The romantics aimed to correct this by showing the was to an alternative
image for their country.

In
the Romantic German author Novalis’ essay 
“Christianity or Europe: A Fragment,” he described an age centered on
emotion, spirituality, and the connectedness of human. Replacing the
Enlightenment focus on rational knowledge, material goods, and moral and legal
principles. He contrasted his romantic conception of humanity united by “faith
and love” with what he saw as the specifically modern, incompatible focus on
“having and knowing.” He used the image of the Middle Ages to evoke the idea of
a golden era that the modern era should attempt to recreate.

The
image the essay depicted was inviting from the start. Novalis started out by
calling the Middle Ages “beautiful, magnificent times” (2). He described the
Middle Ages as an era during which Europe was united under one common religion
and under one political ruler (the Holy Roman emperor). Everyone acted on the
decrees of the Church, and ordinary people found “protection, respect, and
audience” (2) in the Church when they needed it. The churches were full of
beauty, music, smells, and mystery. Peace, faith, beauty, and love united all.

Novalis’
attitude towards the Middle Ages was not one of nostalgia. His vision functioned
as a contrast against  all the problems
of the present. In presenting the medieval image, he was not really looking
back, but trying to propel Germany forward. He didn’t even think that going
back would have been possible as for Germany the Middle Ages was the
“childhood” of their country and its evolution to the present was unavoidable:
“But for this splendid realm humanity was not yet mature or educated enough”
(3).

It
seemed to Novalis, that the rise of individualism and capitalism led to
Germany’s social division. The new ages promoted individual interests instead
of the common good he saw in the Middle Ages. Additionally, the abundance of
material goods led to greedy selfish people. And greedy people had no time
for  “quiet collection of the mind, the
attentive consideration of the inner world” (4).  Separating them from the devotion and
tradition of religion, replacing  “Faith
and love” (4) with “knowledge and possession” (4).

Even
what was left of religion in Germany was not intact to Novalis: within the
church, individualism gave rise to Protestantism which caused a divide in Christianity.
Additionally, the seperation of the state from the Church divided politics and
religion. This was the start of the gradual undermining of the “religious
cosmopolitan interest” ()5 and its peaceful influence. This acknowledgment and
longing for the unity brought on by the combination of religion and nationalism,
which Novalis romanticized for effect, was his main message from his essay to
the people.

Likewise
his contemporary, William Wordsworth, shared his nostalgia for the past. In his
romantic styled poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Timm Abbey, on
Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1790” five years
had elapsed since Woodsworth was last in that location. He names some of the
objects from the scene that he remembers from his last visit, for example, the
“steep and lofty cliffs” and he describes what effect these objects
have on him, such as “thoughts of more deep seclusion” (Wordsworth #).
Here, Wordsworth reminiscing about the unwelcome changes to the current setting
and desiring a return or recreation of the past.

Giuseooe
Mazzini had another window through which he viewed romanticism. First and
foremost Mazzini believed that a man’s primary duty is to humanity and his
family, the next and no less important duty is to his country and the goal of a
united country. He declares that united countries are the ideal and what God
originally intended before they were corrupted by greedy monarchs. The
“Divine design” of unity will, Mazzini writes, overcome all
challenges and unite all people of the country in harmony. Depending on
similarity of language, economic tendencies and specialties, culture, and
history, and based in an inherent and religiously/divinely inspired
nationality.

Unlike
Wordsworth and Mazzini, who held somewhat similar views of Romanticism, based
in the past, unity, and religion, Stendhal had a different belief. He argued
that romanticism was the “spirit of the age,” and disagreed with Novalis’
idealization of the past and its people because he believed that people were no
longer able to relate and it, therefore, separated the viewer from the art;
“The Romantic, in all the arts, is the man who represents people as they are
today, and not as they were in those heroic times so distant from us, that
probably never existed.”

Overall
Novalis’ essay “Christianity or Europe: A Fragment,” looked at the Middle Ages
as both a romanticized ideal for the future of humanity and an idealization of
the unity, faith, and love of the past. It would be incorrect to read “Christianity
or Europe: A Fragment,” as an accurate representation of the past, and it was
neither a defense of feudalism nor a glorification of the Roman Catholic
Church. Novalis’ goal was to romanticize the ideal of a united cultural
identity based in morals instead of the hard factual life of the Enlightenment.

 

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