Friday, January 23, 2015

This Day in History

January 23, 1814 
The Pope Delivered from Exile 

The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. Our July 6, 2014 "This Week in History" told the story of Pope Pius VII's forced exile from Rome at the hands of Napoleon's general, Sextius Alexandre Francois de Miollisyou may find it on our blog page, hereFor ordering information this book and our other texts, please click here.
Pope Pius VII
Napoleon's victories and his defeat at Leipzig came as distant rumors to Pope Pius VII at Fontainebleau. Because the pope was undergoing a bitter struggle of his own, he had cared little for such news.

In January 1813, nine months before the Battle of Leipzig, the pope had received a sudden visit from Napoleon. The emperor had entered unannounced into the pope's presence; and striding up to the pontiff, Napoleon embraced and kissed him. 

Despite the friendly gesture, Napoleon had more in mind than reconciliation. In a series of interviews during which Napoleon at times erupted into anger, he and the pope worked out a new concordat to replace the Concordat of 1801. The new concordat did not force the pope to live at Paris (as Napoleon had wanted) or give secular rulers the right to nominate two-thirds of the cardinals (another of the emperor's demands); but it did give the emperor more authority over the bishops in his domains. Though he opposed strengthening Napoleon's control over the Church, Pope Pius, by the advice of his cardinals, signed the concordat.

Napoleon ordered magnificent ceremonies in Paris, including a sung Te Deum, to commemorate the new concordat. Napoleon rejoiced; for, by making peace with the Church, he was able to keep the affections of his people. And the French people, who wanted peace between state and Church, also rejoiced.

But Pius VII did not rejoice. He was deeply troubled in spirit, so much so that he could not eat. Had be betrayed the Church by signing the concordat, he wondered? Though some told him he did what he had to do, the pope thought differently. Finally, with the advice of Cardinal Consalvi, he decided to repudiate the concordat. On March 24, 1813, Napoleon received a message announcing that the pope had rejected the concordat. The emperor, of course, was furious; but he was too busy preparing for war. He would think about this problem with the pope when he returned, victorious, from the war.

Napoleon's retreat from Leipzig
After Leipzig, however, Napoleon returned to Paris a defeated man. He had no time for the concordat, for he had to turn all his energies to the task of saving his throne. But Napoleon was determined that the pope, at least, should not fall into enemy hands. So it was that on January 23, 1814, Pius VII found himself in a carriage, leaving Fontainebleau. His destination was Savona. Whether he knew it or not, every passing mile brought him farther not only from Napoleon, but from the threat of Napoleon's power forever.

Music in the Year of Napoleon's Fall  

Piano Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in the summer 1814. Played by pianist, Daniel Barenboim 

Monday, January 12, 2015

This Day in History

January 12, 1829:
Death of the First Romantic

The following account of the life of Friedrich von Schlegel, the "Father of Romanticism," comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this and our other books, please click here

Friedrich von Schlegel was a man his friends greatly admired. Indeed, they admired him so much that they gave him the name Messias, a form of Messiah or Christ -- "the anointed one." In giving Schlegel this name, his friends did not necessarily mean any disrespect to Jesus, the Christ, whom at least one or two of them worshiped. By calling him Messias, Schlegel's friends were merely acknowledging his important role in the development of a new movement in literature, to which he and his friends belonged. This movement was called Romanticism. To understand what Romanticism was and is, we can hardly do better than follow the life of Schlegel himself.

Friedrich von Schlegel in 1801
Friedrich was born in the German electorate of Hanover on March 10, 1772. With his 10 brothers and sisters, he came from a family of Lutheran ministers who had been ennobled in the 17th century (which is where the von in von Schlegel came from). Friedrich was not destined to be the only famous member of his family; his father, Johann Adolf, was a well-known literary figure, and his uncle, Johann Elias, wrote dramas. Friedrich's older brother, August Wilhelm, is remembered as the great translator of Shakespeare into German and as a literary critic.

As a young man, Friedrich von Schlegel studied law at the University of Göttingen. When he became interested in more than just law, he ventured to the University of Leipzig, where he began to study the "classical" literature of ancient Greece and Rome. This was not an unusual interest for a man of the 18th century; indeed, the artists of the time (painters, sculptors, writers, and composers) were thoroughly classical. They looked to the ancient world, its plastic art and literature, as the ideal of beauty. Artists studied classical art forms and sought to imitate them -- or at least they tried to capture the classical spirit in their artwork. The classical style of the 18th century moreover was inspired by Enlightenment rationalism. It emphasized reason, proportion, brilliance, and wit. It insisted that art follow certain strict rules and rarely, if ever, deviate from them.

Though Friedrich von Schlegel started out as a classicist, he finally broke from classicism and became one of the founders of what is called the Romantic school. In Schlegel's mind, the word romantic did not refer to the love between a man and a woman, as it generally does today. It referred instead to the spirit behind the fanciful literary works of the Middle Ages -- the heroic chansons de geste (like the Song of Roland) or the poetic creations of the troubadourstrouvères, and minnesingers. In the 18th century, a fanciful literary prose work was called a roman -- what we today call a novel. The novel or roman became the ideal literary form for Schlegel and his "romantic" friends, for it allowed a writer a great deal of freedom to express what was in his mind and heart. Such freedom was of immense importance to the Romantic artists for reasons that we shall now explore.

Novalis, in 1799
Despite the religious background of his family, Friedrich von Schlegel was not a very religious young man when he studied at the University of Leipzig. At Leipzig, however, he became friends with a rather religious fellow student -- Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg, better known by his pen name, "Novalis." The same age as Schlegel, Novalis had been raised in a Pietist family, from whom he had learned a deeply mystical religious faith. This faith led Novalis to turn against the rationalism of the Enlightenment in favor of a Christian faith that would transform all of human life. Rationalism, Novalis thought, was the fruit of the Protestant Reformation, which had destroyed the union of religion and culture that was found in the Middle Ages, when religion influenced all of life. Novalis praised the Catholic unity of medieval Europe and thought a new Christendom needed to be created in his own time.

Schlegel was not much influenced by his friend's religious ideas, but he and Novalis both had the same ideas about art. They both thought that works of art express the infinite ideas artists have in their minds but express only imperfectly in their art. Schlegel thought that, in his inner self, the artist knows infinite beauty. In writing a poem, painting a picture, or composing a song, the artist makes a beautiful thing that is like the infinite beauty he knows inside himself; but because the poem, picture, or song is finite, it is yet unlike that infinite beauty.

A bust of Voltaire, by Jean-Antonine
Houdon. An example of sculpture
in the classical style
This notion of art was very different from the classical ideas of the 18th century. For the classicist, the artist did not just imitate the natural world around him, but the way the ancient Greeks and Romans did their works of art. A statue of King Louis XV, for instance, had to look like King Louis XV; but it also had to be done in the style of the ancients. Art, too, had to be strictly rational; it could express emotion, but only if it observed strict rules that classicists thought were drawn from principles discovered by reason.

Schlegel did not reject the use of reason in making artworks. He did not think art should be a wild expression of the artist's feelings. Reason, he thought, is important because it disciplines how an artist works and creates art. Schlegel did not entirely reject classical ideas; he just thought the purpose of art was to express infinite beauty, not just copy the finite beauties of this world.

If Schlegel's Romanticism was simply a rejection of classical styles of art, it would not have been as important as it became. In the end, Romanticism was more than a theory about art; it was a rejection of the whole Enlightenment. Enlightenment rationalists had said human reason is the only judge of what is true, good, and beautiful. True knowledge, they said, came only by experience and experiment. They thought faith is worthless and labeled anything miraculous or supernatural as irrational. Rationalists had, for instance, rejected the divinity of Christ, his miracles, and his resurrection, and had turned the Christian Faith into nothing more than a system of moral laws. They thought religion is good only insofar as it makes individuals good neighbors and citizens.

Wanderer Above a Sea of Clouds, by
Caspar David Friedrich -- a painting that
epitomizes the spirit of Romanticism
What Romantics like Schlegel longed for was the very thing that rationalism had rejected -- mysticism. Mysticism refers to one's sense or knowledge that the world contains mysteries that cannot be grasped by the senses or by reason alone. Such mysteries can be seen only by a kind of inner eye; they cannot be demonstrated by scientific methods or by deduction. For the mystic, everything he sees or perceives points to something else greater and deeper than itself. For the mystic, everything is an image or symbol of God.

Properly understood, mysticism is not only agreeable to the Catholic Faith, but is a central part of it. By faith, the Christian is joined to God in a way that goes beyond our understanding; God comes to dwell within each and every believer. This union of the soul and God is not against reason, but it goes beyond the powers of reason to fully understand. For the Catholic, each believer lives at once in the world of reason and the senses and in an unseen world.

Romantics like Schlegel thus thought art should express the unseen world, not just what one sees and experiences in everyday life. "By giving the common a noble meaning," Schlegel wrote, "the ordinary a mysterious aspect, the known the dignity of the unknown, the finite the appearance of the infinite -- I romanticize." Schlegel shared his ideas of "romanticizing" with others -- his brother, August Wilhelm; his friend, the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher; the writers Wilhelm Wackenroder and Ludwig Tieck; and, not least of all, Novalis. To Novalis, Schlegel wrote, "Your spirit stood nearest to me in my efforts to lay hold upon the truths of the unseen world."

Friedrich von Schlegel was already a full-fledged Romantic when he arrived in Berlin in 1797. He was not, however, the Romantic he would become. Having rejected his Christian faith, Schlegel had come to think of himself as the infinite source of his own life and his only master. Good and evil, right and wrong, he thought, were the creations of his own infinite mind -- just as if they were works of art.

In Berlin, Schlegel became friends with Schleiermacher and met other prominent figures in what was becoming the Romantic movement. There, too, he met Dorothea, the wife of the banker Simon Veit. The daughter of the great Jewish Enlightenment thinker, Moses Mendelssohn, Dorothea Veit was interested in artistic and intellectual subjects while her banker husband decidedly was not. For this reason she was attracted to Schlegel, and he to her. They fell in love and, in 1798, Dorothea left Simon Veit and their four children and went to live with Schlegel.

The same year, Friedrich and his brother August Wilhelm founded a journal, the Athenaeum, to spread the ideas of Romanticism and to usher in a new era in poetry. The Athenaeum carried pieces by Novalis, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, and other prominent Romantics -- but it especially featured the writings of Friedrich von Schlegel himself. In 1799, Friedrich published the novel Lucinde, in which he described his ideas on love. Many people of the time objected to the immoral theme of the novel and the ideas Schlegel defended in it.

Yet, by the time he moved from Berlin to Jena in 1800, Schlegel's ideas were beginning to change. He was thinking less of his own greatness and more about God. This was in part because of Schleiermacher, who spoke of how man needed to open himself to God; but Novalis, too, must have influenced Schlegel. In Jena, these men, with August Wilhelm von Schlegel and other Romantic artists and thinkers, gathered and formed a kind of philosophical and artistic colony. "Those beautiful days at Jena were among the most glorious, most joyous of my whole life," Friedrich von Schlegel later wrote. There, "bright minds and their many plans and their views of life, poetry, and philosophy prepared for us a never-ending feast of wit and humor and philosophy."

Dorothea Veit
The "beautiful days at Jena," however, lasted but a short time -- as beautiful days always must. Novalis died in March 1801 (he was only 28), and the "Jena Circle" of artists and thinkers eventually broke up. Friedrich and Dorothea themselves left Jena in December 1801; and after spending some time in Berlin and Dresden, they moved to Paris in June 1802. There, Schlegel founded a new journal, Europa, and studied painting and sculpture. In Paris, too, Dorothea (who was Jewish) was baptized in a Protestant church, and she and Friedrich were married.

It was after the Schlegels' move to Köln (Cologne) on the Rhine River in 1804 that the greatest change in their life came. In Köln, Friedrich began to study Sanskrit and Hindu manuscripts, as well as German Gothic architecture. The study of the Gothic brought him into contact with the Middle Ages and their religion, the Catholic Faith. The "romantic" culture of medieval Christendom attracted both Friedrich and Dorothea to the Catholic Church, and they both became Catholic in April 1808.

Becoming Catholic was a life-changing event for Schlegel, though it did not change his basic Romantic ideas. Yet, instead of thinking that art expressed the artist's infinite self, Schlegel came to think it expressed the artist's inner grasp of the beauty of God. Art, Schlegel continued to think, was a symbol; but after becoming Catholic, he saw it as a symbol of the infinite Trinity.

Fr. Klemens Maria Hofbauer
In 1809 Schlegel went to Vienna, where he accepted a job under Metternich. In the Austrian capital, Schlegel published a newspaper bitterly attacking Napoleon Bonaparte and gave public lectures on a variety of topics. There, too, he joined the many intellectuals and artists who gathered around Father Klemens Maria Hofbauer.

From 1820 to 1823, Schlegel edited the journal Concordia, in which he championed the idea of a traditional Christian state. Though he did not think constitutions like that of the United States of America were in themselves bad, he thought they were too mechanical. Monarchy was far superior, he thought, because the king was a better symbol of God. Instead of republicanism, Schlegel thought European nations should look to the medieval Christian empire with its monarch as the ideal form of government. He praised the medieval empire's cooperation with the Church and its social order divided into families, schools, and guilds. Only such a government, ruled by a monarch, Schlegel thought, was the proper symbol for God's rule over the universe.

Even in politics, Friedrich von Schlegel was Romantic.

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich

Romanticism in Music

Composer Franz Schubert

Romantic artists and scholars sought to draw inspiration from the folk traditions of their peoples. Between 1805 and 1808, the German poet, Clemens Brentano, published three volumes of German folks songs, called Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("The Child's Wonder Horn"). These songs were set to music by such composers as Franz Schubert. The following features a performance by the late German baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, of  such Lieder ("songs") -- Die Winterreise -- by Schubert.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

This Day in History

January 8, 1918
Wilson Issues His "Fourteen Points" for Peace
The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this and our other books, please click here.
Addressing the U.S. Congress on January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson laid out his war aims and what he hoped for Europe following the end of the war. What "we demand in this war . . . is nothing peculiar to ourselves," said Wilson. "It is that the world be made fit and safer to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation, which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression."

President Woodrow Wilson
In this address, Wilson outlined for Congress his "Fourteen Points" for peace. These points were strangely similar to Pope Benedict XV's Seven Points that, only a few months before, Wilson had said were impractical. In fact, someone who read both Benedict's Seven Points and Wilson's Fourteen Points might have thought that the U.S. president had taken his ideas from the pope. Like Benedict, Wilson called for a decrease in armaments, while the pope's suggestion of an international institution to decide disputes between nations was very like Wilson's call for "a general association of nations" to assure "political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." In other instances, Wilson's points seemed merely to be more detailed versions of Benedict's points.

Emperor Karl
But in his Seven Points, Benedict did not call for breaking up existing states or forming new states based on national identity. Wilson did. In his tenth point, Wilson said, "The peoples of Austria-Hungary . . . should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development." In other words, Wilson was calling for the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into independent states, based on nationality. The U.S. president, who wanted to make "the world safe for democracy," had no place in his plans for a multinational empire like Austria-Hungary. Austria's Emperor Karl, who read Wilson's Fourteen Points, wondered about the president's intentions. Still hoping to make peace with the Entente, Karl sent a note to Wilson in February 1918, asking for talks between representatives of the two governments. Karl repeated the pledges he had made to the Allies a year before and said he was willing even to relinquish territory to Italy, though he insisted that all of Italy's territorial demands were not just. Karl asked Wilson to clarify what he meant by "self-determination for the peoples of Austria-Hungary," but the American president refused to respond to the Austrian emperor's note.

Count Georg von Hertling
Germany's chancellor, Count George von Hertling (who had replaced Michaelis in the fall), said that thought the kaiser could accept Wilson's call for a "general association of nations," he had difficulties with the president's other points. The problem, said Hertling, with the Allied peace plans was that they were based on the idea that the Central Powers had been vanquished. This was quite wrong, he said. "Our brilliant military leaders face the future with undiminished confidence in victory," Hertling wrote. "Unbroken joy of battle inspires the entire army -- officers and men... God is with us, and will continue to be with us," he said. 

Bartok and Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip

The following pieces -- an American popular song, "Good Morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip!" and Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 2 -- illustrate, perhaps, the wide difference between the European and American experience of the "Great War." Both pieces were completed in 1918.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

This Day in History

January 1, 1917: 
Rasputin Found Dead

The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other books, please click here.
OJanuary 1, 1917, the mangled corpse of the peasant, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, was found in the frozen waters of the Neva River, in Petrograd -- the Russian city that until September 1914 had been called St. Petersburg. News of the finding spread quickly through the capital and cheered the hearts of all who heard it. Many Russians believed Rasputin had been the cause of the empire's sufferings and defeats during the war.

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin in 1915
Rasputin already had the reputation of a holy man when he first came to St. Petersburg in 1903. Clad in monk's robes and with a Russian monk's long hair and beard, Rasputin was dirty, unkempt, and he stank. He was said, however, to be a healer. His dark, intense eyes seemed to hypnotize many on whom they fixed their gaze. He was first introduced to the family of Tsar Nikolai II and Tsarina Aleksandra in 1905. In 1908, Aleksandra summoned him to the royal palace when the Tsarevich Alexei had become desperately sick. The child suffered from hemophilia and was bleeding internally. With his seemingly mysterious powers, Rasputin calmed the boy. The bleeding stopped. As Rasputin left the palace, he warned the royal couple that in his hands lay their son's life and the very future of the Romanov dynasty.

The "healing" of the tsarevich convinced Aleksandra that Rasputin was indeed a holy man and miracle worker. He soon became a powerful influence on the royal family. But Rasputin was not a holy man; while appearing devout, he lived a most immoral life. Moreover, Rasputin's influence on the royal family won him many enemies. One of these enemies was Prime Minister Stolypin, who presented the tsar with a dossier of Rasputin's immoral activities. After reading the report, Tsar Nikolai sent Rasputin from the capital. But he was soon to return, with disastrous consequences.
Rasputin (center) with the imperial
 family. Tsarina Aleksandra is to 
his left; Tsarevich Alexei, to his right.

In 1912, Tsarevich Alexei suffered an injury and began bleeding internally. The doctors were powerless to help the boy, and his screams of pain filled the royal palace. The desperate Aleksandra wrote a letter to Rasputin, and soon received this reply: "God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The little one will not die." The day after Aleksandra received Rasputin's letter, Alexei's bleeding stopped. The tsar allowed Rasputin to return to St. Petersburg, and the period of his power over the royal family began.

In September 1915, Nikolai II left Petrograd to take command of the Russian army. Aleksandra was left to rule Russia in his place -- but it was Rasputin who became the real ruler. At his command, Aleksandra removed officials in the government and the Orthodox Church, replacing them with venal and incompetent men -- the friends of Rasputin. He even had a say over the conduct of the war, for Nikolai, fearing to displease his wife, followed Rasputin's advice. Rasputin's immoral life was no secret in Petrograd, and stories of his evil influence over the tsarina spread among the nobility and down to the common people. He was believed to be a secret German agent and at the bottom of the Russian people's sufferings and the defeats of their armies.

Though the Russian army was of an immense size (said to number 14 million men), it was badly equipped and poorly trained. By 1916, Russian soldiers, discouraged by their defeats, were discontented and mutinous. The Russian poor in the cities and countryside suffered from food shortages and high prices. The winter of 1916-1917 was extremely cold, but there was not enough coal for heating. The Russians were not only losing the war, but Russia itself seemed near to collapse. The nobility, the people, and the soldiers suspected treason, and they thought the arch traitor was the tsarina's confidant, Grigori Rasputin.

A cartoon, 1917, lampooning Rasputin's
 reputed control of the tsar and tsarina
At last, five conspirators, including Prince Felix Yusupov (married to the tsar's niece) and Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich, plotted to assassinate Rasputin. On the night of December 29, 1916, Rasputin was invited to Yusupov's palace on the Neva River. In the library, Yusupov served Rasputin cakes and wine laced with potassium cyanide, a deadly poison. Rasputin devoured the cakes and drank the wine, but the poison had no effect on him. Yusupov and his co-conspirators were surprised and frightened. "We were seized with an insane dread that this man was inviolable, that he was superhuman, that he couldn't be killed," wrote one of them later. "He glared at us with his black, black eyes as though he read our minds and would fool us."

Prince Felix Yusupov
Yusupov left the room and returned with a pistol. He fired one shot and then another into Rasputin's side. Rasputin fell, writhing in agony, but soon lay still. Thinking him near death, the men left the room; but when they returned, Rasputin was on his hands and knees. He sprang at them and then ran through the door and into the garden. As Rasputin stumbled into the darkness, Purishkevich fired several more shots. Rasputin fell, groaning. Frantic with fear, Yusupov kicked the head of the prostrate man and beat it with a rubber club. When it seemed that Rasputin was at last dead, the men wrapped his body in a sheet and carried it to the river's edge. Breaking the ice, they threw the body into the bitter-cold water. But when the body was found two days later, its lungs were filled with water. Rasputin had not been dead when he was thrown into the river. He had died by drowning.

Rasputin was gone, but the evil he had wrought remained. The Russian people could not forget his association with the royal family. Their father, the tsar, had allowed a dissolute fraud to prey on his people, and they would not forget or forgive. Whatever love or loyalty the Russian people had felt for Nikolai had been washed from their hearts as if by the freezing waters of the Neva, the river that had killed Rasputin.

A Russian Plays Russian

The following is the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19, by the Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev, performed by the great Russian violinist, David Oistrakh. Prokofiev composed the concerto in 1916/1917.