|Colbert Presenting the Members of the French Academy to the King in 1667|
A term that crops up frequently in my research in this connection is "cosmopolitanism." A couple of days ago I was taken aback when I came across a book from 1899 entitled Rousseau and the Cosmopolitan Spirit in Literature. This concept is not one I associate with Rousseau, and in fact I wrote a post on this subject earlier this year. Rousseau, as I wrote, loathed the very idea of cosmopolitanism, asserting that Germans, French, English, and so on all had the same taste and manners: they had become "Europeans."
The book, as I discovered, uses "cosmopolitan" in a different sense. It is by Joseph Texte, who was a professor of comparative literature at Lyon. For Texte, the "cosmopolitan spirit in literature" was the result of the embrace of the English canons of art by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. La nouvelle Heloise abandoned the normative classical ideals of the French Academy and introduced the more "barbarian" (in the view of the French) values of English literature, especially as seen in the homely, realist conventions of Samuel Richardson's novels. This opened the floodgates to the reception of the "Nordic" spirit: The new content entering French literature by the 19th century was that of imagination and sensibility," definitely not a French product; they were of a northern cast and infused, as Madame de Staël expressed it, with "foreign vigour." The French developed an appetite for the foreign as a consequence of exposure to "northern" writers.
|Madame de Staël by François Gerard (ca. 1810)|
"'For the past eight or ten centuries there has been, in a sense, a traffic or interchange of ideas from one end of Europe to the other, so that Germany has been nourishing itself upon French thought, England upon German thought, Spain upon Italian thought, and each of these nations successively upon the thought of all the rest."
Since my current work concerns the origins of Fritz Strich's views on Goethe and world literature, this book by Texte would seem to be part of these origins. Texte in his introduction thanks as his mentor Ferdinand Brunetière, whom I have already alluded to in an earlier presentation on this subject: In a long article in 1900, Brunetière sketched the development of what he called "European literature," in particular the way in which the individual nations had developed a European literature on the soil of medieval Christianity and in particular antiquity, which he called "the master of Europe's mind and spirit." The great literatures of Europe developed successively (there are five: first, the Italians, followed by the Spanish, then the French, the English, and finally the Germans), with one after another manifesting "what were its most national and particular aspects," and each literature contributing to "the movement of European thought."