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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

26. The Role of Germany in European Culture

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1August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845),i a German intellectual of the Romantic period who knew many other European thinkers like Germaine de Staël, looks at the role of German literature in European culture, in his critical treatise Abrisse von den europäischen Verhältnissen der deutschen Literatur (Outline of the European Conditions of German Literature) (c.1828).

2Germany, despite being not only geographically but also intellectually at the heart of Europe, remains a terra incognita even for its immediate neighbours. And yet, this form of existence has its advantages: after all, princes travel incognito, finding it appealing to get to know people whilst remaining unrecognised by them? We are, I think I can say, the cosmopolitans of European culture: we rarely ask in what country some new truth has first come to light; no partisan considerations or narrowness of outlook prevents us from immediately acknowledging and using any discovery in the world of learning, wherever it was made. The exaggerated adulation of other nations has not made us vain, as has happened to the detriment of our neighbours to the west; this is the least of our grievances. On the other hand, we are equally unconcerned by their criticism: for we know in advance, that for the most part it arises out of unfamiliarity, or out of deep-seated prejudices and biased mental habits. […]

3Modern Europe has come of age. We have taken possession of the rich intellectual patrimony left to us by Greece and Rome; we have been shaped by the Reformation and the long centuries of controversies it gave rise to, including some that at first sight appear to be unrelated to religious and ecclesiastical questions; shaped further by the extraordinary and historically unprecedented flowering of natural history and natural science; and finally by the discoveries made of continents and oceans, begun by Vasco da Gama and Columbus, and now nearly complete, which have led to familiarity and indeed active commerce with the entirety of the human inhabitants of our planet.

4August Wilhelm Schlegel,
Outline of the European Conditions of German Literature (c.1828).

Louis-Léopold Boilly, The Coach’s Arrival in the Cour des Messageries (1803).2

Table des illustrations

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Légende Louis-Léopold Boilly, The Coach’s Arrival in the Cour des Messageries (1803).2
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