barzun at one hundred


From the Spring 1940 issue of The Scholar

So far, then, the archetypal romantic would be a pragmatist and pluralist, and so he actually was in earthly things. Spiritually, the human desire for a transcendent resolution found satisfaction in a many-sided religious revival. It was Catholic, Protestant, pantheistic, mystical and materialistic by turns, and passionate through and through. Like Lucretius, the materialists loved their universe of matter, and compared with them the classical Deists were palely Stoical. The pantheists, idealists and transcendentalists, far from deadening nature into uniformity, throve on inconsistencies for the sake of which they were prepared to find hidden compensations. The Neo-Catholics fed their artistic impulse as they worshipped, and merged the romantic sense of misery with the Christian doctrine of original sin. And all of them, including the new disciples of Oriental philosophies, recognized as basic the romantic (as well as Christian and democratic) notion of the equal worth of every living soul. Romanticism was full of disbelievers in every kind of creed, but it numbered hardly a single unbeliever. Fervor in search for God the Infinite was the complement of despair; and given man’s greatness as a thinking reed willing to wager his soul, man could find the light shining through the works of nature and her poets, through the geometry of Spinoza or through the counterpoint of Bach.

more from The American Scholar here.