During the first half of the nineteenth century, two cultural styles prevailed in Central Europe: Classicism and Romanticism. The former emphasized finished craftsmanship, elegance, and proportion in art; its adherents were cosmopolitan and looked to classical antiquity, particularly ancient Greece, for their cultural models. The latter emphasized passion, longing, the unfinished, and the incomplete; its supporters tended to be nationalists, and they found their cultural models, above all, in the Gothic art of the Middle Ages.
The leading advocate and representative of the Classical style in early nineteenth-century Germany was the poet, playwright, and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). During the final years of his life, Goethe engaged in a series of thoughtful discussions with Johann Peter Eckermann, a young protégé. Eckermann recorded their conversations and published them after Goethe's death. The first document in this section is taken from Conversations with Eckermann; in it, Goethe reasserts the validity of his own aesthetic ideas and denounces the competing ideas of the Romantics.
Above all, it was the author and literary critic Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) who most clearly articulated the ideals of Romanticism. Included next are excerpts from three of his works. First come passages from Athenaeum Fragments (1798). It was here that Schlegel introduced the term Romantic poetry, which he described as being characterized by incompleteness and a longing for the infinite. Then come excerpts from Fundamentals of Gothic Architecture and Appeal to Painters of the Present Day (both from 1803-04). In these texts, Schlegel points to two key sources of the Romantic longing for the undefined and the infinite: Gothic art and wild, unspoiled nature.
It is important to note that Romanticism and Classicism were broad cultural styles whose impact on people's lives extended well beyond the narrowly artistic. The next document consists of two parts: first comes a letter of consolation that Austrian Chancellor Clemens Prince von Metternich sent to Prussian King Frederick William IV upon the death of the latter’s father, King Frederick William III. Metternich’s letter is followed by Frederick William IV's reply. Whereas Metternich was an avid adherent of the Classical style, Frederick William IV was an ardent lover of Romanticism: the contrast between their two styles is informative.