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PAGE 4

Schiller
by [?]

“Quid poetea est a faire?
Saignare
Baignare
Ensuita purgare,” etc.

Now is it reasonable to ascribe some share in the restoration of good to Klopstock, both because his own writings exhibit nothing of this most abject euphuism, (a euphuism expressing itself not in fantastic refinements on the staple of the language, but altogether in rejecting it for foreign words and idioms,) and because he wrote expressly on the subject of style and composition?

Wieland, meantime, if not enjoying so intense an acceptation as Klopstock, had a more extensive one; and it is in vain to deny him the praise of a festive, brilliant, and most versatile wit. The Schlegels showed the haughty malignity of their ungenerous natures, in depreciating Wieland, at a time when old age had laid a freezing hand upon the energy which he would once have put forth in defending himself. He was the Voltaire of Germany, and very much more than the Voltaire; for his romantic and legendary poems are above the level of Voltaire. But, on the other hand, he was a Voltaire in sensual impurity. To work, to carry on a plot, to affect his readers by voluptuous impressions,–these were the unworthy aims of Wieland; and though a good-natured critic would not refuse to make some allowance for a youthful poet’s aberrations in this respect, yet the indulgence cannot extend itself to mature years. An old man corrupting his readers, attempting to corrupt them, or relying for his effect upon corruptions already effected, in the purity of their affections, is a hideous object; and that must be a precarious influence indeed which depends for its durability upon the licentiousness of men. Wieland, therefore, except in parts, will not last as a national idol; but such he was nevertheless for a time.

Burger wrote too little of any expansive compass to give the measure of his powers, or to found national impression; Lichtenberg, though a very sagacious observer, never rose into what can be called a power, he did not modify his age; yet these were both men of extraordinary talent, and Burger a man of undoubted genius. On the other hand, Lessing was merely a man of talent, but of talent in the highest degree adapted to popularity. His very defects, and the shallowness of his philosophy, promoted his popularity; and by comparison with the French critics on the dramatic or scenical proprieties he is ever profound. His plummet, if not suited to the soundless depths of Shakspeare, was able ten times over to fathom the little rivulets of Parisian philosophy. This he did effectually, and thus unconsciously levelled the paths for Shakspeare, and for that supreme dominion which he has since held over the German stage, by crushing with his sarcastic shrewdness the pretensions of all who stood in the way. At that time, and even yet, the functions of a literary man were very important in Germany; the popular mind and the popular instinct pointed one way, those of the little courts another. Multitudes of little German states (many of which were absorbed since 1816 by the process of mediatizing) made it their ambition to play at keeping mimic armies in their pay, and to ape the greater military sovereigns, by encouraging French literature only, and the French language at their courts. It was this latter propensity which had generated the anomalous macaronic dialect, of which we have already spoken as a characteristic circumstance in the social features of literary Germany during the first half of the eighteenth century. Nowhere else, within the records of human follies, do we find a corresponding case, in which the government and the patrician orders in the state, taking for granted, and absolutely postulating the utter worthlessness for intellectual aims of those in and by whom they maintained their own grandeur and independence, undisguisedly and even professedly sought to ally themselves with a foreign literature, foreign literati, and a foreign language. In this unexampled display of scorn for native resources, and the consequent collision between the two principles of action, all depended upon the people themselves. For a time the wicked and most profligate contempt of the local governments for that native merit which it was their duty to evoke and to cherish, naturally enough produced its own justification. Like Jews or slaves, whom all the world have agreed to hold contemptible, the German literati found it hard to make head against so obstinate a prejudgment; and too often they became all that they were presumed to be. Sint Maecenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones. And the converse too often holds good–that when all who should have smiled scowl upon a man, he turns out the abject thing they have predicted. Where Frenchified Fredericks sit upon German thrones, it should not surprise us to see a crop of Gottscheds arise as the best fruitage of the land. But when there is any latent nobility in the popular mind, such scorn, by its very extremity, will call forth its own counteraction. It was perhaps good for Germany that a prince so eminent in one aspect as Fritz der einziger,[Footnote: ” Freddy the unique;” which is the name by which the Prussians expressed their admiration of the martial and indomitable, though somewhat fantastic, king.] should put on record so emphatically his intense conviction, that no good thing could arise out of Germany. This creed was expressed by the quality of the French minds which he attracted to his court. The very refuse and dregs of the Parisian coteries satisfied his hunger for French garbage; the very offal of their shambles met the demand of his palate; even a Maupertuis, so long as he could produce a French baptismal certificate, was good enough to manufacture into the president of a Berlin academy. Such scorn challenged a reaction: the contest lay between the thrones of Germany and the popular intellect, and the final result was inevitable. Once aware that they were insulted, once enlightened to the full consciousness of the scorn which trampled on them as intellectual and predestined Helots, even the mild-tempered Germans became fierce, and now began to aspire, not merely under the ordinary instincts of personal ambition, but with a vindictive feeling, and as conscious agents of retribution. It became a pleasure with the German author, that the very same works which elevated himself, wreaked his nation upon their princes, and poured retorted scorn upon their most ungenerous and unparental sovereigns. Already, in the reign of the martial Frederick, the men who put most weight of authority into his contempt of Germans, –Euler, the matchless Euler, Lambert, and Immanuel Kant,–had vindicated the preeminence of German mathematics. Already, in 1755, had the same Immanuel Kant, whilst yet a probationer for the chair of logic in a Prussian university, sketched the outline of that philosophy which has secured the admiration, though not the assent of all men known and proved to have understood it, of all men able to state its doctrines in terms admissible by its disciples. Already, and even previously, had Haller, who wrote in German, placed himself at the head of the current physiology. And in the fields of science or of philosophy, the victory was already decided for the German intellect in competition with the French.