In this same way had the wardrobe which I took with me to the university been furnished: it was very complete and handsome, and there was even a laced suit amongst the rest. Already accustomed to this kind of attire, I thought myself sufficiently well dressed; but it was not long before my female friends, first by gentle raillery, then by sensible remonstrances, convinced me that I looked as if I had dropped down out of another world. Much as I felt vexed at this, I did not see at first how I was to mend matters. But when Herr von Masuren, the favorite poetical country squire, once entered the theatre in a similar costume, and was heartily laughed at, more by reason of his external than his internal absurdity, I took courage, and ventured at once to exchange my whole wardrobe for a new-fashioned one, suited to the place, by which, however, it shrunk considerably.
When this trial was surmounted, a new one was to come up, which proved to be far more unpleasant, because it concerned a matter which one does not so easily put off and exchange.
I had been born and bred in the Upper-German dialect; and although my father always labored to preserve a certain purity of language, and, from our youth upwards, had made us children attentive to what may be really called the defects of that idiom, and so prepared us for a better manner of speaking, I retained nevertheless many deeper-seated peculiarities, which, because they pleased me by their /naivete/, I was fond of making conspicuous, and thus every time I used them incurred a severe reproof from my new fellow-townsmen. The Upper-German, and perhaps chiefly he who lives by the Rhine and Main (for great rivers, like the seacoast, always have something animating about them), expresses himself much in similes and allusions, and makes use of proverbial sayings with a native common-sense aptness. In both cases he is often blunt: but, when one sees the drift of the expression, it is always appropriate; only something, to be sure, may often slip in, which proves offensive to a more delicate ear.
Every province loves its own dialect; for it is, properly speaking, the element in which the soul draws its breath. But every one knows with what obstinacy the Misnian dialect has contrived to domineer over the rest, and even, for a long time, to exclude them. We have suffered for many years under this pedantic tyranny, and only by reiterated struggles have all the provinces again established themselves in their ancient rights. What a lively young man had to endure from this continual tutoring, may be easily inferred by any one who reflects that modes of thought, imagination, feeling, native character, must be sacrificed with the pronunciation which one at last consents to alter. And this intolerable demand was made by men and women of education, whose convictions I could not adopt, whose injustice I thought I felt, though I was unable to make it plain to myself. Allusions to the pithy biblical texts were to be forbidden me, as well as the use of the honest-hearted expressions from the Chronicles. I had to forget that I had read the "Kaiser von Geisersberg," and eschew the use of proverbs, which nevertheless, instead of much fiddle-faddle, just hit the nail upon the head,—all this, which I had appropriated to myself with youthful ardor, I was now to do without: I felt paralyzed to the core, and scarcely knew any more how I had to express myself on the commonest things. I was, moreover, told that one should speak as one writes, and write as one speaks; while to me, speaking and writing seemed once for all two different things, each of which might well maintain its own rights. And even in the Misnian dialect had I to hear many things which would have made no great figure on paper.
Every one who perceives in this the influence which men and women of education, the learned, and other persons who take pleasure in refined society, so decidedly exercise over a young student, would be immediately convinced that we were in Leipzig, even if it had not been mentioned. Each one of the German universities has a particular character; for, as no universal cultivation can pervade our fatherland, every place adheres to its own fashion, and carries out, even to the last, its own characteristic peculiarities: exactly the same thing holds good of the universities. In Jena and Halle roughness had been carried to the highest pitch: bodily strength, skill in fighting, the wildest self-help, was there the order of the day; and such a state of affairs can only be maintained and propagated by the most universal riot. The relations of the students to the inhabitants of those cities, various as they might be, nevertheless agreed in this, that the wild stranger had no regard for the citizen, and looked upon himself as a peculiar being, privileged to all sorts of freedom and insolence. In Leipzig, on the contrary, a student could scarcely be any thing else than polite, as soon as he wished to stand on any footing at all with the rich, well- bred, and punctilious inhabitants.
All politeness, indeed, when it does not present itself as the flowering of a great and comprehensive mode of life, must appear restrained, stationary, and, from some points of view, perhaps, absurd; and so those wild huntsmen from the Saale [Footnote: The river on which Halle is built.—TRANS.] thought they had a great superiority over the tame shepherds on the Pleisse. [Footnote: The river near Leipzig.—TRANS.] Zachariae's "Renommist" will always be a valuable document, from which the manner of life and thought at that time rises visibly forth; as in general his poems must be welcome to every one who wishes to form for himself a conception of the then prevailing state of social life and manners, which was indeed feeble, but amiable on account of its innocence and child-like simplicity.
All manners which result from the given relations of a common existence are indestructible; and, in my time, many things still reminded us of Zachariae's epic poem. Only one of our fellow-academicians thought himself rich and independent enough to snap his fingers at public opinion. He drank acquaintance with all the hackney-coachmen, whom he allowed to sit inside the coach as if they were gentlemen, while he drove them on the box; thought it a great joke to upset them now and then, and contrived to satisfy them for their smashed vehicles as well as for their occasional bruises; but otherwise he did no harm to any one, seeming only to make a mock of the public /en masse/. Once, on a most beautiful promenade-day, he and a comrade of his seized upon the donkeys of the miller in St. Thomas's square: well-dressed, and in their shoes and stockings, they rode around the city with the greatest solemnity, stared at by all the promenaders, with whom the glacis was swarming. When some sensible persons remonstrated with him on the subject, he assured them, quite unembarrassed, that he only wanted to see how the Lord Christ might have looked in a like case. Yet he found no imitators and few companions.
For the student of any wealth and standing had every reason to show himself attentive to the mercantile class, and to be the more solicitous about the proper external forms, as the colony [Footnote: Leipzig was so called, because a large and influential portion of its citizens were sprung from a colony of Huguenots, who settled there after the revocation of the edict of Nantes.—/American Note/.] exhibited a model of French manners. The professors, opulent both from their private property and from their liberal salaries, were not dependent upon their scholars; and many subjects of the state, educated at the government schools or other gymnasia, and hoping for preferment, did not venture to throw off the traditional customs. The neighborhood of Dresden, the attention thence paid to us, and the true piety of the superintendent of the course of study, could not be without a moral, nay, a religious, influence.
At first this kind of life was not repugnant to me: my letters of introduction had given me the /entree/ into good families, whose circle of relatives also received me well. But as I was soon forced to feel that the company had much to find fault with in me, and that, after dressing myself in their fashion, I must now talk according to their tongue also; and as, moreover, I could plainly see that I was, on the other hand, but little benefited by the instruction and mental improvement I had promised myself from my academical residence,—I began to be lazy, and to neglect the social duties of visiting, and other attentions; and indeed I should have sooner withdrawn from all such connections, had not fear and esteem attached me firmly to Hofrath Boehme, and confidence and affection to his wife. The husband, unfortunately, had not the happy gift of dealing with young people, of winning their confidence, and of guiding them, for the moment, as occasion might require. When I visited him I never got any good by it: his wife, on the contrary, showed a genuine interest in me. Her ill health kept her constantly at home. She often invited me to spend the evening with her, and knew how to direct and improve me in many little external particulars: for my manners were good, indeed; but I was not yet master of what is properly termed /etiquette/. Only one friend spent the evenings with her; but she was much more dictatorial and pedantic, for which reason she displeased me excessively: and, out of spite to her, I often resumed those unmannerly habits from which the other had already weaned me. Nevertheless she always had patience enough with me, taught me piquet, ombre, and similar games, the knowledge and practice of which is held indispensable in society.
But it was in the matter of taste that Madame Boehme had the greatest influence upon me,—in a negative way truly, yet one in which she agreed perfectly with the critics. The Gottsched waters [Footnote: That is to say, the influence of Gottsched on German literature, of which more is said in the next book.—TRANS.] had inundated the German world with a true deluge, which threatened to rise up, even over the highest mountains. It takes a long time for such a flood to subside again, for the mire to dry away; and as in any epoch there are numberless aping poets, so the imitation of the flat and watery produced a chaos, of which now scarcely a notion remains. To find out that trash was trash was hence the greatest sport, yea, the triumph, of the critics of those days. Whoever had only a little common sense, was superficially acquainted with the ancients, and was somewhat more familiar with the moderns, thought himself provided with a standard scale which he could everywhere apply. Madame Boehme was an educated woman, who opposed the trivial, weak, and commonplace: she was, besides, the wife of a man who lived on bad terms with poetry in general, and would not even allow that of which she perhaps might have somewhat approved. She listened, indeed, for some time with patience, when I ventured to recite to her the verse or prose of famous poets who already stood in good repute,—for then, as always, I knew by heart every thing that chanced in any degree to please me; but her complaisance was not of long duration. The first whom she outrageously abused were the poets of the Weisse school, who were just then often quoted with great applause, and had delighted me very particularly. If I looked more closely into the matter, I could not say she was wrong. I had sometimes even ventured to recite to her, though anonymously, some of my own poems; but these fared no better than the rest of the set. And thus, in a short time, the beautiful variegated meadows at the foot of the German Parnassus, where I was fond of luxuriating, were mercilessly mowed down; and I was even compelled to toss about the drying hay myself, and to ridicule that as lifeless which, a short time before, had given me such lively joy.
Without knowing it, Professor Morus came to strengthen her instructions. He was an uncommonly gentle and friendly man, with whom I became acquainted at the table of Hofrath Ludwig, and who received me very pleasantly when I begged the privilege of visiting him. Now, while making inquiries of him concerning antiquity, I did not conceal from him what delighted me among the moderns; when he spoke about such things with more calmness, but, what was still worse, with more profundity than Madame Boehme; and he thus opened my eyes, at first to my greatest chagrin, but afterwards to my surprise, and at last to my edification.
Besides this, there came the Jeremiads, with which Gellert, in his course, was wont to warn us against poetry. He wished only for prose essays, and always criticised these first. Verses he treated as a sorry addition: and, what was the worst of all, even my prose found little favor in his eyes; for, after my old fashion, I used always to lay, as the foundation, a little romance, which I loved to work out in the epistolary form. The subjects were impassioned, the style went beyond ordinary prose, and the contents probably did not display any very deep knowledge of mankind in the author; and so I stood in very little favor with our professor, although he carefully looked over my labors as well as those of the others, corrected them with red ink, and here and there added a moral remark. Many leaves of this kind, which I kept for a long time with satisfaction, have unfortunately, in the course of years, at last disappeared from among my papers.
If elderly persons wish to play the pedagogue properly, they should neither prohibit nor render disagreeable to a young man any thing which gives him pleasure, of whatever kind it may be, unless, at the same time, they have something else to put in its place, or can contrive a substitute. Everybody protested against my tastes and inclinations; and, on the other hand, what they commended to me lay either so far from me that I could not perceive its excellencies, or stood so near me that I thought it not a whit better than what they inveighed against. I thus became thoroughly perplexed on the subject, and promised myself the best results from a lecture of Ernesti's on "Cicero de Oratore." I learned something, indeed, from this lecture, but was not enlightened on the subject which particularly concerned me. What I demanded was a standard of opinion, and thought I perceived that nobody possessed it; for no one agreed with another, even when they brought forward examples: and where were we to get a settled judgment, when they managed to reckon up against a man like Wieland so many faults in his amiable writings, which so completely captivated us younger folks?
Amid this manifold distraction, this dismemberment of my existence and my studies, it happened that I took my dinners at Hofrath Ludwig's. He was a medical man, a botanist; and his company, with the exception of Morus, consisted of physicians just commencing or near the completion of their studies. Now, during these hours, I heard no other conversation than about medicine or natural history, and my imagination was drawn over into quite a new field. I heard the names of Haller, Linnaeus, Buffon, mentioned with great respect; and, even if disputes often arose about mistakes into which it was said they had fallen, all agreed in the end to honor the acknowledged abundance of their merits. The subjects were entertaining and important, and enchained my attention. By degrees I became familiar with many names and a copious terminology, which I grasped more willingly as I was afraid to write down a rhyme, however spontaneously it presented itself, or to read a poem, for I was fearful that it might please me at the time, and that perhaps immediately afterwards, like so much else, I should be forced to pronounce it bad.
This uncertainty of taste and judgment disquieted me more and more every day, so that at last I fell into despair. I had brought with me those of my youthful labors which I thought the best, partly because I hoped to get some credit by them, partly that I might be able to test my progress with greater certainty; but I found myself in the miserable situation in which one is placed when a complete change of mind is required,—a renunciation of all that one has hitherto loved and found good. However, after some time and many struggles, I conceived so great a contempt for my labors, begun and ended, that one day I burnt up poetry and prose, plans, sketches, and projects, all together on the kitchen hearth, and threw our good old landlady into no small fright and anxiety by the smoke which filled the whole house.
About the condition of German literature of those times so much has been written, and so exhaustively, that every one who takes any interest in it can be completely informed; in regard to it critics agree now pretty well; and what at present I intend to say piecemeal and disconnectedly concerning it, relates not so much to the way in which it was constituted in itself, as to its relation to me. I will therefore first speak of those things by which the public is particularly excited; of those two hereditary foes of all comfortable life, and of all cheerful, self-sufficient, living poetry,—I mean, satire and criticism.
In quiet times every one wants to live after his own fashion: the citizen will carry on his trade or his business, and enjoy the fruits of it afterwards; thus will the author, too, willingly compose something, publish his labors, and, since he thinks he has done something good and useful, hope for praise, if not reward. In this tranquillity the citizen is disturbed by the satirist, the author by the critic; and peaceful society is thus put into a disagreeable agitation.
The literary epoch in which I was born was developed out of the preceding one by opposition. Germany, so long inundated by foreigners, interpenetrated by other nations, directed to foreign languages in learned and diplomatic transactions, could not possibly cultivate her own. Together with so many new ideas, innumerable foreign words were obtruded necessarily and unnecessarily upon her; and, even for objects already known, people were induced to make use of foreign expressions and turns of speech. The German, having run wild for nearly two hundred years in an unhappy tumultuary state, went to school with the French to learn manners, and with the Romans in order to express his thoughts with propriety. But this was to be done in the mother-tongue, when the literal application of those idioms, and their half-Germanization, made both the social and business style ridiculous. Besides this, they adopted without moderation the similes of the southern languages, and employed them most extravagantly. In the same way they transferred the stately deportment of the prince-like citizens of Rome to the learned German small-town officers, and were at home nowhere, least of all with themselves.
But as in this epoch works of genius had already appeared, the German sense of freedom and joy also began to stir itself. This, accompanied by a genuine earnestness, insisted that men should write purely and naturally, without the intermixture of foreign words, and as common intelligible sense dictated. By these praiseworthy endeavors, however, the doors and gates were thrown open to an extended national insipidity, nay,—the dike was dug through by which the great deluge was shortly to rush in. Meanwhile, a stiff pedantry long stood its ground in all the four faculties, until at last, much later, it fled for refuge from one of them to another.
Men of parts, children of nature looking freely about them, had therefore two objects on which they could exercise themselves, against which they could labor, and, as the matter was of no great importance, give a vent to their petulance: these were,—a language disfigured by foreign words, forms, and turns of speech on the one hand, and the worthlessness of such writings as had been careful to keep themselves free from those faults on the other; though it occurred to nobody, that, while they were battling against one evil, the other was called on for assistance.
Liskow, a daring young man, first ventured to attack by name a shallow, silly writer, whose awkward demeanor soon gave him an opportunity to proceed still more severely. He then went farther, and constantly aimed his scorn at particular persons and objects, whom he despised and sought to render despicable,—nay, even persecuted them with passionate hatred. But his career was short; for he soon died, and was gradually forgotten as a restless, irregular youth. The talent and character shown in what he did, although he had accomplished little, may have seemed valuable to his countrymen; for the Germans have always shown a peculiar pious kindliness to talents of good promise, when prematurely cut off. Suffice it to say, that Liskow was very soon praised and recommended to us as an excellent satirist, who could have attained a rank even above the universally beloved Rabener. Here, indeed, we saw ourselves no better off than before; for we could discover nothing in his writings, except that he had found the silly, silly, which seemed to us quite a matter of course.
Rabener, well educated, grown up under good scholastic instruction, of a cheerful, and by no means passionate or malicious, disposition, took up general satire. His censure of the so-called vices and follies springs from the clear views of a quiet common sense, and from a fixed moral conception of what the world ought to be. His denunciation of faults and failings is harmless and cheerful; and, in order to excuse even the slight boldness of his writings, it is supposed that the improving of fools by ridicule is no fruitless undertaking.
Rabener's personal character will not easily appear again. As an able, punctual man of business, he does his duty, and thus gains the good opinion of his fellow-townsmen and the confidence of his superiors; along with which, he gives himself up to the enjoyment of a pleasant contempt for all that immediately surrounds him. Pedantic /literati/, vain youngsters, every sort of narrowness and conceit, he banters rather than satirizes; and even his banter expresses no contempt. Just in the same way does he jest about his own condition, his misfortune, his life, and his death.
There is little of the aesthetic in the manner in which this writer treats his subjects. In external forms he is indeed varied enough, but throughout he makes too much use of direct irony; namely, in praising the blameworthy and blaming the praiseworthy, whereas this figure of speech should be used but extremely seldom; for, in the long run, it becomes annoying to clear-sighted men, perplexes the weak, while indeed it pleases the great middle class, who, without any special expense of mind, can fancy themselves more knowing than others. But whatever he brings before us, and however he does it, alike bears witness to his rectitude, cheerfulness, and equanimity; so that we always feel prepossessed in his favor. The unbounded applause of his own times was a consequence of such moral excellencies.
That people looked for originals to his general descriptions and found them, was natural; that individuals complained of him, followed from the above; his lengthy apologies that his satire is not personal, prove the spite it provoked. Some of his letters crown him at once as a man and an author. The confidential epistle in which he describes the siege of Dresden, and how he loses his house, his effects, his writings, and his wigs, without having his equanimity in the least shaken or his cheerfulness clouded, is highly valuable; although his contemporaries and fellow-citizens could not forgive him his happy turn of mind. The letter where he speaks of the decay of his strength and of his approaching death is in the highest degree worthy of respect; and Rabener deserves to be honored as a saint by all cheerful, intelligent men, who cheerfully resign themselves to earthly events.
I tear myself away from him reluctantly, yet I would make this remark: his satire refers throughout to the middle class; he lets us see here and there that he is also well acquainted with the higher ranks, but does not hold it advisable to come in contact with them. It may be said, that he has had no successor, that no one has been found who could consider himself equal or even similar to him.
Now for criticism! and first of all for the theoretic attempts. It is not going too far when we say that the ideal had, at that time, escaped out of the world into religion; it scarcely even made its appearance in moral philosophy; of a highest principle of art no one had a notion. They put Gottsched's "Critical Art of Poetry" into our hands; it was useful and instructive enough, for it gave us a historical information of all the kinds of poetry, as well as of rhythm and its different movements: the poetic genius was presupposed! But, besides that, the poet was to have acquirements and even learning: he should possess taste, and every thing else of that kind. They directed us at last to Horace's "Art of Poetry:" we gazed at single golden maxims of this invaluable work, but did not know in the least what to do with it as a whole, or how we should use it.
The Swiss stepped forth as Gottsched's antagonists: they must take it into their heads to do something different, to accomplish something better; accordingly we heard that they were, in fact, superior. Breitinger's "Critical Art of Poetry" was taken in hand. Here we reached a wider field, but, properly speaking, only a greater labyrinth, which was so much the more tiresome, as an able man, in whom we had confidence, was driving us about in it. Let a brief review justify these words.
For poetry in itself they had been able to find no fundamental axiom: it was too spiritual and too volatile. Painting, an art which one could hold fast with one's eyes, and follow step by step with the external senses, seemed more favorable for such an end: the English and French had already theorized about plastic art; and, by a comparison drawn from this, it was thought that poetry might be grounded. The former presented images to the eye, the latter to the imagination: poetical images, therefore, were the first thing which was taken into consideration. People began with comparisons, descriptions followed, and only that was expressed which had always been apparent to the external senses.
Images, then! But where should these images be got except from nature? The painter professedly imitated nature: why not the poet also? But nature, as she lies before us, cannot be imitated: she contains so much that is insignificant and worthless, that one must make a selection; but what determines the choice? one must select that which is important: but what is important?
To answer this question, the Swiss may have taken a long time to consider; for they came to a notion, which is indeed singular, but clever, and even comical, inasmuch as they say, the new is always the most important: and after they have considered this for a while, they discover that the marvellous is always newer than every thing else.
They had now pretty well collected their poetical requisitions; but they had still to consider that the marvellous might also be empty, and without relation to man. But this relation, demanded as necessary, must be a moral one, from which the improvement of mankind should manifestly follow; and thus a poem had reached its utmost aim when, with every thing else accomplished, it was useful besides. They now wished to test the different kinds of poetry according to all these requisites: those which imitated nature, besides being marvellous, and at the same time of a moral aim and use, were to rank as the first and highest. And, after much deliberation, this great pre-eminence was at last ascribed, with the highest degree of conviction, to Aesop's fables!
Strange as such a deduction may now appear, it had the most decided influence on the best minds. That Gellert and subsequently Lichtwer devoted themselves to this department, that even Lessing attempted to labor in it, that so many others turned their talents towards it, speaks for the confidence which this species of poetry had gained. Theory and practice always act upon each other: one can see from their works what is the men's opinion, and, from their opinions, predict what they will do.
Yet we must not dismiss our Swiss theory without doing it justice. Bodmer, with all the pains he took, remained theoretically and practically a child all his life. Breitinger was an able, learned, sagacious man, whom, when he looked rightly about him, the essentials of a poem did not all escape,—nay, it can be shown that he may have dimly felt the deficiencies of his system. Remarkable, for instance, is his query, "Whether a certain descriptive poem by Koenig, on the 'Review-camp of Augustus the Second,' is properly a poem?" and the answer to it displays good sense. But it may serve for his complete justification that he, starting from a false point, on a circle almost run out already, still struck upon the main principle, and at the end of his book finds himself compelled to recommend as additions, so to speak, the representation of manners, character, passions,—in short, the whole inner man; to which, indeed, poetry pre-eminently belongs.
It may well be imagined into what perplexity young minds felt themselves thrown by such dislocated maxims, half-understood laws, and shivered-up dogmas. We adhere to examples, and there, too, were no better off; foreigners as well as the ancients stood too far from us; and from the best native poets always peeped out a decided individuality, to the good points of which we could not lay claim, and into the faults of which we could not but be afraid of falling. For him who felt any thing productive in himself it was a desperate condition.
When one considers closely what was wanting in the German poetry, it was a material, and that, too, a national one: there was never a lack of talent. Here we make mention only of Guenther, who may be called a poet in the full sense of the word. A decided talent, endowed with sensuousness, imagination, memory, the gifts of conception and representation, productive in the highest degree, ready at rhythm, ingenious, witty, and of varied information besides,—he possessed, in short, all the requisites for creating, by means of poetry, a second life within life, even within common real life. We admire the great facility with which, in his occasional poems, he elevates all circumstances by the feelings, and embellishes them with suitable sentiments, images, and historical and fabulous traditions. Their roughness and wildness belong to his time, his mode of life, and especially to his character, or, if one would have it so, his want of fixed character. He did not know how to curb himself; and so his life, like his poetry, melted away from him.
By his vacillating conduct, Guenther had trifled away the good fortune of being appointed at the court of Augustus the Second, where, in addition to every other species of ostentation, they were also looking about for a court-poet, who could give elevation and grace to their festivities, and immortalize a transitory pomp. Von Koenig was more mannerly and more fortunate: he filled this post with dignity and applause.
In all sovereign states the material for poetry comes downwards from above; and "The Review-camp at Muehlberg" ("Das Lustlager bei Muehlberg") was, perhaps, the first worthy object, provincial, if not national, which presented itself to a poet. Two kings saluting one another in the presence of a great host, their whole courts and military state around them, well-appointed troops, a mock-fight, /fetes/ of all kinds,— this is business enough for the outward sense, and overflowing material for delineating and descriptive poetry.
This subject had, indeed, the internal defect, that it was only pomp and show, from which no real action could result. None except the very first distinguished themselves; and, even if they had done so, the poet could not render any one conspicuous lest he should offend the others. He had to consult the "Court and State Calendar;" and the delineation of the persons therefore went off pretty dryly,—nay, even his contemporaries very strongly reproached him with having described the horses better than the men. But should not this redound to his credit, that he showed his art just where an object for it presented itself? The main difficulty, too, seems soon to have manifested itself to him,—since the poem never advanced beyond the first canto.
Amidst such studies and reflections, an unexpected event surprised me, and frustrated my laudable design of becoming acquainted with our new literature from the beginning. My countryman, John George Schlosser, after spending his academical years with industry and exertion, had repaired to Frankfort-on-the-Main, in the customary profession of an advocate; but his mind, aspiring and seeking after the universal, could not reconcile itself to this situation for many reasons. He accepted, without hesitation, an office as private secretary to the Duke Ludwig of Wurtemberg, who resided in Treptow; for the prince was named among those great men who, in a noble and independent manner, purposed to enlighten themselves, their families, and the world, and to unite for higher aims. It was this Prince Ludwig who, to ask advice about the education of his children, had written to Rousseau, whose well-known answer began with the suspicious-looking phrase, "/Si j'avais le malheur d'etre ne prince/."
Not only in the affairs of the prince, but also in the education of his children, Schlosser was now willingly to assist in word and deed, if not to superintend them. This noble young man, who harbored the best intentions and strove to attain a perfect purity of morals, would have easily kept men from him by a certain dry austerity, if his fine and rare literary cultivation, his knowledge of languages, and his facility at expressing himself by writing, both in verse and prose, had not attracted every one, and made living with him more agreeable. It had been announced to me that he would pass through Leipzig, and I expected him with longing. He came and put up at a little inn or wine-house that stood in the /Bruehl/ (Marsh), and the host of which was named Schoenkopf. This man had a Frankfort woman for his wife; and although he entertained few persons during the rest of the year, and could lodge no guests in his little house, yet at fair-time he was visited by many Frankforters, who used to eat, and, in case of need, even take quarters, there also. Thither I hastened to find Schlosser, when he had sent to inform me of his arrival. I scarcely remembered having seen him before, and found a young, well-formed man, with a round, compressed face, without the features losing their sharpness on that account. The form of his rounded forehead, between black eyebrows and locks, indicated earnestness, sternness, and perhaps obstinacy. He was, in a certain measure, the opposite of myself; and this very thing doubtless laid the foundation of our lasting friendship. I had the greatest respect for his talents, the more so as I very well saw, that, in the certainty with which he acted and produced, he was completely my superior. The respect and the confidence which I showed him confirmed his affection, and increased the indulgence he was compelled to have for my lively, impetuous, and ever-excitable disposition, in such contrast with his own. He studied the English writers diligently: Pope, if not his model, was his aim; and, in opposition to that author's "Essay on Man," he had written a poem in like form and measure, which was to give the Christian religion the triumph over the deism of the other work. From the great store of papers which he carried with him, he showed me poetical and prose compositions in all languages, which, as they challenged me to imitation, once more gave me infinite disquietude. Yet I contrived to get over it immediately by activity. I wrote German, French, English, and Italian poems, addressed to him, the subject-matter of which I took from our conversations, which were always important and instructive.
Schlosser did not wish to leave Leipzig without having seen face to face the men who had a name. I willingly took him to those I knew: with those whom I had not yet visited, I in this way became honorably acquainted; since he was received with distinction as a well-informed man of education, of already established character, and well knew how to pay for the outlay of conversation. I cannot pass over our visit we paid to Gottsched, as it exemplifies the character and manners of that man. He lived very respectably in the first story of the Golden Bear, where the elder Breitkopf, on account of the great advantage which Gottsched's writings, translations, and other aids had brought to the trade, had promised him a lodging for life.
We were announced. The servant led us into a large chamber, saying his master would come immediately. Now, whether we misunderstood a gesture which he made, I cannot say: it is enough, we thought he directed us into an adjoining room. We entered, to witness a singular scene: for, on the instant, Gottsched, that tall, broad, gigantic man, came in at the opposite door in a morning-gown of green damask lined with red taffeta; but his monstrous head was bald and uncovered. This, however, was to be immediately provided for: the servant rushed in at a side-door with a great full-bottomed wig in his hand (the curls came down to the elbows), and handed the head-ornament to his master with gestures of terror. Gottsched, without manifesting the least vexation, raised the wig from the servant's arm with his left hand, and, while he very dexterously swung it up on his head, gave the poor fellow such a box on the ear with his right paw, that the latter, as often happens in a comedy, went spinning out at the door; whereupon the respectable old grandfather invited us quite gravely to be seated, and kept up a pretty long discourse with good grace.
As long as Schlosser remained in Leipzig, I dined daily with him, and became acquainted with a very pleasant set of boarders. Some Livonians, and the son of Hermann (chief court-preacher in Dresden), afterwards burgomaster in Leipzig, and their tutor, Hofrath Pfeil, author of the "Count von P.," a continuation of Gellert's "Swedish Countess;" Zachariae, a brother of the poet; and Krebel, editor of geographical and genealogical manuals,—all these were polite, cheerful, and friendly men. Zachariae was the most quiet; Pfeil, an elegant man, who had something almost diplomatic about him, yet without affectation, and with great good humor; Krebel, a genuine Falstaff, tall, corpulent, fair, with prominent, merry eyes, as bright as the sky, always happy and in good spirits. These persons all treated me in the most handsome manner, partly on Schlosser's account—partly, too, on account of my own frank good humor and obliging disposition; and it needed no great persuasion to make me partake of their table in future. In fact, I remained with them after Schlosser's departure, deserted Ludwig's table, and found myself so much the better off in this society, which was limited to a certain number, as I was very well pleased with the daughter of the family, a very neat, pretty girl, and had opportunities to exchange friendly glances with her,—a comfort which I had neither sought nor found by accident since the mischance with Gretchen. I spent the dinner- hours with my friends cheerfully and profitably. Krebel, indeed, loved me, and continued to tease me and stimulate me in moderation: Pfeil, on the contrary, showed his earnest affection for me by trying to guide and settle my judgment upon many points.
During this intercourse, I perceived through conversation, through examples, and through my own reflections, that the first step in delivering ourselves from the wishy-washy, long-winded, empty epoch, could be taken only by definiteness, precision, and brevity. In the style which had hitherto prevailed, one could not distinguish the commonplace from what was better; since all were brought down to a level with each other. Authors had already tried to escape from this wide- spread disease, with more or less success. Haller and Ramler were inclined to compression by nature: Lessing and Wieland were led to it by reflection. The former became by degrees quite epigrammatical in his poems, terse in "Minna," laconic in "Emilia Galotti,"—it was not till afterwards that he returned to that serene /naivete/ which becomes him so well in "Nathan." "Wieland, who had been occasionally prolix in "Agathon," "Don Sylvio," and the "Comic Tales," becomes condensed and precise to a wonderful degree, as well as exceedingly graceful in "Musarion" and "Idris." Klopstock, in the first cantos of "The Messiah," is not without diffuseness: in his "Odes" and other minor poems he appears compressed, as also in his tragedies. By his emulation of the ancients, especially Tacitus, he sees himself constantly forced into narrower limits, by which he at last becomes obscure and unpalatable. Gerstenberg, a fine but eccentric talent, also distinguishes himself: his merit is appreciated, but on the whole he gives little pleasure. Gleim, diffuse and easy by nature, is scarcely once concise in his war- songs. Ramler is properly more a critic than a poet. He begins to collect what the Germans have accomplished in lyric poetry. He now finds, that scarcely one poem fully satisfies him: he must leave out, arrange, and alter, that the things may have some shape or other. By this means he makes himself almost as many enemies as there are poets and amateurs; since every one, properly speaking, recognizes himself only in his defects: and the public interests itself sooner for a faulty individuality than for that which is produced or amended according to a universal law of taste. Rhythm lay yet in the cradle, and no one knew of a method to shorten its childhood. Poetical prose came into the ascendant. Gessner and Klopstock excited many imitators: others, again, still demanded an intelligible metre, and translated this prose into rhythm. But even these gave nobody satisfaction, for they were obliged to omit and add; and the prose original always passed for the better of the two. But the more, with all this, conciseness is aimed at, the more does a judgment become possible; since that which is important, being more closely compressed, allows a certain comparison at last. It happened, also, at the same time, that many kinds of truly poetical forms arose; for, as they tried to represent only what was necessary in the objects they wished to imitate, they were forced to do justice to every one of these: and in this manner, though no one did it consciously, the modes of representation multiplied themselves, among which, indeed, were some which were really caricatures, while many an attempt proved unsuccessful.
Without question, Wieland possessed the finest natural gifts of all. He had early cultivated himself thoroughly in those ideal regions where youth so readily lingers; but when, by what is called experience, by the events of the world, and women, these were rendered distasteful to him, he threw himself on the side of the actual, and pleased himself and others with the contest of the two worlds, where, in light skirmishing between jest and earnest, his talent displayed itself most beautifully. How many of his brilliant productions fall into the time of my academic years! "Musarion" had the most effect upon me; and I can yet remember the place and the very spot where I got sight of the first proof-sheet, which Oeser gave me. Here it was that I believed I saw antiquity again living and fresh. Every thing that is plastic in Wieland's genius here showed itself in its highest perfection; and when that Phanias-Timon, condemned to an unhappy insipidity, finally reconciles himself to his mistress and to the world, one can well, with him, live through the misanthropical epoch. For the rest, we readily conceded to these works a cheerful aversion from those exalted sentiments, which, by reason of their easy misapplication to life, are often open to the suspicion of dreaminess. We pardoned the author for prosecuting with ridicule what we held as true and reverend, the more readily as he thereby gave us to understand that it caused him continual trouble.
How miserably criticism then received such labors may be seen from the first volumes of "The Universal German Library." Of "The Comic Tales" there is honorable mention, but there is no trace of any insight into the character of the kind of poetry. The reviewer, like every one at that time, had formed his taste by examples. He never takes it into consideration, that, in a judgment of such parodistical works, one must first of all have before one's eyes the original noble, beautiful object, in order to see whether the parodist has really gotten from it a weak and comical side, whether he has borrowed any thing from it, or, under the appearance of such an imitation, has perhaps given us an excellent invention of his own. Of all this there is not a notion, but the poems are praised and blamed by passages. The reviewer, as he himself confesses, has marked so much that pleased him, that he cannot quote it all in print. When they even meet the highly meritorious translation of Shakespeare with the exclamation, "By rights, a man like Shakespeare should not have been translated at all!" it will be understood, without further remark, how infinitely "The Universal German Library" was behind-hand in matters of taste, and that young people, animated by true feeling, had to look about them for other guiding stars.
The material which, in this manner, more or less determined the form, the Germans sought everywhere. They had handled few national subjects, or none at all. Schlegel's "Hermann" only showed the way. The idyllic tendency extended itself without end. The want of distinctive character with Gessner, with all his great gracefulness and child-like heartiness, made every one think that he could do something of the same kind. Just in the same manner, out of the more generally human, some snatch those poems which should have portrayed a foreign nationality, as, for instance, the Jewish pastoral poems, those on the patriarchs altogether, and whatever else related to the Old Testament. Bodmer's "Noachide" was a perfect symbol of the watery deluge that swelled high around the German Parnassus, and which abated but slowly. The leading-strings of Anacreon likewise allowed innumerable mediocre geniuses to reel about at large. The precision of Horace compelled the Germans, though but slowly, to conform to him. Comic heroic poems, mostly after the model of Pope's "Rape of the Lock," did not serve to bring in a better time.
I must here mention a delusion, which operated as seriously as it must be ridiculous when one examines it more closely. The Germans had now sufficient historical knowledge of all the kinds of poetry in which the different nations had distinguished themselves. This pigeon-hole work, which, properly speaking, totally destroys the inner conception of poetry, had been already pretty completely hammered together by Gottsched in his "Critical Art of Poetry;" and it had been shown at the same time that German poets, too, had already known how to fill up all the rubrics with excellent works. And thus it ever went on. Each year the collection was more considerable, but every year one work pushed another out of the place in which it had hitherto shone. We now possessed, if not Homers, yet Virgils and Miltons; if not a Pindar, yet a Horace; of Theocrituses there was no lack: and thus they weighed themselves by comparisons from without; whilst the mass of poetical works always increased, so that at last there could be a comparison from within.
Now though matters of taste stood on a very uncertain footing, there could be no dispute but that, within the Protestant part of Germany and of Switzerland, what is generally called common sense began to stir briskly at that epoch. The scholastic philosophy—which always has the merit of propounding according to received axioms, in a favorite order, and under fixed rubrics, every thing about which man can at all inquire- -had, by the frequent darkness and apparent uselessness of its subject- matter, by its unseasonable application of a method in itself respectable, and by its too great extension over so many subjects, made itself foreign to the mass, unpalatable, and at last superfluous. Many a one became convinced that nature had endowed him with as great a portion of good and straightforward sense as, perchance, he required to form such a clear notion of objects that he could manage them and turn them to his own profit, and that of others, without laboriously troubling himself about the most universal problems, and inquiring how the most remote things which do not particularly affect us may hang together. Men made the trial, opened their eyes, looked straight before them, observant, industrious, active, and believed, that, when one judges and acts correctly in one's own circle, one may well presume to speak of other things also, which lie at a greater distance.
In accordance with such a notion, every one was now entitled, not only to philosophize, but also by degrees to consider himself a philosopher. Philosophy, therefore, was more or less sound, and practised common sense, which ventured to enter upon the universal, and to decide upon inner and outer experiences. A clear-sighted acuteness and an especial moderation, while the middle path and fairness to all opinions was held to be right, procured respect and confidence for writings and oral statements of the sort; and thus at last philosophers were found in all the faculties,—nay, in all classes and trades.
In this way the theologians could not help inclining to what is called natural religion; and, when the discussion was how far the light of nature may suffice to advance us in the knowledge of God and the improving and ennobling of ourselves, they commonly ventured to decide in its favor without much scruple. According to the same principle of moderation, they then granted equal rights to all positive religions, by which they all became alike indifferent and uncertain. For the rest, they let every thing stand; and since the Bible is so full of matter, that, more than any other book, it offers material for reflection and opportunity for meditation on human affairs, it could still, as before, be always laid as the foundation of all sermons and other religious treatises.
But over this work, as well as over the whole body of profane writers, was impending a singular fate, which, in the lapse of time, was not to be averted. Hitherto it had been received as a matter of implicit faith, that this book of books was composed in one spirit; that it was even inspired, and, as it were, dictated by the Divine Spirit. Yet for a long time already the discrepancies of the different parts of it had been now cavilled at, now apologized for, by believers and unbelievers. English, French, and Germans had attacked the Bible with more or less violence, acuteness, audacity, and wantonness; and just as often had it been taken under the protection of earnest, sound-thinking men of each nation. As for myself, I loved and valued it; for almost to it alone did I owe my moral culture: and the events, the doctrines, the symbols, the similes, had all impressed themselves deeply upon me, and had influenced me in one way or another. These unjust, scoffing, and perverting attacks, therefore, disgusted me; but people had already gone so far as very willingly to admit, partly as a main ground for the defense of many passages, that God had accommodated himself to the modes of thought and power of comprehension in men; that even those moved by the Spirit had not on that account been able to renounce their character, their individuality, and that Amos, a cow-herd, did not use the language of Isaiah, who is said to have been a prince.
Out of such views and convictions, especially with a constantly increasing knowledge of languages, was very naturally developed that kind of study by which it was attempted to examine more accurately the Oriental localities, nationalities, natural products, and phenomena, and in this manner to make present to one's self that ancient time. Michaelis employed the whole strength of his talents and his knowledge on this side. Descriptions of travels became a powerful help in explaining the Holy Scriptures; and later travellers, furnished with numerous questions, were made, by the answers to them, to bear witness for the prophets and apostles.
But whilst they were on all sides busied to bring the Holy Scriptures to a natural intuition, and to render peculiar modes of thought and representation in them more universally comprehensible, that by this historico-critical aspect many an objection might be removed, many offensive things effaced, and many a shallow scoffing be made ineffective, there appeared in some men just the opposite disposition, since these chose the darkest, most mysterious, writings as the subject of their meditations, and wished, if not to elucidate them, yet to confirm them through internal evidence, by means of conjectures, calculations, and other ingenious and strange combinations, and, so far as they contained prophecies, to prove them by the results, and thus to justify a faith in what was next to be expected.
The venerable Bengel had procured a decided reception for his labors on the Revelation of St. John, from the fact that he was known as an intelligent, upright, God-fearing, blameless man. Deep minds are compelled to live in the past as well as in the future. The ordinary movements of the world can be of no importance to them, if they do not, in the course of ages up to the present, revere prophecies which have been revealed, and in the immediate, as well as in the most remote futurity, predictions still veiled. Hence arises a connection that is wanting in history, which seems to give us only an accidental wavering backwards and forwards in a necessarily limited circle. Doctor Crusius was one of those whom the prophetic part of Scripture suited more than any other, since it brings into action the two most opposite qualities of human nature, the affections, and the acuteness of the intellect. Many young men had devoted themselves to this doctrine, and already formed a respectable body, which attracted the more attention, as Ernesti with his friends threatened, not to illuminate, but completely to disperse, the obscurity in which these delighted. Hence arose controversies, hatred, persecution, and much that was unpleasant. I attached myself to the lucid party, and sought to appropriate to myself their principles and advantages; although I ventured to forebode, that by this extremely praiseworthy, intelligent method of interpretation, the poetic contents of the writings must at last be lost along with the prophetical.
But those who devoted themselves to German literature and the /belles- lettres/ were more nearly concerned with the efforts of such men, who, as Jerusalem, Zollikofer, and Spalding, tried, by means of a good and pure style in their sermons and treatises, to gain, even among persons of a certain degree of sense and taste, applause and attachment for religion, and for the moral philosophy which is so closely related to it. A pleasing manner of writing began to be necessary everywhere; and since such a manner must, above all, be comprehensible, so did writers arise, on many sides, who undertook to write about their studies and their professions clearly, perspicuously, and impressively, and as well for the adepts as for the multitude.
After the example of Tissot, a foreigner, the physicians also now began to labor zealously for the general cultivation. Haller, Unzer, Zimmerman, had a very great influence; and whatever may be said against them in detail, especially the last, they produced a very great effect in their time. And mention should be made of this in history, but particularly in biography; for a man remains of consequence, not so far as he leaves something behind him, but so far as he acts and enjoys, and rouses others to action and enjoyment.
The jurists, accustomed from their youth upward to an abstruse style, which, in all legal papers, from the petty court of the Immediate Knight up to the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon, was still maintained in all its quaintness, could not easily elevate themselves to a certain freedom, the less so as the subjects of which they had to treat were most intimately connected with the external form, and consequently also with the style. But the younger Von Moser had already shown himself an independent and original writer; and Putter, by the clearness of his delivery, had also brought clearness into his subject, and the style in which he was to treat it. All that proceeded from his school was distinguished by this. And even the philosophers, in order to be popular, now found themselves compelled to write clearly and intelligibly. Mendelssohn and Garve appeared, and excited universal interest and admiration.
With the cultivation of the German language and style in every department, the capacity for forming a judgment also increased, and we admire the reviews then published of works upon religious and moral, as well as medical, subjects; while, on the contrary, we remark that the judgments of poems, and of whatever else may relate to the /belles- lettres/, will be found, if not pitiful, at least very feeble. This holds good of the "Literary Epistles" ("Literaturbriefen"), and of "The Universal German Library," as well as of "The Library of the Belles- Lettres," notable instances of which could easily be produced.
No matter in how motley a manner all this might be confused, still, for every one who contemplated producing any thing from himself,—who would not merely take the words and phrases out of the mouths of his predecessors,—there was nothing further left but, early and late, to look about him for some subject-matter which he might determine to use. Here, too, we were much led astray. People were constantly repeating a saying of Kleist, which we had to hear often enough. He had sportively, ingeniously, and truly replied to those who took him to task on account of his frequent, lonely walks, "that he was not idle at such times,—he was going to the image-hunt." This simile was very suitable for a nobleman and soldier, who by it placed himself in contrast with the men of his rank, who did not neglect going out, with their guns on their shoulders, hare-hunting and partridge-shooting, as often as an opportunity presented itself. Hence we find in Kleist's poems many such individual images, happily seized, although not always happily elaborated, which, in a kindly manner, remind us of nature. But now they also recommended us, quite seriously, to go out on the image-hunt, which did not at last leave us wholly without fruit; although Apel's garden, the kitchen-gardens, the Rosenthal, Golis, Raschwitz, and Konnewitz, would be the oddest ground to beat up poetical game in. And yet I was often induced by that motive to contrive that my walk should be solitary; and because many objects neither beautiful nor sublime met the eye of the beholder, and, in the truly splendid Rosenthal, the gnats, in the best season of the year, allowed no tender thoughts to arise, so did I, by unwearied, persevering endeavor, become extremely attentive to the small life of nature (I would use this word after the analogy of "still life"); and, since the pretty events which one perceives within this circle represent but little in themselves, so I accustomed myself to see in them a significance, which inclined now towards the symbolical, now towards the allegorical, side, accordingly as intuition, feeling, or reflection had the preponderance. I will relate one incident in place of many.
I was, after the fashion of humanity, in love with my name, and, as young, uneducated people commonly do, wrote it down everywhere. Once I had carved it very handsomely and accurately on the smooth bark of a linden-tree of moderate age. The following autumn, when my affection for Annette was in its fullest bloom, I took the trouble to cut hers above it. Towards the end of the winter, in the mean time, like a capricious lover, I had wantonly sought many opportunities to tease her and cause her vexation: in the spring I chanced to visit the spot; and the sap, which was rising strongly in the trees, had welled out through the incisions which formed her name, and which were not yet crusted over, and moistened with innocent vegetable tears the already hardened traces of my own. Thus to see her here weeping over me,—me, who had so often called up her tears by my ill conduct, filled me with confusion. At the remembrance of my injustice and of her love, even the tears came into my eyes; I hastened to implore pardon of her, doubly and trebly: and I turned this incident into an idyl, [Footnote: Die Laune des Verliebten, translated as The Lover's Caprice, see p. 241.] which I never could read to myself without affection, or to others without emotion.
While I now, like a shepherd on the Pleisse, was absorbed childishly enough in such tender subjects, and always chose only such as I could easily recall into my bosom, provision from a greater and more important side had long been made for German poets.
The first true and really vital material of the higher order came into German poetry through Frederick the Great and the deeds of the Seven Years' War. All national poetry must be shallow or become shallow which does not rest on that which is most universally human,—upon the events of nations and their shepherds, when both stand for one man. Kings are to be represented in war and danger, where, by that very means, they appear as the first, because they determine and share the fate of the very least, and thus become much more interesting than the gods themselves, who, when they have once determined the fates, withdraw from all participation in them. In this view of the subject, every nation, if it would be worth any thing at all, must possess an epopee, to which the precise form of the epic poem is not necessary.
The war-songs started by Gleim maintain so high a rank among German poems, because they arose with and in the achievements which are their subject; and because, moreover, their felicitous form, just as if a fellow-combatant had produced them in the loftiest moments, makes us feel the most complete effectiveness.
Ramler sings the deeds of his king in a different and most noble manner. All his poems are full of matter, and occupy us with great, heart- elevating objects, and thus already maintain an indestructible value.
For the internal matter of the subject treated is the beginning and end of art. It will not, indeed, be denied that genius, that thoroughly cultivated artistical talent, can make every thing out of every thing by its method of treatment, and can subdue the most refractory material. But, when closely examined, the result is rather a trick of art than a work of art, which should rest upon a worthy object, that the treatment of it, by skill, pains, and industry, may present to us the dignity of the subject-matter only the more happily and splendidly.
The Prussians, and with them Protestant Germany, acquired thus for their literature a treasure which the opposite party lacked, and the want of which they have been able to supply by no subsequent endeavors. Upon the great idea which the Prussian writers might well entertain of their king, they first established themselves, and the more zealously as he, in whose name they did it all, wished once for all to know nothing about them. Already before this, through the French colony, afterwards through the king's predilection for the literature of that nation and for their financial institutions, had a mass of French civilization come into Prussia, which was highly advantageous to the Germans, since by it they were challenged to contradiction and resistance; thus the very aversion of Frederick from German was a fortunate thing for the formation of its literary character. They did every thing to attract the king's attention, not indeed to be honored, but only noticed, by him; yet they did it in German fashion, from an internal conviction; they did what they held to be right, and desired and wished that the king should recognize and prize this German uprightness. That did not and could not happen; for how can it be required of a king, who wishes to live and enjoy himself intellectually, that he shall lose his years in order to see what he thinks barbarous developed and rendered palatable too late? In matters of trade and manufacture, he might indeed force upon himself, but especially upon his people, very moderate substitutes instead of excellent foreign wares; but here every thing comes to perfection more rapidly, and it needs not a man's life-time to bring such things to maturity.
But I must here, first of all, make honorable mention of one work, the most genuine production of the Seven Years' War, and of perfect North- German nationality: it is the first theatrical production caught from the important events of life, one of specific, temporary value, and one which therefore produced an incalculable effect,—"Minna von Barnhelm." Lessing, who, in opposition to Klopstock and Gleim, was fond of casting off his personal dignity, because he was confident that he could at any moment grasp and take it up again, delighted in a dissipated life in taverns and the world, as he always needed a strong counterpoise to his powerfully laboring interior; and for this reason, also, he had joined the suite of Gen. Tauentzien. One easily discovers how the above- mentioned piece was generated betwixt war and peace, hatred and affection. It was this production which happily opened the view into a higher, more significant, world, from the literary and citizen world in which poetic art had hitherto moved.
The intense hatred in which the Prussians and Saxons stood towards each other during this war could not be removed by its termination. The Saxon now first felt, with true bitterness, the wounds which the upstart Prussian had inflicted upon him. Political peace could not immediately re-establish a peace between their dispositions. But this was to be brought about symbolically by the above-mentioned drama. The grace and amiability of the Saxon ladies conquer the worth, the dignity, and the stubbornness of the Prussians; and, in the principal as well as in the subordinate characters, a happy union of bizarre and contradictory elements is artistically represented.
If I have put my reader in some perplexity by these cursory and desultory remarks on German literature, I have succeeded in giving them a conception of that chaotic condition in which my poor brain found itself, when, in the conflict of two epochs so important for the literary fatherland, so much that was new crowded in upon me before I could come to terms with the old, so much that was old yet made me feel its right over me, when I believed I had already cause to venture on renouncing it altogether. I will at present try to impart, as well as possible, the way I entered on to extricate myself from this difficulty, if only step by step.
The period of prolixity into which my youth had fallen, I had labored through with genuine industry, in company with so many worthy men. The numerous quarto volumes of manuscript which I left behind with my father might serve for sufficient witnesses of this; and what a mass of essays, rough draughts, and half-executed designs, had, more from despondency than conviction, gone up in smoke! Now, through conversation, through instruction in general, through so many conflicting opinions, but especially through my fellow-boarder Hofrath Pfeil, I learned to value more and more the importance of the subject-matter and the conciseness of the treatment; without, however, being able to make it clear to myself where the former was to be sought, or how the latter was to be attained. For, what with the great narrowness of my situation; what with the indifference of my companions, the reserve of the professors, the exclusiveness of the educated inhabitants; and what with the perfect insignificance of the natural objects,—I was compelled to seek for every thing within myself. Whenever I desired a true basis in feeling or reflection for my poems, I was forced to grasp into my own bosom; whenever I required for my poetic representation an immediate intuition of an object or an event, I could not step outside the circle which was fitted to teach me, and inspire me with an interest. In this view I wrote at first certain little poems, in the form of songs or in a freer measure: they are founded on reflection, treat of the past, and for the most part take an epigrammatic turn.
And thus began that tendency from which I could not deviate my whole life through; namely, the tendency to turn into an image, into a poem, every thing that delighted or troubled me, or otherwise occupied me, and to come to some certain understanding with myself upon it, that I might both rectify my conceptions of external things, and set my mind at rest about them. The faculty of doing this was necessary to no one more than to me, for my natural disposition whirled me constantly from one extreme to the other. All, therefore, that has been confessed by me, consists of fragments of a great confession; and this little book is an attempt which I have ventured on to render it complete.
My early affection for Gretchen I had now transferred to one Annette (/Aennchen/), of whom I can say nothing more than that she was young, handsome, sprightly, loving, and so agreeable that she well deserved to be set up for a time in the shrine of the heart as a little saint, that she might receive all that reverence which it often causes more pleasure to bestow than to receive. I saw her daily without hinderance; she helped to prepare the meals I enjoyed; she brought, in the evening at least, the wine I drank; and indeed our select club of noon-day boarders was a warranty that the little house, which was visited by few guests except during the fair, well merited its good reputation. Opportunity and inclination were found for various kinds of amusement. But, as she neither could nor dared go much out of the house, the pastime was somewhat limited. We sang the songs of Zachariae; played the "Duke Michael" of Krueger, in which a knotted handkerchief had to take the place of the nightingale; and so, for a while, it went on quite tolerably. But since such connections, the more innocent they are, afford the less variety in the long run, I was seized with that wicked distemper which seduces us to derive amusement from the torment of a beloved one, and to domineer over a girl's devotedness with wanton and tyrannical caprice. My ill humor at the failure of my poetical attempts, at the apparent impossibility of coming to a clear understanding about them, and at every thing else that might pinch me here and there, I thought I might vent on her, because she truly loved me with all her heart, and did whatever she could to please me. By unfounded and absurd fits of jealousy, I destroyed our most delightful days, both for myself and her. She endured it for a time with incredible patience, which I was cruel enough to try to the uttermost. But, to my shame and despair, I was at last forced to remark that her heart was alienated from me, and that I might now have good ground for the madness in which I had indulged without necessity and without cause. There were also terrible scenes between us, in which I gained nothing; and I then first felt that I had truly loved her, and could not bear to lose her. My passion grew, and assumed all the forms of which it is capable under such circumstances; nay, at last I even took up the /role/ which the girl had hitherto played. I sought every thing possible in order to be agreeable to her, even to procure her pleasure by means of others; for I could not renounce the hope of winning her again. But it was too late! I had lost her really; and the frenzy with which I revenged my fault upon myself, by assaulting in various frantic ways my physical nature, in order to inflict some hurt on my moral nature, contributed very much to the bodily maladies under which I lost some of the best years of my life: indeed, I should perchance have been completely ruined by this loss, had not my poetic talent here shown itself particularly helpful with its healing power.
Already, at many intervals before, I had clearly enough perceived my ill conduct. I really pitied the poor child, when I saw her so thoroughly wounded by me, without necessity. I pictured to myself so often and so circumstantially her condition and my own, and, as a contrast, the contented state of another couple in our company, that at last I could not forbear treating this situation dramatically, as a painful and instructive penance. Hence arose the oldest of my extant dramatic labors, the little piece entitled, "Die Laune des Verliebten" ("The Lover's Caprice"), in the simple nature of which one may at the same time perceive the impetus of a boiling passion.
But, before this, a deep, significant, impulsive world had already interested me. Through my adventure with Gretchen and its consequences, I had early looked into the strange labyrinths by which civil society is undermined. Religion, morals, law, rank, connections, custom, all rule only the surface of city existence. The streets, bordered by splendid houses, are kept neat; and every one behaves himself there properly enough: but, indoors, it often seems only so much the more disordered; and a smooth exterior, like a thin coat of mortar, plasters over many a rotten wall that tumbles together overnight, and produces an effect the more frightful, as it comes into the midst of a condition of repose. A great many families, far and near, I had seen already, either overwhelmed in ruin or kept miserably hanging on the brink of it, by means of bankruptcies, divorces, seduced daughters, murders, house- robberies, poisonings; and, young as I was, I had often, in such cases, lent a hand for help and preservation. For as my frankness awakened confidence; as my secrecy was proved; as my activity feared no sacrifice, and loved best to exert itself in the most dangerous affairs,—I had often enough found opportunity to mediate, to hush up, to divert the lightning-flash, with every other assistance of the kind; in the course of which, as well in my own person as through others, I could not fail to come to the knowledge of many afflicting and humiliating facts. To relieve myself I designed several plays, and wrote the arguments [Footnote: "/Exposition/," in a dramatic sense, properly means a statement of the events which take place before the action of the play commences.—TRANS.] of most of them. But since the intrigues were always obliged to be painful, and almost all these pieces threatened a tragical conclusion, I let them drop one after another. "Die Mitschuldigen" ("The Accomplices") is the only one that was finished, the cheerful and burlesque tone of which upon the gloomy family-ground appears as if accompanied by something causing anxiety; so that, on the whole, it is painful in representation, although it pleases in detached passages. The illegal deeds, harshly expressed, wound the aesthetic and moral feeling, and the piece could therefore find no favor on the German stage; although the imitations of it, which steered clear of those rocks, were received with applause.
Both the above-mentioned pieces were, however, written from a more elevated point of view, without my having been aware of it. They direct us to a considerate forbearance in casting moral imputations, and in somewhat harsh and coarse touches sportively express that most Christian maxim, /Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone/.
Through this earnestness, which cast a gloom over my first pieces, I committed the mistake of neglecting very favorable materials which lay quite decidedly in my natural disposition. In the midst of these serious, and, for a young man, fearful, experiences, was developed in me a reckless humor, which feels itself superior to the moment, and not only fears no danger, but rather wantonly courts it. The reason of this lay in the exuberance of spirits in which the vigorous time of life so much delights, and which, if it manifests itself in a frolicsome way, causes much pleasure, both at the moment and in remembrance. These things are so usual, that, in the vocabulary of our young university friends, they are called /Suites/; and, on account of the close similarity of signification, to say "play /suites/," means just the same as to "play pranks." [Footnote: The real meaning of the passage is, that the idiom "Possen reissen" is used also with the university word "Suite," so that one can say "Suiten reissen."—TRANS.]
Such humorous acts of daring, brought on the theatre with wit and sense, are of the greatest effect. They are distinguished from intrigue, inasmuch as they are momentary, and that their aim, whenever they are to have one, must not be remote. Beaumarchais has seized their full value, and the effects of his "Figaro" spring pre-eminently from this. Whereas such good-humored roguish and half-knavish pranks are practised with personal risk for noble ends, the situations which arise from them are aesthetically and morally considered of the greatest value for the theatre; as, for instance, the opera of "The Water-Carrier" treats perhaps the happiest subject which we have ever yet seen upon the stage.
To enliven the extreme tedium of daily life, I played off numberless tricks of the sort, partly without any aim at all, partly in the service of my friends, whom I liked to please. For myself, I could not say that I had once acted in this designedly, nor did I ever happen to consider a feat of the kind as a subject for art. Had I, however, seized upon and elaborated such materials, which were so close at hand, my earliest labors would have been more cheerful and available. Some incidents of this kind occur indeed later, but isolated and without design. For since the heart always lies nearer to us than the head, and gives us trouble, whereas the latter knows how to set matters to rights, the affairs of the heart had always appeared to me as the most important. I was never weary of reflecting upon the transient nature of attachments, the mutability of human character, moral sensuality, and all the heights and depths, the combination of which in our nature may be considered as the riddle of human life. Here, too, I sought to get rid of that which troubled me, in a song, an epigram, in some kind of rhyme; which, since they referred to the most private feelings and the most peculiar circumstances, could scarcely interest any one but myself.
In the mean time, my external position had very much changed after the lapse of a short time. Madame Boehme, after a long and melancholy illness, had at last died: she had latterly ceased to admit me to her presence. Her husband could not be very much satisfied with me: I seemed to him not sufficiently industrious, and too frivolous. He especially took it very ill of me, when it was told him, that at the lectures on German Public Law, instead of taking proper notes, I had been drawing on the margin of my note-book the personages presented to our notice in them, such as the President of the Chamber, the Moderators and Assessors, in strange wigs; and by this drollery had disturbed my attentive neighbors and set them laughing. After the loss of his wife he lived still more retired than before, and at last I shunned him in order to avoid his reproaches. But it was peculiarly unfortunate that Gellert would not use the power which he might have exercised over us. Indeed, he had not time to play the father-confessor, and to inquire after the character and faults of everybody: he therefore took the matter very much in the lump, and thought to curb us by means of the church forms. For this reason he commonly, when he admitted us to his presence, used to lower his little head, and, in his weeping, winning voice, to ask us whether we went regularly to church, who was our confessor, and whether we took the holy communion? If we came off badly at this examination, we were dismissed with lamentations: we were more vexed than edified, yet could not help loving the man heartily.
On this occasion I cannot forbear recalling somewhat of my earlier youth, in order to make it obvious that the great affairs of the ecclesiastical religion must be carried on with order and coherence, if they are to prove as fruitful as is expected. The Protestant service has too little fulness and consistency to be able to hold the congregation together; hence it easily happens that members secede from it, and either form little congregations of their own, or, without ecclesiastical connection, quietly carry on their citizen-life side by side. Thus for a considerable time complaints were made that church- goers were diminishing from year to year, and, just in the same ratio, the persons who partook of the Lord's Supper. With respect to both, but especially the latter, the cause lies close at hand; but who dares to speak it out? We will make the attempt.
In moral and religious, as well as in physical and civil, matters, man does not like to do any thing on the spur of the moment; he needs a sequence from which results habit; what he is to love and to perform, he cannot represent to himself as single or isolated; and, if he is to repeat any thing willingly, it must not have become strange to him. If the Protestant worship lacks fulness in general, so let it be investigated in detail, and it will be found that the Protestant has too few sacraments,—nay, indeed, he has only one in which he is himself an actor,—the Lord's Supper; for baptism he sees only when it is performed on others, and is not greatly edified by it. The sacraments are the highest part of religion, the symbols to our senses of an extraordinary divine favor and grace. In the Lord's Supper earthly lips are to receive a divine Being embodied, and partake of a heavenly under the form of an earthly nourishment. This import is the same in all kinds of Christian churches: whether the sacrament is taken with more or less submission to the mystery, with more or less accommodation as to that which is intelligible, it always remains a great, holy thing, which in reality takes the place of the possible or the impossible, the place of that which man can neither attain nor do without. But such a sacrament should not stand alone: no Christian can partake of it with the true joy for which it is given, if the symbolical or sacramental sense is not fostered within him. He must be accustomed to regard the inner religion of the heart and that of the external church as perfectly one, as the great universal sacrament, which again divides itself into so many others, and communicates to these parts its holiness, indestructibleness, and eternity.