صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

EDITOR'S PREFACE.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

MADAME DE STAËL's GERMANY, which we agree with Sir James Mackintosh in regarding as the greatest production of feminine genius, constitutes, in our series of French Classics, the fourth and fifth volumes of her works. The reader must look in the first volume for Biography, Critical Estimates, Bibliographical Notice, etc.

We have used the translation published by Murray, in 1814. We know not who was its author. It shows a singular combination of ability and carelessness. We have spent almost labor enough in its careful revision to have made a new translation, and, if we are not mistaken, the result is a better translation than could have been made by either party alone. Madame de Staël's style, in which there is expressed a constant admixture (thus to speak) of indefinite sentiment and definite thought, is difficult to translate well.

Madame de Staël's book abounds in quotations from the best German authors. The English translator took these all at second hand, through the French. Except in two or three instances, we have substituted translations made directly from the German. It is almost useless to remark what a shadow of u shadow must be an ode of Klopstock or a ballad of Goethe when distilled through a language wholly different from the German into English.

Our notes, drawn from too many sources to be indicated here, are equal to nearly half the matter of the text. Our principal object has been to give abundant and reliable information in regard to the period since Madame de Staël wrote.

Important Appendices have been added, which complete the survey of German Literature, Philosophy, and Theology.

We had intended to say something here in regard to the intellectual importance of Germany, but we find what we wished to say so much better expressed by Mr. Carlyle,--and who has a better title than he to speak of intellectual Germany ?--that we gladly adopt his language :

There is the spectacle of a great people, closely related to us in blood, language, character, advancing through fifteen centuries of culture, with the eras and changes that have distinguished the like career in other nations. Nay, perhaps the intellectual history of the Germans is not without peculiar attraction on two grounds: first, that they are a separate unmixed people; that in them one of the two grand stem-tribes, from which all modern European countries derive their population and speech, is seen growing up distinct, and in several particulars following its own course; secondly, that by accident and by desert, the Germans have more than once been found playing the highest part in European culture; at more than one era the grand Tendencies of Europe have first imt odied themselves into action in Germany; the main battle between the New and the Old has been fought and gained there. We mention only the Swiss Revolt and Luther's Reformation. The Germans have not indeed so many classical works to ex hibit as some other nations ; a Shakspeare, a Dante, has not yet been recognized among them ; nevertheless, they too have had their Teachers and inspired Singers; and in regard to popular Mythology, traditionary possessions, and spirit, what we may call the inarticulate Poetry of a nation, and what is the element of its spoken or written Poetry, they will be found superior to any other modern people.

[ocr errors]

“ The Historic Surveyor of German Poetry will observe a remarkable nation struggling out of Paganism ; fragments of that stern Superstition, saved from the general wreck, and still, amid the new order things, carrying back our view, in faint reflexes, into the dim primeval time. By slow degrees the chaos of the Northern Immigrations settles into a new and fairer world, arts advance; little by little a fund of Knowledge of Power over Nature, is accumulated for man ; feeble glim. merings, even of a higher knowledge, of a poetic, break forth; till at length in the Swabian Era, as it is named, a blaze of true though simple Poetry bursts over Germany, more splendid, we might say, than the Troubadour Period of any other nation ; for that famous Nibelungen Song, produced, at least ultimately fashioned in those times, and still so insignificant in these, is altogether without parallel elsewhere.

“ To this period, the essence of which was young Wonder: and an enthusiasm for which Chivalry was still the fit exponent, there succeeds, as was natural, a period of Inquiry, a Didactic period; wherein, among the Germans, as elsewhere, many a Hugo von Trimberg delivers wise saws and moral apothegms to the general edification : later, a Town-clerk of Strasburg sees his Ship of Fools translated into all living languages, twice into Latin, and read by Kings; the Apologue of Reynard the Fox, gathering itself together from sources remote and near, assumes its Low-German vesture, and becomes the darling of high and low; nay, still lives with us, in rude genial vigor, as one of the most remarkable indigenous productions of the Middle Ages. Nor is acted poetry of this kind wanting ; the Spirit of Inquiry translates itself into Deeds which are poetical, as well as into words : already at the opening of the fourteenth century, Germany witnesses the first assertion of political right, the first vindication of Man against Nobleman, in the early history of the German Swiss. And again, two centuries later

the first assertion of intellectual right, the first vindication of Man against Clergyman, in the history of Luther's Reformation. Meanwhile the Press has begun its incalculable task ; the indigenous Fiction of the Germans, what we have called their inarticulate Poetry, issues in innumerable Volks-Bücher, (People's-Books), the progeny and kindred of which still live in all European countries; the People have their Tragedy and their Comedy; Tyll Eulenspiegel shakes every diaphragm with laughter; the rudest hear quails with awe at the wild mythus of Faust

“ With Luther, however, the Didactic Terdency has reached its poetic acme; and now we must see it assume a prosaic character, and Poetry for a long while decline. The Spirit of Inquiry, of Criticism, is pushed beyond the limits, or too ex clusively cultivated : what had done so much, is capable of doing all; Understanding is alone listened to, while Fancy and Imagination languish inactive, or are forcibly stifled; and all poetic culture gradually dies away. As if with the high resolute genius, and noble achievements, of its Luthers and Huttens, the genius of the country had exhausted itself, we behoid generation after generation of mere Prosaists succeed these high Psalmists. Science indeed advances, practical manipulation in all kinds improves; Germany has its Copernics, Hevels, Guerickes, Keplers; later, a Leibnitz opens the path of true Logic, and teaches the mysteries of Figure and Number: but the finer education of mankind seems at a stand. Instead of Poetic recognition and worship, we have stolid Theologic controversy, or still shallower Freethinking ; pedantry, servility, mode-hunting, every species of Idolatry and Affectation holds sway. The World has lost its beauty, Life its infinite majesty, as if the Author of it were no longer divine : instead of ad miration and creation of the True, there is at best criticism and denial of the False ; to Luther there has succeeded Thomasius. In this era, so unpoetical for all Europe, Germany torn in pieces by a Thirty Years' War, and its consequences, is pre-eminently prosaic ; its few Singers are feeble echoes of foreign models little better than themselves. No Shakspeare, no Milton appears there ; such, indeed, would have appeared earlier if at all, in the current of German history; but instead, they have only at best Opitzes, Flemmings, Logans, as we had our Queen Anne Wits; or, in their Lohensteines, Gryphs, Hoffmannswaldaus, though in inverse order, an unintentional parody of our Drydens and Lees.

“Nevertheless from every moral death there is a new birth; in this wondrous course of his, man may indeed linger, but cannot retrograde or stand still. In the middle of last century, from among the Parisian Erotics, rickety Sentimentalism, Court aperies, and hollow Dulness, striving in all hopeless courses, we behold the giant spirit of Germany awaken as from long slumber ; shake away these worthless fetters, and, by its Lessings and Klopstocks, announce, in true German dialect, that the Germans also are men. Singular enough in its cir. cumstances was this resuscitation; the work as of a 'spirit on the waters,'—à movement agitating the great popular

for it was favored by no court or king : all sovereignties, even the pettiest, had abandoned their native Literature, their native language, as if to irreclaimable barbarism. The greatest King produced in Germany since Barbarossa's time, Frederick the Second, looked coldly on the native endeavor, and saw no hope but in aid from France. However, the native endeavor prospered without aid . Lessing's announcement did not die away with him, but took clearer utterance, and more inspired modulation from his followers ; in whose works it now speaks, not to Germany alone, but to the whole world. The results of this last Period of German Literature are of deep significance, the depth of which is perhaps but now be

mass

« السابقةمتابعة »