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[FOREIGN REVIEW, 1828.]
It is not on this "Second Portion" of Goethe's | racter: but here, unhappily, our knowledge almost terminates; and still must Curiosity, must ingenuous love of Information and mere passive Wonder alike inquire: What manner of man is this? How shall we interpret, how shall we even see him? What is his spiritual structure, what at least are the outward form and features of his mind? Has he any real poetic worth; and if so, how much; how much to his own people, how much to us?
Reviewers, of great and of small character, have manfully endeavoured to satisfy the British world on these points: but which of us could believe their report? Did it not rather become apparent, as we reflected on the matter, that this Goethe of theirs was not the real man, nay, could not be any real man whatever? For what, after all, were their portraits of him but copies, with some retouchings and ornamental appendages, of our grand English original Picture of the German generically?— In itself such a piece of art, as national portraits, under like circumstances, are wont to be; and resembling Goethe, as some unusually expressive Sign of the Saracen's Head may resemble the present Sultan of Constantinople!
Did we imagine that much information, or any very deep sagacity were required for avoiding such mistakes, it would ill become us to step forward on this occasion. But surely it is given to every man, if he will but take heed, to know so much as whether or not he knows. And nothing can be plainer to us than that if, in the present business, we can report aught from our own personal vision and clear hearty belief, it will be a useful novelty in the discussion of it. Let the reader be patient with us then; and according as he finds that we speak honestly and earnestly, or loosely and dishonestly, consider our statement, or dismiss it as unworthy of consideration.
works, which at any rate contains nothing new to us, that we mean at present to dwell. In our last Number, we engaged to make some survey of his writings and character in general; and must now endeavour, with such insight as we have, to fulfil that promise.
We have already said that we reckoned this no unimportant subject; and few of Goethe's readers can need to be reminded that it is no easy one. We hope also that our pretensions in regard to it are not exorbitant; the sum of our aims being nowise to solve so deep and pregnant an inquiry, but only to show that an inquiry of such a sort lies ready for solution; courts the attention of thinking men among us, nay, merits a thorough investigation, and must sooner or later obtain it. Goethe's literary history appears to us a matter, beyond most others, of rich, subtile, and manifold significance; which will require end reward the best study of the best heads, and to the right exposition of which not one but many judgments will be necessary.
However, we need not linger, preluding on our own inability, and magnifying the difficulties we have so courageously volunteered to front. Considering the highly complex aspect which such a mind of itself presents to us; and, still more, taking into account the state of English opinion in respect of it, there certainly seem few literary questions of our time so perplexed, dubious, perhaps hazardous, as this of the character of Goethe; but few also on which a well-founded, or even a sincere, word would be more likely to profit. For our countrymen, at no time indisposed to foreign excellence, but at all times cautious of foreign singularity, have heard much of Goethe; but heard, for the most part, what excited and perplexed rather than instructed them. Vague rumors of the man have, for more than half a century, been humming through our ears: from time to time, we have even seen some distorted, mutilated transcript of his own thoughts, which, all obscure and hieroglyphical as it might often seem, failed not to emit here and there a ray of keenest and purest sense; travellers also are still running to and fro, importing the opinions or, at worst, the gossip of foreign countries: so that, by one means or another, many of us have come to understand, that considerably the most distinguished poet and thinker of his age is called Goethe, and lives at Weimar, and must, to all appearance, be an extremely surprising cha
Goethe's Sämmtliche Werke. Vollständige Ausgabe letter Hand. (Goethe's Collective Works. Complete Edition, with his final Corrections.) Zweite Lieferung, Bde. vi.-x. Cotta: Stuttgard and Tübingen. 1827.
Viewed in his merely external relations, Goethe exhibits an appearance such as seldom occurs in the history of letters, and indeed, from the nature of the case, can seldom occur. A man, who, in early life, rising almost at a single bound into the highest reputation over all Europe; by gradual advances, fixing himself more and more firmly in the reverence of his countrymen, ascends silently through many vicissitudes to the supreme intellectual place among them; and now, after half a century, distinguished by convulsions, political, moral, and poetical, still reigns, full of years and honours, with a soft undisputed sway; still labouring in his vocation, still forwarding, as with knightly benignity, whatever can profit the culture of his nation: such a man might justly attract our notice, were it only by the singularity of his fortune. Supremacies of
this sort are rare in modern times; so univer- | cannot unriddle, learns to trust;" each takes sal, and of such continuance, they are almost with him what he is adequate to carry, and deunexampled. For the age of the Prophets and parts thankful for his own allotments. Two Theologic Doctors had long since passed of Goethe's intensest admirers are Schelling away; and now it is by much slighter, by of Munich, and a worthy friend of ours in transient and mere earthly ties, that bodies of Berlin; one of these among the deepest men men connect themselves with a man. The in Europe, the other among the shallowest. wisest, most melodious voice cannot in these days pass for a divine one; the word Inspiration still lingers, but only in the shape of a poetic figure, from which the once earnest, awful, and soul-subduing sense has vanished without return. The polity of Literature is called a Republic; oftener it is an Anarchy, where, by strength or fortune, favourite after favourite rises into splendour and authority, but like Masaniello, while judging the people, is on the third day deposed and shot. Nay, few such adventurers can attain even this painful pre-eminence; for at most, it is clear, any given age can have but one first man; many ages have only a crowd of secondary men, each of whom is first in his own eyes: and seldom, at best, can the "Single Person" long keep his station at the head of this wild commonwealth; most sovereigns are never universally acknowledged, least of all in their lifetimes; few of the acknowledged can reign peaceably to the end.
Of such a perpetual dictatorship Voltaire among the French gives the last European instance; but even with him it was perhaps a much less striking affair. Voltaire reigned over a sect, less as their lawgiver than as their general; for he was at bitter enmity with the great numerical majority of his nation, by whom his services, far from being acknowledged as benefits, were execrated as abominations. But Goethe's object has, at all times, been rather to unite than to divide; and though he has not scrupled, as occasion served, to speak forth his convictions distinctly enough on many delicate topics, and seems, in general, to have paid little court to the prejudices or private feelings of any man or body of men, we see not at present that his merits are anywhere disputed, his intellectual endeavours controverted, or his person regarded otherwise than with affection and respect. In later years, too, the advanced age of the poet has invested him with another sort of dignity; and the admiration to which his great qualities give him claim, is tempered into a milder, grateful feeling, almost as of sons and grandsons to their common father. Dissentients, no doubt, there are and must be; but, apparently, their cause is not pleaded in words: no man of the smallest note speaks on that side; or at most, such men may question, not the worth of Goethe, but the cant and idle affectation with which, in many quarters, this must be promulgated and bepraised. Certainly there is not, probably there never was, in any European country, a writer who, with so cunning a style, and so deep, so abstruse a sense, ever found so many readers. For, from the peasant to the king, from the callow dilettante and innamorato, to the grave transcendental philosopher, men of al degrees and dispositions are familiar with the witings of Goethe: each studies them with affection, with a faith which," where it
All this is, no doubt, singular enough; and a proper understanding of it would throw light on many things. Whatever we may think of Goethe's ascendency, the existence of it remains a highly curious fact; and to trace its history, to discover by what steps such influence has been attained, and how so long preserved, were no trivial or unprofitable inquiry. It would be worth while to see so strange a man for his own sake; and here we should see, not only the man himself, and his own progress and spiritual development, but the progress also of his nation; and this at no sluggish or even quiet era, but in times marked by strange revolutions of opinions, by angry controversies, high enthusiasm, novelty of enterprise, and doubtless, in many respects, by rapid advancement: for that the Germans have been, and still are, restlessly struggling forward, with honest unwearied effort, sometimes with enviable success, no one, who knows them, will deny; and as little, that in every province of Literature, of Art, and humane accomplishment, the influence, often the direct guidance of Goethe may be recognised. The history of his mind is, in fact, at the same time, the history of German culture in his day; for whatever excellence this individual might realize has sooner or later been acknowledged and appropriated by his country; and the title of Musagetes, which his admirers give him, is perhaps, in sober strictness, not unmerited. Be it for good or for evil, there is certainly no German, since the days of Luther, whose life can occupy so large a space in the intellectual history of that people.
In this point of view, were it in no other, Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit, so soon as it is completed, may deserve to be reckoned one of his most interesting works. We speak not of its literary merits, though in that respect, too, we must say that few Autobiographies have come in our way, where so difficult a matter was so successfully handled; where perfect knowledge could be found united so kindly with perfect tolerance; and a personal narrative, moving along in soft clearness, showed us a man, and the objects that environed him, under an aspect so verisimilar, yet so lovely, with an air dignified and earnest, yet graceful, cheerful, even gay: a story as of a Patriarch to his children; such indeed, as few men can be called upon to relate, and few, if called upon, could relate so well. What would we give for such an Autobiography of Shakspeare, of Milton, even of Pope or Swift! Dichtung und Wahrheit has been censured considerably in England; but not, we are inclined to believe, with any insight into its proper meaning. The misfortune of the work among us was, that we did not know the narrator before his narrative; and could not judge what sort of narrative he was bound to give, in these circumstances, or whether he was bound to
give any at all. We say nothing of his situation; heard only the sound of his voice; and hearing it, never doubted that he must be perorating in official garments from the rostrum, instead of speaking trustfully by the fireside. For the chief ground of offence seemed to be, that the story was not noble enough; that it entered on details of too poor and private a nature; verged here and there towards garrulity; was not, in one word, written in the style of what we call a gentleman. Whether it might be written in the style of a man, and how far these two styles might be compatible, and what might be their relative worth and preferableness, was a deeper question, to which apparently no heed had been given. Yet herein lay the very cream of the matter; for Goethe was not writing to "persons of quality" in England, but to persons of heart and head in Europe: a somewhat different problem perhaps, and requiring a somewhat different solution. As to this ignobleness and freedom of detail, especially, we may say, that, to a German, few accusations could appear more surprising than this, which, with us, constitutes the head and front of his offending. Goethe, in his own country, far from being accused of undue familiarity towards his readers, had, up to that date, been labouring under precisely the opposite charge. It was his stateliness, his reserve, his indifference, his contempt for the public, that were censured. Strange, almost inexplicable, as many of his works might appear; loud, sorrowful, and altogether stolid as might be the criticisms they underwent, no word of explanation could be wrung from him; he had never even deigned to write a preface. And in later and juster days, when the study of Poetry came to be prosecuted in another spirit, and it was found that Goethe was standing, not like a culprit to plead for himself before the literary plebeians, but like a higher teacher and preacher, speaking for truth, to whom both plebeians and patricians were bound to give all ear, the outward difficulty of interpreting his works began indeed to vanish; but enough still remained, nay, increased curiosity had given rise to new difficulties, and deeper inquiries. Not only what were these works, but how did they originate, became questions for the critic. Yet several of Goethe's chief productions, and, of his smaller poems, nearly the whole, seemed so intimately interwoven with his private history, that without some knowledge of this, no answer to such questions could be given. Nay, commentaries have been written on single pieces of his, endeavouring, by way of guess, to supply this deficiency. We can thus judge whether, to the Germans, such minuteness of exposition in this Dichtung und Wahrheit may have seemed a sin. Few readers of Goethe, we believe, but would wish rather to see it extended than curtailed.
It is our duty also to remark, if any one be still unaware of it, that the Memoirs of Goethe, published some years ago in London, can have no real concern with this autobiography. The rage of hunger is an excuse for much; other
wise that German translator, whom indignant Reviewers have proved to know no German, were a highly reprehensible man. His work, it appears, is done from the French, and shows subtractions, and, what is worse, additions. But the unhappy Dragoman has already been chastised, perhaps too sharply. If warring with the reefs and breakers and cross eddies of Life, he still hover on this side the shadow of Night, and any word of ours might reach him, we would rather say: Courage, Brother! Grow honest, and times will mend!
It would appear, then, that for inquirers into Foreign Literature, for all men, anxious to see and understand the European world as it lies around them, a great problem is presented in this Goethe; a singular, highly significant phenomenon, and now, also, means more or less complete for ascertaining its significance. A man of wonderful, nay unexampled reputation and intellectual influence among forty millions of reflective, serious, and cultivated men, invites us to study him; and to determine for ourselves whether and how far such influence has been salutary, such reputation merited. That this call will one day be answered, that Goethe will be seen and judged of in his real character among us, appears certain enough. His name, long familiar everywhere, has now awakened the attention of critics in all European countries to his works: he is studied wherever true study exists; eagerly studied even in France; nay, some considerable know. ledge of his nature and spiritual importance seems already to prevail there.
For ourselves, meanwhile, in giving all due weight to so curious an exhibition of opinion, it is doubtless our part, at the same time, to beware that we do not give it too much. This universal sentiment of admiration is wonderful, is interesting enough; but it must not lead us astray. We English stand as yet without the sphere of it; neither will we plunge blindly in, but enter considerately, or, if we see good, keep aloof from it altogether. Fame, we may understand, is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such: it is an accident, not a property, of a man; like light, it can give little or nothing, but at most may show what is given; often, it is but a false glare, dazzling the eyes of the vulgar, lending by casual, extrinsic splendour the brightness and mani- ▾ fold glance of the diamond to the pebbles of no value. A man is in all cases simply the man, of the same intrinsic worth and weakness, whether his worth and weakness lie hidden in the depths of his own consciousness, or be betrumpeted and beshouted from end to end of the habitable globe. These are plain truths, which no one should lose sight of; though, whether in love or in anger, for praise or fot condemnation, most of us are too apt to forget them. But least of all can it become the critic to "follow a multitude to do evil," even when that evil is excess of admiration; on the contrary, it will behove him to lift up his voice, how feeble soever, how unheeded soever, against the common delusion; from which, if
Witness Le Tasse, Drame par Duval, and the Criti See, in particular, Dr. Kannengiesser Ueber Goethe's cisms on it. See also the Essays in the Globe. Nos 55,
Hausreise in Winter, 1820.
he can save, or help to save, any mortal, his | Goethe besides appears to us a person of that endeavours will have been repaid. deep endowment, and gifte 1 vision, of that experience also and sympathy in the ways of all men, which qualify him to stand forth, not only as the literary ornament, but in many respects too as the Teacher and exemplar of his age. For, to say nothing of his natural gifts, he has cultivated himself and his art, he has studied how to live and write, with a fidelity, an unwearied earnestness, of which there is no other living instance; of which, among British poets especially, Wordsworth alone offers any resemblance. And this in our view is the result: To our minds, in these soft, melodious imaginations of his, there is embodied the Wisdom which is proper to this time; the beautiful, the religious Wisdom, which may still, with something of its old impressiveness, speak to the whole soul; still, in these hard, unbelieving, utilitarian days, reveal to us glimpses of the Unseen but not unreal World, that so the Actual and the Ideal may again meet together, and clear Knowledge be again wedded to Religion, in the life and business of men.
With these things in some measure before us, we must remind our readers of another influence at work in this affair, and one acting, as we think, in the contrary direction. That pitiful enough desire for "originality," which lurks and acts in all minds, will rather, we imagine, lead the critic of Foreign Literature to adopt the negative than the affirmative with regard to Goethe. If a writer, indeed, feel that he is writing for England alone, invisibly and inaudibly to the rest of the Earth, the temptations may be pretty equally balanced; if he write for some small conclave, which he mistakenly thinks the representative of England, they may sway this way or that, as it chances. But writing in such isolated spirit is no longer possible. Traffic, with its swift ships, is uniting all nations into one; Europe at large is becoming more and more one public: and in this public, the voices for Goethe, compared with those against him, are in the proportion, as we reckon them, both as to the number and value, of perhaps a hundred to one. We take Such is our conviction or persuasion with in, not Germany alone, but France and Italy; regard to the poetry of Goethe. Could we denot the Schlegels and Schellings, but the Man-monstrate this opinion to be true, could we zonis and de Staëls. The bias of originality, even exhibit it with that degree of clearness therefore, may lie to the side of the censure: and consistency which it has attained in our and whoever among us shall step forward, own thoughts, Goethe were, on our part, suffiwith such knowledge as our common critics ciently recommended to the best attention of have of Goethe, to enlighten the European all thinking men. But, unhappily, it is not a public, by contradiction in this matter, displays subject susceptible of demonstration: the merits a heroism, which, in estimating his other and characteristics of a Poet are not to be set merits, ought nowise to be forgotten. forth by logic; but to be gathered by personal, and as, in this case, it must be, by deep and careful inspection of his works. Nay, Goethe's world is every way so different from ours; it costs us such effort, we have so much to remember and so much to forget, before we can transfer ourselves in any measure into his peculiar point of vision, that a right study of him, for an Englishman, even of ingenuous, open, inquisitive mind, becomes unusually difficult; for a fixed, decided, contemptuous Englishman, next to impossible. To a reader of the first class, helps may be given, explanations will remove many a difficulty; beauties that lay hidden may be made apparent; and directions, adapted to his actual position, will at length guide him into the proper track for such an inquiry. All this, however, must be a work of progression and detail. To do our part in it, from time to time, must rank among the best duties of an English Foreign Review. Meanwhile, our present endeavour limits itself within far narrower bounds. We cannot aim to make Goethe known, but only to prove that he is worthy of being known; at most, to point out, as it were afar off, the path by which some knowledge of him may be obtained. A slight glance at his general literary character and procedure, and one or two of his chief productions, which throw light on these, must for the present suffice.
Our own view of the case coincides, we confess, in some degree with that of the majority. We reckon that Goethe's fame has, to a considerable extent, been deserved; that his influence has been of high benefit to his own country; nay more, that it promises to be of benefit to us, and to all other nations. The essential grounds of this opinion, which to explain minutely were a long, indeed boundless task, we may state without many words. We find, then, in Goethe, an Artist, in the high and ancient meaning of that term; in the meaning which it may have borne long ago among the masters of Italian painting, and the fathers of Poetry in England; we say that we trace in the creations of this man, belonging in every sense to our own time, some touches of that old, divine spirit, which had long passed away from among us, nay, which, as has often been laboriously demonstrated, was not to return to this world any more.
A French diplomatic personage, contemplating Goethe's physiognomy, is said to have observed: Voilà un homme qui a eu beaucoup de chagrins. A truer version of the matter, Goethe himself seems to think, would have been: Here is a man who has struggled toughly; who has es sich recht sauer werden lassen. Goethe's
Or perhaps we come nearer our meaning, if we say that in Goethe we discover by far the most striking instance, in our time, of a writer who is, in strict speech, what Philosophy can call a Man. He is neither noble nor plebeian, neither liberal nor servile, nor infidel, nor devotee; but the best excellence of all these, joined in pure union; “a clear and universal Man." Goethe's poetry is no separate faculty, no mental handicraft; but the voice of the whole harmonious manhood: nay it is the very harmony, the living and life-giving harmony of that rich manhood which forms his poetry. All good men may be called poets in act, or in word; all good poets are so in both. But
life, whether as a writer and thinker, or as a living, active man, has indeed been a life of effort, of earnest toilsome endeavour after all excellence. Accordingly, his intellectual progress, his spiritual and moral history, as it may be gathered from his successive works, furnishes, with us, no small portion of the pleasure and profit we derive from perusing them. Participating deeply in all the influences of his age, he has from the first, at every new epoch, stood forth to elucidate the new circumstances of the time: to offer the instruction, the solace, which that time required. His literary life divides itself into two portions widely different in character: the products of the first, once so new and original, have long, either directly or through the thousand, thousand imitations of them, been familiar to us; with the products of the second, equally original, and, in our day, far more precious, we are yet little acquainted. These two classes of works stand curiously related with each other; at first view, in strong contradiction, yet, in truth, connected together by the strictest sequence. For Goethe has not only suffered and mourned in bitter agony under the spiritual perplexities of his time; but he has also mastered these, he is above them, and has shown others how to rise above them. At one time, we found him in darkness, and now, he is in light; he was once an Unbeliever; and now he is a Believer; and he believes, moreover, not by denying his unbelief, but by following it out; not by stopping short, still less turning back, in his inquiries, but by resolutely prosecuting them. This, it appears to us, is a case of singular interest, and rarely exemplified, if at all, elsewhere, in these our days. How has this man, to whom the world once offered nothing but blackness, denial, and despair, attained to that better vision which now shows it to him, not tolerable only, but full of solemnity and loveliness? How has the belief of a Saint been united in this high and true mind with the clearness of a Skeptic; the devout spirit of a Fenelon made to blend in soft harmony with the gayety, the sarcasm, the shrewdness of a Voltaire?
produce of his twenty-fourth year. Werter appeared to seize the hearts of men in all quarters of the world, and to utter for them the word which they had long been waiting to hear. As usually happens, too, this same word, once uttered, was soon abundantly repeated; spoken in all dialects, and chanted through all notes of the gamut, till the sound of it had grown a weariness rather than a pleasure. Skeptical sentimentality, view-hunting, love, friendship, suicide, and desperation, became the staple of literary ware; and though the epidemic, after a long course of years, subsided in Germany, it reappeared with various modifications in other countries, and everywhere abundant traces of its good and bad effects are still to be discerned. The fortune of Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, though less sudden, was by no means less exalted. In his own country, Goetz, though he now stands solitary and childless, became the parent of an innumerable progeny, of chivalry plays, feudal delineations, and poetico-antiquarian performances; which, though long ago deceased, made noise enough in their day and generation: and with ourselves, his influence has been perhaps still more remarkable. Sir Walter Scott's first literary enterprise was a translation of Goetz von Berlichingen; and, if genius could be communicated like instruction, we might call this work of Goethe's the prime cause of Marmion and the Lady of the Lake, with all that has followed from the same creative hand. Truly, a grain of seed that has lighted on the right soil! For if not firmer and fairer, it has grown to be taller and broader than any other tree; and all the nations of the earth are still yearly gathering of its fruit.
Goethe's two earliest works are Goetz von Berlichingen and The Sorrows of Werter. The boundless influence and popularity they gained, both at home and abroad, is well known. It was they that established almost at once his literary fame in his own country; and even determined his subsequent private history, for they brought him into contact with the Duke of Weimar; in connection with whom, the Poet, engaged in manifold duties, political as well as literary, has lived for fifty-four years, and still, in honourable retirement, continues to live.* Their effects over Europe at large were not less striking than in Germany.
"But overlooking these spiritual genealogies, which bring little certainty and little profit, it may be sufficient to observe of Berlichingen and Werter, that they stand prominent among the causes, or at the very least, among the signals of a great change in modern literature. The former directed men's attention with a new force to the picturesque effects of the Past; and the latter, for the first time, attempted the more accurate delineation of a class of feelings deeply important to modern minds, but for which our elder poetry offered no exponent, and perhaps could offer none, because they are feelings that arise from Passion incapable of being converted into Action, and belong chiefly to an age as indolent, cultivated, and unbelieving as our own. This, notwithstanding the dash of falsehood which may exist in Werfer itself, and the boundless delirium of extravagance which it called forth in others, is a high praise which cannot justly be denied it. The English reader ought also to understand that our current version of Werter is mutilated "It would be difficult," observes a writer on and inaccurate: it comes to us through the this subject, "to name two books which have all-subduing medium of the French, shorn of exercised a deeper influence on the subsequent its caustic strength, with its melancholy renliterature of Europe than these two perform-dered maudlin, its hero reduced from the stateances of a young author; his first-fruits, the ly gloom of a broken-hearted poet to the tearful wrangling of a dyspeptic tailor."*
Since the above was written, that worthy Prince, worthy, we have understood, in all respects, exemplary In whatever concerned Literature and the Arts, has been called suddenly awt v. He died on his road from Berlin, Bear Torgau, on the 14th of June.
To the same dark, wayward mood, which, in Werter, pours itself forth in bitter wailings
German Romance, tol. iv. pp. 5-7