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[FOREIGN Review, 1828.]
It is not on this “Second Portion" of Goethe's Jracter: but here, unhappily, our knowledge works, which at any rate contains nothing new almost terminates; and still must Curiosity, to us, that we mean at present to dwell. In our must ingenuous love of Information and mere last Number, we engaged to make some survey passive Wonder alike inquire: What manner of his writings and character in general; and of man is this? How shall we interpret, how must now endeavour, with such insight as we shall we even see him ? What is his spiritual have, to fulfil that promise.
structure, what at least are the outward form We have already said that we reckoned this and features of his mind? Has he any real no unimportant subject; and few of Goethe's poetic worth; and if so, how much; how much readers can need to be reminded that it is no to his own people, how much to us? easy one. We hope also that our pretensions Reviewers, of great and of small character, in regard to it are not exorbitant; the sum of have manfully endeavoured to satisfy the Briour aims being nowise to solve so deep and tish world on these points: but which of us pregnant an inquiry, but only to show that an could believe their report? Did it not rather inquiry of such a sort lies ready for solution; become apparent, as we reflccted on the matcourts the attention of thinking men among us, ter, that this Goethe of theirs was not the real Day, merits a thorough investigation, and must man, nay, could not be any real man whatever? sooner or later obtain it. Goethe's literary For what, after all, were their portraits of him history appears to us a matter, beyond most but copies, with some retouchings and ornaothers, of rich, subtile, and manifold signifi- mental appendages, of our grand English cance; which will require and reward the best original Picture of the German generically ?study of the best heads, and to the right expo- In itself such a piece of art, as national porsition of which not one but many judgments traits, under like circumstances, are wont to be ; will be necessary.
and resembling Goethe, as some unusually exHowever, we need not linger, preluding on pressive Sign of the Saracen's Head may reour own inability, and magnifying the difficul- semble the present Sultan of Constantinople! ties we have so courageously volunteered to Did we imagine that much information, or front. Considering the highly complex aspect any very deep sagacity were required for which such a mind of itself presents to us; avoiding such mistakes, it would ill become and, still more, taking into account the state us to step forward on this occasion. But of English opinion in respect of it, there cer- surely it is given to every man, if he will but tainly seem few literary questions of our time take heed, to know so much as whether or not 20 perplexed, dubious, perhaps hazardous, as he knows. And nothing can be plainer to us this of the character of Goethe; but few also than that if, in the present business, we can on which a well-founded, or even a sincere, report aught from our own personal vision and Ford would be more likely to profit. For our clear hearty belief, it will be a useful novelty countrymen, at no time indisposed to foreign in the discussion of it. Let the reader be excellence, but at all times cautious of foreign patient with us then ; and according as he finds singularity, have heard much of Goethe; but that we speak honestly and earnestly, or loosely heard, for the most part, what excited and per- and dishonestly, consider our statement, or dise plexed rather than instructed them. Vague miss it as unworthy of consideration. rumors of the man have, for more than half a Viewed in his merely external relations, century, been humming through our ears: Goethe exhibits an appearance such as seldom from time to time, we have even seen some occurs in the history of letters, and indeed, distorted, mutilated transcript of his own from the nature of the case, can seldom occur. thoughts, which, all obscure and hieroglyphi- A man, who, in early lise, rising almost at a cal as it might often seem, failed not to emit single bound into the highest reputation over here and there a ray of keenest and purest all Europe; by gradual advances, fixing himsense; travellers also are still running to and self more and more firmly in the reverence of fro, importing the opinions or, at worst, the his countrymen, ascends silently through many gossip of foreign countries: so that, by one vicissitudes to the supreme intellectual place means or another, many of us have come to among them; and now, after half a century, understand, that considerably the most dis- distinguished by convulsions, political, moral, tinguished poet and thinker of his age is called and poetical, still reigns, full of years and Goethe, and lives at Weimar, and must, to all honours, with a soft undisputed sway; still appearance, be an extremely surprising cha labouring in his vocation, still forwarding, as
with knightly benignity, whatever can profit Geethe's Sämmtliche Werke. Vollständige Ausgabe the culture of his nation : such a man might letzter Hand. Goethe's Collective Works, complete justly attract our notice, were it only by the Edition, with his final Corrections.) Bee, vi-1. Cotta : Stuttgard and Tübingen. 1827. 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 All this is, no doubt, singular enough; and a days pass for a divine one; the word Inspira- proper understanding of it would throw light tion still lingers, but only in the shape of a on many things. Whatever we may think of poetic figure, from which the once earnest, Goethe's ascendency, the existence of it reawful, and soul-subduing sense has vanished mains a highly curious fact; and to trace its without return. The polity of Literature is history, to discover by what steps such in. called a Republic; oftener it is an Anarchy, Auence has been attained, and how so long where, by strength or fortune, favourite after preserved, were no trivial or unprofitable infavourite rises into splendour and authority, quiry. It would be worth while to see so but like Masaniello, while judging the people, strange a man for his own sake; and here we is on the third day deposed and shot. Nay, should see, not only the man himself, and his few such adventurers can attain even this own progress and spiritual development, but painful pre-eminence; for at most, it is clear, the progress also of his nation; and this at no any given age can have but one first man; sluggish or even quiet era, but in times marked many ages have only a crowd of secondary by strange revolutions of opinions, by angry men, each of whom is first in his own eyes : controversies, high enthusiasm, novelty of en. and seldom, at best, can the “Single Person" terprise, and doubtless, in many respects, by long keep his station at the head of this wild rapid advancement: for that the Germans have commonwealth ; most sovereigns are never been, and still are, restlessly struggling foruniversally acknowledged, least of all in their ward, with honest unwearied effort, sometimes lifetimes ; few of the acknowledged can reign with enviable success, no one, who knows peaceably to the end.
them, will deny; and as little, that in every Of such a perpetual dictatorship Voltaire province of Literature, of Art, and humane among the French gives the last European accomplishment, the influence, often the direct instance; but even with him it was perhaps a guidance of Goethe may be recognised. The much less striking affair. Voltaire reigned history of his mind is, in fact, at the same time, over a sect, less as their lawgiver than as their the history of German culture in his day; general; for he was at bitter enmity with the for whatever excellence this individual might great numerical majority of his nation, by realize has sooner or later been acknowledged whom his services, far from being acknow- and appropriated by his country; and the title ledged as benefits, were execrated as abomina- of Musagetes, which his admirers give him, is tions. But Goethe's object has, at all times, perhaps, in sober strictness, not unmerited. been rather to unite than to divide; and though Be it for good or for evil, there is certainly no he has not scrupled, as occasion served, to German, since the days of Luther, whose life speak forth his convictions distinctly enough can occupy so large a space in the intellectual on many delicate topics, and seems, in general, history of that people. to have paid little court to the prejudices or In this point of view, were it in no other, private feelings of any man or body of men, Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit, so soon as it we see not at present that his merits are any is completed, may deserve to be reckoned one where disputed, his intellectual endeavours of his most interesting works. We speak pot controverted, or his person regarded otherwise of its literary merits, though in that respect, than with affection and respect. In later years, too, we must say that few Autobiographies too, the advanced age of the poet has invested have come in our way, where so difficult a him with another sort of dignity; and the ad- matter was so successfully handled; where miration to which his great qualities give him perfect knowledge could be found united so claim, is tempered into a milder, grateful feel- kindly with perfect tolerance; and a personal ing, almost as of sons and grandsons to their narrative, moving along in soft clearness, common father. Dissentients, no doubt, there showed us a man, and the objects that enare and must be; but, apparently, their cause vironed him, under an aspect so verisimilar, is not pleaded in words: no man of the small- yet so lovely, with an air dignified and earnesi, est note speaks on that side; or at most, such yet graceful, cheerful, even gay: a story as of men may question, not the worth of Goethe, a Patriarch to his children; such indeed, as but the cant and idle affectation with which, in few men can be called upon to relate, and few, many quarters, this must be promulgated and if called upon, could relate so well. What bepraised. Certainly there is not, probably would we give for such an Autobiography of there never was, in any European country, a Shakspeare, of Milton, even of Pope or Swift! writer who, with so cunning a style, and so Dichtung und Wahrheit has been censured condeep, so abstruse a sense, ever found so many siderably in England; but not, we are inclined readers. For, from the peasant to the king, to believe, with any insight into its proper from the callow dilettante and innamorato, to meaning. The misfortune of the work among tho grave transcendental philosopher, men of us was, that we did not know the narrator beau deg ees and dispositions are familiar with fore his narrative; and could not judge what the wi.tings of Goethe: each studies them sort of narrative he was bound to give, in these with affection, with a faith which,“ where it circumstances, or whether he was bound to give any at all. We say nothing of his situa-| wise that German translator, whom indignant tion; heard only the sound of his voice; and Reviewers have proved to know no German, hearing it, never doubted that he must be per- were a highly reprehensible man. His work, orating in official garments from the rostrum, it appears, is done from the French, and shows instead of speaking trustfully by the fireside. subiractions, and, what is worse, additions For the chief ground of offence seemed to be, But the unhappy Dragoman has already been that the story was not noble enough ; that it chastised, perhaps too sharply. If warring entered on details of too poor and private a with the reefs and breakers and cross eddies nature; verged here and there towards garru- of Life, he still hover on this side the shadow lity; was not, in one word, written in the style of Night, and any word of ours might reach of what we call a gentleman. Whether it might him, we would rather say: Courage, Brother! be written in the style of a man, and how far Grow honest, and times will mend! these two styles might be compatible, and It would appear, then, that for inquirers into what might be their relative worth and prefer- Foreign Literature, for all men, anxious to see ableness, was a deeper question, to which ap- and understand the European world as it lies parently no heed had been given. Yet herein around them, a great problem is presented in lay the very cream of the matter; for Goethe this Goethe ; a singular, highly significant phe. was not writing to " persons of quality" in nomenon, and now, also, means more or less England, but to persons of heart and head in complete for ascertaining its significance. A Europe: a somewhat different problem perhaps, man of wonderful, nay unexampled reputation and requiring a somewhat different solution and intellectual influence among forty millions As to this ignobleness and freedom of detail, of reflective, serious, and cultivated men, inespecially, we may say, that, to a German, few vites us to study him; and to determine for accusations could appear more surprising than ourselves whether and how far such influence this, which, with us, constitutes the head and has been salutary, such reputation merited. front of his offending. Goeihe, in his own That this call will one day be answered, that country, far from being accused of undue Goethe will be seen and judged of in his real familiarity towards his readers, had, up to that character among us, appears certain enough. date, been labouring under precisely the oppo- His name, long familiar everywhere, has now site charge. It was his stateliness, his reserve, awakened the attention of critics in all Eu. his indifference, his contempt for the public, ropean countries to his works : he is studied that were censured. Strange, almost inexpli- wherever true study exists; eagerly studied cable, as many of his works might appear; even in France; nay, some considerable know. loud, sorrowful, and altogether stolid as might ledge of his nature and spiritual importance be the criticisms they underwent, no word of seems already to prevail there.* explanation could be wrung from him; he had For ourselves, meanwhile, in giving all due never even deigned to write a preface. And weight to so curious an exhibition of opinion, in later and juster days, when the study of it is doubtless our part, at the same time, to Poetry came to be prosecuted in another spirit, beware that we do not give it too much. This and it was found that Goethe was standing, not universal sentiment of admiration is wonderlike a culprit to plead for himself before the ful, is interesting enough; but it must not literary plebeians, but like a higher teacher and lead us astray. We English stand as yet preacher, speaking for truth, to whom both without the sphere of it; neither will we plunge plebeians and patricians were bound to give all blindly in, but enter considerately, or, if we see ear, the outward difficulty of interpreting his good, keep aloof from it altogether. Fame, we works began indeed to vanish; but enough still may understand, is no sure test of merit, butremained, nay, increased curiosity had given only a probability of such: it is an accident, rise to new difficulties, and deeper inquiries. not a property, of a man; like light, it can Not only what were these works, but how did give little or nothing, but at most may show they originate, became questions for the critic. what is given; often, it is but a false glare, daz. Yet several of Goethe's chief productions, and, zling the eyes of the vulgar, lending by casual, of his smaller poems, nearly the whole, seemed extrinsic splendour the brightness and mani: 60 intimately interwoven with his private his fold glance of the diamond to the pebbles of no tory, that without some knowledge of this, no value. A man is in all cases simply the man, answer to such questions could be given. Nay, of the same intrinsic worth and weakness, commentaries have been written on single whether his worth and weakness lie hidden in pieces of his, endeavouring, by way of guess, the depths of his own consciousness, or be be. to supply this deficiency.* We can thus judge trumpeted and beshouted from end to end of whether, to the Germans, such minuteness of the habitable globe. These are plain truths, exposition in this Dichtung und Wahrheit may which no one should lose sight of; though, have seemed a sin. Few readers of Goethe, whether in love or in anger, for praise or for we believe, but would wish rather to see it ex- condemnation, most of us are too apt to forget tended than curtajled.
them. But least of all can it become the critic It is our duty also to remark, if any one be to “ follow a multitude to do evil,” even wher still unaware of it, that the Memoirs of Goethe, that evil is excess of admiration; on the con. published some years ago in London, can have trary, it will behove him to lift up his voice, no real concern with this autobiography. The how feeble soever, how unheeded soever, rage of hunger is an excuse for much; other against the common delusion; from which, if
* Witness Le T'asse, 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, Haasreise 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 er. With these things in some measure before perience also and sympathy in the ways of all us, we must remind our readers of another in- men, which qualify him to stand forth, not only tluence at work in this affair, and one acting, as the literary ornament, but in many respects as we think, in the contrary direction. That too as the Teacher and exemplar of his age. pitiful enough desire for " originality," which For, to say nothing of his natural gifts, he has Turks and acts in all minds, will rather, we cultivated himself and his art, he has studied imagine, lead the critic of Foreign Literature how to live and write, with a fidelity, an unto adopt the negative than the affirmative with wearied earnestness, of which there is no other regard to Goethe. If a writer, indeed, feel that living instance; of which, among British he is writing for England alone, invisibly and poets especially, Wordsworth alone offers any inaudibly to the rest of the Earth, the tempta- resemblance. And this in our view is the retions may be pretty equally balanced ; if he sult: To our minds, in these soft, melodious write for some small conclave, which he mis- imaginations of his, there is embodied the Wise takenly thinks the representative of England, dom which is proper to this time; the beautithey may sway this way or that, as it chances. ful, the religious Wisdom, which may still, But writing in such isolated spirit is no long, with something of its old impressiveness, speak er possible. Traffic, with its swift ships, is to the whole soul; still, in these hard, unbeuniting all nations into one; Europe at large lieving, utilitarian days, reveal to us glimpses is becoming more and more one public: and of the Unseen but not unreal World, that so in this public, the voices for Goethe, compared the Actual and the Ideal may again meet to with those against him, are in the proportion, gether, and clear Knowledge be again wedded as we reckon them, both as to the number and to Religion, in the life and business of men. 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 de not 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,
Our own view of the case coincides, we con- and as, in this case, it must be, by deep and fess, in some degree with that of the majority. careful inspection of his works. Nay, Goethe's We reckon that Goethe's fame has, to a conside- world is every way so different from ours; it costs rable extent, been deserved; that his influence us such effort, we have so much to remember and has been of high benefit to his own country; so much to forget, before we can transfer ournay more, that it promises to be of benefit to selves in any measure into his peculiar point of us, and to all other pations. The essential vision, that a right study of him, for an Englishgrounds of this opinion, which to explain man, even of ingenuous, open, inquisitive mind, minutely were a long, indeed boundless task, becomes unusually difficult; for a fixed, decided, we may state without many words. We find, contemptuous Englishman, next to impossible. then, in Goethe, an Artist, in the high and an- To a reader of the first class, helps may be cieni meaning of that term; in the meaning given, explanations will remove many a diffiwhich it may have borne long ago among the culty; beauties that Jay hidden may be made masters of Italian painting, and the fathers of apparent; and directions, adapted to his actual Poetry in England; we say that we trace in the position, will at length guide him into the proper creations of this man, belonging in every sense track for such an inquiry. All this, however, to our own time, some touches of that old, must be a work of progression and detail. To divine spirit, which had long passed away from do our part in it, from time to time, musi rank among us, nay, which, as has often been la- among the best duties of an English Foreign boriously demonstrated, was not to return to Review. Meanwhile, our present endeavour this world any more.
limits itself within far narrower bounds. We Or perhaps we come nearer our meaning, if cannot aim to make Goethe known, but only to we say that in Goethe we discover by far the prove that he is worthy of being known; at most striking instance, in our time, of a writer most, to point out, as it were afar off, the path who is, in strict speech, what Philosophy can by which some knowledge of him may be obcall a Man. He is neither noble nor plebeian, tained. A slight glance at his general literary neither liberal nor servile, nor infidel, nor de- character and procedure, and one or two of votee; but the best excellence of all these, his chief productions, which throw light on joined in pure union;“a clear and universal these, must for the present suffice. Man.” Goethe's poetry is no separate faculty, A French diplomatic personage, contemno mental handicraft; but the voice of the plating Goethe's physiognomy, is said to have whole harmonious manhood: nay it is the very observed: Voilà un homme qui a cu beaucoup de harmony, the living and life-giving harmony chagrins. A truer version of the matter, Goethe of that rich manhood which forms his poetry. himself seems to think, would have been: All good men may be called poets in act, or in Here is a man who has struggled toughly; who word; all good prets are so in both. But I has es sich recht sauer werden lassen. Goethe's life, wl.:ther as a writer and thinker, or as a produce of his twenty-fourth year. Werter living, active man, has indeed been a life of appeared to seize the hearts of men in all effort, or earnest toilsome endeavour after all quarters of the world, and to utier for them the excellence. Accordingly, his intellectual pro- word which they had long been waiting to hear. gress, bis spiritual and moral history, as it may As usually happens, too, this same word, once be gathered from his successive works, fur- uttered, was soon abundantly repeated; spoken nishes, with us, no small portion of the plea- in all dialects, and chanted through all notes sure and profit we derive from perusing them. of the gamut, till the sound of it had grown a Participating deeply in all the influences of weariness rather than a pleasure.' Skeptical his age, he has from the first, at every new sentimentality, view-hunting, love, friendship, epoch, stood forth to elucidate the new circum- suicide, and desperation, became the staple of stances of the time: to offer the instruction, the literary ware; and though the epidemic, after solace, which that time required. His literary a long course of years, subsided in Germany, life divides itself into two portions widely dif- it reappeared with various modifications in ferent in character: the products of the first, other countries, and everywhere abundant once so new and original, have long, either traces of its good and bad effects are still to be directly or through the thousand, thousand discerned. The fortune of Berlichingen with the imitations of them, been familiar to us; with Iron Hand, though less sudden, was by no the products of the second, equally original, means less exalted. In his own country, Goetz, and, in our day, far more precious, we are yet though he now stands solitary and childless, little acquainted. These two classes of works became the parent of an innumerable progeny, stand curiously related with each other; at first of chivalry plays, feudal delineations, and poview, in strong contradiction, yet, in truth, etico-antiquarian performances; which, though connected together by the strictest sequence. long ago deceased, made noise enough in their For Goethe has not only suffered and mourned day and generation: and with ourselves, his in bitter agony under the spiritual perplexities influence has been perhaps still more remarkof his time; but he has also mastered ihese, he able. Sir Walter Scott's first literary enteris above them, and has shown others how to prise was a translation of Goetz von Berlichingen; rise above them. At one time, we found him and, if genius could be communicated like inin darkness, and now, he is in light; he was struction, we might call this work of Goethe's once au Unbeliever; and now he is a Believer; the prime cause of Marmion and the Lady of and he believes, moreover, not by denying his the Lake, with all that has followed from the unbelief, but by followi it out; not by stop- same creative hand. Truly, a grain of seed ping short, still less turning back, in his inqui- that has lighted on the right soil! For if not ries, but by resolutely prosecuting them. This, firmer and fairer, it has grown to be taller and it appears to us, is a case of singular interest, broader than any other tree; and all the nations and rarely exemplified, if at all, elsewhere, in of the earth are still yearly gathering of its these our days. How has this man, to whom fruit. the world once offered nothing but blackness, “But overlooking these spiritual genealogies, denial, and despair, attained to that better which bring little certainty and little profit, it vision which now shows it to him, not tolerable may be sufficient to observe of Berlichingen and only, but full of solemnity and loveliness ? Werter, that they stand prominent among the How has the belief of a Saint been united in causes, or at the very least, among the signals this high and true mind with the clearness of a of a great change in modern literature. The Skeptic; the devout spirit of a Fenelon made former directed men's attention with a new to blend in soft harmony with the gayety, the force to the picturesque effects of the Past; sarcasm, the shrewdness of a Voltaire ? and the latter, for the first time, attempted the
Goethe's two earliest works are Goetz von more accurate delineation of a class of feelings Berlichingen and The Sorrows of Werter. The deeply important to modern minds, but for boundless influence and popularity they gained, which our elder poetry offered no exponent, both at home and abroad, is well known. It and perhaps could offer none, because they was they that established almost at once his are feelings that arise from Passion incapable literary fame in his own country; and even of being converted into Action, an1 belong determined his subsequent private history, for chietly to an age as indolent, cultivated, and they brought him into contact with the Duke unbelieving as our own. This, notwithstanding of Weimar; in connection with whom, the Poet, the dash of falsehood which may exist in Werengaged in manifold duties, political as well as ter itself, and the boundless delirium of extraliterary, has lived for fifty-four years, and still, vagance which it called forth in others, is a in honourable retirement, continues to live.* high praise which cannot justly be denied it. Their effects over Europe at large were not less The English reader ought also to understand striking than in Germany.
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 subsequentiis 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 tear.
ful wrangling of a dyspeptic tailor."* • Since the above was written, that worthy Prince,
To the same dark, wayward mood, which, worthy, we have understood, in all respects, exemplary in Werter, pours itself forth in bitter wailings In whatever concerned Literature and the Arts, has been called suddenly a wiv. He died on his road from Berlin, Bear Torgau, on the 24th of June.
* German Romance, fol. iv. pp. 5-7