CHIPS FROM A GERMAN WORKSHOP
F. MAX MUeLLER, M. A.,
FOREIGN MEMBER OF THE FRENCH INSTITUTE, ETC.
ESSAYS ON LITERATURE, BIOGRAPHY, AND ANTIQUITIES.
CHARLES SCRIBNER AND COMPANY.
DEDICATION. I. GERMAN LITERATURE. LIST OF EXTRACTS FOR ILLUSTRATING THE HISTORY OF GERMAN LITERATURE. II. OLD GERMAN LOVE-SONGS. III. YE SCHYPPE OF FOOLES. IV. LIFE OF SCHILLER. V. WILHELM MUeLLER. 1794-1827. VI. ON THE LANGUAGE AND POETRY OF SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN. VII. JOINVILLE. VIII. THE JOURNAL DES SAVANTS AND THE JOURNAL DE TREVOUX. IX. CHASOT. X. SHAKESPEARE. XI. BACON IN GERMANY. XII. A GERMAN TRAVELLER IN ENGLAND. XIII. CORNISH ANTIQUITIES. XIV. ARE THERE JEWS IN CORNWALL? XV. THE INSULATION OF ST. MICHAEL'S MOUNT. XVI. BUNSEN. LETTERS FROM BUNSEN TO MAX MUeLLER IN THE YEARS 1848 TO 1859. Footnotes
TO FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE,
IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF KIND HELP
GIVEN TO ME
IN MY FIRST ATTEMPTS AT WRITING IN ENGLISH,
AND AS A MEMORIAL
OF MANY YEARS OF FAITHFUL FRIENDSHIP.
I. GERMAN LITERATURE.(1)
There is no country where so much interest is taken in the literature of Germany as in England, and there is no country where the literature of England is so much appreciated as in Germany. Some of our modern classics, whether poets or philosophers, are read by Englishmen with the same attention as their own; and the historians, the novel-writers, and the poets of England have exercised, and continue to exercise, a most powerful and beneficial influence on the people of Germany. In recent times, the literature of the two countries has almost grown into one. Lord Macaulay's History has not only been translated into German, but reprinted at Leipzig in the original; and it is said to have had a larger sale in Germany than the work of any German historian. Baron Humboldt and Baron Bunsen address their writings to the English as much as to the German public. The novels of Dickens and Thackeray are expected with the same impatience at Leipzig and Berlin as in London. The two great German classics, Schiller and Goethe, have found their most successful biographers in Carlyle and Lewes; and several works of German scholarship have met with more attentive and thoughtful readers in the colleges of England than in the universities of Germany. Goethe's idea of a world-literature has, to a certain extent, been realized; and the strong feeling of sympathy between the best classes in both countries holds out a hope that, for many years to come, the supremacy of the Teutonic race, not only in Europe, but over all the world, will be maintained in common by the two champions of political freedom and of the liberty of thought,—Protestant England and Protestant Germany.
The interest, however, which Englishmen take in German literature has hitherto been confined almost exclusively to the literature of the last fifty years, and very little is known of those fourteen centuries during which the German language had been growing up and gathering strength for the great triumphs which were achieved by Lessing, Schiller, and Goethe. Nor is this to be wondered at. The number of people in England, who take any interest in the early history of their own literature, is extremely small, and there is as yet no history of English literature worthy of that name. It cannot be expected, therefore, that in England many people will care to read in the original the ancient epic poems of the "Nibelunge" or "Gudrun," or acquire a grammatical knowledge of the Gothic of Ulfilas and the Old High-German of Otfried. Gothic, Old High-German, and Middle High-German are three distinct languages, each possessing its own grammar, each differing from the others and from Modern German more materially than the Greek of Homer differs from the Greek of Demosthenes. Even in Germany these languages are studied only by professional antiquarians and scholars, and they do not form part of the general system of instruction in public schools and universities. The study of Gothic grammar alone (where we still find a dual in addition to the singular and plural, and where some tenses of the passive are still formed, as in Greek and Latin, without auxiliary verbs), would require as much time as the study of Greek grammar, though it would not offer the key to a literature like that of Greece. Old High-German, again, is as difficult a language to a German as Anglo-Saxon is to an Englishman; and the Middle High-German of the "Nibelunge," of Wolfram, and Walther, nay even of Eckhart and Tauler, is more remote from the language of Goethe than Chaucer is from Tennyson.
But, without acquiring a grammatical knowledge of these ancient languages, there are, I believe, not a few people who wish to know something of the history of German literature. Nor is this, if properly taught, a subject of narrow or merely antiquarian interest. The history of literature reflects and helps us to interpret the political history of a country. It contains, as it were, the confession which every generation, before it passed away, has made to posterity. "Without Literary History," as Lord Bacon says, "the History of the World seemeth to be as the Statue of Polyphemus with his eye out; that part being wanting which doth most shew the spirit and life of the person." From this point of view the historian of literature learns to value what to the critic would seem unmeaning and tedious, and he is loath to miss the works even of mediocre poets, where they throw light on the times in which they lived, and serve to connect the otherwise disjointed productions of men of the highest genius, separated, as these necessarily are, by long intervals in the annals of every country.
Although there exists no literature to reward the student of Gothic, yet every one who cares for the history of Germany and of German thought should know something of Ulfilas, the great Bishop of the Goths, who anticipated the work of Luther by more than a thousand years, and who, at a time when Greek and Latin were the only two respectable and orthodox languages of Europe, dared for the first time to translate the Bible into the vulgar tongue of Barbarians, as if foreseeing with a prophetic eye the destiny of these Teutonic tribes, whose language, after Greek and Latin had died away, was to become the life-spring of the Gospel over the whole civilized world. He ought to know something of those early missionaries and martyrs, most of them sent from Ireland and England to preach the Gospel in the dark forests of Germany,—men like St. Gall (died 638), St. Kilian (died 689), and St. Boniface (died 755), who were not content with felling the sacred oak-trees and baptizing unconverted multitudes, but founded missionary stations, and schools, and monasteries; working hard themselves in order to acquire a knowledge of the language and the character of the people, and drawing up those curious lists of barbarous words, with their no less barbarous equivalents in Latin, which we still possess, though copied by a later hand. He ought to know the gradual progress of Christianity and civilization in Germany, previous to the time of Charlemagne; for we see from the German translations of the Rules of the Benedictine monks, of ancient Latin hymns, the Creeds, the Lord's Prayer, and portions of the New Testament, that the good sense of the national clergy had led them to do what Charlemagne had afterwards to enjoin by repeated Capitularia.(2) It is in the history of German literature that we learn what Charlemagne really was. Though claimed as a saint by the Church of Rome, and styled Empereur Francais by modern French historians, Karl was really and truly a German king, proud, no doubt, of his Roman subjects, and of his title of Emperor, and anxious to give to his uncouth Germans the benefit of Italian and English teachers, but fondly attached in his heart to his own mother tongue, to the lays and laws of his fatherland: feelings displayed in his own attempt to compose a German grammar, and in his collection of old national songs, fragments of which may have been preserved to us in the ballads of Hildebrand and Hadubrand.
After the death of Charlemagne, and under the reign of the good but weak King Ludwig, the prospects of a national literature in Germany became darkened. In one instance, indeed, the king was the patron of a German poet; for he encouraged the author of the "Heliand" to write that poem for the benefit of his newly converted countrymen. But he would hardly have approved of the thoroughly German and almost heathen spirit which pervades that Saxon epic of the New Testament, and he expressed his disgust at the old German poems which his great father had taught him in his youth. The seed, however, which Charlemagne had sown had fallen on healthy soil, and grew up even without the sunshine of royal favor. The monastery of Fulda, under Hrabanus Maurus, the pupil of Alcuin, became the seminary of a truly national clergy. Here it was that Otfried, the author of the rhymed "Gospel-book" was brought up. In the mean time, the heterogeneous elements of the Carlovingian Empire broke asunder. Germany, by losing its French and Italian provinces, became Germany once more. Ludwig the German was King of Germany, Hrabanus Maurus Archbishop of Mayence; and the spirit of Charlemagne, Alcuin, and Eginhard was revived at Aachen, Fulda, and many other places, such as St. Gall, Weissenburg, and Corvey, where schools were founded on the model of that of Tours. The translation of the "Harmony of the Gospels," gives us a specimen of the quiet studies of those monasteries, whereas the lay on the victory of Louis III. over the Normans, in 881, reminds us of the dangers that threatened Germany from the West at the same time that the Hungarians began their inroads from the East. The Saxon Emperors had hard battles to fight against these invaders, and there were few places in Germany where the peaceful pursuits of the monasteries and schools could be carried on without interruption. St. Gall is the one bright star in the approaching gloom of the next centuries. Not only was the Bible read, and translated, and commented upon in German at St. Gall, as formerly at Fulda, but Greek and Roman classics were copied and studied for educational purposes. Notker Teutonicus is the great representative of that school, which continued to maintain its reputation for theological and classical learning, and for a careful cultivation of the national language, nearly to the close of the eleventh century. At the court of the Saxon Emperors, though their policy was thoroughly German, there was little taste for German poetry. The Queen of Otto I. was a Lombard, the Queen of Otto II. a Greek lady; and their influence was not favorable to the rude poetry of national bards. If some traces of their work have been preserved to us, we owe it again to the more national taste of the monks of St. Gall and Passau. They translate some of the German epics into Latin verse, such as the poem of the "Nibelunge," of "Walther of Aquitain," and of "Ruodlieb." The first is lost; but the other two have been preserved and published.(3) The stories of the Fox and the Bear, and the other animals,—a branch of poetry so peculiar to Germany, and epic rather than didactic in its origin,—attracted the attention of the monks; and it is owing again to their Latin translations that the existence of this curious style of poetry can be traced back so far as the tenth century.(4) As these poems are written in Latin, they could not find a place in a German reading-book; but they, as well as the unduly suspected Latin plays of the nun Hrosvitha, throw much light on the state of German civilization during the tenth and eleventh centuries.
The eleventh century presents almost an entire blank in the history of literature. Under the Frankish or Salic dynasty, Germany had either to defend herself against the inroads of Hungarian and Slavonic armies, or it was the battle-field of violent feuds between the Emperors and their vassals. The second half of that century was filled with the struggles between Henry IV. and Pope Gregory VII. The clergy, hitherto the chief support of German literature, became estranged from the German people; and the insecurity of the times was unfavorable to literary pursuits. Williram's German had lost the classical correctness of Notker's language, and the "Merigarto," and similar works, are written in a hybrid style, which is neither prose nor poetry. The Old High-German had become a literary language chiefly through the efforts of the clergy, and the character of the whole Old High-German literature is preeminently clerical. The Crusades put an end to the preponderance of the clerical element in the literature of Germany. They were, no doubt, the work of the clergy. By using to the utmost the influence which they had gradually gained and carefully fomented, the priests were able to rouse a whole nation to a pitch of religious enthusiasm never known before or after. But the Crusades were the last triumph of the clergy; and with their failure the predominant influence of the clerical element in German society is checked and extinguished.
From the first beginning of the Crusades the interest of the people was with the knight,—no longer with the priest. The chivalrous Emperors of the Hohenstaufen dynasty formed a new rallying point for all national sympathies. Their courts, and the castles of their vassals, offered a new and more genial home to the poets of Germany than the monasteries of Fulda and St. Gall. Poetry changed hands. The poets took their inspirations from real life, though they borrowed their models from the romantic cycles of Brittany and Provence. Middle High-German, the language of the Swabian court, became the language of poetry. The earliest compositions in that language continue for a while to bear the stamp of the clerical poetry of a former age. The first Middle High-German poems are written by a nun; and the poetical translation of the Books of Moses, the poem on Anno, Bishop of Cologne, and the "Chronicle of the Roman Emperors," all continue to breathe the spirit of cloisters and cathedral towns. And when a new taste for chivalrous romances was awakened in Germany; when the stories of Arthur and his knights, of Charlemagne and his champions, of Achilles, AEneas, and Alexander, in their modern dress, were imported by French and Provencal knights, who, on their way to Jerusalem, came to stay at the castles of their German allies, the first poets who ventured to imitate these motley compositions were priests, not laymen. A few short extracts from Konrad's "Roland" and Lamprecht's "Alexander" are sufficient to mark this period of transition. Like Charlemagne, who had been changed into a legendary hero by French poets before he became again the subject of German poetry, another German worthy returned at the same time to his native home, though but slightly changed by his foreign travels, "Reinhard the Fox." The influence of Provence and of Flanders is seen in every branch of German poetry at that time; and yet nothing can be more different than the same subject, as treated by French and German poets. The German Minnesaenger in particular were far from being imitators of the Trouveres or Troubadours. There are a few solitary instances of lyric poems translated from Provencal into German;(5) as there is, on the other hand, one poem translated from German into Italian,(6) early in the thirteenth century. But the great mass of German lyrics are of purely German growth. Neither the Romans, nor the lineal descendants of the Romans, the Italians, the Provencals, the Spaniards, can claim that poetry as their own. It is Teutonic, purely Teutonic in its heart and soul, though its utterance, its rhyme and metre, its grace and imagery, have been touched by the more genial rays of the brilliant sun of a more southern sky. The same applies to the great romantic poems of that period. The first impulse came from abroad. The subjects were borrowed from a foreign source, and the earlier poems, such as Heinrich von Veldecke's "AEneid," might occasionally paraphrase the sentiments of French poets. But in the works of Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Gottfried von Strassburg, we breathe again the pure German air; and we cannot but regret that these men should have taken the subjects of their poems, with their unpronounceable names, extravagant conceits, and licentious manners, from foreign sources, while they had at home their grand mythology, their heroic traditions, their kings and saints, which would have been more worthy subjects than Tristan and Isold, Schionatulander and Sigune. There were new thoughts stirring in the hearts and minds of those men of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A hundred years before Dante, the German poets had gazed with their eyes wide open into that infinite reality which underlies our short existence on earth. To Wolfram, and to many a poet of his time, the human tragedy of this world presented the same unreal, transitory, and transparent aspect which we find again in Dante's "Divine Comedy." Everything points to another world. Beauty, love, virtue, happiness,—everything, in fact, that moves the heart of the poet,—has a hidden reference to something higher than this life; and the highest object of the highest poetry seems to be to transfer the mind to those regions where men feel the presence of a Divine power and a Divine love, and are lost in blissful adoration. The beginning of the thirteenth century is as great an era in the history of German literature as the beginning of the nineteenth. The German mind was completely regenerated. Old words, old thoughts, old metres, old fashions, were swept away, and a new spring dawned over Germany. The various branches of the Teutonic race which, after their inroads into the seats of Roman civilization, had for a time become separated, were beginning to assume a national independence,—when suddenly a new age of migration threatened to set in. The knights of France and Flanders, of England, Lombardy, and Sicily, left their brilliant castles. They marched to the East, carrying along with them the less polished, but equally enthusiastic, nobility of Germany. From the very first the spirit of the Roman towns in Italy and Gaul had exercised a more civilizing influence on the Barbarians who had crossed the Alps and the Rhine, whereas the Germans of Germany proper had been left to their own resources, assisted only by the lessons of the Roman clergy. Now, at the beginning of the Crusades, the various divisions of the German race met again, but they met as strangers; no longer with the impetuosity of Franks and Goths, but with the polished reserve of a Godefroy of Bouillon and the chivalrous bearing of a Frederick Barbarossa. The German Emperors and nobles opened their courts to receive their guests with brilliant hospitality. Their festivals, the splendor and beauty of their tournaments, attracted crowds from great distances, and foremost among them poets and singers. It was at such festivals as Heinrich von Veldecke describes at Mayence, in 1184, under Frederick I., that French and German poetry were brought face to face. It was here that high-born German poets learnt from French poets the subjects of their own romantic compositions. German ladies became the patrons of German poets; and the etiquette of French chivalry was imitated at the castles of German knights. Poets made bold for the first time to express their own feelings, their joys and sufferings, and epic poetry had to share its honors with lyric songs. Not only France and Germany, but England and Northern Italy were drawn into this gay society. Henry II. married Eleanor of Poitou, and her grace and beauty found eloquent admirers in the army of the Crusaders. Their daughter Mathilde was married to Henry the Lion, of Saxony, and one of the Provencal poets has celebrated her loveliness. Frenchmen became the tutors of the sons of the German nobility. French manners, dresses, dishes, and dances were the fashion everywhere. The poetry which flourished at the castles was soon adopted by the lower ranks. Travelling poets and jesters are frequently mentioned, and the poems of the "Nibelunge" and "Gudrun," such as we now possess them, were composed at that time by poets who took their subjects, their best thoughts and expressions, from the people, but imitated the language, the metre, and the manners of the court poets. The most famous courts to which the German poets resorted, and where they were entertained with generous hospitality, were the court of Leopold, Duke of Austria (1198-1230), and of his son Frederick II.; of Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia, who resided at the Wartburg, near Eisenach (1190-1215); of Berthold, Duke of Zaehringen (1186-1218); and of the Swabian Emperors in general. At the present day, when not only the language, but even the thoughts of these poets have become to most of us unintelligible and strange, we cannot claim for their poetry more than an historical interest. But if we wish to know the men who took a leading part in the Crusades, who fought with the Emperors against the Pope, or with the Pope against the Emperors, who lived in magnificent castles like that of the Wartburg, and founded cathedrals like that of Cologne (1248), we must read the poetry which they admired, which they composed or patronized. The subjects of their Romances cannot gain our sympathy. They are artificial, unreal, with little of humanity, and still less of nationality in them. But the mind of a poet like Wolfram von Eschenbach rises above all these difficulties. He has thoughts of his own, truly human, deeply religious, and thoroughly national; and there are expressions and comparisons in his poetry which had never been used before. His style, however, is lengthy, his descriptions tiresome, and his characters somewhat vague and unearthly. As critics, we should have to bestow on Wolfram von Eschenbach, on Gottfried von Strassburg, even on Hartman von Aue and Walther von der Vogelweide, as much of blame as of praise. But as historians, we cannot value them too highly. If we measure them with the poets that preceded and those that followed them, they tower above all like giants. From the deep marks which they left behind, we discover that they were men of creative genius, men who had looked at life with their own eyes, and were able to express what they had seen and thought and felt in a language which fascinated their contemporaries, and which even now holds its charm over all who can bring themselves to study their works in the same spirit in which they read the tragedies of AEschylus, or the "Divina Commedia" of Dante.
But the heyday of German chivalry and chivalrous poetry was of short duration. Toward the end of the thirteenth century we begin to feel that the age is no longer aspiring, and hoping, and growing. The world assumes a different aspect. Its youth and vigor seem spent; and the children of a new generation begin to be wiser and sadder than their fathers. The Crusades languish. Their object, like the object of many a youthful hope, has proved unattainable. The Knights no longer take the Cross "because God wills it;" but because the Pope commands a Crusade, bargains for subsidies, and the Emperor cannot decline his commands. Walther von der Vogelweide already is most bitter in his attacks on Rome. Walther was the friend of Frederick II. (1215-50), an Emperor who reminds us, in several respects, of his namesake of Prussia. He was a sovereign of literary tastes,—himself a poet and a philosopher. Harassed by the Pope, he retaliated most fiercely, and was at last accused of a design to extirpate the Christian religion. The ban was published against him, and his own son rose in rebellion. Germany remained faithful to her Emperor, and the Emperor was successful against his son. But he soon died in disappointment and despair. With him the star of the Swabian dynasty had set, and the sweet sounds of the Swabian lyre died away with the last breath of Corradino, the last of the Hohenstaufen, on the scaffold at Naples, in 1268. Germany was breaking down under heavy burdens. It was visited by the papal interdict, by famine, by pestilence. Sometimes there was no Emperor, sometimes there were two or three. Rebellion could not be kept under, nor could crime be punished. The only law was the "Law of the Fist." The Church was deeply demoralized. Who was to listen to romantic poetry? There was no lack of poets or of poetry. Rudolf von Ems, a poet called Der Stricker, and Konrad von Wuerzburg, all of them living in the middle of the thirteenth century, were more fertile than Hartmann von Aue and Gottfried von Strassburg. They complain, however, that no one took notice of them, and they are evidently conscious themselves of their inferiority. Lyric poetry continued to flourish for a time, but it degenerated into an unworthy idolatry of ladies, and affected sentimentality. There is but one branch of poetry in which we find a certain originality, the didactic and satiric. The first beginnings of this new kind of poetry carry us back to the age of Walther von der Vogelweide. Many of his verses are satirical, political, and didactic; and it is supposed, on very good authority, that Walther was the author of an anonymous didactic poem, "Freidank's Bescheidenheit." By Thomasin von Zerclar, or Tommasino di Circlaria, we have a metrical composition on manners, the "Italian Guest," which likewise belongs to the beginning of the thirteenth century.(7) Somewhat later we meet, in the works of the Stricker, with the broader satire of the middle classes; and toward the close of the century, Hugo von Trimberg, in his "Renner," addresses himself to the lower ranks of German society, and no longer to princes, knights, and ladies.
How is this to be accounted for? Poetry was evidently changing hands again. The Crusades had made the princes and knights the representatives and leaders of the whole nation; and during the contest between the imperial and the papal powers, the destinies of Germany were chiefly in the hands of the hereditary nobility. The literature, which before that time was entirely clerical, had then become worldly and chivalrous. But now, when the power of the emperors began to decline, when the clergy was driven into taking a decidedly anti-national position, when the unity of the empire was well-nigh destroyed, and princes and prelates were asserting their independence by plunder and by warfare, a new element of society rose to the surface,—the middle classes,—the burghers of the free towns of Germany. They were forced to hold together, in order to protect themselves against their former protectors. They fortified their cities, formed corporations, watched over law and morality, and founded those powerful leagues, the first of which, the Hansa, dates from 1241. Poetry also took refuge behind the walls of free towns; and at the fireside of the worthy citizen had to exchange her gay, chivalrous, and romantic strains, for themes more subdued, practical, and homely. This accounts for such works as Hugo von Trimberg's "Renner," as well as for the general character of the poetry of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Poetry became a trade like any other. Guilds were formed, consisting of master-singers and their apprentices. Heinrich Frauenlob is called the first Meistersaenger; and during the fourteenth, the fifteenth, and even the sixteenth centuries, new guilds or schools sprang up in all the principal towns of Germany. After order had been restored by the first Hapsburg dynasty, the intellectual and literary activity of Germany retained its centre of gravitation in the middle classes. Rudolf von Hapsburg was not gifted with a poetical nature, and contemporaneous poets complain of his want of liberality. Attempts were made to revive the chivalrous poetry of the Crusades by Hugo von Montfort and Oswald von Wolkenstein in the beginning of the fifteenth century, and again at the end of the same century by the "Last of the German Knights," the Emperor Maximilian. But these attempts could not but fail. The age of chivalry was gone, and there was nothing great or inspiring in the wars which the Emperors had to wage during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries against their vassals, against the Pope, against the precursors of the Reformation, the Hussites, and against the Turks. In Fritsche Closener's "Chronicle" there is a description of the citizens of Strassburg defending themselves against their bishop in 1312; in Twinger's "Chronicle" a picture of the processions of the Flagellants and the religious enthusiasm of that time (1349). The poems of Suchenwirt and Halbsuter represent the wars of Austria against Switzerland (1386), and Niclas von Weyl's translation gives us a glimpse into the Council of Constance (1414) and the Hussite wars, which were soon to follow. The poetry of those two centuries, which was written by and for the people, is interesting historically, but, with few exceptions, without any further worth. The poets wish to amuse or to instruct their humble patrons, and they do this, either by giving them the dry bones of the romantic poetry of former ages, or by telling them fables and the quaint stories of the "Seven Wise Masters." What beauty there was in a Meistergesang may be fairly seen from the poem of Michael Beheim; and the Easter play by no means shows the lowest ebb of good taste in the popular literature of that time.
It might seem, indeed, as if all the high and noble aspirations of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had been lost and forgotten during the fourteenth and fifteenth. And yet it was not quite so. There was one class of men on whom the spirit of true nobility had descended, and whose works form a connecting chain between the great era of the Crusades and the still greater era of the Reformation. These are the so-called Mystics,—true Crusaders, true knights of the Spirit, many of whom sacrificed their lives for the cause of truth, and who at last conquered from the hands of the infidels that Holy Sepulchre in which the true Christian faith had been lying buried for centuries. The name of Mystics, which has been given to these men, is apt to mislead. Their writings are not dark or unintelligible, and those who call them so must find Christianity itself unintelligible and dark. There is more broad daylight in Eckhart and Tauler than in the works of all the Thomists and Scotists. Eckhart was not a dreamer. He had been a pupil of Thomas Aquinas, and his own style is sometimes painfully scholastic. But there is a fresh breeze of thought in his works, and in the works of his disciples. They knew that whenever the problems of man's relation to God, the creation of the world, the origin of evil, and the hope of salvation come to be discussed, the sharpest edge of logical reasoning will turn, and the best defined terms of metaphysics die away into mere music. They knew that the hard and narrow categories of the schoolmen do greater violence to the highest truths of religion than the soft, and vague, and vanishing tones with which they tried to shadow forth in the vulgar language of the people the distant objects which transcend the horizon of human understanding. They did not handle the truths of Christianity as if they should or could be proved by the syllogisms of our human reasoning. Nevertheless these Mystics were hard and honest thinkers, and never played with words and phrases. Their faith is to them as clear and as real as sunshine; and instead of throwing scholastic dust into the eyes of the people, they boldly told them to open their eyes and to look at the mysteries all around them, and to feel the presence of God within and without, which the priests had veiled by the very revelation which they had preached. For a true appreciation of the times in which they lived, the works of these Reformers of the Faith are invaluable. Without them we should try in vain to explain how a nation which, to judge from its literature, seemed to have lost all vigor and virtue, could suddenly rise and dare the work of a reformation of the Church. With them we learn how that same nation, after groaning for centuries under the yoke of superstition and hypocrisy, found in its very prostration the source of an irresistible strength. The higher clergy contributed hardly anything to the literature of these two centuries; and what they wrote would better have remained unwritten. At St. Gall, toward the end of the thirteenth century, the monks, the successors of Notker, were unable to sign their names. The Abbot was a nobleman who composed love-songs, a branch of poetry at all events out of place in the monastery founded by St. Gall. It is only among the lower clergy that we find the traces of genuine Christian piety and intellectual activity, though frequently branded by obese prelates and obtuse magistrates with the names of mysticism and heresy. The orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans, founded in 1208 and 1215, and intended to act as clerical spies and confessors, began to fraternize in many parts of Germany with the people against the higher clergy. The people were hungry and thirsty after religious teaching. They had been systematically starved, or fed with stones. Part of the Bible had been translated for the people, but what Ulfilas was free to do in the fourth century, was condemned by the prelates assembled at the Synod of Trier in 1231. Nor were the sermons of the itinerant friars in towns and villages always to the taste of bishops and abbots. We possess collections of these discourses, preached by Franciscans and Dominicans under the trees of cemeteries, and from the church-towers of the villages. Brother Berthold, who died in 1272, was a Franciscan. He travelled about the country, and was revered by the poor like a saint and prophet. The doctrine he preached, though it was the old teaching of the Apostles, was as new to the peasants who came to hear him, as it had been to the citizens of Athens who came to hear St. Paul. The saying of St Chrysostom that Christianity had turned many a peasant into a philosopher, came true again in the time of Eckhart and Tauler. Men who called themselves Christians had been taught, and had brought themselves to believe, that to read the writings of the Apostles was a deadly sin. Yet in secret they were yearning after that forbidden Bible. They knew that there were translations, and though these translations had been condemned by popes and synods, the people could not resist the temptation of reading them. In 1373, we find the first complete version of the Bible into German, by Matthias of Beheim. Several are mentioned after this. The new religious fervor that had been kindled among the inferior clergy, and among the lower and middle classes of the laity, became stronger; and, though it sometimes degenerated into wild fanaticism, the sacred spark was kept in safe hands by such men as Eckhart (died 1329), Tauler (died 1361), and the author of the German Theology. Men like these are sure to conquer; they are persecuted justly or unjustly; they suffer and die, and all they thought and said and did seems for a time to have been in vain. But suddenly their work, long marked as dangerous in the smooth current of society, rises above the surface like the coral reefs in the Pacific, and it remains for centuries the firm foundation of a new world of thought and faith. Without the labors of these Reformers of the Faith, the Reformers of the Church would never have found a whole nation waiting to receive, and ready to support them.
There are two other events which prepared the way of the German Reformers of the sixteenth century: the foundation of universities, and the invention of printing. Their importance is the same in the literary and in the political history of Germany. The intellectual and moral character of a nation is formed in schools and universities; and those who educate a people have always been its real masters, though they may go by a more modest name. Under the Roman Empire public schools had been supported by the government, both at Rome and in the chief towns of the Provinces. We know of their existence in Gaul and parts of Germany. With the decline of the central authority, the salaries of the grammarians and rhetors in the Provinces ceased to be paid, and the pagan gymnasia were succeeded by Christian schools, attached to episcopal sees and monasteries. Whilst the clergy retained their vigor and efficiency, their schools were powerful engines for spreading a half clerical and half classical culture in Germany. During the Crusades, when ecclesiastical activity and learning declined very rapidly, we hear of French tutors at the castles of the nobility, and classical learning gave way to the superficial polish of a chivalrous age. And when the nobility likewise relapsed into a state of savage barbarism, new schools were wanted, and they were founded by the towns, the only places where, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we see any evidence of a healthy political life. The first town schools are mentioned in the beginning of the fourteenth century, and they were soon followed by the high schools and universities. The University of Prague was founded in 1348; Vienna, 1366; Heidelberg, 1386; Erfurt, 1392; Leipzig, 1408; Basle, 1460; Tuebingen, 1477; Mainz, 1482. These universities are a novel feature in the history of German and of European civilization. They are not ecclesiastical seminaries, not restricted to any particular class of society; they are national institutions, open to the rich and the poor, to the knight, the clerk, the citizen. They are real universities of learning: they profess to teach all branches of knowledge,—theology and law, medicine and philosophy. They contain the first practical acknowledgment of the right of every subject to the highest education, and through it to the highest offices in Church and State. Neither Greece nor Rome had known such institutions: neither the Church nor the nobility, during the days of their political supremacy, were sufficiently impressed with the duty which they owed to the nation at large to provide such places of liberal education. It was the nation itself, when forsaken by its clergy and harassed by its nobility, which called these schools into life; and it is in these schools and universities that the great men who inaugurate the next period of literature—the champions of political liberty and religious freedom—were fostered and formed.
The invention of printing was in itself a reformation, and its benefits were chiefly felt by the great masses of the people. The clergy possessed their libraries, where they might read and study if they chose; the castles contained collections of MSS., sacred and profane, illuminated with the most exquisite taste; while the citizen, the poor layman, though he might be able to read and to write, was debarred from the use of books, and had to satisfy his literary tastes with the sermons of travelling Franciscans, or the songs of blind beggars and peddlers. The art of printing admitted that large class to the same privileges which had hitherto been enjoyed almost exclusively by clergy and nobility: it placed in the hands of the third estate arms more powerful than the swords of the knights, and the thunderbolts of the priests: it was a revolution in the history of literature more eventful than any in the history of mankind. Poets and philosophers addressed themselves no longer to emperors and noblemen, to knights and ladies, but to the people at large, and especially to the middle classes, in which henceforth the chief strength of the nation resides.
The years from 1450 to 1500 form a period of preparation for the great struggle that was to inaugurate the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was an age "rich in scholars, copious in pedants, but poor in genius, and barren of strong thinkers." One of the few interesting men in whose life and writings the history of that preliminary age may be studied, is Sebastian Brant, the famous author of the famous "Ship of Fools."
With the sixteenth century, we enter upon the modern history and the modern literature of Germany. We shall here pass on more rapidly, dwelling only on the men in whose writings the political and social changes of Germany can best be studied.
With Luther, the literary language of Germany became New High-German. A change of language invariably betokens a change in the social constitution of a country. In Germany, at the time of the Reformation, the change of language marks the rise of a new aristocracy, which is henceforth to reside in the universities. Literature leaves its former homes. It speaks no longer the language of the towns. It addresses itself no longer to a few citizens, nor to imperial patrons, such as Maximilian I. It indulges no longer in moral saws, didactic verses, and prose novels, nor is it content with mystic philosophy and the secret outpourings of religious fervor. For a time, though but for a short time, German literature becomes national. Poets and writers wish to be heard beyond the walls of their monasteries and cities. They speak to the whole nation; nay, they desire to be heard beyond the frontiers of their country. Luther and the Reformers belonged to no class,—they belonged to the people. The voice of the people, which during the preceding periods of literature could only be heard like the rolling of distant thunder, had now become articulate and distinct, and for a time one thought seemed to unite all classes,—emperors, kings, nobles, and citizens, clergy and laity, high and low, old and young. This is a novel sight in the history of Germany. We have seen in the first period the gradual growth of the clergy, from the time when the first missionaries were massacred in the marshes of Friesland to the time when the Emperor stood penitent before the gates of Canossa. We have seen the rise of the nobility, from the time when the barbarian chiefs preferred living outside the walls of cities to the time when they rivaled the French cavaliers in courtly bearing and chivalrous bravery. Nor were the representatives of these two orders, the Pope and the Emperor, less powerful at the beginning of the sixteenth century than they had been before. Charles V. was the most powerful sovereign whom Europe had seen since the days of Charlemagne, and the papal see had recovered by diplomatic intrigue much of the influence which it had lost by moral depravity. Let us think, then, of these two ancient powers: the Emperor with his armies, recruited in Austria, Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Burgundy, and with his treasures brought from Mexico and Peru; and the Pope with his armies of priests and monks, recruited from all parts of the Christian world, and armed with the weapons of the Inquisition and the thunderbolts of excommunication: let us think of their former victories, their confidence in their own strength, their belief in their divine right: and let us then turn our eyes to the small University of Wittenberg, and into the bleak study of a poor Augustine monk, and see that monk step out of his study with no weapon in his hand but the Bible,—with no armies and no treasures,—and yet defying with his clear and manly voice both Pope and Emperor, both clergy and nobility: there is no grander sight in history; and the longer we allow our eyes to dwell on it, the more we feel that history is not without God, and that at every decisive battle the divine right of truth asserts its supremacy over the divine right of Popes and Emperors, and overthrows with one breath both empires and hierarchies. We call the Reformation the work of Luther; but Luther stood not alone, and no really great man ever stood alone. The secret of their greatness lies in their understanding the spirit of the age in which they live, and in giving expression with the full power of faith and conviction to the secret thoughts of millions. Luther was but lending words to the silent soul of suffering Germany, and no one should call himself a Protestant who is not a Lutheran with Luther at the Diet of Worms, and able to say with him in the face of princes and prelates, "Here I stand; I can not do otherwise; God help me: Amen."
As the Emperor was the representative of the nobility, as the Pope was the representative of the clergy, Luther was the head and leader of the people, which through him and through his fellow-workers claimed now, for the first time, an equality with the two old estates of the realm. If this national struggle took at first an aspect chiefly religious, it was because the German nation had freedom of thought and of belief more at heart than political freedom. But political rights also were soon demanded, and demanded with such violence, that during his own life-time Luther had to repress the excesses of enthusiastic theorists and of a violent peasantry. Luther's great influence on the literature of Germany, and the gradual adoption of his dialect as the literary language, were owing in a great measure to this, that whatever there was of literature during the sixteenth century, was chiefly in the hands of one class of men. After the Reformation, nearly all eminent men in Germany—poets, philosophers, and historians—belonged to the Protestant party, and resided chiefly in the universities.
The universities were what the monasteries had been under Charlemagne, the castles under Frederick Barbarossa,—the centres of gravitation for the intellectual and political life of the country. The true nobility of Germany was no longer to be found among the priests,—Alcuin, Hrabanus Maurus, Notker Teutonicus; nor among the knights,—Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and their patrons, Frederick II., Hermann von Thueringen, and Leopold of Austria. The intellectual sceptre of Germany was wielded by a new nobility,—a nobility that had risen from the ranks, like the priests and the knights, but which, for a time at least, kept itself from becoming a caste, and from cutting away those roots through which it imbibed its vigor and sustained its strength. It had its castles in the universities, its tournaments in the diets of Worms and Augsburg, and it counted among its members, dukes and peasants, divines and soldiers, lawyers and artists. This was not, indeed, an hereditary nobility, but on that very ground it is a nobility which can never become extinct. The danger, however, which threatens all aristocracies, whether martial, clerical, or municipal, was not averted from the intellectual aristocracy of Germany. The rising spirit of caste deprived the second generation of that power which men like Luther had gained at the beginning of the Reformation. The moral influence of the universities in Germany was great, and it is great at the present day. But it would have been greater and more beneficial if the conceit of caste had not separated the leaders of the nation from the ranks whence they themselves had arisen, and to which alone they owed their position and their influence. It was the same with the priests, who would rather form a hierarchy than be merged in the laity. It was the same with the knights, who would rather form a select society than live among the gentry. Both cut away the ground under their feet; and the Reformers of the sixteenth century fell into the same snare before they were aware of it. We wonder at the eccentricities of the priesthood, at the conceit of the hereditary nobility, at the affectation of majestic stateliness inherent in royalty. But the pedantic display of learning, the disregard of the real wants of the people, the contempt of all knowledge which does not wear the academic garb, show the same foible, the same conceit, the same spirit of caste among those who, from the sixteenth century to the present day, have occupied the most prominent rank in the society of Germany. Professorial knight-errantry still waits for its Cervantes. Nowhere have the objects of learning been so completely sacrificed to the means of learning, nowhere has that Dulcinea,—knowledge for its own sake,—with her dark veil and her barren heart, numbered so many admirers; nowhere have so many windmills been fought, and so many real enemies been left unhurt, as in Germany, particularly during the last two centuries. New universities have been founded: Marburg, in 1527; Koenigsberg, in 1547; Jena, in 1558; Helmstaedt, in 1575; Giessen, in 1607. And the more the number and the power of the professors increased, the more they forgot that they and their learning, their universities and their libraries, were for the benefit of the people; that a professor might be very learned, and very accurate, and very laborious, yet worse than useless as a member of our toiling society. It was considered more learned and respectable to teach in Latin, and all lectures at the universities were given in that language. Luther was sneered at because of his little German tracts which "any village clerk might have written." Some of the best poets in the sixteenth century were men such as Eoban Hessius (1540), who composed their poetry in Latin. National poems, for instance, Brant's "Ship of Fools," were translated into Latin in order to induce the German professors to read them. The learned doctors were ashamed of their honest native names. Schwarzerd must needs call himself Melancthon; Meissel Celtes, Schnitter Agricola; Hausschein, OEcolampadius! All this might look very learned, and professorial, and imposing; but it separated the professors from the people at large; it retarded the progress of national education, and blighted the prospects of a national policy in Germany. Everything promised well at the time of the Reformation; and a new Germany might have risen before a new France, if, like Luther, the leaders of the nation had remained true to their calling. But when to speak Latin was considered more learned than to speak German, when to amass vast information was considered more creditable than to digest and to use it, when popularity became the same bugbear to the professors which profanity had been to the clergy, and vulgarity to the knights, Luther's work was undone; and two more centuries had to be spent in pedantic controversies, theological disputes, sectarian squabbles, and political prostration, before a new national spirit could rise again in men like Lessing, and Schiller, and Fichte, and Stein. Ambitious princes and quarrelsome divines continued the rulers of Germany, and, towards the end of the sixteenth century, everything seemed drifting back into the Middle Ages. Then came the Thirty Years' War, a most disastrous war for Germany, which is felt in its results to the present day. If, as a civil and religious contest, it had been fought out between the two parties,—the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Germany,—it would have left, as in England, one side victorious; it would have been brought to an end before both were utterly exhausted. But the Protestants, weakened by their own dissensions, had to call in foreign aid. First Denmark, then Sweden, poured their armies into Germany, and even France—Roman Catholic France—gave her support to Gustavus Adolphus and the Protestant cause. England, the true ally of Germany, was too weak at home to make her influence felt abroad. At the close of the war, the Protestants received indeed the same rights as the Roman Catholics; but the nation was so completely demoralized that it hardly cared for the liberties guaranteed by the treaty of Westphalia. The physical and moral vigor of the nation was broken. The population of Germany is said to have been reduced by one half. Thousands of villages and towns had been burnt to the ground. The schools, the churches, the universities, were deserted. A whole generation had grown up during the war, particularly among the lower classes, with no education at all. The merchants of Germany, who formerly, as AEneas Sylvius said, lived more handsomely than the Kings of Scotland, were reduced to small traders. The Hansa was broken up. Holland, England, and Sweden had taken the wind out of her sails. In the Eastern provinces, commerce was suspended by the inroads of the Turks; whilst the discovery of America, and of the new passage to the East Indies, had reduced the importance of the mercantile navy of Germany and Italy in the Mediterranean. Where there was any national feeling left, it was a feeling of shame and despair, and the Emperor and the small princes of Germany might have governed even more selfishly than they did, without rousing opposition among the people.
What can we expect of the literature of such times? Popular poetry preserved some of its indestructible charms. The Meistersaenger went on composing according to the rules of their guilds, but we look in vain for the raciness and honest simplicity of Hans Sachs. Some of the professors wrote plays in the style of Terence, or after English models, and fables became fashionable in the style of Phaedrus. But there was no trace anywhere of originality, truth, taste, or feeling, except in that branch which, like the palm-tree, thrives best in the desert,—sacred poetry. Paul Gerhard is still without an equal as a poet of sacred songs; and many of the best hymns which are heard in the Protestant churches of Germany date from the seventeenth century. Soon, however, this class of poetry also degenerated on one side into dry theological phraseology, on the other into sentimental and almost erotic affectation.
There was no hope of a regeneration in German literature, unless either great political and social events should rouse the national mind from its languor, or the classical models of pure taste and true art should be studied again in a different spirit from that of professorial pedantry. Now, after the Thirty Years' War, there was no war in Germany in which the nation took any warm interest. The policy pursued in France during the long reign of Louis XIV. (1643-1708) had its chief aim in weakening the house of Hapsburg. When the Protestants would no longer fight his battles, Louis roused the Turks. Vienna was nearly taken, and Austria owed its delivery to Johann Sobiesky. By the treaty of Ryswick (1697), all the country on the left side of the Rhine was ceded to France, and German soldiers fought under the banners of the Great Monarch. The only German prince who dared to uphold the honor of the empire, and to withstand the encroachments of Louis, was Frederick William, the great Elector of Prussia (1670-88). He checked the arrogance of the Swedish court, opened his towns to French Protestant refugees, and raised the house of Brandenburg to a European importance. In the same year in which his successor, Frederick III., assumed the royal title as Frederick I., the King of Spain, Charles I., died; and Louis XIV., whilst trying to add the Spanish crown to his monarchy, was at last checked in his grasping policy by an alliance between England and Germany. Prince Eugene and Marlborough restored the peace and the political equilibrium of Europe. In England, the different parties in Parliament, the frequenters of the clubs and coffee-houses, were then watching every move on the political chess-board of Europe, and criticising the victories of their generals and the treaties of their ambassadors. In Germany, the nation took but a passive part. It was excluded from all real share in the great questions of the day; and, if it showed any sympathies, they were confined to the simple admiration of a great general, such as Prince Eugene.
While the policy of Louis XIV. was undermining the political independence of Germany, the literature of his court exercised an influence hardly less detrimental on the literature of Germany. No doubt, the literature of France stood far higher at that time than that of Germany. "Poet" was amongst us a term of abuse, while in France the Great Monarch himself did homage to his great poets. But the professorial poets who had failed to learn the lessons of good taste from the Greek and Roman classics, were not likely to profit by an imitation of the spurious classicality of French literature. They heard the great stars of the court of Louis XIV. praised by their royal and princely patrons, as they returned from their travels in France and Italy, full of admiration for everything that was not German. They were delighted to hear that in France, in Holland, and in Italy, it was respectable to write poetry in the modern vernacular, and set to work in good earnest. After the model of the literary academies in Italy, academies were founded at the small courts of Germany. Men like Opitz would hardly have thought it dignified to write verses in their native tongue had it not been for the moral support which they received from these academies and their princely patrons. His first poems were written in Latin, but he afterwards devoted himself completely to German poetry. He became a member of the "Order of the Palm-tree," and the founder of what is called the First Silesian School. Opitz is the true representative of the classical poetry of the seventeenth century. He was a scholar and a gentleman; most correct in his language and versification; never venturing on ground that had not been trodden before by some classical poet, whether of Greece, Rome, France, Holland, or Italy. In him we also see the first traces of that baneful alliance between princes and poets which has deprived the German nation of so many of her best sons. But the charge of mean motives has been unjustly brought against Opitz by many historians. Poets require an audience, and at his time there was no class of people willing to listen to poetry, except the inmates of the small German courts. After the Thirty Years' War the power of these princes was greater than ever. They divided the spoil, and there was neither a nobility, nor a clergy, nor a national party to control or resist them. In England, the royal power had, at that time, been brought back to its proper limits, and it has thus been able to hold ever since, with but short interruptions, its dignified position, supported by the self-respect of a free and powerful nation. In France it assumed the most enormous proportions during the long reign of Louis XIV., but its appalling rise was followed, after a century, by a fall equally appalling, and it has not yet regained its proper position in the political system of that country. In Germany the royal power was less imposing, its prerogatives being divided between the Emperor and a number of small but almost independent vassals, remnants of that feudal system of the Middle Ages which in France and England had been absorbed by the rise of national monarchies. These small principalities explain the weakness of Germany in her relation with foreign powers, and the instability of her political constitution. Continental wars gave an excuse for keeping up large standing armies, and these standing armies stood between the nation and her sovereigns, and made any moral pressure of the one upon the other impossible. The third estate could never gain that share in the government which it had obtained, by its united action, in other countries; and no form of government can be stable which is deprived of the support and the active cooeperation of the middle classes. Constitutions have been granted by enlightened sovereigns, such as Joseph II. and Frederick William IV., and barricades have been raised by the people at Vienna and at Berlin; but both have failed to restore the political health of the country. There is no longer a German nobility in the usual sense of the word. Its vigor was exhausted when the powerful vassals of the empire became powerless sovereigns with the titles of king or duke, while what remained of the landed nobility became more reduced with every generation, owing to the absence of the system of primogeniture. There is no longer a clergy as a powerful body in the state. This was broken up at the time of the Reformation; and it hardly had time to recover and to constitute itself on a new basis, when the Thirty Years' War deprived it of all social influence, and left it no alternative but to become a salaried class of servants of the crown. No third estate exists powerful enough to defend the interests of the commonwealth against the encroachments of the sovereign; and public opinion, though it may pronounce itself within certain limits, has no means of legal opposition, and must choose, at every critical moment, between submission to the royal will and rebellion.
Thus, during the whole modern history of Germany, the political and intellectual supremacy is divided. The former is monopolized by the sovereigns, the latter belongs to a small class of learned men. These two soon begin to attract each other. The kings seek the society, the advice, and support of literary men; whilst literary men court the patronage of kings, and acquire powerful influence by governing those who govern the people. From the time of Opitz there have been few men of eminence in literature or science who have not been drawn toward one of the larger or smaller courts of Germany; and the whole of our modern literature bears the marks of this union between princes and poets. It has been said that the existence of these numerous centres of civilization has proved beneficial to the growth of literature; and it has been pointed out that some of the smallest courts, such as Weimar, have raised the greatest men in poetry and science. Goethe himself gives expression to this opinion. "What has made Germany great," he says, "but the culture which is spread through the whole country in such a marvelous manner, and pervades equally all parts of the realm? And this culture, does it not emanate from the numerous courts which grant it support and patronage? Suppose we had had in Germany for centuries but two capitals, Vienna and Berlin, or but one; I should like to know how it would have fared with German civilization, or even with that general well-being which goes hand in hand with true civilization." In these words we hear Goethe, the minister of the petty court of Weimar, not the great poet of a great nation. Has France had more than one capital? Has England had more than one court? Great men have risen to eminence in great monarchies like France, and they have risen to eminence in a great commonwealth such as England, without the patronage of courts, by the support, the sympathy, the love of a great nation. Truly national poetry exists only where there is a truly national life; and the poet who, in creating his works, thinks of a whole nation which will listen to him and be proud of him, is inspired by a nobler passion than he who looks to his royal master, or the applause even of the most refined audience of the dames de la cour. In a free country, the sovereign is the highest and most honored representative of the national will, and he honors himself by honoring those who have well deserved of his country. There a poet laureate may hold an independent and dignified position, conscious of his own worth, and of the support of the nation. But in despotic countries, the favor even of the most enlightened sovereign is dangerous. Germany never had a more enlightened king than Frederick the Great; and yet, when he speaks of the Queen receiving Leibnitz at court, he says, "She believed that it was not unworthy of a queen to show honor to a philosopher; and as those who have received from heaven a privileged soul rise to the level of sovereigns, she admitted Leibnitz into her familiar society."
The seventeenth century saw the rise and fall of the first and the second Silesian schools. The first is represented by men like Opitz and Weckherlin, and it exercised an influence in the North of Germany on Simon Dach, Paul Flemming, and a number of less gifted poets, who are generally known by the name of the Koenigsberg School. Its character is pseudo-classical. All these poets endeavored to write correctly, sedately, and eloquently. Some of them aimed at a certain simplicity and sincerity, which we admire particularly in Flemming. But it would be difficult to find in all their writings one single thought, one single expression, that had not been used before. The second Silesian school is more ambitious; but its poetic flights are more disappointing even than the honest prose of Opitz. The "Shepherds of the Pegnitz" had tried to imitate the brilliant diction of the Italian poets; but the modern Meistersaenger of the old town of Nuernberg had produced nothing but wordy jingle. Hoffmannswaldau and Lohenstein, the chief heroes of the second Silesian school, followed in their track, and did not succeed better. Their compositions are bombastic and full of metaphors. It is a poetry of adjectives, without substance, truth, or taste. Yet their poetry was admired, praised not less than Goethe and Schiller were praised by their contemporaries, and it lived beyond the seventeenth century. There were but few men during that time who kept aloof from the spirit of these two Silesian schools, and were not influenced by either Opitz or Hoffmannswaldau. Among these independent poets we have to mention Friedrich von Logau, Andreas Gryphius, and Moscherosch. Beside these, there were some prose writers whose works are not exactly works of art, but works of original thought, and of great importance to us in tracing the progress of science and literature during the dreariest period of German history. We can only mention the "Simplicissimus," a novel full of clever miniature drawing, and giving a truthful picture of German life during the Thirty Years' War; the patriotic writings of Professor Schupp; the historical works of Professor Pufendorf (1631-94); the pietistic sermons of Spener, and of Professor Franke (1663-1727), the founder of the Orphan School at Halle; Professor Arnold's (1666-1714) Ecclesiastical History; the first political pamphlets by Professor Thomasius (1655-1728); and among philosophers, Jacob Boehme at the beginning, and Leibnitz at the end of the seventeenth century.
The second Silesian school was defeated by Gottsched, professor at Leipzig. He exercised, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the same dictatorship as a poet and a critic which Opitz had exercised at the beginning of the seventeenth. Gottsched was the advocate of French models in art and poetry, and he used his wide-spread influence in recommending the correct and so-called classical style of the poets of the time. After having rendered good service in putting down the senseless extravagance of the school of Lohenstein, he became himself a pedantic and arrogant critic; and it was through the opposition which he roused by his "Gallomania" that German poetry was delivered at last from the trammels of that foreign school. Then followed a long literary warfare; Gottsched and his followers at Leipzig defended the French, Bodmer and his friends in Switzerland the English style of literature. The former insisted on classical form and traditional rules; the latter on natural sentiment and spontaneous expression. The question was, whether poets should imitate the works of the classics, or imitate the classics who had become classics by imitating nobody. A German professor wields an immense power by means of his journals. He is the editor; he writes in them himself, and allows others to write; he praises his friends, who are to laud him in turn; he patronizes his pupils, who are to call him master; he abuses his adversaries, and asks his allies to do the same. It was in this that Professor Gottsched triumphed for a long time over Bodmer and his party, till at last public opinion became too strong, and the dictator died the laughing-stock of Germany. It was in the very thick of this literary struggle that the great heroes of German poetry grew up,—Klopstock, Lessing, Wieland, Herder, Goethe, and Schiller. Goethe, who knew both Gottsched and Bodmer, has described that period of fermentation and transition in which his own mind was formed, and his extracts may be read as a commentary on the poetical productions of the first half of the eighteenth century. He does justice to Guenther, and more than justice to Liscow. He shows the influence which men like Brockes, Hagedorn, and Haller exercised in making poetry respectable. He points out the new national life which, like an electric spark, flew through the whole country when Frederick the Great said, "J'ai jete le bonnet pardessus les moulins;" and defied, like a man, the political popery of Austria. The estimate which Goethe forms of the poets of the time, of Gleim and Uz, of Gessner and Rabener, and more especially of Klopstock, Lessing, and Wieland, should be read in the original, as likewise Herder's "Rhapsody on Shakspeare." The latter contains the key to many of the secrets of that new period of literature, which was inaugurated by Goethe himself and by those who like him could dare to be classical by being true to nature and to themselves.
My object in taking this rapid survey of German literature has been to show that the extracts which I have collected in my "German Classics" have not been chosen at random, and that, if properly used, they can be read as a running commentary on the political and social history of Germany. The history of literature is but an applied history of civilization. As in the history of civilization we watch the play of the three constituent classes of society,—clergy, nobility, and commoners,—we can see, in the history of literature, how that class which is supreme politically shows for the time being its supremacy in the literary productions of the age, and impresses its mark on the works of poets and philosophers.
Speaking very generally, we might say that, during the first period of German history, the really moving, civilizing, and ruling class was the clergy; and in the whole of German literature, nearly to the time of the Crusades, the clerical element predominates. The second period is marked by the Crusades, and the triumph of Teutonic and Romantic chivalry, and the literature of that period is of a strictly correspondent tone. After the Crusades, and during the political anarchy that followed, the sole principle of order and progress is found in the towns, and in the towns the poetry of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries finds its new home. At last, at the time of the Reformation, when the political life of the country assumed for a time a national character, German literature also is for a short time national. The hopes, however, which had been raised of a national policy and of a national literature were soon blighted, and, from the Thirty Years' War to the present day, the inheritance of the nation has been divided between princes and professors. There have been moments when the princes had to appeal to the nation at large, and to forget for a while their royal pretensions; and these times of national enthusiasm, as during the wars of Frederick the Great, and during the wars against Napoleon, have not failed to tell on the literature of Germany. They produced a national spirit, free from professorial narrowness, such as we find in the writings of Lessing and Fichte. But with the exception of these short lucid intervals, Germany has always been under the absolute despotism of a number of small sovereigns and great professors, and her literature has been throughout in the hands of court poets and academic critics. Klopstock, Lessing, and Schiller are most free from either influence, and most impressed with the duties which a poet owes, before all, to the nation to which he belongs. Klopstock's national enthusiasm borders sometimes on the fantastic; for, as his own times could not inspire him, he borrowed the themes of his national panegyrics from the distant past of Arminius and the German bards. Lessing looked more to his own age, but he looked in vain for national heroes. "Pity the extraordinary man," says Goethe, "who had to live in such miserable times, which offered him no better subjects than those which he takes for his works. Pity him, that in his 'Minna von Barnhelm,' he had to take part in the quarrel between the Saxons and the Prussians, because he found nothing better. It was owing to the rottenness of his time that he always took, and was forced to take, a polemical position. In his 'Emilia Galotti,' he shows his pique against the princes; in 'Nathan,' against the priests." But, although the subjects of these works of Lessing were small, his object in writing was always great and national. He never condescended to amuse a provincial court by masquerades and comedies, nor did he degrade his genius by pandering, like Wieland, to the taste of a profligate nobility. Schiller, again, was a poet truly national and truly liberal; and although a man of aspirations rather than of actions, he has left a deeper impress on the kernel of the nation than either Wieland or Goethe. These considerations, however, must not interfere with our appreciation of the greatness of Goethe. On the contrary, when we see the small sphere in which he moved at Weimar, we admire the more the height to which he grew, and the freedom of his genius. And it is, perhaps, owing to this very absence of a strongly marked national feeling, that in Germany the first idea of a world-literature was conceived. "National literature," Goethe says, "is of little importance: the age of a world-literature is at hand, and every one ought to work in order to accelerate this new era." Perhaps Goethe felt that the true poet belonged to the whole of mankind, and that he must be intelligible beyond the frontiers of his own country. And, from this point of view, his idea of a world-literature has been realized, and his own works have gained their place side by side with the works of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare. But, so long as there are different languages and different nations, let each poet think and work and write for his own people, without caring for the applause of other countries. Science and philosophy are cosmopolitan; poetry and art are national: and those who would deprive the Muses of their home-sprung character, would deprive them of much of their native charms.
LIST OF EXTRACTS FOR ILLUSTRATING THE HISTORY OF GERMAN LITERATURE.
FOURTH CENTURY AFTER CHRIST.
Ulfilas, Translation of the Bible; the Lord's Prayer.
Vocabulary of St. Gall.
Interlinear Translation of the Benedictine Rules. Translation of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Exhortation addressed to the Christian Laity. Literal Translations of the Hymns of the Old Church:— 1. Deus qui cordi lumen es. 2. Aurora lucis rutilat. 3. Te Deum laudamus. The Song of Hildebrand and his son Hadubrand,—in alliterative metre. The Prayer from the Monastery of Wessobrun,—in alliterative metre. The Apostolic Creed.
From Einhard's Life of Charlemagne,—the German names of the Months and the Winds fixed by the Emperor. Muspilli, or on the Last Judgment,—alliterative poem. The Oaths of Lewis the German and Charles the Bald, and their armies at Strassburg, 842, in Old Frankish and Old French; from the History of Nithard, the grandson of Charlemagne. The Heliand, or the Saviour,—old Saxon poem, in alliterative metre. The Krist, or the Gospel-book,—poem in rhyme by Otfried, the pupil of Hrabanus Maurus, dedicated to Lewis the German. Translation of a Harmony of the Gospels. Lay on St. Peter. Song on the Victory gained by King Lewis III. at Saucourt, in 881, over the Normans.
Notker Teutonicus of St. Gall,— 1. Translation of the Psalms. 2. Treatise on Syllogisms. 3. Translation of Aristotle. 4. Translation of Boethius de Consolatione.
Williram's Explanation of the Song of Solomon. Merigarto, or the Earth,—fragment of a geographical poem.
The Life of Jesus,—poem by the Nun Ava. Poetical Translation of the Books of Moses. Historical Poem on Anno, Bishop of Cologne. Poetical Chronicle of the Roman Emperors. Nortperti Tractatus de Virtutibus, translated. The poem of Roland, by Konrad the Priest. The poem of Alexander, by Lamprecht the Priest. Poem of Reinhart the Fox. Dietmar von Aist,—lyrics. The Spervogel,—lyrics. The Kuerenberger,—lyrics. The Eneid, by Heinrich von Veldecke.
Hartmann von Aue; extracts from his "Iwein,"—a heroic poem. The Old Reinmar,—lyrics. Walther von der Vogelweide,—lyrics. Freidank's Bescheidenheit,—didactic poem. Wolfram von Eschenbach,— 1. Extracts from his "Parcival,"—a heroic poem. 2. Extracts from his "Titurel,"—a heroic poem. Gottfried von Strassburg; extracts from his "Tristan,"—a heroic poem. The poem of the "Nibelunge,"—epic poem. Thomasin von Zerclar; extracts from his poem on manners, called "The Italian Guest." Neidhart von Reuenthal,—lyrics. Otto von Botenlaube,—lyrics. Gudrun,—epic poem. The Stricker,—extract from his satirical poem, "Amis the Priest." Rudolf von Ems,—extract from his "Wilhelm von Orleans." Christian von Hamle,—lyrics. Gottfried von Neifen,—lyrics. Ulrich von Lichtenstein,—lyrics. Sermon of Friar Berthold of Regensburg. Reinmar von Zweter,—lyrics. Master Stolle,—satire. The Marner,—lyrics. Master Konrad of Wuerzburg,— 1. Poem. 2. Extract from the Trojan War. Anonymous poet,—extract from the life of St. Elizabeth. Herman der Damen. Anonymous poet,—extract from the "Wartburg Krieg." Marcgrave Otto von Brandenburg,—lyrics. Heinrich, Duke of Breslau,—lyrics. Hugo von Trimberg,—extract from the "Renner."
Heinrich Frauenlob,—lyrics. Master Johann Hadlaub,—lyrics. The Great Rosegarden,—popular epic poem. Master Eckhart,—homily. Hermann von Fritzlar,—life of St. Elizabeth. Dr. Johann Tauler,—sermon. Heinrich Suso. Heinrich der Teichner,—fable. Peter Suchenwirt,—on the death of Leopold, Duke of Austria, 1386. Halbsuter's poem on the Battle of Sempach, 1386. Fritsche Closener's Strassburg Chronicle. Jacob Twinger's Chronicle,—on the Flagellants.
Hugo von Montfort,—lyrics. Oswald von Wolkenstein,—lyrics. Muscatbluet,—lyrics. Hans von Buehel's Life of Diocletian, or The Seven Wise Masters. Popular Songs. Sacred Songs. The Soul's Comfort,—didactic prose. Michael Beheim,—Meistergesang. An Easter Mystery. Popular Rhymes. Caspar von der Roen's Heldenbuch,—Hildebrand and his Son. Niclas von Weyl's Translations,—Hieronymus at the Council of Constance. Veit Weber's poem on the Victory of Murten, 1476. Heinrich Steinhoewel's Fables. Sebastian Brant's "Ship of Fools." Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg,—sermon. Emperor Maximilian,—extract from the "Theuerdank."
Martin Luther,— 1. Sacred Song. 2. Letter on the Diet of the Jackdaws and Crows. 3. His Last Sermon. Ulrich Zwingle:— 1. A Poem on his Illness. 2. Criticism on Luther. Philipp Nicolai,—sacred songs. Justus Jonas,—sacred songs. Ulrich von Hutten,— 1. Letter to Franz von Sickingen. 2. Political poem. Sebastian Frank,— 1. Preface to his Germania. 2. Rudolf von Hapsburg. 3. Maximilian der Erste. 4. Fables. Burkard Waldis,—fables. Hans Sachs,— 1. Sacred Song. 2. Poem on the Death of Martin Luther. 3. Poem on the War. Petermann Etterlin's Chronicle,—William Tell and Rudolf von Hapsburg. AEgidius Tschudi's Chronicle,—William Tell. Paulus Melissus Schede. Johann Fischart,— 1. Exhortation addressed to the German people. 2. Das glueckhafte Schiff. Georg Rollenhagen,—fable. Popular Books,— 1. Tyll Eulenspiegel. 2. Dr. Faust. Popular Songs.
Martin Opitz, and the First Silesian School. Georg Rudolf Weckherlin. Anonymous Poem,—"O Ewigkeit." Michael Altenburg's Camp-song (Gustavus Adolphus). Johannes Heermann,—sacred song. Popular Songs. Johann Arndt,— 1. Sacred Song. 2. On the Power and Necessity of Prayer. Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum. Johann Valentin Andreae. Friedrich Spee. Julius Wilhelm Zinegreff. Friedrich von Logau. Simon Dach and the Koenigsberg School. Paul Flemming. Paul Gerhard. Georg Philipp Harsdoerffer and the Nuernberg School. Johannes Rist. Andreas Gryphius,— 1. Sonnets. 2. From the Tragedy "Cardenio and Celinde." Joachim Rachel,—satire. Johann Michael Moscherosch,—satires. Christoph von Grimmelshausen, Simplicissimus,—novel. Johann Balthasar Schupp,—on the German Language. Angelus Silesius. Hoffmannswaldau and Lohenstein,—Second Silesian School. Abraham a Santa Clara,—sermon. Philipp Jacob Spener,—on Luther. Gottfried Arnold,—sacred poem. Christian Weise. Hans Assmann von Abschatz. Friedrich R. L. von Canitz. Christian Wernicke. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz,—on the German Language.
Johann Christoph Gottsched,—Cato. Johann Jacob Bodmer,—Character of German Poetry. Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Johann Christian Guenther. Nicolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf. Christian Ludwig Liscow. Friedrich von Hagedorn. Albrecht von Haller. Gottlieb Wilhelm Rabener. Ewald Christian von Kleist. Christian Fuerchtegott Gellert. Johann Ludwig Gleim. Johann Peter Uz. Justus Moeser. Klopstock. See below. Salomon Gessner. Johann Winckelmann. Lessing. See below. Johann Georg Hamann. Immanuel Kant. Johann August Musaeus. Wieland. See below. Gottlieb Konrad Pfeffel. Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart. Matthias Claudius. Johann Caspar Lavater. Herder. See below. Heinrich Jung, Stilling. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Gottfried August Buerger. Johann Heinrich Voss. Friedrich Leopold und Christian Grafen zu Stollberg. Das Siebengestirn der Dichter des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts,— 1. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. 2. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. 3. Christoph Martin Wieland. 4. Johann Gottfried von Herder. 5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 6. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. 7. Jean Paul Friedrich Richter.
II. OLD GERMAN LOVE-SONGS.(8)
Seven hundred years ago! What a long time it seems! Philip Augustus, King of France; Henry II., King of England; Frederic I., the famous Barbarossa, Emperor of Germany! When we read of their times, the times of the Crusades, we feel as the Greeks felt when reading of the War of Troy. We listen, we admire, but we do not compare the heroes of St. Jean d'Acre with the great generals of the nineteenth century. They seem a different race of men from those who are now living, and poetry and tradition have lent to their royal frames such colossal proportions that we hardly dare to criticise the legendary history of their chivalrous achievements. It was a time of heroes, of saints, of martyrs, of miracles! Thomas a Becket was murdered at Canterbury, but for more than three hundred years his name lived on, and his bones were working miracles, and his soul seemed as it were embodied and petrified in the lofty pillars that surround the spot of his martyrdom. Abelard was persecuted and imprisoned, but his spirit revived in the Reformers of the sixteenth century, and the shrine of Abelard and Heloise in the Pere La Chaise is still decorated every year with garlands of immortelles. Barbarossa was drowned in the same river in which Alexander the Great had bathed his royal limbs, but his fame lived on in every cottage of Germany, and the peasant near the Kyffhaeuser still believes that some day the mighty Emperor will awake from his long slumber, and rouse the people of Germany from their fatal dreams. We dare not hold communion with such stately heroes as Frederick the Red-beard and Richard the Lion-heart; they seem half to belong to the realm of fable. We feel from our very school-days as if we could shake hands with a Themistocles and sit down in the company of a Julius Caesar, but we are awed by the presence of those tall and silent knights, with their hands folded and their legs crossed, as we see them reposing in full armor on the tombs of our cathedrals.
And yet, however different in all other respects, these men, if they once lift their steel beaver and unbuckle their rich armor, are wonderfully like ourselves. Let us read the poetry which they either wrote themselves, or to which they liked to listen in their castles on the Rhine or under their tents in Palestine, and we find it is poetry which a Tennyson or a Moore, a Goethe or Heine, might have written. Neither Julius Caesar nor Themistocles would know what was meant by such poetry. It is modern poetry,—poetry unknown to the ancient world,—and who invented it nobody can tell. It is sometimes called Romantic, but this is a strange misnomer. Neither the Romans, nor the lineal descendants of the Romans, the Italians, the Provencals, the Spaniards, can claim that poetry as their own. It is Teutonic poetry,—purely Teutonic in its heart and soul, though its utterance, its rhyme and metre, its grace and imagery, show the marks of a warmer clime. It is called sentimental poetry, the poetry of the heart rather than of the head, the picture of the inward rather than of the outward world. It is subjective, as distinguished from objective poetry, as the German critics, in their scholastic language, are fond of expressing it. It is Gothic, as contrasted with classical poetry. The one, it is said, sublimizes nature, the other bodies forth spirit; the one deifies the human, the other humanizes the divine; the one is ethnic, the other Christian. But all these are but names, and their true meaning must be discovered in the works of art themselves, and in the history of the times which produced the artists, the poets, and their ideals. We shall perceive the difference between these two hemispheres of the Beautiful better if we think of Homer's "Helena" and Dante's "Beatrice," if we look at the "Venus of Milo" and a "Madonna" of Francia, than in reading the profoundest systems of aesthetics.
The work which has caused these reflections is a volume of German poetry, just published by Lachmann and Haupt. It is called "Des Minnesangs Fruehling,"—"the Spring of the Songs of Love;" and it contains a collection of the poems of twenty German poets, all of whom lived during the period of the Crusades, under the Hohenstaufen Emperors, from about 1170 to 1230. This period may well be called the spring of German poetry, though the summer that followed was but of short duration, and the autumn was cheated of the rich harvest which the spring had promised. Tieck, one of the first who gathered the flowers of that forgotten spring, describes it in glowing language. "At that time," he says, "believers sang of faith, lovers of love, knights described knightly actions and battles; and loving, believing knights were their chief audience. The spring, beauty, gayety, were objects that could never tire: great duels and deeds of arms carried away every hearer, the more surely, the stronger they were painted; and as the pillars and dome of the church encircle the flock, so did religion, as the highest, encircle poetry and reality; and every heart, in equal love, humbled itself before her." Carlyle, too, has listened with delight to those merry songs of spring. "Then truly," he says, "was the time of singing come; for princes and prelates, emperors and squires, the wise and the simple, men, women, and children, all sang and rhymed, or delighted in hearing it done. It was a universal noise of song, as if the spring of manhood had arrived, and warblings from every spray—not, indeed, without infinite twitterings also, which, except their gladness, had no music—were bidding it welcome." And yet it was not all gladness; and it is strange that Carlyle, who has so keen an ear for the silent melancholy of the human heart, should not have heard that tone of sorrow and fateful boding which breaks, like a suppressed sigh, through the free and light music of that Swabian era. The brightest sky of spring is not without its clouds in Germany, and the German heart is never happy without some sadness. Whether we listen to a short ditty, or to the epic ballads of the "Nibelunge," or to Wolfram's grand poems of the "Parcival" and the "Holy Grail," it is the same everywhere. There is always a mingling of light and shade,—in joy a fear of sorrow, in sorrow a ray of hope, and throughout the whole, a silent wondering at this strange world. Here is a specimen of an anonymous poem; and anonymous poetry is an invention peculiarly Teutonic. It was written before the twelfth century; its language is strangely simple, and sometimes uncouth. But there is truth in it; and it is truth after all, and not fiction, that is the secret of all poetry:—