TYPES OF WELTSCHMERZ IN GERMAN POETRY
WILHELM ALFRED BRAUN, Ph.D.
SOMETIME FELLOW IN GERMANIC LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
AMS PRESS, INC. NEW YORK 1966
Copyright 1905, Columbia University Press, New York
Reprinted with the permission of the Original Publisher, 1966
AMS PRESS, INC. New York, N.Y. 10003 1966
Manufactured in the United States of America
The author of this essay has attempted to make, as he himself phrases it, "a modest contribution to the natural history of Weltschmerz." What goes by that name is no doubt somewhat elusive; one can not easily delimit and characterize it with scientific accuracy. Nevertheless the word corresponds to a fairly definite range of psychical reactions which are of great interest in modern poetry, especially German poetry. The phenomenon is worth studying in detail. In undertaking a study of it Mr. Braun thought, and I readily concurred in the opinion, that he would do best not to essay an exhaustive history, but to select certain conspicuously interesting types and proceed by the method of close analysis, characterization and comparison. I consider his work a valuable contribution to literary scholarship.
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, June, 1905
The work which is presented in the following pages is intended to be a modest contribution to the natural history of Weltschmerz.
The writer has endeavored first of all to define carefully the distinction between pessimism and Weltschmerz; then to classify the latter, both as to its origin and its forms of expression, and to indicate briefly its relation to mental pathology and to contemporary social and political conditions. The three poets selected for discussion, were chosen because they represent distinct types, under which probably all other poets of Weltschmerz may be classified, or to which they will at least be found analogous; and to the extent to which such is the case, the treatise may be regarded as exhaustive. In the case of each author treated, the development of the peculiar phase of Weltschmerz characteristic of him has been traced, and analyzed with reference to its various modes of expression. Hoelderlin is the idealist, Lenau exhibits the profoundly pathetic side of Weltschmerz, while Heine is its satirist. They have been considered in this order, because they represent three progressive stages of Weltschmerz viewed as a psychological process: Hoelderlin naive, Lenau self-conscious, Heine endeavoring to conceal his melancholy beneath the disguise of self-irony.
It is a pleasure to tender my grateful acknowledgments to my former Professors, Calvin Thomas and William H. Carpenter of Columbia University, and Camillo von Klenze and Starr Willard Cutting of the University of Chicago, under whose stimulating direction and never-failing assistance my graduate studies were carried on.
Chapter I—Introduction 1
Chapter II—Hoelderlin 9
Chapter III—Lenau 35
Chapter IV—Heine 59
Chapter V—Bibliography 85
The purpose of the following study is to examine closely certain German authors of modern times, whose lives and writings exemplify in an unusually striking degree that peculiar phase of lyric feeling which has characterized German literature, often in a more or less epidemic form, since the days of "Werther," and to which, at an early period in the nineteenth century, was assigned the significant name "Weltschmerz."
With this side of the poet under investigation, there must of necessity be an enquiry, not only into his writings, his expressed feelings, but also his physical and mental constitution on the one hand, and into his theory of existence in general on the other. Psychology and philosophy then are the two adjacent fields into which it may become necessary to pursue the subject in hand, and for this reason it is only fair to call attention to the difficulties which surround the student of literature in discussing philosophical ideas or psychological phenomena. Intrepid indeed would it be for him to attempt a final judgment in these bearings of his subject, where wise men have differed and doctors have disagreed.
Although sometimes loosely used as synonyms, it is necessary to note that there is a well-defined distinction between Weltschmerz and pessimism. Weltschmerz may be defined as the poetic expression of an abnormal sensitiveness of the feelings to the moral and physical evils and misery of existence—a condition which may or may not be based upon a reasoned conviction that the sum of human misery is greater than the sum of human happiness. It is usually characterized also by a certain lack of will-energy, a sort of sentimental yielding to these painful emotions. It is therefore entirely a matter of "Gemuet." Pessimism, on the other hand, purports to be a theory of existence, the result of deliberate philosophic argument and investigation, by which its votaries have reached the dispassionate conclusion that there is no real good or pleasure in the world that is not clearly outweighed by evil or pain, and that therefore self-destruction, or at least final annihilation is the consummation devoutly to be wished.
James Sully, in his elaborate treatise on Pessimism, divides it, however, into reasoned and unreasoned Pessimism, including Weltschmerz under the latter head. This is entirely compatible with the definition of Weltschmerz which has been attempted above. But it is interesting to note the attitude of the pessimistic school of philosophy toward this unreasoned pessimism. It emphatically disclaims any interest in or connection with it, and describes all those who are afflicted with the malady as execrable fellows—to quote Hartmann—: "Klageweiber maennlichen und weiblichen Geschlechts, welche am meisten zur Discreditierung des Pessimismus beigetragen haben, die sich in ewigem Lamento ergehen, und entweder unaufhoerlich in Thraenen schwimmen, oder bitter wie Wermut und Essig, sich selbst und andern das Dasein noch mehr vergaellen; eine jaemmerliche Situation des Stimmungspessimismus, der sie nicht leben und nicht sterben laesst." And yet Hartmann himself does not hesitate to admit that this very condition of individual Weltschmerz, or "Zerrissenheit," is a necessary and inevitable stage in the progress of the mind toward that clarified universal Weltschmerz which is based upon theoretical insight, namely pessimism in its most logical sense. This being granted, we shall not be far astray in assuming that it is also the stage to which the philosophic pessimist will sometimes revert, when a strong sense of his own individuality asserts itself.
If we attempt a classification of Weltschmerz with regard to its essence, or, better perhaps, with regard to its origin, we shall find that the various types may be classed under one of two heads: either as cosmic or as egoistic. The representatives of cosmic Weltschmerz are those poets whose first concern is not their personal fate, their own unhappiness, it may be, but who see first and foremost the sad fate of humanity and regard their own misfortunes merely as a part of the common destiny. The representatives of the second type are those introspective natures who are first and chiefly aware of their own misery and finally come to regard it as representative of universal evil. The former proceed from the general to the particular, the latter from the particular to the general. But that these types must necessarily be entirely distinct in all cases, as Marchand asserts, seems open to serious doubt. It is inconceivable that a poet into whose personal experience no shadows have fallen should take the woes of humanity very deeply to heart; nor again could we imagine that one who has brooded over the unhappy condition of mankind in general should never give expression to a note of personal sorrow. It is in the complexity of motives in one and the same subject that the difficulty lies in making rigid and sharp distinctions. In some cases Weltschmerz may arise from honest conviction or genuine despair, in others it may be something entirely artificial, merely a cloak to cover personal defects. Sometimes it may even be due to a desire to pose as a martyr, and sometimes nothing more than an attempt to ape the prevailing fashion. To these types Wilhelm Scherer adds "Muessiggaenger, welche sich die Zeit mit uebler Laune vertreiben, missvergnuegte Lyriker, deren Gedichte nicht mehr gelesen werden, und Spatzenkoepfe, welche den Pessimismus fuer besonderen Tiefsinn halten und um jeden Preis tiefsinnig erscheinen wollen."
But it is with Weltschmerz in its outward manifestations as it finds expression in the poet's writings, that we shall be chiefly concerned in the following pages. And here the subdivisions, if we attempt to classify, must be almost as numerous as the representatives themselves. In Hoelderlin we have the ardent Hellenic idealist; Lenau gives expression to all the pathos of Weltschmerz, Heine is its satirist, the misanthrope, while in Raabe we even have a pessimistic humorist.
This brief list needs scarcely be supplemented by other names of poets of melancholy, such as Reinhold Lenz, Heinrich von Kleist, Robert Southey, Byron, Leopardi, in order to command our attention by reason of the tragic fate which ended the lives of nearly all of these men, the most frequent and the most terrible being that of insanity. It is of course a matter of common knowledge that chronic melancholy or the persistent brooding over personal misfortune is an almost inevitable preliminary to mental derangement. And when this melancholy takes root in the finely organized mind of genius, it is only to be expected that the result will be even more disastrous than in the case of the ordinary mind. Lombroso holds the opinion that if men of genius are not all more or less insane, that is, if the "spheres of influence" of genius and insanity do not actually overlap, they are at least contiguous at many points, so that the transition from the former to the latter is extremely easy and even natural. But genius in itself is not an abnormal mental condition. It does not even consist of an extraordinary memory, vivid imagination, quickness of judgment, or of a combination of all of these. Kant defines genius as the talent of invention. Originality and productiveness are the fundamental elements of genius. And it is an almost instinctive force which urges the author on in his creative work. In the main his activity is due less to free will than to this inner compulsion.
"Ich halte diesen Drang vergebens auf, Der Tag und Nacht in meinem Busen wechselt. Wenn ich nicht sinnen oder dichten soll, So ist das Leben mir kein Leben mehr,"
says Goethe's Tasso. If this impulse of genius is embodied in a strong physical organism, as for example in the case of Shakespeare and Goethe, there need be no detriment to physical health; otherwise, and especially if there is an inherited tendency to disease, there is almost sure to be a physical collapse. Specialists in the subject have pointed out that violent passions are even more potent in producing mental disease than mere intellectual over-exertion. And these are certainly characteristic in a very high degree of the mind of genius. It has often been remarked that it is the corona spinosa of genius to feel all pain more intensely than do other men. Schopenhauer says "der, in welchem der Genius lebt, leidet am meisten." It is only going a step further then, when Hamerling writes to his friend Moeser: "Schliesslich ist es doch nur der Kranke, der sich das Leid der ganzen Welt zu Herzen nimmt."
Radestock, in his study "Genie und Wahnsinn," mentions and elaborates among others the following points of resemblance between the mind of genius and the insane mind: an abnormal activity of the imagination, very rapid succession of ideas, extreme concentration of thought upon a single subject or idea, and lastly, what would seem the cardinal point, a weakness of will-energy, the lack of that force which alone can serve to bring under control all these other unruly elements and give balance to what must otherwise be an extremely one-sided mechanism. Here again the exception may be taken to prove the rule. It is not too much, I think, to assert that Goethe could never have become so uniquely great, not even through the splendid versatility of his genius, but for that incomparable self-control, which he made the watchword of his life. And in the case of the poet of Weltschmerz the presence or absence of this quality may even decide whether he shall rise superior to his beclouded condition or perish in the gloom. The conclusion at which Radestock arrives is that genius, as the expression of the most intense mental activity, occupies the middle ground, as it were, between the normal healthy state on the one hand, and the abnormal, pathological state on the other, and has without doubt many points of contact with mental disease; and that although the elements which genius has in common with insanity may not be strong enough in themselves to induce the transition from the former to the latter state, yet when other aggravating causes are added, such as physical disease, violent emotions or passions, overwork, the pressure or distress of outward circumstances, the highly gifted individual is much more liable to cross the line of demarkation between the two mental states than is the average mind, which is more remote from that line. If this can be asserted of genius in general, it must be even more particularly and widely applicable in reference to a combination of genius and Weltschmerz. We shall find pathetic examples in the first two types selected for examination.
Having thus introduced the subject in its most general bearings and aspects, it remains for us to review briefly its historical background.
Weltschmerz is essentially a symptom of a period of conflict, of transition. The powerful reaction which marks the eighteenth century—a reaction against all traditional intellectual authority, and a struggle for the emancipation of the individual, of research, of inspiration and of genius—reached its high-water mark in Germany in the seventies. But with the unrestrained outbursts of the champions of Storm and Stress the problem was by no means solved; there remained the basic conflict between the idea of personal liberty and the strait-jacket of Frederician absolutism, the conflict between the dynastic and the national idea of the state. Should the individual yield a blind, unreasoned submission to the state as to a divinely instituted arbitrary authority, good or bad, or was the state to be regarded as the conscious and voluntary cooeperation of its subjects for the general good? It was, moreover, a time not only of open and active revolt, as represented by the spirit of Klinger, but also of great emotional stirrings, and sentimental yearnings of such passive natures as Hoelty. Rousseau's plea for a simplified and more natural life had exerted a mighty influence. And what has a most important bearing upon the relation between these intellectual currents and Weltschmerz—these minds were lacking in the discipline implied in our modern scientific training. Scientific exactness of thinking had not become an integral part of education. Hence the difference between the pessimism of Ibsen and the romantic Weltschmerz of these uncritical minds.
In accounting for the tremendous effect produced by his "Werther," Goethe compares his work to the bit of fuse which explodes the mine, and says that the shock of the explosion was so great because the young generation of the day had already undermined itself, and its members now burst forth individually with their exaggerated demands, unsatisfied passions and imaginary sufferings. And in estimating the influences which had prepared the way for this mental disposition, Goethe emphasizes the influence of English literature. Young's "Night Thoughts," Gray's "Elegy," Goldsmith's "Deserted Village," even "Hamlet" and his monologues haunted all minds. "Everyone knew the principal passages by heart, and everyone believed he had a right to be just as melancholy as the Prince of Denmark, even though he had seen no ghost and had no royal father to avenge." Finally Ossian had provided an eminently suitable setting,—under the darkly lowering sky the endless gray heath, peopled with the shadowy forms of departed heroes and withered maidens. To quote the substance of Goethe's criticism: Amid such influences and surroundings, occupied with fads and studies of this sort, lacking all incentive from without to any important activity and confronted by the sole prospect of having to drag out a humdrum existence, men began to reflect with a sort of sullen exultation upon the possibility of departing this life at will, and to find in this thought a scant amelioration of the ills and tedium of the times. This disposition was so general that "Werther" itself exerted a powerful influence, because it everywhere struck a responsive chord and publicly and tangibly exhibited the true inwardness of a morbid youthful illusion.
Nor did the dawning nineteenth century bring relief. No other period of Prussian history, says Heinrich von Treitschke, is wrapped in so deep a gloom as the first decade of the reign of Frederick William III. It was a time rich in hidden intellectual forces, and yet it bore the stamp of that uninspired Philistinism which is so abundantly evidenced by the barren commonplace character of its architecture and art. Genius there was, indeed, but never were its opportunities for public usefulness more limited. It was as though the greatness of the days of the second Frederick lay like a paralyzing weight upon this generation. And this oppressing sense of impotence was followed, after the Napoleonic Wars, by the bitterness of disappointment, all the more keenly felt by reason of this first reawakening of the national consciousness. Great had been the expectations, enormous the sacrifice; exceedingly small was the gain to the individual. And the resultant dissonance was the same as that to which Alfred de Musset gave expression in the words: "The malady of the present century is due to two causes; the people who have passed through 1793 and 1814 bear in their hearts two wounds. All that was is no more; all that will be is not yet. Do not hope to find elsewhere the secret of our ills."
This then in briefest outline is the transition from the century of individualism and autocracy to the nineteenth century of democracy. Small wonder that the struggle claimed its victims in those individuals who, unable to find a firm basis of conviction and principle, vacillated constantly between instinctive adherence to old traditions, and unreasoned inclination to the new order of things.
[Footnote 1: "Pessimism, a History and a Criticism," London, 1877.]
[Footnote 2: Ed. von Hartmann: "Zur Geschichte und Begruendung des Pessimismus," Leipzig, Hermann Haacke, p. 187.]
[Footnote 3: "Les Poetes Lyriques de l'Autriche," Paris, 1886, p. 293.]
[Footnote 4: "Vortraege und Aufsaetze zur Geschichte des geistigen Lebens in Deutschland und Oesterreich," Berlin, 1874, p. 413.]
[Footnote 5: Act 5, Sc. 2.]
[Footnote 6: "Goethes Werke," Weimar ed. Vol. 28, p. 227 f.]
[Footnote 7: Ibid., p. 216 f.]
[Footnote 8: In view of Goethe's own words, then, the caution of a recent critic (Felix Melchior in Litt. Forsch. XXVII Heft, Berlin, 1903) against applying the term Weltschmerz to "Werther," would seem to miss the mark entirely. Werther is a type, just as truly as is Faust, though in a smaller way, and the malady which he typifies has its ultimate origin in the development of public life,—the very condition which this critic insists upon as a mark of Weltschmerz in the proper application of the term.]
[Footnote 9: "Historische und politische Aufsaetze," Leipzig, 1897. Vol. 4.]
[Footnote 10: As early as 1797 Hoelderlin's Hyperion laments: "Mein Geschaeft auf Erden ist aus. Ich bin voll Willens an die Arbeit gegangen, habe geblutet darueber, und die Welt um keinen Pfennig reicher gemacht." ("Hoelderlin's gesammelte Dichtungen, herausgegeben von B. Litzmann," Stuttgart, Cotta, undated. Vol. II, p. 68.) Several decades later Heine writes: "Ich kann mich ueber die Siege meiner liebsten Ueberzeugungen nicht recht freuen, da sie mir gar zu viel gekostet haben. Dasselbe mag bei manchem ehrlichen Manne der Fall sein, und es traegt viel bei zu der grossen duesteren Verstimmung der Gegenwart." (Brief vom 21 April, 1851, an Gustav Kolb; Werke, Karpeles ed. Vol. IX, p. 378.)]
[Footnote 11: "Confession d'un enfant du siecle." Oeuvres compl. Paris, 1888 (Charpentier). Vol. VIII, p. 24.]
A case such as that of Hoelderlin, subject as he was from the time of his boyhood to melancholy, and ending in hopeless insanity, at once suggests the question of heredity. Little or nothing is known concerning his remote ancestors. His great-grandfather had been administrator of a convent at Grossbottwar, and died of dropsy of the chest at the age of forty-seven. His grandfather had held a similar position as "Klosterhofmeister und geistlicher Verwalter" at Lauffen, to which his son, the poet's father, succeeded. An apoplectic stroke ended his life at the early age of thirty-six. In regard to Hoelderlin's maternal ancestors, our information is even more scant, though we know that both his grandmother and his mother lived to a ripe old age. From the poet's references to them we judge them to have been entirely normal types of intelligent, lovable women, gifted with a great deal of good practical sense. The only striking thing is the premature death of Hoelderlin's great-grandfather and father. But in view of the nature of their stations in life, in which they may fairly be supposed to have led more than ordinarily sober and well-ordered lives, there seems to be no ground whatever for assuming that Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz owed its inception in any degree to hereditary tendencies, notwithstanding Hermann Fischer's opinion to the contrary. There is no sufficient reason to assume "erbliche Belastung," and there are other sufficient causes without merely guessing at such a possibility.
But while there are no sufficient historical grounds for the supposition that he brought the germ of his subsequent mental disease with him in his birth, we cannot fail to observe, even in the child, certain natural traits, which, being allowed to develop unchecked, must of necessity hasten and intensify the gloom which hung over his life. To his deep thoughtfulness was added an abnormal sensitiveness to all external influences. Like the delicate anemone, he recoiled and withdrew within himself when touched by the rougher material things of life. He himself poetically describes his absentmindedness when a boy, and calls himself "ein Traeumer"; and a dreamer he remained all his life. It seems to have been this which first brought him into discord with the world:
Oft sollt' ich stracks in meine Schule wandern, Doch ehe sich der Traeumer es versah, So hatt' er in den Garten sich verirrt, Und sass behaglich unter den Oliven, Und baute Flotten, schifft' ins hohe Meer.
* * * * *
Dies kostete mich tausend kleine Leiden, Verzeihlich war es immer, wenn mich oft Die Kluegeren, mit herzlichem Gelaechter Aus meiner seligen Ekstase schreckten, Doch unaussprechlich wehe that es mir.
If ever a boy needed a strong fatherly hand to guide him, to teach him self-reliance and practical sense, it was this dreamy, tender-spirited child. The love and sympathy which his mother bestowed upon him was not calculated to fit him for the rugged experiences of life, and while probably natural and pardonable, it was nevertheless extremely unfortunate that the boy was unconsciously encouraged to be and to remain a "Muttersoehnchen." But even with his peculiar trend of disposition, the result might not have been an unhappy one, had the course of his life not brought him more than an ordinary share of misfortune. This overtook him early in life, for when but two years of age his father died. His widowed mother now lived for a few years in complete retirement with her two children—the poet's sister Henrietta having been born just a few weeks after his father's demise. But it was not long before death again entered the household and robbed it of Hoelderlin's aunt, his deceased father's sister, who was herself a widow and the faithful companion of the poet's mother. When the latter found herself again alone with her two little ones, whose care was weighing heavily upon her, she consented to become the wife of her late husband's friend, Kammerrat Gock, and accompanied him to his home in the little town of Nuertingen on the Neckar. But this re-established marital happiness was to be of brief duration, for in 1779 her second husband died, and the mother was now left with four little children to care and provide for.
The frequency with which death visited the family during his childhood and youth, familiarized him at an early age with scenes of sorrow and grief. No doubt he was too young when his father died to comprehend the calamity that had come upon the household, but it was not many months before he knew the meaning of his mother's tears, not only for his father, but also for his sister, who died in her infancy. Referring to his father's death, he writes in one of his early poems, "Einst und Jetzt":
Einst schlugst du mir so ruhig, empoertes Herz!
* * * * *
Einst in des Vaters Schoosse, des liebenden Geliebten Vaters,—aber der Wuerger kam, Wir weinten, flehten, doch der Wuerger Schnellte den Pfeil, und es sank die Stuetze.
At his tenderest and most impressionable age, the boy was thus made sadly aware of the fleetingness of human life and the pains of bereavement. We cannot wonder then at finding these impressions reflected in his most juvenile poetic attempts. His poem "Das menschliche Leben," written at the age of fifteen, begins:
Menschen, Menschen! was ist euer Leben, Eure Welt, die thraenenvolle Welt! Dieser Schauplatz, kann er Freude geben Wo sich Trauern nicht dazu gesellt?
But a time of still greater unhappiness was in store for him when he left his home at the age of fourteen to enter the convent school at Denkendorf, where he began his preparation for a theological course. A more direct antithesis to all that his body and soul yearned for and needed for their proper development could scarcely have been devised than that which existed in the chilling atmosphere and rigorous discipline of the monastery. He had not even an incentive to endure hardships for the sake of what lay beyond, for it was merely in passive submission to his mother's wish that he had decided to enter holy orders. And now, clad in a sombre monkish gown, deprived of all freedom of thought or movement and forced into companionship with twenty-five or thirty fellows of his own age, who nearly all misunderstood him, Hoelderlin felt himself wretched indeed. "Waer' ich doch ewig ferne von diesen Mauern des Elends!" he writes in a poem at Maulbronn in 1787. There was for him but one way of escape. It was to isolate himself as much as possible from the world of harsh reality about him, to be alone, and there in his solitude to construct for himself an ideal world of fancy, a poetic dreamland. This mental habit not only remained with him as he grew into manhood, it may be said to have been through life one of his most distinguishing characteristics. It would be impossible to make room here for all the passages in his poems and letters of this period, which reflect his love of solitude and his habit of retreating into a world of his own imagining. His letters to his friend Nast almost invariably contain some expression of his heart-ache. "Bilfinger ist wohl mein Freund, aber es geht ihm zu gluecklich, als dass er sich nach mir umsehen moechte. Du wirst mich schon verstehen—er ist immer lustig, ich haenge immer den Kopf." Another letter begins: "Wieder eine Stunde wegphantasiert!—dass es doch so schlechte Menschen giebt, unter meinen Cameraden so elende Kerls—wann mich die Freundschaft nicht zuweilen wieder gut machte, so haett' ich mich manchmal schon lieber an jeden andern Ort gewuenscht, als unter Menschengesellschaft.—Wann ich nur auch einmal etwas recht Lustiges schreiben koennte! Nur Gedult! 's wird kommen—hoff' ich, oder—oder hab' ich dann nicht genug getragen? Erfuhr ich nicht schon als Bube, was den Mann seufzen machen wuerde? und als Juengling, geht's da besser?—Du lieber Gott! bin ich's denn allein? jeder andre gluecklicher als ich? Und was hab' ich dann gethan?" There is a world of pathos in this helpless cry of pain, with its suggestion of retributive fate. A poem of 1788, "Die Stille," written at Maulbronn, epitomizes almost everything that we have thus far noted as to Hoelderlin's nature. He goes back in fancy to the days of his childhood, describing his lonely rambles, from which he would return in the moonlight, unmindful of his lateness for the evening meal, at which he would hastily eat of that which the others had left:
Schlich mich, wenn ich satt gegessen, Weg von meinem lustigen Geschwisterpaar.
O! in meines kleinen Stuebchens Stille War mir dann so ueber alles wohl, Wie im Tempel war mir's in der Naechte Huelle, Wann so einsam von dem Turm die Glocke scholl.
Als ich weggerissen von den Meinen Aus dem lieben elterlichen Haus Unter Fremden irrte, we ich nimmer weinen Durfte, in das bunte Weltgewirr hinaus,
O wie pflegtest du den armen Jungen, Teure, so mit Mutterzaertlichkeit, Wann er sich im Weltgewirre mued gerungen, In der lieben, wehmutsvollen Einsamkeit.
This love of solitude is carried to the extreme in his contemplation of a hermit's life. In a letter to Nast he says: "Heute ging ich so vor mich hin, da fiel mir ein, ich wolle nach vollendeten Universitaets Jahren Einsiedler werden—und der Gedanke gefiel mir so wohl, eine ganze Stunde, glaub' ich, war ich in meiner Fantasie Einsiedler." And although he never became a hermit, this is the final disposition which he makes of himself in his "Hyperion."
These habits of thought and feeling, formed in boyhood, could lead to only one result. He became less and less qualified to comprehend and to grapple with the practical problems and difficulties of life, and entered young manhood and the struggle for existence at a tremendous disadvantage.
Another trait of his character which served to intensify his subsequent disappointments, was the strong ambition which early filled his soul. He aspired to high achievements in his chosen field of art. In a letter to Louise Nast, written probably about the beginning of 1790, he makes the confession: "Der unueberwindliche Truebsinn in mir ist wohl nicht ganz, doch meist—unbefriedigter Ehrgeiz." The mere lad of seventeen had scarcely learned to admire Klopstock, when he speaks of his own "kaempfendes Streben nach Klopstocksgroesse," and exclaims: "Hinan den herrlichen Ehrenpfad! Hinan! im gluehenden kuehnen Traum, sie zu erreichen!" It is remarkable to note how this fancy of a dream-life becomes fixed in Hoelderlin's mind and reappears in almost every poem. Closely allied to this idea is that of a "glueckliche Trunkenheit," and expressions like "wie ein Goettertraum das Alter schwand," "liebetrunken," "Wie ein Traum entfliehen Ewigkeiten," "siegestrunken," "suesse, kuehne Trunkenheit," "trunken daemmert die Seele mir," can be found on almost every page of his shorter poems. Hyperion expresses himself on one occasion in the words: "O ein Gott ist der Mensch, wenn er traeumt, ein Bettler, wenn er nachdenkt, und wenn die Begeisterung hin ist, steht er da, wie ein missrathener Sohn, den der Vater aus dem Hause stiess, und betrachtet die aermlichen Pfennige, die ihm das Mitleid auf den Weg gab," which further illustrates the extravagant idealism by which he allowed himself to be carried away, and the etherial and thoroughly unpractical trend of his mind. The flights of fancy of which Hoelderlin is capable are well illustrated by another passage in "Hyperion." Referring to Hyperion's conversation with Alabanda, he says: "Ich war hingerissen von unendlichen Hoffnungen, Goetterkraefte trugen wie ein Woelkchen mich fort." These facts have a direct bearing upon Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz, inasmuch as it was just this unequal and unsuccessful struggle of the idealist with the stern realities of life that brought about the catastrophe which wrought his ruin.
And just as his ideals are vague and abstract, so too are the expressions of his Weltschmerz. It needs no concrete idea to arouse his enthusiasm to its highest pitch. Thus Hyperion exclaims: "Der Gott in uns, dem die Unendlichkeit zur Bahn sich oeffnet, soll stehen und harren, bis der Wurm ihm aus dem Wege geht? Nein! nein! man fraegt nicht, ob ihr wollt! ihr wollt ja nie—ihr Knechte und Barbaren! Euch will man auch nicht bessern, denn es ist umsonst! Man will nur dafuer sorgen, dass ihr dem Siegeslauf der Menschheit aus dem Wege geht!" It is in the form of lofty generalities such as these, and seldom with reference to practical details, that Hoelderlin's longings find expression.
Entirely consistent with this idealism is the nature of his love, ardent, but etherial, "uebersinnlich." This is reflected also in his lyrics, which are statuesque and beautiful, but lacking in passion and sensuous charm. Hoelderlin's earliest love-affair, that with Louise Nast, is important for his Weltschmerz only in its bearing upon the development of his general character. This influence was a twofold one: in the first place his sweetheart was herself inclined to a sort of visionary mysticism, and therefore had an unwholesome influence upon the youth, who had already been carried too far in that direction. She too was a lover of solitude and wrote her letters to him in the stillness of the night, when all others were asleep. There can be no doubt that she had at least some share in determining his mental activity, especially his reading. In one of his earliest letters to her he writes: "Weil Du den Don Carlos liest, will ich ihn auch lesen." It was during this time too that that he became so ardent an admirer of Schubart and Ossian. "Da leg' ich meinen Ossian weg und komme zu Dir," he writes in 1788 to his friend Nast. "Ich habe meine Seele geweidet an den Helden des Barden, habe mit ihm getrauert, wann er trauert ueber sterbende Maedchen." There is not a sensuous note in all Hoelderlin's poems or letters to Louise. Typical are the lines which he addresses to her on his departure from Maulbronn:
Lass sie drohen, die Stuerme, die Leiden, Lass trennen—der Trennung Jahre Sie trennen uns nicht! Sie trennen uns nicht! Denn mein bist du! Und ueber das Grab hinaus Soll sie dauren, die unzertrennbare Liebe.
O! wenn's einst da ist Das grosse selige Jenseits, Wo die Krone dem leidenden Pilger, Die Palme dem Sieger blinkt, Dann Freundin—lohnet auch Freundschaft— Auch Freundschaft der Ewige.
The second bearing which his relations to Louise have upon his Weltschmerz lies in the fact that his love ended in disappointment. This is true not only of this particular episode, not only of all his love-affairs, but it may even be said that disappointment was the fate to which he found himself doomed in all his aspirations. And in the persistency with which this evil angel pursued his footsteps through life may be found one of the chief causes of the early collapse of his faculties. What David Mueller and Hermann Fischer have said in their essays in regard to this point—that Hoelderlin did not become insane because his life was a succession of unsatisfactory situations and painful disappointments, but because he had not the strength to work himself out of these situations into more favorable ones—states only half the case. True, a stronger mental organization might have overcome these or even greater difficulties; Schiller, Herder, Fichte are examples; but not all of Hoelderlin's failures and disappointments were the result of his weakness, and so while it is right to state that a stronger and more robust nature would have conquered in the fight, it is also fair to say that Hoelderlin would have had a good chance of winning, had fortune been more kind. For this reason these external influences must be reckoned with as an important cause of his Weltschmerz and subsequently of his insanity.
This suggests an interesting point of comparison—if I may be permitted to anticipate somewhat—with Lenau, the second type selected. Hoelderlin earnestly pursued happiness and contentment, but it eluded him at every step. Lenau on the contrary reached a point in his Weltschmerz where he refused to see anything in life but pain, wilfully thrusting from him even such happiness as came within his reach.
We may postpone any detailed reference to Hoelderlin's relations with Susette Gontard, which were vastly more important in their influence upon the poet's character and Weltschmerz, until we come to the discussion of his "Hyperion," of which Susette, under the pseudonym of Diotima, forms one of the central figures.
To speak of all the disappointments which fell to Hoelderlin's lot would practically require the writing of his biography from the time of his graduation from Tuebingen to his return from Bordeaux, almost the entire period of his sane manhood. Unsuccessful in his first position as a tutor, and unable, after having abandoned this, to provide even a meagre living for himself with his pen, his migration to Frankfort to the house of the merchant Gontard at last gave him a hope of better things, but a hope which soon proved vain. Following close upon these disappointments was his failure to carry out a project which he had long cherished, of establishing a literary journal; then came his dismissal from a situation which he had just entered upon in Switzerland. On his return he wrote to Schiller for help and advice, and his failure to receive a reply grieved him deeply. We can only surmise that it was a cruel disappointment, finally, which caused his sudden departure from Bordeaux, and brought him back a mental wreck to his mother's home. Even as early as 1788 Hoelderlin complains bitterly in the poem "Der Lorbeer," in which he eulogizes the poets Klopstock and Young and expresses his own ambition to aspire to their greatness:
Schon so manche Fruechte schoener Keime Logen grausam mir ins Angesicht.
As the years passed, this feeling of disappointment and disillusion became more and more intense and bitter. A stanza from one of his more mature poems (1795) "An die Natur," will serve to illustrate the sentiment which pervades almost all his writings:
Tot ist nun, die mich erzog und stillte, Tot ist nun die jugendliche Welt, Diese Brust, die einst ein Himmel fuellte, Tot und duerftig wie ein Stoppelfeld; Ach es singt der Fruehling meinen Sorgen Noch, wie einst, ein freundlich troestend Lied, Aber hin ist meines Lebens Morgen, Meines Herzens Fruehling ist verblueht.
In close causal connection with Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz is his belief that his life is ruled by an inexorable fate whose plaything he is. "Wenn hinfort mich das Schicksal ergreift, und von einem Abgrund in den andern mich wirft, und alle Kraefte in mir ertraenkt und alle Gedanken," Hyperion exclaims. He goes even further, and conceives the idea of a sacrifice to Fate. Thus he makes Alabanda say near the close of "Hyperion:" "Ach! weil kein Glueck ist ohne Opfer, nimm als Opfer mich, o Schicksal an, und lass die Liebenden in ihrer Freude." Wilhelm Scherer calls attention to Gervinus' remark that new intellectual tendencies which call for unaccustomed and unusual mental effort often prove disastrous to single individuals, and says: "Hoelderlin war also ein Opfer der Erneuerung des deutschen Lebens—seltsam, wie der Gedanke des Opfers als ein hoher und herrlicher ihn in allen seinen Gedichten viel beschaeftigt hat." But the poet does not apply this fatalism only to himself, to the individual; he widens its influence to humanity in general. "Wir sprechen von unserm Herzen, unsern Planen, als waeren sie unser," says Hyperion, "und es ist doch eine fremde Gewalt, die uns herumwirft und ins Grab legt, wie es ihr gefaellt, und von der wir nicht wissen, von wannen sie kommt, noch wohin sie geht:" Perhaps nowhere better than in Hyperion's "Schicksalslied" does he give poetic expression to this thought. Omitting the first stanza it reads thus:
Schicksallos wie der schlafende Saeugling atmen die Himmlischen; Keusch bewahrt In bescheidener Knospe, Bluehet ewig Ihnen der Geist, Und die seligen Augen Blicken in stiller Ewiger Klarheit.
Doch uns ist gegeben, Auf keiner Staette zu ruhn, Es schwinden, es fallen Die leidenden Menschen Blindlings von einer Stunde zur andern, Wie Wasser von Klippe Zu Klippe geworfen, Jahrlang ins Ungewisse hinab.
The fundamental difference between Hoelderlin's "Anschauung" and Goethe's is at once apparent when we recall the "Lied der Parzen" from "Iphigenie." Hoelderlin does not bring the blessed Genii into any relation with mortals, but merely contrasts their free and blissful existence, emphasizing their immunity from Fate, to which suffering humanity is subject. But this humanity is represented by Hoelderlin characteristically as helpless, passive—"schwinden," "fallen," "blindlings von einer Stunde zur andern." Whereas the opening lines of Goethe's "Parzen" strike the keynote of conflict between the gods and men:
Es fuerchte die Goetter Das Menschengeschlecht! Sie halten die Herrschaft In ewigen Haenden Und koennen sie brauchen Wie's ihnen gefaellt. Der fuerchte sie doppelt, Den je sie erheben!
And those who come to grief at the hands of the gods, are not weak passive creatures, but heaven-scaling Titans. This points to the antipodal difference between the characters of these two poets, and explains in part why Goethe did not succumb to the sickly sentimentalism of which he rid himself in "Werther." The difference between yielding and striving resulted in the difference between an acute case of Weltschmerz in the one and a healthy physical and intellectual manhood in the other.
Thus far it has been almost entirely the personal aspect of Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz and its causes that has come under our notice. And since he was a lyric poet, it is perhaps natural that the sorrows which concerned him personally should find most frequent expression in his verse. But notwithstanding the fact that this personal element is very prominent in Hoelderlin's writings, Scherer's judgment is correct when he states: "Die Grundstimmung war eine tiefe Verbitterung gegen die Versunkenheit des Vaterlands." The reason is not far to seek, especially when we consider the impossible demands of the poet's extravagant idealism. The conditions in Germany which had called forth the terrible arraignment of petty despotism, crushing militarism, and political rottenness generally, in the works of Lenz, Klinger and Schubart, had not abated. Schubart was one of Hoelderlin's earliest favorites, so that the latter was doubtless in this way imbued with sentiments which could only grow stronger under the influence of his more mature observations and experiences. Even in his eighteenth year, in a poem "An die Demut," he gives expression in strong terms to his patriotic feelings, in which his disgust with his faint-hearted, servile compatriots and his defiance of "Fuerstenlaune" and "Despotenblut" are plainly evident. So too in "Maennerjubel," 1788:
Es glimmt in uns ein Funke der Goettlichen! Und diesen Funken soll aus der Maennerbrust Der Hoelle Macht uns nicht entreissen! Hoert es, Despotengerichte, hoert es!
Perhaps nowhere outside of his own Wuerttemberg could he have been more unfavorably situated in this respect. Under Karl Eugen (1744-1793) the country sank into a deplorable condition. Regardless of the rights of individuals and communities alike, he sought in the early part of his reign to replenish his depleted purse by the most shameless measures, in order that he might surround himself with luxury and indulge his autocratic proclivities. Among his most reprehensible violations of constitutional rights, were his bartering of privileges and offices and the selling of troops. These things Hoelderlin attacks in one of his youthful poems "Die Ehrsucht" (1788):
Um wie Koenige zu prahlen, schaenden Kleine Wuetriche ihr armes Land; Und um feile Ordensbaender wenden Raete sich das Ruder aus der Hand.
Another act of gross injustice which this petty tyrant perpetrated, and which Hoelderlin must have felt very painfully, was the incarceration of the poet's countryman Schubart from 1777 to 1787 in the Hohenasperg. But not only from within came tyrannous oppression. Following upon the coalition against France after the Revolution, Wuerttemberg became the scene of bloody conflicts and the ravages of war. Under the regime of Friedrich Eugen (1795-97) the French gained such a foothold in Wuerttemberg that the country had to pay a contribution of four million gulden to get rid of them. These were the conditions under which Hoelderlin grew up into young manhood. But deeper than in the mere existence of these conditions themselves lay the cause of the poet's most abject humiliation and grief. It was the stoic indifference, the servile submission with which he charged his compatriots, that called forth his bitterest invectives upon their insensible heads. His own words will serve best to show the intensity of his feelings. In 1788 he writes, in the poem "Am Tage der Freundschaftsfeier:"
Da sah er (der Schwaermer) all die Schande Der weichlichen Teutonssoehne, Und fluchte dem verderblichen Ausland Und fluchte den verdorbenen Affen des Auslands, Und weinte blutige Thraenen, Dass er vielleicht noch lange Verweilen muesse unter diesem Geschlecht.
Ten years later he treats the Germans to the following ignominious comparison:
Spottet ja nicht des Kinds, wenn es mit Peitsch' und Sporn Auf dem Rosse von Holz, mutig und gross sich duenkt. Denn, ihr Deutschen, auch ihr seid Thatenarm und gedankenvoll.
With his friend Sinclair, who was sent as a delegate, he attended the congress at Rastatt in November, 1798, and here he made observations which no doubt resulted in the bitter characterization of his nation in the closing letters of Hyperion. This convention, whose chief object was the compensation of those German princes who had been dispossessed by the cessions to France on the left bank of the Rhine, afforded a spectacle so humiliating that it would have bowed down in shame a spirit even less proud and sensitive than Hoelderlin's. The French emissaries conducted themselves like lords of Germany, while the German princes vied with each other in acts of servility and submission to the arrogant Frenchmen. And it was the apathy of the average German, as Hoelderlin conceived it, toward these and other national indignities, that caused him to put such bitter words of contumely into the mouth of Hyperion: "Barbaren von Alters her, durch Fleiss und Wissenschaft und selbst durch Religion barbarischer geworden, tief unfaehig jedes goettlichen Gefuehls—beleidigend fuer jede gut geartete Seele, dumpf und harmonielos, wie die Scherben eines weggeworfenen Gefaesses—das, mein Bellarmin! waren meine Troester." In another letter Hyperion explains their incapacity for finer feeling and appreciation when he writes: "Neide die Leidensfreien nicht, die Goetzen von Holz, denen nichts mangelt, weil ihre Seele so arm ist, die nichts fragen nach Regen und Sonnenschein, weil sie nichts haben, was der Pflege beduerfte. Ja, ja, es ist recht sehr leicht, gluecklich, ruhig zu sein mit seichtem Herzen und eingeschraenktem Geiste." Their work he characterizes as "Stuemperarbeit," and their virtues as brilliant evils and nothing more. There is nothing sacred, he claims, that has not been desecrated by this nation. But it is chiefly his own experience which he recites, when, in speaking of the sad plight of German poets, of those who still love the beautiful, he says: "Es ist auch herzzerreissend, wenn man eure Dichter, eure Kuenstler sieht—die Guten, sie leben in der Welt, wie Fremdlinge im eigenen Hause." Still more extravagantly does the poet caricature his own people when he writes: "Wenn doch einmal diesen Gottverlassnen einer sagte, dass bei ihnen nur so unvollkommen alles ist, weil sie nichts Reines unverdorben, nichts Heiliges unbetastet lassen mit den plumpen Haenden—dass bei ihnen eigentlich das Leben schaal und sorgenschwer ist, weil sie den Genius verschmaehen—und darum fuerchten sie auch den Tod so sehr, und leiden um des Austernlebens willen alle Schmach, weil Hoehres sie nicht kennen, als ihr Machwerk, das sie sich gestoppelt."
But we should get an extremely unjust and one-sided idea of Hoelderlin's attitude toward his country from these quotations alone. The point which they illustrate is his growing estrangement from his own people, which in the very nature of the case must have had an important bearing upon his Weltschmerz. But his feelings in regard to Germany and the Germans were not all contempt. In many of his poems there is the true patriotic ring. It is true, we can nowhere find any clear political program, neither could we expect one from a poet who was so absorbed in his own feelings, and whose ideals soared so high above the sphere of practical politics. In this too Hoelderlin was the product of previous influences. With all their clamor for political upheavals, the "Stuermer und Draenger" never arrived at any serious or practical plan of action. Notwithstanding all this, the word Vaterland was always an inspiration to Hoelderlin, and it is especially gratifying to note that the calumny which he heaps upon the devoted heads of the Germans is not his last word on the subject. Nor did he ever lose sight of his lofty ideal of liberty for his degraded fatherland or cease to hope for its realization. In this strain he concludes the "Hymne an die Freiheit" (1790) with a splendid outburst of patriotic enthusiasm:
Dann am suessen, heisserrung'nen Ziele, Wenn der Ernte grosser Tag beginnt, Wenn veroedet die Tyrannenstuehle, Die Tyrannenknechte Moder sind, Wenn im Heldenbunde meiner Brueder Deutsches Blut und deutsche Liebe glueht, Dann, O Himmelstochter! sing ich wieder, Singe sterbend dir das letzte Lied.
What a remarkable change is noticeable in the tone which the poet assumes toward his country in the lines "Gesang des Deutschen," written in 1799, probably after the completion of his "Hyperion":
O heilig Herz der Voelker, O Vaterland! Allduldend gleich der schweigenden Muttererd' Und allverkannt, wenn schon aus deiner Tiefe die Fremden ihr Bestes haben.
Du Land des hohen, ernsteren Genius! Du Land der Liebe! bin ich der Deine schon, Oft zuernt' ich weinend, dass du immer Bloede die eigene Seele leugnest.
How much the reproach has been softened, and with what tender regard he strives to mollify his former bitterness! To this change in his feelings, his sojourn in strange places and the attendant discouragements and disappointments seem to have contributed not a little, for in the poem "Rueckkehr in die Heimat," written in 1800, the contempt of "Hyperion" has been replaced by compassion. He sees himself and his country linked together in the sacred companionship of suffering, consequently it can no longer be the object of his scorn.
Wie lange ist's, O wie lange! des Kindes Ruh' Ist hin, und hin ist Jugend, und Lieb' und Glueck, Doch du, mein Vaterland! du heilig Duldendes! siehe, du bist geblieben.
But the fact remains, nevertheless, that Hoelderlin from his early youth felt himself a stranger in his own land and among his own people. Some of the causes of this circumstance have already been discussed. The fact itself is important because it establishes the connection between his Weltschmerz and his most noteworthy characteristic as a poet, namely, his Hellenism. No other German poet has allowed himself to be so completely dominated by the Greek idea as did Hoelderlin. And in his case it may properly be called a symptom of his Weltschmerz, for it marks his flight from the world of stern reality into an imaginary world of Greek ideals. An imaginary Greek world, because in spite of his Hellenic enthusiasm he entertained some of the most un-Hellenic ideas and feelings.
That the poet should take refuge in Greek antiquity is not surprising, when we consider the conditions which prevailed at that time in the field of learning. It was not many decades since the study of Latin and Roman institutions had been forced to yield preeminence of position in Germany to the study of Greek. Furthermore, his own Suabia had come to be recognized as a leader in the study of Greek antiquity, and in his contemporaries Schiller, Hegel, Schelling, who were all countrymen and acquaintances of his, he found worthy competitors in this branch of learning. His fondness for the language and literature of Greece goes back to his early school days, especially at Denkendorf and Maulbronn. On leaving the latter school, he had the reputation among his fellow-students of being an excellent Hellenist, according to the report of Schwab, his biographer. It was while there that Hoelderlin as a boy of seventeen first made use of the Alcaic measure in which he subsequently wrote so many of his poems.
A full discussion of the technic of Hoelderlin's poems would have so remote a connection with the main topic under consideration that its introduction here would be entirely out of place. It will suffice, therefore, merely to indicate along broad lines the extent to which the Greek idea took and held possession of the poet.
Out of his 168 shorter poems, 126, exactly three-fourths, are written in the unrhymed Greek measures. Those forms which are native are confined almost entirely to his juvenile and youthful compositions, and after 1797 he only once employs the rhymed stanza, namely, in the poem "An Landauer." As a boy of sixteen, he wrote verses in the Alcaic and Asclepiadeian measures, and soon acquired a considerable mastery over them. At seventeen he composed in the latter form his poem "An meine Freundinnen:"
In der Stille der Nacht denket an euch mein Lied, Wo mein ewiger Gram jeglichen Stundenschlag, Welcher naeher mich bringt dem Trauten Grabe, mit Dank begruesst.
While not exhibiting the finish of expression and musical qualities of his more mature Alcaic lyrics, still it is not bad poetry for a boy of seventeen, and the reader feels what the boy was not slow to learn, that the stately movement of the Greek stanzas lends an added dignity to the expression of sorrow, which was to constitute so large a part of his poetic activity. As already stated, the Alcaic measure was of all the Greek verse-forms Hoelderlin's favorite, and the one most frequently and successfully employed by him. He is very fond of introducing Germanic alliteration into these unrhymed stanzas, as the following example will illustrate:
Und wo sind Dichter, denen der Gott es gab, Wie unsern Alten, freundlich und fromm zu sein, Wo Weise, wie die unsern sind, die Kalten und Kuehnen, die unbestechbarn?
The Asclepiadeian stanza he employs much less frequently, the Sapphic only once, and that with indifferent success. It was the ode, dithyramb and hymn, the serious lyric, which Hoelderlin selected as the models for his poetic fashion. In this purpose he was not alone, for his friend Neuffer writes to him in 1793, with an enthusiasm which in the intensity of expression common at the time, seems almost like an inspiration: "Die hoehere Ode und der Hymnus, zwei in unsern Tagen, und vielleicht in allen Zeitaltern am meisten vernachlaessigte Musen! in ihre Arme wollen wir uns werfen, von ihren Kuessen beseelt uns aufraffen. Welche Aussichten! Dein Hymnus an die Kuehnheit mag Dir zum Motto dienen! Mir gehe die Hoffnung voran."
But it was in the form much more than in the contents of his poems, that Hoelderlin carried out the Greek idea. Most of his lyrics are occasional poems, or have abstract subjects, as for example, "An die Stille," "An die Ehre," "An den Genius der Kuehnheit," and so on. Only here and there does he take a classic subject or introduce classic references. The truth of the matter is, that with all his fervid enthusiasm for Hellenic ideals, and with all his Greek cult, Hoelderlin was not the genuine Hellenist he thought himself to be. This is due to the fact that his turning to Greece was in its final analysis attributable rather to selfish than to altruistic motives. He wanted to get away from the deplorable realities about him, the things which hurt his tender soul, and so he constructed for himself this idealized world of ancient and modern Greece, and peopled it with his own creations.
In Hoelderlin's "Hyperion," we have the first poetic work in German which takes modern Greece as its locality and a modern Hellene as its hero. Hoelderlin calls it "ein Roman," but it would be rather inaccurately described by the usual translation of that term. It is not only the poetic climax of his Hellenism, but also the most complete expression of his Weltschmerz in its various phases. It must naturally be both, for the poet and the hero are one. He speaks of it as "mein Werkchen, in dem ich lebe und webe." Its subject is the emancipation of Greece. What little action is narrated may be very briefly indicated. Russia is at war with Turkey and calls upon Hellas to liberate itself. The hero and his friend Alabanda are at the head of a band of volunteers, fighting the Turks. After several minor successes Hyperion lays siege to the Spartan fortress of Misitra. But at its capitulation, he is undeceived concerning the Hellenic patriots; they ravage and plunder so fiercely that he turns from them with repugnance and both he and Alabanda abandon the cause of liberty which they had championed. To his bride Hyperion had promised a redeemed Greece—a lament is all that he can bring her. She dies, Hyperion comes to Germany where his aesthetic Greek soul is severely jarred by the sordidness, apathy and insensibility of these "barbarians." Returning to the Isthmus, he becomes a hermit and writes his letters to Bellarmin, no less "thatenarm und gedankenvoll" himself than his unfortunate countrymen whom he so characterizes.
"Hyperion," though written in prose, is scarcely anything more than a long drawn out lyric poem, so thoroughly is action subordinated to reflection, and so beautiful and rhythmic is the dignified flow of its periods. But having said that the locality is Greece and its hero is supposed to be a modern Greek, that in its scenic descriptions Hoelderlin produces some wonderfully natural effects, and that the language shows the imitation of Greek turns of expression—Homeric epithets and similes—having said this, we have mentioned practically all the Greek characteristics of the composition. And there is much in it that is entirely un-Hellenic. To begin with, the form in which "Hyperion" is cast, that of letters, written not even during the progress of the events narrated, but after they are all a thing of the past, is not at all a Greek idea. Moreover Weltschmerz, which constitutes the "Grundstimmung" of all Hoelderlin's writings, and which is most plainly and persistently expressed in "Hyperion," is not Hellenic. Not that we should have to look in vain for pessimistic utterances from the classical poets of Greece—for does not Sophocles make the deliberate statement: "Not to be born is the most reasonable, but having seen the light, the next best thing is to go to the place whence we came as soon as possible." Nevertheless, this sort of sentiment cannot be regarded as representing the spirit of the ancient Greeks, which was distinctly optimistic. They were happy in their worship of beauty in art and in nature, and above all, happy in their creativeness. The question suggests itself here, whether a poet can ever be a genuine pessimist, since he has within him the everlasting impulse to create. And to create is to hope. Hyperion himself says: "Es lebte nichts, wenn es nicht hoffte." But we have already distinguished between pessimism as a system of philosophy, and Weltschmerz as a poetic mood. It is certainly un-Hellenic that Hoelderlin allows Hyperion with his alleged Greek nature to sink into contemplative inactivity. In the poem "Der Lorbeer," 1789, he exclaims:
Soll ewiges Trauern mich umwittern, Ewig mich toeten die bange Sehnsucht?
which gives expression to the fact that in his Weltschmerz there was a very large admixture of "Sehnsucht," an entirely un-Hellenic feeling. Nor is there to be found in his entire make-up the slightest trace of Greek irony, which would have enabled him to overcome much of the bitterness of his life, and which might indeed have averted its final catastrophe.
Undeniably Grecian is Hoelderlin's idea that the beautiful is also the good. Long years he sought for this combined ideal. In Diotima, the muse of his "Hyperion," whose prototype was Susette Gontard, he has found it—and now he feels that he is in a new world. To his friend Neuffer, from whom he has no secrets, he writes: "Ich konnte wohl sonst glauben, ich wisse, was schoen und gut sei, aber seit ich's sehe, moecht' ich lachen ueber all mein Wissen. Lieblichkeit und Hoheit, und Ruh und Leben, und Geist und Gemuet und Gestalt ist Ein seeliges Eins in diesem Wesen." And six or eight months later: "Mein Schoenheitsinn ist nun vor Stoerung sicher. Er orientiert sich ewig an diesem Madonnenkopfe.... Sie ist schoen wie Engel! Ein zartes, geistiges, himmlisch reizendes Gesicht! Ach ich koennte ein Jahrtausend lang mich und alles vergessen bei ihr—Majestaet und Zaertlichkeit, und Froehlichkeit und Ernst—und Leben und Geist, alles ist in und an ihr zu einem goettlichen Ganzen vereint." It would be difficult to conceive of a more complete and sublime eulogy of any object of affection than the words just quoted, and yet they do not conceal their author's etherial quality of thought, his "Uebersinnlichkeit." Even his boyish love-affairs seem to have been largely of this character, and were in all likelihood due to the necessity which he felt of bestowing his affection somewhere, rather than to irresistible forces proceeding from the objects of his regard.
Lack of self-restraint, so often characteristic of the poet of Weltschmerz, was not Hoelderlin's greatest fault. And yet if his intense devotion to Susette remained undebased by sensual desires, as we know it did, this was not solely due to the practice of heroic self-restraint, but must be attributed in part to the fact that that side of his nature was entirely subordinate to his higher ideals; and these were always a stronger passion with Hoelderlin than his love. So that Diotima's judgment of Hyperion is correct when she says: "O es ist so ganz natuerlich, dass Du nimmer lieben willst, weil Deine groessern Wuensche verschmachten." This consideration at once compels a comparison with Lenau, which must be deferred, however, until the succeeding chapter. Undoubtedly this year and a half at Frankfurt was the happiest period of his whole life. It brought him a serenity of mind which he had never before known. Ardent was the response called forth by his devotion, but its influence was wholesome—it was soothing to his sensitive nerves. And because it was altogether more a sublime than an earthly passion, he indulged himself in it with a conscience void of offence. Doubtless he correctly describes the influence of his relations with Diotima upon his life when he writes: "Ich sage Dir, lieber Neuffer! ich bin auf dem Wege, ein recht guter Knabe zu werden.... mein Herz ist voll Lust, und wenn das heilige Schicksal mir mein gluecklich Leben erhaelt, so hoff' ich kuenftig mehr zu thun als bisher." But the happy life was not to continue long. Rudely the cup was dashed from his lips, and the poet's pain intensified by one more disappointment—the bitterest of all he had experienced. It filled him with thoughts of revenge, which he was powerless to execute. There can be no question that if his love for Susette had been of a less etherial order, less a thing of the soul, he would have felt much less bitterly her husband's violent interference. But returning to the poem "Hyperion," for as such we may regard it, we find in it the most complete expression of the attitude which the poet, in his Weltschmerz, assumed toward nature. Nature is his constant companion, mother, comforter in sorrow, in his brighter moments his deity. This nature-worship, which speedily develops into a more or less consistent pantheism, Hoelderlin expresses in Hyperion's second letter, in the following creed: "Eines zu sein mit allem, was lebt, in seliger Selbstvergessenheit wiederzukehren ins All der Natur, das ist der Gipfel der Gedanken und Freuden, das ist die heilige Bergeshoehe, der Ort der ewigen Ruhe." And so nature is to Hoelderlin always intensely real and personal. The sea is youthful, full of exuberant joy; the mountain-tops are hopeful and serene; with shouts of joy the stream hurls itself like a giant down into the forests. Here and there his personification of nature becomes even more striking: "O das Morgenlicht und ich, wir gingen uns entgegen, wie versoehnte Freunde." Still more intense is this feeling of personal intimacy, when he exclaims: "O selige Natur! ich weiss nicht, wie mir geschiehet, wenn ich mein Auge erhebe von deiner Schoene, aber alle Lust des Himmels ist in den Thraenen, die ich weine vor dir, der Geliebte vor der Geliebten." It is important for purposes of comparison, to note that notwithstanding his intense Weltschmerz, in his treatment of nature Hoelderlin does not select only its gloomy or terrible aspects. Light and shade alternate in his descriptions, and only here and there is the background entirely unrelieved. The thunderstorm is to him a dispenser of divine energies among forest and field, even the seasons of decline and decay are not left without sunshine: "auf der stummen entblaetterten Landschaft, wo der Himmel schoener als je, mit Wolken und Sonnenschein um die herbstlich schlafenden Baeume spielte." One passage in "Hyperion" bears so striking a resemblance, however, to Lenau's characteristic nature-pictures, that it shall be given in full—although even here, when the gloom of his sorrow and disappointment was steadily deepening, he does not fail to derive comfort from the warm sunshine, a thought for which we should probably look in vain, had Lenau painted the picture: "Ich sass mit Alabanda auf einem Huegel der Gegend, in lieblich waermender Sonn', und um uns spielte der Wind mit abgefallenem Laube. Das Land war stumm; nur hie und da ertoente im Wald ein stuerzender Baum, vom Landmann gefaellt, und neben uns murmelte der vergaengliche Regenbach hinab ins ruhige Meer."
In spite of his deep and persistent Weltschmerz, Hoelderlin rarely gives expression to a longing for death. This forms so prominent a feature in the thought of other types of Weltschmerz, for instance of Lenau and of Leopardi, that its absence here cannot fail to be noticed. It is true that in his dramatic poem "Der Tod des Empedokles," which symbolizes the closing of his account with the world, Hoelderlin causes his hero to return voluntarily to nature by plunging into the fiery crater of Mount Etna. But Empedokles does this to atone for past sin, not merely to rid himself of the pain of living; and thus, even as a poetic idea, it impresses us very differently from the continual yearning for death which pervades the writings of the two poets just mentioned. Leopardi declared that it were best never to see the light, but denounced suicide as a cowardly act of selfishness; and yet at the approach of an epidemic of cholera, he clung so tenaciously to life that he urged a hurried departure from Naples, regardless of the hardships of such a journey in his feeble condition, and took refuge in a little villa near Vesuvius. Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz was absolutely sincere.
Numerous passages might be quoted to show that Hoelderlin's mind was intensely introspective. This is true also of Lenau, even to a greater extent, and may be taken as generally characteristic of poets of this type. The fact that this introspection is an inevitable symptom in many mental derangements, hypochondria, melancholia and others, indicates a not very remote relation of Weltschmerz to insanity. In Hoelderlin's poems there are not a few premonitions of the sad fate which awaited him. One illustration from the poem "An die Hoffnung," 1801, may suffice:
Wo bist du? wenig lebt' ich, doch atmet kalt Mein Abend schon. Und stille, den Schatten gleich, Bin ich schon hier; und schon gesanglos Schlummert das schau'rende Herz im Busen.
It is impossible to read these lines without feeling something of the cold chill of the heart that Hoelderlin felt was already upon him, and which he expresses in a manner so intensely realistic and yet so beautiful.
Having thus attempted a review of the growth of Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz and of its chief characteristics, it merely remains to conclude the chapter with a brief resume. We have then in Friedrich Hoelderlin a youth peculiarly predisposed to feel himself isolated from and repelled by the world, growing up without a strong fatherly hand to guide, giving himself over more and more to solitude and so becoming continually less able to cope with untoward circumstances and conditions. Growing into manhood, he was unfortunate in all his love-affairs and as though doomed to unceasing disappointments. Early in life he devoted himself to the study of antiquity, making Greece his hobby, and thus creating for himself an ideal world which existed only in his imagination, and taking refuge in it from the buffetings of the world about him. He was a man of a deeply philosophical trend of mind, and while not often speaking of it, felt very keenly the humiliating condition of Germany, although his patriotic enthusiasm found its artistic expression not with reference to Germany but to Greece. As a poet, finally, his intimacy with nature was such that nature-worship and pantheism became his religion.
In reviewing the whole range of Hoelderlin's writings, we cannot avoid the conclusion, that in him we have a type of Weltschmerz in the broadest sense of the term; we might almost term it Byronism, with the sensual element eliminated. He shows the hypersensitiveness of Werther, fanatical enthusiasm for a vague ideal of liberty, vehement opposition to existing social and political conditions; there is, in fact, a breadth in his Weltschmerz, which makes the sorrows of Werther seem very highly specialized in comparison. Bearing in mind the distinction made between the two classes, we must designate Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz as cosmic rather than egoistic; the egoistic element is there, but it is outweighed by the cosmic and finds its poetic expression not so frequently nor so intensely with reference to the poet himself, as with reference to mankind at large.
[Footnote 12: Anz. f. d. Alt., vol. 22, p. 212-218.]
[Footnote 13: In a letter to his mother he writes: "Freilich ist's mir auch angeboren, dass ich alles schwerer zu Herzen nehme." ("Friedrich Hoelderlins Leben, in Briefen von und an Hoelderlin, von Carl C.T. Litzmann," Berlin, 1890, p. 27. Hereafter quoted as "Briefe.").]
[Footnote 14: "Hoelderlins gesammelte Dichtungen, herausgegeben von B. Litzmann," Stuttgart, Cotta (hereafter quoted as "Werke"). Vol. II, p. 9.]
[Footnote 15: It is a reminiscence of Hoelderlin's boyhood which finds expression in the words of Hyperion: "Ich war aufgewachsen, wie eine Rebe ohne Stab, und die wilden Ranken breiteten richtungslos ueber dem Boden sich aus." Werke, Vol. II, p. 72.]
[Footnote 16: Werke, Vol. I, p. 86.]
[Footnote 17: Werke, Vol. I, p. 36.]
[Footnote 18: "Auf einer Heide geschrieben," Werke, Vol. I, p. 44.]
[Footnote 19: Briefe, p. 27.]
[Footnote 20: Briefe, p. 29.]
[Footnote 21: Werke, Vol. I, p. 53 f.]
[Footnote 22: Briefe, p. 36.]
[Footnote 23: Briefe, p. 120.]
[Footnote 24: "Mein Vorsatz," Werke, Vol. I, p. 44.]
[Footnote 25: Werke, Vol. II, p. 69.]
[Footnote 26: Werke, Vol. II, p. 90.]
[Footnote 27: Werke, Vol. II, p. 86.]
[Footnote 28: Briefe, p. 49.]
[Footnote 29: Briefe, p. 50.]
[Footnote 30: Werke, Vol. I, p. 74.]
[Footnote 31: "Friedrich Hoelderlin, Eine Studie," Preuss. Jahrb., 1866, p. 548-568.]
[Footnote 32: Anz. f. d. Altertum, Vol. 22, p. 212-218.]
[Footnote 33: Werke, Vol. I, p. 75.]
[Footnote 34: Werke, Vol. I, p. 146.]
[Footnote 35: Werke, Vol. II, p. 107.]
[Footnote 36: Werke, Vol. II, p. 188.]
[Footnote 37: "Vortraege und Aufsaetze," 1874, Fried. Hoelderlin, p. 354.]
[Footnote 38: Werke, Vol. II, p. 96.]
[Footnote 39: Werke, Vol. II, p. 189.]
[Footnote 40: Cf. op. cit., p. 352.]
[Footnote 41: Werke, Vol. I, p. 51.]
[Footnote 42: Werke, Vol. I, p. 50.]
[Footnote 43: Werke, Vol. I, p. 49.]
[Footnote 44: Werke, Vol. I, p. 66.]
[Footnote 45: Werke, Vol. I, p. 165.]
[Footnote 46: Werke, Vol. II, p. 198.]
[Footnote 47: Werke, Vol. II, p. 97.]
[Footnote 48: Werke, Vol. II, p. 200.]
[Footnote 49: Werke, Vol. II, p. 200 f.]
[Footnote 50: Werke, Vol. I, p. 105.]
[Footnote 51: Werke, Vol. I, p. 196.]
[Footnote 52: Werke, Vol. I, p. 214.]
[Footnote 53: Werke, Vol. I.]
[Footnote 54: Werke, Vol. I, p. 234.]
[Footnote 55: "An die Nachtigall," "An meinen Bilfinger," Werke, Vol. I, p. 42f.]
[Footnote 56: Werke, Vol. I, p. 43.]
[Footnote 57: Werke, Vol. I, p. 197.]
[Footnote 58: Briefe, p. 160.]
[Footnote 59: Briefe, p. 162.]
[Footnote 60: Cf. supra, p. 22.]
[Footnote 61: "Oedipus Coloneus," 1225 seq.]
[Footnote 62: Werke, Vol. II, p. 81.]
[Footnote 63: Cf. Introduction, p. 1 f.]
[Footnote 64: Werke, Vol. I, p. 89.]
[Footnote 65: Briefe, p. 382 f.]
[Footnote 66: Briefe, p. 403-405.]
[Footnote 67: Werke, Vol. II, p. 175.]
[Footnote 68: Briefe, p. 404.]
[Footnote 69: Werke, Vol. II, p. 68.]
[Footnote 70: Werke, Vol. II, p. 100.]
[Footnote 71: Werke, Vol. II, p. 68.]
[Footnote 72: Werke, Vol. II, p. 85.]
[Footnote 73: Werke, Vol. II, p. 181.]
[Footnote 74: Werke, Vol. I, p. 253.]
If Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz has been fittingly characterized as idealistic, Lenau's on the other hand may appropriately be termed the naturalistic type. He is par excellence the "Pathetiker" of Weltschmerz.
Without presuming even to attempt a final solution of a problem of pathology concerning which specialists have failed to agree, there seems to be sufficient circumstantial as well as direct evidence to warrant the assumption that Lenau's case presents an instance of hereditary taint. Notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Karl Weiler discredits the idea of "erbliche Belastung" and calls heredity "den vielgerittenen Verlegenheitsgaul," the conclusion forces itself upon us that if the theory has any scientific value whatsoever, no more plausible instance of it could be found than the one under consideration. The poet's great-grandfather and grandfather had been officers in the Austrian army, the latter with some considerable distinction. Of his five children, only Franz, the poet's father, survived. The complete lack of anything like a systematic education, and the nomadic life of the army did not fail to produce the most disastrous results in the wild and dissolute character of the young man. Even before the birth of the poet, his father had broken his marriage vows and his wife's heart by his abominable dissipations and drunkenness. Lenau was but five years old when his father, not yet thirty-five, died of a disease which he is believed to have contracted as a result of these sensual and senseless excesses. To the poet he bequeathed something of his own pathological sensuality, instability of thought and action, lack of will-energy, and the tears of a heartbroken mother, a sufficient guarantee, surely, of a poet of melancholy. Even though we cannot avoid the reflection that the loss of such a father was a blessing in disguise, the fact remains that Lenau during his childhood and youth needed paternal guidance and training even more than did Hoelderlin. He became the idol of his mother, who in her blind devotion did not hesitate to show him the utmost partiality in all things. This important fact alone must account to a large extent for that presumptuous pride, which led him to expect perhaps more than his just share from life and from the world.
Lenau's aimlessness and instability were so extreme that they may properly be counted a pathological trait. It is best illustrated by his university career. In 1819 he went to Vienna to commence his studies. Beginning with Philosophy, he soon transferred his interests to Law, first Hungarian, then German; finding the study of Law entirely unsuited to his tastes, he now declared his intention of pursuing once more a philosophical course, with a view to an eventual professorship. But this plan was frustrated by his grandmother, the upshot of it all being that Lenau allowed himself to be persuaded to take up the study of agriculture at Altenburg. But a few months sufficed to bring him back to Vienna. Here his legal studies, which he had resumed and almost completed, were interrupted by a severe affection of the throat which developed into laryngitis and from which he never quite recovered. This too, according to Dr. Sadger, marks the neurasthenic, and often constitutes a hereditary taint. Lenau thereupon shifted once more and entered upon a medical course, this time not absolutely without predilection. He did himself no small credit in his medical examinations, but the death of his grandmother, just before his intended graduation, provided a sufficient excuse for him to discontinue the work, which was never again resumed or brought to a conclusion. But not only in matters of such relative importance did Lenau exhibit this vacillation. There was a spirit of restlessness in him which made it impossible for him to remain long in the same place. Of this condition no one was more fully aware than he himself. In one of his letters he writes: "Gestern hat jemand berechnet, wieviel Poststunden ich in zwei Monaten gefahren bin, und es ergab sich die kolossale Summe von 644, die ich im Eilwagen unter bestaendiger Gemuetsbewegung gefahren bin." That this habit of almost incessant travel tended to aggravate his nervous condition is a fair supposition, notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Karl Weiler skeptically asks "what about commercial travellers?" Lenau himself complains frequently of the distressing effect of such journeys: "Ein heftiger Kopfschmerz und grosse Muedigkeit waren die Folgen der von Linz an unausgesetzten Reise im Eilwagen bei schlechtem Wetter und abmuedenden Gedanken an meine Zukunft." Many similar Statements might be quoted from his letters to show that it was not merely the ordinary process of traveling, though that at best must have been trying enough, but the breathless haste of his journeys, combined with mental anxiety, which usually characterized them, that made them so detrimental to his health.
It is as interesting as it is significant to note in this connection the fact that while on a journey to Munich, just a short time before the light of his intellect failed, Lenau wrote the following lines, the last but one of all his poems:
's ist eitel nichts, wohin mein Aug' ich hefte! Das Leben ist ein vielbesagtes Wandern, Ein wuestes Jagen ist's von dem zum andern, Und unterwegs verlieren wir die Kraefte.
Doch traegt uns eine Macht von Stund zu Stund, Wie's Krueglein, das am Brunnenstein zersprang, Und dessen Inhalt sickert auf den Grund, So weit es ging, den ganzen Weg entlang,— Nun ist es leer. Wer mag daraus noch trinken? Und zu den andern Scherben muss es sinken.
Hoelderlin also uses the striking figure contained in the last line, not however as here to picture the worthlessness of human life in general, but to stigmatize the Germans, whom Hyperion describes as "dumpf und harmonielos, wie die Scherben eines weggeworfenen Gefaesses."
That Lenau was a neurasthenic seems to be the consensus of opinion, at least of those medical authorities who have given their views of the case to the public. This fact also has an important bearing upon our discussion, since it will help to show a materially different origin for Lenau's Weltschmerz and Hoelderlin's.
Much more frequent than in the case of the latter are the ominous forebodings of impending disaster which characterize Lenau's poems and correspondence. In a letter to his friend Karl Mayer he writes: "Mich regiert eine Art Gravitation nach dem Ungluecke. Schwab hat einmal von einem Wahnsinnigen sehr geistreich gesprochen.... Ein Analogon von solchem Daemon (des Wahnsinns) glaub' ich auch in mir zu beherbergen." He is continually engaged in a gruesome self-diagnosis: "Dann ist mir zuweilen, als hielte der Teufel seine Jagd in dem Nervenwalde meines Unterleibes: ich hoere ein deutliches Hundegebell daselbst und ein dumpfes Halloh des Schwarzen. Ohne Scherz; es ist oft zum Verzweifeln." This process of self-diagnosis may be due in part to his medical studies, but much more, we think, to his morbid imagination, which led him, on more than one occasion, to play the madman in so realistic a manner that strangers were frightened out of their wits and even his friends became alarmed, lest it might be earnest and not jest which they were witnessing.
Lenau was not without a certain sense of humor, grim humor though it was, and here and there in his letters there is an admixture of levity with the all-pervading melancholy. An example may be quoted from a letter to Kerner in Weinsberg, dated 1832: "Heute bin ich wieder bei Reinbecks auf ein grosses Spargelessen. Spargel wie Kirchthuerme werden da gefressen. Ich allein verschlinge 50-60 solcher Kirchthuerme und komme mir dabei vor, wie eine Parodie unserer politisch-prosaischen, durchaus unheiligen Zeit, die auch schon das Maul aufsperrt, um alles Heilige, und namentlich die guten glaeubigen Kirchthuerme wie Spargelstangen zu verschlingen." The letter concludes with the signature: "Ich umarme Dich, bis Dir die Rippen krachen. Dein Niembsch." Not infrequently this humor was at his own expense, especially when describing an unpleasant condition or situation, as for example in a letter to Sophie Loewenthal in the year 1844: "Jetzt lebe ich hier in Saus und Braus,—d. h. es saust und braust mir der Kopf von einem leidigen Schnupfen." Again, on finding himself on one occasion very unwell and uncomfortable in Stuttgart, he writes as follows: "Bestaendiges Unwohlsein, Kopfschmerz, Schlaflosigkeit, Mattigkeit, schlechte Verdauung, Rhabarber, Druckfehler, und Aerger ueber den traegen Fortschlich meiner Geschaefte, das waren die Freuden meiner letzten Woche. Emilie will es nicht gelten lassen, dass die Stuttgarter Luft nichts als die Ausduenstung des Teufels sei.—Ich schnappe nach Luft, wie ein Spatz unter der Luftpumpe.—In vielen der hiesigen Strassen riecht es am Ende auch lenzhaft, naemlich pestilenzhaft, und die guten Stuttgarter merken das gar nicht; 'suess duftet die Heimat.'" In his fondness for bringing together the incongruous, for introducing the element of surprise, and in the fact that his humor is almost always of the impatient, disgruntled, cynical type, Lenau reminds us not a little of Heine in his "Reisebilder" and some other prose works. Hoelderlin, on the other hand, may be said to have been utterly devoid of humor.
Lack of self-control, perhaps the most characteristic trait among men of genius, was even more pronounced in Lenau than in Hoelderlin. This shows itself in the extreme irregularity of his habits of life. For instance, it was his custom to work long past the midnight hour, and then take his rest until nearly noon. He could never get his coffee quite strong enough to suit him, although it was prepared almost in the form of a concentrated tincture and he drank large quantities of it. He smoked to excess, and the strongest cigars at that; in short, he seems to have been entirely without regard for his physical condition. Or was it perverseness which prompted him to prefer close confinement in his room to the long walks which he ought to have taken for his health? Even his recreation, which consisted chiefly in playing the violin, brought him no nervous relaxation, for it is said that he would often play himself into a state of extreme nervous excitement.
All these considerations corroborate the opinion of those who knew him best, that his Weltschmerz, and eventually his insanity, had its origin in a pathological condition. Indeed this was the poet's own view of the case. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Anton Schurz, dated 1834, he says: "Aber, lieber Bruder, die Hypochondrie schlaegt bei mir immer tiefere Wurzel. Es hilft alles nichts. Der gewisse innere Riss wird immer tiefer und weiter. Es hilft alles nichts. Ich weiss, es liegt im Koerper; aber—aber—" In its origin then, Lenau's Weltschmerz differs altogether from that of Hoelderlin, who exhibits no such symptoms of neurasthenia.
Lenau's nervous condition was seriously aggravated at an early date by the outcome of his unfortunate relations with the object of his first love, Bertha, who became his mistress when he was still a mere boy. His grief on finding her faithless was doubtless as genuine as his conduct with her had been reprehensible, for he cherished for many long years the memory of his painful disappointment. The general statement, "Lenau war stets verlobt, fand aber stets in sich selbst einen Widerstand und unerklaerliche Angst, wenn die Verbindung endgiltig gemacht werden sollte," is inaccurate and misleading, inasmuch as it fails to take into proper account the causes, mediate and immediate, of his hesitation to marry. Lenau was only once "verlobt," and it was the stroke of facial paralysis which announced the beginning of the end, rather than any "unerklaerliche Angst," that convinced him of the inexpediency of that important step.
Beyond a doubt his long drawn out and abject devotion to the wife of his friend Max Loewenthal proved the most important single factor in his life. It was during the year 1834, after his return from America, that Lenau made the acquaintance of the Loewenthal family in Vienna. Sophie, who was the sister of his old comrade Fritz Kleyle, so attracted the poet that he remained in the city for a number of weeks instead of going at once to Stuttgart, as he had planned and promised. What at first seemed an ideal friendship, increased in intensity until it became, at least on Lenau's part, the very glow of passion. We have already alluded to the poet's premature erotic instinct, an impulse which he doubtless inherited from his sensual parents. In his numerous letters and notes to Sophie, he has left us a remarkable record of the intensity of his passion. Not even excepting Goethe's letters to Frau von Stein, there are no love-letters in the German language to equal these in literary or artistic merit; and never has any other German poet addressed himself with more ardent devotion to a woman. A characteristic difference between Hoelderlin and Lenau here becomes evident: the former, even in his relations with Diotima, supersensual; the latter the very incarnation of sensuality. Lenau was fully conscious of the tremendous struggle with overpowering passion, and once confessed to his clerical friend Martensen that only through the unassailable chastity of his lady-love had his conscience remained void of offence. Almost any of his innumerable protestations of love taken at random would seem like the most extravagant attempt to give utterance to the inexpressible: "Gottes starke Hand drueckt mich so fest an Dich, dass ich seufzen muss und ringen mit erdrueckender Wonne, und meine Seele keinen Atem mehr hat, wenn sie nicht Deine Liebe saugen kann. Ach Sophie! ach, liebe, liebe, liebe Sophie!" "Ich bete Dich an, Du bist mein Liebstes und Hoechstes." "Am sechsten Juni reis' ich ab, nichts darf mich halten. Mir brennt Leib und Seele nach Dir. Du! O Sophie! Haett' ich Dich da! Das Verlangen schmerzt, O Gott!" Instead of experiencing the soothing influences of a Diotima, Lenau's fate was to be engaged for ten long years in a hot conflict between principle and passion, a conflict which kept his naturally oversensitive nerves continually on the rack. He himself expresses the detrimental effect of this situation: "So treibt mich die Liebe von einer Raserei zur andern, von der zuegellosesten Freude zu verzweifeltem Unmut. Warum? Weil ich am Ziel der hoechsten, so heiss ersehnten Wonne immer wieder umkehren muss, weil die Sehnsucht nie gestillt wird, wird sie irr und wild und verkehrt sich in Verzweiflung,—das ist die Geschichte meines Herzens." It would seem from the tone of many of his letters that there was much deliberate and successful effort on the part of Sophie to keep Lenau's feelings toward her always in a state of the highest nervous tension. So cleverly did she manage this that even her caprices put him only the more hopelessly at her mercy. One day he writes: "Mit grosser Ungeduld erwartete ich gestern die Post, und sie brachte mir auch einen Brief von Dir, aber einen, der mich kraenkt." For a day or two he is rebellious and writes: "Ich bin verstimmt, missmutig. Warum stoerst Du mein Herz in seinen schoenen Gedanken von innigem Zusammenleben auch in der Ferne?" But only a few days later he is again at her feet: "Ich habe Dir heute wieder geschrieben, um Dich auch zum Schreiben zu treiben. Ich sehne mich nach Deinen Briefen. Du bist nicht sehr eifrig, Du bist es wohl nie gewesen. Und kommt endlich einmal ein Brief, so hat er meist seinen Haken—O liebe Sophie! wie lieb' ich Dich!" Her attitude on several occasions leaves room for no other inference than that she was extremely jealous of his affections. When in 1839 a mutual regard sprang up between Lenau and the singer Karoline Unger, a regard which held out to him the hope of a fuller and happier existence, we may surmise the nature of Sophie's interference from the following reply to her: "Sie haben mir mit Ihren paar Zeilen das Herz zerschmettert,—Karoline liebt mich und will mein werden. Sie sieht's als ihre Sendung an, mein Leben zu versoehnen und zu begluecken.—Es ist an Ihnen Menschlichkeit zu ueben an meinem zerrissenen Herzen.—Verstosse ich sie, so mache ich sie elend und mich zugleich.—Entziehen Sie mir Ihr Herz, so geben Sie mir den Tod; sind Sie ungluecklich, so will ich sterben. Der Knoten ist geschuerzt. Ich wollte, ich waere schon tot!" Not only was this proposed match broken off, but when some five years later Lenau made the acquaintance of and became engaged to a charming young girl, Marie Behrends, and all the poet's friends rejoiced with him at the prospect of a happy marriage, a "Musterehe," as he fondly called it, Sophie wrote him the cruel words: "Eines von uns muss wahnsinnig werden." Only a few months were needed to decide which of them it should be.
The foregoing illustrations are ample to show what sort of influence Sophie exerted over the poet's entire nature, and therefore upon his Weltschmerz. Whereas in their hopeless loves, Hoelderlin and to an even greater extent Goethe, struggled through to the point of renunciation, Lenau constantly retrogrades, and allows his baser sensual instincts more and more to control him. He promises to subdue his wild outbursts a little, and when he fails he tries to explain, to apologize. If with Hoelderlin love was to a predominating degree a thing of the soul, it was with Lenau in an equal measure a matter of nerves, and as such, under these conditions, it could not but contribute largely to his physical, mental and moral disruption. With Hoelderlin it was the rude interruption from without of his quiet and happy intercourse with Susette, which embittered his soul. With Lenau it was the feverish, tumultuous nature of the love itself, that deepened his melancholy.
The charge of affectation in their Weltschmerz would be an entirely baseless one, both in the case of Hoelderlin and Lenau. But this difference is readily discovered in the impressions made upon us by their writings, namely that Hoelderlin's Weltschmerz is absolutely naive and unconscious, while that of Lenau is at all times self-conscious and self-centered. Mention has already been made, in speaking of Lenau's pathological traits, of his confirmed habit of self-diagnosis. This he applied not only to his physical condition but to his mental experiences as well. No one knew so well as he how deeply the roots of melancholy had penetrated his being. "Ich bin ein Melancholiker" he once wrote to Sophie, "der Kompass meiner Seele zittert immer wieder zurueck nach dem Schmerze des Lebens." Innumerable illustrations of this fact might be found in his lyrics, all of which would repeat with variations the theme of the stanza:
Du geleitest mich durch's Leben Sinnende Melancholie! Mag mein Stern sich strebend heben, Mag er sinken,—weichest nie!
The definite purpose with which the poet seeks out and strives to keep intact his painful impressions is frankly stated in one of his diary memoranda, as follows: "So gibt es eine Hoehe des Kummers, auf welcher angelangt wir einer einzelnen Empfindung nicht nachspringen, sondern sie laufen lassen, weil wir den Blick fuer das schmerzliche Ganze nicht verlieren, sondern eine gewisse kummervolle Sammlung behalten wollen, die bei aller scheinbaren Aussenheiterkeit recht gut fortbestehen kann." Hoelderlin, as we have noted, not infrequently pictures himself as a sacrifice to the cause of liberty and fatherland, to the new era that is to come:
Umsonst zu sterben, lieb' ich nicht; doch Lieb' ich zu fallen am Opferhuegel Fuer's Vaterland, zu bluten des Herzens Blut, Fuer's Vaterland....
Lenau, on the other hand, is anxious to sacrifice himself to his muse. "Kuenstlerische Ausbildung ist mein hoechster Lebenszweck; alle Kraefte meines Geistes, meines Gemuetes betracht' ich als Mittel dazu. Erinnerst Du Dich des Gedichtes von Chamisso, wo der Maler einen Juengling ans Kreuz nagelt, um ein Bild vom Todesschmerze zu haben? Ich will mich selber ans Kreuz schlagen, wenn's nur ein gutes Gedicht gibt." And again: "Vielleicht ist die Eigenschaft meiner Poesie, dass sie ein Selbstopfer ist, das Beste daran." The specific instances just cited, together with the inevitable impressions gathered from the reading of his lyrics, make it impossible to avoid the conclusion that we are dealing here with a virtuoso of Weltschmerz; that Lenau was not only conscious at all times of the depth of his sorrow, but that he was also fully aware of its picturesqueness and its poetic possibilities. It is true that this self-consciousness brings him dangerously near the bounds of insincerity, but it must also be granted that he never oversteps those bounds.