Page images
PDF
EPUB

those of an earlier date, to see out of what slender sources the more recent condition of such literature has been evolved.

The German history of fiction, or simply the German novel, may be considered as having arisen out of the multitude of legendary, allegorical, and historical poems, which had been produced up to the close of the fifteenth century. These, with similar other productions, such as ballads, etc., began at this period to be rendered into prose; and it was only within the last two centuries, but more especially within the last sixty or seventy years, that the German novel assumed that moral character and form, which now so favourably distinguishes it from similar creations of other countries, especially those of France and Italy. Up to the former period, the romance in Germany, (with the exception of 'Iwain, Wigolis von Rade,' etc., which are purely German works,) chiefly consisted of stale romances of chivalry, nursery tales and legends, which were translated from the Italian, French, and Latin. Such were the "Tales' of Troya, Alexander, Amadis, etc.; the favourite books of the day, however, were “Doctor Faustus,' and The Duke of Luxemberg,' which were soon followed by many others, among which deserve to be mentioned, "Till Eulenspiegel,' or 'Tyel Howleglass,' and 'Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew. About the vear 1598, there appeared one of those productions, which seem to be wholly unlimited in the sphere of their action. This was a work entitled, the 'Lustige und lächerliche Lallenburg, oder die Schildbürger. Some consider it in the light of a national satire, whereas others look upon it as an extremely humourous and comic novel. Be this as it may, it is certain, that few romances have earned the praise which has been and still is so justly bestowed on this admirable performance. It affords in the most delightful manner an exquisite and highly correct picture of the governmental constitution, and of the petitmaîtreship practised in those days in every town and village, throughout Germany. It was also at this time that there appeared the so-called Adventurous Popular Romances,' a species of light and amusing reading, which has remained even until this day a great favourite with almost all the lower classes of Germany. The most remarkable of these romances are, ‘Die schöne Melusine,' ' Herzog Ernst von Baiern,' 'Fortunati Wünschhütlein, Das Buch der Liebe,' Die schöne Magellone,' 'Der gehörnte Siegfried,' Kaiser Octavianus,' Die geduldige Helena,' 'Die heilige Genoveva,' Ida Gräfin von Toggenburg,''Der edle Finkenritter," "Hans guck in die Welt," which is perhaps the best of the whole; ‘Die vier Haimonskinder,''Die schöne Historie von den sieben weisen Meistern,' and ‘Die über die Bosheit triumphirende Unschuld Hirlanda.'

sati schiabiled, thoited in the operanderinlenspiegetherne, roma.comic mas other some tee und Tee of the auction About Toyota

But a sudden change now took place in the taste of the Germans, which was owing partly to the productions of the Castilian poet, George de Montemajor, and partly to those of Sir Philip Sidney. Through the ‘Diana' of the former, and the 'Arcadia' of the latter, the Germans became acquainted with the so-called “Pastorals, or Bucolics,' which gave rise to Neumark's * Filamon,' a tale as bombastic and stiff, as it is unnatural, and to 'Herculinus and Herculista.' The latter, written as its author says, for modest Christian readers,' appeared in the year 1659, and contains innumerable prayers, and rather good sacred hymns, and was the produce of a pious clergyman named Buchholz. The author's aim was evidently to counteract the mania which raged at the time, for demoralizing 'romances chevaleresques. An exceedingly flowery, or rather bombastic style,

-in those days termed' brilliant, -excepted, the book possesses many features, which even now entitle it to a careful perusal. Of a similar character is Samuel Greifensohn von Hischberg's famous 'Abenteuerliche Simplicissimus,' which the author, a soldier, produced during the thirty years' war. In it he has given a superb and exact picture of the state of Germany during that period. Though one of the most stirring novels, yet, like the former, this ‘Simplicissimus' is not wholly free from a high-strained pathos, and an unnatural lusciousness of language or expression.

Not long after this change, there arose two men-Hoffmannswaldau and Lohenstein-who, by their productions laid the foundation of 'Heroic romance. The first novel of this kind was Lohenstein's ' Arminius und Thusnelda,' which had been preceded by “Aramena' and 'Octavia,' both of which tales boasted the parentage of Ulrich, Duke of Braunshweig,

Ibrahim,' written by Von Zesen, etc. All these, however, were outdone by the famous 'Asiatische Banise' of Ziegler. This author, who had been the universal favourite, committed the greatest sins imaginable in the way of exaggeration, and attained the acmè of bombastic style in this romance, which, with all its faults and exaggerations, may be found nevertheless among the lower classes of Germany, with whom it seems to be an especial favourite. The most fertile novelist of that period was Talander, or August Bohn, who is said to have composed between twenty and thirty novels. Yet these were rather love - stories, and were written especially for ladies, than novels, as may be clearly seen by the title of one of them : The Cabinet of Love for the Fair Sex. From this fact it will appear evident, that love-stories, properly speaking, written for the fair sex, are of a much earlier date than the present day. Another novel writer of the same school, was Happel of Marburg, who produced some of the most insipid and intolerable romantic caricatures possible, with titles so bombastic as to excite derision. · A great improvement in the public taste was produced by the works of Schnabel. This distinguished author, wrote in the early part of the eighteenth century, his celebrated novel The island Felsenburg,' a work, which has been very recently edited by L. Tieck, and entirely recast by the great Danish romancist (Ehlenschläger. At the time of its appearance it was imitated by a host of German novelists, and subsequently laid the foundation of the so-called 'Robinsonade,' a species of tales, which maintained their rank among the German narratives for nearly half a century, and which thereby gave rise to many very excellent productions of the famous author Campe.

The well-known fabulist Gellert, wrote during this period a novel, entitled the Swedish Countess,' which is considered nevertheless a work of very moderate powers. But he, as well as a great many others, was compelled to give way to a mass of British authors, who now, for the first time, were introduced into Germany. Their extraordinary genius was acknowledged by the Germans, and exercised considerable influence over their literature. The greater portion of these writers, if not all, were translated, and their style imitated as closely as possible. The English writers who produced the greatest effect upon the German mind were Shakespeare, Young, Sterne, Smollett, Pope, Swift, Richardson, Fielding, and Goldsmith. Among the Germans who at this period had the greatest influence upon the intellect of the nation, especially that of the fair sex, and above all upon the more educated class of ladies, was John Hermes, Provost at Breslaw. A close imitator of Richardson, his first novel was entitled 'Fanny Wilkes,' which was devoured by all classes of society, and became as great a favourite with the German ladies, as Richardson's Clarissa' had been with those of England. The novel itself contains many fine and noble features, and is one of the liveliest and most charming books imaginable, describing in a masterly manner the customs and characters of the age. This was followed by Sophia's Tour from Memel to Saxony,' a work of a rather witty turn, containing many admirable views of human life, and traits of the highest practical truths. Some of this author's other novels, such as 'Hermine,' etc. as well as all those in which he especially addresses the daughters of 'noble' extraction, and the ladies generally, were of a similar tendency, whilst others were of a much inferior kind. On the whole, however, Hermes was at that time to Germany, what Richardson had been to England.

Contemporaneously with, and similar in style and powers of invention to Hermes, were Madame La Roche, and Professor Dusch, both of whom wrote for the public with more or less success. But classical novels of the highest order were written at this time by the celebrated scholar Wieland. A pure, flowing, and charming language, combined with much practical experience, cheerfulness, good humour, grace and amiability, are the chief features of his romantic productions. Wieland has been styled the 'German Voltaire, but this title confers on him in our judgment, no particular honour. Voltaire, may be regarded as possessing more satirical wit and lightness; but Wieland is decidedly his superior in genius and solid learning. In whatever light the Frenchman's creations are regarded, a dozen ideas borrowed from Bayle, constitute all the learning which can be discovered in the course of more than a hundred volumes.

Goëthe and Klinger (of whom hereafter) appeared, and with them the first golden rays of that rising sun, which was to shed its imperishable lustre over the romantic literature of Germany. This was effected by creations of the liveliest, most brilliant and charming fancies. Fire and energy, in works replete with poetic beauties, grandeur, and philosophical truths, combined with a rich vein of humour, and now and then a colouring of a deeper hue, contributed much to wipe away those tears which were the consequence of the unnatural sentimentality then prevailing.

But these great men—at least at first-carried things rather too far, so that their productions, which, in the beginning, were calculated to eradicate prevailing evils, and, to a certain extent, produced that effect, had nearly proved as great a calamity as the existing evils themselves. Germany, overwhelmed by the most unnatural sentimentalism, seemed to have become the prey of the sickliest effeminacy from within, and of a Gallo and Anglomania from without, on which account it was deemed high time that something should be done towards curing a disease which was spreading daily, and which threatened the health of the German mind with utter destruction. Jerusalem, an enthusiast, and intimate friend of Goëthe, and an unfortunate lover to boot, having destroyed himself at a place called Wetzlar, in consequence of an ill-fated attachment, Goëthe, in a state of great mental excitement, which almost involved his own ruin, wrote a work entitled 'Werther's Leiden,' a creation in which, under the name of Werther, he immortalized his hapless friend. For poetic beauties and an enthusiastic spirit, this work has few equals, and at the time we are speaking of, it created quite a furore. And well might it have been so. Love, with all its powers and charms, with all its joys and sorrows, expressed in the most passionate and enchanting language, was abundantly suited to enrapture and to unsettle the mind of those already beneath its influence, and to make every one of them feel desirous of an end similar to that of the illfated Werther. And yet it was this very work which contributed in no slight degree to a revolution in the world of German letters, and belletristic' literature.

We may here speak of the other chief romantic productions of this author, though we shall have again to refer to him. The next romance of note which Goëthe wrote is his celebrated 'Wahlverwandschaften,' a work which may be described as ranking among the finest specimens of its class, and as being perhaps unequalled for its profound and clear ideas, for a pure and disinterested attachment, couched in language as elegant and finished, as it is energetic and powerful. But Goëthe's triumph is a novel entitled 'Wilhelm Meister's Lehr-und Wanderjahre,' which is, beyond all doubt, his master-piece. It is the most elaborate, as well as the most finished, and to a certain degree, a signal triumph of prose over poetry, The invention or plot, order and finish, the characters, incidents and scenery, are as perfect as they are brilliant. The whole work is a mass of the deepest thoughts, of the clearest and soundest judgments, and of the most entrancing eloquence. It is—to use the famous Zelter's expressions—no romance, it is the world, the little-great' and 'great-little world, in which we find ourselves, our instincts, and our follies, pourtrayed in an admirable manner by the pencil of a master. This work, next to Faust, is Goëthe's most original, most perfect production, because it is with all its incidents, practical experience, and philosophical truths, a precise and exact copy of the great man himself,

We have seen how matters stood, at the time that Goëthe wrote the 'Sorrows of Werther, and the necessity that existed for a speedy cure of the prevailing disease. Musaeus and Trimm, two most brilliant satirical writers, appeared on the stage, the former with his 'German Grandison, or Grandison 11.,' and the latter with his ‘Marcus Puneratius Cyprianus Curt, called the Sentimentalist,' who, by means of these and similar satiri cal writings, made a sad havoc among the childish sentimentalists around. But innumerable others, also, both moral and satirical, now began to oppose this overwhelming stream by means of highly meritorious works, which acted most beneficially upon the heroes and heroines of the moon. For, heartily ridi. culed, and otherwise laughed at, the number of the Siegwarts and Mariannas (the hero and heroine of 'Siegfried von Felsen. berg,' a novel, written by Müller, and similar to Goëthe's

Werther'), the Herforts and Claras, the Werthers and Charlottes, the Carls and Emilies, visibly decreased daily, or made

« PreviousContinue »