網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

selfish policy and mischievous example of their aristocracy, and the glare and glitter of the hollow refinement of France, would not be content to remain in a position so degrading. The wise and patriotic citizen would lament to see how little respect for the individuality of the national mind, the root of all its greatness, such servility displayed. It would be a yoke which his spirit would loathe—a subjugation which would be torture to a free mind. Deeply would he feel with the poet,

“ There is a bondage which is worse to bear

Than his who breathes, by roof and floor and wall
Pent in, a tyrant's solitary thrall:
'Tis his who walks about in th' open air,
One of a nation who henceforth must bear
Their fetters in their souls-

and against such a state of things every true German spirit would arouse itself, and struggle for emancipation. There were not accordingly wanting many authors, truly national in spirit and noble in purpose, who sought to resist this fatal domination, and introduce juster standards, and more free and enlightened aims. Among these were Spencer and the other pietists; but not being recognized as philosophers, or persons of quality, who alone gave the tone to things, their exertions were almost ineffectual. The religious works of these men had this beneficial result: they nourished a taste for their own genuine and profound language, in all who loved their mother-tongue; and, however objectionable to some the system they advocated, however pitied by the faithful, or smiled at by the rational, by leading the attention of the people to subjects connected with the spiritual and the eternal, they counteracted that tendency to the sensual and the finite, which was the contaminating result of the French literature and philosophy. Thomasius made use of his native language in his criticisms, in his monthly German discourses, and his lectures on reason and morals; and handled all branches of philosophy in a popular manner. Confined and imperfect as was his philosophic scheme, and distorted and confused as was his prose style, intermingled with Latinisms and Gallicisms, yet his effort was one of the most cheering appearances of the time, in German literature. He loved his native tongue, and the unsophisticated modes of genuine German life; and with a clear insight into the errors and wants of the social condition, he combined much wit and humour, and was, to no inconsiderable extent, well qualified to take the field against the failings and prejudices of the age. He attacked the false, but fashionable style, “the glory of the literati, and their shame,” contributed much to the preservation of the national character, embittered the triumphs of the learned champions of the adverse party, and incessantly directed public attention to the matter. From his time, German began again to be employed for literary purposes. Wolff did much, in his philosophical essays, to improve the structure and expressiveness of his country's language, and maintain its reasserted importance. Baumgarten, an acute and clear thinker, who wrote much on æsthetics, and to whom we owe the very term now so familiarized and serviceable, continued the struggle. The dull and pedantic Gottsched also did some service to this truly national cause, in condemning the disfigurement of the language by the use of foreign words, and opposing the taste for bombast in poetry then prevalent. His zeal for the purification of the German was of great use; and he at least perceived its genius, though deficient in the requisite talent to exhibit its powers in his own productions. But to Lessing, himself one of the most distinguished German authors, and whose language is a model of German prose, are his countrymen most indebted for the regeneration of their literature.

In the midst of the intellectual meanness, perversity and false taste, which then reigned, Lessing grew up. He vehemently rejected the yoke, boldly withstood the prevailing commonness of thought and style, vigorously attacked and discomfited the much-lauded French taste, and spread far and wide in his numerous writings the elements for the improvement of German literature. He sought utterly to annihilate the imitation of French errors. He looked upon the age of Louis the Fourteenth as weak and contemptible. The ancients he honoured from the very bottom of his heart, and earnestly recommended the study of them to his countrymen; but his admiration was grounded on a true insight into the nature and merits of the classic master-pieces,—while for the French perversions and improvements, as they were denominated, he had the most intolerant scorn. With all his reverence for the productions of the past, he was not onesided, as he had a keen and just appreciation of the literature of England, Spain, and Italy, then but little known to Germany, so dissimilar from that of Greece and Rome; and laboured to introduce an acquaintance with its best works, as an antidote to the feeble and artificial exhibited by that of France, and as specimens of vigorous thinking, lofty imagination, and pure taste. He brought the powers of a sound and enlarged philosophy, and an acute and forceful intellect, into play, in this endeavour. The effort was an arduous one for a single individual, however richly gifted; but the success was as great, or perhaps greater, than could have been anticipated. In his hands, the struggle, begun by earlier writers, who were the pioneers to his manæuvres, was finally successful. Mighty Germany,

“ She of the Danube and the Northern Sea,” saw the dawn of a national literature, breathing a language worthy of a great people, vigorous and supple as an athlete, distinct, majestic and impressive, and which, casting off the childish things which, in the moment of her weakness, had dazzled and corrupted her, promised to place her, at no distant day, on a footing with the noblest of European nations.

Of the intellectual wealth of this literature, as exhibited by one class of its writers—the poets—we do not now intend to speak. Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Tieck, and many others of the brotherhood of song, have earned a just and noble reputation; and we shall take another opportunity of directing our readers to their merits and characteristics. It is of some of her prose writers that we have now to make mention, partly because they are rated as writers of distinction by their countrymen,--because they are but little, if at all known, save by name, to the English reader,--and as they are striking examples of the vigour, fancy, humour, and originality of the German mind.

The samples that we shall tender will not be the best perhaps of their respective bulks, as both time and space, as well as the nature of our vehicle, do not admit of the fittest selection; but they will not fail to convey a strong impression of the value of the stock from which they are taken, and convince the inspectors that the article is worthy of their further consideration. We moreover desire to convey some notion of the life and productiveness that the German mind displayed, when it threw off the gilded fetters of the French infatuation, and cultivated those talents which Providence bestowed for their own and others' elevation. War, commerce and adventure, are not the worthiest records of a people's activity; it is by its books only that the soul of a nation is best made known. They are the noblest and most engaging chronicles, and most adequately show how it lived, and moved, and had its being. The Iliad, the dramas of Shakspeare, the Paradise Lost of Milton, the Inferno of Dante, the Quicote of Cervantes, will be monuments of the greatness of those lands where they were produced, and outlast tablets of stone or columns of brass. The pillars of Hercules are but a name; but “the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle” is of undying vitality—an immortal creature, a possession for ever!

We are further induced to proffer these specimens of German literature, as an erroneous notion has been formed, and disseminated by many, that its productions are of a stiff, pedantic, and obscure character;—that it is replete with contributions of misty metaphysics, subtle refinements, æsthetic jargon, and maudlin sentimentality. Of the despised metaphysics of Germany we will say, in passing, it would be well if England knew more. The unspiritual philosophy of Locke, and the flagrant morals of Paley, would cease to be the textbooks at her two universities; the teachers and expounders of their religious dogmatisms would be compelled to seek other sources of purer and more elevating character than these erroneous guides, and to abjure that “noble inconsistency” by which their conclusions are now made so awkwardly to square with their premises; her people would then be something more than a nation of shopkeepers. But this result we have yet to hope for, and we fear at no early period, unless some mighty event should strike and quicken the national mind, and raise it from that worship of prejudice, bigotry and mammon, which now engrosses it. To go back, however, to our German brethren :-the above conception of their literature is far from being in accordance with truth. Dulness, pedantry, and enigmatical darkness, is to be found among it, as among all other literatures, enough and to spare. A whole Dunciad of lesser men has not been able to eclipse the light cast upon the literary history of his country by one Pope. This unfounded conception is of long standing, and not confined to our own country. The Père Bouhours launched the adventurous and uncomplimentary proposition, “Si un Allemand peut être bel esprit?” The dialogue is maintained some time on this subject. The worthy father is strongly impelled to determine positively in the negative, believing a German bel-esprit to be a nonentity, a pure chimera,—but finally sums up thus: “C'est une chose singulière qu’un bel esprit Allemand ou Muscovite; et s'il y en a quelques uns dans le monde, ils sont de la nature de ces esprits qui n'apparoissent jamais sans causer de l'étonnement”!

Against this verdict we decidedly protest. In justice, however, to the worthy Frenchman, we are compelled to own, that it might be difficult to disprove his assertion by examples with which he could have been familiar; as the earliest which we intend to produce (Abraham à Santa Clara) was cotemporary with Bouhours in his old age. Had he lived to be acquainted with those specimens of German humour and vivacity which we hope to produce, we think he might with a safe conscience have retracted his sweeping censure.

Abraham à Santa Clara was born in 1642, in the Swabian village of Kräkenheim. His worldly name was Ulrich von Megerle, of a noble family so called. In his eighteenth year, he entered into the order of Augustin friars, became afterwards preacher in Bavaria, and finally court-chaplain at Vienna, in which capacity he officiated forty years; was appointed definitor provincia, and died there in 1709. His works have all singular titles, somewhat in accordance with their contents, such as Judas, the Arch-Scoundrel ; A well-filled Wine-cellar; The Chapel of the Dead; A Shop for Spiritualities ; An entirely new-hatched Nest of Fools; Wholesome Hodge-podge. They are a real mine of wit, fancy, and humour; although, from a continual bantering play upon words, the homeliest illustrations, and an unrestrained vivacity of expression, they would be deemed offensive by the taste of the present day. These and his pulpit discourses are distinguished by odd, rough flashes of wit, grotesque but significant thoughts, and an intellectual activity that is most extraordinary. In these he does homage to whatever soundness of views was displayed by his age; while he chastises, with the most biting satire and indignant sarcasm, the vices and follies of his cotemporaries, particularly the court. In spite of his extravagant humour, and daring originality of expression, they are of engaging interest, as they are replete with a keen spirit of observation, and knowledge of human nature, “quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles,” with touches of true eloquence, noble sentiments, and sweet and graceful fancies. His style, bizarre, energetic, and witty, was cleverly parodied by Schiller, in the well-known capuchin's sermon of Wallenstein. Discourses like those of the good Abraham à Santa Clara would be strangely received now-a-days; but we would willingly dispense with the narcotic drenches or the spiteful tirades so often endured, to have a dash of his liveliness and raciness, his honest detestation of hypocrisy and wrong-doing, and his warm-hearted love of mankind.

1

« 上一頁繼續 »