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Göthe and Schiller.
But their moral aims and instincts were wholly opposite. It may be said emphatically of Schiller, that he was the only great writer of a cultivated age who ever dared to burst through the restraints which worldly philosophy casts around us, and to appeal freely and without reserve to the common sympathies of the honest part of man's nature, — the love of the beautiful, the love of glory, virtue, patriotism, devotion,-all the impulses with which we sympathise in the young, even when our own hearts have become chilled by advancing years, our judgment warped by long familiarity with the habitual sarcasm and irony of the cultivated world. · Virginibus puerisque' is the fitting epigraph of all the works of his maturer age ; and he had courage enough to show men that, in order to appreciate and enjoy him, they must become as children, and put on afresh the natural simplicity which they had cast aside as the garment of their boyhood. And he succeeded, with more than mere literary success. • The mighty charm of his song not only touched
the imaginations of men, but also their consciences.' He made, indeed, no durable impression on his age; the glow excited by his popularity was faint and transient: yet, such as it was, it seemed for a moment to produce a superficial thaw on the ice of a thousand years, and to bring men back to the times of which we dream rather than read, when genius, and virtue, and crime itself, wore the colouring of romance.
To Göthe all this transparent singleness of enthusiasm was as foreign as to his own Mephistopheles. Even in his best moods, his feeling for it was only that of an artist for a beautiful model. His disposition was not, indeed, mocking, nor had he the turn for burlesque and ridicule; his efforts in this line being among the least happy of his compositions. But he had attained a higher degree in the science of negation than Mephistopheles himself. He had attained to that profounder sophistry by which men, instead of acting the common part of devils' advocates, to pull down ordinary sainthood, create artificial virtues out of the weaknesses of humanity, and canonise saints of a new and questionable order. He studied by preference the foibles and shortcomings of his fellow-mortals; varnished them over with the brilliancy of style and sentiment; and, while professing all respect for ordinary doctrines and ethics, sought to prove that the real religion of man's heart, and the real end of his existence, lie in the refined cultivation of the mind and affections, and in subjecting all irregular impulses to a course of disciplined self-indulgence.
To Göthe, therefore, Schiller's heroes and heroines were mere unrealities, - creatures of the poet's fancy. Schiller, he saw, was no observer of nature, and never depicted either human life or things external as he found them. He was conscious, on the other hand, of his own extraordinary powers of observing both. And this fundamental difference between their two habits of mind appears to us to be what he originally meant to express by the phrase, that ' Schiller's genius was “subjective,” his own «« objective." A phrase which had also some apparent foundation in Schiller's Kantian notions; and which Göthe's supremacy has absolutely imposed on German criticism, until the epithets' ob*jective,' many-sided,' and such like Teutonicisms, have become almost as inseparably attached to the name of Göthe, as 'ju• dicious' to that of Hooker, or venerable to that of Bede. It is a bold thing to controvert such received canons; but less bold than it would be if Göthe himself had not been the original propounder of them, — Göthe, who, like many others, was never so little infallible as when he judged of himself. We cannot but think that if the two epithets had been reversed, they would more accurately have described their subjects.
That Schiller never reproduced Nature is true ; but he never reproduced himself. He saw Nature at second-hand through books. He studied the classics till he raised for himself a new Olympus, with all its starry deities. He studied history until its characters arose before his fancy like living beings, only in that glorified state in which
Strength was gigantic, valour high,
And wisdom soared beyond the sky.' All his creations, therefore, were drawn from an imaginary world; but still it was a world wholly external to himself. His characters may be brilliant phantoms, if you will, but assuredly they are not so many Schillers. They are no mere reflections from his own individual being.' Schiller's personality scarcely enters more into his poetry than Shakspeare's or Scott's.
We believe, on the other hand, that those who are in earnest in their love of Göthe, will generally agree with us as to the great source of his power; namely, that it is strictly subjective, in the most intelligible sense of that word. It has its origin in that strong predominance of the egotistical and self-analytic tendencies, which at once tempted and enabled him to transfer his own personality to the characters with which his imagination was dealing, and to call forth, in doing so, the corresponding egotism of the reader. If Göthe's situations are often dramatic, his characters are seldom so. When called on to exhibit energy or passion, they are apt to respond either with weakness or ranting. It is with the incomplete, the vague, the purposeless in human
Göthe more subjective than Schiller.
nature, that he seems by preference to concern himself; and for this very reason he addresses himself directly to the large majority of the educated classes of mankind. What Shakspeare has done in one or two characters only, and as an exception, Göthe does with all those in which his genius delights itself. Truly did Hazlitt remark, that the charm of the character of Hamlet lies neither in dramatic power, nor in external resemblance to Nature, but in the strange manner in which its working and peculiarities correspond with our own, — It is we who are • Hamlet.' How thoroughly this saying is applicable to Göthe, every day's additional study of his works will reveal to his admirer. None of his best remembered impersonations have the force of will, the power of action, which are commonly exhibited by dramatic artists in their leading characters. They are capricious, dreamy, and for the most part even unimpassioned creatures, - acted upon, rather than acting, meditating on life rather than taking part in it. But they are ourselves. It is the reader who is Faust, who is (or was, alas!) Werter -- who is the real Wilhelm Meister. And it is impossible not to feel that the reason why the poet succeeds in so wonderful a manner in thus delineating us to ourselves, is because the features are in reality drawn, not from observation but from self-inspection; that he has brought forth the secrets of his own heart in order to elicit those of ours, and to make us conscious of a thousand hidden tendencies and feelings in ourselves, of which we had only a dim perception, until they were thus evoked by the representation of their shadows.
This main characteristic of Göthe's genius is obvious enough. It is not so easy to detect (but the examination well repays itself) the singular manner in which it mingles with, and gives completeness and strength to, the other powers which he so largely possessed. No one contests his wonderful acuteness of observation both of human nature and also of the external world. And yet, even with respect to the latter, and much more the former, his observation is comparatively cold — his description inanimate — unless he can, in a manner, project himself into them, and insinuate his own heart and mind into his analysis of those of others — his own way of perceiving Nature into his portraits of Nature herself. According to his own confession, and the researches of his admirers, there is scarcely one of his stories of life which is not founded on real incident. Those inserted in Wilhelm Meister are said to be all examples. Power of inventing a plot he seems to have had little or none. His way was either to take one from books, or, still more commonly, from actual occurrences. Characters which struck him, and adventures of which he was cognisant personally or from hearsay, make up the staple of his narratives. And yet he rarely appears to be painting character simply, and as external to himself. Take certain circumstances of life, certain qualities of mind and heart, to form an imaginary person - how would the individual Göthe think and feel, were he that person? This seems to be the invariable problem which he sets himself to solve. Nay, we must apply the same test even to his descriptions of outward nature and events, if we wish to appreciate them thoroughly. The forests of the Harz, the gorgeous cloud-land of the high Alps in winter, the lakes of Lombardy, the bay of Naples, the march of an invading army, the vicissitudes of a siege — few have represented these, even as mere pictures, with greater skill and fidelity. But the pictures lose the greater part of their charm unless the reader has made himself familiar with the mind of the author, and can see them with the eyes of Göthe himself, and partake in his sensations. Wieland saw this thoroughly, when the herd of German critics were praising Göthe's supposed
objectivity' and 'realism.' "The specialty' (says he, speaking of the Swiss Travels') which here, as in almost all his * works, distinguishes him from Homer and Shakspeare, is that • the “ 1,” the “ Ille Ego,” glimmers through everywhere, although without ostentation and with consummate delicacy.' Göthe himself was at the bottom no less aware of it. It was (no doubt) a real perception of this leading peculiarity of his own genius, though he often affected to disguise it from himself and others, which made him sometimes recognise that the bulk of his writings were in truth addressed to particular classes only. • My works,' he said to Eckermann, 'never can be popular: they are not written for the multitude, but only for individual men whose pursuits and aims are like my own.'
A curious exemplification of this leading peculiarity will be found in the history of the composition of the Sorrows of Werter, about which many stories have been told; but the latest and most authentic seems to be given by Herr Dünzer in a separate chapter of one of the works before us. After Göthe's disappointment of the heart in the matter of his fair Alsatian, Friederike, he fell into one of those states of tender melancholy, in which a youth of twenty-three generally resorts to the society of the first fair sympathizer whom he can find, purely for friendly consolation. Such a comforter he soon found in a somewhat bourgeoise young lady, whose paternal appellation now appears to have been Miss Charlotte Buff. To her he confided his sorrows, and from her he exacted sympathy and advice, at such unwarrantable length, that poor Charlotte, who had no objection to a bit of
History of the Sorrows of Werter.
romance, provided it ended in the orthodox form of a proposal, grew tired, and entered into a matter-of-fact engagement with a very matter-of-fact friend of both parties, Christian Kestner. The discovery of this treason made Göthe quite certain that he was actually in love with the lady to whom he had never chosen to communicate his feelings, and threw him into all the despair of rejected and betrayed attachment. Just at this crisis of his history happened the tragic adventure of young Jerusalem — him of the buff waistcoat and yellow breeches - whose fatal passion is recounted in the Dichtung und Wahrheit.' The two events combined his own disappointment and Jerusalem's- engendered the Sorrows of Werter.' Werter is Jerusalem and Göthe at once; he wears the costume, he undergoes the sufferings, he talks in many instances the very language (borrowed from his posthumous papers) of that too fascinating foreign-office clerk; but he is throughout what Göthe would have been, had he been Jerusalem; the imaginary transposition of the poet into the perplexities and distresses of his acquaintance. And thus a work which, let critics speak of it as they may, has excited the fancy and controlled the hearts of numbers of mankind, is spun out of the brain of a poet from materials which consist simply of his own heart and imagination, placed in circumstances of idealised truth; for Jerusalem' seems, after all, to have been only a young attaché of considerable solemnity and self-respect, - his flame, the real Charlotte - according to the testimony of the Prince de Ligne, - was not worth knowing; and her double, Charlotte Kestner, née Buff, must have been little better, judging from the cold manner in which Göthe speaks of her, whom he occasionally met in after life.*
* See Dünzer, p. 89, &c. It seems that Herr Kestner was not particularly pleased with the part of the philosophic husband, assigned to him in Werter, and that Göthe was forced to retouch the character considerably in the second edition, without succeeding in thoroughly pacifying him; but Göthe was by this time deep in his new passion for the fashionable Frankfort belle, Miss Schönmann, and "Werter' had become weariness and vexation to him. It must have been with some malicious pleasure in mystifying his admirers, that Göthe emerged from the gloom of. Werter' into the graceful pleasantry of his various poems to “Lili :' such as those exquisite lines in which he complains of her tyranny in drawing him from the dreamy voluptuousness of a poet's study into her favourite evening parties :
• Warum ziehst du mich unwiderstehlich,
Ach! in jene Pracht?
In der öden Nacht?