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contributors to the newspaper press ; but in these circles there soon
began to prevail a dangerous spirit of aloofness and arrogance.
In Germany the Jewish population was far more numerous than in
other countries of western Europe, and since the Polish stock of
Jewry to which our German Jews belong had always been less ready
to adapt itself to western civilisation than had the Spanish Jews
(from which stem the majority of Jews then resident in England and
France had sprung), it resulted that in Germany, and in Germany
alone, a peculiar semi- Jewish literature came into existence,
concealing under accidental forms its orientalist outlook and its


History of Germany

hereditary hatred of Christianity. A well-established national pride
which would have nipped all such attempts in the bud was non-
existent. The patient soil of Germany had served as an arena for
all the nations of Europe, and there was no reason why the Jews
should not try fortune in their turn.

The finer spirits among the German Jews had long recognised
that members of their race could not claim civic equality unless they
were prepared to abandon a separatist position and to participate
unreservedly in German life. A few decades after Moses Mendelssohn
had issued his appeal, talented men of Jewish descent, baptised
and unbaptised, men who felt themselves to be Germans and whose
work displayed thoroughly German lineaments, had acquired
distinguished positions in art and science : in music, Felix
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy ; in painting, Veit ; and in theology, the
simple-minded and pious Neander. But in contrast with these, the
crude Jewish geniuses whose pens found a market in the columns of
the daily press boldly insisted on the display of Jewish peculiarities,
while simultaneously demanding respect as spokesmen of German
public opinion. These Jews without a country, vaunting them-
selves as a nation within the nation, exercised upon the still inchoate
national self-esteem of the Germans an influence no less disturbing
and disintegrating than similar Jews had exercised of old upon the
declining nations of the Roman empire.

In so far as the Jewish cosmopolitan was competent to under-
stand western nations, he was chiefly attracted towards the French,
not merely from reasonable gratitude, but also from a sense of inner
kinship. To a nation which for centuries had ceased to possess a
political history, nothing seemed so alien as the historic sense. To
the Jews, German veneration for the past appeared ludicrous ;
but modern France had broken with her history, here they felt
more at home, in this raw new state, created, as it were, by pure
reason. Thus it came to pass that the Jewish litterateurs encouraged
German radicalism in its uncritical preference for France. More-
over, the cries of haro with which, in accordance with their national
custom, the Jewish publicists loved to make the welkin ring, did not
serve to ennoble our political manners, more especially since the
Germans are themselves prone to become tasteless in polemic.
When Jewish hatred of Christianity came to fan the flames of
controversy, the well-grounded political discontent of the day
found degenerate expression in boundless exaggeration.

Above all corrupting in its influence upon German radicalism
was the strange Jewish perversity of self -mockery. This people


Literary Harbingers of a New Age

without a state, widely scattered throughout the world, adopting
the tongues and the customs of other nations while still clinging
to its own isolation, lived in perpetual contradiction, which
might appear either tragical or comical according to the observer's
standpoint. To the nimble Jewish wit, the ludicrous contrast
between oriental nature and occidental form was necessarily
apparent. The Jews of Europe had long been accustomed to make
mock of themselves with utter ruthlessness, and the severest things
ever said about Jews proceeded from Jewish lips. The racial pride
of the chosen people vis-a-vis the Gentiles was, indeed, so deeply
rooted that the Jew remained undisturbed by the bitterest
expressions of self-mockery. But now this evil Jewish custom made
its way into German literature, where the soil was already prepared
by the playful irony of the romanticists and the political bitterness
of the liberals. It came to be regarded as a mark of genius to speak
dispassionately, with shameless disrespect, of the fatherland, as if
the speaker had neither part nor lot therein, as if the mockery
of Germany need not inevitably cut every individual German
to the heart. But the German jokes with difficulty. Least of all
could he understand this orientalist wit, and he consequently took
at its face value many a vituperative onslaught which was not really
meant in bad part. Our radical youth soon began to look upon
impudent abuse of the fatherland as the true index of intellectual
ability, simply because the German state, hemmed in by a thousand
difficulties, could not instantaneously grant all the wishes of its
impatient children. They continued to rail against the cringing
humility and the sheeplike patience of the Germans until they
believed in their own grotesque caricature of Germany, honestly
imagining that the most passionate nation in Europe, the nation of
the furia tedesca, was phlegmatic.

During the years when everything German was being decried,
the national caricature of the German Michael acquired a new and
repulsive configuration. The German Michael of old days, as
befitted his warrior name, had been a great hulking fellow, clumsy
and uncouth, but valiant, downright, and cheerful, like John Bull
or Robert Macaire, not unworthy of a great nation, a nation that
believed in itself and could therefore venture to laugh at itself from
time to time. But now, under the old name, he was portrayed and
described as a cowardly and sluggish dolt who, maltreated by everyone
he met, pulled down his nightcap over his ears. This caricature had
come into vogue during the romanticist campaign against the
philistines, making its first appearance on the title page of the


History of Germany

Heidelberger Einsiedlerzeitung, but Achim von Arnim had solemnly
declared that this good-for-nothing was intended to typify the well-
to-do reading public, "not my people, whom I honour, and about
whom I shall never lightly jest." The new generation of radicals
knew nothing of such discretions, and was not ashamed to make a
mock of the nation whose victorious sword had just overthrown the
Napoleonic world empire, depicting it in the repulsive lineaments
of a cowardly lazybones.

The stimulating and destructive efficiency of radical Jewry
was all the more dangerous because the Germans were subject to a
long-standing illusion as to the nature of this new literary force.
They ingenuously accepted as German enlightenment and German
freedom of thought that which was in reality Jewish hatred of
Christianity and Jewish cosmopolitanism. It was only Wolfgang
Menzel and a few other publicists whose eyes were open to the danger,
but since they all belonged to the high church school their warnings
were disregarded. Not until much later did the nation recognise
that from the end of the twenties a foreign drop had been mingled
with its blood. The Germans had justly prided themselves on their
freedom from irreverence, for the liberal spirits among them had
spoken boldly, but had always approached sacred things with
respect. This could not be said henceforward, for in Germany, too,
were to appear writings characterised by all the impudence of
Voltaire, though lacking the Frenchman's genius.

The intellectual father of this hybrid Judaico-German literature
was Ludwig Borne of Frankfort, a man essentially upright, gentle
and warm-hearted, but destined never to rise above a tasteless
amalgam of German sentimentalism and Jewish facetiousness, vacil-
lating hopelessly between patriotism and cosmopolitanism, equally
incompetent to discover a definite creed and to attain to a genuine
national feeling, and ultimately giving himself up to the uncouthness
of an arid and stormy radicalism. In a simpler and more vigorous
epoch, a character so inharmonious would merely have aroused the
interest of the mental pathologist, but amid the confusion and bitter-
ness of German party struggles he was able for a time to play the part
of tribune of the people. The great figures of our classical literature
were too lofty for his understanding. He gave his admiration to
Jean Paul, and in youth was so devoted to lachrymose self-portraiture
that when he was in love with pretty Henriette Herz he was careful
to describe in his diary all the hours and minutes of his " spiritual
hypochondria " and the sublime sentiments by which this state
was characterised. Subsequently pulling himself together, as


Literary Harbingers of a New Age

dramatic critic he acquired a reputation which was not altogether
undeserved, though unduly exaggerated by the zealous trumpetings
of his co-religionists. Lacking a cultured sense of beauty, he was
nevertheless endowed with the healthy naturalism 6f the human
understanding. Not merely did he aptly satirise the absurdities
of the fate-tragedy and other gross aberrations of taste, but had in
addition an eye for unrecognised talent, as in the cases of Kleist
and Immermann.

He now began to write on politics and social questions in the
Wage, the Zeitschwingen, and other newspapers, and these activities
soon monopolised his energies, for it was as a political writer that he
displayed all the arts of his scorn. But scorn is justified only when
it arises from the noble wrath of genius, and this man lacked all
the qualities requisite to the publicist a feeling for realities, a sense
of proportion, foresight, and even a common knowledge of affairs.
Industry, by which the Jews are usually characterised, he considered
superfluous in politics. His political articles are frothy and
ephemeral journalism, for not one of them bears witness to a serious
study of the matter with which it deals. Borne was the first to
establish the dominion of " the sovereign feuilleton " which worked
such unspeakable harm to the unripe political culture of the Germans,
and emboldened crude smatterers, helping themselves out with a
few jests, puns, figures of speech, and cries of indignation, to discuss
all the serious problems of statecraft.

Wherever wit could carry him, Borne was in his element.
He satirised the Gothamites of the German petty towns amusingly
enough, though raising a clamour thereanent which hardly con-
formed to the triviality of the topic. Wit is a child of the hour
which ages prematurely, and to which posterity can rarely do full
justice. Borne, however, had the gift of being genuinely amusing
about serene highnesses, aulic and commercial councillors, privy
councillors' wards, the Taxis postal service, and the epicures at the
ordinary ; these witty sallies are the immortal elements of his
writings, in which there is nothing else to attract even passing
attention to-day. Directly he endeavoured to rise above such
trivialities into the sphere of politics, he displayed the poverty of a
dull understanding, whose only resource when faced by com-
plicated political problems is a barren statement of alternatives.
" Is the state our end, or the individual within the state ? " seemed
to him the great problem of the future, for he could not recognise
the futility of such a question, although Kant had demonstrated
its absurdity. Thus without ever indicating a definite and


History of Germany

comprehensible goal, he abandoned himself to empty praises of
anarchy, the mother of freedom, and to equally vain tirades about
the hopeless miseries of Germany, saying, " We are dumb driven
cattle, handed down from the past to the present, which the
present will bequeath unchanged to the future."

He had but one clear political aim, the emancipation of the
Jews. His conversion to Christianity was not dictated by religious
conviction, nor yet by the desire to become a thorough German,
being merely the outcome of a wish to do away with obstacles to
easy social progress. But shame was unknown to him, and though
a renegade he had no sense of impropriety in playing the advocate
on behalf of the coreligionists he had abandoned. After his
conversion he still retained the racial pride of the chosen people, and
scarce troubled to conceal that he regarded the Jews as the salt of
the German earth and yet, when the fancy took him, he would
roughly attack Jews and Germans in one breath, and would
satirise German Jews as eight-footed hares. " I well know how to
prize," he wrote on one occasion, " the unmerited good fortune
through which I was born both German and Jew, so that I am able to
aspire to all the virtues of the Germans without sharing any of their
faults ! " But he could not endure that Christians should even
speak of " Jews," and raised clamorous complaints of intolerance
when the newspapers reported as a simple statement of fact that
Levi, a Jewish merchant, had gone bankrupt. Among the grievances
he was never weary of airing, there were many of which he could
justly complain, but there were many others that were simply the
outcome of the sensibilities of a morbidly inflated self-esteem. On
the occasion of the centenary of a great conflagration, the town of
Frankfort proposed a commemorative festival, and the council
issued the following decree : " At the close of the festival, on Sunday
27th, a solemn religious service will be held in all Christian churches,
and it is likewise ordered that prayers be said in the Jewish syna-
gogues." Both hi form and content this proclamation was perfectly
innocent, but since the wording in the case of the Jews differed
slightly from that used about the Christians, Borne wrote a furious
article, and despairingly exclaimed: "Oh, unhappy fatherland in
which these things can happen ! " Notwithstanding such exaggera-
tions, the persistent iteration of complaints made an impression,
and the Jews, so recently regarded with hatred, were now by young
men of radical views esteemed as noble fighters for freedom.

In the year 1822 Borne journeyed to Paris, and as soon as he
reached Strasburg delightedly exclaimed, " Now I can breathe


Literary Harbingers of a New Age

freely ! " How remote were the days when Rvickert had prophesied
to the Germans that here in the ancient imperial city a German
princely castle must and should one day arise. Our new champion
of German freedom wrote from Paris : " I was no longer shivering
among fishes, I was no longer in Germany ! " He was not utterly
devoid of appreciation for the greatness of his fatherland, and in
his better hours he unquestionably felt the futility of " coquettish
glory," recognised the superiority of the German tongue, and even
valued German freedom of thought. But after such bursts of
German sentiment he invariably relapsed into Judaico-French
phrases, bombastic to a degree which none but Victor Hugo has
ever excelled, saying, for instance, " Paris is the telegraph of the
past, the microscope of the present, and the telescope of the future ! "
He was never weary of holding up before the " fragmentary men "
of Germany the brilliant example of the " complete men " of France.
Without noticing the ludicrous contradiction, he went on to com-
mend to us, in especial, the rigid one-sidedness of French party
sentiment. ' The Frenchmen," he said, " praises and favours
everyone belonging to his own side, and censures and injures every-
one attached to the opposite party ; this is why the French can do
anything, while we can do nothing." Looking over Paris from the
Vendome column, he declared : " This view would do a German
good if the reed could grow larger and stronger because the storm
has overthrown the oak." Thus within seven years of the second
entry of the German army into Paris he had forgotten that we
were the storm which overthrew the oak. French vanity had
long ere this begun to cherish the illusion that the power of the
grande nation had been broken solely by the mysterious caprice
of destiny, without any cooperation on the part of the Germans ;
now the victors were beginning credulously to repeat the fables of
the vanquished.

Borne's books served to direct the glances of our German
youth towards Paris once again. Before, the splendours of court life
had allured to the Seine ; now, the attraction was the parliamentary
struggle. It speedily became the rule that every young radical
author must prove the soundness of his political faith by a pil-
grimage to the Mecca of liberty. Borne was followed by Eduard
Gans, a man of much keener political insight, and able to perceive
the defects of French political life. Yet he also was bewitched by
the theatrical tumult of party struggles. When, in a journalistic
prosecution, the loud applause of the liberal-minded public thundered
through the court, he imagined himself to be listening to " France's

History of Germany

heart-beat " ; and in comparison with the politically awakened
young men of Paris, those of Germany seemed to him superficial
triflers. Thus matters went on, German men of letters
crossing the Rhine in unending succession, their spirits rising
directly they reached Kehl bridge. All of them set out with the
fixed determination to admire everything French. Since they
learned nothing of France but Paris, and while in Paris associated
only with a small circle of radical journalists, they furnished utterly-
false reports to the German papers. The Prussian officers quartered
in France during the war had not failed to observe that most of the
inhabitants of the country were thrifty, hard-working, rather
timid people, and that the military spirit was incomparably weaker
than in Prussia. These sound opinions were now abandoned by
the Germans, for Borne and his disciples unceasingly declared that
the chivalrous French nation concerned itself little about base
economic cares, and was glowing with ardour to win liberty for
itself in order to share the acquirement with other peoples.
The cult of the so-called ideas of '89, which in Germany during the
actual years of the Revolution had been restricted to a group of
men of learning, was first diffused throughout the broad masses of
our middle classes by this German-French journalistic campaign.
It was the worst conceivable of political schools for a nation already
prone to doctrinaire excesses.

After his return from Paris, Borne was in a state of feverish
excitement, longing for the revolution. He himself did not know
how the revolution was to be brought about or what its coming was
to effect. Since the Germans remained calm, be abused them as
coarsely as had Saul Ascher. In the years following the War of
Liberation, the nation had exercised its domestic rights, and had
shown Ascher's Jewish impudence the door. But now had come a
change of sentiment. Advanced radicals looked at one another
with meaning smiles when Borne, in ever-new invective, reiterated
Ascher's idea, saying: "The Germans are a nation of servants,
and at the word ' fetch ' would wag their tails and bring lost crowns
back to their masters." They thought it witty when he recom-
mended the burning of the Gottingen library, and announced his
intention to abuse the Germans until he had spurred them on to an
awakening of national pride. They greeted him with applause
when, with a spitefulness which nowise fell short of the zeal exhibited
by the persecutors of the demagogues, he examined the political
sentiments of the more notable among his contemporaries, bluntly
accusing of servility all who held moderate views, <yid aspersing


Literary Harbingers of a New Age

with his mean suspicions the leading spirits of the nation, men too
great for his understanding. His nickname for Goethe was " the
rhyming knave," and for Hegel " the prosy knave." Who could
take it amiss of the younger generation that it should use the living
man's right in the case of the correspondence between Schiller and
Goethe, and should declare, even if crudely and unjustly, that
this world of beauty was out-of-date. But Borne did more.
He declaimed against the anti-popular sentiments of Goethe and
even of Schiller, regarding the latter as a yet more pernicious
aristocrat. He dragged the poets' friendship in the mud, sullying
their greatness, although in these very letters it spoke so convincingly
to all German hearts. " It is tragical," he exclaimed, " that our
two greatest geniuses should be so null when we see them at home,
so petty that, were it possible, they would be even less than null ! "
Summarising his judgment of Goethe, he said that for sixty years,
favoured by unexampled good fortune, this man had imitated the
handwriting of genius and never been found out. He extolled
Voltaire, in order to emphasise a contrast with the offensive repose
of Goethe's style. " How different is Voltaire ! His vanity takes
us captive. We are delighted that so great a man should tremble
before our criticism, should fawn upon us, should seek to win our
approval ! "

The hubbub was so senseless that it was hardly possible to
say how much of it was seriously meant, and yet herein lay the
danger. Borne, though he reviled Germany's greatness, remained
a patriot aft T his own fashion. But our German youths who lent
an unnatural ear to this Jewish self-mockery lost all veneration for
the fatherland, and thus Borne's influence, though it was in a sense
inevitable in the circumstances, was disastrous to the coming genera-
tion. Dipping youth in gall, he was unable to offer youth a single
new idea. Moreover, he sinned deeply against our language. At
the opening of the century Germans for the most part wrote well,
though at times somewhat cumbrously (for many of them carried
the lengthy periods of the classical tongues from school into every-
day life). But Borne formed himself upon Jean Paul's over-elaborate
style, and subsequently on French models; not his that refined
understanding for the genius of language which is akin to the
historic sense. His abstract, journalistic, and cultured writing was
brilliant, piquant, elegant, anything you like except German.
It could wrangle, but could not express a noble wrath ; could
inflict painful pinpricks, but could not overwhelm ; played with
fanciful images, and yet never acquired expressive warmth ;


History of Germany

lacked the soul, the energy of nature. " History numbers great
men ; they are the index to the book of the past ; such are Goethe
and Schiller : and history numbers other great men ; they are the
table of contents to the book of the future ; such are Voltaire and
Lessing." In sentences of this character everything was ungerman,
thoughts, structure, and words ; but they shone and dazzled. Soon
they found busy imitators. Journalists vied one with another in
the use of transcendental images, dislocated words, over-refined
allusions ; they fell in love with their own unnaturalness ; they
took as cordial a delight in their own artifices as had of yore
Lohenstein and Hoffmannswaldau. Even in Goethe's lifetime the
German tongue began to run wild, and only men of science and a
few poetic souls were able to withstand the temptations of

In German poesy a loud echo was promptly awakened by the
Greek lyrics of the great radical poet of the age ; but Lord
Byron's weltschmerz, the defiant self-assertion of the revolutionary
ego, rebelling now menacingly, now despairingly, against the order
of the world, while it secured in the twenties many admirers among
the Germans, found but few imitators. Romanticist irony still
sufficed discontented spirits as a medium for expression, and doubt-
less to many young poets the Byronic weltschmerz seemed quite
inimitable. The individual appears so small when contrasted with
the great moral forces constituting the nexus of historic life that an
attempt to stem these forces, when made by any other than a
divinely gifted poet who carries the whole world in his heart, seems
ridiculous vanity. Byron, as his friend Shelley phrased it, " had
gazed on Nature's naked loveliness, Actaeon-like," and had then,
like Actaeon, been torn to pieces by raging hounds. In his finest and
most audacious work, Don Juan, we find side by side with an abun-
dance of frivolous mockery so wonderful a knowledge of the sweet
mysteries of the heart, and side by side with a radicalism which
challenges all titles to sanctity so serene an inspiration for true
human greatness, that the poem, while it might well lead immature

Online LibraryHeinrich von TreitschkeTreitschke's history of Germany in the nineteenth century (Volume 4) → online text (page 59 of 68)