Ludwig Lewisohn.

The spirit of modern German literature; online

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rectly in his own mind. Yet he warns us against
seeking "the prototype in man or landscape" of
his visions. "For this prototype has received
such transformation through art that it has become
devoid of significance even to the artist himself.
. . . Rarely to such an extent as in this book are
I and thou the same person." In other words,
even his most personal emotions have been trans-
formed by the imagination until only what is
eternal in them is left — that, namely, which his
highest self, at its loftiest moments, approves and
recognizes as worthy of artistic embodiment.

From this description of the character of
George's art it might be supposed that he is cold
and unhuman. Such is not the case. He does
not, to be sure, cultivate facile and popular types


of feeling. But he has lyrics of Goethean charm
and warmth, lyrics that Schumann would have
chosen in his deepest and clearest moods; he has
stanzas, especially in The Year of the Soul, which
are of a broad and rich, though always of an in-
violably noble humanity. Nor is George diffi-
cult. Certain orthographic and typographical
peculiarities of his books have given that impres-
sion. His medium is always crystalline ; his sub-
stance wrought to a last clearness. And, finally,
this cult of the subjective, the personal, may be
thought of as something of a pose, or associated
with laxness and a want of spiritual tone. It
should be remembered that by George's funda-
mental assumption the personality that can lend
endurance to its vision must be magnificently dis-
ciplined and austere. He is, in truth, one of the
purest and severest of poets. No lines interpret
his spiritual temper more closely than those
which, with a loss of all their beauty and compact
strength, may be rendered thus:

"Here by these shores that we land on
Piercing desires give no rest —


Sunnier coast-lines abandon,
Follow the sterner behest.

See that thine oar-arm strengthen !
Slow with danger unseen
Rocks, as the ripe years lengthen,
Onward thy shallop serene.

Yield unto no consternation
Bleak though the riddles that rise.
To an austere constellation
Lift thou the quest of thine eyes."

Hugo von Hofmannsthal is of a warmer, more
impetuous nature than George. He has not al-
ways sought to externalize his inner experience in
forms so statuesque and timeless. His lyrics are
{tw, but some of them move us more immediately,
especially the matchless Spring Presage, a poem
which renders the chill, etherial magic of its scene
as unsurpassably as the Ode to the West Wind
renders the passionate longing and melancholy of
Shelley's autumn stricken soul. Then, too, Hof-
mannsthal has not George's love of the untrou-
bled. The beauty and expressiveness of human
gesture and speech have delighted him more, and


so he has projected his thoughts and moods in
terms of movement and of action. Thus came
into being those early one-act plays of his: The
Death of Titian, Yesterday, Death and the Fool,
which are not really drama at all, but project the
conflicting forces, and fix in shadowy action the
ideals, of the poet himself. Such methods pre-
suppose a greater poetic copiousness, a longer
breath than George's. And that is just what
Hofmannsthal has. The long speech of Gianino
in The Death of Titian, the first monologue of
Claudio in Death and the Fool — where else in
modern verse will you find passages so long and
yet of a beauty so intoxicating? In Rostand*?
But Rostand is brilliant and eloquent where Hof-
mannsthal expresses the innermost music of the
world's beauty, all the sad yearning of the heart
of man. Splendid and sumptuous he is, but
never without the warm glow of life. The mel-
low moonlight falls on dark lawns in his verses,
the fountains splash, stars lie in the river. Or
grave-eyed men and women walk in high, comely
chambers, and their words are impassioned and


true and above singing in beauty. . . . The de-
velopment of such a poet tended, of course, toward
drama in the stricter sense. And we find him
writing sparer, bolder, stormier verse when, as in
Electra and CEdipus and the Sphinx, the figures
of his imagination have detached themselves
wholly from his personality and stepped out into
the objective world.

In that discourse on The Poet and our Age
which one never tires of quoting, for it will be
seen, some day, to rank with the central chapters
of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria and with
Arnold's The Study of Poetry among the great
documents of modern criticism, Hofmannsthal
writes: "Everything that is written in a language
and everything, I dare to assert, that is thought
in it, derives from the products of those few who
have ever dealt with that language creatively."
Is that not deeply true"? Has not the world be-
come romanticized — down to paper-backed novels
and Sunday specials in the newspapers — because
a few great poets and visionaries, more than
a hundred years ago, added strangeness to the


beauty of their speech? In that sentence of Hof-
mannsthal we perceive once more, at all events,
the difference that exists between his and George's
pursuit of beauty in speech and form and any
kind of graceful trifling or loud display of literary
technique. It has been said that words are
things. They are far more than that. They are
the soul of beauty and meaning which the poet
breathes into things. And that is what Rilke
and George and Hofmannsthal have done.



,You observe how closely allied such a theory and
practice of art as Hofmannsthal's is to Carlyle's
doctrine of heroes and Nietzsche's of the gen-
erosity of the free and lordly spirit. For Zara-
thustra says to his true disciples: "Insatiably does
your soul strive after treasures and precious
things, because your virtue is insatiable in its will
to give. Ye force all things into you and unto
you that from your well-spring they may stream
back as the gifts of your love." Thus not only
poets but also novelists and playwrights reinter-
pret the world through the transforming power of
their imagination and give it back to their con-
temporaries. I must stress the word interpret.
For the modern German novel and drama, even
in their non-naturalistic phase, deal honestly with
the stuff of human life. There is no corrupting



of truth, no romantic deception as to the nature of
things. But new values are wrung from the facts
of life and types of character are chosen that ex-
press a striving after personality, personal values,
personal reconciliation with man and God, and
after joy. After joy. . . I Because "by learn-
ing better to rejoice," says Nietzsche, "we shall
best unlearn working and planning unto the woe
of others." And that joy is to be found through
greater fullness and intensity of the personal life.
"Is it not," writes that remarkable woman Ricarda
Huch, "is it not, in the last analysis, the highest
thing in life to become wholly conscious of one's
self and to expand one's spiritual powers to the
utmost I"

Among writers of the interpretative novel pre-
eminence probably belongs to three: Hermann
Hesse (b. 1877), Helene Bohlau (b. 1859) and
Ricarda Huch (b. 1864), whom I name in the
order of talent and not of age. There are other
finely gifted novelists of this type, such as Eduard
von Keyserling (b. 1855), a master of color in
literature, and Jacob Wassermann (b. 1873)


with his tropical glow and highly-wrought man-
ner. But neither these nor many others seem to
me quite comparable to the three names with
which I started.

The novels of Hermann Hesse are very few
and are short and quite lyrical in temper. His
best books, Peter Camenzind (1904) and Ger-
trud (1910) are told in the first person and are
full of singularly lovely and intimate descrip-
tions of the scenery of South Western Germany.
Both Camenzind, the scholar, and Kuhn the
musician in Gertrud are ardent souls, full of
yearning for life,

"And youth and bloom and this delightful world."

Both fail to satisfy their yearning. Camenzind
because he cannot express his true self to his
fellowmen, Kuhn because he is a cripple. And
so both books end ujxin a note of resignation.
What connects them both with this phase of the
spirit of modern German literature is not only
their method. It is the fact that the two protago-
nists never despair of life, that from their very


insufficiency there arises a hymn to its beauty and
multiformity, its interest and passion. In lone-
liness and failure they are still among the af-
iirmers of life.

The foundation of Helene Bohlau's art is far
more realistic in the narrower sense. She has,
at least, a far greater mastery of detail than
Hesse. She began her career with one of the
most sunny-tempered books in the language — her
delightful tales of old Weimar. But in her
strongest works she depicts the modern woman's
struggle after a free and self-contained per-
sonality and the conflicts that grow out of that
struggle. In her best book, The Shunting Station
(1896) this conflict, as R. M. Meyer observes,
passes the bounds of sex in its implication, and the
frail figure of a dying girl becomes the symbol of
all those whose work, in the Nietzschean phrase,
is their neighbor.

Both Peter Camenzind and The Shunting
Station are admirable books. In interpretative
power, in accomplishment of structure and style
they would adorn any literature. I come now,


however, to a book of a very different order, to a
masterpiece as massive and complete in its very
different way as Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks.
It is the high water mark of the achievement of
the most gifted woman of modern Germany: The
Recollections of Ludolf Ursleu the Younger
(1893) by Ricarda Huch.

In the first place Ricarda Huch has a prose
style of virile firmness and of the highest intel-
lectual distinction. She is said to have been in-
fluenced by Gottfried Keller. But I, at least,
can never be persuaded that Keller wrote half so
well. That style of hers is almost lapidary in
its severity. It is so highly wrought and so finely
tempered that it need not avoid the homeliest de-
tails, if it needs them, but raises them into its
atmosphere of frugal beauty. Its rhythm is
large and stately, its figures, sparingly used, at-
tempt and achieve the beauty that is in classic
restraint and in justness. 'The earth pours out
its endless overflow, but the basin we possess
wherewith to catch it, is shallow and small."
"Her spirit throbs continually like a fixed star:


I prefer the calm and steady glow of the great
planets." And she has profound sayings which
betray her participation in the light which Nietz-
sche shed upon the character of the moral world.
"This is the nature of genius : that it must not fol-
low existing laws but that, through what it does,
it gives laws to the world."

The story, that of the tragic fate which befell
certain members of a patrician family of Ham-
burg, is recorded, many years later, by a son of
the house. By this method the book gains a
great part of its peculiar charm. Ludolf can
only set down the visions which his memory pro-
vides of his father and mother, his sister and his
kinsmen. The continuity of the narrative is
never broken, for Ludolf himself is, of course, in
intimate touch with all the actors of the story and
is thus the centralizing force in the book's struc-
ture. His memory, however, has most tena-
ciously held only the significant and tragic scenes.
These arise before the reader's mind and remain
there as among the most memorable things in all
modern writing. Consider that silent incident,


for example, when there Hashes from Ezard for
the first time his open jealousy of Galeide who
ministers to her father after her mother's death.
The scene is as though cast in bronze: the tragic
beauty of human gesture made permanent in art.
In the fated and fatal love of Ezard and
Galeide, Ricarda Huch has once more dared to
tell the story of a great passion. She has told
it with an immense reserve that only heightens
one's realization of its power. We know that
the lovers met alone, for Ludolf suspects it. But
they are never alone before our eyes, since we
know only what Ludolf saw. And in the pres-
ence of others they avoid the touch of each other's
hands, the glance of each other's eyes. Yet
every one about is conscious of the great presence
of a love which is sin and beauty and doom.
Though they lose none of their humanity, these
two rise almost into a legendary greatness and
are allied with immemorial lovers of poetic vi-
sion, Guinevere and Lancelot, Tristram and
Iseult. Yet they are so real and so modern.
And in the end Galeide's long-sustained harmony


of character gives way and she falls victim to an
alien and a lower love. But not until she and
Ezard have been added to the precious posses-
sions of the imagination.


The recent German drama has, upon the whole,
remained strongest on the side of naturalism. I
am not without a sense of the merits of certain
widely heralded plays in verse — Richard Beer-
Hoffmann's Count of Charolais (1904) or Ernst
Hardt's Tantris the Fool (1908). But they
yield at once to Karl Schonherr's grim comedy of
Tyrolese peasant life Earth (1907) and to his
impressive prose tragedy of the Counter Refor-
mation, Faith and Home (1910). I need not
linger over these, however, nor over the more
recent and more dramatic works of Hofmanns-
thal. We shall learn all that the drama can tell
us concerning the second phase of modern Ger-
man literature by turning our attention once more
to Gerhart Hauptmann.

So lately as 1911, you recall, Hauptmann



wrote a whole play, The Rci/s, in defense of
naturalism, of the search for reality, in its most
uncompromising mood. Yet so long ago as 1893
he wrote Hannele which in its blending of the
plainest, nay, the crassest reality with a high
lyrical beauty drawn straight from that reality,
may almost be regarded as a symbol of the whole
movement and the whole spirit which I am trying
to describe. And so Hauptmann continued to
lead the dramatic literature of his country in both
of its chief phases: The Sunken Bell was fol-
lowed by Drayman Henschel^ Schluck and Jau
by Michael Kramer and The Conflagration^
Henry of Aue by Rose Bernd^ Charlemagne's
Hostage and Griselda by The Rats and Gabriel
Schilling's Flight. And these two naturalistic
plays of modern life were again followed by Th6
Bow of Odysseus.

Nor did Hauptmann, the most compassionate
of modern men, the one with the most keenly
troubled social consciousness, escape the new gos-
pel of joy and of the free personality whose only
gift to his fellows need be the gift of his new


values and of his work. It is true that Hcinrich,
the bell-founder in The Sunken Bell^ fails. But
only because he cannot meet the tests that free
the soul for its work, because he has too little
inner harmony and native power. Yet he is
upon the Nietzschean path — he who desires to
give men a new faith in which Christ and Apollo
— sorrow and joy, abstention and expansion,
reality and beauty — shall have become one: he
who is utterly careless of the tribal rage of those
to whom, under an eternal aspect, all his life and
work are dedicated.

"For though an angel had hung down from heaven.

All hly-laden and with gentle sighs

Entreated me to tireless steadfastness,

He had convinced me less than those fierce cries

Of the great weight and purport of my mission.

Come one ! Come all ! What's yours I guard for you !

I'll shield you from yourselves !"

So Hauptmann, the lover of his humblest fellow-
men, also pays tribute to the liberated and lib-
erating personality.

In another group of plays he illustrates the


blending in modern German literature of the
search for reality and the search for interpreta-
tion with striking aptness. In Henry of Aue,
Charlemagne's Hostage^ Griselda and The Bow
of Odysseus he has chosen as his themes some of
those great legends that have been for long a
common possession of the Western mind. Now
these stories have all become conventionalized in
the course of time. The motives for the actions
in them were few and of the conventionally
heroic, religious or tribal kind. Hauptmann
asks: What concrete facts, what human psy-
chology, what real struggle of man with his world
lie behind these stories 9 And so he tells of the
rebellion and salvation of the princely leper, of
the great emperor who suffered from the corrup-
tion of beauty, of the mediaeval lord who loved
his wife with so morbid a passion, of the subtle
doubts that tugged at the heart of Odysseus when
he came home to Ithaca. In a word, he seeks to
interpret legend in terms of the known qualities
of human nature and so blends reality and poetry,
beauty and truth.



How can I best sum up what I have been trying
to convey to you concerning the spirit — twofold
and yet so deeply one — that animates the modem
literature of the German tongue? How can I
most clearly draw together these various strands
of reflection and interpretation? By appealing
to that sovereign master who included in his ac-
tivity and his vision not only his own age, but
the age which was to come — by appealing to the
spirit of Goethe. And I do this with the more
satisfaction as it has been asserted — how rashly
and ignorantly only those who are in full posses-
sion of the facts can justly estimate — that the
literature of modern Germany has broken irrevo-
cably with the teachings and the influence of
Goethe and with the humanism of the classic age.
I need scarcely recall to you that Goethe was



not only poet and sage but also man of science.
He had, to a considerable extent, therefore, the
modern habit of observation, the modern respect
for fact. He had grasped, above all, the funda-
mental truth on which rests all of modern science
and all of naturalistic art — the truth that the
concrete is the eternally significant. "If thou
wouldst fare into the infinite," he wrote, "follow
the finite in all directions." And again: "If
thou wouldst rejoice in the whole, learn to see
the whole in the humblest detail." Nor did he
fail, long before the date of these sayings, to ap-
ply their doctrine in art. Literature had not seen
and is not likely to see life treated with a nobler
reality, a saner frankness, than it is treated in
the incomparable scene Beyond the City Gate in
the first part of Faust. The scene is brief and
so is that other scene between Gretchen and Lies-
chen beside the well. But the poet who wrote
those lines loved reality for its own sake and
rightly declared in his old age: "At bottom no
realistic subject is unpoetical, if only the poet
knows how to use it properly."


And it was from liis profound knowledge of
the real nature of the world and of human life
that he derived his magnificent individualism, his
distrust of anything but the truly excellent, and
his admiration for spiritual energy as opposed to
a mere conformity to any given set of social or
ethical values. It is the spiritual energy of
Faust, you remember, that turns all evil into good
and shames the devil. The devil cannot be
shamed by a prudent abstention or a cold con-
formity. The famous line in Faust is familiar
to all :

"Es irrt der Mensch so lang er strebt!"
(And man still errs the while he strives.)

Therein lies the meaning of life I And Goethe
repeats the doctrine in his gnomic verses:

"When all things hum in head and heart
What better wouldst thou have?
Who loves no more and errs no more
May sink into his gravel"

And each man, according to Goethe, must choose
for himself what will help him, what his spirit
can transmute into higher values.


"One thing is not fit for all!
Let each govern his own striving.
Choose him his own path of living,
And who stands, guard lest he fall !"

Thus will arise the personalities, the great giv-
ers who can help the world, even as Faust turns
ultimately to saving a "free land" for a "free
people." "The world," Goethe said, "can be
helped only by the extraordinar}'." And the ex-
traordinary can be attained only by free devel-
opment. "Each must in reality," he declared,
"form himself into a peculiar being, but must
seek to reach a conception of what men are col-
lectively." He called himself a liberator of his
people because he had taught them by his life and
work that man must live "from within outward."
(Von innen heraus leben.)

I need not persuade you, of course, that mod-
ern German literature has, in an even higher
degree than Goethe, respect for science, love of
the concrete and a sense of its significance. The
whole naturalistic phase of its activity proves


that. But let me ask you to compare the sayings
of the modems with the Goethean doctrines.
"Werde dcr du bistT — "Become what thou wert
truly meant to be," says Nietzsche. "Each must
in reality form himself into a peculiar being,"
Goethe said, and "man lives from within out-
wardly." "One thing is not fit for all," Goethe
tells us. And Nietzsche: "This is my way I
What is thine?" It is the Lord himself, the
inner spirit of the universe's wisdom, who says in
the Prologue in Heaven:

"And man still errs the while he strives."

Listen to Richard Dehmel: "Even though thou
err upon the hills of striving, it is not in vain.
For thou becomest thyself. Only: remain mas-
ter of thy striving." And hear Hauptmann:

"And they who strive are they who live albeit
Erring. Tireless to strive Is still to be
Upon a goodly road."

Allowing duly, then, for the enormously in-
creased complexity of the social and psychical


life of our age, what real difference is there be-
tween the two-fold spirit of Goethe — mastery of
fact and the transmuting of fact into higher
values by free personalities — and the two-fold
spirit of modern German literature^ For in it
we find on the one hand: naturalism, cultivation
of science, social organization for the collective
welfare and practical efficiency — Tuchtigkeit^
again a favorite Goethean word; and on the other
hand we find: an individualistic humanism, the
cult of beauty as "a rest in the whirl of ex-
istence," the widest moral and intellectual lib-
erty and tireless spiritual striving. Striving —
Streben — that is the central word. And this
very watchword of the German spirit has recently
been criticized as a concept empty of any real
content. Wrongly! For it includes and tran-
scends all specific forms of human energy. It
means nothing less than the grasping of experi-
ence in its totality through an impassioned yet
self-governed participation in its concrete forms,
in order that there may arise values ever higher
and more personal which shall make life, for a


constantly increasing number of men, deeper,
richer, more reasonable and more beautiful.
That is the spirit of modern German literature:
that is the spirit of modern German civilization.



P. 8. Karl Lamprecht. Vide his Deutsche Geschichte.
Zur jiingfsten deutschen Vergangenheit. Erster Ergdn-
zungsband. Berlin, 1902. P. 208.

P. 11. "In Eucken's weighty words," etc. Rudolf
Eucken : The Problem of Human Life. New York, 1912.
P. 568.

P. 12. The Poet and Our Age. Hugo von Hof-
mannstahl : Die Prosaischen Schriften. (4 vols.) S.
Fischer, Berlin, 1907. Vol. I. Pp. 16, 18 and 24.

P. 12. "If the student of literature," etc. — The whole
movement in the modern German plastic arts and crafts
may be studied in that admirable monthly, now ( 1916) in
its nineteenth year: Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration.
Darmstadt, Verlagsanstalt Alexander Koch.

P. 13. "Wood and ceramic media," etc. Such as the
Mutter und Kind of Paul Peterich, and the singularly im-
pressive wooden statues of Ernst Barlach. Vide Wilhelm
Radenberg: Moderne Plastik, one of the charming and
very inexpensive Blaue Biicher published by Karl Robert
Langewiesche, Diisseldorf and Leipzig, 1912.


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Online LibraryLudwig LewisohnThe spirit of modern German literature; → online text (page 5 of 6)