Copyright
Sidney Whitman.

Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

. (page 3 of 23)
Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 3 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


It is true, idealism has often spelt failure and reminded
us of Ikaros with the waxen wings. And yet the rest-
less striving after an — often unattainable — ideal is at the
root of some of the greatest thoughts of the Teutonic
muse, of German science, as well as of some of the best
manifestations of German character.

In science, the idealizing principle is j)erhaps more
active than anywhere else. It supplies initiati\e im- lu service to

■' ^ ^ science.

pulse, the interest of new colors and of knowledge
touched with wonder. The spectrum analysis is only
one of many illustrations. One of the most amazing in-
ventions of the century — the spectroscope — is the work
of two Germans, Bunsen and Kirchhoff.

German idealism places science on so high a pedestal
that money-making by its votaries is looked upon as
almost degrading.' In practical England, the more

1 Those orK.iiis of public opinion both here and abroad wliicb lia\ e taken
part in a recent controversy, and in so doing ha\e spoken disparagingly
o( r.erman men of science, have hardly shown a deep insight into their lead-
ing characteristics. They are a sensitive body of men, n<it devoid of pedantry,
and one Individual is no sufTicicnt measure to judge them by; but when the
consensus of their action is taken, it may safely be said to be above suspicion
of motive. For, generally speaking, though doubtless exceptions w ill be found
here as elsewhere, Germany's leading scientific men arc of a stamp that wouM
not jeopardize the sincerity of their conviction for any worldly advantage
whatsoever.



38



Imperial Ccrniany.



Gerniaii
uiul English
scientists
contrasted.



Germany's
great scientists.



money a man of science can make tlic higher he is
esteemed. We are more likely to worship outward
success in a thing than the thing itself. Hence, we are
more likely to accept charlatans than the (jermans, and
science lacks with us the true spiritual dignity it pos-
sesses in Germany. Faraday — in this a rare exception —
held up a tradition which, alas ! has had no followers.
The simple, even humble, life that eminent men of
science often lead in Germany would seem astonishing
to us, who are accustomed to see men of science be-
coming social lions.

II.

Though many are of the opinion tliat the fine arts and
belles-lettres in Germany are to-day, with few excep-
tions, represented by a number of merely talented
persons, there can be no doubt of the array of great
names in the domains of science. ' Here we are met by
capacities of the very first rank, and that in almost every
branch. To mention a few names at random : We have
already referred to Bunsen and Kirchhoff, who conclu-
sively proved the existence of terrestrial matter in the
sun. To Professor Czermak Germany owes the discov-
ery of the laryngoscope. To Professor Helmholtz she is
indebted for the ophthalmoscope, which has revolution-
ized ophthalmic medicine, for many wonderful discov-
eries relating to the natural laws that govern acoustics,

1 The following is from the pen of an American authority on the state of
science in Germany in the present day : " Three countries divide the scientific
world between them — Germany, England, and France. The writings of each
bear the stamp of their special character and qualities. Germany to-day is at
the head of the scientific world. At the beginningof the century it was France,
but German influence is now greater than ever that of France was. The
students that used to go to Paris now go to Germany. They come back
imbued with German doctrines, and with but one aim, that of propagating and
following these doctrines out. Thus they have spread all over the world, and
have become accepted by nearly every European country."



Intellectual Life.



39



Notable

scientific

discoveries.



and for his philosophical works. The discoveries of
salicylic acid, cocaine, and, latest of all, saccharine,
must be credited to German science of to-day. The re-
cent discoveries of Dr. Koch have attracted the scientific
interest of the civilized world. The "X rays" of Pro-
fessor Rontgen need only be mentioned in order to
mark the epoch-making importance of the latest German
scientific triumph.

In Professor Virchow Germany has not only one of
the most eminent
anthropologists of
our time, but a
physiologist of
unique standing.
In surgery the
names of Langen-
beck, of Berlin,
Billroth, of Vienna,
Nussbaum, of Mu-
nich, Scanzoni, of
W ii r z b u r g , E s -
march, of Kiel,
speak for t li e ni -
selves. In jurispru-
dence the names of
Professor Wind-
scheidt, of Leipzig,
Professor Gneist, since dead, and Dr. von lloltzendurf, Sonieofhi.T

(llStlllKUlsllftl

of Munich, are of cosmopolitan renown, as may also be mcnoi kiurs.
said of the two eminent statisticians. Dr. Ernst Engel and
Laspeyres. In history Mommsen is still living to carry
on those earnest researches connected with the name of
his late compeer and master, Leo])<)Id von Ranke. In
geology the names of Professor Zirkil, of Leipzig, and




Hkrmann von IIklmmultz.



40



Imperial Gcrmmiy.



Eduaid von
Hartmann.



Frederick
Nietzsche.



Professor Rosenbusch, of Heidelberg, are as higlih-
esteemed as that of G. von Richthofen, of Berlin, is in
geography. In speculative science and metaphysics
men such as Eduard von Hartmann, who is of the

pessimistic
[■ i school, but with

a perhaps un-
conscious leaning
toward Herbert
•wrr^i Spencer, and
whose influence
is largely felt
throughout the
length and
breadth of t h e
Fatherland, and
Moritz Carriere,
the champion of
the so-called re-
alistic ideal
school, are more
or less represent-
a t i v e . With
these we must mention the late Professor Paul de La-
garde, a man little heeded while he lived, but who since
his death has been largely recognized as one of Ger-
many's most original political thinkers, and Frederick
Nietzsche, now hopelessly insane, whose brilliant philo-
sophical writings have attracted the attention of think-
ers throughout Europe.

Although it is beyond our purpose to do more than
mention a few of the representative men of Germany
to-day, there is one reflection we cannot suppress, and
that is that almost all the abo\'e-mentioned eminent men




Dr. Robkrt Koch.



Intellectual Life.



41



are serving the state in some public capacity. There is
hardly one of Germany's great scientific exponents of ^'\hesute'^^
speculative thought who is not drawn away from the
drudgery of mere money-making and installed in some
position most fitted to enable him to spread and propa-
gate the fruits of his genius. Further, it is largely owing
to such men that theory has developed into method in
Germany and served the purpose of increasing the prac-
tical results of every kind of work in the country.

HI.

In literature the greatest works of Lessing, Herder.
Goethe, and
Schiller show
signs of a restless
craving to find a
higher and nobler
channel for ex-
pressing their
ideas. Literature
was to these men
a medium of con-
veying philoso-
phy under pleas-
ant and even
playful forms.
All had one end
in view — to strike
a chord of broad
c cmi m o n c o n -
sciousness.

Herder was one
of the most egotistically ideal of men in native consti-
tution, yet we see him for years sacrificing his original



^■'%




/



l,ili.T:iturei)iily
■ \ muiliuni.



J'Rf>F. WrillllM <■. l<"iN|(,i.;s.



42



Imperial Germany.



Herder.



Lcssiiig.



powers of production to collecting the " folk-songs" of
hfs own and other nations, because his egotism was sub-
dued by an intel-
lectual German
sense of the com-
mon interests in
life, which should
be reflected in
song and story.

Les sing, i n -
deed, always pro-
lested that he
was not a poet,
and that people
made a mistake
in ca 1 1 i n g hi in
one ; that he was
merely a poor
philosophical
critic, seeking
the best channel
t o communicate
his ideas, which
he found in the
drama. Thus,
his "Nathan the
Wise" is still the
most eloquent
appeal in favor of
tolerance.

The c o r r e -

s p o n (1 ence be-

tween Goethe

Dr. theodor mo.mmsen. and Schillet




Intellectual Life.



43



"Wilhelm Meistcr." in Ti,e high i.i.ai

of (loethe and



proves how much their individual bent in this respect
was at one w ith the lessons of their greater works ; the
discipline of a high ideal was to be found in its applica-
tion in the commonest things

its first aspect, seems the most ideal of books, and yet, Schiiier,
in its second part, it passes into a glorification of ordi-
nary domestic life and duty. Still more surprising is
the fact that Faust, after all his dreams and aspirations,
has to become
a reclaimer of
land and a road-
maker, and in
this to find the
way of his sal-
vation — con-
tentment and
peace.

No men of
equal eminence
were ever so lit-
tle pleased with
their efforts as
' i o e t h e an d
Schiller, for the
j)icture of some-
ihingstill higher

was constantly before them to make them dissatisfied
with their attempts and urge them on to greater efforts.
This peculiarity of the Ck-rman mind impresses us the
more when we recall .Shakesijcare, whose stupendous
genius apparently seems to have thrown off its immortal
products almost unconsciously.

According to the late Friedrich liodenstcdt, the emi-
nent German poet an<l tr;msl;it( n" of Shakespeare, the




SiATi.ii oi- Gonriii-., Bi.ki.is.



Their dissntis-
factioii with
Uicir work.



44



Imperial Germany.



Germany's

eminent

translators.



dramatic poLtrv of his own country cannot compare in
orig;inality with that of England. But German Htera-
ture can boast of a speciality which, though far from
original, is yet unique and of far-reaching importance
as a means of culture.

We refer to the splendid array of literary men who
have devoted their whole life's work to the translation
of the masterpieces of foreign literature into German.
Their name is legion, and men among them, such as
Tieck, the two Schlegels, Voss, and Bodenstedt himself,
can be said to have contributed more to the culture of
the people by their translations than many well-known
writers by their original productions. Even a monarch
ranks among their number ; for the late king John of
Saxony translated Dante into German. No country can
compare with Germany in its array of literary talent,
which, led by true idealism to open up new channels of
literary wealth to the nation, devoted its labor in un-
selfish earnestness to the comparatively thankless task of
reproduction. Among such we must not forget to
mention one who is still living, Otto Gildemeister, of
Bremen, whose translations of Lord Byron and also of
several of Shakespeare's works are noted for their excel-
lence.



IV.



German
preference for
English novels.



At the present time other elements and a more cos-
mopolitan run of public taste have put their stamp on
the literary productions of the day.

Figuratively speaking. Teuton stomachs have been
satiated and German brains weary of the interminable
discursive novel of the first half of the century, dragging
its serpentine existence through eight or ten volumes,
and have long sought refuge in excellent translations of



Intellectual Life.



45



Walter Scott, Bulwer Lytton, Dickens, and other Eng-
lish writers.

Other branches of literature, too, suffered from heavi- a new de-
ness of style when, about the time of the new order of composition,
things, a number
of bright essay-
writers came to
the front in Ber-
lin and offered
the public a taste
of the bright,
concise, and yet
light style of nar-
rative and essay
common in Eng-
land and France.
And the good
Berliners, who
had long chafed
under the bit of
cumbersome phi-
losophizing in
the name of
.Schelling anrl
Hegel, welcomed

the new denart- I-rum an auloi;rat>li portrait.

HiCINRKH VON SnIUI,.

ure.

In this direction there can be no doubt that the late
Heinrich von Treitschkc in the

Books," Paul Lindau in the "The Present," and many
others have not only done good wink but ha\c almost
founded a style of literature in which (icnnany had
hitherto been lamentably deficient. ll is in part their
doing if we can no longer with justice smile at the un-




" Prussian Year- r.erman essay-

wnters.



46 Imperial Germany



varying- " ponderosity " of German letters. Of course,
such masters of sparkling German prose as Heine, Scho-
penhauer, Borne, David Strauss, and Johannes Scherr
had preceded and influenced the public far more, even
by the mere form of their productions. Still the fact
remains that the German essay-writers of the last
twenty-five years have contributed their share toward
a more airy and crisp tone in the light literature of the
day.

In the late Gustav Freytag we name the most gifted

Freytag. and Sterling of all German writers of fiction of our time.

He excelled in the portrayal of German life, not only
in the present, but in the past, and that with an un-
rivaled power and truth of interpretation. Freytag
possessed the genius of the true born romancist allied
to the conscientious thoroughness of the German pro-
fessor, without his pedantry. He never lent his ])en to
pander to the sentiment of the hour, and his writings
are appreciated and admired by high and humble alike.
Some years ago the late emperor William conferred on
him the highest distinction — the order "Pour le Merite"
(for merit), the same order that Thomas Carlyle was
proud to accept, although he refused the Grand Cross
of the Bath from his own sovereign. Next to Gustav
Freytag, Spielhagen perhaps stands highest among
German novelists.

Paul Heyse as a poet, a novel-writer, and dramatist

Paul Heyse occupies a Very prominent position in the literary world.
A born poet, he strongly inclines toward the sentimen-
tal — not to say hyper-sentimental. Starting as a novel-
ist at an early age, he at once became the favorite of
German womankind. His descriptive power is southern
in its luxurious richness and dreaminess ; but, unfor-
tunately, most of his tales — for he is a story-teller more



hitellediial Life.



47



than a novel-writer (Germans, in their thoroughness,
making a great distinction between the two) — show a
want of manly riiggedness in conception and execution.
That is doubtless the reason his dramatic works ha\'e
hitherto only had a success really due to his other
work. Some of his lyric poems are remarkable for
their beauty of sentiment and diction.

Professor Ebers is another typical figure in literature.
His success has
been largely due
to his appeal to
that instinct — so
strong in the Ger-
man character —
which loves to
idealize the his-
tory of the far-
removed past.
Professor Ebers
is an eminent
scientific Egyp-
tologist, and his
novels, weaving
historical matter
into the form of
narrati\'e ro-
mance, have not
only found count-
less readers in '''^'■' ""^^sk-
Germany, but they have been widely read in ICnglish
and other translations.

The late P'riedrich Bodenstedt was not only a dra-
matic poet of signal culture and power, but was the
author of :i somewhat exceptional fc-at in the histf)ry of



Georg Ebers"s
novels.




Kr>dciisti-(lt, llu-
lyriL- poet.



4S Imperial Germany.



literature, to which he owes his chief fame. He lived
for many years in the East, and besides a fascinating
account of life in Asia Minor, entitled "A Thousand
and One Days in the East," he published a collection
■'The Songs of of cxquisitc lyric j^oems under the title of "The Songs
Mirzaschaffy.- ^^ ^^^^^^ Scliaffy. " ' It would lead us too far to dwell
on the excellence of this unique volume ; sufiftce it to
say that it was published under circumstances which
left the impression that the poems were nothing more
than translations of oriental poetry, such as the ' ' Songs
of Hafiz ' ' and others. This impression was the more
likely to gain ground on account of Bodenstedt's recog-
nized position as a translator of Shakespeare. However,
such was not the case ; the work is entirely original.
" The Songs of Mirza Schaffy " have run through more
than one hundred editions, and are destined to remain
a lasting monument to Bodenstedt's genius.

V.

In dramatic literature, although its critics continually
rail against the shallow taste of the day (as they have
done at all times), Germany possesses a long list of
names, which, if hardly in one instance equal to the
dramatists ^^^^ dramatic writers of France, are yet far above any

single one we could put forward among English living
authors.

Ernst von Wildenbruch is a dramatic author of depth
and power. In him the German ideal romantic tend-
ency is very strong, but, unfortunately (as is so often
the case with German writers), his characters lose them-
selves completely in philosophic concentration at the
expense of the action of the play.

Arthur Fitger is another writer of great dramatic
force and originality. His tragedy "Die Hexe" (The



Intellectual Life.



49



Witch) is a play of classic dimensions, and deals with
the religious intolerance of past ages.

Richard \'oss, Oscar Blumenthal. L'Arronge, Franz
von Schonthan, and Hugo Lubbliner, although scarcely Popular p'ay-
typical enough to call for special notice, are yet original
and fertile writers
of great popular-
ity, and many of
their plays have
been honored by
translation and
adaptation.

Baron Gustav
von Moser is typ-
ically representa-
tive of a light and
airy dramatic
style, unembar-
rassed by heavy
ethical aims, and
yet far removed
from pruriency,
the former quali-
ties being at all
times rare in Ger-
man literature. He is entirely original both in his work- ^^^ ,^ .^^^
manship and in the characters he has drawn. The latter '^osc'-.
are taken from life, and include almost every type to
be met with, from the Prussian martinet general down
to the "boots" of a country inn. Not onlv do his plavs
enjoy an unprecedented pi ipulaiilv in (i(rn>;in\-, but
some of them have been even more successful in other
countries, and made large fortiinis for iCnglish and
American theater j)roprictors, notably "I'liimo" (On




Gustav von Moser.



50



Imperial iioiiiany



Philosophy of
Heg^el and
Schelliiig.



Kant's

" categorical

imperative.''



Change) and "Dor Ribliothekar " (The Pri\ate Secre-
tary).

Among more recent dramatists and novel-writers
Hermann Ludermann may be mentioned as enjoying
great popularity. Whether, however, his writings are
destined to last is a question which time alone can
answer. Nor must we omit to cite Dr. Max Nordau,
the gifted and versatile writer, whose recent work,
"Degeneration," has enjoyed an extraordinary vogue
both in England and America.

VI.

In philosophy we find again the ideal influence pres-
ent. Especially is this noticeable in the works of
Schelling and Hegel, whose endeavor to solve the
dread secrets that surround us was strongly mingled
with the desire to find a solution which best accorded
with their ideal of the beautiful. But as the human
mind seems doomed to failure before these master-
problems, so also the philosophy of Hegel and Schelling
has but remained as a monument of the inability of
idealism alone to solve them. It was reserved for Kant
to pin down idealism to the realization of the call of
duty. In his own words thus defined: "Duty — won-
drous thought that workest neither by fond insinuation,
flattery, nor by any threat, but merely by holding up
thy naked law in the soul, and so extorting for thyself,
always reverence, if not always obedience, before whom
all appetites are dumb, however secretly they rebel!"

Since Immanucl Kant sjioke his last word, and
wedded ideality with the stern duty of ethics, no one
has been able to add to it. His dictum of the ' ' cate-
gorical imperative," the call of duty on us all to regu-
late our race toward the unattainable, remains to-day



Intellectual Life.



51



the key-note of German intellectual and ethical life. In
fact, it is impossible to study the ethical and intellectual
life of Germany without being impressed by the vast
influence which the teaching of the Konigsberg phi-
losopher still exercises over its best minds, and through
them almost unconsciously over the minds of the
masses. Even the sublime thoughts of Goethe and,
in our day, the speculations which the Germans draw
from the researches of Darwin seem only to have inten-



The influence
of Kant.



-^Sim^':




The University of Konmgsberg, vvherk Kant Tai'ght.

sified the influence of Kant. It seems as if, in a sea of
conflicting speculation, the intellect of the nation were
forced to turn back to that strong, courageous brain,
who said in effect :

We are unable t(^ |)iLrcc tlie i)asl, the fiiliire is liiddeii fnini
us, but the categorical imperative call of duly ti> l)e performed
stares us in tiie face — the ()bli^^■aio^ of one and all of us to do
our share, and to live up to the highest ethical and astlutical
standard we can formulate, without regard to reward or puii-
i.shment, and Ijefore the worshij) of every other ideal.



His philosophy.



52



Imperial Gcnnany.



The supremacy
of dutv.



The key-note
in English
histors'.



VII.

Thus we find the sense of duty meeting us every-
where in Germany in a strength hardly realized by
other countries. Tlie narrow-minded selfishness of the
individual, the jealousy, the envy of the unit, shrink be-
fore the supreme spirit of altruistic virtue embodied in
this acceptation of the supremacy of duty.

The late Professor Billroth — a great German surgeon
and professor at the Vienna University — was once, years
before his decease, given up by the doctors. He called
his younger colleagues around him and said :

We doctors mustn't deceive ourselves with regard to an
ilhiess. We are familiar with death ; I more tlian yoii, for
I am nearer to it. I asked you to come here in order to say
good-bye to you. Who knows whether to-morrow I shall
be able to do so ? I thank you all for your labors ; remain
faithful to science ; devote yourselves to it as hitherto.

This reference to duty — this key-note struck in the
supreme moment, with an entire forgetfulness of meaner
self — is one that finds an echo through the length and
breadth of the Fatherland in the hearts of its best and
noblest sons. It has a familiar sound to us, when we go
back to those annals that record the growing greatness
of England. Was it not the ever-memorable key-note
of Nelson's message at the battle of Trafalgar? It even
conveys a lesson to us in these latter days, when many
are groping their way to find an ethical standard to live
by ; for, according to a recent writer, ' ' such knowledge
of God as he has vouchsafed to us is revealed to us by
our perception of causation and our idea of duty.'"

Yet men like Billroth — and he was a representative
type — are not melancholy psalm-singers, who walk



1 Article entitled " Sinsof Belief and Sins of Unbelief,'
in the Nineteenth Century, October, i8S8.



by St. George Mivart,



Intellectual Life. 53



through life crushed with the oppressive weight of a
dread ordeal e\er staring them in the face. Far from it.
Billroth in private life was an accomplished musician and
painter. And this recalls another striking feature of
German intellectual life : its afifinity to the spirit of
ancient Greece, the people of which were so gifted in
beautifying the life they led.

VIII.

In politics — that one science that people everywhere
take to without a question as to knowledge or fitness — poiuTcs"
German idealism has counted its saddest failures. Nota-
bly was this so when, in the hopeless attempt to evolve
a system that would help the Fatherland, it was driven
to seek models abroad, and, above all, to fall in love
with the English methods of parliamentary government !
Luckily, the man of the hour put an end to that
when he told his countrymen, "No, gentlemen; only
with blood and iron shall we get what we are all striving ai/d-iroir"
for — a great united Fatherland." In the emperor ''°"^*-
William and in Bismarck we find, for the first time in
Germany, the national tendency to idealize allied to the
rugged common sense of action, and the result has been
the fulfilment of a national dream that wanted this rare
union of qualities to find its realization. It was the
ideality of a great aim. nurtured in youth, that nerved
the late emperor William in those weary years of


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 3 of 23)