The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes online

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bells and motley dress, called more commonly in England "clown," who
appears in several comedies, though not in all, but, of the tragedies,
in _Lear_ alone, and who generally merely exercises his wit in
conversation with the principal persons, though he is also sometimes
incorporated into the action. In those times it was not only usual for
princes to have their court fools, but many distinguished families,
among their other retainers, kept such an exhilarating house-mate as a
good antidote against the insipidity and wearisomeness of ordinary
life, and as a welcome interruption of established formalities. Great
statesmen, and even ecclesiastics, did not consider it beneath their
dignity to recruit and solace themselves after important business with
the conversation of their fools; the celebrated Sir Thomas More had
his fool painted along with himself by Holbein. Shakespeare appears to
have lived immediately before the time when the custom began to be
abolished; in the English comic authors who succeeded him the clown is
no longer to be found. The dismissal of the fool has been extolled as
a proof of refinement; and our honest forefathers have been pitied for
taking delight in such a coarse and farcical amusement. For my part, I
am rather disposed to believe that the practice was dropped from the
difficulty in finding fools able to do full justice to their
parts:[27] on the other hand, reason, with all its conceit of itself,
has become too timid to tolerate such bold irony; it is always careful
lest the mantle of its gravity should be disturbed in any of its
folds; and rather than allow a privileged place to folly beside
itself, it has unconsciously assumed the part of the ridiculous; but,
alas! a heavy and cheerless ridicule.[28] It would be easy to make a
collection of the excellent sallies and biting sarcasms which have
been preserved of celebrated court fools. It is well known that they
frequently told such truths to princes as are never now told to
them.[29] Shakespeare's fools, along with somewhat of an overstraining
for wit, which cannot altogether be avoided when wit becomes a
separate profession, have for the most part an incomparable humor and
an infinite abundance of intellect, enough indeed to supply a whole
host of ordinary wise men.

I have still a few observations to make on the diction and
versification of our poet. The language is here and there somewhat
obsolete, but on the whole much less so than in most of the
contemporary writers - a sufficient proof of the goodness of his
choice. Prose had as yet been but little cultivated, as the learned
generally wrote in Latin - a favorable circumstance for the dramatic
poet; for what has he to do with the scientific language of books? He
had not only read, but studied, the earlier English poets; but he drew
his language immediately from life itself, and he possessed a masterly
skill in blending the dialogical element with the highest poetical
elevation. I know not what certain critics mean, when they say that
Shakespeare is frequently ungrammatical. To make good their assertion,
they must prove that similar constructions never occur in his
contemporaries, the direct contrary of which can, however, be easily
shown. In no language is everything determined on principle; much is
always left to the caprice of custom, and if this has since changed,
is the poet to be made answerable for it? The English language had not
then attained to that correct insipidity which has been introduced
into the more recent literature of the country, to the prejudice,
perhaps, of its originality. As a field when first brought under the
plough produces, along with the fruitful shoots, many luxuriant weeds,
so the poetical diction of the day ran occasionally into extravagance,
but an extravagance originating in the exuberance of its vigor. We may
still perceive traces of awkwardness, but nowhere of a labored and
spiritless display of art. In general, Shakespeare's style yet remains
the very best model, both in the vigorous and sublime, and the
pleasing and tender. In his sphere he has exhausted all the means and
appliances of language. On all he has impressed the stamp of his
mighty spirit. His images and figures, in their unsought, nay,
uncapricious singularity, have often a sweetness altogether peculiar.
He becomes occasionally obscure from too great fondness for compressed
brevity; but still, the labor of poring over Shakespeare's lines will
invariably meet an ample requital.

The verse in all his plays is generally the rhymeless iambic of ten or
eleven syllables, only occasionally intermixed with rhymes, but more
frequently alternating with prose. No one piece is written entirely in
prose; for even in those which approach the most to the pure Comedy,
there is always something added which gives them a more poetical hue
than usually belongs to this species. Many scenes are wholly in prose,
in others verse and prose succeed each other alternately. This can
appear an impropriety only in the eyes of those who are accustomed to
consider the lines of a drama like so many soldiers drawn up rank and
file on a parade, with the same uniform, arms, and accoutrements, so
that when we see one or two we may represent to ourselves thousands as
being every way like them.

In the use of verse and prose Shakespeare observes very nice
distinctions according to the ranks of the speakers, but still more
according to their characters and disposition of mind. A noble
language, elevated above the usual tone, is suitable only to a certain
decorum of manners, which is thrown over both vices and virtues and
which does not even wholly disappear amidst the violence of passion.
If this is not exclusively possessed by the higher ranks, it still,
however, belongs naturally more to them than to the lower; and
therefore, in Shakespeare, dignity and familiarity of language,
poetry, and prose, are in this manner distributed among the
characters. Hence his tradesmen, peasants, soldiers, sailors,
servants, but more especially his fools and clowns, speak, almost
without exception, in the tone of their actual life. However, inward
dignity of sentiment, wherever it is possessed, invariably displays
itself with a nobleness of its own, and stands not in need, for that
end, of the artificial elegancies of education and custom; it is a
universal right of man, of the highest as well as the lowest; and
hence also, in Shakespeare, the nobility of nature and morality is
ennobled above the artificial nobility of society. Not infrequently
also he makes the very same persons express themselves at times in the
sublimest language, and at others in the lowest; and this inequality
is in like manner founded in truth. Extraordinary situations, which
intensely occupy the head and throw mighty passions into play, give
elevation and tension to the soul: it collects all its powers and
exhibits an unusual energy, both in its operations and in its
communications by language. On the other hand, even the greatest men
have their moments of remissness, when to a certain degree they forget
the dignity of their character in unreserved relaxation. This very
tone of mind is necessary before they can receive amusement from the
jokes of others, or, what surely cannot dishonor even a hero, from
passing jokes themselves. Let any person, for example, go carefully
through the part of Hamlet. How bold and powerful the language of his
poetry when he conjures the ghost of his father, when he spurs himself
on to the bloody deed, when he thunders into the soul of his mother!
How he lowers his tone down to that of common life, when he has to do
with persons whose station demands from him such a line of conduct;
when he makes game of Polonius and the courtiers, instructs the
player, and even enters into the jokes of the grave-digger. Of all the
poet's serious leading characters there is none so rich in wit and
humor as Hamlet; hence he it is of all of them that makes the greatest
use of the familiar style. Others, again, never do fall into it;
either because they are constantly surrounded by the pomp of rank, or
because a uniform seriousness is natural to them; or, in short,
because through the whole piece they are under the dominion of a
passion calculated to excite, and not, like the sorrow of Hamlet, to
depress the mind. The choice of the one form or the other is
everywhere so appropriate, and so much founded in the nature of the
thing, that I will venture to assert, even where the poet in the very
same speech makes the speaker leave prose for poetry, or the converse,
this could not be altered without danger of injuring or destroying
some beauty or other. The blank verse has this advantage, that its
tone may be elevated or lowered; it admits of approximation to the
familiar style of conversation, and never forms such an abrupt
contrast as that, for example, between plain prose and the rhyming

Shakespeare's iambics are sometimes highly harmonious and
full-sounding; always varied and suitable to the subject, at one time
distinguished by ease and rapidity, at another they move along with
ponderous energy. They never fall out of the dialogical character,
which may always be traced even in the continued discourses of
individuals, excepting when the latter run into the lyrical. They are
a complete model of the dramatic use of this species of verse, which,
in English, since Milton, has been also used in epic poetry; but in
the latter it has assumed a quite different turn. Even the
irregularities of Shakespeare's versification are expressive; a verse
broken off, or a sudden change of rhythmus, coincides with some pause
in the progress of the thought, or the entrance of another mental
disposition. As a proof that he purposely violated the mechanical
rules, from a conviction that a too symmetrical versification does not
suit with the drama, and, on the stage has in the long run a tendency
to lull the spectators to sleep, we may observe that his earlier
pieces are the most diligently versified, and that, in the later
works, when through practice he must have acquired a greater facility,
we find the strongest deviations from the regular structure of the
verse. As it served with him merely to make the poetical elevation
perceptible, he therefore claimed the utmost possible freedom in the
use of it.

The views or suggestions of feeling by which he was guided in the use
of rhyme may likewise be traced with almost equal certainty. Not
infrequently scenes, or even single speeches, close with a few rhyming
lines, for the purpose of more strongly marking the division, and of
giving it more rounding. This was injudiciously imitated by the
English tragic poets of a later date; they suddenly elevated the tone
in the rhymed lines, as if the person began all at once to speak in
another language. The practice was welcomed by the actors from its
serving as a signal for clapping when they made their exit. In
Shakespeare, on the other hand, the transitions are more easy: all
changes of forms are brought about insensibly, and as if of
themselves. Moreover, he is generally fond of heightening a series of
ingenious and antithetical sayings by the use of rhyme. We find other
passages in continued rhyme, where solemnity and theatrical pomp were
suitable, as, for instance, in the mask,[30] as it is called, in _The
Tempest_ and in the play introduced in _Hamlet_. Of other pieces, for
instance, the _Midsummer Night's Dream_, and _Romeo and Juliet_, the
rhymes form a considerable part; either because he may have wished to
give them a glowing color, or because the characters appropriately
utter in a more musical tone their complaints or suits of love. In
these cases he has even introduced rhymed strophes, which approach to
the form of the sonnet, then usual in England. The assertion of
Malone, that Shakespeare in his youth was fond of rhyme, but that he
afterward rejected it, is sufficiently refuted by his own chronology
of the poet's works. In some of the earliest, for instance in the
second and third part of _Henry the Sixth_, there are hardly any
rhymes; in what is stated to be his last piece, _Twelfth Night, or
What You Will_, and in _Macbeth_, which is proved to have been
composed under the reign of King James, we find them in no
inconsiderable number. Even in the secondary matters of form
Shakespeare was not guided by humor and accident, but, like a genuine
artist, acted invariably on good and solid grounds. This we might also
show of the kinds of verse which he least frequently used (for
instance, of the rhyming verses of seven and eight syllables), were we
not afraid of dwelling too long on merely technical peculiarities.

In England the manner of handling rhyming verse, and the opinion as to
its harmony and elegance, have, in the course of two centuries,
undergone a much greater change than is the case with the rhymeless
iambic or blank verse. In the former, Dryden and Pope have become
models; these writers have communicated the utmost smoothness to
rhyme, but they have also tied it down to a harmonious uniformity. A
foreigner, to whom antiquated and new are the same, may perhaps feel
with greater freedom the advantages of the more ancient manner.
Certain it is, the rhyme of the present day, from the too great
confinement of the couplet, is unfit for the drama. We must not
estimate the rhyme of Shakespeare by the mode of subsequent times, but
by a comparison with his contemporaries or with Spenser. The
comparison will, without doubt, turn out to his advantage. Spenser is
often diffuse; Shakespeare, though sometimes hard, is always brief and
vigorous. He has more frequently been induced by the rhyme to leave
out something necessary than to insert anything superfluous. Many of
his rhymes, however, are faultless: ingenious with attractive ease,
and rich without false brilliancy. The songs interspersed (those, I
mean, of the poet himself) are generally sweetly playful and
altogether musical; in imagination, while we merely read them, we hear
their melody.

The whole of Shakespeare's productions bear the certain stamp of his
original genius, but yet no writer was ever further removed from
everything like a mannerism derived from habit or personal
peculiarities. Rather is he, such is the diversity of tone and color
which vary according to the quality of his subjects he assumes, a very
Proteus. Each of his compositions is like a world of its own, moving
in its own sphere. They are works of art, finished in one pervading
style, which revealed the freedom and judicious choice of their
author. If the formation of a work throughout, even in its minutest
parts, in conformity with a leading idea; if the domination of one
animating spirit over all the means of execution, deserves the name of
correctness (and this, excepting in matters of grammar, is the only
proper sense of the term); we shall then, after allowing to
Shakespeare all the higher qualities which demand our admiration, be
also compelled, in most cases, to concede to him the title of a
correct poet.

It would be in the highest degree instructive to follow, if we could,
in his career step by step, an author who at once founded and carried
his art to perfection, and to go through his works in the order of
time. But, with the exception of a few fixed points, which at length
have been obtained, all the necessary materials for this are still
wanting. The diligent Malone has, indeed, made an attempt to arrange
the plays of Shakespeare in chronological order; but he himself gives
out only the result of his labors as hypothetical, and it could not
possibly be attended with complete success, since he excluded from his
inquiry a considerable number of pieces which have been ascribed to
the poet, though rejected as spurious by all the editors since Rowe,
but which, in my opinion, must, if not wholly, at least in great
measure be attributed to him.


* * * * *



Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Columbia University

Friedrich Schlegel's _Lucinda_, published in 1799, was an explosion of
youthful radicalism - a rather violent explosion which still
reverberates in the histories of German Romanticism. It is a book
about the metaphysics of love and marriage, the emancipation of the
flesh, the ecstasies and follies of the enamored state, the nature and
the rights of woman, and other such matters of which the world was
destined to hear a great deal during the nineteenth century. Not by
accident, but by intention, the little book was shocking, formless,
incoherent - a riot of the ego without beginning, middle, or end. Now
and then it passed the present limits of the printable in its
exploitation of the improper and the unconventional.

Yet the book was by no means the wanton freak of a prurient
imagination; it had a serious purpose and was believed by its author
to present the essentials of a new and beautiful theory of life, art
and religion. The great Schleiermacher, one of the profoundest of
German theologians and an eloquent friend of religion, called
_Lucinda_ a "divine book" and its author a "priest of love and
wisdom." "Everything in this work," he declared, "is at once human and
divine; a magic air of divinity rises from its deep springs and
permeates the whole temple." Today no man in his senses would praise
the book in such terms. Yet, with all its crudities of style and its
aberrations of taste, _Lucinda_ reveals, not indeed the whole form and
pressure of the epoch that gave it birth, but certain very interesting
aspects of it.


Then, too, it marks a curious stage in the development of the
younger Schlegel, a really profound thinker and one of the notable men
of his day. This explains why a considerable portion of the much
discussed book is here presented for the first time in an English

The earliest writings of Friedrich Schlegel - he was born in
1772 - relate to Greek literature, a field which he cultivated with
enthusiasm and with ample learning. In particular he was interested in
what his Greek poets and philosophers had to say of the position of
women in society; of the _hetairai_ as the equal and inspiring
companions of men; of a more or less refined sexual love, untrammeled
by law and convention, as the basis of a free, harmonious and
beautiful existence. Among other things, he seems to have been much
impressed by Plato's notion that the _genus homo_ was one before it
broke up into male and female, and that sexual attraction is a desire
to restore the lost unity. In a very learned essay _On Diotima_,
published in 1797 - Diotima is the woman of whose relation to Socrates
we get a glimpse in Plato's _Symposium_ - there is much that
foreshadows _Lucinda_. Let two or three sentences suffice. "What is
uglier than the overloaded femininity, what is more loathesome than
the exaggerated masculinity, that rules in our customs, our opinions,
and even in our better art?" "Precisely the tyrannical vehemence of
the man, the flabby self-surrender of the woman, is in itself an ugly
exaggeration." "Only the womanhood that is independent, only the
manhood that is gentle, is good and beautiful."

In 1796 Friedrich Schlegel joined his brother at Jena, where Fichte
was then expounding his philosophy. It was a system of radical
idealism, teaching that the only reality is the absolute Ego, whose
self-assertion thus becomes the fundamental law of the world. The
Fichtean system had not yet been fully worked out in its metaphysical
bearings, but the strong and engaging personality of its author gave
it, for a little while, immense prestige and influence. To Friedrich
Schlegel it seemed the gospel of a new era sort of French Revolution
in philosophy. Indeed he proclaimed that the three greatest events of
the century were the French Revolution, Fichte's philosophy, and
Goethe's _Wilhelm Meister_. This last, which appeared in 1796 and
contained obvious elements of autobiography, together with poems and
disquisitions on this and that, was admired by him beyond all measure.
He saw in it the exemplar and the program of a wonderful new art which
he proposed to call "Romantic Poetry."

But gray theory would never have begotten _Lucinda_. Going to Berlin
in 1797, Schlegel made the acquaintance of Dorothea Veit, daughter of
Moses Mendelsohn and wife of a Berlin banker. She was nine years his
senior. A strong attachment grew up between them, and presently the
lady was persuaded to leave her husband and become the paramour of
Schlegel. Even after the divorce was obtained Schlegel refused for
some time to be married in church, believing that he had a sort of
duty to perform in asserting the rights of passion over against social
convention. For several years the pair lived in wild wedlock before
they were regularly married. In 1808 they both joined the Catholic
Church, and from that time on nothing more was heard of Friedrich
Schlegel's radicalism. He came to hold opinions which were for the
most part the exact opposite of those he had held in his youth. The
vociferous friend of individual liberty became a reactionary champion
of authority. Of course he grew ashamed of _Lucinda_ and excluded it
from his collected works.

Such was the soil in which the naughty book grew. It was an era of lax
ideas regarding the marriage tie. Wilhelm Schlegel married a divorced
woman who was destined in due time to transfer herself without legal
formalities to Schelling. Goethe had set the example by his conscience
marriage with Christiane Vulpius. It remains only to be said that the
most of Friedrich Schlegel's intimates, including his brother Wilhelm,
advised against the publication of _Lucinda_. But here, as in the
matter of his marriage, the author felt that he had a duty to
perform: it was necessary to declare independence of Mrs. Grundy's
tyranny and shock people for their own good. But the reader of today
will feel that the worst shortcomings of the book are not its
immoralities, but its sins against art.

It will be observed that while _Lucinda_ was called by its author a
"novel," it hardly deserves that name. There is no story, no
development of a plot. The book consists of disconnected glimpses in
the form of letters, disquisitions, rhapsodies, conversations, etc.,
each with a more or less suggestive heading. Two of these
sections - one cannot call them chapters - are omitted in the
translation, namely, "Allegory of Impudence" and, "Apprenticeship of

LUCINDA (1799)




Smiling with emotion Petrarch opens the collection of his immortal
romanzas with a prefatory survey. The clever Boccaccio talks with
flattering courtesy to all women, both at the beginning and at the end
of his opulent book. The great Cervantes too, an old man in agony, but
still genial and full of delicate wit, drapes the motley spectacle of
his lifelike writings with the costly tapestry of a preface, which in
itself is a beautiful and romantic painting.

Uproot a stately plant from its fertile, maternal soil, and there will
still cling lovingly to it much that can seem superfluous only to a

But what shall my spirit bestow upon its offspring, which, like its
parent, is as poor in poesy as it is rich in love?

Just one word, a parting trope: It is not alone the royal eagle who
may despise the croaking of the raven; the swan, too, is proud and
takes no note of it. Nothing concerns him except to keep clean the
sheen of his white pinions. He thinks only of nestling against Leda's
bosom without hurting her, and of breathing forth into song everything
that is mortal within him.

[Illustration: #THE CREATION# _From the Painting by Moritz von



Human beings and what they want and do, seemed to me, when I thought
of it, like gray, motionless figures; but in the holy solitude all
around me everything was light and color. A fresh, warm breath of life
and love fanned me, rustling and stirring in all the branches of the
verdant grove. I gazed and enjoyed it all, the rich green, the white
blossoms and the golden fruit. And in my mind's eye I saw, too, in
many forms, my one and only Beloved, now as a little girl, now as a
young lady in the full bloom and energy of love and womanhood, and now
as a dignified mother with her demure babe in her arms. I breathed the
spring and I saw clearly all about me everlasting youth. Smiling I

Online LibraryUnknownThe German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes → online text (page 10 of 38)