« PreviousContinue »
Herder was not without a certain penchant for practical life. He wished that he had received an education which would have better fitted him for living in the midst of men ; that he had devoted himself to the study of mathematics, history, oratory, drawing, nature, mankind, and manners. He proposed to reform the schools by the introduction of realistic studies; he taught that all methods for reforming mankind, except the cultivation of the more active virtues, served only to enervate them; regretted that he had become an author; and lamented the want of those popular accomplishments, which were necessary to make him the centre of extensive social influences. Herder was ambitious to play the same part at the court of Catharine which Voltaire did at that of Frederic; and, after founding an academy, according to the pattern of his ideal, in Finland, he proposed to apply the principles of Montesquieu to the national education of the natives. The opportunities which he actually had, however, for displaying his skill in the marshalling of affairs, did not turn out very successfully. Being invited by Count William as court preacher to Bückeburg, he accomplished nothing for the benefit of prince or people, beyond making religion agreeable to the Countess, who was sickly, and concerned about her future state; and at the court of Weimar, also, whither he was called through the influence of Goethe, he confined himself altogether to comforting the Duchess.
We next turn, for a while, to Jean Paul Frederic Richter, of Wunsiedel, who was born in 1763, and died in 1825. He is one of those authors, who have the misfortune to be extravagantly admired by one party in literature, and as decidedly disliked by another. Many persons, after having reached the age when they require their understanding to render an account of their reading, soon become weary of his writings. To others, on the contrary, Richter appeared not a whit less than an apostle; and sentimental ladies were so smitten with adoration of his genius, as to think themselves honored by wearing a lock, not of the poet's hair, but of his spaniel's, in their bosom. The judgment which Gervinus passes upon this writer may not satisfy many of his admirers either in Germany or in this country; but it will not appear too severe to the great majority of his countrymen, who do not rank him among their highest poets.
Jean Paul's nature, unlike that of Schiller and Goethe, for
example, had but one period of development, and then stood still. Though not altogether unconscious of the imperfection of his spiritual growth, he could never fully understand the saying of Goethe, that one is a different person every ten years. He himself enjoyed throughout life perpetual youth; and hoped for nothing better than its perpetuation even in heaven. The heats of youthful passion and the fire of early enthusiasm never abated in him. His morale inculcates the purity and innocence of childhood; and his views generally are so characterized by youthfulness, as to appear rather unsuitable for his manhood and his years. His life, too, was one of great uniformity. Little influenced by public events, and little varied by fluctuations of domestic fortune, it was not much more than a peaceful succession of states purely idyllic. His autobiography is a perfect picture of still life, not differing widely from many of his romances; and was not completed, partly, perhaps, because there were no more facts to be narrated. He grew up in narrow circumstances, with little help from the schools, but indifferently well versed in history and the common branches of learning, with only a smattering of ancient literature, and a superficial, though extensive, acquaintance with the sciences.
If, however, there was no after-growth in Jean Paul's nature, the first growth was a very rich one. If his actual life was monotonous, that of his imagination was crowded with events the most remarkable, and scenes the most varied and interesting. He derived not much benefit from the teachings of the schools; but his twelve quarto volumes of extracts, completed before his entrance into the university, certainly exhibit the diligence and perseverance of the selfeducated scholar. Composition was almost a monomania with Jean Paul. He began to write books as soon as he had learned to form his letters, kept diaries, both religious and secular, even noted down subjects for conversation on a tablet, had at one time collected together no less than twenty thick quartos of ironical expressions, and a still larger number of satirical ones, - became an author before he was out of his teens, and, instead of devoting his youth to the collection of materials for future use, reaped the fruits of his learning while they were yet green and half grown. drank wine to enliven his wits at the writing-desk, instead of satisfying the demands of appetite with it at the table; and
thought, at the end of each day's labors, that he was nearer to an easy death, in proportion as he had diminished, by writing, the wearisome burden of thoughts that weighed upon his brain. His youth was poor indeed in worldly goods; but in feelings, fancies, and domestic joys, it was very rich. With the help of a little music and moonshine, a few holyday visits to town, and the pursuit of a village maiden indifferently pretty, he enjoyed an income of spiritual delights, not to be exchanged for the gold of millionnaires or the jewels of princes. Nearly all the characteristic elements of the times are to be found united in his writings, the heartlessness of its satire, its sickly excess of sentiment, the "chamois leaps" of its wild, irregular fantasy, the sober views of its sound understanding, both its love and hatred of the world, its idealism, its realism, and its spirituality. At the same time, his productions are all strict transcripts of his inward life. He is constantly drawing away the attention of the reader from the work to its author. We recognize his own peculiarities in Fixlein, his own home attachments in Wuz and Fibel, the petty foibles of his first authorship in the "Wild Oats," and the portraits of his personal friends in the heroes of the "Titan." The pages of Jean Paul sparkle with the most brilliant coruscations of wit and fancy; yet his humorous, like his heroic characters, are too often mere caricatures. On the whole, it must be said, that his works abound more in reflections than in facts, in sentiments than in truths, and less in the description of actions, than in visions, dreams, allegories, and whatever else there may be that is fantastic and unreal.
"These," says Gervinus, are the two extremes on which every thing turns in this writer. On the one side, he is offended with the world, he turns away from men with contempt, and annihilates the external universe with scorn; on the other side, he attaches himself to still life, retires into the realms of the spirit, and finds again his lost worldly weal in the quiet of narrow circumstances, and in silent communion with his hopes of a better future. To the first mood of mind, we are indebted for his humorous characters, who carry their raillery against the world to a disgust with it; to the second, for his soft, self-conceited personages, who unite an utter ignorance of men with an infinite love for the welfare of the entire race. The one class of persons sink, on occasions, to the most contemptible meanness;
while the flower-souls' of the second class exalt themselves to the extreme of the author's so called noble characters, who turn their backs on the world to preserve themselvs from its pollution, and discover that the highest purity of soul is inconsistent with habits of active usefulness. On the one hand, Jean Paul is skeptical, satirical, a persecutor of German coxcombry, and a realist in his manner of representation, as is generally the case with youth when it falls into this extreme; on the other hand, he is sentimental, weak, inflated, elegiac, and a spiritualist, such as is rarely to be met with. If in the first direction he heaps up wit beyond measure, and overtasks the powers of the understanding; so, in the second, he goes too far in the excitement of sensibility, and in his tendency to tears, to which, like Sterne, he is very fond of moving his readers.”
The most important fruits of Jean Paul's genius are the "Titan," and the "Wild Oats," (Flegeljahre.) The former of these seems to have been intended for a side picture to Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister," and, though to a great extent a reproduction of the "Hesperus," as many of Richter's later productions are mere repetitions of their predecessors, is generally considered as the author's masterpiece. In the latter, we are presented with a picture of the chivalry of early feeling, of the mad fancies which are wont to chase each other through the brains of youth, of winter plays around the paternal hearth, of quiet domestic joys, of first love, of Sunday homesickness, and of every thing, in fact, which thrills the young and generous bosom, such as can be found on the pages of no other writer. The religious views of Richter may be best learned from his treatise on immortality, entitled the "Campanian Vale," (Campanerthal,) in which, adopting the doctrine of the Critical Philosophy, he predicated the existence of a future life on the consideration, that another and a higher state of being is necessary for the perfect development of the good, the true, and the beautiful. His religion consisted in living for immortality and the Divinity. He always despised earthly fame, as men of the highest genius are not wont to do; and in his youth, wished to learn nothing but what would be useful to him in the life to come. He stood with but one foot on the present stage of existence, ever ready, pen, ink, and paper in hand, to step off with the other upon the future.
Passing from the modern Gothic style of Richter, we find at last the restoration of ancient classic beauty in the works
of Schiller and Goethe. To these two poets our author has devoted upwards of two hundred pages; but the narrow limits within which we are restricted, and the length of time we have already trespassed upon the patience of our readers, will not allow us to do more than cast a hasty glance upon their characters and writings.
If we were to attempt to characterize Goethe with a single word, we should say, that he was an optimist. He beheld imperfections both in nature and humanity, but also a great tendency to amelioration, a great, universal law of progress, slowly and silently, yet everywhere and irresistibly, evolving good out of evil. This progression, moreover, he was not at all anxious to accelerate beyond its natural pace, by any forced activity of his own. He put no spurs in the sides of his intent; but allowing free play and scope to the forces with which he had been endowed, ever kept his mind in a state of healthy and genial action. He constantly defended himself against all external influences that might disturb the serene equanimity of his feelings, or that might stimulate the warm glow of thought into feverish excitement. The discord of human opinions appeared to him to grow entirely out of the diversity of human character, all systems of faith or philosophy, however contradictory in appearance, to be founded on essentially the same great, universal principles, and every error, so called, to be only a different phase of truth, which, under an infinite variety of forms, is one and the same for ever. He was, accordingly, tolerant of the views of those who disagreed with him; and did not think it essential either to the present or future salvation of others, that they should be converted to precisely his way of thinking. He was content to study Nature as she is, and asked not of her the questions,Whence, or Whither. Little interested, in fact, in the history of the past, and wholly disinclined to any speculations respecting the future, he lived cheerfully and actively in the everlasting present. Having a character built up, as the Germans say, on every side, he was a good hater of systems of philosophy, as narrow and onesided; and, experiencing in himself as many as three or four entirely new evolutions of nature, he abjured all creeds and formulas of belief, as hindering the mind from progress.
One of the great principles which guided the life of