Page images
PDF
EPUB

writes history, the poet is but too visible; when he writes poetry, the dramatist is often lost in the political or ethical philosopher. Shut out too, as it were, by the effects of illness, from any sympathy with gaiety, he had also applied himself with less diligence to the acquisition of general knowledge, and his thoughts moved in a narrower tract. None knew all this better than Schiller himself, nor better appreciated the extent of that gulf which divided his views on these subjects from those of his friend.

• Do not expect in me,' says he, in one of his first letters, (August, 1794,) any very great actual wealth of ideas,—for this I must look to you. My need and endeavour is, to make much out of little ; and when you are better acquainted with my poverty in all which is called acquired knowledge, you will probably think that I have on the whole succeeded in doing so pretty well. From the smallness of my circle of ideas, I move over it the quicker and the oftener, make a better use of my little means, and attain in the form that multiplicity and variety which is wanting in the subject. You labour to simplify your mighty world of ideas ; I seek variety for my little possessions. You have to govern a whole kingdom; I, only a tolerably respectable family of ideas, which I would gladly increase and multiply to a little world. Your mind works by intuition to an extraordinary degree, and all your thinking powers appear to have chosen the imagination as their common representative. In truth, this is the highest that man can attain, as soon as he has succeeded in generalizing his views and making his sentiments legislative. This has been your aim, and how completely have you succeeded! My understanding works far more by symbols, and thus I float, like a hermaphrodite, oetween conception and perception, between role and sentiment, technicality and genius. This it is which, particularly in my earlier years, gave me so awkward an air, both in the field of speculation and poetry; for poetry took me by surprise when I should have philosophized, and philosophy when I should have been poetical. And even now it happens often enough, that imagination destroys my abstractions, and cold understanding, my verse. Oh! if I could only become so far master of both powers that I could with freedom assign bounds to each, my lot would be enviable; but, alas I now when I first begin to know and to use my moral strength, disease threatens to undermine my physical powers.'

Though Schiller speaks thus disparagingly of his own genius, compared with that of his rival, in whom he seemed to consider all the mental powers as blended in the most desirable proportions, and with the most intimate union, it is not difficult to see that his own views, as embodied in his works, were likely to be at least as popular as the more refined and subtle views of Goethe. Both are idealists; but the ideal of the one consists in repose arising from variety and quick succession of emotions, none of which are allowed to become predominant or Iusting; that of the other, in the entire banishment or sequestration of some classes of ideas, and the refining or rendering more intense those which remain to be developed. We are not here to enter upon the question as to the comparative truth of these views, (that would be a matter by no means to be discussed in a few pages ;) but it is obvious that the latter is the one most likely to be understood and appreciated by the great class to whom poetry must be directed. The first, it requires an effort to understand and to sympathize with; we must seek in it an esoteric purpose beyond the mere interest arising from the events delineated; and, after all, it cannot be denied, that the effect is as often shadowy and theatrical as profound, and that the wbole hangs too much in the same metaphorical atmosphere as the types and figures of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Accordingly, such was very much the feeling with which Goethe's • Pil'gress,' his Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, was received; and even now we suspect that, by the mass of readers, it is praised more because it bears the name of Goethe, than from any great sympathy with the views upon which it appears to be constructed.

[graphic]

Schiller's actual views of composition, whatever might be his admiration for Goethe's theoretically, were far more popular. He who ran might read them. They were only a transcript of the emotions, feelings, and passions of life-somewhat purified and exalted, and heightened a little with the colours of poetry, but clothed in no masquerade garb, nor shorn of any of their force, por exhibited in any elaborate sequence and contrast to suit some particular view ;-a section, in short, from life, instead of a philosophical epitome of its leading features. He moved the mind, and strong emotion is always pleasure; he appealed to the best sympathies of our nature, and his energetic appeal is rarely unanswered ; and if, in one sense, less wisdom is embodied in them, if his lessons are less adapted to all circumstances, it can hardly be denied that they are given with more energy and distinctness. Even the comparative limitation of the subjects with which he was conversant, was in one sense favourable to his purpose; for Goethe seems too often to start from his subject, to hover for a time over some of the collateral topics in all of which his mind was interested, while Schiller moves straight forward, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, and, though embarrassed a little by the Kantian trappings which he wore for a time, gaining his mark at last with unerring certainty. Such were, in some of their leading features, the two men

1794, down to the death of Schiller in 1805, con

tinued almost in daily correspondence, as to their literary enterprises, and the culture of their minds. At this time Schiller held the Chair of History at Jena, though the state of his bealth, in 1793, had prevented his delivering his lectures as usual, or following out that grand outline of a historical course, which he had sketched in one of his essays. A pulmonary complaint left him but few intervals perfectly free from pain, and this tendency was increased by bis habits of study, which were prolonged far into the night. Goethe was living at Weimar at the court of the Duke, and holding an official situation in the government. Wars and rumours of wars then pervaded the continent. The tragedies of the French Revolution, and the threatened advance of their armies into Germany, filled all minds with anarchy. " We were almost afraid,' says Goethe, to rejoice at the fate of Robespierre, lest a worse should arise in his room. Families in the neighbourhood of the Rhine quitted their residences, and moved farther north. Valuables of all kinds were confided to the care of friends; Goethe had as much as would have filled a warehouse committed to him. All, in short, was restlessness, and uncertainty, and doubt; and this spirit pervaded literature as well as other things. An irreligious tendency and utilitarianism in philosophy, shallowness in criticism, a spirit of ridicule connected with all lofty feelings, were the characteristics of the times, and had been too much sanctioned even by the high talent of the reigning monarch of periodical criticism, Wieland. To arrest this spirit, to form the public mind to better things, and to supersede these principles of philosophy and criticism, Schiller projected a monthly periodical, · Die Horen,' (The Hours,) and endeavoured to draw round him a cycle of literary Paladins, equal to a task so arduous. To secure Goethe was, of course, one of the first objects. They had been introduced to each other some years before, but no intimacy then took place betwixt them; they had turned, as it were, their repelling poles to each other. But now, with his literary project so much at heart, Schiller wrote with earnestness; and Goethe, in a spirit of great candour and kindness, promised and gave his cordial support to the undertaking. He writes to Schiller, 4th September, 1794, as follows:

• I have a proposal to make to you. Next week the court goes to Eiscenach, and I shall be more alone and independent than I am likely to be again for some time. Could you not come and visit me? and stay with me during that time? You may pursue your labours as you will. We shall talk together when our hours suit, see such friends as most resemble ourselves, and part not without advantage. You shall live in your own way, and make yourself quite at home.

Schiller's answer gives rather a gloomy picture of his condition at the time.

I accept your kind invitation with pleasure, but earnestly beg that you will not let your domestic arrangements depend on me; for, alas ! the pain I feel obliges me, in general, to devote the whole morning to sleep, as it gives me no rest at night; nor can I even count upon an hour as certain during the day. You will look upon me, then, in your house, as one to whom no attention is to be paid; and, by allowing me to shut myself up as I please, prevent any other person's time or comfort from being dependent on mine. Order, which is so useful to other men, is my deadliest foe; for I have only to be aware that I must do something good within a given time, and I feel myself at once quite incapable of doing it.

• Excuse these preliminaries, they are really necessary to make my existence possible with you. I only beg the melancholy privilege of being an invalid at your house.'

Great part of the first volume, and, indeed, too much of the succeeding, are, accordingly, occupied with preparations for this periodical, and communications in regard to it. We cannot now, perhaps, enter with much interest into all these little minutiæ in the mysteries of editing, and, indeed, as true disciples of the bona dea' of reviewing, should hardly think ourselves justified in revealing them to the eye of day. But, in its generation, the Horen made a prodigious noise, partly owing, no doubt, to the great names which were associated in it as contributors; partly also to a less creditable source of interest, namely, that arising from its persevering system of literary sarcasm directed against the popular authors of the day. Great men and varied talents, it must be admitted, were combined in its support; but it was more doubtful whether, with the exception of Goethe and Schiller, they were the men best adapted to address themselves to the popular mind. Even Schiller was a little too apt to play the moralist at unseasonable times, and also to propound his critical theories of The Elevated,' • The Naive . and Sentimental, and so on, in the language of Kant's philosophy, which was, to the many, foolishness, or worse. Goethe, on the other hand, with his every-day book of pleasing elegies, and poetical epistles, bis memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini, and such like, relieved the somewhat stilted character of Schiller's essays, the subtlety of Jacobi and Fichte, and the eloquent, but often cloudy, theories of William Schlegel ; and like

• The gently warbling wind, low answered to all.' Jacobi's ideas were, in fact, far too remote from common apprehension ever to be very influential. The defects of Fichte and the Schlegels, are noticed by Schiller himself, Frederick Jacobi is to be a contributor. He interests me much as an individual, though I must confess that I cannot bring myself to assimilate o with his productions. Of Fichte and his philosophy he speaks thus, after a defence of his own Kantian creed, the permanency of which he has been maintaining :— With the philosophy of • our friend Fichte, the case will be otherwise. Strong opponents

are already rising up in his own neighbourhood, who do not • hesitate to say, that it all terminates in a subjective Spinozism. • He has got an old college friend, one Weisshuhn, sent hither,

apparently, with the view of preaching his doctrine. This • person, however, as I hear, who has a good pbilosopbical head,

thinks he bas discovered a hole in the system, and is going to • write against him. According to some verbal communications . of Fichte, for he had not yet come to the point in his book,

the “ Ego” is the creator of his own images, and all reality is • in the Ego himself. The world is but a ball which the Ego • has thrown up, and catches again by reflection of the Schlegels he writes thus at a later period (1798) to Goethe:• A certain earnestness and deep penetration into things, I cannot • deny to both the Schlegels, particularly the younger. But

this virtue is so mingled with egotistical and contradictory ingredients, that it loses much of its use and value. I must confess, too, that, in the criticisms of both, I find such a dreariness, such a dryness and mass of words, that I am often in doubt, whether any thing really lies beneath them. The . poetical labours of the elder, confirm me in this suspicion ; for . it is to me absolutely inconceivable, how the same individual, • who seems truly to comprehend your genius, and to feel, for instance, the beauty of your Hermann and Dorothea, can ever

bear, and far less like, the antipodical nature, the dreary and • heartless coldness, of his own.' Another matter, however, which at the time gave a particular notoriety to the Horen, was the series of epigrams, amounting to a thousand, called the Xenien, the joint production of Schiller and Goethe, directed against their literary enemies, and exposing their weak points with some wit, some coarseness, and, let us add, with an occasional spirit of rancour, which seems unworthy of Schiller's elevation of sentiment, and altogether inexplicable in the tranquil and self-balanced Goethe. The natural result of these somewhat gratuitous attacks was, that although some, like Wieland, only revenged themselves as literary men ought, by urbanity, most of the smaller men that were assailed,-Nicolai and the set of the Nicolaitanes, for instance,-retorted upon these literary Ishmaelites, in articles of all kinds, critical, sarcastic, poetical, or merely abusive, aecording to the powers or turn of mind of the

« PreviousContinue »