Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

individual; and with as great a superiority, in point of coarseness, as a deficiency in point of wit. Thus an unseemly feud was prolonged through all the numbers of the Horen, till the work was finally dropped in 1799.

But, besides this periodical, which certainly forms the main subject of the letters during the years 1794, 1795, and 1796, other literary enterprises, on which the writers were respectively engaged, are occasionally alluded to, or criticised. Faust, begun during the earlier and more unsettled period of Goethe's views, and long laid aside, had been about this time resumed, and by slow degrees was forming itself into shape,-if that name can be given to the mutilated and Torso-like form, in which as yet it lies before us. Schiller, who had seen some of the scenes, and who had been deeply struck with the effect of these Titanian fragments, urges him strenuously in his letters to persevere; but Goethe seems to bave felt the task a very troublesome

one;

and while he is labouring hard at botany and mineralogy, and dissecting butterflies, writing romances and translations, getting up dramas and operas for the Weimar stage-not to mention his duties as Prime Minister-shuffles off the completion of that strange drama as long as possible. My ideas on the subject,' says he, in the conclusion of one of his letters to Schiller, are like

powders which have precipitated themselves in water ; after . you have shaken them a little, they seem to be uniting, but

the moment you let them alone, down they go to the bottom.' Still, however, the work proceeded, and had made some progress, when Schiller writes again, June, 1797 : Your resolu

tion to proceed with Faust really delights and surprises me, * particularly when you are preparing for a journey to Italy. • But I bave long ago given up the idea of measuring you by . the common rules of logic, and have no doubt that your ge

nius will extricate you triumphantly out of all. Your request, • that I should communicate to you my expectations and desires, • is not easily fulfilled. But this much I may remark here, that • Faust, (I mean the piece,) notwithstanding its poetical individuality, cannot divest itself of a certain symbolical air and meaning, as was probably your idea. The attempt to illustrate

the double nature of man, and the hopeless contest between • the godlike and the physical in his constitution, is always • kept in view; and, although the fable diverges into the form« less and the terrible, we do not rest satisfied with the mere • subject before us, but are guided to it by deeper ideas. One great difficulty which I foresee, seems to me this, that, in or• der fully to unfold your idea, a mass of materials will be re

quired, which, I fear, no poetical band will embrace. For

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

instance, Faust should, according to my idea, be conducted ójnto actual life ; and whatever subject you may select for that, • still seems to me, in its nature, to require too great length and • breadth. In as far as regards the manner of treatment, I think

you have successfully overcome the main difficulty, between • the serious and comic. It is a subject on which the intellect

and the feelings fight, as it were, for life and death. In its present . fragmentary form, this is much felt in Faust; but we suspend

our expectations till the whole is unfolded. The Devil seems in 'the right before the tribunal of the understanding, and Faust

before that of the heart. Another difficulty I have is, that the Devil, by the realism of his character, seems to destroy his

own existence, which is ideal. The mind can conceive him only as he is presented in action before it.' Goethe expresses his pleasure at the encouragement afforded to him by Schiller :

Your remarks on Faust were very encouraging to me; they * fall in, as might have been expected, very naturally with my plans and projects, save that, I must confess, I begin to take this barbarous composition more easily, and rather intend to touch upon

than to exhaust all its demands :- so that the feel'ings and the heart, after pommelling each other all day like 'two cudgel players, shall lie down quietly beside each other in the evening.'

With Wilhelm Meister, however, which had long been maturing in his mind, he proceeded rapidly. Of this singular novel we have already spoken. With great talent in parts, with much eloquence, much profound observation and acute criticism, and some pathos, its airy, theatrical, unreal look, must always render it a stumbling-block in this country, as indeed it did in Germany on its first appearance. Goethe had already attained too high a position in literature to allow the critical flock to laugh at this tedious and planless novel, as Mr Taylor of Norwich boldly terms it, but they felt completely puzzled, and wist not what to do;-standing stock-still, like Dante's sheep, till some adventurous belwether should take the lead.

• Come le pecorelle escon dal chiuso,
A una, a due, a tre; e l'altre stanno,
Timidette, atterrando l'occhio e l'muso

E cio che fa la prima e l'altre fanno.' Accordingly, as soon as William Schlegel, by his ingenious, but, as it appears to us, not a little sophistical, criticism in the Karacteristiken, bad given the key-note, all voices were uplifted in its praise. Schiller, who had seen the work in its progress, had already committed himself by a favourable opinion. He writes, (7th January, 1795,) • I return you my best thauks for

the copy of your romance, (the two first books,) I cannot better express the feeling I experienced on reading it, and in an in.creasing degree as I proceeded, than by a sweet and internal sensation of comfort, and feeling both of bodily and mental health ; and such, I am sure, will be its impression on the mass

of readers. I account for this sensation by the clearness, equa.bility, and transparency which reigns throughout, which leaves

behind nothing that can annoy or discompose the mind, and • which gives no greater rapidity to the action than is necessary * to lend cheerfulness to life. I cannot express the painful sensation I feel on turning from a production of this nature to look into my own being. With you, all is so cheerful, so loving, so harmoniously blended,—so true to humanity:-with me, every thing so harsh, so rigid, and abstract—and so unnatural; for all nature is synthesis, and all philosophy antithesis. True, I may venture to bear witness in my own favour, that I have adhered to nature as truly as was reconcilable with the idea of analysis ; nay, perhaps a little more truly than some of our Kantists would have thought allowable. But not the less distinctly do I feel the difference between life and mere abstrac* tion; and in such melancholy moments, I cannot but consider as a defect in my nature, what in more cheerful hours I perhaps would look upon as a natural property in the thing itself. This much is indeed certain, that the poet is the only true man, and the best philosopher but a caricature beside him.'

As the work proceeded, it was communicated, book by book, to Schiller, who never fails to express his admiration of those qualities to which, in the letter last quoted, he alludes. Many suggestions, too, were made by him as to individual incidents, and adopted by Goethe, and many acute and deep remarks upon the delineation of particular characters. We doubt much, however, whether many of our readers will sympathize to the full extent with Schiller's enthusiastic criticisms; but they are illustrative of his own nature, and may perhaps, by our German readers, be received with as much reverence as the opinions of Mr Taylor. They show, at all events, that Schiller saw plainly enough the objections that might be urged against it, and was disposed to allow to them considerable weight.

I now understand you completely,' he writes, (2d Jaly, 1796,) when you said that it was peculiarly the beautiful and true which bad the power of affecting you even to tears. Calm and deep, clear, and yet unfathomable as nature itself, the work stands before us, and acts on us; and every thing, even the plightest collateral point in it, shows the transparency, the equality nind from which the whole has flowed. How have v

d in combining in one, so vast a circle of persons and events? It looks like some fair coherent planetary system, and only the Italian figures, like comet shapes, and, fearful like them, connect this system with another higher and more distant: all these forms, too, as well as those of Mariana and Aurelia, detach themselves, like heterogeneous beings. from the system, as soon as they have served to give it a poetical impulse. ... If I were to express the goal at which Wilhelm arrives after a long course of wanderings, I would say, he moves from the sphere of a vague and indefinite ideal, into a definite and active life, but without sacrificing his idealizing power. The two opposite erroneous paths which mislead him from this desirable consummation, are indicated in the romance, in every possible shade and degree. From that unfortunate expedition, when he is going to bring out a play without having thought on the subject, to the moment when he chooses Theresa for his wife, he has run through the whole circle of humanity ;—these two extremes, are the two highest contrasts of which such a character is capable. That he is now

[graphic]

under the cheerful guidance of nature, (through Felix,) led back from the ideal to the real, from longing effort to action, and the knowledge of the actual, and yet without sacrificing what was real in his first period of endeavour ;—that he learns how to bound his views, yet in this very restraint preserves a passage into the infinite ;—this I call the crisis of his life, the end of his apprenticeship; and towards this, all the preparations in the work appear to me most perfectly to unite ;the tender relation of nature towards his child, the union with Natalia's noble and feminine excellence, secure the preservance of his mental health, and we perceive that we part from him on a road that will lead to infinite perfection.

• The manner in which you express yourself as to your idea of the “ apprenticeship” and “mastership," seems to assign to both too narrow bounds. You seem to understand under the first, merely the error of seeking beyond ourselves, what the internal man can himself bring forth : under the second, the conviction of this internal power, and of the necessity of self-production. But will the whole life of Wilhelm, as it lies before us in the work, be explained by this formula ? or will this developement arise naturally, merely from the developement of paternal affection in his heart, as is done in the seventh book ? What I would wish is, that the bearing of all the scattered limbs of the work upon this philosophical conception, were rendered a little more obvious. The fable, I would say, is perfectly true ;—so is the moral of the fable, but their relation to each other is not made sufficiently palpable.

I would also wish that the meaning and bearing of your machinery were made a little plainer to the reader. This should always be obvious in the economy of the whole, though it may be concealed from the actors. Many readers, I am afraid, will perceive, in the secret impulses to which Wilhelm is subjected, nothing but a theatrical display, and an artifice to increase the complexity of the fable, to awaken surp ise, and so forth. TI 8th book, it is true, gives a historical explanation of the different events which have been brought about by this machinery; but an æsthetical explanation of the internal spirit and poetical necessity of these preparations, isnot satisfactorily given; I myself only came to appreciate them on a second or third reading.

• If I have any thing to object to on the whole, it is this ;-that amidst the deep earnestness which reigns in the poets, and by means of which they operate so strongly, the imagination seems to play rather too freely with the whole. I think you have pushed the free grace of movement a little farther than was consistent with poetical seriousness, and, in your just anxiety to avoid the exaggerated, methodical, and stiff, have rather run into the opposite extreme. I think I can perceive that a certain condescension towards the weak side of the public, has induced you to adopt a more theatrical purpose, and more theatrical means, than are suitable to a romance. If ever a poetical tale could dispense with the assistance of the wonderful or surprising, it is your romance, and that which is not necessary to the work may very easily be injurious to it. It may thus happen, that the attention is directed to the accidental, rather than to the essential, and wastes in solving riddles that which should have been concentrated in the internal spirit of the work.'

Though Schiller here puts his objections to the romance delicately enough, and even represents them as only likely to occur to the mass of readers, it seems plain that he, too, had his doubts as to this singular book, and desiderated a little more of plain every-day life in it—not the life of a company of stageplayers, nor those coups de théâtre wbich Goethe pretty unsparingly employs in this romance—but common feelings dwelt on with some earnestness, some warmth and permanency, and where the supposed philosophical or æsthetic mortal was kept a little more in the back ground. He suggested to him, too, the necessity of a pendant to the apprenticeship,- viz. a picture of Wilhelm's mastership; an idea which Goethe has since realized to a certain extent, in his fragment of the Wanderjahre;' though that work certainly does not show that Schiller's advice as to the defects of the first had made any serious impression, since it is, if possible, more shadowy and unreal than its predecessors, and in its general bearing seems to have no more relation to the things of this earth, than to the New Jerusalem, as imaged forth in the visions of Swedenborg.

While Goethe was thus engaged, Schiller was not less active, in as far as the state of his health, which was latterly affected by every change of weather, would allow. During the first five years to which these letters refer, he was engaged in the composition of his great historical play, or rather series of plays, on the subject of Wallenstein, and many interesting particulars relative to the progress of the work may be gleaned from the correspondence. The care with which the whole was studied and arranged, is almost inconceivable. With the subject itself, he had made himself intimately acquainted in a historical point

VOL. LIII. NO. CV.

G

« PreviousContinue »