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ARt. I. German Romance: Specimens of its chief Authors; with Biographical and Critical Notices. By the translator of Wilhelm Miester, and author of the life of Schiller. 4 vols. 12mo. 11, 16s. Edinburgh and London: Tait (Fleet Street). 1827.
OUR literature has of late been so rapidly presented with “selections,’ ‘specimens,’ and ‘translations,’ of German Romance, that unless the rage for such importations shall speedily cease, we seem destined to be invaded by the whole prolific race of Teutonic hobgoblins, night-mares, and other brain-prodigies. Within less than twelve months, we have been called upon to notice in our pages as many volumes of German fiction, which have been rendered into English in quick succession by Messrs. Soane, Roscoe, and Gillies; and we have now here four more tomes of the same goodly stuff, from the pen of Mr. Carlisle, whose translations of Wii. Meister, and Life of Schiller, are extant for sufficient warrants of qualifications and tastes suitable to his present enterprise. It appears to us, however, that Mr. Carlisle, and other writers, whose abilities are really respectable, might have converted their labour of translation to a more useful purpose, had they employed it upon the historical and other sound portions of German literature, rather than upon the trash of fiction, which, at best, is fit only for the meridian of our circulating libraries and watering places. Even in these volumes, the only merit which Mr. 3. should think worth the claiming, is not in the translated tales themselves, but in the biographical accounts of their authors, which he has collected from German materials. Having chosen his collection from the writings of Musgeus, La Motte Fouqué, Tieck, Hoffmann, Jean Paul Richter, and Göthe, he has prefixed to his specimens a little memoir of the life and writings of each of these six novelists; and the mass of biography and criticism which he has thus accumulated, forms infinitely the most attractive portion of his work. WOL. W. No. xxii. M
Here we are at least introduced to a few authentic pictures of real German character; and the light which two or three of these sketches throw upon the state of the national society and literature, is both extremely entertaining, and apparently faithful.
The first volume is occupied by Musceus and La Motte Fouqn6. In the memoir of the latter, a patrician of French descent, and an enthusiast of chivalry, who is still in existence, there is little to interest: but the former was a true German of the middle ranks of life. Johann August Mu6oeus was born in the year 1735, at Jena, in Prussia, of a respectable legal family, and was bred to the church. He studied with sufficient industry, but his pursuits and tastes were not probably very theological; and when a country living near Eisenach was offered to him, the people stoutly resisted the admission of their new pastor, on the ground that he had once been seen dancing. This opposition defeated or disgusted him in his clerical views, to which his lively, though innocent, temper and sparkling talents were not most congenial. He had meanwhile been steadily enriching his mind with useful and ornamental knowledge; and he gave up his destined profession with easy philosophy.
'In his twenty-fifth year he became an author; a satirist, and, what is rarer, a just one. Germany, by the report of its enemies and lukewarm friends, is seldom long without some idol; some author of superhuman endowments; some system that promises to renovate the earth; some science destined to conduct, by a north-west passage, to universal knowledge. At this period the brazen image of the day was our English Richardson: his Novels had been translated into German with unbounded acceptance ;* and Grandison was figuring in many weak heads as the sole model ofka true Christian gentleman. Musaus published his German Grandison in 1760; a work of good omen as a first attempt; and received with greater favour than the popularity of its victim seemed to promise. It co-operated with time in removing this spiritual epidemic, and appears to have survived its object, for it was reprinted in 1781.'— vol. i., p. 3.
It was not until after an interval of nineteen years, that the appearance of anew subject for ridicule again called forth the satirical talents of Musceus. Lavater had left his parsonage amongthe Alps, and set out on a cruize over Europe, in search of proselytes and striking physiognomies. He and his theories became so much the general rage in Germany, that Musceus was provoked 'to grasp his satirical hammer, and with lusty stokes unshrine the false divinity.' His 'Physiognomical Travels,' which appeared in 1779, overwhelmed the speculations of Lavater with felicitous ridicule; and the burlesque itself, though the occasion of its wit is long passed, is still ranked by German critics among the happiest productions of
* See the letters of Meta, Klopstock's lady, in Richardson's Life and Correspondence.
its kind in the national literature. The universal favour with which this work was received, betrayed, or tempted, Musoeus forth from his anonymous obscurity; and he became immediately enrolled among "the lights of his age."
His success inspired him with fresh enterprise; and he was now the first of his countrymen to strike out a new course of literary adventure. He had always been charmed with the popular traditions of the byegone ages of Germany; and ' their rugged Gothic vigour became dearer to his taste, as he looked abroad upon the mawkish deluge of sentimentality, for which the " Sorrows of Werter" had been the signal for a legion of imitators to drown the land.' It occurred to Musoeus, that the existing fragments of German legends might be worked up and polished anew, and transferred from the hearths of the common people, to the parlours of the intellectual and refined. Such was the origin of his Volksm'ahrchen, or Popular Traditionary Tales, which appeared in five little volumes in 1782, by which alone he has been hitherto known to English readers. In the collection of materials for this work, says his Biographer,
'He spared no pains and despised no source of intelligence, however mean. He would call children from the street; become a child along with them, listen to their nursery tales, and reward his tiny narrators with a dreyer apiece. Sometimes he assembled a knot of old women, with their spinningwheels, about him; and amid the hum of their industrious implements, gathered stories of the ancient time from the lips of the garrulous sisterhood. Once his wife had been out paying visits: on opening the parlour door at her return, she was met by a villanous cloud of tobacco-smoke; and venturing forward through the haze, she found her husband seated by the stove, in company with an old soldier who was smoking vehemently on bis black stump of a pipe, and charming his landlord, between whiffs, with legendary lore.'
In the compilation of a second series of tales, under the title of Straussfedern (Ostrich feathers), Musoeus was arrested by the hand of death. He had Jong been in weakly health, and his disorder, which proved to be a polypus of the heart, put a period to his existence in 1787, and before the completion of his fifty-second year. The Straussfedern were completed by another hand; and a small volume of Remains, edited by Kotzebue, in 1791, concludes the list of his writings.
Musoeus does not approach the first rank of writers. His best qualities, are sprightliness, and a certain vein of humorous expression: but he has neither much high imagination, nor any great depth of feeling, or power of thought. He was a man of considerable and various talent, but not of original genius. Even in his traditional tales, he has shewn no capacity for the poetry of his subject: he has not caught the finest spirit of which this species of fiction is susceptible; and he is too fond of converting his stories into occasions for the provoking of merriment, rather than the excitement of romantic interest.
The second volume of Mr. Carlisle's series is devoted to Tieck and Hoffnnann. Of the personal history of Ludwig Tieck, his biographer has been able to collect scarcely any particulars which are interesting. The course of. his fortunes seems to have been undisturbed by striking vicissitudes: he has never filled any profession except that of a man of letters; and the circumstances of his private life are little known, even in Germany itself. As a sound dramatic critic, the talents and reputation of Mr. Tieck deservedly rank much higher than as a mere compiler of fantastical and unnatural fiction. So enthusiastic is his passion for the stage, that he has made the theatrical tour of Europe; and we have had occasion to notice with applause his critical remarks on the state of our drama, which were the results of a visit to this country, undertaken expressly for such purpose in 1818. Upon these best products and characteristics of Mr. Tieck's mind, his biographer has scarcely dwelt; while he has too ambitiously endeavoured to claim for him, in his capacity of romance-writer, the possession of true poetic genius. But we do not in any respect agree with Mr Carlisle in his conception of the intellectual character of Tieck: as a critic, we conceive that he deserves far higher praise than he has received; but, so far as his romances are concerned, instead of the pure inspiration of poetry which is here attributed to his inventions, we can discern only the gross and monstrous creations of a distempered fancy. Mr. Tieck is still living; and we learn from Mr. Carlisle, that a new production of his pen has lately resulted from his visit to England. He is said to have written a novel on Shakspeare and his times, in which he has not trembled to introduce, as living characters, the great dramatist himself, with Marlowe and various other poets of the same epoch. We shall be anxious to see this notable attempt; and it will certainly be a matter of po small curiosity to observe, what sort of heterogeneous improbabilities he has succeeded in exhibiting for the veracious delineation of our far-famed '* Elizabethan age."
From Hoffmann we have here only a single tale; but this is introduced by an entertaining and even instructive memoir of the author,'full of touches of German real life, which cannot be mistaken. As we have here to deal chiefly with his literary career, we shall only observe, that, during seven years, his life differed little from that of the most needy strolling-player; but it is honourable to him, that in all his straits, he appears to have disdained to receive pecuniary assistance. At length, in the extremity of his distress, he was driven to literature for subsistence; but it was by dire necessity, not by choice. In his youth, the rejection by the booksellers of a novel which he had written, had filled him with a disgust of authorship; and it was, as a last resource, that he was led to offer contributions to a Leipzig magazine. For this work were all his most popular tales, under the t'tle of Fantasiestiicke, or Fantasy-Pieces, thus originally written.