Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER IV.

OEHLENSCHLÄ G E R.

WE now come to the greatest poet of Denmark, and perhaps of the North. The only writer who can be brought into comparison with him is Tegnér, the Swedish poet. Both are genuine poets of a high order and of a kindred genius; but while Tegnér perhaps excels Oehlenschläger in tenderness and delicacy of feeling, Oehlenschläger certainly transcends Tegnér in vigour, and in the wide and varied field in which he has exerted it. Frithiofs Saga stands as the only great poem of Tegnér : without that, he would be reduced to the simple rank of a lyrical poet, and would stand as the author of short compositions which might find many parallels in merit. But Oehlenschläger is the author of a host of works, epic, dramatic and lyrical, which altogether place him on an elevation for masculine strength, richness of topic, prolific invention, and genial confidence of execution, which no other Northern writer comes near. In Tegnér we are charmed with his exquisite sensibility and almost feminine softness and fulness of heart, with a purity of thought and feeling equally feminine, and with a fancy roseate and delicious as the early sky of a summer morning.

So nume

Occasionally he puts forth a power which surprises us, because it is so little seen in general, that we forget that it exists. But in Oehlenschläger the sense of manly vigour is not occasional, it is permanent. It is one of the qualities which stands forth as pre-eminent and characteristic. It is so constant and prevailing an element, that we should not recognise Oehlenschläger without it. In delicacy of feeling he is far inferior to Tegnér; and he is by no means so uniformly correct in his taste. He often offends our sense of purity by descriptions that are voluptuous, not to say sensual ; and not unfrequently as much offends our sense of ideal propriety by a machinery of the wildest and most extravagant kind. But his horizon is so extensive, his creations are rous and so nobly developed ; there is so much human life and action, based on the strongest sense and the most healthy passion, that we can pass over the dark nooks, and the occasionally repulsive scenes of his magnificent dominions, and forgetting them as we forget such things in nature, revel in the amplitude of his atmosphere, and the wild beauty of his scenery and his characters.

Oehlenschläger, as we have already observed, stands like a young giant at the opening of the nineteenth century, as its representative in the North-as the represen

, tative of the ampler, the more genial and natural spirit of the time. With Scott and Byron in England, Goethe and Schiller in Germany, he is the growth of a great era, in which the soul of mighty events looks forth in new and divine forms, and casts down all dead shapes and the hollow surface-work of imitations. Instead of being called the romantic school, in opposition to the classical, it should be called, as we have already asserted, the universal school, in opposition to the confined and servilely copying school. Jean Paul says the romantic is synonymous with

.

the infinite; and in that he says true--for nature is infinite, and the so-called romantic school is the school of nature. Instead of slavishly looking back to see what has been done, in order to do something like it, till the world is filled, as it has been, by so-called poets and romancers, with repetitions of the same small things, each more cold and contemptible than that which preceded it, the great modern writers have looked to nature for their guidance in producing something which was new and living. It is not the use of supernatural, of spiritual machinery, which makes the difference between the so-called romantic and classic schools, as we have shown, but it is the use of whatever exists in life and nature, or which may be conceived of in unseen worlds, in accordance with those great principles of physical and intellectual being, which from analogy we may suppose run through, and, to a certain degree, govern and mould, the illimitable uniThose

very classical writers which the old school pretended to follow, employed all the agencies of myths and superstitions to an extent far beyond what any modern writer could venture to use them. Gods, demons, dryads, naiads, nereids ; Tartarus and Elysium, swarming with horrors, with monsters, and with shadowy existences, are the grand staple of their writings. No authors can possibly be more romantic. In modern days, Pope, Boileau, Racine, Gay, and even Darwin, men as classical, as correct, as French, or as dull as you please, all introduce ideal existences, and often of such intellectual rank only as sylphs, gnomes, ordinary apparitions, or the humble guardians of a tree or a hair. Therein lies not the distinction of the so-called classical school, but that it wanted enterprize, originality and nature. It looked to other men, and not to God and the universe, for models to work by, and thence came deadness and spirit-loathed monotony.

verse.

>

With the end of the eighteenth century came the end of this “ worn-out creed." Great souls sent by the Great Spirit, by the Divine Providence which intends in this, as in all worlds, progress and diffusive intelligence, appeared on the stage, and saw they were not in a charnelhouse, but in a universe, and that it “was very good.” All nature, with her seas and mountains; all life, with its pleasures and its passions, with its great and little souls, with its attractions and repulsions mingling and clashing into great events and little events, the fragments of the greater, was open to them, and was the eternal and inexhaustible material of ever new and entrancing forms. They were men of a calibre fit for the work of such a universe. They cared little for what was done, but asked eagerly of their own souls what they could shape all fresh and living out of such a world of capabilities. And, accordingly, we at once become conscious of the immense difference between the productions of the two schools. In the one, all is death and frost; in the other, all is warmth and life. In the one, we look back through rows and crowds of so-called lyric and occasional verse writers, till we seem to be in a vast gallery all of miniature paintings -many beautiful enough in themselves, but so small in their dimensions, and so exactly like ten thousand of their neighbours in their neat and Lilliputian grace, that we soon grow heartily tired of them. In the other case, we do not seem to be in a gallery at all, but in actual halls, inansions of the living, parks and wide domains. We amongst great men and great things. Within, we look on great pictures, and listen to great strains of music. Without, we find ourselves gazing on glorious heaths, wander

e are

а

ing along the margin of dashing seas, sailing to fairy, forest-crowned islands, penetrating into mountain valleys, with all the ruined towers of traditionandofancient chivalry above our heads. Everywhere is the stamp of greatness, and of vitality, for we are in the hands of mighty men armed with the creative energies of a divine commission, and who, therefore, like Moses, work miracles far beyond the utmost arts of the magicians of Egypt or of any other country. That is the actual and essential difference between the two schools; and no ringing of the changes of criticism, or the empty phrases of objective and subjective, esthetic, original and specific, will help us to annihilate it. “Let the dead bury the dead !” once said a divine voice on earth. Our business is to enjoy the living creations of the living, and when we find ourselves charmed with a work of literature, when our hearts warm to it and expand to it, then our instinct, which is the truest criticism, tells us that we are in the company of a man true to God, to nature, and to himself: and therefore his works are great.

Such a man was Oehlenschläger. As Scott saw all the history, tradition and characteristic manners of his country lying untouched before him, so Oehlenschläger saw all the history and mythology of the North lying equally unappropriated at his feet. Evald and Pram had entered the field, but had not explored it. The discovery of the affluence, physical or intellectual, which is to become the aliment of a new era, always awaits—the hour and the

Till they arrive, Providence throws the veil of an impenetrable invisibility over it. In California and Australia, the gold which is now gathering by ship-loads, lay scattered on the open surface through all ages, but no one could perceive it. The keen-eyed Indian, who could detect the trail of an enemy

where no other

eye

could

[ocr errors]

man.

« AnteriorContinuar »