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From Steffens, an author whom the pen of Mrs. Austin has made known to your public, in one of her best critical reviews (in which review she introduced various well-chosen and well-translated extracts from his works,)—from this Steffens we have received two new volumes, the seventh and eighth of his work, “What I have lived through,” “ Was ich erlebte.” They paint Steffens's short period of warlike existence with most inimitable nuïveté. His Address to the Students of Germany, in Breslau, at the very moment when the declaration of war against France was on the point of being made, has become universally known amongst us. His spirit-raising words were of the greatest use; they inflamed with the desire for action the fresh souls of our youths, who soon afterwards, with the permission of the king, were formed into a militia corps, under the direction of Steffens, and eventually were entitled “Garde-Jäger Bataillons.
Without ever having learnt the exercises, or any one other part of a soldier's services, - without, therefore, strictly speaking, having ever become a soldier, though he attained to the rank of lieutenant,-our most amiable and learned Professor made the whole of the campaigns of the years 1813 and 1814, and that in the immediate vicinity of Scharnhorst, Blücher, and Gneisenau. The sincerity with which he paints his sonal awkwardnesses, and ramblings, as it were, by the side of the army, independent of its general march, is so full of truth and nature, as to become an actual beauty of sentiment. In general, he is altogether incapable of forming a clear conception of the position of the troops : he wanders through the battle-field, without any one appointed post; and, in short, the pacific nature of the philosopher, amidst the wild uproar of war and conflict, has in it something which is positively touching and even delightful.
The cool courage which enables him, after the first short attack of the so-called “cannon-fever," to stand exposed to the shower of bullets with the indifference of an experienced veteran, seems the more interesting in such a quiet character: the many important commissions with which he is entrusted, such as—the formation of a corps of voluntaries, called a “ Landsturm," in Landeshut-the embassage to Bernadotte, &c.—and the events which occurred in Marburg, when the troops had not yet reached Westphalia, and the inhabitants were therefore necessarily called upon to arm themselves in their land's defence,-all these things and occasions show that Steffens was of no little importance in his peculiar station. On other occasions, again, his silent but outwardly inactive influence on all his comrades in arms might be compared to a banner, which by its symbolic power at once encourages friends, and invites the attacks of foes, without possessing any active means of repelling their onslaught.
The development of his philosophical system, which occupies the greater part of the eighth volume, might seem hard of understanding to foreigners, without explanatory notes: the narrowness of the bounds allotted me in this publication do not admit of any critical examination of that system, and I will therefore only say, that the deeply poetical, and, even in its weaknesses, most estimable character of the author, clearly displays itself also in this more scientific portion of his work.
Gustav Kühne, whom I have also already named to you, has presented us with “ Portraits and Silhouettes," a book which may possibly have many parts, but as yet has only one; and which displays a very Janus-head, an old and a new countenance, to our regards. Here we find critical articles and reviews, partly belonging to our own, and partly to a somewhat earlier period, on the sayings and doings of the most remarkable men and women of this century. To these are appended observations on, and notices of, the new painters and schools of painting of Europe.
Amongst the so-called “portraits," we may particularise the figure of Schleiermacher, one of our most celebrated divines, as being drawn with great care, and forming evidently a labour of love. It paints liis course of action in many different respects--a course modified by an all but endless number of imperceptible influences arising from the experiences of his life,–in the most faithful, clear, and admirable manner. Kant stands somewhat further from our author, and is not, perhaps, as clearly appreciated by him. Of Bettina von Arnim, on the other hand, and her talented husband, the author Achim von Arnim, a foreigner may really form a tolerably clear idea to himself from the perusal of Kühne's portraiture of them; and at all events he will be able to trace the source of our German opinions in these criticisms, and learn the manner in which we are accustomed to regard the productions of our authors, and draw them all together into one general estimate of their powers and capabilities.
The Janus-head alluded to above, shows what I should call its young face, after a somewhat eccentric fashion, in the “ Monologues ;” “ The Pains and Pleasures of Watering Places ;" “ The Search of Art for Bread, &c. &c.” These things were written some ten years ago. This head, or part of the head, wears a species of satirical perruque which already appears old-fashioned in the extreme. There is much mannerism, both in the apparent tendencies which here bear sway, and the violent expressions, which alternate hastily from the highest peak of the sublime to the lowest vale of the common-place. have an unnatural springing of ideas from one subject to another, from Vandyk and the English court which patronised him, to the Duchess Anna Amalia of Weimar, and Schiller and Goethe, and this without any connecting link, apparently from pure caprice, if not chance. Although we women are fond of indulging ourselves in this vague mental rope-dancing, we do not at all like it in men, knowing too well the deficiencies which we generally conceal beneath this vain glitter. Besides, there is something “capricieux," something coquettish, in this style of writing, which befits us far better than the self-styled lords of creation. In these earlier articles we find many assertions with respect to Goethe's works, which do not meet with general assent or approval amongst us Germans, and which Kühne himself would not have made in his works of a later day. Altogether they form a
brilliant whole, a mental “ feu de joie" as it were, “spirituel " but not always pleasing.
If any one wishes on the other hand to assure himself of the complete transformation which has taken place in the ways of thinking of pristine young Germany's heroes, he cannot do better than compare these critiques from the years 1835 and 1836, which are scattered throughout the entire volume, with the reviews from the more immediate present which constitute the old side of the Janus-head. How clear and moderate seem these opinions and views on the various interesting topics of the day, in contradistinction to the lightning flashes of wit which illuminated the earlier disquisitions,-bright, indeed but also most fleeting, most irregular!
Amongst these later articles, the most remarkable seemed to me to be one “on the Ghost-seers of our days." We find an extraordinary variety of things, persons, and subjects, discussed in the course of the work—a proof of the “ many-sidedness" of the author. David Strauss, Bruno Bauer, Varnhagen von Ense, Prince Pückler, Steinberg, Laube, and Gervinus, all find their fitting places, not to speak of the numberless French and Düsseldorf painters, sketches of whom are here given to us. But there is nothing disagreeable, nothing painful, in this seeming confusion : Young Germany may be said to have ripened into manhood in Kühne, who regards the world around him, with all its shows and marvels, solemnly, often sadly, still more often sarcastically, but ever impartially, and without party spirit.
Willibald Alexis has given us two historical novels lately,—"The False Waldemar," in three volumes; and, quite recently, another in two parts, entitled “ Urbain Grandier.” In his preface to the latter work, he says, “ Whilst engaged in studies of a very different nature, I accidentally came upon the most horrible tragedy ever known, which a fatal error conjured into existence in France. A novel this work is not; it is all true, and supported by the evidences of history, law archives, and numberless manuscripts. No one of the dramatis persone, or of their actions, is invented; even the smallest details are correct : amongst others, the description of that insignificant source from which all these evils took their origin, that childish sport of young girls who guessed not what horrible consequences their enfantillages' would call into being. But the naked truth of this story seemed so frightful, so terrific, that the mind could not reconcile itself to its contemplation, without striving to account for it on the score of some devilish intrigue, which should alone have led to such results. On this account, then, I thought it necessary to look for another phase of truth which was not to be found on record; for some psychological process, some inward mental cause, which might sever such unheard of, such wonderful results from the realms of chance, and, what I would term, bare cannibal wickedness. This explanation, this mental development of causes and effects, alone forms the novel."
• Here our fair correspondent quotes a German proverb or saying, appositely enough, the force of which would be lost in English. It runs thus :-"Were it a cake, 'twould still be warm."
Well known is the history of those Ursuline Nuns in Laudun, who at the time of Louis XIII. were possessed by numberless devils; well known are the lawsuits which sprang from that source ; the assemblies of the learned doctors of ihe Sorbonne, &c. &c. The Roman Catholic priest, “ Urbain Grandier," who was burnt to death at the stake, in the year 1634, after having been most fearfully tortured, and exposed to endless persecutions by the Romish clergy, has already been more than once employed as the hero of a romance. Nor need this be wondered at, when it is considered that he was thus condemned for having sent devils enclosed in all manner of objects, such as roses, birds, articles of apparel, &c., not only to nuns, but also to many other both noble and plebeian females of the city; and having thus proved himself a conjuror and a servant of the devil. The real truth of the matter was not discovered, and Grandier fell a victim to that power, the head and mainspring of which was then the Cardinal Richelieu. The supposed possession with devils in the form of cramps or epilepsy appeared to spread epidemically, one example ever calling up another. According to the explanations of modern writers, Grandier would appear to have been a kind of ecclesiastical reformer, verging towards protestantism, and to have fallen a prey to mere bigotry, like many others who shared his opinions. But it is not thus that Willibald Alexis regards his character. He gives him a species of magnetic power of attraction, a magical inexplicable charm, which forces all women to admire him, even against their will. He joins to his well known eloquence the greatest manly beauty, and a violent yet poetically flaming sensuality, which draw numberless victims into his power ; victims, who, when they are again deserted and forgotten by Grandier, neither seek nor wish to take revenge on him. That he was the favourite of women is an historical fact. No less certain is it that the morals of the clergy of that day were most depraved. In our author's present work he has employed the “ elements” here referred to with very great power and discrimination : deep psychological truths are therein developed ; and a rich variety of characters is introduced in the description of all the different women who loved this magnetic being ; all the real details, too, which have become known, such as the first alarm of the nuns by the “pensionnaires” of the convent, are drawn with great truth and vigour, so that the whole forms a true and a striking historical picture of those times. Still, it must be admitted that there is scarcely sufficient story for two volumes, so that we are not hurried on with great interest from chapter to chapter; and there is something monotonous and painful in the whole book, despite the remarkable circumstance that every thing therein recounted may be really and positively true! Yes-none can deny that the explanation here given may be the true key to this strange historical problem ; but if it is so, does not this very explanation whelm us in a flood of still more mysterious doubts and wonders ? On this account, clever and remarkable as it undoubtedly is, this work does not seem to me to be a gratifying production of our all-analysing era.
You ask, what is thought of Bettina's last work? Do you know that an Ariadne's thread of a rope's thickness would be needful to conduct one safely through the labyrinth of this book, with all its thousand interests and intermingled ranges of thought? And that if this thread should ever break, I, for my own part at least, could never hope to get out from its mazy labyrinth to the clear daylight again? But, to come to the point,-Frau von Arnim's work did indeed create a great momentary sensation on its first appearance. It had been long announced and expected, and its very title set all the people wondering—for it was entitled “This Book belongs to the King." The allusions therein contained to every imaginable, political, artistical, philosophical, or social subject of interest, thrown together in almost end. Jess diversity; and the often poetically beautiful, but, often too, most disagreeably hopping and springing style employed, naturally called the attention of the most highly educated classes to this work, which yet found but a small circle of readers. The hovering, flying, all-grasping, and nothing-retaining thoughts of this talented woman, dazzle our imaginations, and surprise us ever anew; but yet often offend our reasoning faculties, and generally leave behind them no decided impression of any kind, despite the admiration which we are compelled to yield to them. This too hasty power of creation throws out an endless number of thronging forms and ideas, which sometimes excite most deep emotion, sometimes raise our laughter, and always appear to have something of the kaleidoscope in their nature, changing with such lightning speed that it becomes most difficult to follow their course. Bettina seeks a more practically political object in this work than in her preceding ones: she passes in review almost all those conditions of humanity which are influenced by the existence of society, government, church, or state ; and treats these subjects in an oracular but generally too highly coloured style, which occasions her to be powerless from exaggeration, where she would fain have produced a real effect. When, for instance, she entitles all statesmen, who stand as mediators betwixt the people and their monarchs, “abominable asses,” and “common-place scoundrels,” it may be easily conceived that little good can be effected by such means, and that the results produced cannot correspond with the astonishing display of mental power our authoress has laid before us. A critic remarked lately, that 300 years ago Bettina would have probably become a sorceress or witch, and have been accordingly burnt to death at the stake. Bettina will be now burnt to death too by her own inward fire, but her lofty spirit,--the poesy which lives within her--(forgive the daring image for its truth !)—will rise like a phenix from her ashes.
The dramatic talent of Bettina shows itself after the most amusing and delightful fashion, in the invented portion of this book; the old Frau Rath Goethe, Goethe's mother, is therein depicted in every possible situation-the which situations, though greatly changed, are sometimes partly founded on truth, such, for instance, as “the visit to the Queen of Prussia," who hung a golden chain, still preserved by the family, around her neck. The old lady's toilette, her conversation with the hairdresser, the“ femme de chambre,” the ladies at court, and