III. THE LITERARY SCENE

Germany was busy, as never before, writing, printing, and publishing newspapers, periodicals, books. In 1796 Aloys Senefelder, at Munich, stumbled upon the process later called lithography, by scratching his mother’s laundry list upon a stone; it occurred to him that words and pictures, in various colors, could be engraved or embossed (in reverse as in a mirror) upon a smooth stone or metal plate, from which innumerable copies could be printed. Hence rose an ocean of prints from Goya and Hiroshige to Currier and Ives and Picasso.

Newspapers were many, small, partisan, and censored. The Allgemeine Zeitung, founded at Tübingen in 1798, moved to Stuttgart, then to Ulm, then to Augsburg, then to Munich, to escape the local police. The Kölnische Zeitung, established in 1804, had a quieter career, being patriotically Catholic, and then Napoleonic. Berlin, Vienna, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Nuremberg had journals antedating the Revolution, and still serving time today. Periodicals abounded. We have noted one of the finest, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, published at Leipzig by the firm of Breitkopf and Härtel from one revolution to another, 1795 to 1849. The most brilliant was the Athenäum, founded by the Schlegel brothers in 1798. Publishers were numerous. The annual exhibition of their products made the Leipzig book fair the literary event of the year.

A special class of writers, loosely classed as publicists, earned wide influence by their vigorously partisan but well-informed discussion of the basic issues of the age. Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832) hailed the fall of the Bastille, but cooled when he met the skeptical mind of Wilhelm von Humboldt, and read and translated Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution. Having risen in the Prussian civil service to be a counselor in the War Ministry, he led a literary campaign against such ideas as the rights of man, liberty and equality, sovereignty of the people, and liberty of the press. He was not appeased by Napoleon’s taming of the Revolution. He attacked Napoleon as a militarist whose conquests were destroying that balance of power upon which, in the view of most diplomats, the peace, order, and sanity of Europe depended. He became the most eloquent of the voices urging the King of Prussia to lead a crusade against Napoleon, and when Frederick William III hesitated Gentz passed into the service of Austria (1802). After Napoleon overwhelmed the Austrians at Austerlitz Gentz took refuge in Bohemia, but in 1809 he was back in Vienna, promoting the new war upon Napoleon. He served as secretary and aide to Metternich at the Congress of Vienna, and supported him in the postwar diplomacy of crushing every liberal development. He lived on, old and ill, through the revolts of 1830, and died convinced that he had served well the interests of mankind.

Joseph von Görres was a more sensitive spirit, half Italian and all emotion, hardly fit for a rough arena crowded with gladiators of the pen. Born a Catholic, he left the Church to support the Revolution. He helped in the French conquest of the left bank of the Rhine, and applauded Napoleon’s transformation of the Holy Roman Empire into the Rheinbund. He hailed the French occupation of Rome with the cry “Rome is free.” But the arrogance of the French troops, the exactions of the French administrators, aroused the resentment of the young revolutionary. In 1798 he founded a frail journal, Das rothes Blatt (The Red Leaf), as the voice of a republican loving the Revolution but distrusting the French. He recognized in Napoleon’s seizure of the French government the end of the Revolution, and in Napoleon himself a dangerous appetite for power. He married, and took a vacation from politics. When Germany rose to her War of Liberation, Görres joined in the campaign with a newspaper, the Rheinische Merkur, but when, after Napoleon’s removal, the victors enforced political reaction wherever they could, Görres attacked them so vigorously that he had to take refuge in Switzerland, where he lived in extreme poverty. All other lights having failed him, he returned in sad repentance to the Catholic Church (1824). Ludwig I of Bavaria raised him from indigence by appointing him professor of history at Munich. There, writing his four-volume Christliche Mystik (1836–42), he solaced his days with imaginative scholarship, and darkened his nights with satanic visions. Thirty-four years after his death the Görres Gesellschaft was established (1876) to continue his researches in the history of the Christian Church.

Prose literature was dominated by the Romantics, but one writer eluded them and remained indefinable and unique. Jean Paul Richter began life in Bayreuth in 1763. He took his Christian names from a grandfather, Johann Paul Kuhn; till 1793 he was simply Hans. His father was a schoolteacher and organist who became pastor of a church in Joditz on the Saale. There Hans spent his first thirteen years in a happiness from which he never recovered; that simple rural place marked his mood through all economic worries and theological storms. When the family moved to Schwarzenbach, on the same quiet river, he enjoyed the library of a neighboring clergyman, who recognized the boy’s possibilities but not his doubts. There Richter’s father died (1779), leaving his numerous brood to short rations. At twenty Hans entered the school of theology at Leipzig; but his reading had weakened his faith; he soon withdrew, and gave hostages to fortune by undertaking to live by his pen. He reached publication in 1783, aged twenty, then not again till 1789, in both cases with a brand of satire that seasoned sympathy with caustic wit. In 1793 he issued Die unsichtbare Loge (The Invisible Lodge) under the pseudonym “Jean Paul,” taken through love of Rousseau. The book pleased a small audience, which grew with his sentimental novel Hesperus (1795). Charlotte von Kalb, friend of Schiller, invited the rising author to Weimar, and was so well pleased with him that she became his mistress.13 There he began his four-volume novel Titan (1800–03), whose real hero was the French Revolution.

He passionately defended it in its formative years, but charged Marat with corrupting it into mob rule, and praised Charlotte Corday as another Jeanne d’Arc. He welcomed Napoleon’s seizure of power as a necessary restoration of order; he could not help admiring this youth of thirty, who had nothing but iron will and laser eyes with which to lower the towering stature of his subordinates. Eight years later Richter was quite willing to see all Europe united by this man who could hold a continent in his mind and hand, and legislate for France from Berlin and Moscow. But at heart Jean Paul remained a republican, seeing in every martial victory the seed of another war. He pitied the conscripted youths and the mourning families, and argued that “the people alone should decide on war, as they alone cull its bitter fruits.” He shot one of his sharpest shafts at rulers who sold their troops to foreign potentates. He demanded freedom from censorship, for some power outside of the government should be free to expose that government’s faults and to explore the possibilities of progress.14

In 1801, aged thirty-eight, Jean Paul took a wife, and in 1804 he settled down in Bayreuth. After some living experiments he wrote a book on education, Levana, one of the classics of libertarian pedagogy. He issued a stream of novels and essays, some of which were admiringly translated by Carlyle. His mixture of realistic satire and Romantic sentiment won him a larger reading public than Goethe’s or Schiller’s. He died in 1825, leaving unfinished an essay on the immortality of the soul; his time had come to explore the matter at first hand. His reputation as one of Germany’s foremost authors survived in Europe till the middle of the nineteenth century; and after it had died there it migrated to America, where Longfellow was one of his devotees. Hardly anyone, even in Germany, reads him today, but nearly every German recalls his famous epigram, which aims a shaft at German philosophy, and sums up the age of Napoleon more briefly than this book: “Providence has given to the English the empire of the sea, to the French that of the land, and to the Germans that of the air.”15

Two other writers of fiction won a wide audience. Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (1776–1822)—who in 1813, in ecstasy over Mozart, changed “Wilhelm” to “Amadeus”—was one of the most unusual and versatile of all Germans: he painted pictures, composed and conducted music, staged an opera (Undine), practiced law, and wrote stories of mystery and romance which inspired Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann (1881). Unique in life, if not in letters, was Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838). Born a French nobleman, he fled from the Revolution, received most of his schooling in Germany, enlisted in a Prussian regiment, and fought in the battle of Jena. In 1813, haunted by his lack of a fatherland and by his divided loyalties in the War of Liberation, he wrote, as an allegory, Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte, the bizarre tale of a man who had sold his shadow to Satan. As a botanist of established reputation he accompanied Otto von Kotzebue’s scientific voyage around the world (1815–18); he recorded his findings in the once famous Reise um die Welt. He divided the remainder of his life between serving as curator of Berlin’s Botanical Garden and writing Romantic poetry. Heinrich Heine praised the poems, and Robert Schumann put to music Chamisso’s verse sequenceFrauenliebe und-leben.

Poets abounded, many of them still cherished by the German people, but gifting their words with music and sentiment difficult to transmit to another language, land, or time. Pitiful among them was Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843), whose poetic sensitivity proved too keen for his sanity. Sent to Tübingen to study for the ministry, he developed a stimulating friendship with Georg Hegel, who was then questioning Christianity. News of the French Revolution excited the youth to visions of human happiness. He readRousseau, composed a “Hymn to Liberty,” and in 1792, over the top of the dying century, he thought he saw a wonderful dawn of justice and nobility. When war broke out he wrote to his sister: “Pray for the French, the champions of human rights.” When the Revolution foundered in blood, he clung desperately to his dream:

My love is the human race—not, of course, the corrupt, servile, idle race that we too often meet. I love the great, fine possibilities, even in a corrupt people. I love the race of the centuries to come…. We live in a time when everything is working toward amelioration. These seeds of enlightenment, these silent wishes and strivings toward the education of the race,… will yield glorious fruit. This is the sacred goal of my wishes and my activity—to plant the seeds which will ripen in another generation.16

The past too allowed for dreams. Like his contemporary Keats he fell in love with the heroes and divinities of classic Greece, and began a prose epic, Hyperion, about a Greek revolutionist. He made his way to Jena, studied under Fichte, learned to revere Kant, and met the gods of Weimar when they too were Hellenizing. Schiller secured a post for him as tutor to a son of Charlotte von Kalb. In 1796 he found a richer tutorial berth in the home of the banker J. F. Gotthard at Frankfurt-am-Main. He fell in love with the banker’s wife, who so appreciated his verses that he was dismissed and forced to leave the city. The ecstasy and the exile brought on a degree of mental derangement; yet at this time (1799) he wrote a fragment, Der Tod des Empedokles, which is among the masterpieces of German verse. For several years he wandered from town to town, seeking bread and themes. He asked Schiller to recommend him for a lectureship in Greek literature, but Schiller found him too unstable for a professorial chair. Tutoring at Bordeaux, Hölderlin received word that Mme. Gotthard had died. He left his employment and walked across France into Germany, where friends, seeing that he was mentally deranged beyond cure, took care of him (1802). He lived on till 1843, his poems long forgotten even by himself. They were restored to public attention in 1890; Rainer Maria Rilke and Stefan George acclaimed him; and now the cognoscenti rank him only below Goethe and Schiller.

Many others sang. Karl Theodor Körner (1791–1813), son of the Christian Gottfried Körner who had been so helpful to Schiller,17 threw himself, pen and sword, into the War of Liberation from Napoleon, aroused the Germans with his call to arms, and died in battle, August 26, 1813. Ernst Moritz Arndt (1769–1860) lived through three revolutions in his ninety-one years. He secured the abolition of feudalism in Pomerania by describing it realistically in Versuche einer Geschichte (Essays toward a History, 1803); and inDie Geist der Zeit (1806) he sounded so powerful a cry against Napoleon that he was forced to take refuge in Sweden from the victor of Jena. In 1812 he was called to St. Petersburg by Stein to help stir the Russian people to throw back the French invaders. After 1815, in Prussia, he strove to counter the conservative reaction, and was briefly jailed. In 1848 he was elected to the national assembly at Frankfurt. When that revolution too flickered out he turned his Muse to terminal piety. —Joseph von Eichendorff (1788–1857), a Catholic nobleman, wrote simple lyrics that can still move us, like “Auf meines Kindes Tod” (On the Death of My Child); here even an alien skeptic can feel the music, share the feeling, and envy the hope:

Von fern die Uhren schlagen,
Es is schon tiefe Nacht,
Die Lampe breunt so düster,
Dein Bettlein ist gemacht
.

Die Winde nur noch gehen
Wehklagend um das Haus
Wir sitzen einsam drinne,
Und lauscben oft hinaus
.

Es ist als müsstest leise
Du klopfen an die Tur,
Du hätt dich nur verirret,
Und kämst nun müd zurück.

Wir armen, armen Toren!
Wir irren ja im Graus
Des Dunkels noch verloren—
Du fändst dich langst nach Haus
.

Afar the hours strike;
It is so soon deep night;
The lamp so dimly burns;
Your little bed is made.

Only the winds still go
Wailing around the house;
We sit alone within,
And often listen out.

It is as if you lightly tried
To knock upon the door,
As if you had but lost your way
And came now weary back.

We poor, poor simpletons!
We wander, yes, in fright
Of darkness still forlorn—
You found long since your home.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!