Imágenes de páginas

of recent growth in Germany; and that the Germans, who make no secret of their admiration of English literature, have borrowed from us the idea and plan of their periodicals; and, indeed, it must be acknowledged, that the leading German Reviews have received a decided impulse and bias from similar works in our own country. But as a class itself, this species of literature has flourished for more than half a century in Germany; and from the time of Lessing's “ Dramaturgie,” which appeared in 1766, there have been very few distinguished men of letters in that country who have not contributed to one or other of the periodical publications of the day.

Madame de Staël has observed, that in Germany there are sometimes more critics than authors. If such be the case at the present moment, there can be little reason to apprehend that the art of criticism is on the decline; for there is now lying before us a catalogue of German works, published during the first six months of the year 1826, which, in a mere dry detail of titles and prices, fills two hundred pages! Be this, however, as it may, there really would appear to be something in the temper and constitution of the Germans, which peculiarly fits them for the “ungentle craft.” It is not ill-nature; nor an overweening conceit—that never-failing source of criticism in other countries; nor is it the idea, that to find fault is an iudubitable proof of wisdom. It rather seems to be a disinclination to taking matters upon trust, accompanied by a spirit of research that acquires strength from exertion, and is rather allured than deterred by difficulties. The vast body of information which the German critic brings to bear upon his subject; his intimate acquaintance with the works of all ages, and in all languages, that have any relation to it; the acuteness with which he discovers points that have eluded the observation of former writers, and the unremitting industry with which he pursues them to their full developement, fill us with wonder, and lead us to imagine that criticism may perchance have some other object in view besides the gratification of spleen, enmity, or flippant levity; and that in the hands of a Niebuhr, a Savigny, or a Hugo, instead of being a bugbear to nervous authors, it may be converted into a stimulus to noble efforts.

The two principal reviews in Germany are the Hermes, and the Wienner Jahrbücher. In external form and general arrangement they have avowedly taken the Edinburgh and the Quarterly as their models; but there are various circumstances that have contributed to stamp them with an individuality of character, and to secure them from the charge of narrow, servile imitation. The political state of Germany, the frame of its society, and the habits and feelings of the people, are in themselves sufficient to produce a marked distinction between these works and their prototypes. In England the leading Reviews are the acknowledged organs of powerful political parties, exercising an arbitrary influence over public opinion, which we feel, but cannot estimate—which we may affect to disdain, but cannot shake off. Their chief aim is to dissemivate the doctrines of their respective sects as widely as possible; and the interests of literature are altogether secondary to this paramount object. Such a course of proceeding is doubtless admirably calculated to give to their efforts unity of direction and purpose, and to maintain that importance and that sway over the public mind which they have already acquired. But it is very much to be feared that the national taste is vitiated, and the national literature deteriorated, by the partiality which is the necessary result of this spirit. There is, indeed, too evident an inclination to regard the man and his political notions, to the exclusion of the author; to criticise his private thoughts instead of his published writings; and to advance or degrade him according as he has the merit of relishing his turtle at a Pitt or a Fox dinner. Another ill consequence of this system is, that whilst works of sterling excellence are left to struggle into popularity by slow and painful steps, the crude productions of some confused head and feeble pen are torn from the peaceful slumber of a well-earned oblivion, and forced upon the public attention, as fit objects of admiration and applause.

The case is different in Germany. For although liberty has made, within the last few years, a most rapid progress in that country, as is abundantly manifested by many salutary alterations in its civil and judicial institutions, the press there is not entirely free ; nor have the Germans yet attained that “raram temporum felicitatem” of Tacitus, “ubi sentire quæ velis, et quæ sentias dicere licet.” Political discussion being thus for the most part excluded, their periodical publications are necessarily confined to that which would appear to be their legitimate province-literature and science. It would be vain, however, to expect, that the writers in these works should be altogether indifferent to political considerations, or that they should fail to have frequent opportunities of giving some indication of their opinions upon a subject so interesting. We have therefore no difficulty in discovering the prevailing bias both of the Hermes and the Jahrbücher. The former regards the Edinburgh with an eye of affection, and is in its general tone and temper, liberal; though its character for liberality was somewhat endangered by an elaborate defence of the use of the preliminary question in criminal proceedings, which appeared in it a short time ago. The Jahrbücher, on the contrary, is rather a disciple of the Quarterly; and indeed we may very readily imagine that the Quarterly is better suited to the atmosphere of Vienna than its less obsequious rival; and that the courtly fragrance of the doctrines contained in the former must be most grateful to the nostrils of the descendant of all the Cæsars.

A second mark of distinction between the English and the German Reviews is, that the articles in the latter usually bear the signatures of their authors. This at once destroys the uniformity and integrity of the work; it becomes a mere bundle of essays, unconnected except by the thread that unites them. The German reviewer is probably alarmed, lest the merit of his own individual achievements should be completely merged in the common stock, and he should thus lose the benefit of much labour and watching, hurried meals, sore eyes, and a vast consumption of oil.* But he forgets that the aggregate talent of

* We were at first inclined to imagine that some police regulation interfered with the liberty of the reviewer, and constrained him to avow himself ; but this suppositioni is destroyed by the circumstance, that anonymous articles do occasionally appear, as for example, the article on Blackwood's Magazine, noticed at the end of this paper. In the 21st number of the Hermes there is a note of the editor, which expressly leaves it to the option of contributors whether they will sign their names, or avail themselves of the mysterious and dignified" we.”

the whole performance throws a halo round each particular article, and often makes what is trivial in itself appear marvellously judicious and clever; and that what he would lose in personal consequence, would be amply compensated by the additional weight and importance communicated to his writings. The signature of names in a Review deprives it of one half of its moral power. There is much virtue in the“

“plural unity,” the “nos magestaticum.” Were Mr. J. or Mr. B. of the Edinburgh, to review a work, and to asfix his signature to the article, the critique would be that of Mr. J. or Mr. B. only, and entitled to as much consideration as the opinion of Mr. C. or Mr. D., and no more; and the author must be strangely deficient in ingenuity, if he could not manage to attribute any censure in the review to private pique, jealousy, or some other equally creditable motive. But when an attack comes from the Ediuburgh in its collective strength, the mystery that envelopes this multitudinous personage, which, like kings and corporations, dieth not, fills the unhappy author with dismay: it is then no longer the opinion of one man-it is the opinion of all who write, or ever have written, in the Review; the ghosts of departed reviewers, and the unembodied spirits of reviewers yet unborn, flit in fearful array before the imagination of the victim, and menace him with an eteruity of disgrace.

What peculiarly strikes the reader of a German Review is the unpretending modesty of the articles: no sounding of trumpets and blazoning forth one's own matchless sagacity ; none of the mawkish twaddle about“ painful public duty,” “ unwilling censure," "hope of amendment,” and so forth. Our own critics too often remind us of the happy self-complacency of Madame de la Ferté : “ Tiens, mon enfant, je ne vois que moi qui aie toujours raison.” The Germans rather resemble Zadig, “Qui ne voulait point toujours avoir raison." Their candour and good faith are exemplary. They do not sit down to pick holes in a work, but seem anxious to give the anthor the full benefit of his labours, and to place liis performance in the most favourable point of view; reserving to themselves the task of correcting his errors, and supplying, from their own stores of information, his deficiencies—a mode of proceeding, which, however at variance with the more approved plan of criticism elsewhere, may possibly appear not wholly irrational. The custom, too, of setting forth the title of a work, merely as a peg upon which to hang an essay, has not yet obtained amongst them; so that there is no chance of being entrapped into a disquisition upon political economy by the alluring title of a French Vaudeville. In the simplicity of their hearts, they generally read the book which they affect to review; not opening it at the 140th page, and then passing a sweeping encomium or censure upon the whole, according to the savour of that page; nor presenting a medley of disjointed scraps and mutilated passages, as a fair specimen of the author's capabilities; but honestly endeavouring to furnish their readers with such an outline of the entire work as may enable them to form a correct estimate of its merits.

The fate of Dunlop's History of Fiction gives us an opportunity of comparing the different modes of reviewing practised in Germany and England. This work, which has many claims upon public attention, from the richness of its matter, the spirit and humour that mark each

analysis, and the finished elegance of the whole performance, was reviewed in England in that slashing style, which is intended to impress the reader with the idea that the critic is vastly clever, but at the same time leaves him in utter ignorance of the nature of the work reviewed. A different lot awaited it in Germany. The first volume alone has furnished materials for three most able articles in the Jahrbücher. This volume treats of the Greek and Latin romances, and the chivalrous romances connected with the fabulous histories of Arthur and Charlemagne ; subjects which gave ample scope to that spirit of antiquarian research for which the Germans are distinguished, Indeed, as the great part of the volume relates to the earlier romantic literature of the middle ages, it must have possessed peculiar charms for a German. The “ throngs of knights and barons bold;" the “ tourneys and the trophies hung;” the “ forests and enchantments drear," are all favourite themes in Germany to this day; and no nation entertains so much affectionate admiration for the middle ages, so anxious a desire to bring forward and embellish the rude virtues, and to gloss over the still ruder vices of that period. In England, not only is the age of chivalry gone by, but all sympathy with it has also expired. The very name of Arthur, and the proud national associations connected with it, will no longer kindle one spark of enthusiasm. To our“ étroite sagesse,” a patent sympathetic table is quite as inspiring, and infinitely more serviceable than the far-famed, muchbattered Round Table; and a suit of armour excites no sublimer recollections than those of a lord mayor's show, a coronation pageant, or a procession of the brass-founders' company. There was a time when it was otherwise ; when, as Don Quixote informs us, no Englishman would kill a crow from the fear of dislodging the soul of king Arthur, who was understood to be hovering about under that favoured form, until, in the fulness of time, he should resume his sceptre and his own proper shape. And in this account the good knight is confirmed by the irrefragable testimony of the historian Julian del Castillo, who states that severe laws were in force for the protection of this species of black game; and that Philip II. of Spain, on his marriage with Mary, was constrained to swear that he would resigu the crown whenever the British monarch should descend from his rookery to his throne ;* an historical fact, which has most unaccountably escaped the notice of Kennett, Echard, and Hume.

But we must return to our subject. The literature of every nation must, of necessity, be powerfully influenced by the moral constitution and temperament of the people. The leading features of the German character are earnestness and intensity; the climate would appear to be highly favourable to the developement of the organ of concentrative

To whatever subject a German writer directs his attention, hc sets about his task enthusiastically, and follows it up with an undeviating singleness of purpose, and undivided powers. But this very


Y es fama comun, que el rey Artus està encantado en aquella tierra en figura de cuervo ; y ay entre ellos grandes penas contra el que matare cuervo; y que ha de bolver a reynar: y cierto dicen que su magestad del rey don Filipe 2. jurò, que si el rey Artus viniesse en algun tiempo, le dexaria el reyno.-llistoria de los Reyes Godos. 365.

We may infer from the denouncement of heavy penalties, that some individual, at the instigation of the devil, had endeavoured to get a shot at croaking majesty.

enthusiasm, which enables him to smooth or surmount all difficulties, and which gives him a power of fascination over the minds of his readers, often carries lim beyond the limits of the intelligible into the “ sphere of dream.” Hence the visionary conceits, the extravagance and exaggeration, the overstrained propositions which disfigure works, otherwise admirable. lle is too much enamoured of difficulties, and will dig ten fathoms deep for a result which he might have discovered on the surface. He sometimes, too, trusts all to feeling, to some vague, indescribable perception, when he should allow a little scope to plain, sober reason; and again he will reason and syllogise, when he ought to feel. To the latter cause we may partly attribute that fanciful science, with a fanciful name, which has lately sprung up in Germany, called æsthetics. The French have been generally considered the most perfect masters of the art of system-building; but a German can systematise as well as a Frenchman, although the process is diffesent. In the Frenchman the moving spring is vanity; in the German it is the enthusiastic warmth which we have mentioned. The former discovers a system by intuition, and then, like the learned Doctor iu Anastasius, beats about for arguments to support it; the latter is hurried into a system by the impulse of his imagination, and is so absorbed in his own views, that the most obvious truths will sometimes escape his observation.

The same earnestness of character to which we have adverted, casts a sombre colouring over the literature of Germany, which is very striking to foreigners. It is essentially a serious literature, proceeding, even in its gayest moments, with staid and measured steps

Ut festis matrona moveri jussa diebus. Thus it is that the German drama has only succeeded in the terrible and the pathetic. Tragedy appears in all its majesty and power, but comedy is divested of half its charms. We shall find, indeed, scenes of still life, drawn with much natural truth and beauty; and there is a naiveté of character which is very pleasing ; but we may look in vain for the “ quips and cracks, and wanton wiles,” the light, sparkling effervescence of our own earlier dramatists, or the more refined wit of a Moliere or a Sheridan. The same may be said of German satire. That gay tone of raillery and persiflage, which tickles to death with a feather, is not to be met with ; it is all quiet irony, or the withering disdain of a Mephistopheles. This is unquestionably a defect in the literature of the nation, and it is more especially felt as such in that class of literature which is the immediate object of our consideration; which, as it is intended for general circulation, requires the utmost variety of manner. But we are far from advising the Germans to counteract a tendency evidently constitutional, by an attempt to ape their more mercurial neighbours. The clumsiness of their efforts at gaiety, when such a whim has seized them, is almost proverbial, « naturam expellas furca,” &c; the graceful motions of a cow cantering, a barn-door fowl struggling in its flight against the centre of gravity, or Madame la Baronne de Thundertentronckt, “ qui pesait

The German equivalent for the term exaggeration is "uebertreibung,” which signifies, literally, overdriving, “overstraining," and is better adapted to express the national failing than our word.

« AnteriorContinuar »