Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

THE

NEW-YORK REVIEW.

No. II.

OCTOBER, 1837.

ART. I.-Wahrheit aus Jean Paul's Leben. [Truth from the Life of Jean Paul.] Eight volumes; Breslau, Max and Kompt. 1826-33.

LORD Byron is said to have declared that he would give a portion of his reputation to read Goethe's Autobiography in the original. As of its author's multifarious literary works, this is perhaps the one which, from its form and nature, would lose least by translation, the declaration may be regarded as merely a lively testimonial of the surpassing attractiveness of this class of writings. In the Republic of Letters, the appearance of a "Life" is as exciting an incident as in a social circle is the disclosure of a family secret. It is food for the appetite of gossip, and with many is the chief source of knowledge of the individual whom it depicts. Shakspeare's Autobiograpy would have a hundred readers for every five of Hamlet. But while to the shallow, the most authentic "Life" of the most gifted man affords only a transient stimulus; to the sympathising student it is the moving record of a brother's trials and triumphs, and to the psychologist a pregnant exhibition of a soul's development. "No one knows my inward biography, but God, myself, and the Devil," says Richter to Voss, in a letter stating that he is at work on his "Life." It is this "inward biography," this picture of the mental growth, that is so attractive and so valuable, especially in the case of a Poet;

• We use the term Poet in the wide sense of the Germans, with whom the 33

for with him the threads of the individual existence are the staple of the beautiful products wherewith he indues, for warmth and for adornment, his country's spirit. Appealing to emotions, his own susceptibilities must be most full and keen; and as in his works we have idealized humanity, we may look to find, as the basis in the composition of the workman, the subtlest and noblest faculties of man. On turning from results to their origin, the undiscerning may sometimes share the disappointment of the child seeking behind the mirror for the original of its smiling image; but examination will satisfy the intelligent, that in the outwardly dull substance under his hand inhere the qualities required to produce the admired ef fect.

The eight volumes before us contain a full description of the Life (to translate the Lebensbeschreibung of the German) of one who, in the teeming period of German literature, took rank among the greatest of its creators. Although not assum ing the title of an Autobiography, they are made up chiefly of autobiographical materials, in the form of copious fragments left by their subject, and of numerous letters to his wife, friends and kindred, to booksellers, authors, ministers, nobles and kings. In 1818, in his fifty-fifth year, a few years before his death, Richter commenced,-after, as was his wont in all his literary undertakings, extensive preparatory studies,—the writing of his "Life." The loss sustained by the non-fulfilment of his autobiographical plan is in a great measure supplied by the possession of his ample manuscripts and plentiful letters, skilfully edited by his most intimate friend, Christian Otto, who dying before he had finished the bequeathed duty, was competently followed by Ernst Foerster; so that the work as it stands, presents one of the completest, and, from the character of its subject, one of the most interesting Biographies extant. It is a faithful delineation of the habits and feelings, of the mental growth, progress, and career of a great and good man. If from these full materials we can abstract a distinct sketch of the life of Richter, we shall, we think, do a doubly acceptable service; introducing to the notice of many of our readers, and unless we execute our task very clumsily, to their love and admiration,-one of the profoundest and most beautiful of those rare spirits, the end of whose earthly living is, to encourage, enlighten, sustain and purify their fellow-men; and, while tracing his footsteps, presenting such

creator of" My Father," "Trim," and "My Uncle Toby," though he never wrote a verse, is a greater poet than Cowper; and the claims of Goldsmith to the high name is derived from the authorship of the Vicar of Wakefield.

glimpses of the fertile and varied domain around him, and of fellow-actors therein, as will tempt some perhaps to set about obtaining a near survey of what, we venture to assert, has never yet failed to repay the labor of the discerning.

In the small town of Wonsiedel, lying among the Fichtelberg mountains in the very centre of Germany, (then in the Circle of Franconia, now in the Kingdom of Bavaria,) there was, on the 21st of March, 1763, in the house of a poor organist and schoolmaster, rejoicings at the birth of a first-born, who, as himself informs us, was christened the next day Johann Paul Friedrich Richter. In describing the marriage of his parents, the indifference of his father to money, and his mother's contentedness on moving with him into his "tiny house," the Autobiographer, representing himself as an historical professor giving lectures on his own Life, of which, unhappily, only three were finished,-thus, in the first of them, advises the reader of something that he is to expect, and pours forth a pas-. sage of that genial wisdom so abundant in all his numerous volumes.

"Verily in my historical lectures Hunger will play an im portant part, like feasting in Thummel's Travels and tea-drinking in Richardson's Clarissa. And yet, I cannot but say to Poverty. welcome! so that thou dost not come in one's too late days. Wealth weighs heavier on talent than Poverty. Pressed to death under mountains of gold and thrones, lies perhaps buried many an intellectual giant. When into the flames of youth, the warmer facul. ties being in their fullest glow, is poured the oil of riches, little of the Phoenix will be left but lifeless ashes; and only some Goethe has the vigor not to burn his wings shorter at the Sun of Fortune. Not for much money would the present poor historical professor have had much money in his youth. Fate deals with Poets as we with birds, and darkens the cage of the songster until he can sing the tones that are played to him." Vol. I. p. 14.

Doubly characteristic is the earliest recollection of Richter, for it goes back to the first half of his second year,--a period into which the memories of few can penetrate,-and from this dim epoch, his intellect, stimulated by gratitude to an achievement of retentiveness, rescues an act of kindness. "To my delight," he says, "I have it in my power to exhibit from my twelfth, or at most my fourteenth month, a pale little recollection, the first spiritual snowdeep out of the dark soil of childhood. I remember that a poor pupil [of his father's school] was very fond of me and I of him, that he always carried me in his arms, and gave me milk in a large black room."

The father had taken a degree in Theology as well as in

[ocr errors]

music, and, two years after the birth of Jean Paul,* resigned the practice of the latter, and dedicated himself to the former, having accepted the place of pastor in the village of Joditz,whether moved to the change by the urgency of spiritual or of corporeal hunger, the son humorously leaves undivulged. "I never could take much interest in the dispute among the Grecian cities about the birth-place of Homer: the true birthplace is that of the first and longest education," says Jean Paul on the occasion of the removal to Joditz, which village, according to this definition, was his own birth-place; for here was spent the important epoch between two and twelve, described in the second Lecture with such freshness and pregnancy, the wisdom of age sporting with the memories of youth. Every kind of learning was delightful to him:-" Gladly would I, like to a Prince, have received instruction from half a dozen teachers at once; but I had hardly one good one." First he had the village schoolmaster, and then his own father, who devoted four hours in the morning and three in the afternoon to giving Paul and his brothers instruction; which instruction consisted entirely in making them get sentences, catechisms, Latin words and grammar, by rote,-a method, says the principal pupil," especially to be recommended to all teachers, as with no other is so much time and trouble saved, as by this most convenient one, where the pupil has in the book a substitute or adjunct of the teacher." He even intimates, that sometimes they learnt without the master more than with him; for when a fine summer day tempted the father to a long walk, a harder lesson was set to the boys, the additional difficulty doing the part of his presence in keeping them at work. Nay, such an extension does this principle of instruction admit of, that by its aid our autobiographer declares, he will confidently undertake, seated in his study in Bavaria, to teach entire schools in America, sending by the post directions of what the scholars are to get daily by rote, and having on the spot any common person to hear them repeat their prescribed task.

To a Jean Paul, who, provided he have the opportunities of self-instruction, has small need of outward aid, it matters little by what method or want of method his so-called instructors proceed with him; accordingly, while his brothers beside him could not swallow their daily prescription of words, to say nothing of not digesting the matter in them, we find him not

He is better known by his Christian name, thus gallicized by himself, than by his sirname.

only taking in whatever was set before him, but greedily seeking for other food through livelier channels, and laying solidly the foundation of a vast pile of learning. "His thirsty roots thrust and bent themselves in every direction to take hold and draw nourishment." He contrived time-pieces and invented sun-dials: with brush and pencil he copied whatever objects within his reach his eyes delighted in: out of Luther's Bible he extracted a theological epitome: for hours he would sit at an old piano, laboring to utter in music his fancies and feelings and all this before he had counted his twelfth year, giving evidence, by an independent striving after a wide variety of knowledge, of deep original genius and universal capabilities. Nor did he therefore take the less delight in the sports and occupations of childhood. For him, too, were the latter snows of winter "a curtain, the raising of which opened the earth for the games of spring and summer." The summer Sunday of a village pastor's son, what a golden day! As was to be looked for in one of his genial temperament, the first approaches of the master passion fall in this early period; and the precocious philosopher learnt his first lessons in love from an unconscious peasant girl, from whose blue eyes was revealed to him a new mystery, though he never got even so far as to a squeezing of hands.

In his twelfth year his father was promoted from the village of Joditz to the small town of "Schwarzenbach on the Saal," and he to the study of Greek and Hebrew. Here, moreover, he had the benefit of some superficial instruction in music, whereby, after having exhausted the musical stock of the town, he was enabled to indulge more satisfactorily in voluntaries on the piano. All the books of general literature to be mustered in Schwarzenbach he read, and among them with ecstacy, with a tingling through his veins that made his body even partake in the delight, Robinson Crusoe, an indication this, among many others, of the influence of English literature upon the master-spirits of the German. His studies enlarged and deepened with his years, and his progress in love-making kept pace with his rapid intellectual advances; for in his account of the second affair, a kiss, snatched on a stair-way, is dwelt on with remarkable distinctness of recollection.

The second volume of the "Life" (the three Lectures filling the first,) consists of extracts from what he called his VitaBook, a kind of diary, kept irregularly for a number of years, wherein he noted down, apparently as aids to the purposed autobiography, observations upon himself, his habits, feelings, peculiarities, occupations, &c., and which therefore is

« ÎnapoiContinuați »