Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

sage

We could fill pages with similar letters, exhibiting a in the hearty enjoyment of social pleasure, and of the happiness which flows from warm and wide sympathies. But we find that although many passages marked for translation have been omitted, we have already exceeded the limits we prescribed to ourselves.

The interesting character of the man, not less than the celebrity of the author, induced us to make Richter the subject of the first of the papers on German literature, which we propose occasionally to offer to our readers. In our purpose with these we shall succeed, if by the views they shall open into the rich domain of German Art and Literature, they stimulate curiosity in some students, and encourage the growing disposition among us to make the study of the German language a branch of a liberal education. Although the design of the present article excludes any thing like an elaborate critical analysis of Richter's works and genius, we will, before closing it, say a few words,—and they shall be very few,-on the general character of his writings.

In one of his letters, Richter describes the aim of his literary efforts to be :-"To point out to men resting places this side of the final one; to reconcile them to fools at the expense of folly; to show them flowers in the desert, virtue at courts, happiness in sorrow, wealth in poverty; and, in short, two heavens on earth, a present and a future one.” This high aim,proposed through the impulses of ardent fellow-feeling deepened by faith in man, and of a religion in which hope shines through the moistened eye of humility,—is pursued with the vigorous movement of an intellect, broad, profound, and subtle, to which learning and meditation furnished weapons to be polished by humour and pointed by wit. Such a mind, shorn of its fervor, would exhibit the dry cogent argumentation of he uncompromising logician : lowered in intellectual endowment, its wealth of feeling would be wasted in the shallow efforts of the zealot, or the enervating rhapsodies of the sentimentalist. It is the alliance between strength in thought and fulness in sentiment, that gives to his pages their fascination. The heart and head pour ever their united volume upon the reader, who, not to be overpowered, must brace to their highest tension his best faculties.

The impression at first produced by his writings, not upon the defenceless multitude merely, but upon the small class of well-equipt scholars and thinkers, is strikingly exemplified in the excuse given by Wieland in 1796 for not writing to him. “Give me," said Wieland to a friend of Richter, “a

[ocr errors]

new language, and of all my epistolary debts I will pay this one sooner than any other. At the several attempts I have made, every expression seems poor and bald." The admiration of Wieland illustrates also the variety of his powers; for while with the many he was chiefly prized as a sentimental writer, it was as humourist that Wieland ranked him among the greatest. With him, however, the jest was always secondary,—a sporting on a ground of earnestness. This characteristic of his humour,—and probably an essential one of all genuine humour,-he himself describes in a letter to Jacobi :— Without earnestness I know no jest ; but earnestness itself is original, and independent of jest :"--one of those pregnant sentences which abound in him, especially in his great works on Aesthetics, or the philosophy of criticism, and on Education.

Yet, with his pre-eminent mental gifts, his love for the true, his susceptibility to the sublime and beautiful, his genial sense of the comic and mastery of wit, his subtle powers of analysis and affluence in similitudes,—there was in him as a writer of fiction, as creator and artist, a fundamental want. A passage in his “ Studies for Autobiography” fully describes in a few words the nature of this want. He says: “ Goethe when travelling perceives every thing with distinctness and precision : with me all melts away into the romantic. Thus I travel through cities without having seen any thing in them. I am excited only by beautiful scenery,—for that feeds the feeling of the romantic, ---or by a human being, or a book. True, I know and see all the individualities of life, but I take little note of them and forget them.” In other words, external objects were interesting to him, not from their own absolute nature and constituent parts, but as the excitants of his mind. A landscape moved the inward springs : having done this, bis eyes were withdrawn from it, and sinking into a corner of the carriage, he abandoned himself to the train of dreams the reality had started. Goethe, on the other hand, would pause, with entire outward attention survey it, seize its points and characteristics, and bear away a full, correct, vivid image of the landscape as a corporeal reality. The faculties by which bodily being, so to speak, is perceived, noted, and grasped, were deficient in Richter. To him the value of an object lay in its internal, its suggestive qualities. This feature of his mental constitution exhibited itself of course more prominently when his mind passed from the passive to the active state, and began out of its own stores and resources to reproduce and create. Hence, when a conception s) possessed him as to be

urgent for utterance, he sought not first for words, but strove, as himself informs us, to express it in tones. The deep notes of music, having no definite ending, but dying away imperceptibly and losing themselves in infinitude, were the chosen medium of his emotions. What a fanciful, fluctuating, masterly voluntary on the organ is, as an achievement of Art, to a sculptured product of disciplined genius; so is a fiction of Richter to a creation of Goethe.

This deficiency in plastic power, in the ability to mould his material into well-balanced proportions, is visible not only in the want of definiteness of form in the whole and in the parts, but also in the absence of the restraints which such a power necessarily exerts over the action of the other faculties. Thus, his fertility displays itself often in rank luxuriance : his pages are overloaded with prodigality of mental wealth. In his Vita book he says : -" Were it possible, I would wish, that after my death all my thoughts should be given to the world ; not one should perish :" and this conservative tenderness towards the progeny of his brain he practised when composing. Now, it is the very essence of Art to reject. Out of a mass of matter thronging round the genial Artist

, he selects with a severe hand: the successful fulfilment of his design absolutely depends upon the compression of a quantity of unconnected material into a compact whole of prescribed dimensions. The picture of Zeuxis executing his Helen with the five beautiful maidens about him, perfectly illustrates the process of true Art. The Ideal, which is its aim, is a purified abstraction from the real.

To the exactions of this fundamental law of Art, Richter was unwilling and unable to submit. His faculties, exempted from a severe and wholesome control, revel in all the wantonness of health and uncurbed vigour. Thought springs out of thought, till they are so multiplied as to obscure the picture they were designed to illuminate. You are distracted by the throng of similes ; irritated by the incessant provocations to your sense of the comic; and overwrought by the pathetic. The results of the creative efforts of so abundant and robust a mind, unrestrained by the requirements of definiteness in form, are often somewhat as we might imagine natural products would be, freed from some one of the laws which preside over their growth; the branches of the oak, for example, swelled by sap that should have gone to the stem, or the daisy bemonstered into the shape of a sun-flower. Another effect is, that the alternations are too sudden and violent. Now we have a storm,--not of mere blustering, door-and-shutter-slamming

wind,—but warm, brain-oppressing thunder and liglıtning. Quickly the clouds disperse, and from the serenest blue the sun glistens on leaf and blossom, as if angels were abroad and had sent the tempest to beautify the earth for their pleasure. The rainbow has scarcely arched the heavens in token of peace, ere another congregation of vapor gathers over your head, and rapidly precipitates itself in fire and water. The earth steams incessantly, and the atmosphere is unwholesomely thick. Midst your enjoyment of a sunny landscape, a mist suddenly breaks the picture, concealing some of its parts and magnifying others.

Throughout his works, the views and sentiments are sound and true, often singularly deep, original, and beautiful ; but the mode and form in which they are presented are as often unsightly. The materials are of the richest and most substantial, but so crowded one upon the other, and so awkwardly put together, that the edifice they constitute will be outlasted by one inferior both in compass and in strength, but erected with symmetry and grace. Writers, poor in resources compared with him, impart a greater durability to their works, by justness and taste in execution, and 'the smooth hardness of polish. “They manage well,” as Schiller says, their “ little family of ideas," while the vast kingdom of Richter loses much of its weight from the want of due control.

But of one in whom there is so much to love and to admire ; in whom a mighty intellect, brightened by genius, works ever under the sway of the soundest principles and purest aspirations; "in whose anger even love spoke, -not in its softness but in its strength ;" from whom philosophers can learn acuteness, sages wisdom, and all men virtue, -of such a nature, at once so genial, so powerful, and so beneficent, it were as unjust as it were ungracious that our last words should be words of disparagement. Moreover, our strictures, if they be just, go no further than to deny to Richter as creative Artist a place by the side of a Schiller or a Goethe. As critic and philosopher he ranks with Herder and Lessing, while in wit and humour he is both a German Swift and Sterne with the healthy purity of a Coleridge or a Scott. For a concluding sentence we will borrow from the eminent British critic Carlyle, who thus summarily characterises him :"Unite the sportfulness of Rabelais, and the best sensibility of Sterne, with the earnestness, and even in slight portions, the sublimity, of Milton; and let the mosaic brain of old Burton give forth the workings of this strange union with the pen of Jeremy Bentham."

ART. II. - The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, from a variety of

original sources. By JAMES PRIOR, author of the Life of Burke. Philadelphia, E. L. Carey and A. Hart. 1837.

The literary character never had a freer exhibition, with its lights and shades, its gayety and sorrow, its defects of imprudence, its virtues of benevolence, than in the person of Oliver Goldsmith. Linked to a thousand foibles but no crimes, the sport of every chance folly but never truant to the call of virtue, he pursued his irregular course the most pitied and the best loved among his contemporaries. His biography is a record of the old literary lite, and in its varied scenes resembles the strange visions of Grub Street we sometimes catch in the pages of Fielding or Smollett. We cannot help looking back upon that as the most characteristic, if not the best period of authorship, when the writer lived on in happy indifference from day to day, penning an essay or compiling a quarto for the bookseller who humoured his eccentricity, and was a prompt treasurer in the payment of his slender necessities. His indolence had a relish of the early age, and as he passed from the Wits at the Coffee Houses and the theatre to sun himself in the Park or in an occasional visit to the country, seemed to enjoy the easy happiness of Arcadia. The much talked of misery of the author by profession has been far overstated. The unhappiness of Genius is not so great but that there are many, and notable instances too, of those who have managed to live very well by it, and the improvident members of the race fare no worse than the improvident of any other class. A great deal of good commiseration has been thrown away upon the poor author, who perhaps, after all, is a happier man than his patron. Thus Goldsmith has been the subject of pity till the customary phrase "poor Goldsmith," a phrase to be applied in love not in pity, has grown familiar as a proverb. The rich need not regret his life, for there are other things than wealth and a dignified station in society to constitute happiness. The cheerfulness of the soul, the ready sympathy of the heart, the fine thoughts of the head, the pleasures of friendship, freedom from the restraints of business, and ability to follow one's own inclination, the devotion to the labour that we delight in that physics pain," are items that enter into the account; and the man that possesses these, with health and means to their enjoyment, which they presuppose, need not envy a prince. Goldsmith was happy in these respects. It is true he died poor, but he always lived honoura' ly

« ÎnapoiContinuați »