Ҿ˹˹ѧ
PDF
ePub

withal. Those three points round which, in the long-run, all speculation turns, may in truth afford such a nature matter for poetic play, but can never become serious concerns and necessities for it.'1

6

This last seems a singular opinion ; and may prove, if it be correct, that Schiller himself was no "healthy poetic nature;' for undoubtedly with him those three points were

serious concerns and necessities ;' as many portions of his works, and various entire treatises, will testify. Nevertheless, it plays an important part in his theories of Poetry; and often, under milder forms, returns on us there.

That any

But, without entering farther on those complex topics, we must here for the present take leave of Schiller. Of his merits we have all along spoken rather on the negative side ; and we rejoice in feeling authorised to do so. German writer, especially one so dear to us, should already stand so high with British readers that, in admiring him, the critic may also, without prejudice to right feeling on the subject, coolly judge of him, cannot be other than a gratifying circumstance. Perhaps there is no other true Poet of that nation with whom the like course would be suitable.

Connected with this there is one farther observation we must make before concluding. Among younger students of German Literature, the question often arises, and is warmly mooted : Whether Schiller or Goethe is the greater Poet ? Of this question we must be allowed to say that it seems rather a slender one, and for two reasons. First, because Schiller and Goethe are of totally dissimilar endowments and endeavours, in regard to all matters intellectual, and cannot well be compared together as Poets. Secondly, because if the question mean to ask, which Poet is on the whole the rarer and more excellent, as probably it does, it must be considered as long ago abundantly answered. To the clear-sighted and modest Schiller, above all, such a question would have appeared surprising. No one knew better than himself, that as Goethe was a born Poet, so he was in great part a made Poet; that as the one spirit was intuitive, all-embracing, instinct with melody, so the other was scholastic, divisive, only partially and as it were artificially melodious. Besides, Goethe has lived to perfect his natural gift, which the less happy Schiller was not permitted to do. The former accordingly is the national Poet; the latter is not, and never could have been. We once heard a German remark that readers till their twenty-fifth year usually prefer Schiller ; after their twenty-fifth year, Goethe. This probably was no unfair illustration of the question. Schiller can seem higher than Goethe only because he is narrower. Thus to unpractised eyes, a Peak of Teneriffe, nay a Strasburg Minster, when we stand on it, may seem higher than a Chimborazo ; because the former rise abruptly, without abutment or environment; the latter rises gradually, carrying half a world aloft with it ; and only the deeper azure of the heavens, the widened horizon, the eternal sunshine, disclose to the geographer that the * Region of Change’ lies far below him.

1 Correspondence, ii. 131.

However, let us not divide these two Friends, who in life were so benignantly united. Without asserting for Schiller any claim that even enemies can dispute, enough will remain for him. We may say that, as a Poet and Thinker, he attained to a perennial Truth, and ranks among the noblest productions of his century and nation. Goethe may continue the German Poet, but neither through long generations can Schiller be forgotten. “His works too, the memory of what he did and was, will arise afar off like a towering landmark ' in the solitude of the Past, when distance shall have dwarfed * into invisibility many lesser people that once encompassed ' him, and hid him from the near beholder.'

THE NIBELUNGEN LIED.1

[1831.]

In the year 1757, the Swiss Professor Bodmer printed an ancient poetical manuscript, under the title of Chriemhilden Rache und die Klage (Chriemhilde's Revenge, and the Lament); which may be considered as the first of a series, or stream of publications and speculations still rolling on, with increased current, to the present day. Not, indeed. that all these had their source or determining cause in so insignificant a circumstance; their source, or rather thousand sources, lay far elsewhere. As has often been remarked, a certain antiquarian tendency in literature, a fonder, more earnest looking back into the Past, began about that time to manifest itself in all nations (witness our own Percy's Reliques): this was among the first distinct symptoms of it in Germany; where, as with ourselves, its manifold effects are still visible enough.

Some fifteen years after Bodmer's publication, which, for the rest, is not celebrated as an editorial feat, one C. H. Müller undertook a Collection of German Poems from the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries; wherein, among other articles, he reprinted Bodmer's Chriemhilde and Klage, with a highly remarkable addition prefixed to the former, essential indeed to the right understanding of it; and the whole now stood before the world as one Poem,

1 WESTMINSTER Review, No. 29. - Das Nibelungen Lied, übersetzt von Karl Simrock (The Nibelungen Lied, translated by Karl Simrock). 2 vols. 12mo. Berlin, 1827.

under the name of the Nibelungen Lied, or Lay of the Nibelungen. It has since been ascertained that the Klage is a foreign inferior appendage ; at best, related only as epilogue to the main work : meanwhile out of this Nibelungen, such as it was, there soon proceeded new inquiries, and kindred enterprises. For much as the Poem, in the shape it here bore, was defaced and marred, it failed not to attract observation : to all open-minded lovers of poetry, especially where a strong patriotic feeling existed, the singular antique Nibelungen was an interesting appearance. Johannes Müller, in his famous Swiss History, spoke of it in warm terins: subsequently, August Wilhelm Schlegel, through the medium of the Deutsche Museum, succeeded in awakening something like a universal popular feeling on the subject; and, as a natural consequence, a whole host of Editors and Critics, of deep and of shallow endeavour, whose labours we yet see in progress. The Nibelungen has now been investigated, translated, collated, commented upon, with more or less result, to almost boundless lengths : besides the Work named at the head of this Paper, and which stands there simply as one of the latest, we have Versions into the modern tongue by Von der Hagen, by Hinsberg, Lachmann, Büsching, Zeune, the last in Prose, and said to be worthless.; Criticisms, Introductions, Keys, and so forth, by innumerable others, of whom we mention only Docen and the Brothers Grimm.

By which means, not only has the Poem itself been elucidated with all manner of researches, but its whole environment has come forth in new light : the scene and personages it relates to, the other fictions and traditions connected with it, have attained a new importance and coherence. Manuscripts, that for ages had lain dormant, have issued from their archives into public view ; books that had circulated only in mean guise for the amusement of the people, have become important, not to one or two virtuosos, but to the general body of the learned: and now a whole System of antique Teutonic Fiction and Mythology unfolds itself, shedding here

and there a real though feeble and uncertai ģim.' vier what was once the total darkness of the old Time. No fewer than Fourteen ancient Traditionary Poems, all strangely intertwisted, and growing out of and into one another, have come to light among the Germans; who now, in looking back, find that they too, as well as the Greeks, have their Heroic Age, and round the old Valhalla, as their Northern Pantheon, a world of demi-gods and wonders.

Such a phenomenon, unexpected till of late, cannot but interest a deep-thinking, enthusiastic people. For the Nibelungen especially, which lies as the centre and distinct keystone of the whole too chaotic System, — let us say rather, blooms as a firm sunny island in the middle of these cloudcovered, ever-shifting sand-whirlpools, — they cannot sufficiently testify their love and veneration. Learned professors lecture on the Nibelungen in public schools, with a praiseworthy view to initiate the German youth in love of their fatherland; from many zealous and nowise ignorant critics we hear talk of a great Northern Epos,’ of a man Iliad ;' the more saturnine are shamed into silence, or hollow-mouth-homage: thus from all quarters comes a sound of joyful acclamation ; the Nibelungen is welcomed as a precious national possession, recovered after six centuries of neglect, and takes undisputed place among the sacred books of German literature.

Of these curious transactions some rumour has not failed to reach us in England, where our minds, from their own antiquarian disposition, were willing enough to receive it. Abstracts and extracts of the Nibelungen have been printed in our language; there have been disquisitions on it in our Reviews : hitherto, however, such as nowise to exhaust the subject. On the contrary, where so much was to be told at once, the speaker might be somewhat puzzled where to begin : it was a much readier method to begin with the end, or with any part of the middle, than like Hamilton's Ran (whose example is too little followed in literary narrative) to

« Ger

« ͹˹Թõ
 »