Obrazy na stronie

its “ careful journal ” the words, looks, and actions of the greatest poet of Germany, with the view of transmitting even the minutest relic of them to posterity, is cold and powerless, years before the object of its labors is consigned to the tomb. It is the death of Goethe, in fact, which restores the journal of Falk to existence. Now that the great original is withdrawn from our gaze, the portraits, sketches, even the caricatures of those who have looked on him with admiration, envy, or dislike, begin to acquire importance or value. The present publication, however, though sufficiently interesting as far as it goes, scarcely fulfills the promise of its title-page: the author neither enjoyed the advantages, nor was subjected to the corresponding grievances of a Boswell.' of Goethe, in the more intimate and domestic relations of life, he saw apparently little. Of his bearing and habits even in society, the present volume says not much ; while we feel, in general, on closing it, that it leaves many of the most interesting, many of the most problematic points of Goethe's character comparatively untouched. Yet, so far as it goes, it bears the stamp of reality ; the anecdotes, the conversations, have the visible impress of truth. It is an authentic contribution, at least, to the history of Goethe's mind and habits, and, bating a quantity of trash in the shape of an appendix, which consists chiefly of an affected and absurd commentary, in French, will perhaps be regarded as a valuable one.

The biographic observations on Goethe's moral indifference on many points, which, at the present day, form the main pivots on which men are at issue, appear to us to be perfectly well founded as regards his character.

"From the moment,” he observes, “that the impulse of the age takes a direction passionately opposed to what is either really evil, or believed to be so, it concerns itself little with the investigation of those better points of view which this object of dislike might present to an impartial eye. In this way Goethe, through what constituted the very perfection of his nature, his calm, contemplative disposition, stood in direct hostility to the spirit of his time. His wish was contemplation; that of the age was action; and even the most miserable production which seemed to favor this leaning, met with its countenance and support. This led him one day to remark to me, ‘Religion and politics are a troubled element for art; I have always, as far as possible, held them at a distance.' There was but one party with which in such cases he sided, namely, that in the train of which tranquillity, even were it only apparent, was likely to be attained.

“Religion and politics, church and state, however, were unfortunately the very cardinal points on which the regeneration of the age was supposed to turn. All science and all exertion had been forcibly laid hold of, as it were, by the prevailing spirit of the time,

and drawn towards the common centre. A path had been forced open through the most complicated questions, and the ignorant crowd followed the general impulse without any distinct understanding of its direction.

“The clear-sighted Goethe saw this, and this was the reason why all discussions of this kind were so averse to his nature, and why in society he would rather converse about a novel of Boccaccio than subjects which seemed to others to involve the common good of Europe. Many ascribed this mode of thinking to a cold and unsympathizing indifference, but assuredly without justice. To have been otherwise, to have shared the general enthusiasm for the new order of things, like Wieland, Klopstock, or even Herder, Goethe must have given up that spirit of many-sided contemplation in which he viewed all things, and consequently this historical appearance among the rest. Unquestionably the calm observer of all the events of this agitated existence, and the man who is involved in them, acting or suffering, are two very different characters; but the latter is unqualified to form any proper judgment of his own situation or of that of others. A fixed point is wanting for his observations. The dove cannot imitate the nature of the eagle, nor the eagle that of the dove: both have their place : but there must be in nature something of a higher order than either, - something which is neither eagle nor dove, which entertains both in its ample lap, and sees the excellences and the defects of both; which acknowledges the first, and, if it cannot love, at least endeavours to bear with and excuse the latter. It is only from this firm, elevated point of view, from which the world, with all its objects, spreads beneath like a variegated curtain, that the spirit of Goethe's representations of nature, or the nature of this extraordinary man himself, can be appreciated."

The following passage, illustrative of that peculiar vein of humor in which Goethe in familiar conversation often indulged, is a long one, but the truth, the easy point of the observations it contains, will, we are sure, be apparent to every one acquainted with German literature. Goethe had been talking of the plays of Schiller, and the poems of Wieland, and expressing the everspringing delight with which he recurred to those productions of the older time. He proceeded in the following strain of jocular yet deep-meaning criticism upon the literary dynasties of the day.

" "Some scientific journal in Ingolstadt, or Landshut, I forget which, lately formally conferred the dignity of sovereign poet and emperor

of letters on Frederick Schlegel. God keep his majesty steady on his new throne, and send him a long and happy reign! for there is no denying that his kingdom is surrounded by very rebellious subjects; of which,' glancing his eye upon me, some are to be found in our own neighbourhood.

“ In the German republic of letters, matters seemed to be much

in the same situation as in the decline of the Roman empire, when every man aspired to rule, and no one could find out who was really emperor. Our great men are living in exile, and every bold-faced fellow may be made emperor, who can gain the favor of the soldiery. As to a few emperors, more or less, that is a matter that no one troubles himself about now-a-days. Thirty emperors reigned at one time in Rome; why should not there be as many sovereigns in our own domain of letters! Wieland and Schiller have been deposed long ago. How long, therefore, my old purple mantle will be allowed to remain upon my shoulders, I know not; but should it come to this, I am determined to show the world that I am not in love with crown or sceptre, and can bear my deposition with patience. But to return to our emperors. Novalis did not reach that dignity, had he lived a little longer his chance was a fair one. Pity that he died so young! particularly as he humored the inclination of the age, and turned Catholic. Students and young ladies, we are told, have made pilgrimages, to scatter flowers upon his tomb. As I read but few newspapers, I should be indebted to my friends, when any thing of importance of this kind takes place, a canonization, or such like, — if they would let me know of it. For my part, I shall be contented to allow men to say every thing that is bad of me during my life, if they will only allow me to rest quietly in my tomb. Fleck, also, ruled for a time, but he, too, is shorn of sceptre and crown. We are told there was too much of the Titus in his nature; he was too gentle, too mild ; the situation of his kingdom demanded a severer government, —- I might say, a certain barbarian greatness. Then came the reign of the Schlegels,

- and this was an improvement! Augustus Schlegel, the first of the name, and Frederick Schlegel, the second, - both governed, to be sure, with the necessary energy. Not a day passed but some one was banished, or two or three executed. The public have always been fond of an execution. A young adventurer in literature, lately described Frederick Schlegel as a German Hercules, walking about with his club, and striking dead every one that came in his way.

In return, the grateful emperor has exalted his admirer to the rank of nobility, and appointed him, without more ado, one of the heroes of German literature. The diploma is made out. I have read it myself. Gifts, domains, whole provinces in the gazettes, are at the service of their friends; their enemies are quietly put out of the way, - by never reading or alluding to their productions. As we in Germany are a set of people who seldom read any thing which is not reviewed, this method of despatching a man was rather an ungenerous one. The best thing in the whole affair is, that the loss of the dynasty is accompanied with no danger to the

For instance, some morning an emperor awakes, and finds, to his astonishment, that his crown is gone. I adınit, this is rather annoying ; but the head, supposing always emperor

had one, is still in the same place, and that is VOL. 1.- NO. II.



that the

some consolation. How different from those frightful scenes of old, when Roman emperors were strangled by dozens, and thrown into the Tiber! Whatever becomes of my crown and sceptre, I trust at least I shall die quietly in my bed here, on the banks of the Ilm.

“When I was young, I have often heard wise men say, that to create one great poet or painter was a labor for a century; but now the case is altered. Our young people manage the thing much better now-a-days, and skip into immortality with such ease, it is quite a pleasure to look at them. A young man called upon me lately, who had just returned from Heidelberg; I don't think

he could have been above nineteen. He assured me quite seri· ously, that now his mind was complete, and that having made

himself master of all that reading could give, he would in future read no more, but set about developing his views of the world, in social circles, without allowing his views to be impeded by the speeches or writings of others. There was an admirable resolution ! When one sets out from nothing, a man's progress must in a short time be quite remarkable.'”

We all know Goethe's attachment to theatricals; he might be said to serve the stage in every conceivable capacity, from that of dramatic poet down to that of prompter. He was himself a very tolerable performer in amateur theatricals. The following ludi. crous scene took place on one of those occasions :

The piece was the ‘Jealous Husband.' The part of the lover in this piece had been assigned to Einsiedel; but, unluckily, before the representation he became unwell. His part could not be filled up on so short notice, and the piece was completely at a stand. At last a bold captain of dragoons, more valiant than versed in such matters, stepped forward and undertook the part. In three days he made his appearance at rehearsal; and, assisted by the prompter, got through tolerably well. When the representation, however, arrived, the face of things was altered, and the adventurous captain fell into complete confusion. He got as flustered as if a squadron of dragoons had been in chase of him; yet he endeavoured to pluck up courage, and blundered on till the scene arrived, where he was to be surprised by the jealous husband with bis mistress, and stabbed with a dagger. Flere he totally forgot his cue; and after stammering and stuttering, came to a dead stop ; so that Bertuch, who played the jealous husband, and was only waiting for the word to rush in and despatch him, could not come at him. At last, by Goethe's advice, who had taken the direction of the whole, Bertuch rushed upon the stage to put an end to the miseries of his unfortunate rival at once. But the captain was not so easily made away with ; he would not fall. In vain did Bertuch whisper to him, “Fall, in the devil's name!' He would not stir from the spot, but stood straight as a taper beside his beloved, maintaining to all about him, and who were in vain exclaiming to bim to fall at once,- that his cue was not come. In this situation, so trying both to the manager and the performers, the former adopted a heroic resolution. He called out in a voice of thunder behind the scenes, 'If he will not fall, stab bim behind. Get quit of him any away. He is ruining the piece.' This decisive order seemed to reanimate the courage of the wavering husband. • Die!' exclaimed Bertuch, - bestowing upon him so energetic a stab in the side, that the captain, taken aback by the manæuvre, fell flat on the ground. In an instant, four active assistants, despatched by Goethe, seized on the dead man, and in spite of all his struggles, carried him off, to the great joy of the spectators.”

The following anecdote reminds us of Falstaff's correspondence with Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page. The plain truth seems to be, that Goethe had been coquetting a little with two ladies at one time, and leading each of them to suppose herself the subject of his verses. He was a member of a society at Weimar, of a very exclusive nature, consisting both of ladies and gentlemen. It was a half-fantastic imitation of the society of the days of chivalry, each gentleman selecting a lady as the object of his peculiar attention and homage.

“As the old singers of the Wartburg seemed to be revived in this new society, it will readily be imagined that each member was under an obligation to celebrate the praises of the lady he had selected, a task which of course Goethe was not likely to find a very oppressive one. That beautiful and touching song, which seems characterized by a mournful tenderness, and by the loveliness of the mountains, beginning

• Da droben auf jenem Berge,' was supposed to have owed its origin to this society ; but as different cities contended for the birth of Homer, Jena and Weimar came to dispute the right to this production. Thus much is certain, that Goethe, one evening at the society, produced the song, and laid it, like a devoted knight, at the feet of his lady, the Countess von C. Her pretensions to the sole proprietorship of the song, of

appeared extremely fair. But what followed ? Shortly afterwards, a lady from Jena paid a visit to Weimar. Goethe had in fact been frequently in Jena, where he often spent the earlier days of spring. The commencement of the song, too, with its allu. sion to the mountains, seemed to apply only to Jena, not to Weimar, where we had but one mountain, the Ettersberg, while Jena boasts of nearly thirty in its vicinity. This was not all

. The lady from Jena not only visits Weimar, but happens to call on an acquaintance of the Countess von C. The discourse turns on Goethe, his preference for Jena, his frequent residence there, and particularly in the house of this lady. "We have also,' added she, 'to congratulate ourselves on having given rise to a song, which is one of

« PoprzedniaDalej »