Obrazy na stronie
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

“ So riel Einzelnes ist in den Vordergrund gestellt worden, dass der klare Ueber-
blick über das Ganze fast verloren geht." – Rudolph Gottschall.




Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by

JAMES K. HOSMER, In the Ofice of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1879, by

JAMES K. HOSMER, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington,

[blocks in formation]


If we turn back two hundred years, we find the reading men of England, if they have time to go beyond their own authors, giving their attention, among moderns, to the Italians and Spanish. As yet in Europe only Italy and Spain, besides England, had seen the rise of literatures of sufficient moment to influence the cultivated world beyond the national limits. Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso, Machiavelli had lived, and these are still the greatest Italian names.

In Spain, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon had done their work,-work which no succeeding writers of that land have equalled.

If we go back one hundred years, the literature of France has taken the place in the estimation of the English once held by the writers of Spain and Italy; the brilliant men of the age of Louis XIV bave laid the world under their spell. In our time, again, the influence of France has been, to a large extent, supplanted. Following especially the lead of two of the most gifted Englishmen of the century, Coleridge and Carlyle, the present generation turns with most reverence to the Germans, often regarding their literature as the most important in the world, after our own, if, indeed, we are to make that exception. It will scarcely be questioned that some knowledge of the history of German literature is, to English-speaking persons, an essential part of thorough culture.

In the account of the adventures of the god Thor among the giants, as told in the Prose Edda, the story is given of his attempt to lift from the earth the cat of Utgard-Loki, the king of the giants. With all his strength the mortified Thor, lifting the cat's back into an arch, can get only one of her feet from the ground. He is consoled, however, when Utgard-Loki tells him in confidence that the cat was no other than the great Midgard serpent, which encircles the whole earth. The writer is reminded of the story as he thinks of a certain ingenuous, but callow, youth who once undertook to possess himself of a knowledge of German literature, and who, after valiant wrestling, became the victim of chagrin as deep as that which befel the mighty god of the hammer. Certainly the great Midgard serpent, encircling the earth, with its tail in its mouth, is scarcely less appropriate as a symbol of German literature than as a symbol of eternity. Twelve thousand five hundred and sixteen works are said to have been published in Germany in the one year, 1876. Of the writers esteemed of sufficient sig. nificance to be noted in a thorough history of literature, the number is legion; in one such history the indices alone, containing little else than names, fill fifty-nine large, closely-printed, double-columned pages. Again, your proper German author has no respect whatever for the eyes or the power of attention of his readers; his conscience assaults him until he gains peace by building his volumes about himself into a towering barricade. Göthe's dramatic pieces alone number more than fifty, and his work in that direction is a trifling part of what he accomplished. Jean Paul wrote between sixty and seventy books, the difficulties of whose style are so great that it has been found necessary to prepare for him a special dictionary. The selected works of Hans Sachs, the Nuremberg mastersinger, amount to more than six thousand, and are fairly corded into the vast folios in which they are preserved. Again, if we look at the size of some of the individual books, one of the works of Lohenstein, a dramatist and tale-writer of the seventeenth century, contains alone three thousand quarto pages, its synopsis requiring ninety-six.

Histories of German literature in the German language abound. Several have been translated into English ; independent histories have also been attempted by English authors. Of such accounts some are intended for scholars,-great works of reference,-others for popular reading. As regards histories of the latter kind, the present writer believes it to have been a prevailing defect that perspective has not been sufficiently considered, and that the attempt has been made to comprehend too much. The German mind has been accused, perhaps with justice, of wanting the instinct of "selection;" it has a passion for being exhaustive, and “writes a subject to its dregs,” discriminating too little between the important and the valueless. By contagion the trouble has communicated itself to English writers who have considcred German subjects. In the accounts of German literature inay be clearly seen the defects described in the sentence from Rudolph Gottschall, which stands on the title-page of this book is & motto: "So many particulars have been put into the foreground that a clear, comprehensive view of the entire subject is almost utterly lost.” Take, for instance, the excellent work of Gostwick and Harrison. It is correct and thorough; the style is not without a certain picturesque quality. It is excellent as a book of reference; but, as a whole, from its minuteness, quite unreadable. The attention utterly breaks down in the effort to retain the names of unimportant books and individuals ; one wanders bewildered in a maze of detail, and obtains no satisfactory general view.

In the present sketch of the history of German litera

« PoprzedniaDalej »