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The Classical Period of Modern German Literature (1740-1832)

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

(aFrom the Swiss Controversy to the “Sturm und Drang.”—Between Opitz and Gottsched German literature passed successively through the various stages characteristic of all Renaissance literatures—from that represented by Trissino and the French Pl?iade, by way of the aberrations of Marini and the estilo culto, to the art po?tique of Boileau. And precisely as in France, the next advance was achieved in a battle between the “ancients” and the “moderns,” the German “ancients” being represented by Gottsched, the “moderns” by the Swiss literary reformers, J.J. Bodmer (1698-1783) and J.J. Breitinger (1701-1776). The latter in his Kritische Dichtkunst (1739) maintained doctrines which were in opposition to Gottsched’s standpoint in his treatise of the same name, and Bodmer supported his friend’s initiative; a pamphlet war ensued between Leipzig and Z?rich, with which in 1740-1741 the classical period of modern German literature may be said to open. The Swiss, men of little originality, found their theories in the writings of Italian and English critics; and from these they learned how literature might be freed from the fetters of pseudo-classicism. Basing their arguments on Milton’s Paradise Lost, which Bodmer had translated into prose (1732), they demanded room for the play of genius and inspiration; they insisted that the imagination should not be hindered in its attempts to rise above the world of reason and common sense. Their victory was due, not to the skill with which they presented their arguments, but to the fact that literature itself was in need of greater freedom. It was in fact a triumph, not of personalities or of leaders, but of ideas. The effects of the controversy are to be seen in a group of Leipzig writers of Gottsched’s own school, the Bremer Beitr?ger as they were called after their literary organ. These men—C.F. Gellert (1715-1769), the author of graceful fables and tales in verse, G.W. Rabener (1714-1771), the mild satirist of Saxon provinciality, the dramatist J. Elias Schlegel (1719-1749), who in more ways than one was Lessing’s forerunner, and a number of minor writers—did not set themselves up in active opposition to their master, but they tacitly adopted many of the principles which the Swiss had advocated. And in the Bremer Beitr?ge there appeared in 1748 the first instalment of an epic by F.G. Klopstock (1724-1803), Der Messias, which was the best illustration of that lawlessness against which Gottsched had protested. More effectively than Bodmer’s dry and uninspired theorizing, Klopstock’s Messias, and in a still higher degree, his Odes, laid the foundations of modern German literature in the 18th century. 791His immediate followers, it is true, did not help to advance matters; Bodmer and J.K. Lavater (1741-1801), whose “physiognomic” investigations interested Goethe at a later date, wrote dreary and now long forgotten epics on religious themes. Klopstock’s rhapsodic dramas, together with Macpherson’s Ossian, which in the ’sixties awakened a widespread enthusiasm throughout Germany, were responsible for the so-called “bardic” movement; but the noisy rhapsodies of the leaders of this movement, the “bards” H.W. von Gerstenberg (1737-1823), K.F. Kretschmann (1738-1809) and Michael Denis (1729-1800), had little of the poetic inspiration of Klopstock’s Odes.

The indirect influence of Klopstock as the first inspired poet of modern Germany and as the realization of Bodmer’s theories can, however, hardly be over-estimated. Under Frederick the Great, who, as the docile pupil of French culture, had little sympathy for unregulated displays of feeling, neither Klopstock nor his imitators were in favour in Berlin, but at the university of Halle considerable interest was taken in the movement inaugurated by Bodmer. Here, before Klopstock’s name was known at all, two young poets, J.I. Pyra (1715-1744) and S.G. Lange (1711-1781), wroteFreundschaftliche Lieder (1737), which were direct forerunners of Klopstock’s rhymeless lyric poetry; and although the later Prussian poets, J.W.L. Gleim (1719-1803), J.P. Uz (1720-1796) and J.N. G?tz (1721-1781), who were associated with Halle, and K.W. Ramler (1725-1798) in Berlin, cultivated mainly the Anacreontic and the Horatian ode—artificial forms, which kept strictly within the classic canon—yet Friedrich von Hagedorn (1708-1754) in Hamburg showed to what perfection even the Anacreontic and the lighter vers de soci?t? could be brought. The Swiss physiologist Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) was the first German poet to give expression to the beauty and sublimity of Alpine scenery (Die Alpen, 1734), and a Prussian officer, Ewald Christian von Kleist (1715-1759), author of Der Fr?hling (1749), wrote the most inspired nature-poetry of this period. Klopstock’s supreme importance lay, however, in the fact that he was a forerunner of the movement of Sturm und Drang. But before turning to that movement we must consider two writers who, strictly speaking, also belong to the age under consideration—Lessing and Wieland.

As Klopstock had been the first of modern Germany’s inspired poets, so Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) was the first critic who brought credit to the German name throughout Europe. He was the most liberal-minded exponent of 18th-century rationalism. Like his predecessor Gottsched, whom he vanquished more effectually than Bodmer had done, he had unwavering faith in the classic canon, but “classic” meant for him, as for his contemporary, J.J. Winckelmann (1717-1768), Greek art and literature, and not the products of French pseudo-classicism, which it had been Gottsched’s object to foist on Germany. He went, indeed, still further, and asserted that Shakespeare, with all his irregularities, was a more faithful observer of the spirit of Aristotle’s laws, and consequently a greater poet, than were the French classic writers. He looked to England and not to France for the regeneration of the German theatre, and his own dramas were pioneer-work in this direction. Miss Sara Sampson (1755) is ab?rgerliche Trag?die on the lines of Lillo’s Merchant of London, Minna von Barnhelm (1767), a comedy in the spirit of Farquhar; in Emilia Galotti(1772), again with English models in view, he remoulded the “tragedy of common life” in a form acceptable to the Sturm und Drang; and finally inNathan der Weise (1779) he won acceptance for iambic blank verse as the medium of the higher drama. His two most promising disciples—J.F. von Cronegk (1731-1758), and J.W. von Brawe (1738-1758)—unfortunately died young, and C.F. Weisse (1726-1804) was not gifted enough to advance the drama in its literary aspects. Lessing’s name is associated with Winckelmann’s in Laokoon (1766), a treatise in which he set about defining the boundaries between painting, sculpture and poetry, and with those of the Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) and the Berlin bookseller C.F. Nicolai (1733-1811) in the famous Literaturbriefe. Here Lessing identified himself with the best critical principles of the rationalistic movement—principles which, in the later years of his life, he employed in a fierce onslaught on Lutheran orthodoxy and intolerance.

To the widening and deepening of the German imagination C.M. Wieland (1733-1813) also contributed, but in a different way. Although no enemy of pseudo-classicism, he broke with the stiff dogmatism of Gottsched and his friends, and tempered the pietism of Klopstock by introducing the Germans to the lighter poetry of the south of Europe. With the exception of his fairy epic Oberon (1780), Wieland’s work has fallen into neglect; he did, however, excellent service to the development of German prose fiction with his psychological novel, Agathon (1766-1767), which may be regarded as a forerunner of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, and with his humorous satire Die Abderiten (1774). Wieland had a considerable following, both among poets and prose writers; he was particularly looked up to in Austria, towards the end of the 18th century, where the literary movement advanced more slowly than in the north. Here Aloys Blumauer (1755-1789) and J.B. von Alxinger (1755-1797) wrote their travesties and epics under his influence. In Saxony, M.A. von Th?mmel (1738-1817) showed his adherence to Wieland’s school in his comic epic in prose, Wilhelmine (1764), and in the general tone of his prose writings; on the other hand, K.A. Kortum (1745-1824), author of the most popular comic epic of the time, Die Jobsiade (1784), was but little influenced by Wieland. The German novel owed much to the example of Agathon, but the groundwork and form were borrowed from English models; Gellert had begun by imitating Richardson in his Schwedische Gr?fin (1747-1748), and he was followed by J.T. Hermes (1738-1821), by Wieland’s friend Sophie von Laroche (1730-1807), by A. von Knigge (1752-1796) and J.K.A. Mus?us (1735-1787), the last mentioned being, however, best known as the author of a collection of Volksm?rchen (1782-1786). Meanwhile a rationalism, less materialistic and strict than that of Wolff, was spreading rapidly through educated middle-class society in Germany. Men like Knigge, Moses Mendelssohn, J.G. Zimmermann (1728-1795), T.G. von Hippel (1741-1796), Christian Garve (1742-1798), J.J. Engel (1741-1802), as well as the educational theorists J.B. Basedow (1723-1790) and J.H. Pestalozzi (1746-1827), wrote books and essays on “popular philosophy” which were as eagerly read as themoralische Wochenschriften of the preceding epoch; and with this group of writers must also be associated the most brilliant of German 18th-century satirists, G.C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799).

Such was the milieu from which sprang the most advanced pioneer of the classical epoch of modern German literature, J.G. Herder (1744-1803). The transition from the popular philosophers of the Aufkl?rung to Herder was due in the first instance to the influence of Rousseau; and in Germany itself that transition is represented by men like Thomas Abbt (1738-1766) and J.G. Hamann (1730-1788). The revolutionary nature of Herder’s thought lay in that writer’s antipathy to hard and fast systems, to laws imposed upon genius; he grasped, as no thinker before him, the idea of historical evolution. By regarding the human race as the product of a slow evolution from primitive conditions, he revolutionized the methods and standpoint of historical science and awakened an interest—for which, of course, Rousseau had prepared the way—in the early history of mankind. He himself collected and published the Volkslieder of all nations (1778-1779), and drew attention to those elements in German life and art which were, in the best and most precious sense, national—elements which his predecessors had despised as inconsistent with classic formulae and systems. Herder is thus not merely the forerunner, but the actual founder of the literary movement known as Sturm und Drang. New ground was broken in a similar way by a group of poets, who show the results of Klopstock’s influence on the new literary movement: the G?ttingen “Bund” or “Hain,” a number of young students who met together in 1772, and for several years published their poetry in the G?ttinger Musenalmanach. With the exception of the two brothers, Ch. zu Stolberg (1748-1821) and F.L. zu Stolberg (1750-1819), who occupied a somewhat peculiar position 792in the “Bund,” the members of this coterie were drawn from the peasant class of the lower bourgeoisie; J.H. Voss (1751-1826), the leader of the “Bund,” was a typical North German peasant, and his idyll, Luise (1784), gives a realistic picture of German provincial life. L.H.C. H?lty (1748-1776) and J.M. Miller (1750-1814), again, excelled in simple lyrics in the tone of the Volkslied. Closely associated with the G?ttingen group were M. Claudius (1740-1815), the Wandsbecker Bote—as he was called after the journal he edited—an even more unassuming and homely representative of the German peasant in literature than Voss, and G.A. B?rger (1748-1794) who contributed to the G?ttinger Musenalmanach ballads, such as the famous Lenore (1774), of the very first rank. These ballads were the best products of the G?ttingen school, and, together with Goethe’s Strassburg and Frankfort songs, represent the highest point touched by the lyric and ballad poetry of the period.

But the G?ttingen “Bund” stood somewhat aside from the main movement of literary development in Germany; it was only a phase of Sturm und Drang, and quieter, less turbulent than that on which Goethe had set the stamp of his personality. Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) had, as a student in Leipzig (1765-1768), written lyrics in the Anacreontic vein and dramas in alexandrines. But in Strassburg, where he went to continue his studies in 1770-1771, he made the personal acquaintance of Herder, who won his interest for the new literary movement. Herder imbued him with his own ideas of the importance of primitive history and Gothic architecture and inspired him with a pride in German nationality; Herder convinced him that there was more genuine poetry in a simple Volkslied than in all the ingenuity of the German imitators of Horace or Anacreon; above all, he awakened his enthusiasm for Shakespeare. The pamphlet Von deutscher Art und Kunst (1773), to which, besides Goethe and Herder, the historian Justus M?ser (1720-1794) also contributed, may be regarded as the manifesto of the Sturm und Drang. The effect on Goethe of the new ideas was instantaneous; they seemed at once to set his genius free, and from 1771 to 1775 he was extraordinarily fertile in poetic ideas and creations. HisG?tz von Berlichingen (1771-1773), the first drama of the Sturm und Drang, was followed within a year by the first novel of the movement,Werthers Leiden (1774); he dashed off Clavigo and Stella in a few weeks in 1774 and 1775, and wrote a large number of Singspiele, dramatic satires and fragments—including Faust in its earliest form (the so-called Urfaust)—not to mention love-songs which at last fulfilled the promise of Klopstock. Goethe’s lyrics were no less epoch-making than his first drama and novel, for they put an end to the artificiality which for centuries had fettered German lyric expression. In all forms of literature he set the fashion to his time; the Shakespearian restlessness of G?tz von Berlichingenfound enthusiastic imitators in J.M.R. Lenz (1751-1792), whose Anmerkungen ?bers Theater (1774) formulated theoretically the laws, or defiance of laws, of the new drama, in F.M. von Klinger (1752-1831), J.A. Leisewitz (1752-1806), H.L. Wagner (1747-1779) and Friedrich M?ller, better known as Maler M?ller (1749-1825): The dramatic literature of the Sturm und Drang was its most characteristic product—indeed, the very name of the movement was borrowed from a play by Klinger; it was inspired, as G?tz von Berlichingen had been, by the desire to present upon the stage figures of Shakespearian grandeur impelled and tortured by gigantic passions, all considerations of plot, construction and form being regarded as subordinate to the development of character. The fiction of the Sturm und Drang, again, was in its earlier stages dominated by Werthers Leiden, as may be seen in the novels of F.H. Jacobi (1743-1819) and J.M. Miller, who has been already mentioned. Later, in the hands of J.J.W. Heinse (1749-1803), author of Ardinghello (1787), Klinger, K. Ph. Moritz (1757-1793), whose Anton Reiser (1785) clearly foreshadows Wilhelm Meister, it reflected not merely the sentimentalism, but also the philosophic and artistic ideas of the period.

With the production of Die R?uber (1781) by Johann Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), the drama of the Sturm und Drang entered upon a new development. Although hardly less turbulent in spirit than the work of Klinger and Leisewitz, Schiller’s tragedy was more skilfully adapted to the exigencies of the theatre; his succeeding dramas, Fiesco and Kabale und Liebe, were also admirable stage-plays, and in Don Carlos (1787) he abandoned prose for the iambic blank verse which Lessing had made acceptable in Nathan der Weise. The “practical” character of the new drama is also to be seen in the work of Schiller’s contemporary, O. von Gemmingen (1755-1836), the imitator of Diderot, in the excellent domestic dramas of the actors F.L. Schr?der (1744-1816) and A.W. Iffland (1759-1814), and even in the popular medieval plays, the so-called Ritterdramen of whichG?tz von Berlichingen was the model. Germany owes to the Sturm und Drang her national theatre; permanent theatres were established in these years at Hamburg, Mannheim, Gotha, and even at Vienna, which, as may be seen from the dramas of C.H. von Ayrenhoff (1733-1819), had hardly then advanced beyond Gottsched’s ideal of a national literature. The Hofburgtheater of Vienna, the greatest of all the German stages, was virtually founded in 1776.

(bGerman Classical Literature.—The energy of the Sturm und Drang, which was essentially iconoclastic in its methods, soon exhausted itself. For Goethe this phase in his development came to an end with his departure for Weimar in 1775, while, after writing Don Carlos (1787), Schiller turned from poetry to the study of history and philosophy. These subjects occupied his attention almost exclusively for several years, and not until the very close of the century did he, under the stimulus of Goethe’s friendship, return to the drama. The first ten years of Goethe’s life in Weimar were comparatively unproductive; he had left the Sturm und Drang behind him; its developments, for which he himself had been primarily responsible, were distasteful to him; and he had not yet formed a new creed. Under the influence of the Weimar court, where classic or even pseudo-classic tastes prevailed, he was gradually finding his way to a form of literary art which should reconcile the humanistic ideals of the 18th century with the poetic models of ancient Greece. But he did not arrive at clearness in his ideas until after his sojourn in Italy (1786-1788), an episode of the first importance for his mental development. Italy was, in the first instance, a revelation to Goethe of the antique; he had gone to Italy to find realized what Winckelmann had taught, and here he conceived that ideal of a classic literature, which for the next twenty years dominated German literature and made Weimar its metropolis. In Italy he gave Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787) its final form, he completed Egmont (1788)—like the exactly contemporaryDon Carlos of Schiller, a kind of bridge from Sturm und Drang to classicism—and all but finished Torquato Tasso (1790). Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-1796) bears testimony to the clear and decisive views which he had acquired on all questions of art and of the practical conduct of life.

Long before Wilhelm Meister appeared, however, German thought and literature had arrived at that stability and self-confidence which are the most essential elements in a great literary period. In the year of Lessing’s death, 1781, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the great philosopher, had published his Kritik der reinen Vernunft, and this, together with the two later treatises, Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (1788) and Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790), placed the Germans in the front rank of thinking nations. Under the influence of Kant, Schiller turned from the study of history to that of philosophy and more especially aesthetics. His philosophic lyrics, his treatises on Anmut und W?rde, on the ?sthetische Erziehung des Menschen (1795), and?ber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung (1795) show, on the philosophic and the critical side, the movement of the century from the irresponsible subjectivity of Sturm und Drang to the calm idealism of classic attainment. In the same way, German historical writing had in these years, under the leadership of men like Justus M?ser, Thomas Abbt, I. Iselin, F.C. Schlosser, Schiller himself and, greatest of all, Johannes von M?ller (1752-1809), advanced from disconnected, unsystematic chronicling to a clearly thought-out philosophic and scientific method. J.G.A. 793Forster (1754-1794), who had accompanied Cook round the world, and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), gave Germany models of clear and lucid descriptive writing. In practical politics and economics, when once the unbalanced vagaries of undiluted Rousseauism had fallen into discredit, Germany produced much wise and temperate thinking which prevented the spread of the French Revolution to Germany, and provided a practical basis on which the social and political fabric could be built up anew, after the Revolution had made the old r?gime impossible in Europe. Men like Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) and the philosopher J.G. Fichte (1762-1814) were, in two widely different spheres, representative of this type of intellectual eminence.

Meanwhile, in 1794, that friendship between Goethe and Schiller had begun, which lasted, unbroken, until the younger poet’s death in 1805. These years mark the summit of Goethe and Schiller’s classicism, and the great epoch of Weimar’s history as a literary focus. Schiller’s treatises had provided a theoretical basis; his new journal, Die Horen, might be called the literary organ of the movement—although in this respect the subsequentMusenalmanach, in which the two poets published their magnificent ballad poetry, had more value. Goethe, as director of the ducal theatre, could to a great extent control dramatic production in Germany. Under his encouragement, Schiller turned from philosophy to poetry and wrote the splendid series of classic dramas beginning with the trilogy of Wallenstein and closing with Wilhelm Tell and the fragment of Demetrius; while to Goethe we owe, above all, the epic of Hermann und Dorothea. Less important were the latter’s severely classical plays Die nat?rliche Tochter and Pandora; but it must not be forgotten that it was chiefly owing to Schiller’s stimulus that in those years Goethe brought the first part of Faust (1808) to a conclusion.

Although acknowledged leaders of German letters, Goethe and Schiller had considerable opposition to contend with. The Sturm und Drang had by no means exhausted itself, and the representatives of the once dominant rationalistic movement were particularly arrogant and overbearing. The literature associated with both Sturm und Drang and rationalism was at this period palpably decadent; no comparison could be made between the magnificent achievements of Goethe and Schiller, or even of Herder and Wieland with the “family” dramas of Iffland, still less with the extraordinarily popular plays of A. von Kotzebue (1761-1819), or with those bustling medieval Ritterdramen, which were especially cultivated in south Germany. There is a wide gap between Moritz’s Anton Reiser or the philosophic novels which Klinger wrote in his later years, and Goethe’sMeister; nor can the once so fervently admired novels of Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825) take a very high place. Neither the fantastic humour nor the penetrating thoughts with which Richter’s books are strewn make up for their lack of artistic form and interest; they are essentially products of Sturm und Drang. Lastly, in the province of lyric and epic poetry, it is impossible to regard poets like the gentle F. von Matthisson (1761-1831), or the less inspired G.L. Kosegarten (1758-1818) and C.A. Tiedge (1752-1841), as worthily seconding the masterpieces of Goethe and Schiller. Thus when we speak of the greatness of Germany’s classical period, we think mainly of the work of her two chief poets; the distance that separated them from their immediate contemporaries was enormous. Moreover, at the very close of the 18th century a new literary movement arose in admitted opposition to the classicism of Weimar, and to this movement, which first took definite form in the Romantic school, the sympathies of the younger generation turned. Just as in the previous generation the Sturm und Drang had been obliged to make way for a return to classic and impersonal principles of literary composition, so now the classicism of Goethe and Schiller, which had produced masterpieces like Wallenstein and Hermann und Dorothea, had to yield to a revival of individualism and subjectivity, which, in the form of Romanticism, profoundly influenced the literature of the whole 19th century.

(cThe Romantic Movement.—The first Romantic school, however, was founded, not as a protest against the classicism of Weimar, with which its leaders were in essential sympathy, but against the shallow, utilitarian rationalism of Berlin. Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), a leading member of the school, was in reality a belated St?rmer und Dr?nger, who in his early years had chafed under the unimaginative tastes of the Prussian capital, and sought for a positive faith to put in their place. Friedrich H?lderlin (1770-1843), one of the most gifted poets of this age, demonstrates no less clearly than Tieck the essential affinity between Sturm und Drang and Romanticism; he, too, forms a bridge from the one individualistic movement to the other. The theoretic basis of Romanticism was, however, established by the two brothers, August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel (1767-1845 and 1772-1829), who, accepting, in great measure, Schiller’s aesthetic conclusions, adapted them to the needs of their own more subjective attitude towards literature. While Schiller, like Lessing before him, insisted on the critic’s right to sit in judgment according to a definite code of principles, these Romantic critics maintained that the first duty of criticism was to understand and appreciate; the right of genius to follow its natural bent was sacred. The Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders by Tieck’s school-friend W.H. Wackenroder (1773-1798) contained the Romantic art-theory, while the hymns and fragmentary novels of Friedrich von Hardenberg (known as Novalis, 1772-1801), and the dramas and fairy tales of Tieck, were the characteristic products of Romantic literature. The universal sympathies of the movement were exemplified by the many admirable translations—greatest of all, Schlegel’s Shakespeare (1797-1810)—which were produced under its auspices. Romanticism was essentially conciliatory in its tendencies, that is to say, it aimed at a reconciliation of poetry with other provinces of social and intellectual life; the hard and fast boundaries which the older critics had set up as to what poetry might and might not do, were put aside, and the domain of literature was regarded as co-extensive with life itself; painting and music, philosophy and ethics, were all accepted as constituent elements of or aids to Romantic poetry. Fichte, and to a much greater extent, F.W.J. von Schelling (1775-1854) were the exponents of the Romantic doctrine in philosophy, while the theologian F.E.D. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) demonstrated how vital the revival of individualism was for religious thought.

The Romantic school, whose chief members were the brothers Schlegel, Tieck, Wackenroder and Novalis, was virtually founded in 1798, when the Schlegels began to publish their journal the Athenaeum; but the actual existence of the school was of very short duration. Wackenroder and Novalis died young, and by the year 1804 the other members were widely separated. Two years later, however, another phase of Romanticism became associated with the town of Heidelberg. The leaders of this second or younger Romantic school were K. Brentano (1778-1842), L.A. von Arnim (1781-1831) and J.J. von G?rres (1776-1848), their organ, corresponding to the Athenaeum, was the Zeitung f?r Einsiedler, or Tr?st-Einsamkeit, and their most characteristic production the collection of Volkslieder, published under the title Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1805-1808). Compared with the earlier school the Heidelberg writers were more practical and realistic, more faithful to nature and the commonplace life of everyday. They, too, were interested in the German past and in the middle ages, but they put aside the idealizing glasses of their predecessors and kept to historic truth; they wrote historical novels, not stories of an imaginary medieval world as Novalis had done, and when they collected Volkslieder and Volksb?cher, they refrained from decking out the simple tradition with musical effects, or from heightening the poetic situation by “Romantic irony.” Their immediate influence on German intellectual life was consequently greater; they stimulated and deepened the interest of the German people in their own past; and we owe to them the foundations of the study of German philology and medieval literature, both the brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm (1785-1863 and 1786-1859) having been in touch with this circle in their early days. Again, the Heidelberg poets strengthened the national and patriotic spirit 794of their people; they prepared the way for the rising against Napoleon, which culminated in the year 1813, and produced that outburst of patriotic song, associated with E.M. Arndt (1769-1860), K. Th. K?rner (1791-1813) and M. von Schenkendorf (1783-1817).

The subsequent history of Romanticism stands in close relation to the Heidelberg school, and when, about 1809, the latter broke up, and Arnim and Brentano settled in Berlin, the Romantic movement followed two clearly marked lines of development, one north German, the other associated with W?rttemberg. The Prussian capital, hotbed of rationalism as it was, had, from the first, been intimately associated with Romanticism; the first school had virtually been founded there, and north Germans, like Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) and Zacharias Werner (1768-1823)had done more for the development of the Romantic drama than had the members of either Romantic school. These men, and more especially Kleist, Prussia’s greatest dramatic poet, showed how the capricious Romantic ideas could be brought into harmony with the classic tradition established by Schiller, how they could be rendered serviceable to the national theatre. At the same time, Berlin was not a favourable soil for the development of Romantic ideas, and the circle of poets which gathered round Arnim and Brentano there, either themselves demonstrated the decadence of these ideas, or their work contained elements which in subsequent years hastened the downfall of the movement. Friedrich de la Motte Fouqu? (1777-1843), for instance, shows how easy it was for the medieval tastes of the Romanticists to degenerate into mediocre novels and plays, hardly richer in genuine poetry than were the productions of the later Sturm und Drang; and E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822), powerful genius though he was, cultivated with preference in his stories, a morbid super-naturalism, which was only a decadent form of the early Romantic delight in the world of fairies and spirits. The lyric was less sensitive to baleful influences, but even here the north German Romantic circle could only point to one lyric poet of the first rank, J. von Eichendorff (1788-1857); while in the poetry of A. von Chamisso (1781-1838) the volatile Romantic spirituality is too often wanting. Others again, like Friedrich R?ckert (1788-1866), sought the inspiration which Romanticism was no longer able to give, in the East; still another group, of which Wilhelm M?ller (1794-1827) is the chief representative, followed Byron’s example and awakened German sympathy for the oppressed Greeks and Poles.

Apart from Eichendorff, the vital lyric poetry of the third and last phase of Romanticism must be looked for in the Swabian school, which gathered round Uhland. Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862) was himself a disciple of the Heidelberg poets, and, in his lyrics and especially in his ballads, he succeeded in grafting the lyricism of the Romantic school on to the traditions of German ballad poetry which had been handed down from B?rger, Schiller and Goethe. But, as was the case with so many other disciples of the Heidelberg Romanticists, Uhland’s interest in the German past was the serious interest of the scholar rather than the purely poetic interest of the earlier Romantic poets. The merit of the Swabian circle, the chief members of which were J. Kerner (1786-1862), G. Schwab (1792-1850), W. Waiblinger (1804-1830), W. Hauff (1802-1827) and, most gifted of all, E. M?rike (1804-1875) was that these writers preserved the Romantic traditions from the disintegrating influences to which their north German contemporaries were exposed. They introduced few new notes into lyric poetry, but they maintained the best traditions intact, and when, a generation later, the anti-Romantic movement of “Young Germany” had run its course, it was to W?rttemberg Germany looked for a revival of the old Romantic ideas.

Meanwhile, in the background of all these phases of Romantic evolution, through which Germany passed between 1798 and 1832, stands the majestic and imposing figure of Goethe. Personally he had in the early stages of the movement been opposed to that reversion to subjectivity and lawlessness which the first Romantic school seemed to him to represent; to the end of his life he regarded himself as a “classic,” not a “romantic” poet. But, on the other hand, he was too liberal-minded a thinker and critic to be oblivious to the fruitful influence of the new movement. Almost without exception he judged the young poets of the new century fairly, and treated them sympathetically and kindly; he was keenly alive to the new—and for the most part “unclassical”—development of literature in England, France and Italy; and his own published work, above all, the first part ofFaust (1808), Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809), Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811-1814, a final volume in 1833), West?stlicher Divan (1819), Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821-1829) and the second part of Faust (published in 1832 after the poet’s death), stood in no antagonism to the Romantic ideas of their time. One might rather say that Goethe was the bond between the two fundamental literary movements of the German classical age; that his work achieved that reconciliation of “classic” and “romantic” which, rightly regarded, was the supreme aim of the Romantic school itself.

Book: Reflection on the Important Things