Obrázky na stránke

ART. III.--1. Goethes Werke. Herausgegeben im Auftrage

der Grossherzogin Sophie von Sachsen. Eighty-four vols.

(incomplete). Weimar: Böhlen, 1887-99. 2. Goethe: Sein Leben und seine Werke. Von A. Baumgartner.

Second edition. Three vols. Freiburg: Herder, 1885–86. 3. Goethe. Von Richard M. Meyer. Second edition. Three

vols. Berlin : Hofmann, 1898. 4. Goethe: Sein Leben und seine Werke, Von Albert Biel

schowsky. Second edition. Vol. I. Munich : Beck, 1899. 5. Gedanken über Goethe. Von Victor Hehn.

Von Victor Hehn. Second edition. Berlin : Bornträger, 1888. 6. Goethe Reviewed after Sixty Years. By J. R. Seeley.

London: Seeley and Co., 1894. 7. New Studies in Literature. By Edward Dowden. London:

Kegan Paul, 1895.
8. Essai sur Goethe. Par Édouard Rod. Paris: Perrin, 1898.
9. Goethe und die Romantik. Briefe mit Erläuterungen.

Herausgegeben von C. Schüddekopf und O. Walzel. Vol. I.
Weimar: Verlag der Goethe-Gesellschaft, 1898.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

ONE among the great writers of the world's literature has

in his time been the object of a deeper reverence, a more passionate worship than Goethe; yet none, on the other hand, has been so often doubted, so often repudiated, even held up to scorn. His compatriots have lately celebrated, with much pomp and fervour, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth; but in the world outside Germany the occasion has passed comparatively unnoticed. It is, indeed, one of the peculiar characteristics of Goethe's genius that later generations seem continually to have felt the necessity of revising their judgments of it. We hardly find a similar attitude towards any other of the world's greatest men. Such poets as Dante and Shakespeare have, it is true, had their periods of depreciation or indifference, but that was because the critical theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries refused to acknowledge that genius might be, in Schiller's phrase, naive' as well as sentimental.' Once, however, such an æsthetic principle was admitted, the hierarchy of literature established itself in accordance with it; for, it is, after all, theories rather than individual tastes which decide such matters. Some of us moderns may turn from Homer or Dante to other poets who appeal more to us personally, who have a more immediate message for us, but we do not think of questioning their greatness. With Goethe, however, it seems otherwise; theoretical objections to a high

estimate of his genius there are none, and yet, again and again throughout the century, thinking men have felt the necessity of putting to themselves the questions, Was Goethe really so great? Is he still great? And, if so, wherein consists his peculiar greatness ?' A glance cast over the vast library of literature which, in the course of the last sixty years, has sprung up round Goethe's work and personality will show example after example of such re-estimations. Similarly, in the life of every individual who has once fallen under Goethe's spell there comes a day when he says to himself, • Is Goethe really all to me that I have believed him to be, or am I taking his greatness on trust ?'

Amongst ourselves, for instance, the late Sir John Seeley felt that the time is come to revise altogether the estimate of Goethe which we have received from the last generation, and the volume of suggestive essays collected under the title “Goethe Reviewed after Sixty Years' may be taken as his own contribution to such a revision. Sir John Seeley made no claim to be a specialist in the subject: while his admiration for Goethe is great and frankly expressed, he regards Goethe as a philosopher rather than a poet, as the creator of a theory of life rather than as a supreme literary artist; but the book is a good example of the attitude of the cultured Englishman of our time towards Germany's greatest poet. To take another case, it is not very long since Professor Dowden alarmed the faithful by assuming the role of • Devil's Advocate' against Goethe. His article, The Case against Goethe,' was another example of the questioning attitude of the present generation. Professor Dowden approached the subject from an unusual side; he hoped to stimulate a revision of current opinions by placing himself in the position of an adversary. Let us,' he said, promote the faith with the aggressive zeal of scepticism, and Goethe will acknowledge us as friends from whom he need not desire to be saved.'

The most notable attempt, however, at what might be called, in Nietzsche's phrase, an Umwertung der Goethe'schen Werte, is M. Édouard Rod's Essai sur Goethe.' M. Rod is a distinguished member of the little band of French cosmopolites who, in the pages of the Revue des Deux Mondes,' have fought so effectually against the intellectual exclusiveness of their nation; moreover, his years of academic apprenticeship in the University of Geneva brought him into more intimate touch with les littératures du Nord' than is usual


French critics. M. Rod's study of Goethe has evidently sprung from motives similar to those which prompted Sir John Seeley's

book : his object has been to bring order and clearness into his own convictions.

• It has seemed to us,' he says, 'that the moment has come when we must re-read the chief works of Goethe with the aid of the principal documents which elucidate them, re-read them in a spirit of criticism, that is to say, with as much freedom as possible from the judgments that have already been passed upon them. We must understand their significance for their author and for ourselves; we must estimate their importance for the literature which followed them. . . If the expression were not presumptuous, we should say that we propose to re-open the case of the great Goethe, without need it be said ?—imagining that our judgment will be final, but merely endeavouring to bring it into barmony with the spirit that inspires his works.'

To be frank, however, M. Rod's book, in spite of its promising programme, shows rather the limitations of the French mind with regard to the esprit allemand than the limitations of Goethe. Much that M. Rod here puts forward is not new; still more is merely beating the air. To begin with, M. Rod will find few to agree with his method of criticism when he applies to Goethe's work the criteria of modern realism. He dwells, for example, with disapproval upon the discrepancies between Goethe's Goetz von Berlichingen' and the historical Goetz; he cavils at • Werther' because it is not more autobiographical than it is; he dismisses • T'asso' because it does not give a truthful picture of the real Tasso and the real Ferrara: in short, he reviews Goethe's masterpieces

comme s'ils venaient de paraître hier.' Such a method is obviously just neither to Goethe nor to M. Rod's public. What would M. Rod himself say to a critic who ventured to discuss Corneille, or Chateaubriand, or even George Sand, in this spirit? Nor bas he approached Goethe with that freedom from bias which is essential to all such revisions. Au cours de ces études,' he says, je me suis quelquefois irrité contre cet homme dont la supériorité eut tant de faiblesses.' This, in a word, seems to us the weak side of the book : behind its arguments there is too often a feeling of irritation.

Such examples indicate to some extent the attitude of foreign criticism towards Goetbe at the present time, and they are corroborated by the comparative rarity with which Goethe is nowadays quoted or appealed to as an authority in France or England. 'Outside Germany, the world is plainly settling down to an opinion of the poet which is considerably more sober than that of the earlier decades of tbis century. Not only Carlyle and Lewes, but Matthew Arnold and Edmond Scherer

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

represent a standpoint with regard to Goetbe which, for better or worse, we have left behind us. In other words, he seems for us already to have passed into the classical retirement of those poets and thinkers whose message has no longer any immediate bearing on modern life. In Germany, on the other hand, directly opposite movement has set in within recent years. Not that the detractor is absent even there ; indeed, by far the most formidable attack upon Goethe's fair name and position is contained in a German work—which M. Rod has evidently honoured with a close study—the · Life’ of Goethe by A. Baumgartner. This careful and genuinely original book, in which a member of the Society of Jesus takes the part of counsel for the prosecution, has not only beneficially stimulated the study of Goethe, but has appreciably freed German criticism of him from indiscriminate eulogy.

The present attitude of the Germans as a nation towards Goethe is an element in the evolution of the new Empire which no observant student can afford to overlook. At no time in the history of Germany, not even in the wild years of fermentation, when, with such lordly generosity, Goethe flung out masterpieces like • Goetz' and • Werther' into the seed field of time,' has the poet been held in such high esteem by his people as he is to-day; at no time bas he been hailed as their greatest literary genius with such accord as on the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth, the 28th of August last. This is a fact wbich demands a little closer attention; it is worth while to enquire what ground the Germans have for thus becoming, in the maturity of their political life, such enthusiastic Goetheaner.' Is it merely the vanity of a prosperous nation which seeks an intellectual leader and a spiritual head, and, in default of a Dante or a Shakespeare, bas deified Goethe ? Or, if other and more solid reasons exist, are they of a sufficiently cosmopolitan nature to justify us in confronting with them the indifference towards Goetbe which other nations show ?

This is one of the questions to the consideration of which we propose to devote the following pages. Without desiring to add one more to the attempts at re-estimating or rehabilitating Goethe, we shall be content if, in some degree, we can clear the way for such a rehabilitation, by showing what claim Goethe still has upon us.

With the imposing celebrations which Frankfurt organised in honour of the anniversary fresh in our memory, we shall attempt to estimate what share Goethe has had in the intellectual life of the century that is now about to close.

A national literature may be studied under various aspects, and by various methods ; but, rightly considered, it is some


appears in


thing more than a collection of works of greater or less worth ; it is also the continuous expression of a nation's artistic temperament, and its history is a process of organic evolution. From this evolutional standpoint—which need not, as a recent French critic would have us believe, in any way condemn other points of view-certain features in literature, hitherto but little regarded, acquire a new importance.

We are obliged to consider what might be called the dynamic element, the motive force, in a work of literature—to estimate a book or poem, not only per se, but also with regard to the influence it has exerted upon the literature of the next age. It is plain that under this aspect many

writer of the past new light. Richardson, for instance, is dynamically' a more important personage in European literature than Fielding, Rousseau than Voltaire, Herder than Lessing; the “Sentimental Journey' is, from this point of view, à more important book than Tom Jones,' Lessing's • Emilia Galotti' than his • Minna von Barnhelm.' Even comparatively obscure writers, like the eighteenth-century dramatist Lillo, are found to assume quite imposing proportions when regarded as forces in the literary evolution of the generation which came after them. It is Goethe's dynamic influence upon the nineteenth century that we intend to keep principally in view in the present article.

In the course of his long life Goethe applied himself to such varied forms of activity, and passed through so many phases, that we are confronted with not one but many

Goethes. There is the poet, the man of science, the critic; there is again one Goethe who wrote • Werther,' another who wrote Tasso,' and yet another who wrote the Westöstliche Divan' and the

Wahlverwandtschaften.' No single definition could possibly be wide enough to embrace all these different personalities, and to reduce our conception of the man to that same unity which the name of Dante or Shakespeare calls up in our minds. Goethe began life in Frankfurt and Leipzig in the unadulterated eighteenth-century spirit of the Frederician Age; he even wrote a Schäferspiel,' and he turned out love songs and anacreontics as yet untainted by the 'Sturm und Drang,' which, a little later, swept across Germany from France, Goethe not only came into touch with the Leipzig of Gottsched, Gellert, and Lessing, but, in his earliest student days, actually lived heart and soul in it. The literary world which Frederic the Great, in his famous tract on German literature, held up to the pity of Europe, was also Goethe's. This is worth emphasising, for nothing brings more vividly before us the enormous span of

« PredošláPokračovať »