« السابقةمتابعة »
even thus wide, as may be seen from a brief sketch of his life. Christopher Martin Wieland was born at Biberach, in Swabia, September 5, 1733. His father was a Lutheran clergyman, much esteemed both for his erudition and piety. The parsonage which he inhabited is still pointed out to travellers, on the banks of a little streamlet called the Reiss. Biberach was a free town in more than one sense. Protestants and Catholics not only regarded each other as having equal rights with themselves, but they occupied the same church alternately. Sometimes the Catholic priest preached in the morning, and the Lutheran minister in the evening ; then, next Sunday, the order was reversed ; so that neither had any cause of dissatisfaction or jealousy. A clergyman, thus occupied, was well calculated to teach his son liberality of thought and feeling ; and, having received his education at the University of Halle, he was equally qualified to take charge of his education. He was one of those who thought that the earliest instruction is the best ; accordingly, we are told that the child was only three years old when a book was placed in his hands; and that, at the age of seven, he was able to read Cornelius Nepos with facility and pleasure. It may well seem incredible, but it is not the less true, that at the age of thirteen he was not only perfectly familiar with Cicero, but that Virgil and Horace were his favorite pocket companions. What is more remarkable still, he had already planned an epic poem on the destruction of Jerusalem. This fact would show by itself that he had already been wooing the Muses ; but we have his own testimony on the subject. “From my eleventh
" he says, in a letter to his friend Gellert, I was passionately fond of poetry. I wrote a mass of verses, chiefly little operas, cantatas, and ballads, in the style of Brockes. I used to rise for that purpose at daybreak, not being allowed to write verses during the day. fond of solitude, and used to spend whole days and summer nights in the garden, feeling and describing the beauties of nature."*
Unfortunately he is not equally communicative in regard to the epic. All we know on the subject of his Destruction of Jerusalem is, that he had written at least one canto of it before he attained his fourteenth year. How much more of
Gessnerische Sammlung von Briefen, vol. I, p. 46.
it he wrote is only a matter of conjecturę. Gruber is of opinion that the poem was nearly, if not quite, finished, when a comparison of it with Camoens's Lusiad induced him to commit it to the flames.
This, we are told, was soon after his removal to the high school of Klosterbergen, near Magdeburg ; which, being the chief seat of what was known as the Pietism, then prevailing throughout Protestant Germany, is thought by some to have changed the religious views of the young poet. He soon grew tired, however, of cloister life. It was in vain that Stemmetz, the head master, tried to make him prefer the dogmatical theology of Baumgarten to the attractive pages of Plato and Aristotle. For a time, efforts were made to prohibit him from the study of Greek philosophy; his teacher was so anxious lest he might injure his soul_if, indeed, he did not cause a schism among his fellow students--that for a while he deprived him of his Greek books altogether-that is, until he found that he had procured still more dangerous works : namely, the Dictionaries of Bayle and Voltaire. At the same time, he was eagerly engaged in the perusal of the Memorabilia and Cyropædia of Xenophon and the Epistles of Cicero. His partiality for these works gave great offence to his teacher ; nor was he much better satisfied when he found him devouring the pages of the Spectator and Tatler, which had recently been translated into German by Gottsched. It does not seem, however, that Wieland was a worse Christian, leaving the institution after a residence of about a year and a half, than he was when entering it. He gives Adelung (subsequently the celebrated ethnologist and professor at Heidelberg University) credit for having saved him from infidelity. The two entered the school nearly at the same time, and they formed a friendship which lasted through life. “ How often,” says Wieland, in writing to his friend some twenty years later, “I almost bathed in tears of contrition, and wrung my hands sore; I would fain, but could not, fashion myself into a saint."
At the age of seventeen, he left school and went on a visit to Erfurt, where he remained for seven months with a relative named Baumer. Little is known of what happened to him during this period, further than that he found Baumer no friend, but one who treated him more like a prisoner than a visitor or pupil. He advised the young poet to abandon the idea of taking orders, and study law; but his only reason for this was, that his lungs were too weak for the pulpit—a fact worthy of mention in passing, as showing that in Germany, as well as in Scotland and other parts of the world, clergymen were then expected to make much more noise than was necessary to render them audible to their congregations. At all events, young Wieland was glad to get away from Baumer, and he returned in 1750 to his native town. Although the period he spent at Biberach was very briefonly a few months—it proved one of the most important, of his life.
It happened that just then Sophia Von Gutterman, the daughter of an eminent physician of Augsburg, was staying with a friend at Biberach, and was in the habit of paying occasional visits to the parsonage. Being beautiful, intellectual, and highly accomplished, it is not strange that she soon made a deep impression on the young poet. After less than a half dozen interviews, his love and admiration knew no bounds. He tried to induce her to marry him at once; but she was two years his senior, and naturally a lady of excellent sense. This enabled her to see at a glance that it was not an ordinary lover she had to deal with, but a susceptible enthusiast. That he had gained her affections she did not deny, either to her own friends or to his. “I own that I have a tenderness for Wieland,” she writes, in a letter to her sister; " but I own, also, that I fear he is capricious.” The account which Wieland himself gives, of his courtship with Sophia, is full of interest. He tells his friend Bodmer, that he had been listening to a sermon by his father, on the text “ God is Love." It was well written, he thought; but, to his ardent imagination, it seemed cold and lifeless. In the evening he walked with his mistress, and astonished her with the proof of the very different manner in which he would have treated so cong nial a subject. “I spoke,” he says, “ of the destination of men and of spirits, of the dignity of the human soul, and of eternity. Never in my life had I been so eloquent. I did not forget to place a large portion of the happiness of spirits in the enjoyment of heavenly love." Though the lady was convinced at the time, it occurred to her, on second thought, that the oration contained more poetry than truth, and she requested him to commit his arguments to paper. This he cheerfully did. Her views were somewhat altered by the perusal, and she suggested alterations. “ All might pass very well,” says Sophia, “ in verse, but in
prose, even when 'tis poetic, as in this case, it does not convince the judgment.” This gave a new turn to the thoughts of Wieland-it suggested to him at once the idea of a poem On the Nature of Things.
Before there was time for another interview, Sophia was called home, to the unspeakable grief of her lover. Soon after, in 1751, he proceeded to the college of Tubingen. He did not admire either the talents or the learning of the professors, but sought consolation, in the loneliness to which he condemned himself, in pouring out his soul in long letters, in poetry and prose, to his absent mistress. Meantime he did not relax his literary labors; as is sufficiently proved by the fact that in about nine months after his entering the institution he printed his first volume of poems, containing The Nature of Things, the Anti-Ovid, the Moral Epistles, and the Sacred Stories. The two former attracted a good deal of attention; but the author received more abuse than praise for his labors ; though the best critics hailed the poems as the ground-work of a new school, which was destined to make its influence felt throughout Germany.
The design of his first poem was similar to that of Pope's Essay on Man. Wieland, too, meant to represent God as the centre of the Universe, and the embodiment of all perfection; but here the resemblance ceases between the two poems. It would lead us too far, in the present article, to indicate the points in which On the Nature of Things differs from the Essay on Man. We must content ourselves with the passing remark, that in the latter there is more clearness, vigor of expression, and harmony of versification; in the former, more grandeur, more romance, variety, and freshness -in short, more poetry. Wieland's poem is full of criticisms on various systems of philosophy, ancient and modern, especially on the systems of the Naturalists and Pantheists. Considered as a poem, it is the best imitation we have of the De Rerum Naturâ of Lucretius, though, in its scope and tone, it is decidedly opposed to that celebrated work. Had Wieland produced nothing else but this, written as it was in his seventeenth year, it would have secured him an honorable place in the literature of his country. Compared to the best productions of many other authors of his time, to whom a respectable rank has been assigned in the republic of letters, On the Nature of Things is a brilliant and successful performance; but it is as inferior to Oberon and Agathon
as the Sonnets and Tales of Shakespeare are to Hamlet and Othello.
The Moral Letters, though agreeably written, and displaying much freedom and vigor of thought, are remarkable chiefly for the allusions to the author's beloved Sophia, which everywhere pervade them, the lady's name being occasionally introduced under the Arcadian disguise of Doris. He also dedicates the poem to her; but nowhere does it contain the most obscure allusion, or hint, that could be regarded by the most sensitive or fastidious, as a violation of that confidence which should ever be held sacred.
In this respect, the conduct of Wieland presents a noble and honorable contrast to that of Goethe. While the latter had no thought for the feelings of those whose peace of mind he had destroyed for ever, but, in return for their affections, exposed them to the sneers of the world, the former was scrupulously careful lest he might, even by accident, do any injury to the reputation even of those who had trifled with his love. It was enough for him to remember that he was once an object of regard, if not of tenderness to a lady ; no subsequent misunderstanding, or even positive ill treatment, could induce him to lend piquancy to his page, by exhibiting her in any equivocal position to vulgar gaze. Who will not think here of the gentle, confiding, and beautiful Fredrica, and how she has been treated by Goethe ? Still more reprehensible, if possible, was the same great man's treatment of Madame Kestner and her husband. Both the latter had confided in him ; and he made the worst possible use of their confidence, making them figure in his Werther, as having allowed him favors, which it has ever been held dishonorable to boast of. Still more dishonorable must it be, when the only foundation for the scandal is, that the boaster had been received into the family circle as a friend, as one who was above bringing unmerited disgrace on those whose greatest fault was to be too unsuspecting. " You have, in every personage of your novel,” says the injured husband, “interwoven something foreign to it; or you have blended several things together. That I could tolerate. Let that pass. But if, in all this blending, you had a little taken counsel of your own heart, you would not have so prostituted the real persons of whom you have borrowed the features.
The real Lotte, whose friend you profess to be, is your portrait (which contains too many of her features not vividly