صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

In all that remains now of the space we had prescribed for this article, we shall be able to do little more than enumerate his various productions, postponing all criticism, save, perhaps, a remark here and there, for a future article, in which we purpose to give copious extracts from his masterpieces.

Before Wieland left Tubingen University, he commenced an epic, in Ossianic prose, entitled Arminius, or Germany Freed, and, when he had written five cantos, he sent the manuscript to Bodmer, editor of a periodical of some eminence, entitled the Swiss Review, requesting the critic's opinion of the poem, but without giving his name. Bodmer was pleased with the poem; and so were several of his friends, to whom he showed it. The next number of the Review complimented the unknown author in the most flattering terms. Wieland was glad to reveal his name when he saw this ; and he was immediately invited to spend the summer with Bodmer at his private residence near Zurich. Here he occupied the same apartment recently occupied by Klopstock, the German Milton; for the conductor of the Swiss Review possessed wealth as well as learning and talent; so much that he was able and willing to be the Mæcenas of several of his contemporaries. It does not appear, however, that he lost anything by his liberality. Wieland was delighted at the opportunity now offered him of exercising his critical talents in the Review ; and the same arrangement secured him introductions to Haller, Hagedorn, Gleim, Klopstock and Gellert-in short, to almost all the eminent authors of Germany and Switzerland. So grateful was he to Bodmer for these advantages, that he wrote an elaborate analysis of the Noah of that writer, in which he compared its merits to those of the best similar efforts in any language. This was undoubtedly exaggerated praise, but the author of it was sincere. Nor is this any imputation on his taste and judgment; for who does not see, or think he sees, more beauties in the work of a friend than in that of an enemy? Besides, had Bodmer done nothing for literature but to translate Milton as he did, it would have been no discredit even to a man like Wieland to assign him a respectable rank among his contemporaries.

Passing over, for the present, many literary projects and labors, we come to the crisis in his life at which Wieland started a periodical of his own, called the German Mercury, on the plan of the Mercure de France. From his experience in connection with Bodmer, he had foreseen many difficulties, which he had to encounter in his new enterprise; but the reality proved much worse than anything he had anticipated. The boldness and freedom of his criticisms had already excited the enmity of many, altogether independently of the jealousy awakened by his brilliant successes as an author. But now

the two great intellectual parties of Germany arrayed themselves against him, or, rather, against his journal. One was known as the Frankfort party, which had Goethe and Herder at its head; the other as the Göttingen party, which included Klopstock, Count Stolberg, Burger, Voss, Hölty, and Miller. The Frankfort party assailed him on the ground that his prin-. ciples of criticism were too conventional—too limitedmore French than German; while the Göttingen party were equally fierce against him because he proscribed the visionary as a source of poetry, and proscribed enthusiasm as a principle of conduct. In an early number of the Review, a criticism appeared on the Goetz of Berlichingen, which greatly irritated Goethe. He learned soon after that Wieland was not the author; but it was too late. He had already written the well-known farce entitled “Gods, Heroes and Wieland.” It was thought that this would overwhelm Wieland, who, although one of the boldest critics of his time, was known to be very sensitive. Everybody was surprised, therefore, at the quiet view he took of the whole affair. In the next number of the Mercury he had an article on his assailants, the calm and philosophic spirit of which is sufficiently indicated by the following extract :

“Young and powerful geniuses,” said he, “are like young colts, full of life and vigor, rearing and prancing, kicking before and behind, who will neither allow themselves to be caught nor ridden. So much the better. Were they to drop their ears like asses, would any one ever make a Bucephalus or a Brigliadoro of them? Precipitandus est liber spiritus. There is no other way. If we receive an occasional kick in the ribs from them, why, we must console ourselves with the thought, that we fall a sacrifice to the common good of the republic of letters, since it is only out of these impetuous spirits that great men are to be formed."

It may be doubted whether Socrates submitted to the similar castigation of Aristophanes with a better grace than this, or evinced more true philosophy. But it was the publishers of bad books who were the most uncompromising enemies of Wieland ; they could never forgive him for exposing the pernicious tendency of their wares, and exhibiting themselves to public ridicule and scorn. To this class, it was a labor of love, or, rather, of hate, to publish any attack, however stupid, coarse and illiterate, on Wieland, without any cost to the author; and, if the libel happened to sell, they were equally ready to give the lion's share of the profits.

Whatever were the faults of Goethe, he never lent himself to anything of this kind. If he attacked Wieland in the manner indicated, he was sorry for it after; and admitted that he had done wrong. It was, however, the cause of bringing him to the notice of the young dukes of Weimar; and when the heir succeeded to his government, he invited him to his capital, where his rival was already. Goethe gladly accepted the invitation ; he was soon followed by Herder ; and thus it was that the most renowned literary triumvirate of modern times was formed.

Let what would happen, during a period of more than half a century, Wieland was sure to write and publish. The next in order of time, after the work which attracted the attention of Bodmer, was the Letters from the Dead to the Living, a weird, quaint performance, published in the beginning of 1753. This was soon followed by the Platonic Contemplations of Mankind; the Vision of Mirza; Timoclea, and the Prospect of a World of Innocence. All these seem to have occupied him no more than about a year and a half. The next year (1756) the seven years war broke out in Germany; and Wieland took a deep interest in the destiny of the Fatherland. Seeing that Frederick the Great was a munificent patron of letters, as well as a brave warrior, he conceived the idea of writing an epic poem, and making the king its hero.

o. The work was undertaken in due time; but only five cantos were published. This added nothing to the fame of Wieland ; indeed, it had rather a contrary effect. The great fault of the poem was, that it was too moral—too much in the didactic style. The hero was perfect in all things—a model monarch ; model general ; model legislator ; model man. The author's enemies were glad to have an opportunity of ridiculing a portraiture, which, however elegantly drawn and embellished with the choicest ornaments of the Greek muse, could not be said to represent any mortal. But they had scarcely time to condemn it when he published a tragedy on the subject of Lady Jane Grey's trial and exe

7

[ocr errors]

VOL. IV.-NO. VIII.

3

cution; and in about a month after appeared his Climentana von Poretta. Each of these was well received ; but he was not satisfied himself with either. A much more successful as well as more elegant performance was his Araspes and Panthea. As the title implies, this is decidedly Attic; indeed, it is so in thought and sentiment, as well as in form and name.

It is founded on the well known, beautiful episode in the Cyropædia of Xenophon. It is worthy of attention at the present day, however, chiefly, if not solely, as the first dramatized romance in German literature.

While at Berne, in 1758, Wieland formed the acquaintance of Julia Bondeli, the famous mistress of Rousseau ; and, though she was then somewhat advanced in years, it is hinted by Gruber that “a more than friendly attachment” sprung up between her and Wieland. Be this as it may, it would appear that it was she that induced him to remodel the Pandora of Le Sage—an effort which, although it added little or nothing to his reputation, proved entirely successful in a pecuniary sense. In 1763 he commenced a series of Comic Tales, which were also well received. His best is his Modern Amadis, a sort of burlesque epopea. His next effort was a satire on the corporation of Biberach, entitled, Abderites. This was well deserved on the part of those against whom it was particularly levelled; but we will not now trouble our readers with the circumstances that led to it. Suffice it to say that, under the disguise of Greek names and corresponding Greek incidents, he made several of the Aldermen and other prominent functionaries appear very ridiculous in the eyes of such of their fellow citizens as had any acquaintance with Greek literature. Among the rest, Count Stadion, his former friend and patron, took offence at certain passages in the Abderites. This, however, was not the most disagreeable result of the satire ; for the offended Count (offended because Wieland took the part of his fellow citizens against the pretensions of the court of Vienna) forbid Madame La Roche (Sophia) from corresponding with the author any longer. To this Wieland refers in a letter written towards the close of the same year: “Madame La Roche,” he says, “ n'est plus ici ; elle a suivi son mari et son maitre à Bonigheim, terre du Comte de Stadion ; nous ne nous écrivons plus, parceque j'ai eu le malheur d'encourir la disgrace de son Excellence, en faisant mon devoir et rien de plus."

The next work of our author was Agathon, published in

[ocr errors]

1766, the year after his marriage with Miss Hildebrandt. This is the first for which Wieland himself claims a classical rank; and most critics concur in the same comparative estimate of its merits. It is not, however, of a class of works that are much read; save for the select few, it is too metaphysical. A much more popular work is his Idris and Zenide, a beautiful fairy tale in the style of Ariosto ; but it was never finished. His earliest classic poem is his Musariona series of brilliant conversations, after the manner of the ancients. Passing over his lectures as Professor at the University of Erfurt, we come to that curious and not very moral work, entitled Koxkox and Kikeguetzel, or the Mexican Paradise Lost. This was much more successful, in a pecuniary sense, than his more chaste and polished performances.

He made amends for its faults soon after, by his charming fairy tale, entitled Combalus. It was shortly after going to Weimar, he wrote his Fabliaux, another delightful series of metrical tales. These, as it were, paved the way for Oberon, which first appeared in successive numbers of the German Mercury for 1780, and which has been pronounced, by those best competent to form an opinion of its merits, as undoubtedly the most beautiful modern poem since the Gerusalemme of Tasso. Indeed, some have gone so far as to give it a higher rank than any modern poem,

the Inferno of Dante; but this is too high an estimate the favorable parison with the great Christian epic is abundant praise. So sure was the author himself of its being his masterpiece, that he resolved to write no poetry after it. Sotheby has given a translation of Oberon, but he has omitted several fine passages, including the episode of January and May, which ħe considered unsuited to the dignity of tone and general elevation of the rest of the poem. To this we can only add, that there are three separate actions in the Oberon, all harmonizing with each other. The main, or first action, is Huon's expedition to Babylon; the second is his love for Zezia, and its consequences; the third, the quarrel and reconciliation of Oberon and Titania. A most admirable structure is raised by the skilful blending of these-it were easy to point out passages which are not excelled in any other production of modern times-such, for example, as that which describes the final trial to which the lovers are exposed by Almanzar and Almansaris, while Oberon is trying to resist the allure

save

« السابقةمتابعة »