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INTRODUCTION.

I. GENERAL ESTIMATE.

a. PLACE OF THE WORK IN GOETHE'S LIFE.

Hermann und Dorothea belongs among the works of which it has been said, "the human race takes charge of them that they shall not perish." It represents the real Goethe at his best, having been written with full artistic earnestness and freedom, so that the poet expressed himself completely as a mature creative artist, and not tentatively or experimentally, as had been the case in some of his earlier productions. It possesses the breadth and elevation, and the genial humanity which were the fruits of Goethe's strenuous labor from his early days; it contains the fine product of the widest experiences and studies, often cast into golden sayings; it is intensely and affectionately German, and ennobled by a high moral dignity. To no other work did Goethe surrender himself so gladly while creating, for no other had he such a lifelong affection. He became more and more convinced, while working at the poem, how rich a treasure the subject-matter afforded him, and that he had "a theme, such as one might never happen upon a second time during one's life." (To Meyer, April, 1797.) It was written at a time when his artistic theories had settled down to the firm ground of conviction after unexampled experiments in the most varied fields.

In his younger publications there had been, along with much stress and ferment, and with the strong influence of Ossian, Shakespeare, Richardson, and Rousseau, the predominance of the sentimental, romantic, and passionate; the love of the revolutionary, varied, subjective, and individual. With life in Weimar, and the long sojourn in Italy, this richly-endowed side of Goethe's nature had been much tempered and restrained; there came a reaction towards the Greek ideal, with a tendency at times in the direction of a cold and rigid classicism. The love of the symmetrical, objective, and typical superseded the intense. and passionate individualism of the younger man. "Clearness of vision," says Goethe,' "cheerfulness of acceptance, easy grace of expression, are the qualities which delight. us; and now, when we affirm that we find all these in the genuine Grecian works, achieved in the noblest material, the best proportioned form, with certainty and completeness of execution, we shall always be understood if we refer to them as a basis and a standard. Let each one be a Grecian in his own way; but let him be one.” After the return to the north had come the philosophical and æsthetic influence of close association with Schiller. The philosophy of Kant, particularly, had served to greatly modify the fine scorn of the German public which Goethe brought back from Italy, and to fix the ideal of practical service to the common weal as the solution of the riddle of human wellbeing. Both the deep emotional development and the pursuit of the serene ideals of classical beauty had served to enrich the poet, and were in well-balanced harmony. His theories of antique art had now attained that maturity I Quoted by Professor Jebb, Atlantic Monthly, 72:552.

and completeness which were to characterize them throughout the remainder of his serene lifetime. Suggestive are the words of Goethe in his appreciation of Winckelmann (1805): "Man can accomplish much by the earnest use of particular powers; he can attain extraordinary results by the union of several capabilities; but the unique, the altogether unexpected, he only produces when all capacities are equally united in him. Such was the happy lot of the ancients, especially of the Greeks at the best period; we moderns are limited by Fate to the first two possibilities. When the sane nature of man operates as an entirety, when he feels himself to be in a world which is one great, beautiful, noble, and stately whole, when harmonious contentment bestows upon him a pure, free rapture, then would the entire Cosmos, if it could have sensation of its own self as having arrived at its goal, shout aloud for joy, and would be lost in wonder at the culmination of its own working and being." The work was not uninfluenced by the ideas embodied in Schiller's deep treatise On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1795), in which was maintained the thesis that the really beautiful must be in harmony, on the one side, with nature, and on the other side with the ideal, and in which Schiller took ground against the existence of a warfare between idealism and realism. In our appreciation of Goethe as the great Realist of his day, we may fail to do justice to him as the great Idealist. The poem is naïve in its reproduction of actual scenes from the daily life of German people, in its descriptions of garden and vineyard, of familiar characters; in its close observa

I Cf. Otto Harnack, Goethe in der Epoche seiner Vollendung, xxxviii ff.

tion, its scientific seeing things as they are, in its acceptance of the necessary order of nature. It belongs to the sentimental type in that it contains reflections upon facts as well as the facts themselves, in its demand for the ideal and the absolute, in its acceptance of the necessity of reason. Wilhelm von Humboldt, doubtless the most profound student of the poem, sums up its significance in the words, Although certain of the excellencies of Goethe's special individuality shine out more strongly and luminously in some of his other works, still in none of them does one find all these different beams so united into one focus as here."

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b. CLASSIFICATION OF THE POEM.

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In his earliest allusions to the work, Goethe refers to it as "the idyl," later usually as "the epic poem or simply "the poem." Its connection with the purely idyllic type in Voss's Luise is treated of in the discussion of the sources of the poem; all the facts attending its origin and composition prohibit our ignoring the idyllic element, the calm. and restful tone of simple country life, the implied protest against the false results of artificial society. The poem. opens with the note of peaceful, prosperous rural existence, and in the first canto this predominates. Goethe observes in a letter to Schiller of March 4, 1797, "It is noticeable how the poem near its end inclines decidedly towards its idyllic origin." The most suggestive words in this connection are those in Goethe's letter to Meyer, of Dec. 5, 1796: "I have tried to refine the merely human facts of the life of a small German town from their dross by putting them into the epic crucible, and have at the same time sought to

show forth in a small mirror the great movements and revolutions which were going on upon the theatre of the great world." The road which joins the secluded town to the much-travelled highway is also significant of the connection which exists between this peaceful community and the interests of the centers of civilization. The note of heroic life, always restrained to a calm and dignified tone, the movement of the rhythm, the simply-drawn and clear pictures of brave persons in action, relate it closely to the epic. Again, it has distinctly dramatic characteristics in its progress toward an event through opposing obstacles, as well as in the rich psychological content which exalts far more the inner life and thought of the actors than their mere external acts. Dramatic, no less, is the relation of the special incidents and accidents of life to an unseen world-power lying behind them all, and binding them together. It is most just to admit that the poem cannot be put once for all into any conventional class, but that it shows forth, like every masterpiece of a great creator, "the unique, the altogether unexpected." Personal to Goethe is its breadth of thought, its serene reflection of great philosophical generalizations, its embodiment of the ideal of the highest culture; equally personal and evasive are its manifestations of the rich, southern, poetic imagination, in contrast with the North-German prose of Voss's Luise. Wilhelm Schlegel gained from it chiefly the impression of emotion; not a soft, passive emotion, but one which awakens to beneficent activity. It was to him a finished work of art in the great style, and at the same time comprehensible, hearty, native, popular; a book full of golden counsels of wisdom and virtue. The depth of emotion, the

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