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filled with molten rock, which fissures, when the lava cools, act like vast supporting ribs strengthening the mountain mass, so, in men of genius, passions first rend, and afterwards buttress Life. The diamond, it is said, can only be polished by its own dust; is not this symbolical of the truth that only by its own fallings-off can genius properly be taught ? And is not our very walk, as Goethe says, a series of falls ? “Men of genius,” says F. von Müller,
are prone to wander beyond the boundaries of reality. In their endeavours to find new and stimulant food for the sensibility, they often disdain the narrow limits of social order; and devoted with one-sided exclusiveness to the ideal, neglect the study of the actual world and of the obligations it imposes. In Goethe, on the contrary, we find from his earliest youth two usually conflicting qualities intimately allied ;-a boundless productiveness of fancy and a childlike feeling for nature, which saw life in everything, and everywhere strove to take active part in life. This indestructible love of nature and practical action winds through the whole course of his life; it sharpened his eye for every external phenomenon ; led the often restless activity of his spirit to the Real; formed the counterpoise and the remedy of his passions ; and like a protecting genius preserved him amid perilous labyrinths from error, and amid romantic adventures from being mastered by a romantic temperament.”
He was now (1779) entering his thirtieth year. Life slowly emerged from the visionary mists through which hitherto it had been seen; the solemn earnestness of Manhood took the place of the vanishing thoughtlessness of Youth, and gave a more commanding unity to his existence. He had “resolved to deal with Life no longer by halves, but to work it out in its totality, beauty, and goodness-vom Halben zu entwöhnen, und im Ganzen, Guten, Schönen resolut zu leben.” It is usually said that the residence in Italy was the cause of this change; but the cause lay in the necessary development of his genius. The slightest acquaintance with the period we are now considering suffices to prove that long before he went to Italy the change had taken place. An entry in his Diary at this date is very significant. “Put my things in order, looked through my papers, and burnt all the old chips. Other times, other cares ! Calm retrospect of Life, and the extravagances, impulses, and eager desires of youth ; how they seek satisfaction in all directions. How I have found delight, especially in mysteries, in dark imaginative connections ; how I only half seized hold of Science, and then let it slip; how a sort of modest self-complacency runs through all I wrote ; how short-sighted I was in divine and human things; how many days wasted in sentiments and shadowy passions ; how little good I have drawn from them, and now the half of life is over, I find myself advanced no step on my way, but stand here as one who, escaped from the waves, begins dry himself in the sun. The period in which I have mingled with the world since October 1775, I dare not yet trust myself to look at. God help me further, and give me light, that I may not so much stand in my own way, but see to do from morning till evening the work which lies before me, and obtain a clear conception of the order of things; that I be not as those are who spend the day in complaining of headache, and the night in drinking the wine which gives the headache !"
There is something quite solemn in those words. The same thought is expressed in a letter to Lavater : “The desire to raise the pyramid of my existence, the basis of which is already laid, as high as practicable in the air, absorbs every other desire and scarcely ever quits me. I dare not longer delay; I am already advanced in life, and perhaps Fate will break in at the middle of my work, and leave the Babylonic tower incomplete. At least men shall say it was boldly schemed, and if I live, my powers shall, with God's aid, reach the completion."
No better index of the change can be named than his Iphigenia auf Tauris, written at this period. The reader will learn with some surprise that this wonderful poem was originally written in prose; not until the poet went to Italy did he turn it into verse. Prose was the fashion of the day. Götz, Egmont, Tasso, and Iphigenia, no less than Schiller's Räuber, Fiesco, Kabale und Liebe, were written in prose; and when Iphigenia assumed a poetic form, the Weimar friends were disappointed—they preferred the prose: a preference which to us seems as strange as if they admired the swan upon dry land more than when floating on the bosom of a lake.
This prose-mania was part of the mania for returning to Nature. Verse was pronounced unnatural ; although, in truth, verse is not more unnatural than song. Song is to speech what poetry is to prose; it expresses a different mental condition from that expressed by speech. Impassioned prose approaches poetry in the rhythmic impulse of its movements, as impassioned speech in its varied cadences also approaches the intonations of music. The Arabs, under great emotional excitement, give their language a recognizable metre, and talk poetry as M. Jourdain talked prose. But prose never is poetry, or is so only for a moment; nor is speech song. Schiller learned to see this, and we find him writing to Goethe: “I have never before been so palpably convinced as in my present occupation how closely in poetry Substance and Form are connected. Since I have begun to transform my prosaic language into a poetic rhythmical one, I find myself under a totally different jurisdiction; even many motives which in the prosaic execution: seemed to me to be perfectly in place, I can no longer use : they were merely good for the common domestic understanding, whose organ prose seems to be ; but verse absolutely demands referance to the imagination, and thus I was obliged to become poetical in many of my motives."
That Goethe should have fallen into the sophism which asserted prose to be more natural than verse, is the more surprising from the spontaneous melody of his thoughts. His mind was a song. To the last he retained the faculty of singing melodiously, when his prose had degenerated into comparative feebleness. And this prose Iphigenia is saturated with
He meant to write prose, but his thoughts instinctively expressed themselves in verse. The critical reader will do well to compare the prose with the poetic version.* He will not only see how frequent the verses are, but how few were the
* See vol. XXXIV of the edition of 1840.
alterations necessary to be made to transform the prose drama into a poem. They are just the sort of touches which elevate poetry above prose. Thus, to give an example, in the prose he says : unnütz sein, ist todt sein (to be useless is to be dead), which thus grows into a verse
Again in the speech of Orestes (Act 11, sc. I), there is a fine and terrible allusion to Clytemnestra, “Better die here before the altar than in an obscure nook where the nets of murderous near relatives are placed.” In the prose this allusion is not clear-Orestes simply says, the “nets of assassins”. **
The alterations do not touch the substance of this drama; we must, therefore consider it a product of the period now under review ; and as such we may examine it at once.
A life not useful is an early death.
Neither Taylor nor Miss Swanwick appears to have seized the allusion. One translates it, “by the knives of avenging kindred”; the other, “where near hands have spread assassination's wily net”.
It was very characteristic in Schlegel to call Iphigenia “an echo of Greek song”; he delighted in such rhetorical prettinesses ; but that Germany, a land of scholars, should have so unanimously repeated the phrase, and should have so often without misgiving declared Iphigenia to be the finest modern specimen of Greek tragedy, is truly surprising, until we reflect on the mass of flagrant traditional errors afloat about the Greek drama. For a long while the Three Unities were held to be inseparable from that drama ; in spite of the fact that in several plays Unity of Time is obviously disregarded, and in two or three the Unity of Place is equally so. Then there was the notion that Comedy and Tragedy were not suffered to mingle in the same play; in spite of the palpable fact of Æschylus and Euripides having mingled them. Then came the absurdity of Destiny as the tragic-pivot, in spite of the fact, as I have elsewhere shown, that in the majority of these plays Destiny has no place, beyond what the religious conceptions of the poets must of necessity have given to it, just as Christianity must of necessity underlie the tragic conceptions of Christian poets.
The very phrase with which critics characterize Iphigenia is sufficient to condemn them. They tell us it has "all the repose of Greek tragedy". Consider for a moment, Repose in a tragedy! that is to say, calmness in the terrific upheaving of