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Madame de Staél: “Preface to DE L’ALLEMAGNE” Part 3 of 3

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810 in three volumes; this is from the 1813 John Murray translation).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChâteau de Coppet

On my return to the estate of my father, the Prefect of Geneva forbad me to go to a greater distance than four leagues from it.

I suffered myself one day to go as far as ten leagues, merely for an airing; the gendarmes immediately pursued me, the postmasters were forbidden to supply me with horses, and it would have appeared as if the safety of the state depended on such a weak being as myself.

However, I still submitted to this imprisonment in all its severity, when a last blow rendered it quite insupportable to me.

Some of my friends were banished, because they had had the generosity to come and see me.  This was too much.

To carry with oneself the contagion of misfortune, not to dare to associate with those one loves, to be afraid to write to them, or pronounce their names.

To be the object by turns, either of affectionate attentions which make one tremble for those who shew them, or of those refinements of baseness which terror inspires, is a situation from which every one, who values life, would withdraw!

I was told, as a means of softening my grief, that these continual persecutions were a proof of the importance that was attached to me.

I could have answered that I had not deserved ‘Neither this excess of honour, nor this unworthy treatment,’ but I never suffered myself to look to consolations addressed to my vanity.

For I knew that there was no one then in France, from the highest to the lowest, who might not have been found worthy of being, made unhappy.

I was tormented in all the concerns of my life, in all the tender points of my character, and power condescended to take the trouble of becoming well acquainted with me, in order the more effectually to enhance my sufferings.

Not being able then to disarm that power by the simple sacrifice of my talents, and resolved not to employ them in its service, I seemed to feel to the bottom of my heart the advice my father had given me, and I left my paternal home.

I think it my duty to make this calumniated book known to the public, this book, the source of so many troubles.

And though General Savary told me in his letter, that my work ‘was not French,’ as I certainly shall not allow him to be the representative of France, it is to Frenchmen such as I have known them, that I should with confidence address a work, in which I have endeavored to the best of my abilities to heighten the glory of the works of the human mind.

Germany may be considered, from its geographical situation, as the heart of Europe, and the great association of the Continent can never recover its independence but by means of that country.

Difference of language, natural boundaries, the recollections of a common history, contribute all together to give birth to those great individual existences of mankind which we call nations.

Certain proportions are necessary to their existence, they are distinguished by certain qualities.

And if Germany were united to France, the consequence would be, that France would also be united to Germany, and the Frenchmen of Hamburg, like the Frenchmen of Rome, would by degrees effect a change in the character of the countrymen of Henry the Fourth.

The vanquished would in time modify the victors, and in the end both would be losers.

I have said in my work that the Germans ‘were not a nation’; assuredly, they are at this moment most heroically disproving that assertion.

But, nevertheless, do we not still see some German countries expose themselves, by fighting against their countrymen, to the contempt even of their allies, the French?

Those auxiliaries (whose names we hesitate to pronounce, as if it were not yet too late to conceal them from posterity); those auxiliaries, I say, are not led either by opinion or even by interest, still less by honour.

But a blind fear has precipitated their governments towards the strongest side, without reflecting that they were themselves the cause of that very strength before which they bowed.

The Spaniards, to whom we may apply Southey’s beautiful lines,

“And those who suffer bravely save mankind.”

The Spaniards have seen themselves reduced to the possession of Cadiz alone; but they were no more ready then to submit to the yoke of strangers, than they are now when they have reached the barrier of the Pyrenees, and are defended by that man of an ancient character and a modern genius, Lord Wellington.

But to accomplish these great things, a perseverance was necessary, which would not be discouraged by events. The Germans have frequently fallen into the error of suffering themselves to be overcome by reverses.

Individuals ought to submit to destiny, but nations never; for it is they who can alone command destiny; with a little more exertion of the will, misfortune would be conquered.

The submission of one people to another is contrary to nature.

Who would now believe in the possibility of subduing Spain, Russia, England, or France?—why should it not be the same with Germany?

If the Germans could be subjugated, their misfortune would rend the heart; but still we should be tempted to say to them as Mlle. De Mancini said to Louis XIV: “You are a king, sire, and you weep—you are a nation and you weep!”

The picture of literature and philosophy seems indeed foreign from the present moment; yet it will be grateful, perhaps, to this poor and noble Germany, to recall the memory of intellectual riches amidst the ravages of war.

It is three years since I designated Prussia, and the countries of the north which surround it, as ‘the country of thought’; into how many noble actions has this thought been transformed!

That to which the systems of Philosophers led the way is coming to pass, and the independence of mind is about to lay the foundation of the independence of nations.

Madame de Staél: “Preface to DE L’ALLEMAGNE” Part 2 of 3

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810 in three volumes; this is from the 1813 John Murray translation).

General Savary

Anne Jean Marie René Savary, 1st Duc de Rovigo and Minister of Police

Savary carried out the order of Napoleon for the exile of Mme de Staël and the destruction of her work De l’Allemagne.

General Police

Minister’s Office.

 Paris, 3d October, 1810

“I received, Madam, the letter that you did me the honor to write to me. Your son will have apprised you, that I had no objection to our postponing your departure for seven or eight days.

“I beg you will make that time sufficient for the arrangements you still have to make, because I cannot grant you more.

“The cause of the order which I have signified to you, is not to be looked for in the silence you have preserved with respect to the Emperor in your last work; that would be a mistake; no lace could be found in it worthy of him.

“But your banishment is a natural consequence of the course you have constantly pursued for some years past. It appeared to me, that the air of this country did not agree with you, and we are not yet reduced to seek for models amongst the people you admire.

“Your last work is not French; it is I who have put a stop to the publication of it. I am sorry for the loss the bookseller must sustain, but it is not possible for me to suffer it to appear.

“You know, Madam, that you were only permitted to quit Coppet, because you had expressed a desire to go to America.

“If my predecessor suffered you to remain in the department of the Loire and the Cher, you were not to look upon that indulgence as a revocation of the orders which had been given with respect to you.

“At present, you oblige me to cause them to be strictly executed, and you have only yourself to accuse for it.

“I desire M. Corbigny [Prefect of the Loire and the Cher] to suspend the execution of the order I had given him, until the expiration of the time I now grant you.

“I am concerned, Madam, that you have obliged me to commence my correspondence with you by a measure of severity.

“It would have been more agreeable to me to have had only to offer you the testimonies of the high consideration with which I have the honour to be,

Madam,

Your very humble and very

Obedient Servant,

[Signed] The Duke De Rovigo

“Mad. De Stael,

P.S. I have reasons, Madam, for mentioning to you the ports of L’Orient, Larochelle, Bourdeaux, and Rochefort, as being the only ports at which you can embark; I beg you will let me know which of them you choose.”

*The object of the Postscript was to forbid me the Ports of the Channel.

I shall subjoin some reflections upon this letter, although it appears to me curious enough in itself.

“It appears to me,” says General Savary, “that the ‘air of this country did not agree with you.’”

What a gracious manner of announcing to a woman, then, alas! the mother of three children, the daughter of a man who had served France with so much fidelity, that she was banished forever from the place of her birth, without being suffered, in any manner, to protect against a punishment, esteemed the next in severity to death!

There is a French vaudeville, in which a bailiff boasting of his politeness towards those persons whom he takes to prison, says, “So I am loved by all I arrest.”

I do not know if such were the intention of General Savary.

He adds that ‘the French are not reduced to seek for models amongst the people I admire’; these people are the English first, and in many respects the Germans.

At all events, I think I cannot be accused of not loving France.

I have shewn but too much sensibility in being exiled from a country where I have so many objects of affection, and where those who are dear to me have such power of entertaining me by their genius!

But, notwithstanding this attachment, perhaps too lively, for so brilliant a country, and its ingenious inhabitants, it did not follow that I was to be forbidden to admire England.

She has been seen like a knight armed for the defence of social order, preserving Europe, during ten years of anarchy, and ten years more of despotism.

Her happy constitution was, at the beginning of the Revolution, the object of the hopes and the efforts of the French. My mind still remains where theirs was then.

To be continued…

Madame de Staél: “Preface to DE L’ALLEMAGNE” Part 1 of 3

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810 in three volumes; this is from the 1813 John Murray translation).

Madame de Stael

Preface from Volume One

1st October, 1813

In 1810, I put the manuscript of this work on Germany into the hands of the bookseller, who had published “Corinne.” As I maintained in it the same opinions, and preserved the same silence respecting the present government of the French, which I had done in my former writings, I flattered myself that I should have been permitted to publish this work also.

Yet, a few days after I had dispatched my manuscript, a decree of a very singular description appeared on the subject of the liberty of the press; it declared “that no work could be printed without having been examined by certain censors.”

Very well—it was usual in France, under the old regime, for literary works to be submitted to the examination of a public censorship; the tendency of public opinion was then toward the feeling of liberty, which rendered such a restraint a matter very little to be dreaded.

A little article, however, at the end of the new regulations declared, “that when the censors should have examined a work and permitted its publication, booksellers should be authorized to publish it, but that the Minister of Police should still have a right to suppress it altogether, if he should think fit to do so.”

The meaning of which is, that such and such forms should be adopted until it should be thought fit no longer to abide by them: a law was not necessary to decree what was in fact the absence of all law; it would have been better to have relied simply upon the exercise of absolute power.

My bookseller, however, took upon himself the responsibility of the publication of my book, after submitting it to the censors, and thus our contract was made. I came to reside within forty leagues of Paris, to superintend the printing of the work, and it was upon that occasion that, for the last time, I breathed the air of France.

I had, however, abstained in this book, as will be seen, from making any reflections on the political state of Germany: I supposed myself to be writing at the distance of fifty years from the present time; but the present time will not suffer itself to be forgotten.

Several of the censors examined my manuscript, they suppressed the different passages which I have now restored and pointed out by notes. With the exception, however, of these passages, they allowed the work to be printed, as I now publish it, for I have thought it my duty to make no alteration in it.

It appears to me a curious thing to show what the work is, which is capable even now in France, of drawing down the most cruel persecution on the head of its author.

At the moment when this work was about to appear, and when the ten thousand copies of the first edition had been actually printed off, the Minister of the Police, well known under the name of General Savary, sent his gendarmes to the house of the bookseller, with orders to tear the whole edition in pieces, and to place sentinels at the entrances to the warehouse, for fear a single copy of this dangerous writing should escape.

A commissary of police was charged with the superintendence of this expedition, in which General Savary easily obtained the victory; and the poor commissary, it is said, died of the fatigue he underwent in too minutely assuring himself of the destruction of so great a number of volumes, or rather in seeing them transformed into paper perfectly white, upon which no trace of human reason remained.

The price of the paper valued merely at twenty louis by the police was the only indemnification which the Bookseller obtained from the Minister.

At the same time that the destruction of my work was going on at Paris, I received in the country an order to deliver up the copy from which it had been printed, and to quit France in four and twenty hours.

The constripts are almost the only persons I know for whom four and twenty hours are considered a sufficient time to prepare for a journey; I wrote, therefore, to the Minister of the Police that I should require eight days to procure money and my carriage. The following is the letter which he sent me in answer.

To be continued…

Madame de Staél: “Of German Poetry: Gottfried August Bürger and The Wild Huntsman” (2 of 2)

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. I. Illustrationen zu Bürgers Werk.

fuehrich_jaeger_titel1

Burger has written another story, less celebrated, but also extremely original, entitled “The Wild Huntsman.”  Followed by his servants and a large pack of hounds, he sets out for the chase on a Sunday, just as the village bell announces divine service.

fuehrich_jaeger_1

A knight in white armour presents himself, and conjures him not to profane the Lord’s day. Another knight, arrayed in black armour, makes him ashamed of subjecting himself to prejudices which are suitable only to old men and children.

fuehrich_jaeger_2

The huntsman yields to these evil suggestions. He sets off and reaches the field of a poor widow. She throws herself at his feet, imploring him not to destroy her harvest by trampling down her corn with his attendants.

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The knight in white armour entreats the huntsman to listen to the voice of pity. The black knight laughs at a sentiment so puerile; the huntsman mistakes ferocity for energy, and his horses trample on the hope of the poor and the orphan.

fuehrich_jaeger_4

At length the stag, pursued, seeks refuge in the hut of an old hermit.  The huntsman wishes to set it on fire in order to drive out his prey.  The hermit embraces his knees, and endeavors to soften the ferocious being who thus threatens his humble abode.  For the last time, the good genius, under the form of the white knight, again speaks to him.  The evil genius, under that of the black knight, triumphs.  The huntsman kills the hermit, and is at once changed into a phantom, pursued by his own dogs, who seek to devour him.

fuehrich_jaeger_5

This story is derived from a popular superstition. It is said, that at midnight in certain seasons of the year, a huntsman is seen in the clouds, just over the forest where this event is supposed to have passed, and that he is pursued by a furious pack of hounds till day-break.

What is truly fine in this poem of Bürger’s is his description of the ardent will of the huntsman: It is at first innocent, as are all the faculties of the soul; but it becomes more and more depraved, as often as he resists the voice of conscience and yields to his passions.  His headstrong purpose was at first only the intoxication of power.  It soon becomes that of guilt, and the earth can no longer sustain him.  The good and evil inclinations of men are well characterized by the white and black knights; the words, always the same, which are pronounced by the white knight to stop the career of the huntsman, are also very ingeniously combined.

The ancients, and the poets of the middle ages, were well acquainted with the kind of terror caused in certain circumstances by the repetition of the same words; it seems to awaken the sentiment of inflexible necessity.  Apparitions, oracles, all supernatural powers, must be monotonous: what is immutable is uniform; and in certain fictions it is a great art to imitate by words that solemn fixedness which imagination assigns to the empire of darkness and of death.

We also remark in Bürger a certain familiarity of expression, which does not lessen the dignity of the poetry, but, on the contrary, singularly increases its effect.  When we succeed in exciting both terror and admiration without weakening either, each of those sentiments is necessarily strengthened by the union: it is mixing, in the art of painting, what we see continually with that which we never see; and from what we know, we are led to believe that which astonishes us.

Gottfried_August_Buerger

Gottfried August Bürger  1747-1794


Madame de Staél: “Of German Poetry: Gottfried August Bürger and Leonora” (1 of 2)

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. I.   Illustrationen zu Bürgers Werk..

lenore_German_ballads_songs_1845

.The detached pieces of poetry among the Germans are, it appears to me, still more remarkable than their poems, and it is particularly that writing on which the stamp of originality is impressed. It is also true that the authors who have written most in this manner, Goethe, Schiller, Bürger, etc, are of the modern school, which alone bears a truly national character.  Goethe has most imagination, and Schiller most sensibility; but Gottfried August Bürger is more generally admired than either…

We have not yet spoken of an inexhaustible source of poetical effect in Germany, which is terror:  stories of apparitions and sorcerers are equally well received by the populace and by men of more enlightened minds. It is a relick of the northern mythology; a disposition naturally inspired by the long nights of a northern climate; and besides, though Christianity opposes all groundless fears, yet popular superstitions have always some sort of analogy to the prevailing religion.  Almost every true opinion has its attendant error, which like a shadow places itself at the side of the reality: it is a luxuriance or excess of belief, which is commonly attached both to religion and to history, and I know not why we should disdain to avail ourselves of it.

lenore_baumgarten_1867

Shakespeare has produced wonderful effects from the introduction of spectres and magic; and poetry cannot be popular when it despises that which exercises a spontaneous empire over the imagination.  Genius and taste may preside over the arrangement of these tales, and in proportion to the commonness of the subject, the more skill is required  in the manner of treating it; perhaps it is in this union alone that the great force of a poem consists.  It is probable that the great events recorded in the Iliad and Odyssey were sung by nurses, before Homer rendered them the chef-d’oeuvre of the poetical art.

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Of all German writers, Bürger has made the best use of this vein of superstition which carries us so far into the recesses of the heart.  His tales are therefore well known throughout Germany.  “Leonora,” which is most generally admired, is not yet translated into French, or at least, it would be very difficult to relate it circumstantially either in our prose or verse.

A young girl is alarmed at not hearing from her lover who is gone to the army.  Peace is made, and the soldiers return to their habitations.  Mothers again meet their sons, sisters their brothers, and husbands their wives.  The warlike trumpet  accompanies the songs of peace, and joy reigns in every heart.

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Leonora in vain surveys the ranks of the soldiers, she sees not her lover, and no one can tell her what is become of him.

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She is in despair:  her mother attempts to calm her; but the youthful heart of Leonora revolves against the stroke of affliction, and in its frenzy she accuses Providence.

From the moment in which the blasphemy is uttered, we are sensible that the story is to have something fatal in it, and this idea keeps the mind in constant agitation.

At midnight, a knight stops at the door of Leonora’s house. She hears the neighing of the horse and the clinking of the spurs.  The knight knocks, she goes down and beholds her lover.

He tells her to follow him instantly, having not a moment to lose, he says, before he returns to the army.  She presses forward; he places her behind him on his horse, and sets off with the quickness of lightning.

During the night he gallops through barren and desert countries:  his youthful companion is filled with terror, and continually asks him why he goes so fast.  The knight still presses on his horse by his hoarse and hollow cries, and in a low voice says, “The dead go quick the dead go quick.”

Leonora answers, “Ah! Leave the dead in peace!” But whenever she addresses to him any anxious question, he repeats the same appalling words.

In approaching the church, where he says he is carrying her to complete their union, the frosts of winter seem to change nature herself into a frightful omen:  priests carry a coffin in great pomp, and their black robes train slowly on the snow, the winding sheet of the earth.

Leonora’s terror increases, and her lover cheers her with a mixture of irony and carelessness which makes one shudder.  All that he says is pronounced with a monotonous precipitation, as if already, in his language, the accents of life were no longer heard.

He promises to bring her to that narrow and silent abode where their union was to be accomplished.  We see at a distance the church-yard by the side of the church.

The knight knocks, and the door opens. He pushes forward with his horse, making him pass between the tombstones. He then by degrees loses the appearance of a living being, is changed into a skeleton, and the earth opens to swallow up both him and his mistress.

boehm_lenore2

I certainly do not flatter myself that I have been able in this abridged recital to give a just idea of the astonishing merit of this tale.  All the imagery, all the sounds connected with the situation of the soul, are wonderfully expressed by the poetry: the syllables, the rhymes, all the art of language is employed to excite terror.  The rapidity of the horse’s pace seems more solemn and more appalling than even the slowness of a funeral procession.  The energy with which the knight quickens his course, that petulance of death, causes an inexpressible emotion; and we feel ourselves carried off by the phantom, as well as the poor girl whom he drags with him into the abyss.

There are four English translations of this tale of Leonora [as of 1810], but the best beyond comparison is that of William Spencer, who of all English poets is best acquainted with the true spirit of foreign languages.  The analogy between the English and the German allows a complete transfusion of the originality of style and versification of Bürger; and we not only find in the translation the same ideas as in the original, but also the same sensations; and nothing is more necessary than this to convey the true knowledge of a literary production.  It would be difficult to obtain the same result in French, where nothing strange or odd seems natural.

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Coming soon, Part Two:  Madame de Staël :  “Of German Poetry:   Gottfried August Bürger and The Wild Huntsman”

Madame de Staël: “Of a Romantic Bias in the Affections of the Heart”

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. III, 230-235.

Reading Madame de Staël’s “Delphine”

Of a Romantic Bias in the Affections of the Heart

The English philosophers have founded virtue, as we have said, upon feeling, or rather upon the moral sense; but this system has no connection with the sentimental morality of which we are here talking: this morality (the name and idea of which hardly exist out of Germany) has nothing philosophical about it; it only makes a duty of sensibility, and leads to the contempt of those who are deficient in that quality.
Doubtless, the power of feeling love is very closely connected with morality and religion: it is possible then that our repugnance to cold and hard minds is a sublime sort of instinct — an instinct which apprises us, that such beings, even when their conduct is estimable, act mechanically, or by calculation; and that it is impossible for any sympathy to exist between us and them. In Germany, where it is attempted to reduce all impressions into precepts, every thing has been deemed immoral which was destitute of sensibility — nay, which was not of a romantic character. Werther had brought exacted sentiments so much into fashion, that hardly any body dared to show that he was dry and cold of nature, even when he was condemned to such a nature in reality.
From thence arose that forced sort of enthusiasm for the moon, for forests, for the country, and for solitude; from thence those nervous fits, that affectation in the very voice, those looks which wished to be seen; in a word, all that apparatus of sensibility, which vigorous and sincere minds disdain.
The author of Werther was the first to laugh at these affectations; but, as ridiculous practices must be found in all countries, perhaps it is better that they should consist in the somewhat silly exaggeration of what is good, than in the elegant pretension to what is evil. As the desire of success is unconquerable among men, and still more so among women, the pretensions of mediocrity are a certain sign of the ruling taste at such an epoch, and in such a society; the same persons who displayed their sentimentality in Germany, would have elsewhere exhibited a levity and superciliousness of character.
The extreme susceptibility of the German character is one of the great causes of the importance they attach to the least shades of sentiment; and this susceptibility frequently arises from the truth of the affections. It is easy to be firm when we have no sensibility: the sole quality which is then necessary is courage; for a well-regulated severity must begin with self: but, when the proofs of interest in our welfare, which others give or refuse us, powerfully influence our happiness, we must have a thousand times more irritability in our hearts than those who use their friends as they would an estate, and endeavor solely to make them profitable.
At the same time we ought to be on our guard against those codes of subtle and many-shaded sentiment, which the German writers have multiplied in such various manners, and with which their romances are filled. The Germans, it must be confessed, are not always perfectly natural. Certain of their own uprightness, of their own sincerity in all the real relations of life, they are tempted to regard the affected love of the beautiful as united to the worship of the good, and to indulge themselves, occasionally, in exaggerations of this sort, which spoil every thing.
This rivalship of sensibility, between some German ladies and authors, would at the bottom be innocent enough, if the ridiculous appearance which it gives to affectation did not always throw a kind of discredit upon sincerity itself. Cold and selfish persons find a peculiar pleasure in laughing at passionate affectations; and would wish to make everything appear artificial which they do not experience. There are even persons of true sensibility whom this sugared sort of exaggeration cloys with their own impressions; and their feelings become exhausted, as we may exhaust their religion, by tedious sermons and superstitious practices.
It is wrong to apply the positive ideas which we have of good and evil to the subtilties of sensibility. To accuse this or that character of their deficiencies in this respect, is likely making it a crime not to be a poet. The natural susceptibility of those who think more than they act, may render them unjust to persons of a different description. We must possess imagination to conjecture all that the heart can make us suffer, and the best sort of people in the world are often dull and stupid in this respect: they march right across our feelings, as if they were treading upon flowers, and wondering that they fade away.
Are there not men who have no admiration for Raphael, who hear music without emotion, to whom the ocean and the heavens are but monotonous appearances? How then should they comprehend the tempests of the soul?
Are not even those who are most endowed with sensibility sometimes discouraged in their hopes? May they not be overcome by a sort of inward coldness, as if the Godhead was retiring from their bosoms? They remain not less faithful to their affections; but there is no more incense in the temple, no more music in the sanctuary, no more emotions in the heart. Often also does misfortune bid us silence in ourselves this voice of sentiment, harmonious or distracting in its tone, as it agrees, or not, with our destiny.
It is then impossible to make a duty of sensibility; for those who own it suffer so much from its possession, as frequently to have the right and the desire to subject it to restraint.
Nations of ardent character do not talk of sensibility without terror: a peaceable and dreaming people believe they can encourage it without alarm. For the rest, it is possible, that this subject has never been written upon with perfect sincerity; for every one wishes to do himself honour by what he feels, or by what he inspires. Women endeavor to set themselves out like a romance; men like a history; but the human heart is still far from being penetrated in its most intimate relations.
At one time or another, perhaps, somebody will tell us sincerely all he has felt; and we shall be quite astonished at discovering, that the greater part of maxims and observations are erroneous, and that there is an unknown soul at the bottom of that which we have been describing.

.Madame de Staël

Madame de Staël

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Egmont 2/2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. III, 153-162.

Child! Child! Forbear!
As if goaded by invisible spirits,
The sun steeds of time bear onward
The light car of our destiny
And nothing remains for us
But, with calm self-possession,
Firmly, to grasp the reins, and
Now right, now left,
To steer the wheels here from the precipice
And there from the rock.
Whether he is hasting, who knows?
Does anyone consider whence he came?

A citizen of Brussels: “God forbid that we should listen to you any longer! Some misfortune would be the consequence of it.”
Clara: “Stay, stay! Do not leave me because I speak of him whom with so much ardour you press’d forward to meet when public report announced his arrival; when each of you exclaimed, Egmont comes! He comes! Then, the inhabitants of the streets through which he was to pass, esteemed themselves happy; as soon as the footstep of his horse was heard, each abandoned his labour to run out to meet him, and the beam which shot from his eye, coloured your dejected countenances with hope and joy.
Some among you carried their children to the threshold of the door, and raising them in their arms, cried out, ‘Behold, this is the great Egmont, it is! He, who will procure for you times far happier than those which your poor fathers have endured.’ Your children will demand of you, what is become of the times which you then promised them? What! We lose our moments in vain words! You are inactive, you betray him!”
Brackenbourg, the friend of Caral, conjures her to go home. “What will your mother say?” cries he.
Clara: “Thinkest thou that I am a child, or bereft of my senses? No, they must listen to me: Hear me, fellow citizens! I see that you are perplexed, and that you can scarcely recollect yourselves amidst the dangers which threaten you. Suffer me to draw your attention to the past – alas! even to the past of yesterday. Think on the future; can you live? Will they suffer you to live, if he perishes? With him the last breath of your liberty will be extinguished. Was he not everything to you? For whom, then did he expose himself to dangers without number? His wounds — he received them for you; that great soul, wholly devoted to your service, now wastes its energies in a dungeon.
Murder spreads its snares around him; he thinks of you, perhaps he still hopes in you. For the first time he stands in need of your assistance. He, who to this very day, has been employed only in heaping on you his services and his benefactions.”
A Citizen of Brussels (to Brackenbourg): “Send her away, she afflicts us.”
Clara: “How, then! I have no strength, no arms skillful in battle as yours are; but I have what you want, courage and contempt of danger! Why cannot I infuse my soul into yours? I will go forth in the midst of you: A defenseless standard has often rallied a noble army. My spirit shall be like a flame preceding your steps; enthusiasm and love shall at length re-unite this dispersed and wavering people.”
Brackenbourg informs Clara that they perceive not far from them some Spanish soldiers who may possibly listen to them. “My friend,” said he, “consider in what place we are.”
Clara: “In what place! Under that heaven whose magnificent vault seems to bow with complacency on the head of Egmont when he appeared. Conduct me to his prison, you know the road to the old castle. Guide my steps, I will follow you.”
Brackenbourg draws Clara to her own habitation, and goes out again to enquire the fate of the Count of Egmont. He returns, and Clara, whose last resolution is already taken, insists on his relating to her all that he has heard.
“Is he condemned?” (she exclaims.)
Brackenbourg: “He is, I cannot doubt of it.”
Clara: “Does he still live?”
Brackenbourg: “Yes.”
Clara: “And how can you assure me of it? Tyranny destroys the generous man during the darkness of the night, and hides his blood from every eye — the people, oppressed and overwhelmed, sleep and dream that they will rescue him, and during that time his indignant spirit has already quitted this world. He is no more! Do not deceive me, he is no more!”
Brackenbourg: “No, I repeat it, alas! He still lives, because the Spaniards destined for the people they mean to oppress, a terrifying spectacle; a sight which must break every heart in which the spirit of liberty still resides.”
Clara: “You may speak out: I also will tranquilly listen to the sentence of my death. I already approach the region of the blessed. Already consolation reaches me from that abode of peace. Speak.”
Brackenbourg: “The reports which circulate, and the doubled guard, made me suspect that something formidable was prepared this night on the public square. By various windings I got to a house, whose windows front that way; the wind agitated the flambeaux, which was borne in the hands of a numerous circle of Spanish soldiers; and as I endeavored to look through that uncertain light, I shuddered on perceiving a high scaffold; several people were occupied in covering the floor with black cloth, and the steps of the staircase were already invested with that funereal garb.
One might have supposed they were celebrating the consecration of some horrible sacrifice. A white crucifix, which during the night shone like silver, was placed on one side of the scaffold. The terrible certainty was there, before my eyes; but the flambeaux by degrees were extinguished, every object soon disappeared, and the criminal work of darkness retired again into the bosom of night.”
The son of the Duke of Alva discovers that he has been made the instrument of Egmont’s destruction, and he determines, at all hazards, to save him; Egmont demands of him only one service, which is to protect Clara when he shall be no more. But we learn that, resolved not to survive the man she loves, she has destroyed herself. Egmont is executed; and the bitter resentment which Ferdinand feels against his father is the punishment of the Duke of Alva, who, it is said, never loved anything on earth except his son.
It seems to me that with a few variations, it would be possible to adapt this play to the French model. I have passed over in silence some scenes which could not be introduced on our theatre. In the first place, that with which the tragedy begins: some of Egmont’s soldiers, and some citizens of Brussels, are conversing together on the subject of his exploits. In a dialogue, very lively and natural, they relate the principal actions of his life, and in their language and narratives, shew the high confidence with which he had inspired them.
‘Tis thus that Shakespeare prepares the entrance of Julius Caesar; and the Camp of Wallenstein is compared with the same intention. But in France, we should not endure a mixture of the language of the people with that of tragic dignity; and this frequently gives monotony to our second-rate tragedies. Pompous expressions, and heroic situations, are necessarily few in number. And besides, tender emotions rarely penetrate to the bottom of the soul when the imagination is not previously captivated by those simple but true details which give life to the smallest circumstances.
The family to which Clara belongs is represented as completely that of a citizen; her mother is extremely vulgar. He who is to marry her, is indeed passionately attached to her, but one does not like to consider Egmont as the rival of such an inferior man; it is true that everything which surrounds Clara serves to set off the purity of her soul, but nevertheless in France we should not allow in the dramatic of first principles in that of painting, the shade which renders the light more striking.
As we see both of these at once in a picture, we receive, at the same time, the effect of both. It is not the same in a theatrical performance where the action follows in succession; the scene which hurts our feelings is not tolerated in consideration of the advantageous light it is to throw on the following scene; and we expect that the contrast shall consist in beauties, different indeed, but which shall nevertheless be beauties.
The conclusion of Goethe’s tragedy does not harmonize with the former part; the Count of Egmont falls asleep a few minutes before he ascends the scaffold. Clara, who is dead, appears to be him during his sleep, surrounded by celestial brilliance, and informs him that the cause of liberty, which he had served so well, will one day triumph. This wonderful denouement cannot accord with an historical performance.
The Germans are, in general, embarrassed about the conclusion of their pieces; and the Chinese proverb is particularly applicable to them, which says, “When we have ten steps to take, the ninth brings us half way.” The talent necessary to finish a composition of any kind demands a sort of cleverness, and of calculation, which agrees but badly with the vague and indefinite imagination displayed by the Germans in all their works.
Besides, it requires art, and a great deal of art, to find a proper denouement, for there are seldom any in real life: Facts are linked one to the other, and their consequences are lost in the lapse of time. The knowledge of the theatre alone teaches us to circumscribe the principal event, and make all the accessory ones concur to the same purpose. But to combine effects seems to the Germans almost like hypocrisy, and the spirit of calculation appears to them irreconcilable with inspiration.
Of all the writers, however, Goethe is certainly best able to unite the frailties of genius with its bolder flights; but he does not vouchsafe to give himself the trouble of arranging dramatic situations so as to render them properly theatrical. If they are fine in themselves, he cares for nothing else.
His German audience at Weimar ask no better than to wait the development of his plans, and to guess at his intention — as patient, as intelligent, as the ancient Greek chorus, they do not expect merely to be amused as sovereigns commonly do, whether they are people or kings, they contribute to their own pleasure, by analyzing and explaining what did not at first strike them — such a public is truly like an artist in its judgments.

I stand high, but I can and must rise yet higher.
Courage, strength and hope possess my soul.
Not yet, have I attained the height of my ambition;
That once achieved, I will stand firmly and without fear.
Should I fall, should a thunderclap, a storm blast,
Ay, a false step of my own,
Precipitate me into the abyss,
So be it.
I shall lie there with thousands of others.
I have never distained, even for a trifling stake,
To throw the bloody die with my gallant comrades,
And shall I hesitate now,
When all that is most precious in life
Is set upon the cast?

Egmont and Hoorn

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Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Egmont 1/2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. III, 146-153.

If my Life was a mirror in which thou
Did love to contemplate thyself,
So be also my death.
Men are not together only
When in each other’s presence;
The distant, the departed,
Also live for us.
I shall live for thee,
And for myself,
I have lived long enough.

“The Count of Egmont” appears to me the finest of Goethe’s tragedies; he wrote it, I believe, at the same time, when he composed Werther; the same warmth of soul is alike in both. The play begins at the moment when Philip II, weary of the mild government of Margaret of Parma, in the Low Countries, sends the Duke of Alva to supply her place.

William of Orange

The king is troubled by the popularity which the Prince of Orange and the Count of Egmont have acquired; he suspects them of secretly favouring the partizans of the reformation. Every thing is brought together that can furnish the most attractive idea of the Count of Egmont; he is seen adored by the soldiers at the head of whom he has borne away so many victories.
The Spanish princess trusts his fidelity, even though she knows how much he censures the severity that has been employed against the Protestants. The citizens of Brussels look on him as the defender of their liberties before the throne; and to complete the picture, the Prince of Orange, whose profound policy and silent wisdom are so well known in history sets off still more the generous imprudence of Egmont, in vainly entreating him to depart with himself before the arrival of the Duke of Alva. The Prince of Orange is a wise and noble character; an heroic but inconsiderate self-devotion can alone resist his counsels.
The Count of Egmont resolves not to abandon the inhabitants of Brussels; he trusts himself to his fate, because his victories have taught him to reckon upon the favours of fortune, and he always preserves in public business the same qualities that have thrown so much brilliancy over his military character.
Egmont, on the contrary,
Advances with a bold step,
As if the world were all his own.
These noble and dangerous qualities interest us in his destiny; we feel on his account fears which his intrepid soul never allowed him to experience for himself; the general effect of his character is displayed with great art in the impression which it is made to produce on all the different persons by whom he is surrounded. It is easy to trace a lively portrait of the hero of a piece; it requires more talent to make him known by the admiration that he inspires in his soldiers, the people, the great nobility, in all that bear any relation to him.
The Count of Egmont is in love with a young girl, Clara, born in the class of citizens at Brussels; he goes to visit her in her obscure retreat. This love has a larger place in the heart of the young girl than in his own; the imagination of Clara is entirely subdued by the lustre of the Count of Egmont, by the dazzling impression of his heroic valour and brilliant reputation.
There are goodness and gentleness in the love of Egmont; in the society of this young person he find repose from trouble and solicitude. “They speak to you,” he said, “of this Egmont, silent, severe, authoritative; who is made to struggle with events and with mankind; but he who is simple, loving, confiding, happy, that Egmont, Clara, is thine.”
The love of Egmont for Clara would not be sufficient for the interest of the piece; but when misfortunate is joined to it, this sentiment which before appeared only in the distance, acquires an admirable strength.

Duke of Alva

The arrival of the Spaniards with the Duke of Alva at their head being made known, the terror spread by that gloomy nation amongst the joyous people of Brussels is described in a superior manner. At the approach of a violent storm, men retire to their houses, animals tremble, birds take a low flight, and seem to seek an asylum in the earth — all nature seems to prepare itself to meet the scourge which threatens it — thus terror possessed the minds of the unfortunate inhabitants of Flanders. The Duke of Alva is not willing to have the Count of Egmont arrested in the streets of Brussels, he fears an insurrection of the people, and wishes if possible to draw his victim to his own palace, which commands the city, and adjoins the citadel.
The matter turns upon a single point:
He would have me live as I cannot.
He employs his own son, young Ferdinand, to prevail on the man he wishes to ruin, to enter his abode. Ferdinand is an enthusiastic admirer of the hero of Flanders, he has no suspicion of the horrid designs of his father, and displays a warmth and ardour of character which persuades the Count of Egmont that the father of such a son cannot be his enemy. Egmont consents to accompany him to the Duke of Alva. That perfidious and faithful representative of Phillip II expects him with an impatience which makes one shudder. He places himself at the window, and perceives him at a distance, mounted on a superb horse, which he had taken in one of his victorious battles.
The Duke of Alva feels a cruel and increasing joy at every step which Egmont makes towards his palace. When the horse stops, he is agitated; his guilty heart pants to effect his criminal purpose, and when Egmont enters the court he cries: “One foot is in the tomb, another step! the grated entrance closes on him, and now! he is mine!”
The Count of Egmont having entered, the Duke discourses with him for some time on the government of the Low Countries, and on the necessity of employing rigour to restrain the progress of the new opinions. He has no longer any interest in deceiving Egmont, and yet he feels a pleasure in the success of his craftiness, and wishes still to enjoy it a few moments. At length, he rouses the generous soul of Egmont and irritates him by disputation in order to draw from him some violent expressions.
He affects to be provoked by them, and performs, as by a sudden impulse, what he had calculated on and determined to do long before. Why so many precautions with a man who is already in his power, and whom he has determined to deprive, in a few hours, of existence? It is because the political assassin always retains a confused desire to justify himself, even in the eye of his victim. He wishes to say something in his excuse even when all he can allege persuades neither himself nor any other person.
Perhaps no man is capable of entering on a criminal act without some subterfuge, and therefore the true morality of dramatic works consists not in poetical justice which the author dispenses as he thinks fit, and of which history so often shews us the fallacy, but in the art of painting vice and virtue in such colours as to inspire us with hatred to the one and love to the other.
The report of the Count of Egmont’s arrest was scarcely spread through Brussels before it is known that he must perish. No one expects that justice will be heard. His terrified adherents ventured not a word in his defense, and suspicion soon separates those whom the same interest had united. An apparent submission arises from the terror which every individual feels and inspires in his turn, and the panic which pervades them all, that popular cowardice which so quickly succeeds a state of unusual exaltation, is in this part of the work most admirably described.
Clara alone, that timid girl who scarcely ever ventured to leave her own abode, appears in the public square at Brussels, reassembles by her cries the citizens who had dispersed, recalls to their recollection the enthusiasm which the name of Egmont had inspired, the oath they had taken to die for him. All who heard her shudder! “Young woman,” says a citizen of Brussels; “speak not of Egmont, his name is fatal to us.”
“What! Shall I not pronounce his name?” cried Clara. “Have you not all invoked it a thousand times? Is it not written on every thing around us? Have I not seen its brilliant character traced even by the stars of Heaven? Shall I not then name it? Worthy people! What are you about? Is your mind perplexed, your reason lost? Look not upon me with that unquiet and apprehensive air. Cast not down your eyes in terror.
What I demand is also what you yourselves desire. Is not my voice the voice of your own heart? Ask of each other, which of you will not this very night prostrate himself before God to beg the life of Egmont? Which of you in his own house will not repeat, ‘The liberty of Egmont, or death?'”
To be continued …

Lamoral, Count of Egmont, Prince of Gavre
1522-1568
From an 1888 Engraving

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust 4

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 192-226. Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

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“For with fair talents Nature has endow’d me;
Although, alas, she has accompanied
Her lofty gifts with many weaknesses,
With a foreboding spirit, boundless pride,
And sensibility too exquisite.
It cannot be otherwise, since Fate,
In her caprice, has fashioned such a man;
We must consent to take him as he is.”
Faustus learns that Margaret has murdered the child, to which she had given birth, hoping thus to avoid shame. Her crime has been discovered; she has been thrown into prison, and is doomed to perish the next morning on the scaffold. Faustus curses Mephistopheles in the bitterness of rage; Mephistopheles reproaches Faustus in cold blood, and proves to him that it is himself who has desired evil, and that he has assisted him only because called upon by himself to do so. Sentence of death is pronounced against Faustus for having slain Margaret’s brother.
He nevertheless enters the city in secret, obtained from Mephistopheles the means of delivering Margaret, and penetrates at night into her dungeon, of which he has stolen the keys.
He hears from afar off the imperfect notes of a song which sufficiently proves the derangement of her mind; the words of this song are very coarse, and Margaret was naturally pure and delicate. Mad women are generally painted at if madness accommodated itself to the rules of propriety, and only gave the right of breaking off sentences abruptly, and interrupting at convenient times the chain of ideas; but it is not so: real disorder of the mind almost always displays itself in shapes foreign even to the cause of the disorder, and the gaiety of its unhappy victims is more harrowing to the soul than even their misery.
Faustus enters the prison: Margaret believes that they are come to lead her to death. Margaret, rising from her bed of straw, exclaims: “They come! They come! Oh! how bitter is death!”
Faustus, in a low voice: “Softly, softly, I come to deliver thee.” (He draws near her, to break her fetters.)
Margaret: “If thou art human, my despair will touch thee.”
Faustus: “Softer, softer! Thou wilt awake the guard by thy cries.”
Margaret, throwing herself on her knees: “Who hath given thee, barbarian, this power over me? It is only midnight: why does thou come to look for me so soon? Have pity on my tears, let me live a little longer. Tomorrow morning, is it not time enough?” She rises again. “I am so young — so young! and must I then die already? I was once handsome too: That was my ruin. Then my friend was near to me; but now he is a great way off. The flowers of my garland are scattered. Do not grasp my hand with such violence! be tender with me! let me not weep in vain! never, to this day, have I seen thee before.”
Faustus: “How can I support her agony?”
Margaret: “I am altogether in thy power. Only let me suckle my child: I have pressed it slowly to my heart all night long. They have taken it from me to distress me. Don’t they say that I killed it? Never shall I be again what I once was. Did they not sing songs against me, those wicked people? What would they say then?”
Faustus, casting himself to her feet: “Thy lover is at thy feet. He comes to throw open the gates of this horrible prison.”
Margaret: “Yes, let us fall on our knees; let us call the saints to our assistance. The cries of hell are heard, and the evil genii wait for us on the threshold of my dungeon.”
Faustus: “Margaret! Margaret!”
Margaret. listening eagerly: “It was the voice of my love.” She springs toward Faustus, and her irons fall off. “Where is he? I heard him call me. I am free. Nobody can keep me any longer in prison. I will support myself on his arm, I will rest on his bosom. He calls me Margaret; he is there, before the door. Amidst the howling of pitiless death I hear the soft and touching harmony of his voice.”
Faustus: “Yes, Margaret, it is I.”
Margaret: “It is thou; repeat that once again.” (She presses him to her bosom.) “Tis he! Tis he! What is become of the anguish of my chains and of the scaffold? It is thou! I am saved! I see before me the road in which I first beheld thee, the smiling garden where Martha and I used to wait for you.”
Faustus: “Come, come.”
Margaret: “It is so sweet to me to stay with thee! Ah! do not leave me!”
Faustus: “Haste! we may pay dearly for the least delay.”
Margaret: “What! thou answerest not to my embraces? My love, it is so short a time since we parted? Hast thou already forgotten to press me to thy heart? There was a time when thy words and looks called down all Heaven upon me! Embrace me! for mercy’s sake, embrace me! Thy heart then is cold and dumb. What is become of thy love? Who has robbed me of it?”
Faustus: “Come, follow me, my dearest love: take courage. I love thee with rapture, but follow me, it is my only prayer.”
Margaret: “But art thou indeed Faustus? Art thou thyself?”
Faustus: “Yes, certainly. Yes, come along!”
Margaret: “Thou deliverest me from my chains, thou takest me again to thine arms. How is it that thou art not afraid of Margaret? Does thou know well, my love; dost thou well know whom thou deliverest?”
Faustus: “Come, come! The night already begins to fade away!”
Margaret: “My mother! It was I who killed her. My child! It was I who drowned it. Was it not thine as well as mine? Is it true then that I behold thee, Faustus? Is it not a dream? Give me thy hand, thy beloved hand! Oh Heaven! it is moist. Wipe it. I think there is blood upon it. Hide thy sword from me! Where is my brother? I beseech you, hide it from me!”
Faustus: “Oh! bury the irreparable past in oblivion! you make me die.”
Margaret: “No, thou must remain behind. I will describe to thee what manner of tombs thou must prepare tomorrow. The best place must be given to my mother; my brother must be laid next to her. As for me, you must place me farther off; yet not too far neither; and my child, right upon my bosom. But nobody must lie by my side. I could have wished that thou mightest be near me; but that was a sweet and pure happiness, and belongs to me no more. I feel myself dragged towards thee, and it seems to me that thou violently drives me back: Yet are thy looks full of tenderness and goodness.”
Faustus: “Ah! If you know me, come!”
Margaret: “Where shall I go then?”
Faustus: “Thou shalt be free.”
Margaret: “The tomb is without those gates. Death watches my footsteps. Come; but lead me to my everlasting dwelling place. I can go no where but there. Wilt thou leave me? Oh! my love, if I could …”
Faustus: “Thou canst if thou wilt; the gates are open.”
Margaret: “I dare not; no hope remains for me. For what purpose shall I fly? My persecutors are waiting for me. To beg is so miserable. And, above all, with a bad conscience! It is dismal also to wander about in a foreign land; and, besides, wherever I go, they will lay hold on me.”
Faustus: “I will remain near thee.”
Margaret: “Quick, quick, save thy poor child! Go, follow the road by the side of the rivulet, cross the path that leads to the wood; on the left hand, near the sluice, in the fish pond, catch it instantly! It will stretch out its hands to heaven. It seizures with convulsions. Save it! Save it!”
Faust: “Recover thy senses; one step more, and thou hast nothing to fear.”
Margaret: “Had we but passed the mountain! The air is so cold by the side of the spring. There is my mother, sitting on a rock, and her aged head is shaking. She does not call me; she makes no sign to me to approach. Only her eyes are heavy; oh! she will never wake more! We used to be so glad when she slept. Ah! when a recollection!”
Faustus: “Since thou wilt not listen to my entreaties, I must drag thee along in spite of thyself.”

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Margaret: “Leave me! No, I will not endure violence; seize me not thus with that murderous strength. Ah! I have only too much done as you would have me!”
Faustus: “The day breaks, my dear love! my dearest love!”
Margaret: “Yes, it will soon be day. My last day dawns upon this dungeon. It comes to celebrate my eternal spousals: tell nobody that you have seen Margaret tonight. Alas, my poor garland. It is withered. We shall meet again, but not on holidays. The crowd is gathering together, oh what a confusion of sounds shall we hear! The streets, the market-place, will hardly be large enough for the multitude. The bell tolls, the signal is given. They are going to tie my hands, to bind my eyes. I shall ascend the bloody scaffold, and the axe’s edge will fall on my neck. Ah! the world is already silent as the grave!”
Faustus: “Heavens! Why was I born?”
Mephistopheles, appearing at the door: “Haste, or you are lost; your delays, your uncertainties, are fatal to you: my horses…”
Margaret: “Who is it that rises out of the earth? It is he, it is he; send him away. What should he have to do in this holy holy place? He means to carry me off with him.”
Faustus: “You must live!”
Margaret: “Tribunal of God! I abandon myself to thee.”
Mephistopheles to Faustus: “Come, come away! or I will leave thee to die together with her.”
Margaret: “Heavenly Father! I am thine; and ye angels, save me! Holy legions, encompass me about, defend me! Faustus, it is thy fate that afflicts me…”
Mephistopheles: “She is judged.”
Voices from Heaven are heard to cry “She is saved!”
Mephistopheles disappears with Faustus. The voice of Margaret is still heard from the bottom of the dungeon, recalling her love in vain. “Faustus! Faustus!”
After these words, the piece is broken off. The intention of the author doubtless is that Margaret should perish, and that God should pardon her; that the life of Faustus should be preserved, but that his soul should be lost.
The imagination must supply the charm which a most exquisite poetry adds to the scenes I have attempted to translate. In the art of versification there is a peculiar merit acknowledged by all the world, and yet independent of the subject to which it is applied. In the play of Faustus, the rhythm changes with the situation, and the billiant variety that results from the change is admirable.
The German language presents a greater number of combinations than ours, and Goethe seems to have employed them all to express, by sounds as well as images, the singular elevation of irony and enthusiasm, of sadness and mirth, which impelled him to the composition of this work. It would indeed be too childish to suppose that such a man was not perfectly aware of all the defects of taste with which his piece was liable to be reproached; but it is curious to know the motives that determined him to leave those defects, or rather intentionally to insert them.
Goethe has submitted himself to rules of no description whatever in this composition; it is neither tragedy nor romance. Its author adjured every sober method of thinking and writing; one might find in it some analogies with Aristophanes, if the traits of Shakespeare’s pathos were not mingled with beauties of a very different nature.
Faustus astonishes, moves, and melts us; but it does not leave a tender impression upon the soul. Though presumption and vice are cruelly punished, the hand of beneficence is not perceived in the administration of the punishment; it would rather be said that the evil principle directed the thunderbolt of vengeance against crimes of which it had itself occasioned the commission; and remorse, such as it is painted in this drama, seems to proceed from hell, in company with guilt.
The belief in evil spirits is to be met with in many pieces of German poetry; the nature of the north agrees very well with this description of terror; it is therefore much less ridiculous in Germany, than it would be in France, to make use of the Devil in works of fiction. To consider all ideas only in a literary point of view, it is certain that our imagination figures to itself something that answers to the conception of an evil genius, whether in the human heart, or in the dispensations of nature.
Man sometimes does evil, as we may say, in a disinterested manner, without end, and even against his end, merely to satisfy a certain inward asperity that urges him to do hurt to others. The deities of paganism were accompanied by a different sort of divinities of the race of the Titans, who presented the revolted forces of nature; and, in Christianity, the evil inclinations of the soul may be said to be personafied under the figure of Devils.
It is impossible to read Faustus without being excited to reflexion in a thousand different manners: We quarrel with the author, we condemn him; we justify him; but he obliges us to think upon everything, and, to borrow the language of a simple sage of former times, upon something more than every thing. (De omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis.)
The criticisms to which such a production is obnoxious may easily be foreseen, or rather it is the very nature of the work that provokes censure still more than the manner in which it was treated; for such a composition ought to be judged like a dream; and if good taste were always watching at the ivory gate, to oblige our visions to take the regulated form, they would seldom strike the imagination.
Nevertheless, the drams of Faustus is certainly not composed upon a good model. Whether it be considered as an offspring of the delirium of the mind, or of the satiety of reason, it is to be wished that such productions may not be multiplied; but when such a genius as that of Goethe sets itself free from all restrictions, the crowd of thoughts is so great, that on every side they break through and trample down the barriers of art.

goethe1775

Goethe, 1775-1776
By Georg Melchior Kraus

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust 3

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 203-212. All illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

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“She is not the first!”
The history of Margaret is oppressively painful to the heart. Her low condition, her confined intellect, all that renders her subject to misfortune, without giving her the power of resisting it, inspires us with the greater compassion for her. Goethe, in his novels and in his plays, has scarcely ever bestowed any superior excellence upon his female personages, but he describes with wonderful exactness that character of weakness which renders protection so necessary to them.
Margaret is about to receive Faustus in her house without her mother’s knowledge, and gives this poor woman, by the advice of Mephistopheles, a sleeping draught which she is unable to support, and which causes her death. The guilty Margaret becomes pregnant, her shame is made public, all her neighbours point the finger at her. Disgrace seems to have greater hold upon persons of an elevated rank, and yet it is perhaps more formidable among the lower class. Everything is so plain, so positive, so irreparable, among men who never upon any occasion made use of shades of expression.
Goethe admirably catches those manners. At once so near and so distant from us, he possesses in a supreme degree the art of being perfectly natural in a thousand different natures.
Valentine, a soldier, the brother of Margaret, returns from the wars to visit her, and when he learns her shame, the suffering which he feels, and for which he blushes, betrays itself in language at once harsh and pathetic. A man severe in appearance, yet inwardly endowed with sensibility, causes an unexpected and poignant emotion.

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Goethe has painted with admirable truth the courage which a soldier is capable of exerting against moral pain, that new enemy which he perceives within himself, and which he cannot combat with his usual weapons. At last, the necessity of revenge takes possession of him, and brings into action all the feelings by which he was inwardly devoured. He meets Mephistopheles and Faustus at the moment when they are going to give a serenade under his sister’s window. Valentine provokes Faustus, fights with him, and receives a mortal wound. His adversaries fly to avoid the fury of the populace.
Margaret arrives, and asks who lies bleeding upon the earth. The people answer the son of thy mother. And her brother dying addresses to her reproaches more terrible, and more harrowing, than most polished language could ever make use of. The dignity of tragedy could never permit us to dig so deeply into the human heart for the characters of nature.
Mephistopheles obliges Faustus to leave the town, and the despair excited in him by the fate of Margaret creates a new interest in his favor.
“Alas!” he exclaims, “she might so easily have been made happy! a simple cabin in an alpine valley, a few domestic employments, would have been enough to satisfy her limited wishes, and fill up her gentle existence; but I, the enemy of God, could not rest till I had broken her heart, and triumphed in the ruin of her humble destiny. Through me, will peace be for ever ravished from her. She must become the victim of hell. Well! Demon, cut short my anguish, let what must come, come quickly! Be the fate of unhappy creature fulfilled, and cast me headlong, together with her, into the abyss.”
The bitterness and sang-froid of the answer of Mephistopheles are truly diabolical.
“How you enflame yourself,” he says to him, “how you boil!
I know not how to console thee,
and upon my honour
I would now give myself to the Devil if I were not the Devil myself;
but thinkest thou, then, madman,
that because thy weak brain can find no issue,
there is none in reality?
Long live he who knows how to support all things with courage!
I have rendered thee not much unlike myself,
and reflect, I beseech thee,
that there is nothing in the world more disgusting,
than a devil who despairs!”
Margaret goes alone to the church, the only asylum that remains to her: An immense crowd fills the aisles, and the burial service is being performed in this solemn place. Margaret is covered with a veil; she prays fervently; and when she begins to flatter herself with hopes of divine mercy, the evil spirit speaks to her in a low voice, saying,

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“Dost thou remember, Margaret, the time when thou came hither to prostrate thyself before the altar? Then wert thou full of innocence, and while thy timid voice lisped the psalms, God reigned in thy heart. Margaret, what hast thou since done? What crimes hast thou committed? Dost thou come to pray for the soul of thy mother, whose death hangs so heavily upon thy head! Dost thou see what blood is that which defiles thy threshold? It is thy brother’s blood. And dost thou not feel stirring in thy womb an unfortunate creature that already forewarns thee of new sufferings?”
Margaret: “Woe! Woe! How can I escape from the thoughts that spring up in my soul and rise in rebellion against me?”
The Choir: (chanting in the church)
Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in favilla.
*(The day of wrath will come, and the universe will be reduced to ashes.)
The Evil Spirit: “The anger of Heaven threatens thee, Margaret! The trumpets of the resurrection are sounded; the tombs are shaken, and thy heart is about to awake to eternal flames.”
Margaret: “Ah, that I could fly hence! the sounds of that organ prevent me from breathing, and the chants of the priests penetrate my soul with an emotion that rends it.”
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet apparebit;
Nil inultum remanebit.
*(When the supreme judge appears, he will discover all that is hidden, and nothing shall remain unpunished.)
Margaret: “It seems as if the walls were closing together to stifle me. Air! Air!”
The Evil Spirit: “Hide thyself! Guilt and shame pursue thee. Thou callest for air and for light; miserable wretch! what hast thou to hope from them?”
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus?
Cum vix justus sit securus?*
*(Miserable wretch! What then shall I say? to what protector shall I address myself, when even the just can scarcely believe themselves saved?)
The Evil Spirit: “The saints turn away their faces from thy presence; they would blush to stretch forth their pure hands toward thee.”
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Margaret, at this discourse, utters a shriek and faints away.
What a scene! this unfortunate creature who, in the asylum of consolation finds despair; this assembled multiple praying to God with confidence, while the unhappy woman, in the very temple of the Lord, meets the spirit of hell. The severe expressions of the sacred hymn are interpreted by the inflexible malice of the evil genius. What distraction in the heart! what ills accumulated on one poor feeble head! And what a talent his, who knew how to represent to the imagination those moments in which life is lighted up with us like a funeral fire, and throws over our fleeting days the terrible reflection of an eternity of torments!

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Mephistopheles conceives the idea of transporting Faustus to the Sabbath of Witches in order to dissipate his melancholy, and this leads us to a scene of which it is impossible to give the idea, though it contains many thoughts which we shall endeavour to recollect: this festival of the Sabbath represents truly the saturnalia of genius. The progress of the piece is suspended by its introduction, and the stronger the situation, the greater we find the difficulty of submitting even to the inventions of genius when they so effectively disturb the interest.
Amidst the whirlwind of all that can be thought or said, when images and ideas rush headlong, confound themselves, and seem to fall back into the abysses from which reason has called them, there comes a scene which reunited us to the circumstances of the performance in a terrible manner. The conjurations of magic cause several different pictures to appear, and all at once Faustus approaches Mephistopheles and says to him:
“Dost thou not see, there below,
a young girl,
pale, though beautiful,
who stands alone in the distance?
She advances slowly,
her feet seem to be knit togehter;
do you not perceive her resemblance to Margaret?”
Mephistopheles: “It is an effect of magic, only illusion. It is not good to dwell upon the sight. Those fixed eyes freeze the blood of men. It was thus that Medusa’s head, of old, turned all who gazed upon it to stone.”
Faustus: “It is true that the eyes of that image are open, like those of a corpse which have not been closed by a friendly hand. There is the bosom on which I rested my head; there are the charms which my heart called its own.”
Mephistopheles: “Madman! all this is but witchcraft; every one thinks he beholds the beloved of his soul in this phantom.”
Faustus: “What madness! What torment! I cannot fly from that look: But what means that red collar that encircles her beautiful neck, no broader than the edge of a knife?”
Mephistopheles: “Tis true; but what would you do? Do not lose thyself thus in thought; ascend this mountain; they are preparing a feast for you on the summit. Come!”
To be continued…

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Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust 2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 192-203. Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

This momentary enthusiasm does not continue: Faustus is an inconstant character, the passions of the world recover their hold upon him. He seeks to satisfy them, he wishes to abandon himself to them; and the devil, under the name of Mephistopheles, comes and promises to put him in possession of all the pleasures of the earth, being at the same time able to render him disgusted with them all; for real wickedness so entirely dries up the soul, that it ends by inspiring a profound indifference for pleasures as well as for virtues.
Mephistopheles conducts Faustus to a witch, who keeps under her orders a number of animals, half monkeys and half cats. (Meerkatzen.) This scene may, in some respects, be considered as a parody of that of the witches in Macbeth. The witches in Macbeth sing mysterious words, of which the extraordinary sounds produce at once the effect of magic; Goethe’s witches also pronounce strange syllables, of which the rhythms are curiously multiplied; these syllables excite the imagination to gaiety, by the very singularity of their construction, and the dialogue of this scene, which would be merely burlesque in prose, receives a more elevated character from the charm of poetry.
In listening to the comical language of these cat-monkeys, we think we discover what would be the ideas of animals if they were able to express them, what a coarse and ridiculous image they would represent to themselves, of nature, and of mankind.
The French stage has scarcely any specimens of these pleasantries founded on the marvelous, on prodigies, witchcrafts, transformations, &c: this is to make sport with nature, as in comedies we make sport with men. But, to derive pleasure from this sort of comedy, reason must be set aside, and the pleasures of the imagination must be considered as a licensed game, without any object. Yet is this game not the more easy on that account, for restrictions are often supports; and when, in the career of literature, men give scope to boundless invention, nothing but the excess, the very extravagance, of genius, can confer any merit on these productions; the union of wildness with mediocrity would be intolerable.delacroix_faust_8
Mephistopheles conducts Faustus into the company of young persons of all classes, and subdues, by different means, the different minds with which he engages. He effects his conquests over them, not by admiration, but by astonishment. He always captivates by something, unexpected and contemptuous in his words and actions; for vulgar spirits, for the most part, take so much the more account of a superior intellect, as that intellect appears to be indifferent about them. A secret instinct tells them that he who despises them sees justly.
A Leipsic student, who has just left his mother’s house, as simple as one can be at that age in the good country of Germany, comes to consult Faustus about his studies; Faustus begs Mephistopheles to take on himself the charge of answering him. He puts on a doctor’s gown, and while waiting for the scholar, expressed, in a soliloquy, his contempt for Faustus. “This man,” says he, “will never be more than half wicked, and it is in vain that he flatters himself with the hope of becoming completely so.”
It is so in fact; whenever people naturally well principled turn aside from the plain road, they find themselves shackled by a sort of awkwardness that proceeds from uncontrollable remorse, while men who are radically bad make a mock of those candidates, for vice who, with the best intention to do evil, are without talent to accomplish it.
At last the scholar presents himself, and nothing can be more naive than the awkward and yet presumptuous eagerness of this young German, on his entrance for the first time in his life into a great city, disposed of all things, knowing nothing, afraid of every thing he sees, yet impatient to possess it, desirous of information, eagerly wishing for amusement, and advancing with an artless smile towards Mephistopheles, who receives him with a cold and contemptuous air; the contrast between the unaffected good humour of the one, and the disdainful insolence of the other, is admirably lively.
There is not a single branch of knowledge but the scholar desires to become acquainted with it; and what he desires to learn, he says, is science and nature. Mephistopheles congratulates him on the precision with which he has marked out his plan of study. He amuses himself by describing the four faculties, law, medicine, philosophy, and theology, in such a manner, as to confound the poor scholar’s head for ever. Mephistopheles makes a thousand different arguments for him, all which the scholar approves one after the other, but the conclusion of which astonishes him, because he looks for serious discourse while the devil is only laughing at every subject.
The scholar comes prepared for general admiration, and the result of all he hears is only universal contempt. Mephistopheles agrees with him that doubt proceeds from hell, and that the devils are those who deny; but he expresses doubt itself with a tone of decision, which, mixing arrogance of character with uncertainty of reasoning, leaves no consistency in any thing, but evil inclinations. No belief, no opinion, remains fixed in the head after having listened to Mephistopheles; and we feel disposed to examine ourselves in order to know whether there is any truth in the world, or whether we think only to make a mock of those who fancy that they think.
“Must not every word have an idea annexed to it?” says the scholar. “Yes, if it can,” replies Mephistopheles,” but we need not trouble ourselves too much about that, for where ideas are wanting, words come on purpose to supply the place of them.”
Sometimes the scholar cannot comprehend Mephistopheles, but he has only so much the more respect for his genius. Before he takes leave of him, he begs him to inscribe a few lines in his album, the book in which, according to the German way, every one makes his friends furnish him with a mark of their remembrances. Mephistopheles writes the words that Satan spoke to Eve, to induce her to eat the fruit of the tree of life. “Thou shalt be as God, knowing good and evil.”
“I may well,” says he to himself, “borrow this ancient sentence of my cousin the serpent, they have long made use of it in my family.” The scholar takes back his book, and goes away perfectly satisfied.

Faustus grows tired, and Mephistopheles advises him to fall in love. He becomes actually so with a young girl of the lower class, extremely innocent and simple, who lives in poverty with her aged mother. Mephistopheles, for the purpose of introducing Faustus to her, takes it into his head to form an acquaintance with one of her neighbors, named Martha, whom the young Margaret sometimes goes to visit. This woman’s husband is abroad, and she is distracted at receiving no news of him; she would be greatly afflicted at his death, yet at least she would wish not to be left in doubt of it; and Mephistopheles greatly softens her grief, by promising her an obituary account of her husband, in regular form, for her to publish in the gazette according to custom.
Poor Margaret is delivered up to the power of evil; the infernal spirit lets loose all his malaice upon her; and renders her culpable, without depriving her of that rectitude of heart which can find repose only in virtue. A dexterous villain takes care not wholly to pervert those honest people whom he designs to govern; for his ascendancy over them depends upon the alternate agitations of crime and remorse. Faustus, by the assistance of Mephistopheles, seduces this young girl, who is remarkably simple both in mind and soul. She is pious, though culpable; and when alone with Faustus, asks him whether he has any religion. “My child,” says he, “you know I love you. I would give my blood, and my life for you; I would disturb the faith of no one. Is not this all that you can desire?”
Margaret: “No, it is necessary to believe.”
Faustus: “Is it necessary?”
Margaret: “Ah! that I had any influence over you! you do not sufficiently reverence the holy sacraments.”
Faustus: “I do reverence them.”
Margaret: “But without ever drawing near them, it is long since you have confessed yourself, long since you have been at mass: do you believe in God?”
Faustus: “My dear friend, who dares to say, I believe in God? If you propose this question to priests and sages, they will answer as if they intended to mock him who questions them.”
Margaret: “So, then, you believe nothing.”
Faustus: “Do not construe my words so ill, charming creature! Who can name the Deity and say, I comprehend him? Who can feel, and not believe in him? Does not that which supports the universe embrace thee, me, and universal nature? Does not Heaven descend to form a canopy over our heads? Is not the earth immovable under our feet? Do not the eternal stars, from their spheres on high, look down upon us with love? Are not thine eyes reflected in mine, melting with tenderness? Does not an eternal mystery, visible and invisible, attract my heart to thine? Let they soul be filled with this mystery, and when you experience the supreme happiness of feeling, call that happiness thy heart, love, God; it is all the same. Feeling is all in all, names are but an empty sound, a vain smoke, that darkens the splendour of Heaven.”
This morsel of inspired eloquence would not suit the character o f Faustus, if at this moment he were not better, because he loves; and if the intention of the author had not doubtless been to shew the necessity of a firm and positive belief, since even those whom Nature has created good and kind, are not the less capable of the most fatal aberrations when this support is wanting to them.
Faustus grows tired of the love of Margaret, as of all the enjoyments of life; nothing is finer, in the original, than the verse in which he expresses at once the enthusiasm of science and the satiety of happiness.
Faustus: “Sublime spirit! Thou hast granted me all that I have asked of thee. It is not in vain that thou hast turned towards me thy countenance encircled with flames; thou has given me magical nature for my empire; thou hast given me strength to feel and enjoy it. Thou hast given me not coldly to admire, but inwardly to be acquainted with; thou hast given me to penetrate into the bosom of the universe as into that of a friend; thou hast brought before me the varied assembly of living things, and hast taught me to know my breathen in the inhabitants of the woods, the air, and the waters.
When the tempest howls in the forest, when it uproots and subverts the gigantic pines, and makes the mountain re-echo to their fall, thou guidest me into a safe asylum, and thou revealest to me the secret wonders of my own heart. When the calm moon silently ascends the sky, the silvered shades of ancient times glide before my eyes over the rocks and in the woods, and seem to soften for me the severe pleasure of meditation.
But, alas! I feel it, man can attain perfection in nothing; by the side of those delights which bring me near to the gods, I am doomed to support that cold, that indifferent, that haughty companion, who humbles me in my own eyes, and by a word reduces to nothing, all the gifts that thou has bestowed upon me. He kindles in my bosom an untameable fire that urges me to the pursuit of beauty; I pass, in delirium, from desire to enjoyment; but in the very bosom of happiness a vague sensation of satiety causes me to regret the restlessness of desire.”
To be continued…

Scenes from Faust by Moritz Retzsch

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 181-192. Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

“Faustus”

Plan all things to achieve my end!
Engage the attention of her friend!
No milk and water devil be.
And bring fresh jewels instantly!

Among the pieces written for the performance of puppets, there is one entitled “Dr. Faustus, or Fatal Science,” which has always had great success in Germany. Lessing took up this subject fore Goethe. This wonderful history is a tradition very generally known. Several English authors have written the life of this same Dr. Faustus, and some of them have even attributed to him the art of printing — his profound knowledge did not preserve him from being weary of life, and in order to escape from it, he tried to enter into a compact with the devil, who concludes the whole by carrying him off. From these slender materials, Goethe has furnished the astonishing work, of which I will now try to give some idea.
Certainly, we must not expect to find in its either taste, or measure, or the art that selects and terminates; but if the imagination could figure to itself an intellectual chaos, such as the material chaos has often been painted, the “Faustus” of Goethe should have been composed at that epoch. It cannot be exceeded in boldness of conception, and the recollection of this production is always attended with a sensation of giddiness.

The Devil is the hero of the piece;
the author has not conceived him like a hideous phantom,
such as he is usually represented to children;
he has made him, if we may so express ourselves,
the evil Being par excellence,
before whom all others…are only novices,
scarcely worthy to be the servants of Mephistopheles.

Goethe wished to display in this character, at once real and fanciful, the bitterest pleasantry that contempt can inspire, and at the same time an audacious gaiety that amuses. There is an infernal irony in the discourses of Mephistopheles, which extends itself to the whole creation, and criticizes the universe like a bad book of which the Devil has made himself the censor.
Mephistopheles makes sport with genius itself, as with the most ridiculous of all absurdities, when it leads men to take a serious interest in any thing that exists in the world, and above all when it gives them confidence in their own individual strength. It is singular that supreme wickedness and divine wisdom coincide in this respect; that they equally recognize the vanity and weakness of all earthly things: but the one proclaims this truth only to disgust men with what is good, the other only to elevate them above what is evil.
If the play of “Faustus” contained only a lively and philosophical pleasantry, an analogous spirit may be found in many of Voltaire’s writings; but we perceive in this piece an imagination of a very different nature. It is not only that it displays to us the moral world, such as it is, annihilated, but that Hell itself is substituted in the room of it. There is a potency of sorcery, a poetry belonging to the principle of evil, a delirium of wickedness, a distraction of thought, which make us shudder, laugh and cry, in a breath.
It seems as if the government of the world were, for a moment, entrusted to the hands of the Demon. You tremble because he is pitiless, you laugh because he humbles the satisfaction of self-love, you weep, because human nature, thus contemplated from the depths of hell, inspires a painful compassion.
Milton has drawn his Satan larger than man; Michaelangelo and Dante have given him the hideous figure of the brute combined with the human shape. The Mephistopheles of Goethe is a civilized Devil. He handles with dexterity that ridicule, so trifling in appearance, which is nevertheless often found to consist with a profundity of malice; he treats all sensibility as silliness or affectation; his figure is ugly, low, and crooked; he is awkward without timidity, disdainful without pride; he affects something of tenderness with the women, because it is only in their company that he needs to deceive, in order to seduce; and what he understands by seduction, is to minister to the passion of others; for he cannot even imitate love. This is the only dissimulation that is impossible to him.
The character of Mephistopheles supposes an inexhaustible knowledge of social life, of nature, and of the marvelous. This play of “Faustus,” is the nightmare of the imagination, but is is a nightmare that redoubles its strength. It discovers the diabolical revelation of incredulity — of that incredulity which attaches itself to everything that can ever exist of good in this world; and perhaps this might be a dangerous revelation, if the circumstances produced by the perfidious intentions of Mephistopheles did not inspire a horror of his arrogant language, and make known the wickedness which it covers.
In the character of Faustus, all the weaknesses of humanity are concentrated: desire of knowledge, and fatigue of labour; wish of success and satiety of pleasure. It presents a perfect model of the changeful and versatile being whose sentiments are yet more ephemeral than the short existence of which he complains. Faustus has more ambition than strength; and this inward agitation produces his revolt against nature, and makes him have recourse to all manner of sorceries, in order to escape from the hard but necessary conditions imposed upon mortality.
He is discovered, in the first scene, surrounded by his books, and by an infinite number of mathematical instruments and chemical phials. His father had also devoted himself to science, and transmitted to him the same taste and habits. A solitary lamp enlightens this gloomy retreat, and Faustus pursues without intermission his studies of nature, and particularly of magic, many secrets of which are already in his possession.

Rembrandt’s Faust

He invokes one of the creating Genii of the second order; the spirit appears, and counsels him not to elevate himself above the sphere of the human understanding — “It is for us,” he says, “it is for us to plunge into the tumult of exertion, into those eternal billows of life, which are made to swell and sink, are impelled and recalled, by man’s nativity and dissolution: we are created to labour in the work which God has ordained us, and of which time completes the web. But thou, who canst conceive of nothing beyond thine own being, thou, who trembles to sound thine own destiny, and whom a breath of mine makes sudden, leave me! Recall me no more!” When the Genii has disappeared, a deep despair seizes on Faustus, and he forms the design of poisoning himself.
“And I,” he says, ” the image of the Deity, I, who believed myself on the point of tasting eternal truth in all the splendour of celestial light! I, who was no longer a son of the earth, who felt myself equal to the cherubim, who creators in their turn, are susceptible of the enjoyments of God himself! Ah! how much do I need expiate my presumptuous anticipation! One word of thunder has dissipated them for ever. Divine spirit! I had power to attract, but none to retain thee, I felt myself at once so great and so little! But thou hast driven me back, with violence, to the uncertain lot of humanity!
Who now will instruct me? What ought I to avoid? Ought I to yield to the impulse which presses upon me? Our action, as our sufferings, arrest the advance of thought. Low inclinations oppose themselves to the most magnificent conception of the soul. When we attain a certain degree of sublime happiness, we treat as illusion and falsehood whatever is more valuable than this happiness; and the sublime sentiments with which we were gifted by the Creator, lose themselves in earthly interests.
At first, imagination, with its daring wings, aspires to eternity; soon a little space is enough for the ruins of our broken hopes. Anxiety takes possession of our heart. She engenders secret griefs within it, and robs it of pleasure and repose. She presents herself to us in a thousand shapes; now under the aspect of fortune, then as a wife or children, in the likeness of the dagger, of poison, of flames, or of the ocean, she pursues and harasses us. Man trembles in the contemplation of what never will happen, and mourns incessantly for what he has never lost.
No, I did not compose myself to the Deity; no, I feel my misery: it is the insect that I resemble; the insect that agitates the dust on which it exists, and is crushed by the foot of the passenger.
And what, but dust, are all these books by which I am surrounded? Am I not shut up in the prison of science? These walls, these windows which environ me, do they suffer even the light of the sun to reach me without altering its rays? What am I to do with these numberless volumes, with these endless nothings that crowd my brain? Shall I find among them what I want? If I cast my eye over these pages, what shall I read into them? That men everywhere torment themselves about their fate; that from time to time a single happy man has existed, and that he has made all the other inhabitants of the earth despair.” (A death’s head is on the table.)

“And thou, who seemest to address me with that horrible grin, was not the mind that once inhabited thy brain guilty of error like my own? Did it not search for light, and did it not sink under the weight of darkness? These instruments of every description, that my father collected, to assist him in his vain labours; these wheels, and cylinders, and levers, will they reveal to me the secret of nature? no, she is involved in mystery, for all that she pretends to display herself on the light; and, what she chooses to conceal, not all the efforts of science will ever tear from her bosom.
My ears turn themselves, then, to thee, thou poisoned beverage! Thou, who bestowest death, I salute thee like a pale ray of light in the gloomy forest. In thee, I honour science and reverence the human understanding. Thou art the sweetest essence of all sleeping juices. In thee are concentrated all the powers of death. Come to my relief! I feel my troubled spirit already grow calm; I am about to launch upon the open sea. The limpid waves glitter like a mirror under my feet. A new day invitest me to the opposite shore. A chariot of fire already hovers over my head; I am about to ascend it; soon shall I wander amongst etherial spheres, and taste the delights of the heavenly regions.
But how deserve them in this state of my debasement? Yes, I may deserve them if I dare, if I courageously burst those gates of death before which no man can pass without shuddering. It is time to display the dignity of man. I must no longer shiver on the brink of this abyss, where the imagination condemns itself to its own torments, and the flames of hell seem to prohibit our approach. Into this cup of pure crystal will I pour the mortal poison. Alas! it once served for another use: it circulated from hand to hand in the joyous festivals of our fathers, and the guest, as it passed to him, celebrates its beauty in a song.
Thou gilded cup! Thou bringest to my remembrance the jovial nights of my youth. No more shall I pass thee to my neighbour; no more shall I extol the artist that fashioned and embelished thee. Thou art now filled with a dismal beverage — it was prepared by me, it is chosen by me. Ah! be it for me the solemn libation which I consecrate to the morning of a new existence!”
At the moment when he is about to swallow the poison, Faustus hears the town bells ringing in honour of Easter day, and the choirs of the neighboring church celebrating that holy feast.
The Choir: “Christ is risen. Let degenerate, weak and trembling mortals be glad thereof!”
Faustus: “With what imposing solemnity does this brazen sound shake my soul to its very foundations! What pure voices are those that make the poisoned cup fall out of my hand? Do yet announce, resounding bells, the first hour of the sacred sabbath of Easter? Ye, oh choir! do ye already celebrate those strains of consolation, those strains, which, in the night of the grave, were sung by angels descending from heaven to commence the new covenant?”
The choir repeats: “Christ is risen….”
Faustus: “Celestial strains! potent and gentle, wherefore do ye seek me, humbled in the dust? Go! make yourselves heard by those who are capable of deriving comfort from you! I hear the message you convey to me, but I want faith to believe it. Miracle is the cherished offspring of faith. I cannot spring upwards to the sphere from which your glorious tidings are descending: and yet, accustomed from childhood to these songs, they recall me to life. Once, a ray of divine light used to call on me during the peacful solemnity of the sabbath. The drowsy hum of the bells used to fill my soul with the presentiment of futurity, and prayer was an ardent enjoyment to my heart.
Those same bells also announced the games of youth, and the festival of spring. The memory of them rekindles those feelings of childhood which remove us from the contemplation of death. Oh! should again, celestial strains! Earth has regained possession of me.”
To be continued…

Madame de Staël: Goethe – Pt. 3

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. III, 138-146. Illustrations by Johann Heinrich Ramberg (1763-1840)

Goetz of Berlichingen

The dramatic career of Goethe may be considered in two different lights. The pieces he designed for representation have much grace and facility, but nothing more. In those of his dramatic works, on the contrary, which it is very difficult to perform, we discover extraordinary talent. The genius of Goethe cannot bound itself to the limits of the theatre; and, endeavoring to subject itself to them, it loses a portion of originality, and does not entirely recover it till again at liberty to mix all styles together as it chooses.

No art, whatever it can be, can exist without certain limits; painting, sculpture, architecture, are subject to their own peculiar laws, and in like manner the dramatic art produces its effect only under certain conditions; conditions which sometimes restrain both thought and feeling; and yet the influence of the theatre is so great upon the assembled audience, that one is not justified in refusing to employ the power it possesses, by the pretext that it exacts sacrifices which the imagination left to itself would not require.

As there is no metropolis in Germany to collect together all that is necessary to form a good theatre, dramatic works are much oftener read than performed: and thence it follows that authors compose their dramas with a view to the effect in reading, not in acting.

Goethe is almost always making new experiments in literature. When the German taste appears to him to lean towards an excess in any respect, he immediately endeavors to give it an opposite direction. He may be said to govern the understandings of his contemporaries, as an empire of his own, and his works may be called decrees, by turns authorizing or banishing the abuses of art.

Goethe was tired of the imitation of French pieces in Germany, and with reason; for even a Frenchman might be equally tired of it. He therefore composed an historical tragedy, in the manner of Shakespeare, Goetz of Berlichingen. This piece was not destined for the stage; but it is nevertheless capable of representation, as are all those of Shakespeare of the same description.

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Goethe has chosen the same historical epoch as Schiller in his play of the Robbers; but, instead of presenting a man who has set himself free from all the ties of moral and social order, he has painted an old knight, under the reign of Maximilian, still defending the chivalrous manners and the feudal condition of the nobility, which gave so high an ascendant to their personal valour. Goetz of Berlichingen was surnamed the “iron-handed” because having lost his right hand in war, he had one made for him with springs, by the aid of which he held and managed his lance with dexterity.

He was a knight renowned in his time for courage and loyalty. This model is happily chosen to represent what was the independence of nobles before the authority of government became coercive on all men. In the middle ages, every castle was a fortress, every noble a sovereign.

The establishment of standing armies, and the invention of artillery, effected a total change in social order; a sort of abstract power was introduced under the name of the state or the nation; but individuals lost, by degrees, all their importance. A character like that of Goetz must have suffered from this change whenever it took place.

The military spirit has always been of a ruder cast in Germany than anywhere else, and it is there that we might figure to ourselves, as real, those men of iron whose images are still to be seen in the arsenals of the empire. Yet the simplicity of chivalrous manners is painted in Goethe’s tragedy with many charms.

This aged Goetz, living in the midst of battles, sleeping in his armour, continually on horseback, never resting except when besieged, employing all his resources for war; contemplating nothing besides; this aged Goetz, I say, gives us the highest idea of the interest and activity which human life possessed in those ages. His virtues, as well as his defects, are strongly marked; nothing is more generous than his regard for Weislingen, once his friend, then his adversary, and often engaged even in acts of treason against him.

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The sensibility shewn by an intrepid warrior, awakens the soul in an entirely new manner; we have time to love in our inactive state of existence; but these lightnings of passion which enable us to read in the bottom of the heart through the medium of a stormy existence cause a sentiment of profound emotion. We are so afraid of meeting with affectation in the noblest gift of heaven, sensibility, that we sometimes prefer in the expression of it even rudeness itself as the pledge of sincerity.

The wife of Goetz presents herself to the imagination like an old portrait of the Flemish school, in which the dress, the look, the very tranquility of the attitude, announce a woman submitted to the will of her husband, knowing him only, admiring him only, and believing herself destined to serve him, as he is to defend her.

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By way of contrast to this most excellent woman, we have a creature altogether perverse, Adelaide, who seduces Weislingen, and makes him fail in the promise he had given to his friend; she marries, and soon after proves faithless to him. She renders herself passionately beloved by her page, and bewilders the imagination of this unhappy young man to such a degree as to prevail upon him to give a poisoned cup to his master.

These features are strong, but perhaps it is true that when the manners of a nation are generally very pure, the woman who estranges herself from them soon becomes entirely corrupted, the desire of pleasing is in our days no more than a tie of affection and kindness; but in the strict domestic life of a former age, it was an error capable of involving all others in its consequences. This guilty Adelaide gives occasion to one of the finest scenes in the play, the sitting of the secret tribunal.

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Mysterious judges, unknown to one another, always masked, and meeting at night, punished in silence, and only engraved on the poniard which they plunged into the bosom of the culprit this terrible motto: THE SECRET TRIBUNAL.

They acquainted the condemned person with his sentence by having it cried three times under his window, Woe, woe, woe! Thus was the unfortunate man given to know that, everywhere, in the stranger, in the fellow citizen, in the kinsman even, he might find his murderer.

In the crowd, and in solitude, in the city, and in the court, all places were filled by the invisible presence of that armed conscience which persecuted the guilty. One may conceive how necessary this terrible institution might have been, at a time when every man was powerful against all men, instead of all being invested with the power which they ought to possess over each individual.

It was necessary that justice should surprise the criminal before he was able to defend himself; but this punishment hovered in the air like an avenging shade, this mortal sentence which might be harboured even in the bosom of a friend, inspired an invincible terror.

There is another fine situation — that in which Goetz, in order to defend himself in his castle, commands the lead to be stripped from the windows to melt into balls. There is in this character a contempt of futurity, and an intenseness of strength at the present moment that are altogether admirable. At last, Goetz beholds all his companion in arms perish; he remains wounded, a prisoner, and having only his wife and sister left by his side.

He is surrounded by women alone, he who desired to live among men, among men of unconquerable spirits, that he might exert with them the force of his character and the strength of his arm. He thinks on the name that he must leave behind him; he reflects, now that he is about to die. He asks to behold the sun once more, he thinks on God, who never before occupied his thoughts, but of whose existence he never doubted, and dies with gloomy courage, regretting his warlike pleasures more than life itself.

This play is much liked in Germany; the national manner and customs of times of old, are faithfully represented by it, and whatever touches on ancient chivalry moves the hearts of the Germans. Goethe, the most careless of all men, because he is sure of leading the taste of his audience, did not give himself the trouble even of putting his play into verse; it is the sketch of a great picture, but hardly enough finished even as a sketch.

One perceives in the writer so great an impatience of all that can be thought to bear a resemblance to affectation, that he distains even the art that is necessary to give a durable form to his compositions. There are marks of genius scattered here and there through his drama, like the touches of Michaelangelo’s pencil; but it is a work defective, or rather which makes us feel the want of many things. The reign of Maximilian, during which the principal event is supposed to pass, is not sufficiently marked.

In short, we may venture to censure the author for not having enough exercised his Imagination in the form and language of the piece. It is true that he has intentionally and systematically abstained from indulging it; he wished the drama to be the action itself; forgetting that the charm of the ideal is that which ought to preside over all things in dramatic works.

The characters of tragedies are always in danger of being either common or factitious, and it is incumbent on genius to preserve them equally from each extreme. Shakespeare, in his historical pieces, never ceased to be a poet, nor Racine to observe with exactness the manners of the Hebrews in his lyrical tragedy of Athalie.

The dramatic talent can dispense neither with nature nor with art; art is totally distinct from artifice, it is a perfectly true and spontaneous inspiration, which spreads an universal harmony over particular circumstances, and the dignity of lasting remembrances over fleeting moments.

To be continued…

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Madame de Staël: Goethe – Pt. 2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. 1, 349-358.

Goethe stands unrivaled in the art of composing elegies, ballads, stanzas, &c.; his detached pieces have a very different merit from those of Voltaire. The French poet has transfused in his verse the spirit of the most brilliant society; the German, by a few slight touches, awakens in the soul profound and contemplative impressions.

Goethe is to the highest degree natural in this species of composition; and not only so when he speaks from his own impressions, but even when he transports himself to new climates, customs, and situations, his poetry easily assimilates itself with foreign countries; he seizes, with a talent perfectly unique, all that pleases in the national songs of each nation; he becomes , when he chooses it, a Greek, an Indian, or a Morlachian.

We have often mentioned that melancholy and meditation which characterises the poets of the north: Goethe, like all other men of genius, unites in himself most astonishing contrast; we find in his works many traces of character peculiar to the inhabitants of the south; they are more awakened to the pleasures of existence, and have at once a more lively and tranquil enjoyment of nature than those of the north; their minds have not less depth, but their genius has more vivacity; we find in it a certain sort of naivete, which awakens at once the remembrance of ancient simplicity with that of the middle ages: it is not the naivete of innocence , but that of strength.

We perceive in Goethe’s poetical compositions, that he disdains the crowd of obstacles, criticisms, and observations, which may be opposed to him. He follows his imagination wherever it leads him, and a certain predominant pride frees him from the scruples of self-love. Goethe is in poetry an absolute master of nature, and most admirable when he does not finish his pictures; for all his sketches contain the germ of a fine fiction, but his finished fictions do not always equally convey the idea of a good sketch.

In his elegies composed at Rome, we must not look for descriptions of Italy; Goethe scarcely does whatever is expected from him, and when there is anything pompous in an idea it displeases him: he wishes to produce effect by an untrodden path hitherto unknown both to himself and to the reader. His elegies describe the effect of Italy on his whole existence, that delirium of happiness resulting from the influence of a serene and beautiful sky. He relates his pleasures, even of the most common kind, in the manner of Propertius; and from time to time some fine recollections of that city which was once the mistress of the world give an impulse to the imagination, the more lively because it was not prepared for it.

He relates, that he once met in the Campania of Rome a young woman suckling her child, and seated on the remains of an ancient column; he wished to question her on the subject of the ruins with which her hut was surrounded: but she was ignorant of everything concerning them, wholly devoted to the affections which filled her soul; she loved, and to her the present moment was the whole of existence.

We read in a Greek author, that a young girl, skillful in the art of making nosegays of flowers, entered into a contest with her lover, Pausias, who knew how to paint them. Goethe has composed a charming idyl on that subject. The author of that idyl is also the author of Werther. Goethe has run through all the shades and gradations of love, from the sentiment which confers grace and tenderness, to that despair which harrows up the soul but exalts genius. After having made himself a Greek in Pausias, Goethe conducts us to Asia in a most charming ballad, called the Bayadere.

An Indian diety (Mahadoch) clothes himself in a mortal form, in order to judge of the pleasures and pains of men from his own experience. He travels through Asia, observes both the great and the lower classes of people; and as one evening, on leaving a town, he was walking on the banks of the Ganges, he is stopped by a Bayadere, who persuades him to rest himself in her habitation. There is so much poetry, colours so truly oriental in his manner of painting the dances of this Bayadere, the perfumes and flowers with which she is surrounded, that we cannot, from our own manners, judge of a picture so perfectly foreign to them.

The Indian diety inspires this erring female with true love, and touched with that return towards virtue which sincere affection should always inspire, he resolves to purify the soul of the Bayadere by the trials of misfortune.

When she awakes, she finds her lover dead by her side; the priests of Brama carry off the lifeless body to consume it on the funeral pile; the Bayadere endeavors to threw herself on it with him she loves, but is repulsed by the priests, because, not being his wife, she has no right to die with him. After having felt all the anguish of love and of shame, she throws herself on the pile in spite of the Bramins. The god receives her in his arms; he darts through the flames, and carries the object of his tenderness, now rendered worthy of his choice, with him to heaven.

Zelter, an original musician, has set this romance to an air by turns voluptuous and solemn, which suits the words extremely well. Where we hear it, we think ourselves in India, surrounded with all its wonder; and let it not be said that a ballad is too short a poem to produce such an effect. The first notes of an air, the first verse of a poem, transports the imagination to any distant age or country; but if a few words are thus powerful, a few words can also destroy the enchantment. Magicians formerly could perform or prevent prodigies by the help of a few magical words.

It is the same with the poet: he may call up the past, or make the present appear again, according as the expressions he makes use of are, or are not, conformable to the time or country which is the subject of his verse, according as he observes or neglects local coloring, and those little circumstances so ingeniously inverted, which, both in fiction and reality, exercise the mind in the endeavor to discover truth where it is not specifically pointed out to us.

Another ballad of Goethe’s produces a delightful effect by the most simple means: it is “the Fisherman.” A poor man, on a summer’s evening, seats himself on the bank of a river, and, as he throws in his line, contemplates the clear and limpid tide which gently flows and bathes his naked feet. The nymph of the stream invites him to plunge himself into it; she describes to him the delightful freshness of the water during the heat of the summer, the pleasure which the sun takes in cooling itself at night in the sea, the calmness of the moon when its rays repose and sleep on the bosom of the stream: at length the fisherman attracted, seduced, drawn on, advances near the nymph, and forever disappears.

The story on which this ballad is founded is trifling; but what is delightful in it is, the art of making us feel the mysterious power which may proceed from the phenomena of nature. It is said there are persons who discover springs hidden under the earth by the nervous agitation which they cause in them: in German poetry we often think we discover that miraculous sympathy between man and the elements. The German poet comprehends nature not only as a poet, but as a brother; and we might almost say that the bonds of family union connect him with the air, the water, flowers, trees, in short, all the primary beauties of the creation.

There is no one who has not felt the undefinable attraction which we experience when looking on the waves of the sea, whether from the charm of their freshness, or from the ascendancy which an uniform and perpetual motion insensibly acquires over our transient and perishable existence. This ballad of Goethe’s admirably expresses the increasing pleasure we derive from contemplating the pure waters of a flowing stream: the measure of the rhythm and harmony is made to imitate the motion of the waves, and produces an analogous effect on the imagination. The soul of nature discovers itself to us in every place and under a thousand different forms.

The fruitful country and the unpeopled desert, the sea as well as the stars, are all subjected to the same laws, and the man contains within himself sensation and occult powers, which correspond with the day, with the night, and with the storm: it is this secret alliance with our being with the wonders of the universe which gives to poetry its true grandeur. The poet knows how to restore the union between the natural and the moral world: his imagination forms a connecting tie between the one and the other.

There is much gaiety in several of Goethe’s pieces: but we seldom find in them that sort of pleasantry to which we have been accustomed: he is sooner struck by the imagery of nature than by ridiculous circumstances; with a singular instinct, he points out the originality of animals, always new yet never varying. “The Menagerie of Lily,” and “The Wedding Song in the Old Castle,” describe aminals, not like men, in La Fontaine’s manner, but like fantastic creatures, the sports of Nature.

Goethe also finds in the marvelous a source of pleasantry, the more gratifying because we discover in it no serious aim. A song entitled “The Pupil of the Sorcerer” also deserves to be mentioned. The pupil of a sorcerer having heard his master mutter some magical words, by the help of which he gets a broomstick to tend on him, recollects those words, and commands the broomstick to go and fetch him water from the river, to wash his house. The broomstick sets off and returns, brings one bucket, then another, and then another, and so on without ceasing.

The pupil wants to stop it, but he has forgot the words necessary to that purpose: the broomstick, faithful to its office, still goes to the river and still draws up the water, which is thrown on the house at the risk of inundating it. The pupil, in his fury, takes an ax and cuts the broomstick in two; the two parts of the stick then become two servants instead of one, and go for water which they throw into the apartments as if in emulation of each other, with more zeal than ever.

In vain the pupil scolds these stupid sticks; they continue their business without ceasing, and the house would have been lost, had not the master arrived in time to assist his pupil, at the same time laughing heartily at his ridiculous presumption. An awkward imitation of the great secrets of art is very well depicted in this little scene.

To be continued …

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Goethe, 1775-1776
By Georg Melchior Kraus

Madame de Staël: Goethe

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. I, 265-272

That which was wanting to Klopstock was a creative imagination: he gave utterance to great thoughts and noble sentiments in beautiful verse; but he was not what might be called an artist. His intentions are weak; and the colours in which he invests them have scarcely even that plenitude of strength that we delight to meet with in poetry, and in all other arts which are expected to give to fiction the energy and originality of nature. Klopstock loses himself in the ideal: Goethe never gives up the earth; even in attaining the most sublime conceptions, his mind possesses vigour not weakened by sensibility.

Goethe might be mentioned, as the representative of all German literature; not that there are no writers superior to him in different kinds of composition, but that he unites in himself alone all that distinguishes German genius; and no one besides is so remarkable for a peculiar species of imagination which neither Italians, English or French have ever attained.

Goethe having displayed his talents in composition of various kinds, the examination of his works will fill the greatest part of the following chapters; but a personal knowledge of the man who possesses such an influence over the literature of his country will, it appears to me, assist us the better to understand that literature.

Goethe possesses superior talents for conversation; and whatever we may say, superior talents ought to enable a man to talk. We may, however, produce some examples of silent men of genius: timidity, misfortune, disdain, or ennui, are often the cause of it; but, in general, extent of ideas and warmth of soul naturally inspires the necessity of communicating our feelings to others; and those men who will not be judged by what they say, may not deserve that we should interest ourselves in what they think.

When Goethe is induced to talk, he is admirable; his eloquence is enriched with thought; his pleasantry is, at the same time, full of grace and of philosophy; his imagination is impressed by external objects, as was that of the ancient artists; nevertheless his reason possesses but too much the maturity of our own times. Nothing disturbs the strength of his mind, and even the defects of his character, ill-humour, embarrassment, constraint, pass like clouds round the foot of that mountain on the summit of which his genius is placed.

What is related of the conversation of Diderot may give some idea of that of Goethe; but, if we may judge by the writings of Diderot, the distance between these two men must be infinite. Diderot is the slave of his genius; Goethe ever holds the powers of his mind in subjection: Diderot is affected, from the constant endeavour to produce effect; but in Goethe we perceive disdain of success, and that to a degree that is singularly pleasing, even when we have most reason to find fault with his negligence.

Diderot finds it necessary to supply by philanthropy his want of religious sentiments: Goethe is inclined to be more bitter than sweet; but, above all, he is natural; and in fact, without this quality, what is there in one man that should have powers to interest another?

Goethe possesses no longer that resistless ardour which inspired him in the composition of Werter; but the warmth of his imagination is still sufficient to animate everything. It might be said, that he is himself unconnected with life, and that he describes it merely as a painter. He attaches more value, at present, to the pictures he presents to us, than to the emotions he experienced; time has rendered him a spectator. While he still bore a part in the active scenes of the passion, while he sufficed, in his own person, from the perturbations of the heart, his writings produced a more lively impression.

As we do not always best appreciate our own talents, Goethe maintains at present, that an author should be calm even when he is writing a passionate work; and that an artist should equally be cool, in order the more powerfully to act on the imagination of his readers. Perhaps, in early life, he would not have entertained this opinion; perhaps he was then enslaved by his genius, rather than its master; perhaps he then felt, that the sublime and heavenly sentiment being of transient duration in the heart of man, the poet is inferior to the inspiration which animates him, and cannot enter into judgment on it, so losing it at once.

At first we are astonished to find coldness, and even some stiffness, in the author of Werter; but when we can prevail on him to be perfectly at his ease, the liveliness of his imagination makes the restraint which we first felt entirely disappear. He is a man of universal mind, and impartial because universal; for there is no indifference in his impartiality: his is a double existence, a double degree of strength, a double light, which, on all subjects, enlightens at once both sides of the question. When it is necessary to think, nothing arrests his course; neither the age in which he lives, nor the habits he has formed, nor his relations with social life: his eagle glance falls decidedly on the object he observes.

If his soul had developed itself by actions, his character would have been more strongly marked, more firm, more patriotic; but his mind would not have taken so wide a range over every different mode of perception; passions or interests would then have traced out to him a positive path.

Goethe takes pleasure in his writings, as well as in his conversation, to break the thread which he himself has spun, to destroy the emotions he excites, to throw down the image he has forced us to admire. When, in his fictions, he inspires us with interest for any particular character, he soon shows the inconsistencies which are calculated to detach us from it. He disposes of the poetic world, like a conqueror of the real earth; and thinks himself strong enough to introduce, as nature sometimes does, the genius of destruction into his own works.

If he were not an estimable character, we should be afraid of that species of superiority which elevates itself above all things; which degrades, and then again raises up, which affects us, and then laughs at our emotion; which affirms and doubts by turns, and always with the same success.

I have said, that Goethe possessed in himself alone, all the principal features of German genius; they are all indeed found in him to an eminent degree: a great depth of ideas, that grace which springs from imagination, a grace far more original that than which is formed by the spirit of society; in short, a sensibility sometimes bordering on the fantastic, but far that very reason the more calculated to interest readers, who seek in books something that may give variety to their monotonous existence, and in poetry, impressions which may supply the want of real events.

If Goethe were a Frenchman, he would be made to talk morning till night: all the authors, who were contemporary with Diderot, went to derive ideas from his conversation, and afforded him at the same time an habitual enjoyment, from the admiration he inspired. The Germans know not how to make use of their talents in conversation, and so few people even among the most distinguished, have the habit of interrogating and answering, that society is scarcely at all esteemed among them; but the influence acquired by Goethe is not the less extraordinary.

There are a great many people in Germany who would think genius discoverable even in the direction of a letter, if it were written by him. The admirers of Goethe form a sort of fraternity, in which the rallying words serve to discover the adepts to each other. When foreigners also profess to admire him, they are rejected with disdain, if certain restrictions leave room to suppose that they have allowed themselves to examine works, which nevertheless gain much by examination.

No man can kindle such fanaticism without possessing great faculties, whether good or bad; for there is nothing but power, of whatever kind it may be, which men sufficiently dread to be excited by it to a degree of love so enthusiastic.

To be continued …

weimar's golden age

Weimar’s Golden Days

Schiller vor Herzoginmutter Amalie, dem Herzogspaar Karl August und Luise, Goethe, Wieland, Herder, Musäus, den Brüdern Humboldt u.a. Farbdruck nach Gemälde von Theobald Reinhold Freiherr von Oer, 1860; Schloss Bellevue, Berlin.

 

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