Albrecht Adam – An Artist I Admire
I hope you enjoyed “The Castle of Scharfenstein” as much as I did.
How evocative the notion of a lone Rider’s venture into a dense ancient wood! How beguiling the tale of the dispossessed Prince.
I have many wonderful antique translations … and right now, a tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann called “Rolandsitten” has captured my fancy. But this, like many of the “shorter works” from my growing collection, is quite lengthy. (For example, Scharfenstein spanned 200 pages.)
Therein lies the challenge.
Because even if the scanning process produced a legible product, I dare not expose 150 to 200-year-old “spines” to such an ordeal. So, any stories I post here must come to you the old-fashioned way <g> by transcription.
But this, I will try to do about once a month.
Meanwhile, such excitement! A long-desired First Edition is finally on its way to me! “Specimens of German Romance, Selected and Translated from Various Authors.” George Soane, Translator.
Now this is an 1826 three-volume collection of five contemporary German tales, including “The Master Flea” by Hoffmann (Der Meister Floh), which is speculated to be its first appearance in English. George Soane was a prolific writer and translator, his most famous translation being La Motte-Fouque’s “Undine.” With frontispiece engravings by George Cruikshank, this present work was published the year beforeThomas Carlyle’s “German Romance: Specimens of its Chief Authors.” Apparently, the two translators were aware of each other’s endeavor, as neither duplicated the other.
Of particular note, Carlyle’s 1827 “German Romance” were my very first (and much prized!) antique volumes … and greatly influenced my passion for this unique literature. Now, I am thrilled that Soane’s “Specimens of German Romance” will soon be on my shelf as well.
You see, I createdPoets & Princesas my personal study guide … and a way to pursue this passion.
A Celebration of German Romantic Literature.
I am pleased to welcome you here.
Thought once awakened does not again slumber.
Excerpt, “Titan: A Romance” from the German of Jean Paul Friedrich Richter. Translated by Charles T. Brooks in two volumes, Vol. II. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.
“O Dio!” cried the Spanish maiden; startled, she became a lily, a rose, a flame, and sought to collect herself. “How singular! A friend of yours, the Princess Julienne, is also here.”
The conversation now flowed more smoothly. She spoke of his father, and expressed her gratitude as his ward. “That is a mighty nature of his, which guards itself against everything common,” said she, at once against the fashion of the quality, speaking even partially of persons. The son was made happy by this praise of a father; he enhanced it, and asked in pleased expectation how she took his coldness.
“Coldness?” said she, with liveliness. “I hate the word cordially. If ever a rare man has a whole will and not half of one, and rests upon his power, and does not, like a crustaceous animal, cleave to every other, he is called cold. Is not the sun, when he approaches us, cold, too?”
“Death is cold!” cried Albano, very much moved, because he often imagined that he himself had more force than love; “but there may well be a sublime coldness, a sublime pain, which with eagle’s talon snatches the heart away on high, but tears it in pieces in mid-heaven and before the sun.”
She looked upon him with a look of greatness. “Truly, you speak like a woman,” said she; “they alone have nothing to will or to do without the might of love; but it was prettily said.” Dian, good for nothing at general observations, and apt only at individual ones, interrupted her with questions about particular works of art in Naples; she very frankly communicated her characteristic views, although with tolerable decision. Albano thought of his artistic friend, the draughtsman Schoppe, and asked about him. “At my departure,” said she, “he was still in Pestitz, though I cannot comprehend what such an extraordinary being would fain do there. That is a powerful man, but quite jumbled up and not clear. “
“How does,” asked Dian, half joking, “my old patron, the Lector Agusti?”
She answered concisely, and almost with a certain sensitivity at the familiarity of the question. “It goes well with him at court. Few natures,” she continued, turning to Albano on the subject of Augusti; “are doomed to meet so much injustice of judgment as such simple, cool, consistent ones as his.”
Albano could not entirely say yes, but he recognized with satisfaction her respect for the strangest individuality of character the pupil of his father, who prized a plant, not according to the smoothness or roughness of its skin, but according to its bloom. Never does a man portray his own character more vividly than in his manner of portraying another’s. But Linda’s lofty candor on the subject, which is as often wanting in finely cultivated females as refinement and reserve are in powerful men, took the strangest hold of the youth; and he thought he should be sinning if he did not exercise his great natural frankness with her.
She called her maidens to accompany her. Dian went off. “These are more necessary,” said she, “than they seem.” She had something of an ocular abnormality, being infinitely short-sighed in the night. He begged to be permitted to accompany her; and she agreed.
During the walk she often stood still, to look at the beautiful flame of Vesuvius. “He stands there,” said Alban, “in this pastoral poem of Nature, and exalts everything, as a war does the Age.”
“Do you believe that of war?” asked she.
“A man must have,” he replied, “either great men or great objects before him, otherwise his powers degenerate, as the magnet does when it has lain for a long time without being turned toward the right corners of the world.”
“How true,” said she; “what say you to a Gallic war?” He owned his wish that it might break out, and his own disposition to take part in it. He could not help, even at the expense of his future liberty, being open-hearted with her. “Blessed are you men,” said she; “you dig your way down through the snow of life, and find at last the green harvest underneath. That can no woman do. A woman is surely a stupid thing in nature. I respect one and another head of the Revolution, particularly that political monster of energy, Mirabeau; although I cannot like him. “
During these discoursings they came upon the ascent of Epomeo. As he now went along side this noble lady, and occasionally looked into her face, which was made still more beautiful by mental energy, and became at once flower, blossom and fruit (whereas generally the converse holds, and the head gains by the face). Silently, they went on in the rare night and region.
All at once she stopped on an eminence, around which the dowry of Nature was heaped up on all sides in mountains. They looked round in the splendor; the Swan of Heaven, the moon, floated high over Vesuvius in the ether. The giant serpent of the world , the sea, lay fast asleep in his bed that stretches from pole to pole. The coasts and promontories glimmered only, like midnight dreams.
Clefts full of tree blossoms overflowed with ethereal dew made of light, and in the vales below stood dark smoke-columns upon hot-fountains, and overhead they floated away in splendor. All around lay, high up, illuminated chapels, and low around the shore, dark cities. The winds stool still, the rose-perfumes and the myrtle-perfumes stole forth alone. Soft and bland floated the blue night around the ravished earth. From around the warm moon, the ether retired, and she sank down love-intoxicated out of mid-heaven larger and larger into the sweet earth-spring. Vesuvius now stood, without flame or thunder, white with sand or snow, in the east. In the darkening blue, the gold grains of the fiery stars were sowed far abroad.
It was the rare time when life has its transit through a superterrestrial sun. Albano and Linda accompanied each other with holy eyes, and their looks softly disengaged themselves from each other again. They gazed into the world, and into the heart, and expressed nothing. Linda turned softly around and walked silently onward.
All at once, one of the prattling maidens called out, “There is really an earthquake coming! Good night!”
“God grant one,” said Albano.
“Oh why?” said Linda, eagerly, but in a low tone.
“All that the infinite mother wills and sends is to me, today, childishly dear, even death. Are we not, too, part and parcel of her immortality?” said he. “Yes, man may feel and believe this in joy; only in sorrow let him not speak of immortality. In such impotency of soul, he is not worthy of it.”
Albano’s spirit here rose up from its princely seat to greet its lofty kinswoman, and said, “Immortal one! and though no one else was so!” She silently smiled and went on. His heart was an asbestos-leaf written over and cast into the fire, burning, not consuming; his whole former life went out, the leaf shone … fiery and pure.
When they reached the final eminence below which the lady’s dwelling lay, and they stood near each other on the point of separation, then the maiden suddenly cried out below. “Earthquake!” Out of hell, a thunder-car rolled on in the subterranean ways. A broad lightning flapped its wings up and down in the pure heaven under the stars. The earth and the stars trembled, and afrighted eagles flew through the lofty night. Albano had grasped the hands of the tottering Linda. Her face had faded before the moon to a pale, godlike statue of marble. By this time, it was all over; only some stars of the earth still shot down out of the steadfast heavens into the sea, and wondrous clouds went up round about from below.
“Am I very timid?” said she, faintly. Albano gazed into her face livingly and serenely as a sun-god in morning redness, and pressed her hands. She would have drawn them away violently.
“Give them to me forever!” said he, earnestly.
“Bold man,” she said in confusion. “Does thou know me? If thou art as I, then swear and say whether thou hast always been true!”
Albano looked toward Heaven, his life was balanced; God was near him. He answered softly and firmly. “Linda, always!”
“So have I,” said she, and inclined modestly her beautiful head upon his breast, but, her large eyes moist, immediately raised it again. “Go now! Early tomorrow come, Albano! Adio! Adio!”
The maidens came up. Albano went down, his bosom filled with living warmth, with living radiance. Nature breathed with fresher perfumes out of the gardens. The sea murmured again below. And out on Vesuvius burned a Love’s-torch, a festal fire of joy. Through the night-skies, some eagles were still sailing towards the moon, as toward a sun. And against the arch of heaven the Jacob’s ladder stood leaning with golden rounds of stars.
As Albano was walking along so solitary in his bliss, dissolved in the rapture of love, the fragrance of the vales, the radiance of the heights, dreaming, hovering. he saw birds of passage flying across the sea, in the direction of the Appennines, on their way to Germany; where Liana had lived. “Holy One above!” cried his heart, “thou desiredst this joy; appear and bless it!” Unexpectedly, he stood before a chapel niche wherein the Holy Virgin stood. The moon transfigured the pale statue. The Virgin took life beneath the radiance, and became more like Liana. Kneeling, ardent, he offered God his gratitude. To Leana, his tears.
When he rose, turtle-doves were cooing in dreams, and a nightingale warbled; the hot fountain smoked, glimmering; and the happy singing of far-off people came up to his ears.
Excerpt, “Titan: A Romance” from the German of Jean Paul Friedrich Richter. Translated by Charles T. Brooks in two volumes, Vol. II. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.
The Torches of Ischia
With emotion, with a sort of festive solemnity, Albano trod the cool island. It was to him as if the breezes were always wafting to him the words, “The place of rest.” Agata begged them both to stay with her parents, not far from the Borgho d’Ischia. As they went over the bridge, which connects the green rock wound round with houses to the shore and the city, she pointed out to them joyfully in the east the individual house.
As they walked along so slowly, and the high round rock and the row of houses stood mirrored in the water; and upon the flat roofs the beautiful women who were trimming the festal lamps for the evening spoke busily over to each other, and greeted and questioned the returning Agata. All faces were so glad, all forms so comely, and the poorest in silk. The lively boys pulled down little chestnut tops; and the old father of the isle, the tall Epomeo, stood before them all clad in vine-foliage and spring-flowers, out of whose sweet green only scattered white pleasure-houses of happy mountain-dwellers peeped forth.
Then was it to Albano as if the heavy pack of life had fallen off from his shoulders into the water, and the erect bosom drank in from afar the cool ether flowing in from Elysium. Across the sea lay the former stormy world, with its hot coasts.
Agata led the two into the home of her parents, on the Eastern declivity of Epomeo; and immediately, amidst the wild exulting welcome cried out, quite as loudly, “Here are two fine gentleman who wish to come home with me!” The father said directly, “Welcome, your excellencies!” Agata showed him the way to his cool chamber, and he went up.
Here, before the cooling sea-zephyr, the going to sleep was indeed the slumber, and the echoing dream itself the sleep. His dream was an incessant song, which sang itself: “The morning is a rose, the day the tulip, night is a lily, and the evening is another morning.”
He dreamed himself at last down into a deep sleep. Late, in the dark, like an Adam in renovated youth, he opened his eyes in Paradise, but he knew not where he was. He heard distant sweet music; unknown flower scents swam through the air. He looked out; the dark heaven was strewed with golden stars, as with fiery blossoms; on the earth, on the sea hovered hosts of lights; and in the depths of distance hung a clear flame steadily in the midst of heaven. A dream, of which the scene was unknown, confounded still the actual stage with one that had vanished; and Albano went through the silent, unpeopled house, dreaming on, out into the open air, as into an island of spirits.
Here, nightingales, first of all, with their melody drew him into the world. He found the name Ischia again, and saw now that the castle on the rock and the long street of roofs in the shore town full of burning lamps. He went up to the place whence the music proceeded, which was illuminated and surrounded with people, and found a chapel standing all in fires of joy. Before a Madonna and her child, in a niche, a night-music was playing, amidst the loquacious rustling of joy and devotion. Here, he found his hosts, who had all quite forgotten him in the jubilee; and Dian said, “I would have awakened you soon; the night and the pleasures last a great while yet.
So see and hear yonder the divine Vesuvius, who joins in celebrating the festival in such right good earnest,” cried Dian, who plunged as deeply into the waves of joy as an Ischian. Albano looked over toward the flame, flickering high in the starry heaven, and, like a god, having the great thunder beneath it, and he saw how the night had made the promontory of Misenum loom up like a cloud beside the volcano. Beside them burned thousands of lamps on the royal palace of the neighboring island of Procida.
Procida con l’ Epomeo
While he looked out over the sea, whose coasts were sunk into the night, and which lay stretching away like another night, immeasurable and gloomy, he saw now and then a dissolving splendor sweep over it, which flowed on ever broader and brighter. A distant torch also showed itself in the air, whose flashing drew long, fiery furrows through the glimmering waves. There drew near a bark, with its sail taken in, because the wind blew offshore. Female forms appeared on board, among which, one of royal stature, along whose red silken dress the torch-glare streamed down, held her eyes fixed upon Vesuvius. As they sailed nearer, and the brighter sea blazed up on either side under the dashing oars, it seemed as if a goddess were coming, around whom the sea swims with enraptured flames, and who knows it not.
All stepped out on shore at some distance, where by appointment, as it seemed, servants had been waiting to make everything easy. A smaller person, provided with a double opera glass, took a short farewell of the tall one, and went away with a considerable retinue. The red-dressed one drew a white veil over her face and went, accompanied by two virgins, gravely and like a princess, to the spot where Albano and the music were.
Albano stood near her; two great black eyes, filled with fire and resting upon life with inward earnestness, streamed through the veil, which portrayed the proud, straight forehead and nose. In the whole appearance, there was to him something familiar and yet great; she stood before him as a Fairy Queen, who had long ago with a heavenly countenance bent down over his cradle and looked in with smiles and blessings, and whom the spirit now recognizes again with its old love. He thought perhaps of a name, which spirits had named to him, but that presence seemed here impossible.
She fixed her eye complaisantly on the play of two virgins, who, neatly clad in silk, with gold-edged silken aprons, danced gracefully, with modestly drooping eyelids to the tambourine of a third; the two other virgins,which the stranger had brought with her, and Agata, sang sweetly in Italian half-voice to the graceful joy. “It is all done in fact,” said an old man to the strange lady, “to the honor of the Holy Virgin and St. Nicholas.” She nodded slowly a serious yes.
At this moment there stood, all at once, Luna, played about with the sacrificial fire of Vesuvius, over in the sky, as the proud goddess of the sun-god; not pale, but fiery, as it were, a thunder-goddess over the thunder of the mountain. And Albano cried, involuntarily, “God! the great moon!” The stranger quickly threw back her veil, and looked around significantly after the voice as after a familiar one; when she had looked upon the strange youth for a long time, she turned toward the moon over Vesuvius.
But Albano was agitated by a god, and dazzled by a wonder; he saw here Linda de Romeiro. When she raised the veil, beauty and brightness streamed out of a rising son; delicate, maidenly colors; lovely lines and sweet fullness of youth played like a flower garden about the brow of a goddess, with some blossoms around the holy seriousness and mighty will on brow and lip, and around the dark glow of the large eye. How had the pictures lied about her … how feebly had they expressed this spirit and this life!
As if the hour would fain worthily invest the shining apparition, so beautifully did heaven and earth with all rays of life play into each other. Love-thirsty stars flew like heaven-butterflies into the sea. The moon had soared away over the impetuous earth-flame of Vesuvius, and spread her tender light over the happy world, the sea and the shores. Epomeo hovered with his silvered woods, and with the hermitage of his summit high in the night blue. Near by stirred the life of the singing, dancing ones. with their prayers and their festal rockets which they were sending aloft.
When Linda had long looked across the sea toward Vesuvius, she spoke, of herself, to the silent Albano, by way of answering his exclamation, and making up for her sudden turning round and staring at him. “I come from Vesuvius,” said she; “But he is quite as sublime near at hand as far off, which is so singular.”
Altogether strange and spirit-like did it sound to him, that he really heard this voice. With one that indicated deep emotion, he replied: “In this land, however, everything is great indeed; even the little is made great by the large. This little human pleasure island here between the burnt-out volcano and the burning one … all is at one, and therefore right and so godlike.”
At once attracted and distracted, not knowing him, although previously struck with the resemblance of his voice to Roquairol, yet gladly reflecting on his simple words, she looked longer than she was aware at the ingenuous, but daring and warm eye of the youth. Turning slowly away, she made no reply, and again looked silently at the sports.
Dian, who already for a long time had been looking at the fair stranger, found at last in his memory her name; and came to her with the half-proud, half-embarrassed look of artists toward rank. She did not recognize him. “The Greek, Dian,” said Albano, “noble Countess!”
Surprised at the Count’s recognition of her, she said to him, “I do not know you.”
“You know my father,” said Albano; “the Knight Cesara.”
“O Dio!” cried the Spanish maiden; startled, she became a lily, a rose, a flame…
To be continued
Excerpt, “Titan: A Romance” from the German of Jean Paul Friedrich Richter. Translated by Charles T. Brooks in two volumes, Vol. II. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.
NAPLES AT MIDNIGHT
A Night of unrivaled serenity! The stars alone of themselves illuminated the earth, and the milky way was silvery. A single avenue, entwined with vine-blossoms, led to the magnificent city. Everywhere one heard people, now near, talking; now distant, singing. Out of dark chestnut woods, on moonlit hills, the nightingales called to one another. A poor, sleeping maiden, whom we had taken with us, heard the melodies even down into her dream, and sang after them; and then, when she awoke herself therewith, looked round confusedly and with a sweet smile, with the whole melody and dream still in her breast.
On a slender, light two-wheeled carriage, a wagoner, standing on the pole and singing, rolled merrily by. Women were already bearing in the cool of the hour great baskets full of flowers into the city; in the distance, as we passed along, whole Paradises of flower-cups sent their fragrance; and the heart and the bosom drank in all at once the love-draught of the sweet air. The moon had gone up bright as a sun in the high heaven, and the horizon was gilded with stars; and in the whole cloudless sky stood the dusky cloud-column of Vesuvius, alone, in the east.
Far into the night, about two o’clock, we rolled in and through the long city of splendor, wherein the living day bloomed on. Gay people filled the streets; the balconies sent each other songs; on the roofs bloomed flowers and trees between lamps, and the little bells of the hours prolonged the day; and the moon seemed to give warmth. Only now and then a man lay sleeping between the colonnades, as if he were taking his siesta. Dian, at home in all such matters, let the carriage stop on the southern side, toward the sea, and went far into the city, in order to arrange through old acquaintance, the passage across to the island, so that we might have exactly at sundown out on the sea, the richest view of the stately city, with its bay and its long coasts. The Ischian girl wrapped herself up in her blue veil and fell asleep on the black sandy shore.
I walked up and down alone; for me there was no Night and no house. The sea slept; the earth seemed awake. In the fleeting glimmer (the moon was already sinking towards Posilippo) I looked up over this divine frontier city of the world of waters, over this rising mountain of palaces, to where the lofty Castle of St. Elmo looks, white, out of green foliage. With two arms, the earth embraced the lovely sea; on her right, on Posilippo, she bore blooming vine-hills far out into the waves, and on the left she held cities, and spanned round its waters and its ships, and drew them up to her breast. Like a sphinx lay the jagged Capri darkly on the horizon in the water, and guarded the gates of the bay. Behind the city the volcano smoked in the ether, and occasionally sparks played between the stars.
Now the moon sank down behind the elms of Posilippo, – the city grew dark – the din of the night died away – fishermen disembarked, put out their torches, and laid themselves down on the bank. The earth seemed to sleep, but the sea to wake up. A wind from the coast of Sorrento ruffled the still waves; more brightly gleamed Sorrento’s sickle with the reflection at once of the moon and the morning, like silver meadows; the smoke column of Vesuvius had blown away, and from the fire-mount streamed a long clear morning redness over the coasts as over a strange world.
O, it was the morning twilight, full of youthful omens! Do not landscape, mountains, coasts, like an echo, speak so many the more syllables to the soul the farther off they are? How young did I feel the world and myself, and the whole morning of my life was crowded into this!
My friend came; all was arranged; the boatsmen had arrived; Agata was awakened to the joy, and we embarked, just as the dawn kindled the mountains, and, her sails swelling with the morning breezes, our little vessel flew out into the sea.
Before we had yet doubled the promontory of Posilippo, the crater of Vesuvius threw up its glowing child, the sun, slowly into the sky, and sea and earth blazed. The half earth-girdles of Naples, with morning-red palaces, its market-place of fluttering ships, the swarm of its country-houses on the mountains and up along the shore, and its green throne of St. Elmo, stood proudly between two mountains, before the sea.
When we came round Posilippo, there stood Ischia’s Epomeo, like a giant of the sea, in the distance, girdled about with a wood, and with bald white head. Gradually appeared on the immeasurable plain the islands, one after another, the scattered villages, and widely pressed and waded the promontories into the sea. Now, mightier and more alive than the dried up, parcelled out, stiff land, the watery kingdom opened, whose powers all, from the streams and waves even to the drops, join hands and move in concert.
Almighty, and yet gentle element! grimly thou leapest upon the lands, and swallowed them up, and, with thy undermining polypus-arms, liest stretching around the whole globe. But then thou reinest the wild streams, and meltest them down into waves; only thou playest with thy little children, the islands, and playest on the hand which hangs out of the light gondolas, and sendest out thy little waves which play before us, then bear us along, and play behind us.
When we came along by the little Nisita, where Brutus and Cato once sought shelter after Caesar’s death; when we passed by the enchanted Baja and the magic castle where once three Romans determined upon the division of the world, and before the whole promontory, where the country-seats of great Romans stood; and when we looked down towards the mountain of Cuma, behind which Scipio Africanus lived in his Linternum and died; then did the lofty life of the great ancients take possession of me, and I said to my friend, “What men were these! Scarcely do we learn incidentally in Pliny or Cicero that one of them has a country-house yonder, or that there is a lovely Naples.”
Out of the midst of nature’s sea of joys their laurels grow and bear as well as out of the ice-sea of Germany and England, or out of Arabia’s sand. Alike in wildernesses and in paradises, their mighty hearts beat on. And for these world-souls there was no dwelling except the world; only with such souls are emotions worth almost more than actions. A Roman might weep here nobly for joy! What can a modern man do for it, that he lives so late after their ruins?
Youth and ruins, tottering, crumbling past and eternal fullness of life, covered the shore of Misenum and the whole far-reaching coast. On the broken urns of dear gods, on the dismembered temples of Mercury and Diana, the frolicsome light wave played, and the eternal sun; old, lonely bridge-posts in the sea , solitary temple columns and arches, spoke, in the luxuriant splendor of life, a sober word; the old, holy names of the Elysian Fields, of Avernus, of the Dead Sea, lived still along the coast; ruins of rocks and temples lay in confusion beyond the motley-colored lava; all bloomed and lived; the maidens and the boatmen sang; the mountains and the islands stood great in the young fiery day; dolphins chased sportively along beside us; singing larks went whirling up in the ether above their narrow islands; and from all the ends of the horizon ships came up and flew down again with arrowy speed. It was the divine overfullness and intermingling of the world before me. Sounding strings of life were stretched over the string-bridge of Vesuvius, even to Epomeo.
Suddenly one peal of thunder passed along through the blue heaven over the sea. The maiden asked me, “Why do you grow pale? It is only Vesuvius.” Then was a god near me; yes, Heaven, Earth and Sea stood before me as three divinities. The leaves of life’s Dream-Book were ruffled up by a divine morning-storm; and everywhere I read our dreams.
After some time, we came to a long land swallowing up the north, as it were the foot of a single mountain; it was already the lovely Ischia, and I went on shore intoxicated with bliss, and then, for the first time, I thought of the promise that I should find there a sister.
To be continued…
Excerpt: “Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: “Jean Paul Friedrich Richter” by Thomas Carlyle, 1827.
O then arose his inner Coliseum
Full of silent godlike forms of spiritual antiques,
And the torch-gleam of Fancy
Glanced round upon them like the
Play of a Magic Life
And there he saw among the gods
And a loved one … reposing.
John Paul’s “Titan”
Except by name, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter is little known outside of Germany. The only thing connected with him, we think, that has reached this country, is his saying, imported by Madame de Staël, and, thankfully pocketed by most newspaper critics: “Providence has given to the French the empire of the land, to the English that of the sea, to the Germans that of — the air.” Of this last element, indeed, his own genius might easily seem to have been a denizen; so fantastic, many-colored. far-grasping, every way perplexed and extraordinary to his mode of writing.
To translate him properly is next to impossible; nay, a dictionary of his works has actually been in part published for the use of German readers! These things have restricted his sphere of action, and may long restrict it, to his own country; but there, in return, he is a favorite of the first class; studied through all his intricacies with trustful admiration, and a love which tolerates much. During the last forty years, he has been continually before the public, in various capacities, and growing generally in esteem with all ranks of critics; till, at length his gainsayers have either been silenced or convinced; and Jean Paul, at first reckoned half-mad, has long ago vindicated his singularities to nearly universal satisfaction, and now combines popularity with depth of endowment, in perhaps a greater degree than any other writer; being second in the latter point to scarcely more than one of his contemporaries, and in the former second to none.
The biography of such a distinguished person could scarcely fail to be interesting, especially his autobiography; which, accordingly we wait for, and may in time submit to our readers, if it seems worthy. Meanwhile, the history of his life, so far as outward events characterize it, may be stated in a few words. He was born in Wunsiedel in Bayreuth in March 1763. His father was a subaltern teacher in the Gymnasium of the place, and was afterwards promoted to clergyman at Schwarzbach on the Saale. Richter’s early education was of the scantiest sort; but his fine faculties and unwearied diligence supplied every defect.
Unable to purchase books, he borrowed what he could come at, and transcribed from them, often a great part of their contents – a habit of excerpting which continued with him throughout life, and influenced, in more ways than one, his mode of writing and study. To the last, he was an insatiable and universal reader, so that his excerpts accumulated and “filled whole chests.” In 1780, he went to the University of Leipsic; with the highest character, in spite of the impediments which he had struggled with, for talents and acquirement. Like his father, he was destined for Theology; from which, however, his vagrant genius soon diverged into Poetry and Philosophy, to the neglect, and, ere long, to the final abandonment of his appointed profession.
Not well knowing what to do, he accepted a tutorship in some family of rank; then he had pupils in his own house — which, however, like his way of life, he often changed; for by this time he had become an author, and, in his wanderings over Germany, was putting forth, now here, now there, the strangest books, with the strangest titles. For instance, “Greenland Lawsuits” – “Biographical Recreations under the Cranium of a Giantess” – “Selections from the Papers of a Devil” – and the like! In these describable performances, the splendid faculties of the writer, luxuriating as they seem in utter riot, could not be disputed; nor, with all its extravagance, the fundamental strength, honesty and tenderness of his nature. Genius will reconcile men to much.
By degrees, Jean Paul began to be considered not a strange cracked-brained mixture of enthusiast and buffoon, but a man of infinite humor, sensibility, force and penetration. His writings procured him friends and fame; and at length a wife and a settled provision. With Caroline Mayer, his good spouse, and a pension in 1802 from the King of Bavaria, he settled in Bayreuth, the capitol of his native province; where he lived therefore, diligent and celebrated in many new departments of Literature; and died on the 14th of November, 1825, loved as well as admired by all his countrymen, and most of those who had known him most intimately.
A huge, irregular man, both in body and in person, full of fire, strength and impetuosity, Richter seems, at the same time, to have been, in the highest degree, mild, simple-hearted, humane. He was fond of conversation, and might well shine in it. He talked as he wrote, in a style of his own, full of wild strength and charms, to which his Bayreuth accent often gave additional effect. Yet he loved retirement, the country and all natural things; from his youth upwards, he himself tells us, he may almost be said to have lived in the open air; it was among groves and meadows that he studied — often that he wrote. Even in the streets of Bayreuth, he was seldom seen without a flower on his breast.
A man of quiet tastes, and warm compassionate affections! His friends he must have loved as few do. Of his poor and humble mother he often speaks by allusion, and never without reference and overflowing affection. Wrote Doring, “Richter’s studying or sitting apartment offered about this time (1793) a true and beautiful emblem of his simple and noble way of thought, which comprehended at once the high and low. Whilst his mother, who then lived with him, busily pursued her household work, occupying herself about stove and dresser, Jean Paul was sitting in the corner of the same room, at a simple writing desk, with few or no books about him, but merely one or two drawers containing excerpts and manuscripts.”
Richter came later to live in finer mansions, and had the great and learned for associates; but the gentle feelings of those days abode with him: Through life, he was the same substantial, determinate yet meek and tolerating man. It is seldom that so much rugged energy can be so blandly attempted; that so much vehemence and so much softness would go together.
The expected Edition of Richter’s Works is to be sixty volumes; and they are no less multifarious than extensive; embracing subjects of all sorts, from the highest problems of Transcendental Philosophy, and the most passionate poetical delineations, to Golden-Rules for the Weather Prophet, and instructions in the Art of Falling Asleep. His chief productions are Novels: the Unsichtbare Loge (Invisible Lodge); Flegeljahre (Wild-Oats); Life of Fixlein; the Jubelsenior (Parson in Jubilee); Schmelzle’s Journey to Flatz; Katzenberg’s Journey to the Bath; Life of Fibel; and many lighter pieces; and two works of a higher order: Hesperus and Titan, the largest and best of his Novels.
It was the former that first (in 1795) introduced him into decisive and universal estimation with his countrymen; the latter he himself, with the most judicious of his critics, regarded as his masterpiece. But the name Novelist, as we in England must understand it, would ill describe so vast and discursive a genius; for, with all his grotesque, tumultuous pleasantry, Richter is a man of a truly earnest, nay high and solemn character, and seldom writes without a meaning beyond the sphere of common romancers. Hesperus and Titan themselves, though in form nothing more than “novels of real life,” as the Minerva Press would say, have solid metal enough in them to furnish whole circulating libraries, were it beaten into the usual filigree; and much which, attenuate it as we might, no quarterly subscriber could well carry with him.
Amusement is often, in part almost always, a mean with Richter; rarely or never his highest end. His thoughts, his feelings, the creations of his spirit, walk before us embodied under wondrous shapes, in motley and ever-fluctuating groups. But his essential character, however he disguise it, is that of a Philosopher and a moral Poet, whose study has been human nature, whose delight and best endeavor are with all that are beautiful, and tender, and mysteriously sublime … in the fate or history of man.
This is the purport of his writings, whether their form be that of fiction or of truth; the spirit that pervades and ennobles his delineations of common life, his wild wayward dreams, allegories and shadowy imaginings, no less than his disquisitions of a nature directly scientific.