Category Archives: The Romantic School

Heinrich Heine: “The Romantic School…again” Part I of 9

Excerpt, “The Prose Writings of Heinrich Heine:  Edited, with an Introduction, by Havelock Ellis.” Walter Scott, London:  23 Warwick Lane, Paternoster Row:  1887.


[The Romantic School, one of Heine’s chief works, of which the most interesting portions are here given, was published in 1833. It was first written in French, as a counterblast to Madame de Staël’s  De l’Allemagne, forming a series of articles in the Europe Litteraire. Notwithstanding many errors of detail, and some occasional injustice, it remains by far the best account of the most important aspect of German literature. Indirectly Heine wished to lay down the programme of the future, for he regarded himself as the last of the Romantic poets, and the inaugurator of a new school. The following translation is Mr. Fleishman’s; it has been carefully revised.]

MADAME de Staël’s  work, De l’Allemagne, is the only comprehensive account of the intellectual life of Germany which has been accessible to the French; and yet since her book appeared a considerable period has elapsed, and an entirely new school of literature has arisen in Germany. Is it only a transitional literature? Has it already reached its zenith? Has it already begun to decline? Opinions are divided concerning it.

The majority believe that with the death of Goethe a new literary era begins in Germany; that with him the old Germany also descended to its grave; that the aristocratic period of literature was ended, and the democratic just beginning; or, as a French journal recently phrased it, “The intellectual dominion of the individual has ceased,—the intellectual rule of the many has commenced.”

So far as I am concerned, I do not venture to pass so decided an opinion as to the future evolutions of German intellect. I had already prophesied many years in advance the end of the Goethean art-period, by which name I was the first to designate that era. I could safely venture the prophecy, for I knew very well the ways and the means of those malcontents who sought to overthrow the Goethean art-empire, and it is even claimed that I took part in those seditious outbreaks against Goethe. Now that Goethe is dead, the thought of it fills me with an overpowering sorrow.

While I announce this book as a sequel to Madame de Staël’s De l’Allemagne, and extol her work very highly as being replete with information, I must yet recommend a certain caution in the acceptance of the views enunciated in that book, which I am compelled to characterise as a coterie-book. Madame de Staël’s , of glorious memory, here opened, in the form of a book, a salon in which she received German authors and gave them an opportunity to make themselves known to the civilised world of France. But above the din of the most diverse voices, confusedly discoursing therein, the most audible is the delicate treble of Herr A. W. Schlegel.

Where the large-hearted woman is wholly herself,—where she is uninfluenced by others, and expresses the thoughts of her own radiant soul, displaying all her intellectual fireworks and brilliant follies,—there the book is good, even excellent. But as soon as she yields to foreign influences, as soon as she begins to glorify a school whose spirit is wholly unfamiliar and incomprehensible to her, as soon as through the commendation of this school she furthers certain Ultramontane tendencies which are in direct opposition to her own Protestant clearness, just so soon her book becomes wretched and unenjoyable.

To this unconscious partisanship she adds the evident purpose, through praise of the intellectual activity, the idealism, of Germany, to rebuke the realism then existing among the French, and the materialistic splendours of the Empire. Her book De l’Allemagne resembles in this respect the Germania of Tacitus, who perhaps likewise designed his eulogy of the Germans as an indirect satire against his countrymen. In referring to the school which Madame de Staël’s glorified, and whose tendencies she furthered, I mean the Romantic School. That this was in Germany something quite different from that which was designated by the same name in France, that its tendencies were totally diverse from those of the French Romanticists, will be made clear in the following pages.

But what was the Romantic School in Germany?

It was nothing else than the reawakening of the poetry of the middle ages as it manifested itself in the poems, paintings, and sculptures, in the art and life of those times. This poetry, however, had been developed out of Christianity; it was a passion-flower which had blossomed from the blood of Christ. I know not if the melancholy flower which in Germany we call the passion-flower is known by the same name in France, and if the popular tradition has ascribed to it the same mystical origin.

It is that motley-hued, melancholic flower in whose calyx one may behold a counterfeit presentment of the tools used at the crucifixion of Christ—namely, hammer, pincers, and nails. This flower is by no means unsightly, but only spectral: its aspect fills our souls with a dread pleasure, like those convulsive, sweet emotions that arise from grief. In this respect the passion-flower would be the fittest symbol of Christianity itself, whose most awe-inspiring charm consists in the voluptuousness of pain.

Although in France Christianity and Roman Catholicism are synonymous terms, yet I desire to emphasise the fact, that I here refer to the latter only. I refer to that religion whose earliest dogmas contained a condemnation of all flesh, and not only admitted the supremacy of the spirit over the flesh, but sought to mortify the latter in order thereby to glorify the former.

I refer to that religion through whose unnatural mission vice and hypocrisy came into the world, for through the odium which it cast on the flesh the most innocent gratification of the senses were accounted sins; and, as it was impossible to be entirely spiritual, the growth of hypocrisy was inevitable. I refer to that religion which, by teaching the renunciation of all earthly pleasures, and by inculcating abject humility and angelic patience, became the most efficacious support of despotism.

Men now recognise the nature of that religion, and will no longer be put off with promises of a Heaven hereafter; they know that the material world has also its good, and is not wholly given over to Satan, and now they vindicate the pleasures of the world, this beautiful garden of the gods, our inalienable heritage. Just because we now comprehend so fully all the consequences of that absolute spirituality, we are warranted in believing that the Christian-Catholic theories of the universe are at an end; for every epoch is a sphinx which plunges into the abyss as soon as its problem is solved.

We by no means deny the benefits which the Christian-Catholic theories effected in Europe. They were needed as a wholesome reaction against the terrible colossal materialism which was developed in the Roman Empire, and threatened the annihilation of all the intellectual grandeur of mankind. Just as the licentious memoirs of the last century form the pieces justificatives of the French Revolution; just as the reign of terror seems a necessary medicine when one is familiar with the confessions of the French nobility since the regency; so the wholesomeness of ascetic spirituality becomes manifest when we read Petronius or Apuleius, books

The flesh had become so insolent in this Roman world that Christian discipline was needed to chasten it. After the banquet of a Trimalkion, a hunger-cure, such as Christianity, was required.

Or did, perhaps, the hoary sensualists seek by scourgings to stimulate the cloyed flesh to renewed capacity for enjoyment? Did aging Rome submit to monkish flagellations in order to discover exquisite pleasure in torture itself, voluptuous bliss in pain?

Unfortunate excess! it robbed the Roman body-politic of its last energies. Rome was not destroyed by the division into two empires. On the Bosphorus as on the Tiber, Rome was eaten up by the same Judaic spiritualism, and in both Roman history became the record of a slow dying-away, a death agony that lasted for centuries. Did perhaps murdered Judea, by bequeathing its spiritualism to the Romans, seek to avenge itself on the victorious foe, as did the dying centaur, who so cunningly wheedled the son of Jupiter into wearing the deadly vestment poisoned with his own blood?

In truth, Rome, the Hercules among nations, was so effectually consumed by the Judaic poison that helm and armour fell from its decaying limbs, and its imperious battle tones degenerated into the prayers of snivelling priests and the trilling of eunuchs.

But that which enfeebles the aged strengthens the young. That spiritualism had a wholesome effect on the over-robust races of the north; the ruddy barbarians became spiritualised through Christianity; European civilisation began. This is a praiseworthy and sacred phase of Christianity. The Catholic Church earned in this regard the highest title to our respect and admiration. Through grand, genial institutions it controlled the bestiality of the barbarian hordes of the North, and tamed their brutal materialism.

The works of art in the middle ages give evidence of this mastery of matter by the spirit; and that is often their whole purpose. The epic poems of that time may be easily classified according to the degree in which they show that mastery. Of lyric and dramatic poems nothing is here to be said; for the latter do not exist, and the former are comparatively as much alike in all ages as are the songs of the nightingales in each succeeding spring.

Although the epic poetry of the middle ages was divided into sacred and secular, yet both classes were purely Christian in their nature; for if the sacred poetry related exclusively to the Jewish people and its history, which alone was considered sacred; if its themes were the heroes of the Old and the New Testaments, and their legends—in brief, the Church—still all the Christian views and aims of that period were mirrored in the secular poetry. The flower of the German sacred poetry of the middle ages is, perhaps, Barlaam and Josaphat, a poem in which the dogma of self-denial, of continence, of renunciation, of the scorn of all worldly pleasures, is most consistently expressed.

Next in order of merit I would rank Lobgesang auf den Heiligen Anno, but the latter poem already evinces a marked tendency towards secular themes. It differs in general from the former somewhat as a Byzantine image of a saint differs from an old German representation. Just as in these Byzantine pictures, so also do we find in Barlaam and Josaphat the greatest simplicity; there is no perspective, and the long, lean, statue-like forms, and the grave, ideal countenances, stand severely outlined, as though in bold relief against a background of pale gold.

In the Lobgesang auf den Heiligen Anno, as in the old German pictures, the accessories seem almost more prominent than the subject; and, notwithstanding the bold outlines, every detail is most minutely executed, and one knows not which to admire most, the giant-like conception or the dwarf-like patience of execution. Ottfried’s Evangeliengedicht, which is generally praised as the masterpiece of this sacred poetry, is far inferior to both of these poems.

In the secular poetry we find, as intimated above, first, the cycle of legends called the Nibelungenlied, and the Book of Heroes. In these poems all the ante-Christian modes of thought and feelings are dominant; brute force is not yet moderated into chivalry; the sturdy warriors of the North stand like statues of stone, and the soft light and moral atmosphere of Christianity have not yet penetrated their iron armour.

But dawn is gradually breaking over the old German forests, the ancient Druid oaks are being felled, and in the open arena Christianity and Paganism are battling: all this is portrayed in the cycle of traditions of Charlemagne; even the Crusades with their religious tendencies are mirrored therein. But now from this Christianised, spiritualised brute force is developed the peculiar feature of the middle ages, chivalry, which finally becomes exalted into a religious knighthood.

The earlier knighthood is most felicitously portrayed in the legends of King Arthur, which are full of the most charming gallantry, the most finished courtesy, and the most daring bravery. From the midst of the pleasing, though bizarre, arabesques, and the fantastic, flowery mazes of these tales, we are greeted by the gentle Gawain, the worthy Lancelot of the Lake, by the valiant, gallant, and honest, but somewhat tedious, Wigalois. By the side of this cycle of legends we find the kindred and connected legends of the Holy Grail, in which the religious knighthood is glorified, and in which are to be found the three grandest poems of the middle ages, Titurel, Parcival, and Lohengrin.

In these poems we stand face to face, as it were, with the muse of romantic poetry; we look deep into her large, sad eyes, and ere we are aware she has ensnared us in her network of scholasticism, and drawn us down into the weird depths of medieval mysticism. But further on in this period we find poems which do not unconditionally bow down to Christian spirituality; poems in which it is even attacked, and in which the poet, breaking loose from the fetters of an abstract Christian morality, complacently plunges into the delightful realm of glorious sensuousness.

Nor is it an inferior poet who has left us Tristan and Isolde, the masterpiece of this class. Verily, I must confess that Gottfried von Strasburg, the author of this, the most exquisite poem of the middle ages, is perhaps also the loftiest poet of that period. He surpasses even the grandeur of Wolfram von Eschilbach, whose Parcival, and fragments of Titurel, are so much admired. At present, it is perhaps permissible to praise Meister Gottfried without stint, but in his own time his book and similar poems, to which even Lancelot belonged, were considered Godless and dangerous. Francesca da Polenta and her handsome friend paid dearly for reading together such a book;—the greater danger, it is true, lay in the fact that they suddenly stopped reading.

All the poetry of the middle ages has a certain definite character, through which it differs from the poetry of the Greeks and Romans. In reference to this difference the former is called Romantic, the latter Classic. These names, however, are misleading, and have hitherto caused the most vexatious confusion, which is even increased when we call the antique poetry plastic as well as classic.

In this, particularly, lay the germ of misunderstandings; for artists ought always to treat their subject-matter plastically. Whether it be Christian or pagan, the subject ought to be portrayed in clear contours. In short, plastic configuration should be the main requisite in the modern romantic as well as in antique art. And, in fact, are not the figures in Dante’s Divine Comedy or in the paintings of Raphael just as plastic as those in Virgil or on the walls of Herculaneum?

The difference consists in this,—that the plastic figures in antique art are identical with the thing represented, with the idea which the artist seeks to communicate. Thus, for example, the wanderings of the Odyssey mean nothing else than the wanderings of the man who was a son of Laertes and the husband of Penelope, and was called Ulysses. Thus, again, the Bacchus which is to be seen in the Louvre is nothing more than the charming son of Semele, with a daring melancholy look in his eyes, and an inspired voluptuousness on the soft arched lips. It is otherwise in romantic art: here the wanderings of a knight have an esoteric signification; they typify, perhaps, the mazes of life in general.

The dragon that is vanquished is sin; the almond-tree, that from afar so encouragingly wafts its fragrance to the hero, is the Trinity, the God-Father, God-Son, and God-Holy-Ghost, who together constitute one, just as shell, fibre, and kernel together constitute the almond. When Homer describes the armour of a hero, it is naught else than a good armour, which is worth so many oxen; but when a monk of the middle ages describes in his poem the garments of the Mother of God, you may depend upon it, that by each fold of those garments he typifies some special virtue, and that a peculiar meaning lies hidden in the sacred robes of the immaculate Virgin Mary; as her Son is the kernel of the almond, she is quite appropriately described in the poem as an almond-blossom. Such is the character of that poesy of the middle ages which we designate romantic.

Classic art had to portray only the finite, and its forms could be identical with the artist’s idea. Romantic art had to represent, or rather to typify, the infinite and the spiritual, and therefore was compelled to have recourse to a system of traditional, or rather parabolic, symbols, just as Christ himself had endeavoured to explain and make clear his spiritual meaning through beautiful parables. Hence the mystic, enigmatical, miraculous, and transcendental character of the art-productions of the middle ages. Fancy strives frantically to portray through concrete images that which is purely spiritual, and in the vain endeavour invents the most colossal absurdities; it piles Ossa on Pelion, Parcival on Titurel, to reach heaven.

Similar monstrous abortions of imagination have been produced by the Scandinavians, the Hindoos, and the other races which likewise strive through poetry to represent the infinite; among them also do we find poems which may be regarded as romantic.

Concerning the music of the middle ages little can be said. All records are wanting. It was not until late in the sixteenth century that the masterpieces of Catholic Church music came into existence, and, of their kind, they cannot be too highly prized, for they are the purest expression of Christian spirituality. The recitative arts, being spiritual in their nature, quite appropriately flourished in Christendom. But this religion was less propitious for the plastic arts, for as the latter were to represent the victory of spirit over matter, and were nevertheless compelled to use matter as a means to carry out this representation, they had to accomplish an unnatural task.

Hence sculpture and painting abounded with such revolting subjects as martyrdoms, crucifixions, dying saints, and physical sufferings in general. The treatment of such subjects must have been torture for the artists themselves; and when I look at those distorted images, with pious heads awry, long, thin arms, meagre legs, and graceless drapery, which are intended to represent Christian abstinence and ethereality, I am filled with an unspeakable compassion for the artists of that period. It is true the painters were somewhat more favoured, for colour, the material of their representation, in its intangibility, in its varied lights and shades, was not so completely at variance with spirituality as the material of the sculptors;

But even they, the painters, were compelled to disfigure the patient canvas with the most revolting representations of physical suffering. In truth, when we view certain picture galleries, and behold nothing but scenes of blood, scourgings, and executions, we are fain to believe that the old masters painted these pictures for the gallery of an executioner.

To be continued…

Link to Part Two     

Link to Part Three

Link to Part Four


Heinrich Heine on Ludwig Tieck Pt. II

Oh, the sighs and lamentations one
May hear on every side,
Throughout the whole of Nature,
If one but only give them ear.

Ludwig Tieck

“But now a strange change takes place in Tieck, which is shown in his third manner. Having been silent for a long time after the fall of the Schlegals, he again appeared in public and that in a manner which was little expected of him. The former enthusiast, who had once thrown himself on the breast of the Roman Catholic Church, who had fought Enlightenment and Protestantism with such power, who breathed nothing but feudality and the Middle Age, and who only loved art in naive outpourings of the heart, now appeared as the foe of what was visionary, as a depictor of modern middle-class life, as an artist who required in art the clearest self-consciousness – in short, as a reasonable man.

Thus, has he shown himself in a series of recent novels, some of which are known in France. A deep study of Goethe is visible in them, and it is specially this Goetheism which characterizes his third style. There is the same artistic clearness, cheerfulness, repose and irony. As the school of the Schlegals did not succeed in drawing Goethe into it, now we see how it, represented by Tieck, went over to him.

Tieck was born in Berlin, the 31st of May 1773. For many years, he has lived in Dresden, where he is chiefly busied with the theatre, and he who in his earlier writings always ridiculed the court-councilor as a type of the ridiculous, has himself been made such a Royal Saxon dignitary. God is sometimes a greater satirist that Tieck.

And now a strange misunderstanding has come between the reason and the imagination of this author. The former, or the reason of Tieck, is an honest, sober, plain citizen, who worships practical economy and abhors the visionary. The other, that is, the Tieck imagination, is still, as of yore, the chevelresque lady with the flowing feather on her cap, the falcon on her fist. The pair lead a curious wedded life, and it is often sad to see how the poor dame of high nobility must help the sober citizen spouse in his household or in his cheese-shop. But often in the night, when the good man, with his cotton night cap on, snores peacefully, the noble lady rises from the matrimonial bed of durance vile, and mounts her white horse, and hunts away as merrily as of yore in the enchanted forest of romance.

But I cannot refrain from remarking that of late the Tieckian reason in romance has become sterner than before, and that at the same time his imagination pays penance more and more for her romance nature, so that when the nights are cold she lies comfortably yawning in the marriage bed, and hugs up to her meager husband almost lovingly.

And yet Tieck is always a good poet, for he can create living forms, and words burst from his heart which move our own. But a faint-heartedness, something undecided and uncertain, or a certain feeble-mindedness is, or ever was, to be observed in him. The want of decision is only too perceptible in all that he did or wrote. Certainly, there is no independent character in his works. His first manner shows him as a mere nothing, his second as a true and trusty squire of the Schlegals, and his third as an imitator of Goethe. His theatrical criticisms, which he published under the title of “Dramaturgic Pages,” constitute his most original work; but they are theatrical criticisms.

In order to represent Hamlet as an altogether weak-minded man, Shakespeare makes him, in his conversation with the comedians, appear as an admirable theatrical critic.

Tieck never troubled himself with serious studies; his work of this kind was limited to modern languages and the older documents of German poetry. As a true Romanticist, he was always a stranger to classic studies; nor did he ever busy himself with philosophy, which seems to have been altogether repugnant to him. From the fields of philosophy, Tieck gathered only flowers and switches – the first for the noses of his friends, and the latter for the backs of his foes. With serious culture or scientific writings, he had naught to do. His writings are bouquets and bundles of rods, but never a sheath with an ear of corn.

Next to Goethe, Tieck often imitated Cervantes. The humoristic irony, or, as I may say, the ironic humour, of these two modern poets spreads its perfume in the novels written in Tieck’s third style. Irony and humour are therein so blended as to seem but one. There is much said now among us as to this humorous irony; the men of the Goethean school of art praise it as a special glory of their master, and it plays a great part in German literature. But it is only a sign of political servitude, and as Cervantes in the days of the Inquisition took refuge in humorous irony to set forth his thoughts without giving a chance to catch hold to the familiars of the Holy Office, so Goethe expressed with it that which he, as Minister of State and a courtier, could not directly utter. Goethe never suppressed truth, but where he could not show her naked, he clad her lightly in humour and irony.

The honest Germans, who pine under censorship and spiritual oppression of every kind, and yet never can suppress what the heart inspires, have specially taken to the ironic and humorous form. It was the only means of exit which was left to their nobler feelings, and in this form German honourableness is most touchingly shown.

This again reminds me of the marvelous prince of Denmark. Hamlet is the most honourable fellow who ever wore a skin. His dissimulation only serves as an offset to what oppresses from without; he is peculiar and odd because such conduct is less offensive to court etiquette than open breach of it. But in all his humourous ironical jests he lets it be distinctly perceived that he is acting; in all he does and say his real meaning is visible for all who can see, even to the king, to whom he cannot speak the plain truth (for that he is too weak), and yet from whom he will by no means hide it. Hamlet is through and through honourable; only the most honourable man could say, “We are arrant knaves all;” and while he plays the lunatic he will not deceive us, and in his heart conscious that he is really mad.

I have still to praise two works by Tieck, for which he specially deserved commendation of the German public. One of these is a translation of a series of English dramatists anterior to Shakespeare, and his version of “Don Quixote.” Among the former are several which bear the same names and treat of the same subjects as the Shakespeare plays. We find in them the same intrigues and scenic development; in a word, all of the Shakespearean tragedy except the poetry.

Some commentators have expressed it as their opinion that these are the first sketches of the great poet, as it were the dramatic cartoons, and if I err not, Tieck himself has declared that “King John,” one of these old plays, is a work by Shakespeare, or, so to speak, a prelude to the great masterpiece known to us by this name. But this is an error. These tragedies are nothing more than old plays on hand, which Shakespeare, as we know, worked over again, partly or wholly, as they were required by the managers, who paid him for such work twelve to sixteen shillings each. And so a poor hack of an adapter of other men’s plays outweighs the proudest literary kings of our time.

The other great poet, Miguel de Cervantes, played as modest a part in the real world. These two men, the composer of “Hamlet” and the composer of “Don Quixote,” are the greatest poets of modern times.

The translation of “Don Quixote” is a special success. No one has so exquisitely hit off the insane dignity of the ingenious hidalgo of La Manche, and set it forth so accurately, as our admirable Tieck. The books reads almost like a German original, and forms next after “Hamlet” and “Faust,” the favourite reading of Germans. The cause of this is, that in these two astonishing and profound works we have found, as in “Don Quixote,” the tragedy of our own nothingness.

German youth love “Hamlet” because they feel with him “time is out of joint.” They sigh in the same way to think that they are called upon to set it right, feel also their incredible weakness and declaim. “To be or not to be.”

Men of mature age, however, prefer “Faust.” Their mental condition attracts them to the bold investigator who makes a compact with the invisible world and who fears not the devil.

But those who have seen that all is vain, and that all human efforts are useless, prefer the romance of Cervantes, for they see all inspiration satirised in it, and all of our knights of the present who fight and suffer for ideas appear to them as so many Don Quixotes.

Did Miguel de Cervantes suspect what application a later age would make of his work? Did he really parody idealist inspiration in his tall lean knight, and common sense in his fat squire? Anyhow, the latter is always the most ridiculous, for plain common sense, with all its trite and every day proverbs, must all the same trot along after Inspiration on its easy-paced donkey; in despite of his clearer insight, he and his ass must suffer all discomfort, such as befalls the Knight himself — yea, the ideal inspiration is of such powerfully attractive nature, that common sense with the donkey must follow whether he will or not.

Or did this man of deep and subtle wit mean to mock mankind still more shrewdly? Did he allogorise the soul in the form of Don Quixote and the body in the form of Sancho Panza? And is the whole poem a great mystery, in which the question of spirit and matter is discussed with terrible truthfulness? This much I see in the book, that the poor material Sancho must suffer much for the spiritual Don Quixote, and that he gets for the noble views of his master the most ignoble stripes, and that he is always more sensible than his high-trotting master, for he knows that lashes and cuffs have evil taste, but the little sausage in the olla padrida is a very good one. Indeed, the body often seems to have more insight than the soul, and man thinks frequently far better with his back and belly than with his head.

But if old Cervantes only meant to depict in “Don Quixote” the fools who wished to restore medieval chivalry and call again to life a perished past, it is a merry irony of chance that it was just the Romantic School itself which gave us the best translation of a book in which its own folly is most delightfully satirised.”

Heinrich Heine on Ludwig Tieck, Pt. I

Their words have been honored by such Lieder composers as Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms. For more information on the music inspired by Heine and Tieck, as well as other fine German poets, I invite you to visit Emily Ezust’s Lied & Art Song Texts Page. To better appreciate the challenges of their time and circumstance, please see previous post, “Young Germany and Heinrich Heine.”

“You could scarcely fail,” replied the stranger.
“Whoever knows how to seek,
Whoever feels his heart drawn toward it with a
Right inward longing
Will find friends of former ages there,
And glorious things, and all that he wishes most.”

Ludwig Tieck

“After the Schlegals, Ludwig Tieck was the most effective author of THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL. For it, he fought, thought and sang. He was a poet, a name which neither of the Schlegals deserved; for he was a true son of Phoebus Apollo, and, like his ever-youthful father, he bore not only the lyre but the bow, with a quiver full of rattling, ringing arrows. He was, like the Delphian god, intoxicated with lyrical fire and critical cruelty. And when, like him to, when he had pitilessly flayed alive some literary Marsyas he merrily grasped with bloody fingers the golden chords of his lyre and sang a sweet song of love.

The poetical polemic which Tieck waged in dramatic form against the adversaries of the school belongs to the most remarkable curiosities of our literature. They are satirical plays, which are generally compared with the comedies of Aristophanes. Yet they differ from the latter almost as much as a tragedy by Sophocles differs from Shakespeare. If the ancient comedies had the same cut and style, the strictly drilled step, and the exquisitely metrical language of ancient tragedies, so that they might pass for parodies, so are the dramatic satires of Tieck cut in as original and strange a manner; just as Anglicanly irregular and as metrically capricious as the tragedies of Shakespeare.

Was this form invented by Tieck? No; for it existed already among the people of Italy. He who understands Italian might get a tolerably correct idea of the dramas of Tieck if he will dream himself into the chequered-bizarre, Venetian-fantastic fairy tale comedies of Gozzi, mixed with a little German moonshine. In fact, Tieck took many of his masks from this merry child of the Lagunes. Following his example, many German poets have mastered the same form; hence, we have had comedies whose comic effects were not produced by a single fanciful character or a gay intrigue, but where we are transported at once into a wild and merry world, where animals talk and act like men, and where chance and caprice take its place in the natural order of things.

This we also find in Aristophanes. But the latter chose this form to reveal to us his profoundest views of the world, as , for instance, in the “Birds” where the maddest efforts of mankind, their desire to build the grandest castles in the air, their defiance of the eternal gods, and the vain joy of their triumphs, are set forth in the most ludicrous caricatures.

And it was that which made Aristophanes so great, because his views of the world were so great, because they were grander and more tragic than the tragedian himself; because his comedies were really jesting tragedies. Take, for example, his Paisteteros, who is not shown up in his ridiculous worthlessness at the end of the play, as a modern poet would have planned it. On the contrary, he woos and wins the beautiful, marvellously mighty Basilea; he sores with this heavenly bride to his city in the air; the gods are compelled to obey him, folly celebrates its marriage with power, and the play ends with joyous marriage-hymns.

Can there be, for any reasonable man, anything more cruelly tragic than this victory and triumph of folly? Our German Aristophanes do not rise so high; they refrain from such lofty views of life; they manifest the utmost modesty as regards discussing those very important relations of man, politics and religion; they only venture on the theme which Aristophanes himself has treated in the “Frogs” as a subject of satire – the stage itself – and they have mocked with more or less cleverness its failings.

Still we must consider the politically enslaved condition of Germany. Our wits, restrained from ridiculing real princes, made up for it by attacking kings of the theatre and queens of the coulisses. We, who were almost destitute of political journals which discussed public affairs, were all the more blessed with countless aesthetic journals, containing nothing but idle tales and theatrical criticisms, so that anyone who saw our newspapers might well suppose that the whole German race consisted of chattering nursery maids and theatrical critics.

And yet it would have been unjust.

How little content we were with such miserable scribbling appeared immediately after the Revolution of July, when it seemed as if free and bold words might be uttered in our own dear native land. There sprung up all at once newspapers which criticized the good and bad acting of real kings, and many of them who had forgotten their parts were hissed in their own capitals.

Our literary Scheherazades, who had hitherto put the public, that plump Sultan, to sleep with their little tales, were now silent; the actors saw with amazement the pit empty, however divinely they played, and even the reserved seats of the terrible town-critics were often vacant. Once the good heroes of boards always complained that they were continually subjects of public conversation, and that even their domestic affairs were discussed in the journals. But what was their horror when the awful truth flashed upon them that nobody now cared what they did!

In fact, when the Revolution broke out in Germany, there was an end to theatres and and dramatic criticism, and the terrified feuilletonists, actors and critics apprehended – and justly – that “Art was going to the dogs.” But this great calamity was fortunately averted from our native land by the wisdom and power of the Frankfort Diet.

There will be, let us hope, no revolution in Germany. We are protected from the guillotine and all the terrors of freedom of the press . Even the Chamber of Deputies, whose competition so greatly injured the regularly licensed theatres, is done away with; and art is saved! Just now they are doing all they can for art, especially in Prussia. The museums gleam with all the splendours of color, the orchestras sound, the ballet-girls leap their loveliest and liveliest entrechats, and a thousand and one novels enrapture the public, and theatrical criticism blooms again.

Justinus relates in his “Histories” that when Cyrus had quieted the revolt of the Lydians , he succeeded in taming stubborn, liberty-loving spirit by inducing in them an interest in the fine arts and other pleasant things. So there was nothing more heard of Lydian liberty or rebellion, but all the more famously did the Lydian restaurant-keepers, panders and artists flourish.

Now there is in Germany rest and repose. Theatrical criticism and novels are to the fore, and as Tieck exceeds in both, all friends of art pay him the tribute due. He is, in fact, the best novelist in Germany. Yet all his works are not of equal worth or of the same kind. We can distinguish in him, as in painters, many manners.

His first was altogether that of the old school. Then he wrote to order, and by command of a bookseller, who was no other than the Nicolai himself,the most self-willed of champions of enlightenment and humanity, the greatest enemy of superstition, mysticism and romance. Nicolai was an indifferent writer, a prosaic old wig, who often made himself ridiculous by scenting Jesuitism. But we, the later born, must admit that old Nicolai was a throughly honest man, who meant well for the German race, and who in the holy cause of liberty did not dread that cruelest of all martyrdoms, ridicule. I was told in Berlin that Tieck once lived in Nicolai’s house, one story above the latter, and so the modern time walked over the head of the old.

The works which Tieck wrote in his first style, mostly tales and long novels, among which “William Lovell” is the best, are very insignificant and without poetry. It would seem as if the rich poetic nature of this man was frugal and stinted in his youth, and that he saved up all his spiritual wealth for a later time. Or was Tieck himself ignorant of the treasure which was in him, and were the Schlegals needed to discover it with their divining rod? For as soon as he came in touch with them, all the riches of his imagination, his deep feeling and his wit. at once showed themselves. Diamonds gleamed, the purest pearls rolled out in streams, and over all flashed the ruby, the fabulous carbuncle gem of which romantic poets have often said and sung. This rich breast was the real treasury whence the Schlegals drew the funds for their literary campaigns. Tieck had to write for the school the satirical which I have mentioned, and prepare according to the new aesthetic recipes many poems of every kind. This is his second style.

His best productions in it are “The Emperor Octavian,” “The Holy Genofeva,” and “Fortunatus,” three dramas which take their names from chapbooks. The poet has given to these old tales, which have ever been dear to the German world, new and costly clothing. Honestly speaking, I prefer them in their old naive, true-hearted form. Beautiful as Tieck’s “Genofeva” may be, I love far better the old Volkbuch, very badly printed at Cologne on the Rhine, with its rude woodcuts, in which it is touching to see the poor naked Countess Palatine, with only her long hair for chaste clothing, while her little Schmerzenreich is nursed at the teats of a pitying doe.

Far more precious than these novels are the novels which Tieck wrote in this, his second manner. These too are mostly taken from the old popular legends. The best are “The Blond Eckbert” and “The Runenberg.” In these compositions, we feel a mysterious depth of meaning, a marvelous union with Nature, especially with the realm of plants and stones. The reader seems to be in an enchanted forest; he sees subterranean springs and streams rustling melodiously, and his own name whispered by the trees. Broad-leaved clinging plants wind vexingly about his feet, wild and strange wonder- flowers look at him with varicoloured longing eyes, invisible lips kiss his cheeks with mocking tenderness, tall mushrooms like golden bells grow singing about the root, great silent birds cradle themselves on the boughs, and nod adown with their cunning long bills.

All breathes – lurks – is thrilling with expectation, when suddenly the soft tune of a hunter’s horn is heard, and a beautiful lady with waving plumes on her cap, a falcon on her wrist, rides past on a white palfrey. And this fair dame is as bright and blond and violet-eyed, as smiling and yet serene, as true and yet as ironic, as chaste and yet as passionate, as the imagination of our glorious Ludwig Tieck. Yes! his fantasy is a wondrous winsome damoiselle of high degree, who in an enchanted forest hunts fabulous creatures – perhaps the rare unicorn which can be caught only by a pure maid.”

To be continued tomorrow in Part II.


Johann Ludwig Tieck

← Previous page