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.”