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Lectures on Dramatic Art by August Wilhelm Schlegel trans John Black

Part 10 out of 10

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in which he died, he continued to produce dramatic works, they spread over
a great space, and we may therefore suppose that he did not write with the
same haste as Lope; he had sufficient leisure to consider his plans
maturely, which, without doubt, he has done. In the execution, he could
not fail from his extensive practice to acquire great readiness.

In this almost incalculable exuberance of production, we find nothing
thrown out at random; all is finished in masterly perfection, agreeably to
established and consistent principles, and with the most profound artistic
views. This cannot be denied even by those who would confound the pure and
high style of the romantic drama with mannerism, and consider these bold
flights of poetry, on the extreme boundaries of the conceivable, as
aberrations in art. For Calderon has every where converted that into
matter what passed with his predecessors for form;--nothing less than the
noblest and most exquisite excellence could satisfy him. And this is why
he repeats himself in many expressions, images, comparisons, nay, even in
many plays of situation; for he was too rich to be under the necessity of
borrowing from himself, much less from others. The effect on the stage is
with Calderon the first and last thing; but this consideration, which is
generally felt by others as a restraint, is with him a positive end. I
know of no dramatist equally skilled in converting effect into poetry, who
is at once so sensibly vigorous and so ethereal.

His dramas divide themselves into four principal classes: compositions on
sacred subjects taken from scripture and legends; historical;
mythological, or founded upon other fictitious materials; and finally,
pictures of social life in modern manners.

The pieces founded on the history of his own country are historical only
in the more limited acceptation. The earlier periods of Spanish history
have often been felt and portrayed by Calderon with the greatest truth;
but, in general, he had too decided, I might almost say, too burning a
predilection for his own nation, to enter into the peculiarities of
another; at best he could have portrayed what verges towards the sun, the
South and the East; but classical antiquity, as well as the North of
Europe, were altogether foreign to his conception. Materials of this
description he has therefore taken in a perfectly fanciful sense:
generally the Greek mythology became in his hands a delightful tale, and
the Roman history a majestic hyperbole.

His sacred compositions must, however, in some degree, be ranked as
historical; for although surrounded with rich fiction, as is always the
case in Calderon, they nevertheless in general express the character of
Biblical or legendary story with great fidelity. They are distinguished,
however, from the other historical pieces by the frequent prominency of a
significant allegory, and by the religious enthusiasm with which the poet,
in the spiritual acts designed for the celebration of the festival of
Corpus Christi, the _Autos_ exhibits the universe as it were, under
an allegorical representation in the purple flames of love. In this last
class he was most admired by his contemporaries, and here also he himself
set the highest value on his labours. But without having read, at least,
one of them in a truly poetical translation, my auditors could not form
the slightest idea of them; while the due consideration of these
_Autos_ would demand a difficult investigation into the admissibility
of allegory into dramatical composition. I shall therefore confine myself
to those of his dramas which are no allegorical. The characterization of
these I shall be very far from exhausting; I can merely exhibit a few of
their more general features.

Of the great multitude of ingenious and acute writers, who were then
tempted by the dazzling splendour of the theatrical career to write for
the stage, the greater part were mere imitators of Calderon; a few only
deserve to be named along with him, as Don Agustin Moreto, Don Franzisco
de Roxas, Don Antonio de Solis, the acute and eloquent historian of the
conquest of Mexico, &c. The dramatic literature of the Spaniards can even
boast of a royal poet, Philip IV., the great patron and admirer [Footnote:
This monarch seems, in reality, to have had a relish for the peculiar
excellence of his favourite poet, whom he considered as the brightest
ornament of his court. He was so prepossessed in favour of the national
drama, that he forbade the introduction into Spain of the Italian opera,
which was then in general favour at the different European courts: an
example which deserves to be held up to the German Princes, who have
hitherto, from indifference towards every thing national, and partiality
for every thing foreign, done all in their power to discourage the German
poets.] of Calderon, to whom several anonymous pieces, with the epigraph
_de un ingenio de esta corte_, are ascribed. All the writers of that
day wrote in a kindred spirit; they formed a true school of art. Many of
them have peculiar excellences, but Calderon in boldness, fulness, and
profundity, soars beyond them all; in him the romantic drama of the
Spaniards attained the summit of perfection.

We shall endeavour to give a feeble idea of the spirit and form of these
compositions, which differ so widely from every other European production.
For this purpose, however, we must enter in some measure into the
character of the Spanish poetry in general, and those historical
circumstances by which it has been determined.

The beginnings of the Spanish poetry are extremely simple: its two
fundamental forms were the romaunt and the song, and in these original
national melodies we everywhere fancy we hear the accompaniment of the
guitar. The romaunt, which is half Arabian in its origin, was at first a
simple heroic tale; afterwards it became a very artificial species,
adapted to various uses, but in which the picturesque ingredient always
predominated even to the most brilliant luxuriance of colouring. The song
again, almost destitute of imagery, expressed tender feelings in ingenious
turns; it extends its sportiveness to the very limits where the self-
meditation, which endeavours to transfuse an inexpressible disposition of
mind into thought, wings again the thought to dreamlike intimations. The
forms of the song were diversified by the introduction into poetry of what
in music is effected by variation. The rich properties of the Spanish
language however could not fully develop themselves in these species of
poetry, which were rather tender and infantine than elevated. Hence
towards the beginning of the sixteenth century they adapted the more
comprehensive forms of Italian poetry, _Ottave Terzine_, _Canzoni_,
_Sonetti_; and the Castilian language, the proudest daughter of the Latin,
was then first enabled to display her whole power in dignity, beautiful
boldness, and splendour of imagery. The Spanish with its guttural sounds,
and frequent termination with consonants, is less soft than the Italian;
but its tones are, if possible, more fuller and deeper, and fill the ear
with a pure metallic resonance. It had not altogether lost the rough
strength and heartiness of the Gothic, when Oriental intermixtures gave it
a wonderful degree of sublimity, and elevated its poetry, intoxicated as
it were with aromatic fragrances, far above all the scrupulous moderation
of the sober West.

The stream of poetical inspiration, swelled by every proud consciousness,
increased with the growing fame in arms of this once so free and heroic
nation. The Spaniards played a glorious part in the events of the middle
ages, a part but too much forgotten by the envious ingratitude of modern
times. They were then the forlorn out-posts of Europe; they lay on their
Pyrenean peninsula as in a camp, exposed without foreign assistance to the
incessant eruptions of the Arabians, but always ready for renewed
conflicts. The founding of their Christian kingdom, through centuries of
conflicts, from the time when the descendants of the Goths driven before
the Moors into the mountains of the North first left their protecting
shelter for the war of freedom and independence, down to the complete
expulsion of the Arabian invaders, was one long adventure of chivalry;
nay, the preservation of Christianity itself in the face of so powerful a
foe seems the wondrous work of more than mortal guidance. Accustomed to
fight at the same time for liberty and religion, the Spaniard clung to his
faith with a fiery zeal, as an acquisition purchased by the costly
expenditure of noble blood. These consolations of a holy worship were to
him the rewards of heroic exertion; in every church he saw as it were a
trophy of his forefathers' bravery. Ready to shed the last drop of his
blood in the cause of his God and his King; tenderly sensitive of his
honour; proud, yet humble in the presence of all that is sacred and holy;
serious, temperate, and modest was the old Castilian: and yet forsooth
some are found to scoff at a noble and a loyal race because even at the
plough they were lothe to lay aside the beloved sword, the instrument of
their high vocation of patriotism and liberty.

This love of war, and spirit of enterprise, which so many circumstances
had thus served to keep alive among their subjects, the monarchs of Spain
made use of, at the close of the fifteenth and throughout the sixteenth
century, in an attempt to obtain universal monarchy; and while the arms of
the Spaniard were thus employed to effect the subjugation of other
nations, he was himself deprived of his own political freedom. The
faithless and tyrannical policy of Philip II. has unmeritedly drawn down
on the whole nation the hatred of foreigners. In Italy, Macchiavelism was
not confined to the Princes and Republican leaders; it was the universal
character; all ranks were infected with the same love of artifice and
fraud. But in Spain it must be laid to the charge of the Government alone,
and even the religious persecutions in that country seldom or never
proceeded from the outbreakings of a universal popular fury. The Spaniard
never presumed to question the conduct of his spiritual and worldly
superiors, and carried on their wars of aggression and ambition with the
same fidelity and bravery which he had formerly displayed in his own wars
of self-defence and patriotism. Personal glory, and a mistaken religious
zeal, blinded him with respect to the justice of his cause. Enterprises
before unexampled, were eagerly undertaken, and successfully achieved; a
newly discovered world beyond the ocean was conquered by a handful of bold
adventurers; individual instances of cruelty and avarice may have stained
the splendour of resolute heroism, but the mass of the nation was
uninfected by its contagion. Nowhere did the spirit of chivalry so long
outlive its political existence as in Spain. Long after the internal
prosperity, as well as the foreign influence of the nation, had fatally
declined under the ruinous errors of the Second Philip, this spirit
propagated itself even to the most flourishing period of their literature,
and plainly imprinted upon it an indelible stamp. Here, in all their
dazzling features, but associated with far higher mental culture, the
middle ages were, as it were, renewed--those times when princes and nobles
loved to indite the lays of love and bravery, and when, with hearts
devoted equally to their lady-love and the Holy Sepulchre, knights
joyfully exposed themselves to the dangers and hardships of pilgrimage to
the Land of Promise, and when even a lion-hearted king touched the lute to
tender sounds of amorous lamentation. The poets of Spain were not, as in
most other countries of Europe, courtiers or scholars, or engaged in some
peaceful art or other; of noble birth for the most part, they also led a
warlike life. The union of the sword and the pen, and the exercise of arms
and the nobler mental arts, was their watch-word. Garcilaso, one of the
founders of Spanish poetry under Charles V., was a descendant of the Yncas
of Peru, and in Africa, still accompanied by his agreeable muse, fell
before the walls of Tunis: Camoëns, the Portuguese, sailed as a soldier to
the remotest Indies, in the track of the glorious Adventurer whose
discoveries he celebrated: Don Alonso de Ercilla composed his
_Araucana_ in the midst of warfare with revolted savages, in a tent
at the foot of the Cordilleras, or in wildernesses yet untrodden by men,
or in a storm-tossed vessel on the restless ocean; Cervantes purchased,
with the loss of an arm, and a long slavery in Algiers, the honour of
having fought, as a common soldier, in the battle of Lepanto, under the
illustrious John of Austria; Lope de Vega, among other adventures,
survived the misfortunes of the Invincible Armada; Calderon served several
campaigns in Flanders and in Italy, and discharged the warlike duties of a
knight of Santiago until he entered holy orders, and thus gave external
evidence that religion was the ruling motive of his life.

If a feeling of religion, a loyal heroism, honour, and love, be the
foundation of romantic poetry, it could not fail to attain to its highest
development in Spain, where its birth and growth were cherished by the
most friendly auspices. The fancy of the Spaniards, like their active
powers, was bold and venturesome; no mental adventure seemed too hazardous
for it to essay. The popular predilection for surpassing marvels had
already shown itself in its chivalrous romaunts. And so they wished also
to see the wonderful on the stage; when, therefore, their poets, standing
on the lofty eminence of a highly polished state of art and society, gave
it the requisite form, breathed into it a musical soul, and refined its
beautiful hues and fragrance from all corporeal grossness, there arose,
from the very contrast of the matter and the form, an irresistible
fascination. Amid the harmony of the most varied metre, the elegance of
fanciful allusions, and that splendour of imagery and simile which no
other language than their own could hope to furnish, combined with
inventions ever new, and almost always pre-eminently ingenious, the
spectators perceived in imagination a faint refulgence of the former
greatness of their nation which had measured the whole world with its
victories. The most distant zones were called upon to contribute, for the
gratification of the mother country, the treasures of fancy as well as of
nature, and on the dominions of this poetry, as on that of Charles V., the
sun may truly be said never to set.

Even those plays of Calderon which, cast in modern manners, descend the
most to the tone of common life, still fascinate us by a sort of fanciful
magic, and cannot be considered in the same light with the ordinary run of
comedies. Of those of Shakspeare, we have seen that they are always
composed of two dissimilar elements: the comic, which, in so far as comic
imitation requires the observance of local conditions, is true to English
manners; and the romantic, which, as the native soil was not sufficiently
poetical for it, is invariably transplanted to a foreign scene. In Spain,
on the other hand, the national costume of that day still admitted of an
ideal exhibition. This would not indeed have been possible, had Calderon
introduced us into the interior of domestic life, where want and habit
generally reduce all things to every-day narrowness. His comedies, like
those of the ancients, end with marriages; but how different is all that
precedes! With them the most immoral means are set in motion for the
gratification of sensual passions and selfish views, human beings with
their mental powers stand opposed to each other as mere physical beings,
endeavouring to spy out and to expose their mutual weaknesses. Calderon,
it is true, also represents to us his principal characters of both sexes
carried away by the first ebullitions of youth, and in its unwavering
pursuit of the honours and pleasures of life; but the aim after which they
strive, and in the prosecution of which every thing else kicks the beam,
is never in their minds confounded with any other good. Honour, love, and
jealousy, are uniformly the motives out of which, by their dangerous but
noble conflict, the plot arises, and is not purposely complicated by
knavish trickery and deception. Honour is always an ideal principle; for
it rests, as I have elsewhere shown, on that higher morality which
consecrates principles without regard to consequences. It may sink down to
a mere conventional observance of social opinions or prejudices, to a mere
instrument of vanity, but even when so disfigured we may still recognize
in it some faint feature of a sublime idea. I know no apter symbol of
tender sensibility of honour as portrayed by Calderon, than the fable of
the ermine, which is said to prize so highly the whiteness of its fur,
that rather than stain it in flight, it at once yields itself up to the
hunters and death. This sense of honour is equally powerful in the female
characters; it rules over love, which is only allowed a place beside it,
but not above it. According to the sentiments of Calderon's dramas, the
honour of woman consists in loving only one man of pure and spotless
honour, and loving him with perfect purity, free from all ambiguous homage
which encroaches too closely on the severe dignity of woman. Love requires
inviolable secrecy till a lawful union permits it to be publicly declared.
This secrecy secures it from the poisonous intermixture of vanity, which
might plume itself with pretensions or boasts of a confessed preference;
it gives it the appearance of a vow, which from its mystery is the more
sacredly observed. This morality does not, it is true, condemn cunning and
dissimulation if employed in the cause of love, and in so far as the
rights of honour may be said to be infringed; but nevertheless the most
delicate consideration is observed in the conflict with other duties,--
with the obligations, for instance, of friendship. Moreover, a power of
jealousy, always alive and often breaking out into fearful violence,--not,
like that of the East, a jealousy of possession,--but one watchful of the
slightest emotions of the heart and its most imperceptible demonstrations
serves to ennoble love, as this feeling, whenever it is not absolutely
exclusive, ceases to be itself. The perplexity to which the mental
conflict of all these motives gives rise, frequently ends in nothing, and
in such cases the catastrophe is truly comic; sometimes, however, it takes
a tragic turn, and then honour becomes a hostile destiny for all who
cannot satisfy its requisitions without sacrificing either their happiness
or their innocence.

These are the dramas of a higher kind, which by foreigners are called
Pieces of Intrigue, but by Spaniards, from the dress in which they are
acted, Comedies of Cloak and Sword (_Comedias de Capa y Espada_).
They have commonly no other burlesque part than that of the merry valet,
known by the name of the _Gracioso_. This valet serves chiefly to parody
the ideal motives from which his master acts, and this he frequently does
with much wit and grace. Seldom is he with his artifices employed as an
efficient lever in establishing the intrigue, in which we rather admire
the wit of accident than of contrivance. Other pieces are called _Comedias
de figuron_; all the figures, with one exception, are usually the same as
those in the former class, and this one is always drawn in caricature, and
occupies a prominent place in the composition. To many of Calderon's
dramas we cannot refuse the name of pieces of character, although we
cannot look for very delicate characterization from the poets of a nation
in which vehemence of passion and exaltation of fancy neither leave
sufficient leisure nor sufficient coolness for prying observation.

Another class of his pieces is called by Calderon himself festal dramas
(_fiestas_). They were destined for representation at court on solemn
occasions; and though they require the theatrical pomp of frequent change
of decoration and visible wonders, and though music also is often
introduced into them, still we may call them poetical operas, that is,
dramas which, by the mere splendour of poetry, perform what in the opera
can only be attained by the machinery, the music, and the dancing. Here
the poet gives himself wholly up to the boldest flights of fancy, and his
creations hardly seem to touch the earth.

The mind of Calderon, however, is most distinctly expressed in the pieces
on religious subjects. Love he paints merely in its most general features;
he but speaks her technical poetical language. Religion is his peculiar
love, the heart of his heart. For religion alone he excites the most
overpowering emotions, which penetrate into the inmost recesses of the
soul. He did not wish, it would seem, to do the same for mere worldly
events. However turbid they may be in themselves to him, such is the
religious medium through which he views them, they are all cleared up and
perfectly bright. Blessed man! he had escaped from the wild labyrinths of
doubt into the stronghold of belief; from thence, with undisturbed
tranquillity of soul, he beheld and portrayed the storms of the world; to
him human life was no longer a dark riddle. Even his tears reflect the
image of heaven, like dew-drops on a flower in the sun. His poetry,
whatever its apparent object, is a never-ending hymn of joy on the majesty
of the creation; he celebrates the productions of nature and human art
with an astonishment always joyful and always new, as if he saw them for
the first time in an unworn festal splendour. It is the first awaking of
Adam, and an eloquence withal, a skill of expression, and a thorough
insight into the most mysterious affinities of nature, such as high mental
culture and mature contemplation can alone bestow. When he compares the
most remote objects, the greatest and the smallest, stars and flowers, the
sense of all his metaphors is the mutual attraction subsisting between
created things by virtue of their common origin, and this delightful
harmony and unity of the world again is merely a refulgence of the eternal
all-embracing love.

Calderon was still flourishing at the time when other countries of Europe
began to manifest a strong inclination for that mannerism of taste in the
arts, and those prosaic views in literature, which in the eighteenth
century obtained such universal dominion. He is consequently to be
considered as the last summit of romantic poetry. All its magnificence is
lavished in his writings, as in fireworks the most brilliant and rarest
combinations of colours, the most dazzling of fiery showers and circles
are usually reserved for the last explosion.

The Spanish theatre continued for nearly a century after Calderon to be
cultivated in the same spirit. All, however, that was produced in that
period is but an echo of previous productions, and nothing new and truly
peculiar appeared such as deserves to be named after Calderon. After him a
great barrenness is perceptible. Now and then attempts were made to
produce regular tragedies, that is to say, after the French model. Even
the declamatory drama of Diderot found imitators. I remember reading a
Spanish play, which had for its object the abolition of the torture. The
exhilaration to be expected from such a work may be easily conceived. A
few Spaniards, apostates from the old national taste, extol highly the
prosaical and moral dramas of Moratin; but we see no reason for seeking in
Spain what we have as good, or, more correctly speaking, equally bad at
home. The theatrical audience has for the most part preserved itself
tolerably exempt from all such foreign influences; a few years ago when a
_bel esprit_ undertook to reduce a justly admired piece of Moreto (_El
Pareceido en la Corte_,) to a conformity with the three unities, the pit
at Madrid were thrown into such a commotion that the players could only
appease them by announcing the piece for the next day in its genuine

When in any country external circumstances, such, for instance, as the
influence of the clergy, the oppression of the censorship, and even the
jealous vigilance of the people in the maintenance of their old national
customs, oppose the introduction of what in neighbouring states passes for
a progress in mental culture, it frequently happens that clever
description of heads will feel an undue longing for the forbidden fruit,
and first begin to admire some artistic depravity, when it has elsewhere
ceased to be fashionable. In particular ages certain mental maladies are
so universally epidemic that a nation can never be secure from infection
till it has been innoculated with it. With respect, however, to the fatal
enlightenment of the last generation, the Spaniards it would appear have
come off with the chicken-pox, while in the features of other nations the
disfiguring variolous scars are but too visible. Living nearly in an
insular situation, Spaniards have slept through the eighteenth century,
and how in the main could they have applied their time better? Should the
Spanish poetry ever again awake in old Europe, or in the New World, it
would certainly have a step to make, from instinct to consciousness. What
the Spaniards have hitherto loved from innate inclination, they must learn
to reverence on clear principles, and, undismayed at the criticism to
which it has in the mean time been exposed, proceed to fresh creations in
the spirit of their greatest poets.


Origin of the German Theatre--Hans Sachs--Gryphius--The age of Gottsched--
Wretched Imitation of the French--Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller--Review of
their Works--Their influence on Chivalrous Dramas, Affecting Dramas, and
Family Pictures--Prospect for Futurity.

In its cultivated state, the German theatre is much younger than any of
those of which we hare already spoken, and we are not therefore to wonder
if the store of our literature in valuable original works, in this
department, is also much more scanty.

Little more than half a century ago, German literature was in point of
talent at the very lowest ebb; at that time, however, greater exertions
first began to be made, and the Germans have since advanced with gigantic
strides. And if Dramatic Art has not been cultivated with the same
success, and I may add with the same zeal, as other branches, the cause
must perhaps be attributed to a number of unfavourable circumstances
rather than to any want of talents.

The rude beginnings of the stage are with us as old as with other
countries [Footnote: The first mention of the mysteries or religious
representations in Germany, with which I am acquainted, is to be found in
the _Eulenspiegel_. In the 13th History, we may see this merry, but
somewhat disgusting trick, of the celebrated buffoon: "How Eulenspiegel
made a play in the Easter fair, in which the priest and his maid-servant
fought with the boors." Eulenspiegel is stated to have lived towards the
middle of the fourteenth century, but the book cannot be placed farther
back than the beginning of the fifteenth.]. The oldest drama which we have
in manuscript is the production of one Hans Rosenpluet, a native of
Nuremberg, about the middle of the fifteenth century. He was followed by
two fruitful writers born in the same imperial city, Hans Sachs and Ayrer.
Among the works of Hans Sachs we find, besides merry carnival plays, a
great multitude of tragedies, comedies, histories both spiritual and
temporal, where the prologue and epilogue are always spoken by the herald.
The latter, it appears, were all acted without any theatrical apparatus,
not by players, but by respectable citizens, as an allowable relaxation
for the mind. The carnival plays are somewhat coarse, but not unfrequently
extremely droll, as the jokes in general are; they often run out into the
wildest farce, and, inspired by mirth and drollery, leave far behind the
narrow bounds of the world of reality. In all these plays the composition
is respectable, and without round-about goes at once to the point: all the
characters, from God the Father downwards, state at once in the clearest
terms what they have at heart, and the reasons which have caused them to
make their appearance; they resemble those figures in old pictures who
have written labels placed in their mouths, to aid the defective
expression of the attitudes. In form they approach most nearly to what was
elsewhere called Moralities; allegorical personages are frequent in them.
These sketches of a dramatic art yet in its infancy, are feebly but not
falsely drawn; and if only we had continued to proceed in the same path,
we should have produced something better and more characteristic than the
fruits of the seventeenth century.

In the first half of this century, poetry left the sphere of common life,
to which it had so long been confined, and fell into the hands of the
learned. Opiz, who may be considered as the founder of its modern form,
translated several tragedies from the ancients into verse, and composed
pastoral operas after the manner of the Italians; but I know not whether
he wrote anything expressly for the stage. He was followed by Andreas
Gryphius, who may be styled our first dramatic writer. He possessed a
certain extent of erudition in his particular department, as is proved by
several of his imitations and translations; a piece from the French, one
from the Italian, a tragedy from the Flemish of Vondel; lastly, a farce
called _Peter Squenz_, an extension of the burlesque tragedy of _Pyramus
and Thisbe_, in _The Midsummer Night's Dream_ of Shakspeare. The latter
was then almost unknown beyond his own island; the learned Morhof, who
wrote in the last half of the seventeenth century, confesses that he had
never seen Shakspeare's works, though he was very well acquainted with Ben
Jonson. Even about the middle of the last century, a writer of repute in
his days, and not without merit, has in one of his treatises instituted a
comparison between Shakspeare and Andreas Gryphius, the whole resemblance
consisting in this, that Gryphius, like Shakspeare, was also fond of
calling up the spirits of the departed. He seems rather to have had
Vondel, the Fleming, before his eyes, a writer still highly celebrated by
his countrymen, and universally called by them, the great Vondel, while
Gryphius himself has been consigned to oblivion. Unfortunately the metre
in Gryphius's plays is the Alexandrine; the form, however, is not so
confined as that of the French at an after period; the scene sometimes
changes, and the interludes, partly musical, partly allegorical, bear some
resemblance to the English masques. In other respects, Gryphius possessed
little theatrical skill, and I do not even know if his pieces were ever
actually brought out on the stage. The tragedies of Lohenstein, who in his
day may be styled the Marino of our literature, in their structure
resemble those of Gryphius; but, not to mention their other faults, they
are of such an immeasurable length as to set all ideas of representation
at defiance.

The pitiful condition of the theatre in Germany at the end of the
seventeenth and during the first third part of the eighteenth century,
wherever there was any other stage than that of puppet-shows and
mountebanks, corresponded exactly to that of the other branches of our
literature. We have a standard for this wretchedness, in the fact that
Gottsched actually once passed for the restorer of our literature;
Gottsched, whose writings resemble the watery beverage, which was then
usually recommended to convalescent patients, from an idea that they could
bear nothing stronger, which, however, did but still more enfeeble their
stomachs. Gottsched, among his other labours, composed a great deal for
the theatre; connected with a certain Madam Neuber, who was at the head of
a company of players in Leipsic, he discarded Punch (Hanswurst), whom they
buried solemnly with great triumph. I can easily conceive that the
extemporaneous part of _Punch_, of which we may even yet form some
notion from the puppet-shows, was not always very skilfully filled up, and
that many platitudes were occasionally uttered by him; but still, on the
whole, Punch had certainly more sense in his little finger than Gottsched
in his whole body. Punch, as an allegorical personage, is immortal; and
however strong the belief in his death may be, in some grave office-bearer
or other he still pops up unexpectedly upon us almost every day.

Gottsched and his school now inundated the German theatre, which, under
the influence of these insipid and diffuse translations from the French,
was hereafter to become regular. Heads of a better description began to
labour for the stage; but, instead of bringing forth really original
works, they contented themselves with producing wretched imitations; and
the reputation of the French theatre was so great, that from it was
borrowed the most contemptible mannerism no less than the fruits of a
better taste. Thus, for example, Gellert still composed pastoral plays
after bad French models, in which shepherds and shepherdesses, with rose-
red and apple-green ribands, uttered all manner of insipid compliments to
one another.

Besides the versions of French comedies, others, translated from the
Danish of Holberg, were acted with great applause. This writer has
certainly great merit. His pictures of manners possess great local truth;
his exhibitions of depravity, folly, and stupidity, are searching and
complete; in strength of comic motives and situations he is not defective;
only he does not show much invention in his intrigues. The execution runs
out too much into breadth. The Danes speak in the highest terms of the
delicacy of his jokes in their own language; but to our present taste the
vulgarity of his tone is revolting, though in the low sphere in which he
moves, and amidst incessant storms of cudgellings, it may be natural
enough. Attempts have lately been made to revive his works, but seldom
with any great success. As his principal merit consists in his
characterization, which certainly borders somewhat on caricature, he
requires good comic actors to represent him with advantage.

A few plays of that time, in the manners of our own country, by Gellert
and Elias Schlegel, are not without merit; only they have this error, that
in drawing folly and stupidity the same wearisomeness has crept into their
picture which is inseparable from them in real life.

In tragedies, properly so called, after French models, the first who were
in any degree successful were Elias Schlegel, and afterwards Cronegk and
Weisse. I know not whether their labours, if translated into good French
verse, would then appear as frigid as they now do in German. It is
insufferable to us to read verses of an ell long, in which the style
seldom rises above watery prose; for a true poetic language was not formed
in German until a subsequent period. The Alexandrine, which in no language
can be a good metre, is doubly stiff and heavy in ours. Long after our
poetry had again begun to take a higher flight, Gotter, in his translation
of French tragedies, made the last attempt to ennoble the Alexandrine and
procure its re-admission into Tragedy, and, it appears to me, proved by
his example that we must for ever renounce the idea. It serves admirably,
however, for a parody of the stilted style of false tragical emphasis; its
use, too, is much to be recommended in some kinds of Comedy, especially in
small afterpieces. Those earlier tragedies, after the French model,
notwithstanding the uncommon applause they met with in their day, show how
little hope there is of any progress of art in the way of slavish
imitation. Even a form, narrow in itself, when it has been established
under the influence of a national way of thinking, has still some
significance; but when it is blindly taken on trust in other countries, it
becomes altogether a Spanish mantle.

Thus bad translations of French comedies, with pieces from Holberg, and
afterwards from Goldoni, and with a few imitations of a public nature, and
without any peculiar spirit, constituted the whole repertory of our stage,
till at last Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller, successively appeared and
redeemed the German theatre from its long-continued mediocrity.

Lessing, indeed, in his early dramatic labours, did homage to the spirit
of his age. His youthful comedies are rather insignificant; they do not
already announce the great mind who was afterwards to form an epoch in so
many departments of literature. He sketched several tragedies after the
French rules, and executed several scenes in Alexandrines, but has
succeeded with none: it would appear that he had not the requisite
facility for so difficult a metre. Even his _Miss Sara Sampson_ is a
familiar tragedy in the lachrymose and creeping style, in which we
evidently see that he had _George Barnwell_ before his eyes as a
model. In the year 1767, his connexion with a company of actors in
Hamburgh, and the editorship of a periodical paper dedicated to theatrical
criticism, gave him an opportunity of considering more closely into the
nature and requisitions of theatrical composition. In this paper he
displayed much wit and acuteness; his bold, nay, (considering the opinions
then prevalent,) his hazardous attacks were especially successful in
overthrowing the usurpation of French taste in Tragedy. With such success
were his labours attended, that, shortly after the publication of his
_Dramaturgie_, translations of French tragedies, and German tragedies
modelled after them, disappeared altogether from the stage. He was the
first who spoke with warmth of Shakspeare, and paved the way for his
reception in Germany. But his lingering faith in Aristotle, with the
influence which Diderot's writings had had on him, produced a strange
compound in his theory of the dramatic art. He did not understand the
rights of poetical imitation, and demanded not only in dialogue, but
everywhere else also, a naked copy of nature, just as if this were in
general allowable, or even possible in the fine arts. His attack on the
Alexandrine was just, but, on the other hand, he wished to, and was only
too successful in abolishing all versification: for it is to this that we
must impute the incredible deficiency of our actors in getting by heart
and delivering verse. Even yet they cannot habituate themselves to it. He
was thus also indirectly the cause of the insipid affectation of nature of
our Dramatic writers, which a general use of versification would, in some
degree, have restrained.

Lessing, by his own confession, was no poet, and the few dramas which he
produced in his riper years were the slow result of great labour. _Minna
van Barnhelm_ is a true comedy of the refined class; in point of form
it holds a middle place between the French and English style; the spirit
of the invention, however, and the social tone portrayed in it, are
peculiarly German. Every thing is even locally determined; and the
allusions to the memorable events of the Seven Years War contributed not a
little to the extraordinary success which this comedy obtained at the
time. In the serious part the expression of feeling is not free from
affectation, and the difficulties of the two lovers are carried even to a
painful height. The comic secondary figures are drawn with much drollery
and humour, and bear a genuine German stamp.

_Emilia Galotti_ was still more admired than _Minna von Barnhelm_, but
hardly, I think, with justice. Its plan, perhaps, has been better
considered, and worked out with still greater diligence; but _Minna von
Barnhelm_ answers better to the genuine idea of Comedy than _Emilia
Galotti_ to that of Tragedy. Lessing's theory of the Dramatic Art would,
it is easily conceived, have much less of prejudicial influence on a demi-
prosaic species than upon one which must inevitably sink when it does not
take the highest flight. He was now too well acquainted with the world to
fall again into the drawling, lachrymose, and sermonizing tone which
prevails in his _Miss Sara Sampson_ throughout. On the other hand, his
sound sense, notwithstanding all his admiration of Diderot, preserved him
from his declamatory and emphatical style, which owes its chief effect to
breaks and marks of interrogation. But as in the dialogue he resolutely
rejected all poetical elevation, he did not escape this fault without
falling into another. He introduced into Tragedy the cool and close
observation of Comedy; in _Emilia Galotti_ the passions are rather acutely
and wittily characterized than eloquently expressed. Under a belief that
the drama is most powerful when it exhibits faithful copies of what we
know, and comes nearest home to ourselves, he has disguised, under
fictitious names, modern European circumstances, and the manners of the
day, an event imperishably recorded in the history of the world, a famous
deed of the rough old Roman virtue--the murder of Virginia by her father.
Virginia is converted into a Countess Galotti, Virginius into Count
Odoardo, an Italian prince takes the place of Appius Claudius, and a
chamberlain that of the unblushing minister of his lusts, &c. It is not
properly a familiar tragedy, but a court tragedy in the conversational
tone, to which in some parts the sword of state and the hat under the arm
as essentially belong as to many French tragedies. Lessing wished to
transplant into the renownless circle of the principality of Massa Carara
the violent injustice of the Decemvir's inevitable tyranny; but as by
taking a few steps we can extricate ourselves from so petty a territory,
so, after a slight consideration, we can easily escape from the assumption
so laboriously planned by the poet; on which, however, the necessity of
the catastrophe wholly rests. The visible care with which he has assigned
a motive for every thing, invites to a closer examination, in which we are
little likely to be interrupted by any of the magical illusions of
imagination: and in such examination the want of internal connectedness
cannot escape detection, however much of thought and reflection the
outward structure of a drama may display.

It is singular enough, that of all the dramatical works of Lessing, the
last, _Nathan der Weise_, which he wrote when his zeal for the improvement
of the German theatre had nearly cooled, and, as he says, merely with a
view to laugh at theologists, should be the most conformable to the
genuine rules of art. A remarkable tale of Boccacio is wrought up with a
number of inventions, which, however wonderful, are yet not improbable, if
the circumstances of the times are considered; the fictitious persons are
grouped round a real and famous character, the great Saladin, who is drawn
with historical truth; the crusades in the background, the scene at
Jerusalem, the meeting of persons of various nations and religions on this
Oriental soil,--all this gives to the work a romantic air, and with the
thoughts, foreign to the age in question, which for the sake of his
philosophical views the poet has interspersed, forms a contrast somewhat
hazardous indeed, but yet exceedingly attractive. The form is freer and
more comprehensive than in Lessing's other pieces; it is very nearly that
of a drama of Shakspeare. He has also returned here to the use of
versification, which he had formerly rejected; not indeed of the
Alexandrine, for the discarding of which from the serious drama we are
in every respect indebted to him, but the rhymeless Iambic. The verses in
_Nathan_ are indeed often harsh and carelessly laboured, but truly
dialogical; and the advantageous influence of versification becomes at
once apparent upon comparing the tone of the present piece with the prose
of the others. Had not the development of the truths which Lessing had
particularly at heart demanded so much of repose, had there been more of
rapid motion in the action, the piece would certainly have pleased also on
the stage. That Lessing, with all his independence of mind, was still in
his dramatical principles influenced in some measure by the general
inclination and tastes of his age, I infer from this, that the imitators
of _Nathan_ were very few as compared with those of _Emilia Galotti_.
Among the striking imitations of the latter style, I will merely mention
the _Julius van Tarent_.

_Engel_ must be regarded as a disciple of Lessing. His small after-
pieces in the manner of Lessing are perfectly insignificant; but his
treatise on imitation (_Mimik_) shows the point to which the theory
of his master leads. This book contains many useful observations on the
first elements of the language of gesture: the grand error of the author
is, that he considered it a complete system of mimicry or imitation,
though it only treats of the expression of the passions, and does not
contain a syllable on the subject of exhibition of character. Moreover, in
his histrionic art he has not given a place to the ideas of tragic comic;
and it may easily be supposed that he rejects ideality of every kind
[Footnote: Among other strange things Engel says, that as the language of
Euripides, the latest, and in his opinion the most perfect of the Greek
tragedians has less elevation than that of his predecessors, it is
probable that, had the Greeks carried Tragedy to further perfection, they
would have proceeded a step farther: the next step forward would have been
to discard verse altogether. So totally ignorant was Engel of the spirit
of Grecian art. This approach to the tone of common life, which certainly
may be traced in Euripides, is the very indication of the decline and
impending fall of Tragedy: but even in Comedy the Greeks never could bring
themselves to make use of prose.], and merely requires a bare copy of

The nearer I draw to the present times the more I wish to be general in my
observations, and to avoid entering into a minute criticism of works of
living writers with part of whom I have been, or still am, in relations of
personal friendship or hostility. Of the dramatic career, however, of
Goethe and Schiller, two writers of whom our nation is justly proud, and
whose intimate society has frequently enabled me to correct and enlarge my
own ideas of art, I may speak with the frankness that is worthy of their
great and disinterested labours. The errors which, under the influence of
erroneous principles, they at first gave rise to, are either already, or
soon will be, sunk in oblivion, even because from their very mistakes they
contrived to advance towards greater purity and perfectness; their works
will live, and in them, to say the least, we have the foundation of a
dramatic school at once essentially German, and governed by genuine
principles of art.

Scarcely had Goethe, in his _Werther_, published as it were a declaration
of the rights of feeling in opposition to the tyranny of social relations,
when, by the example which he set in _Götz von Berlichingen_, he protested
against the arbitrary rules which had hitherto fettered dramatic poetry.
In this play we see not an imitation of Shakspeare, but the inspiration
excited in a kindred mind by a creative genius. In the dialogue, he put in
practice Lessing's principles of nature, only with greater boldness; for
in it he rejected not only versification and all embellishments, but also
disregarded the laws of written language to a degree of licence which had
never been ventured upon before. He avoided all poetical circumlocutions;
the picture was to be the very thing itself; and thus he sounded in our
ears the tone of a remote age in a degree illusory enough for those at
least who had never learned from historical monuments the very language in
which our ancestors themselves spoke. Most movingly has he expressed the
old German cordiality: the situations which are sketched with a few rapid
strokes are irresistibly powerful; the whole conveys a great historical
meaning, for it represents the conflict between a departing and a coming
age; between a century of rude but vigorous independence, and one of
political tameness. In this composition the poet never seems to have had
an eye to its representation on the stage; rather does he appear, in his
youthful arrogance, to have scorned it for its insufficiency.

It seems, in general, to have been the grand object of Goethe to express
his genius in his works, and to give new poetical animation to his age; as
to form, he was indifferent about it, though, for the most part, he
preferred the dramatic. At the same time he was a warm friend of the
theatre, and sometimes condescended even to comply with its demands as
settled by custom and the existing taste; as, for instance, in his
_Clavigo_, a familiar tragedy in Lessing's manner. Besides other defects
of this piece, the fifth act does not correspond with the rest. In the
four first acts Goethe adhered pretty closely to the story of
Beaumarchais, but he invented the catastrophe; and when we observe that it
strongly reminds the reader of Ophelia's burial, and the meeting of Hamlet
and Laertes at her grave, we have said enough to convey an idea how strong
a contrast it forms to the tone and colouring of the rest. In _Stella_
Goethe has taken nearly the same liberty with the story of Count von
Gleichen which Lessing did with that of _Virginia_, but his labours were
still more unsuccessful; the trait of the times of the Crusades on which
he founded his play is affecting, true-hearted, and even edifying; but
_Stella_ can only flatter the sentimentality of superficial feeling.

At a later period he endeavoured to effect a reconciliation between his
own views of art and the common dramatic forms, even the very lowest, in
all of which almost he has made at least a single attempt. In _Iphigenia_,
he attempted to express the spirit of Ancient Tragedy, according to his
conceptions of it, with regard especially to repose, perspicuity, and
ideality. With the same simplicity, flexibility, and noble elegance, he
composed his _Tasso_, in which he has availed himself of an historical
anecdote to embody in a general significance the contrast between a court
and a poet's life. _Egmont_ again is a romantic and historical drama, the
style of which steers a middle course between his first manner in _Götz_,
and the form of Shakspeare. _Erwin und Elmire_ and _Claudine von
Villabella_, if I may say so, are ideal operettes, which breathe so
lightly and airily that, with the accompaniments of music and acting, they
would be in danger of becoming heavy and prosaic; in these pieces the
noble and sustained style of the dialogue in _Tasso_ is diversified with
the most tender songs. _Jery und Bätely_ is a charming natural picture of
Swiss manners, and in the spirit and form of the best French operettes;
_Scherz List und Bache_ again is a true _opera buffa_, full of Italian
_Lazzi_. _Die Mitschuldigen_ is a comedy of common life in rhyme, and
after the French rules. Goethe carried his condescension so far that he
even wrote a continuation of an after-piece of Florian's; and his taste
was so impartial that he even translated several of Voltaire's tragedies
for the German stage. Goethe's words and rhythm no doubt have always
golden resonance, but still we cannot praise these pieces as successful
translations; and indeed it would be matter of regret if that had
succeeded which ought never to have been attempted. To banish these
unprofitable productions from the German soil, it is not necessary to call
in the aid of Lessing's _Dramaturgie_; Goethe's own masterly parody
on French Tragedy in some scenes of _Esther_, will do this much more
amusingly and effectually.

_Der Triumph der Empfindsamkeit_ (The Triumph of Sensibility) is a
highly ingenious satire of Goethe's own imitators, and inclines to the
arbitrary comic, and the fancifully symbolical of Aristophanes, but a
modest Aristophanes in good company and at court. At a much earlier period
Goethe had, in some of his merry tales and carnival plays, completely
appropriated the manner of our honest Hans Sachs.

In all these transformations we distinctly recognize the same free and
powerful poetical spirit, to which we may safely apply the Homeric lines
on Proteus:

All' aetoi protista leon genet' aeugeneios--
Pineto d' aegron aedor, kai dendreon uphipertaelon.
_Odyss. lib._ iv

A lion now, he curls a surgy mane;
Here from our strict embrace a stream he glides,
And last, sublime his stately growth he rears,
A tree, and well-dissembled foliage wears.--POPE.
[Footnote: I have here quoted the translation of Pope, though nothing can
well be more vapid and more unlike the original, which is literally,
"First, he became a lion with a huge mane--and then flowing water; and a
tree with lofty foliage."--It would not, perhaps, be advisable to recur to
our earliest mode of classical translation, line for line, and nearly word
for word; but when German Literature shall be better known in England, it
will be seen from the masterly versions of Voss and Schlegel, that without
diluting by idle epithets one line into three, as in the above example, it
is still possible to combine fidelity with spirit. The German translation
quoted by Mr. Schlegel runs,
Erstlich ward er ein Leu mit fürchterlich rollender Mähne,
Floss dann als Wasser dahin, und rauscht' als Baum in den Wolken.

To the youthful epoch belongs his _Faust_, a work which was early
planned, though not published till a late period, and which even in its
latest shape is still a fragment, and from its very nature perhaps must
always remain so. It is hard to say whether we are here more lost in
astonishment at the heights which the poet frequently reaches, or seized
with giddiness at the depths which he lays open to our sight. But this is
not the place to express the whole of our admiration of this labyrinthine
and boundless work, the peculiar creation of Goethe; we hare merely to
consider it in a dramatic point of view. The marvellous popular story of
Faustus is a subject peculiarly adapted for the stage; and the Marionette
play, from which Goethe, after Lessing [Footnote: Lessing has borrowed the
only scene of his sketch which he has published, (Faustus summoning the
evil spirits in order to select the nimblest for his servant,) from the
old piece which bears the showy title: _Infelix Prudentia, or Doctor
Joannes Faustus_. In England Marlow had long ago written a _Faustus_, but
unfortunately it is not printed in Dodsley's Collection.], took the first
idea of a drama, satisfies our expectation even in the meagre scenes and
sorry words of ignorant puppet-showmen. Goethe's work, which in some
points adheres closely to the tradition, but leaves it entirely in others,
purposely runs out in all directions beyond the dimensions of the theatre.
In many scenes the action stands quite still, and they consist wholly of
long soliloquies, or conversations, delineating Faustus' internal
conditions and dispositions, and the development of his reflections on the
insufficiency of human knowledge, and the unsatisfactory lot of human
nature; other scenes, though in themselves extremely ingenious and
significant, nevertheless, in regard to the progress of the action,
possess an accidental appearance; many again, while they are in the
conception theatrically effective, are but slightly sketched,--rhapsodical
fragments without beginning or end, in which the poet opens for a moment a
surprising prospect, and then immediately drops the curtain again: whereas
in the truly dramatic poem, intended to carry the spectators along with
it, the separate parts must be fashioned after the figure of the whole, so
that we may say, each scene may have its exposition, its intrigue, and
winding up. Some scenes, full of the highest energy and overpowering
pathos, for example, the murder of Valentine, and Margaret and Faustus in
the dungeon, prove that the poet was a complete master of stage effect,
and that he merely sacrificed it for the sake of more comprehensive views.
He makes frequent demands on the imagination of his readers; nay, he
compels them, by way of background for his flying groups, to supply
immense moveable pictures, and such as no theatrical art is capable of
bringing before the eye. To represent the _Faustus_ of Goethe, we must
possess Faustus' magic staff, and his formulas of conjuration. And yet
with all this unsuitableness for outward representation, very much may be
learned from this wonderful work, with regard both to plan and execution.
In a prologue, which was probably composed at a later period, the poet
explains how, if true to his genius, he could not accommodate himself to
the demands of a mixed multitude of spectators, and writes in some measure
a farewell letter to the theatre.

All must allow that Goethe possesses dramatic talent in a very high
degree, but not indeed much theatrical talent. He is much more anxious to
effect his object by tender development than by rapid external motion;
even the mild grace of his harmonious mind prevented him from aiming at
strong demagogic effect. _Iphigenia in Taurus_ possesses, it is true,
more affinity to the Greek spirit than perhaps any other work of the
moderns composed before Goethe's; but is not so much an ancient tragedy as
a reflected image of one, a musical echo: the violent catastrophes of the
latter appear here in the distance only as recollections, and all is
softly dissolved within the mind. The deepest and most moving pathos is to
be found in _Egmont_, but in the conclusion this tragedy also is
removed from the external world into the domain of an ideal soul-music.

That with this direction of his poetical career to the purest expression
of his inspired imagining, without regard to any other object, and with
the universality of his artistic studies, Goethe should not have had that
decided influence on the shape of our theatre which, if he had chosen to
dedicate himself exclusively and immediately to it, he might have
exercised, is easily conceivable.

In the mean time, shortly after Goethe's first appearance, the attempt had
been made to bring Shakspeare on our stage. The effort was a great and
extraordinary one. Actors still alive acquired their first laurels in this
wholly novel kind of exhibition, and Schröder, perhaps, in some of the
most celebrated tragic and comic parts, attained to the same perfection
for which Garrick had been idolized. As a whole, however, no one piece
appeared in a very perfect shape; most of them were in heavy prose
translations, and frequently mere extracts, with disfiguring alterations,
were exhibited. The separate characters and situations had been hit to a
certain degree of success, but the sense of his composition was often

In this state of things Schiller made his appearance, a man endowed with
all the qualifications necessary to produce at once a strong effect on the
multitude, and on nobler minds. He composed his earliest works while very
young, and unacquainted with that world which he attempted to paint; and
although a genius independent and boldly daring, he was nevertheless
influenced in various ways by the models which he saw in the already
mentioned pieces of Lessing, by the earlier labours of Goethe, and in
Shakspeare, so far as he could understand him without an acquaintance with
the original.

In this way were produced the works of his youth:--_Die Raüber_, _Cabale
und Liebe_, and _Fiesco_. The first, wild and horrible as it was, produced
so powerful an effect as even to turn the heads of youthful enthusiasts.
The defective imitation here of Shakspeare is not to be mistaken: Francis
Moor is a prosaical Richard III., ennobled by none of the properties which
in the latter mingle admiration with aversion. _Cabale und Liebe_ can
hardly affect us by its extravagant sentimentality, but it tortures us by
the most painful impressions. _Fiesco_ is in design the most perverted, in
effect the feeblest.

So noble a mind could not long persevere in such mistaken courses, though
they gained him applauses which might have rendered the continuance of his
blindness excusable. He had in his own case experienced the dangers of an
undisciplined spirit and an ungovernable defiance of all constraining
authority, and therefore, with incredible diligence and a sort of passion,
he gave himself up to artistic discipline. The work which marks this new
epoch is _Don Carlos_. In parts we observe a greater depth in the
delineation of character; yet the old and tumid extravagance is not
altogether lost, but merely clothed with choicer forms. In the situations
there is much of pathetic power, the plot is complicated even to
epigrammatic subtlety; but of such value in the eyes of the poet were his
dearly purchased reflections on human nature and social institutions,
that, instead of expressing them by the progress of the action, he
exhibited them with circumstantial fulness, and made his characters
philosophize more or less on themselves and others, and by that means
swelled his work to a size quite incompatible with theatrical limits.

Historical and philosophical studies seemed now, to the ultimate profit of
his art, to have seduced the poet for a time from his poetical career, to
which he returned with a riper mind, enriched with varied knowledge, and
truly enlightened at last with respect to his own aims and means. He now
applied himself exclusively to Historical Tragedy, and endeavoured, by
divesting himself of his personality, to rise to a truly objective
representation. In _Wallenstein_ he has adhered so conscientiously to
historical truth, that he could not wholly master his materials, an event
of no great historical extent is spun out into two plays, with prologue in
some degree didactical. In form he has closely followed Shakspeare; only
that he might not make too large a demand on the imagination of the
spectators, he has endeavoured to confine the changes of place and time
within narrower limits. He also tied himself down to a more sustained
observance of tragical dignity, and has brought forward no persons of mean
condition, or at least did not allow them to speak in their natural tone,
and banished into the prelude the mere people, here represented by the
army, though Shakspeare introduced them with such vividness and truth into
the very midst of the great public events. The loves of Thekla and Max
Piccolomini form, it is true, properly an episode, and bear the stamp of
an age very different from that depicted in the rest of the work; but it
affords an opportunity for the most affecting scenes, and is conceived
with equal tenderness and dignity.

_Maria Stuart_ is planned and executed with more artistic skill, and
also with greater depth and breadth. All is wisely weighed; we may censure
particular parts as offensive: the quarrel for instance, between the two
Queens, the wild fury of Mortimer's passion, &c.; but it is hardly
possible to take any thing away without involving the whole in confusion.
The piece cannot fail of effect; the last moments of Mary are truly worthy
of a queen; religious impressions are employed with becoming earnestness;
only from the care, perhaps superfluous, to exercise, after Mary's death,
poetical justice on Elizabeth, the spectator is dismissed rather cooled
and indifferent.

With such a wonderful subject as the _Maid of Orleans_, Schiller
thought himself entitled to take greater liberties. The plot is looser;
the scene with Montgomery, an epic intermixture, is at variance with the
general tone; in the singular and inconceivable appearance of the black
knight, the object of the poet is ambiguous; in the character of Talbot,
and many other parts, Schiller has entered into an unsuccessful
competition with Shakspeare; and I know not but the colouring employed,
which is not so brilliant as might be imagined, is an equivalent for the
severer pathos which has been sacrificed to it. The history of the _Maid
of Orleans_, even to its details, is generally known; her high mission
was believed by herself and generally by her contemporaries, and produced
the most extraordinary effects. The marvel might, therefore, have been
represented by the poet, even though the sceptical spirit of his
contemporaries should have deterred him from giving it out for real; and
the real ignominious martyrdom of this betrayed and abandoned heroine
would have agitated us more deeply than the gaudy and rose-coloured one
which, in contradiction to history, Schiller has invented for her.
Shakspeare's picture, though partial from national prejudice, still
possesses much more historical truth and profundity. However, the German
piece will ever remain as a generous attempt to vindicate the honour of a
name deformed by impudent ridicule; and its dazzling effect, strengthened
by the rich ornateness of the language, deservedly gained for it on the
stage the most eminent success.

Least of all am I disposed to approve of the principles which Schiller
followed in _The Bride of Messina_, and which he openly avows in his
preface. The examination of them, however, would lead me too far into the
province of theory. It was intended to be a tragedy, at once ancient in
its form, but romantic in substance. A story altogether fictitious is kept
in a costume so indefinite and so devoid of all intrinsic probability,
that the picture is neither truly ideal nor truly natural, neither
mythological nor historical. The romantic poetry seeks indeed to blend
together the most remote objects, but it cannot admit of combining
incompatible things; the way of thinking of the people represented cannot
be at once Pagan and Christian. I will not complain of him for borrowing
openly as he has done; the whole is principally composed of two
ingredients, the story of Eteocles and Polynices, who, notwithstanding the
mediation of their mother Jocaste, contend for the sole possession of the
throne, and of the brothers, in the _Zwillingen van Klinger_, and in
_Julius von Tarent_, impelled to fratricide by rivalry in love. In
the introduction of the choruses also, though they possess much lyrical
sublimity and many beauties, the spirit of the ancients has been totally
mistaken; as each of the hostile brothers has a chorus attached to his,
the one contending against the other, they both cease to be a true chorus;
that is, the voice of human sympathy and contemplation elevated above all
personal considerations.

Schiller's last work, _Wilhelm Tell_, is, in my opinion, also his best.
Here he has returned to the poetry of history; the manner in which
he has handled his subject, is true, cordial, and when we consider
Schiller's ignorance of Swiss nature and manners, wonderful in point of
local truth. It is true he had here a noble source to draw from in the
speaking pictures of the immortal John Müller. This soul-kindling picture
of old German manners, piety, and true heroism, might have merited, as a
solemn celebration of Swiss freedom, five hundred years after its
foundation, to have been exhibited, in view of Tell's chapel on the banks
of the lake of Lucerne, in the open air, and with the Alps for a

Schiller was carried off by an untimely death in the fulness of mental
maturity; up to the last moment his health, which had long been
undermined, was made to yield to his powerful will, and completely
exhausted in the pursuit of most praiseworthy objects. How much might he
not have still performed had he lived to dedicate himself exclusively to
the theatre, and with every work attained a higher mastery in his art! He
was, in the genuine sense of the word, a virtuous artist; with parity of
mind he worshipped the true and the beautiful, and to his indefatigable,
efforts to attain them his own existence was the sacrifice; he was,
moreover, far removed from that petty self-love and jealousy but too
common even among artists of excellence.

Great original minds in Germany have always been followed by a host of
imitators, and hence both Goethe and Schiller have been the occasion,
without any fault of theirs, of a number of defective and degenerate
productions being brought on our stage.

_Götz van Berlichingen_ was followed by quite a flood of chivalrous
plays, in which there was nothing historical but the names and other
external circumstances, nothing chivalrous but the helmets, bucklers, and
swords, and nothing of old German honesty but the supposed rudeness: the
sentiments were as modern as they were vulgar. From chivalry-pieces they
became true cavalry-pieces, which certainly deserved to be acted by horses
rather than by men. To all those who in some measure appeal to the
imagination by superficial allusions to former times, may be applied what
I said of one of the most admired of them:

Mit Harsthörnern, und Burgen, uud Harnischen, pranget Johanna;
Traun! mir gefiele das Stück, wären nicht Worte dabey.
With trumpets, and donjons, and helmets, Johanna parades it.
It would certainly please were but the words all away.--ED.]

The next place in the public favour has been held by the _Family Picture_
and the _Affecting Drama_, two secondary species. From the charge of
encouraging these both by precept and example Lessing, Goethe, and
Schiller (the two last by their earliest compositions _Stella_, _Glavigo_,
_Die Geschwister_, _Cabale und Liebe_), cannot be acquitted. I will name
no one, but merely suppose that two writers of some talent and theatrical
knowledge had dedicated themselves to these species, that they had both
mistaken the essence of dramatic poetry, and laid down to themselves a
pretended moral aim; but that the one saw morality under the narrow guise
of economy, and the other in that of sensibility: what sort of fruits
would thus be put forth, and how would the applause of the multitude
finally decide between these two competitors?

The family picture is intended to portray the every-day course of the
middle ranks of society. The extraordinary events which are produced by
intrigue are consequently banished from it: to cover this want of motion,
the writer has recourse to a characterization wholly individual, and
capable of receiving vividness from a practised player, but attaches
itself to external peculiarities just as a bad portrait-painter endeavours
to attain a resemblance by noticing every pit of small-pox and wart, and
peculiar dress and cravat-tie: the motives and situations are sometimes
humorous and droll, but never truly diverting, as the serious and
prosaical aim which is always kept in view completely prevents this. The
rapid determinations of Comedy generally end before the family life
begins, by which all is fixed in every-day habits. To make economy
poetical is impossible: the dramatic family painter will be able to say as
little of a fortunate and tranquil domestic establishment, as the
historian can of a state in possession of external and internal
tranquillity. He is therefore driven to interest us by painting with
painful accuracy the torments and the penury of domestic life--chagrins
experienced in the honest exercise of duty, in the education of children,
interminable dissensions between husband and wife, the bad conduct of
servants, and, above all things, the cares of earning a daily subsistence.
The spectators understand these pictures but too well, for every man knows
where the shoe pinches; it may be very salutary for them to have, in
presence of the stage, to run over weekly in thought the relation between
their expenditure and income; but surely they will hardly derive from it
elevation of mind or recreation, for they do but find again on the stage
the very same thing which they have at home from morning to night.

The sentimental poet, again, contrives to lighten their heart. His general
doctrine amounts properly to this, that what is called a good heart atones
for all errors and extravagances, and that, with respect to virtue, we are
not to insist so strictly on principles. Do but allow, he seems to say to
his spectators, free scope to your natural impulses; see how well it
becomes my _naïve_ girls, when they voluntarily and without reserve
confess every thing. If he only knows how to corrupt by means of
effeminate emotions--rather sensual than moral, but at the close
contrives, by the introduction of some generous benefactor, who showers
out his liberality with open hands, to make all things pretty even, he
then marvellously delights the vitiated hearts of his audience: they feel
as if they had themselves done noble actions, without, however, putting
their hands in their own pockets--all is drawn from the purse of the
generous poet. In the long run, therefore, the affecting species can
hardly fail to gain a victory over the economical; and this has actually
been the case in Germany. But what in these dramas is painted to us not
only as natural and allowable, but even as moral and dignified, is strange
beyond all thought, and the seduction, consequently, is much more
dangerous than that of the licentious Comedy, for this very reason, that
it does not disgust us by external indecency, but steals into unguarded
minds, and selects the most sacred names for a disguise.

The poetical as well as moral decline of taste in our time has been
attended with this consequence, that the most popular writers for the
stage, regardless of the opinion of good judges, and of true repute, seek
only for momentary applause; while others, who have both higher aims, keep
both the former in view, cannot prevail on themselves to comply with the
demands of the multitude, and when they do compose dramatically, have no
regard to the stage. Hence they are defective in the theatrical part of
art, which can only be attained in perfection by practice and experience.

The repertory of our stage, therefore, exhibits, in its miserable wealth,
a motley assemblage of chivalrous pieces, family pictures, and sentimental
dramas, which are occasionally, though seldom, varied by works in a
grander and higher style by Shakspeare and Schiller. In this state of
things, translations and imitations of foreign novelties, and especially
of the French after-pieces and operettes, are indispensable. From the
worthlessness of the separate works, nothing but the fleeting charm of
novelty is sought for in theatrical entertainment, to the great injury of
the histrionic art, as a number of insignificant parts must be got by
heart in the most hurried manner, to be immediately forgotten [Footnote:
To this must be added, by way of rendering the vulgarity of our theatre
almost incurable, the radically depraved disposition of every thing having
any reference to the theatre. The companies of actors ought to be under
the management of intelligent judges and persons practised in the dramatic
art, and not themselves players. Engel presided for a time over the Berlin
theatre, and eye-witnesses universally assert that he succeeded in giving
it a great elevation. What Goethe has effected in the management of the
theatre of Weimar, in a small town, and with small means, is known to all
good theatrical judges in Germany. Rare talents he can neither create nor
reward, but he accustoms the actors to order and discipline, to which they
are generally altogether disinclined, and thereby gives to his
representations a unity and harmony which we do not witness on larger
theatres, where every individual plays as his own fancy prompts him. The
little correctness with which their parts are got by heart, and the
imperfection of their oral delivery, I have elsewhere censured. I have
heard verses mutilated by a celebrated player in a manner which would at
Paris be considered unpardonable in a beginner. It is a fact, that in a
certain theatre, when they were under the melancholy necessity of
representing a piece in verse they wrote out the parts as prose, that the
players might not be disturbed in their darling but stupid affectation of
nature, by observation of the quantity. How many "periwig-pated fellows"
(as Shakspeare called such people), must we suffer, who imagine they are
affording the public an enjoyment, when they straddle along the boards
with their awkward persons, considering the words which the poet has given
them to repeat merely as a necessary evil. Our players are less anxious to
please than the French. By the creation of standing national theatres as
they are called, by which in several capitals people suppose that they
have accomplished wonders, and are likely to improve the histrionic art,
they have on the contrary put a complete end to all competition. They
bestow on the players exclusive privileges--they secure their salaries for
life; having now nothing to dread from more accomplished rivals, and being
independent of the fluctuating favour of the spectators, the only concern
of the actors is to enjoy their places, like so many benefices, in the
most convenient manner. Hence the national theatres have become true
hospitals for languor and laziness. The question of Hamlet with respect to
the players--"Do they grow rusty?" will never become obsolete; it must,
alas! be always answered in the affirmative. The actor, from the ambiguous
position in which he lives (which, in the nature of things, cannot well be
altered), must possess a certain extravagant enthusiasm for his art, if he
is to gain any extraordinary repute. He cannot be too passionately alive
to noisy applause, reputation, and every brilliant reward which may crown
his efforts to please. The present moment is his kingdom, time is his most
dangerous enemy, as there is nothing durable in his exhibition. Whenever
he is filled with the tradesman-like anxiety of securing a moderate
maintenance for himself, his wife, and children, there is an end of all
improvement. We do not mean to say that the old age of deserving artists
ought not to be provided for. But to those players who from age, illness,
or other accidents, have lost their qualifications for acting, we ought to
give pensions to induce them to leave off instead of continuing to play.
In general, we ought not to put it into the heads of the players that they
are such important and indispensable personages. Nothing is more rare than
a truly great player; but nothing is more common than the qualifications
for filling characters in the manner we generally see them filled; of this
we may be convinced in every amateur theatre among tolerably educated
people. Finally, the relation which subsists with us between the managers
of theatres and writers, is also as detrimental as possible. In France and
England, the author of a piece has a certain share of the profits of each
representation; this procures for him a permanent income, whenever any of
his pieces are so successful as to keep their place on the theatre. Again,
if the piece is unsuccessful, he receives nothing. In Germany, the
managers of theatres pay a certain sum beforehand, and at their own risk,
for the manuscripts which they receive. They may thus be very considerable
losers; and on the other hand, if the piece is extraordinarily successful,
the author is not suitably rewarded.

The Author is under a mistake with respect to the reward which falls to
the share of the dramatic writer in England. He has not a part of the
profits of each representation. If the play runs three nights, it brings
him in as much as if it were to run three thousand nights.--TRANS.] The
labours of the poets who do not write immediately for the theatre take
every variety of direction: in this, as in other departments, may be
observed the ferment of ideas that has brought on our literature in
foreign countries the reproach of a chaotic anarchy, in which, however,
the striving after a higher aim as yet unreached is sufficiently visible.

The more profound study of Aesthetics has among the Germans, by nature a
speculative rather than a practical people, led to this consequence, that
works of art, and tragedies more especially, have been executed on
abstract theories, more or less misunderstood. It was natural that these
tragedies should produce no effect on the theatre; nay, they are, in
general, unsuited for representation, and wholly devoid of any inner
principle of life.

Others again, with true feeling for it, have, as it were, appropriated the
very spirit of the ancient tragedians, and sought for the most suitable
means of accommodating the simple and pure forms of ancient art to the
present constitution of our stage.

Men truly distinguished for their talents have attached themselves to the
romantic drama, but in it they have generally adopted a latitude which is
not really allowable, except in a romance, wholly disregarding the
compression which the dramatic form necessarily requires. Or they have
seized only the musically fanciful and picturesquely sportive side of the
Spanish dramas, without their thorough keeping, their energetical power,
and their theatrical effect.

What path shall we now enter? Shall we endeavour to accustom ourselves
again to the French form of Tragedy, which has been so long banished?
Repeated experience of it has proved that, however modified in the
translation and representation, for even in the hands of a Goethe or a
Schiller some modification is indispensable, it can never be very
successful. The genuine imitation of Greek Tragedy has far more affinity
to our national ways of thinking; but it is beyond the comprehension of
the multitude, and, like the contemplation of ancient statues, can never
be more than an acquired artistic enjoyment for a few highly cultivated

In Comedy, Lessing has already pointed out the difficulty of introducing
national manners which are not provincial, inasmuch as with us the tone of
social life is not modelled after a common central standard. If we wish
pure comedies, I would strongly recommend the use of rhyme; with the more
artificial form they might, perhaps, gradually assume also a peculiarity
of substance.

To me, however, it appears that this is not the most urgent want: let us
first bring to perfection the serious and higher species, in a manner
worthy of the German character. Now here, it appears to me, that our taste
inclines altogether to the romantic. What most attracts the multitude in
our half-sentimental, half-humorous dramas, which one moment transport us
to Peru, and the next to Kamschatka, and soon after into the times of
chivalry, while the sentiments are all modern and lachrymose, is
invariably a certain sprinkling of the romantic, which we recognize even
in the most insipid magical operas. The true significance of this species
was lost with us before it was properly found; the fancy has passed with
the inventors of such chimeras, and the views of the plays are sometimes
wiser than those of their authors. In a hundred play-bills the name
"romantic" is profaned, by being lavished on rude and monstrous abortions;
let us therefore be permitted to elevate it, by criticism and history,
again to its true import. We have lately endeavoured in many ways to
revive the remains of our old national poetry. These may afford the poet a
foundation for the wonderful festival-play; but the most dignified species
of the romantic is the historical.

In this field the most glorious laurels may yet be reaped by dramatic
poets who are willing to emulate Goethe and Schiller. Only let our
historical drama be in reality and thoroughly national; let it not attach
itself to the life and adventures of single knights and petty princes, who
exercised no influence on the fortunes of the whole nation. Let it, at the
same time, be truly historical, drawn from a profound knowledge, and
transporting us back to the great olden time. In this mirror let the poet
enable us to see, while we take deep shame to ourselves for what we are,
what the Germans were in former times, and what they must again be. Let
him impress it strongly on our hearts, that, if we do not consider the
lessons of history better than we have hitherto done, we Germans--we,
formerly the greatest and most illustrious nation of Europe, whose freely-
elected prince was willingly acknowledged the head of all Christendom--are
in danger of disappearing altogether from the list of independent nations.
The higher ranks, by their predilection for foreign manners, by their
fondness for exotic literature, which, transplanted from its natural
climate into hot-houses, can only yield a miserable fruit, have long
alienated themselves from the body of the people; still longer, even for
three centuries, at least, has internal dissension wasted our noblest
energies in civil wars, whose ruinous consequences are now first beginning
to disclose themselves. May all who have an opportunity of influencing the
public mind exert themselves to extinguish at last the old
misunderstandings, and to rally, as round a consecrated banner, all the
well-disposed objects of reverence, which, unfortunately, have been too
long deserted, but by faithful attachment to which our forefathers
acquired so much happiness and renown, and to let them feel their
indestructible unity as Germans! What a glorious picture is furnished by
our history, from the most remote times, the wars with the Romans, down to
the establishment of the German Empire! Then the chivalrous and brilliant
era of the House of Hohenstaufen! and lastly, of greater political
importance, and more nearly concerning ourselves, the House of Hapsburg,
with its many princes and heroes. What a field for a poet, who, like
Shakspeare, could discern the poetical aspect of the great events of the
world! But, alas, so little interest do we Germans take in events truly
important to our nation, that its greatest achievements still lack even a
fitting historical record.

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