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Biographical Essays by Thomas de Quincey

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_realities_ of Lamb's social life than the gravities, which
weighing so sadly on his solitary hours he sought to banish from
his moments of relaxation.

There were no strangers; Charles Lamb, his sister, and myself made
up the party. Even this was done in kindness. They knew that I
should have been oppressed by an effort such as must be made in the
society of strangers; and they placed me by their own fireside,
where I could say as little or as much as I pleased.

We dined about five o'clock, and it was one of the hospitalities
inevitable to the Lambs, that any game which they might receive
from rural friends in the course of the week, was reserved for the
day of a friend's dining with them.

In regard to wine, Lamb and myself had the same habit--perhaps it
rose to the dignity of a principle--viz., to take a great deal
_during_ dinner--none _after_ it. Consequently, as Miss
Lamb (who drank only water) retired almost with the dinner itself,
nothing remained for men of our principles, the rigor of which we
had illustrated by taking rather too much of old port before the
cloth was drawn, except talking; amoebaean colloquy, or, in Dr.
Johnson's phrase, a dialogue of "brisk reciprocation." But this was
impossible; over Lamb, at this period of his life, there passed
regularly, after taking wine, a brief eclipse of sleep. It
descended upon him as softly as a shadow. In a gross person, laden
with superfluous flesh, and sleeping heavily, this would have been
disagreeable; but in Lamb, thin even to meagreness, spare and wiry
as an Arab of the desert, or as Thomas Aquinas, wasted by
scholastic vigils, the affection of sleep seemed rather a network
of aerial gossamer than of earthly cobweb--more like a golden haze
falling upon him gently from the heavens than a cloud exhaling
upwards from the flesh. Motionless in his chair as a bust,
breathing so gently as scarcely to seem certainly alive, he
presented the image of repose midway between life and death, like
the repose of sculpture; and to one who knew his history a repose
affectingly contrasting with the calamities and internal storms of
his life. I have heard more persons than I can now distinctly
recall, observe of Lamb when sleeping, that his countenance in that
state assumed an expression almost seraphic, from its intellectual
beauty of outline, its childlike simplicity, and its benignity. It
could not be called a transfiguration that sleep had worked in his
face; for the features wore essentially the same expression when
waking; but sleep spiritualized that expression, exalted it, and
also harmonized it. Much of the change lay in that last process.
The eyes it was that disturbed the unity of effect in Lamb's waking
face. They gave a restlessness to the character of his intellect,
shifting, like northern lights, through every mode of combination
with fantastic playfulness, and sometimes by fiery gleams
obliterating for the moment that pure light of benignity which was
the predominant reading on his features. Some people have supposed
that Lamb had Jewish blood in his veins, which seemed to account
for his gleaming eyes. It might be so; but this notion found little
countenance in Lamb's own way of treating the gloomy medieval
traditions propagated throughout Europe about the Jews, and their
secret enmity to Christian races. Lamb, indeed, might not be more
serious than Shakspeare is supposed to have been in his Shylock;
yet he spoke at times as from a station of wilful bigotry, and
seemed (whether laughingly or not) to sympathize with the barbarous
Christian superstitions upon the pretended bloody practices of the
Jews, and of the early Jewish physicians. Being himself a Lincoln
man, he treated Sir Hugh [Endnote: 4] of Lincoln, the young child
that suffered death by secret assassination in the Jewish quarter
rather than suppress his daily anthems to the Virgin, as a true
historical personage on the rolls of martyrdom; careless that this
fable, like that of the apprentice murdered out of jealousy by his
master, the architect, had destroyed its own authority by
ubiquitous diffusion. All over Europe the same legend of the
murdered apprentice and the martyred child reappears under
different names--so that in effect the verification of the tale is
none at all, because it is unanimous; is too narrow, because it is
too impossibly broad. Lamb, however, though it was often hard to
say whether he were not secretly laughing, swore to the truth of
all these old fables, and treated the liberalities of the present
generation on such points as mere fantastic and effeminate
affectations, which, no doubt, they often are as regards the
sincerity of those who profess them. The bigotry, which it pleased
his fancy to assume, he used like a sword against the Jew, as the
official weapon of the Christian, upon the same principle that a
Capulet would have drawn upon a Montague, without conceiving it any
duty of _his_ to rip up the grounds of so ancient a quarrel;
it was a feud handed down to him by his ancestors, and it was
_their_ business to see that originally it had been an honest
feud. I cannot yet believe that Lamb, if seriously aware of any
family interconnection with Jewish blood, would, even in jest, have
held that one-sided language. More probable it is, that the fiery
eye recorded not any alliance with Jewish blood, but that
disastrous alliance with insanity which tainted his own life, and
laid desolate his sister's.

On awakening from his brief slumber, Lamb sat for some time in
profound silence, and then, with the most startling rapidity, sang
out--"Diddle, diddle, dumpkins;" not looking at me, but as if
soliloquizing. For five minutes he relapsed into the same deep
silence; from which again he started up into the same abrupt
utterance of--"Diddle, diddle, dumpkins." I could not help laughing
aloud at the extreme energy of this sudden communication,
contrasted with the deep silence that went before and followed.
Lamb smilingly begged to know what I was laughing at, and with a
look of as much surprise as if it were I that had done something
unaccountable, and not himself. I told him (as was the truth) that
there had suddenly occurred to me the possibility of my being in
some future period or other called on to give an account of this
very evening before some literary committee. The committee might
say to me--(supposing the case that I outlived him)--"You dined
with Mr. Lamb in January, 1822; now, can you remember any remark or
memorable observation which that celebrated man made before or
after dinner?"

I as _respondent_. "Oh yes, I can."

_Com_. "What was it?"

_Resp_. "Diddle, diddle, dumpkins."

_Com_. "And was this his only observation? Did Mr. Lamb not
strengthen this remark by some other of the same nature?"

_Resp_. "Yes, he did."

_Com_. "And what was it?"

_Resp_. "Diddle, diddle, dumpkins."

_Com_. "What is your secret opinion of Dumpkins?"

_Com_. "Do you conceive Dumpkins to have been a thing or a

_Resp_. "I conceive Dumpkins to have been a person, having the
rights of a person."

_Com_. "Capable, for instance, of suing and being sued?"

_Resp_. "Yes, capable of both; though I have reason to think
there would have been very little use in suing Dumpkins."

_Com_. "How so? Are the committee to understand that you, the
respondent, in your own case, have found it a vain speculation,
countenanced only by visionary lawyers, to sue Dumpkins?"

_Resp_. "No; I never lost a shilling by Dumpkins, the reason
for which may be that Dumpkins never owed me a shilling; but from
his _pronomen_ of 'diddle,' I apprehend that he was too well
acquainted with joint-stock companies!"

_Com_. "And your opinion is, that he may have diddled Mr.

_Resp_. "I conceive it to be not unlikely."

_Com_. "And, perhaps, from Mr. Lamb's pathetic reiteration of
his name, 'Diddle, diddle,' you would be disposed to infer that
Dumpkins had practised his diddling talents upon Mr. L. more than

_Resp_. "I think it probable."

Lamb laughed, and brightened up; tea was announced; Miss Lamb
returned. The cloud had passed away from Lamb's spirits, and again
he realized the pleasure of evening, which, in _his_
apprehension, was so essential to the pleasure of literature.

On the table lay a copy of Wordsworth, in two volumes; it was the
edition of Longman, printed about the time of Waterloo. Wordsworth
was held in little consideration, I believe, amongst the house of
Longman; at any rate, _their_ editions of his works were got
up in the most slovenly manner. In particular, the table of
contents was drawn up like a short-hand bill of parcels. By
accident the book lay open at a part of this table, where the
sonnet beginning--

"Alas! what boots the long laborious quest"--

had been entered with mercantile speed, as--

"Alas! what boots,"----

"Yes," said Lamb, reading this entry in a dolorous tone of voice, "he
may well say _that_. I paid Hoby three guineas for a pair that
tore like blotting paper, when I was leaping a ditch to escape a
farmer that pursued me with a pitch-fork for trespassing. But why
should W. wear boots in Westmoreland? Pray, advise him to patronize

The mercurialities of Lamb were infinite, and always uttered in a
spirit of absolute recklessness for the quality or the prosperity
of the sally. It seemed to liberate his spirits from some burthen
of blackest melancholy which oppressed it, when he had thrown off a
jest: he would not stop one instant to improve it; nor did he care
the value of a straw whether it were good enough to be remembered,
or so mediocre as to extort high moral indignation from a collector
who refused to receive into his collection of jests and puns any
that were not felicitously good or revoltingly bad.

After tea, Lamb read to me a number of beautiful compositions,
which he had himself taken the trouble to copy out into a blank
paper folio from unsuccessful authors. Neglected people in every
class won the sympathy of Lamb. One of the poems, I remember, was a
very beautiful sonnet from a volume recently published by Lord
Thurlow--which, and Lamb's just remarks upon it, I could almost
repeat _verbatim_ at this moment, nearly twenty-seven years
later, if your limits would allow me. But these, you tell me, allow
of no such thing; at the utmost they allow only twelve lines more.
Now all the world knows that the sonnet itself would require
fourteen lines; but take fourteen from twelve, and there remains
very little, I fear; besides which, I am afraid two of my twelve
are already exhausted. This forces me to interrupt my account of
Lamb's reading, by reporting the very accident that _did_
interrupt it in fact; since that no less characteristically
expressed Lamb's peculiar spirit of kindness, (always quickening
itself towards the ill-used or the down-trodden,) than it had
previously expressed itself in his choice of obscure readings. Two
ladies came in, one of whom at least had sunk in the scale of
worldly consideration. They were ladies who would not have found
much recreation in literary discussions; elderly, and habitually
depressed. On _their_ account, Lamb proposed whist, and in
that kind effort to amuse them, which naturally drew forth some
momentary gayeties from himself, but not of a kind to impress
themselves on the recollection, the evening terminated.

We have left ourselves no room for a special examination of Lamb's
writings, some of which were failures, and some were so memorably
beautiful as to be unique in their class. The character of Lamb it
is, and the life-struggle of Lamb, that must fix the attention of
many, even amongst those wanting in sensibility to his intellectual
merits. This character and this struggle, as we have already
observed, impress many traces of themselves upon Lamb's writings.
Even in that view, therefore, they have a ministerial value; but
separately, for themselves, they have an independent value of the
highest order. Upon this point we gladly adopt the eloquent words
of Sergeant Talfourd:--

"The sweetness of Lamb's character, breathed through his writings,
was felt even by strangers; but its heroic aspect was unguessed
even by many of his friends. Let them now consider it, and ask if
the annals of self-sacrifice can show anything in human action and
endurance more lovely than its self-devotion exhibits? It was not
merely that he saw, through the ensanguined cloud of misfortune
which had fallen upon his family, the unstained excellence of his
sister, whose madness had caused it; that he was ready to take her
to his own home with reverential affection, and cherish her through
life; and he gave up, for _her_ sake, all meaner and more
selfish love, and all the hopes which youth blends with the passion
which disturbs and ennobles it; not even that he did all this
cheerfully, without pluming himself upon his brotherly nobleness as
a virtue, or seeking to repay himself (as some uneasy martyrs do)
by small instalments of long repining; but that he carried the
spirit of the hour in which he first knew and took his course to
his last. So far from thinking that his sacrifice of youth and love
to his sister gave him a license to follow his own caprice at the
expense of her feelings, even in the lightest matters, he always
wrote and spoke of her as his wiser self, his generous
benefactress, of whose protecting care he was scarcely worthy."

It must be remembered, also, which the Sergeant does not overlook,
that Lamb's efforts for the becoming support of his sister lasted
through a period of forty years. Twelve years before his death, the
munificence of the India House, by granting him a liberal retiring
allowance, had placed his own support under shelter from accidents
of any kind. But this died with himself; and he could not venture
to suppose that, in the event of his own death, the India House
would grant to his sister the same allowance as by custom is
granted to a wife. This they did; but not venturing to calculate
upon such nobility of patronage, Lamb had applied himself through
life to the saving of a provision for his sister under any accident
to himself. And this he did with a persevering prudence, so little
known in the literary class, amongst a continued tenor of
generosities, often so princely as to be scarcely known in any

Was this man, so memorably good by life-long sacrifice of himself,
in any profound sense a Christian? The impression is, that he was
_not_. We, from private communications with him, can undertake
to say that, according to his knowledge and opportunities for the
study of Christianity, he _was_. What has injured Lamb on this
point is, that his early opinions (which, however, from the first
were united with the deepest piety) are read by the inattentive, as
if they had been the opinions of his mature days; secondly, that he
had few religious persons amongst his friends, which made him
reserved in the expression of his own views; thirdly, that in any
case where he altered opinions for the better, the credit of the
improvement is assigned to Coleridge. Lamb, for example, beginning
life as a Unitarian, in not many years became a Trinitarian.
Coleridge passed through the same changes in the same order; and,
here, at least, Lamb is supposed simply to have obeyed the
influence, confessedly great, of Coleridge. This, on our own
knowledge of Lamb's views, we pronounce to be an error. And the
following extracts from Lamb's letters will show, not only that he
was religiously disposed on impulses self-derived, but that, so far
from obeying the bias of Coleridge, he ventured, on this one
subject, firmly as regarded the matter, though humbly as regarded
the manner, affectionately to reprove Coleridge.

In a letter to Coleridge, written in 1797, the year after his first
great affliction, he says:

"Coleridge, I have not one truly elevated character among my
acquaintance; not one Christian; not one but undervalues
Christianity. Singly, what am I to do? Wesley--[have you read his
life?]--was not he an elevated character? Wesley has said religion
was not a solitary thing. Alas! it is necessarily so with me, or
next to solitary. 'Tis true you write to me; but correspondence by
letter and personal intimacy are widely different. Do, do write to
me; and do some good to my mind--already how much 'warped and
relaxed' by the world!"

In a letter written about three months previously, he had not
scrupled to blame Coleridge at some length for audacities of
religious speculation, which seemed to him at war with the
simplicities of pure religion. He says:

"Do continue to write to me. I read your letters with my sister,
and they give us both abundance of delight. Especially they please
us two when you talk in a religious strain. Not but we are offended
occasionally with a certain freedom of expression, a certain air of
mysticism, more consonant to the conceits of pagan philosophy than
consistent with the humility of genuine piety."

Then, after some instances of what he blames, he says:

"Be not angry with me, Coleridge. I wish not to cavil; I know I
cannot instruct you; I only wish to remind you of that humility
which best becometh the Christian character. God, in the New
Testament, our best guide, is represented to us in the kind,
condescending, amiable, familiar light of a parent; and, in my poor
mind, 'tis best for us so to consider him as our heavenly Father,
and our best friend, without indulging too bold conceptions of his

About a month later, he says:

"Few but laugh at me for reading my Testament. They talk a language
I understand not; I conceal sentiments that would be a puzzle to

We see by this last quotation _where_ it was that Lamb
originally sought for consolation. We personally can vouch that, at
a maturer period, when he was approaching his fiftieth year, no
change had affected his opinions upon that point; and, on the other
hand, that no changes had occurred in his needs for consolation, we
see, alas! in the records of his life. Whither, indeed, could he
fly for comfort, if not to his Bible? And to whom was the Bible an
indispensable resource, if not to Lamb? We do not undertake to say,
that in his knowledge of Christianity he was everywhere profound or
consistent, but he was always earnest in his aspirations after its
spiritualities, and had an apprehensive sense of its power.

Charles Lamb is gone; his life was a continued struggle in the
service of love the purest, and within a sphere visited by little
of contemporary applause. Even his intellectual displays won but a
narrow sympathy at any time, and in his earlier period were saluted
with positive derision and contumely on the few occasions when they
were not oppressed by entire neglect. But slowly all things right
themselves. All merit, which is founded in truth, and is strong
enough, reaches by sweet exhalations in the end a higher sensory;
reaches higher organs of discernment, lodged in a selecter
audience. But the original obtuseness or vulgarity of feeling that
thwarted Lamb's just estimation in life, will continue to thwart
its popular diffusion. There are even some that continue to regard
him with the old hostility. And we, therefore, standing by the side
of Lamb's grave, seemed to hear, on one side, (but in abated tones,
) strains of the ancient malice--"This man, that thought himself to
be somebody, is dead--is buried--is forgotten!" and, on the other
side, seemed to hear ascending, as with the solemnity of an
anthem--"This man, that thought himself to be nobody, is dead--is
buried; his life has been searched; and his memory is hallowed



"_Scriptural_" we call it, because this element of thought, so
indispensable to a profound philosophy of morals, is not simply
_more_ used in Scripture than elsewhere, but is so exclusively
significant or intelligible amidst the correlative ideas of
Scripture, as to be absolutely insusceptible of translation into
classical Greek or classical Latin. It is disgraceful that more
reflection has not been directed to the vast causes and
consequences of so pregnant a truth.


"_Poor S T. C._"-The affecting expression by which Coleridge
indicates himself in the few lines written during his last illness
for an inscription upon his grave, lines ill constructed in point
of diction and compression, but otherwise speaking from the depths
Of his heart.


It is right to remind the reader of this, for a reason applying
forcibly to the present moment Michelet has taxed Englishmen with
yielding to national animosities in the case of Joan, having no
plea whatever for that insinuation but the single one drawn from
Shakspeare's Henry VI. To this the answer is, first, that
Shakspeare's share in that trilogy is not nicely ascertained
Secondly, that M Michelet forgot (or, which is far worse,
_not_ forgetting it, he dissembled) the fact, that in
undertaking a series of dramas upon the basis avowedly of national
chronicles, and for the very purpose of profiting by old
traditionary recollections connected with ancestral glories, it was
mere lunacy to recast the circumstances at the bidding of
antiquarian research, so as entirely to disturb these glories.
Besides that, to Shakspeare's age no such spirit of research had
blossomed. Writing for the stage, a man would have risked
lapidation by uttering a whisper in that direction. And, even if
not, what sense could there have been in openly running counter to
the very motive that had originally prompted that particular class
of chronicle plays? Thirdly, if one Englishman had, in a memorable
situation, adopted the popular view of Joan's conduct,
(_popular_ as much in France as in England;) on the other
hand, fifty years before M. Michelet was writing this flagrant
injustice, another Englishman (viz., Southey) had, in an epic poem,
reversed this mis-judgment, and invested the shepherd girl with a
glory nowhere else accorded to her, unless indeed by Schiller.
Fourthly, we are not entitled to view as an _attack_ upon
Joanna, what, in the worst construction, is but an unexamining
adoption of the contemporary historical accounts. A poet or a
dramatist is not responsible for the accuracy of chronicles. But
what _is_ an attack upon Joan, being briefly the foulest and
obscenest attempt ever made to stifle the grandeur of a great human
struggle, viz., the French burlesque poem of _La
Pucelle_--what memorable man was it that wrote _that_? Was
he a Frenchman, or was he not? That M. Michelet should
_pretend_ to have forgotten this vilest of pasquinades, is
more shocking to the general sense of justice than any special
untruth as to Shakspeare _can_ be to the particular
nationality of an Englishman.


The story which furnishes a basis to the fine ballad in Percy's
Reliques, and to the Canterbury Tale of Chaucer's Lady Abbess.


John Wolfgang von Goethe, a man of commanding influence in the
literature of modern Germany throughout the latter half of his long
life, and possessing two separate claims upon our notice; one in
right of his own unquestionable talents; and another much stronger,
though less direct, arising out of his position, and the
extravagant partisanship put forward on his behalf for the last
forty years. The literary body in all countries, and for reasons
which rest upon a sounder basis than that of private jealousies,
have always been disposed to a republican simplicity in all that
regards the assumption of rank and personal pretensions. _Valeat
quantum valere potest_, is the form of license to every man's
ambition, coupled with its caution. Let his influence and authority
be commensurate with his attested value; and, because no man in the
present infinity of human speculation, and the present multiformity
of human power, can hope for more than a very limited superiority,
there is an end at once to all _absolute_ dictatorship. The
dictatorship in any case could be only _relative_, and in
relation to a single department of art or knowledge; and this for a
reason stronger even than that already noticed, viz., the vast
extent of the field on which the intellect is now summoned to
employ itself. That objection, as it applies only to the
_degree_ of the difficulty, might be met by a corresponding
degree of mental energy; such a thing may be supposed, at least.
But another difficulty there is, of a profounder character, which
cannot be so easily parried. Those who have reflected at all upon
the fine arts, know that power of one kind is often inconsistent,
positively incompatible, with power of another kind. For example,
the _dramatic_ mind is incompatible with the _epic_. And
though we should consent to suppose that some intellect might arise
endowed upon a scale of such angelic comprehensiveness, as to
vibrate equally and indifferently towards either pole, still it is
next to impossible, in the exercise and culture of the two powers,
but some bias must arise which would give that advantage to the one
over the other which the right arm has over the left. But the
supposition, the very case put, is baseless, and countenanced by no
precedent. Yet, under this previous difficulty, and with regard to
a literature convulsed, if any ever was, by an almost total
anarchy, it is a fact notorious to all who take an interest in
Germany and its concerns, that Goethe did in one way or other,
through the length and breadth of that vast country, establish a
supremacy of influence wholly unexampled; a supremacy indeed
perilous in a less honorable man, to those whom he might chance to
hate, and with regard to himself thus far unfortunate, that it
conferred upon every work proceeding from his pen a sort of papal
indulgence, an immunity from criticism, or even from the appeals of
good sense, such as it is not wholesome that any man should enjoy.
Yet we repeat that German literature was and is in a condition of
total anarchy. With this solitary exception, no name, even in the
most narrow section of knowledge or of power, has ever been able in
that country to challenge unconditional reverence; whereas, with us
and in France, name the science, name the art, and we will name the
dominant professor; a difference which partly arises out of the
fact that England and France are governed in their opinions by two
or three capital cities, whilst Germany looks for its leadership to
as many cities as there are _residenzen_ and universities. For
instance, the little territory with which Goethe was connected
presented no less than two such public lights; Weimar, the
_residenz_ or privileged abode of the Grand Duke, and Jena,
the university founded by that house. Partly, however, this
difference may be due to the greater restlessness, and to the
greater energy as respects mere speculation, of the German mind.
But no matter whence arising, or how interpreted, the fact is what
we have described; absolute confusion, the "anarch old" of Milton,
is the one deity whose sceptre is there paramount; and yet
_there_ it was, in that very realm of chaos, that Goethe built
his throne. That he must have looked with trepidation and
perplexity upon his wild empire and its "dark foundations," may be
supposed. The tenure was uncertain to _him_ as regarded its
duration; to us it is equally uncertain, and in fact mysterious, as
regards its origin. Meantime the mere fact, contrasted with the
general tendencies of the German literary world, is sufficient to
justify a notice, somewhat circumstantial, of the man in whose
favor, whether naturally by force of genius, or by accident
concurring with intrigue, so unexampled a result was effected.

Goethe was born at noonday on the 28th of August, 1749, in his
father's house at Frankfort on the Maine. The circumstances of his
birth were thus far remarkable, that, unless Goethe's vanity
deceived him, they led to a happy revolution hitherto retarded by
female delicacy falsely directed. From some error of the midwife
who attended his mother, the infant Goethe appeared to be
still-born. Sons there were as yet none from this marriage;
everybody was therefore interested in the child's life; and the
panic which arose in consequence, having survived its immediate
occasion, was improved into a public resolution, (for which no
doubt society stood ready at that moment,) to found some course of
public instruction from this time forward for those who undertook
professionally the critical duties of accoucheur.

We have noticed the house in which Goethe was born, as well as the
city. Both were remarkable, and fitted to leave lasting impressions
upon a young person of sensibility. As to the city, its antiquity
is not merely venerable, but almost mysterious; towers were at that
time to be found in the mouldering lines of its earliest defences,
which belonged to the age of Charlemagne, or one still earlier;
battlements adapted to a mode of warfare anterior even to that of
feudalism or romance. The customs, usages, and local privileges of
Frankfort, and the rural districts adjacent, were of a
corresponding character. Festivals were annually celebrated at a
short distance from the walls, which had descended from a dateless
antiquity. Every thing which met the eye spoke the language of
elder ages; whilst the river on which the place was seated, its
great fair, which still held the rank of the greatest in
Christendom, and its connection with the throne of Caesar and his
inauguration, by giving to Frankfort an interest and a public
character in the eyes of all Germany, had the effect of
countersigning, as it were, by state authority, the importance
which she otherwise challenged to her ancestral distinctions. Fit
house for such a city, and in due keeping with the general scenery,
was that of Goethe's father. It had in fact been composed out of
two contiguous houses; that accident had made it spacious and
rambling in its plan; whilst a further irregularity had grown out
of the original difference in point of level between the
corresponding stories of the two houses, making it necessary to
connect the rooms of the same _suite_ by short flights of
steps. Some of these features were no doubt removed by the recast
of the house under the name of "repairs," (to evade a city bye-law,
) afterwards executed by his father; but such was the house of
Goethe's infancy, and in all other circumstances of style and
furnishing equally antique.

The spirit of society in Frankfort, without a court, a university,
or a learned body of any extent, or a resident nobility in its
neighborhood, could not be expected to display any very high
standard of polish. Yet, on the other hand, as an independent city,
governed by its own separate laws and tribunals, (that privilege of
_autonomy_ so dearly valued by ancient Greece,) and possessing
besides a resident corps of jurisprudents and of agents in various
ranks for managing the interests of the German emperor and other
princes, Frankfort had the means within herself of giving a liberal
tone to the pursuits of her superior citizens, and of cooperating
in no inconsiderable degree with the general movement of the times,
political or intellectual. The memoirs of Goethe himself, and in
particular the picture there given of his own family, as well as
other contemporary glimpses of German domestic society in those
days, are sufficient to show that much knowledge, much true
cultivation of mind, much sound refinement of taste, were then
distributed through the middle classes of German society; meaning
by that very indeterminate expression those classes which for
Frankfort composed the aristocracy, viz., all who had daily
leisure, and regular funds for employing it to advantage. It is not
necessary to add, because that is a fact applicable to all stages
of society, that Frankfort presented many and various specimens of
original talent, moving upon all directions of human speculation.

Yet, with this general allowance made for the capacities of the
place, it is too evident that, for the most part, they lay inert
and undeveloped. In many respects Frankfort resembled an English
cathedral city, according to the standard of such places seventy
years ago, not, that is to say, like Carlisle in this day, where a
considerable manufacture exists, but like Chester as it is yet. The
chapter of a cathedral, the resident ecclesiastics attached to the
duties of so large an establishment, men always well educated, and
generally having families, compose the original _nucleus_,
around which soon gathers all that part of the local gentry who,
for any purpose, whether of education for their children, or of
social enjoyment for themselves, seek the advantages of a town.
Hither resort all the timid old ladies who wish for conversation,
or other forms of social amusement; hither resort the
valetudinarians, male or female, by way of commanding superior
medical advice at a cost not absolutely ruinous to themselves; and
multitudes besides, with narrow incomes, to whom these quiet
retreats are so many cities of refuge.

Such, in one view, they really are; and yet in another they have a
vicious constitution. Cathedral cities in England, imperial cities
without manufactures in Germany, are all in an improgressive
condition. The public employments of every class in such places
continue the same from generation to generation. The amount of
superior families oscillates rather than changes; that is, it
fluctuates within fixed limits; and, for all inferior families,
being composed either of shopkeepers or of menial servants, they
are determined by the number, or, which, on a large average, is the
same, by the pecuniary power, of their employers. Hence it arises,
that room is made for one man, in whatever line of dependence, only
by the death of another; and the constant increments of the
population are carried off into other cities. Not less is the
difference of such cities as regards the standard of manners. How
striking is the soft and urbane tone of the lower orders in a
cathedral city, or in a watering place dependent upon ladies,
contrasted with the bold, often insolent, demeanor of a
self-dependent artisan or mutinous mechanic of Manchester and

Children, however, are interested in the state of society around
them, chiefly as it affects their parents. Those of Goethe were
respectable, and perhaps tolerably representative of the general
condition in their own rank. An English authoress of great talent,
in her _Characteristics of Goethe_, has too much countenanced
the notion that he owed his intellectual advantages exclusively to
his mother. Of this there is no proof. His mother wins more esteem
from the reader of this day, because she was a cheerful woman, of
serene temper, brought into advantageous comparison with a husband
much older than herself, whom circumstances had rendered moody,
fitful, sometimes capricious, and confessedly obstinate in that
degree which Pope has taught us to think connected with inveterate

"Stiff in opinion, always in the wrong,"

unhappily presents an association too often actually occurring in
nature, to leave much chance for error in presuming either quality
from the other. And, in fact, Goethe's father was so uniformly
obstinate in pressing his own views upon all who belonged to him,
whenever he did come forward in an attitude of activity, that his
family had much reason to be thankful for the rarity of such
displays. Fortunately for them, his indolence neutralized his
obstinacy. And the worst shape in which his troublesome temper
showed itself, was in what concerned the religious reading of the
family. Once begun, the worst book as well as the best, the longest
no less than the shortest, was to be steadfastly read through to
the last word of the last volume; no excess of yawning availed to
obtain a reprieve, not, adds his son, though he were himself the
leader of the yawners. As an illustration, he mentions Bowyer's
_History of the Popes_; which awful series of records, the
catacombs, as it were, in the palace of history, were actually
traversed from one end to the other of the endless suite by the
unfortunate house of Goethe. Allowing, however, for the father's
unamiableness in this one point, upon all intellectual ground both
parents seem to have met very much upon a level. Two illustrations
may suffice, one of which occurred during the infancy of Goethe.
The science of education was at that time making its first rude
motions towards an ampler development; and, amongst other reforms
then floating in the general mind, was one for eradicating the
childish fear of ghosts, &c. The young Goethes, as it happened,
slept not in separate beds only, but in separate rooms; and not
unfrequently the poor children, under the stinging terrors of their
lonely situation, stole away from their "forms," to speak in the
hunter's phrase, and sought to rejoin each other. But in these
attempts they were liable to surprises from the enemy; papa and
mamma were both on the alert, and often intercepted the young
deserter by a cross march or an ambuscade; in which cases each had
a separate policy for enforcing obedience. The father, upon his
general system of "perseverance," compelled the fugitive back to
his quarters, and, in effect, exhorted him to persist in being
frightened out of his wits. To his wife's gentle heart that course
appeared cruel, and she reclaimed the delinquent by bribes; the
peaches which her garden walls produced being the fund from which
she chiefly drew her supplies for this branch of the secret
service. What were her winter bribes, when the long nights would
seem to lie heaviest on the exchequer, is not said. Speaking
seriously, no man of sense can suppose that a course of suffering
from terrors the most awful, under whatever influence supported,
whether under the naked force of compulsion, or of _that_
connected with bribes, could have any final effect in mitigating
the passion of awe, connected, by our very dreams, with the shadowy
and the invisible, or in tranquillizing the infantine imagination.

A second illustration involves a great moral event in the history
of Goethe, as it was, in fact, the first occasion of his receiving
impressions at war with his religious creed. Piety is so beautiful
an ornament of the youthful mind, doubt or distrust so unnatural a
growth from confiding innocence, that an infant freethinker is
heard of not so much with disgust as with perplexity. A sense of
the ludicrous is apt to intermingle; and we lose our natural horror
of the result in wonder at its origin. Yet in this instance there
is no room for doubt; the fact and the occasion are both on record;
there can be no question about the date; and, finally, the accuser
is no other than the accused. Goethe's own pen it is which
proclaims, that already, in the early part of his seventh year, his
reliance upon God as a moral governor had suffered a violent shock,
was shaken, if not undermined. On the 1st of November, 1755,
occurred the great earthquake at Lisbon. Upon a double account,
this event occupied the thoughts of all Europe for an unusual term
of time; both as an expression upon a larger scale than usual of
the mysterious physical agency concerned in earthquakes, and also
for the awful human tragedy [Endnote: 5] Of this no picture can ever
hope to rival that hasty one sketched in the letter of the chaplain
to the Lisbon factory. The plague of Athens as painted by
Thucydides or Lucretius, nay even the fabulous plague of London by
De Foe, contain no scenes or situations equal in effect to some in
this plain historic statement. Nay, it would perhaps be difficult
to produce a passage from Ezekiel, from Aeschylus, or from
Shakspeare, which would so profoundly startle the sense of
sublimity as one or two of his incidents, which attended either
the earthquake itself, or its immediate sequel in the sudden
irruption of the Tagus. Sixty thousand persons, victims to the dark
power in its first or its second _avatar_, attested the
Titanic scale upon which it worked. Here it was that the shallow
piety of the Germans found a stumbling-block. Those who have read
any circumstantial history of the physical signs which preceded
this earthquake, are aware that in England and Northern Germany
many singular phenomena were observed, more or less manifestly
connected with the same dark agency which terminated at Lisbon, and
running before this final catastrophe at times so accurately
varying with the distances, as to furnish something like a scale
for measuring the velocity with which it moved. These German
phenomena, circulated rapidly over all Germany by the journals of
every class, had seemed to give to the Germans a nearer and more
domestic interest in the great event, than belonged to them merely
in their universal character of humanity. It is also well known to
observers of national characteristics, that amongst the Germans the
household charities, the _pieties of the hearth_, as they may
be called, exist, if not really in greater strength, yet with much
less of the usual balances or restraints. A German father, for
example, is like the grandfather of other nations; and thus a
piety, which in its own nature scarcely seems liable to excess,
takes, in its external aspect, too often an air of effeminate
imbecility. These two considerations are necessary to explain the
intensity with which this Lisbon tragedy laid hold of the German
mind, and chiefly under the one single aspect of its
_undistinguishing_ fury. Women, children, old men--these,
doubtless, had been largely involved in the perishing sixty
thousand; and that reflection, it would seem from Goethe's account,
had so far embittered the sympathy of the Germans with their
distant Portuguese brethren, that, in the Frankfort discussions,
sullen murmurs had gradually ripened into bold impeachments of
Providence. There can be no gloomier form of infidelity than that
which questions the moral attributes of the Great Being, in whose
hands are the final destinies of us all. Such, however, was the
form of Goethe's earliest scepticism, such its origin; caught up
from the very echoes which rang through the streets of Frankfort
when the subject occupied all men's minds. And such, for anything
that appears, continued to be its form thenceforwards to the close
of his life, if speculations so crude could be said to have any
form at all. Many are the analogies, some close ones, between
England and Germany with regard to the circle of changes they have
run through, political or social, for a century back. The
challenges are frequent to a comparison; and sometimes the result
would be to the advantage of Germany, more often to ours. But in
religious philosophy, which in reality is the true _popular_
philosophy, how vast is the superiority on the side of this
country. Not a shopkeeper or mechanic, we may venture to say, but
would have felt this obvious truth, that surely the Lisbon
earthquake yielded no fresh lesson, no peculiar moral, beyond what
belonged to every man's experience in every age. A passage in the
New Testament about the fall of the tower of Siloam, and the just
construction of that event, had already anticipated the difficulty,
if such it could be thought. Not to mention, that calamities upon
the same scale in the earliest age of Christianity, the fall of the
amphitheatre at Fidenae, or the destruction of Pompeii, had
presented the same problem at the Lisbon earthquake. Nay, it is
presented daily in the humblest individual case, where wrong is
triumphant over right, or innocence confounded with guilt in one
common disaster. And that the parents of Goethe should have
authorized his error, if only by their silence, argues a degree of
ignorance in them, which could not have co-existed with much
superior knowledge in the public mind.

Goethe, in his Memoirs, (Book VI.,) commends his father for the
zeal with which he superintended the education of his children. But
apparently it was a zeal without knowledge. Many things were taught
imperfectly, but all casually, and as chance suggested them.
Italian was studied a little, because the elder Goethe had made an
Italian tour, and had collected some Italian books, and engravings
by Italian masters. Hebrew was studied a little, because Goethe the
son had a fancy for it, partly with a view to theology, and partly
because there was a Jewish quarter, gloomy and sequestrated, in the
city of Frankfort. French offered itself no doubt on many
suggestions, but originally on occasion of a French theatre,
supported by the staff of the French army when quartered in the
same city. Latin was gathered in a random way from a daily sense of
its necessity. English upon the temptation of a stranger's
advertisement, promising upon moderate terms to teach that language
in four weeks; a proof, by the way, that the system of bold
innovations in the art of tuition had already commenced. Riding and
fencing were also attempted under masters apparently not very highly
qualified, and in the same desultory style of application. Dancing
was taught to his family, strange as it may seem, by Mr. Goethe
himself. There is good reason to believe that not one of all these
accomplishments was possessed by Goethe, when ready to visit the
university, in a degree which made it practically of any use to
him. Drawing and music were pursued confessedly as amusements; and
it would be difficult to mention any attainment whatsoever which
Goethe had carried to a point of excellence in the years which he
spent under his father's care, unless it were his mastery over the
common artifices of metre and the common topics of rhetoric, which
fitted him for writing what are called occasional poems and
_impromptus_. This talent he possessed in a remarkable degree,
and at an early age; but he owed its cultivation entirely to

In a city so orderly as Frankfort, and in a station privileged from
all the common hardships of poverty, it can hardly be expected that
many incidents should arise, of much separate importance in
themselves, to break the monotony of life; and the mind of Goethe
was not contemplative enough to create a value for common
occurrences through any peculiar impressions which he had derived
from them. In the years 1763 and 1764, when he must have been from
fourteen to fifteen years old, Goethe witnessed the inauguration
and coronation of a king of the Romans, a solemn spectacle
connected by prescription with the city of Frankfort. He describes
it circumstantially, but with very little feeling, in his Memoirs.
Probably the prevailing sentiment, on looking back at least to this
transitory splendor of dress, processions, and ceremonial forms,
was one of cynical contempt. But this he could not express, as a
person closely connected with a German court, without giving much
and various offence. It is with some timidity even that he hazards
a criticism upon single parts of the costume adopted by some of the
actors in that gorgeous scene. White silk stockings, and pumps of
the common form, he objects to as out of harmony with the antique
and heraldic aspects of the general costume, and ventures to
suggest either boots or sandals as an improvement. Had Goethe felt
himself at liberty from all restraints of private consideration in
composing these Memoirs, can it be doubted that he would have taken
his retrospect of this Frankfort inauguration from a different
station; from the station of that stern revolution which, within
his own time, and partly under his own eyes, had shattered the
whole imperial system of thrones, in whose equipage this gay
pageant made so principal a figure, had humbled Caesar himself to
the dust, and left him an emperor without an empire? We at least,
for our parts, could not read without some emotion one little
incident of these gorgeous scenes recorded by Goethe, namely, that
when the emperor, on rejoining his wife for a few moments, held up
to her notice his own hands and arms arrayed in the antique
habiliments of Charlemagne, Maria Theresa--she whose children where
summoned to so sad a share in the coming changes--gave way to
sudden bursts of loud laughter, audible to the whole populace below
her. That laugh on surveying the departing pomps of Charlemagne,
must, in any contemplative ear, have rung with a sound of deep
significance, and with something of the same effect which belongs
to a figure of death introduced by a painter, as mixing in the
festal dances of a bridal assembly.

These pageants of 1763-64 occupy a considerable space in Goethe's
Memoirs, and with some _logical_ propriety at least, in
consideration of their being exclusively attached to Frankfort, and
connected by manifold links of person and office with the
privileged character of the city. Perhaps he might feel a sort of
narrow local patriotism in recalling these scenes to public notice
by description, at a time when they had been irretrievably
extinguished as realities. But, after making every allowance for
their local value to a Frankfort family, and for their memorable
splendor, we may venture to suppose that by far the most impressive
remembrances which had gathered about the boyhood of Goethe, were
those which pointed to Frederick of Prussia. This singular man, so
imbecile as a pretender to philosophy and new lights, so truly
heroic under misfortunes, was the first German who created a German
interest, and gave a transient unity to the German name, under all
its multiplied divisions. Were it only for this conquest of
difficulties so peculiar, he would deserve his German designation
of Fred. the Unique, (_Fritz der einzige_.) He had been
partially tried and known previously; but it was the Seven Years'
War which made him the popular idol. This began in 1756; and to
Frankfort, in a very peculiar way, that war brought dissensions and
heart-burnings in its train. The imperial connections of the city
with many public and private interests, pledged it to the
anti-Prussian cause. It happened also that the truly German
character of the reigning imperial family, the domestic habits of
the empress and her young daughters, and other circumstances, were
of a nature to endear the ties of policy; self-interest and
affection pointed in the same direction. And yet were all these
considerations allowed to melt away before the brilliant qualities
of one man, and the romantic enthusiasm kindled by his victories.
Frankfort was divided within herself; the young and the generous
were all dedicated to Frederick. A smaller party, more cautious and
prudent, were for the imperialists. Families were divided upon this
question against families, and often against themselves; feuds,
begun in private, issued often into public violence; and, according
to Goethe's own illustration, the streets were vexed by daily
brawls, as hot and as personal as of old between the Capulets and

These dissensions, however, were pursued with not much personal
risk to any of the Goethes, until a French army passed the Rhine as
allies of the imperialists. One corps of this force took up their
quarters in Frankfort; and the Comte Thorane, who held a high
appointment on the staff, settled himself for a long period of time
in the spacious mansion of Goethe's father. This officer, whom his
place made responsible for the discipline of the army in relation
to the citizens, was naturally by temper disposed to moderation and
forbearance. He was indeed a favorable specimen of French military
officers under the old system; well bred, not arrogant, well
informed, and a friend of the fine arts. For painting, in
particular, he professed great regard and some knowledge. The
Goethes were able to forward his views amongst German artists;
whilst, on the other hand, they were pleased to have thus an
opportunity of directing his patronage towards some of their own
needy connections. In this exchange of good offices, the two
parties were for some time able to maintain a fair appearance of
reciprocal good-will. This on the comte's side, if not particularly
warm, was probably sincere; but in Goethe the father it was a
masque for inveterate dislike. A natural ground of this existed in
the original relations between them. Under whatever disguise or
pretext, the Frenchman was in fact a military intruder. He occupied
the best suite of rooms in the house, used the furniture as his
own; and, though upon private motives he abstained from doing all
the injury which his situation authorized, (so as in particular to
have spread his fine military maps upon the floor, rather than
disfigure the decorated walls by nails,) still he claimed credit,
if not services of requital, for all such instances of forbearance.
Here were grievances enough; but, in addition to these, the comte's
official appointments drew upon him a weight of daily business,
which kept the house in a continual uproar. Farewell to the quiet
of a literary amateur, and the orderliness of a German household.
Finally, the comte was a Frenchman. These were too many assaults
upon one man's patience. It Will be readily understood, therefore,
how it happened, that, whilst Goethe's gentle minded mother, with
her flock of children, continued to be on the best terms with Comte
Thorane, the master of the house kept moodily aloof, and retreated
from all intercourse.

Goethe, in his own Memoir, enters into large details upon this
subject; and from him we shall borrow the _denouement_ of the
tale. A crisis had for some time been lowering over the French
affairs in Frankfort; things seemed ripening for a battle; and at
last it came. Flight, siege, bombardment, possibly a storm, all
danced before the eyes of the terrified citizens. Fortunately,
however, the battle took place at the distance of four or five
miles from Frankfort. Monsieur le Comte was absent, of course, on
the field of battle. His unwilling host thought that on such an
occasion he also might go out in quality of spectator; and with
this purpose he connected another, worthy of a Parson Adams. It is
his son who tells the story, whose filial duty was not proof
against his sense of the ludicrous. The old gentleman's hatred of
the French had by this time brought him over to his son's
admiration of the Prussian hero. Not doubting for an instant that
victory would follow that standard, he resolved on this day to
offer in person his congratulations to the Prussian army, whom he
already viewed as his liberator from a domestic nuisance. So
purposing, he made his way cautiously to the suburbs; from the
suburbs, still listening at each advance, he went forward to the
country; totally forgetting, as his son insists, that, however
completely beaten, the French army must still occupy some situation
or other between himself and his German deliverer. Coming, however,
at length to a heath, he found some of those marauders usually to
be met with in the rear of armies, prowling about, and at intervals
amusing themselves with shooting at a mark. For want of a better,
it seemed not improbable that a large German head might answer
their purpose. Certain signs admonished him of this, and the old
gentleman crept back to Frankfort. Not many hours after came back
also the comte, by no means creeping, however; on the contrary,
crowing with all his might for a victory which he averred himself
to have won. There had in fact been an affair, but on no very great
scale, and with no distinguished results. Some prisoners, however,
he brought, together with some wounded; and naturally he expected
all well disposed persons to make their compliments of
congratulation upon this triumph. Of this duty poor Mrs. Goethe and
her children cheerfully acquitted themselves that same night; and
Monsieur le Comte was so well pleased with the sound opinions of
the little Goethes, that he sent them in return a collection of
sweetmeats and fruits. All promised to go well; intentions, after
all, are not acts; and there certainly is not, nor ever was, any
treason in taking a morning's walk. But, as ill luck would have it,
just as Mr. Goethe was passing the comte's door, out came the comte
in person, purely by accident, as we are told; but we suspect that
the surly old German, either under his morning hopes or his evening
disappointments, had talked with more frankness than prudence.
"Good evening to you, Herr Goethe," said the comte; "you are come,
I see, to pay your tribute of congratulation. Somewhat of the
latest, to be sure; but no matter." "By no means," replied the
German;" by no means; _mit nichten_. Heartily I wished, the
whole day long, that you and your cursed gang might all go to the
devil together. "Here was plain speaking, at least. The Comte
Thorane could no longer complain of dissimulation. His first
movement was to order an arrest; and the official interpreter of
the French army took to himself the whole credit that he did not
carry it into effect. Goethe takes the trouble to report a
dialogue, of length and dulness absolutely incredible, between this
interpreter and the comte. No such dialogue, we may be assured,
ever took place. Goethe may, however, be right in supposing that,
amongst a foreign soldiery, irritated by the pointed contrasts
between the Frankfort treatment of their own wounded, and of their
prisoners who happened to be in the same circumstances, and under a
military council not held to any rigorous responsibility, his
father might have found no very favorable consideration of his
case. It is well, therefore, that after some struggle the comte's
better nature triumphed. He suffered Mrs. Goethe's merits to
outweigh her husband's delinquency; countermanded the order for
arrest, and, during the remainder of their connection, kept at such
a distance from his moody host as was equally desirable for both.
Fortunately that remainder was not very long. Comte Thorane was
soon displaced; and the whole army was soon afterwards withdrawn
from Frankfort.

In his fifteenth year Goethe was entangled in some connection with
young people of inferior rank, amongst whom was Margaret, a young
girl about two years older than himself, and the object of his
first love. The whole affair, as told by Goethe, is somewhat
mysterious. What might be the final views of the elder parties it
is difficult to say; but Goethe assures us that they used his
services only in writing an occasional epithalamium, the pecuniary
acknowledgment for which was spent jovially in a general banquet.
The magistrates, however, interfered, and endeavored to extort a
confession from Goethe. He, as the son of a respectable family, was
to be pardoned; the others to be punished. No confession, however,
could be extorted; and for his own part he declares that, beyond
the offence of forming a clandestine connection, he had nothing to
confess. The affair terminated, as regarded himself, in a severe
illness. Of the others we hear no more.

The next event of importance in Goethe's life was his removal to
college. His own wishes pointed to Goettingen, but his father
preferred Leipsic. Thither accordingly he went, but he carried his
obedience no farther. Declining the study of jurisprudence, he
attached himself to general literature. Subsequently he removed to
the university of Strasburg; but in neither place could it be said
that he pursued any regular course of study. His health suffered at
times during this period of his life; at first from an affection of
the chest, caused by an accident on his first journey to Leipsic;
the carriage had stuck fast in the muddy roads, and Goethe exerted
himself too much in assisting to extricate the wheels. A second
illness connected with the digestive organs brought him into
considerable danger.

After his return to Frankfort, Goethe commenced his career as an
author. In 1773, and the following year, he made his maiden essay
in _Goetz of Berlichingen_, a drama, (the translation of
which, remarkably enough, was destined to be the literary _coup
d'essai_ of Sir Walter Scott,) and in the far-famed
_Werther_. The first of these was pirated; and in consequence
the author found some difficulty in paying for the paper of the
genuine edition, which part of the expense, by his contract with
the publisher, fell upon himself. The general and early popularity
of the second work is well known. Yet, except in so far as it might
spread his name abroad, it cannot be supposed to have had much
influence in attracting that potent patronage which now began to
determine the course of his future life. So much we collect from
the account which Goethe himself has left us of this affair in its
earliest stages.

"I was sitting alone in my room," says he, "at my father's house in
Frankfort, when a gentleman entered, whom at first I took for
Frederick Jacobi, but soon discovered by the dubious light to be a
stranger. He had a military air; and announcing himself by the name
of Von Knebel, gave me to understand in a short explanation, that
being in the Prussian service, he had connected himself, during a
long residence at Berlin and Potsdam, with the literati of those
places; but that at present he held the appointment from the court
of Weimar of travelling tutor to the Prince Constantine. This I
heard with pleasure; for many of our friends had brought us the
most interesting accounts from Weimar, in particular that the
Duchess Amelia, mother of the young grand duke and his brother,
summoned to her assistance in educating her sons the most
distinguished men in Germany; and that the university of Jena
cooperated powerfully in all her liberal plans. I was aware also
that Wieland was in high favor; and that the German Mercury (a
literary journal of eminence) was itself highly creditable to the
city of Jena, from which it issued. A beautiful and well-conducted
theatre had besides, as I knew, been lately established at Weimar.
This, it was true, had been destroyed; but that event, under common
circumstances so likely to be fatal as respected the present, had
served only to call forth the general expression of confidence in
the young prince as a restorer and upholder of all great interests,
and true to his purposes under any calamity." Thinking thus, and
thus prepossessed in favor of Weimar, it was natural that Goethe
should be eager to see the prince. Nothing was easier. It happened
that he and his brother Constantine were at this moment in
Frankfort, and Von Knebel willingly offered to present Goethe. No
sooner said than done; they repaired to the hotel, where they found
the illustrious travellers, with Count Goertz, the tutor of the

Upon this occasion an accident, rather than any previous reputation
of Goethe, was probably the determining occasion which led to his
favor with the future sovereign of Weimar. A new book lay upon the
table; that none of the strangers had read it, Goethe inferred from
observing that the leaves were as yet uncut. It was a work of
Moser, (_Patriotische Phantasien_;) and, being political
rather than literary in its topics, it presented to Goethe,
previously acquainted with its outline, an opportunity for
conversing with the prince upon subjects nearest to his heart, and
of showing that he was not himself a mere studious recluse. The
opportunity was not lost; the prince and his tutor were much
interested, and perhaps a little surprised. Such subjects have the
further advantage, according to Goethe's own illustration, that,
like the Arabian thousand and one nights, as conducted by Sultana
Scheherezade, "never ending, still beginning," they rarely come to
any absolute close, but so interweave one into another, as still to
leave behind a large arrear of interest In order to pursue the
conversation, Goethe was invited to meet them soon after at Mentz.
He kept the appointment punctually; made himself even more
agreeable; and finally received a formal invitation to enter the
service of this excellent prince, who was now beginning to collect
around him all those persons who have since made Weimar so
distinguished a name in connection with the German literature. With
some opposition from his father, who held up the rupture between
Voltaire and Frederick of Prussia as a precedent applying to all
possible connections of princes and literati, Goethe accepted the
invitation; and hence forwards, for upwards of fifty-five years, his
fortunes were bound up with those of the ducal house of Weimar.

The noble part which that house played in the great modern drama of
German politics is well known, and would have been better known had
its power been greater. But the moral value of its sacrifices and
its risks is not the less. Had greater potentates shown equal
firmness, Germany would not have been laid at the feet of Napoleon.
In 1806 the grand duke was aware of the peril which awaited the
allies of Prussia; but neither his heart nor his conscience would
allow of his deserting a friend in whose army he held a principal
command. The decisive battle took place in his own territory, and
not far from his own palace and city of Weimar. Personally he was
with the Prussian army; but his excellent consort stayed in the
palace to encourage her subjects, and as far as possible to
conciliate the enemy by her presence. The fortune of that great
day, the 14th of October, 1806, was decided early; and the awful
event was announced by a hot retreat and a murderous pursuit
through the streets of the town. In the evening Napoleon arrived in
person; and now came the trying moment. "The duchess," says an
Englishman well acquainted with Weimar and its court, "placed
herself on the top of the staircase to greet him with the formality
of a courtly reception. Napoleon started when he beheld her, _Qui
etes vous_? he exclaimed with characteristic abruptness. _Je
suis la Duchesse de Weimar. Je vous plains_, he retorted
fiercely, J'ecraserai votre mari; he then added, 'I shall dine in
my apartment,' and rushed by her. The night was spent on the part
of the soldiery in all the horrid excesses of rapine. In the
morning the duchess sent to inquire concerning the health of his
majesty the emperor, and to solicit an audience. He, who had now
benefited by his dreams, or by his reflections, returned a gracious
answer, and invited himself to breakfast with her in her
apartment." In the conversation which ensued, Napoleon asked her if
her husband were mad, upon which she justified the duke by
appealing to his own magnanimity, asking in her turn if his majesty
would have approved of his deserting the king of Prussia at the
moment when he was attacked by so potent a monarch as himself. The
rest of the conversation was in the same spirit, uniting with a
sufficient concession to the circumstances of the moment a
dignified vindication of a high-minded policy. Napoleon was deeply
impressed with respect for her, and loudly expressed it. For her
sake, indeed, he even affected to pardon her husband, thus making a
merit with her of the necessity which he felt, from other motives,
for showing forbearance towards a family so nearly allied to that
of St. Petersburg. In 1813 the grand duke was found at his post in
that great gathering of the nations which took place on the
stupendous fields of Leipsic, and was complimented by the allied
sovereigns as one of the most faithful amongst the faithful to the
great cause, yet undecided, of national independence.

With respect to Goethe, as a councillor so near the duke's person,
it may be supposed that his presence was never wanting where it
promised to be useful. In the earlier campaigns of the duke, Goethe
was his companion; but in the final contest with Napoleon be was
unequal to the fatigues of such a post. In all the functions of
peace, however, he continued to be a useful servant to the last,
though long released from all official duties. Each had indeed most
honorably earned the gratitude of the other. Goethe had surrendered
the flower of his years and the best energies of his mind to the
service of his serene master. On the other hand, that master had to
him been at once his Augustus and his Maecenas; such is his own
expression. Under him he had founded a family, raised an estate,
obtained titles and decorations from various courts; and in the
very vigor of his life he had been allowed to retire, with all the
honors of long service, to the sanctuary of his own study, and to
the cultivation of his leisure, as the very highest mode in which
he could further the public interest.

The life of Goethe was so quiet and so uniform after the year 1775,
when he may first be said to have entered into active life, by
taking service with the Duke of Weimar, that a biographer will
find hardly any event to notice, except two journeys to Italy, and
one campaign in 1792, until he draws near the close of his long
career. It cannot interest an English reader to see the dates of
his successive appointments. It is enough to know that they soon
raised him to as high a station as was consistent with literary
leisure; and that he had from the beginning enjoyed the unlimited
confidence of his sovereign. Nothing remained, in fact, for the
subject to desire which the prince had not previously volunteered.
In 1825, they were able to look back upon a course of uninterrupted
friendship, maintained through good and evil fortunes, unexampled
in their agitation and interest for fifty years. The duke
commemorated this remarkable event by a jubilee, and by a medal in
honor of Goethe. Full of years and honor, this eminent man might
now begin to think of his departure. However, his serenity
continued unbroken nearly for two years more, when his illustrious
patron died. That shock was the first which put his fortitude to
trial. In 1830 others followed; the duchess, who had won so much
admiration from Napoleon, died; then followed his own son; and
there remained little now to connect his wishes with the earth. The
family of his patron he had lived to see flourishing in his
descendants to the fourth generation. His own grandchildren were
prosperous and happy. His intellectual labors were now
accomplished. All that remained to wish for was a gentle
dismission. This he found in the spring of 1832. After a six days'
illness, which caused him no apparent suffering, on the morning of
the 22d of March he breathed away as if into a gentle sleep,
surrounded by his daughter-in-law and her children. Never was a
death more in harmony with the life it closed; both had the same
character of deep and absolute serenity.

Such is the outline of Goethe's life, traced through its principal
events. But as these events, after all, borrow their interest
mainly from the consideration allowed to Goethe as an author, and
as a model in the German literature,--_that_ being the centre
about which all secondary feelings of interest in the man must
finally revolve,--it thus becomes a duty to throw a glance over his
principal works. Dismissing his songs, to which has been ascribed
by some critics a very high value for their variety and their
lyrical enthusiasm; dismissing also a large body of short
miscellaneous poems, suited to the occasional circumstances in
which they arose; we may throw the capital works of Goethe into two
classes, philosophic novels, and dramas. The novels, which we call
_philosophic_ by way of expressing their main characteristic
in being written to serve a preconceived purpose, or to embody some
peculiar views of life, or some aspects of philosophic truth, are
three, viz., the _Werther's Leiden_; secondly, the _Wilhelm
Meister_; and, lastly, the _Wahloer-wand-schaften_. The
first two exist in English translations; and though the
_Werther_ had the disadvantage of coming to us through a
French version, already, perhaps, somewhat colored and distorted to
meet the Parisian standards of sentiment, yet, as respects Goethe
and his reputation amongst us, this wrong has been redressed, or
compensated at least, by the good fortune of his _Wilhelm
Meister_, in falling into the hands of a translator whose
original genius qualified him for sympathizing even to excess with
any real merits in that work. This novel is in its own nature and
purpose sufficiently obscure; and the commentaries which have been
written upon it by the Hurnboldts, Schlegels, &c., make the enigma
still more enigmatical. We shall not venture abroad upon an ocean
of discussion so truly dark, and at the same time so illimitable.
Whether it be qualified to excite any deep and _sincere_
feeling of one kind or another in the German mind,--in a mind
trained under German discipline,--this we will consent to waive as
a question not immediately interesting to ourselves. Enough that it
has not gained, and will not gain, any attention in this country;
and this not only because it is thoroughly deficient in all points
of attraction to readers formed upon our English literature, but
because in some capital circumstances it is absolutely repulsive.
We do not wish to offend the admirers of Goethe; but the simplicity
of truth will not allow us to conceal, that in various points of
description or illustration, and sometimes in the very outline of
the story, the _Wilhelm Meister_ is at open war, not with
decorum and good taste merely, but with moral purity and the
dignity of human nature. As a novelist, Goethe and his reputation
are problems, and likely to continue such, to the countrymen of
Mrs. Inchbald, Miss Harriet Lee, Miss Edgeworth, and Sir Walter
Scott. To the dramatic works of Goethe we are disposed to pay more
homage; but neither in the absolute amount of our homage at all
professing to approach his public admirers, nor to distribute the
proportions of this homage amongst his several performances
according to the graduations of _their_ scale. The
_Iphigenie_ is built upon the old subject of Iphigenia in
Tauris, as treated by Euripides and other Grecian dramatists; and,
if we are to believe a Schlegel, it is in beauty and effect a mere
echo or reverberation from the finest strains of the old Grecian
music. That it is somewhat nearer to the Greek model than a play
after the fashion of Racine, we grant. Setting aside such faithful
transcripts from the antique as the Samson Agonistes, we might
consent to view Goethe as that one amongst the moderns who had made
the closest approximation to the Greek stage. _Proximus_, we
might say, with Quintilian, but with him we must add," _sed lango
intervallo_; "and if in the second rank, yet nearer to the third
than to the first. Two other dramas, the _Clavigo_ and the
_Egmont_, fall below the _Iphigenie_ by the very
character of their pretensions; the first as too openly renouncing
the grandeurs of the ideal; the second as confessedly violating the
historic truth of character, without temptation to do so, and
without any consequent indemnification. The _Tasso_ has been
supposed to realize an Italian beauty of genial warmth and of sunny
repose; but from the common defect of German criticism--the absence
of all sufficient illustrations--it is as difficult to understand
the true nature and constituents of the supposed Italian standard
set up for the regulation of our judgments, as it is to measure the
degree of approach made to that standard in this particular work.
_Eugenie_ is celebrated for the artificial burnish of the
style, but otherwise has been little relished. It has the beauty of
marble sculpture, say the critics of Goethe, but also the coldness.
We are not often disposed to quarrel with these critics as
_below_ the truth in their praises; in this instance we are.
The _Eugenie_ is a fragment, or (as Goethe himself called it
in conversation) a _torso_, being only the first drama in a
trilogy or series of three dramas, each having a separate plot,
whilst all are parts of a more general and comprehensive plan. It
may be charged with languor in the movement of the action, and with
excess of illustration. Thus, _e. g_. the grief of the prince
for the supposed death of his daughter, is the monotonous topic
which occupies one entire act. But the situations, though not those
of _scenical_ distress, are so far from being unexciting,
that, on the contrary, they are too powerfully afflicting.

The lustre of all these performances, however, is eclipsed by the
unrivalled celebrity amongst German critics of the _Faust_.
Upon this it is better to say nothing than too little. How trifling
an advance has been made towards clearing the ground for any sane
criticism, may be understood from this fact, that as yet no two
people have agreed about the meaning of any separate scene, or
about the drift of the whole. Neither is this explained by saying,
that until lately the _Faust_ was a fragment; for no
additional light has dawned upon the main question since the
publication of the latter part.

One work there is of Goethe's which falls into neither of the
classes here noticed; we mean the _Hermann and Dorothea_, a
narrative poem, in hexameter verse. This appears to have given more
pleasure to readers not critical, than any other work of its
author; and it is remarkable that it traverses humbler ground, as
respects both its subject, its characters, and its scenery. From
this, and other indications of the same kind, we are disposed to
infer that Goethe mistook his destination; that his aspiring nature
misled him; and that his success would have been greater had he
confined himself to the _real_ in domestic life, without
raising his eyes to the _ideal_.

We must also mention, that Goethe threw out some novel speculations
in physical science, and particularly in physiology, in the
doctrine of colors, and in comparative anatomy, which have divided
the opinions of critics even more than any of those questions which
have arisen upon points more directly connected with his avowed
character of poet.

It now remains to say a few words by way of summing up his
pretensions as a man, and his intellectual power in the age to
which he belonged. His rank and value as a moral being are so plain
as to be legible to him who runs. Everybody must feel that his
temperament and constitutional tendency was of that happy quality,
the animal so nicely balanced with the intellectual, that with any
ordinary measure of prosperity he could not be otherwise than a
good man. He speaks himself of his own "virtue," _sans
phrase_; and we tax him with no vanity in doing so. As a young
man even at the universities, which at that time were barbarously
sensual in Germany, he was (for so much we collect from his own
Memoirs) eminently capable of self-restraint. He preserves a tone
of gravity, of sincerity, of respect for female dignity, which we
never find associated with the levity and recklessness of vice. We
feel throughout, the presence of one who, in respecting others,
respects himself; and the cheerfulness of the presiding tone
persuades us at once that the narrator is in a healthy moral
condition, fears no ill, and is conscious of having meditated none.
Yet at the same time we cannot disguise from ourselves, that the
moral temperament of Goethe was one which demanded prosperity. Had
he been called to face great afflictions, singular temptations, or
a billowy and agitated course of life, our belief is that his
nature would have been found unequal to the strife; he would have
repeated the mixed and moody character of his father. Sunny
prosperity was essential to his nature; his virtues were adapted to
that condition. And happily that was his fate. He had no personal
misfortunes; his path was joyous in this life; and even the reflex
sorrow from the calamities of his friends did not press too heavily
on his sympathies; none of these were in excess either as to degree
or duration.

In this estimate of Goethe as a moral being, few people will differ
with us, unless it were the religious bigot. And to him we must
concede thus much, that Goethe was not that religious creature
which by nature he was intended to become. This is to be regretted.
Goethe was naturally pious, and reverential towards higher natures;
and it was in the mere levity or wantonness of youthful power,
partly also through that early false bias growing out of the Lisbon
earthquake, that he falsified his original destination. Do we mean,
then, that a childish error could permanently master his
understanding? Not so; _that_ would have been corrected with
his growing strength. But having once arisen, it must for a long
time have moulded his feelings; _until_ corrected, it must
have impressed a corresponding false bias upon his practical way of
viewing things; and that sort of false bias, once established,
might long survive a mere error of the understanding. One thing is
undeniable,--Goethe had so far corrupted and clouded his natural
mind, that he did not look up to God, or the system of things
beyond the grave, with the interest of reverence and awe, but with
the interest of curiosity.

Goethe, however, in a moral estimate, will be viewed pretty
uniformly. But Goethe intellectually, Goethe as a power acting upon
the age in which he lived, that is another question. Let us put a
case; suppose that Goethe's death had occurred fifty years ago,
that is, in the year 1785, what would have been the general
impression? Would Europe have felt a shock? Would Europe have been
sensible even of the event? Not at all; it would have been
obscurely noticed in the newspapers of Germany, as the death of a
novelist who had produced some effect about ten years before. In
1832, it was announced by the post-horns of all Europe as the death
of him who had written the _Wilhelm Meister_, the
_Iphigenie_, and the _Faust_, and who had been enthroned
by some of his admirers on the same seat with Homer and Shakspeare,
as composing what they termed the _trinity of men of genius_.
And yet it is a fact, that, in the opinion of some amongst the
acknowledged leaders of our own literature for the last twenty-five
years, the _Werther_ was superior to all which followed it,
and for mere power was the paramount work of Goethe. For ourselves,
we must acknowledge our assent upon the whole to this verdict; and
at the same time we will avow our belief that the reputation of
Goethe must decline for the next generation or two, until it
reaches its just level. Three causes, we are persuaded, have
concurred to push it so far beyond the proportion of real and
genuine interest attached to his works, for in Germany his works
are little read, and in this country not at all. _First_, his
extraordinary age; for the last twenty years Goethe had been the
patriarch of the German literature. _Secondly_, the splendor
of his official rank at the court of Weimar; he was the minister
and private friend of the patriot sovereign amongst the princes of
Germany. _Thirdly_, the quantity of enigmatical and
unintelligible writing which he has designedly thrown into his
latter works, by way of keeping up a system of discussion and
strife upon his own meaning amongst the critics of his country.
These disputes, had his meaning been of any value in his own eyes,
he would naturally have settled by a few authoritative words from
himself; but it was his policy to keep alive the feud in a case
where it was of importance, that his name should continue to
agitate the world, but of none at all that he should be rightly


John Christopher Frederick von Schiller, was born at Marbach, a
small town in the duchy of Wurtemberg, on the 10th day of November,
1759. It will aid the reader in synchronizing the periods of this
great man's life with the corresponding events throughout
Christendom, if we direct his attention to the fact, that
Schiller's birth nearly coincided in point of time with that of
Robert Burns, and that it preceded that of Napoleon by about ten

The position of Schiller is remarkable. In the land of his birth,
by those who undervalue him the most, he is ranked as the second
name in German literature; everywhere else he is ranked as the
first. For us, who are aliens to Germany, Schiller is the
representative of the German intellect in its highest form; and to
him, at all events, whether first or second, it is certainly due,
that the German intellect has become a known power, and a power of
growing magnitude, for the great commonwealth of Christendom.
Luther and Kepler, potent intellects as they were, did not make
themselves known as Germans. The revolutionary vigor of the one,
the starry lustre of the other, blended with the convulsions of
reformation, or with the aurora of ascending science, in too kindly
and genial a tone to call off the attention from the work which
they performed, from the service which they promoted, to the
circumstances of their personal position. Their country, their
birth, their abode, even their separate existence, was merged in
the mighty cause to which they lent their cooperation. And thus at
the beginning of the sixteenth century, thus at the beginning of
the seventeenth, did the Titan sons of Germany defeat their own
private pretensions by the very grandeur of their merits. Their
interest as patriots was lost and confounded in their paramount
interest as cosmopolites. What they did for man and for human
dignity eclipsed what they had designed for Germany. After them
there was a long interlunar period of darkness for the land of the
Rhine and the Danube. The German energy, too spasmodically excited,
suffered a collapse. Throughout the whole of the seventeenth
century, but one vigorous mind arose for permanent effects in
literature. This was Opitz, a poet who deserves even yet to be read
with attention, but who is no more worthy to be classed as the
Dryden, whom his too partial countrymen have styled him, than the
Germany of the Thirty Years' War of taking rank by the side of
civilized and cultured England during the Cromwellian era, or
Klopstock of sitting on the same throne with Milton. Leibnitz was
the one sole potentate in the fields of intellect whom the Germany
of this country produced; and he, like Luther and Kepler, impresses
us rather as a European than as a German mind, partly perhaps from
his having pursued his self-development in foreign lands, partly
from his large circle of foreign connections, but most of all from
his having written chiefly in French or in Latin. Passing onwards
to the eighteenth century, we find, through its earlier half, an
absolute wilderness, unreclaimed and without promise of natural
vegetation, as the barren arena on which the few insipid writers of
Germany paraded. The torpor of academic dulness domineered over the
length and breadth of the land. And as these academic bodies were
universally found harnessed in the equipage of petty courts, it
followed that the lethargies of pedantic dulness were uniformly
deepened by the lethargies of aulic and ceremonial dulness; so
that, if the reader represents to himself the very abstract of
birthday odes, sycophantish dedications, and court sermons, he will
have some adequate idea of the sterility and the mechanical
formality which at that era spread the sleep of death over German
literature. Literature, the very word literature, points the
laughter of scorn to what passed under that name during the period
of Gottsched. That such a man indeed as this Gottsched, equal at
the best to the composition of a Latin grammar or a school
arithmetic, should for a moment have presided over the German
muses, stands out as in itself a brief and significant memorial,
too certain for contradiction, and yet almost too gross for belief,
of the apoplectic sleep under which the mind of central Europe at
that era lay oppressed. The rust of disuse had corroded the very
principles of activity.

And, as if the double night of academic dulness, combined with the
dulness of court inanities, had not been sufficient for the
stifling of all native energies, the feebleness of French models
(and of these moreover naturalized through still feebler
imitations) had become the law and standard for all attempts at
original composition. The darkness of night, it is usually said,
grows deeper as it approaches the dawn; and the very enormity of
that prostration under which the German intellect at this time
groaned, was the most certain pledge to any observing eye of that
intense reaction soon to stir and kindle among the smouldering
activities of this spell-bound people. This re-action, however, was
not abrupt and theatrical. It moved through slow stages and by
equable gradations. It might be said to commence from the middle of
the eighteenth century, that is, about nine years before the birth
of Schiller; but a progress of forty years had not carried it so
far towards its meridian altitude, as that the sympathetic shock
from the French Revolution was by one fraction more rude and
shattering than the public torpor still demanded. There is a
memorable correspondency throughout all members of Protestant
Christendom in whatsoever relates to literature and intellectual
advance. However imperfect the organization which binds them
together, it was sufficient even in these elder times to transmit
reciprocally from one to every other, so much of that illumination
which could be gathered into books, that no Christian state could
be much in advance of another, supposing that Popery opposed no
barriers to free communication, unless only in those points which
depended upon local gifts of nature, upon the genius of a
particular people, or upon the excellence of its institutions.
These advantages were incommunicable, let the freedom of
intercourse have been what it might. England could not send off by
posts or by heralds her iron and coals; she could not send the
indomitable energy of her population; she could not send the
absolute security of property; she could not send the good faith of
her parliaments. These were gifts indigenous to herself, either
through the temperament of her people, or through the original
endowments of her soil. But her condition of moral sentiment, her
high-toned civic elevation, her atmosphere of political feeling and
popular boldness; much of these she could and did transmit, by the
radiation of the press, to the very extremities of the German
empire. Not only were our books translated, but it is notorious to
those acquainted with German novels, or other pictures of German
society, that as early as the Seven Years' War, (1756-1763,) in
fact, from the very era when Cave and Dr. Johnson first made the
parliamentary debates accessible to the English themselves, most of
the German journals repeated, and sent forward as by telegraph,
these senatorial displays to every village throughout Germany. From
the polar latitudes to the Mediterranean, from the mouths of the
Rhine to the Euxine, there was no other exhibition of free
deliberative eloquence in any popular assembly. And the
_Luise_ of Voss alone, a metrical idyl not less valued for its
truth of portraiture than our own Vicar of Wakefield, will show,
that the most sequestered clergyman of a rural parish did not think
his breakfast equipage complete without the latest report from the
great senate that sat in London. Hence we need not be astonished
that German and English literature were found by the French
Revolution in pretty nearly the same condition of semi-vigilance
and imperfect animation. That mighty event reached us both, reached
us all, we may say, (speaking of Protestant states,) at the same
moment, by the same tremendous galvanism. The snake, the
intellectual snake, that lay in ambush among all nations, roused
itself, sloughed itself, renewed its youth, in all of them at the
same period. A new world opened upon us all; new revolutions of
thought arose; new and nobler activities were born; "and other
palms were won."

But by and through Schiller it was, as its main organ, that this
great revolutionary impulse expressed itself. Already, as we have
said, not less than forty years before the earthquake by which
France exploded and projected the scoria of her huge crater over
all Christian lands, a stirring had commenced among the dry bones
of intellectual Germany; and symptoms arose that the breath of life
would soon disturb, by nobler agitations than by petty personal
quarrels, the deathlike repose even of the German universities.
Precisely in those bodies, however, it was, in those as connected
with tyrannical governments, each academic body being shackled to
its own petty centre of local despotism, that the old spells
remained unlinked; and to them, equally remarkable as firm trustees
of truth, and as obstinate depositories of darkness or of
superannuated prejudice, we must ascribe the slowness of the German
movement on the path of reascent. Meantime the earliest
torch-bearer to the murky literature of this great land, this
crystallization of political states, was Bodmer. This man had no
demoniac genius, such as the service required; but he had some
taste, and, what was better, he had some sensibility. He lived
among the Alps; and his reading lay among the alpine sublimities of
Milton and Shakspeare. Through his very eyes he imbibed a daily
scorn of Gottsched and his monstrous compound of German coarseness
with French sensual levity. He could not look at his native Alps,
but he saw in them, and their austere grandeurs or their dread
realities, a spiritual reproach to the hollowness and falsehood of
that dull imposture which Gottsched offered by way of substitute
for nature. He was taught by the Alps to crave for something nobler
and deeper. Bodmer, though far below such a function, rose by favor
of circumstances into an apostle or missionary of truth for
Germany. He translated passages of English literature. He
inoculated with his own sympathies the more fervent mind of the
youthful Klopstock, who visited him in Switzerland. And it soon
became evident that Germany was not dead, but sleeping; and once
again, legibly for any eye, the pulses of life began to play freely
through the vast organization of central Europe.

Klopstock, however, though a fervid, a religious, and for that
reason an anti-Gallican mind, was himself an abortion. Such at
least is our own opinion of this poet. He was the child and
creature of enthusiasm, but of enthusiasm not allied with a
masculine intellect, or any organ for that capacious vision and
meditative range which his subjects demanded. He vas essentially
thoughtless, betrays everywhere a most effeminate quality of
sensibility, and is the sport of that pseudo-enthusiasm and
baseless rapture which we see so often allied with the excitement
of strong liquors. In taste, or the sense of proportions and
congruencies, or the harmonious adaptations, he is perhaps the most
defective writer extant.

But if no patriarch of German literature, in the sense of having
shaped the moulds in which it was to flow, in the sense of having
disciplined its taste or excited its rivalship by classical models
of excellence, or raised a finished standard of style, perhaps we
must concede that, on a minor scale, Klopstock did something of
that service in every one of these departments. His works were at
least Miltonic in their choice of subjects, if ludicrously
non-Miltonic in their treatment of those subjects. And, whether due
to him or not, it is undeniable that in his time the mother-tongue
of Germany revived from the most absolute degradation on record, to
its ancient purity. In the time of Gottsched, the authors of
Germany wrote a macaronic jargon, in which French and Latin made up
a considerable proportion of every sentence: nay, it happened often
that foreign words were inflected with German forms; and the whole
result was such as to remind the reader of the medical examination
in the _Malade Imaginaire_ of Moliere,

"Quid poetea est a faire?
Ensuita purgare," &c.

Now is it reasonable to ascribe some share in the restoration of
good to Klopstock, both because his own writings exhibit nothing of
this most abject euphuism, (a euphuism expressing itself not in
fantastic refinements on the staple of the language, but altogether
in rejecting it for foreign words and idioms,) and because he wrote
expressly on the subject of style and composition?

Wieland, meantime, if not enjoying so intense an acceptation as
Klopstock, had a more extensive one; and it is in vain to deny him
the praise of a festive, brilliant, and most versatile wit. The
Schlegels showed the haughty malignity of their ungenerous natures,
in depreciating Wieland, at a time when old age had laid a freezing
hand upon the energy which he would once have put forth in
defending himself. He was the Voltaire of Germany, and very much
more than the Voltaire; for his romantic and legendary poems are
above the level of Voltaire. But, on the other hand, he was a
Voltaire in sensual impurity. To work, to carry on a plot, to
affect his readers by voluptuous impressions,--these were the
unworthy aims of Wieland; and though a good-natured critic would
not refuse to make some allowance for a youthful poet's aberrations
in this respect, yet the indulgence cannot extend itself to mature
years. An old man corrupting his readers, attempting to corrupt
them, or relying for his effect upon corruptions already effected,
in the purity of their affections, is a hideous object; and that
must be a precarious influence indeed which depends for its
durability upon the licentiousness of men. Wieland, therefore,
except in parts, will not last as a national idol; but such he was
nevertheless for a time.

Burger wrote too little of any expansive compass to give the
measure of his powers, or to found national impression;
Lichtenberg, though a very sagacious observer, never rose into what
can be called a power, he did not modify his age; yet these were
both men of extraordinary talent, and Burger a man of undoubted
genius. On the other hand, Lessing was merely a man of talent, but
of talent in the highest degree adapted to popularity. His very
defects, and the shallowness of his philosophy, promoted his
popularity; and by comparison with the French critics on the
dramatic or scenical proprieties he is ever profound. His plummet,
if not suited to the soundless depths of Shakspeare, was able ten
times over to fathom the little rivulets of Parisian philosophy.
This he did effectually, and thus unconsciously levelled the paths
for Shakspeare, and for that supreme dominion which he has since
held over the German stage, by crushing with his sarcastic
shrewdness the pretensions of all who stood in the way. At that
time, and even yet, the functions of a literary man were very
important in Germany; the popular mind and the popular instinct
pointed one way, those of the little courts another. Multitudes of
little German states (many of which were absorbed since 1816 by the
process of _mediatizing_) made it their ambition to play at
keeping mimic armies in their pay, and to ape the greater military
sovereigns, by encouraging French literature only, and the French
language at their courts. It was this latter propensity which had
generated the anomalous macaronic dialect, of which we have already
spoken as a characteristic circumstance in the social features of
literary Germany during the first half of the eighteenth century.
Nowhere else, within the records of human follies, do we find a
corresponding case, in which the government and the patrician
orders in the state, taking for granted, and absolutely postulating
the utter worthlessness for intellectual aims of those in and by
whom they maintained their own grandeur and independence,
undisguisedly and even professedly sought to ally themselves with a
foreign literature, foreign literati, and a foreign language. In
this unexampled display of scorn for native resources, and the
consequent collision between the two principles of action, all
depended upon the people themselves. For a time the wicked and most
profligate contempt of the local governments for that native merit
which it was their duty to evoke and to cherish, naturally enough
produced its own justification. Like Jews or slaves, whom all the
world have agreed to hold contemptible, the German literati found
it hard to make head against so obstinate a prejudgment; and too
often they became all that they were presumed to be. _Sint
Maecenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones._ And the converse too
often holds good--that when all who should have smiled scowl upon a
man, he turns out the abject thing they have predicted. Where
Frenchified Fredericks sit upon German thrones, it should not
surprise us to see a crop of Gottscheds arise as the best fruitage
of the land. But when there is any latent nobility in the popular
mind, such scorn, by its very extremity, will call forth its own
counteraction. It was perhaps good for Germany that a prince so
eminent in one aspect as _Fritz der einziger,_[Footnote: _"
Freddy the unique;"_ which is the name by which the Prussians
expressed their admiration of the martial and indomitable, though
somewhat fantastic, king.] should put on record so emphatically his
intense conviction, that no good thing could arise out of Germany.
This creed was expressed by the quality of the French minds which
he attracted to his court. The very refuse and dregs of the
Parisian coteries satisfied his hunger for French garbage; the very
offal of their shambles met the demand of his palate; even a
Maupertuis, so long as he could produce a French baptismal
certificate, was good enough to manufacture into the president of a
Berlin academy. Such scorn challenged a reaction: the contest lay
between the thrones of Germany and the popular intellect, and the
final result was inevitable. Once aware that they were insulted,
once enlightened to the full consciousness of the scorn which
trampled on them as intellectual and predestined Helots, even the
mild-tempered Germans became fierce, and now began to aspire, not
merely under the ordinary instincts of personal ambition, but with
a vindictive feeling, and as conscious agents of retribution. It
became a pleasure with the German author, that the very same works
which elevated himself, wreaked his nation upon their princes, and
poured retorted scorn upon their most ungenerous and unparental
sovereigns. Already, in the reign of the martial Frederick, the men
who put most weight of authority into his contempt of Germans,
--Euler, the matchless Euler, Lambert, and Immanuel Kant,--had
vindicated the preeminence of German mathematics. Already, in 1755,
had the same Immanuel Kant, whilst yet a probationer for the chair
of logic in a Prussian university, sketched the outline of that
philosophy which has secured the admiration, though not the assent
of all men known and proved to have understood it, of all men able
to state its doctrines in terms admissible by its disciples.
Already, and even previously, had Haller, who wrote in German,
placed himself at the head of the current physiology. And in the
fields of science or of philosophy, the victory was already decided
for the German intellect in competition with the French.

But the fields of literature were still comparatively barren.
Klopstock was at least an anomaly; Lessing did not present himself
in the impassioned walks of literature; Herder was viewed too much
in the exclusive and professional light of a clergyman; and, with
the exception of John Paul Bichter, a man of most original genius,
but quite unfitted for general popularity, no commanding mind arose
in Germany with powers for levying homage from foreign nations,
until the appearance, as a great scenical poet, of Frederick

The father of this great poet was Caspar Schiller, an officer in
the military service of the Duke of Wurtemberg. He had previously
served as a surgeon in the Bavarian army; but on his final return
to his native country of Wurtemberg, and to the service of his
native prince, he laid aside his medical character for ever, and
obtained a commission as ensign and adjutant. In 1763, the peace of
Paris threw him out of his military employment, with the nominal
rank of captain. But, having conciliated the duke's favor, he was
still borne on the books of the ducal establishment; and, as a
planner of ornamental gardens, or in some other civil capacity, he
continued to serve his serene highness for the rest of his life.

The parents of Schiller were both pious, upright persons, with that
loyal fidelity to duty, and that humble simplicity of demeanor
towards their superiors, which is so often found among the
unpretending natives of Germany. It is probable, however, that
Schiller owed to his mother exclusively the preternatural
endowments of his intellect. She was of humble origin, the daughter
of a baker, and not so fortunate as to have received much
education. But she was apparently rich in gifts of the heart and
the understanding. She read poetry with delight; and through the
profound filial love with which she had inspired her son, she found
it easy to communicate her own literary tastes. Her husband was not
illiterate, and had in mature life so laudably applied himself to
the improvement of his own defective knowledge, that at length he
thought himself capable of appearing before the public as an
author. His book related simply to the subjects of his professional
experience as a horticulturist, and was entitled _Die Baumzurht
im Grossen_(On the Management of Forests.) Some merit we must
suppose it to have had, since the public called for a second
edition of it long after his own death, and even after that of his
illustrious son. And although he was a plain man, of no
pretensions, and possibly even of slow faculties, he has left
behind him a prayer, in which there is one petition of sublime and
pathetic piety, worthy to be remembered by the side of Agar's wise
prayer against the almost equal temptations of poverty and riches.
At the birth of his son, he had been reflecting with sorrowful
anxiety, not unmingled with self-reproach, on his own many
disqualifications for conducting the education of the child.

But at length, reading in his own manifold imperfections but so
many reiterations of the necessity that he should rely upon God's
bounty, converting his very defects into so many arguments of hope
and confidence in heaven, he prayed thus: "Oh God, that knowest my
poverty in good gifts for my son's inheritance, graciously permit
that, even as the want of bread became to thy Son's hunger-stricken
flock in the wilderness the pledge of overflowing abundance, so
likewise my darkness may, in its sad extremity, carry with it the
measure of thy unfathomable light; and because I, thy worm, cannot
give to my son the least of blessings, do thou give the greatest;
because in my hands there is not any thing, do thou from thine pour
out all things; and that temple of a new-born spirit, which I
cannot adorn even with earthly ornaments of dust and ashes, do thou
irradiate with the celestial adornment of thy presence, and finally
with that peace that passeth all understanding." Reared at the feet
of parents so pious and affectionate, Schiller would doubtless pass
a happy childhood; and probably to this utter tranquillity of his
earlier years, to his seclusion from all that could create pain, or
even anxiety, we must ascribe the unusual dearth of anecdotes from
this period of his life; a dearth which has tempted some of his
biographers into improving and embellishing some puerile stories,
which a man of sense will inevitably reject as too trivial for his
gravity or too fantastical for his faith. That nation is happy,
according to a common adage, which furnishes little business to the
historian; for such a vacuity in facts argues a condition of
perfect peace and silent prosperity. That childhood is happy, or
may generally be presumed such, which has furnished few records of
external experience, little that has appeared in doing or in
suffering to the eyes of companions; for the child who has been
made happy by early thoughtfulness, and by infantine struggles with
the great ideas of his origin and his destination, (ideas which
settle with a deep, dove-like brooding upon the mind of childhood,
more than of mature life, vexed with inroads from the noisy world,)
will not manifest the workings of his spirit by much of external
activity. The _fallentis semita vitae_, that path of noiseless
life, which eludes and deceives the conscious notice both of its
subject and of all around him, opens equally to the man and to the
child; and the happiest of all childhoods will have been that of
which the happiness has survived and expressed itself, not in
distinct records, but in deep affection, in abiding love, and the
hauntings of meditative power.

Such a childhood, in the bosom of maternal tenderness, was probably
passed by Schiller; and his first awaking to the world of strife
and perplexity happened in his fourteenth year. Up to that period
his life had been vagrant, agreeably to the shifting necessities of
the ducal service, and his education desultory and domestic. But in
the year 1773 he was solemnly entered as a member of a new
academical institution, founded by the reigning duke, and recently
translated to his little capital of Stuttgard. This change took
place at the special request of the duke, who, under the mask of
patronage, took upon himself the severe control of the whole simple
family. The parents were probably both too humble and dutiful in
spirit towards one whom they regarded in the double light of
sovereign lord and of personal benefactor, ever to murmur at the
ducal behests, far less to resist them. The duke was for them an
earthly providence; and they resigned themselves, together with
their child, to the disposal of him who dispensed their earthly
blessings, not less meekly than of Him whose vicegerent they
presumed him to be. In such a frame of mind, requests are but
another name for commands; and thus it happened that a second
change arose upon the first, even more determinately fatal to the
young Schiller's happiness. Hitherto he had cherished a day-dream
pointing to the pastoral office in some rural district, as that
which would harmonize best with his intellectual purposes, with his
love of quiet, and by means of its preparatory requirements, best
also with his own peculiar choice of studies. But this scheme he
now found himself compelled to sacrifice; and the two evils which
fell upon him concurrently in his new situation were, first, the
formal military discipline and monotonous routine of duty;
secondly, the uncongenial direction of the studies, which were
shaped entirely to the attainment of legal knowledge, and the
narrow service of the local tribunals. So illiberal and so
exclusive a system of education was revolting to the expansive mind
of Schiller; and the military bondage under which this system was
enforced, shocked the aspiring nobility of his moral nature, not
less than the technical narrowness of the studies shocked his
understanding. In point of expense the whole establishment cost
nothing at all to those parents who were privileged servants of the
duke: in this number were the parents of Schiller, and that single
consideration weighed too powerfully upon his filial piety to allow
of his openly murmuring at his lot; while on _their_ part the
parents were equally shy of encouraging a disgust which too
obviously tended to defeat the promises of ducal favor. This system
of monotonous confinement was therefore carried to its completion,
and the murmurs of the young Schiller were either dutifully
suppressed, or found vent only in secret letters to a friend. In
one point only Schiller was able to improve his condition; jointly
with the juristic department, was another for training young
aspirants to the medical profession. To this, as promising a more
enlarged scheme of study, Schiller by permission transferred
himself in 1775. But whatever relief he might find in the nature of
his new studies, he found none at all in the system of personal
discipline which prevailed.

Under the oppression of this detested system, and by pure reaction
against its wearing persecutions, we learn from Schiller himself,
that in his nineteenth year he undertook the earliest of his
surviving plays, the Robbers, beyond doubt the most tempestuous,
the most volcanic, we might say, of all juvenile creations anywhere
recorded. He himself calls it "a monster," and a monster it is; but
a monster which has never failed to convulse the heart of young
readers with the temperament of intellectual enthusiasm and
sensibility. True it is, and nobody was more aware of that fact
than Schiller himself in after years, the characters of the three
Moors, father and sons, are mere impossibilities; and some readers,
in whom the judicious acquaintance with human life in its realities
has outrun the sensibilities, are so much shocked by these
hypernatural phenomena, that they are incapable of enjoying the
terrific sublimities which on that basis of the visionary do really
exist. A poet, perhaps Schiller might have alleged, is entitled to
assume hypothetically so much in the previous positions or
circumstances of his agents as is requisite to the basis from which
he starts. It is undeniable that Shakspeare and others have availed
themselves of this principle, and with memorable success.
Shakspeare, for instance, _postulates_ his witches, his
Caliban, his Ariel: grant, he virtually says, such modes of
spiritual existence or of spiritual relations as a possibility; do
not expect me to demonstrate this, and upon that single concession
I will rear a superstructure that shall be self-consistent; every
thing shall be _internally_ coherent and reconciled, whatever
be its _external_ relations as to our human experience. But
this species of assumption, on the largest scale, is more within
the limits of credibility and plausible verisimilitude when applied
to modes of existence, which, after all, are in such total darkness
to us, (the limits of the possible being so undefined and shadowy
as to what can or cannot exist,) than the very slightest liberties
taken with human character, or with those principles of action,
motives, and feelings, upon which men would move under given
circumstances, or with the modes of action which in common prudence
they would be likely to adopt. The truth is, that, as a coherent
work of art, the Robbers is indefensible; but, however monstrous it
may be pronounced, it possesses a power to agitate and convulse,
which will always obliterate its great faults to the young, and to
all whose judgment is not too much developed. And the best apology
for Schiller is found in his own words, in recording the
circumstances and causes under which this anomalous production
arose. "To escape," says he, "from the formalities of a discipline
which was odious to my heart, I sought a retreat in the world of
ideas and shadowy possibilities, while as yet I knew nothing at all
of that human world from which I was harshly secluded by iron bars.
Of men, the actual men in this world below, I knew absolutely
nothing at the time when I composed my Robbers. Four hundred human
beings, it is true, were my fellow-prisoners in this abode; but
they were mere tautologies and reiterations of the self-same
mechanic creature, and like so many plaster casts from the same
original statue. Thus situated, of necessity I failed. In making
the attempt, my chisel brought out a monster, of which [and that
was fortunate] the world had no type or resemblance to show."

Meantime this demoniac drama produced very opposite results to
Schiller's reputation. Among the young men of Germany it was
received with an enthusiasm absolutely unparalleled, though it is
perfectly untrue that it excited some persons of rank and splendid
expectations (as a current fable asserted) to imitate Charles Moor
in becoming robbers. On the other hand, the play was of too
powerful a cast not in any case to have alarmed his serenity the
Duke of Wurtemberg; for it argued a most revolutionary mind, and
the utmost audacity of self-will. But besides this general ground
of censure, there arose a special one, in a quarter so remote, that
this one fact may serve to evidence the extent as well as intensity
of the impression made. The territory of the Grisons had been
called by Spiegelberg, one of the robbers, "the Thief's Athens."
Upon this the magistrates of that country presented a complaint to
the duke; and his highness having cited Schiller to his presence,
and severely reprimanded him, issued a decree that this dangerous
young student should henceforth confine himself to his medical

The persecution which followed exhibits such extraordinary
exertions of despotism, even for that land of irresponsible power,
that we must presume the duke to have relied more upon the hold
which he had upon Schiller through his affection for parents so
absolutely dependent on his highness's power, than upon any laws,
good or bad, which he could have pleaded as his warrant. Germany,
however, thought otherwise of the new tragedy than the serene
critic of Wurtemburg: it was performed with vast applause at the
neighboring city of Mannheim; and thither, under a most excusable
interest in his own play, the young poet clandestinely went. On his
return he was placed under arrest. And soon afterwards, being now
thoroughly disgusted, and, with some reason, alarmed by the tyranny
of the duke, Schiller finally eloped to Mannheim, availing himself
of the confusion created in Stuttgard by the visit of a foreign

At Mannheim he lived in the house of Dalberg, a man of some rank
and of sounding titles, but in Mannheim known chiefly as the
literary manager (or what is called director) of the theatre. This
connection aided in determining the subsequent direction of

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