Sayfadaki görseller
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

graces of poetry and music the courts of the Landgraves of Thuringia and Babenberg. The subject of this ancient lay consists of legends respecting the Gothic, Frankish, and Burgundian heroes, who lived in the times of the great Northern migrations ; and is treated with that simplicity of manner, purity of sentiment, and magnanimity of thought, which belong to the heroic age of German literature.

At about the same time, also, was brought to light another poem, or collection of poems, called the “Gudrun," which may be said to be the Odyssey, as the “ Lay of the Nibelungen” is the lliad, of Germany. The origin of this venerable relic is enveloped in the obscurity of antiquity, though portions of it may be traced back to the twelfth century. The scene of the sagas of the “Gudrun" is laid in different countries, in Friesland, Denmark, Zeeland, Ireland, and Normandy; and both style and matter occasionally exhibit somewhat of a Scandinavian, Danish, or British, as well as a German character. More highly polished, and more perfect in whatever belongs to poetic form, than the “ Lay of the Nibelungen,” the “Gudrun ” occupies a middle position between popular song, and a more artificial style of poetry. Both poems are an ornament to the literature, and an honor to the people of Germany. They are alive with the spirit of those old, heroic times, when barbarian bravery, fidelity, and chastity elicited the admiration even of the civilized Romans. Free from modern effeminacy, if not always from primitive coarseness of sentiment, fúll of healthy vigor and genuine virtue, these lyrical relics are of a far higher order than the contemporary productions of other European countries, and indicate the early existence, in the. Germanic race, of those high poetical and moral qualities, afterwards so illustriously displayed in the Lutheran Reformation and in recent poetry.

In the latter part of the thirteenth century, the poetry of chivalry began to be superseded by that of the trades. Cloyed with the sweet excess of love, the Muse forsook the lofty courts and castles of the Minnesingers, to descend into the noisy workshops of mechanics and tradesmen. The tailor broke the monotonous silence of his calling with divine song, and the cobbler relieved his toil with the delights of poesy. The Meistersingers were a fraternity of poetical artisans, who manufactured songs by rule and measure, as well as

[ocr errors]

shoes, coats, and houses. Art was taught by them in formal schools ; strict rules of composition were inculcated; and contests of poetic skill instituted, in which the victor was rewarded with a garland of roses. These poets generally drew their themes and inspiration either from the Bible or the contemporary literature ; and reflected in their writings the asceticism, scholasticism, mysticism, pedantry, and superstition of the times. Compared with the Minnesongs, the poetry of the Meistersingers is inferior in matter, but more perfect in form. The art of the Meisters is plastic, festive, didactic, and satirical ; that of the knights, grave, musical, refined, and either epic or lyrical. The former is the product of the imagination, and aims at entertainment; the latter, of the understanding, and always inculcates a moral. The one is subjective, — rhyming its own fancies, and idealizing the pursuits of mankind ; the other realistic, — describing the coarser forms of human character, and portraying things as they are. That is the poetry of love ; this, of life.

The prince of the Meistersingers was Hans Sachs of Nuremberg, shoemaker. Born in the latter part of the fifteenth century, he lived in that ancient city at a period when it was the high school of poetry, and the literary metropolis of Germany, when it was enriched by trade and manufactures, and adorned by the presence of men of the highest genius, and by all the polite arts which at that time embellished life. This hero of German song, though commonly classed with the Meistersingers, in fact, far surpassed them in genius, and brought about as great a reformation in letters, as Luther in religion, or Hutten in politics. He greatly improved the poetical forms which were adopted by his predecessors, and, overstepping the limits which had before been drawn around the practice of the divine art, taught his successors to walk abroad over the fields of universal knowledge. The language of Sachs is more highly cultivated than that of any contemporary except Luther. His rhymes are, indeed, frequently turned off with too great rapidity and uniformity ; his cultivation was not equal to his native talent ; but he had a great poetic soul, and nobly executed the task to which he was called, of singing the praises of virtue and satirizing the follies of superstition. polemic, he was moderate ; he was warmly interested in the

As a

[ocr errors]

religious reforms of the day, but not excited by them. In other respects, he was one of the most manly spirits who lived in the time of the Reformation, — keeping a soul serene amid all the distractions of the age, and modestly prosecuting his honest trade of shoemaking.

The Reformation gave rise to a new form of religious poetry. The Latin hymns of the Catholic church were supplanted by the sacred songs of Protestant theologians, who, from the time of Luther to that of Klopstock, held exclusive possession of the German Parnassus. The calamities of the Thirty Years' War between the rival churches unsealed the fountains of religious and poetic feeling ; and the agitated soul poured itself forth in hymns and spiritual songs. The number of these effusions of the sacred muse was very great ; Hardenberg's register contains the first lines of no less than sixty thousand. Almost every priest was, or claimed to be, a poet. The Scriptures and the creeds of the church were versified ; the Latin Catholic songs, among which were many of transcendent beauty, as, for example, , the Dies iræ, and the Apparebit repentina, were translated; of morning and evening benedictions, of bridal and burial, Christmas and new year's, songs, of house and church melodies, laments, thanksgivings, and litanies, there was almost an infinite variety. Those written by Luther are generally the best. They breathe the spirit of his firm and cheerful faith, of his deep sentiment, and his robust, yet tempered manliness of character. Luther, and most of the other writers, composed musical accompaniments to their hymns, — some of them believing, that to every one to whom the Holy Ghost imparted a new song, it also gave a new melody. Whatever Luther wrote was everywhere imitated and sung, in church and school, in the house and the shop, the street, the market place, and the field ; so that the religious songs of the theologians after the Reformation universally prevailed over the secular poetry of their predecessors, as they have also remained unequalled by similar productions of later times. Novalis and Harms

may

have written choral melodies which embody the spirit of true devotion, and which may be more elegantly finished than those of Hermann or Luther ; but the people at large have the stanch faith, the noble simplicity, and the devout reverence of the old times no longer; and, together with the loss of these virtues, they have lost their former enthusiasm for the solemn lyre.

The next great luminary that arose in the poetic beaven of Germany was Martin Opitz. He has been called the founder of the modern poetical literature of his country ; and was, at least, the father of its artistic poetry. Opitz greatly improved his vernacular language, and he united the spirit of the ancient Greek with that of the modern German literature. He first taught his countrymen the art of making literal translations from the classics ; he introduced again the secular love-song, that had hardly passed the lips of youth since the days of the Minnesingers; and, developing the powers of the North in Silesia, as those of the more precocious South had before been displayed in Suabia, he established the poetry of reflection by the side of that of sentiment. The great abilities of Opitz were acknowledged even during his lifetime. The contemporary poets were all loud in his praise ; the German muse was called the Opitzian ; a journey which he made through the land, after the publication of his poems, was a march of triumph ; and, at Vienna, he was both crowned with the laurel, and raised to the honors of nobility. He did not, however, possess the highest gifts of genius; he had no power of original invention, and his poetry was more perfect in form, than fresh and copious in materials. Neither, although there were not wanting good points in his character, was he distinguished by the nobler virtues as a man; but rather, like too many other literary men of his times, by subserviency to the great, who rewarded the poet with offices, and flattered him with titles and honors.

We have now hastily followed our author through the first three volumes of his work, containing the history of the early poetical literature of the Germans; and have reached a period, when we may look for the appearance of a poet of higher and more comprehensive genius than that which animated those whom we have already noticed. Hitherto, we have seen poetry confined to separate classes of society and local schools ; we have met with writers whose views were bound to particular times and places, and whose culture was hardly superior to that of the comparatively unenlightened age in which they lived. But Klopstock, standing on the vantage ground of modern times, overlooked the entire course of the past. He summed up the labors of all his predecessors, and harvested the combined literary culture of ten centuries. The learning acquired by previous industry, a cultivated language and an improved art, the experience of a long line of poets and ages of history, the liberal spirit of modern times, and the old superstitions, legends, and fair, poetic fables, — all were the inheritance of Klopstock. With this poet, accordingly, -as, in a less degree, with his immediate predecessor, Gottsched, - the universal, revolutionary, and comparatively independent spirit of modern German literature began distinctly to manifest itself.

Frederic Gottlob Klopstock was born in Quedlinburg, in 1724, and lived till 1803. He grew up in the open air, a vigorous and precocious boy ; and at an early age learned the arts of riding, swimming, and skating, the latter of which he passionately loved and sang. Solitude and society were equally agreeable to him ; hilarity and pensiveness seemed by turns to be the prevailing traits of his disposition. _He wrote pastorals and penitential hymns, while at school. Even in youth, says Gervinus, his fingers were skilled to sweep the Grecian lyre, the telyn of the old German bards, and the psaltery of the sacred singers of Judea. And he was soon inspired with the ambitious hope of producing some great work, that should enable his native country to take poetic rank by the side of the proudest of her sister kingdoms

Klopstock excelled in the ode, of which he composed three different kinds ; one, in the spirit of David and the prophets, another, in that of Ossian and the Edda, and the third, in imitation of Pindar and Horace. Of these different classes, the last is the best, as the Greeks and Romans were the most accomplished masters of this species of composition. According to Herder, every one of Klopstock’s odes has a distinct and peculiar expression ; each is a different dance of harmonious words, and each a choral song that must be heard in order to be appreciated. Klopstock was, in fact, a musician. He was an enthusiastic admirer of the great contemporary masters, Handel and Bach, Gluck and Kunst. Their compositions kindled his poetical rapture, and often furnished, directly, the materials for his odes. He has himself acknowledged, that his principal guides, in the invention of lyric measures, were Nature and the tone-inspired Bach.

But Klopstock was not satisfied with writing odes. He burned with the desire to compose a great epic poem, of which the inspiration should be drawn from the religion of

VOL. LVIII. - No. 122.

12

« ÖncekiDevam »