18 JANUARY 1879, Page 19


GOTTFI1IED KELLER'S new work is not equal to his Leute eon Seldtryla (reviewed in the Spectator, October 7th, 1876). The power of realisation by careful, lifelike detail is there, but is too often carried to excess, and expended on narratives of insufficient. interest. As its title serves to indicate, this work consists of a. series of tales illustrative of Zurich history from Middle-age times,—beginning with Hadlaub, the copyist of one of the most. important MS. collections of Minnesinger poetry, known as the Maness MS., and himself one of the latest Minnesingers, and ending (chronologically) with a tale conneck^d with the shooting festival of 1849, although the latter is followed in the work itself by another, of the age of Zwingli. The first, though already rather long for its purpose, affords, on the whole, a fair specimen of the author's powers ; and it is wonderful how, by degrees, the personages of a far past take life in his pages before us, and what interest grows up in a subject apparently so uninviting to any but a book or manuscript-hunter, as the col- lecting of poems or the elaboration of an illuminated manuscript, even apart from the love-story which is bound up with them, and which ends by making the choir-lad, Johannes Hadlaub, son of a free peasant of the Ziirichberg, the husband of the Lady Fides, natural daughter of the Chancellor Heinrich von Blingen- berg, afterwards Bishop of Constance, and of the Lady of Black Wasserstelz, afterwards Princess-Abbess of Zurich. The next is a tale of the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century, ending with the burning of Maness Castle, the former seat of the Maness family, and which is still connected with the story of the Maness Codex. Then comes a story which might have been a bright and sparkling one, if compressed within due limits, but which becomes frequently tedious when spun out into one hundred and forty-eight pages, entitled, " The Landvogt of Greifensee," and which consists simply of the story of five un- successful love-affairs of the hero, and of an entertainment, which he gave in after-life to his five former lady-loves together, the subject belonging to the latter quarter of the eighteenth century. The hero, Salomon Landolt, was a real personage, who seems to have died about 1810, the founder of the corps of Zurich Sharpshooters, and the whole story appears to be founded on facts,—the ladies' names being withheld where their families have not died out. There is, indeed, in this a great deal of interesting detail as to eighteenth-century Zurich, in the days when the city lay under strictly religious discipline, and it was for- bidden to go out of the walls on Sundays, and sumptuary laws regulated costume ; when Bodmer, the leading critic of the day, used to walk out on the promenade, surrounded by a crowd of admirers, delivering his judgments by the way, but liable to be interrupted by the ceremonious hat-doffings and bowings which politeness required whenever a bevy of ladies—it might be maliciously—crossed the path of the philosophers. The char- acters of the five fair ones to whom the hero successively paid court are also well and distinctly worked off, although there is only one who really interests the reader, the eccentric Figura Leu, who, whilst really attached to Salomon Landolt, refuses to be his wife, because there is madness in her family, and she has promised her mother on her death-bed never to marry.

The three tales hitherto mentioned, forming the first volume, are framed in a setting of their own, and are supposed to be told about the year 1820, by a godfather to his godson, a certain " Herr Jacques," no longer a boy, and not yet a man, who is specially ambitious of being an original genius, but is much troubled in mind at having read in a popular book that origin- ality exists no longer. It is difficult not to suppose that "Herr Jacques " is meant for " Young Zurich" generally, and that his abortive attempts in the original line, such as the project of "a. new ' Ovid,' " which is meant to tell the classical metamorphoses of the various products in his father's warehouse—the sugar-cane, the pepper-vine, the cotton-plant, the liquorice-root, or the various dye-woods—or his wanderings, tablets in hand, down the banks of the Sihl, in search of a poetical subject, which only result in his reckoning up, from the quantity of firewood drifting down the stream, how much the city pays for two days' fuel, are a satire upon the attempts of the busy manufacturing city to hold her ground as a literary centre. The godfather's teaching is that he only is original who deserves to be imitated, by carrying out in the right way whatever he undertakes.

In the second volume the framework disappears, and here we • Zaricher Nopetten. Von Gottfried Heller. 2 vole. Stuttgart. 1878. meet with a tale which is not only the best of the series, but a true master-piece in its way. It bears the odd title of 'The Banner of the Seven Upright Ones," the "Upright Ones" being seven political friends belonging to the middle-class, who, without forming any definite association, have grown into a habit of meet- ing twice a week alternately at the houses of two of their number, who keep taverns. They are all master-tradesmen, politicians, patriots, and strict home-despots. The leading spirits among them are the richest and the poorest, Frymann the carpenter, and Hediger the tailor. They were all born in the eighteenth century, and have seen the downfall of the old times in Switzerland and the birth-throes of the new. Some of them come from the former subject-lordships of the old Confederate States, and recol- lect how, as peasants' children, they bad to kneel down on the road-side when there passed by a coachful of the gentlemen of the States and their wives ; others are related to revolutionists who have been imprisoned or executed, all are filled with an inextinguishable hatred against aristocrats and priests. They have often be-en entrusted with confidential tasks by their party, and have always been ready to make any sacrifice for it, seeking no reward for themselves, and only rejoicing in the triumph of their cause. They call each other by their Christian names, and are in the habit at their meetings of talking over their household troubles, as well as political matters, and of helping one another to the best of their power. Now, by 1848, the Cause seemed finally victorious ; a new Constitution had been adopted, and they determined to pay a visit to the next shooting festival in Aarau, and by way of solemnising the triumph of their ideas, to go there with a banner of their own, and to present a hand- some gift in common, the price of which is fixed at about two hundred francs. But in deliberating what this gift shall be, they are well-nigh falling out. Disinterested patriots though they be, each one is tempted to do a stroke of work in his own trade. Kuser, the silversmith, has a beautiful silver cup, which he will sell cheap for the purpose ; Syfrig, the smith, has a wonderful ornamental plough, which was praised at the late agricultural exhibition ; Biirgi, the cabinet-maker, has a splendid walnut four-poster, which he made for a foreign betrothed pair, who, however, fell out before the wedding, and left it on his hands ; Pfister, one of the hosts, offers a cask of red Schweizerblut of '33, which he bought twelve years ago in Bale ; Erismann, the other host, presses on the meeting his young milch-cow, of pure Oberland race. But Hediger tells Kuser that his cup has been so many years in his window that it is now quite old- fashioned ; Syfrig, that his plough can hardly be a handy one, or it would have found a purchaser in three years ; Biirgi, that apart from the ludicrous nature of the gift, his four-poster would need bedding to match, which would exceed the sum fixed ; Pfister, that his wine is too dear ; and Erismann, that his cow is a kicker, and that it would be a disgrace to them if some worthy peasant should win the beast, and at the first milking should see all the sweet, frothy milk spilt on the ground,—and reproaches them with trying to make profit out of a matter affecting the honour of the Fatherland. Eventually a cup is decided on, but to be made for the occasion, and to have a suitable inscription engraved upon it. This business being settled, Frymann brings a private matter forward. Hediger's youngest son, who is only twenty, is courting his daughter. Now, he openly admits that he looks for a well-to-do son-in-law, with capital, who will .enable him to carry out some building operations which be has in view, whilst Hediger's son is only a Government clerk, who has no business with a rich wife. Besides, let them have no family relations to disturb their friendship, let them be entirely independent of each other. And he calls upon Hediger to support him in his views. Hediger, who is the proudest and sternest Radical of the company, and who com- plains already that all his four sons, after he has let each of them learn the trade he would, have taken to quill-driving, entirely assents to the proposal. The five other friends see the matter in a different light. Hediger's sons are all worthy lads, and wby should they not come to luck? Burgi declares that he is ready to make the young pair a present of his four-poster for their wedding,—Pfister will be glad to broach his Schweizerblut on the occasion. If it so happens, Frymann declares, he will pay for it, but if not, Pfister must forfeit the wine, and let the friends .drink it at their sittings. Agreed, say the other friends, but Fryman and Hediger shake hands over their pledge to have no family relations, but to remain independent good friends.

The plot henceforth turns on the marring of the two fathers' resolves by the young people, and the art of the story lies in the interweaving of Carl Hediger's and Hermine Erymann's love-

story with the patriotic expedition of the elderly folk. After having got rid of a rival by a stratagem not altogether defensible morally, but which supplies one of the most humorous scenes in the book, Karl ends by winning llermine's hand at the shooting festival,—first by acting as spokesman for the seven friends, who have all a horror of speechmaking, after Frymann, who had been selected by lot for the purpose, had given up the attempt in despair ; next, by winning a prize through his excellent shooting ; and lastly, by a trial of strength with a boor from the Entlibuch, in which, through practice as a "Turner," the younger and slighter- built man gains the upper hand. Frymann and Hediger both admit at last that the new time which they have laboured to bring forth has advantages of its own, and that it ill becomes them to persist in error and misunderstanding.

As a picture of Swiss middle-class life, of the mixture of patriot- ism and selfishness, of refinement and coarseness in the German- Swiss character and manners, the tale of " The Seven Upright Ones " is extremely remarkable, apart from the interest which the peculiar talent of the author contrives to impart to a plot certainly of the most eccentric nature. Did space allow, there is more than one passage which would well bear quoting, as, for instance, the description of Carl's successful shooting, accompanied by Hermine, whose eyes command him to succeed.

The last tale, " Ursula," is very inferior in lifelikeness to the others, but is singular in one respect. Whilst in not a few passages of the previous tales there is a looseness of moral tone which is unpleasant to the English reader, this last one turns on the repulsion exercised upon a Swiss soldier of the sixteenth century by the free-love of the Anabaptists, when offered to him by his own sweetheart ; and glorifies Z wingli, who, whatever he may be thought of in other countries, is, of course, for German Switzer- land, the pattern of orthodoxy. It almost looks as if the author wished to show how moral and orthodox he could be if he chose, after his previous naughtinesses. Unfortunately, his usual skill almost deserts him in the attempt.

Thousands of English swarm year by year all over Switzer- land. Yet probably, even to those who speak fluently the official language of the country (in which this book itself is written), tales like those of " The Seven Upright Ones," or even of " The Landvogt of Greifensee," will reveal a world of thought and feel- ing into which they have never yet entered. It is quite clear that the Swiss people has a life of its own, quite different from that of its bigger or lesser brethren in the European family ; and what that life is, Gottfried Keller helps us vividly to realise.