1 APRIL 1882, Page 20

FERDINAND FREILIG RATH.* THE publication of a life of Ferdinand

Freiligrath could not fail to arouse interest even in this country, for, excepting always that true genius, Heine, few of the very few real poets that have arisen in Germany since the post-Goethean epoch are by name so familiar to Englishmen. In great part, this is owing to the fact that Freiligrath lived for more than seven- teen years a voluntary exile in this hospitable land, ever ready to welcome refugees flying from over-governed countries. It was a happy thought on the part of the editor to make Freili- grath tell his own life, as far as might be, in his own letters. It is to be regretted that he did not carry this out more adequately. The book is unfortunately edited without judgment or literary skill, the compiler has no critical perception, his own remarks are singularly jejune, and penned in a style too servilely laudatory. Moreover, he ex- hausts the contents of the letters before offering them ; and finally, he would have done well to have suppressed a few, which, beyond question, the writer himself could never have intended for publicity. It would almost seem that the malady of which our age is sick, is a want of good-taste in this latter respect, for there never appears a biography but this protest has to be raised. Having said all this, however, we have said our worst of the book, and can proceed to enjoy the poet's simple, straight- forward, jovial, intensely subjective letters. In the course of a long life, Freiligrath wrote many letters, but he was not a good correspondent. More than half begin with apologies for having so long neglected to reply, and in some cases he would even leave important matters unregarded. A letter was to him no friendly obligation, but a thing of moods, an outpouring of the momentary state of his soul ; and it is therefore that they furnish such a complete picture of the man's individuality,—it is this that gives them their charm.

Ferdinand Freiligrath was born in 1810 at Detmold, the tiny capital of the former tiny principality of Lippe-Detmold, geographical distinctions with which the fortunate youth of the present day need not burden their memories. His father was a poor schoolmaster. He gave his son the best education he could, but could not afford to send him to the University. At the age of fifteen, therefore, Freiligrath was placed in a wholesale and retail store at Soest, to prepare for a mercantile career. For this he had little taste ; books and travelling were his delight, and England early the land of his dreams. He taught himself English and French, and thus early began to render their poets into his native tongue, an art in which he acquired a mastery that positively amounted to genius. He was also beginning to write verses on his own account, but felt exceedingly diffident

• F. Frciligr&hr sin Dichter Lebec, in Britten. Von W. Buchner. Lahr : &hamburg. 1882. 2 vols.

and perplexed as to their value. These early compositions, although some of them showed the marked and fantastic originality that was afterwards to distinguish him, as a whole leaned towards the soft, sentimental, Matthisson school. These letters show that Freiligrath lived much in his imagination and emotions, there being no real life around him in the little German town. Of this, he first had a glimpse when, in 1832, he was sent to a counting-house at Amsterdam. Here, besides his mechanical office-work, he wrote and studied much, and began to publish in various German papers. Chamisso took a kindly interest in the young poet, giving full credit to his powerful imagination and graceful fancy, but warning him against his tendency towards the extravagant, a warning needed, but not heeded, so that to this day some faults of taste shock us in the poet's verse. It was in 1838 that Freiligrath's first volume appeared, he having meanwhile returned to Ger- many, and after another attempt to settle down to a bread- winning career, having relinquished this to enter the lists of literature. He settled down on the banks of the Rhine, and led a pleasant, social life, in which pleasure would seem, from his letters, to have played a far larger part than work. His poems met with enormous success, a success that all their unquestion- able merits cannot quite explain, and of which some must be laid to the score of the dearth of good contemporary poets. The merits of his poems are their imagery, their power of conjuring up pictures,—pictures, too, of life that Freiligrath had never seen or saw ; life in the East, the desert, amid lions and other wild beasts. He thus carried his German readers out of the maudlin introspective character of the contemporary minor poets, and into regions far remote from the stifling political atmosphere that surrounded them. On the Rhine, Freiligrath fell in love and married the object of his affections, thus cutting the Gordian knot of a previous engagement of ten years' stand- ing, which disparity of age had from the first made unsuitable, but which the poet, though long recognising the fact, had not the moral courage to dissolve, even at the frequent request of the lady. Freiligrath's marriage, which was entered upon without any as- sured material existence, proved a rarely happy one. The poet, once landed in the haven of matrimony, proved a devoted husband and father. He was never happier than in the bosom of his family ; here his warm, affectionate nature found full play, and none of his letters are more amiable than those in which be allows us to sit beside his domestic hearth. This hearth was not destined for some time to have an abiding-place, being now at Darmstadt, now at St. Goar, on the Rhine. Freiligrath came in contact with most of the German literary men of his day, and his letters to them and about them convey a vivid idea of his correspondents ; but few of their names are familiar to English ears. At St. Goer be became acquainted with Longfellow, with whom, throughout his life, he main- tained a correspondence that unfortunately is lacking in these volumes. He busied himself with writing for the periodicals of the day, and became involved in some of those quarrels of authors that only amuse the wicked world. It cer- tainly strikes us as intensely comic that Freiligrath and some others withdrew their poems from a publication because it was to be prefaced with the portrait of Heine, who had just roused all their indignation by the publication of his witty book, The Ro- mantic School in Germany. It is strange to see how his poetical contemporaries under-valued the man who was far and away the greatest poet of them all. It is but fair, however, to Freiligrath to add, though it is not named in these pages, that he after- wards learnt to appreciate this delightful genius, and could laugh heartily over Heine's parody of himself in Atta Troll.

Until after his marriage, Freiligrath had not occupied himself with politics. Indeed, he was never a deep thinker, and nothing of a philosopher. His happy, light-hearted nature inclined him to be satisfied with things as they were, so long as they were fairly tolerable. Among his friends, however, he numbered many of those men righteously indignant at the reactionary tendency manifested in German polities, and who wearied of the fantastic and romantic antics executed before an admiring bureaucratic public by Frederick William IV. Conversation with these men led him to see the ills under which his nation groaned ; he had himself some pleasant experience of the censorship. Thus, for example, his translation of Burns's "A man's a man, for a' that," was suppressed by the sagacious censor, as calculated to make the people dissatisfied with their rulers. Gradually, im- perceptibly almost to himself, Freiligrath became a republican, and. thus inaugurated the second period of his lyrical activity,— his political songs. For a time, however, he refrained from pub- lishing them. He was in receipt of a small pension from the Prussian King, and it was therefore not seemly for him to appear in print as a revolutionary. In 1844, however, he issued his Confession of Faith, those splendid political songs which are unquestionably among the finest things he has penned, bearing the true ring of conviction and passion, in lieu of furnishing dream-pictures of things unknown and unseen. It is.deplorable that such poetry, from the nature of its allusions to contemporary events, cannot live for all time. Some of them, however, must live, and too many of them are, unhappily for Germany, not yet out of date. Before this volume had left the press, Freiligrath re- signed his pension, and quitted Germany. It was to Belgium he first turned his steps, then for a while to Switzerland, and finally, with the hope of a permanent appointment, to meet the needs of a growing family, to London. Here he remained two years, as clerk in the eminent firm of Huth and Co. But when the Revolution of 1848 broke out, he could not rest away from the scene of action, so once more he struck his tent and re- turned to the Fatherland. Here he soon found that the Revolu- tion was mismanaged, that the disagreements that from the first had existed in the camp of the Liberals existed still ; in short, that Germany remained the Hamlet he had characterised her in one of his ablest, most incisive political poems :—

"He thinks,—and dreams on dreams succeed.

• ..... • • • • Still, for the high and daring deed, There fails the high and daring heart."

Filled with righteous indignation, Freiligrath penned his anger-breathing, spirited poem, "The Dead to the Living," and got arraigned before the authorities. Be was acquitted by a friendly jury, but it was evident that the authorities would search for and find means to harass him in other ways. He therefore once more thought it prudent to slip away from Germany, before he was either exiled or imprisoned. To England he again turned his steps, and here, in various mercan- tile posts, he earned his bread until, in 1867, a national subscrip- tion, made for him at the instigation of friends, and most liberally taken up by the German people, secured to him an independence. Having ascertained that the Government would not trouble themselves further about him, he returned to Germany, and settled in Stuttgard, where he died in 1876. During his exile, he had written few original poems, but had continued to labour at his translations, among which Longfellow's "Hiawatha" and Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis" are the principal. After his return, the events of 1870 roused his poetical fire once more, and inspired a brief aftermath of songs that blended the political with the lyrical and ballad form, and are among his choicest productions ; thus, for example, "The Trumpet of Gravelotte."

We had hoped to have found in Freiligrath's correspondence mention of some of our English men of letters. We see, how- ever, that during his London residence he lived very quietly, out of the way of the busy throng, in a north-eastern corner of the metropolis. Formal society had little attractions for him. What he loved was to collect a few friends around him, or to make small tours with them, as occasion offered, on his beloved Rhine. A few of the English literati were known to him, but he seems to have come into intimate contact with none but the Howitts, who were near neighbours. Indeed, his letters from England tell next to nothing of English affairs. Though sincerely attached to England and her literature, he remained a German at heart, and his interests were ever beyond the seas. Moreover, a distinguishing feature of the letters is, as we have said, their subjectivity. From them we learn to know the simple-minded, kindly, affectionate, easy-going poet, who pours forth his confidences with the unaffected grace of one who feels assured beforehand that his auditors are well disposed towards him, and that all he may say will please.