24 APRIL 1880, Page 19


A COURSE of lectures delivered before the students of Cornell University by the well-known American translator of Faust is here published, under the above title. It appears from the preface that the author intended to treat these lectures as materials for another work. His premature and much-lamented death interrupted that plan, and the lectures are published in the form in which they were delivered. Still, in that form, they admirably fulfil the purpose for which they were written. They were intended to be an introduction to German literature, and down to a certain point they are the best English introduc- tion to German literature that we have met with. If supple- mented by Carlyle's brilliant essays, they will leave nothing to be desired by the aspiring student who wishes for a guide, or by the general reader who, unable or unwilling to gird up his loins for a study of the originals, is desirous of trustworthy and vigorous sketches of the leading features of the celebrated literature of Germany. But only, as we have said, down to a certain point. There are obvious reasons why Carlyle stopped where he did, but why Bayard Taylor stopped at the same point puzzles us. Heine alone is a writer of far more importance now to the student, as well as to the general reader, than Klopstock, Herder, and Wieland, "rolled into one." And although no other writer has so come to the front as to take rank in line with the giants, yet, so far at least as prose is con- cerned, the literature of Germany, during the fifty years or so that have passed since Goethe's death, is quite as rich in works of merit as it was during the century which preceded that event. But the English student is sadly in need of a guide to the treasures of this later literature, and we must repeat our surprise that Bayard Taylor chose to stop at Richter. His lectures, if we may say so, in this respect remind us of certain school histories which teem with details of the reign of Egbert, but are as silent as mutes about the reign of Vic- toria. And at the risk of being tedious, we must express our strong conviction that there is a great and urgent need for a good, brief guide to modern German, and we may add, French literature,—a guide, we mean, to the best works in these litera- tures, and not at all to the best authors. Guides to the latter are as plentiful as blackberries, but the last thing that we are thinking of is an abridgment of a biographical dictionary. Yet that, unfortunately, is what is too often set before the student, when he tries to find a guide to the masterpieces of German, French, or any other literature. No, what we want is this—and an example will make our meaning clear— we want, e.g., to be told the date of a writer's (say, Balzac's) birth and death, and then, with all biogra- phical details left in the dictionary, which is their proper • Studies in Genre= Literature. By Bayard Taylor. London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Co. 1879. place, to be told eis cathedra, by seine competent judge, which of Balzac's numerous writings are really worth reading. We wish the same process to be applied to every writer, famous or not famous, and the result would be, we venture to think, a very small boOk of very great value. But we have wandered too far from Bayard Taylor. We cannot, of course, pretend to follow him step by step through these lectures. Au introduc- tion to the literature of a nation must always partake, more or less, of the nature of a precis. But the précis of a précis would be- intolerable, and so far as general criticism is concerned, we must content ourselves with repeating most emphatically our con- viction that these lectures are really excellent, and that they form the best introduction to German literature that the Eng- lish student can lay hands upon. We shall now, with a clear conscience, notice one or two points where our own opinion differs from that of the author.

We might find much to say, for instance, against his verdict that, "in regard to the fullness, the strength, the tenderness,- the vital power of language, Luther's Bible is decidedly superior to our own." We can quite understand a German holding such an opinion. We should marvel at him if he did not, just as, we marvel at Bayard Taylor because he does. We should not have a word to say against such an opinion, if Luther's Bible had been the original. But it seems to us. strange, and to savour of affectation, in the case of two first-rate translations, for a critic not to be strongly biassed in favour of the one which is in his own tongue. Mr. Taylor quotes two passages, but quite fails to carry us with him. Is it so certain as he seems to think, that " love " is a more- correct rendering than " charity," in St. Paul's famous chapter ?' And when he says of Luther's Bible that it is " a work which,. although a translation, possesses for the German race the literary importance of an original creation," he seems to ignore- the fact that precisely the same thing could be said of our own. Version and the English race.

Again, we are at a loss to grasp the author's meaning in the- following passage :—" Paul Flemming is another instance, like Schiller and Burns and Charles Lamb, where the quality of the- author's character becomes a part of his fame." Does Mr.. Taylor mean to say that " the thoughtless follies?' which, in his own pathetic words, laid the Scottish poet low and stained his- name, are a part of his fame ? And what a curious trio ! In fact, when we first read the passage, we thought that Mr.. Taylor was referring to the fact that each of these writers stopped, in the words of the wittiest of them, "on this side- of abstemiousness." Certes, it would be easier to draw a com- parison between the mild excesses of Lamb, the fierce pota- tions of Burns, and the dangerous draughts which Schiller quaffed at night in the throes of composition, than to show in what respect the quality of his character has become a part of the fame of either of the last two. But we confess that we do. not understand the passage ; and the thought of Schiller's nightly vigils is nothing less than appalling if, as Mr. Taylor tells us, he used to write with his feet in cold water, to keep off drowsiness.

If we touch on the old, old question as to Shakespeare's. place in the poetical hierarchy, it is because Mr. Taylor has, we think, given us the means of answering it decisively, though not perhaps as lie would answer it. "There are," he says, " a: few poetic works which possess an immense vitality, which so- represent the actions and the characters of men, or the mysteries. of human life, that their interest never grows old, their value never diminishes. The Iliad of Homer, Dante's Divina Commedia, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Othello, and Goethe's Faust, belong to this class." Now, we may leave the Greek and the Florentine out of the question, for it is plain that our remark will apply with more force to them than to the- German poet ; and how does he fare, if our estimate be- correct ? Well, thus, in our opinion. The " First Part" of Faust—for we stubbornly refuse to believe that the "Second Part" is one of those poetic works which possess an immense vitality—is to the rest of Goethe's poetry what its Zouave regiments were, according to Kinglake, to the division to which they were attached,—the spear's head, namely, to the shaft_ Take away the " First Part" of Faust, and we do not think that Goethe could be ranked higher than the first of the second class of great poets,—the Byrons, and Virgils, and others,. among whom Mr. Taylor too generously places Schiller. On the other hand, while it would be impossible to refuse a place of high collateral glory amongst the greatest poets to the author

of Handel and Othello, yet if Shakespeare had written neither of these immortal plays, his poetical fame would not be seriously impaired.

On the whole, we like Mr. Taylor's estimate of Goethe less than his estimate of Lessing, for instance, or Richter. He is too one-sided and enthusiastic in his appreciation of Germany's greatest author. This was also Carlyle's weakness. Bismarck showed himself a better critic than either, when he said that eight volumes of the forty which Goethe wrote would quite content him, and that the rest might be sent packing. As a specimen of Mr. Taylor's lively way of dealing with his subject, we may quote the following passage, from the lecture on Richter :—

" Some English and American writers assert that a genius for humour does not belong to the German people, and that its highest forms are not manifested in their literature. I entirely disagree with this view. There are traces of a very genuine humour in Luther. Fiachart overflows with it, and in the last century Lich- tenberg will compare with any wit of Queen Anne's time. Although professor of mathematics and the natural sciences at Gottingen, Lichtenberg achieved for himself a distinct place in literature. My attention was first called to his works, some years ago, by Fritz Renter, the Platt-Deutsche humourist of our day. I think even our extravagant American idea of humour will appreciate his remark that a donkey is simply a horse translated into Dutch ;' or the manner in which he describes one of his pompous and pretentious contemporaries, by saying, He sits down between his two little dogs, and calls himself Daniel in the lions' den.' In fact, when be says that a man who has stolen a hundred thousand dollars ought to be able to live honestly,' we think we hear an American speak. He alone would prove the genuineness of German humour, if it were necessary to be done."

This is all very well, as far as it goes, and admirably suited to a lecture delivered before American students ; but if Mr. Taylor had been spared to carry out his plan, he would have felt that a great deal more than this is needed to show that "a genius for humour belongs to the German people, and that its highest forms are manifested in their literature." Our own impres- sion is that it would be very difficult indeed to establish either of these propositions.

There are one or two small points of verbal criticism that we must make, before concluding. In the last page, Mr. Taylor hardly seems to recognise the fact that when Richter's admirers called him Der Einaige—" The Unique "—they meant to assert his superiority over other writers. Again, could they be said to have invented the phrase ? Was not Frederick the Great called Fritz der Einzige And at p. 215, it seems a very curious oversight to translate Liebhaber, in a well-known passage from the opening sentences of Lessing's Eamon, by "lover." It surely means " amateur," or " dilettante."