28 SEPTEMBER 1867, Page 17


Mn. LEWIS tells us in his introduction that this is a fair sample of Herr Reuter's Low German tales, and that Herr Renter's Low German tales and poems are so popular that many Germans have learnt Low German on purpose to read them. There can be no doubt at all that stories as good as the one here translated thoroughly deserve their popularity, and the more we have of them in translations the better. At the same time, we are not sure that Englishmen would be so fond of such tales as this as Germans. 'With all its truthfulness, and humour, and fidelity to the grotesque, local, and limited ideas of a very provincial corner of Germany, • hi the Year '13. A Tide of Mecklenburg Life, by Fritz Reuter. Translated from the Platt-Deutseb, by Charles Lee Lewis. London : Sampson LOW.

any touch of enterprise, or even eager movement, and yet it is a tale of an exciting time, —of the great war of 1813. There is that excessive slowness, that domestic tameness about it which is the weakness of the best German literary art, and we suppose of the Low German even more than of the High German. The English taste, while it is quite capable of appreciating Herr Reuter's lively delineation, prefers to have something lively in the life delineated as well,—at least, to have eager interest of some sort somewhere, to freshen up the torpid action, and still provincial habits, of this kind of art. The only fault

of Herr Renter's most admirable story, rich in humour and in close observation, is its utter want of vis, of go. You read for the sake of the drawing, and the instruction the drawing gives, and not for the sake of any wish to see how the story, so far as there can be said to be one, develops itself. No doubt there are many English writers,—Mr. Dickens himself may be

said to be one,—who have little or no genius for story-telling, and who yet attain the highest reputation from the wonderful humour of their studies of vulgar and of local life. But even so, though fail- ing utterly in the art of constructing a tale, these writers when thoroughly popular in England almost always continue to supply a current of rapid movement somehow to their story. The Mrs.

Gamps, and Bob Sawyers, and Sam Wellers, and Dick Swivel- lers, however badly pieced in to Mr. Dickens's usually absurd plots, are always about to do something or other in which the reader cannot help taking some interest, though it may be a merely mischievous explosion of animal spirits, or even a selfish and treacherous trick. Mr. Dickens never fails to impart the air of eagerness of movement to his tales, which from Sir Walter Scott downwards has been a universal condition of the highest

popularity in England. High as are the literary merits of Herr Renter's sketch of Mecklenburg life in 1813, it is unquestionably tame life,—very tame life, for a year of war excitement,—that he sketches.

In the Year '13 is the perfect literary equivalent of the domestic pictures of the Dutch School. Ostade and Teniers put on canvas what Herr Reuter tells us with greater fullness and far greater humour in such tales as this. The life is all homely. And even the exciting incidents of a state of war and foreign occupation are all made sluggish, as it were, by the homely sluggishness of the popular temperament on which they are received. The huddle of village prejudices, blunders, and misconceptions which deepens the confusion of war, and the simple griefs which these troubles, whether home-brewed or really due to the stronger current of European misery, bring with them, are all painted by Herr Reuter with that affectionate sort of regretful memory which men of cul- ture cherish towards the narrower world in which they grew up. Stave,nhagen, where the scene is laid, in the year of the fatal Rus- sian campaign, was Herr Reuter's native place, and there are ample traces of the tenderness with which he has recalled the ludicrous figures and municipal pseudo-dignities of the scene of his child- hood. The picture of the narrator's uncle, Rathsherr Herse, the muddle-headed councillor, whose love of mystery and intrigue was always leading both himself and his stupider friends into mischief, is one in which Mr. Dickens would have delighted, though it is sketched without any either of Mr. Dickens's eagerness of temperament or of his intense love of cari- cature. The Rathsherr Herse, like most stupid people, mystifies himself so thoroughly in his grand plots, that at times no one else can make out for him even what he was driving at, —and thus, though the humour of his character is increased, the humour of the situation is decidedly diminished. We have our laugh at his confusion, but not such a laugh as Mr. Dickens would give us, both at his confusion and at the radical absurdity of his plot,— for no one can make out what his plot really was. A caricaturist would just have put such an additional touch of absurdity into the Rathsherr's intrigues, that the reader would have seen and Under- stood clearly that he was driving at something absurd and laugh- able, though the plotter did not understand it himself. With greater truth, but more tameness, Herr Reuter makes us share the Raths- herr's own confusion as to what he was at. He would probably tell us, if we asked him, that to have given Rathsherr Herse a distinctly absurd intention would have been false art, as the essence of him was to love intrigue, without distinguishing intrigue from pompous mystery and enigmatic hints. Nothing in the way of extract can give a complete idea of the Rathsherr Hense's confusion of brain, but the following humorous passage will give a very fair one of his pompous chatter

:- "All the mills in the whole country must be set Ere to," said my uncle Herse,• and he stood up and walked with long strides round about

the mill-stones.—"Lord save us ! " said Miller Voss. "Who is to do this wickedness ? "—" I," said my uncle Horse, and he slapped himself on the breast, and went nearer to the two, who wondered what could be -coming next, and said, in a "When the Landsturrn rises, we must set fire to all the mills as a signal ;—that's called a beacon, and the best proof you know nothing about war matters is, that you don't even know what a beacon means."—" Herr Rathsherr," said Miller Toss, "it's all the same to me whether it's a beacon or a deacon, but, whoever sets fire to my watermill, had better look out."—" Water- tnill ? Windmills I mean, Miller Voss; who ever said anything about watermills ? Watermills lie in the ground, and don't burn. And now, I ask you, has the Burmeister as much knowledge and courage to act In time of war as I have? "—" He's never said he would set mills on re," said the baker, and looked at the Herr Rathsherr rather doubt- fully, as if he did not quite know whether he was in fun or earnest. —" My dear Witte, you look at me like a cow at a now gate ! You are, too doubt, aatonished, and thinking what does a Stemhagen Rathsherr like me know of war and stratagems ? My dear Witte, you knead _your dough with your hands, in the baking-trough ; I knead mine in my head by thought. If I were where I ought to be, I should be in the presence of the King of Prussia, talking with the man. Your Majesty,'

I should say, you are rather in difficulties, I think ? That I am, .Herr Rathsherr,' he would say, money is devilish scarce just mow.' —‘ Nothing else?' I say. That's a mere trifle. Only give me full power to do what I like '—licentia poetica that is called in Latin, Miller Voss—' and a regiment of Grenadier Guards.'—' You shall have them, my dear Rathsherr,' says the King ; and I have all the Jews from the whole of Prussia assembled in the palace yard at Berlin. I surround the palace with my grenadiers, place myself at the head of a company, and march with them into the palace yard. 'Are you all there ?' I ask the Jews.—' Yes,' say they.—' Now, are you willing,' I say to them, to sacrifice the half of your possessions on the altar of the Fatherland ? We can't do that,' says one, 'for we should be ruined.' —` Will you, or will you not?' I ask.—I give the word of command Attention.'—' Herr Rathsherr,' says another, 'take a quarter.'—'Not a groschen less than half,' say I-; 'Make ready ! We will ! ' scream

the Jews.—' Good,' say then let 'each one go singly up to the Presence Chamber, where his Majesty is sitting on the Throne, and let each one lay his money on the steps at his feet.' When they have all teen up, I go. 'Well,' I say, how is it now, your Majesty ? Capital, any dear Herr Rathsherr,' says he, would that the other business were going as well ! We'll soon manage it,' say I; only give me twenty regiments or so of infantry, ten of cavalry, and as much artillery as you have by you.'—' You shall have them, says the King.—' Good,' say I, said march off with my soldiers away through field and flood, my flanks .always covered. I throw myself upon Hamburg, andsurprise the Prince Eckmiihl ; he is brought before me. 'Build a good high gallows,'

say Mercy ! 'says he.—' No mercy,' say I; 'this is for trying to tecome Doke of Mecklenburg.' "—"In Heaven's name! Herr Rathsherr," said Miller Voss, "don't talk like that ; just -think if those fellows were to understand you!" "That would be the very Devil ! " said my undo Hers% and looked at the Frenchmen one after another, but when he saw that they were paying no heed to him, he said, "You're an old coward, Miller Voss ! the fellows cannot understand Platt-Deutsch.—Well, so I have him hanged, and march, to the left, into Hanover, and fall on the rear of the Corsican—you know whom I mean. You must always fall open the enemy's rear, that is the chief thing, everything else is rub- tisk. A tremendous battle ! Fifteen thousand prisoners ! He sends

sne a trumpeter : A trace.' — No good,' say we have not come here to play.' — Peace,' ho sends me word. — Good,' say TI; Rheinland and. Westphalia, the whole of Alsatia and three-fourths Lothringen.'—'I can't,' says he, my brother must live.' Forward, -then, again ! I march to the right and quiet Belgium and Holland ; all at once I wheel to the left.—' The Devil take it ! ' says he. 'Here's that confounded Rathsherr again in my rear.'—' First regiment of -Grenadiers, charge ! ' I command; the battery is taken. 'Second -regiment of Hussars to the front !'—He ventures too far forward with 'bin staff. Swoop, the Hussars come down upon him.— Here is my

sword,' says Good,' say I; now come along with me. And you, any boys, can now go home again ; the war is at an end.' I now lead -him in chains to the foot of the Throne.—'Your Majesty of Prussia, here he is.'—'Herr Rathsherr,' says the King, ask some favour:— 4 Your Majesty,' say I, 'I have no children, but, if you wish to do something for me' give my wife a little pension when I leave this life. Otherwise, I wish for nothing but to retire to my former position of Stemhagen Rathsherr.'—' As you like ,' says the King; but remember that whenever you may happen to come to Berlin, a place will be kept for you at my table.'—I make my bow, say 'Good day,' and go back again to Stemhagen."

The figure of the old Amtahauptmann of Stavenhagen, Joseph ileinrich Weber, the only character of any dignity in the story, is a very fine sketch in its way, but it is one which we cannot but feel would have had still greater expression and interest, if it had been connected with a story of some real movement, with a human action of more than petty interest. There is a pathos and a truthfulness, no doubt, in the old man's paternal interest in all the blunders and domestic troubles of the villagers and peasants in his judicial district ; nor could there be a truer picture of the last :sphere of the venerable activity of a calm and noble life. Still, so grand an old man, whose one favourite sedative, when worried with the pettiness of local follies and vexations, is a chapter out of Marcus Aurelius,—we must remember that it was in the scep- tical period of the French Revolution that his youth is sup- posed to have been passed, when to save even the faith of Marcus Aurelius from the universal destruction was indicative of a high ethical tone of mind,—might surely have been made the centre of a story of larger scope and movement than this. We are xtot quite sure indeed that Herr Reuter might not reply that this story is not really a fiction at all, but a mere sketch from the memories of his youth. Yet even if this be so,—of which we are not sure,—he surely could have made of it something of higher interest. The French occupation of Germany in 1813 must have given rise in every place they occupied or passed through to some narratives of a higher calibre of moral interest than this, and among his Stavenhagen memories there must surely have been one or more fitter to bring out the depth, benignity, and tenderness of the old Amtshauptmann's venerable character than this curious little bundle of comic adventures and mistakes. We do not know Herr Renter's other tales,—we wish we did,—but there seems to us a slight preference for tame life, for life which is pitched in a low key, and does not, therefore, bring out in any brief space the full calibre of any fine character, in the humorous and delicate series of sketches before us. Fieka, the miller's daughter and the heroine, though a lovely little sketch in her way, is also scarcely given fit verge and scope by the very narrow proportions of the tale. On the whole, we would recommend all our readers who admire true delineation and gentle humour to read this admirable little picture of Mecklenburg life in 1813 ; but we cannot but think that Herr Reuter himself would have shown truer art if he had put rather stronger lights and shadows of human interest into a story re- ferring to so exciting a period of European history.