Imágenes de páginas

his last. I looked at him with much emotion—I considered him as the venerable father of German poetry; as a good man; as a Christian ; seventy-four years old; with legs enormously swollen ; yet active, lively, cheerful, and kind, and communicative. My eyes felt as if a tear were swelling into them. In the portrait of Lessing there was a toupee periwig, which enormously injured the effect of his physiognomy—Klopstock wore the same, powdered and frizzled. By the by, old men ought never to wear powder—the contrast between a large snow.white wig and the color of an old man's skin is disgusting, and wrinkles in such a neighborhood appear only channels for dirt. It is an honor to poets and great men, that you think of them as parts of nature; and anything of trick and fashion wounds you in them, as much as when you see venerable yews clipped into miserable peacocks.—The author of The Messiah should have worn his own grey hair.—His powder and periwig were to the eye what Mr. Virgil would be to the ear.

Klopstock dwelt much on the superior power which the German language possessed of concentrating meaning. He said, he had often translated parts of Homer and Virgil, line by line, and a German line proved always sufficient for a Greek or Latin

In English you cannot do this. I answered, that in English we could commonly render one Greek heroic line in a line and a half of our common heroic metre, and I conjectured that this line and a half would be found to contain no more syllables than one German or Greek hexameter. He did not understand me : 5 and I, who wished to hear his opinions, not to correct them, was glad that he did not.

[ocr errors]


5 Klopstock's observation was partly true and partly erroneous. In the literal sense of his words, and, if we confine the comparison to the average of space required for the expression of the same thought in the two languages, it is erroneous. I have translated some German hexameters into English hexameters, and find that on the average three English lines will express four lines German. The reason is evident : our language abounds in monosyllables and dissyllables. The German, not less than the Greek, is a polysyllable language. But in another point of view the remark was not without foundation. For the German, possessing the same unlimited privilege of forming compounds, both with prepositions and with epithets, as the Greek, it can express the richest single Greek word in a single German

We now took our leave. At the beginning of the French Revolution, Klopstock wrote odes of congratulation. He received some honorary presents from the French Republic (a golden crown I believe), and like our Priestley, was invited to a seat in the legislature, which he declined. But when French liberty metamorphosed herself into a fury, he sent back these presents with a palinodia, declaring his abhorrence of their proceedings: and since then he has been perhaps more than enough an AntiGallican. I mean, that in his just contempt and detestation of the crimes and follies of the Revolationists, he suffers himself to forget that the revolution itself is a process of the Divine Provi. dence; and that as the folly of men is the wisdom of God, so are their iniquities instruments of his goodness. From Klopstock's house we walked to the ramparts, discoursing together on the

one, and is thus freed from the necessity of weak or ungraceful paraphrases. I will content myself with one example at present, viz. the use of the prefixed participles ver, zer, ent, and weg: thus reissen to rend, verreissen to rend away, zerreissen to rend to pieces, entreissen to rend off or out of a thing, in the active sense : or schmelzen to melt-ver, zer, ent, schmelzen-and in like manner through all the verbs neuter and active. If you consider only how much we should feel the loss of the prefix be, as in bedropt, besprinkle, besot, especially in our poetical language, and then think that this same mode of composition is carried through all their simple and compound prepositions, and many of their adverbs; and that with most of these the Germans have the same privilege as we have of dividing them from the verb and placing them at the end of the sentence; you will have no difficulty in comprehending the reality and the cause of this superior pover in the German of condensing meaning, in which its great poet exulted. It is impossible to read half a dozen pages of Wieland without perceiving that in this respect the German has no rival but the Greek. And yet I feel, that concentration or condensation is not the happiest mode of expressing this excellence, which seems to consist not so much in the less time required for conveying an impression, as in the unity and simultaneousness with which the impression is conveyed. It tends to make their language more picturesque : it depictures images better. We have obtained this power in part by our compound verbs derived from the Latin: and the sense of its great effect no doubt induced our Milton both to the use and the abuse of Latin derivatives. But still these prefixed parti. cles, conveying no separate or separable meaning to the mere English reader, cannot possibly act on the mind with the force or liveliness of an origiual and homogeneous language such as the German is, and besides are confined to certain words.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

poet and his conversation, till our attention was diverted to the beauty and singularity of the sunset and its effects on the objects around us. There were woods in the distance. A rich sandy light (nay, of a much deeper color than sandy) lay over these woods that blackened in the blaze. Over that part of the woods which lay immediately under the intenser light, a brassy mist floated. The trees on the ramparts, and the people moving to und fro between them, were cut or divided into equal segments of deep shade and brassy light. Had the trees, and the bodies of the men and women, been divided into equal segments by a rule or pair of compasses, the portions could not have been more regular. All else was obscure. It was a fairy scene and to increase its romantic character, among the moving objects, thus divided into alternate shade and brightness, was a beautiful child, dressed with the elegant simplicity of an English child, riding on a stately goat, the saddle, bridle, and other accoutre. ments of which were in a high degree costly and splendid. Be. fore I quit the subject of Hamburg, let me say that I remained a day or two longer than I otherwise should have done, in order to be present at the feast of St. Michael, the patron saint of Ham. burg, expecting to see the civic pomp of this commercial Republic. I was however disappointed. There were no processions, two or three sermons were preached to two or three old women in two or three churches, and St. Michael and his patronage wished elsewhere by the higher classes, all places of entertain. ment, theatre, &c., being shut up on this day. In Hamburg, there seems to be no religion at all; in Lubec it is confined to the women. The men seem determined to be divorced from their wives in the other world, if they cannot in this. You will not easily conceive a more singular sight, than is presented by the vast aisle of the principal church at Lubec seen from the or. gan-loft ; for, being filled with female servants and persons in the same class of life, and all their caps having gold and silver cauls, it appears like a rich pavement of gold and silver.

I will conclude this letter with the mere transcription of notes, which my friend W made of his conversations with Klopstock, during the interviews that took place after my departure. On these I shall make but one remark at present, and that will



appear a presumptuous one, namely, that Klopstock’s remarks on the venerable sage of Königsburg are to my own knowledge in. jurious and mistaken ; and so far is it from being true that his system is now given up, that throughout the Universities of Ger. many there is not a single professor who is not either a Kantean or a disriple of Fichte, whose system is built on the Kantean, and presupposes its truth; or lastly who, though an antagonist of Kant, as to his theoretical work, has not embraced wholly oi in part his moral system, and adopted part of his nomenclature.

Klopstock having wished to see the Calvary of Cumberland, and asked what was thought of it in England, I went to Remnant's (the English bookseller) where I procured the Analytical Review, in which is contained the review of Cumberland's Cal

I remembered to have read there some specimens of a blank verse translation of The MessiAH. I had mentioned this to Klopstock, and he had a great desire to see them. I walked over to his house and put the book into his hands. On advert. ing to his own poem, he told me he began The Messiah when he was seventeen : he devoted three entire years to the plan without composing a single line. He was greatly at a loss in

a what manner to execute his work. There were no successful specimens of versification in the German language before this time. The first three cantos he wrote in a species of measured or numerous prose. This, though done with much labor and some success, was far from satisfying him. He had composed hexameters both Latin and Greek as a school exercise, and there had been also in the German language attempts in that style of versification. These were only of very moderate merit. One day he was struck with the idea of what could be done in this way-he kept his room a whole day, even went without bis din. ner, and found that in the evening he had written twenty-three hexameters, versifying a part of what he had before written in prose. From that time, pleased with his efforts, he composed no more in prose. To-day he informed me that he had finished his plan before he read Milton. He was enchanted to see an author who before him had trod the same path. This is a contradiction of what he said before. He did not wish to speak of his poem to any one till it was finished: but some of his friends who had


seen what he had finished, tormented him till he had consented to publish a few books in a journal. He was then, I believe, very young, about twenty-five. The rest was printed at differ. ent periods, four books at a time. The reception given to the first specimens was highly flattering. He was nearly thirty years in finishing the whole poem, but of these thirty years not more than two were employed in the composition. He only composed in favorable moments; besides, he had other occupations. He values himself upon the plan of his odes, and accuses the modern lyrical writers of gross deficiency in this respect. I laid the same accusation against Horace : he would not hear of it-but waived the discussion. He called Rousseau's ODE TO FORTUNE a moral dissertation in stanzas. I spoke of Dryden's


6 [A la Fortune. Liv. ii., ode vi. Euvres de Jean Baptiste Rousseau, p. 121, edit. 1820. One of the latter strophes of this ode concludes with two lines, which, as the editor observes, have become a proverb, and of which the thought and expression are borrowed from Lucretius : eripitur persona, manet res : iii., v. 58.

Montrez nous, guerriers magnanimes,
Votre vertu dans tout son jour :
Voyons comment vos cæurs sublimes
Du sort soutiendront le retour.
Tant que sa faveur vous seconde,
Vous êtes les maîtres du monde,
Votre gloire nous éblouit :
Mais au moindre revers funeste,
Le masque tombe, l'homme reste,

Et le héros s'évanouit. Horace, says the Editor, en traitant ce même sujet, liv. x., ode xxxv., et Pindare en l'esquissant à grands traits, au commencement de sa douzième Olympique, n'avoient laissé à leurs successeurs que son côté moral à envisager, et c'est le parti que prit Rousseau. The general sentiment of the ode is handled with great dignity in Paradise Regained. Bk. iii., l. 43–157 -a passage which, as Thyer says, contains the quintessence of the subject. Dante has some noble lines on Fortune in the viith canto of the Inferno,lines worthy of a great mystic poet. After referring to the vain complaints and maledictions of men against this Power, he beautifully con. cludes:


Ma ella s'è beata e cio non ode :
Con l'altre prime creature lieta
Volve sua spera, e beata si gode.

« AnteriorContinuar »