Imágenes de páginas


This ques.

not perceive any very striking passages ; but that I made allow. ance for the imperfections of a translation. Of the thefts of Wieland, he said, they were so exquisitely managed, that the greatest writers might be proud to steal as he did. He consi. dered the books and fables of old romance writers in the light of the ancient mythology, as a sort of common property, from which a man was free to take whatever 'he could make a good use of. An Englishman had presented him with the odes of Collins, which he had read with pleasure. He knew little or nothing of Gray, except his Elegy written in a country CHURCH-YARD. complained of the fool in LEAR. I observed that he seemed to give a terrible wildness to the distress; but still he complained. He asked whether it was not allowed, that Pope had written rhymed poetry with more skill than any of our writers I said I preferred Dryden, because his couplets had greater variety in their movement. He thought my reason a good one ; but asked whether the rhyme of Pope were not more exact. tion I understood as applying to the final terminations, and observed to him that I believed it was the case; but that I thought it was easy to excuse some inaccuracy in the final sounds, if the general sweep of the verse was superior. I told him that we were not so exact with regard to the final endings of lines as the French. He did not seem to know that we made no distinction between masculine and feminine (i. e. single or double) rhymes : at least he put inquiries to me on this subject. He seeined to think, that no language could be so far formed as that it might not be enriched by idioms borrowed from another tongue. I said this was a very dangerous practice ; and added, that I thought Milton had often injured both his prose and verse by taking this liberty too frequently. I recommended to him the prose works of Dryden as models of pure and native English. I was tread. ing upon tender ground, as I have reason to suppose that he has himself liberally indulged in the practice.

The same day I dined. at Mr. Klopstock’s, where I had the pleasure of a third interview with the poet. We talked principally about indifferent things. I asked him what he thought of Kant. He said that his reputation was much on the decline in Germany. That for his own part he was not surprised to find it

so, as the works of Kant were to him utterly incomprehensible --that he had often been pestered by the Kanteans; but was rarely in the practice of arguing with them. His custom was to produce the book, open it and point to a passage, and beg they would explain it. This they ordinarily attempted to do by substituting their own ideas. I do not want, I say, an explanation of your own ideas, but of the passage which is before us. In this way I generally bring the dispute to an immediate conclusion. He spoke of Wolfe as the first Metaphysician they had in Germany. Wolfe had followers; but they could hardly be called a sect, and luckily, till the appearance of Kant, about fifteen years ago, Germany had not been pestered by any sect of philosophers whatsoever ; but that each man had separately pursued his inquiries uncontrolled by the dogmas of a master. Kant had appeared ambitious to be the founder of a sect; that he had succeeded: but that the Germans were now coming to their senses again. That Nicolai and Engel had in different ways contributed to disenchant the nation ;10 but above all the incomprehensibility of the philosopher and his philosophy. He seemed pleased to hear, that as yet Kant's doctrines had not met with many admirers in England—did not doubt but that we had too much wisdom to be duped by a writer who set at defiance the common sense and common understandings of men. We talked of tragedy. He seemed to rate highly the power of exciting tears—I said that nothing was more easy than to deluge an audi. ence, that it was done every day by the meanest writers.

I must remind you, my friend, first, that these notes are not intended as specimens of Klopstock’s intellectual power, or even colloquial prowess,to judge of which by an accidental conversation, and this with strangers, and those too foreigners, would be not only unreasonable, but calumnious. Secondly, I attribute little other interest to the remarks than what is derived from the celebrity of the person who made them. Lastly, if you ask me, whether I have read The Messiah, and what I think of it? I answer—as yet the first four books only: and as to my opinion (the reasons of which hereafter)-you may guess it from what

30 (See note at the end of the letter. S. C.]



I could not help muttering to myself, when the good pastor this morning told me, that Klopstock was the German Miltonvery German Milton indeed!!!". -Heaven preserve you, and


[These disenchanters put one in mind of the watcatchers, who are said and supposed to rid houses of rats, and yet the rats, somehow or other, continue to swarm. The Kantean rats were not aware, I believe, when Klopstock spoke thus of the extermination that had befallen them; and, even to this day, those acute animals infest the old house, and steal away the daily bre:ad of the children,-if the old notions of Space and Time, and the old proofs of religious verities by way of the understanding and speculative reason, must be called such. Whether or no these are their true spiritual sustenance, or the necessary guard and vehicle of it, is, perhaps, a question.

But who were Nicolai and Engel, and what did they against the famous enchanter? The furmer was born in 1733, at Berlin, where he carried on his father's business of book-selling, pursued literature with marked success, and attained to old age, full of literary honors. By means of three critical journals (the Literatur-Briefe, the Bibliothek der Schönen Wissenschaften, and the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek), which he conducted with the powerful co-operation of Lessing, and of his intimate friend, Mendelssohn, and to which he contributed largely himself, he became very considerable in the German world of letters, and so continued for the space of twenty years. Jördens, in his Lexicon, speaks highly of the effect of Nicolai's writings in promoting freedom of thought, enlightened views in theology and philosophy, and a sound taste in fine literature—describes him as a brave battler with intolerance, hypocrisy, and confused conceptions in religion ; with empty subtleties, obscurities, and terminologies, that can but issue in vain fantasies, in his controversial writings on the “go-named critical philosophy.” He engaged with the Kritik der reinen Vernunft, on its appearance in 1781, in the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek, first explained his objections to it in the 11th vol. of his Reisebeschreibung (Description of a Journey through Germany and Switzerland, in the year 1781), and afterwards, in his romance entitled The Life and Opinions of Sempronius Gundibert, a German philosopher, sought to set forth the childish crotchets and abuses imputable to many disciples of this philosophy in their native absurdity. The ratsbane allude i to by Klopstock, was doubtless contained in the above-named romance, which the old poet probably esteemed more than Nicolai's more serious polemics.

Gundibert has had its day; but, in a fiction destined to a day of longer duration—Goethe's Faust—the Satirist is himself most effectively satirized There he is, in that strange yet beautiful temple, pinned to the wall in a ridiculous attitude, to be laughed at as long as the temple itself is visited and admired. This doom came upon him, not so much for 'is campaign against the Kanteans, as for his Joys of Werter,–because he had dared to ridicule a book, which certainly offered no small temptations to the parodist. Indeed, he seems to have been engaged in a series of hostilities with Fichte, Lavater, Wieland, Herder, and Goethe. * In the Walpurgisnacht of the Faust, he thus addresses the goblin dancers :

Ihr seyd noch immer da! Nein das ist unerhört !
Verschwindet doch! Wir haben ja aufgeklärt!

Vanish! Unheard-of impudence! What, still there !
In this enlightened age, too, when you have been

Proved not to exist ?”Shelley's Translation. .. Do we not see the doughty reviewer before us mayisterially waving his

hand, and commanding the apparitions to vanish ?—then, with despondent astonishment, exclaiming :

Das Teufelspack es fragt nach keiner Regel.

Wir sind so klug und dennoch spukt’s in Tegel. So wise we are ! yet what fantastic fooleries still stream forth from my con. temporary's brains; how are we still haunted! The speech of Faust concerning him is mis-translated by Shelley, who understood the humor of the piece, as well as the poetry, but not the particular humors of it. Nothing can be more expressive of a conceited, narrow-minded reviewer. Oh, he!- he is absolutely everywhere,–What others dance, he must decide upon. If he can't chatter upon every step, 'tis as good as not made at all. Nothing provokes him so much as when we go forward. If you'd turn round and round in a circle, as he does in his old mill, he'd approve of that, perhaps; especially if you'd consult him about it"

“A man of such spirited habitudes,” says Mr. Carl;le, after affirming that Nicolai wrote against Kant's philosophy without comprehending it, and judged of poetry, as of Brunswick Mum, by its utility, “is now, by the Germans, called a Philister. Nicolai earned for himself the painful preeminence of beiny Erz Philister, Arch Philistine.”

“ He, an old enemy of Goethe’s,” says Mr. Hill, in explanation of the title in which he appears in the Walpurgisnacht, • had published an account of his phantasigal illusions, pointing them against Fichte's system of idealism, which he evidently confounded with what Coleridge would have called Subjective Idolism."

Such was this wondrous disenchanter in the eyes of later critics than Klopstock: a man strong enough to maintain a long fight against genius, not wise enough to believe in it and befriend it. How many a controversialist seems a mighty giant to those who are predisposed to his opinions, while, in the eyes of others, he is but a blind, foundering Polyphemus,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* [See Mr Hayward's excellent translation of Faust, of which I have heard a literary German say that it gave a better notion of the original than any other which he had seen.)

who knows not how to direct his heavy blows ; if not a menacing scax crow, with a stake in his hand, which he has no power to drive home! I remember reading a thin volume in which all metaphysicians that har ever left their thoughts behind them were declared utterly in the wrong-all up to, but not including, the valiant author himself. The world hai lain in darkness till he appeared, like a new Phæbus, on the scene. This great man despatched Kant's system-(never having read a syllable of any work of Kant's)—in a page and a quarter; and the exploit had its celebraters and admirers. Yet, strange to say, the metaphysical world went on just as if nothing had happened !-after the sun was up, it went groping about, as if it had never been enlightened, and, actually, ever since has continued to talk as if Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and other metaphysicians understood the nature of the things they wrote about rather more than the mass of mankind, instead of less ! Verschwindet doch! might this author say, as Nicolai said to the spectres of the Brocken and the phantoms of literature,

Verschwindet doch ! Wir haben ja aufgeklärt. Engel opposed Kant in philosophical treatises, one of which is entitled Zwei Gerpräche den Werth der Kritik betreffend. He, too, occupied a considerable space in literature-his works fill twelve volumes, besides a few other pieces. “To him," says Jördens, “the criticism of taste and of art, speculative, practical, and popular philosophy, owe many of their later advances in Germany.” Jördens pronounces his romance, entitled Lorenz Stark, a master-piece in its way, and says of his plays, that they deserse a place beside the best of Lessing's. He was the author of a miscellaneous work, entitled The Philosopher for the World, and is praised by Cousin as a meritorious anthropologist. Engel was born September 11, 1741, at Parchim, of which his father was pastor, in Mecklenburg-Schwerin ; died June 28, 1802. Neither Nicolai nor Engel is noticed by Cousin among the adversaries of Kant's doctrine; the intelligent adversaries, who assailed it with skill and knowledge, rather proved its strength than discovered its weakness. Fortius acri ridiculum ; but this applies only to transient triumphs, where the object of attack, though it furnishes occasion for ridi cule, affords no just cause for it. S. C.]


« AnteriorContinuar »